Liberty Blitzkrieg : March 31, 2017
In my post published earlier this week, Recent TSA Molestation Video Proves Americans Have Become Authority Worshipping Slaves, I noted the following:
Yeah, it’s disgusting, inappropriate and anathema to a free people, but that’s the point. We aren’t a free people. We’ve become a bunch of authority-worshiping subjects toiling on a plantation dominated by multi-national companies who write our laws and manipulate our thoughts through corporate media. The worst part is we don’t do anything about it. We elect Trump and then puff our chests out yelling stupid slogans like MAGA, as molestations from the TSA get worse. Well done everyone.
I was pleased that the above paragraph connected with many people, but for those of you who think I was being hyperbolic, take a look at the following excerpts from a piece recently published at The Washington Post, Since 2007, the DEA Has Taken $3.2 Billion in Cash from People Not Charged with a Crime:
The Drug Enforcement Administration takes billions of dollars in cash from people who are never charged with criminal activity, according to a report issued today by the Justice Department’s Inspector General.
Since 2007, the report found, the DEA has seized more than $4 billion in cash from people suspected of involvement with the drug trade. But 81 percent of those seizures, totaling $3.2 billion, were conducted administratively, meaning no civil or criminal charges were brought against the owners of the cash and no judicial review of the seizures ever occurred.
Remember, the terrorists hate us for our freedom.
That total does not include the dollar value of other seized assets, like cars, homes, electronics and clothing.
These seizures are all legal under the controversial practice of civil asset forfeiture, which allows authorities to take cash, contraband and property from people suspected of crime. But the practice does not require authorities to obtain a criminal conviction, and it allows departments to keep seized cash and property for themselves unless individuals successfully challenge the forfeiture in court. Critics across the political spectrum say this creates a perverse profit motive, incentivizing police to seize goods not for the purpose of fighting crime, but for padding department budgets.
In the absence of this information, the report examined 100 DEA cash seizures that occurred “without a court-issued warrant and without the presence of narcotics, the latter of which would provide strong evidence of related criminal behavior.”
Fewer than half of those seizures were related to a new or ongoing criminal investigation, or led to an arrest or prosecution, the Inspector General found.
“When seizure and administrative forfeitures do not ultimately advance an investigation or prosecution,” the report concludes, “law enforcement creates the appearance, and risks the reality, that it is more interested in seizing and forfeiting cash than advancing an investigation or prosecution.”
The scope of asset forfeiture is staggering. Since 2007 the Department of Justice’s Asset Forfeiture Fund, which collects proceeds from seized cash and other property, has ballooned to $28 billion. In 2014 alone authorities seized $5 billion in cash and property from people — greater than the value of all documented losses to burglary that year.
Some of the encounters were based on tips from confidential sources working in the travel industry, a number of whom have received large sums of money in exchange for their cooperation. In one case, officers targeted an individual for questioning on a tip from a travel industry informant that the individual had paid for a plane ticket with a pre-paid debit card and cash.
Nope, no conflict of interest there. USA! USA!
Forfeiture cases are also legally complex and difficult for individuals to win. Forfeiture cases are brought against the property, rather than the individual, leading to Kafkaesque case titles like United States v. $8,850 in U.S. Currency and United States of America v. One Men’s Rolex Pearl Master Watch.
While criminal proceedings assume the defendant’s innocence, forfeiture proceedings start from the presumption of guilt. That means that individuals who fight forfeiture must prove their innocence in court.
Meanwhile, guess who’s a big fan of civil forfeiture? Yep, you guessed it, Mr. MAGA himself, Donald Trump.
(read the full article at Liberty Blitzkrieg
Wikileaks reveals ‘Marble Framework’ from Vault 7
Today, March 31st 2017, WikiLeaks releases Vault 7 “Marble” — 676 source code files for the CIA’s secret anti-forensic Marble Framework. Marble is used to hamper forensic investigators and anti-virus companies from attributing viruses, trojans and hacking attacks to the CIA.
Marble does this by hiding (“obfuscating”) text fragments used in CIA malware from visual inspection. This is the digital equivallent of a specalized CIA tool to place covers over the english language text on U.S. produced weapons systems before giving them to insurgents secretly backed by the CIA.
Marble forms part of the CIA’s anti-forensics approach and the CIA’s Core Library of malware code. It is “[D]esigned to allow for flexible and easy-to-use obfuscation” as “string obfuscation algorithms (especially those that are unique) are often used to link malware to a specific developer or development shop.“
The Marble source code also includes a deobfuscator to reverse CIA text obfuscation. Combined with the revealed obfuscation techniques, a pattern or signature emerges which can assist forensic investigators attribute previous hacking attacks and viruses to the CIA. Marble was in use at the CIA during 2016. It reached 1.0 in 2015.
The source code shows that Marble has test examples not just in English but also in Chinese, Russian, Korean, Arabic and Farsi. This would permit a forensic attribution double game, for example by pretending that the spoken language of the malware creator was not American English, but Chinese, but then showing attempts to conceal the use of Chinese, drawing forensic investigators even more strongly to the wrong conclusion, — but there are other possibilities, such as hiding fake error messages.
The Marble Framework is used for obfuscation only and does not contain any vulnerabilties or exploits by itself.
Naked Capitalism : March 26, 2017
Nobody yet can tell whether Donald Trump is an agent of change with a specific policy in mind, or merely a catalyst heralding an as yet undetermined turning point. His first month in the White House saw him melting into the Republican mélange of corporate lobbyists. Having promised to create jobs, his “America First” policy looks more like “Wall Street First.” His cabinet of billionaires promoting corporate tax cuts, deregulation and dismantling Dodd-Frank bank reform repeats the Junk Economics promise that giving more tax breaks to the richest One Percent may lead them to use their windfall to invest in creating more jobs. What they usually do, of course, is simply buy more property and assets already in place.
One of the first reactions to Trump’s election victory was for stocks of the most crooked financial institutions to soar, hoping for a deregulatory scythe taken to the public sector. Navient, the Department of Education’s knee-breaker on student loan collections accused by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) of massive fraud and overcharging, rose from $13 to $18 now that it seemed likely that the incoming Republicans would disable the CFPB and shine a green light for financial fraud.
Foreclosure king Stephen Mnuchin of IndyMac/OneWest (and formerly of Goldman Sachs for 17 years; later a George Soros partner) is now Treasury Secretary – and Trump is pledged to abolish the CFPB, on the specious logic that letting fraudsters manage pension savings and other investments will give consumers and savers “broader choice,” e.g., for the financial equivalent of junk food. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos hopes to privatize public education into for-profit (and de-unionized) charter schools, breaking the teachers’ unions. This may position Trump to become the Transformational President that neoliberals have been waiting for.
But not the neocons. His election rhetoric promised to reverse traditional U.S. interventionist policy abroad. Making an anti-war left run around the Democrats, he promised to stop backing ISIS/Al Nusra (President Obama’s “moderate” terrorists supplied with the arms and money that Hillary looted from Libya), and to reverse the Obama-Clinton administration’s New Cold War with Russia. But the neocon coterie at the CIA and State Department are undercutting his proposed rapprochement with Russia by forcing out General Flynn for starters. It seems doubtful that Trump will clean them out.
Trump has called NATO obsolete, but insists that its members up their spending to the stipulated 2% of GDP — producing a windfall worth tens of billions of dollars for U.S. arms exporters. That is to be the price Europe must pay if it wants to endorse Germany’s and the Baltics’ confrontation with Russia.
Trump is sufficiently intuitive to proclaim the euro a disaster, and he recommends that Greece leave it. He supports the rising nationalist parties in Britain, France, Italy, Greece and the Netherlands, all of which urge withdrawal from the eurozone – and reconciliation with Russia instead of sanctions. In place of the ill-fated TPP and TTIP, Trump advocates country-by-country trade deals favoring the United States. Toward this end, his designated ambassador to the European Union, Ted Malloch, urges the EU’s breakup. The EU is refusing to accept him as ambassador.
Will Trump’s Victory Break Up the Democratic Party?
At the time this volume is going to press, there is no way of knowing how successful these international reversals will be. What is more clear is what Trump’s political impact will have at home. His victory – or more accurately, Hillary’s resounding loss and the way she lost – has encouraged enormous pressure for a realignment of both parties. Regardless of what President Trump may achieve vis-à-vis Europe, his actions as celebrity chaos agent may break up U.S. politics across the political spectrum.
The Democratic Party has lost its ability to pose as the party of labor and the middle class. Firmly controlled by Wall Street and California billionaires, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) strategy of identity politics encourages any identity except that of wage earners. The candidates backed by the Donor Class have been Blue Dogs pledged to promote Wall Street and neocons urging a New Cold War with Russia.
They preferred to lose with Hillary than to win behind Bernie Sanders. So Trump’s electoral victory is their legacy as well as Obama’s. Instead of Trump’s victory dispelling that strategy, the Democrats are doubling down. It is as if identity politics is all they have.
Trying to ride on Barack Obama’s coattails didn’t work. Promising “hope and change,” he won by posing as a transformational president, leading the Democrats to control of the White House, Senate and Congress in 2008. Swept into office by a national reaction against the George Bush’s Oil War in Iraq and the junk-mortgage crisis that left the economy debt-ridden, they had free rein to pass whatever new laws they chose – even a Public Option in health care if they had wanted, or make Wall Street banks absorb the losses from their bad and often fraudulent loans.
But it turned out that Obama’s role was to prevent the changes that voters hoped to see, and indeed that the economy needed to recover: financial reform, debt writedowns to bring junk mortgages in line with fair market prices, and throwing crooked bankers in jail. Obama rescued the banks, not the economy, and turned over the Justice Department and regulatory agencies to his Wall Street campaign contributors. He did not even pull back from war in the Near East, but extended it to Libya and Syria, blundering into the Ukrainian coup as well.
Having dashed the hopes of his followers, Obama then praised his chosen successor Hillary Clinton as his “Third Term.” Enjoying this kiss of death, Hillary promised to keep up Obama’s policies.
The straw that pushed voters over the edge was when she asked voters, “Aren’t you better off today than you were eight years ago?” Who were they going to believe: their eyes, or Hillary? National income statistics showed that only the top 5 percent of the population were better off. All the growth in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) during Obama’s tenure went to them – the Donor Class that had gained control of the Democratic Party leadership. Real incomes have fallen for the remaining 95 percent, whose household budgets have been further eroded by soaring charges for health insurance. (The Democratic leadership in Congress fought tooth and nail to block Dennis Kucinich from introducing his Single Payer proposal.)
No wonder most of the geographic United States voted for change – except for where the top 5 percent, is concentrated: in New York (Wall Street) and California (Silicon Valley and the military-industrial complex). Making fun of the Obama Administration’s slogan of “hope and change,” Trump characterized Hillary’s policy of continuing the economy’s shrinkage for the 95% as “no hope and no change.”
Identity Politics as Anti-Labor Politics
A new term was introduced to the English language: Identity Politics. Its aim is for voters to think of themselves as separatist minorities – women, LGBTQ, Blacks and Hispanics. The Democrats thought they could beat Trump by organizing Women for Wall Street (and a New Cold War), LGBTQ for Wall Street (and a New Cold War), and Blacks and Hispanics for Wall Street (and a New Cold War). Each identity cohort was headed by a billionaire or hedge fund donor.
The identity that is conspicuously excluded is the working class. Identity politics strips away thinking of one’s interest in terms of having to work for a living. It excludes voter protests against having their monthly paycheck stripped to pay more for health insurance, housing and mortgage charges or education, or better working conditions or consumer protection – not to speak of protecting debtors.
Identity politics used to be about three major categories: workers and unionization, anti-war protests and civil rights marches against racist Jim Crow laws. These were the three objectives of the many nationwide demonstrations. That ended when these movements got co-opted into the Democratic Party. Their reappearance in Bernie Sanders’ campaign in fact threatens to tear the Democratic coalition apart. As soon as the primaries were over (duly stacked against Sanders), his followers were made to feel unwelcome. Hillary sought Republican support by denouncing Sanders as being as radical as Putin’s Republican leadership.
In contrast to Sanders’ attempt to convince diverse groups that they had a common denominator in needing jobs with decent pay – and, to achieve that, in opposing Wall Street’s replacing the government as central planner – the Democrats depict every identity constituency as being victimized by every other, setting themselves at each other’s heels. Clinton strategist John Podesta, for instance, encouraged Blacks to accuse Sanders supporters of distracting attention from racism. Pushing a common economic interest between whites, Blacks, Hispanics and LGBTQ always has been the neoliberals’ nightmare. No wonder they tried so hard to stop Bernie Sanders, and are maneuvering to keep his supporters from gaining influence in their party.
When Trump was inaugurated on Friday, January 20, there was no pro-jobs or anti-war demonstration. That presumably would have attracted pro-Trump supporters in an ecumenical show of force. Instead, the Women’s March on Saturday led even the pro-Democrat New York Times to write a front-page article reporting that white women were complaining that they did not feel welcome in the demonstration. The message to anti-war advocates, students and Bernie supporters was that their economic cause was a distraction.
The march was typically Democratic in that its ideology did not threaten the Donor Class. As Yves Smith wrote on Naked Capitalism: “the track record of non-issue-oriented marches, no matter how large scale, is poor, and the status of this march as officially sanctioned (blanket media coverage when other marches of hundreds of thousands of people have been minimized, police not tricked out in their usual riot gear) also indicates that the officialdom does not see it as a threat to the status quo.”
Hillary’s loss was not blamed on her neoliberal support for TPP or her pro-war neocon stance, but on the revelations of the e-mails by her operative Podesta discussing his dirty tricks against Bernie Sanders (claimed to be given to Wikileaks by Russian hackers, not a domestic DNC leaker as Wikileaks claimed) and the FBI investigation of her e-mail abuses at the State Department. Backing her supporters’ attempt to brazen it out, the Democratic Party has doubled down on its identity politics, despite the fact that an estimated 52 percent of white women voted for Trump. After all, women do work for wages. And that also is what Blacks and Hispanics want – in addition to banking that serves their needs, not those of Wall Street, and health care that serves their needs, not those of the health-insurance and pharmaceuticals monopolies.
Bernie did not choose to run on a third-party ticket. Evidently he feared being accused of throwing the election to Trump. The question is now whether he can remake the Democratic Party as a democratic socialist party, or create a new party if the Donor Class retains its neoliberal control. It seems that he will not make a break until he concludes that a Socialist Party can leave the Democrats as far back in the dust as the Republicans left the Whigs after 1854. He may have underestimated his chance in 2016.
Trump’s Effect on U.S. Political Party Realignment
During Trump’s rise to the 2016 Republican nomination it seemed that he was more likely to break up the Republican Party. Its leading candidates and gurus warned that his populist victory in the primaries would tear the party apart. The polls in May and June showed him defeating Hillary Clinton easily (but losing to Bernie Sanders). But Republican leaders worried that he would not support what they believed in: namely, whatever corporate lobbyists put in their hands to enact and privatize.
The May/June polls showed Trump and Clinton were the country’s two most unpopular presidential candidates. But whereas the Democrats maneuvered Bernie out of the way, the Republican Clown Car was unable to do the same to Trump. In the end they chose to win behind him, expecting to control him. As for the DNC, its Wall Street donors preferred to lose with Hillary than to win with Bernie. They wanted to keep control of their party and continue the bargain they had made with the Republicans: The latter would move further and further to the right, leaving room for Democratic neoliberals and neocons to follow them closely, yet still pose as the “lesser evil.” That “centrism” is the essence of the Clintons’ “triangulation” strategy. It actually has been going on for a half-century. “As Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere quipped in the 1960s, when he was accused by the US of running a one-party state, ‘The United States is also a one-party state but, with typical American extravagance, they have two of them’.”
By 2017, voters had caught on to this two-step game. But Hillary’s team paid pollsters over $1 billion to tell her (“Mirror, mirror on the wall …”) that she was the most popular of all. It was hubris to imagine that she could convince the 95 Percent of the people who were worse off under Obama to love her as much as her East-West Coast donors did. It was politically unrealistic – and a reflection of her cynicism – to imagine that raising enough money to buy television ads would convince working-class Republicans to vote for her, succumbing to a Stockholm Syndrome by thinking of themselves as part of the 5 Percent who had benefited from Obama’s pro-Wall Street policies.
Hillary’s election strategy was to make a right-wing run around Trump. While characterizing the working class as white racist “deplorables,” allegedly intolerant of LBGTQ or assertive women, she resurrected the ghost of Joe McCarthy and accused Trump of being “Putin’s poodle” for proposing peace with Russia. Among the most liberal Democrats, Paul Krugman still leads a biweekly charge at The New York Times that President Trump is following Moscow’s orders. Saturday Night Live, Bill Maher and MSNBC produce weekly skits that Trump and General Flynn are Russian puppets. A large proportion of Democrats have bought into the fairy tale that Trump didn’t really win the election, but that Russian hackers manipulated the voting machines. No wonder George Orwell’s 1984 soared to the top of America’s best-seller lists in February 2017 as Donald Trump was taking his oath of office.
This propaganda paid off on February 13, when neocon public relations succeeded in forcing the resignation of General Flynn, whom Trump had appointed to clean out the neocons at the NSA and CIA. His foreign policy initiative based on rapprochement with Russia and hopes to create a common front against ISIS/Al Nusra seemed to be collapsing.
Tabula Rasa Celebrity Politics
U.S. presidential elections no longer are much about policy. Like Obama before him, Trump campaigned as a rasa tabla, a vehicle for everyone to project their hopes and fancies. What has all but disappeared is the past century’s idea of politics as a struggle between labor and capital, democracy vs. oligarchy.
Who would have expected even half a century ago that American politics would become so post-modern that the idea of class conflict has all but disappeared. Classical economic discourse has been drowned out by their junk economics.
There is a covert economic program, to be sure, and it is bipartisan. It is to make elections about just which celebrities will introduce neoliberal economic policies with the most convincing patter talk. That is the essence of rasa tabla politics.
Can the Democrats Lose Again in 2020?
Trump’s November victory showed that voters found him to be the Lesser Evil, but all that voters really could express was “throw out the bums” and get a new set of lobbyists for the FIRE sector and corporate monopolists. Both candidates represented Goldman Sachs and Wall Street. No wonder voter turnout has continued to plunge.
Although the Democrats’ Lesser Evil argument lost to the Republicans in 2016, the neoliberals in control of the DNC found the absence of a progressive economic program to less threatening to their interests than the critique of Wall Street and neocon interventionism coming from the Sanders camp. So the Democrat will continue to pose as the Lesser Evil party not really in terms of policy, but simply ad hominum. They will merely repeat Hillary’s campaign stance: They are not Trump. Their parades and street demonstrations since his inauguration have not come out for any economic policy.
On Friday, February 10, the party’s Democratic Policy group held a retreat for its members in Baltimore. Third Way “centrists” (Republicans running as Democrats) dominated, with Hillary operatives in charge. The conclusion was that no party policy was needed at all. “President Trump is a better recruitment tool for us than a central campaign issue,’ said Washington Rep. Denny Heck, who is leading recruitment for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC).”
But what does their party leadership have to offer women, Blacks and Hispanics in the way of employment, more affordable health care, housing or education and better pay? Where are the New Deal pro-labor, pro-regulatory roots of bygone days? The party leadership is unwilling to admit that Trump’s message about protecting jobs and opposing the TPP played a role in his election. Hillary was suspected of supporting it as “the gold standard” of trade deals, and Obama had made the Trans-Pacific Partnership the centerpiece of his presidency – the free-trade TPP and TTIP that would have taken economic regulatory policy out of the hands of government and given it to corporations.
Instead of accepting even Sanders’ centrist-left stance, the Democrats’ strategy was to tar Trump as pro-Russian, insist that his aides had committed impeachable offenses, and mount one parade after another. “Rep. Marcia Fudge of Ohio told reporters she was wary of focusing solely on an “economic message” aimed at voters whom Trump won over in 2016, because, in her view, Trump did not win on an economic message. “What Donald Trump did was address them at a very different level — an emotional level, a racial level, a fear level,” she said. “If all we talk about is the economic message, we’re not going to win.” This stance led Sanders supporters to walk out of a meeting organized by the “centrist” Third Way think tank on Wednesday, February 8.
By now this is an old story. Fifty years ago, socialists such as Michael Harrington asked why union members and progressives still imagined that they had to work through the Democratic Party. It has taken the rest of the country half a century to see that Democrats are not the party of the working class, unions, middle class, farmers or debtors. They are the party of Wall Street privatizers, bank deregulators, neocons and the military-industrial complex. Obama showed his hand – and that of his party – in his passionate attempt to ram through the corporatist TPP treaty that would have enabled corporations to sue governments for any costs imposed by public consumer protection, environmental protection or other protection of the population against financialized corporate monopolies.
Against this backdrop, Trump’s promises and indeed his worldview seem quixotic. The picture of America’s future he has painted seems unattainable within the foreseeable future. It is too late to bring manufacturing back to the United States, because corporations already have shifted their supply nodes abroad, and too much U.S. infrastructure has been dismantled.
There can’t be a high-speed railroad, because it would take more than four years to get the right-of-way and create a route without crossing gates or sharp curves. In any case, the role of railroads and other transportation has been to increase real estate prices along the routes. But in this case, real estate would be torn down – and having a high-speed rail does not increase land values.
The stock market has soared to new heights, anticipating lower taxes on corporate profits and a deregulation of consumer, labor and environmental protection. Trump may end up as America’s Boris Yeltsin, protecting U.S. oligarchs (not that Hillary would have been different, merely cloaked in a more colorful identity rainbow). The U.S. economy is in for Shock Therapy. Voters should look to Greece to get a taste of the future in this scenario.
Without a coherent response to neoliberalism, Trump’s billionaire cabinet may do to the United States what neoliberals in the Clinton administration did to Russia after 1991: tear out all the checks and balances, and turn public wealth over to insiders and oligarchs. So Trump’s his best chance to be transformative is simply to be America’s Yeltsin for his party’s oligarchic backers, putting the class war back in business.
(read the full article at Naked Capitalism
House buyer beware: Landmark B.C. court ruling will shake real-estate industry
Vancouver Sun : March 25, 2017
A B.C. Supreme Court ruling will send shock waves through the arm of the Canadian real-estate market that is powered by foreign capital, say immigration lawyers.
The ruling targets a weakness in Canadian laws that often leads foreign owners of real estate in cites such as Metro Vancouver and Toronto to claim they are “residents of Canada for tax purposes” when they are not.
The landmark B.C. decision requires notary public Tony Liu to pay his client more than $600,000 because Liu failed to adequately determine whether the Vancouver house his client was buying for $5.5 million had been owned by a tax resident of Canada.
As a result, the Canada Revenue Agency did not get paid, at the time of the sale, the 25 per cent capital gains tax it charges non-resident sellers of Canadian property on any profit they make on the sale.
So the CRA later demanded the buyer pay the $600,000 in tax. The buyer, in turn, sued Liu, arguing Liu failed to discover the seller was not a tax resident of Canada.
The CRA considers people who don’t live in the country at least six months a year and don’t pay income taxes here to be foreign property investors and speculators and thus subject to capital gains taxes.
Three Canadian immigration lawyers said the CRA tax-residency rule is often not enforced, even in over-heated housing markets in Vancouver and Toronto that are in part fuelled by offshore money.
The complex ruling published this month by B.C. Supreme Court Justice Kenneth Affleck strikes to the heart of a gaping hole in Canadian tax, immigration and property-transfer law, say the immigration lawyers.
The B.C. decision is a stark warning to real estate agents, notaries and lawyers who fail to ensure that sellers of properties are truly tax residents of Canada, said David Lesperance, a tax and immigration lawyer based in Toronto.
“This truly is a game changer,” said Vancouver immigration lawyer Richard Kurland.
“It’s a precedent. Real estate agents can now get a knock on the door from the taxman, asking for the (capital gains) taxes that should have been collected by Ottawa, because the agent failed to make adequate inquiries.”
Sam Hyman, a Vancouver immigration lawyer, said the judge’s decision alerts purchasers to “the dire consequences” of making offers on properties sold by people who may be trying to avoid capital gains tax by falsely declaring they are tax residents of Canada.
Many buyers and their agents, Hyman said, are not being diligent in making sure the seller is a physical or tax resident of Canada, while others are being “cavalier” or “engaging in wilful blindness” about it.
(read the full article at Vancouver Sun)
US Treasury Shows How To Fix Vancouver & Toronto Housing Markets
How Vancouver Is Being Sold To The Chinese: The Illegal Dark Side Behind The Real Estate Bubble
Vancouver’s Housing Market Money Laundering Fraud
The Intercept: March 16, 2017
From MSNBC politics shows to town hall meetings across the country, the overarching issue for the Democratic Party’s base since Trump’s victory has been Russia, often suffocating attention for other issues. This fixation has persisted even though it has no chance to sink the Trump presidency unless it is proven that high levels of the Trump campaign actively colluded with the Kremlin to manipulate the outcome of the U.S. election — a claim for which absolutely no evidence has thus far been presented.
The principal problem for Democrats is that so many media figures and online charlatans are personally benefiting from feeding the base increasingly unhinged, fact-free conspiracies — just as right-wing media polemicists did after both Bill Clinton and Obama were elected — that there are now millions of partisan soldiers absolutely convinced of a Trump/Russia conspiracy for which, at least as of now, there is no evidence. And they are all waiting for the day, which they regard as inevitable and imminent, when this theory will be proven and Trump will be removed.
Key Democratic officials are clearly worried about the expectations that have been purposely stoked and are now trying to tamp them down. Many of them have tried to signal that the beliefs the base has been led to adopt have no basis in reason or evidence.
The latest official to throw cold water on the MSNBC-led circus is President Obama’s former acting CIA chief Michael Morell. What makes him particularly notable in this context is that Morell was one of Clinton’s most vocal CIA surrogates. In August, he not only endorsed Clinton in the pages of the New York Times but also became the first high official to explicitly accuse Trump of disloyalty, claiming, “In the intelligence business, we would say that Mr. Putin had recruited Mr. Trump as an unwitting agent of the Russian Federation.”
But on Wednesday night, Morell appeared at an intelligence community forum to “cast doubt” on “allegations that members of the Trump campaign colluded with Russia.” “On the question of the Trump campaign conspiring with the Russians here, there is smoke, but there is no fire at all,” he said, adding, “There’s no little campfire, there’s no little candle, there’s no spark. And there’s a lot of people looking for it.”
Obama’s former CIA chief also cast serious doubt on the credibility of the infamous, explosive “dossier” originally published by BuzzFeed, saying that its author, Christopher Steele, paid intermediaries to talk to the sources for it. The dossier, he said, “doesn’t take you anywhere, I don’t think.”
Morell’s comments echo the categorical remarks by Obama’s top national security official, James Clapper, who told Meet the Press last week that during the time he was Obama’s DNI, he saw no evidence to support claims of a Trump/Russia conspiracy. “We had no evidence of such collusion,” Clapper stated unequivocally. Unlike Morell, who left his official CIA position in 2013 but remains very integrated into the intelligence community, Clapper was Obama’s DNI until just seven weeks ago, leaving on January 20.
Perhaps most revealing of all are the Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee — charged with investigating these matters — who recently told BuzzFeed how petrified they are of what the Democratic base will do if they do not find evidence of collusion, as they now suspect will likely be the case. “There’s a tangible frustration over what one official called ‘wildly inflated’ expectations surrounding the panel’s fledgling investigation,” BuzzFeed’s Ali Watkins wrote.
Moreover, “several committee sources grudgingly say, it feels as though the investigation will be seen as a sham if the Senate doesn’t find a silver bullet connecting Trump and Russian intelligence operatives.” One member told Watkins: “I don’t think the conclusions are going to meet people’s expectations.”
What makes all of this most significant is that officials like Clapper and Morell are trained disinformation agents; Clapper in particular has proven he will lie to advance his interests. Yet even with all the incentive to do so, they are refusing to claim there is evidence of such collusion; in fact, they are expressly urging people to stop thinking it exists. As even the law recognizes, statements that otherwise lack credibility become more believable when they are ones made “against interest.”
Media figures have similarly begun trying to tamp down expectations. Ben Smith, the editor-in-chief of BuzzFeed, which published the Steele dossier, published an article yesterday warning that the Democratic base’s expectation of a smoking gun “is so strong that Twitter and cable news are full of the theories of what my colleague Charlie Warzel calls the Blue Detectives — the left’s new version of Glenn Beck, digital blackboards full of lines and arrows.” Smith added: “It is also a simple fact that while news of Russian actions on Trump’s behalf is clear, hard details of coordination between his aides and Putin’s haven’t emerged.” And Smith’s core warning is this:
Trump’s critics last year were horrified at the rise of “fake news” and the specter of a politics shaped by alternative facts, predominantly on the right. They need to be careful now not to succumb to the same delusional temptations as their political adversaries, and not to sink into a filter bubble which, after all, draws its strength not from conservative or progressive politics but from human nature.
And those of us covering the story and the stew of real information, fantasy, and — now — forgery around it need to continue to report and think clearly about what we know and what we don’t, and to resist the sugar high that comes with telling people exactly what they want to hear.
(read the full article at The Intercept
Peak Prosperity : March 17, 2017
I don’t talk to my classmates from business school anymore, many of whom went to work in the financial industry.
Because, through the lens we use here at PeakProsperity.com to look at the world, I’ve increasingly come to see the financial industry — with the big banks at its core — as the root cause of injustice in today’s society. I can no longer separate any personal affections I might have for my fellow alumni from the evil that their companies perpetrate.
And I’m choosing that word deliberately: Evil.
In my opinion, it’s long past time we be brutally honest about the banks. Their influence and reach has metastasized to the point where we now live under a captive system. From our retirement accounts, to our homes, to the laws we live under — the banks control it all. And they run the system for their benefit, not ours.
While the banks spent much of the past century consolidating their power, the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act in 1999 emboldened them to accelerate their efforts. Since then, the key trends in the financial industry have been to dismantle regulation and defang those responsible for enforcing it, to manipulate market prices (an ambition tremendously helped by the rise of high-frequency trading algorithms), and to push downside risk onto “muppets” and taxpayers.
Oh, and of course, this hasn’t hurt either: having the ability to print up trillions in thin-air money and then get first-at-the-trough access to it. Don’t forget, the Federal Reserve is made up of and run by — drum roll, please — the banks.
How much ‘thin air’ money are we talking about? The Fed and the rest of the world’s central banking cartel has printed over $12 Trillion since the Great Recession. Between the ECB and the DOJ, nearly $200 Billion of additional liquidity has been — and continues to be — injected into world markets each month(!) since the beginning of 2016.
With their first-in-line access to this money tsunami, as well as their stranglehold on the financial system that it all runs through, the banks are like a parasite feasting from a gusher on the mother-lode artery.
It should come as little surprise that, with all this advantage they’ve amassed, the banks have enriched themselves and their cronies spectacularly. They have made themselves too big to fail, and too big to jail. Remember that their reckless greed caused the 2008 financial crisis, and yet, in 2009, not only did bankers avoid criminal prosecutions, not only did the banks receive hundreds of billions in government bailouts, but they paid themselves record bonuses?
And the bonanza continues unabated today. By being able to borrow capital for essentially free today from the Fed, the banks simply lever that money up and buy Treasurys. Voila! Risk-free profits. That giveaway has been going on for years.
Couple that with the banks’ ability to push market prices around using their wide arsenal of unfair tactics — frontrunning, HFT spoofing and quote stuffing, stop-running, insider knowledge, collusion, etc — the list is long. James Howard Kunstler is dead on: we don’t have a free market anymore. Instead, we have rackets, run by racketeers. The rest of us are simply suckers to be fleeced.
Nobel Prize-winning economist Angus Deaton recently agreed:
Income inequality is not killing capitalism in the United States, but rent-seekers like the banking and the health-care sectors just might, said Nobel-winning economist Angus Deaton on Monday.
If an entrepreneur invents something on the order of another Facebook, Deaton said he has no problem with that person becoming wealthy.
“What is not OK is for rent-seekers to get rich,” Deaton said in a luncheon speech to the National Association for Business Economics.
Rent seekers lobby and persuade governments to give them special favors.
Bankers during the financial crisis, and much of the health-care system, are two prime examples, Deaton said.
Rent-seeking not only does not generate new product, it actually slows down economic growth, Deaton said.
“All that talent is devoted to stealing things, instead of making things,” he said.
As further proof, let’s look at this data recently obtained by Zero Hedge. In the past 4 years, JP Morgan’s in-house trading group has had exactly 2 days of losses.
That’s not trading. Trading involves uncertainty and risk. This situation has none. It’s an extraction process — siphoning value from the market day after day with ironclad dependability.
And it’s not just a few dollars here and there. In 2016, JP Morgan’s daily average trading revenues were $80 million. Per day! That’s nearly $20 billion for the year.
So if not “trading”, what should we call it when a bank can extract tens of billions of dollars a year from the markets, with no downside risk? “Sanctioned theft” sounds about right.
Because for every trade there is a buyer and a seller. If JP Morgan is the winner every day, who is losing? Turns out, it’s the big pools of “dumb money” that don’t have the cheat codes for the system the way the banks do. These are the pension funds, the index funds, the retirement accounts — the aggregated money of all the ‘little people’ out there. Little people who don’t have visibility into how they’re being constantly fleeced; nor do they have agency to do anything about it even if they did.
So yeah, “theft” feels like a pretty accurate term.
And it’s reached the point where the banks don’t even care about hiding it anymore. If you had a nice inside racket going on, wouldn’t you at least pretend to hide your advantage, to avoid drawing attention? Not the banks. They’re either too proud or too obtuse to conceal it. Look at our string of perfect trading days! Look at our record bonuses!
These boasts fall on the ears of everyday American’s as the modern version of Let them eat cake!
And just like the out-of-touch French monarchs, the banks have positioned themselves as the enemy of the public. For as I claimed at the beginning of this article, a tremendous amount of the injustice in this country can be laid at the feet of the banks directly, or indirectly via the Federal Reserve.
Are you a senior who can’t afford to retire because you can’t live off your fixed-income savings? Thank the Fed’s 0% interest rates for that.
Are you a millennial who can’t afford to buy a home? Again, thank the Fed’s policy of suppressing interest rates and thereby blowing another housing bubble.
Are you struggling to get out of poverty? Are you finding it hard to remain in the middle class? Whatever your income, are you having to work harder and harder to just stay in the same place? See here how the Fed’s money printing, and the banks’ first-position access to it, has created the most concentrated imbalance of wealth in our country’s history.
Are you frustrated with how our lawmakers seem to serve corporations instead of the people? Listen to this mind-blowing podcast of how gobs of lobbyist money, much of it provided by Wall Street, dictates how our politicians legislate.
Whether it’s social equity, the security of your job or retirement, your day-to-day existence, or the fairness of the laws we live under — our fate is currently in the hands of the banks. And, of course, should their behavior trigger another meltdown of the global economy — something we warn about often here at PeakProsperity.com — we’ll have them to thank for that, too.
Yes, the banks are going to keep writing the rules in their favor; and yes, there’s little agency any of us has individually to do much about it. But as a society, we need to start addressing the dire situation we’re in honestly and openly. By whatever path, we have granted the banks far too much control over our lives, and they are taking gross advantage of that. Exactly like a parasite, the banking system is siphoning off our wealth and limiting our freedoms and future prospects — all for the benefit of an elite few.
That’s wrong. It’s immoral. And it’s Evil.
It’s far beyond time to call a spade and spade. The path to change always begins with an accurate assessment of the problem. We need to start using accurate language — like “evil” — when discussing the harm we’re being subjected to. We need to make it clear to our elected officials and to our communities that we understand what the banks are doing and that we find it unacceptable.
We need to make the criticism specific and personal. To JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon. To Fed Chair Janet Yellen. We need to turn up the heat on the perpetrating decision-makers, so that the borg-like structure of the banking system no longer serves as a deflective shield to scrutiny and criticism. These people need to feel the disapproving stares when speaking to the public. They need to hear the disdainful boos, and see their faces on the protest signs and nightly media reports.
And if you yourself work in the financial system, I’ll be blunt. You’re part of the problem. Just like my former classmates, I’m sure you’re a very nice person in many ways — but you’re complicit in the banks’ rapaciousness.
I know it’s not pleasant to hear, or admit. I worked for an investment bank for a few years early on my career. I was part of the problem, too.
But we have a choice, both as individuals and as a society, to align our actions with our values. It’s not always easy. And likely not as profitable if you indeed end up leaving the financial industry (as I can tell you from personal experience). But it’s the only way we’ll ultimately gain back control of our destiny.
(read the full article atpeak prosperity)
It seems one of the only sane people in Washington DC is Senator Rand Paul. In the past few days, Rand has…
1. Blocked a treaty allowing Montenegro to join NATO.
Here is how he defends his position:
“Currently, the United States has troops in dozens of countries and is actively fighting in Iraq, Syria, Libya, and Yemen (with the occasional drone strike in Pakistan). In addition, the United States is pledged to defend 28 countries in NATO. It is unwise to expand the monetary and military obligations of the United States given the burden of our $20 trillion debt.” … “there has to be the thought whether or not it’s in our national interest to pledge to get involved with a war if Montenegro has an altercation with anyone.”…”There’s also another argument, is that when you ask the people of Montenegro, only about 40 percent or slightly less are actually in favor of this. They are close to Russia, they’re close to being sort of, like Ukraine, in the transition from Europe to Asia. Perhaps it would be good to be like Switzerland and be more neutral and trade with both.”
2. Introduced ‘Stop Arming Terrorists Act’ To The Senate.
“One of the unintended consequences of nation-building and open-ended intervention is American funds and weapons benefiting those who hate us. This legislation will strengthen our foreign policy, enhance our national security, and safeguard our resources.”
3. Come out swinging against Trumpcare.
The current Ryan Plan — “Obamacare Lite” — is not about patients. It isn’t about better health care. It isn’t about lowering costs.
It is, plain and simple, about getting more money to the insurance companies and running more of your life from Washington.
I am a career physician. I spent years training and learning to be a doctor. I did it for patients. I don’t give a flip about guaranteeing the profits of insurance companies. And as a Senator, I shouldn’t, either.
But in Washington, somehow, the whole debate seems to be about getting people insurance instead of getting people health care.
Insurance doesn’t equate to health care. Just ask all the Obamacare recipients with $6,000 deductibles.
I’m sick of the insurance companies putting me on hold and telling me to talk to their representative in a foreign country. Screw that.
I’m sick of the government telling me I have to buy their crappy product, and I’m sick of watching us go into more and more debt to do it.
We need a new way, and Obamacare Lite isn’t it.
I want the consumer (aka patient) to be king. I want to empower the patient to get the health care they want at the price they want.
I want to let every American be able to join a co-op to buy their health care. When that happens, the buying power returns to the patients.
Instead of patients having to kiss the boots of insurance company executives, my plan would have insurance executives come on bended knee to the patient.
Liberty Blitzkrieg : March 16, 2017
The evidence is overwhelming and indisputable at this point. Donald Trump is a phony, who has given his administration over to Wall Street crooks even more enthusiastically than his predecessors, and his predecessors were very enthusiastic.
I’ve written about this many times, and I warned throughout the campaign that my biggest fear was Trump is far too cozy with the finance industry, fake populist statements aside. His latest hire for the number two position at the Treasury Department once again proves the point.
As David Dayen reports in his excellent article at The Intercept, Donald Trump Isn’t Even Pretending to Oppose Goldman Sachs Anymore:
The continuity of Wall Street’s dominant role in American politics — regardless of what party sits in power or how reviled the financial industry finds itself across the country — was perhaps never more evident than when Jake Siewert, now a Goldman Sachs spokesperson, on Tuesday praised the selection of Jim Donovan, a Goldman Sachs managing director, for the No. 2 position in the Treasury Department under Steve Mnuchin, himself a former Goldman Sachs partner.
America will never recover until this is dealt with, and Trump has made it perfectly clear he will not deal with it.
“Jim is smart, extraordinarily versatile, and as hard-working as they come,” Siewert gushed. “He’ll be an invaluable addition to the economic team.”
The punch line? Siewert was counselor at the Treasury Department to Timothy Geithner, as well as a White House press secretary under Bill Clinton.
The ubiquity of Goldman Sachs veterans across numerous presidencies throughout history, both Republican and Democratic, has been well documented. But Donald Trump sold himself as something different, an economic nationalist determined to rankle Wall Street. He even ran campaign ads savaging bankers like Goldman CEO Lloyd Blankfein for their role in a “global power structure.”
That populist smokescreen is long gone now.
Mnuchin and Donovan are just two of five Goldman expats in high-level positions on Trump’s team. Steve Bannon spent a limited time at Goldman Sachs, but White House assistant Dina Powell, who headed the bank’s philanthropic efforts, and National Economic Council director Gary Cohn, Goldman’s former president, had higher-ranking positions for a longer period. Jay Clayton, Trump’s nominee for the Securities and Exchange Commission, was a partner for Goldman’s main law firm, Sullivan and Cromwell.
You know it’s bad when Reince thinks there are too many Goldman baby squids around.
Even in areas where populist sentiment was seen as pre-eminent, Trump has reportedly succumbed to the Wall Street advance. A dramatic piece in the Financial Times described a “civil war” within the White House over trade, pitting Trump’s hard-liners like Bannon and trade policy adviser Peter Navarro against the likes of Cohn. It stated that Navarro was being sidelined, with Cohn taking a larger role in the negotiations over NAFTA, and with foreign leaders working through the National Economic Council rather than Navarro in trade talks. AFL-CIO official Thea Lee said in the story, “It appears the Wall Street wing … is winning this battle.”
At the NEC, Cohn hired Andrew Quinn, a chief negotiator for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, to coordinate international trade and development. A stewing Breitbart News called Quinn “the enemy within.”
Drain the swamp baby.
Banks have celebrated since Trump’s election, composing the lion’s share of the “Trump bump” in stock prices. Goldman Sachs shares have risen from $181.92 on Election Day to around $250 today, an increase that accounts for as much as one-fifth of the total rise in the Dow Jones Industrial Average over that period.
It’s now completely obvious that the Trump administration has been hijacked by Wall Street, so where’s the resistance? When it comes to the self-proclaimed leaders of this “resistance,” the corporate media and the Democratic Party, the resistance is nowhere to be found. They’re simply too busy focusing on invented Russia conspiracy theories to deal with the provable conspiracy right in front of their faces. I find that quite curious.
It doesn’t take much critical thinking to immediately discover why. Russia fear-mongering is the perfect way to superficially oppose Trump, without actually opposing him. Corporate media and Democrats don’t dare focus on Trump’s Wall Street embrace because Wall Street owns their asses too. That’s the dirty little secret here.
While that’s bad enough, the only reason Trump is actually able to get away with such an obvious betrayal and lack of swamp drainage, is because his supporters allow him to. His power resides in his base, and if his base shrugs as he sticks a knife in their backs, then he’ll continue to stick the knife in.
(read the full article at liberty blitzkrieg)
‘We are all doing it’: Employees at Canada’s 5 big banks speak out about pressure to dupe customers
CBC News: March 15, 2017
Employees from all five of Canada’s big banks have flooded Go Public with stories of how they feel pressured to upsell, trick and even lie to customers to meet unrealistic sales targets and keep their jobs.
The deluge is fuelling multiple calls for a parliamentary inquiry, even as the banks claim they’re acting in customers’ best interests.
In nearly 1,000 emails, employees from RBC, BMO, CIBC, TD and Scotiabank locations across Canada describe the pressures to hit targets that are monitored weekly, daily and in some cases hourly.
“Management is down your throat all the time,” said a Scotiabank financial adviser. “They want you to hit your numbers and it doesn’t matter how.”
CBC has agreed to protect their identities because the workers are concerned about current and future employment.
An RBC teller from Thunder Bay, Ont., said even when customers don’t need or want anything, “we need to upgrade their Visa card, increase their Visa limits or get them to open up a credit line.”
“It’s not what’s important to our clients anymore,” she said. “The bank wants more and more money. And it’s leading everyone into debt.”
A CIBC teller said, “I am expected to aggressively sell products, especially Visa. Hit those targets, who cares if it’s hurting customers.”
(read the full article at CBC)
Strep throat leads to quadruple amputation for Kent Co. man
WOOD: March 14, 2017
An extremely rare case of strep throat that almost killed an Alto man has instead taken his hands and feet.
Kevin Breen, 44, was healthy and active when he started feeling sick on Christmas Day.
“It didn’t seem that unusual,” he said.
Days later, the unbearable stomach pain sent him to the emergency room.
“I never thought (I’d be) going in for a stomachache and coming out a totally different person and (it’s) life-changing,” said Breen.
“He was one of the sickest patients I have ever taken care of,” said Dr. Elizabeth Steensma, an acute care surgeon at Spectrum Health Butterworth Hospital.
Although Breen’s son had had strep and fought it off, Steensma didn’t think this was the same type of infection. Breen’s stomach was growing and hardening. A CT scan showed his stomach was filled with pus.
Doctors thought maybe an organ was punctured, but they couldn’t find anything.
“It was almost a mystery,” said Steensma.
While doctors tried to pinpoint the source of the problem, Breen’s organs began failing. In an effort to save those organs, his body redirected blood flow to them — leaving the flesh of his hands and feet to die.
At one point, his wife was told to gather family and prepare for the worst.
“That moment was terrifying,” she said. “I just kind of lost it and stopped and prayed.”
Then there was a clue: a rash on his upper torso.
Knowing that Breen’s son had strep throat, doctors ran a test and found a common sign of strep in his belly.
The strep had traveled from his throat to his stomach, and his body couldn’t fight it. Breen had a strong strain of strep that he was very susceptible to. It was the perfect storm.
Breen’s case is being studied by doctors at Spectrum Health. Dr. Steensma found 32 cases of patients with strep traveling to the abdomen, most involving women and their urinary tracts. Breen is one of two men in the world who had strep travel from his throat to stomach, according to Steensma.
“It’s crazy,” Breen said.
He returned home, but the infection had taken its toll. His hands and feet turned black and lost almost all movement — so doctors said they both hands and feet would have to be removed.
Breen was the breadwinner for his family. He now relies on his wife and her teaching salary for pretty much everything.
Throughout this whole ordeal, Breen has continued to smile. He’s not bitter, but happy to be alive and thankful for the doctors who saved him.
(read the full article at WOOD)