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Policing for Profit: Jeff Sessions & Co.’s Thinly Veiled Plot to Rob Us Blind

By John W. Whitehead | The Rutherford Institute | July 24, 2017

Let’s not mince words.

Jeff Sessions, the nation’s top law enforcement official, would not recognize the Constitution if he ran right smack into it.

Whether the head of the Trump Administration’s Justice Department enjoys being the architect of a police state or is just painfully, criminally clueless, Sessions has done a great job thus far of sidestepping the Constitution at every turn.

Most recently, under the guise of “fighting crime,” Sessions gave police the green light to rob, pilfer, steal, thieve, swipe, purloin, filch and liberate American taxpayers of even more of their hard-earned valuables (especially if it happens to be significant amounts of cash) using any means, fair or foul.

In this case, the foul method favored by Sessions & Co. is civil asset forfeiture, which allows police and prosecutors to “seize your car or other property, sell it and use the proceeds to fund agency budgets—all without so much as charging you with a crime.”

Under a federal equitable sharing program, police turn asset forfeiture cases over to federal agents who process seizures and then return 80% of the proceeds to the police. (In Michigan, police actually get to keep up to 100% of forfeited property.)

This incentive-driven excuse for stealing from the citizenry is more accurately referred to as “policing for profit” or “theft by cop.”

Despite the fact that 80 percent of these asset forfeiture cases result in no charge against the property owner, challenging these “takings” in court can cost the owner more than the value of the confiscated property itself. As a result, most property owners either give up the fight or chalk the confiscation up to government corruption, leaving the police and other government officials to reap the benefits.

And boy, do they reap the benefits.

Police agencies have used their ill-gotten gains “to buy guns, armored cars and electronic surveillance gear,” reports The Washington Post. “They have also spent money on luxury vehicles, travel and a clown named Sparkles.”

Incredibly, these asset forfeiture scams have become so profitable for the government that, according to The Washington Post, “in 2014, law enforcement took more stuff from people than burglars did.” As the Post notes, “the Treasury and Justice departments deposited more than $5 billion into their respective asset forfeiture funds. That same year, the FBI reports that burglary losses topped out at $3.5 billion.”

In 2015, the federal government seized nearly $2.6 billion worth of airplanes, houses, cash, jewelry, cars and other items under the guise of civil asset forfeiture.

According to USA Today, “Anecdotal evidence suggests that allowing departments to keep forfeiture proceeds may tempt them to use the funds unwisely. For example, consider a 2015 scandal in Romulus, Michigan, where police officers used funds forfeited from illicit drug and prostitution stings to pay for …  illicit drugs and prostitutes.”

Memo to the rest of my fellow indentured servants who are living through this dark era of government corruption, incompetence and general ineptitude: this is not how justice in America is supposed to work.

We are now ruled by a government so consumed with squeezing every last penny out of the population that they are completely unconcerned if essential freedoms are trampled in the process.

Our freedoms aren’t just being trampled, however. They’re being eviscerated.

At every turn, “We the People” are getting swindled, cheated, conned, robbed, raided, pickpocketed, mugged, deceived, defrauded, double-crossed and fleeced by governmental and corporate shareholders of the American police state out to make a profit at taxpayer expense.

Americans no longer have to be guilty to be stripped of their property, rights and liberties. All you have to be is in possession of something the government wants. And if you happen to have something the government wants badly enough, trust me, their agents will go to any lengths to get it.

If the government can arbitrarily freeze, seize or lay claim to your property (money, land or possessions) under government asset forfeiture schemes, you have no true rights.

Here’s how the whole ugly business works in a nutshell.

First, government agents (usually the police) use a broad array of tactics to profile, identify, target and arrange to encounter (in a traffic stop, on a train, in an airport, in public, or on private property) those  individuals who might be traveling with a significant amount of cash or possess property of value. Second, these government agents—empowered by the courts and the legislatures—seize private property (cash, jewelry, cars, homes and other valuables) they “suspect” may be connected to criminal activity.

Then—and here’s the kicker—whether or not any crime is actually proven to have taken place, without any charges being levied against the property owner, or any real due process afforded the unlucky victim, the property is seized by the government, which often divvies it up with the local police who helped with the initial seizure.

In a Kafkaesque turn of the screw, the burden of proof falls on the unfortunate citizenry who must mount a long, complicated, expensive legal campaign to prove their innocence in order to persuade the government that it should return the funds they stole. Not surprisingly, very few funds ever get returned.

It’s a new, twisted form of guilt by association, only it’s not the citizenry being accused of wrongdoing, just their money.

Motorists have been particularly vulnerable to this modern-day form of highway robbery.

For instance, police stole $201,000 in cash from Lisa Leonard because the money—which Leonard planned to use to buy a house for her son—was being transported on a public highway also used by drug traffickers. Despite the fact that Leonard was innocent of wrongdoing, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the theft on a technicality.

Police stole $50,000 in cash from Amanee Busbee—which she planned to use to complete the purchase of a restaurant—and threatened to hand her child over to CPS if she resisted. She’s one of the few to win most of her money back in court.

Police stole $22,000 in cash from Jerome Chennault—which he planned to use as the down payment on a home—simply because a drug dog had alerted police to its presence in his car. After challenging the seizure in court, Chennault eventually succeeded in having most of his money returned, although the state refused to compensate him for his legal and travel expenses.

Police stole $8,500 in cash and jewelry from Roderick Daniels—which he planned to use to purchase a new car—and threatened him with jail and money-laundering charges if he didn’t sign a waiver forfeiting his property.

Police stole $6,000 in cash from Jennifer Boatright and Ron Henderson and threatened to turn their young children over to Child Protective Services if they resisted.

Tenaha, Texas, is a particular hotbed of highway forfeiture activity, so much so that police officers keep pre-signed, pre-notarized documents on hand so they can fill in what property they are seizing.

As the Huffington Post explains, these police forfeiture operations have become little more than criminal shakedowns:

Police in some jurisdictions have run forfeiture operations that would be difficult to distinguish from criminal shakedowns. Police can pull motorists over, find some amount of cash or other property of value, claim some vague connection to illegal drug activity and then present the motorists with a choice: If they hand over the property, they can be on their way. Otherwise, they face arrest, seizure of property, a drug charge, a probable night in jail, the hassle of multiple return trips to the state or city where they were pulled over, and the cost of hiring a lawyer to fight both the seizure and the criminal charge. It isn’t hard to see why even an innocent motorist would opt to simply hand over the cash and move on.

Unsurprisingly, these asset forfeiture scams have become so profitable for the government that they have expanded their reach beyond the nation’s highways.

According to USA Today, the U.S. Department of Justice received $2.01 billion in forfeited items in 2013, and since 2008 local and state law enforcement nationwide has raked in some $3 billion in forfeitures through the federal “equitable sharing” program.

So now it’s not just drivers who have to worry about getting the shakedown.

Any American unwise enough to travel with cash is fair game for the government pickpockets.

In fact, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has been colluding with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and local police departments to seize a small fortune in cash from American travelers using the very tools—scanners, spies and surveillance devices—they claimed were necessary to catch terrorists.

Mind you, TSA agents already have a reputation for stealing from travelers, but clearly the government is not concerned about protecting the citizenry from its own wolfish tendencies.

No, the government bureaucrats aren’t looking to catch criminals. (If so, they should be arresting themselves.)

They’re just out to rob you of your cold, hard cash. … Full article

July 24, 2017 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Corruption | , | 1 Comment

The Fine Print: IMF Backs Down on Ukraine Land Reform Ultimatum, But at a Price

Sputnik – 23.07.2017

The International Monetary Fund has slightly relaxed its conditions for the provision of a new loan tranche to Ukraine, removing the demand that Kiev first revise the country’s laws on the privatization of agricultural land. Ukraine watchers Vladimir Zharikhin and Alexander Dudchak say that the IMF’s move is just a ploy designed to entrap Ukraine.

Last week, the IMF confirmed that it would not insist on the immediate implementation of land reform as a precondition for the provision of its next loan tranche to Ukraine in the fall.

Speaking at a press briefing on Thursday, IMF spokesman William Murray confirmed that land reform would not be on the agenda for the program revision meeting next month. “Land reform remains an important condition under the program. However, given the need to design the reform well and reach consensus on key steps ahead, there was a need to reset its timing to later in the year,” he said.

The IMF had earlier insisted that Kiev make changes to its land laws to allow for its privatization. Ukrainian lawmakers have stubbornly and repeatedly rejected these demands.

Other IMF loan conditions remain unchanged, and include pension reform, measures to accelerate privatization, and increased efforts against corruption, including the creation of an independent anti-corruption court. IMF conditions also include the requirement that Kiev continues with fiscal reform and restructuring of the energy sector, programs which have led to severe cuts in public spending, and skyrocketing utilities prices.

Ukraine has received four loan tranches worth $8.5 billion from the IMF since March 2015, when the program – worth $17.5 billion, was approved. Every successive tranche has been accompanied by long delays due to Kiev’s reticence to comply with the IMF’s requirements. The latest tranche, originally scheduled to be delivered in May, has now been postponed until September, pending Kiev’s compliance with the conditions.

In recent weeks and months, some Ukrainian authorities have tried to downplay the significance of the IMF loan program, signaling that it was needed mainly for the purpose of strengthening investor confidence in the country.

Last week, Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman tried a different approach, complaining that Kiev does not have enough money to carry out the promised reforms, since most of the budget is spent on servicing foreign debt, defense and the pension fund. According to Groysman, Kiev now spends approximately 100 billion hryvnia – or 4% of its GDP, on debt servicing, with another 5% spent on security and defense.

Kiev is also expecting assistance from the EU in the form of a 600 million euro loan program. This program has its own conditionalities, including a cancellation of the moratorium on the sale of forestry products, and the lifting of import duties on certain goods. Kiev has until October to meet these conditions.

Experts say that without loans from the IMF, Brussels and the US, Kiev will have a more difficult time servicing its gross foreign debt, which currently stands at about $113 billion – or 66.8% of the country’s GDP. Public debt amounts to about $72 billion, 70% of that consisting of currency loans.

Speaking to the Svobodnaya Pressa online newspaper, Vladimir Zharikhin, deputy director of the Institute of CIS studies, said he was certain that the IMF would end up giving Ukraine its next loan tranche, since the money is needed to help shore up the current regime in Kiev. At the same time, he warned that the IMF will take every opportunity to squeeze Kiev along the path of austerity reforms.

“The IMF has a pulse on the situation in Ukraine,” Zharikhin said. “They have come to understand that pension reforms can be carried out, because pensioners feel intimidated, and do not pose a serious threat to the regime. As for corruption, this [conditionality] is always restricted to broad terms. A Special Committee on Corruption is functioning, but for some reason does not prosecute anyone. Basically this is just idle talk, while corruption increases. And in fact the IMF does not actively object to this.”

However, in the case of land reform, this is a sensitive issue for the authorities, according to the analyst, because it “affects the interests of a certain section of Ukraine’s political elite… The radical nationalist section of the elite and society opposes abolishing the moratorium on the sale of land, since they fear that land will be bought up by foreigners, including…Russian oligarchs. Therefore, the IMF decided to postpone land reform.”

In any case, the observer stressed that it was impossible to delay allocating the next loan tranche for long. “The IMF understands that doing so could lead to the complete collapse of the Ukrainian economy and the fall of the current regime.” This, Zharikhin emphasized, would not be in the interests of either the Fund itself, or its US sponsors.

Put crudely, the observer said that IMF tranches are allocated mainly “to keep Kiev’s pants from falling down,” and little else. “Factually, this is what they’ve been doing in the last few years now.”

Nonetheless, Zharikhin stressed that in the end, the IMF will never back down from any of its austerity demands for good, instead working more closely with Ukraine’s political and economic elite to return to the trouble spot when the time is right.

For his part, Ukrainian political scientist and economist Alexander Dudchak told Svobodnaya Pressa that whatever else happens, Kiev’s “addiction” to IMF loans, and specifically their requirement for major socioeconomic reforms, will have disastrous long-term consequences for Ukraine, even if the country’s Maidan-installed authorities were to be removed from power.

In the meantime, Dudchak noted that while all of the IMF’s conditions will continue to have a painful impact on ordinary Ukrainians’ lives, the land issue is a particularly sensitive one.

“If the moratorium [on the sale of land] is lifted, nothing will remain of Ukrainian lands. They will not belong to the state or the people. Ukrainian agro-holdings, which today are considered among the country’s strongest enterprises, will not be able to compete against transnational capital. Ukraine will be deprived of its land and its population gradually returned to the status of serfs.”

As far as the current government is concerned, they are delaying land reform only because they would like to write the new laws on privatization with their own interests in mind, Dudchak said. But whatever they end up doing, “it will be hard for them to prevent foreigners from gaining control over farmland and growing whatever they want there, up to and including genetically-modified foods.”

As for the latest IMF tranche, the economist stressed that it will be spent in its entirety on servicing Ukraine’s massive debts. Otherwise, “for Ukraine as a state the benefit from this loan is zero.”

July 23, 2017 Posted by | Corruption, Economics | , | Leave a comment

QE, the largest transfer of wealth in history

By Dan Glazebrook | RT | July 22, 2017

It appears that the massive, almost decade-long transfer of wealth to the rich known as ‘quantitative easing’ is coming to an end.

Of the world’s four major central banks – the US Federal Reserve, the Bank of England, the European Central Bank and the Bank of Japan – two have already ended their policy of buying up financial assets (the Fed and the BoE), and the ECB plans to stop doing so in December. Indeed, the Fed is expected to start selling off the $3.5 trillion of assets it purchased during three rounds of QE within the next two months.

Given that – judged by its official aims – QE has been a total failure, this makes perfect sense. By ‘injecting’ money into the economy, QE was supposed to get banks lending again, boosting investment and driving up economic growth. But overall bank lending in fact fell following the introduction of QE in the UK, whilst lending to small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) – responsible for 60 percent of employment – plummeted.

As Laith Khalaf, a senior analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, has noted: “Central banks have flooded the global economy with cheap money since the financial crisis, yet global growth is still in the doldrums, particularly in Europe and Japan, which have both seen colossal stimulus packages thrown at the problem.”

Even Forbes admits that QE has “largely failed in reviving economic growth”.

This is, or should be, unsurprising. QE was always bound to fail in terms of its stated aims, because the reason banks were not funneling money into productive investment was not because they were short of cash – on the contrary, by 2013, well before the final rounds of QE, UK corporations were sitting on almost £1/2trillion of cash reserves – but rather because the global economy was (and is) in a deep overproduction crisis. Put simply, markets were (and are) glutted and there is no point investing in glutted markets.

This meant that the new money created by QE and ‘injected’ into financial institutions – such as pension funds and insurance companies – was not invested into productive industry, but rather went into stock markets and real estate, driving up prices of shares and houses, but generating nothing in terms of real wealth or employment.

Holders of assets such as stocks and houses, therefore, have done very well out of QE, which has increased the wealth of the richest 5 percent of the UK population by an average of £128,000 per head.

How can this be? Where does this additional wealth come from? After all, while money – contrary to Tory sloganeering – can indeed be created ‘out of thin air’, which is precisely what QE has done, real wealth cannot. And QE has not produced any real wealth. Yet the richest 5 percent now have an extra £128,000 to spend on yachts, mansions, diamonds, caviar and so on. So where has it come from?

The answer is simple. The wealth which QE has passed to asset-holders has come, first of all, directly out of workers’ wages. QE, by effectively devaluing the currency, has reduced the buying power of money, leading to an effective decrease in real wages, which, in the UK, still remain 6 percent below their pre-QE levels. The money taken out of workers’ wages therefore forms part of that £128,000 dividend. But it has also come from new entrants to the markets inflated by QE – primarily, first time buyers and those just reaching pension age.

Those buying a house (which QE has made more expensive), for example, will likely have to work thousands of additional hours over the course of their mortgage in order to pay this increased cost. It is those extra hours that are creating the wealth which subsidizes the spending spree for the richest 5 percent. Of course, these increased house prices are paid by anyone purchasing a house, not only first time buyers – but the additional cost for existing homeowners is compensated for by the rise in price of their existing house (or by their shares for those wealthy enough to hold them).

QE also means that newly retiring pensioners are forced to subsidize the 5 percent. New retirees use their pension pot to purchase an ‘annuity’ – a bundle of stocks and shares generating dividends which serve as an income. However, as QE has inflated share prices, the number of shares they can buy with this pot is reduced. And, as share price increases do not increase dividends, this means reduced pension payments.

In truth, the story that QE was about encouraging investment and boosting employment and growth was always a fantastical yarn designed to disguise what was really going on – a massive transfer of wealth to the rich.

As economist Dhaval Joshi put it in 2011: “The shocking thing is, two years into an ostensible recovery, [UK] workers are actually earning less than at the depth of the recession. Real wages and salaries have fallen by £4bn. Profits are up by £11bn. The spoils of the recovery have been shared in the most unequal of ways.”

In March this year, the Financial Times noted that while Britain’s GDP had recovered to pre-crisis levels by 2014, real wages were still 10 percent lower than they had been in 2008. “The contraction of UK real wages was reversed in 2015,” they added, “but it is not going to last”. They were right. The same month the article was published, real wages began to fall again, and have been doing so ever since.

It is the same story in Japan, where, notes Forbes, “household income actually contracted since the implementation of QE”.

QE has had a similar effect on the global South: enriching the holders of assets at the expense of the ‘asset-poor’. Just as the influx of new money created bubbles in the housing and stock markets, it also created commodity price bubbles as speculators rushed to buy up stocks of, for example, oil and food. For some oil producing countries this has had a positive effect, providing them a windfall of cash to spend on social programs, as was initially the case in, for example, Venezuela, Libya and Iran. In all three cases, the empire has had to resort to various levels of militarism to counter these unintended consequences. But oil price hikes are, of course, detrimental to non-oil-producing countries – and food price hikes are always devastating.

In 2011, the UK’s Daily Telegraph highlighted “the correlation between the prices of food and the Fed’s purchase of US Treasuries (i.e. its quantitative easing programs)… We see how the food price index broadly stabilized through late 2009 and early 2010, then rose again from mid-2010 as quantitative easing was re-started … with prices rising about 40 percent over an eight month period.”

These price hikes pushed 44 million people into poverty in 2010 alone – leading, argued the Telegraph, to the unrest behind the so-called Arab Spring. Former World Bank president Robert Zoellick commented at the time that: “Food price inflation is the biggest threat today to the world’s poor… one weather event and you start to push people over the edge.”

Such are the costs of quantitative easing.

The BRICS economies were also critical of QE for another reason: they saw it as an underhand method of competitive currency devaluation. By reducing the value of their own currencies, the ‘imperial triad’ of the US, Europe and Japan were effectively causing everyone else’s currencies to appreciate, thereby damaging their exports. Forbes wrote in 2015, “The effects are already being felt in the most dynamic exporter in the world, the East Asian economies. Their exports in US dollar terms moved dramatically from 10 percent year-on-year growth to a contraction of 12 percent in the first half of this year; and the results are the same whether China is excluded or not.”

The main benefit of QE to the developing world is supposed to have been the huge inflows of capital it triggered. It has been estimated that around 40 percent of the money generated by the Fed’s first QE credit expansion (‘QE1’) went abroad – mostly to the so-called ‘emerging markets’ of the global South – and around one third from QE2. However, this is not necessarily the great boon it seems. Much of the money went, as we have seen, into buying up commodity stocks (making basic items such as food unaffordable for the poor) rather than investing in new production, and much also went into buying up stocks of currency, again causing an export-damaging appreciation. Worse than this, an influx of so-called ‘hot money’ (footloose speculative capital, as opposed to long term investment capital) makes currencies particularly volatile and vulnerable to, for example, rises in interest rates abroad.

Should interest rates rise again in the US and Europe, for example, this is likely to trigger a mass exodus of capital from the emerging markets, potentially prefiguring a currency collapse. Indeed, it was an influx of ‘hot money’ into Asian currency markets very similar to that seen during QE which preceded the Asian currency crisis of 1997.

It is precisely this vulnerability which is likely to be tested – if not outright exploited – by the coming end of QE and accompanying rise of interest rates.

Dan Glazebrook is a freelance political writer who has written for RT, Counterpunch, Z magazine, the Morning Star, the Guardian, the New Statesman, the Independent and Middle East Eye, amongst others. His first book “Divide and Ruin: The West’s Imperial Strategy in an Age of Crisis” was published by Liberation Media in October 2013. It featured a collection of articles written from 2009 onwards examining the links between economic collapse, the rise of the BRICS, war on Libya and Syria and ‘austerity’. He is currently researching a book on US-British use of sectarian death squads against independent states and movements from Northern Ireland and Central America in the 1970s and 80s to the Middle East and Africa today.

July 22, 2017 Posted by | Corruption, Economics | , , , | Leave a comment

6 Americans who should be investigated for their Ukrainian ties

By Adam Garrie | The Duran | July 15, 2017

Incoming FBI Director Cristopher Wray has stated that he would be interested in investigating links between officials of the Ukrainian regime and the Hillary Clinton campaign.

With evidence mounting that high level officials in Kiev actively worked with the Clinton campaign to try and influence US voters, it is imperative that any future investigation isn’t whitewashed simply because Kiev’s tactics failed to win the election for Clinton.

Although the investigation into Donald Trump’s non-existent links with Russia have unsurprisingly come up with virtually nothing of interest, the methods of the investigation ought to be examined and replicated where necessary in a future Ukraine-Clinton investigation.

One of the most fascinating aspects of the so-called Russiagate investigation is that seemingly anyone connected to Donald Trump who ever had a conversation with a Russian, irrespective of their lack of involvement in Russian politics, is a person of interest to investigators.

The same tactics could be accurately applied to an investigation into Clinton and the Democratic party’s links with Ukraine.

Here are the people that ought to be questioned.

1. Hunter Biden 

Hunter Biden is the youngest son of Barack Obama’s Vice President Joe Biden. In April of 2014, just two months after the February coup in Kiev, Joe Biden visited Ukraine where he gave a tub-thumping speech about the need for the Ukrainian regime to rely less on Russian gas supplies.

Weeks later, Hunter Biden was appointed to the board of directors of Ukraine’s largest private sector gas company, Burisma.

While many spoke of a prima facie conflict of interest in the appointment, the US mainstream media’s favourable stance towards the Obama administration meant that the story never saw the light of day.

The issue remains prescient, especially in light of allegations regarding wide spread Ukrainian collusion with the Democratic party in respect of the 2016 election.

2. Joe Biden

The timing of Joe Biden’s anti-Russian Ukrainian gas speech and his son’s appointment to the board of a major Ukrainian energy company necessarily means that the former American Vice President is a person of interest.

No one could reasonably believe that the proximate timing of the former VP’s speech and his son’s appointment to the board of Burisma was coincidental.

This is a matter which speaks of itself.

3. Alexandra Chalupa

For over 10 years, Chalupa, a US citizen of Ukrainian origin worked for the Democratic party. It has been established that she had multiple meetings at the Ukrainian Embassy in Washington D.C. in order to dig up dirt on former Trump campaign worker Paul Manafort.

Chalupa claims that her visits to the Ukrainian Embassy were for unrelated endeavours. Her word should not be take at face value. Her interactions with foreign officials in relation to the 2016 US election should be fully investigated.

 4. John McCain 

Unlike Chalupa, McCain is not a Democrat, McCain has more political ties to Ukraine than anyone in the US Senate. His position as a former Presidential candidate and a strong critic of Donald Trump makes him a person of interest.

McCain is something of a fanatic when it comes to the Ukraine issue. Prior to the coup of February 2014, McCain was frequently pictured in Kiev with many extremist and fascist leaders who actively participated in the coup.

McCain recently visited Ukrainian leader Petro Poroshenko along with troops loyal to the regime during the 2016/2017 New Year’s holiday.

This visit, just weeks  before Donald Trump’s inauguration ought to be thoroughly investigated as well as McCain’s other connections to a plethora of Ukrainian politicians, leaders, business and military figures.

For these reasons and because of McCain’s increasingly dubious role in allegedly leaking the so-called ‘Urinegate’ dossier to the media, he is clearly a person of interest.

5. Maxine Waters 

Maxine Waters is a Democratic Congresswoman from Los Angeles whose anti-Russian rhetoric is vile and at times incoherent, but nevertheless protected by free speech.

It is not clear if Waters has any direct connections with Ukrainian authorities, but an innocent prank call by the Russian comic callers Vovan and Lexus to Waters, reveals that she is highly susceptible to anti-Russian propaganda. The fact she engaged with the prank callers, seemingly believing that they were officials from Kiev, means that Waters ought to be questioned about any real calls she may have taken from actual Ukrainian regime officials.

For those who believe that Waters is far removed from the sandal, one ought to be reminded that political commentator Alex Jones has been accused by Hillary Clinton of being a Russian agent. It was later confirmed by Jones and other media outlets that the FBI is currently investigating whether Jones’s platform InfoWars as well as Breitbart had direct links with Russia.

InfoWars and Breitbart can hardly be considered Russophile outlets, but the fact remains that Waters has said far more in favour of Ukraine than InfoWars or Breitbart have of Russia.

What’s good for the goose is good for a much more prominent gander.

6. Lindsey Graham 

Lindsey Graham was a Trump opponent before it became fashionable in certain quarters. During the Republican primary, Donald Trump read out Graham’s private phone number and encouraged his supporters to ring up the Senator.

Graham was furious with Trump and later had to change his phone number.

When it comes to being a US Senator with close ties to the Ukrainian regime, only John McCain has more than Graham. Graham indeed accompanied McCain to Ukraine on his infamous New Year’s excursion and has close personal contacts with many individuals in Kiev.

For the same reasons McCain should be of interest to anyone who wants to unearth the extent of Ukrainian interference in American democracy, Graham ought to be on the list too.

July 15, 2017 Posted by | Corruption, Deception, Timeless or most popular, Video | , | Leave a comment

US Dems Start Coordinated Bid to Obtain Trump Records, Force Votes on Russia

Sputnik – 14.07.2017

WASHINGTON – Democrats in the US House of Representatives have launched a coordinated effort to order the release of records related to President Donald Trump’s alleged ties to Russia and to force floor votes on the matter, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said in a briefing on Friday.

“Today we are announcing a new coordinated effort to force votes to get answers for the American people. We will force Republicans to take votes on the record… [and] we will expose House Republicans in action for their willful, shameful enabling,” Pelosi told reporters at a joint news conference with eight other lawmakers.

Seven members of Congress announced that they would introduce Resolutions of Inquiry on Friday as part of the coordinated effort.

The goal of the procedural measures is to hold Republicans accountable for their “complicity” with Trump, Pelosi said.

“They [Republicans] have become enablers of the violation of our Constitution, the attack on the integrity of our elections, the security of our country,” Pelosi said.

Congresswoman Maxine Waters said she and other Democrats on the Financial Services Committee introduced a Resolution of Inquiry directing the Treasury secretary to provide any documents related to credit extended by Russian banks or Russian government officials to the president, his immediate family, his associates or his properties and businesses.

In a similar vein, Congressman Bill Pascrell said he would introduce a Resolution of Inquiry to force the release of Trump’s tax returns to the Ways and Means Committee.

Meanwhile, Congressman Joaquin Castro introduced a Resolution of Inquiry directing the Secretary of State to provide Congress with any documents or communications records related to efforts to modify or revoke sanctions against Russia.

“If during the campaign or since the president’s inauguration members of the Trump team have considered altering sanctions on our adversary Russia, Congress and the American people need to know and have a right to know,” Castro told reporters. “House Republicans shouldn’t be providing cover for the administration and its affection for Russia.”

Congresswoman Pramilia Jayapal and Congressman David Cicilline said they would draft a Resolution of Inquiry, as well as letters to the chair of the Judiciary Committee demanding more information about Jared Kusher and Donald Trump Jr,’s affairs and meetings with Russian government officials.

Jayapal said the resolution seeks to expose the full extent of the ties between Donald Trump’s inner circle and the Kremlin.

“I fear that we are witnessing a betrayal of our nation that is unlike anything we have ever seen before in American politics. And we have a responsibility to uncover the truth and to lay the facts bare for all to see and judge for themselves,” Cicilline told reporters.

For her part, Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman drafted a Resolution of Inquiry calling on the Department of Homeland Security to provide the House Homeland Security Committee with all documents of payments made by the agency to Trump organizations or Trump family travel in furtherance of Trump family business.

In addition, Congressman Hank Johnson, Ranking Member of the Transportation and Infrastructure, drafted a resolution to force the General Service Administration to produce documents related to a 60-year lease agreement for the Trump Organization to develop the iconic Old Post Office building in Washington.

“We need to ensure that President Trump is not enriching himself while serving in the ultimate position of public trust,” Johnson said.

Republicans are unlikely to back any of the resolutions, but Democrats could use the recorded votes as political fodder during next year’s midterm elections.

The issue of Russia’s alleged meddling in the 2016 presidential election has become a political weapon in Washington, with Democrats seeking to portray Trump and his Republican party as soft on Russia.

Russia has repeatedly denied interference in the US presidential election and has called such allegations absurd and intended to deflect public attention from revealed instances of election fraud and corruption as well as other domestic concerns.

July 14, 2017 Posted by | Corruption, Deception, Fake News, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Progressive Hypocrite, Russophobia | , , , | 1 Comment

Yemen: Court Battle Exposes UK-Saudi Arms Deals And Humanitarian Tragedy

By Felicity Arbuthnot | Dissident Voice | July 14, 2017

On Monday 10th July, a ruling was handed down by London’s High Court, which should, in a sane world, exclude the UK government ever again judging other nations’ leaders human rights records or passing judgment on their possession or use of weapons.

The Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT) lost their case to halt the UK selling arms to Saudi Arabia, the case based on the claim that they may have been used to kill civilians in Yemen.

Anyone following the cataclysmic devastation of Yemen would think it was a million to one that the £3.3 Billion worth of arms sold by the UK to Saudi in just two years, had not been used to kill civilians, bomb hospitals, schools, markets, mosques, decimate vital and economic infrastructure and all necessary to sustain life.

In context, a survey released by the Yemen Data Project in September last year found that between March 2015 and August 2016 in more than 8,600 air attacks, 3,158 hit non-military targets.

How casual the slaughter is, Saudi pilots (as their British and US counterparts) apparently do not even know what they are aiming at. So much for “surgical strikes” – as ever:

Where it could not be established whether a location attacked was civilian or military, the strikes were classified as unknown, of which there are 1,882 incidents.

All those “unknown” killed had a name, plans, dreams, but as in all Western backed, funded or armed ruinations “it is not productive” to count the dead, as an American General memorably stated of fellow human beings.

In context, the survey found that:

One school building in Dhubab, Taiz governorate, has been hit nine times … A market in Sirwah, Marib governorate, has been struck 24 times.

Commenting on the survey, the UK’s shadow Defence Secretary, Clive Lewis, said:

It’s sickening to think of British-built weapons being used against civilians and the government has an absolute responsibility to do everything in its power to stop that from happening. But as Ministers turn a blind eye to the conflict … evidence that Humanitarian Law has been violated is becoming harder to ignore by the day.

Forty six percent of Yemen’s 26.83 million population are under fifteen years old. The trauma they are undergoing cannot be imagined.

The original CAAT Court hearing which took place was a Judicial Review in to the legality of the UK government’s arms sales to Saudi, held on 7th, 8th and 10th of February in the High Court.

CAAT stated, relating to the case:

For more than two years the government has refused to stop its immoral and illegal arms sales to Saudi Arabia – despite overwhelming evidence that UK weapons are being used in violations of International Humanitarian Law in Yemen.

They also quoted Parliament’s International Development and Business, Innovation and Skills Committees, who opined in October 2016:

Given the evidence we have heard and the volume of UK-manufactured arms exported to Saudi Arabia, it seems inevitable that any violations of International Humanitarian and Human Rights Law by the coalition have involved arms supplied from the UK. This constitutes a breach of our own export licensing criteria. (Emphasis added.)

UK supplied arms since the onset of the assault on Yemen are:

£2.2 billion worth of ML10 licences (Aircraft, helicopters, drones)

£1.1 billion worth of ML4 licences (Grenades, bombs, missiles,

countermeasures)

£430,000 worth of ML6 licences (Armoured vehicles, tanks.)

Contacting CAAT spokesman Andrew Smith I queried what “countermeasures” might be (point two.) He said technically, protective items.  However:

CAAT feels that the overwhelming majority will be bombs and missiles including those being used on Yemen.

On 5th June CAAT had pointed out some further glaring anomalies:

The last two months have seen three terrible terrorist attacks carried out in the UK. The attacks were the responsibility of those that have carried them out, and they have been rightly condemned.

However:

Last week it was revealed by the Guardian that the Home Office may not publish a Report into the funding of terrorism in the UK. It is believed that the Report will be particularly critical of Saudi Arabia.

Andrew Smith commented:

Only two months ago the Prime Minster was in Riyadh trying to sell weapons to the Saudi regime, which has some of the most abusive laws in the world. This toxic relationship is not making anyone safer, whether in the UK or in Yemen, where UK arms are being used with devastating results.

Nevertheless:

Delivering an open judgment in the High Court in London, Lord Justice Burnett, who heard the case with Mr. Justice Haddon-Cave, said: “We have concluded that the material decisions of the Secretary of State were lawful. We therefore dismiss the claim”.

CAAT called the ruling a “green light” for the UK government to sell arms to “brutal dictatorships and human rights abusers”.

Interestingly, in increasingly fantasy-democracy-land UK:

The Court (also handed down) a closed judgment, following a case in which half of the evidence was heard in secret on national security grounds.

What a wonderful catch-all is “national security.”

Moreover:

UK and EU arms sales rules state that export licences cannot be granted if there is a ‘clear risk’ that the equipment could be used to break International Humanitarian Law. Licences are signed off by the Secretary of State for International Trade, Liam Fox. (Emphasis added.)

Mind stretching!

So the oversight of what constitutes a “clear risk” of mass murder and humanitarian tragedy, goes to the Minister whose Ministry stands to make £ Billions from the arms sales. Another from that bulging: “You could not make this up” file.

‘The case … included uncomfortable disclosures for the government, including documents in which the Export Policy Chief told the Business Secretary, Sajid Javid, then in charge of licensing: “my gut tells me we should suspend (weapons exports to the country).”

‘Documents obtained by the Guardian showed that the UK was preparing to suspend exports after the bombing of a funeral in Yemen in October 2016 killed 140 civilians. But even after that mass murder, the Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, advised Fox that sales should continue, adding: “The ‘clear risk’ threshold for refusal … has not yet been reached.”

For anyone asleep at the wheel, Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, is supposed to be the UK’s chief diplomat. Definition: “a person who can deal with others in a sensitive and tactful way. Synonyms: Tactful person, conciliator, reconciler, peacemaker.” Comment redundant.

‘CAAT presented “many hundreds of pages” of reports from the UN, European Parliament, Red Cross, Médecins Sans Frontières, Amnesty International and others documenting airstrikes on schools, hospitals and a water well in Yemen, as well as incidents of mass civilian casualties.’

However, to further batter the mind:

The reports “represent a substantial body of evidence suggesting that the coalition has committed serious breaches of International Humanitarian Law in the course of its engagement in the Yemen conflict”, the Judges wrote. “However, this open source material is only part of the picture”.

In two eye-watering fox guarding hen house observations:

The Saudi government had conducted its own investigations into allegations of concern, the judges noted, dismissing CAAT’s concern that the Saudi civilian casualty tracking unit was working too slowly and had only reported on 5% of the incidents. The Kingdom’s “growing efforts” were “of significance and a matter which the Secretary of State was entitled to take into account” when deciding whether British weapons might be used to violate international humanitarian law.

So Saudi investigates itself and the Secretary of State overviews his own actions in the State profiting in £ Billions from seemingly indiscriminate mass murder and destruction.

There was “anxious scrutiny – indeed what seems like anguished scrutiny at some stages” within government of the decision to continue granting licences, wrote the Judges. But the Secretary of State was “rationally entitled” to decide that the Saudi-led coalition was not deliberately targeting civilians and was making efforts to improve its targeting processes, and so to continue granting licences.

Pinch yourselves, Dear Readers, it would seem we live in times of the oversight in the land of the seriously deranged.

CAAT’s Andrew Smith, said:

This is a very disappointing verdict and we are pursuing an appeal. If this verdict is upheld then it will be seen as a green light for government to continue arming and supporting brutal dictatorships and human rights abusers like Saudi Arabia that have shown a blatant disregard for international humanitarian law.

Every day we are hearing new and horrifying stories about the humanitarian crisis that has been inflicted on the people of Yemen. Thousands have been killed while vital and lifesaving infrastructure has been destroyed.

The case had exposed the UK’s “toxic relationship” with Saudi Arabia.

On Wednesday 12th July, UK Home Secretary, Amber Rudd again invoked “national security” (something Yemenis can only dream of in any context) and presented Parliament with a paltry four hundred and thirty word “summary” of the Report on the funding of terrorism, origins of which go back to December 2015.

Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott encapsulated the thoughts of many, telling Parliament:

 … there is a strong suspicion this Report is being suppressed to protect this government’s trade and diplomatic priorities, including in relation to Saudi Arabia. The only way to allay those suspicions is to publish the report in full.

Caroline Lucas, co-Leader of the Green Party said:

The statement gives absolutely no clue as to which countries foreign funding for extremism originates from – leaving the government open to further allegations of refusing to expose the role of Saudi Arabian money in terrorism in the UK.

Liberal Democrat Leader, Tim Fallon condemned the refusal of the government to publish the Report as: “utterly shameful.”

Amber Rudd concentrated on pointing to individuals and organisations which might be donating, often unknowingly to: “ … inadvertently supporting extremist individuals or organisations.”

Peanuts compared to UK arms to Saudi Arabia.

CAAT’s appeal is to go back to the High Court and “If it fails, will go to the Court of Appeal” states Andrew Smith.

It also transpires that Saudi has dropped British made cluster bombs in Yemen, despite the UK being signatory to the 2008 Ottawa Convention on Cluster Munitions, banning their use, or assistance with their use. The Scottish National Party said it was a: “shameful stain on the UK’s foreign policy and its relationship with Saudi Arabia, as well as a failure by this government to uphold its legal treaty obligations”.

Final confirmation that the British government’s relations with Saudi over Arms and Yemen lies somewhere between duplicity and fantasy would seem to be confirmed in an interview with Crispin Blunt, MP., former army officer and Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee.

In spite of the legal anomalies and humanitarian devastation, he assured the BBC’s Gabriel Gatehouse that the Saudis were “rigorous” in making sure there were no breaches of international law and adopted the sort of high standard of the British army.

In that case, the cynic might conclude, given the devastation caused by the British army in Afghanistan and Iraq, perhaps it is not only arms and money that are the ties that bind the two countries, but scant regard for humanity itself.

Felicity Arbuthnot is a journalist with special knowledge of Iraq. Author, with Nikki van der Gaag, of Baghdad in the Great City series for World Almanac books, she has also been Senior Researcher for two Award winning documentaries on Iraq, John Pilger’s Paying the Price: Killing the Children of Iraq and Denis Halliday Returns for RTE (Ireland.)

July 14, 2017 Posted by | Corruption, Deception, Timeless or most popular, War Crimes | , , | Leave a comment

Rising Budget Stakes for Space Warfare

By Jonathan Marshall | Consortium News | July 14, 2017

There’s a civil war being fought on our nation’s soil, right in our capital. It pits the Secretary of Defense and senior generals against a bipartisan band of militant legislators who accuse the Pentagon of standing pat while Russian and China work to achieve military superiority over the United States in space.

No doubt these bureaucratic warriors will eventually call a truce. But in the meantime, the American people will almost certainly become less secure and more indebted (in budget terms) as a result of both sides’ macho posturing for new warfighting capabilities in space (differing mostly on how far and how fast to go).

Eager congressional advocates of space warfare have attached an amendment to the House defense authorization bill requiring the Pentagon to create a new U.S. Space Corps to join the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard by 2019. Currently, the Air Force oversees most space warfare projects.

The amendment has sent senior Pentagon leadership into a tizzy. Secretary of Defense James Mattis “strongly” urged Congress to rescind the requirement, stating in a letter that “it is premature to add additional organization and administrative tail to the department at a time I am trying to reduce overhead.”

Similarly, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson protested that the proposal will simply “add more boxes to the organization chart.” Meanwhile, Gen. John W. Raymond, commander of Air Force Space Command, insisted that his service has space matters well in hand. (He should be happy — the Pentagon recently raised his position to a 4-star rank.)

Upping the Ante

In response, Rep. Mike Rogers, an Alabama Republican and chairman of the Strategic Forces subcommittee, announced that he was “pissed” and “outraged” at the Air Force for fighting the new Space Command, saying its obstructionism would “set back efforts to respond to adversaries and space threats” and allow Russia and China “to surpass us soon.”

“The Air Force leadership would have us trust them: I don’t think so,” Rogers sneered, as if speaking about the Russians. “They just need a few more years to rearrange the deck chairs: I don’t think so. This is the same Air Force that got us into the situation where the Russians and the Chinese are near-peers to us in space.” He vowed, “We will not allow the status quo to continue.”

Behind all the fiery argumentation lies a bipartisan consensus that the United States must sharply increase its spending on the militarization of space to maintain global supremacy. Gen. Raymond applauded Congress for recognizing the “national imperative” of his mission to “normalize, elevate, and integrate space as a war-fighting domain.”

Secretary Wilson published an op-ed column last month on her new initiatives to “develop space airmen who have the tools, training, and resources to fight when – not if – war extends into space.” She fully expects Congress to follow through on her request for a 20 percent increase in Air Force space funding. (Total military spending on space, including non-Air Force programs like the National Reconnaissance Office, came to about $22 billion last year.)

What’s driving all this activity — aside from baser motives of bureaucratic advantage and financial gain — are “intelligence assessments” that “China and Russia have aggressive programs to both demonstrate and produce eventual operational capability to . . . attack our space assets across the spectrum,” in the words of David Hardy, acting deputy undersecretary of the Air Force for Space.

“While we’re not at war in space, I don’t think we can say we’re exactly at peace, either,” said Navy Vice Adm. Charles A. Richard, deputy commander of U.S. Strategic Command, in March. Gen. John Hyten, head of the Pentagon’s Strategic Command, recently declared that the United States needs not only a good defense, but “an offensive capability to challenge” space threats from Russia and China.

The High Stakes in Space

The stakes are potentially huge because the United States uses space for all manner of command, control, and intelligence missions, not to mention civilian applications. Orbiting satellites provide near-real-time images of conflict zones, sense missile launches and nuclear tests, provide precise positioning coordinates to guide weapons systems, and route secure communications to remote regions of the globe.

Of some 1,400 operational satellites currently in orbit, 40 percent belong to the United States, nearly twice as many as Russia and China combined. About 150 U.S. satellites serve military applications.

Any threat to satellites would thus pose a serious, even disproportionate military risk to the United States. But instead of supporting international initiatives to put space off limits to warfare, Washington has led the way in developing anti-satellite missile technology, encouraging a space arms race that puts our assets in peril.

The United States and Russia experimented with primitive anti-satellite technology as far back as the 1960s, but the United States first used a missile fired from a fighter jet to destroy an aging satellite in 1985. Not until 2007 did China conduct a similar test, blowing up an old weather satellite, while emphasizing its interest in multilateral talks to prevent the weaponization of space. The following year, the United States used a Navy interceptor missile to shoot down a dying military satellite. Russia followed suit with an anti-satellite test in 2015, proving that no military advance goes unanswered.

Some Key Facts

Alarmists who selectively cite Russian and Chinese activities to warn of an impending military space “gap” ignore a few key facts:

  1. The United States holds a clear technology lead and spends at least 10 times more on military space operations than every other country on earth combined.
  2. Although U.S. satellites are vulnerable to attack, most have maneuvering capabilities, shielding against various forms of radiation, and jam-resistant communications.
  3. For years, Russia, China and other nations have sought to control the spread of weapons into space — only to face consistent opposition from Washington.

An Outer Space Treaty signed in 1967 limited only the deployment of nuclear weapons in space. In 2002, the George W. Bush administration withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty with Russia, opening the door to widespread deployment of weapons that put U.S. satellites at risk. A year later, the Air Force declared in its Strategic Master Plan that “the ability to exploit space while selectively disallowing it to adversaries is critically important and . . . an essential prerequisite to modern warfare.”

Candidate Barack Obama proposed an international “code of conduct” in space, but as president he met resistance from the State Department and Pentagon, and dropped the idea as U.S.-Russia relations soured. In 2011, Congress passed an amendment banning cooperation with China in space, thus encouraging a military space race between our countries.

In 2014, the United Nations General Assembly voted 126 to 4 to pass a Russian resolution banning an arms race in space. The four dissenting countries were Georgia, Israel, Ukraine — and the United States.

Because the United States depends on space more than any other nation, both for military security and commerce, it has the most to lose if wars spread into space. Instead of relying only on military superiority to keep us safe, the time is long overdue to pursue diplomatic options for arms control — which potentially could help us achieve greater security for far less money.

“Unfortunately, the structural inertia that supports and, indeed, advocates, aggressive space postures requiring expensive weapon systems is strong,” notes Joan Johnson-Freese, a professor of national security affairs at the Naval War College and expert on space warfare. “Congressional support for their efforts is easily garnered, as building hardware creates lucrative jobs and corporate profits, whereas diplomacy does not.

“But if the goal of U.S. space security efforts is to maintain stability in space so it can fully utilize its space assets, then the time seems ripe for proactive diplomatic leadership and, at the same time, sustained strategic restraint. Otherwise, the U.S. will be seen (not for the first time) as advocating a policy of do-as-we-say-and-not-as-we-do regarding pursuit of offensive space capabilities.”

Johnson-Freese is not alone in her call for fresh new thinking about space warfare. A 2016 policy paper that she co-authored was published of all places by the Atlantic Council — a pro-NATO, Pentagon-funded think tank.

Its introduction declared, “The days of ‘space dominance’ are over and we need to move from thinking of space as a military domain of offense and defense to a more complex environment that needs to be managed by a wide range of international players. Doing so would calm growing tensions in space and, with deft management, lead to a more stable, peaceful space domain.”

The author of those words was retired Marine Gen. James Cartwright, former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. They are words that sensible Americans — who want a safer world and a sane limit on military spending — should rally round. We will stand a greater chance of preserving our civilization if we reserve space wars for movies and novels.

July 14, 2017 Posted by | Corruption, Militarism, Timeless or most popular | | 1 Comment

How the Clinton’s Longstanding Ukrainian Donor Allegedly Sponsored Hillary’s Run

Sputnik – July 14, 2017

CyberBerkut hackers believe that the Clinton Foundation’s donor Victor Pinchuk, a son-in-law of former Ukrainian President Kuchma, could have been behind the money laundering scheme involving IMF funds intended for Ukraine. The hackers alleged that these funds were then redistributed to the Clinton charity through offshores.

While the American mainstream media is struggling to find Russian “traces” in the US 2016 presidential campaign, the story of the Ukrainian interference in the election remains largely neglected.

During his testimony at the Senate Confirmation Hearing on Russia future FBI Director Christopher Wray said that he would be interested in looking into Kiev’s alleged meddling in the electoral process in the United States.

For her part, Deputy White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said earlier that there was “real collusion” between the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and Ukraine during the campaign.

On July 12 the CyberBerkut hacker group released what it called the email exchange of Thomas Weihe, the head of the board of the Victor Pinchuk Foundation, assuming that the Pinchuk entity threw its weight behind Hillary Clinton during the US 2016 presidential campaign.

Victor Pinchuk is one of the most influential Ukrainian oligarchs and a son-in-law of former Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma.

In addition, Victor and his wife Elena Pinchuk (also referred to as Olena Franchuk) are well known for their longstanding cooperation with the Clinton Foundation.

According to the Clintons’ charity website, the Elena Pinchuk ANTIAIDS Foundation and the Victor Pinchuk Foundation established a partnership with the Clinton Foundation HIV/AIDS Initiative (CHAI) back in September 2006.”The two Foundations have committed a total of $2.5 million dollars to support CHAI’s HIV/AIDS work in Ukraine over the five-year period of 2006 through 2010,” the official press release read.

Still, according to Elena Pinchuk Foundation’s site, her cooperation with CHAI actually started in 2004 when Elena Pinchuk, the daughter of then-Ukrainian President Kuchma, “initiated the negotiations between the Clinton HIV/AIDS Initiative and Ukraine.”

The emails hacked by CyberBerkut have indicated that the Pinchuk-Clinton cooperation has not waned over the years.

“On behalf of CGI, we are delighted to kick off preparations for the 2014 Annual Meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative [CGI] with you and the Victor Pinchuk Foundation. We very much appreciate all of your Victor and Elena Pinchuk’s continued support of the work of the Clinton Global Initiative and look forward to working with you,” one of the emails said.

Furthermore, citing the Clinton Foundation’s website, the hacker group called attention to the fact that “over the past 5 years the Victor Pinchuk Foundation transferred to the Clinton Foundation from 10 to 25 million dollars.”

What is more interesting, however, is that “the largest tranches from the Pinchuk Foundation to the Clinton Foundation were held in 2015 and 2016,” according to CyberBerkut.

“By a ‘fortune chance,’ Hillary Clinton fought for the Oval at the exact same time,” the hacker group highlighted.

Interestingly enough, just two weeks before Hillary Clinton officially announced her decision to run for the presidency, Victor Pinchuk “relentlessly” sought to meet Bill Clinton wanting him to “show support for Ukraine,” as one of the Podesta emails published by WikiLeaks indicated.

“Victor Pinchuk is relentlessly following up (including this morning) about a meeting with WJC [Bill Clinton] in London or anywhere in Europe. Ideally he wants to bring together a few western leaders to show support for Ukraine, with WJC probably their most important participant. If that’s not palatable for us, then he’d like a bilat with WJC,” the email allegedly written by Ami Desai, the Clinton Foundation’s foreign policy director on March 30, 2015, said.

It appears that the Pinchuks and their Ukrainian allies were interested in Hillary Clinton’s victory in the 2016 presidential run given their longstanding and close collaboration. However, that is not all.

Cyberberkut assumes that the funds given to the Clinton Foundation by Pinchuk could have originated from vanished IMF loans allocated for Ukraine.

“The Ukrainian investigation case connected to commercial banks that laundered the IMF’s money from the National Bank of Ukraine is still going on. According to the investigation, such banks as Tavrika, Pivdenkom Bank, Avtokraz Bank, CityCommerce Bank, Finrost Bank, Terra Bank, Kyivska Rus Bank, Vernum Bank, Credit Dnepr Bank, Delta Bank were involved in the criminal scheme. Funds were transferred through Austrian Meinl Bank AG,” the CyberBerkut site reads.

The hacker group highlighted that Credit Dnepr Bank and Delta Bank, related to Victor Pinchuk, offshored much more money than their counterparts.

“As it turns out, the offshore organizations that received the IMF’s money such as Melfa Group LTD (Belize), Tandice Limited (Cyprus), Tosalan Traiding Limited (Cyprus), Agalusko Investment Limited (Cyprus), Winten Trading LTD (Cyprus), Silisten Trading Limited, Nasterno Commercial Limited, are also connected to this gentleman,” CyberBerkut wrote.

“Moreover, most of the money went to the account of his main money laundering machine — the Victor Pinchuk Foundation,” the hacker group suggested.

The hackers also noted that at that time (from 2014 to 2016) the Ukrainian Finance Ministry was run by Natalie Jaresko who served as the First Chief of the Economic Section of the US Embassy in Ukraine (1992 —1995) under President Bill Clinton.

“Coming back to the Credit Dnepr Bank which belongs to V. Pinchuk it is worth to mention that his supervisory board includes former IMF managing director D. Strauss-Kahn who probably still has an influence on the international credit organization,” the hacker group remarked.

SEE ALSO:

Ukraine May Have a New President in Waiting, But He’s Another Oligarch

July 14, 2017 Posted by | Corruption, Deception, Timeless or most popular | , , , , | Leave a comment

For Google, the Pixels Just Hit the Fan

Sputnik – July 12, 2017

Distinguished research psychologist Robert Epstein explains why Google was recently fined $2.7 billion for one of its search-engine manipulations. This is just the beginning, he says, of bad news for a company that tracks and manipulates people on a massive scale.

Dr. Robert Epstein — The pixels have hit the fan. The EU just fined Google $2.7 billion for favoring its online comparative shopping service in its search results.

Google officials knew this fine was coming and that much worse is possible, so in August 2015, they reorganized the company so that it is now part of a holding company called Alphabet. This was not done, as Larry Page, one of the company’s co-founders, rapped at the time, to make the company “cleaner and more accountable” (what on earth does that mean?). It was likely done to try to protect the value of the stock held by the company’s major stockholders.  The EU’s antitrust action against Google had been filed in April, 2015, and that got Google officials thinking. When the US Department of Justice broke up AT&T in the 1980s, the stock value dropped by 70 percent.

Google officials are nervous because they know exactly how many questionable practices they engage in every day, along with how many have been uncovered so far and how many are still unknown to authorities. My associates and I have discovered some of these practices, and we study them every day.  They are brilliant, mind-blowing, and largely invisible new ways of both tracking and manipulating human behavior on an unprecedented scale, all serving a singular purpose: to make Google richer.  Before I give you a few examples of the practices we are examining these days, let me put the big EU fine into a broader context.

First of all, Google can handle it. The company will likely have revenues of over $100 billion this year, so they can pay the fine painlessly, and they also have unlimited legal resources. In court, they will claim, as they always do, that they haven’t done anything wrong, that it’s just the algorithm, and that the algorithm — in its objective purity, driven by its deep digital desire to serve human needs — just happens to rank Google products above inferior ones.

This is complete nonsense. As I explain in detail in my US News essay, “The New Censorship,” Google employees have complete control over where items occur in search results. The search algorithm is just a set of computer instructions written by Google software engineers, and they manually adjust the algorithm daily to remove items from the search results it generates about — 100,000 items per year under Europe’s “right to be forgotten” law alone — or to demote companies that piss Google off.

Second, this hefty fine is just the tip of a very large digital iceberg. Bear in mind that it is based on merely one instance of search bias: putting Google’s own comparative shopping service ahead of others. A US Federal Trade Commission investigation in 2012 found that Google’s search results are generally skewed to favor its own products and services. When was the last time you Googled a movie without seeing YouTube — owned by Google — in the top search result? Both India and Russia have levied fines against the company for rigging search results, with a much larger fine still looming in India. Bear in mind also that the EU’s search-related action against Google is just one of three antitrust cases they have initiated so far; the other two concern Google’s dominance in mobile computing and advertising. Europe’s concerns about Google are so deep that in late 2014 the European Parliament voted (in a non-binding proceeding) to break Google up into pieces, reminiscent of the DOJ’s dismantling of AT&T.

These and other legal actions are all about new techniques Google has developed for tracking and manipulating people. The search engine may have started out as a simple index of web pages, but it was soon refined and repurposed. Its main purpose became to track user behavior, yielding a vast amount of information about people that Google still leverages to send out the targeted advertisements that account for most of the company’s income. The public still thinks of the Google search engine, Google Maps, Google Wallet, YouTube, Chrome, Android and a hundred other Google platforms as cool services the company provides free of charge. In fact, they are all just gussied-up surveillance platforms, and authorities around the world are finally figuring that out.

As the EU’s recent antitrust decision shows, authorities are also beginning to figure out how extensively Google is using its platforms to suppress competition and manipulate user behavior. The EU’s investigation found, for example, that when Google officials realized in 2007 that their comparative shopping service was failing, they elevated their own service in their search results while demoting competing services. This increased traffic to its service “45-fold in the United Kingdom, 35-fold in Germany, 19-fold in France, 29-fold in the Netherlands, 17-fold in Spain and 14-fold in Italy” while reducing traffic to its competitors by “85% in the United Kingdom, up to 92% in Germany and 80% in France.”

Does position in search results really affect user behavior that much? You bet. My own research has shown, for example, that favoring one political candidate in search results can shift the voting preferences of undecided voters by up to 80 percent in some demographic groups.  Search results that favor one perspective over another on abortion, fracking, homosexuality, you name it also dramatically shift the opinions of people who haven’t yet made up their minds. The research also shows, unfortunately, that this type of manipulation is virtually invisible to people and, worse still, that the few people who can spot favoritism in search results shift even farther in the direction of the bias, perhaps because they see the bias as a kind of social proof.

What if authorities were examining not just the dominance of Google’s comparison shopping service in the company’s search results but the dominance of, say, anything, in those results: certain brands of mobile phones or computers; political candidates who serve or interfere with the company’s needs; attitudes toward Oracle, Microsoft, Yahoo, and other companies that compete with or are in conflict with Google; news stories that are “fake” or anti-Trump or pro-Google; and on and on. Do you see how big this problem really is? And no one — at least not yet — is tracking any of this. The trillions of pieces of information Google is showing people every day are all ephemeral. They hit your eyeballs and then disappear, leaving no trace, and much or most of them favor one perspective or another. Do we really want a single company, which handles 90 percent of search in most countries, to have the power to manipulate our opinions about anything? How, over the years, has Google been exercising this power?

My newest research is showing that it is not just the order of search results we need to worry about.  Here are three examples of manipulations we are currently studying which, once again, no authorities are tracking — at least not yet:

  1. Search suggestions: Before you even see those search results, Google typically flashes search suggestions at you. When Google introduced this feature in 2004, they showed you a long list of suggestions — usually 10 — that indicated what other people were searching for; Bing and Yahoo still do this. Google, however, now typically shows you just four suggestions that are often unrelated to what others are searching for. Instead, they show you terms they believe you are likely to click, which gives them a great deal of control over your search. One way they now manipulate searches is by strategically including or withholding negative search terms. Negative terms (like “suicide” or “crimes”) attract far more clicks than neutral or positive ones do-10-to-15 times as many in some demographic groups. By withholding negative suggestions for a perspective or person the company supports while allowing negatives to appear for a person or perspective the company dislikes, they drive millions of people to view material that shifts opinions in ways that serve the company’s needs.  Four, it turns out, is the magical number of suggestions that maximize their control. It maximizes the power of the negative search term to draw clicks while also minimizing the likelihood that people will type their own search term.
  2. I’m feeling lucky: When you mouse over a Google search suggestion, you see a small “I’m feeling lucky” link. With this feature, Google gets people to skip seeing search results altogether; it gives the company complete control over the actual web page you see. By limiting the number of suggestions you see and then attracting you to the “lucky” link, they exert a high degree of control over what opinion you will form on issues you’re uncertain about. All of this occurs without users having any awareness of how they are being manipulated.
  3. The featured snippet: Google is rapidly moving away from the search engine model of tracking and manipulation toward much more powerful means. (To view a satire I wrote about Google donating its search engine to the American public, click here.) The “featured snippet” — the answer box we see more and more frequently above the search results — is one such tool we are studying. Google officials have long known that people don’t really want to see a list of 10,000 search results when they ask a question; they just want the answer. That’s what the snippet is now giving people — the answer, wrong or right, and it’s often wrong. In one of our newest experiments, the voting preferences of undecided voters shifted by 36.2 percent when they saw biased search rankings without an answer box, but when a biased answer box appeared above the search results, the shift was an astounding 56.5 percent. In other words, when you give people the answer, you have an even larger impact on their opinions, purchases, and voting preferences. Google is rapidly shifting to this new model of influence not just on its search engine, but with its new audio Home device (“Okay Google, what’s the best Italian restaurant around here?”), as well as with its new Android-based Google Assistant.

It took years for the EU to collect and analyze the terabytes of data it needed to make a case against Google in the shopping services action. Meanwhile, Google is moving light years ahead. This might always be a problem when it comes to the machinations of high-tech companies. Laws and regulations will necessarily lag way behind, unless-unless, that is, we change the game.

As The Washington Post and other media outlets reported in March 2017, about six months before the November 2016 election in the US, my associates and I deployed a Nielsen-type system for tracking search results in real time. Using custom software and a nationwide network of anonymous field agents, we were able to look over the shoulders of people as they conducted a wide range of election-related searches using Google, Bing, and Yahoo, ultimately preserving the first page of results from 13,207 searches and the 98,044 web pages to which the search results linked. We found that these searches, especially the ones conducted on Google, generally favored Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump in all ten search positions on the first page of search results. Perhaps more important, we learned that our monitoring system could be used to track any of the ephemeral stimuli that Google and other tech companies are showing us every day: news feeds, advertisements, you name it.

I am now working will colleagues from Stanford, Princeton, King’s College London and a dozen other institutions to create an organization that will monitor the online behavior of Big Tech companies worldwide on a real-time basis. If we do this right, it will take only seconds, not years, to spot illegal or unethical behavior, and we might even be able to anticipate manipulations before they occur, providing evidence on an ongoing basis to journalists, regulators, legislators, law enforcement officials, and antitrust investigators.  Such a system will force Big Tech companies, both now and in the future, to be more accountable to the public, and it will also help preserve the free and fair election.

In the meantime, my advice to consumers is:  be wary of the information you obtain online and, more important, be cautious about the information you reveal. Learn how to increase your online privacy; it’s not that hard.

And my advice to Google officials is: cut down on the greed and arrogance. The wheels of justice turn slowly, but they do turn.

_______________________

A Ph.D. of Harvard University, Robert Epstein is senior research psychologist at the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology, the author of 15 books, and the former editor-in-chief of Psychology Today magazine. Follow him on Twitter @DrREpstein.

July 12, 2017 Posted by | Corruption, Deception | , | Leave a comment

The ‘Civilianization’ of Movie Scripts: The Pentagon’s Counter-Subversion Program for Hollywood

By Tom Secker | American Herald Tribune | July 11, 2017

While Hollywood is generally supportive of the government – and of the military in particular – the Pentagon faces a problem.  In order to stand out from the crowd and make their screenplays a bit different to the usual schlock, screenwriters like to include subversive elements and aspects, even in films that are broadly in favour of institutions like the Department of Defense and the CIA. Because the Pentagon wants to support films that promote them as a benevolent force in the world, these subversive elements present a problem for them. One solution is civilianization.

In our new book National Security Cinema: The Shocking New Evidence of Government Control in Hollywood, we document numerous politically-motivated changes made to script by the Pentagon and CIA in exchange for production assistance. We collated this information from a vast range of sources including over 4,000 pages of documents we obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. One recurring theme we found in these changes is the civilianization of characters, action and dialogue that the Pentagon didn’t like.

The Civilianization of Contact

In the 1997 extra-terrestrial epic Contact the National Guard provided vehicles and uniformed extras for a small handful of scenes but in exchange had a considerable influence on the script. In one scene in the White House where the protagonists are deciding what to do with blueprints they have decoded from an alien signal the original script portrays the military as deeply worried that this could be a ‘Trojan Horse’ that would instantly transport an alien army to Earth and take over. Jodie Foster’s character Ellie responded, ‘This is communist paranoia right out of War of the Worlds’.

The Pentagon saw scenes like this as a ‘silly military depiction’ and so they ‘Negotiated civilianization of almost all military parts’. In the revised scene it is the National Security Adviser, not the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who expresses outlandish fears about what this technology might be, and Ellie’s response about paranoia was cut entirely.

In another scene in the pre-civilianized version, the President gives a stirring speech at the UN about the building of this great new technology and this is intercut with a military convoy and Apache helicopters approaching the construction site. The script describes how ‘Encircling the installation is a vast graveyard of discarded aircraft—the detritus of Twentieth Century war-making.’ This is rather obvious symbolism representing how technological efforts are moving from the violence of the 20th century military industry to peaceful 21st century space exploration. In the final version this sequence does not appear, and there is no indication of military involvement in the construction of the wormhole machine. This compromised the creative and philosophical vision behind Contact – of a future where war-making is left behind in favour of learning and discovery.

The Civilianization of Jurassic Park and Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

National Security Cinema records numerous other examples of this phenomenon, where instead of outright censoring troublesome scenes the Pentagon distances itself, reducing its presence in these films to a benevolent or benign background entity. For Jurassic Park III the producers approached the Pentagon wanting to film some A-10 gunships for a scene where they battled with flying dinosaurs.

The Pentagon’s chief Hollywood liaison Phil Strub turned down this request because ‘We weren’t about to provide them something that would only generate sympathy for the dinosaurs’. He also requested that they change the identity of the character who discovers the island full of dinosaurs, asking, ‘would you change his character, make him like the president’s science adviser or something like that? Just get him out of the uniform.’ Strub also promoted the idea of the film ending with a ‘nice military rescue’, reducing the military’s role from reckless pioneers and murderers of cute flying dinosaurs, to responsible officials providing emergency/disaster relief.

This technique continues into the most recent films we examined. In 2016’s Whiskey Tango Foxtrot – a Tina Fey comedy – the military allowed several days filming at Kirtland Air Force Base in exchange for civilianizing one aspect of the script they didn’t like. The version the DOD reviewed, ‘portrayed a US Army transport brake failure, resulting in it hitting a group of Afghani shoppers in Kabul, killing and injuring them. This was changed to an NGO vehicle.’

Independence Day: When Civilianization Fails

Independence Day was not so lucky. When they approached the Pentagon for support making their alien invasion adventure there were numerous aspects of the script that Strub and his colleagues found objectionable. From Will Smith’s Air Force character dating a stripper to the fact that ‘all advances in stopping the aliens are the result of actions by civilians’ which contrasted the ‘anaemic US military response’, the Pentagon was not happy on a number of levels.

They particularly objected to the inclusion of references in the dialogue to Area 51 – the common name for the Groom Lake facility at Edwards Air Force base. Even when the producers civilianized Area 51, making it a non-military facility run by non-military officials, this still didn’t satisfy the Pentagon. As a result, the producers of Independence Day had to use CGI (still a relatively new and very expensive technology at the time) to duplicate the one fighter jet they had to create the scenes of numerous jets in dogfights with alien craft.

However, despite the production being made more difficult and expensive, the Pentagon’s rejection did mean that the producers had more creative freedom. The result was a hugely popular and successful summer blockbuster that is fondly remembered. Had the scenes in Area 51 been removed, or reworked so that they did not involve such an obvious element of UFO folklore, then the film would have been fundamentally different, and less memorable. By contrast, the Pentagon did support the sequel Independence Day: Resurgence, which almost everyone who saw it has already forgotten.

The Consequences of Civilianization

At its most fundamental, the Pentagon’s strategy of civilianization of movies is a means of removing subversive moments from the military realm, or of changing them so they aren’t subversive at all. The image of a US Army transport crashing in downtown Kabul and killing innocent people is an effective, provocative symbol representing the abject futility and stupidity of the ongoing war in Afghanistan. Changing this to an NGO vehicle dilutes this subversive element to almost nothing, and it becomes more of a plot point than politically-charged symbolism.

Similarly, by removing the scene from Contact where the construction of the wormhole machine rises above the detritus of 20th century war-making, the Pentagon diluted the subversive philosophy of that film.  While Contact remains an intelligent and in places profound movie its critical light was not allowed to shine on the Pentagon – all so that they could use a couple of National Guard helicopters and jeeps and a handful of real life troops as extras.

This is perhaps the more obvious consequence of military involvement in Hollywood – that films are less radical and challenging than they would otherwise be. However, there is another, more significant and perhaps unintended consequence. In movies subject to this process the characteristics of recklessness, incompetence, deceit and so on are civilian traits, not military ones. The result of this is a semi-consistent worldview across a range of fantasy movies that says that the problems of the world are civilian problems, not resulting from the military’s behaviour.

In reality, as the biggest, richest, most violently powerful organisation in the world, the Pentagon, has greater means to inflict the consequences of human vice on people around the world. While Hollywood is rarely known for being realistic, the ‘soft censorship’ of civilianization exacerbates this problem, with considerable political consequences. Hundreds of millions of cinema-goers are being repeatedly told that the reasons bad things happen are because of ordinary citizens, and not institutionalised military power on a massive scale. This makes it seems like in the real world wars are not the forces of murder and destruction they really are, but are rather the background noise to the evils of human nature. As a result, civilianization of movie scripts helps make wars more likely, more popular and therefore easier to maintain for long periods, and thus more prolonged and destructive. What likely began as a means of ensuring better PR for the military through Hollywood adds up to a powerful political phenomenon.


Tom Secker is a private researcher who runs spyculture.com—the world’s premier online archive about government involvement in the entertainment industry, and home of the popular ClandesTime podcast. He has used the Freedom of Information Act to obtain unique government documents since 2010, which has been reported on by Russia Today, Salon, Techdirt, The Mirror, The Express and other outlets. His new book is National Security Cinema: The Shocking New Evidence of Government Control in Hollywood.

July 11, 2017 Posted by | Book Review, Corruption, Deception, Full Spectrum Dominance, Militarism, Timeless or most popular | , , | Leave a comment

MSM, Still Living in Propaganda-ville

By Robert Parry | Consortium news | July 6, 2017

As much as the U.S. mainstream media wants people to believe that it is the Guardian of Truth, it is actually lost in a wilderness of propaganda and falsehoods, a dangerous land of delusion that is putting the future of humankind at risk as tensions escalate with nuclear-armed Russia.

This media problem has grown over recent decades as lucrative careerism has replaced responsible professionalism. Pack journalism has always been a threat to quality reporting but now it has evolved into a self-sustaining media lifestyle in which the old motto, “there’s safety in numbers,” is borne out by the fact that being horrendously wrong, such as on Iraq’s WMD, leads to almost no accountability because so many important colleagues were wrong as well.

Similarly, there has been no accountability after many mainstream journalists and commentators falsely stated as flat-fact that “all 17 U.S. intelligence agencies” concurred that Russia did “meddle” in last November’s U.S. election.

For months, this claim has been the go-to put-down whenever anyone questions the groupthink of Russian venality perverting American democracy. Even the esteemed “Politifact” deemed the assertion “true.” But it was never true.

It was at best a needled distortion of a claim by President Obama’s Director of National Intelligence James Clapper when he issued a statement last Oct. 7 alleging Russian meddling. Because Clapper was the chief of the U.S. Intelligence Community, his opinion morphed into a claim that it represented the consensus of all 17 intelligence agencies, a dishonest twist that Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton began touting.

However, for people who understand how the U.S. Intelligence Community works, the claim of a 17-agencies consensus has a specific meaning, some form of a National Intelligence Estimate (or NIE) that seeks out judgments and dissents from the various agencies.

But there was no NIE regarding alleged Russian meddling and there apparently wasn’t even a formal assessment from a subset of the agencies at the time of Clapper’s statement. President Obama did not order a publishable assessment until December – after the election – and it was not completed until Jan. 6, when a report from Clapper’s office presented the opinions of analysts from the Central Intelligence Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National Security Agency – three agencies (or four if you count the DNI’s office), not 17.

Lacking Hard Evidence

The report also contained no hard evidence of a Russian “hack” and amounted to a one-sided circumstantial case at best. However, by then, the U.S. mainstream media had embraced the “all-17-intelligence-agencies” refrain and anyone who disagreed, including President Trump, was treated as delusional. The argument went: “How can anyone question what all 17 intelligence agencies have confirmed as true?”

It wasn’t until May 8 when then-former DNI Clapper belatedly set the record straight in sworn congressional testimony in which he explained that there were only three “contributing agencies” from which analysts were “hand-picked.”

The reference to “hand-picked” analysts pricked the ears of some former U.S. intelligence analysts who had suffered through earlier periods of “politicized” intelligence when malleable analysts were chosen to deliver what their political bosses wanted to hear.

On May 23, also in congressional testimony, former CIA Director John Brennan confirmed Clapper’s description, saying only four of the 17 U.S. intelligence agencies took part in the assessment.

Brennan said the Jan. 6 report “followed the general model of how you want to do something like this with some notable exceptions. It only involved the FBI, NSA and CIA as well as the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. It wasn’t a full inter-agency community assessment that was coordinated among the 17 agencies.”

After this testimony, some of the major news organizations, which had been waving around the “17-intelligence-agencies” meme, subtly changed their phrasing to either depict Russian “meddling” as an established fact no longer requiring attribution or referred to the “unanimous judgment” of the Intelligence Community without citing a specific number.

This “unanimous judgment” formulation was deceptive, too, because it suggested that all 17 agencies were in accord albeit without exactly saying that. For a regular reader of The New York Times or a frequent viewer of CNN, the distinction would almost assuredly not be detected.

For more than a month after the Clapper-Brennan testimonies, there was no formal correction.

A Belated Correction

Finally, on June 25, the Times’ hand was forced when White House correspondent Maggie Haberman reverted to the old formulation, mocking Trump for “still refus[ing] to acknowledge a basic fact agreed upon by 17 American intelligence agencies that he now oversees: Russia orchestrated the attacks, and did it to help get him elected.”

When this falsehood was called to the Times’ attention, it had little choice but to append a correction to the article, noting that the intelligence “assessment was made by four intelligence agencies — the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National Security Agency. The assessment was not approved by all 17 organizations in the American intelligence community.”

The Associated Press ran a similar “clarification” applied to some of its fallacious reporting repeating the “17-intelligence-agencies” meme.

So, you might have thought that the mainstream media was finally adjusting its reporting to conform to reality. But that would mean that one of the pillars of the Russia-gate “scandal” had crumbled, the certainty that Russia and Putin did “meddle” in the election.

The story would have to go back to square one and the major news organizations would have to begin reporting on whether or not there ever was solid evidence to support what had become a “certainty” – and there appeared to be no stomach for such soul-searching. Since pretty much all the important media figures had made the same error, it would be much easier to simply move on as if nothing had changed.

That would mean that skepticism would still be unwelcome and curious leads would not be followed. For instance, there was a head-turning reference in an otherwise typical Washington Post take-out on June 25 accusing Russia of committing “the crime of the century.”

A reference, stuck deep inside the five-page opus, said, “Some of the most critical technical intelligence on Russia came from another country, officials said. Because of the source of the material, the NSA was reluctant to view it with high confidence.”

Though the Post did not identify the country, this reference suggests that more than one key element of the case for Russian culpability was based not on direct investigations by the U.S. intelligence agencies, but on the work of external organizations.

Earlier, the Democratic National Committee denied the FBI access to its supposedly hacked computers, forcing the investigators to rely on a DNC contractor called CrowdStrike, which has a checkered record of getting this sort of analytics right and whose chief technology officer, Dmitri Alperovitch, is an anti-Putin Russian émigré with ties to the anti-Russian think tank, Atlantic Council.

Relying on Outsiders

You might be wondering why something as important as this “crime of the century,” which has pushed the world closer to nuclear annihilation, is dependent on dubious entities outside the U.S. government with possible conflicts of interest.

If the U.S. government really took this issue seriously, which it should, why didn’t the FBI seize the DNC’s computers and insist that impartial government experts lead the investigation? And why – given the extraordinary expertise of the NSA in computer hacking – is “some of the most critical technical intelligence on Russia [coming] from another country,” one that doesn’t inspire the NSA’s confidence?

But such pesky questions are not likely to be asked or answered by a mainstream U.S. media that displays deep-seated bias toward both Putin and Trump.

Mostly, major news outlets continue to brush aside the clarifications and return to various formulations that continue to embrace the “17-intelligence-agencies” canard, albeit in slightly different forms, such as references to the collective Intelligence Community without the specific number. Anyone who questions this established conventional wisdom is still crazy and out of step.

For instance, James Holmes of Esquire was stunned on Thursday when Trump at a news conference in Poland reminded the traveling press corps about the inaccurate reporting regarding the 17 intelligence agencies and said he still wasn’t entirely sure about Russia’s guilt.

“In public, he’s still casting doubt on the intelligence community’s finding that Russia interfered in the 2016 election nearly nine months after the fact,” Holmes sputtered before describing Trump’s comment as a “rant.”

So, if you thought that a chastened mainstream media might stop in the wake of the “17-intelligence-agencies” falsehood and rethink the whole Russia-gate business, you would have been sadly mistaken.

But the problem is not just the question of whether Russia hacked into Democratic emails and slipped them to WikiLeaks for publication (something that both Russia and WikiLeaks deny). Perhaps the larger danger is how the major U.S. news outlets have adopted a consistently propagandistic approach toward everything relating to Russia.

Hating Putin

This pattern traces back to the earliest days of Vladimir Putin’s presidency in 2000 when he began to rein in the U.S.-prescribed “shock therapy,” which had sold off Russia’s assets to well-connected insiders, making billions of dollars for the West-favored “oligarchs,” even as the process threw millions of average Russian into poverty.

But the U.S. mainstream media’s contempt for Putin reached new heights after he helped President Obama head off neoconservative (and liberal interventionist) demands for a full-scale U.S. military assault on Syria in August 2013 and helped bring Iran into a restrictive nuclear agreement when the neocons wanted to bomb-bomb-bomb Iran.

The neocons delivered their payback to Putin in early 2014 by supporting a violent coup in Ukraine, overthrowing elected President Viktor Yanukovych and installing a fiercely anti-Russian regime. The U.S. operation was spearheaded by neocon National Endowment for Democracy President Carl Gershman and neocon Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland, with enthusiastic support from neocon Sen. John McCain.

Nuland was heard in an intercepted pre-coup phone call with U.S. Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt discussing who should become the new leaders and pondering how to “glue” or “midwife this thing.”

Despite the clear evidence of U.S. interference in Ukrainian politics, the U.S. government and the mainstream media embraced the coup and accused Putin of “aggression” when ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine, called the Donbas, resisted the coup regime.

When ethnic Russians and other citizens in Crimea voted overwhelmingly in a referendum to reject the coup regime and rejoin Russia – a move protected by some of the 20,000 Russian troops inside Crimea as part of a basing agreement – that became a Russian “invasion.” But it was the most peculiar “invasion,” since there were no images of tanks crashing across borders or amphibious landing craft on Crimean beaches, because no such “invasion” had occurred.

However, in virtually every instance, the U.S. mainstream media insisted on the most extreme anti-Russian propaganda line and accused people who questioned this Official Narrative of disseminating Russian “propaganda” – or being a “Moscow stooge” or acting as a “useful fool.” There was no tolerance for skepticism about whatever the State Department or the Washington think tanks were saying.

Trump Meets Putin

So, as Trump prepares for his first meeting with Putin at the G-20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, the U.S. mainstream media has been in a frenzy, linking up its groupthinks about the Ukraine “invasion” with its groupthinks about Russian “hacking” the election.

In a July 3 editorial, The Washington Post declared, “Mr. Trump simply cannot fail to admonish Mr. Putin for Russia’s attempts to meddle in the 2016 presidential election. He must make clear the United States will not tolerate it, period. Naturally, this is a difficult issue for Mr. Trump, who reaped the benefit of Russia’s intervention and now faces a special counsel’s investigation, but nonetheless, in his first session with Mr. Putin, the president must not hesitate to be blunt. …

“On Ukraine, Mr. Trump must also display determination. Russia fomented an armed uprising and seized Crimea in violation of international norms, and it continues to instigate violence in the Donbas. Mr. Trump ought to make it unmistakably clear to Mr.Putin that the United States will not retreat from the sanctions imposed over Ukraine until the conditions of peace agreements are met.”

Along the same lines, even while suggesting the value of some collaboration with Russia toward ending the war in Syria, Post columnist David Ignatius wrote in a July 5 column, “Russian-American cooperation on Syria faces a huge obstacle right now. It would legitimize a Russian regime that invaded Ukraine and meddled in U.S. and European elections, in addition to its intervention in Syria.”

Note the smug certainty of Ignatius and the Post editors. There is no doubt that Russia “invaded” Ukraine; “seized” Crimea; “meddled” in U.S. and European elections. Yet all these groupthinks should be subjected to skepticism, not simply treated as undeniable truths.

But seeing only one side to a story is where the U.S. mainstream media is at this point in history. Yes, it is possible that Russia was responsible for the Democratic hacks and did funnel the material to WikiLeaks, but evidence has so far been lacking. And, instead of presenting both sides fairly, the major media acts as if only one side deserves any respect and dissenting views must be ridiculed and condemned.

In this perverted process, collectively approved versions of complex situations congeal into conventional wisdom, which simply cannot be significantly reconsidered regardless of future revelations.

As offensive as this rejection of true truth-seeking may be, it also represents an extraordinary danger when mixed with the existential risk of nuclear conflagration.

With the stakes this high, the demand for hard evidence – and the avoidance of soft-minded groupthink – should go without question. Journalists and commentators should hold themselves to professional precision, not slide into sloppy careerism, lost in “propaganda-ville.”

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s.

July 6, 2017 Posted by | Corruption, Deception, Fake News, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Russophobia, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

What I Hear in Every European Country I Visit: The Politicians Are All in Bed with the Israeli Government

By Miko Peled | American Herald Tribune | July 3, 2017

I recently returned from a ten – day speaking tour in Europe, to launch the German language translation of “The General’s Son, Journey of an Israeli in Palestine.” I had lectures to German speaking audiences and even and interviews with main stream media outlets. The tour also included two lectures in Italy, one in Milan and one in the small town of Biella, which of course were not related to the German edition. All the lectures were well attended and people did not mind sitting through the extreme hot weather plaguing Europe this summer or the lengthy process of translation – indeed the audiences sat for hours and listened and then remained for lengthy discussions and Q&A sessions.

This was the latest of many speaking tours I have had in Europe and there is a line that I hear and that is repeated in every European country I visit: “Here in (fill in the blank) the Zionist lobby is very strong, the politicians are all in bed with the Israeli government and media will not report on Palestine.” This stands in contrast to the prevailing opinion which is, that in Europe there is a strong Palestine solidarity movement. That people in general are sympathetic to the cause of justice for Palestine and the BDS movement has recorded serious accomplishments in Europe. And yet, it is true that European governments and mainstream media and the EU as a body are fully supportive of Israel and collaborate with Israel on every level which means that there is an enormous gap between the politicians and their constituents on this issue.

One example of the official and perhaps true attitude of the European Union to Israel and the issue of “illegal settlements” is the following: In the spring of 2016 a conference was held in Jerusalem under the title of “How to Fight the BDS.” I was in Jerusalem at the time and decided to attend. After all, Israeli television news channel 10 described me as a leader of the BDS movement and “the nightmare of the Israeli Hasbara,” two claims in which there is very little truth. The event was very well attended and among the many panels there was one that included the European Union ambassador to Tel Aviv, his Excellency, Lars Faaborg-Andersen. The ambassador was asked about the EU law demanding that products made in the Israeli settlements in the West Bank be labeled indicating that they are not made in Israel but in the West Bank. “We welcome the products from the Settlements” the ambassador responded, “the labeling is merely for accuracy.”

There have been several attempts by the European states and the EU to pacify the pro-Palestinian sentiment and surprisingly, they seem to have worked. One such attempt is the recognition by several European governments and parliaments of a Palestinian state. This recognition is received by many supporters of the Palestinian cause as a reason to rejoice, a reason to feel that justice is being served. But the recognition of a state that does not exist does nothing to promote justice for Palestinians or change the reality in Palestine. The recognition of a fictional Palestinian state does not change the fact that for seven decades Palestine is occupied, Palestinians are subjected to genocide, ethnic cleansing and are forced to live in an apartheid regime. In fact, even the name Palestine has all but been erased off the map and the area recognized as what may one day be a Palestinian state, i.e., the West Bank, is now Judea and Samaria and has – much like all other parts of Palestine – been settled by Jews and, with the exception of some three million Palestinians living there, has been fully integrated into the state of Israel.

So what has this recognition done? Nothing but placate, sedate and allow the Zionist regime to go on with its policies of extermination and dispossession. Instead of recognizing and declaring that Palestine is occupied and should be freed from the regime that has been on a mission to destroy it and its people, the Europeans have recognized a state that has no defined boundaries, no capital, no citizenry and certainly no sovereignty. But as former colonizers themselves, the European states are quite accustomed to the practice of imposing puppet regimes that have no authority or real legitimacy, recognizing a so called state and then doing with it as they will. This is what they are now allowing Israel – a settler colonial project – to do.

The other placating measure was the law that prohibits the labeling of products made in Jewish settlements in the West Bank as made in Israel. This law, as it happens exists in the US as well since the Clinton Administration. It was reiterated by the Obama administration in 2016, and as JPost reported, “The move signals the Obama administration’s continued resistance to folding recognition of settlement products into goods made within Israel’s pre-1967 borders.” but US government officials claimed this was only for providing guidance and is in no way a boycott “or anything like that.”

This ridiculous demand for labeling forces all involved to put forward enormous efforts to define what is “Israeli proper,” or “Legal Israel” as opposed to the expanded or “greater” Israel which includes the West Bank and the Gaza strip. Where do the occupied territories begin and which of the illegal settlements are to be labeled? Are the settlements that are attached to East Jerusalem legal or illegal? What about products that are grown in other areas but get their water from the West Bank which has an enormous water reservoir from which Israel gets much of its water? But in reality there is no West Bank and there is no “Israel proper.” Whichever way we choose to look at it, all of Israel is occupied Palestine, and all of Palestine is occupied. There is no more a line that defines any single area within Palestine that is not part of the State of Israel. So, its either all legal and acceptable or all illegal and unacceptable.

If we take a moment to discuss the US, in what is a bizarre chain of events, we should thank Donald Trump’s ignorance and his close advisors’ hawkish stance on Israel for changing the conversation on Israel and bringing its apartheid nature of the state into the forefront. In his ignorance Trump suggested that any solution is fine with him, one state, two state – whatever. His advisors, the son-in-law Jared Kushner and his ambassador to Israel David Friedman who have funded and supported settlements and even the notorious IDF, have allowed the conversation to move far away from a two-state solution. This can only mean one thing: Is it going to be a democracy which will require equal rights for Palestinians or an apartheid state with a US stamp of approval? Arguably Kushner and Friedman have no problem with the latter, but now the truth is out and clearly there is no third option.

But the European approach is a more subtle one. Labeling the products of Jewish settlements and pretending that there is such a place as the West Bank, and that Israel must not settle Jews in that West Bank while pretending there is a Palestinian state and at the same time arming and funding Israel as it continues to execute its policies of genocide, ethnic cleansing and apartheid. It is what you might call win-win except that Israel is always winning and the Palestinians keep losing. The US – for comparison sake – wouldn’t dream of recognizing a Palestinian state and blatantly and unapologetically arms and supports Israel even though this violates US law.

The spineless attitude towards Israel and the lack of regard for human rights and human lives that are expressed both by the US and the EU create a reality in which anyone who does not stand clearly in opposition to Israel is in fact complicit with Israeli crimes. And while the European approach is somewhat different than that of the US, the result is the same – in both cases the governments work closely with Israel and ignore the plight of the Palestinian people. This places greater demands on people of conscience who need to act, to organize until the political climate is such that supporting Israel is political suicide.

July 4, 2017 Posted by | Corruption, Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Illegal Occupation | , , , , , , | 4 Comments