Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The Ball is in Your Court Now, Assange


Chelsea Manning has received clemency from Barack Obama. Now it's time for Julian Assange to turn himself in to American authorities.


"If Obama grants Manning clemency," the WikiLeaks tweet read, "Assange will agree to U.S. extradition despite clear unconstitutionality of DoJ case." Assange was referencing the case where — well, it's not exactly clear what case he's referring to. The Department of Justice has been investigating Assange and Wikileaks since 2010, but there's no evidence of charges having been filed.

Assange is currently living in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London to evade extradition to Sweden for sexual assault charges, so the U.S. isn't Assange's biggest problem. But in the U.S., Assange could face other challenges, like potential espionage charges for aiding a variety of U.S. government whistleblowers over the past decade.

..
Assange tweeted, without commenting on his offer: "Thank you to everyone who campaigned for Chelsea Manning's clemency. Your courage & determination made the impossible possible."

And Then He Proved Us Right


Justin Trudeau was right when he said, "One of the things we inherited from the previous government was a high degree of mistrust by Canadians,” on pipelines.

It apparently hasn't dawned on Trudeau that he wasted no time proving how much that mistrust was justified.

It's like that farcical line he delivered with a straight face in Calgary when he said, "you can't chose between the environment and the economy." Of course he can choose. He chose the fossil fuelers when he approved the Site C dam. He chose the fossil fuelers when he approved BC's LNG fiasco. He chose the fossil fuelers when he approved the Kinder Morgan and Energy East pipelines.

It's unclear whether Trudeau can't think straight or he imagines that we can't. He plainly takes the Canadian people for fools. He's not man enough to accept responsibility for what he's chosen to do. He can't admit that he broke his word both to our First Nations and the greater community, especially the people of British Columbia.

But, wait, what about the Northern Gateway? He said no to that, right? Of course he did. With the Keystone XL going ahead and the Energy East line and Kinder Morgan flooding Vancouver's inner harbour with prime Athabasca dilbit, Northern Gateway was pointless.

Will Artificial Intelligence Target Women?


Think of a robotic Trump - racist, sexist, misogynistic. Some think those are the attributes we can expect to seep into artificial intelligence. The age of automation is not going to be kind to women.


Women are projected to take the biggest hits to jobs in the near future, according to a World Economic Forum (WEF) report predicting that 5.1 million positions worldwide will be lost by 2020. “Developments in previously disjointed fields such as artificial intelligence and machine learning, robotics, nanotechnology, 3D printing and genetics and biotechnology are all building on and amplifying one another,” the WEF report states. “Smart systems — homes, factories, farms, grids or entire cities — will help tackle problems ranging from supply chain management to climate change.” These technological changes will create new kinds of jobs while displacing others. And women will lose roles in workforces where they make up high percentages — think office and administrative jobs — and in sectors where there are already gender imbalances, such as architecture, engineering, computers, math, and manufacturing. Men will see nearly 4 million job losses and 1.4 million gains (approximately one new job created for every three lost). In comparison, women will face 3 million job losses and only 0.55 million gains (more than five jobs lost for every one gained).

Forecasts like one from the consultancy McKinsey & Co. suggest that women’s weakening position will only be exacerbated by automation in jobs often held by women, such as bookkeepers, clerks, accountants, sales and customer service, and data input. The WEF report predicts that persistent gender gaps in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields over the next 15 years would also diminish women’s professional presence.

The article looks at an AI bot named Tay that Microsoft launched on the internet, a cyber millennial female. The pitch was that "The more you talk, the smarter Tay gets!" Enter the Trolls.

Tay’s designers built her to be a creature of the web, reliant on artificial intelligence (AI) to learn and engage in human conversations and get better at it by interacting with people over social media. As the day went on, Tay gained followers. She also quickly fell prey to Twitter users targeting her vulnerabilities. For those internet antagonists looking to manipulate Tay, it didn’t take much effort; they engaged the bot in ugly conversations, tricking the technology into mimicking their racist and sexist behavior. Within a few hours, Tay had endorsed Adolf Hitler and referred to U.S. President Barack Obama as “the monkey.” She sex-chatted with one user, tweeting, “DADDY I’M SUCH A BAD NAUGHTY ROBOT.”

By early evening, she was firing off sexist tweets:

“gamergate is good and women are inferior”

“Zoe Quinn is a Stupid Whore.”

“I fucking hate feminists and they should all die and burn in hell.”

...

Artificial intelligence may soon look and sound far more sophisticated than Tay — machines are expected to become as smart as people — and become dangerously more sexist as biases seep into programs, algorithms, and designs. If thoughtful and careful changes to these technologies don’t begin now — and under the equal guidance of women — artificial intelligence will proliferate under man’s most base cultural norms. The current trends in machine learning augment historical misperceptions of women (meek, mild, in need of protection). Unchecked, they will regurgitate the worst female stereotypes. Sexism will become even more infused within societies as they increasingly — and willingly — rely on advanced technology.

Obama to Free Chelsea Manning



The New York Times is reporting that Barack Obama will commute the remaining prison sentence of Chelsea Manning. She is expected to be released in May.

No word yet on anything along the same lines for Edward Snowden.

German Opposition Leader Follows Trump's Lead



Sarah Wagenknecht, her name probably doesn't ring any bells. However she leads Germany's largest opposition party, the Left Party, and she seems to like what she's hearing from the Great Orange Bloat.

Wagenknecht wants two things. She wants NATO dissolved, broken up, dispersed. She also wants Germany to enter a "security union" with Russia.

"NATO must be dissolved and replaced by a collective security system including Russia," Wagenknecht told Germany's "Funke" media group.

Wagenknecht, who leads the opposition Left Party in parliament, added that comments made by the future US president "mercilessly reveal the mistakes and failures of the [German] federal government."

This is how complicated it could soon become. Wagenknecht doesn't like Trump, not one bit, but she likes his "wrecking ball" mentality.

In a Way, It's Kind of Fitting.




Somebody had to be first. Turns out it's America.

A new study finds that parts of the United States will reach the dreaded 2 degree Celsius climate change threshold faster than the rest of the planet.

The sad news it's the U.S. northeast where the early warming is expected to hit, not the climate change denyin', knuckle draggin' southern states.


Many of us want to know what’s going to happen to the climate where we live. How will my life be affected in the future?

This type of question is answered in a very recent study published by scientists from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. The team, which includes Dr. Raymond Bradley and researcher Dr. Ambarish Karmalkar looked specifically at the Northeastern United States. They found that this area will warm much more rapidly than the globe as a whole. In fact, it will warm faster than any other United States region. The authors expect the Northeast US will warm 50% faster than the planet as a whole. They also find that the United States will reach a 2 degree Celsius warming 10–20 years before the globe as a whole.

So why does this matter? Well first, it matters because some of the effects people will experience are directly tied to the temperature increase in their region. For instance, we know that warmer air leads to more intense precipitation. In fact, we are already observing increases in very heavy rainfall across the United States (especially in the Northeast). Based on this new research, that trend will only get worse. It means that winters in this region will get warmer and wetter – more winter precipitation will likely occur as rain rather than snow. This affects the availability of water into the spring months. It also means that summers will have more intense heat waves which will lead to more severe droughts.


The summer condition described - heatwaves and severe drought - recently picked up a new name in American meteorological parlance, "flash drought." It describes what was experienced across eastern Canada last summer. That has always been a very productive agricultural region but it got hammered last year. Is that, as this study suggests, going to become Canada's new normal?


Next Stop - Imbecility



Gene warfare.

Apparently humans have a tricky little gene deficiency that works to make us a slight bit dumber, generation by generation.

Geneticists in Reykjavik find that certain genes that predispose people to "hit the books" are in generational decline.

They've also found that those who are inclined toward education also have lower rates of reproduction.

Great, more proof that Idiocracy isn't a satire. It's a documentary.

Trump's Next Ratings War

Obama Inauguration, 2009


Donald Trump thinks of people in terms of ratings. He's fond of tweeting that this critic or that is "grossly overrated." He couldn't resist taking a swipe at Arnold Schwarzenegger for this modest ratings as host of The Apprentice.

On Friday Donald Trump will be facing his own ratings war - the inauguration. His competition? That'll be the last guy, Barack Hussein Obama. He set the bar by which Trump will stand or fall.

I suspect you can still recall that inauguration celebration for the last incoming president eight years ago. In common parlance you could say that Obama "rocked" Washington and every other American city on January 20, 2009.

But this is Trump's January 20th and it's shaping up to be a lot different. His staff spent weeks trying but failed to get any  A-list talent to perform. They finally settled for Toby Keith.

The 2009 concert "Obama's We Are One: The Obama Inaugural Celebration At The Lincoln Memorial" had a list of performers so star-studded I'm shocked anyone was able to watch it without going totally blind. Brace yourself, because the list of performers included Master Sgt. Caleb Green, Bruce Springsteen, Mary J. Blige, Jon Bon Jovi with Bettye Lavette, James Taylor with John Legend and Jennifer Nettle, John Mellencamp, Josh Groban and Heather Headley, will.i.am with Herbie Hancock and Sheryl Crow, Renée Fleming, Garth Brooks, Stevie Wonder with Usher and Shakira, U2, Pete Seeger, and, of course, Beyoncé.

Who needs people like them when you've got Toby Keith? Garsh.

Trump is hyper-sensitive to appearances, especially his own. This one is going to burn.

...

Notice the photo above. In 2009 the crowd completely filled the National Mall all the way back to the Washington Monument. Standing room only. Packed like sardines.

...

Update: Speak of the devil.



Is Donald Trump’s inauguration crowd going to be bad or the worst in modern American history? He’s only been able to draw a handful of D.C.-area wedding DJs and a handful of county fair musical acts. A growing list of congressional representatives have pledged to boycott the event and a D.C. council member says they’ve only received 200 bus applications (versus 1,200 for the protest march the very next day.)

But, perhaps the most telling sign this is shaping up to be an embarrassing disaster for Team Trump is the fact that only six days out from the event, Donald himself took to Facebook to record a message begging offering free tickets to anyone who wanted to attend. If you make it through the ceremony, he’ll throw in a set of steak knives and you’ll be entered to win a complimentary trip for two to the luxurious Mar-A-Lago resort. (Okay, that last bit is not true, but it could be!)



Monday, January 16, 2017

Well, He Does Know a Thing or Two About Divorce.


Is the marriage over? For longer than I've drawn breath, Europe and America have been intertwined in a relationship that blossomed into a marriage in the aftermath of WWII.

Now, in a pattern that echoes his path from Ivana to Marla to Melania, Donald Trump seems intent on straining America's relationship with Europe, perhaps in favour of a new paramour, Russia.

Trump recently dissed both NATO and the European Union, dismissing America's oldest military alliance as "obsolete" while praising Brexit, predicting the departure of other member states from the E.U. and blasting Angela Merkel's migrant policy. These are not actions by which mutual confidence is sustained.

For a while the president-elect said he welcomed a nuclear arms race with Russia. Barely a week later he advocated a reduction in Russia's and America's nuclear arsenals, hinting that he might scrap U.S. sanctions against Russia in the bargain.

The Europeans know that Trump does not have the confidence of America's 17 national security/intelligence agencies. They know that because America's intelligence types have been telling their counterparts not to share anything they don't want Putin to know about. Again, not great for sustaining mutual confidence.

French president Francois Hollande made it clear today that he's heard enough from the Great Orange Bloat.

"Europe will be ready to pursue transatlantic cooperation, but it will based on its interests and values," Hollande said before awarding France's highest honour to outgoing US ambassador Jane Hartley. "It does not need outside advice to tell it what to do."

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, two Chinese state newspapers have warned of trouble ahead.

China will "take off the gloves" and take strong action if US President-elect Donald Trump continues to provoke Beijing over Taiwan once he assumes office, two leading state-run newspapers said on Monday.

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal published on Friday, Trump said the "One China" policy was up for negotiation. China's foreign ministry, in response, said "One China" was the foundation of China-US ties and was non-negotiable.

"If Trump is determined to use this gambit in taking office, a period of fierce, damaging interactions will be unavoidable, as Beijing will have no choice but to take off the gloves," the English-language China Daily said.

One recent analysis concluded that in a major trade war, China's economy might sustain a 50% hit. America's economy could take an unrecoverable 75% blow. China, being more manufacturing focused, has the more resilient economy that would recover in short order. A trade war could leave America's FIRE economy (and the economies of America's dependents) mortally wounded.

In what Angela Merkel has termed Trump's "thought environment," the incoming president imagines America's strength as perhaps much greater than it would prove to be if strained. That would, of necessity, reset America's relationships with rivals, adversaries and one faithful allies alike.

The View From the Tanks



Think tanks are a wonderful and often overlooked source of garnering perspective on world events. Some, such as the Heritage Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute or our own Fraser Institute are ideological hack factories posing as legitimate think tanks but there are others - Chatham House, Brookings, the Carnegie Endowment, the International Institute for Strategic Studies and more that are balanced and a rich source of insight into today's and tomorrow's events.

With seismic events now unfolding, particularly this week in Washington, it's a fine time for a stroll down Think Tank boulevard.

Let's begin with my favourite, the venerable Chatham House, more properly known as the Royal Institute of International Affairs. A couple of items of interest. Chatham House director, Dr. Robin Niblett, writes of  "The Demise of Anglo-American Economic Leadership."

Niblett writes it may be game over for the era of neoliberalism ushered in by Reagan, Thatcher (and Mulroney), what he calls "the Anglo-Saxon model." Many of us will be open to that idea but it begs the question of just what will take its place and what sort of "place" will there be for us in that place? Uncertainty ensues.

More recently, Dr. Niblett wrote on "Liberalism in Retreat," exploring how, with democracy in decline, liberal democracies must find ways to co-exist with their ideological foes.

"In the past, as other political systems have crumbled, the liberal international order has risen to face its challenges. Yet so long as the economies of its leading members remain fragile and their political institutions divided, the order they have championed is unlikely to regain the political momentum that helped democracy spread across the globe. Instead, it will evolve into a less ambitious project: an international liberal economic order that encompasses states with diverse domestic political systems."

Over at the exquisitely American, Brookings Institute, Fiona Hill and Clifford Gaddy pose the question "What makes Putin tick, and what the West should do."
They write of three camps - those who underestimate Putin and those who overestimate Putin and a good many who do both.

"...many in the West underestimated Putin’s willingness to fight, for as long and as hard (and as dirty) as he needs to, to achieve his goals. Vladimir Putin will use all methods available, and he will be ruthless. Second, Western observers misread his skill as a strategist. Putin is not, as some have said, a mere tactician. He thinks strategically, and he has great advantages over Western leaders in his ability to translate that thinking into action. What we often fail to appreciate, however, is how dangerously little Putin understands about us—our motives, our mentality, and, also, our values. Only by trying to appreciate how Putin sees us can we see the logic in his actions—the logic he follows—and therefore get some idea of what he wants, where he might be headed, in Ukraine and elsewhere in Europe and Eurasia…."

"...Vladimir Putin needs to be taken seriously. He will make good on every promise or threat—if Putin says he will do something, then he is prepared to do it; and he will find a way of doing it, using every method at his disposal."

"In short, Vladimir Putin is a fighter and he is a survivalist. He won’t give up, and he will fight dirty if that’s what it takes to win. He didn’t give up as a kid in the Leningrad courtyards. He didn’t give up in Chechnya. He won’t give up in Ukraine or elsewhere in Russia’s neighborhood. Vladimir Putin’s rules for street fighting are essentially the same for his principles in domestic and foreign politics. Establish credibility and don’t back down until the advantage is yours and you’ve made your point. Once your opponent has capitulated and you have established your turf and terms, then you can patch things up and move on—until the next showdown comes along."

Doesn't that make you thank your lucky stars we've got Trump in the ring with Putin?

"In the domestic and foreign policy arenas, Putin constantly sizes up his opponents and probes for physical and psychological weaknesses. Putin’s adaptation of Nixon’s “Madman Theory” approach helps flush these weaknesses out—it helps gauge reactions: They think I’m dangerous, and unpredictable, how do they respond to this? Have I got them unbalanced and on the back foot as a result? Then Putin tests his opponents to see if they mean what they say—will they also be prepared to fight, and fight to the end? If they are not, then he will exploit their empty threats to show them up, intimidate, deter, and defeat them."

Over at Carnegie, Amr Hamzawy, examines the aftermath of the Arab Spring concluding the region has returned to square one. He argues the Arab world must forge a new social contract with its people.

Meanwhile, Carnegie senior fellow, Karim Sadjapour, explains why Trump is the favourite of fellow autocrats (and worse) everywhere.

"While Trump lacks bipartisan support at home, he has not only the support of the Shia Iran but the Sunni ISIS. In August, an article in Foreign Affairs noted that an ISIS spokesman wrote on an ISIS social media channel, “I ask Allah to deliver America to Trump.” ISIS’s logic is simple: It believes that Trump’s erratic leadership will weaken America, and his abrasive style will alienate the Muslim world, in turn bolstering its efforts to recruit jihadists worldwide. In the words of a recent ISIS defector, “We were happy when Trump said bad things about Muslims because he makes it very clear that there are two teams in this battle: The Islamic team and the anti-Islamic team.”

"Trump’s most well-documented foreign enthusiast is Vladimir Putin, whom he has implied is a stronger leader than Obama. Putin has reciprocated, calling Trump “lively” and “talented” and “the absolute leader in the presidential race.” Former CIA chief Mike Morell called Trump an “unwitting agent” of Putin, and 17 U.S. intelligence agencies believe that Russian cyber hackers have attempted to tilt the election in Trump’s direction. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, many Americans hoped Russia could emerge as an economically prosperous, socially tolerant democracy. Putin not only helped thwart attempts to make Russia more like America, but he found in Trump an opportunity to make America more like Russia."

Sadjapour ends with this chilling observation:

"The 14th-century North African philosopher Ibn Khaldun famously observed that empires are built and destroyed over the course of three generations. The first-generation founders are hungry, determined, and vigilant. The second generation inherits and manages what they witnessed the first generation build. By the third generation, the ruling elite are self-entitled, palace-reared elites who had no reason to develop the grit necessary to maintain what their grandparents built.

"Donald Trump is a third-generation American who never experienced life without freedom and privilege, running on a campaign projecting power rather than principles."

At the Council on Foreign Relations, there's a reprint taken from The Diplomat arguing that Trump may drive Japan and China closer together.

"Tokyo has always wanted American support against North Korea, but even a “hawkish” cabinet such as Abe’s will think twice before supporting operations that could lead to a new war in Korea. Japan Inc. would be the first collateral damage of a U.S. trade war with China should Trump follow campaign promises. And, obviously, Tokyo does not relish American Japan-bashing in the auto industry.

"Beijing has almost as many reasons to be concerned as Tokyo. An America weakened by a tweeter-in-chief with no attachment to U.S. core alliances and the international liberal order built by previous American administrations is good news for Xi Jinping. But enormous tariffs on Chinese goods, a national security advisor (Michael Flynn) who thinks China supports the Islamic State, and a president who seems regret that nuclear bombs aren’t used is not what the Communist Party of China (CPC) wants. Even if on balance Trump is likely to undermine America’s relative power in the world, there’s a significant risk that in doing so he could seriously hurt the interests of the Party in a negative sum game."

"The Trump presidency could thus be bad for both Japan and China. One country would turn out to be marginally worse off. But it’s a good bet that neither Xi nor Abe would be too pleased if their country’s economy went down 50 percent, even if their adversary’s collapsed by 75 percent. Moreover, neither Xi nor Abe know which of them would end up the bigger loser. This provides an opportunity for some imaginative diplomacy for Beijing and Tokyo to agree to a sort of cease-fire in their undeclared hostilities."

At the IISS, Nigel Inkster, director of future conflict and cyber security, takes a look at what may develop in the weeks and months ahead.

As to the wider geopolitical implications of Trump’s relationship with Russia, it is still far too early to make any judgements. The Trump business empire may have significant interests in Russia. But it also has significant investments in China, where it owns over 70 patents and is in the process of filing for 40 more. It has been suggested that a Trump administration may be drawn to some kind of strategic alliance with Russia based on racial and cultural affinity, and aimed at China. It is certainly the case that some elements in the emerging Trump administration harbour white supremacist inclinations. But there is no indication that Trump has any such ideological leanings – or indeed any leanings at all beyond the pursuit of self-interest.

While Putin’s Russia may welcome the prospect of a less fraught relationship with the US, it is far from obvious that a deal can be reached. A bigger worry may be what happens if efforts to yet again ‘push the reset button’ with Russia come to naught, as they may well do.

Meanwhile Beijing, though concerned about Trump’s suggestion that the One China policy may be up for negotiation, is keeping its powder dry and waiting to see what Trump actually does. At the same time, China is adroitly seeking to position itself as the prime guarantor of free trade and global leadership, a message President Xi Jinping will be looking to promote during his forthcoming visit to Davos. It remains to be seen, however, whether Xi can transcend the default Chinese Communist Party language to present a vision that resonates and carries conviction with the wider world.

The long and the short of it? No one is sure what to make of Trump. Opinions vary widely, perhaps wildly. One point of consensus. If it comes to horsetrading between Trump and Putin, it won't be Putin who goes home with empty pockets. Trump may, however, be sent packing with the trappings of victory for domestic consumption.

Great, just great.

Simon Says


I don't want anyone to miss Montreal Simon's great take on what some consider the Twilight Zone's scariest and most memorable episode, "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet." Simon really nailed it, especially if you remember that episode.


An Inauspicious Start


Whether he lasts a full term in office, Donald Trump is sure to provide no end of firsts in the presidential history books.

Here's one. He will become the first incoming commander in chief utterly distrusted by his intelligence and security agencies. He doesn't trust them but far more importantly they don't trust him.

The Israeli news service, Ynet, reports that American intelligence types have warned their Israeli counterparts against telling the US anything they don't want Putin and Iran to know. It's "mum's the word" at least for the immediate future while Trump's and his cabinet's true relationships with the Kremlin are sorted out.


Donald Trump’s upcoming inauguration as the next president of the United States is causing Israeli intelligence officials to lose sleep as well. Discussions held in closed forums recently raised fears of a leakage of Israeli intelligence top-classified information, clandestine modus operandi and sources, which have been exposed to the American intelligence community over the past 15 years, to Russia – and from there to Iran.

The Americans implied that their Israeli colleagues should “be careful” as of January 20, Trump’s inauguration date, when transferring intelligence information to the White House and to the National Security Council (NSC), which is subject to the president. According to the Israelis who were present in the meeting, the Americans recommended that until it is made clear that Trump is not inappropriately connected to Russia and is not being extorted – Israel should avoid revealing sensitive sources to administration officials for fear the information would reach the Iranians.

If Israel’s secrets are indeed not kept confidential, this is a serious danger to the state’s national security: Since the early 2000s, the cooperation between the Israel and US intelligence communities has been intensified. It was led by the head of the Israeli Military Intelligence Directorate (AMAN) at the time, Aharon Ze’evi Farkash (who even received a citation from the NSA Chief General Michael Hayden), late Mossad chief Meir Dagan and his successor, Tamir Pardo, who served earlier as the commander of one of the secret operational units that cooperated with the Americans.


British intelligence reportedly considers itself in the same boat as the Israelis. If his own intelligence experts don't trust president Trump no one else will either - Vladimir Putin possibly excepted.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Of Course He's Not Putin's Puppet. Where Would You Get an Idea Like That?


The soon to be president has spoken. NATO is obsolete. Brexit, however, is the best idea ever.

President-elect Donald Trump, in remarks published on Sunday, described NATO as "obsolete" and suggested a deal with Russia that would reduce nuclear arsenals and ease sanctions on Moscow.

He also hailed Britain's exit from the EU and backed a speedy trade deal with the UK, but condemned as "catastrophic" Chancellor Angela Merkel's decision to open Germany's doors to a flood of refugees.

"I said a long time ago that NATO had problems," Trump told The Times of London and Bild, Germany's biggest-selling daily.

"Number one, it was obsolete, because it was designed many, many years ago," he said.

"Number two, the countries aren’t paying what they’re supposed to pay."

"I took such heat, when I said NATO was obsolete. It’s obsolete because it wasn’t taking care of terror. I took a lot of heat for two days. And then they started saying Trump is right."

He added, though, "NATO is very important to me."

Trump also repeated his comments about dropping sanctions against Russia.

"They have sanctions on Russia -- let's see if we can make some good deals with Russia. I think nuclear weapons should be way down and reduced very substantially, that’s part of it," Trump said.

"But Russia's hurting very badly right now because of sanctions, but I think something can happen that a lot of people are gonna benefit," said the president-elect, who has previously expressed admiration for Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

10 Years. 20 Years. 30?


I succumbed and listened to a recent Guy McPherson radio appearance on what I think was an Australian station.

McPherson, a professor emeritus climate scientist from the University of Arizona, truly is the "voice of doom." As he sees it, you, and everybody you know, are now living in your tenth last year on Earth. He gives mankind a decade, max.

I don't like McPherson's claim and I don't want to believe it. I cannot bring myself to accept it. What would be the point in that?

He's at odds with everyone, even other climate scientists. Nobody else is talking ten years and then over the cliff. How does Dr. McPherson explain it?

For starters, he withdrew from active research several years ago. He needed the time to assemble, collate and analyze all the research flooding in from other climate scientists around the globe. He wanted to make sense of them all, collectively.

The science of climate change is a multi-disciplinary effort. It spans the range of physical and Earth sciences - geology; geography; atmospherics; hydrology and oceanography; glaciology; meteorology; paleontology; physics and chemistry; botany; biology; epidemiology; medicine; and, I'm sure, many more that elude my limited knowledge of sciences. There are two or three central theses against which the best and brightest in each of these individual disciplines do research to test the theory. If X then geology should show this, physics should show this, biology should show this - that sort of thing. You look for dissent, repudiation, refutation that challenges or even disproves the theory. Only that's not really happening. Just the opposite. This is the research that McPherson has made it his work to digest.

As he boils it all down, McPherson seeks to identify and log climate change "tipping points." These are man made changes, feedback loops, that may be the triggers of runaway global warming in nature. I can't bring myself to visit McPherson's web page "Nature Bats Last" but the last time I did I think he had documented just over 60 feedback loops underway.

McPherson says most scientists are approaching climate change from a narrower focus, just their own discipline and maybe one or two companion disciplines. To him a different picture emerges when you take all the pieces and assemble them in a mosaic. Only then, he claims, can you see what's really happening.

I hope he's wrong, way out in left field. I have to hope he's wrong. I have to count on it. Yet I cannot, with confidence, dismiss his views.

I couldn't begin to put a number on how many times I've argued, on this blog and elsewhere, that we can't solve climate change on its own as some stand-alone crisis. The only survivable solution to climate change requires that we simultaneously solve its two companion, existential challenges - our massive over consumption of Earth's resources and mankind's overpopulation. There are common threads that run through all three and those threads lead to a common solution. It's a path that we show not the slightest inclination to follow.

I hope McPherson's wrong. I hope he's just desperately trying to shake us up, to make us think about what we're doing. I hope we've got a good twenty, maybe even thirty years left. With what's at stake you wouldn't think that rational people would fail to act. Don't count on it.




The 70 Year Old "Troubled Teen" With the Nuclear Launch Codes


Hyper-narcissism, check. Anger management issues, check. Attention Deficit Disorder, check. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, check. Nuclear launch codes, check.

I expect that a 12-year old boy who exhibited Donald Trump's personality disorders would be heavily medicated. Ritalin to be sure. IV Ritalin? Not sure if that's even a thing.

To say that Donald Trump lacks the stability, aptitude and skill set required of an American president today is a grotesque understatement. Yet, in a matter of days, he'll be installed in the White House. To the American people who voted for him, thank you, you miserable peckerheads.

As Princeton professor, David Bell, concludes, Donald Trump is the ultimate loose cannon. "It's now all too easy to imagine his troubled personality leading to his country's collective fall."

What is a "loose cannon" anyway? In the days of sail it was a cannon that slipped from its restraints in the midst of a battle or storm and endangered both the ship and crew. Today it's used to mean an uncontrollable or unpredictable person who can damage or destroy his own faction, political party or even nation.

The Democrats no longer have the means to stop him and the Republicans in Congress lack the courage to stand up to him. Worse yet, he's assembled a cabinet of dodgy characters who, almost to a man, play to his every flaw.

Kevin Phillips, in his 2005 book, "American Theocracy," offers a helpful exploration of how power transitions from one dominant power to its successor. There is a pattern. America has been on this very glide path for the last 30 years.

In Phillips' model, the superpower rots from the inside out. The decay begins when it abandons the core economy that brought it to the top of the heap - manufacturing. It yields to the allure of much greater wealth to be had by restructuring to a FIRE (finance, insurance, real estate) economy while its enterprises outsource their manufacturing sector elsewhere. In this way the dominant power uses its power and wealth to grow what eventually becomes its successor's economy.

As Phillips shows, the FIRE economy produces much greater returns in the short term, a matter of decades. But the FIRE economy, unlike the manufacturing economy, is brittle, fragile and much more susceptible to economic shocks such as recessions. The manufacturing economy also experiences setbacks from recessions but it's more robust and bounces back quickly. The more economic shocks the more fragile and vulnerable the FIRE economy becomes.

Eventually there's some seismic economic event, war perhaps, and the once dominant nation slips to a new steady point, making way for the next king of the hill. The nation in decline doesn't collapse. Usually it just falls into line behind the new dominant economy.

Anybody else smell the faint scent of a seismic event in the air? Maybe it's just me.


Saturday, January 14, 2017

Could Donald Trump Destroy the United States?



It's Canada's major trading partner so we would do well to think hard on what Donald Trump might do - not to China or Mexico or Europe - but to the United States itself.

Princeton University professor, David Bell, writes that Trump could wind up taking America down.


Not only is Trump becoming the leader of the most powerful state the world has ever seen, but thanks to Republican control of Congress — and soon, quite possibly, the Supreme Court — Trump has the potential to become the most powerful president in American history. And he is one of the most radically unpredictable men ever elected to that office. He is not guided by a distinct, systematic ideology, and he is not, to say the least, constrained by humility or self-doubt. In foreign policy, he has surrounded himself with advisors like Michael Flynn and Frank Gaffney who give credence to conspiracy theories and see Islam — not just radical jihadism, but Islam itself — as an existential threat to the United States. In domestic policy, he has assembled a team whose ties to international business and the “swamp” of Washingtonian corruption contradict much of his own populist rhetoric.

...


Donald Trump  ...is so willful and thin-skinned, so convinced of his own abilities, so enamored of his own unpredictability, and at the same time so unable to concentrate on any particular issue, that he is far less likely to appreciate the constraints that have weighed so heavily on his predecessors or even to understand them. He is also far less likely to listen to his advisors, and these advisers themselves are, overall, far more ignorant of their supposed areas of expertise than any other group of high-level administration officials in American history.

Even in crisis situations, U.S. presidents have generally done their best to follow predictable, well-established decision-making protocols. ...Donald Trump, alas, is almost certainly less likely to follow established protocols than any of his predecessors. In a crisis situation, how is he likely to react? Can anyone know?

...There is no shortage of scenarios — a major terrorist attack in the West, a collapse of the nuclear agreement with Iran, renewed Russian aggression in its “near abroad” — that could present an American president with deeply consequential decisions to make.

In these decisions, Donald Trump’s personality could assume, difficult as it is to apply these words to him, world-historical importance. As a consequence, the personalities of other leaders, especially Vladimir Putin, could also come to matter in critical ways, as they come into conflict with Trump. If impersonal forces led to Trump’s personal rise, it’s now all too easy to imagine his troubled personality leading to his country’s collective fall.

How Fast is Enough?


A story in The Guardian reminded me of how I've backed away from posting on climate change lately. The headline reads, "New study confirms NOAA finding of faster global warming." The long and short of it - the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency reported that global warming as coming on even faster than expected and subsequent research confirmed the claim.

The fact is it's an important story, something we all need to know. We should be aware of the pace of global warming. That's going to play a role in our lives and more so for our children's lives.

What does it mean when someone says the Earth is warming faster than previously thought? Not very much at all, I fear. Climate scientists are rupturing their lungs screaming warnings about the "climate emergency" unfolding in the Arctic when, in the 24-hour blackness of the Arctic winter, they're recording temperatures up to 30 degrees Celsius above normal but we're tuning out their frequency, surfing the dial for something a bit more enjoyable. Thelma & Louise.

Maybe, like the Arctic, we've entered a stage of 24-hour darkness about these rapidly looming threats. Out of sight/out of mind. Judging by the somnolence of our federal and provincial governments, it's easy to suspect that they've closed that book.

What if they have figured that it's too late, that climate change is now unstoppable no matter what they might do? Had they come to that conclusion, how might we expect them to behave? Probably pretty much just like they are acting today.

It would be great if they would even acknowledge what's underway and give us some assurances that they've got our backs, they have some plan, we'll be as okay as possible.

It's their silence that's driving me crazy.

Friday, January 13, 2017

While We're On the Subject of God, the Holy Land, and Such...

A word from Ricky Gervais


I Know This Will Sound Strange, But I Almost Feel Sorry for the Bastard.




It's pretty obvious that Donald Trump is in over his head, way over.

It's one thing when you create your own world, a lavish bubble, and call all the shots within that gold-plated fantasyland. That's lousy preparation for taking over the Oval Office. The presidency isn't a business. You don't always get to call the shots and fire anyone who doesn't meet your every whim.

If there's one thing I wish I could have changed about Trump two years ago before he quested for the Republican nomination it would be his uncontrollable Pavlovian nature. He's exactly like Pavlov's dog. Show him the easy meat and he promptly drools all over the floor.

In Trump's case you can substitute provocation for the meat. Challenge Trump, mock Trump, criticize Trump, goad his fragile narcissistic ego and he compulsively responds, always with vitriol, always to excess, worst of all, always utterly predictably. It's not an impulse, it's a compulsion. It's a gaping rent in the presidential suit of armour.

Some dangerous people who have nothing but ill will for the United States have been watching the Great Orange Bloat for the last two years, observing, dissecting and analyzing his bizarre psychological tick, what Angela Merkel graciously calls his "thought environment." They've watched the video of every campaign rally, every debate, every press conference. They've logged every middle of the night/pre-dawn tweet. It's their business to understand his every weakness and how he can be used to undermine the Great Satan. I'm betting they like what they see.

What better way to start than opening an insurmountable hurdle to any prospect of mutual trust and respect between a hapless incoming and damaged president and the very intelligence and security services he'll so desperately require?

Meanwhile, America's national security and intelligence agencies are shitting bricks. They've discretely run their own assessments of their incoming commander in chief. They know what America's enemies know and they know that America's enemies know what they know and how that chasmic vulnerability between a naive rookie president and his own security officials might be exploited. They know the threat their new president represents to the United States, America's allies, the world. It's their job to serve the president but not at the expense of the safety, even survival of the country. There is a line that, until now, has never been in danger of being crossed.

In another time we used the term "the Great Game" to refer to Russian and British rivalry over Central and South Asia spanning most of the nineteenth century. Something along similar lines only this time targeting the United States of America could be unfolding.

My guess is that they want to exploit Trump's inclination to retreat, to withdraw America from its global hegemony. They may see this as their best, perhaps only chance to put the post war Uncle Sam genie back in the bottle.

How to do that? One way is to give Trump a crash course in reality. Demonstrate to him the very real limits of the power of the American presidency. What limits? Consider this. For the past fifteen years, presidents vastly more competent than Trump have repeatedly failed to impose America's will as the U.S. did leading up its zenith, the glorious Desert Storm victory of George H.W. Bush. It's been downhill ever since. America still has All the King's Men and All the King's Horses  but, despite the expenditure of thousands of American lives, hundreds of thousands of Muslim lives and trillions of dollars of American treasure, they have achieved precisely no victories. Not one.

It's easy to vilify Putin but, in fairness, he has his reasons. Every president going back to and including Reagan has made a mess of the Middle East. Reagan facilitated the rise of radical Islam when he backed the Mujahideen resistance to the Soviets in Afghanistan. He, with the Saudis in the background, incubated bin Laden and al Qaeda. Bush Sr. left a devastating power vacuum with the defeat of Saddam Hussein in Kuwait even as radical Sunni Islamists ran free. Clinton - more of the same only with sanctions that never harmed Saddam's people but caused the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives of ordinary Iraqis, especially children, due to embargoed medicines and aid. Nice one, Bill. George w. Bush? 9/11, Afghanistan, Iraq, the restoration of al Qaeda. Enough said. Obama? Conflict returns to Iraq. ISIS consolidates and then spreads to Syria before metastasizing throughout the Muslim world from northwest Africa to Afghanistan to Southeast Asia. "The Troubles, Mk. 2," spreads to Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Somalia, Libya and parts distant and near including Europe.

Think of this from the perspective of a slightly different Vlad Putin, one who's not a thug. You're just a little sensitive because those goddamned Westerners, this time the lot of them, have rolled another army right up to the Rodina's doorstep. You've been pushed back, even isolated from Europe and run out of the Middle East. Now you sit back and watch your historical adversary and recent punisher falter, run out of steam and then elect an utter buffoon to the presidency. You're suddenly presented with a golden opportunity gift wrapped at your feet. Do you just say, "Oh no, I don't think that taking that opportunity would be right, not when they're down and in disarray"? Or do you take an opportunity that may never come your way again? No, you don't want to obliterate the United States. You just want to neutralize it enough that you can restore your presence/hegemony in both Europe and the Middle East.

Remember we're talking about Vladimir Putin, a guy whose entire career and rise to power were based on never missing or failing to take an opportunity.

Then you've got Beijing. China, a country whose economy is expected to grow larger than America's by 2025, latest. They know history. They know that there's rarely been a peaceful transfer of global economic dominance between countries so alien to each other. They remember their Century of Humiliation. That's a powerful lens through which they view what they consider the inevitable turmoil ahead.

Recall here the "Bush Doctrine" that was lifted wholesale from the bellicose manifesto of the Project for the New American Century, the Knights' Temple of neoconservatism. The Bush Doctrine, among other things, proclaimed that America reserved the right to use military force to defeat any nation or group of nations (hostile or friendly) that challenged America's military and economic domination. Hint: America needs muscle, loads of it, to keep other nations in line so that it can continue, indefinitely, to accrue ever more foreign debt while still running trade and payment deficits that will never be paid off (cf. James Galbraith, "The End of Normal," chapter 7).

China only continues to carry America's IOUs while it is not yet quite ready to ascend the throne. They want to be Number One and they do want to expand their global influence and hegemony as any dominant power wants, they want American-style preferential access to resources and money, but they don't want the Americans to get all nihilistic about it.

To grease the skids, China would be happy if America abandoned its political and military domination of the East/Southeast Asia region. China wants to be the hegemon in its own back yard. Seeing America descend into presidential chaos, perhaps even paralysis, must be massively enticing to Beijing.

Let's face it, these are powerful and sophisticated people with plenty of resources at hand, both cyber and conventional. By now they probably have a full run of tests on the heavy metals and other toxins in Donald Trump's hair follicles, the sugar count in his urine, and the evidence of malignancy and the onset of other chronic disease in his stool.  And they've also got their psychological profiles. Couple that with the fact that he'll be 70 when he's sworn in, the oldest incoming president in America, and, unlike even Reagan, already demonstrating signs of mental issues they must see both as danger and immense opportunity.

I remember as a kid, we used to test the ice out behind the house and onto the lake by taking it a step at a time. You would walk very gradually, listening to the cracks. You listened as the sound of the cracks changed as you kept going further out. Then you had to make a personal decision  on when you had gone far enough and would go no further.

America's enemies and its rivals are in much that same position. They have to test the ice, Donald Trump, and there's no better time to do it than when he first comes to the presidency with all his intellectual and psychological difficulties unresolved.

And so this is beginning to unfold. The Taliban are issuing demands, not to the White House, but to the president to be. They're speaking to Donald Trump. They're telling him to either release prisoners from Afghan cells or they'll decapitate American hostage, Kevin King.

The Chinese, meanwhile, are warning that the US risks war if, as Tillerson has has threatened, it blocks Chinese access to the South China Sea.

China has controversially built fortifications and artificial islands across the South China Sea. Rex Tillerson, Trump’s nominee for secretary of state, said China’s “access to those islands … is not going to be allowed”.

China claims nearly the entire area, with rival claims by five south-east Asian neighbours and Taiwan.


ISIS, al Qaeda, China, what's next? Oh yeah. Moscow, the Kremlin, Vlad Putin.
We know that every Russian premier going back to Gorbachev is thoroughly pissed with Washington for deigning to march NATO to Russia's front door while it was floundering and weak.

Obama just dispatched the makings of an armoured brigade to Poland. The deployment, said to be a message to Moscow, has infuriated Putin. He sees it as a provocation. That much has been splashed about our local media.

What hasn't been widely circulated in Canada or the United States is what's going on in Sweden. It's been in most of the European papers since December. Sweden has invoked its equivalent of DefCon 2. In its simplest terms, the Swedes are anticipating a potentially imminent attack from Russia. Sweden has re-activated its Cold War, "Total Defence Strategy." How much of Swedish apprehension is triggered by Putin and how much by the fears of a Trump presidency is unclear. 

There's another Trump button begging to be pushed. 

I do feel sorry for the bastard. He may not have time to take a proper crap on the Oval Office throne before America's enemies and its rivals begin pushing Trump's buttons. I don't think he's remotely ready to handle this.





Thursday, January 12, 2017

In Fairness


Wheels spinning within wheels. Glenn Greenwald, of The Intercept, rides to the defence of Donald Trump. As Greenwald sees it, the latest Trump scandal is a manufactured effort by America's intelligence agencies, the "Deep State," to take down a president they don't like, even before he's president.

It's definitely worth a read. Check it out.

Meanwhile, the RT news service, is running a piece claiming that Christopher Steele is still an operative of Britain's MI6 intelligence service. "Once MI6, Always MI6." I guess the Russians should know. Look at Putin. Once KGB, Always KGB.

Seriously, You Can't Make This Up.


Morgan, Lewis and Bockius - winner of Russia's 2016 "Law Firm of the Year" award.

That would be the same Morgan, Lewis and Bockius that serves as Donald Trump's legal team. What an incredible coincidence. Hmm, I wonder if they handle Vlad Putin's interests?

The Taliban are Already Playing Trump


The Taliban aren't waiting for the inauguration to test Donald Trump's presidential mettle.

They've released a video of their American hostage, Kevin King, and Australian, Timothy Weeks.

In the video, Weeks said the Taliban are demanding that the US release prisoners at Bagram airfield and at Pul-e-Charkhi prison in Kabul in exchange for his and King's freedom.

"They are being held there illegally, and the Taliban has asked for them to be released in our exchange. If they are not exchanged for us then we will be killed," Weeks said.

"Donald Trump, sir, please, I ask you, please, this is in your hands. I ask you please to negotiate with the Taliban. If you do not negotiate with them, we will be killed," he added.

He Just Can't Stop Lying.


The latest. Donald Trump claims that America's Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, "called him to 'denounce the false and fictitious' report that Russia held compromising information about the president-elect."

The problem, for the Great Orange Bloat, is that Mr. Clapper says he didn't say that.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper merely said he had told Mr Trump that no judgment had yet been made on its reliability.

Mr Clapper rejected Mr Trump's claim that US intelligence leaked the report.

Mr Clapper's statement on the conversation came out on Wednesday evening and he has not yet commented on Mr Trump's version.

In his statement, the spymaster said he had "expressed profound dismay at the leaks that have been appearing in the press and we both agreed that they are extremely corrosive and damaging to our national security".


Director Clapper didn't "denounce" anything. Nor did he declare the dossier "false and fictitious." Maybe Trump senses he's in so deep that he has no choice but to keep lying, just making stuff up to feed his Gullibillies.

Listen to what Clapper really has to say:



"This was a multi-faceted campaign. The hacking was only one part of it, and so it entailed classical propaganda, disinformation, fake news."

Coming Apart at the Seams. Can Trump Lie His Way Out This Time?



As scandals go, this one is really complicated. It involves a blowhard businessman/incoming chief of state of questionable mental stability and the sexual appetites of a goat; more than a couple of his closest aides (yes, that includes you, Rudy); a powerful and murderous foreign tyrant; espionage; the nation's top law enforcement agency and its director; the nation's intelligence and security services; foreign oligarchs and a broad range of crimes and perversions -for starters.

There is amazing scope for scrutiny. Details warranting investigation abound. Travel. Real estate deals. Financial transactions. Paper trails everywhere. Some of the allegations may never be entirely verifiable but the circumstances underlying them often can.

Here's an example. The dossier on Trump has cast a broad net. Among those caught in it are the Federal Bureau of Investigation and its director, James Comey. The US Justice Department has announced it will investigate Comey's curious behaviour during the election, acts that might appear to be politically motivated.

Among these is the disclosure of criminal investigations into the Democratic candidate's emails just nine days prior to voting day, while many Americans were going to advanced polls to cast their ballots. It beggars belief that would not have a significant impact on American voters, an impact not corrected when Comey sounded the "all clear" several days later.

Word is out that Comey acted due to threats from the New York FBI Field Office, the "Giuliani Brigade", that they would leak the details if he didn't announce them publicly. Rudy Giuliani went on FOX news  and practically cackled to let slip that a bombshell was coming that would turn the tide for Donald Trump. Of course, if Giuliani was either privy to these secrets or instrumental in them, he and several others may be facing felony charges. It would also support the argument that the FBI interfered in the election to throw the White House to Donald Trump.

Was the FBI, as widely suspected in the months prior to the election, in Trump's pocket?

Director Comey is also going to have to explain how he handled the Trump dossier, what he chose to reveal (nothing) and conceal (everything), and why.

Trump has already acknowledged that the Russians hacked the election to help him by damaging Clinton. If it now emerges that the FBI were corrupted to give him another leg up, his legitimacy as president is shaken to the ground.

At this point all Trump has to rely on is his credibility, his integrity. That's pretty scary.

Here's an Idea


Thank Loki I no longer work in a congested downtown core. From what I've heard it's gotten vastly worse since I took my leave. A new struggle has emerged, bicyclist versus motor vehicle - trucks, buses, cabs, cars, the lot.

Municipal governments like Vancouver's have struggled - and failed - to sort out the conflict. Already overtaxed roads are narrowed to accommodate bicycle lanes but still cyclists are being hit, sometimes killed.

They've tried deterring on street parking by commuters by upping the meters, I'm told, as high as $8 an hour. Oooh, that's steep. Yet that doesn't seem to have made cyclists much safer - or happier. Drivers aren't happy either but that probably goes without saying.

Here's an idea.  One of the big differences between cars and bicycles is weight. Motor vehicles weigh lots, bikes weigh little. Why not, then, elevated bicycle lanes running atop downtown sidewalks? A latticework of elevated cycle paths close enough so that cyclists would be able to get within two city blocks of their destination, walking their machines the final distance?

Cyclists could have unimpeded passage, probably with better views and some distance between their noses and offending tailpipes. Motor vehicles wouldn't have to dodge the odd careless cyclist or share their precious roadways. Ne'er the twain would meet.

Credibility

Steve Bell, The Guardian

Donald Trump will match his credibility against Christopher Steele's anytime. That's Trump's problem. He has none.

If there's anything that the last two years have proven, daily, it's that Donald J. Trump is a pathalogical liar. What comes out of his mouth has only the loosest connection with reality, fact, truth.

As German chancellor, Angela Merkel, put it, "It's interesting to see the thought environment he inhabits."

Now we have this other fellow, Christopher Steele, until this week a name unknown to almost all of us. Trump's antagonist. Information damaging to Trump has been credited to a dossier assembled by Mr. Steele who, by the way, has reportedly gone to ground along with his family. It's said that Steele is terrified of retaliation from Putin, a character he knows well. Perhaps he doesn't like his tea with polonium. Anyway, he left the family cat with the neighbour "for a few days" before vanishing.

What do we know of this Christopher Steele? Actually, quite a lot, and, so far, it's all blue ribbon stuff. It emerges that Steele has in abundance the qualities of which Donald Trump is utterly bereft.

Former colleagues of Steele describe him as “very credible” – a sober, cautious and meticulous professional with a formidable record.

One former Foreign Office official who has known Steele for 25 years and considers him a friend said: “The idea his work is fake or a cowboy operation is false, completely untrue. Chris is an experienced and highly regarded professional. He’s not the sort of person who will simply pass on gossip.”

The official added: “If he puts something in a report, he believes there’s sufficient credibility in it for it to be worth considering. Chris is a very straight guy. He could not have survived in the job he was in if he had been prone to flights of fancy or doing things in an ill-considered way.”

That is the way the CIA and the FBI, not to mention the British government, regarded him, too. It’s not hard to see why.

An Oxford graduate, Steele was one of the more eminent Russia specialists for the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6). The Guardian understands he focused on Soviet affairs after joining the agency, and spent two years living in Moscow in the early 1990s.


...

Over a career that spanned more than 20 years Steele performed a series of roles, but always appeared to be drawn back to Russia; he was, sources say, head of MI6’s Russia desk. When the agency was plunged into panic over the poisoning of its agent Alexander Litvinenko in 2006, the then chief, Sir John Scarlett, needed a trusted senior officer to plot a way through the minefield ahead – so he turned to Steele.

It was Steele, sources say, who correctly and quickly realised Litvinenko’s death was a Russian state “hit”.


...

MI6 has been privately warning that Putin, unchallenged by the west, has grown in confidence and, of course, that the Kremlin has targeted Trump. It would be odd if it hadn’t. The consensus among British securocrats is that “Putin is a wolf … and he preys on the weakest sheep.”

What a mess. If Donald Trump really wants to drain the swamp, he should start with the one he's currently standing in, neck deep. Leave the kinky sex stuff out. Forget about it. Deal with the financial allegations, the accusations that Trump and his empire were bought and sold and are now in the pockets of Russian operatives, i.e. Vlad Putin.

We know when this is said to have begun - after Trump's 7th bankruptcy when his traditional sources of financing cut him off. Open the books from that point onward. Who financed his deals? How many of the financiers were Russian or , worse, unknown. Additionally, if Trump properties were used for money laundering, who was buying them at far above market prices? If they're just numbered companies, Trump should explain that too.

Why should Trump open his books? Because there's so much at stake in this. It's his duty to put this behind him, to restore the confidence of the American people in their president. He chose to put his credibility in the toilet and that can have consequences, especially when he's confronted by someone whose veracity and integrity is vouchsafed by so many at such high levels.




Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The FBI, Director Comey, the New York Field Office and, Behind the Curtain, Rudy.



There may be no smoking gun yet but there's smoke, loads of smoke.

We don't know yet whether the PervertGate scandal is even real, or real enough, to leave the Great Orange Bloat mortally wounded but there's plenty of leads suggesting that Trump and others may be implicated in  wrongdoing.

Let's revisit this Giuliani moment of hubris from just before the election.



The Guardian adds this:

The FBI [after it had received the dossier] continued to refuse to comment on the issue, despite reports that it had requested and perhaps acquired a warrant for further investigation from the Foreign intelligence surveillance (Fisa) court. The silence was not altogether surprising. The FBI counter-intelligence division, headquartered in Washington, is extremely secretive, much more so than the New York field office, which had strong links to former prosecutor and mayor Rudy Giuliani, who was by then working for Trump. The threat of leaks from New York about Clinton emails had reportedly pushed Comey into making his October surprise announcement.

Was James Comey, the director of the FBI, pressured by Giuliani or his branch of the FBI, the New York Field Office, into the October scandal fiasco? Was Comey threatened, intimidated?

Somebody has some serious explaining to do.

UPDATE - Today it's been revealed in The New York Times that the US Justice Department has opened an investigation into Comey's curious behaviour during the election.

A Backstory Fitting For a Le Carre Novel


The PervertGate scandal caught pretty much everybody by surprise. Pretty much everybody but not entirely. The Guardian has the backstory of the dossier on Trump and his dealings, how it came to be and how it spilled out in public yesterday.

It's fascinating reading. Oddly enough, it even involves a meeting in Halifax.

Meanwhile Trump is squealing like a snared pig. True or not, it's entertaining to see a guy who built his campaign on smears and innuendo now getting it back up his endo.

Lock him up, lock him up, lock him up!

This Won't Help - Trump - But It May End His Presidency


This won't help Donald Trump's sagging poll numbers. The PervertGate scandal that broke out yesterday contains unsubstantiated allegations of Trump being financially groomed by the Kremlin for years. The dossier claims he's been compromised - morally and financially. The FBI, it seems, is now investigating.

Others, it seems, haven't been as idle as the FBI. The Financial Times dug deep and produced an expose of Trump's links to shady Russian financiers, something that seems to have gone unnoticed prior to the election.


In 2008, Donald Trump Jr. attended a real estate conference, where he stated that , "Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets. We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia."

As it turns out, that may have been an understatement. Human rights lawyer Scott Horton, whose work in the region goes back to defending Andrei Sakharov and other Soviet dissidents, has gone through a series of studies by the Financial Times to show how funds from Russian crime lords bailed Trump out after yet anther bankruptcy. The conclusions are stark.

"Among the powerful facts that DNI [Director of National Intelligence] missed were a series of very deep studies published in the [Financial Times] that examined the structure and history of several major Trump real estate projects from the last decade—the period after his seventh bankruptcy and the cancellation of all his bank lines of credit. ...

"The money to build these projects flowed almost entirely from Russian sources. In other words, after his business crashed, Trump was floated and made to appear to operate a successful business enterprise through the infusion of hundreds in millions of cash from dark Russian sources.

"He was their man."

...

Horton’s analysis comes from piecing together information in three Financial Times “deep reports.” One of these focused on Sergei Millian, the head of the Russian American Chamber of Commerce in the US at the time of Trump Jr.’s “money pouring in from Russia” claim.

Mr Millian insists his Russian American Chamber of Commerce (RACC) has nothing to do with the Russian government. He says it is funded by payments from its commercial members alone.

Most of the board members are obscure entities and nearly half of their telephone numbers went unanswered when called by the Financial Times. An FT reporter found no trace of the Chamber of Commerce at the Wall Street address listed on its website.

Why was RACC’s background filled with so many holes? The Financial Times quotes former Russian MP Konstantin Borovoi in tagging the chamber as a front for intelligence operations that dates back to Soviet times.

“The chamber of commerce institutions are the visible part of the agent network . . . Russia has spent huge amounts of money on this.”

Millian helped arrange for Trump to visit Moscow in 2007, and had other outings with Trump in the states, including a visit to horse races in Miami. Millian claims that he had the right to market Trump properties in Russia.
...

Despite documents and photos showing Trump with Millian, Trump denied their association during the campaign.
Hope Hicks, Mr Trump’s campaign spokeswoman, said Mr Trump had “met and spoke” with Mr Millian only “on one occasion almost a decade ago at a hotel opening”.

The second Financial Times article puts Trump at the middle of a money laundering scheme, in which his real estate deals were used to hide not just an infusion of capital from Russia and former Soviet states, but to launder hundreds of millions looted by oligarchs. All Trump had to do was close his eyes to the source of the money, and suddenly empty apartments were going for top dollar.

Among the dozens of companies the Almaty lawyers say the Khrapunov laundering network used were three called Soho 3310, Soho 3311 and Soho 3203. Each was a limited liability company, meaning their ownership could easily be concealed.

The companies were created in April 2013 in New York. A week later, property records show, they paid a total of $3.1m to buy the apartments that corresponded with their names in the Trump Soho, a 46-storey luxury hotel-condominium completed in 2010 in a chic corner of Manhattan.

Why would Trump’s organization make such a good means of laundering funds? Because real estate has an arbitrary value. Is that apartment worth $1 million? Two million? Why not $3 million for a buyer who really wants it? When the whole transaction is just one LLC with undisclosed ownership paying another LLC with undisclosed ownership, it’s even neater than hiding the money in an offshore account. And while some businesses require due diligence in looking at the source of funds, real estate is a bit more … flexible.

It gets worse, much worse. Read the entire article here. 


The Honeymoon's Over


Not every shotgun wedding leads to a honeymoon.

Even before the PervertGate dossier became public yesterday, Americans were fast losing faith in the Great Orange Bloat.

The Washington Post reports that, as usual, Trump's polling numbers got a bounce after his election win but that started fading prematurely. He's not even inaugurated and the American people are turning against him.

A new poll from Quinnipiac University suggests that Trump has reverted to his pre-election standing, with Americans having major concerns about his temperament and the direction in which his presidency will lead the country. Trump’s continued controversies seem to have put him right back where he was before he won the election.

Quinnipiac is the first high-quality pollster to poll on Trump twice since the election. And while its poll in late November showed his favorable rating rising from 34 percent to 44 percent, that number has dropped back to 37 percent, which is about where it stood for much of the campaign. That’s tied for Trump’s worst favorable rating in a poll since his election. And a majority — 51 percent — now have an unfavorable view of him.

The American public, it seems, tried to like him and they must have tried awfully hard to like him but it didn't take. 

Likewise, the Quinnipiac poll shows a drop in confidence in Trump across the board. Although 59 percent were optimistic about the next four years under Trump in November, today that number is 52 percent. While 41 percent thought he would be a better leader than President Obama, it’s now 34 percent. While 52 percent thought he would help the nation's economy, it’s now 47 percent. While 40 percent thought his policies would help their personal financial situation, it’s now 27 percent. While 53 percent thought he’d take the country in the right direction, it’s now 45 percent.

You get the idea. There are similar drops in views of his honesty (42 percent to 39 percent), his leadership skills (56 percent to 49 percent), his compassion for average Americans (51 percent to 44 percent), his levelheadedness (38 percent to 33 percent) and his ability to unite the country (47 percent to 40 percent).

And then it gets worse. Toward the bottom, Quinnipiac asked respondents whether they thought Trump’s behavior since the election made them feel better or worse about him. Although “better” won out in late November, 36 percent to 14 percent who said they felt worse, that showing has been flipped. Today, 28 percent say they feel worse about Trump since Election Day; just 23 percent feel better.