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Quantitative Easing for Whom?

Why the European Central Bank’s Trillion Euro Plan will Only Help Keep the Banks Afloat

By MICHAEL HUDSON and SHARMINI PERIES | CounterPunch | March 13, 2015

SHARMINI PERIES: In an effort to relieve some pressure on the struggling European economies, Mario Draghi, president of the European Central Bank, announced a 1 trillion euro quantitative easing package on Monday. Quantitative easing is an unconventional form of monetary policy where a central bank creates new money electronically to buy financial assets like government bonds. And this process aims to directly increase private-sector spending in the economy and return inflation to target.

Well, what does that mean and what might be wrong with it is our next topic with Michael Hudson. Michael Hudson is a distinguished research professor of economics at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. His two newest books are The Bubble and Beyond and Finance Capitalism and Its Discontents. His upcoming book is titled Killing the Host: How Financial Parasites and Debt Bondage Destroy the Global Economy.

Michael, the Fed and some economists will argue that this is what got the U.S. out of its 2008 financial crisis. In fact, they put several QE measures into place. So what’s wrong with quantitative easing? 

MICHAEL HUDSON: Well, the cover story is that it’s supposed to help employment. The pretense is an old model that used to be taught in textbooks a hundred years ago: that banks lend money to companies to invest and build equipment and hire people.

But that’s not what banks do. Banks lend money mainly to transfer ownership of real estate. They also lend money to corporate raiders. They lend money to buy assets. But they don’t lend money for companies to invest in equipment and hire more workers. Just the opposite. When they lend money to corporate raiders to take over companies, the new buyers outsource labor, downsize the work force, and try to squeeze out more work. They also try to grab the pensions.

The Fed was pretty open in what quantitative easing is supposed to do since 2008. It’s supposed to lower the interest rates, which raises bond prices and inflates the stock market. Since 2008 they’ve had the largest monetary inflation history – $4 trillion of quantitative easing by the Fed. But it’s gone via the banks into the stock and bond market.

What has this done for the economy as a whole? For starters, it’s obviously helped stock and bond holders get richer. And who are they? They’re the 1 percent and the 10 percent.

People are wringing their hands and saying, why isn’t the economy getting richer? Why is it that since 2008, economic inequality and the distribution of wealth have worsened instead of gotten closer together? Well, it’s largely because of quantitative easing. It’s because quantitative easing has increased the value of the stocks and the bonds that are held mainly by the 1 percent or the 10 percent hold. This hasn’t helped the economy because the Fed is really concerned with its constituency, which are the banks.

Quantitative easing hasn’t helped one class of investors in particular: pension funds. It’s done just the opposite. Pension funds made the assumption a few years ago that in order to break even with the rate of contributions that corporations, states and municipalities are paying, they have to make eight percent or eight and a half percent a year as a rate of return. But quantitative easing lowers the interest rate.

Today’s lower interest rates have made pension funds desperate. The risk-free rate of return is less than 1 percent on short-term Treasury bills. If you buy longer-term treasuries you can make 2 percent, but then if the interest rates ever go up, you’re going to take a loss as the bond price declines. So pension funds have said, “We’re desperate; what are we going to do?”

They’ve turned their money over to Wall Street money managers and hedge funds. The hedge funds take a huge rake off of fees to begin with. But even worse, when hedge funds and the big banks – Goldman Sachs, Citibank – see a pension fund manager coming through the door, they think, “How can I take what’s in his pocket and put it in mine?” So they rip them off. That is why there are so many big lawsuits against Wall Street for mismanaging pension fund money.

To summarize, the effect of the quantitative easing has been to make pension funds desperate, and to support real estate prices, as if higher costs to obtain housing will help recovery. It doesn’t help recovery, because to the extent that quantitative easing supports a re-inflation of housing prices, new homeowners have to pay even more of their income to the banks as mortgage interest. That means they have less money to pay for goods and services, so markets for goods and services continue to shrink.

What the quantitative easing has not been used for is what was promised in 2008. Before President Obama won the election and took office, Congress said that the TARP bailout and TALF were supposed to go for debt reduction. Some was to write down mortgages, so that people could afford to stay in their homes rather than the millions of home owners that have been foreclosed on and thrown out. But even before Obama came into office, Hank Paulson, the Secretary of the Treasury, told Democrats in Congress, yes, we’re willing to write down debts. But as Barney Frank explained in exasperation, Obama said no, he’s not going to do that. Obama ended up supporting the banks. So almost none of the TARP bailout money has been used for debt write-downs.

The same phenomenon is happening in Europe.

PERIES: So, Michael, what’s wrong with what the ECB has announced in terms of a trillion euros worth of quantitative easing for Europe?

HUDSON: They head of the European Central Bank, Mario Draghi, has said that he’ll do whatever it takes to keep banks afloat. He doesn’t say that he’ll do whatever it takes to help economic recovery, or to help labor more. The ECB’s job is to help banks make more money.

Draghi was vice chairman of Goldman Sachs during 2002 to 2005. His view is that of Wall Street. It’s not a vantage point helping labor or helping economies grow. So it’s not surprising that the trillion euros of new money that the eurozone’s central bank is creating hasn’t gone to help Greece, for instance, survive. It hasn’t gone to help Greece, Spain, Italy, or Portugal get out of depression by fueling government spending. It’s simply been given away to the banks to buy bonds and stocks, including buying American stocks and bonds.

Behind this policy is the trickle-down theory that if you can make the financial sector richer, if you can make the one percent and the 10 percent richer, it’s all going to trickle down. This is the view of Paul Krugman, and it’s the view of the advisers that Obama has had. But instead of trickling down, the stock and bond price gains by the 1% and 10% drive a wedge in the economy, by increasing the value of stocks and bonds and real estate and wealth against labor. So quantitative easing is largely behind the fact that the distribution of wealth has become worse rather than better since 2008.

PERIES: One of the things that has happened in Europe that you wrote to me actually in an email was the disappearing central banks’ role in stimulating economies. Why is this an issue?

HUDSON: Central banks originally were designed to monetize government deficits. Governments are supposed to spend money into the economy, because that helps economies grow. But in Europe the Lisbon agreements say governments can’t run a deficit more than 3 percent of national income.

Furthermore, the role of the European Central Bank is not to give a penny to governments. They say that if you give a penny to government, you’ll have hyperinflation like you had in Weimar. So the central bank can only give money to banks – to invest in stocks and bonds. But the ECB won’t buy fresh bonds to finance new government spending. The result of this policy of not funding government deficits is that if the economy is to grow, it has to be entirely dependent on commercial banks for credit.

We had this situation in the United States in the last few years of the Clinton administration when the United States actually ran a budget surplus instead of a deficit. Now, how do you think the United States could grow when there’s a budget surplus sucking money out of the economy?

The answer is that commercial banks and bondholders have to supply the money. But the banks only supplied money in the form of junk mortgages and other forms of an economic bubble, such as takeover loans and a stock market bubble.

The interest of banks is not to help economies grow; it’s to extract interest from the economy. The financial sector uses part of its rising wealth to lobby for privatization sell-offs. The problem with this is that when you privatize a public utility, you give away a monopoly – and if you deregulate the economy, you let the monopoly set up tollbooths over the economy, for toll roads, communications or whatever is being privatized.

The ECB is telling Greece to privatize to raise the money to pay its bondholders, the ECB and IMF. So you have quantitative easing going hand-in-hand with the insistence on privatization. The result is debt deflation as the economy is forced to depend more and more on banks for the money to grow, instead of on government spending into the economy. You’re having the governments not being able to spend on infrastructure, letting it fall apart, as is happening with bridges and tunnels in the United States.

The next step is for the government to say, “I’m sorry, the central bank doesn’t have enough money to help us build new infrastructure. So we’ve got to sell it off to private investors who do have the money.” The next thing you know, you have the economy ending up looking like Chicago. That city sold off its sidewalks and its parking meters to Goldman Sachs and to other Wall Street firms. All of a sudden the prices of parking, driving, and living in Chicago went way, way up instead of lowering the costs as privatization promised.

You have the same phenomenon here that England suffered under Margaret Thatcher: costs for hitherto public services go up. Transportation costs go way up. Road costs go up. Communications, internet costs, telephone costs, everything that is privatized goes way up. Financialization leads to a rent-extractive, almost neo-feudal economy.

In that sense, quantitative easing and the refusal of central banks to fund governments (except to pay bondholders and bail out commercial banks) is a new kind of class war. It’s not the old kind of class war, which was between employers and their workforce over what wages will be. It’s by the financial sector trying to take over the economy, and especially to take over the public sector, to take over the public domain, to take over public utilities and whatever assets a government has. If governments cannot borrow from central banks, they have to begin selling off property.

PERIES: Michael, this is exactly what’s happening in Greece right now. The SYRIZA government is somewhat forced to continue privatization as a part of the agreement of the loans that they have been given by European banks. What could they do in this situation?

HUDSON: This is really a scandal, because most privatizations are corrupt insider dealings. The SYRIZA Party came in and said, wait a minute, the privatizations that have been done are by governmental officials to their own cronies at a giveaway price. How can we balance the budget if we’re giving away the public utilities instead of getting a fair price for them?

The European Central Bank said, no, you have to give away privatization to cronies at pennies on the dollar just like Russia did under Yeltsin, just like the United States did with the railroad giveaways of the 19th century.

Remember, the American privatization to the railroad barons and their financial backers created essentially the ruling class of the 20th century. It created the American stock market. The same thing is happening in Greece. It’s being told to continue the former politicians’ drive to endow a new oligarchy, a new kind of a feudal monopoly lord, by these privatization giveaways. The ECB says that if you don’t do that, we’re going to bankrupt the banking system.

Yanis Varoufakis went back to the party congress in Parliament and asked whether they would approve this. The left wing in Greece has said, no, we won’t approve the giveaways.

The pretense is that privatization is to make money, but the European Central Bank is saying, no, you can’t make money; you have to give it away to our cronies. It’s all one happy financial family. This is escalating financial warfare.

I can assure you that neither Varoufakis nor SYRIZA has any interest in this kind of privatization giveaway. It’s trying to figure out some way of perhaps prosecuting the cronies for bribery, for internal connections, or figuring out some way of legally stopping the rotten policies that they’re told to follow by the European Central Bank – which isn’t giving a single euro to help Greece get over the economic depression that debt deflation has brought on. The euros are only given to the financial sector, basically to help declare war on the Greek government, the Spanish government, the Italian government.

This financial warfare is trying to achieve the same thing that military warfare did in the past. It’s aim is to grab the land, to grab control of the public infrastructure, to grab control of governments themselves. But it’s doing it financially rather than militarily.

PERIES: Right. The SYRIZA Party last week did agree to the conditions of privatization, that they would not roll back on the existing agreements that had been made by previous government. They agreed to not roll back on ones that are underway, and that they’re actually not even averse to privatization as a statement by Yanis Varoufakis. What does all this mean for Greece?

HUDSON: The financial gun was put to their head. If they wouldn’t have said that, there would have been a total breakdown, and the European Central Bank would have tried to bankrupt the Greek banks. So he didn’t have much of a choice. Everything that Varoufakis has written, and all that the political leader of SYRIZA has said, has been exactly the opposite. But they had to give lip service to what they were told to do, and any agreement that’s made has to be ratified by Parliament. So, what they’ve said is, okay, we’re going to play good cop, bad cop. We’ll be the good cops with you, and let Parliament and our left wing be the bad cops and say that we’re not going to stand for this.

March 14, 2015 Posted by | Corruption, Economics | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

9/11, Israel & the Mossad Investigated with Christopher Bollyn

9/11, links to Israel, the mossad, and the crime within a crime is all discussed with Christopher Bollyn in an uncensored discussion with Sean Stone. The disposal of evidence, promotion of a scripted story, and how Ehud Barak and Benjamin Netanyahu are involved, plus the accusation of anti-semitism levelled against those that explore the connection to the Israeli government and intelligence are all explored. Who profited from the operation, false flags, and the mysterious influence of the Saudis and British are demystified in this full length episode of Buzzsaw.

March 14, 2015 Posted by | Deception, False Flag Terrorism, Timeless or most popular, Video | , , | 7 Comments

US Intel Stands Pat on MH-17 Shoot-down

By Robert Parry | Consortium News | March 14, 2015

Despite the high stakes involved in the confrontation between nuclear-armed Russia and the United States over Ukraine, the U.S. intelligence community has not updated its assessment on a critical turning point of the crisis – the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 – since five days after the crash last July 17, according to the office of the Director of National Intelligence.

On Thursday, when I inquired about arranging a possible briefing on where that U.S. intelligence assessment stands, DNI spokesperson Kathleen Butler sent me the same report that was distributed by the DNI on July 22, 2014, which relied heavily on claims being made about the incident on social media.

So, I sent a follow-up e-mail to Butler saying: “are you telling me that U.S. intelligence has not refined its assessment of what happened to MH-17 since July 22, 2014?”

Her response: “Yes. The assessment is the same.”

I then wrote back: “I don’t mean to be difficult but that’s just not credible. U.S. intelligence has surely refined its assessment of this important event since July 22.”

When she didn’t respond, I sent her some more detailed questions describing leaks that I had received about what some U.S. intelligence analysts have since concluded, as well as what the German intelligence agency, the BND, reported to a parliamentary committee last October, according to Der Spiegel.

While there are differences in those analyses about who fired the missile, there appears to be agreement that the Russian government did not supply the ethnic Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine with a sophisticated Buk anti-aircraft missile system that the original DNI report identified as the likely weapon used to destroy the commercial airliner killing all 298 people onboard.

Butler replied to my last e-mail late Friday, saying “As you can imagine, I can’t get into details, but can share that the assessment has IC [Intelligence Community] consensus” – apparently still referring to the July 22 report.

A Lightning Rod

Last July, the MH-17 tragedy quickly became a lightning rod in a storm of anti-Russian propaganda, blaming the deaths personally on Russian President Vladimir Putin and resulting in European and American sanctions against Russia which pushed the crisis in Ukraine to a dangerous new level.

Yet, after getting propaganda mileage out of the tragedy – and after I reported on the growing doubts within the U.S. intelligence community about whether the Russians and the rebels were indeed responsible – the Obama administration went silent.

In other words, after U.S. intelligence analysts had time to review the data from spy satellites and various electronic surveillance, including phone intercepts, the Obama administration didn’t retract its initial rush to judgment – tossing blame on Russia and the rebels – but provided no further elaboration either.

This strange behavior reinforces the suspicion that the U.S. government possesses information that contradicts its initial rush to judgment, but senior officials don’t want to correct the record because to do so would embarrass them and weaken the value of the tragedy as a propaganda club to pound the Russians.

If the later evidence did bolster the Russia-did-it scenario, it’s hard to imagine why the proof would stay secret – especially since U.S. officials have continued to insinuate that the Russians are guilty. For instance, on March 4, Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland fired a new broadside against Russia when she appeared before the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

In her prepared testimony, Nuland slipped in an accusation blaming Russia for the MH-17 disaster, saying: “In eastern Ukraine, Russia and its separatist puppets unleashed unspeakable violence and pillage; MH-17 was shot down.”

It’s true that if one parses Nuland’s testimony, she’s not exactly saying the Russians or the ethnic Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine shot down the plane. There is a semi-colon between the “unspeakable violence and pillage” and the passive verb structure “MH-17 was shot down.” But she clearly meant to implicate the Russians and the rebels.

Nuland’s testimony prompted me to submit a query to the State Department asking if she meant to imply that the U.S. government had developed more definitive evidence that the ethnic Russian rebels shot down the plane and that the Russians shared complicity. I received no answer.

I sent a similar request to the CIA and was referred to the DNI, where spokesperson Butler insisted that there had been no refinement in the U.S. intelligence assessment since last July 22.

But that’s just impossible to believe. Indeed, I’ve been told by a source who was briefed by U.S. intelligence analysts that a great deal of new information has been examined since the days immediately after the crash, but that the problem for U.S. policymakers is that the data led at least some analysts to conclude that the plane was shot down by a rogue element of the Ukrainian military, not by the rebels.

Yet, what has remained unclear to me is whether those analysts were part of a consensus or were dissenters within the U.S. intelligence community. But even if there was just dissent over the conclusions, that might explain why the DNI has not updated the initial sketchy report of July 22.

It is protocol within the intelligence community that when an assessment is released, it should include footnotes indicating areas of dissent. But to do that could undermine the initial certitude that Secretary of State John Kerry displayed on Sunday talks shows just days after the crash.

Pointing Fingers

Though the DNI’s July 22 report, which followed Kerry’s performance, joined him in pointing the blame at the Russians and the ethnic Russian rebels, the report did not claim that the Russians gave the rebels the sophisticated Buk (or SA-11) surface-to-air missile that the report indicated was used to bring down the plane.

The report cited “an increasing amount of heavy weaponry crossing the border from Russia to separatist fighters in Ukraine”; it claimed that Russia “continues to provide training – including on air defense systems to separatist fighters at a facility in southwest Russia”; and its noted the rebels “have demonstrated proficiency with surface-to-air missile systems, downing more than a dozen aircraft in the months prior to the MH17 tragedy, including two large transport aircraft.”

But what the public report didn’t say – which is often more significant than what is said in these white papers – was that the rebels had previously only used short-range shoulder-fired missiles to bring down low-flying military planes, whereas MH-17 was flying at around 33,000 feet, far beyond the range of those weapons.

The assessment also didn’t say that U.S. intelligence, which had been concentrating its attention on eastern Ukraine during those months, detected the delivery of a Buk missile battery from Russia, despite the fact that a battery consists of four 16-foot-long missiles that are hauled around by trucks or other large vehicles.

I was told that the absence of evidence of such a delivery injected the first doubts among U.S. analysts who also couldn’t say for certain that the missile battery that was suspected of firing the fateful missile was manned by rebels. An early glimpse of that doubt was revealed in the DNI briefing for several mainstream news organizations when the July 22 assessment was released.

The Los Angeles Times reported, “U.S. intelligence agencies have so far been unable to determine the nationalities or identities of the crew that launched the missile. U.S. officials said it was possible the SA-11 was launched by a defector from the Ukrainian military who was trained to use similar missile systems.” [See Consortiumnews.com’sThe Mystery of a Ukrainian ‘Defector.’”]

The Russian Case

The Russians also challenged the rush to judgment against them, although the U.S. mainstream media largely ignored – or ridiculed – their presentation. But the Russians at least provided what appeared to be substantive data, including alleged radar readings showing the presence of a Ukrainian jetfighter “gaining height” as it closed to within three to five kilometers of MH-17.

Russian Lt. Gen. Andrey Kartopolov also called on the Ukrainian government to explain the movements of its Buk systems to sites in eastern Ukraine and why Kiev’s Kupol-M19S18 radars, which coordinate the flight of Buk missiles, showed increased activity leading up to the July 17 shoot-down.

The Ukrainian government countered by asserting that it had “evidence that the missile which struck the plane was fired by terrorists, who received arms and specialists from the Russian Federation,” according to Andrey Lysenko, spokesman for Ukraine’s Security Council, using Kiev’s preferred term for the rebels.

Lysenko added: “To disown this tragedy, [Russian officials] are drawing a lot of pictures and maps. We will explore any photos and other plans produced by the Russian side.” But Ukrainian authorities have failed to address the Russian evidence except through broad denials.

On July 29, amid this escalating rhetoric, the Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, a group of mostly retired U.S. intelligence officials, called on President Barack Obama to release what evidence the U.S. government had, including satellite imagery.

“As intelligence professionals we are embarrassed by the unprofessional use of partial intelligence information,” the group wrote. “As Americans, we find ourselves hoping that, if you indeed have more conclusive evidence, you will find a way to make it public without further delay. In charging Russia with being directly or indirectly responsible, Secretary of State John Kerry has been particularly definitive. Not so the evidence.”

But the Obama administration failed to make public any intelligence information that would back up its earlier suppositions.

Then, in early August, I was told that some U.S. intelligence analysts had begun shifting away from the original scenario blaming the rebels and Russia to one focused more on the possibility that extremist elements of the Ukrainian government were responsible, funded by one of Ukraine’s rabidly anti-Russian oligarchs. [See Consortiumnews.com’sFlight 17 Shoot-down Scenario Shifts”and “Was Putin Targeted for Mid-air Assassination?”]

German Claims

In October, Der Spiegel reported that the German intelligence service, the BND, also had concluded that Russia was not the source of the missile battery – that it had been captured from a Ukrainian military base – but the BND still blamed the rebels for firing it. The BND also concluded that photos supplied by the Ukrainian government about the MH-17 tragedy “have been manipulated,” Der Spiegel reported.

And, the BND disputed Russian government claims that a Ukrainian fighter jet had been flying close to MH-17, the magazine said, reporting on the BND’s briefing to a parliamentary committee on Oct. 8. But none of the BND’s evidence was made public — and I was subsequently told by a European official that the evidence was not as conclusive as the magazine article depicted. [See Consortiumnews.com’sGermans Clear Russia in MH-17 Case.”]

When the Dutch Safety Board investigating the crash issued an interim report in mid-October, it answered few questions, beyond confirming that MH-17 apparently was destroyed by “high-velocity objects that penetrated the aircraft from outside.” The 34-page Dutch report was silent on the “dog-not-barking” issue of whether the U.S. government had satellite surveillance that revealed exactly where the supposed ground-to-air missile was launched and who fired it.

In January, when I re-contacted the source who had been briefed by the U.S. analysts, the source said their thinking had not changed, except that they believed the missile may have been less sophisticated than a Buk, possibly an SA-6, and that the attack may have also involved a Ukrainian jetfighter firing on MH-17.

Since then there have been occasional news accounts about witnesses reporting that they did see a Ukrainian fighter plane in the sky and others saying they saw a missile possibly fired from territory then supposedly controlled by the rebels (although the borders of the conflict zone at that time were very fluid and the Ukrainian military was known to have mobile anti-aircraft missile batteries only a few miles away).

But what is perhaps most shocking of all is that – on an issue as potentially dangerous as the current proxy war between nuclear-armed Russia and the United States, a conflict on Russia’s border that has sparked fiery rhetoric on both sides – the office of the DNI, which oversees the most expensive and sophisticated intelligence system in the world, says nothing has been done to refine the U.S. assessment of the MH-17 shoot-down since five days after the tragedy.

~

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).

March 14, 2015 Posted by | Deception, Mainstream Media, Warmongering | , , , | Leave a comment

Ex-spy scurries to cast doubt on CSIS-ISIS link

By Brandon Martinez | Non-Aligned Media | March 14, 2015

Ray Boisvert, a former assistant director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), has been busy trying to deflect blame from his former employer in the developing scandal involving an alleged CSIS asset who helped three British schoolgirls and others join ISIS.

Boisvert’s impetus is to shield CSIS and the Canadian state when their hand is exposed in duplicitous activity at home and abroad. He has frequently appeared as a pundit on mainstream media programs, and unsurprisingly was trotted out by the usual suspects to comment on revelations that a Syrian national who spied for CSIS was acting as a liaison for ISIS, helping Westerners travel through Turkey to join the militant group in Syria.

The former CSIS big-wig told media that:

If [the suspected ISIS liaison Mohammed Mehmet] Rashid worked in some capacity for CSIS, and based on reports his computer contained images of passport and travel documents of several apparent ISIL recruits, it’s conceivable he was actually gathering intelligence for CSIS about those recruits and the methods, logistics and contacts for spiriting them into Syria.

Boisvert implied that,

If [Rashid] was a CSIS asset, he’s likely an observer whose only job is to report what he saw. If Rashid was working for CSIS in some fashion, the spy agency’s current mandate would prevent him or the organization from doing anything to have stopped the three British girls from reaching Syria. Under current Canadian law, CSIS and its assets are only allowed to gather intelligence.

Boisvert’s damage control narrative is ludicrous. He is obviously trying to exonerate CSIS from culpability in this by erroneously suggesting that CSIS’s asset Rashid, who was essentially helping people join ISIS, could not act to stop them from linking up with ISIS in Syria because that is not in CSIS’s mandate. The asset could only ‘observe’ the situation and report back to his handlers. This hogwash is dumbfounding.

Firstly, he is presuming that CSIS always abides by its ‘mandate,’ when there’s no reasons to believe that they do. Secondly, the fact is that the CSIS asset did not just ‘observe’ the ISIS recruits, he directly facilitated their safe travel through Turkey and entry into Syria to link up with ISIS. Without him, many of these recruits would likely not have made it to their destination. He was in effect ensuring that the recruits made it safely into the hands of ISIS. He wasn’t sitting by a window with binoculars observing from afar or listening in to phone calls, he was directly participating in the recruiting process, facilitating that process every step of the way.

This means that CSIS, which represents the Canadian government, is aiding and abetting ISIS – an extremely damaging revelation for the Western ‘coalition’ who maintain the bogus pre tense that they are presently ‘at war’ with the radical group.

Copyright 2015 Non-Aligned Media

March 14, 2015 Posted by | Deception | , , | Leave a comment

Why ban nuclear weapons? Ask the French president

By John Loretz | International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War | March 13, 2015

francois-hollandePresident François Hollande of France has explained to the world why nuclear weapons must be banned and eliminated. Not intentionally, of course. Not because he made the fallacious argument that nuclear weapons make France more secure in a dangerous world (although he did); not because he lumped every conceivable and inconceivable threat to France into a confusing hash and came up with nuclear weapons as the final answer to every one (although he did that, too); and not because be shamelessly contradicted himself on the fundamental point that France is a champion of nuclear disarmament but finds its own “nuclear deterrent” indispensible (all the nuclear-armed States suffer from that particular mental health problem, as Sue Wareham has diagnosed it elsewhere on this blog).

In fact, his speech on February 19 to the French military and political elite at Istres Air Force Base was more frightening than that. I don’t want to twist his words, so here’s exactly what President Hollande said, taken from the English translation of the speech released by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs:

“Our nuclear forces must be capable of inflicting absolutely unacceptable damages for the adversary, upon its centres of power, its political, economic and military nerve centres.” And since “the Head of State is the first citizen in France to speak and decide,” it’s up to President Hollande (or one of his successors) to decide if and when nuclear weapons will be used to “preserve the life of our nation.”

Never mind that this is delusional Cold-War thinking at its worst, since any use of nuclear weapons by France would almost certainly result in the use of nuclear weapons against France, rendering the “integrity of [it’s] territory” somewhat tentative. Never mind that the entire concept of nuclear deterrence—“to prevent any threat of blackmail by another state”—is itself the most extreme threat of blackmail. Never mind that every word of this speech ignores the evidence about the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons presented at three international conferences over the past two years and is an arrogant attempt to rescue nuclear weapons from stigmatization.

No, what makes the French president’s tribute to “the credibility of our deterrence force” truly terrifying is that he has claimed the right to use nuclear weapons, more or less on his own say so, in order to make sure no one messes with France’s (or, I kid you not, Sony’s) “vital interests.” Apparently no price, not even the end the world (which would be a bit inconvenient for French citizens in a permanent season of nuclear winter), is too high to pay for “independence, freedom, and the ability to ensure our values prevail.” Which begs the question, what values are those, exactly, that prepare one to inflict “absolutely unacceptable damages” on millions upon millions of people?

Perhaps the rest of us lack President Hollande’s poetic vision. “France has, with its partners,” he said, “built a community of destiny,” with nuclear weapons as the ultimate expression of “heartfelt solidarity.” In a way, he’s right. But how many of you care to join him in that destiny?

March 14, 2015 Posted by | Militarism, Timeless or most popular, War Crimes | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Bad News for Trenberth’s Missing Heat – New Study Finds the Deep Oceans Cooled from 1992 to 2011 and…

… that some of the warming nearer to the surface came from the deep ocean

By Bob Tisdale | Watts Up With That? | March 14, 2015

The paper is Liang et al. (2015) Vertical Redistribution of Oceanic Heat Content.  The abstract reads (my emphasis):

Estimated values of recent oceanic heat uptake are of order of a few tenths of a W/m2, and are a very small residual of air-sea exchanges with annual average regional magnitudes of hundreds of W/m2. Using a dynamically consistent state estimate, the redistribution of heat within the ocean is calculated over a 20-year period. The 20-year mean vertical heat flux shows strong variations in both the lateral and vertical directions, consistent with the ocean being a dynamically active and spatially complex heat exchanger. Between mixing and advection, the two processes determining the vertical heat transport in the deep ocean, advection plays a more important role in setting the spatial patterns of vertical heat exchange and its temporal variations. The global integral of vertical heat flux shows an upward heat transport in the deep ocean, suggesting a cooling trend in the deep ocean. These results support an inference that the near-surface thermal properties of the ocean are a consequence, at least in part, of internal redistributions of heat, some of which must reflect water that has undergone long trajectories since last exposure to the atmosphere. The small residual heat exchange with the atmosphere today is unlikely to represent the interaction with an ocean that was in thermal equilibrium at the start of global warming. An analogy is drawn with carbon-14 “reservoir ages” which range over hundreds to a thousand years.

A preprint edition of the paper is here. The paper is full of memorable quotes, including (my emphasis):

An upward heat transport in the deep ocean may appear to be in conflict with the widespread idea that a large portion of the extra heat added to the Earth system in the past decades should be transported into the deep ocean (e.g. Fig. 1 in Stocker et al. 2013). That inference is based on the assumption that the ocean was in equilibrium with the atmosphere before any extra heat entered. When interpreting measurements of the ocean heat content, it is often assumed that the disturbances arise only from the recent past. However, as emphasized by Wunsch and Heimbach (2014) and the present analysis, the long integration times in the ocean circulation imply an observed response involving the time history of the circulation over hundreds of years, at least.

And contrary to climate models:

Furthermore the ocean, far from being a passive reservoir filled and emptied by the atmosphere, is a dynamically active, turbulent element of a coupled system.

And keeping in mind that Balmaseda et al. (2013) was one of the papers that claimed to have found part, but not all, of Trenberth’s “missing heat”:

Global average cooling in the deep ocean conflicts with some previous ocean heat content estimates (e.g. Balmaseda et al. 2013), but is consistent with the long thermal memory of the ocean, and with other recent studies (e.g. Durack et al. 2014; Llovel et al. 2014).

For more on Balmaseda et al. (2013) and Trenberth’s “missing heat”, see:

[My thanks to Judith Curry, who included a link to Liang et al. (2015) in her recent Week In Review dated March 13, 2015.]

March 14, 2015 Posted by | Science and Pseudo-Science, Timeless or most popular | | 1 Comment

Confidence in Congress, Supreme Court, Organized Religion, Press and TV Drop to Record Lows

By Noel Brinkerhoff | AllGov | March 14, 2015

Americans are having a tough time these days feeling really good about many of the country’s institutions.

Let’s start with Congress. A mere 5% of Americans say they have a great deal of confidence in the legislative branch of government, according to General Social Survey conducted by the Associated Press and the NORC Center for Public Affairs Research at the University of Chicago. More than half of respondents said they have hardly any confidence at all in Congress, and 40% only have some confidence in it.

The Supreme Court, according to the survey, reached a new all-time low with only 23% having a great deal of confidence. Twenty percent have hardly any confidence in the high court, and 54% have some confidence in it.

Things aren’t much better for the executive branch. Only 11% of adults expressed a great deal of confidence in it, only one point above the low of 10% back in 1996. A record-high 44% said they have hardly any confidence at all in the executive branch.

Outside of government, things are kind of dreary as well. Only 19% of Americans told the survey they have a great deal of confidence in organized religion, which matched an all-time low set in 2002.

People aren’t feeling it for the media or television, either. Seven percent expressed a great deal of confidence in the press, while 44% said they have hardly any confidence in it. When it comes to television, only 10% have a great deal of confidence, and 41% say they have hardly any confidence.

To Learn More:

Confidence in Institutions: Trends in Americans’ Attitudes toward Government, Media, and Business (Associated Press -NORC Center for Public Affairs Research)

Gallup Poll Finds Confidence in Congress Lowest of Any Institution Ever (by Steve Straehley, AllGov )

March 14, 2015 Posted by | Corruption, Deception, Mainstream Media, Warmongering | , | 2 Comments

Lithuania drops CIA prison inquiry

‘No parliament support’

RT | March 14, 2015

The Lithuanian legislature decided against a new inquiry into a secret US torture facility in the country, despite a damning US Senate report released three months ago which indicated its existence.

“No new inquest will be considered, because there is no longer sufficient support for it among parliament members,” Loreta Grauziniene, speaker of the Lithuanian parliament, told Reuters on Friday.

Allegations that the CIA set up and ran a secret detention center near the country’s capital of Vilnius between 2004 and 2006 were investigated in 2009 and 2010 by a parliamentary committee. The inquiry concluded the CIA did operate flights in and out of Lithuania, and that there may have been as many as two secret facilities for what the CIA termed “enhanced interrogations.” The committee added that such information could not be confirmed because US officials refused to cooperate.

When a heavily redacted US Senate report on secret CIA prisons came out in December 2014, it did not identify any countries by name. However, the descriptions of the facility identified as ‘Violet’ closely matched the Lithuanian parliament’s original report. Arvydas Anusauskas, the lawmaker who led the inquiry, told the media that the Senate report had made a “convincing case” that prisoners had been held in Lithuania. Prime Minister Algirdas Butkevicius expressed hope that there would be another parliamentary inquiry, and that information would be “shared and exchanged” this time around.

Former president Valdas Adamkus, however, insisted to the local media that he would continue to believe “there were no prisons or prisoners in Lithuania” until he saw “documents before my eyes” proving him wrong.

No further explanation was given for Friday’s decision to drop the inquiry. It comes as hundreds of US troops and vehicles deploy to Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia as a “deterrent” to alleged Russian aggression.

Human rights groups have criticized Lithuania’s complicity in the CIA’s secret detention program, as well as its reluctance to investigate claims by Guantanamo Bay detainees Abu Zubaydah and Mustafa al-Hawsawi of being held and tortured at the CIA facility in the country.

Read more:

Not so magnificent 7: nations ‘busted’ in redacted CIA terror report

Over 100 US armored vehicles roll into Latvia, NATO flexes muscles in Europe

March 14, 2015 Posted by | Deception, Subjugation - Torture | , , , | Leave a comment

Have Pillaged Iraqi Artifacts Ended Up in a Museum in Israel?

tabletiraq

By Richard Edmondson | Fig Trees and Vineyards | March 12, 2015

With ISIS carrying out rampages through archaeologically sensitive areas of Iraq, a pertinent question to ask now is what group’s cultural heritage in the Middle East is being preserved, and whose is being destroyed.

Over the past couple of weeks shocking reports have surfaced concerning mass destruction of Iraq’s cultural heritage at two locations–the museum in Mosul and the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud, located in northern Iraq. Both incidents were perpetrated by the so-called Islamic State. The one at the Mosul museum was recorded on video.

But destruction with sledge hammers, bonfires, and heavy equipment isn’t the only threat to priceless objects thousands of years old. Artifacts are also being illegally excavated and  pilfered on a massive scale. An enormous black market in stolen antiquities in fact has arisen in the last four years since the outbreak of the conflict in Syria, and the general rule of thumb seems to be if it’s small enough to be carted off, take it and sell it on the black market; if it’s too large to move, then smash it to pieces. This is what we’ve seen repeatedly in Syria and Iraq since ISIS took over large swaths of both countries.

By the way, the trade in looted antiquities seems to be quite lucrative, with some of these items fetching in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, while the total black market trade has been estimated at roughly $7 billion per year.

This is not just Iraq’s cultural heritage that is at stake, of course; it’s all of humanity’s. If we think of human history collectively as a lepidopteron, drifting lazily from the flower of the Neolithic past, into the age of proto-writing, and finally early recorded history, then Syria, Iraq and the Fertile Crescent stand out perhaps unique among regions of the earth. This is where human civilization got started, and the looting and destruction of these antiquities is a loss to all of us.

Interestingly, an exhibition entitled “By the Rivers of Babylon” has now opened at a museum in Israel, and among its exhibits are a large number of ancient Babylonian cuneiform tablets–110 of them altogether. These tablets belong to a London-based Israeli collector by the name of David Sofer, but a controversy has sprung up, since there seems to be some question about the provenance, or origin, of the artifacts.

The tablets are said to be some 2,500 years old and reportedly shed light on the biblical Israelites during their exile in Babylon (in what is, of course, today Iraq). Sofer claims he purchased the tablets in the 1990s from a person who supposedly obtained them through public auction some 20 years previous. However, he reportedly has refused to name the person he bought them from.

The rise of ISIS has made it extremely perilous for archaeologists to continue to work in Iraq and Syria, and most expeditions have in fact come to a halt. But in Israel these days things are a bit different.

Unhindered by ISIS marauders, the Israeli Antiquities Authority has undertaken archaeological excavations in numerous areas of the country, including one begun last year in the occupied West Bank, where the objective is to recover artifacts dating back to the King David era. Finds of this nature would, by some views at any rate, help validate Israel’s “3000-year-old land claim,” as it’s been called, and thus you won’t be surprised to learn that this isn’t the only such archaeological dig going on–not by a long shot.

In fact, you can go to the website of the Israeli Antiquities Authority, where no less than 19 separate excavations are listed as currently active for the year 2015.

So what to make of it all? That’s a good question. All I can really say is that it seems  enormous efforts are being expended to recover and safeguard Jewish cultural heritagethis, ironically, as everyone else’s cultural heritage in the Middle East is being looted and destroyed.

At any rate, here is an article recently published about the museum exhibition in Israel featuring the artifacts in Sofer’s possession.


Museum Embroiled in Looting Row

New Historian

A new exhibition in Jerusalem is causing heated debate.

The exhibition, ‘By The Rivers of Babylon’, at the Bible Lands Museum, displays some spectacular examples of ancient Babylonian tablets. On show for the first time, the 2,500-year-old clay tablets written in cuneiform present artefacts from an important time in the Middle East.

Experts note that the collection of 110 clay tablets provides the earliest written evidence of the Biblical exile of the Judeans in the area of modern-day Iraq. As such, the Babylonian tablets provide fresh insight into a formative period of early Judaism.

Filip Vukosavovic, a curator for the exhibition, says the tablets complete a 2,500-year puzzle. Many Judeans returned to Jerusalem after the Babylonians allowed them to in 539 BCE, but some remained in the area to build a Jewish community that lasted for two millennia.

“The descendants of those Jews only returned to Israel in the 1950s,” Vukosavovic said. As a result, the tablets provide a unique insight into a little known period of Jewish history.

Controversy has surrounded the exhibition however, as the tablets are the product of a modern, shadowy process. The recently chaotic climate in Iraq and Syria has led to the rampant theft of the area’s archaeological heritage. Widespread looting has led to the international antiquities markets being stocked with cuneiform tablets.

Many museums have promised not to exhibit artefacts that may have been looted, as part of an effort to discourage the illicit trade in antiquities. Cuneiform inscriptions, however, are a notable exception to this. Since 2004, cuneiform artefacts with no record of where or how they were unearthed have been allowed to be transported, in order to be examined by scholars. This is done on the condition that Iraqi authorities give their consent, and that the tablets are eventually returned to Iraq.

Some argue that these precious objects, some of which are the earliest examples of writing in the world, could be forever lost if they are not looked after by conservators.

“We are not interested in anything that is illegally acquired or sneaked out,” said Amanda Weiss, director of the Bible Lands Museum Jerusalem. “But it is the role of a museum to protect these pieces,” she added. “It’s what we are here for.”

It has been claimed that the Islamic State extremist group and other militants are part-funding their campaigns through the illegal trafficking of historic artefacts. Trafficking and looting have, however, been going on for a long time. Archaeologists were first alerted to the problem during the first Gulf War, when Western antiquities markets were flooded with cuneiform artefacts.

London-based collector David Sofer, who owns the cuneiform collection currently exhibited in the Bible Lands Museum, has denied his artefacts were trafficked. He said he had bought the tablets legally in the United States in the 1990s; and the tablets had previously been obtained from public auctions in the 1970s.

The exhibition at the Bible Lands Museum allows the public to see some remarkable artefacts and to learn more about an important part of Jewish history. What must not be overlooked, however, is the damage which can be caused by illicitly-obtained artefacts.

***


A little bit more on the Bible Lands Museum and Sofer’s collection of cuneiform tablets can be found here. The article focuses especially on a symposium entitled “Jerusalem in Babylonia” held at the museum in early February, asserting that the tablets provide “new insights into the social and economic life of the Judeans… in their own community of Al Yahudu (Jewtown) and their interrelationships with and assimilation to their West Semitic and Babylonian neighbors.”

Another article on the museum display is here and includes the following (emphasis added):

Sofer said a few tablets from the collection were displayed in a New York museum and a Los Angeles museum in 2013, and their import and export in the U.S. was properly reported to U.S. authorities. He would not name the two museums, or the person who sold them to him.

“These things would be lost, and wouldn’t be recognized for what they are” if he hadn’t bought them, Sofer said.

As common as cuneiform tablets are, few have been as celebrated as those on display in Jerusalem.

More on David Sofer (or someone from Israel going by the same name, at any rate) can be found here in an L.A. Times article from 1991. It seems he and a fellow Israeli, Nahum Vaskevitch, were implicated in insider trading in 1987. While the Sofer named in the article appears to have reached a settlement in his own case, Vaskevitch went on to be named in a 45-count indictment accusing him of conspiracy and violation of US insider trading laws from 1984-87.

A New York Times article on Sofer from 1987 includes a quote describing him as “a financial wizard, a genius manipulator with brilliant ideas in everything financial,” and reports that he made his fortune through the Jordan Exploration and Investment Company. The company engaged in oil development in the Sinai in the 1970s, yet the same article goes on to also mention investments in real estate in Israel, “including interests in such choice property as the Dizengoff Center shopping mall in Tel Aviv and the Ben Yehuda arcade in Jerusalem, as well as in hotels and other interests.”

Two additional articles, both from 2008–one here in YNet and the another here in Haaretz–describe a controversy which arose over a Sofer-owned property, a highly prized piece of Jerusalem real estate known as the Villa Salameh. The rightful owners of this property were a Palestinian Christian, Constantine Salameh, and his family, who completed construction on the villa in 1935.

But in 1948 the family left Israel and the property was seized by the new Israeli state under the so-called Absentee Property Law. The government of Belgium also entered the picture, leasing the property for its consulate in Jerusalem. But instead of paying rent to the Israelis, the Belgians made a decision apparently based upon conscience and sent their rent payments directly to the Salameh family, who by this time were living in Egypt.

However, in 1983 Sofer (or, again, someone by that name) acquired the property for a faction of its worth and sued the Belgian government for full payment of rent. The case was decided in an Israeli court. Fortunately the Salameh family had some political clout and was able to negotiate a settlement awarding them $700,000 as compensation for their lost property–a small fraction of its total value.

“The man (Salameh) sought to appeal his status as an absentee and a discussion began about his case,” said former Israeli Justice Minister Moshe Nissim. “We reached the conclusion that instead of being in a situation in which all the property would be registered in his name, it would be worth the state’s while to purchase Salameh’s vast property – which already then was worth millions of dollars – for a pittance.”

Quite an interesting story, to be sure, but what does it have to do with the theft of archaeological artifacts going on today? Maybe nothing. Maybe a lot.

There has of course been abundant evidence of Israeli support for terrorist rebels in Syria (see here, here, here, here, here, here, and here, for instance) and it has been noted that neither ISIS nor Al-Nusra have launched attacks against Israel, even though the latter, in particular, seems to be active in the Golan Heights very close to Israel’s border.

And not only do Israel and Al-Nusra not attack each other, but Israel has even transported wounded terrorists across the border for medical treatment in Israel.

 photo mdtrtnetanterrst_zpswdr70kxg.jpg

Most people seem to be of the opinion that the Jewish state’s motivation in all this is its desire for regime change in Syria, but are there perhaps a few lesser-discussed fringe benefits as well?

Back in May of 2003, after the fall of Baghdad and the looting of Iraq’s national museum, a large trove of Jewish communal documents, Torah fragments as well as public records dating back several centuries, were discovered in a flooded basement and taken to the United States for restoration and safeguarding. Iraqis were given assurances that the collection would be returned to them at a later date.

Eventually the summer of 2014 was set as the target date for when the restored documents would be handed back over, but this got sidetracked in late 2013 when a campaign was launched to have the entire collection remain in the US… or possibly transferred to Israel.

It is, after all, Jewish heritage, so the argument went, and since there aren’t many Jews left in Iraq today, why on earth should the collection go back there?

Initially the position of US officials was that America would honor its commitment and return the collection to Iraq. But then in the summer of 2014, ISIS took over large parts of the country, including the city of Mosul, and in September it was announced that highlights of the archive, rather than going back to Iraq, would be taken on a tour of US cities.

The plot thickened further in January of 2015 when it was reported that one of the artifacts, a 200-year-old Torah scroll, had not actually been taken to the US at all, but rather instead had been deposited at the Israeli Embassy in Jordan–and from there it made its way into Israel.

liebermanscroll

Reportedly the scroll is now housed in a synagogue attached to the Israeli Foreign Ministry, and a ceremonial “Torah inauguration” is said to have been held on January 22.

By all accounts the text of the scroll had been copied onto a deer skin parchment using concentrated pomegranate juice as ink. Supposedly the use of deer skin was unusual, as most of the Torah scrolls at the time in question were comprised of cow parchment.

In any event, the disposition of the scroll, and its ending up in Israel, have prompted accusations of collaboration on the theft of Iraqi heritage by the US and Israel.

Meanwhile, the rest of the Iraqi Jewish archive purportedly remains in “safe hands” in the US.

Alas, the same cannot be said of Iraq’s, or humanity’s, “non-Jewish” heritage, as it were, the destruction of which continues at an alarming pace. The attacks upon the Mosul Museum and the ancient city of Nimrud, as well as the earlier ransacking and burning of documents at the Mosul library–these and other incidents like them exact a dreadful toll. They are, in essence, “taking us back to the dark ages,” as an Iraqi official recently described it.

And it doesn’t seem to be letting up.

Just within the past several days news has surfaced of destruction at two more sites, Khorsabad, located 12 miles northeast of Mosul, and Hatra, also in the general vicinity of Mosul though 68 miles to the southwest. Iraq’s Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities has confirmed reports of ISIS attacks at both sites, though the extent of the damage is unclear at this time.

Deliberate destruction of cultural heritage by belligerent parties in war is of course not unprecedented. But clearly it is now being carried by ISIS to levels heretofore unseen.

“They are killing the diversity of this region,” says Hélène Sader, an archaeologist at the American University of Beirut. “This is ethnic cleansing. You throw the people out, erase their history, and you can claim they were never there.”

Protection of cultural property is covered under several international treaties, including the 1954 Hague Convention, though many critics are now saying that the laws are not tough enough and need to be strengthened considerably.

With growing public outrage at the destruction now occurring in Iraq, chances are probably good we will see some toughening of international law on the matter. But the question is whether or not individual nations can muster the political will to adopt rigid enforcement of any new measures should they pass–and part of the problem in that regard seems to be complicity on the part of certain museums and auction houses, if not in the black market trade itself, at least insofar as knowingly accepting unprovenanced artifacts.

As long as someone is making a profit or benefiting in some way, and as long as the geopolitical interests of certain powerful nations are served by continuing the conflict in the Middle East, the looting and destruction are not likely to let up anytime soon.

March 14, 2015 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , | Leave a comment