Jan 09

Today’s News 9th January 2018

  • Only 1-In-5 South Koreans Expect Korean War In 2018

    Last week, U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted that he has a bigger nuclear button than North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

    The tweet was the latest in a series of spats between the two and many observers fear the squabbling could spiral into nuclear war.

    Despite the tensions, however, North and South Korea are due to hold talks today, focusing on the Winter Olympics.

    Nevertheless, as Statista’s Niall McCarthy notes, the world is worried about the prospect of war on the Korean peninsula, if research from Ipsos is anything to go by.

    Infographic: World Divided On Whether A Korean War Is Brewing | Statista

    You will find more statistics at Statista

    Their latest polling has revealed that approximately half of people in Brazil, Turkey, the United States and Canada think war between the two countries will break out in 2018.

    In Asia, people are far less fearful.

    32 percent of respondents in China think there will be a war, along with 30 percent in China and 21 percent in South Korea.

    Simply put, it seems fearmongering works to transform Americans from deplorables into terrified and compliant agreeables.

  • Paul Craig Roberts: Iran In 2018

    Authored by Paul Craig Roberts,

    In 1953 Washington and Britain overthrew the democratically elected government of Mohammad Mosaddegh and installed a dictator to rule Iran for the benefit of Washington and the British.

    In declassified documents, the CIA has admitted its role in overthrowing the Iranian government. The overthrow pattern is always the same. Washington hires protesters, then introduces violence, controls the explanation, and unseats the government.

    Ever since the Iranian Revolution that overthrew the Washington-installed dictator in1979, Washington has been trying to regain control of Iran.



    In 2009 Washington financed the “Green Revolution,” which was an attempt to overthrow the Ahmadinejad government.

    Today Washington is again at work against the Iranian people. It is difficult to believe that any Iranian, after watching what Washington-organized protests have done to Honduras, Libya, Ukraine, and Syria, have attempted to do to Iran in 2009, and is attempting to do today to Venezuela, could possibly in good faith go out into the streets against their own government.

    Are these Iranian protesters utterly stupid or are they hired to commit treason against their country?

    Why does Iran permit foreign-funded operatives to attempt to destabilize the government as Ukraine did and as Venezuela does today?

    Are these governments so brainwashed by the West that they think that democracy means permitting foreign agents to attempt to overthrow the government?

    Are governments so intimidated by the Western presstitutes that they find it challenging to defend themselves against foreign-paid provocateurs?

    Having succeeded in causing violent protests in Iran, Washington now intends to use an emergency UN Security Council meeting on Iran in order to set the stage for more intervention against Iran. The Washington-incited violence has been turned into a “human rights issue” against Iran. Will Washington get away with it?

    Iran’s fate is up to Russia and China. If Washington succeeds in destabilizing Iran, Russia and China are next. Russia seems to understand this. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said yesterday: “We warn the US against attempts to interfere in the internal affairs of the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

    Just as the Russian government comprehended that Russia could not permit Washington’s destabilization of Syria, Russia understands she cannot permit the destabilization of Iran.

    The leader of Turkey has aligned with Russia, declaring “obviously some people from abroad are provoking the situation.”

    That is obvious to everyone but Americans, who are constantly lied to by “their” government and by the presstitute lie factories such as CNN, New York Times, Washington Post, BBC.

    Trump and Haley are the type of loudmouths who are likely to break Washington’s power and influence over the world.

    They “take names,” admit that they bribe foreign leaders, and issue insane threats. If this doesn’t wake up the rest of the world, nothing will.

  • Highly Classified Spy Satellite Is A "Total Loss" After SpaceX Mission Fails

    On Sunday night at 8:00 p.m. EST, Elon Musk’s SpaceX launched the secretive Zuma satellite  into space aboard its Falcon Heavy rocket from Cape Canaveral. However, less than a day later, the WSJ reports that the secretive spacecraft built by Northrop Grumman for the U.S. government military industrial complex, and worth billions “is presumed to be a total loss after it failed to reach orbit.


    Peter B. de Selding, a reporter for Space Intel Report, first broke the story just after at 4:00 p.m. EST on Monday. In a tweet, his sources suggested that the “Zuma satellite from @northropgrumman may be dead in orbit after separation from @SpaceX Falcon 9.”


    According to the WSJ, “lawmakers and congressional staffers from the Senate and the House have been briefed about the botched mission.” Meanwhile, the secret payload—code-named Zuma and launched from Florida on board a Falcon 9 rocket—is believed to have plummeted back into the atmosphere because it didn’t separate as planned from the upper part of the rocket.

    Once the engine powering the rocket’s expendable second stage stops firing, whatever it is carrying is supposed to separate and proceed on its own trajectory. If a satellite isn’t set free at the right time or is damaged upon release, it can be dragged back toward earth.

    It isn’t clear what job the satellite was intended to perform, or even which U.S. agency contracted for the satellite. As usual for classified launches, the information released by SpaceX before liftoff was bereft of details about the payload. A video broadcast Sunday night narrated by a SpaceX official didn’t provide any hint of problems, though the feed ended before the planned deployment of the satellite.

    The WSJ admits that the lack of details about what occurred means that some possible alternate sequence of events other than a failed separation may have been the culprit. And since this is another Musk project/failure, which means the eccentric billionaire will certainly not be tweeting up a storm explaining what went wrong, we may not know the exact reason for the failure for some time.

    As of Monday night, nearly 24 hours after the launch, uncertainty surrounded both the mission and the fate of the satellite, the WSJ reports. Notably, the Pentagon’s Strategic Command, which keeps track of all commercial, scientific and national-security satellites along with space debris, hadn’t updated its catalog of objects to reflect a new satellite circling the planet.

    Neither Northrop Grumman Corp., which built the satellite, nor SpaceX, as Elon Musk’s space-transportation company is called, has shed light on what happened.

    A Northrop Grumman spokesman said, “We cannot comment on classified missions.”

    A SpaceX spokesman said: “We do not comment on missions of this nature, but as of right now reviews of the data indicate Falcon 9 performed nominally.” That terminology typically indicates that the rocket’s engines and navigation systems operated without glitches. The spokesman declined to elaborate.

    What we do know, is that the secretive spy satellite was worth “billions”, which makes this the second billion-dollar satellite Musk has managed to lose up in two years; Facebook’s internet satellite was strapped on top of a Falcon 9 rocket, which it spontaneously blew up on the launch pad in September 2016.

    The failure could be a major setback for SpaceX, since government contracts can tend to be extremely lucrative and taxpayers will now demand alternatives to the Musk venture. Further, the company faces fierce competition for ULA, operated by Boeing and Lockheed Martin, who will kick off its 2018 launch schedule with a Wednesday flight.

    The failure also comes at a very sensitive time for SpaceX:  Musk’s closely held company has projected ramping up its overall launch rate to more than 25 missions in 2018, from 18 in 2017, and is scheduled to start ferrying U.S. astronauts to the international space station before the end of the year.

    Good luck to them all, because while Musk is certainly best known for his success, we can now add one more failure to the list.

  • Firearms Sold By Washington State Police Ended Up In The Hands Of Criminals

    In a development that echoes the infamous “Fast and Furious” scandal – which exposed that the ATF had allowed dangerous criminals to hang on to firearms that were supposed to be recovered in sting operations – the Associated Press has discovered another similar example of law-enforcement malfeasance.

    As we highlighted back in April, Holder was held in contempt of Congress after resisting the release of documents outlining the agency’s role in the scandal. Unsurprisingly, the DOJ decided not to prosecute itself, and Holder got off scot-free.

    This time around, the AP has discovered – following a lengthy investigation – that more than a dozen firearms sold by law enforcement agencies in Washington State since 2010 later became evidence in new criminal investigations. While federal agencies weren’t involved, the AP report exposes the carelessness exhibited by Washington State Police and many local departments throughout the state.

    SEATTLE (AP) — A yearlong Associated Press analysis found more than a dozen firearms sold by law enforcement agencies in Washington state since 2010 later became evidence in new criminal investigations.

    Identifying guns sold by law enforcement and matching them to new crimes required extensive research and dozens of public records requests to individual agencies.

    Using those records, the AP created a database of almost 6,000 firearms sold by law enforcement since 2010. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives declined to release tracking information on guns associated with crimes, so the AP collected that information from individual agencies and compared it with its own database to find firearms with matching make, model, caliber and serial numbers.

    In its report, the AP discusses in great detail how these weapons were used by criminals to violently victimize innocent bystanders. Homicides and armed robberies are disturbingly common. In one incident, police arrested a convicted felon who was barred from owning guns. He was found to be in possession of a firearm that had been traded to an arms dealer by Washington State Police.  Suicide and threats of lethal force were also unjustifiably common.



    Here’s a complete breakdown of the various crimes committed by people in possession of these weapons, courtesy of the AP.


    The Pierce County Sheriff’s Office in April 2014 sold a list of guns at auction that included a Mossberg 12-gauge shotgun. In October 2016, Jaylen Bolar sent text messages to his mother, threatening to kill her and others. Angela Almo contacted a behavioral health center instead of the police because she knew her son had firearms, including a Mossberg 12-gauge shotgun and she feared he’d be killed in a standoff with authorities.

    When the Tacoma police became involved, he denied it, but his aunt confirmed that she, too, had received threats. Robin Olson showed an officer her phone, which contained a message from Bolar asking his uncle to kill him because he was tired of living.

    Bolar also threatened to kill a woman who used to be his boss. He was taken into custody, and a search of his home found two firearms in his bedroom. One was the Mossberg shotgun sold by the sheriff’s office.


    The Aberdeen Police Department sold a Lorcin Model L380 pistol in February 2011. In May 2016, the Kent Police Department located a stolen vehicle parked at the Benson Village Apartments and found a gun under the seat — the Lorcin Model L380 pistol sold by Aberdeen police. The three juveniles who stole the car were convicted felons.


    The Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office sold a Hi Point 9mm pistol in March 2014. In October 2015, the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office responded to a 911 call from a woman who said she heard what she thought was a gunshot and went outside to find her daughter’s intoxicated boyfriend passed out on the front porch. When deputies arrived, they found a handgun, the Hi Point 9 mm pistol, on the ground next to the man. It was the gun sold by the Kitsap sheriff’s office. A search found that the man was a convicted felon who wasn’t permitted to have a gun. The deputy put the man in handcuffs and called for medical help.


    The Washington State Patrol traded a Lorcin L380 semi-automatic pistol with a firearms dealer in June 2010. In May 2015, the Kent Police Department was investigating a 911 call and encountered four people outside the house. One of the men was prohibited from having a gun, but they found he was carrying a handgun, the Lorcin L380 semi-automatic pistol sold by the State Patrol. The gun had been reported stolen, and he was arrested.


    The Aberdeen Police Department traded a JC Higgins .22-caliber rifle with a firearms dealer in February 2011. In April 2015, the Yakima Police Department responded to a domestic violence assault involving a JC Higgins .22-caliber rifle with the same serial number. The dispute involved an elderly man who had handled his wife roughly and threatened her sister. The man was charged, and police took his firearm. In October 2015, Kent police searched a suspected drug house and arrested several people wanted on felony warrants. They found a .22 caliber rifle — the JC Higgins rifle sold by the Aberdeen police.


    The Thurston County Narcotics Task Force sold a Smith & Wesson pistol in August 2012. In October 2013, the Tacoma Police went to the University of Washington, Tacoma to investigate a report of a student who was posting photos of a gun on Facebook and said he had “vivid, colorful dreams of shooting and killing lots of people last night.” Police found in his backpack a Smith and Wesson pistol, the one sold by the narcotics task force.


    The Bonney Lake Police Department in March 2011 traded a Davis Industries .380-caliber handgun with a firearms dealer who sold it to the public. In February 2012, Kent police stopped a man for an expired registration and discovered baggies of cocaine in his car. He said they were party favors. They also found his concealed handgun, the firearm sold by the police.


    Longview Police Department sold a Davis Industries .22 caliber pistol in August 2016. The Thurston County Sheriff’s Office responded to a 911 call in April 2017 from a man who said his father headed to a house with a gun and planned to threaten the occupants. Jesse Brown threatened to kill the men who lived there and was arrested. Officers confiscated his Davis Industries .22 caliber pistol — the one sold by Longview police — and 15 other firearms.


    The Thurston County Sheriff’s Office sold a Mossberg, Model 590, 12-gauge shotgun in December 2014. In March 2016, the Tacoma police responded to a call by a 12-year-old girl who said she and her sister fled their home because their father was drunk and was threatening to shoot his girlfriend and threatening to beat up one of the girls because he couldn’t find his gun. The police later found a Mossberg, Model 590, 12-gauge shotgun — the gun sold by the Sheriff’s Office — in the bathtub.


    The Washington State Patrol traded a batch of guns to a firearms vendor in June 2010 that included a Smith and Wesson .9mm handgun. In September 2014, the Yakima Police Department responded to a report of a suicidal man with a gun. They arrived to find 24-year-old Kyle Juhl with a gunshot wound to the head. He used a Smith and Wesson .9mm handgun, the one sold by the State Patrol.


    The Thurston County Narcotics Task Force sold a Springfield Armory .40-caliber pistol in December 2013. In February 2014, the Seattle Police Department helped take firearms from a man who was having a mental health emergency and was at the Involuntary Treatment Act court. One of the guns was the Springfield Armory .40-caliber pistol sold by the task force.

    Almost nothing was said in the report about how law enforcement agencies in Washington justified their use of the program. According to  US News and World Report,  Washington is the 37th safest state in the US, a surprisingly weak performance, though data provided by the FBI show the rate of violent crime has been steadily declining in Washington. Indeed, across the US, violent crimes are becoming less common.

    Meanwhile, as we noted last year, gun sales – measured by the number of FBI background checks on would-be gun owners that had been conducted during that period – have continued to climb despite the election of the first NRA-endorsed president in nearly a decade.



    But that doesn’t excuse the notion that law enforcement agencies handed out powerful weapons to dangerous individuals with little, or no, oversight.

    We now wait and see how – and, indeed, if – the Department of Justice will react to this report.


  • US Army Major Exposes American Warfare's Giant Open Secret

    Authored by Major Danny Sjursen via TheNation.com,

    All of the wars waged by the United States in the last 70 years have had one thing in common…



    On September 1, 1970, soon after President Nixon expanded the Vietnam War by invading neighboring Cambodia, Democratic Senator George McGovern, a decorated World War II veteran and future presidential candidate, took to the floor of the Senate and said,

    Every Senator [here] is partly responsible for sending 50,000 young Americans to an early grave.…

    This chamber reeks of blood.… It does not take any courage at all for a congressman or a senator or a president to wrap himself in the flag and say we are staying in Vietnam, because it is not our blood that is being shed.”

    More than six years had passed since Congress all but rubber-stamped President Lyndon Johnson’s notoriously vague Tonkin Gulf Resolution, which provided what little legal framework there was for military escalation in Vietnam. Doubts remained as to the veracity of the supposed North Vietnamese naval attacks on ships in the Tonkin Gulf that had officially triggered the resolution, or whether the Navy even had cause to venture so close to a sovereign nation’s coastline. No matter. Congress gave the president what he wanted: essentially a blank check to bomb, batter, and occupy South Vietnam. From there it was but a few short steps to nine more years of war, illegal secret bombings of Laos and Cambodia, ground invasions of both those countries, and eventually 58,000 American and upwards of 3 million Vietnamese deaths.

    Leaving aside the rest of this country’s sad chapter in Indochina, let’s just focus for a moment on the role of Congress in that era’s war making. In retrospect, Vietnam emerges as just one more chapter in 70 years of ineptitude and apathy on the part of the Senate and House of Representatives when it comes to their constitutionally granted war powers. Time and again in those years, the legislative branch shirked its historic—and legal—responsibility under the Constitution to declare (or refuse to declare) war.

    And yet, never in those seven decades has the duty of Congress to assert itself in matters of war and peace been quite so vital as it is today, with American troops engaged—and still dying, even if now in small numbers—in one undeclared war after another in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Somalia, Yemen, and now Niger… and who even knows where else.

    Fast forward 53 years from the Tonkin Gulf crisis to Senator Rand Paul’s desperate attempt last September to force something as simple as a congressional discussion of the legal basis for America’s forever wars, which garnered just 36 votes. It was scuttled by a bipartisan coalition of war hawks. And who even noticed—other than obsessive viewers of C-SPAN who were treated to Paul’s four-hour-long cri de coeur denouncing Congress’s agreement to “unlimited war, anywhere, anytime, anyplace upon the globe”?

    The Kentucky senator sought something that should have seemed modest indeed: to end the reliance of one administration after another on the long-outdated post-9/11 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) for all of America’s multifaceted and widespread conflicts. He wanted to compel Congress to debate and legally sanction (or not) any future military operations anywhere on Earth. While that may sound reasonable enough, more than 60 senators, Democratic and Republican alike, stymied the effort. In the process, they sanctioned (yet again) their abdication of any role in America’s perpetual state of war—other than, of course, funding it munificently.

    In June 1970, with 50,000 troops already dead in Southeast Asia, Congress finally worked up the nerve to repeal the Tonkin Gulf Resolution, a bipartisan effort spearheaded by Senator Bob Dole, the Kansas Republican. As it happens, there are no Bob Doles in today’s Senate. As a result, you hardly have to be a cynic or a Punxsutawney groundhog to predict six more weeks of winter—that is, endless war.

    It’s a remarkably old story actually. Ever since V-J Day in August 1945, Congress has repeatedly ducked its explicit constitutional duties when it comes to war, handing over the keys to the eternal use of the military to an increasingly imperial presidency. An often deadlocked, ever less popular Congress has cowered in the shadows for decades as Americans died in undeclared wars. Judging by the lack of public outrage, perhaps this is how the citizenry, too, prefers it. After all, they themselves are unlikely to serve. There’s no draft or need to sacrifice anything in or for America’s wars. The public’s only task is to stand for increasingly militarized pregame sports rituals and to “thank” any soldier they run into.

    Nonetheless, with the quixotic thought that this is not the way things have to be, here’s a brief recounting of Congress’s 70-year romance with cowardice.

    The Korean War

    The last time Congress actually declared war, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was president, the Japanese had just attacked Pearl Harbor, and there were Nazis to defeat. Five years after the end of World War II, however, in response to a North Korean invasion of the South meant to reunify the Korean peninsula, Roosevelt’s successor, Harry Truman, decided to intervene militarily without consulting Congress. He undoubtedly had no idea of the precedent he was setting. In the 67 intervening years, upwards of 100,000 American troops would die in this country’s undeclared wars and it was Truman who started us down this road.

    In June 1950, having “conferred” with his secretaries of state and defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he announced an intervention in Korea to halt the invasion from the North. No war declaration was necessary, the administration claimed, because the was acting under the “aegis” of a unanimous United Nations Security Council resolution—a 9-0 vote because the Soviets were, at the time, boycotting that body. When asked by reporters whether full-scale combat in Korea didn’t actually constitute a war, the president carefully avoided the term. The conflict, he claimed, only “constituted a police action under the UN” Fearing that the Soviets might respond by escalating the conflict and that atomic reprisals weren’t out of the question, Truman clearly considered it prudent to hedge on his terminology, which would set a perilous precedent for the future.

    As American casualties mounted and the fighting intensified, it became increasingly difficult to maintain such semantic charades. In three years of grueling combat, more than 35,000 American troops perished. At the congressional level, it made no difference. Congress remained essentially passive in the face of Truman’s fait accompli. There would be no war declaration and no extended debate on the legality of the president’s decision to send combat troops to Korea.

    Indeed, most congressmen rallied to Truman’s defense in a time of… well, police action. There was, however, one lone voice in the wilderness, one very public congressional dissent. If Truman could commit hundreds of thousands of troops to Korea without a congressional declaration, Republican Senator Robert Taft proclaimed, “he could go to war in Malaya or Indonesia or Iran or South America.” As a memory, Taft’s public rebuke to presidential war-making powers is now lost to all but a few historians, but how right he was. (And were the Trump administration ever to go to war with Iran, to pick one of Taft’s places, count on the fact that it would still be without a congressional declaration of war.)

    Vietnam and the War Powers Act

    From the start, Congress rubber-stamped President Johnson’s Tonkin Gulf Resolution, which passed unanimously in the House and with only two dissenting Senate votes. Despite many later debates and resolutions on Capitol Hill, and certain strikingly critical figures like Democratic Senator William Fulbright, most members of Congress supported the president’s war powers to the end. Even at the height of congressional anti-war sentiment in 1970, only one in three members of the House voted for actual end-the-war resolutions.

    According to a specially commissioned House Democratic Study Group, “Up to the spring of 1973, Congress gave every president everything he requested regarding Indochina policies and funding.” Despite enduring myths that Congress “ended the war,” as late as 1970 the McGovern-Hatfield amendment to the Senate’s military procurement bill, which called for a withdrawal from Cambodia within 30 days, failed by a vote of 55-39.

    Despite some critical voices (of a sort almost completely absent on the subject of American war in the 21st century), the legislative branch as a collective body discovered far too late that American military forces in Vietnam could never achieve their goals, that South Vietnam remained peripheral to any imaginable security interests, and that the civil war there was never ours to win or lose. It was a Vietnamese, not an American, story. Unfortunately, by the time Congress collectively gathered the nerve to ask the truly tough questions, the war was on its fifth president and most of its victims—Vietnamese and American—were already dead.

    In the summer of 1970, Congress did finally repeal the Tonkin Gulf Resolution, while also restricting cross-border operations into Laos and Cambodia. Then, in 1973, over President Richard Nixon’s veto, it even passed the War Powers Act. In the future, that bill stated, only a congressional declaration of war, a national defense emergency, or “statutory authorization” by Congress could legally sanction the deployment of the armed forces to any conflict. Without such sanction, section 4(a)(1) of the bill stipulated that presidential military deployments would be subject to a 60-day limit. That, it was then believed, would forever check the war-making powers of the imperial presidency, which in turn would prevent “future Vietnams.”

    In reality, the War Powers Act proved to be largely toothless legislation. It was never truly accepted by the presidents who followed Nixon, nor did Congress generally have the guts to invoke it in any meaningful manner. Over the last 40 years, Democratic and Republican presidents alike have insisted in one way or another that the War Powers Act was essentially unconstitutional. Rather than fight it out in the courts, however, most administrations simply ignored that law and deployed troops where they wanted anyway or made nice and sort of, kind of, mentioned impending military interventions to Congress.

    Lots of “non-wars” like the invasions of Grenada and Panama or the 1992-1993 intervention in Somalia fell into the first category. In each case, presidents either cited a UN resolution as explanation for their actions (and powers) or simply acted without the express permission of Congress. Those three “minor” interventions cost the 19, 40, and 43 troop deaths, respectively.

    In other cases, presidents notified Congress of their actions, but without explicitly citing section 4(a)(1) of the War Powers Act or its 60-day limit. In other words, presidents politely informed Congress of their intention to deploy troops and little more. Much of this hinged on an ongoing battle over just what constitutes “war.” In 1983, for example, President Ronald Reagan announced that he planned to send a contingent of troops to Lebanon, but claimed the agreement with the host nation “ruled out any combat responsibilities.” Tell that to the 241 Marines killed in a later embassy bombing. When combat did, in fact, break out in Beirut, congressional leaders compromised with Reagan and agreed to an 18-month authorization.

    Nor was the judiciary much help. In 1999, for instance, during a sustained air campaign against Serbia in the midst of the Kosovo crisis in the former Yugoslavia, a few legislators sued President Bill Clinton in federal court charging that he had violated the War Powers Act by keeping combat soldiers in the field past 60 days. Clinton simply yawned and pronouncedthat act itself “constitutionally defective.” The federal district court in Washington agreed and quickly ruled in the president’s favor.

    In the single exception that proved the rule, the system more or less worked during the 1990-1991 Persian Gulf crisis that led to the first of our Iraq wars. A bipartisan array of congressional leaders insisted that President George H.W. Bush present an Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) well before invading Kuwait or Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. For several months, across two congressional sessions, the House and Senate held dozens of hearings, engaged in prolonged floor debate, and eventually passed that AUMF by a historically narrow margin.

    Even then, President Bush included a signing statement haughtily declaring that his “request for congressional support did not…constitute any change in the long-standing position of the executive branch on…the constitutionality of the War Powers Resolution.” Snarky statements aside, sadly, this was Congress’s finest hour in the last 70 years of near-constant global military deployments and conflicts—and it, of course, led to the country’s never-ending Iraq Wars, the third of which is still ongoing.

    Approving Enduring and Iraqi “Freedom”

    The system failed, disastrously, in the wake of 9/11. Just three days after the horrific attacks, as smoke still billowed from New York’s twin towers, the Senate approved an astoundingly expansive AUMF. The president could use“necessary and appropriate force” against anyone he determined had “planned, authorized, committed, or aided” the attacks on New York and the Pentagon. Caught up in the passion of the moment, America’s representatives hardly bothered to determine precisely who was responsible for the recent slaughter or debate the best course of action moving forward.

    Three days left paltry room for serious consideration in what was clearly a time for groupthink and patriotic unity, not solemn deliberation. The ensuing vote resembled those in elections in Third World autocracies: 98-0 in the Senate and 420-1 in the House. Only one courageous person, California Congresswoman Barbara Lee, took to the floor that day and spoke out. Her words were as prescient as they are haunting:

    “We must be careful not to embark on an open-ended war with neither an exit strategy nor a focused target.… As we act, let us not become the evil we deplore.”

    Lee was simply ignored. In this way, Congress’s sin of omission set the stage for decades of global war. Today, across the Greater Middle East, Africa, and beyond, American troops, drones, and bombers still operate under the original post-9/11 AUMF framework.

    The next time around, in 2002-2003, Congress proceeded to sleepwalk into the invasion of Iraq. Leave aside the intelligence failures and false pretenses under which that invasion was launched and just consider the role of Congress. It was a sad tale of inaction that culminated, just prior to the ignoble 2002 vote on an AUMF against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, in a speech that will undoubtedly prove a classic marker for the decline of congressional powers. Before a nearly empty chamber, the eminent Democratic Senator Robert Byrd said:

    “To contemplate war is to think about the most horrible of human experiences.… As this nation stands at the brink of battle, every American on some level must be contemplating the horrors of war. Yet, this chamber is, for the most part, silent—ominously, dreadfully silent. There is no debate, no discussion, no attempt to lay out for the nation the pros and cons of this particular war. There is nothing.

    “We stand passively mute in the United States Senate, paralyzed by our own uncertainty, seemingly stunned by the sheer turmoil of events.”

    The evidence backed up his claims. Late on the night of October 11th, after only five days of “debate”—similar deliberations in 1990-1991 had spanned four months—the Senate passed a so-called war resolution (essentially a statement backing a presidential decision, not a congressional war declaration) and the invasion of Iraq proceeded as planned.

    Toward Forever War

    With all that gloomy history behind us, with Congress now endlessly talking about revisiting the 2001 congressional authorization to take on Al Qaeda (but not, of course, the many Islamic terror groups that the military has gone after since that moment) and little revisiting likely to occur, is there any recourse for those not in favor of presidential wars to the end of time? It goes without saying that there is no antiwar political party in the United States, nor—Rand Paul aside—are there even eminent antiwar congressional voices like Taft, Fulbright, McGovern, or Byrd. The Republicans are war hawks and that spirit has proven remarkably bipartisan. From Hillary Clinton, a notorious hawk who supported or argued for military interventions of every sort while she was Barack Obama’s secretary of state, to former vice president and possible future presidential candidate Joe Biden and present Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, the Democrats are now also a party of presidential war making. All of the above voted, for instance, for the Iraq War Resolution.

    So who exactly can antiwar activists or foreign policy skeptics of any sort rally to? If more than 70 years of recent history is any indication, Congress simply can’t be counted on when it comes time to stand, be heard, and vote on American wars. You already know that for the representatives who regularly rush to pass record Defense spending bills – as the Senate recently did by a vote of 89-9 for more money than even President Trump requested – perpetual war is an acceptable way of life.

    Unless something drastically changes: the sudden growth, for example, of a grassroots antiwar movement or a major Supreme Court decision (fat chance!) limiting presidential power, Americans are likely to be living with eternal war into the distant future.

    It’s already an old story, but think of it as well as the new American way.

  • Ron Paul Rages "Just Say No"… To Jeff Sessions

    Authored by Ron Paul via The Ron Paul Institute for Peace & Prosperity,

    Attorney General Jeff Sessions kicked off the New Year by reversing the Obama-era guidance for federal prosecutors to limit their enforcement of federal marijuana laws in states that have legalized marijuana for medical or recreational use. In what is almost certainly not a coincidence, Sessions’ announcement came days after California’s law legalizing recreational marijuana sales went into effect. Sessions’ action thus runs counter to the wishes of the majority of the people in the most populous US state, as well the people of the 28 other states (and DC) that have legalized some form of marijuana use.

    Federal laws criminalizing marijuana and other drugs have failed to reduce drug use.


    However, they have succeeded in giving power-hungry politicians and bureaucrats what was, before 9-11, the go-to justification for violating our civil liberties.

    The federal war on marijuana has also wasted billions of taxpayer dollars. Far from reducing crime, outlawing drugs causes crime by ensuring criminals will control the market for drugs. Outlawing drugs also provides incentives for drug dealers to increase the potency, and thus the danger, of drugs, as higher potency products take up less space and are thus easier to conceal from law enforcement.

    The US Constitution does not give the federal government any authority to criminalize marijuana. Thus, the question of whether marijuana is legal is one of the many issues reserved to the states under the Tenth Amendment. If the Constitution gives Congress the power to ban marijuana, then why was it necessary to amend the Constitution to give Congress the power to ban alcohol?

    Sessions’ usurpation of state marijuana laws is the type of federal intrusion into state issues usually opposed by conservatives. Sadly, too many conservatives are just as willing to sacrifice constitutional government and individual liberties for the war on drugs as they are for the war on terror.

    Conservative hypocrisy is especially strong when it comes to medical marijuana. Many Americans have used medical marijuana for conditions such as cancer and glaucoma. Yet many conservatives who (properly) decry Obamacare’s mandate forcing every American to purchase health insurance cheer Jeff Sessions’ effort to deprive suffering individuals of the medical treatment of their choice. Cruel paternalism in healthcare policy is often associated with progressives, but unfortunately conservatives are just as guilty.

    States that have legalized medical marijuana have fewer deaths related to opioid abuse. These states have also experienced a decrease in crime and black market activity. This is perhaps because some have found medical marijuana a viable alternative to opioids.

    Laws outlawing marijuana criminalize peaceful behavior that, while potentially harmful to the individual, does not violate the rights of others. Therefore, these laws, like all laws authorizing government force against peaceful, if immoral, actions, are incompatible with a free society. Once again we see the hypocrisy of conservatives who decry progressives’ war on tobacco and fatty foods, yet support jailing marijuana users.

    Federal laws outlawing marijuana violate the Constitution, justify violations of civil liberties, and increase violence. By criminalizing nonviolent behavior voluntarily chosen by individuals, drug laws undermine the moral principles underlying a free society.

    President Trump should fire Jeff Sessions and replace him with someone who respects the Constitution and individual liberty. Also, officials from states with legal medical or recreational marijuana should refuse to cooperate with those tasked with enforcing federal marijuana laws.

    If President Trump and state officials stand up for liberty, the people will join them in saying no to Jeff Sessions.

  • "Risk Appetite" Indicator Hits All Time High As World Stocks Have Longest Ever Streak Without 5% Correction

    Over the weekend we showed  that while the US stock market has smashed virtually all records, some still remain: one is that while the S&P is rapidly approaching 400 days without a 5% correction, it still has several days to go before it breaches the 409 consecutive day record set on August 3, 1959.


    Seen another way, major US indexes haven’t been more than 5% from a 52-week high for nearly 400 days, another record which will be breached in just a few days.



    Yet while equities may be on the cusp of record stretches without a correction in the US, in world markets these records are already in the history books. The reason for this, as Goldman explains in a note released today, is that global risk appetite for stocks has just hit an all time high.

    So far this year, risk appetite has picked up materially (Exhibit 17), nearing its all-time high, led by equities (Exhibit 18), which have rallied across regions, the most in Asia and EM.


    The underperformance of “safer” low vol stocks has also become pronounced. Credit total returns have been positive, in particular high yield, notwithstanding bonds selling off. Cross-asset volatility has fallen back to near its lowest levels, with equity skew also declining sharply.

    What explains this unprecedented demand for risk with the market “screamingly overbought“, at record high valuations, and at at a time when investors have seemingly forgotten how to sell? Well, as the following two charts show, traders no longer fear selloffs for the simple, if circular, reason that stocks simply do not sell off.

    Which brings us to the first record: the MSCI World index is currently at its longest streak in history without a 5% correction


    … while, for record number two, we have the MSCI EM which is at its longest streak in history without a 10% correction.


    Is Goldman concerned by this record stretch without any sharp declines? Not really.

    While we think equity correction risk in 2018 is high after a strong rally and at high valuations, we also think an equity bear market is unlikely given the supportive macro backdrop.

    And why should it be concerned? As we first showed on Friday when the 2012 Fed transcripts were released to the public, both Goldman and retail investors have little to fear because as none other than the next Fed chair admitted, it is the Fed itself that is now “encouraging risk-taking”:

    I think we are actually at a point of encouraging risk-taking, and that should give us pause. Investors really do understand now that we will be there to prevent serious losses. It is not that it is easy for them to make money but that they have every incentive to take more risk, and they are doing so. Meanwhile, we look like we are blowing a fixed-income duration bubble right across the credit spectrum that will result in big losses when rates come up down the road. You can almost say that that is our strategy.

    “Almost”… just as one can “almost” see this whole experiment in central planning having a happy ending.

  • CEO Of Porn-Focused Cryptocurrency Disappears With Investors' Money

    The burgeoning market for initial coin offerings is rife with fraud and abuse thanks to unscrupulous people like the creator of FMtokens, a coin designed as a means for paying performers for live webcam chats. The New York Post reported Monday that investors in FMtokens – which purportedly raised just shy of $5 million – are complaining that the company’s shadowy CEO, Jonatha Lucas, has absconded with their money while refusing to deliver the promised tokens.

    Lucas aimed to raise as much as $25 million, according to an investment plan.

    A cryptocurrency built for watching live-streaming porn is turning out to be a buzz-kill.

    Four investors in the digital currency, called Fantasy Market, claimed last week that its shadowy CEO disappeared with their money — and has not refunded all their investment despite repeated requests.

    The alleged inability of investors to trade out of the Fantasy Market tokens, or FMtokens, could stand as a warning to all investors in the red-hot cryptocoin market.

    Jonathan Lucas, the brains behind FMtokens, was aiming to raise as much as $25 million last year, according to Lucas’ white paper — the investment plan circulated among investors.

    The tokens were to be used to pay for livestreaming porn.

    Small-time investors from around the world have scrambled to invest in the largest digital currencies – like bitcoin, Ethereum and ripple – which have seen astronomical returns.

    Circling back to FMtokens, the venture flamed out in November after the NYP  questioned Lucas for about an hour about how his ICO would work and about statements he made in the white paper. The CEO insisted he wasn’t trying to scam anybody, and that he was using his real name. Several of the investors who lost their money believe the name John Lucas is an alias.


    “Jonathan Lucas (most likely an alias) has scammed us and run off with the cryptocurrency,” one irate investor fumed to The Post, more than two months after investing in Fantasy Market.

    According to the Post, it’s unclear how close Lucas got to his $25 million fundraising goal. He told a reporter in November he had raised less than $2 million.

    It’s unclear whether the SEC intends to act against Lucas (at this point, he’s probably already fled to some non-extradition country where he can safely deploy his ill-gotten gains). No legal or civil actions have been taken against him at this time. But the agency has been stepping up its enforcement against fraudulent ICOs since it declared in July that all digital tokens should be treated as securities, and that all pertinent laws and regulations would apply. In China, financial authorities have banned ICOs. And other governments have considered acting to suppress the market.

    Back in September in private chats seen by The Post to being just 13% away from raising $5 million, which translates to about $4.4 million.

    On the company’s website, Lucas posted a message asking out-of-pocket investors to contact the company “in the next 90 days” to secure a refund.

    One investor told the post that the company refunded some of the Ethereum he had invested in the project. Instead of returning his initial investment along with the 160% return that’s accrued since he invested in September, the company pocketed the difference.

    “[Recently] I wrote threatening to file police and FBI reports,” a second aggrieved investor told The Post. “Within hours they refunded me ethereum with a dollar amount equal to what I had contributed in early September, but since the coin has more than tripled in value since then, they kept the rest of my contribution, essentially stealing quite a lot of money from me.”

    Another investor claimed that Lucas appears to be actively trading on cryptocurrency exchanges, possibly with the money stolen from his erstwhile investors.

    This is hardly the only example of outright fraud in the ICO space. Tezos, which raised more than $230 million in an ICO over the summer that attracted the interest of several big-name Silicon Valley VC firms, has elicited several investor lawsuits after the company has missed deadlines to deliver the tokens it promised investors during the crowdsale.

    According to chat records obtained by the post, Lucas repeatedly assured his investors that FMtokens aren’t a scam.

    “I’m not in the business of scamming people, or again, I wouldn’t have used my real name for the project,” Lucas wrote in a Nov. 14 chat.

    His behavior would suggest the opposite is true.

  • Has The World Gone Mad? A Look At The 'New Normal' Low-Volatility Regime

    Authored by Anthony Mirhaydari via Pitchbook.com,

    Snakes sometimes do a funny thing. Unable to regulate their body temperature when they overheat, a false sense of hunger is created. In the confusion that follows, they devour their tail. Until they die…



    This strange phenomenon is depicted by the ouroboros, which for millennia has represented a cycle of constant renewal, of self-fertilization, and ironically, of immortality.

    According to Christopher Cole, founder and CIO at Artemis Capital Management, it also represents the current situation in financial markets where stability and asset price gains have created a feedback loop encouraging more aggressive bets on low volatility and low interest rates, which in turn makes these strategies more and more lucrative.

    It’s hard to argue the world isn’t manic right now.

    Global central banks have pumped $15 trillion in cheap money stimulus into capital markets since 2009. Long-term government bond yields are at the lowest levels in recorded human history. As of last summer, there was $9.5 trillion of debt carrying a negative yield. Austria issued a 100-year bond in September with only a 2.1% coupon.

    The S&P 500 rose on a total return basis in each month of 2017 for the first time ever and has climbed in 21 of the last 22 months. The Dow Jones Industrial Average just crossed 25,000. The NASDAQ, 7,000. The only time stocks have been more expensive, on a cyclically adjusted price-to-earnings basis, was in the final stages of the dot-com bubble. Corporate profits remain below the highs hit more than three years ago. When the Dow was trading near 18,000.

    On a relative strength indicator basis, stocks haven’t been this overbought since the 1950s. Corporate bond issuance pushes to new highs as bond spreads test record lows. Thanks to debt-funded share buybacks, 40% of post-recession earnings growth has been fueled by financial gimmickry. In Europe, junk bond yields have fallen below comparable US Treasuries. Measures of investor sentiment and positioning are off the charts. (e.g., Investor cash levels at Charles Schwab have fallen below the depths seen as the last two stock bubbles were preparing to pop.)

    Oh, there’s more.

    Private market unicorns are badly overvalued. Corporate leverage is extremely high. Private markets are drowning in cheap cash. Underfunded pension plans are taking more aggressive bets on alternative assets in a desperate attempt to close asset-vs.-liability deficits in a low-return world, increasing the likelihood of a taxpayer bailout when it all goes sideways.

    And the tail-eating dynamic seems to have accelerated over the last couple of months, as asset prices become more extreme and startup ideas more bizarre.

    Bitcoin’s rise has eclipsed the Dutch Tulip Mania, as crypto true believers bounce between bitcoin, Bitcoin Cash, Ethereum, and Ripple, chasing momentum as new coin-based billionaires are created seemingly overnight. Ripple’s founder, for example, is now worth more than Mark Zuckerberg. Struggling publicly traded companies are enjoying huge rallies by simply adding “blockchain” to their name.

    Doug Evans – the Silicon Valley entrepreneur behind the $400 Juicero press that squeezed juice from $8 bags of fruits and veggies about as well as your hands could – is making a comeback as one of the proponents for “raw water,” which is unfiltered, contains no additives and turns green from microorganisms if left too long. You know, ones like Vibrio cholerae, the bacteria that causes cholera and kills upward of 143,000 people per year, according to the World Health Organization.

    But is the fever about to be broken?

    It’s not just independent hedge fund managers like Cole who are sounding the alarm, but also Wall Street stalwarts including Societe Generale and Bank of America Merrill Lynch. The former is looking for the S&P 500 to drop to 2,000 by the end of 2018, a loss of 26% in what would be a bear market decline. The latter, courtesy of chief investment strategist Michael Hartnett, fears a 1987/1994/1998-style “flash crash” within the next three months caused by a withdrawal of central bank support as interest rates rise, ending a 50-year low in stock market volatility.

    The Eurasia Group is warning of geopolitical risks in the new year, with a focus on hot spots like North Korea, Syria, Russia and now Iran.

    Cole blames a dynamic of self-reflexivity that is filtering down to private markets, as investors of various types in different securities are all taking a “short bet” on volatility in a bid to boost returns. These could be explicit bets, such as option overwriting by pensions, or implicit bets, such as risk parity funds and allocations to Commodity Trading Advisors.

    In his words, as captured in Artemis Capital Management’s report “Volatility and the Alchemy of Risk”:

    “The investment ecosystem has effectively self-organized into one giant short volatility trade, a snake eating its own tail, nourishing itself from its own destruction. It may only take a rapid and unexpected interest in rates, or geopolitical shock, for the cycle to unwind violently.”

    The lynchpin, by Cole’s reckoning, would be a persistent rise in inflation that would prevent central banks from riding to the rescue with more cheap money stimulus. This would also push bond yields higher, cutting off the flow of corporate share buybacks, which in his estimation now total upwards of $800 billion a year.

    Key antecedents suggesting we’re nearing that outcome include the closing of the post-recession potential GDP output gap (meaning the economy is running above its “speed limit”) and the ongoing tightening of the labor market. And this comes amid a need to roll over some $300 billion in high-yield corporate debt between now and 2020. No less than the International Monetary Fund recently warned that 22% of US companies are at risk of default should there be even a modest rise in borrowing costs.

    In an interview last week, Cole admitted that the risk doesn’t necessitate the outcome: “Keeping a barrel of nitroglycerin in your office is a terrible idea, but you could do it and maybe not get hurt.” But the trigger of a 2% to 3% rise in interest rates within, say, a six-month period has happened many times before. Like in 1987, just months before the Black Monday crash. And is likely to happen again.

    His key takeaway? The post-recession environment of ultra-low yields has forced pensions and other limited partners to desperately reach for yield, thus encouraging investment professionals to indulge in aggressive financial engineering to boost returns. On the surface, it looks like downside risks have been destroyed—papered over by ultra-low interest rates. But he said they’ve only “shifted it in form and time creating new and unique fragilities as they try to transmute what cannot be changed.”

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