Jan 14

Today’s News 14th January 2018

  • Army Strategist Exposes The Disturbing Parallels Between US Domestic Policing & Military Tactics Abroad

    Authored by Major Danny Sjursen via TheNation.com,

    This…thing, [the War on Drugs] this ain’t police work… I mean, you call something a war and pretty soon everybody gonna be running around acting like warriors… running around on a damn crusade, storming corners, slapping on cuffs, racking up body counts.… pretty soon, damn near everybody on every corner is your fucking enemy. And soon the neighborhood that you’re supposed to be policing, that’s just occupied territory.”

    -—Major “Bunny” Colvin, season three of HBO’s The Wire

    I can remember both so well.

    2006: my first raid in South Baghdad.

    2014: watching on YouTube as a New York police officer asphyxiated – murdered – Eric Garner for allegedly selling loose cigarettes on a Staten Island street corner not five miles from my old apartment. Both events shocked the conscience.



    It was 11 years ago next month: My first patrol of the war, and we were still learning the ropes from the army unit we were replacing. Unit swaps are tricky, dangerous times. In Army lexicon, they’re known as “right-seat-left-seat rides.” Picture a car. When you’re learning to drive, you first sit in the passenger seat and observe. Only then do you occupy the driver’s seat. That was Iraq, as units like ours rotated in and out via an annual revolving door of sorts. Officers from incoming units like mine were forced to learn the terrain, identify the key powerbrokers in our assigned area, and sort out the most effective tactics in the two weeks before the experienced officers departed. It was a stressful time.

    Those transition weeks consisted of daily patrols led by the officers of the departing unit. My first foray off the FOB (forward operating base) was a night patrol. The platoon I’d tagged along with was going to the house of a suspected Shiite militia leader. (Back then, we were fighting both Shiite rebels of the Mahdi Army and Sunni insurgents.) We drove to the outskirts of Baghdad, surrounded a farmhouse, and knocked on the door. An old woman let us in and a few soldiers quickly fanned out to search every room. Only women—presumably the suspect’s mother and sisters—were home. Through a translator, my counterpart, the other lieutenant, loudly asked the old woman where her son was hiding. Where could we find him? Had he visited the house recently? Predictably, she claimed to be clueless. After the soldiers vigorously searched (“tossed”) a few rooms and found nothing out of the norm, we prepared to leave. At that point, the lieutenant warned the woman that we’d be back—just as had happened several times before—until she turned in her own son.

    I returned to the FOB with an uneasy feeling. I couldn’t understand what it was that we had just accomplished. How did hassling these women, storming into their home after dark and making threats, contribute to defeating the Mahdi Army or earning the loyalty and trust of Iraqi civilians? I was, of course, brand new to the war, but the incident felt totally counterproductive. Let’s assume the woman’s son was Mahdi Army to the core. So what? Without long-term surveillance or reliable intelligence placing him at the house, entering the premises that way and making threats could only solidify whatever aversion the family already had to the Army. And what if we had gotten it wrong? What if he was innocent and we’d potentially just helped create a whole new family of insurgents?

    Though it wasn’t a thought that crossed my mind for years, those women must have felt like many African-American families living under persistent police pressure in parts of New York, Baltimore, Chicago, or elsewhere in this country. Perhaps that sounds outlandish to more affluent whites, but it’s clear enough that some impoverished communities of color in this country do indeed see the police as their enemy. For most military officers, it was similarly unthinkable that many embattled Iraqis could see all American military personnel in a negative light. But from that first raid on, I knew one thing for sure: We were going to have to adjust our perceptions—and fast. Not, of course, that we did.

    Years passed. I came home, stayed in the Army, had a kid, divorced, moved a few more times, remarried, had more kids – my Giants even won two Super Bowls. Suddenly everyone had an iPhone, was on Facebook, or tweeting, or texting rather than calling. Somehow in those blurred years, Iraq-style police brutality and violence – especially against poor blacks – gradually became front-page news. One case, one shaky YouTube video followedanother: Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Philando Castile, and Freddie Gray, just to start a long list. So many of the clips reminded me of enemy propaganda videos from Baghdad or helmet-cam shots recorded by our troopers in combat, except that they came from New York, or Chicago, or San Francisco.


    As in Baghdad, so in Baltimore. It’s connected, you see. Scholars, pundits, politicians, most of us in fact like our worlds to remain discretely and comfortably separated. That’s why so few articles, reports, or op-ed columns even think to link police violence at home to our imperial pursuits abroad or the militarization of the policing of urban America to our wars across the Greater Middle East and Africa. I mean, how many profiles of the Black Lives Matter movement even mention America’s 16-year war on terror across huge swaths of the planet? Conversely, can you remember a foreign policy piece that cited Ferguson? I doubt it.

    Nonetheless, take a moment to consider the ways in which counterinsurgency abroad and urban policing at home might, in these years, have come to resemble each other and might actually be connected phenomena:

    1. The degradations involved: So often, both counterinsurgency and urban policing involve countless routine humiliations of a mostly innocent populace. No matter how we’ve cloaked the terms—“partnering,” “advising,” “assisting,” and so on—the American military has acted like an occupier of Iraq and Afghanistan in these years. Those thousands of ubiquitous post-invasion Army foot and vehicle patrols in both countries tended to highlight the lack of sovereignty of their peoples. Similarly, as long ago as 1966, author James Baldwin recognized that New York City’s ghettoes resembled, in his phrase, “occupied territory.” In that regard, matters have only worsened since. Just ask the black community in Baltimore or for that matter Ferguson, Missouri. It’s hard to deny America’s police are becoming progressively more defiant; just last month St. Louis cops tauntedprotestors by chanting “whose streets? Our streets,” at a gathering crowd. Pardon me, but since when has it been okay for police to rule America’s streets? Aren’t they there to protect and serve us? Something tells me the exceedingly libertarian Founding Fathers would be appalled by such arrogance.

    2. The racial and ethnic stereotyping. In Baghdad, many troops called the locals hajis, ragheads, or worse still, sandniggers. There should be no surprise in that. The frustrations involved in occupation duty and the fear of death inherent in counterinsurgency campaigns lead soldiers to stereotype, and sometimes even hate, the populations they’re (doctrinally) supposed to protect. Ordinary Iraqis or Afghans became the enemy, an “other,” worthy only of racial pejoratives and (sometimes) petty cruelties. Sound familiar? Listen to the private conversations of America’s exasperated urban police, or the occasionally public insults they throw at the population they’re paid to “protect.” I, for one, can’t forget the video of an infuriated white officer taunting Ferguson protestors: “Bring it on, you f§ § king animals!” Or how about a white Staten Island cop caught on the phone bragging to his girlfriend about how he’d framed a young black man or, in his words, “fried another nigger.” Dehumanization of the enemy, either at home or abroad, is as old as empire itself.

    3. The searches: Searches, searches, and yet more searches. Back in the day in Iraq—I’m speaking of 2006 and 2007—we didn’t exactly need a search warrant to look anywhere we pleased. The Iraqi courts, police, and judicial system were then barely operational. We searched houses, shacks, apartments, and high rises for weapons, explosives, or other “contraband.” No family—guilty or innocent (and they were nearly all innocent)—was safe from the small, daily indignities of a military search. Back here in the , a similar phenomenon rules, as it has since the “war on drugs” era of the 1980s. It’s now routine for police SWAT teams to execute rubber-stamped or “no knock” search warrants on suspected drug dealers’ homes (often only for marijuana stashes) with an aggressiveness most soldiers from our distant wars would applaud. Then there are the millions of random, warrantless, body searches on America’s urban, often minority-laden streets. Take New York, for example, where a discriminatory regime of “stop-and-frisk” tactics terrorized blacks and Hispanics for decades. Millions of (mostly) minority youths were halted and searched by New York police officers who had to cite only such opaque explanations as “furtive movements,” or “fits relevant description”—hardly explicit probable cause—to execute such daily indignities. As numerous studies have shown (and a judicial ruling found), such “stop-and-frisk” procedures were discriminatory and likely unconstitutional.

    As in my experience in Iraq, so here on the streets of so many urban neighborhoods of color, anyone, guilty or innocent (mainly innocent) was the target of such operations. And the connections between war abroad and policing at home run ever deeper. Consider that in Springfield, Massachusetts, police anti-gang units learned and applied literal military counterinsurgency doctrine on that city’s streets. In post-9/11 New York City, meanwhile, the NYPD Intelligence Unit practiced religious profilingand implemented military-style surveillance to spy on its Muslim residents. Even America’s stalwart Israeli allies—no strangers to domestic counterinsurgency—have gotten in on the game. That country’s Security Forces have been training American cops, despite their long record of documented human rights abuses. How’s that for coalition warfare and bilateral cooperation?

    4. The equipment, the tools of the trade: Who hasn’t noticed in recent years that, thanks in part to a Pentagon program selling weaponry and equipment right off America’s battlefields, the police on our streets look ever less like kindly beat cops and ever more like Robocop or the heavily armed and protected troops of our distant wars? Think of the sheer firepower and armor on the streets of Ferguson in those photos that shocked and discomforted so many Americans. Or how about the aftermath of the tragic Boston Marathon Bombing? Watertown, Massachusetts, surely resembled Army-occupied Baghdad or Kabul at the height of their respective troop “surges,” as the area was locked down under curfew during the search for the bombing suspects.

    Here, at least, the connection is undeniable. The military has sold hundreds of millions of dollars in excess weapons and equipment—armored vehicles, rifles, camouflage uniforms, and even drones—to local police departments, resulting in a revolving door of self-perpetuating urban militarism. Does Walla Walla, Washington, really need the very Mine Resistant Ambush-Protected (MRAP) trucks I drove around Kandahar, Afghanistan? And in case you were worried about the ability of Madison, Indiana (pop.: 12,000), to fight off rocket propelled grenades thanks to those spiffy new MRAPs, fear not, President Trump recently overturned Obama-era restrictions on advanced technology transfers to local police. Let me just add, from my own experiences in Baghdad and Kandahar, that it has to be a losing proposition to try to be a friendly beat cop and do community policing from inside an armored vehicle. Even soldiers are taught not to perform counterinsurgency that way (though we ended up doing so all the time).

    5. Torture: The use of torture has rarely—except for several years at the CIA—been official policy in these years, but it happened anyway. (See Abu Ghraib, of course.) It often started small as soldier—or police—frustration built and the usual minor torments of the locals morphed into outright abuse. The same process seems underway here in the as well, which was why, as a 34-year old New Yorker, when I first saw the photos at Abu Ghraib, I flashed back to the way, in 1997, the police sodomized Abner Louima, a Haitian immigrant, in my own hometown. Younger folks might consider the far more recent case in Baltimore of Freddie Gray, brutally and undeservedly handcuffed, his pleas ignored, and then driven in the back of a police van to his death. Furthermore, we now know about two decades worth of systematic torture of more than 100 black men by the Chicagopolice in order to solicit (often false) confessions.


    For nearly five decades, Americans have been mesmerized by the government’s declarations of “war” on crime, drugs, and – more recently – terror.

    In the name of these perpetual struggles, apathetic citizens have acquiesced in countless assaults on their liberties. Think warrantless wiretapping, the Patriot Act, and the use of a drone to execute an (admittedly deplorable) American citizen without due process.

    The First, Fourth, and Fifth Amendments – who needs them anyway? None of these onslaughts against the supposedly sacred Bill of Rights have ended terror attacks, prevented a raging opioid epidemic, staunched Chicago’s recordmurder rate, or thwarted America’s ubiquitous mass shootings, of which the Las Vegas tragedy is only the latest and most horrific example. The wars on drugs, crime, and terror – they’re all unwinnable and tear at the core of American society.

    In our apathy, we are all complicit.

    Like so much else in our contemporary politics, Americans divide, like clockwork, into opposing camps over police brutality, foreign wars, and America’s original sin: racism. All too often in these debates, arguments aren’t rational but emotional as people feel their way to intractable opinions. It’s become a cultural matter, transcending traditional policy debates. Want to start a sure argument with your dad? Bring up police brutality. I promise you it’s foolproof.

  • These Are The States With The Best (and Worst) Credit Scores, Household Incomes

    In its latest visualization of the dominant economic trends across the disparate geographical regions of the US, HowMuch.com has created a color-coded map that displays a state’s average credit score compared with its average income.

    As the map clearly shows, there’s a correlation: States with higher median incomes tend to have higher average credit scores.



    Immediately, three regional groupings become clear: One group stretches from the Northwest across the Northern Great Plains, all the way to the Great Lakes. All of these states have similar credit scores over 685 and decent-sized incomes, with Minnesotans in the lead with a score of 722 and a median income of $63,217. There’s another pocket of rich states in the Northeast, the richest being Massachusetts at 706 and $70,954. And finally, there’s a large group of states across the Deep South where people on average have very bad credit scores. Mississippians post the worst scores in the country (648) while on average earning just $40,528.

    Here’s a list off the top 10 states ranked by average credit score, together with the median household income.

    1. Minnesota: 722 and $63,217

    2. North Dakota: 713 and $59,114

    3. Vermont: 713 and $56,104

    4. New Hampshire: 712 and $68,485

    5. South Dakota: 711 and $52,078

    6. Wisconsin: 710 and $54,610

    7. Iowa: 708 and $54,570

    8. Massachusetts: 706 and $70,954

    9. Washington: 704 and $62,848

    10. Hawaii: 702 and $71,977

    Since a good income makes it easier to pay the bills, it follows that families with higher earnings have better credit scores.

    However, there is one exception to this: Alaska.

    Alaskans enjoy some of the highest incomes in the country ($74,444) thanks to the energy industry, but the state has an average credit score of 675.

  • The Strange Case Of The Falling Dollar – And What It Means For Gold

    Authored by Alt-Market’s Brandon Smith via Birch Gold Group,

    Trillions of dollars in uncontrolled central bank stimulus and years of artificially low interest rates have poisoned every aspect of our financial system. Nothing functions as it used to. In fact, many markets actually move in the exact opposite manner as they did before the debt crisis began in 2008. The most obvious example has been stocks, which have enjoyed the most historic bull market ever despite all fundamental data being contrary to a healthy economy.



    With a so far endless supply of cheap fiat from the Federal Reserve (among other central banks), as well as near zero interest overnight loans, everyone in the economic world was wondering where all the cash was flowing to. It certainly wasn’t going into the pockets of the average citizen. Instead, we find that the real benefactors of central bank support has been the already mega-rich as the wealth gap widens beyond all reason.  Furthermore, it is clear that central bank stimulus is the primary culprit behind the magical equities rally that SEEMS to be invincible.

    To illustrate this correlation, one can compare the rise of the Fed’s balance sheet to the rise of the S&P 500 and see they match up almost exactly. Coincidence? I think not…


    Another strangely behaving market factor that has gone mostly unnoticed has been the Dollar index (DXY). Beginning after the global financial crisis in 2008, the dollar’s value in reference to other foreign currencies initially moved in a rather predictable manner; collapsing in the face of unprecedented bailout and stimulus programs by the Fed, which required unlimited fiat creation from thin air. Naturally, commodities responded to fill the void in wealth protection and exploded in price. Oil markets in particular, which are priced only in the US dollar (something that is quickly changing today), nearly quadrupled. Gold witnessed a historic run, edging toward $2,000.

    In the past few years, central banks have initiated a coordinated tightening policy, first by tapering QE, then raising interest rates, and now by decreasing their balance sheets. I would note that while oil and many other commodities plummeted in relative value to the dollar after tightening measures, gold has actually maintained a strong market presence, and has remained one of the best performing investments in recent years.

    Something rather odd, however, has been happening with the dollar…

    Normally, Fed tightening policies should cause an ever-increasing boost to the dollar index. Instead, the dollar is facing a swift plunge not seen since 2003.



    What is going on here? Well, there are a number of factors at play.

    First, we have a growing international sentiment against US treasury bonds (debt), which may be affecting overall demand for the dollar, and in turn, dollar value.  For example, one can see a relatively steady decline in US treasury holdings by Japan and China over the course of 2016, with China being the most aggressive in its move away from US debt:

    We also have a subtle, yet increasing, international appetite for an alternative world reserve currency. The dollar has enjoyed decades of protection from the effects of fiat printing as the world reserve, but numerous countries including Russia, China, and Saudi Arabia are moving to bilateral trade agreements which cut out the US dollar as a mechanism. This will eventually trigger an avalanche of dollars flooding into the US from overseas, as they are no longer needed to execute cross-border trade. And, in turn the dollar will continue to fall in relative value to other currencies.

    There is also the issue of coordinated fiscal tightening by central banks around the world, with the ECB and even Japan moving to cut off stimulus measures and QE.  What this means is, other currencies will now be appreciating in terms of Forex market value against the dollar, and in turn, the dollar index will decline further.  Unless the Federal Reserve acts more aggressively in its interest rate hikes, the dollar’s decline will be brutal.

    Finally, we also have the issue of nearly a decade of Fed stimulus that has gone without audit (except for the limited TARP audit, which shows tens of trillions in money/debt creation). We truly have no idea how much fiat was actually created by the Fed – but we can guess that it was a massive sum according to the seemingly endless rise in equities from a point of near total breakdown, funded by quantitative easing and stock buybacks. You cannot conjure a market rebound merely with debt. Eventually, that currency creation and the consequences will have to set a foot down somewhere, and it is possible that we are witnessing the results first in the dollar, as well as the Treasury yield curve, which is now flattening faster than it did just before the stock market crash in 2008.

    A flat yield curve is generally a portent of economic recession.



    I believe that this is just the beginning of troubles for the dollar and for US bonds. Which raises the question, how will the Fed react to a dollar market that is so far completely ignoring their tightening policies?

    Here is where things get interesting.

    Throughout 2017, I warned that the Fed would continue to raise interest rates (despite many people arguing to the contrary) and would eventually find an excuse to increase rates much faster than previously stated in their dot plots. I based this prediction on the fact that the Fed is clearly moving to pop the enormous fiscal bubble it has engineered since 2008, and that they plan do this while Donald Trump is in office (whether or not Trump is aware of this plan is hard to say). Trump has already taken credit on several occasions for the epic stock rally, and thus, when the plug is pulled on equities life support, who do you think will get the blame? Definitely not the banking elites who inflated the bubble in the first place.

    Even the mainstream financial media has admitted at times that Trump will “regret” his campaign demands that the Fed hike rates and stop pumping up stock markets, as he will be inheriting a fiscal punch in the gut.

    The Fed, as well as the mainstream, have also planted the notion that the Fed “will be forced” to raise interest rates faster if the Trump Administration pursues its plans for Hoover-style infrastructure development.

    But, on top of this, the “problem” of the falling dollar also introduces a whole new rationale for speedy interest rate hikes. I believe that soon after Janet Yellen leaves as Fed chair and Jerome Powell transitions in, the Fed will begin an exponential increase in rates and will speed up their balance sheet reductions. And, they will blame the unusual decline in the dollar index as well as falling Treasury demand as the cause for more extreme action.

    Powell has already backed “gradual rate hikes” in 2018, and, a few members of the Fed expressed a need for “faster hikes” in the minutes of the last meeting in December. I predict this sentiment will expand under Powell.

    A small number of Wall Street economists are also warning of more rate hikes in 2018, and that this could cause considerable shock to the virtual stock rally in play right now.

    That might be the Fed’s plan. The central bankers need a scapegoat for the eventual bursting of the market bubble that they have produced. Why not simply allow that bubble to finally implode in the near term, blaming the Trump administration and, by extension, all the conservatives that supported him? To do this, the Fed needs an excuse to hike rates swiftly; and they now have that excuse with the dollar dropping like a stone (among other reasons).

    But how will this affect gold?

    So far, gold has actually spiked along with Fed rate increases, which might seem counter intuitive, but so is the dollar falling along with rate increases.



    I do think that there will be an initial and marginal drop in gold prices if the Fed increases the frequency of rate hakes. That said, eventually reality will set into stock markets that the party is over, the punch bowl is being taken away, and Trump’s tax reform will not be enough to offset the loss of access to trillions in cheap fiat dollars from the central bank.

    Once stocks begin to collapse in the wake of Fed hikes and balance sheet reductions (and they will), and uncertainty in the fate of the dollar swells, gold will bounce back stronger than ever. In the meantime, I would treat any drop in precious metals as a major buying opportunity. Gold is one of the few assets that always does well during times of crisis.

  • The Chinese Are Now Spending As Much As Americans

    In the US, the latest batch of data, released this week, showed retail sales climbed in December for the sixth straight month – though they missed expectations, with growth slowing to 0.3% MoM.



    With the personal savings rate at a 10 year low, the US consumer is now fully tapped out: This latest uptick in spending has presumably been fueled by debt, as credit-card borrowing has reached an all-time high.

    But another milestone in the history of global consumerism passed last month: As the  Washington Post  points out, China tied the US in 2018 in terms of domestic retail sales – according to data compiled by Mizuho.



    In some important categories, China has overtaken the US: With 17.6 million vehicles sold in the US in 2016, for example, but that was far below the 24 million passenger cars sold in China. US automakers account for about one out of every five cars sold in China, even though the communist party placed a 10% tax on luxury cars and trucks imported from the United States.

    This economic heft has made the problem of confronting China intractable: China is now responsible for 20% of sales for some of the largest US corporations. This is making it difficult for Trump to confront Xi Jinping.

    Any restrictions on Chinese access  to the US market would be met with barriers to American companies selling in China.

    “China is one of the most important markets for many U.S. multinational companies,” Shen says. “This should lend China immense bargaining power.”

    One area where there’s a lot of agreement across the political spectrum is to go after China’s theft of US intellectual property. Over the summer, Trump ordered an investigation by the US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to examine China’s IP policies. That investigation is ongoing, and could lead the US to file a WTO dispute. Unilateral actions might include duties or import restrictions.

    As the new year begins, it’s likely consumer spending in China will quickly surpass that in the US as more newly minted middle class Chinese discover consumer electronics, cars and fashion.


  • Paul Craig Roberts Rages At The Persecution Of Julian Assange

    Authored by Paul Craig Roberts,

    “We need a political intervention to make this situation end. He (Assange) is the only political prisoner in Western Europe.” Juan Braco


    The persecution of Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, is now seven years old. Ecuador has protected Assange for the past half decade from being turned over to Washington by the corrupt Swedish and British for torture and prosecution as a spy by giving Assange political asylum inside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. Ecuador has now given citizenship to Assange and attempted to provide his safe transit out of England by giving him diplomatic status, but the British government continued in its assigned role of jailer by rejecting Ecuador’s request for diplomatic status for Assange, just as the most servile of Washington’s puppet states rejected the order by the UN Committee on Arbitrary Detention to immediate release Assange from his arbitrary detention.

    Assange got into trouble with Washington, because his news organization, Wikileaks, published files released by Bradley Manning. The files were a tremendous embarrassment to Washington, because they showed how Washington conspires against governments and betrays its allies, and the files contained an audio/video film of US military forces murdering innocent people walking down a street and then murdering a father and his two young children who stopped to give aid to the civilians the American soldiers had shot. The film revealed the heartlessness and criminal cruelty of the US troops, who were enjoying playing a real live video game with real people as their victims.

    It was Manning who suffered, not the troops who committed murder. Manning was held for two years in conditions that experts said constituted torture while a case was framed against him. Some believe the harsh conditions affected his mind. Manning was convicted by a kangaroo court and sentenced to 35 years in prison, but Obama in an act of humanity unusual for Washington pardoned Manning.

    Washington wanted Assange as well, and the chance came when two Swedish women, attracted to Assange by his celebrity status, seduced him. The two women had not secured the cooperation they wanted from Assange in the use of condoms and, brainwashd by HIV fears, wanted Assange to join them in being tested.

    Assange, misreading the extent of their fears, was too slow to comply, and the women went to the police to see if he could be required to be tested. According to the women, the police made up the charge of rape. The women themselves disavow the charge.

    The charges were investigated, and the chief Swedish prosecutor Eva Finne dismissed the charges, saying “there is no suspicion of any crime whatsoever.”

    Mysteriously, the case was reopened by another prosecutor, Marianne Ny, who many suspect was operating at the behest of Washington. On November 30, two days after Assange began publishing the Cablegate materials leaked by Bradley Manning, Ny issued an Interpol “red alert” arrest warrant for Assange. This was an unusual request as no charges were outstanding against Assange, and hitherto extradition from one country to another on an arrest warrant required actual charges, whereas Ny said she wanted Assange for questioning. Most everyone in the know understood that Washington had ordered Sweden to get its hands on Assange and to turn him over to Washington.

    Assange challenged the legality of the arrest warrant in British courts, but the British court, many believe following Washington’s orders, ruled against the law and in favor of Washington. Assange assented to the arrest and presented himself to a British police station. He was placed in solitary confinement at Wandsworth prison. If memory serves, the daughter of Sir James Goldsmith paid his bond and he was placed under house arrest. When it became clear that the Swedish prosecutor wanted Assange for Washington, not for any charges against him in Sweden, Ecuador give him asylum, and he fled to the embassy in London.

    Where he has been ever since.

    Sweden has closed the case a second time, and Assange is no longer wanted for questioning in Sweden. Therefore, there is no longer any reason for the British to hold him for Sweden. But the British government never were holding Assange for Sweden. The British were holding him for Washington. And they still are. Even though Sweden has closed a case based on a false report by police and have no basis for any charges against Assange, the British government says it will grab him the minute he steps outside the embassy.

    The British are so desperate to serve their Washington master that once they even declared that they were going to violate diplomatic immunity and invade the Ecuadorian Embassy and seize Assange.

    The British excuse for a once proud government’s continuing servitude to Washington as Assange’s jailer is that by taking asylum in the embassy Assange jumped bail and therefore the British have to arrest him for not surrendering a second time to the police for an investigation that has been closed.

    Stefania Maurizi, an Italian investigative journalist for La Repubblica, smelling the stench of fraud that covers the entire case, has been trying for two years to get her hands on the correspondence between the UK, US, and Swedish governments pertaining to the case in order to pull back the shroud of the Washington-orchestrated propaganda that colors the case. A British tribunal refused to release any documents on the grounds that it had to protect the British Prosecution Service’s relationship with foreign authorities.

    That tells you all you need to know. Julian Assange has lost seven years of his life because stinking dirty Washington wanted revenge on Assange for exercising the US Constitution-protected right of a free press, and the stinking dirty governments of Sweden and Britain did Washington’s dirty work. What we know for certain is that Assange is totally innocent and that there is no honor and no integrity in the US, Swedish, and British governments. Law means nothing to the scum that misrule these countries.

    In the US and probably throughout Europe, politicians and feminists, with the exception of Katrin Axelsson and Lisa Longstaff, used the presstitute media to paint Assange as a rapist and as a spy. The feminists cared nothing about any truth; they just wanted a man to demonize. Truth was the last thing on politicians’ minds. They just wanted to divert attention from Washington’s crimes and betrayals of allies by portraying Assange as a threat and traitor to America. They were unconcerned that Assange could not be a traitor to America as he is not an American citizen. In actual fact, there is no basis in law for any US claim against Assange. Yet because of Washington and its servile British puppet state, Assange remains interred in the Embassy of Ecuador in London. Clearly, honor and respect for law reside in Ecuador, not in the US, UK, or Sweden.

    But facts, along with law and civil liberty, have ceased to mean anything in the Western world. The corrupt US Attorney General Jeff Sessions said that the arrest of Assange is a “priority.” The British police, mere lackeys of Washington, said that they would still arrest Assange, despite the case being dropped, if he left the embassy.

    For the British, serving Washington is a higher calling than the honor of their country.

  • Ford's Self-Driving Test Car Severely Damaged In Crash

    It’s never good news when an autonomous automobile is involved in an accident. Lately, Alphabet’s Waymo crashed an autonomous bus in Las Vegas, and Uber managed to flip a self-driving Volvo in Arizona.

    In the latest installment of autonomous car accidents across America, a self-driving test car from the Ford-backed startup Argo-AI was severely damaged Wednesday that sent two people to the hospital.



    According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, a box truck ran a red light about 10 a.m. at the 16th and Progress streets in Pittsburgh’s North Side and smashed into an Argo AI self-driving car with four people inside. Two of the four passengers in the Argo AI car were injured and taken to the hospital in stable conditions.


    Alan Hall, a communications manager for Ford, who handles public relations on behalf of Argo AI, stated, “we’re aware that an Argo AI test vehicle was involved in an accident. We’re gathering all the information. Our initial focus is on making sure that everyone involved is safe.”

    Hall offered limited information on whether the car was in self-driving mode during the accident, and or if the Argo AI fleet has been suspended.

    In recent times, this is the second autonomous car crash in Pittsburgh. In September, Uber grounded its fleet of self-driving cars for a half day after one of its autonomous cars crashed. After an investigation, the company determined the car’s autonomous systems were not at fault during the accident.

    In early 2017, Ford invested $1 billion in Argo AI, an artificial intelligence company that Ford has outsourced to build the brains in the company’s next generation of self-driving vehicles.  The startup anticipates the deployment of a fully driverless car, without a steering wheel or pedals, by 2021.

    Back in November, we stated that just because its legal to test autonomous cars on public streets, doesn’t  necessarily mean they’ve been optimized for safety

    Waymo published a report for California’s Department of Motor Vehicles about how frequently its driverless cars “disengaged” because of a system failure or safety risk and forcing a human driver to take over. In the report, Waymo said this happened once every 5,000 miles the cars drove in 2016, compared with once every 1,250 miles in 2015. While that’s certainly an improvement, these types of incidents are hardly rare.  


  • Oprah For President, Really?!

    Authored by Mike Whitney via Counterpunch.org,

    Being president isn’t like hosting a talk show or running a media brand. Oprah’s success in her field is no more indicative of her potential to be a good president than Trump’s success in real estate was. You can’t criticize Trump for having no relevant experience or evident understanding of public policy, then say that the solution for Democrats is just to throw up their hands and find their own celebrity to promote.

    — Paul Waldman, “Get a Grip, People. Oprah should not run for President”, Washington Post

    Will she or won’t she?

    No one knows for sure.  Best friend, Gayle King, says Oprah Winfrey has no plans to run for president, but longtime Oprah partner, Stedman Graham, disagrees. Graham says bluntly, “She would absolutely do it. It’s up to the people.”



    So who’s right and who’s wrong? And what’s up with the Golden Globes? Was the reaction to Winfrey’s emotionally-charged speech really as spontaneous as we’ve been led to believe or was the deluge of adulatory coverage in the media already in the works? I don’t know about you, but the ridiculous outpouring of praise –including more than 700 gushing articles in the MSM accompanied by a saturation campaign on social media— smells fishy to me. Was this supposed to be an inspirational speech to fans and well-wishers or a ‘product launch’ by Democratic party leaders who needed a glitzy venue to showcase their future presidential candidate, Ms. Talk TV herself, Oprah Winfrey?

    If I was a gambling man, I’d bet that the whole Sunday night extravaganza, including Winfrey’s heart-wrenching oration, was a set-up from soup to nuts.

    My guess is that the DNC honchos have cynically decided that their best chance to beat Trump in 2020 is by following the blueprint that worked for the inexperienced, 2-year Senator from Illinois, Barack Obama.  First, they start with the product launch to a target audience, then they create a positive buzz in the media and on the internet, then they magnify the size of the “groundswell” of support (remember the fainting ladies at O’s speeches?), then they transport their candidate from one soapbox to the next where he/she mutters the same stale chestnuts over and over again to the adoring throng.

    Oh yeah, and one other thing: Real issues have to be avoided like the plague while promises should be made in the vaguest, but most uplifting terms possible. That was the key to Obama’s success and it looks like that Oprah is following his lead.   Here’s a brief clip from her speech:

    “I’ve interviewed and portrayed people who’ve withstood some of the ugliest things life can throw at you, but the one quality all of them seem to share is an ability to maintain hope for a brighter morning — even during our darkest nights.”

    Ahh, another 8 years of hope and change. Who would’ve known?

    Of course, Winfrey is enormously popular but her popularity does not necessarily translate into political support. Take a look at this excerpt from an article in the Washington Post and you’ll why her transition from TV celbrity to presidential candidate could be bumpier than many people expect:

     “A March 2017 Quinnipiac University poll found Winfrey had a 52 percent favorable rating (and just a 23 percent unfavorable rating). She was most popular with Democrats (72 percent) and independents (51 percent).

    But that doesn’t mean those polled wanted her to throw her hat into the ring: Just over 1 in 5 said Winfrey should run in 2020, and 69 percent said she shouldn’t.” (Washington Post)

    That doesn’t mean it’s a lost cause, it just means that her presidential bid is not a sure thing.  It’s going to be a long, uphill slog with plenty of pitfalls and mudslinging.  Even so,  most analysts expect Winfrey to sail through the Democratic primaries without breaking a sweat. There’s simply no prospective candidate in the party who could compete with her charisma, her name recognition or her wide-ranging fan-base. But nabbing the nomination and becoming the party’s standard-bearer merely puts Oprah in a position where she can lock horns with big Don Trump in a no-holds-barred cage match that will decide whether the country is going to be governed by a flamboyant billionaire oligarch or by a flamboyant billionaire oligarch. 

    Could things get any weirder?

    I always thought the Dems would put Michelle Obama on the 2020 ticket, after all, for the ‘identity politics’-driven Dems, Michelle has it all; she’s black, she’s a woman, she’s bright, she has massive name recognition, she has stature, gravitas, charisma, she knows how to deliver a riveting speech, she knows how to handle herself among dignitaries, and she knows ‘the drill’, that is, she knows that the president is a meaningless figurehead who has very little power and follows a tight script that is written by his big money constituents. Michelle knows all of that which is what makes her the perfect candidate.

    But Michelle probably didn’t want the job. And why would she? Hubby just cashed in on a $60 million book deal, so Michelle can afford to put her feet up and enjoy life. That’s why the Dems moved on to Door Number 2: Oprah Winfrey. If Trump can win with no political experience (the thinking goes), then why not Winfrey?

    Why not, indeed? Here’s how Paul Waldman at the Washington Post sums it up:

    “It’s true that Democrats have underappreciated the importance of charisma in presidential politics. But the answer to those electoral failures isn’t to stop caring about substance. It’s to find candidates who are both charismatic and serious, who would be able both to win and to do the job once they took office….”

    (Paul Waldman, Washington Post)

    Bingo. And what would it take to make Oprah Winfrey a “serious” candidate?

    Well, she’d have to have a good grasp of the issues which means she’d have to take a crash course in policy, world affairs, negotiation and economics.

    She’d need to have an opinion about the nuclear standoff with North Korea, the confrontation in the South China Sea, the Saudi war and blockade of Yemen, the escalating conflict in Afghanistan, the US occupation of East Syria,  frayed relations with Turkey, economic sanctions against Iran, Russia, Venezuela and Cuba. And she’d have to understand domestic issues, cuts to Medicaid, corporate tax cuts, burgeoning budget deficits, stagnant wages, the skyrocketing price of tuition,  out-of-control health care costs, free trade, deregulation, Wall Street, the environment, transportation,  law enforcement, national security and the steady evisceration of the American middle class.


    The fact that Oprah really has no grasp of any of these things nor any understanding of how to negotiate with congress, staff an administration, or appoint judges to the bench, makes me think that Democratic honchos are merely using her as a stalking horse to shoehorn themselves back into power so they can–once again–enjoy the spoils of war.

    Isn’t that what this whole ‘Oprah for Prez-thing’ is really all about?  Aren’t the party fatcats and their behind-the-scenes constituents just looking for the right vehicle to tout their message and fly their banner without any intention of addressing the issues that ordinary working people really care about?

    Of course they are. These people are cynics.

  • Which US Jobs Pay The Highest Bonuses

    Submitted by Nicholas Colas and Jessica Rabe of DataTrek

    The number of job openings, hires and quits may have dipped in November, as shown in the latest Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, but all remain near record highs dating back to when the time series started in December 2000. Overall, the data shows a very tight labor market that will hopefully help put upward pressure on wages. We also share the job titles and industries that receive the largest bonuses according to LinkedIn. Spoiler: it is finance, not tech that takes the top spot.

    * * *

    Whether or not Wall Street professionals have a good year typically boils down to their bonus. It fluctuates year to year, but is certainly a perk to make up for all the long hours. LinkedIn’s recent Salary Report shows it may pay off, as it found jobs in finance receive the largest bonuses compared to other sectors.

    Here are the job titles with the largest bonuses based on LinkedIn’s Salary tool:

    • Investment Banking Associate: Median Annual Bonus ($100k), Median Total Salary ($233k)
    • Private Equity Associate: Median Annual Bonus (85k), Median Total Salary (178k)
    • Equity Research Analyst: Median Annual Bonus ($50k), Median Total Salary ($141k)
    • Surgeon: Median Annual Bonus ($50k), Median Total Salary ($350k)
    • Cardiologist: Median Annual Bonus ($50k), Median Total Salary ($360k)
    • Radiologist: Median Annual Bonus ($50k), Median Total Salary ($366k)
    • Orthopedic Surgeon: Median Annual Bonus ($50k), Median Total Salary ($450k)
    • Investment Banking Analyst: Median Annual Bonus ($45k), Median Total Salary ($125k)
    • Senior Reservoir Engineer: Median Annual Bonus ($37,500), Median Total Salary ($204k)
    • Wealth Management Advisor: Median Annual Bonus ($35k), Median Total Salary ($124k)

    Health care jobs claimed many of those top spots, but industries with the highest bonuses are finance, energy and mining, and tech:

    • Finance: Median Annual Bonus ($12,300), Median Total Salary ($81,800)
    • Energy & Mining: Median Annual Bonus ($11,400), Median Total Salary ($91,500)
    • Software & IT Services: Median Annual Bonus ($11,300), Median Total Salary ($104,500)
    • Hardware & Networking: Median Annual Bonus ($11,200), Median Total Salary ($101,500)
    • Consumer Goods: Median Annual Bonus ($10,800), Median Total Salary ($79,500)
    • Healthcare: Median Annual Bonus ($10,300), Median Total Salary ($84k)
    • Manufacturing: Median Annual Bonus ($9k), Median Total Salary ($84,800)
    • Entertainment: Median Annual Bonus ($8,300), Median Total Salary ($78,500)
    • Corporate Services: Median Annual Bonus ($7k), Median Total Salary ($75,600)
    • Construction: Median Annual Bonus ($6,700), Median Total Salary ($77,800)

    Link to the report here.

    Any bonus helps, especially with little upward pressure on wages over the past few years. Fortunately, last Friday’s jobs report showed average hourly earnings tick up by one tenth to 2.5% year-on-year. In order to gauge wage pressures and the health of the labor market, we always review the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS). It is a one-month delayed take on the state of employment and gives a more complete view of the workforce than the Employment Situation report, as it is based on a larger population sample.

    Given that the time series dates back to December 2000, we put the numbers in the latest report for November in perspective by comparing them historically. Here is what we found:

    #1 Hires: The number of hires dropped by 1.9% m/m to 5.49 million in November, but was still up 4.3% y/y. The number of hires as a percentage of the civilian labor force was 3.4% compared to the historical average of 3.2%. The highest was 4.0% in January 2001. Other than the early 2000s, this ratio was also slightly higher in the mid-2000s during some months than the current level. It hit a low of 2.4% in March 2009. Overall, the level of hiring is strong, but still has some room to grow.

    #2 Job Openings: The number of job openings fell for a second consecutive month after registering above 6 million three months in a row for the first time. Openings were down 0.8% m/m to 5.88 million in November, but still up 4.4% y/y.

    The number of job openings as a percentage of the civilian labor force was 3.7% compared to the average of 2.6%, a high of 3.8% last September, and a low of 1.4% in July 2009. Job openings over the past few years have also bested levels during the mid-2000s when it usually fluctuated around 3%. In 2017 through November, this ratio always exceeded 3.5%.

    Bottom line, employers’ appetite for new employees is very strong.

    #3 Quits: The number of people voluntarily leaving their jobs fell 0.4% to 3.17 million, but increased 3.1% y/y. This is our favorite number in the report as it measures worker confidence to find a better opportunity. The number of quits as a percentage of the civilian labor force was 2.0% in November compared to the average of 1.7%, a high of 2.4% in January 2001, and a low of 1.1% in September 2009. Over the past year, this ratio has registered levels during the mid-2000s, but has not broken out above 2% like in the early 2000s.

    Bottom line: strong, but still room for improvement.

    Our “Take this job and shove it” indicator – or quits to total separations – was 61.0% in November compared to the high of 62.2% in September 2016. Near record highs, it bests any level achieved before the last recession.

    #4 Layoffs and discharges: Layoffs and discharges slipped 0.4% m/m to 1.69 million and are up 1.6% y/y. The number of layoffs and discharges as a percentage of the civilian labor force was 1.1% in November compared to the average of 1.2%, a low of 0.95% in September 2016, and a high of 1.7% in January 2009.

    Overall this figure remains low relative to historical averages.

    In sum, employers’ interest to add employees nears record highs, while layoffs near record lows. Hiring is healthy, but is not keeping pace with job openings, indicating employers’ difficulty finding qualified workers as noted in the Fed’s Beige Book reports. The number of workers choosing to quit their jobs is also strong, but still below levels achieved in 2001.

    Our takeaway: this data suggests a very tight labor market, which should continue to help put upward pressure on wages and overall inflation. Yesterday we outlined the challenges of getting wage growth to accelerate in 2018. Today’s JOLTS data confirms we’ll need to see some truly outstanding labor market data this year before wages can finally accelerate.




  • Surging Russian-Chinese Trade Pressures Petrodollar

    Authored by Tom Luongo,

    The latest trade figures on Chinese/Russian trade should be further warning to the U.S. that economic sanctions do not work. In May 2017 Russian and China agreed to increase bilateral trade to $80 billion by the end of 2018.

    Well, they’re a year ahead of schedule…

    The official figures for 2017 came in at $84.07 billion.


    They did more than $8.1 billion in business in December alone. With the opening of the new ESPO oil pipeline connecting Siberia to China doubling the amount of oil China can import to 600,000 barrels per day we’ll see those numbers continue to accelerate.

    And that’s the key. Remember, the massive $400 billion gas deal China made with Gazprom in 2014 hasn’t begun delivering gas. The first Power of Siberia pipeline isn’t due to be completed until 2019. The second Power of Siberia pipeline is on the table after this one.

    And the two countries just agreed to a third pipeline to bring gas in from Russia’s far east last month.

    So, despite back-biting from western media about the profitability of these projects, they are going forward and the two countries continue to strengthen fundamental ties to one another.


    Greasing the Skids

    We are now just a week away from trading yuan-denominated oil futures on the Shanghai International Energy Exchange(INE). Trading begins January 18th.

    And while that won’t change the face of oil futures overnight, it will begin shifting price discovery away from U.S. dollar markets. It will also improve external yuan liquidity as well as visibility for Russian oil on the global market.

    The Shanghai contract is for Medium Sour crude which is closer to the type of oil mainly produced by Russia. Russian Urals crude is considered Medium Sour. Saudi Arabia’s and most of OPEC is sour oil (higher in sulfur with a lower pH). With the OPEC production cuts which Russia agreed to emulate, mostly hit this market.

    Both WTI and Brent crude are benchmarks for Light Sweet Crude like that of the U.S. shale producers, Venezuela, Nigeria and Libya. So, this contract is designed to properly price other grades of oil not tailored to U.S. refinery needs.

    And for that reason alone it will be a major competitor in the long run. The current oil market is heavily fragmented because there is no direct futures market for Sour grades of crude.

    Shanghai’s contract is changing that game. Between this and that profits from it can be converted to gold via the Shanghai Gold Exchange, gives this market immediate credibility.

    The effects of this have been over-stated on the one hand by hard-money advocates and under-stated on the other by entrenched financial analysts.

    The important takeaway is that China has created the first unassailable and above-ground challenge to the petro-dollar oil trade. To break the world’s use of the dollar as the sole settlement currency for oil required the right contract issued by a country the U.S. can’t immediately invade and conduct a regime change operation in – like in Iraq and Libya.

    Russia wins here because now there is a path for its Urals grade to become an international benchmark like WTI and Brent. And since Gazprom prefers to price its long-term gas contracts based on underlying oil prices rather than the more volatile natural gas price, this is also a win in the long run for them.

    Gold convertibility is a means to deepen China’s sovereign debt markets by making it less risky to hold Chinese bonds. The lack of true yuan convertibility is the big impediment to people holding them. So, gold convertibility creates a viable exit route.

    A Means to an End

    Increasing trade between Russia and China has to and will go far beyond energy for its partnership to thrive. The oil trade is simply a means to building the underlying capital flow between the two countries. It makes it easier for Russian businesses to get access to Chinese capital and vice versa.

    And this rapid acceleration of bilateral trade is necessary in the face of more severe U.S. economic sanctions against Russia likely coming next month. The way to avoid sanctions is to build alternate means to do business.

    We will continue to target Russian banks and financial oligarchs with the idea of curtailing economic growth by cutting out their ability to source overseas capital. And again, this is why China is so important to Russia.

    Because the more we push them away the more they can turn to their Chinese partners for assistance and the U.S. doesn’t dare sanction China, no matter how much President Trump bloviates about it.

    China announced last week that it would not longer be accumulating U.S. treasury assets. Presumably, this mean that it will no longer recycle its trade surplus with the U.S. to halt appreciation of the Yuan versus the dollar. [ZH: of course this was denied within 24hrs but the threat remains]

    It’s had to over the past year with the dollar weakening like it has. But that wave is coming to an end with a reversal of Fed policy and Trump’s tax cut bill. Rising rates in the U.S. will allow China to divest its Treasury holdings at its leisure without overly affecting the Yuan while it also deepens Yuan liquidity through its now gold-convertible bond market.

    Those trade dollars will be spent in pursuit of China’s One Belt, One Road initiative and overseas where it has business. I’m sure if Russia gets into another dollar-funding crisis with new sanctions China will be there to provide dollar liquidity, just like in 2015.

    Both countries understand the stakes and continue to make the right moves to support the changing macroeconomic environment. With U.S. bonds on the verge of entering a bear market conditions are ripe for China to deploy its massive savings to resume remaking the Asian continent.

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