This Is The Deep State Unraveling…

Authored by Mark Penn, op-ed via The Hill,

Donald Trump’s Rosenstein Dilemma

Damned if you do. Damned if you don’t.

That is the dilemma President Donald Trump faces as he decides whether to fire Rod Rosenstein following revelations that the deputy attorney general allegedly talked about taping the president and rounding up Cabinet officials to invoke the 25th Amendment. 

There were several people present at this meeting in the aftermath of the firing of former FBI Director James Comey. Despite the fact that Rosenstein wrote the key memo trashing Comey for his handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation, he reportedly was angry and uncertain after the president actually did it, using his memo as a justification. 

The prime source for this information appears to be none other than fired FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, who faces investigation by a grand jury and whose memos are being declassified. McCabe appears to be even angrier at the Department of Justice (DOJ) brass who fired and humiliated him just for leaking and lying when he may have far worse on his comrades.

This is the deep state unraveling.

People bristle when I sometimes adopt and use that term: “deep state.” But as an outside observer, watching the unmasking of the actions of one official after another at the FBI, CIA and DOJ, I have come to accept that an unelected group of well-educated, experienced individuals running these departments became inebriated with their own power during the last election campaign and apparently came to believe they were on a mission to stop, defeat or remove President Trump and his associates for crimes they would find or, if necessary, manufacture.

Perhaps Rosenstein was joking when he referenced the 25th Amendment, as another meeting participant reports. But Rosenstein’s statement in response to the news accounts carefully avoids denying having discussed wiring himself or others in some effort to entrap Trump. This cabal is meeting and planning, post-Comey’s firing, despite the fact that Rosenstein himself in his memo to President Trump said Comey was “wrong” and the FBI could not regain lost public trust without a new director who understood his errors. 

It seems Rosenstein also may have believed we needed a new president. Just days into his expanded role and after these conversations, he appointed Robert Mueller as special counsel with a still-secret charter to investigate the Trump campaign and administration; the precipitating act was the very firing he recommended. 

Whether it involved sending missiles to Syria after chemical attacks on civilians, moving the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, or firing Comey, Trump actually has moved ahead and done some of the things that Washington elites complain about but go along with out of some extreme sense of caution and timidness. And those acts are then branded as some kind of lunacy.

Perhaps the true headline item in Bob Woodward’s book, “Fear,” is that Trump was so incensed at the murdering of women and children by Syria’s Bashar Assad that he actually raised the idea of taking out the dictator responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of his own people. Sheer madness? Hardly. President Obama stood idly by as mass murder happened in Syria, and President Clinton’s biggest regret is that he did too little to stop the massacres in Rwanda; he believes 300,000 lives could have been saved had he sent in troops earlier. It’s presidential inaction in the face of madness that has proven most dangerous to the world. Ask the Crimeans. 

I say this not to defend all of the actions of President Trump,  many of which I might disagree with, but to condemn the arrogance of those in the deep state who convinced themselves that they would rescue our country from ourselves. They were on a mission, it turns out, not to save our country but to undo our democracy, and Rosenstein finally has been unmasked as having the attitudes and conflicts we all suspected.

There has been an eerie pattern of events involving Rosenstein. Remember how he became downright testy in front of Congress when asked why he signed the fourth surveillance warrant against Carter Page and whether he even read it. In response to lawful demands for documents as to the origins of the investigation, he responded that he wouldn’t be “extorted” by Congress. And, in another one of his jokes (he appears to have quite a wry sense of humor), he raised turning the tables on Congress by reviewing the emails of members and staff who were there to gather information from the FBI. Just kidding. 

Until now, Rosenstein has escaped real scrutiny despite this series of defiant statements and actions. He managed to make it impossible for the president to step in and remove him, or for Congress to supervise him, claiming he reports to some higher authority that he defines as his commitment to the rule of law. 

And, yet, our laws and our Constitution set up no politically unaccountable officials in the executive or legislative branches of government. It is disappointing to see leaders like Sen. Charles Schumer(D-N.Y.) ignore the actions uncovered here in favor of anything that damages Trump, no matter how egregious the activities of these government officials.

Of course, the president is stuck here. Firing Rosenstein, even if deserved, would be spun like an act of impetuous madness just before the midterms. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who would have the acceptable power to do so, appears unable or unwilling to act in any bold manner. All Trump can do is get out all the documents and call upon the inspector general to fully investigate these reports.

After the midterms, though, he could instruct the attorney general to appoint — or, perhaps, do so directly himself — a second special prosecutor to investigate the actions of the FBI, CIA and DOJ in the Clinton and Trump investigations. Over 70 percent of Americans in the Harvard/CAPS poll believe such a counsel should be appointed now. If Democrats take over Congress, there will be no way without that appointment to continue investigations that have turned up real malfeasance of the sort by these officials. Democrats have other plans for their investigative powers, if they get them.

Whatever you want to call these well-heeled members of the intelligence community and Justice Department, many of whom now have book and speaking contracts, it is clear they all engaged in a conspiracy to bring down this administration on the basis of unverified information, and to turn the most basic acts of presidential power, like the firing of Comey, into obstruction of justice.

The more information that comes out here, the ever more egregious the actions of all of these officials appear in the light of day.

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Norwegian Power Trader Facing Bankruptcy After Massive “Black Swan” Loss

The saga of Einar Aas, the Norwegian trader whose 15-year golden run came to a calamitous end earlier this month when he was caught on the wrong side of a stunning blowout in power-price spreads, has ended, as many anticipated, with the liquidation of Aas’ estate and an expected bankruptcy filing. 

According to Reuters, Nasdaq’s Nordic commodities exchange has reached an agreement with Aas’ attorneys on the sale of Aas’ assets that will allow him to cover a 114 million euro ($134 million) hole in the exchange’s clearing-house buffers that nearly brought trading to a grinding halt.

Nasdaq’s Nordic commodities exchange has reached agreement on the sale of assets belonging to a private trader who defaulted on his commitments last week, it said on Friday.

Einar Aas, a Norwegian derivatives trader who made large bets on the power market, left a 114 million euro ($134 million) hole in Nasdaq’s Nordic clearing house buffers when his funds ran out.

Within just two working days of the default, members of the exchange, and Nasdaq itself, were forced to replenish the funds in order to continue trading.

[…]

Funds recovered via the process will be distributed to default fund participants on a pro rata basis, it added.

“Nasdaq would support liquidation of the assets in a swift and timely manner consistent with realization of maximum value for members and will liaise with members in relation to this matter,” the exchange said.

Aas’ lawyers added that the estate sale would likely lead to their clients’ personal bankruptcy (he has already paid out all of his liquid assets). To put his personal losses in context, just two years ago, Aas was Norway’s biggest taxpayer.

While Aas had run out of cash, he still owns real estate and other assets that could be sold.

“Nasdaq would like to inform our members and clients that Mr. Aas and his lawyers have agreed to submit to a consensual arrangement with creditors to liquidate Mr Aas’s estate,” Nasdaq Clearing Commodities said in a statement on Friday.

For readers who haven’t been following one of the most stunning cautionary tales about the failure of risk oversight and its consequences, Aas – a legendary power trader with a seat on the Nasdaq Nordic commodities exchange – wracked up a staggering loss that when the spread between German and Norwegian power prices widened by 17 times during a single trading day, an incident that Nasdaq has described as a “a true black swan event.”

The blowout was triggered by an extremely unlikely confluence of factors: A jump in the price of European carbon allowances, which caused German power prices to soar, and forecasts for unusually heavy rains in the hydropower-reliant Nordic region, which caused Nordic power prices to drop.

Prices

Nordic

At the time, Aas had a huge open position betting that the spread would narrow. So when it widened by such an extreme degree, Aas was forced to surrender all of his liquid assets to cover his margin. But it wasn’t enough, and the exchange was forced to liquidate his position at a massive discount in what is typically an unusually illiquid market (European power markets, once rife with hedge funds and other traders, have seen trading activity plunge over the past two decades as volatility stabilized, eliminating the incentive for speculation).

When the dust had cleared, other exchange members were forced to contribute back-up capital to cover the loss, narrowly averting what could have been a catastrophic collapse.

“Nasdaq has dropped the ball on this one,” said Stephen Connelly, an associate professor in law at University of Warwick and a former financial litigator in London. “It’s really surprising in this day and age.

For its part, Nasdaq said it has implemented safeguards to ensure (to the best of its ability) that one monstrously sour trade won’t drive the exchange to the brink of insolvency. It’s increasing its margin requirements and hiring consulting firm Oliver Wyman.

Regulators in Sweden, where Nasdaq Nordic is based, say they are planning to investigate how Nasdaq allowed such a massive failure of oversight.

“This is a question that Nasdaq Clearing has to answer,” said Daniel Gedeon, director of financial markets infrastructure supervision at the Swedish Financial Supervisory Authority. “As a supervisor we are investigating the situation thoroughly.”

But perhaps the biggest irony here is the fact that Aas could have avoided responsibility for such staggering risk if he had only bothered to register his own trading firm – a relatively simple process, according to Aas’ old boss.

“When you operate on this scale and with this liquidity risk, I’m a bit surprised he hasn’t done anything about that,” Eckhardt said. “It would have taken him a day to register the company and maybe a week to transfer contracts.”

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UK Begged Trump Not To Declassify Russia Docs; Cited “Grave Concerns” Over Steele Involvement

The British government “expressed grave concerns” to the US government over the declassification and release of material related to the Trump-Russia investigation, according to the New York Times. President Trump ordered a wide swath of materials “immediately” declassified “without redaction” on Monday, only to change his mind later in the week by allowing the DOJ Inspector General to review the materials first. 

The Times reports that the UK’s concern was over material which “includes direct references to conversations between American law enforcement officials and Christopher Steele,” the former MI6 agent who compiled the infamous “Steele Dossier.” The UK’s objection, according to former US and British officials, was over revealing Steele’s identity in an official document, “regardless of whether he had been named in press reports.” 

We would note, however, that Steele’s name was contained within the Nunes Memo the House Intelligence Committee’s majority opinion in the Trump-Russia case.

Steele also had extensive contacts with DOJ official Bruce Ohr and his wife Nellie, who – along with Steele – was paid by opposition research firm Fusion GPS in the anti-Trump campaign. Trump called for the declassification of FBI notes of interviews with Ohr, which would ostensibly reveal more about his relationship with Steele. Ohr was demoted twice within the Department of Justice for lying about his contacts with Fusion GPS. 

Perhaps the Brits are also concerned since much of the espionage performed on the Trump campaign was conducted on UK soil throughout 2016. Recall that Trump aid George Papadopoulos was lured to London in March, 2016, where Maltese professor Joseph Mifsud fed him the rumor that Russia had dirt on Hillary Clinton. It was later at a London bar that Papadopoulos would drunkenly pass the rumor to Australian diplomat Alexander Downer (who Strzok flew to London to meet with). 

Also recall that CIA/FBI “informant” (spy) Stefan Halper met with both Carter Page and Papadopoulos in London. 

Halper, a veteran of four Republican administrations, reached out to Trump aide George Papadopoulos in September 2016 with an offer to fly to London to write an academic paper on energy exploration in the Mediterranean Sea.

Papadopoulos accepted a flight to London and a $3,000 honorarium. He claims that during a meeting in London, Halper asked him whether he knew anything about Russian hacking of Democrats’ emails.

Papadopoulos had other contacts on British soil that he now believes were part of a government-sanctioned surveillance operation. –Daily Caller

In total, Halper received over $1 million from the Obama Pentagon for “research,” over $400,000 of which was granted before and during the 2016 election season. 

In short, it’s understandable that the UK would prefer to hide their involvement in the “witch hunt” of Donald Trump since much of the counterintelligence investigation was conducted on UK soil. And if the Brits had knowledge of the operation, it will bolster claims that they meddled in the 2016 US election by assisting what appears to have been a set-up from the start.

Steele’s ham-handed dossier is a mere embarrassment, as virtually none of the claims asserted by the former MI6 agent have been proven true. 

Steele, a former MI6 agent, is the author of the infamous and unverified anti-Trump dossier. He worked as a confidential human source for the FBI for years before the relationship was severed just before the election because of Steele’s unauthorized contacts with the press.

He shared results of his investigation into Trump’s links to Russia with the FBI beginning in early July 2016.

The FBI relied heavily on the unverified Steele dossier to fill out applications for four FISA warrants against Page. Page has denied the dossier’s claims, which include that he was the Trump campaign’s back channel to the Kremlin. –Daily Caller

That said, Steele hasn’t worked for the British government since 2009, so for their excuse focusing on the former MI6 agent while ignoring the multitude of events which occurred on UK soil, is curious. 

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Roberts: “We Are Near The Point Where Rates Will Matter”

Authored by Lance Roberts via RealInvestmentAdvice.com,

Bulls Push To All-Time Highs

Get out your party hats ladies and gentlemen, the markets hit all-time highs this past week.

After increasing equity exposure in portfolios on the 11th, as the markets pulled back to the previous break-out support levels, I suggested a push to new highs was likely.

“The pullback to the previous breakout support level did allow us to add further exposure to our portfolios as we said we would do last week. 

(If you want to see our portfolios they are now online at RIAPRO.net.)

Next week, the market will likely try and test recent highs as bullish momentum and optimism remain high. Also, with many hedge funds lagging in performance this year, there is likely going to be a scramble to create some returns by year end. This should give some support to the rally over the next couple of months. However, as shown above, the short-term oversold condition which fueled last week’s rally has been exhausted, so it could be a bumpy ride higher.

The breakout above the January highs now puts 3000 squarely into focus for traders.”

As shown, the breakout continues to follow Pathway #2a as we laid out almost 6-weeks ago. (Next week, I will update the pathways for the rest of this year.)

While the recent rally has been useful in getting capital successfully allocated, we are still maintaining prudent management processes.

  • Stop-loss levels have been moved up to recent lows.

  • We added defensive positions to our Equity and Equity-ETF portfolios.

  • With yields back to 3% on the 10-year Treasury, we are looking to add additional exposure to our bond holdings.

As I noted previously, we continue to use dips in bond prices to be buyers. This is because the biggest gains over the next 5-years will come from Treasury bonds versus stocks.

This is primarily due to the analysis, I penned yesterday on interest rates:

While the market has been rising on stronger rates of earnings growth, due primarily to tax cuts and share buybacks, that effect will begin to roll off in the months ahead. Tariffs and higher interest costs are a direct threat to bottom line profitability, particularly when combined with higher labor costs.”

“There are several important points to note in the chart above:

  1. In the past 40-years, there have only been seven (7) other occasions where rates were this overbought. In each case, it was a great time to buy bonds and sell stocks. (When rates got oversold, it was time sell bonds and buy stocks.)

  2. There were only two (2) other periods where rates were this extended above their long-term moving averages. The one that occurred between 1980-1982 began the long-term decline in bond prices. 

  3. Economic growth has peaked every time rates got this extended. (Which shouldn’t be a surprise.)

  4. Whenever rates have previously pushed 2-standard deviations of their 2-year moving average – bad things have tended to occur such as the Crash of 1974, Crash of 1987, Long-Term Capital Management, Russian Debt Default, Asian Contagion, Dot.com crash, and the Financial Crisis.”

While the markets are currently ignoring the risk of higher rates, even a cursory glance at the chart above suggests that we are near the point where “rates will matter.”

Remember, credit is the “lifeblood” of the economy and with consumer credit now at record levels, and 80% of Americans vastly undersaved, think about all the ways that higher rates impact economic activity in the economy:

1) Rising interest rates raise the debt servicing requirements which reduces future spending and productive investment.

2) Rising interest rates will immediately slow the housing market taking that small contribution to the economy away. People buy payments, not houses, and rising rates mean higher payments.

3) An increase in interest rates means higher borrowing costs which leads to lower profit margins for corporations. 

4) The “stocks are cheap based on low interest rates” argument is being removed.

5) The massive derivatives and credit markets are at risk. Much of the recovery to date has been based on suppressing interest rates to spur growth.

6) As rates increase so does the variable rate interest payments on credit cards. 

7) Rising defaults on debt service will negatively impact banks.

8) Many corporate share buyback plans and dividend issuances have been done through the use of cheap debt, which has led to increases corporate balance sheet leverage.

9) Corporate capital expenditures are dependent on borrowing costs. Higher borrowing costs lead to lower CapEx.

10) The deficit/GDP ratio will begin to soar as borrowing costs rise sharply. The many forecasts for lower future deficits will crumble as new forecasts begin to propel higher.

I could go on, but you get the idea.

The issue is not if, but when, the Fed hikes rates to the point that something “breaks.”

However, between now and then, the markets will likely continue to try and push higher as investor confidence continues to swell, pushing investors to take on ever increasing levels of risk, particularly as it appears as if the economy is firing on all cylinders.

But is it really?

Economic Growth Likely Fleeting

Economic data has certainly surprised to the upside in the U.S. as of late with unemployment numbers hitting lows, manufacturing measures coming in “hot,” and consumer confidence at record highs. As I discussed just recently, the RIA EOCI (Economic Output Composite Index) is near its highest level on record.

(The index is comprised of the CFNAI, ISM Composite, several Fed regional surveys, Chicago PMI, Markit Composite, PMI Composite, Economic Composite, NFIB Survey, and the LEI.)

But is this recent surge part of a broader, stronger, and sustainable economic recovery?

If you notice in the chart above, these late-stage surges in economic growth are not uncommon just prior to the onset of a recession. This is due to the cycle of confidence which tends to peak at the end of cycles, rather than the beginning. (In other words, when everything is as good as it can get, that is the point everyone goes “all in.”)

However, the most recent surge in the economic data has been the collision of tax cuts, a massive surge in deficit spending, the impact of the rebuilding following several natural disasters late last year, and most importantly, the rush by manufacturers to stock up on Chinese goods ahead of the imposition of tariffs. To wit:

By plane, train, and sea, a frenzy has begun, resulting in surging cargo traffic at US ports, booming air freight to the US, and urgent dispatch of goods from Chinese companies earlier than planned. Getting in under the wire before Trump’s tariffs bite could mean hundreds of thousands saved on single shipments.

Bloomberg describes this week that cargo rates for Pacific transport are at a four-year high as manufacturers rush to get everything from toys to car parts to bikes into American stores.

This rush, which comes on top of a typically already busy pre-holiday season, is expected to continue well after next week as the tariff will leap from 10 to 25 percent after the new year

US importers are expected to stockpile Chinese products before the 2019 25% mark. There’s currently widespread reports of companies scrambling to pay expedited air freight fees to dodge the new tariffs, as well as move up their orders. “

This is an important point. Not only has this been the case just recently, but since the beginning of this year when the White House began this nonsensical “trade war.”

“Of course, the most likely outcome will be a return to trade at about the same level as it was just prior to the initiation of “trade wars.” However, it will be a “return to normal,” rather than an actual improvement, but it will give the White House a “win” for solving a problem it created. “

However, this is really a tale of “two economies” as the surge in the economic data is almost solely coming from the manufacturing side of the equation. As shown, the “service” side, which is more immune to the effects of tariffs, has been declining over the past several months.

Of course, while so-called “conservative Republicans” are breaking their arms to pat themselves on the back for “getting the economy going again,” the reality is they have likely doomed the economy to another decade of sluggish growth once the short-term burst from massive deficit spending subsides. The unbridled surge in debt and deficits is set to get materially worse in the months ahead as real revenue growth is slowing.

All of this underscores the single biggest risk to your investment portfolio.

In extremely long bull market cycles, investors become “willfully blind,” to the underlying inherent risks. Or rather, it is the “hubris” of investors they are now “smarter than the market.” However, there is a growing list of ambiguities which are going unrecognized may market participants:

  • Growing divergences between the U.S. and abroad

  • Peak autos, peak housing, peak GDP.

  • Political instability and a crucial midterm election.

  • The failure of fiscal policy to ‘trickle down.’

  • An important pivot towards restraint in global monetary policy.

  • An unprecedented lack of coordination between super-powers.

  • Short-term note yields now eclipse the S&P dividend yield.

  • A record levels of private and public debt.

  •  Near $3 trillion of covenant light and/or sub-prime corporate debt. (eerily reminiscent of the size of the subprime mortgages outstanding in 2007)

  • Narrowing leadership in the market.

Yes, At the moment, there certainly seems to be no need to worry.

The more the market rises, the more reinforced the belief “this time is different” becomes.

But therein lies the single biggest risk to the Fed and your portfolio.

“Bull markets” don’t die of pessimism – they die from excess optimism.

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OPEC, Russia Defy Trump Demand To Boost Oil Production

Less than three months after Trump’s latest tweet slamming OPEC, in which he warned the petroleum cartel that it must “REDUCE PRICING NOW!”, Trump was at it again and on Thursday morning, with Brent hitting $80 per barrel and higher gasoline prices creating another headache for Republicans ahead of the midterm elections, the president lashed out at OPEC, saying that the US protects the countries of the Middle East, and warning these nations that “they would not be safe for very long without us, and yet they continue to push for higher and higher oil prices! We will remember.

Trump’s latest threat, however, was summarily ignored on Sunday when OPEC leader Saudi Arabia and its biggest non-OPEC oil-producer ally, Russia, ruled out additional increase in crude output, defying Trump’s calls for action to cool the market.

“I do not influence prices,” said the Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih during a press conference in Algiers for a meeting that ended with no formal recommendation for any additional supply boost, Reuters reports.

In recent weeks, oil prices have moved back to 4 year highs, a rally that according to analysts has been mostly due to a perceived decline in oil exports from Iran due to fresh U.S. sanctions, stemming from Trump’s decision to pull out of the Iran Nuclear deal. As a result, as much as 1.5 million barrels of output are in danger of being taken off the market.

And while Falih said Saudi Arabia had spare capacity to increase oil output, he said that no such move was needed at the moment. Instead, Falih blamed refiners for not converting enough product: “My information is that the markets are adequately supplied. I don’t know of any refiner in the world who is looking for oil and is not able to get it” he said.

Still, indicating that Saudi Arabia was quite ready to steal even more market share from Iran, Falih said that Saudi Arabia was ready to increase supply if Iran’s output fell: “Whatever takes place between now and the end of the year in terms of supply changes will be addressed.”

Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak echoed the comments, saying that no immediate output increase was necessary, although he believed a trade war between China and the United States as well as U.S. sanctions on Iran were creating new challenges for oil markets.

Separately, Oman’s Oil Minister Mohammed bin Hamad Al-Rumhy and Kuwaiti counterpart Bakhit al-Rashidi told reporters that producers had agreed they needed to focus on reaching 100% compliance with production cuts agreed in June, which means offsetting and compensating for falling Iranian production. However, Al-Rumhy said the exact mechanism for doing so had not been discussed.

Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh also chimed in and said that Trump’s tweet “was the biggest insult to Washington’s allies in the Middle East.” Iran, understandably, is furious at Trump because without the latest round of sanctions against Tehran oil prices would be sharply lower. After agreeing to boost output by 1 million bpd in June to offset declining Iranian production – a move that Tehran sees as OPEC butting in and taking its market share – in August, OPEC and non-OPEC nations cut production by 600,000 bpd more than their pact required, mainly as a result of falling output in Iran as customers in Europe and Asia reduced purchases ahead of the U.S. sanctions deadline.

As we noted last week, Iran told OPEC its production had been steady in August at 3.8 million bpd, however, according to secondary sources such as researchers and ship-trackers, Iranian output had dropped to 3.58 million bpd.

* * *

Going back to Iran’s arch enemy, Saudi Arabia, its energy minister said returning to 100% compliance was the main objective and should be achieved in the next two-three months, he although refrained from specifying how that could be done. Then again, it was implied: Saudi Arabia is the only oil producer with significant spare capacity.

“We have the consensus that we need to offset reductions and achieve 100 percent compliance, which means we can produce significantly more than we are producing today if there is demand,” Falih said adding that “the biggest issue is not with the producing countries, it’s with the refiners, it’s with the demand. We in Saudi Arabia have not seen demand for any additional barrel that we did not produce.”

If he is right, and demand is indeed has indeed plateaued – largely due to the recent slowdown in China even with the boost resulting from the US fiscal stimulus – it could have more profound consequences for the global economy.

Finally, on Sunday OPEC also decided to change the dates of its next meeting to Dec. 6-7 from the earlier-agreed Dec. 3.The joint OPEC/non-OPEC ministerial monitoring committee will next meet on Nov. 11 in Abu Dhabi.

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Farage Fumes At EU’s Article 7 “Soviet Show Trial” Against Hungary

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban provoked a seething response from his fellow European Union members when he decided to close Hungary’s borders and passed legislation to ban foreign influence peddling funded by billionaire financier George Soros. And earlier this month, the European Parliament voted to trigger Article 7 proceedings against Hungary for “undermining democratic values and the rule of law.” Indeed, because he’s steadfastly refused to accept migrants in according with the policies of unelected bureaucrats in Brussels, Orban has been labeled a tyrant, despite Orban’s Fidesz Party securing a majority in the country’s most recent Parliamentary elections.

Despite the “extreme bullying” to which Orban has been subjected by his European colleagues, he traveled to Brussels earlier this month to face his accusers ahead of the European Parliament vote. After Orban delivered his address to the room, MEP Nigel Farage, who famously helped orchestrate the UK’s vote to leave the EU back in 2016, stepped up to say a few words in Orban’s defense.

“Thank God there’s at least one European leader who is willing to stand up for his principles, his nation, his culture and his people in the face of such extreme bullying.”

Farage argued that the vote conjured memories of Soviet-era show trials, and likened the EU Parliament to a bunch of unelected bureaucrats hypocritically lecturing Orban – whose party holds an outright majority – about democratic principles. Specifically, Farage targeted Frans Timmermans, the unelected Dutch diplomat serving as first Vice President of the European Commission. Timmermans and the rest of the Commission backed the EU Parliament in condemning Hungary for allegedly mistreating migrants and Roma communities, arguing that “democracy and the rule of law cannot exist without the protection of fundamental human rights.”  

“All I can say, and I’m sure for Hungarians of a certain age, today will have brought back many dark memories. You’re here at a show trial where a bunch of political nonentities get up and point the finger and scream enjoying themselves with their afternoon hate, and the chief prosecutor, the commissar that comes from the unelected government, he has the audacity he has the audacity to lecture you on democracy. You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Farage then compared Article 7 to an updated version of the Brezhnev Doctrine – the Cold War-era policy of overweening Soviet influence that led to the USSR’s brutal repression of the Hungarian Spring uprising.

“What is really happening here, Mr. Orban, is they’re just updating the Brezhnev Doctrine of limited sovereignty there’s no point pretending in this union you’re independent there’s no point pretending you’ve run your own country. An Article 7 is the new method of adopting that. They want to strip you of your voting rights. They want to stop giving you European funding and all of it because you have the audacity to stand up to George Soros, the man who was poured $15 billion all over the world in trying to break down the nation-states to get rid of our traditional forms of democracy.”

The authorization of Article 7 proceedings isn’t just an insult to Hungary – it is a direct insult to Orban personally, Farage said. He then suggested that Hungary follow in the UK’s footsteps and abandon the Union entirely.

“Mr. Orban you keep saying you want to stay a member of this European Union but it’s not just your country that’s been insulted today – you’ve been insulted. Come and join the Brexit club – you’ll love it.”

Watch the full speech below:

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Faking The Online Debate On Iran – Inside The MEK

Via Al Jazeera’s ‘The Listening Post’,

How keyboard warriors target journalists, academics and activists who favor dialogue instead of war with Iran…

Last month, Google, Facebook and Twitter announced the shutdown of pages and accounts they say were linked to Iran. While the effectiveness of Iran’s online disinformation networks is far from established, the Islamic Republic has now joined Russia in the popular consciousness as another government using the internet to destabilise its adversaries.

Meanwhile, a widespread campaign of social media manipulation by actors who are opposed to the government in Tehran has had many analysts eyeing Iran’s enemies for clues to who might be behind the project.

“The turning point was really [Donald] Trump’s election,” says journalist and New America fellow Azadeh Moaveni.

“Once it became clear that there would be heightened hostility with Iran, there was a profusion of new accounts, anonymous accounts who were single-mindedly and purposefully going after people who wrote about, talked about Iran with nuance.”

While Twitter did not respond directly to questions about the methodology it used to detect organised manipulation of its platform, lecturer in Middle East history at Exeter University, Marc Owen Jones, shared with us how he uses freely available Twitter metadata to detect the presence of bots.

We would receive daily orders highlighting the main ongoing issues in Iran, for example, high prices, unemployment, poverty… we had to bring them to the attention of the world by tweeting them and blaming them on the Islamic regime in one way or another! This was our duty on a daily basis in cyberspace.”

Most of the accounts identified had only a few dozen or a few hundred followers and used generic profile pictures. The vast majority tweet almost exclusively in opposition to the Islamic Republic with many exhibiting sympathies with an exiled Iranian dissident group, the Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK).

Hassan Shahbaz, former MEK member

“If you want to use bots to be effective you need a lot of accounts, which means you might create a lot of accounts on a specific day or week or month,” explains Jones.

“The majority of the accounts tweeting on the #FreeIran and #Iran_Regime_Change hashtag from late December up to May, were created within about a four-month window. What that would suggest is that a lot of the activity on those hashtags came from bots.”

The MEK was instrumental in Iran’s 1979 revolution but turned to violent attacks on civilian targets after being sidelined by Ayatollah Khomeini. A violent backlash forced the group into Iraqwhere they allied with Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq war.

In 2013, the MEK moved to Albania at the behest of the United States. The group has long lobbied for policies to overthrow Iran’s government.

The MEK declined our request for an interview citing, “terrorist threats of Iranian regime and mobilising the agents of Iranian Ministry of Intelligence under the guise of journalist”.

However, former MEK members still stranded in the Albanian capital, Tirana, having left the group, described how the MEK uses thousands of fake Twitter accounts to both promote their organisation and to boost online calls for regime change.

“Overall I would say that several thousand accounts are managed by about 1,000-1,500 MEK members,” former MEK member, Hassan Heyrani, told The Listening Post.

“It was all very well organised and there were clear instructions about what needed to be done.”

The MEK online unit was especially active during several weeks of protests beginning in December 2017. Members were ordered to emphasise the anti-regime character of the demonstrations.

“Our orders would tell us the hashtags to use in our tweets in order to make them more active,” says Hassan Shahbaz, another former MEK member.

“It was our job to provide coverage of these protests by seeking out, tweeting and re-tweeting videos while adding our own comments.”

MEK keyboard warriors would also target journalists, academics and activists who favor dialogue rather than confrontation with Iran.

“Because of my platform, I have received a significant amount of Twitter attacks of this kind, but I am nowhere near being alone,” Trita Parsi, author of, Losing an Enemy: Obama, Iran, and the Triumph of Diplomacy, said. “This is actually a very pervasive phenomena, the big victim of this is that we don’t have a rational conversation about policy towards Iran.”

Since access to Iran for journalists is restricted, social media can become a proxy for where the debate is going, leaving open the possibility that both state and non-state actors can use platforms like Twitter to create and manipulate trends in ways that suit their agenda.

“It’s not like what happens on social media stays there any more,” Marc Owen Jones said.

“It filters its way into mainstream media. There is so much propaganda, so much fake news that it would take very little to create a wave of what looks like popular Iranian opinion against the government that’s not necessarily real.”

*  *  *

Contributors

Trita Parsi – Author, Losing an Enemy – Obama, Iran and the Triumph of Diplomacy’
Azadeh Moaveni – Fellow, New America
Marc Owen Jones – Lecturer in Middle East History, Exeter University
Hassan Heyrani – Former MEK member
Hassan Shahbaz – Former MEK member

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Florida Lawmakers Deaf to the Needs of Hearing Aid Users: New at Reason

It wouldn’t make much sense to require employees at Best Buy to understand the inner workings of vacuum tubes. Or to mandate that Apple Store staffers be fluent in the ancient language of telephone switchboards. Yet Florida says “hearing aid specialists” must pass multiple tests and be certified to conduct a full audiological exam, essentially quizzing them on skills and tech dating back to the 1950s, writes Eric Boehm.

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Pompeo Vows “Series Of Actions” Against Venezuela’s Maduro “In The Coming Days”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued an incredible statement to Fox News on Friday, vowing to take “series of actions” in “the coming days” against Nicolas Maduro’s government in Venezuela.

The threat was couched in terms of being in the “best interest” of Venezuelans, and though Pompeo didn’t specify details, he said the US is “determined to ensure that the Venezuelan people get their say.”

“I think you’ll see in the coming days a series of actions that continue to increase the pressure level against the Venezuelan leadership folks who are working directly against the best interest of the Venezuelan people,” Pompeo told Fox.

Image via Reuters

It is the broad nature of the threat that makes it unusual, but particularly the timing and context, as it follows the early August failed assassination attempt on Maduro which interrupted a live television broadcast from Caracas. Maduro had been speaking at a military parade when two explosive-laden drones said to be flying in the direct of the podium exploded in the area. 

In the aftermath the Venezuelan socialist leader blamed the United States and allied right-wing groups for being behind the attack, in a speech describing“They tried to assassinate me today,” while blaming the attack on right-wing factions specifically connected to Columbia and Florida.

He claimed at the time that “several of those intellectually responsible and the financiers of this attack live in the United States, in the state of Florida,” and called on U.S. President Donald Trump to “fight these terrorist groups”.

The live broadcast on state television showing the assassination attempt:

Washington has steadily increased sanctions on Venezuela over the past number of months after Trump administration officials have accused the Maduro government of stamping out democracy and jailing opposition leaders. Maduro for his part has blamed the country’s ills, specifically the collapsed economy and now worthless currency, on Washington plotting and subversion. 

Under Maduro the country is now beset by annual inflation running at 200,000 percent, resulting in basic stables and medicines disappearing from store shelves, resulting in a significant uptick in emigration for people with means. 

But lately a series of statement and stories in the media have served to fuel and confirm his suspicions that the US is planning covert regime change. Certainly Pompeo’s latest comments will add to Maduro’s fears that more major “plotting” is afoot.

Early this month the The New York Times revealed in an explosive story that the Trump White House held covert meetings with Venezuelan military coup plotters seeking to topple the Maduro government. The US had set up a “clandestine channel” which involved contacts with what were described as “rebellious officers” bent on bringing about regime change with the help of Washington.

The NYT report detailed several secret meetings between the Trump administration and military officers to talk about potential coup plans, but according to Times sources “the coup plans stalled”. The meetings were spearheaded by someone simply described as a “career diplomat”.

Pompeo’s Friday warning, which likely hints at more economic warfare and sanctions to be leveled against Venezuela, comes ahead of the annual U.N. General Assembly in New York next week. Maduro has not attended UN meetings since 2015 out of fear that he could be assassinated.

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