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‘Any Data They Can Intercept’: US Congress Will Let Companies Sell Browsing Data

Sputnik – 29.03.2017

Following in the Senate’s footsteps, the US House of Representatives has approved a piece of legislation that would allow massive telephone and cable companies to sell the data generated by internet users’ browsing habits.

On March 28, the US House narrowly passed a bill that analysts say is a huge win for the bloated telecommunications industry, and a commensurately large invasion on citizens’ privacy – or lack thereof. The resolution cleared its way through the lower chamber of the legislature by a 215-205 vote.

If US President Donald Trump signs the resolution into law, companies will legally be able to create profiles about every internet user, then sell those profiles to the highest bidder, the Electronic Frontier Foundation said in a statement.

“Considering how much access [internet service providers, or ISPs] already have to highly sensitive data, it is absolutely unacceptable for them to monetize personal information,” Representative Mike Pocan of Wisconsin said Tuesday.

The ability for service providers to collect “essentially any data they can intercept and read for themselves” was supposed to be an opt-in only policy, giving consumers a choice whether to disclose their data, but instead telecommunications companies will have the ability to generate revenue off of the public’s browsing habits, said Matt Erickson on Radio Sputnik’s By Any Means Necessary with Eugene Puryear. Erickson is a director with the Digital Privacy Alliance.

​”Google and Facebook collect large amounts of information in ways that should be very concerning to people,” Puryear said.

The news comes as a major setback for privacy advocates and a major victory for Comcast, TimeWarner, AT&T and Verizon, which “will have free rein to hijack your searches, sell your data, and hammer you with unwanted advertisements,” the EFF said.

What’s more, at a time when nearly every major financial institution, electrical utilities company, defense and aerospace firm, and governmental agency is seeking to bolster its cyber defense systems, there are a host of reasons to think that these new rules would be detrimental to the US’ collective cybersecurity.

By recording your traffic and building a profile about you, for instance, hackers gain a new target database to breach.

March 29, 2017 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Corruption | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

AIPAC Is Back In Town!

Hava Nagila, y’all

By Philip Giraldi • Unz Review • March 28, 2017

Spring in Washington would not be complete without the city’s famous cherry blossoms and the annual “Policy Conference” meeting of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). The 15,000 plus participants began arriving on Sunday and will be here at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center until tomorrow morning, at which point many of them will descend on Congress like a swarm of ravenous locusts to make sure that our Solons on the Potomac are doing what is right by Israel.

AIPAC is the most powerful foreign policy lobby in Washington. It’s annual budget exceeds $77 million plus it has an endowment of $100 million. It has nearly 400 employees and also supports local chapters and initiatives throughout the United States.

What do all those employees do? They mostly lobby Congress and increasingly state legislatures shamelessly on behalf of a foreign country that has little in the way of actual common interests with the United States. When anything happens in the Middle East, AIPAC’s drones get to work, drafting up position papers detailing the Israeli position which are then placed by runners on the desks of every single congressman within a matter of hours. The congressmen, too lazy to engage in any real inquiry into what is going on, rely on the AIPAC research. That is, lamentably, how our system works. And if the congressman ignores the “expert” advice, AIPAC and its friends make sure he or she has a strong, well-funded opponent in the next election, someone who knows how to say “I love Israel” without moving his or her lips.

The current speakers’ list for the 2017 conference includes many of the leading political parasites that have long made the nation’s Capitol a “must miss” destination. I will not attempt to summarize what Michael Pence, Mitch McConnell, Chuck Schumer, Paul Ryan, Nancy Pelosi, Kevin McCarthy, Steny Hoyer and others said on Sunday night and yesterday as it was all basically the same speech, declaring undying love for Israel and the Jewish people and pledging that the United States will always have “Israel’s back,” whatever that is supposed to mean. Twenty-nine congressmen were featured as attendees on the AIPAC website but more than two thirds of the entire Congress is expected to appear for a photo op while muttering something about that apparently vulnerable “back.” Or do they mean backside? Whatever. I won’t name any more of the specific panderers as the reader probably already has a good idea who they are.

And, of course, the redoubtable Professor Alan Dershowitz was also a featured speaker, a wonderful human being who recently told us goyim that Jewish power in this country is both deserved and granted by Jehovah. It is interesting how Jews among themselves boast about their power but if a gentile so much as suggests the same thing it is anti-Semitism.

There were also two certifiable loonies among the speakers, apart from Dershowitz. They were Nikki Haley, America’s stalwart U.N. Ambassador, and Stephen Harper, until recently Prime Minister of Canada. Those who are following Haley’s meteoric career are probably aware that while governor of South Carolina she took the lead on making her state the first in the nation to legislate against the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) which supports peaceful pressure on Israel to abandon its apartheid policies when dealing with its own Arab citizens as well as the Palestinians on the West Bank and Gaza. Such legislation is an abrogation of First Amendment rights and will likely prove to be unconstitutional if it ever gets to the Supreme Court, but Haley clearly believed then and believes now that nothing is too good when it comes to Israel. Since going to the U.N., Haley has spoken more about Israel than about any possible American interests, pledging full support and protection for Netanyahu and his government. She blocked the appointment of a well-qualified Palestinian to a senior U.N. position purely because he was Palestinian. Ignorant of nearly everything that goes on in the world outside the U.S., it might be said that she is so horribly inept that she actually makes her ghastly predecessor Samantha Power look good.

Stephen Harper is another certified knee jerker when it comes to Israel. A fundamentalist Christian who believes the second coming of Christ is imminent, while Prime Minister he led what was possibly the world’s most pro-Israeli government. Harper described Israel as a light that “… burns bright, upheld by the universal principles of all civilized nations – freedom, democracy justice.” He has also said “I will defend Israel whatever the cost” to Canada, an interesting proposition for those who might have believed that his duty was to protect his own country and advance its interests. Harper, who has received awards from both Canadian and American Jewish organizations, personally endorsed Israel’s bombing of Lebanon in 2006, calling it “measured” even when Canadian peacekeepers were killed in the bombardment.

Paul Kagame, President of the Republic of Rwanda, also spoke at the conference. Why? I don’t know but it probably has something to do with characteristically liberal American Jews pulling their usual doublespeak trick, trying to pretend that fundamentally racist Israelis are not actually racist by inviting a black man to speak at a pro-Israel conference. I’ll bet he was paid handsomely to do so.

And former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, perhaps suggesting that love for Israel is truly international, spoke and was also probably paid handsomely to do so as he an incorporated brand. Between 2007 and 2015 Blair was the “special envoy” representing (and personally profiting from) the Quartet seeking to bring about a peace agreement between Israel and Palestine. Marwan Bishara explained in The New York Times: “A natural panderer to power, Mr. Blair morphed his complicity with the United States over Iraq into a new complicity with Israel. The assumption that operates is that schmoozing with the powerful is the only way to make a difference. So while Mr. Blair worked to reform the Palestinian Authority’s finances, security and governance, he turned a blind eye as Israel expanded its illegal settlements and tightened its hold on the autonomous territories. In the process, Mr. Blair helped render the Palestinian Authority more, not less, dependent on Israel. Instead of protecting the Palestinians from the Israeli settlers, Palestinian security forces have since been protecting Israeli settlers from Palestinian resentment.” Blair also attacked the Palestinian leadership’s decision to seek United Nations recognition of the Palestinian state, calling it “deeply confrontational.” Bishara dismisses him as “Israel’s puppy.” As I am extremely fond of dogs, I would modify that to read “Israel and now AIPAC’s butt boy.”

The avenging angel Benjamin Netanyahu also addressed the conference by satellite link and yet again described the threat posed by Iran. The satellite visit was somewhat surprising, as he usually likes to drop by in person so he can pick up his annual tribute money from the U.S. Treasury. This year’s Danegeld will be $3.8 billion thanks to President Barack Obama, guaranteed for ten years, and there will be, of course, various supplements as the Israelis discover things that they just need to have to stave off Netanyahu’s wily Persians and fight the rising tide of anti-Semitism. A rising tide, which we have just learned, was carried out by an Israeli Jew who also holds U.S. citizenship, which again leads to the question why so many Israelis are allowed to have American passports even though they live in Israel and serve in the Israeli Army?

And, of course, Persia was an integral part of the conference as it is tough to want to destroy the entire Muslim Middle East without having a really formidable enemy to focus on. Iran fits the bill quite nicely, but speakers were also prone to skewer those terrible Ay-rabs who just do not want peace. And the Israeli’s settlements are not a problem, nosiree! The theme of this year’s gathering was, in fact, “Many voices, one mission,” the mission presumably being the expansion of Israel so it will stretch east to west from the Nile to the River Jordan and north to the Turkish border. The indigenous inhabitants will have to be removed, but as they are mostly terrorists that should be okay with the world community and Donald Trump. And with the 15,000 AIPAC attendees.

The AIPAC gathering is really all about subverting Congress, so it is a good thing that a large majority of Congressmen were attending, making the necessary bowing and scraping that much easier. And they will enjoy it even more when the 15,000 AIPAC loyalists descend on Capitol Hill as the conference ends to make sure that Congress is listening. Democracy in action is great, isn’t it?

Even though I jest about the absurdity of thousands of Americans who appeared to be confused about what country they actually live in gathering to honor a foreign country that has an army that acts like a terrorist group, does not believe in equal rights even for its own citizens and bans visitors who do not accept its more questionable policies, the AIPAC people are not a joke. They are a deadly serious threat to our own democracy and way of life as they have figured out how to use money and the power that money buys to leverage and corrupt the system in such a way as to produce wars and turmoil that have blown back on the United States and made every American citizen both less safe and poorer.

I have written and spoken before how AIPAC is ultimately doomed as Israel and its basic policies towards Arabs and its neighbors are unsustainable both from a human rights and practical point of view. But that does not mean that it is going away any time soon. The Israel Lobby has the U.S. Congress and media by the throat and the Trump administration promises to be completely uncritical in its relationship with Netanyahu and whatever homicidal kleptocrat might be in line to succeed him.

Ms. Haley and her peers in state governments have successfully pushed legislation in a majority of states that punishes anyone who tries to boycott Israeli institutions or products. On university campuses non-violent criticism of Israel is being suppressed. There is also increasing pressure to define any criticism of Israel as anti-Semitism and therefore a hate crime, modeled on similar legislation in Canada, Britain and France. In a number of European countries it is a crime to challenge the standard narrative on “the Holocaust.” Why should that be? You can in much of Europe stand in a town square and say horrible things about your own country but if you criticize the factual basis of one particular “event” that took place in the 1940s you will go to jail.

So hang on to your hats, my fellow Americans. AIPAC is not going away and it will be doing all it can to keep neighboring Syria a cauldron of death and destruction while also calling for war on Iran. And AIPAC as well as the other bits and pieces of the Israel Lobby will have many Quislings in the Congress and U.S. media who will echo whatever they propose, even if it does grave damage to American interests. Meanwhile the billions and billions of dollars will continue to flow from an increasingly straitened United States to a wealthy Israel. At its conference AIPAC announced the latest windfall from America, applauding “… the U.S. House of Representatives for significantly bolstering its support of U.S.-Israel missile defense cooperation in the FY 2017 defense appropriations bill. The House appropriated $600.7 million for U.S.-Israel missile defense programs.” That is on top of everything else Israel gets. Will it ever end? I don’t know.

March 28, 2017 Posted by | Corruption, Wars for Israel | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Single-Payer Bernie Morphs Into Public Option Dean

By Russell Mokhiber | CounterPunch | March 27, 2017

Right before our eyes, we are seeing the transformation of single payer Bernie Sanders into public option Howard Dean.

During the 2016 Presidential campaign, Sanders took off like a rocket, fueled by the promise of a single payer, Medicare for All single payer system.

His single payer plan paralleled HR 676, the single payer bill in the House of Representatives that now has 72 co-sponsors.

HR 676 is the gold standard of single payer bills.

It would deliver one public payer, no deductibles, no co-pays, lower costs, everyone in, nobody out, no more medical bankruptcies, no more deaths from lack of health insurance and free choice of doctors and hospitals.

That was the promise of Bernie Sanders during the 2016 campaign.

But since then, Bernie Sanders has endorsed Hillary Clinton for President.

Then become part of Senator Chuck Schumer’s Senate Democratic leadership.

And this weekend, Sanders has been telling people he will introduce health care reform legislation in the Senate within a couple of weeks.

But it’s not going to be a companion bill to HR 676.

Instead, Sanders is telling reporters he wants to “move toward Medicare for all.”

“Right now we need to improve the Affordable Care Act and that means a public option,” Sanders tweeted yesterday.

The public option?

That would be the plan put forth by the Democratic corporatist Howard Dean, currently a member of the public policy and regulation practice of Denton’s, the multinational corporate law firm.

Dean got into nasty confrontations with single payer activists who confronted him during the Obamacare debates with questions about his corporatist connections and his support of the public option over single payer.

Don McCanne of Physicians for a National Health Program, the premiere single payer health care group in the country, has argued persuasively that the public option — allowing Americans to opt into a public plan — would not solve our healthcare crisis.

“The tragedy is not so much that on this path we will end up with a public plan that will be only one more feeble player in the dysfunctional market of private plans, but rather that we will, once again, have walked away from single payer, perhaps for decades, because of this meme about lack of political feasibility,” McCanne wrote last year. “Instead of making private plans compete with a public option, we should get rid of them and establish our own single public plan.”

And PNHP, in a paper titled The Public Plan Option: Myths and Facts, says that

“the current Medicare experience combined with experience in many different states that have tried this type of reform shows that public plans are left with the sickest patients and fail due to rising costs while the private insurers continue to collect premiums from the healthiest patients and maintain their high profits.”

Sanders also told reporters this weekend that he would consider legislation that would drop the Medicare age from 65 to 55.

David Himmelstein, a PNHP founder, said that while the public option would be a “modest improvement” and dropping the Medicare age to 55 would be a “good step,”  “neither could realize most of the vast savings on administration available under single payer, nor would they achieve universal coverage or address the problems of the tens of millions who are currently underinsured.”

“Introducing a public option will divide and confuse supporters of Medicare for all,” said Margaret Flowers, MD a pediatrician who co-directs Health Over Profit for Everyone, www.HealthOverProfit.org. Flowers is also a member of PNHP. “Senators who should co-sponsor Medicare for all will be divided. Sanders seems to be urging a public option to please the Democratic Party, but Sanders cannot serve two masters – Wall Street’s Chuck Schumer and the people. Sanders must decide whom he is working for.”

“While it might seem politically pragmatic to support a public option, it is not realistically pragmatic because a public option will not work,” Dr. Flowers said. “Senator Sanders knows that and he knows that the smallest step toward solving the healthcare crisis is National Improved Medicare for All. This would fundamentally change our health system that currently treats health as a commodity so that people only have access to what they can afford to a system that treats health as a public necessity so that people have access to what they need. Medicare for all achieves the savings needed to provide comprehensive coverage to everyone.”

“If Senator Sanders believes that it is acceptable to promote a policy that leaves some people out, then we want to know who should be left out. The US is already spending enough to cover everyone and that’s what we need to do.”

“The Affordable Care Act, built on a heavily subsidized private insurance industry, is not possible to fix. The ACA must be replaced by a national health policy that serves the needs of the people by replacing private insurance with publicly-financed Medicare.”

“Sanders wants to lower drug prices,” Dr. Flowers said. “Only a single payer system can negotiate lower drug prices. Sanders says healthcare is a human right, but human rights should not be commodities or profit centers. People do not pay for their human rights.”

“We look to Senator Sanders to act on what he promised during his presidential campaign, a National Improved Medicare for All now, not tomorrow. Tomorrow never comes. It is not up to him to decide if single payer can pass in Congress. That task is for the people to decide.”

Russell Mokhiber is the editor of the Corporate Crime Reporter.

March 27, 2017 Posted by | Corruption, Deception, Economics | , | Leave a comment

Arms Race Fears Roused in Sweden by Saab’s Indiscriminate Campaigning

Sputnik – 27.03.2017

As the Swedish manufacturer Saab experiences growing problems trying to market its Gripen fighter jet, the company is forced to try and woo previously unbeknown markets. This, however, has attracted criticism from peace researchers, who claim the move contradicts Sweden’s long-lasting foreign policy goals.

A group of peace researchers from Uppsala University condemned Saab’s campaigning in Botswana, saying the move was in direct conflict with Sweden’s foreign policy goals. These are peace, human rights and poverty reduction, according to an opinion piece published by the Swedish daily Svenska Dagbladet.

In 2016, a high-ranking Swedish delegation, led by Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist, toured Botswana. The subsequent scandal involving ballooning costs diverted Swedes’ attention from more pressing issues, such as Sweden’s plans to market JAS 39 Gripen fighter jets to the African nation. According to peace researchers Johan Brosché, Kristine Höglund and Sebastian van Baalen, the deal is highly controversial, especially given the bribery scandals that followed a similar deal with South Africa.

Firstly, in Botswana, which has long been touted as an African success story in terms of equality, human rights and economic development, democracy has gradually eroded. The country’s government is hardly an eligible partner for Sweden, which is trying to emerge as a champion of human rights on the international arena. Botswana, according to Uppsala University researchers, is clearly heading in an authoritarian direction, with growing surveillance, reduced opportunities for freedom of expression and reprisals against anti-government views.

Secondly, a Saab deal would contradict Sweden’s goal of combating poverty, as Botswana is facing major economic problems. Over a fifth of its population of two million live in absolute poverty and subsist on less than two dollars a day, despite the country’s large diamond resources. The billions to be invested in fighter jets would undermine efforts to curb unemployment, and fight drought and corruption.

Third, the idea of Botswana acquiring a fleet of advanced fighter aircraft may trigger a regional arms race, with Namibia and other neighboring countries to follow suit, with detrimental consequences for everyone but the arms dealers. At present, Botswana is not faced with any direct external threat and it is unclear why huge sums must be invested in the acquisition of advanced fighter jets. Whereas the need to protect the country’s tourism industry, combat poaching and monitor the flow of refugees previously were indicated as reasons, none of these problems can be solved with advanced fighter jets.

The Swedish researchers concluded that the arms deal with Botswana would worsen the economic and democratic development in the country, undermine regional security and mar Sweden’s reputation in Southern Africa.

The Saab JAS 39 Gripen is a light single-engine multi-role fighter aircraft in the same class as Airbus’ Eurofighter Typhoon, the Rafale by Dassault and Lockheed Martin’s Joint Strike Fighter.

Despite Saab’s ambitious hopes for the Gripen to “dominate the market,” the company’s bids were consequently rejected by Norway, Poland, Denmark and the Netherlands. The Rafale and the Eurofighter Typhoon are also regarded as favorites in Malaysia, where the government will decide on an aircraft fleet upgrade.

So far, Sweden remains the largest consumer of the Gripen, with an order of 60 new-generation Gripens placed by the Defense Ministry. Saab’s agreement with Brazil on 36 planes worth 40 billion SEK ($4.5bln) remains the company’s largest overseas success. Other Gripen consumers include South Africa and Thailand, while the Czech Republic continues to rent Gripens from Sweden.

March 27, 2017 Posted by | Economics, Corruption, Militarism | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Hong Kong: Anglo-America’s Struggling Foothold in China

By Joseph Thomas – New Eastern Outlook – March 22, 2017 

Prominent American propagandist Howard French recently published a lengthy editorial in the Guardian titled, “Is it too late to save Hong Kong from Beijing’s authoritarian grasp?,” in which he attempts to buttress an otherwise categorically false narrative surrounding an alleged indigenous struggle for democracy and independence within Hong Kong.

French attempts to hold China accountable for backtracking on an agreement made with Britain over the return of its own territory taken from it by force in 1841. He also attempts to portray Beijing’s crackdown on US-UK subversion in Hong Kong as “authoritarian,” never making mention of the extensive funding and meddling both the United States and the United Kingdom are engaged in within Chinese territory.

The article documents only one side of the so-called “independence” movement in Hong Kong, sidestepping any critical analysis of the colonial background of the ongoing political crisis or the neo-colonial aspects that shape current events even now.

The lengthy piece was paid for by a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, a Washington D.C.-based front that collaborates with the New York Times, PBS, NPR, Time Magazine and other mainstays of US propaganda. These are the same media outlets that helped sell the US invasion and occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as US-led attacks on Libya and US meddling in Syria beginning in 2011. By supporting French’s work, they now help sell to the public a narrative that undermines Chinese sovereignty an ocean away from American shores.

The entire editorial, its contents, author and the special interests that paid for it as well as its placement in the Guardian, represent a continued and concerted effort to maintain an Anglo-American foothold in Hong Kong, part of the last vestiges of Western hegemony within Chinese territory.

The Truth About Hong Kong 

Had Howard French penned an honest account of Hong Kong’s recent political crisis, he would have included the extensive, some may say exclusive, control the United States and the United Kingdom exercised over an otherwise fictitious and impossible pro-independence movement.  Quite literally every leader of the so-called “Umbrella Revolution” is either directly funded and directed by the US and/or UK government, or possesses membership within an organisation, institution or front funded by Anglo-American money.

The notion that a teen-aged Joshua Wong was single-handedly defying Beijing is preposterous even at face value. He was but one cog of a much larger, well-documented foreign-funded machine aimed at stirring up conflict within Hong Kong, undermine Beijing’s control of the territory and infect Chinese society as a whole with notions of Western-style “democracy.”

Just months before the 2014 “Umbrella Revolution,” one of its leaders, Martin Lee, was literally in Washington D.C., before members of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), pleading for material and political support for upcoming demonstrations. Toward the end of that same year, and despite NED denying Lee was a protest leader, Lee would find himself in the streets of Hong Kong leading the protests from the front shoulder-to-shoulder with Benny Tai and Joshua Wong.

Ironically, after the protests diminished and were finally pushed off the streets by both local police and impatient residents, Lee, Tai and Wong would be invited to Washington D.C. for a special event organised by NED subsidiary, Freedom House, dubbed, “Three Hong Kong Heroes.” The three protest leaders, having attempted to shake off accusations of being Washington puppets, or even protest leaders altogether, would take to the stage with yellow umbrellas in hand.

Howard French, and others attempting to persuade Western audiences of their version of events in Hong Kong omit these critical facts regarding the foreign-funded and directed nature of the “pro-independence” movement. They do so intentionally, with French himself being a 2011 Open Society fellow, Open Society being one of several fronts the US has channelled money through in support of subversion in Hong Kong.

In reality, there is nothing “pro-independence” about the movement in Hong Kong. It is simply the latest in a centuries-long attempt by Western powers to project geopolitical hegemony into Asia and more specifically, upon China itself.

French’s lengthy lament regarding China’s “authoritarianism” captures what may possibly be frustration that Washington and London’s tricks no longer work, and the more “Umbrella Revolutions” they attempt to organise against Beijing, the more familiar the Chinese public will be with them and subsequently, the more determined they will become to frustrate them.

Additionally, China’s influence over Hong Kong and even across Asia as a whole, is stronger, more sustainable and continuously expanding versus waning Western influence. Spectacular political stunts like the “Umbrella Revolution” attempt to leverage global public opinion over which the US media still maintains considerable influence, but ultimately such strategies have been confounded by Beijing and are, in the long-term, unsustainable.

Hong Kong represents a past, strong bastion of Western colonial power, now struggling to maintain itself even as a minor regional foothold. Despite the efforts of manipulators like Howard French and media platforms that lend themselves to his disingenuous narrative, footholds like Hong Kong will continue to diminish until the last remnants of the West’s colonial past are all but swept from modern geopolitics and permanently assigned to the pages of history.

March 23, 2017 Posted by | Corruption, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Global Laundromat” has the Guardian in a Spin

By Kit | OffGuardian | March 21, 2017

The latest “breaking” story from the Guardian and Luke Harding is hitting the headlines. Almost exactly 1 year after the explosive anti-climax that was “The Panama Papers”, Harding and the coterie of NGOs for which he acts as de-facto spokesperson have a big announcement to make: Banks launder money, and some of it is Russian.

I don’t know why they use American money with a Russian flag superimposed. They were probably afraid nobody would recognise roubles.

We are nearing the anniversary of the release of the Panama Papers, a “big story” involving years of work, hundreds of leaked documents, a team of exceptional journalists (and Luke Harding) and a dramatic reveal: “Sometimes, very rich people use legal loopholes to avoid paying their taxes.”

The list of implicated parties included heads of state, celebrities, athletes, David Cameron’s dad and a cellist that knows Vladimir Putin. We all remember who the Guardian decided to focus on, and we all know why.

Today the same crack-team (and Luke Harding) are releasing the long-awaited sequel to their original hit. “The global Laundromat”, it’s called. It’s a product of a years-long investigation into money laundering in ex-Soviet states, using British shell companies. I can’t comment on the truth of these allegations, because we don’t get to see the evidence, we are simply told that it’s true “according to letters The Guardian has seen”, and “reports shown to the Guardian ”… and other variations on that theme.

They may well be true. Big business and billionaires take part in shady and/or illegal business practices all the time. Just as was the case in the Panama Papers, they tell us something we all already know to be true, and then act like it was a surprise.

There’s a lot to like here. The simultaneous publication of four different articles on the subject, all practically identical. The implication that it is “breaking news”, when their prize factoid is three years old, and the scheme itself hasn’t operated since 2014. The fact that Luke Harding has to publicly declare the US government’s involvement, to stop people like us from pointing it out and making them look silly (like last time). The persistent use of the old Harding trick of simply dotting your story with plenty of “could haves” and “speculations suggests”. It’s all good stuff.

Where it becomes hilariously cack-handed in their agenda-pushing is in trying to force tenuous links to the Kremlin and, of course, Vladimir Putin in particular.

Last year they plastered their front page with pictures of Putin and videos about Putin and editorials about corruption in Russia… despite having to admit in the text:

… the president’s name does not appear in any of the records…

This year they can’t even go that far. They fall to the level of implication. Talking around inconvenient facts on the one hand, and then wildly speculating on the other. Leaving deliberate dots for the reader to join up, whilst never having the courage of their convictions to make plain their insinuations (probably for fear of being sued and/or corrected in the alt-media).

Much like the Panama Papers launch, there’s an awful lot of verbiage to work through, implications are thick on the ground, evidence less so. No direct sources are named, it is always “an ex-banker living in exile said”, or “a Russian business-man said”. Gorge on words and starve of meaning seems to be the message of the day.

Some interesting bullet points I pulled out:

Now we can reveal Britain’s role in this scheme – and how vast sums of potentially tainted money flowed into and out of western banks, including HSBC and the Royal Bank of Scotland, without raising any alarm.

This is taken from this piece, one of the four long reads The Guardian is currently devoting to this topic. You can tell it’s a Harding creation because of the prose… for want of a better word… style. It might seem inconsequential at first, but note the use of the phrase “potentially tainted”, that means there is no proof of any wrong-doing at all. It means, the money is “potentially” untainted. As in just totally legal money being used to buy things.

Normally speaking I would expect a crime to at least have definitely happened before a paper put it in their headlines. But maybe I’m being old-fashioned.

The ingenious scheme has its origins in Russia. Put simply, it was a way for Kremlin insiders and other well-known Russians to shift cash abroad.

Not a single “Kremlin insider” is named in any of the four stories currently running on this issue.

Before it was rumbled, the scheme was one of several mafia operations that have allowed the rich to spirit money out of the country to spend in the west.

There’s no evidence to back-up this statement, not a single connection to the mafia is ever mentioned again. But even so it’s worth noting. The money is leaving Russia and coming here. Remember that, because it will be important later on.

“Money laundering is the biggest business in Russia,” one former Moscow banker, now living in exile, explained. “You steal from the budget. You’ve got this dirty money. You have to do something with it.”

The source here, the “former banker living in exile”, is naturally unnamed. As an educated guess it’s probably Sergei Pugachev, a banker and oligarch who has fled both Russia and Britain on charges of embezzling and money laundering. Harding has interviewed him before, it would make sense if he became Harding’s primary source on Russian banking.

Pugachev fled Russia after the government seized his assets and charged him with various financial crimes. That’s an important pattern that will repeat, and has repeated, many times over.

Here we come to the “Putin connection”, are you ready?

It features Russian banks, Moldovan oligarchs, and a network of fake UK companies fronted by fake or “nominee” directors, many of them in Ukraine. It had impeccable Moscow connections. Vladimir Putin’s cousin Igor sat on the board of a bank which held accounts that laundered billions.

His cousin worked at one of the banks that held accounts that may have laundered money. That’s it. These are connections that Harding considers “impeccable”. Is there any evidence connecting the two cousins? Phone calls? Photographs? If any exists, none is presented.

Interestingly, Igor Putin is actually a member of an opposition political party in Russia, which supported an alternative presidential candidate in 2012.

You can put the above quote together with another statement, from this article, to see just how completely meaningless it is:

Accounts held at 19 Russian banks were involved in the scheme. In 2014, it was reported that one financial institution was the Russian Land Bank (RZB). A bank board member at the time was Igor Putin.

Yes nineteen, nineteen(!), different Russian banks are “involved” with the scheme, and the “impeccable Moscow connections” are that Putin’s cousin worked at one of them. At least five different British banks were involved, HSBC, Barclays, Lloyds TSB, NatWest and RSB. It’s hard to imagine that every cousin, of every board member, of every bank is currently under investigation by Scotland Yard.

In fact, nobody is under investigation by Scotland Yard, at all. Every single reference to a criminal investigation is talking about Latvia, Moldova… and Russia.

Once the goods had been cleared the UK firms were liquidated. No duty was paid. Often, Russia’s tax inspectors then took the UK companies to court.

In practice, the Laundromat made possible three different crimes inside Russia: tax evasion, evasion of customs duty and money laundering. In 2013 grey import schemes cost the state $40bn, a Russian parliament committee said.

… alleged ringleader Alexander Grigoriev was detained in November 2015 while eating in a Moscow restaurant… In 2014-15, [Russian] regulators stripped Grigoriev of his banking licences amid concerns that funds were mysteriously vanishing… Russian police sources told Kommersant that Grigoriev was one of a number of prominent people who used the Laundromat to move $46bn in liquid assets out of Russia.

In three separate paragraphs, dotted throughout the four different articles he has contributed to, Harding makes reference to three different Russian governmental efforts to control illegal movement of money: Taking foreign companies to court, parliamentary enquiries, and the arrest and suspension of (alleged) criminal bankers.

He makes no such mention of any British efforts to do the same, because there were none.

The FSB, the Russian security service Harding routinely refers to as “the successor to the KGB” (in fact, in one article today he simply calls them the KGB), have apparently launched an investigation into this scheme. How does Harding address this issue? Very simply:

The Russian investigation into Laundromat has been cursory.

There are suspicions the FSB’s real goal was merely to find out how much investigators knew.

… officers from Russia’s FSB spy agency visited detectives in Moldova. They took away records. It is unclear if this was a genuine investigation or an attempt to discover how much the Moldovans knew. Probably the latter.

No sources are linked to back up these assertions. He completely dismisses, without evidence or argument, the FSB investigations.

He doesn’t dismiss the intentions of Britain’s NCA investigations… because, once again, there were none.

A step back, and a gentle examination, paints a rather different picture from the one with which the Guardian is trying to present us. It shows us Russian oligarchs and bankers shifting vast sums of money OUT of Russia and INTO the EU. Now why would this be?

Logic would suggest that money flows FROM regulation INTO corruption. That’s a natural physical force, like water running downhill. Like osmosis. Russia, since the end of the chaotic Yeltsin era, has been going through a slow process of de-oligarchisation, even Shaun Walker (grudgingly) admitted that. The aforementioned Sergei Pugachev can attest to it (he does so, often and loudly). The Russian government has jailed billionaires for embezzling. Russia prosecutes bankers, and demands companies pay their taxes. Is the same true of Britain? Did a single banker see the inside of jail cell after the 2008 crash? Have Amazon, Google or Vodafone been brought to court for their massive tax evasion?

What you’re looking at here, like the Panama Papers, is just further evidence of that which we already know, that the deregulated bank and business sectors in the UK can be abused by the super wealthy for their own personal gain. And, like the Panama Papers, it was deliberately misrepresented by “investigative journalists” in order to exaggerate any connection with the Russian government, and just generally shine a poor light on Russia.

So, who is behind this revelation?

To answer that, let’s take a look at the about page of the driving force behind this “scandal”, The Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP). The following is taken directly from their own website:

OCCRP is supported by grants by the Open Society Foundation, Google Digital News Initiative, the Skoll Foundation, the Sigrid Rausing Trust, Google Jigsaw, the National Endowment for Democracy and the Knight Foundation. OCCRP also receives developmental funds for improving journalism from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) through the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ), the United States Department of State and the Swiss Confederation.

The bolded are all very familiar to us here at OffG, and should be to anyone that has followed our work on US-back NGOs. They form an argument on their own, you don’t need me to tell you what it means.

All this really tells us, so far, is that the US government, their corporate allies and puppet NGOs have spent years of their time, and God knows how much of their near-limitless resources, trying to tie the current Russian administration to any kind of criminal corruption. What have they found? A cellist legally avoiding his taxes and that Russian oligarch’s think their ill-gotten gains are safer in British banks, than Russian ones. A rather damning fact, when you think about it.

This is the result of years of work from the world’s business and intelligence elites (and Luke Harding), and it is, frankly, pitiful.

March 21, 2017 Posted by | Corruption, Deception, Fake News, Mainstream Media, Warmongering | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Israel turned ‘local Amnesty branch into a foreign ministry front’ — report

RT | March 19, 2017

Israel used a local Amnesty International branch as a front for the foreign ministry in the late 1960s and 1970s, according to an exclusive report by Haaretz, based on official documents authenticated and translated by the Israeli news outlet.

The documents reveal how some heads of Amnesty International Israel were allegedly in regular contact with the Foreign Ministry from the late 1960s to the mid -1970s, reporting on their activity in real time, consulting with officials and taking instructions from them.

Haaretz obtained the documents from the Akevot Institute for Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Research and say they show how Israel tried to influence Amnesty’s activity from within.

The Amnesty office in Israel received regular funds transferred through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs which reportedly included hundreds of Israeli pounds for flights abroad, per diem allowances, registration fees and dues payments to the organization’s headquarters, according to the papers.

The report claims that the strongest link between the Foreign Ministry and the Amnesty office was during the period between 1974 and 1976 when Professor Yoram Dinstein was at its helm. Dinstein previously worked in the Foreign Ministry and served as the Israeli consul in New York.

Dinstein’s appointment meeting was attended by the Foreign Ministry officer who he was most regularly in contact with during his time as chairman, according to one document.

Dinstein denied that Amnesty Israel received funds from the Foreign Ministry when contacted by Haaretz last week. He also disputed being in contact with the agency and said it had no involvement in the Amnesty International branch.

He also made clear his present day opinions of the human rights organisation: “I resigned after a few years when I became aware that this is a populist organization very far from everything I believe in, which is research and knowledge.”

“Today Amnesty International is dealing with an area about which it understands nothing – international humanitarian law,” he added.

Lior Yavne, the executive director of Akevot told Haaretz that the “manipulative exploitation” deployed then is reminiscent of groups in recent years that “supposedly originate in the civil society but have murky sources of funding and operate to damage the legitimacy of human rights organizations critical of the policy of the Israeli government.”

Amnesty’s International Secretariat said in a statement that the files “present serious allegations suggesting that the leadership of our former Israel section acted in a manner that was blatantly at odds with Amnesty International’s principles.”

It noted that since 1975, the organisation formally agreed that it would accept no government funds for any of its research or campaigns. The Israeli branch of Amnesty International opened in 1964, three years after the organisation was founded in London.

“During the period in question we were a movement that was still in its infancy. As we grew to become the truly global movement we are today, we have continued to develop robust governance policies and procedures to ensure stringent impartiality and accountability.”

Amnesty Israel said that the documents demonstrate that the government of Israel has never refrained from making use of any means to evade accountability for the violation of human rights it conducts, in the 1970s as well as today.

Amnesty International Israel today runs a number of campaigns aimed at combating discrimination against Palestinian citizens of Israel, confronting human rights abuses within the occupied Palestinian territories and gaining equal rights for asylum seekers and refugees.

March 19, 2017 Posted by | Corruption, Deception, Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Timeless or most popular | , , , , | Leave a comment

Manchin Studying Canadian-style Single Payer Health System, Asks Why Sanders Hasn’t Introduced It

By Russell Mokhiber | CounterPunch | March 17, 2017

Senator Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) is looking at a Canadian style single payer system.

It’s the second time in a month that Manchin has told constituents that he’s looking at a Medicare for all system to replace an unraveling Obomneycare.

Manchin has been clear that he will vote against the emerging Trumpcare/Ryancare that will balloon the ranks of the uninsured from 30 million under Obomneycare to 50 million.

A single payer system would leave zero people uninsured.

Under single payer, every citizen gets a birth certificate and a Medicare card at birth.

The United States pays per capita more than two and a half times more than industrialized countries with single payer systems.

At a town hall meeting in Martinsburg, West Virginia today, more than 200 people jammed the Robert Byrd Science Center.

Almost a quarter of the twenty or so questioners called on Manchin to get behind single payer.

HR 676 – the single payer bill in the House – has 65 co-sponsors. No Senator has introduced a similar bill in the Senate.

And by their reactions to single payer questions, the majority in the room wanted Manchin to sponsor a single payer bill in the Senate.

“I’m studying the whole Canadian system,” Manchin told Dr. Catherine Feaga of Shepherdstown, West Virginia after Dr. Feaga asked Manchin a question about the single payer system. “The Canadian system has better results longevity-wise, more wellness. But boy I tell you one thing. They make you toe the line. They don’t give you everything you want. They don’t give it to you when you want it.”

“Neither does our system,” one person yelled.

“It’s much different what we have today,” Manchin said. “In Canada, if you abuse it, you lose it. They are not going to let you come every day to a doctor.”

“They don’t let you come every day to a doctor here,” yelled another attendee.

“We are open to all of these things,” Manchin responded.

When a citizen challenged Manchin about his corporate contributions affecting how he votes, Manchin said – “money doesn’t affect how I vote.”

“But you have taken close to $300,000 from the pharmaceutical industry and $200,000 from the insurance industry over your career in the Senate,” the questioner said. “Maybe that is the reason why you haven’t introduced a single payer bill in the Senate.”

“Bernie Sanders hasn’t introduced it in the Senate either – why hasn’t Bernie introduced it?” Manchin shot back.

“I don’t know enough about single payer,” Manchin said. “But I’ll say this – I want the same quality of life that Canada has. I want the same longevity.”

When Manchin questioned whether a single payer system would cost more than what we are paying now, Lynn Yellott responded that according to a Commonwealth Fund study, 95 percent of Americans would pay less money than they do now – in terms of co-pays, deductibles and insurance premiums.

“I provided your staff last week with a financial analysis of HR 676,” Yellott told Manchin after Manchin said – “I don’t know enough about single payer.”

“I hope that you will take a close look at it,” Yellott told Manchin.

The session ended with questions from two citizens who spoke in favor of a single payer system.

“The German health care system took me in everybody had coverage, no matter what their background, how much money they made,” said one man who identified himself as a veteran. “And it was effective. Everyone was in the system.”

“I’m open to everything and anything,” Manchin said.

The last questioner told Manchin that he should take some of the money he has taken from the pharmaceutical industry and “build us a long-term opiate treatment facility in Martinsburg.”

“We need some of that money you got from the pharmaceutical industry and build us a long term treatment facility,” the man said, who identified himself as a heroin survivor. “Write the check right now and build us a rehab facility. We know you’ve got the money. You took it from the pharmaceutical industry.”

Russell Mokhiber is the editor of the Corporate Crime Reporter.

March 18, 2017 Posted by | Corruption, Economics | , | Leave a comment

What Is the CIA Hack All About?

The danger lies in what might be coming next

By Philip Giraldi • Unz Review • March 14, 2017

The WikiLeaks exposure of thousands of documents relating to the Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) hacking program, which was expanded dramatically under President Barack Obama between 2013 and 2016, has created something of a panic in the users of cell phones, online computers and even for smart television viewers. The documents describe “more than a thousand hacking systems, trojans, viruses and other ‘weaponized’ malware” and one document even identifies attempts to enable CIA controllers to take control of automobiles that have “On Star” or similar satellite interactive features.

According to analysts who have gone through the documents, any electronic device that is connected to the internet is reported to be vulnerable to being taken over and “weaponized,” manipulated through its microphone or camera function even if it appears to be turned off. Apple, Google, Android and Microsoft products were among the technologies that were targeted, with the security systems being constantly probed for vulnerabilities. When a flaw was discovered it was described as “zero day” because the user would have zero time to react to the detection and exploitation of the vulnerability.

And they are indeed everywhere. Ron Paul has described a woman’s test on the Amazon marketed interactive voice controlled device called Alexa, asking it if it were reporting to the CIA. Alexa, which allegedly cannot tell a lie, refused to answer.

According to Wikipedia, “Alexa is an intelligent personal assistant developed by Amazon Lab126, made popular by the Amazon Echo. It is capable of voice interaction, music playback, making to-do lists, setting alarms, streaming podcasts, playing audiobooks, and providing weather, traffic, and other real time information.” One reviewer observed “In a good but scary feature, Amazon Echo can learn a person’s habits over time. It will get used to the way a person talks, his/her habits and routines and will save all the data in the cloud.”

Alexa demonstrates that CIA and NSA intrusion into the lives of ordinary people is not unique. In the cyber-sphere there are many predators. Amazon has apparently run special sales to get Alexa devices into as many homes as possible, presumably for commercial reasons, to have a machine in one’s home that will eventually replace the cookies on computers that collect information on what people are interested in buying. The company’s president Jeff Bezos also recently completed a deal worth $600 million for Amazon to provide cloud hosting services for the Agency. And there are, of course, two clear conflicts of interest in that deal as Bezos is selling a device that can be hacked by the government while he also owns The Washington Post newspaper, which, at least in theory, is supposed to be keeping an eye on the CIA.

But spying for profit and spying by the government are two different things and the WikiLeaks revelations suggest that the CIA has had a massive program of cyberespionage running for a number of years, even having created a major new division to support the effort called the Directorate for Digital Innovation, with an operation component called the Center for Cyber Intelligence. Media reports also suggest that a major hub for the operation was the American Consulate General in Frankfurt Germany, where the Agency established a base of operations.

First of all, it is necessary to make an attempt to understand why the CIA believes it needs to have the capability to get inside the operating systems of phones and other devices which rely on the internet. It should be pointed out that the United States government already has highly developed capabilities to get at phones and other electronics. It is indeed the principal raison d’etre of the National Security Agency (NSA) to do so and the FBI also does so when it initiates wiretaps during criminal and national security investigations.

Beyond that, since the NSA basically collects all electronic communications in the United States as well as more of the same fairly aggressively overseas, it would seem to be redundant for the CIA to be doing the same thing. The CIA rationale is that it has a different mission than the NSA. It exists to conduct espionage against foreign intelligence targets, which frequently requires being able to tap into their personal phones or other electronic devices by exploiting vulnerabilities in the operating systems. As the targets would be either sources or even prospective agents, the Agency would have to protect their identity in the highly compartmented world of intelligence, making outsourcing to NSA problematical.

This need to develop an independent capability led to the development of new technologies by the CIA working with its British counterparts. There were apparently successful efforts to target Samsung “smart” televisions, which would use their speakers to record conversations even when the set was turned off. The project was called “Weeping Angel,” and other hacking programs were called “Brutal Kangaroo,” “Assassin,” “Hammer Drill,” “Swindle,” “Fine Dining” and “Cutthroat,” demonstrating that government bureaucrats sometimes possess a dark sense of humor.

Being able to enter one’s home through a television would be considered a major success in the intelligence world. And the ability to access cell phones at source through obtaining full control of the operating system rather than through their transmissions means that any security system will be ineffective because the snoopers will be able to intrude and hear the conversation as it is spoken before any encryption is applied. CIA and its British allies were reportedly able to take control of either Android or i-Phones through vulnerabilities in their security systems by using their attack technologies.

WikiLeaks claims to have 8,761 documents detailing efforts to circumvent the security features on a broad range of electronic devices to enable them to be remotely tapped, the information having apparently been passed to WikiLeaks by a disgruntled government contractor, though the Russians are perhaps inevitably also being blamed. The U.S. government has apparently been aware of the theft of the information for the past year and one presumes it has both done damage control and is searching for the miscreant involved. Also, there have been security fixes on both Apple and Android phones in the past year that might well have rendered the attack technologies no longer effective.

So many will shrug and wonder what the big deal is. So the CIA is tapping into the electronics of suspected bad guys overseas. Isn’t that what it’s supposed to do? That question has to be answered with another question: How do we know if that is all the CIA is doing? Technology that can attack and take control of a telephone or television or computer overseas can also do the same inside the United States. And the Agency can always plausibly claim that a connection with a suspect overseas leads back to the U.S. to enable working on related targets on this side of the Atlantic.

Another issue is the possibility to engage in mischief, with potentially serious consequences. The WikiLeaks documents suggest that the CIA program called UMBRAGE had been able to acquire malware signatures and attack codes from Russia, China, Iran and other places. It does that so it can confuse detection systems and preserve “plausible denial” if its intrusion gets caught, disguising its own efforts as Russian or Chinese to cast the blame on the intelligence services of those countries. It has been alleged that the hack of the Democratic National Committee computers was carried out by Moscow employed surrogates and part of the evidence produced was signature malware that had left “fingerprints” linked to Russian military intelligence in Ukraine. What if that hack was actually done by the CIA for domestic political reasons?

Critics have also pointed out that President Obama in 2014 had come to an agreement with major communications industry executives to share with manufacturers information regarding the vulnerabilities in their systems so they could be addressed and made secure. This would have benefited both the industry and the general public. The agreement was obviously ignored in the CIA case and is just another sign that one cannot trust the government.

However, the real downside regarding the CIA hacking is something that might not even have occurred yet. It is an unfortunate reality that government spying operations largely lack regulation, oversight or any effective supervision by Congress or anyone else outside the agencies themselves. Even if knowledge about communications vulnerabilities has not been employed illegally against American targets or to mislead regarding domestic hacks, the potential to use those capabilities once they are in place will likely prove too hard to resist. As such, no home or work environment will any more be considered a safe place and it is potentially, if not actually, the greatest existing threat to Americans’ few remaining liberties.

March 14, 2017 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Corruption, Deception, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Israeli Defense Executive Pleads Guilty to Defrauding US Aid Program

Sputnik – 13.03.2017

A former executive of an Israel-based defense contractor has pleaded guilty for his role in schemes to defraud a multi-billion dollar US program to finance foreign military purchases, the US Department of Justice announced in a press release on Monday.

Yuval Marshak entered his plea to one count of mail fraud, two counts of wire fraud and one count of major fraud against the United States in US District Court in the state of Connecticut, the release explained.

“This conviction is the result of the Defense Criminal Investigative Service’s (DCIS) ongoing effort to identify and investigate fraudulent activity targeting the Department of Defense and its programs that support America’s national security and foreign policy objectives,” DCIS Northeast Field Office acting special agent in charge Leigh-Alistair Barzey stated in the release.

According to court documents, Marshak carried out three separate schemes between 2009 and 2013, in which he falsely certified that all items sent to Israel had been made in the United States, as required by law, the release noted.

Marshak also falsely claimed that no commissions had been paid, when a company in Connecticut that was controlled by a relative received undisclosed payments, according to the release.Two US companies have already settled charges with the Justice Department in connection with the FMF contracts.

Earlier this year, the New Jersey-based defense contractor Octal Group agreed to pay $460,000 in fines and restitution for covering up an agreement with Marshak.

A second company, Hale Products, Inc. paid more than $60,000 and agreed to cooperate with the Justice Department investigation.

In addition to fines, Marshak faces a maximum prison sentence of 20 years for wire and mail fraud charges, ten years for major fraud against the US government and 20 years for international money laundering.

March 13, 2017 Posted by | Corruption, Deception, Militarism | , | 1 Comment

Exactly what are scientists marching ‘for’?

By Judith Curry | Climate Etc. | March 5, 2017

The smartest people on the planet want to oppose Trump & the best they can come up with is a march in support of themselves? – Roger Pielke Jr

A mega March for Science has been planned for Earth Day (April 22) in Washington DC. The web site states:

The March for Science demonstrates our passion for science and sounds a call to support and safeguard the scientific community. Recent policy changes have caused heightened worry among scientists.

The mischaracterization of science as a partisan issue, which has given policymakers permission to reject overwhelming evidence, is a critical and urgent matter. It is time for people who support scientific research and evidence-based policies to take a public stand and be counted.

Of course, the poster child for partisan ‘mischaracterization of facts’ is statements by members of the Trump administration regarding uncertainty surrounding the causes of climate change.  President Obama and his Call Out the Climate Deniers campaign apparently elicited no concerns about partisan mischaracterization of facts from the science establishment.

Scientists fear  what ‘might’ happen under the Trump administration — they are working from rumors, leaks and a few public statements by individuals connected with Trump’s transition teams.  These are the same scientists pushing for ‘evidence based’ policies  — go figure.

The American Geophysical Union (AGU) – which is joining the March – had a blog post describing the positions on climate change and science of important individuals in the Trump administration: Mick Mulvaney, Rick Perry, Wilbur Ross, Scott Pruitt, Ryan Zinke. Read the blog post. To me, Trump’s team looks like it has a healthier attitude to science than did Obama’s team, who sought to scientize policy debates and politicize science debates.

The scientists’ big concern is ‘silencing of facts’. This concern apparently derives from their desire to have their negotiated ‘facts’ — such as  the ‘consensus’ on climate change — dictate public  policy. The scientists who are marching seem not very interested in science as a process based on continually evaluating evidence and reassessing conclusions through reasoning and impartial habits of mind.

The scientists are not just out to defend ‘facts’ — they fear funding cuts and limits to immigration. They also seem very attached to safeguarding the academic scientific community and the elite institutions that support it.

Some sentiments from scientists supporting the March:

Caroline Weinberg: “[I]t is not possible to ignore policy when it affects not just your jobs but the future of your field.” [link]

Dr Jacquelyn Gill: “A lot of scientists are realizing that the institutions that fund and support and science in this country . . .are under direct attack.” Trump, she said, “not only doesn’t value our institutions, he doesn’t seem to value evidence-based decision making at all. That is alarming to us.” [link]

Other scientists are very concerned about the March:

Professor Jim Gates,  former adviser to Barack Obama, told journalists that the march appeared to lack an end goal – a prerequisite for political action – and would simply be perceived as “science against Trump”. “At least as far as I can detect, there is no theory of action behind this,” he said. “This bothers me tremendously. “To have science represented as this political force I think is just extraordinarily dangerous.” [link]

Robert Young wrote that the march would be perceived as a protest of President Trump and “trivialize and politicize the science we care so much about.” “Trying to recreate the pointedly political Women’s March will serve only to reinforce the narrative from skeptical conservatives that scientists are an interest group and politicize their data, research and findings for their own ends.” [link]

Tactics in want of a strategy

So, exactly what do scientists expect to accomplish with this March, and how do they plan to go about it? Well, I am still at a loss to understand what they expect to accomplish, but there have been some interesting suggestions on how they might go about it.

Jonathan Foley in the Scientific American on how to defeat those who are waging war on science: portray an inclusive vision; get political; don’t fall into the culture war trap; balance facts with meaningful stories; be forceful.

Roger Pielke Jr in the Guardian To counter Trump’s administration, scientists need counter-propaganda, evidence-based alternative policies and political representation. The scientific community needs to eschew old habits that have manifested themselves in the march: calling for more funding and waging political battles through science.  

Kristy Henschel in Science : hold webinar viewing parties; host science policy seminars; design a science advocacy workshop; organize a State Hill day; invite your government representatives for a lab tour; host a science cafe; share your voice on twitter.

The most provocative suggestion comes from an editorial in Nature :  Researchers should reach beyond the science bubble. Excerpt: Scientists in the United States and elsewhere ought to address the needs and employment prospects of taxpayers who have seen little benefit from scientific advances. As they ponder their next move in response to the election of Trump, science organizations — universities, funders, supporters and the rest — should look harder at social problems and opportunities, and seek ways for science to help.

JC reflections

So far, the March for Science seems to be shaping up as a self-serving navel gazing exercise for scientists — sort of a ‘we don’t like Trump’ tantrum. The impression that this will have on policy makers and the public will be to cement scientists as a politicized special interest group, just like any other lobbying group. In short, I very much fear that this March will do more harm than good.

It’s not too late to turn this around. We need to rethink the contract between scientists and government, and develop a new model for the the 21st century. Here are some recommendations:

  • Embrace science as a process, not a collection of ‘facts’; invite the public to engage in the process of science.
  • The institutions of science need to reform themselves, and scientists need to get out of the ivory tower and engage with the real world [link]
  • Universities need a new business model and incentive structure for faculty members that doesn’t rely on massive federal research grants but rewards faculty for educating students at all levels and serving the needs of society.
  • Scientists need a much better understanding of the policy process, the role that science plays, and how complexity, pluralism and uncertainty in science is accommodated in the policy process. Evidence-based policy making is a good political slogan, but not a good description of the policy process. [link]
  • Scientists need to stop using science to support desired political outcomes.
  • Scientists need to do more than push back against flawed arguments and bad policy. We need to engage the public, and, even more, invite the public, across the political spectrum, to engage with science. [link]

March 6, 2017 Posted by | Corruption, Science and Pseudo-Science | | 2 Comments

Russia to continue cleaning up banking sector closing down shady lenders

RT | March 6, 2017

An official at the Central Bank of Russia says the regulator will continue to revoke licenses of fraudulent or unstable banks for another two years. Since 2013, the number of banks in Russia has shrunk from 900 to 570.

Despite a large number of closed banks, crime is still popping up, and the regulator needs until 2019 to finish the crackdown, said Vasily Pozdyshev, a deputy governor at Russia’s central bank in an interview with Reuters.

It is likely Russia will end up with 400 lenders in two years, but there is no target number, according to the official.

“Our work to clean up the banking system is sometimes much more like the work of a financial investigator, an investigator of financial crimes, than the work of a modern banking regulator, which checks whether a bank is sufficiently capitalized or not,” said Pozdyshev.

“We are up against a whole business of creating fictitious borrowers. … This is a whole virtual world managed by IT programs and servers which very often aren’t located in the bank,” he said.

The current purge against fraudulent lenders began in 2013 with the appointment of Elvira Nabiullina as central bank governor. A previous attempt to sanitize the sector was slowed after the assassination of Andrey Kozlov in 2006, an official in charge of the crackdown. After the incident, Central Bank employees including Pozdyshev travel with protection and are heavily guarded.

The existing mechanisms don’t allow the Central Bank to stop unscrupulous bankers fleeing the country, and should be revised, Pozdyshev told Reuters.

“Banks often have influential backers, and this makes everything much more difficult. But we have launched this policy, and we need to carry it to its conclusion. If we stop, then the banking system will immediately slip back, into the shadows,” he said.

The regulator had to plug a $10 billion hole in the balance sheets of about 100 banks that had licenses revoked last year.

One of the biggest cases thus far was last week’s license revocation of top-50 lender Tatfondbank. According to various estimates, the bank was in a $2 billion hole.

While 90 percent of Tatfondbank’s depositors were compensated by Russia’s deposit insurance fund, corporate clients took a big hit. According to the Izvestia daily, they have about $750 million in the failed bank, which will be partly compensated through bankruptcy proceedings.

The Central Bank’s investigation has shown that 65 percent of Tatfondbank’s corporate clients were bankrupt or had no business activity.

March 6, 2017 Posted by | Corruption | | Leave a comment