Jan 04

Today’s News 4th January 2018

  • Who's Really Got The Biggest Nuclear Button?

    Currently, there are an estimated 14,555 nuclear warheads in the hands of just nine countries.

    Statista’s Martin Armstrong points out that at the top of the list, as compiled by the Federation Of American Scientists (FAS), are of course Russia and the U.S.With a combined arsenal of over 13,000, this particular hangover from the Cold War is still plain to see.

    Up to now the two have been undergoing programs of disarmament – of this 13,400, over 5,000 are officially retired and awaiting dismantlement.

    In Kim Jong-un’s New Year’s Day speech, he claimed that North Korea’s nuclear forces are now “completed”, stating that the nuclear launch button is always within his reach.

    The FAS does indeed estimate that the country is in possession of between 10 to 20 warheads.

    In response to the claim, U.S. President Trump fired back, pointing out that his button is “much bigger & more powerful” – something which can not be disputed, as the infographic  below shows…

    Infographic: Who's Got the Biggest Nuclear Button? | Statista

    You will find more statistics at Statista

  • Brandon Smith Asks "Will Manliness Make A Comeback In 2018?"

    Authored by Brandon Smith via Alt-Market.com,

    Men embracing their masculinity and biological heritage has not been the easiest path the past few years, at least, for those who care about being labeled a “toxic” curse hanging over the history of the world.

     

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    For me, frankly, I am indifferent to the gnashing and wailing of feminists and the social justice cult. They are a paper tiger and always have been. Beyond that, it’s almost impossible to live in rural Montana without being a capable man (or living in a family with capable men), so even if I wanted to become some kind of liberal my-little-pony metrosexual, the environment simply would not allow for it. I would get eaten alive, or I would have to leave.

    It is this lesson above all else that I would like to impart here — masculinity can only be abandoned when the environment is sterilized and controlled and entirely “safe.” Put any feminist out in an uncontrolled and dangerous environment (like the wilderness) for a few weeks, and it won’t be long before they will beg for someone with all those “toxic” masculine traits to come and help them.

    In fact, though scientists rarely undertake any social experiments to explore this reality (due to science in our era being heavily tainted by identity politics and liberal bias), there are many examples of the vast differences between genders on display in survival shows such as the Bear Grylls show ‘The Island’.  The British reality series originally featured a group of thirteen men left on an island with nothing but a few tools and the clothes on their backs. Their goal?  Work together to survive for one full month.

    After accusations of “sexism”, the show started its next season with a group of men and a group of women given the same task.  The show had various versions and copycats in other nations, some featuring competitions between the men and the women, but the end result was invariably the same regardless of the country.

    While having their own setbacks, the men’s groups do decidedly better in every case, not just because of superior strength, but also superior organizational ability (an evil masculine trait).  In the American ‘Survivor’ version of this experiment, which had the groups in proximity to each other, the women inevitably depended on the men for aid.

    The reality is, when push comes to shove society cannot function without psychological traits that are decidedly masculine.  This is why matriarchal (or feminized) societies generally collapse or are highly dysfunctional and regressive.  For an example outside of the jungle, read this article by a female entrepreneur who had a utopian idea to build a company made up only of women – a company which suffered complete gridlock and bankruptcy only two years later from employee discord and laziness.

    Because of the inadequacies of a culture without strong male presence, feminism and “social justice” as ideologies instantly lend themselves to socialism and collectivism. In fact, it’s hard to separate one from the other.

    Socialism provides the governmental and legal bubble that helps to protect people who cannot or will not protect themselves, and collectivism forces capable people (mostly men) to do all the hard labor necessary to keep a system functioning and safe “for the sake of the group,” whether they want to participate in that group or not. In the beginning this is done through taxation, entitlement programs and the centralizing of wages into metropolitan areas. In the end, it is done through unabashed slavery. If you want to see an example of this simply look up the end result of the Stalinist and Maoist models – a productive minority is always tasked (or forced) to feed, house and clothe the non-producing majority.

    And this is how these people hope to live out their entire lives — blissfully sheltered from unpredictable environments that require technical know-how, independent ingenuity or decisive and sometimes violent action.

    Feminism in particular seeks the destruction of all masculinity as a prerequisite to a supposedly safer world. To illustrate, take a look at this article published by the ever-establishment, ever-collectivist Bloomberg titled “How To Make Better Men.”

    The article is typical propaganda, falsely associating masculinity first with institutions that do not define masculinity as well as attitudes that are not necessarily only attributed to men. The goal here, of course, is the demonization of men in general through association with already-established negative events and symbols. Bloomberg ties men and male behavior to the scandal surrounding the recent string of accusations of sexual aggression in politics and Hollywood.

    To be sure, these institutions and industries in particular seem to attract a certain type of deviance, not that all the accusations made so far should be treated as fact. Prosecuting someone in the media and in the court of public opinion is not the same as prosecuting them in a court of law. The #MeToo movement is mostly a farce on par with the witch hunting displayed in The Crucible; relying solely on stirring the frothing fervor of the mob rather than generating facts and evidence.

    That said, the cases that do seem to be provable illustrate a pattern of narcissism and sociopathy common in the entertainment industry and in politics, and this is a problem among men AND women within these cultural structures. Just look at Hillary Clinton and her treatment of the women that threatened her husband’s career.

    And despite what feminists claim, narcissism and sociopathy are not inherently masculine traits. Many women display these character flaws constantly, but in slightly different ways from men.

    Is it wrong for a man to pressure a woman into sexual activity through leverage or force? Of course. But is this a “masculine” behavior, or a sociopathic behavior? Bloomberg and the feminists want to condition you to assume the two are interchangeable.

    Now, many other behaviors that have been wrongly attached to rape in order to demonize men are in fact masculine and are not negative. Is it an assault for a man to tell a woman on the street she looks good? No. Is it an assault to be direct with a woman or to pursue her for a relationship? No, as long as she doesn’t tell you to back the hell off then all is fair game. Is it an assault to look at a woman and think thoughts you would not share with your own mother (unless you are a freak)? No, not at all. In fact, you will find that many women PREFER a man that is direct over a man that walks on eggshells and is constantly apologizing for acting on what is biological and natural. It is feminists who are complaining about these behaviors, and feminists do not represent women in the slightest.

    How do feminists plan to weed out masculine behavior that has sustained civilization since the beginning of recorded time? They hope to accomplish this through public schools. First by propagandizing children (like Bloomberg propagandizes their readers) into believing that traditionally masculine behaviors are “bad.” Boys should be more calm in class, sit still, be quiet, less high strung, they should cry more and share their feelings, they should be admonished for playing violent games such as war with sticks and their imaginations, they should be taught to be vulnerable and less ambitious, they should be, for all intents and purposes, feminized.

    Make no mistake, there is a highly concerted effort in the public school system to enforce the feminist ideology by sinking their fangs into the next generation of men and “training” the manliness out of them. Of course, it seems to me that if these behaviors weren’t entirely natural, then the feminists would not have to put so much effort into an agenda to condition children to their side. Why not keep ideologies out of schools completely and let the children decide what comes naturally when they are older?

    Beyond the circus of sexual issues dominating the media for the past few weeks or the feminist final solution, I will say that the violence of action is indeed a predominantly masculine characteristic, and honestly, we need far more of it.

    It seems to me that feminism and social justice, whether knowingly or unknowingly, feed into the establishment power structure and allow it to thrive. Encouraging men to be weak, indecisive, indirect, fearful of group condemnation and fearful of their own aggression makes a society less secure and more malleable. Masculinity is often raw and unpredictable. It makes sense that potential tyrants would seek to diminish it so that they do not have to worry about sudden rebellion. In ancient times, invading armies would target the military age males of a culture and kill them off. They would then assimilate the women and children, and young boys would be raised to defend the banner of the conqueror.

    Today, this is being done in a different manner. Men are being castrated symbolically in media and film, or castigated through our educational system as a nuisance. We are being encouraged to abandon all the qualities that make us a threat to the establishment, in the name of social tranquility. But of course, in the end only the establishment benefits, and “tranquility” is certainly not guaranteed once we fall on our own swords.

    Believe it or not, though, I am hopeful.

    The tides have been turning against the feminists and the social justice cult lately. And contrary to popular belief, this is NOT because of Donald Trump. If anything, Trump’s popularity is merely a reflection of the vast and growing backlash against the extreme left and the cultural Marxism they promote.

    When there is a social backlash, it usually results in people immediately educating themselves on everything the offending movement originally condemned. Meaning, if the feminists hate it then it is probably good. Will this encourage men, and the millennial generation in particular, into finally pursuing technical prowess, physical and mental toughness, independence and self sufficiency, personal security and self defense and the ambition to build something better? Will our dwindling Western populations see a resurgence of child births? Will the newest Generation Z, growing up in the midst of an increasingly difficult economic environment, adhere to more masculine traits by necessity?

    If there is any indication of such a return to masculine roots, it will probably become visible in 2018 as the influence of the feminist agenda continues to wane. We shall see. If not, then the Western world is in dire trouble. For if we do not make manliness “fashionable” again and soon, it might be bred out of our culture entirely. And with this loss, a cultural death is guaranteed.

  • Petro-Yuan Looms – How China Will Shake Up The Oil Futures Market

    The “huge story”,as Graticule’s Adam Levinson called it, will, it appears, be a “wake up call” for the West that seems to happily be ignoring this potential bombshell that is China’s looming launch of domestic oil futures trading.

    Additionally, Levison warns Washington that besides serving as a hedging tool for Chinese companies, the contract will aid a broader Chinese government agenda of increasing the use of the yuan in trade settlement… and thus the acceleration of de-dollarization and the rise of the Petro-Yuan.

    “I don’t think there’s any doubt we’re going to see use of the renminbi in reserves go up substantially”

    China has been planning this for a number of years and given rising tensions, now seems like a good time for China to flex a little.

    The Shanghai International Energy Exchange, a unit of Shanghai Futures Exchange, will be known by the acronym INE and will allow Chinese buyers to lock in oil prices and pay in local currency. Also, foreign traders will be allowed to invest — a first for China’s commodities markets — because the exchange is registered in Shanghai’s free trade zone. Even  Bloomberg admits there are implications for the U.S. dollar’s well-established role as the global currency of the oil market, as Sungwoo Park sums up some of the key questions

    1. When will trading begin?

    According to the Shanghai-based news portal Jiemian, which cited an unidentified person from a futures company, trading is expected to start Jan. 18. Multiple rounds of testing have been carried out and all listing requirements met. The State Council, China’s cabinet, was said to have given its approval in December, one of the final regulatory hurdles. The push for oil futures gained impetus in 2017 when China surpassed the U.S. as the world’s biggest crude importer.

     

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    2. Why is this important for China?

    Futures trading would wrest some control over pricing from the main international benchmarks, which are based on dollars. Denominating oil contracts in yuan would promote the use of China’s currency in global trade, one of the country’s key long-term goals. And China would benefit from having a benchmark that reflects the grades of oil that are mostly consumed by local refineries and differ from those underpinning Western contracts.

    3. How do oil futures work?

    Futures contracts fix prices today for delivery at a later date. Consumers use them to protect against higher prices down the line; speculators use them to bet on where prices are headed. In 2017, oil futures contracts in New York and London outstripped physical trading by a factor of 23. Crude oil is among the most actively traded commodities, with two key benchmarks: West Texas Intermediate, or WTI, which trades on the New York Mercantile Exchange, and Brent crude, which trades on ICE Futures Europe in London.

    4. Why didn’t China begin trading futures until now?

    Lower crude prices have played a part. Chinese oil futures were proposed in 2012 following spikes above $100 a barrel, but prices in 2017 have averaged little more than $50. There’s also concern over volatility. China introduced domestic crude futures in 1993, only to stop a year later because of volatility. In recent years, it repeatedly delayed its new contract amid turmoil in equities and financial markets. Such destabilizing moves have often prompted China’ government to intervene in markets in one way or another.

    5. What’s China’s track record in commodities?

    Nickel was the last major commodity to be listed there in 2015; within six weeks, trading in Shanghai surpassed benchmark futures on the London Metal Exchange, or LME. In China, speculators play a far greater role, boosting trading volumes but making markets susceptible to volatility. In early 2016, the then-head of the LME said it was possible some Chinese traders did not even know what they were trading as investors piled into everything from steel reinforcement bars to iron ore. Steep price rises relented when China intervened with tighter trading rules, higher fees and shorter trading hours.

    6. Will foreigners buy Chinese oil futures?

    That remains to be seen. Overseas oil producers and traders would need to swallow not just China’s penchant for occasional market interventions but also its capital controls. Restrictions on moving money in and out of the country have been tightened in the past two years after a shock devaluation of the yuan in 2015 prompted a surge in money leaving the mainland. Similar hurdles have kept foreign investors as bit players in China’s giant stock and bond markets.

    7. Could the yuan challenge the dollar’s dominance in oil?

    Not any time soon, since paying for oil in dollars is an entrenched practice, according to some analysts. Shady Shaher, head of macro strategy at Dubai-based lender Emirates NBD PJSC, says it makes sense in the long run to look at transactions in yuan because China is a key market, but it will take years. Bloomberg Gadfly columnist David Fickling argues that China doesn’t have “nearly the influence in the oil market needed to carry out such a coup.” On the other hand, paying in yuan for oil could become part of President Xi Jinping’s “One Belt, One Road” initiative to develop ties across Eurasia, including the Middle East. Chinese participation in Saudi Aramco’s planned initial public offering could help sway Saudi opinion toward accepting yuan, which is used in only about 2 percent of global payments.

    With regards that final point from Bloomberg, Pepe Escobar disagrees, recently concluding, the era of the petro-yuan is at hand

    Intractable questions referring to the US dollar as top reserve currency have been discussed at the highest levels of JP Morgan for at least five years now. There cannot be a more politically charged dossier. The NSS duly sidestepped it.

    The current state of play is still all about the petrodollar system; since last year what used to be a key, “secret” informal deal between the US and the House of Saud is firmly in the public domain.

    Even warriors in the Hindu Kush may now be aware of how oil and virtually all commodities must be traded in US dollars, and how these petrodollars are recycled into US Treasuries. Through this mechanism Washington has accumulated an astonishing $20 trillion in debt – and counting.

    Vast populations all across MENA (Middle East-Northern Africa) also learned what happened when Iraq’s Saddam Hussein decided to sell oil in euros, or when Muammar Gaddafi planned to issue a pan-African gold dinar.

    But now it’s China who’s entering the fray, following on plans set up way back in 2012. And the name of the game is oil-futures trading priced in yuan, with the yuan fully convertible into gold on the Shanghai and Hong Kong foreign exchange markets.

    The Shanghai Futures Exchange and its subsidiary, the Shanghai International Energy Exchange (INE) have already run four production environment tests for crude oil futures. Operations were supposed to start at the end of 2017; but even if they start sometime in early 2018 the fundamentals are clear; this triple win (oil/yuan/gold) completely bypasses the US dollar.

    The era of the petro-yuan is at hand.

    Of course there are questions on how Beijing will technically manage to set up a rival mark to Brent and WTI, or whether China’s capital controls will influence it. Beijing has been quite discreet on the triple win; the petro-yuan was not even mentioned in National Development and Reform Commission documents following the 19th CCP Congress last October.

    What’s certain is that the BRICS supported the petro-yuan move at their summit in Xiamen, as diplomats confirmed to Asia Times. Venezuela is also on board. It’s crucial to remember that Russia is number two and Venezuela is number seven among the world’s Top Ten oil producers. Considering the pull of China’s economy, they may soon be joined by other producers.

    Yao Wei, chief China economist at Societe Generale in Paris, goes straight to the point, remarking how “this contract has the potential to greatly help China’s push for yuan internationalization.”

    It ain’t over till the fat (golden) lady sings. When the beginning of the end of the petrodollar system – established by Kissinger in tandem with the House of Saud way back in 1974 – becomes a fact on the ground, all eyes will be focused on the NSS counterpunch.

  • Houthi Forces Capture US Navy Spy Drone Off Yemen Coast

    While a major humanitarian crisis continues to unfold in Yemen as a result of a Saudi-led proxy war now approaching its fourth year, backed by US weapons and equipment which have increased threefold under President Trump, this remains a faceless and nameless conflict unlike the wars in Iraq, Libya, and Syria, with virtually no Western media coverage. As a result, most Americans would have trouble finding Yemen on a map.

    Amid the medial blackout, Al-Masdar News (AMN), an Arab world newspaper, reports the Houthi Navy has captured a U.S. underwater autonomous surveillance drone operating off the Yemeni coastline earlier this week.

    In the video, four Houthi men are seen seizing the REMUS 600 Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV), designed for area searches, mine countermeasures, surveillance, and reconnaissance operations. The AUV is manufactured by a Norwegian-based defense firm Kongsberg, who received funding from the Office of Naval Research to support the Navy’s growing demand for AUVs. According to AMN News, the Houthis discovered the UUV within the past week somewhere off the coast of Yemen.

    The Houthi Navy claims the drone was part of Washington’s continued military support with Saudi Arabia to topple the Houthi regime inside Yemen.

    “It is intended to operate in shallow waters, intended to operate in littoral spaces, and is designed to be pretty autonomous,” Dan Gettinger, co-director of the Center for the Study of the Drone at Bard College, said about the REMUS 600. “It might be the most advanced UUV deployed.”

    Typically, the most common Navy uses for a REMUS 600 are mine countermeasures and intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and target acquisition (ISRTA), Gettinger said. Other uses include studying underwater environmental conditions, meteorological research, and underwater mapping of terrain and currents.

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    The REMUS 600 is between 9 and 18 feet long, depending on the mission and payload, and can travel at about 4.5 knots, according to the US Naval Institute. REMUS 600 was initially developed in 2003 through a partnership with the U.S. Navy and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute.

    What makes the REMUS 600 so useful for the Navy is its payload and ease in deploying. Gettinger said it typically only requires a patrol boat to put a REMUS 600 in the water.

    Once underway, he said the REMUS has about 20 hours of operational use before it runs out of power and needs to be recovered. Gettinger guesses the UUV surfaced when its mission ended and was found by the Houthis before it could be recovered. In the future, he suspects such incidents will become more common as more unmanned underwater vehicles are launched near busy waterways.

    “Underwater drones are not as frequently spoken about as UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles),” Gettinger said. “But there’s a recognition, particularly in China and Russia, these will be a part of a future fleet.”

     

    U.S. Navy officials in Washington and at U.S. 5th Fleet would neither confirm whether if the REMUS 600 belonged to the service nor provide details about any unmanned underwater vehicle missions in the region when asked by USNI News.

    The Washington Times says an earlier version of the REMUS UAV was responsible for clearing anti-ship mines at Iraqi ports right around the time of the invasion in 2003. History may not repeat, but it rhymes, and with the REMUS 600 UAV roaming the waters off of Yemen, this could be a tacit hint of upcoming naval ambitions by the United States and Saudi Arabia.

    An earlier version of the underwater drone, dubbed the REMUS 100 and known within the U.S. Navy’s arsenal as the Mk-18 Mod 1 Swordfish, was used to clear anti-ship mines in the southern Iraqi port city of Umm Qasr in 2003, according to an Office of Naval Research factsheet. The REMUS 600, also known as the Mk-18 Mod 2 Kingfish, replaced the Swordfish in 2010.  

    “As part of the Office of the Secretary of Defense Fastlane initiative in 2011, 5th Fleet began receiving accelerated deliveries of Mk-18 [underwater drones] … meeting the urgent need for mine-hunting capabilities in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility,” according to U.S. Navy officials.

    This is not the first time a US naval drone was captured in contested waters. In 2016, a Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy seized a U.S. Navy buoyancy glider that was operating in the South China Sea, claiming it was a hazard to navigation. The PLAN ultimately returned the gilder to the U.S. Navy.

    As for this particular incident, if it is indeed similar to 2003 when the REMUS 100 was on minesweep duty around Iraq at the time of the US invasion, is today’s (more advanced) REMUS 600 captured in the waters of Yemen a precursor to the next “liberating” US invasion?

  • The Deep State's Plan 'C' – Murder Donald Trump?

    Authored by Mac Slavo via SHTFplan.com,

    Longtime Donald Trump advisor and confidante Roger Stone is warning once again about the deep state. This time, he said that the deep state’s “plan C” is to simply murder the president, since plans A and B won’t work out.

     

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    With trust in the mainstream media at an all-time low, the global elitists are on the verge of losing their grip on humanity’s throat. And Roger Stone says emphatically that they plan to go down swinging. According to New American, the Deep State’s “Plan A,” is the imploding “investigation” into alleged “Russian collusion” by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, said Stone. If and when that fails, which Stone suggested was likely and soon, the establishment would move to “Plan B.” In essence, Plan B would involve trying to get a majority of Trump’s cabinet to declare him unfit for office. This would allow Trump to be removed under the U.S. Constitution’s 25th Amendment. This scheme is also going to most likely fail, Stone said. Last but not least, though, Stone warned of “Plan C,” which is killing the president.   

    In a wide-ranging interview with The New American magazine at his Florida studio, Stone offered insight into Trump — and into his enemies [the deep state] and their tactics. “It’s easy to forget that the shocking upset that Donald Trump pulled off has never been forgotten or acknowledged by the globalist cabal that has really infected both of our major parties,” he explained.

    “I say that as someone who is a sentimental Republican, but a Republican in the mold of Barry Goldwater who wanted government out of the bedroom, out of the boardroom, that believed in peace through strength, not, you know, neocons cruising the globe looking for expensive wars to profiteer in and stick our nose in.” –New American

    Roger Stone isn’t the first person to see Trump as a target of the deep state. Mike Adams, the Health Ranger, has said he feels that the deep state isn’t afraid to nuke a city in the United States in order to kill Trump and blame North Korea for the result.

    “He’s a shock to the system,” said Stone, a legendary political operative who, in addition to his longtime relationship with Trump, has served as a senior campaign aide to Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Senator Bob Dole, and others. According to Stone, Donald Trump’s election represented the “hostile takeover of the old Republican Party, which we now hope to remake in his image as a party that stands for economic nationalism, that stands for putting American interests ahead of globalist interests, and re-affirms our sovereign rights as Americans.”

    “Now, I think the establishment, at this time, when the president has just passed his tax cut, has cut these regulations — so you see a record stock market, you see unemployment at all time lows, you see a booming housing market — it’s easy to misread the deep enmity and hatred that the globalists and the Insiders have for this president, and to underestimate their resolve to remove him.”

    Stone believes the Deep State would, in fact, attempt to murder the president when Plan A and B fail, which seems the likely scenario. “Having written books on the Kennedy assassination, having highlighted the attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan by people deeply associated with the Bush family, I think the establishment has Plan A, Plan B, and Plan C,” he said. “Plan A is very clearly a take-down by the illegitimate Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who was appointed not by Jeff Sessions, not at the direction of the president, but by this fellow Rosenstein, who is a close associate of Mueller and [disgraced former FBI boss James] Comey, and who is a globalist Bush insider, a liberal Republican, who somehow got the number two position in the Trump Justice Department,” Stone warned, saying the establishment was now hoping Trump would fire Mueller to regain the upper hand.

    The other thing that is becoming more and more apparent, Stone said, is that “neither Mr. Mueller nor the House nor the Senate Intelligence committees nor the Judiciary committees in those bodies have been able to find any evidence of Russian collusion.”

    “Sorry, but Don Jr.’s meeting with a Russian lawyer that provided nothing is perfectly legal and proper,” Stone said. “There’s nothing wrong with it. She produced no evidence, but what we did learn is that she was in the country thanks to the Obama FBI, without a visa, and she was popping up and being photographed at Hillary rallies and in John McCain’s office. She’s a Quisling! It’s a setup! She’s a spy. She delivered nothing. It’s an attempt to entrap Donny Jr. in a meeting that’s perfectly innocuous and perfectly legal.” But the deep state’s Plan B is to invoke the 25th Amendment.

    “So we’ll see an uptick in all of this ‘Trump is mentally imbalanced, Trump is insane, Trump must be removed,’” Stone warned. “Now you have to examine the extent to which they can whip up that hysteria as a backdrop because, without that hysteria, such a political move on the president will fail.” And once Plan B fails, the globalists will move on to Plan C, which is simply an assassination. “We know Plan C. We saw it in the case of  President John F. Kennedy, who had crossed the Central Intelligence Agency and the Deep State over both the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Bay of Pigs, both, I think, central,” he said.

  • Apocalypse Now: 2017 Was Another Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Year

    Authored by John Whitehead via The Rutherford Institute,

    Just our luck that 2017 gave us more of the same bad news that we’ve experienced in recent years.

    Here’s just a small sampling of what we suffered through in 2017.

    The new boss proved to be the same as the old boss. True to form, the new boss (Donald Trump) proved to be no better than his predecessors in the White House in terms of protecting the citizenry from the American police state.

    911 calls turned deadly. “Don’t call the cops” became yet another don’t to the add the growing list of things that could get you or a loved one tasered, shot or killed by police, especially if you have any condition that might hinder your ability to understand, communicate or immediately comply with an order.

    Traffic stops took a turn for the worse. Police officers were given free range to pull anyone over for a variety of reasons and subject them to forced cavity searches, forced colonoscopies, forced blood draws, forced breath-alcohol tests, forced DNA extractions, forced eye scans, forced inclusion in biometric databases.

    The courts failed to uphold justice. A review of critical court rulings over the past decade or so, including some ominous ones by the U.S. Supreme Court, reveals a startling and steady trend towards pro-police state rulings by an institution concerned more with establishing order and protecting the ruling class and government agents than with upholding the rights enshrined in the Constitution.

    A culture of compliance paved the way for sexual predators. Twenty years after America gave a collective shrug over accusations of sexual harassment by Bill Clinton, sexual harassment suddenly made headlines after a series of powerful men, including Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, were accused of predatory behavior in the workplace.

    Patriotism trumped free speech. At a time when the American flag adorns everything from men’s boxers and women’s bikinis to beer koozies with little outcry from the American public, a conveniently timed public dispute over disrespect for the country’s patriotic symbols during football games further divided the nation.

    Mass shootings claimed more lives. A mass shooting in Las Vegas, the deadliest to date, left us with more questions than answers, none of them a flattering reflection of the nation’s values, political priorities, or the manner in which the military-industrial complex continues to dominate, dictate and shape almost every aspect of our lives.

    Civil discourse was drowned out by intolerance, violence and militarized police. Americans allowed their fears—fear for their safety, fear of each other, fear of being labeled racist or hateful or prejudiced, etc.—to trump their freedom of speech and muzzle them far more effectively than any government edict could. In Charlottesville, Berkeley and St. Louis, the presence of violent protesters and militarized police turned First Amendment activities into riots.

    The cost of endless wars drove the nation deeper into debt. Waging endless wars abroad (in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and now Syria) didn’t make America—or the rest of the world—any safer, any greater, or any richer. The interest alone on the money America has borrowed to wage its wars will cost an estimated $8 trillion.

    Government agencies padded their pockets at the expense of taxpayers. In Virginia, drivers traveling along a toll road during rush hour were hit with a $40 toll to travel a 10-mile stretch of road, part of a new dynamic price gouging scheme aimed at penalizing single-occupant vehicles traveling during peak times.

    The plight of the nation’s homeless worsened. In communities across the country, legislators adopted a variety of methods (parking meters, zoning regulations, tickets, and even robots) to discourage the homeless from squatting, loitering and panhandling.

    Free speech was dealt one knock-out punch after another. First Amendment activities were pummeled, punched, kicked, choked, chained and generally gagged all across the country.

    The Surveillance State rendered Americans vulnerable to threats from government spies, police, hackers and power failures. The Corporate State tapped into our computer keyboards, cameras, cell phones and smart devices in order to better target us for advertising. Social media giants such as Facebook granted secret requests by the government and its agents for access to users’ accounts. And our private data—methodically collected and stored with or without our say-so—was repeatedly compromised and breached.

    Technology drove teens to suicide. Studies show that the rapid explosion of cell phone use and increased screen time by young people have contributed to a climate in which teen mental health is failing and suicide rates among 13- to 18-year-olds are skyrocketing.

    Police became even more militarized and weaponized. Despite concerns about the government’s steady transformation of local police into a standing military army, local police agencies continued to acquire weaponry, training and equipment suited for the battlefield—with full support from the Trump Administration.

    Drones became more lethal. DARPA, the government’s military research agency, unveiled a plan to deploy a swarm of armed, surveillance mini-drones. The Pentagon also provided a glimpse into its future plans for kamikaze drones and tethered, targeted killer drones.

    Science got scary. Researchers created “humanized” mice using organs taken from fetal tissue. Genetic engineers created an entire synthetic DNA genome watermarked with encoded links and hidden messages. The FDA approved the first digital pill embedded with sensors to monitor patients’ intake. And DARPA funded research towards the creation of genetic extinction technologies that could be used to eradicate or alter whole populations.

    The government waged a renewed war on cash. Championed by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the government’s attempts to seize cash and other valuables under the guise of asset forfeiture moved into high gear. Denver made $2.4 million in car seizures in one year alone. One Alabama town turned its police force into a money-making operation to increase revenue.

    The U.S. military industrial complex—aided by the Trump administration—armed the world while padding its own pockets. Not content to sell an arsenal of weapons and military equipment to the world, the U.S. government pushed to amend a global arms control agreement to allow it to sell military drones globally.

    Let’s not take the mistakes and the carnage and the toxicity of this past year into a new year.

    As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, the police state is marching forward, more powerful than ever.

    Thus, if there is to be any hope for freedom in 2018, it rests with “we the people” engaging in local, grassroots activism that transforms our communities and our government from the ground up.

    Let’s resolve to work together to make this new year better than the last.

  • Groundbreaking Blindness Cure Will Come With $850,000 Price Tag

    How much is a patient’s eyesight worth?

    That’s a corollary question that a transformative medical treatment released by Spark Therapeutics seeks to answer. The treatment, known as Luxturna, has the potential to cure a rare genetically inherited form of blindness, according to Bloomberg.

     

    Blindness cure

    Luxturna

    The price tag? $850,000 – or $425,000 per eye.

    A transformative genetic treatment for a rare, inherited form of blindness will come with a price tag of of $425,000 per eye, or $850,000 for both, said Spark Therapeutics Inc., the tiny biotechnology company that is bringing the therapy to market.

    Since Spark’s Luxturna was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration last month, speculation over the price has grown as it became clear the therapy would be one of the first in a wave of medicines that yield remarkable results after a single treatment – and would carry a commensurate cost.

    Of course, few patients will pay the whole amount out-of-pocket. Even for the uninsured, Spark will offer discounts based on whether or not the drug works initially and remains effective for the estimated 1,000 to 2,000 patients in the US with the inherited retinal disease caused by the gene mutation that the medication treats.

    Though the price tag also reflects what Spark CEO Jeff Marrazzo describes as the drug’s “life-altering” properties.

    “We believe that this price reflects not only the breakthrough, life-altering value of one-time Luxturna, but it will enable us to continue to invest and build on the revolutionary science that supports not only Luxturna but the rest of our pipeline,” Chief Executive Officer Jeff Marrazzo said in a phone interview.

    The company’s “novel” pricing scheme was devised to help placate insurers who don’t want to get stuck paying for the entire course of treatment if a patient changes plans while still enjoying the benefits of the treatment, which only needs to be administered one time.

    A one-time treatment presented a challenge, since the cost would be paid for by one insurer or government, only to have others reap the benefits when the patient changes coverage.

    To help mitigate that dynamic, Spark is rolling out several programs to spread out the cost over the years or give rebates to payers if the benefits wane with time.

    For example, the company said it’s discussing a program with the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services that would spread payments for Luxturna over several years, even though the therapy would be given only once. It didn’t say how many installments would be made, or how long it would take to pay the full cost of the drug.

    Insurers are also wary of getting stuck with the entire bill if the treatment proves ineffective, or if its benefits only persist for a brief period.

    In an agreement with the Boston-area insurer Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, Spark will get the full price of treatment up front. If patients don’t get an immediate benefit – measured at 30 days, or a long term one – measured at 30 months, Spark will have to give some of the money back in a rebate.

    Spark has also proposed selling the gene therapy directly to insurance companies or specialty pharmacies. That would sidestep the current process that requires hospitals or health care providers to buy expensive therapies upfront. Spark is working with  Express Scripts Holding Co. on such an arrangement, and said it’s talking with other drug plans.

    However, some insurers said they expected the drug to cost even more, considering the narrow customer base.

    Express Scripts has been a frequent critic of costly drugs, yet said that the Spark treatment is an exception.

    “Many people were anticipating this would be more than a million dollars” said Steve Miller, the St. Louis-based company’s chief medical officer. “In the end, this is a revolutionary product, and I think in most plans this will be covered.”

    Spark’s biggest challenge may be finding patients to treat.

    Of the few thousand people with the disease, only a few have actually been tested and confirmed to have it, since there was no cure, and thus little use in diagnosis. Many with more advanced forms of the disease won’t qualify for treatment, according to the company.

    President Donald Trump has shaken pharmaceutical stocks, like he did back in October, when he criticized pharmaceutical companies for charging too much for their drugs, and nebulously threatened to do something about drug prices (though as of yet no direct action has been forthcoming).

    However, Spark may need to raise the price if its medication if it doesn’t find enough people to treat. Only a few thousand people in the US possess the genetic mutation that the drug treats. And many of them won’t qualify for treatment.

    Spark’s biggest challenge may be finding patients to treat.

    Of the few thousand people with the disease, only a few have actually been tested and confirmed to have it, since there was no cure, and thus little use in diagnosis. Many with more advanced forms of the disease won’t qualify for treatment, according to the company.

    So, what’s a specialty drug maker to do?

     

  • Iranian Protests – Target Of Opportunity Or Necessity?

    Authored by Tom Luongo,

    From the moment reports of protests in Iran surfaced I was skeptical of the narrative. It only makes sense to be. So many things are coming together in the first half of 2018 that the timing of these protests warrants scrutiny.

    The earliest reports were of legitimate and peaceful protests of changes in law creating huge price spikes in certain foods and commodities. But, that was quickly hijacked by forces both internal and external to foment wider strife and violence.

    I recommend Moon of Alabama’s commentary on the early days of these protests to get up to speed with how complicated the situation may be in Iran (here and here). In short, what started as normal grievance airing has blossomed into something uglier but that still hasn’t reached anything close to the critical mass needed to replicate successful regime change operations in Libya and Ukraine.

    And with very good reason. Iranians are not as fractious in their opinion of their government as simplistic narratives spun by the U.S., Saudi Arabia and Israel would have you believe. This commentary by Ramin Mazaheri over at The Saker’s Blog makes this very salient point:

    For 8 horrible years the West foisted Iraq on Iran, supplied Iraq with weapons, turned a blind eye to the worst chemical weapons atrocities since World War One, and did all they could to create, prolong and influence the deadliest war in the last quarter of the 20th century.

    And it was still not enough.

    A 2nd phony Western war would also totally backfire in 2018 – have no doubt about that. The Iran-Iraq War created a nationalist unity which Libya did not have; Libya’s revolution did create the highest standard of living in Africa and fewer poor people than the imperialist Netherlands (and free loans, education, health care, etc.), but it was never really tested. Syrians, on the other hand, will soon enjoy a nationalist unity also forged in the crucible of a horribly unjust war.

    So there are simply not the type of divisions in Iranian society which the West was able to exploit in Libya.

    [emphasis mine]

    And you can’t gaslight well-intentioned conservatives on Twitter to produce the kind of results necessary for overthrowing the Iranian theocracy. This is not to say there isn’t an undercurrent of unrest in Iran. There is. But, it’s just not enough that can be stoked into regime change.

    That time will come but I sincerely doubt it’ll be 2018.

    So, if this isn’t going to work, why try now?

    What Israel Wants…

    Israel, with its failure in Syria is feeling incredibly vulnerable now. Iran has helped secure Syria’s future. Russia will continue to act to guarantee it while President Putin and his diplomatic staff try to hammer out deals with everyone and de-escalate the situation.

    Israel’s leadership is dead set against any land route from Iran to Lebanon. Moreover, Israel knows that once Iran acquires nuclear weapon capabilities through its partnership with North Korea, then the window closes permanently on any military solution to its Iran problem.

    The problem with that analysis is that there is simply no path to that end without the U.S.’s involvement. This is why we claim, quite against international law, sections of Syria’s airspace to be off-limits to the Syrian government. Kurdish enclaves east of the Euphrates River are being used as logistical staging grounds for a war on Iran. So, is the escalation of U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

    All of this is sold to us as ‘fighting ISIS,’ which I believe President Trump and the factions of the Pentagon that are loyal to him want. But, at the same time these are also some of the biggest Iran-hawks in U.S. political circles and will use this fight against ISIS as a pretext for establishing a network of bases across the region to pressure Iran.

    I’ve been handicapping a grand peace bargain in the Middle East for months, but I’m beginning to wonder if that is even possible at this point. Israel under Netanyahu will push for as aggressive approach as possible. He is leveraging whatever he can to get the U.S. to not pursue peace in the region.

    And in that respect the real question is whether the Israeli people want to continue with him as their leader if he continues to pursue this path?

    The Saudi Connection

    In that sense the pressure of the loss in Syria already created regime change in Saudi Arabia, so predicting the potential for the same thing in Israel follows. The Saudis need Iran to stay out of the oil markets.

    They are getting no help from their benefactors in the Trump administration who continues to open up U.S. oil production. Pulling out of the Paris Climate Accord, opening up ANWAR, approving pipeline projects like Keystone XL. These, along with the new tax cut bill which is designed to create a domestic investment boom will do nothing to lift the price of oil in the long run.

    Meanwhile the Saudis were only able to get a temporary 300,000 barrel reduction from Russia. And the last thing Crown Prince and de facto King Mohammed bin Salman needs is for Iran’s full potential to hit the market.

    So, it makes sense to activate splinter groups to blow up pipelines and push the U.S. for more sanctions by reversing the Nuclear deal. All of these things are meant to ratchet up the fear of an oil supply disruption and get the price up high enough for the Saudis to balance their budget in the short term.

    They can’t de-peg the Riyal and they can’t accept Yuan for their oil. So, the next best thing is to help along any sign that the Iranian people are fed up with the Mullahs, even if it’s long odds. At a minimum it’ll push up oil prices for a few weeks.

    In politics, like crime investigation, motive, means and opportunity matter. The Saudis, Israel and the U.S. have all three here. The timing window is closing with the advent of nuclear deterrence. So, don’t believe everything you hear and don’t take CNN’s silence as anything more than domestic political wrangling.

    Regime change in Iran would be a feather in Trump’s cap. Not a black eye for Obama, who is now wholly irrelevant. The fact that every bloodthirsty neocon in the U.S. is showing its support for the Iranian people is beyond laughable.

    If anything, a tweet from John “Bomb Iran” McCain or Netanyahu will harden internal support for the Iranian government more than it will feed the opposition. There is real opposition to the current Iranian regime. Most of the protestors are young, under 25. Contrary to what most Americans believe, Iran does hold elections. And last year President Rouhani won re-election over the objection from the clerics who openly backed a different candidate. R0uhani’s victory was clear, but he has a lot to do to quell the discontent in Iran.

    So, ask yourself this question, what goal does putting the sanctions back on achieve? Will it support Iranians with increased economic opportunity or strengthen support for a domestic government no one supposedly wants?

  • Trump Jr. And Newt Gingrich Unleash On "Backstabbing, Harassing, Leaking, Lying, Opportunist" Bannon

    In the course of less than a day, former Trump strategist Steve Bannon has gone from simply “former Trump strategist” to “radioactive backstabber,” after The Guardian reported that Bannon, in Michael Wolff’s new book “Fire and Fury, called a June 2016 meeting at Trump tower involving Russian attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya “treasonous” and “unpatriotic.”

    “Even if you thought that this was not treasonous, or unpatriotic, or bad shit, and I happen to think it’s all of that, you should have called the FBI immediately.”

    In response, President Trump issued a four-paragraph scorching reply, saying Bannon had “lost his mind.” Donald Trump Jr. also responded, calling his father’s former chief strategist “backstabbing, harassing, leaking, lying & undermining the President,” adding “Steve is not a strategist, he is an opportunist.” 

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    Newt Gingrich chimed in on Fox News, telling Neil Cavuto, “I think that Bannon thinks he’s extraordinarily important. But the fact is, Trump had won the nomination without Bannon. Trump would have won the presidency without Bannon. And Trump has governed without Bannon.”

    So I think there’s an exaggerated sense of who Steve is. And I think, remember, this is a guy who got fired. So you have a guy who has been fired who is trying to claim a bunch of things, which he apparently did not claim at the time.

    And I think you have to just say, you know, it’s noise. It has nothing to do with — the things that matter to America and the things that matter to the American people have no relationship to the kind of noise that we’re going to spend all day today with.

    And luckily for the president, he’s really come to distinguish between the things that matter and the things that don’t. The meeting this weekend at Camp David matters with the Republican leadership. Steve Bannon saying a bunch of junk doesn’t really matter in the long run. It will disappear. –Newt Gingrich

     

    Trump Jr. also replied to a tweet by conservative pundit Bill Mitchell, which quotes a portion of Bannon’s book, reading: 

    “On Election Night, when the unexpected trend , Trump might actually win, seemed confirmed, Don Jr. told a friend that his father, or DJT, as he calls him, looked as if he had seen a ghost. Melania was in tears—and not of joy.”

    Trump Jr. responded: “Another good one. Anyone who knows me or follows me knows that’s about as far from something I would say or how I speak as possibleWhat a joke.”

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    And earlier in the day, Trump Jr. tweeted “Andrew Breitbart would be ashamed of the division and lies Steve Bannon is spreading!,” after tweeting “Wow, just looked at the comments section on Breitbart. Wow. When Bannon has lost Breitbart, he’s left with . . . umm, nothing.” 

     

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    Trump Jr. also poked fun at Bannon’s support of Roy Moore, who lost the special election last month to replace Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ vacant Senate seat.

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    Several other tweets received Trump Jr. retweets throughout the day, including: 

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    And now, it appears as though Bannon may have lost any hope of cobbling together political capital. As US News reports; 

    Despite his blatant miscalculation and the animosity he stirred among traditional Republicans, Bannon’s enduring influence was that he purportedly had a direct line to Trump – the White House confirmed they spoke by phone last month – and could help mold the president’s thoughts on policy and political strategy.

    Now, that line appears lacerated.

    Now that he is on his own, Steve is learning that winning isn’t as easy as I make it look,” Trump said in the statement. “Steve doesn’t represent my base – he’s only in it for himself.”

    The extraordinary breakup between the two larger-than-life comrades led to immediate fallout across the Republican Party. GOP leadership rejoiced at Bannon’s fall from grace, with allies of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell reveling in and sharing the president’s takedown.

    Bannon’s split from the Trumps puts wealthy GOP donor Robert Mercer and his daughter, Rebekah Mercer in an awkward spot – as the financier have financially supported Breitbart, while also supporting President Trump and his GOP causes. Mercer announced in November that he was selling his stake in his company to his daughters – while at the time, making it clear that while he occasionally discusses politics with Bannon, he’s not always aligned with him. 

    And as Trump Jr. said earlier today – when Bannon has lost Breitbart, “he’s left with … ummm, nothing.” 

    In September, Bannon appeared on 60 minutes where heb called himself a “street fighter” and declared war on the GOPfor trying to “nullify the election.” Bannon also said that the Trump administration made the “original sin” of embracing the establishment. “I mean, we totally embraced the establishment … Because ya had to staff a government.” 

    Bannon also said he was going to be Trump’s “wing man outside for the entire time, to protect [Trump] and to “make sure his enemies know that there’s no free shot on goal.” 

    Well – it looks like Bannon just took a shot on his own goal, and will be cast into radioactive irrelevancy for time immemorial. 

     

     

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