From The Folks Who Lie, Cheat, & Steal For A Living – Project Fake Duck

Authored by Rob Slane via TheBlogMire.com,

Mike Pompeo, the former CIA director and now chief diplomat of the United States, made the following remarks in a recent interview:

“I was the CIA director. We lied, we cheated, we stole. It’s — it was like — we had entire training courses. It reminds you of the glory of the American experiment.”

That perhaps won’t come as too much of a surprise to many people, but it is nonetheless welcome to have it admitted by no less a person than the former director of that organisation.

However, in the light of the stunning, albeit unwitting, revelation in The New York Times, that the then deputy director of the CIA (now director), Gina Haspel, used pictures of sick children and dead ducks allegedly from the Salisbury poisoning to persuade Donald Trump to expel 60 Russian diplomats — even though no children became ill and no ducks died — one wonders whether those entire training courses Mr Pompeo refers to include modules on “How to lie to the President,” and “The use of fowl play to manipulate the Commander-in-Chief”.

But there is, I think, even more to the duck story than meets the eye. In order to explain why this is so, it is necessary to first set out a timeline of events connected with it:

4th March
Two people were found unconscious on a bench in The Maltings in Salisbury in what was initially thought to be a Fentanyl overdose.

5th March
Military personnel in HazMats intensely searched a bin located adjacent to the Avon Playground (see here and here)

13th March
Theresa May spoke to Donald Trump by phone. According to Downing Street’s report of the conversation:

“The Prime Minister set out the conclusion reached by the UK government that it was highly likely that Russia was responsible for the attack against Sergei and Yulia Skripal. President Trump said the US was with the UK all the way, agreeing that the Russian government must provide unambiguous answers as to how this nerve agent came to be used.”

According to the British Government, no further phone calls took place between the two leaders after this until 28th March.

18th March*
The parents of Aiden Cooper and the two other boys involved in feeding the ducks were contacted by police and checked out for possible symptoms of poisoning, but were given the all clear.
(*I have stated 18th March, but this is an approximate date based on an interview with Aiden Cooper’s father, Luke, who said that the police came knocking on the door “two weeks after” the incident, which would make it on, or close to, 18th March.)

20th March
President Trump called President Putin, to congratulate him on his election win. He did not, however, mention the Skripal case. According to the Washington Post:

“Trump also chose not to heed talking points from aides instructing him to condemn the recent poisoning of a former Russian spy in Britain with a powerful nerve agent, a case that both the British and U.S. governments have blamed on Moscow… Trump’s failure to raise Moscow’s alleged poisoning of the former spy in Britain risked angering officials in London, who are trying to rally Britain’s closest allies to condemn the attack.”

Between 20th and 23rd March
The Deputy Director of the CIA, Gina Haspel, used fake images of sick children and dead ducks to persuade President Trump to take the toughest action against the Russian state, which involved the expulsion of 60 diplomats and the closing of the Russian consulate in Seattle.

Saturday 24th March 
The first mention in the media (The Mirror) that Mr Skripal fed ducks near the Avon Playground, giving bread to three boys. The article also contained two very significant statements. The first was this:

“The incident involving the boys, who are believed to have been given the all-clear, was confirmed by Public Health England and described by British officials to US authorities [my emphasis].”

The second was the first mention in the media of the possibility of the door handle as the place of poisoning:

“The shocking revelation is one of a series we can make today, including how investigators are now focusing on the double agent’s front door handle as the “ground zero” where spooks planted the deadly poison.”

25th March
At his Mar-a-Lago resort, President Trump was briefed by his aides who explained that the number of diplomats the US would be expelling – 60 – was roughly the same amount as the Europeans.

26th March
The expulsion of 60 Russian diplomats by the US was publicly confirmed. On the same day, Theresa May made a statement to the House of Commons, in which she said the following:

“And as I announced today, 18 countries have announced their intention to expel more than 100 Russian intelligence officers, including 15 EU member states as well as the US, Canada and the Ukraine. And this is the largest collective expulsion of Russian intelligence officers in history.”

It should also be noted that her statement contained an outright falsehood. She stated:

“Sergei and Yulia Skripal remain critically ill in hospital. Sadly, late last week doctors indicated that their condition is unlikely to change in the near future and they may never recover fully.”

This was not true, since “late last week”, Yulia Skripal was being taken out of an induced coma by doctors, which was completed by 23rd or 24th March (see here for further details).

28th March
The door handle as the place of poisoning was said to have been confirmed. On the same day, The Sun carried an interview with Aiden Cooper and his parents about the duck feed incident. In the piece, Aiden’s father, Luke, confirmed that it was “two weeks” after the poisoning that police had contacted them.

What can we make of this?

The first thing to say is that a key piece of evidence in this whole saga is to be found in the event that took place 5th March. Approximately 24 hours after the incident on the bench, military personnel in Hazmats were filmed searching very intensely in a particular bin. But there are three very curious points to note about this bin:

  1. It is not located near the bench on which the poisoned pair were found.

  2. It is absolutely not on the route from the Sainsbury’s car park to Zizzis or The Mill, and would in fact constitute a bizarre detour, if your intended destination was Zizzis or The Mill.

  3. It absolutely is located next to the Avon Playground, and is in fact the exact location of the duck feed.

It seems to me that the only explanation for why this bin, which is a good 50 yards or so away from the bench, and which is not on the route from the car park to Zizzis or The Mill, was the focus of such intense scrutiny, is that it was known already by the evening of 5th March that the Skripals had been there. Why else would it have been checked? Whether this was because police had already seen the clear CCTV footage of the Skripals in this area that was subsequently shown to the parents of the three children two weeks later, or whether it was known because Mr Skripal was being watched on 4thMarch, I do not know. But I can think of no reason why this particular bin would have been searched so meticulously, other than the one I have advanced, which is that it was already known on 5th March that the Skripals had been around it.

But if this is the case, it raises the following point:

That as early as 5th March, police knew that Mr Skripal had been in contact with three boys near that bin, and that he had shared bread with them in order to feed ducks. 

If this is so, it leads to the huge question of why the boys’ parents were not contacted until two weeks later. Clues to why that might be are also in the timeline I have set out.

Mrs May spoke to Mr Trump on 13th March, the day after she originally set out the case against Russia in the House of Commons, and the day before she formally charged the Russian Government with being behind the case, expelling 23 Russian diplomats. On the surface of it, it seems that Mr Trump stood fully behind Mrs May, and that he would agree with whatever action was proposed to him, since — according to the British Government’s summary of the call — he said that “the US was with the UK all the way.”

However, the fact that this was not so was seen by what happened on 20th March. This was the day when Mr Trump phoned the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, and despite being advised by his aides not to congratulate him on his re-election, Mr Trump ignored them and did so anyway. But even more crucially, he also failed to mention anything about the Skripal case, which again went against the advice of his aides, who had urged him to condemn it in the conversation. Given that his reaction to seeing Ms Haspel’s fake pictures was to agree to the expulsion of 60 diplomats, I think we can safely say that at the time of his call to Mr Putin, he had not yet seen these images.

The fake pictures of the sick children and dead ducks were, I submit, very probably a reaction to that conversation. Although Mr Trump was apparently “with the UK all the way” on 13th March (at least that’s how Downing Street put it), it seems that on 20th March, he still wasn’t nearly as troubled by the event as Ms Haspel and Co. hoped he would be. She was angling for the “strong option” of expelling 60 diplomats, and there was Mr Trump not even bothering to mention it in his conversation with Mr Putin. And so he had to be “persuaded” by the deputy director of the organisation that “lies, cheats and steals”.

(As an aside, I have stated that this meeting with Ms Haspel probably took place between 20th and 23rdMarch. The reason for the former data is that, as stated above, I am sure that Mr Trump had not been shown these pictures when he spoke to Mr Putin on 20th March. The reason for the latter date is that the New York Times tells us that this meeting occurred at the White House, and by late afternoon on 23rd March Mr Trump was on his way to his Mar-a-Lago resort, and he didn’t return until late on Sunday 25th, the day before the public announcement of the expulsion of the diplomats. So Project Fake Duck had to have happened between those two dates).

All this raises huge issues in the US, where it appears that the CIA deputy director fed the President of the United States false information to twist his arm to achieve the outcome she wanted to see. That’s for journalists in the US to take up, if they care to, but what happened in Britain?

As I mentioned above, the activity around the bin next to the Avon Playground convinces me that the duck feed must have been known to the authorities as early as 5th March. And yet the parents of the boys involved were only contacted on 18th March. If Mr Skripal had really been contaminated with “Novichok” at the time of that incident, the best you could say of the investigators in relation to this is that they were woefully incompetent; the worst being that they were criminally negligent.

But of course, the fact that none of the boys or ducks became contaminated with the “Novichok” that Mr Skripal was apparently so covered with that they had to incinerate the table in Zizzis at which he was sat a few minutes after this incident, and the fact that the authorities didn’t bother contacting the parents of the boys for a fortnight, all indicates that he was not in fact contaminated at all at that time.

But if this is the case, why did the duck feed make it into the media at all? Given that it was almost certainly known about on 5th March, but the authorities decided not to do anything about it for two weeks (i.e. no public appeals showing the CCTV of Mr Skripal with the boys), why was it ever even mentioned at all? I think that there are two reasons, which are not mutually exclusive.

The first is that the British authorities, aware that their claims of a poisoning by the world’s deadliest nerve agent didn’t exactly match what actually happened — only three people ever experienced symptoms of poisoning and needed treatment — wanted to make it look far more dramatic than it actually was. And so they not only decided to finally visit the boys and their parents two weeks after the fact, but the story was then leaked to the media intentionally to add another sinister dimension to the event — the possible poisoning of children!

To give credence to the theory that officials were intent on exaggerating the fallout of the poisoning, because their claims of what happened didn’t actually match well with the facts, look at what Theresa May said of the incident in her statement to the House of Commons on 26th March:

“While Public Health England have made clear that the risk to public health is low — and this remains the case — we assess that more than 130 people in Salisbury could have been potentially exposed to this nerve agent.”

She really should win an award for the use of the most weasel words in one sentence, although I appreciate that she herself has set the bar pretty high on a number of other issues. More than 130Could have beenPotentially exposed to this nerve agent? Absolute rot of course. Firstly, if the world’s deadliest nerve agent had been used and traipsed all over Salisbury by Mr Skripal and his daughter, as we were told, then an awful lot more than 130 would have been exposed. But more to the point, this didn’t actually happen. What happened is that three people were affected. Not four. Not five. Not 10. Not 130. Not 10,000. No, just three.

In other words, there was a blatant attempt to exaggerate what happened, or what might have, could have, potentially happened, with the Prime Minister getting in on the act. The duck feed, in my view, was part of this blatant attempt to embellish the story, even though the truth was that it had been known from 5th March that it had happened, yet nobody bothered to contact the parents because it was known that the children were never in any danger.

I am, of course, unsure whether British officials fed this story, together with fake pictures, to the CIA, or whether the CIA faked them, or whether both worked in concert together on Project Fake Duck. However, I have to say that the latter of these three possibilities seems to me to be by far the most plausible. I simply cannot imagine that British officials would dare to feed the CIA fake pictures, in the knowledge that these could be used to deceive the President. And I simply cannot imagine that the CIA would pass off pictures as being received from British Intelligence, in order to deceive the President.

What I can imagine is that both sides had a need to find a way to exaggerate the case. British officials needed to make what happened seem more dramatic, and what better way than to finally get around to visiting the boys who had received bread from Mr Skripal, and then pass the details to a journalist in a major British newspaper, who would then publish a story showing the sheer callousness of the poisoning — children were involved. As for the deputy director of the CIA, she also had a need to exaggerate the case, since it was her desire to take the harshest diplomatic response against Russia, and yet the President was probably too bored or distracted by Twitter to care or even notice. “Any pictures you’ve got will be welcome.” “Oh yes, we can get those for you.” And so the lying, cheating and stealing was used on the President himself, and Duckgate was spawned. Except no mainstream journalist will touch it of course.

But I think that there is another reason why the duck feed made it into the media, despite the fact that the boys and their parents were ignored for two weeks. It is to do with that other significant incident mentioned in the timeline above: the naming of the door handle as the place of poisoning.

I believe I have pretty conclusively shown why the door handle was not, and indeed could not have been, the location of the poisoning. The duck feed itself is ample evidence, since none of the boys became contaminated and no ducks died. But if that doesn’t convince you, the fact that in the days following 4th March unprotected police officers were seen going in and out of Mr Skripal’s house via the same front door which, weeks later, was said to have the highest concentration of the world’s deadliest nerve agent on, really ought to put it to bed for good (you can read a more detailed debunking here).

If you accept this conclusion, it necessarily follows that the door handle theory, rather than being an honest account of what really happened, was actually an attempt to divert attention from the actual place of poisoning, and also an attempt to try to explain how it was that Detective Sergeant Nicholas Bailey became the third person to be poisoned. And indeed this explains why the duck feed, which was ignored for two weeks (because it was known that the boys were not in any danger), suddenly became a thing. Why? Well imagine that investigators had come out with the claim that Mr Skripal had been poisoned at the door handle, but the boys and their parents were not contacted. That would have left open the potential for the boys’ parents, at some point, to raise the claim that their sons had been in contact with Mr Skripal, and the authorities had done nothing to contact them, thus putting their lives in danger. And so I believe that by far the most plausible explanation for this is that it was decided to contact the parents of the boys, even though it was two weeks after the incident, and even though it was known that they were never in any danger, in order to ensure that there was no possible comeback after the door handle explanation was made public.

However, like the whole of this saga, the incident has merely ended up raising more questions. It has raised the question of why the boys and their parents weren’t contacted for a whole fortnight, even though it was surely known by 5th March that they had fed ducks with Mr Skripal. It has raised the question of why these boys and the ducks they fed did not become ill. It has raised the question of why the incident was then used, together with fake pictures, to deceive the President of the United States.

The answer, as I have attempted to set out above, is essentially two-fold:

Firstly, because the poisoning and its aftermath didn’t actually chime with the claim of “Novichok” being used, something more dramatic was needed to up the ante. The fact that children were known to have been with Mr Skripal that afternoon was then exploited by both British officials and the CIA to further their own agendas.

Secondly, because the duck incident presented a potential problem for the door handle theory, in that the boys received bread from the apparently highly contaminated Mr Skripal just 15-30 minutes after he left his house, a visit to the parents of the boys was deemed necessary to avoid a potential claim of negligence later on.

Let me end by saying this: I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the first mention of the duck feed, the first mention of the door handle explanation, and the first mention of British officials describing the duck feed incident to US authorities all appeared in the same article (The Mirror). The issues are intrinsically tied together, and they are all provide more evidence that the truth has been covered up. But then again, when you’re talking about the sorts of people who think nothing of lying, cheating and stealing for a living, I don’t suppose that should surprise us.

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Author: Tyler Durden

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“Slide Into Chaos”: 30,000 Displaced, 300 Dead And 1,200 Wounded In Libya Fighting

African leaders met in Egypt on Tuesday in a summit addressing continuing violence and dramatic political upheavals in neighboring Libya and Sudan, with Egypt’s President Sisi calling for a unified regional response in order avoid “a slide into chaos”.

This as since early April fighting around Tripoli between Gen. Khalifa Haftar’s advancing Libyan National Army (LNA) and the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) has resulted in 264+ deaths, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), and some 1,266 people wounded, with 21 among the deceased civilians.

Image source: Reuters

Some media reports have cited as many as 300 killed in the violence. The United Nations has put the number of displaced due to Haftar’s offensive on the capital at more than 30,000 civilians.

Meanwhile in Sudan fierce protests have continue in Khartoum despite the toppling of longtime strongman Omar al-Bashir, resulting in unpopular rule by military council with emergency powers. “The principle of African solutions to African problems is the only way to deal with common challenges facing us,” Sisi said in opening remarks to the summit.

Concerning Libya, Sisi’s fear’s of a “slide into chaos” — which has actually long been a reality all the way back to the 2011 NATO-led toppling of Muammar Gaddafi — will be viewed as largely hypocritical considering Sisi is among Gen. Haftar’s main backers.

This week intense fighting has continued in the southern suburbs of Tripoli, with shelling disrupting daily life in the city’s center. Reuters reports

Forces supporting Libya’s internationally recognized government pushed back troops loyal to eastern commander Khalifa Haftar to more than 60 km southwest of the capital Tripoli on Tuesday, Reuters reporters said.

The town of Aziziya was fully under the control of the Tripoli forces, with shops reopening after days of fighting, a Reuters team at the scene said.

Egypt’s Abdel Fattah El Sisi and intelligence chief Abbas Kamel (right) meeting Libyan commander Khalifa Haftar (left) at the presidential Palace in Cairo on April 14, 2019. Image source: Egyptian Presidency/AFP

However, it appears things could settle into a protracted war and stalemate, as the bulk of pro-Haftar militants have been halted in their push to take the capital, which has included Haftar deploying MiG jet fighters in his arsenal. 

Meanwhile, EU officials have this week urged President Trump to reverse last week’s surprise declaration of US support for Haftar’s LNA. European officials have further demanded greater clarity of the United States’ position on Libya, saying Washington’s policy confusion will only add fuel to the chaos, similar to recent contradictory US statements on Syria. 

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Author: Tyler Durden

The Burning Of Notre Dame And The Destruction Of Christian Europe

Authored by Guy Milliere via The Gatestone Institute,

  • Barely an hour after the flames began to rise above Notre Dame — at a time when no explanation could be provided by anyone — the French authorities rushed to say that the fire was an “accident” and that “arson has been ruled out.” The remarks sounded like all the official statements made by the French government after attacks in France during the last decade.

  • The Notre Dame fire also occurred at a time when attacks against churches in France and Europe have been multiplying. More than 800 churches were attacked in France during the year 2018 alone.

  • Churches in France are empty. The number of priests is decreasing and the priests that are active in France are either very old or come from Africa or Latin America. The dominant religion in France is now Islam. Every year, churches are demolished to make way for parking lots or shopping centers. Mosques are being built all over, and they are full.

The fire that destroyed much of the Notre Dame Cathedral in the heart of Paris is a tragedy that is irreparable. Even if the cathedral is rebuilt, it will never be what it was before. (Photo by Veronique de Viguerie/Getty Images)

The fire that destroyed much of the Notre Dame Cathedral in the heart of Paris is a tragedy that is irreparable. Even if the cathedral is rebuilt, it will never be what it was before. Stained glass windows and major architectural elements have been severely damaged and the oak frame totally destroyed. The spire that rose from the cathedral was a unique piece of art. It was drawn by the architect who restored the edifice in the nineteenth century, Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, who had based his work on 12th century documents.

In addition to the fire, the water needed to extinguish the flames penetrated the limestone of the walls and façade, and weakened them, making them brittle. The roof is non-existent: the nave, the transept and the choir now lie in open air, vulnerable to bad weather. They cannot even be protected until the structure has been examined thoroughly, a task that will take weeks. Three major elements of the structure (the north transept pinion, the pinion located between the two towers and the vault) are also on the verge of collapse.

Notre Dame is more than 800 years old. It survived the turbulence of the Middle Ages, the Reign of Terror of the French Revolution, two World Wars and the Nazi occupation of Paris. It did not survive what France is becoming in the 21st century.

The cause of the fire has so far been attributed to “an accident,” “a short circuit,” and most recently “a computer glitch.”

If the fire really was an accident, it is almost impossible to explain how it started. Benjamin Mouton, Notre Dame’s former chief architect, explained that the rules were exceptionally strict and that no electric cable or appliance, and no source of heat, could be placed in the attic. He added that an extremely sophisticated alarm system was in place. The company that installed the scaffolding did not use any welding and specialized in this type of work. The fire broke out more than an hour after the workers’ departure and none of them was present. It spread so quickly that the firefighters who rushed to the spot as soon as they could get there were shocked. Remi Fromont, the chief architect of the French Historical Monuments said: “The fire could not start from any element present where it started. A real calorific load is necessary to launch such a disaster”.

A long, difficult and complex investigation will be conducted.

The possibility that the fire was the result of arson cannot be dismissed. Barely an hour after the flames began to rise above Notre Dame — at a time when no explanation could be provided by anyone — the French authorities rushed to say that the fire was an “accident” and that “arson has been ruled out.” The remarks sounded like all the official statements made by the French government after attacks in France during the last decade.

In November 2015, on the night of the massacre at the Bataclan Theater in Paris, in which jihadists murdered 90 people, the French Department of the Interior said that the government did not know anything, except that a gunfight had occurred. The truth came out only after ISIS claimed responsibility for the slaughter.

In Nice, after the truck-attack in July 2016, the French government insisted for several days that the terrorist who crushed 86 people to death was a “man with a nervous breakdown“.

In 2018, Sarah Halimi’s murderer, who recited verses from the Quran while torturing his victim, was declared “mentally disturbed” and held in a psychiatric institution immediately after his arrest. He will most likely never face a court. On April 8, Alain Finkielkraut and 38 other intellectuals published a text saying that her murderer must not escape justice. The text had no effect.

The fire at Notre Dame took place less than three years after a “commando unit” of jihadi women, later arrested, tried to destroy the cathedral by detonating cylinders of natural gas. Three days before last week’s fire, on April 12, the leader of the jihadis, Ines Madani, a young French convert to Islam, was sentenced to eight years in prison for creating a terrorist group affiliated with the Islamic State.

The Notre Dame fire also occurred at a time when attacks against churches in France and Europe have been multiplying. More than 800 churches were attackedin France during the year 2018 alone. Many suffered serious damage: broken, beheaded statues, smashed tabernacles, feces thrown on the walls. In several churches, fires were lit. On March 5, the Basilica of St. Denis, where all but three of the Kings of France are buried, was vandalized by a Pakistani refugee. Several stained-glass windows were broken, and the basilica’s organ, a national treasure built between 1834 and 1841, was nearly wrecked. Twelve days later, on March 17, a fire broke out at Saint Sulpice, the largest church in Paris, causing serious damage. After days of silence, the police finally admitted that the cause had been arson.

For months, jihadist organizations have been issuing statements calling for the destruction of churches and Christian monuments in Europe. Notre Dame was repeatedly named as a primary target. Despite all that, the Cathedral was not adequately protected. A couple of young men, who entered the Cathedral at night, climbed on the roof last November and shot a video that they then put on YouTube.

Many messages were posted by people with Muslim names on social media — Twitter, Facebook, the website of Al Jazeera — expressing a joy to see an important Christian symbol destroyed. Hafsa Askar, a migrant from Morocco and the vice president of the National Union of Students of France (UNEF), the main student organization in France, published a tweet saying, “People are crying on little pieces of wood… it’s a delusion of white trash”.

French President Emmanuel Macron, who had never even mentioned the attacks on Saint Denis or Saint Sulpice, quickly went to Notre Dame and declared, “Notre Dame is our history, our literature, our imagination”. He totally left out cathedral’s religious dimension.

The next evening, he said that Notre Dame would be rebuilt in five years: it was a bold statement. Many commentators interpreted his words as dictated by his will desperately to try to regain the confidence of the French people after five monthsof demonstrations, riots and destruction stemming from his ineffective handling of the “Yellow Vests” uprising. (On March 16, much of the Champs-Élysées was damaged by rioters; repairs have barely begun.) All experts agree that it will almost certainly take far longer than five years to rebuild Notre Dame.

Macron strangely added that the cathedral would be “more beautiful” than before — as if a badly damaged monument could be more beautiful after restoration. Macron went on to say that the reconstruction would be a “contemporary architectural gesture”. The remark raised concern, if not panic, among defenders of historic monuments, who now fear that he may want to ​​add modern architectural elements to a jewel of Gothic architecture. Again, he totally left out the cathedral’s religious dimension.

Macron’s attitude is not surprising. From the moment he became president, he has kept himself away from any Christian ceremony. Most of the presidents who preceded him did the same. France is a country where a dogmatic secularismreigns supreme. A political leader who dares to call himself a Christian is immediately criticized in the media and can only harm a budding political career. Nathalie Loiseau — the former director of France’s National School of Administration and the leading candidate on the electoral list of Macron’s party, “Republic on the Move,” for the May 2019 European Parliament elections — was recently photographed exiting a church after mass, which led to a media debate on whether her church attendance is a “problem.”

The results of French secularism are visible. Christianity has been almost completely wiped out from public life. Churches are empty. The number of priests is decreasing and the priests that are active in France are either very old or come from Africa or Latin America. The dominant religion in France is now Islam. Every year, churches are demolished to make way for parking lots or shopping centers. Mosques are being built all over, and they are full. Radical imams proselytize. The murder, three years ago, of Jacques Hamel, an 85-year-old priest who was slaughtered by two Islamists while he was saying mass in a church where only five people (three of them old nuns) were present, is telling.

In 1905, the French parliament passed a law decreeing that all the properties of the Catholic Church in France were confiscated. Churches and cathedrals became property of the State. Since then, successive governments have spent little money to maintain them. Those churches that have not been vandalized are in poor condition, and most cathedrals are in poor condition, too. Even before the devastating fire, the Archdiocese of Paris stated that “it can’t afford all the repairs” that Notre Dame needed, “estimated at $185 million.” According to CBS News, in a March 20, 2018 report:

“The French government, which owns the cathedral, has pledged around $50 million over the next decade, leaving a bill of $135 million. To raise the rest, Picaud helped launch the Friends of Notre-Dame of Paris Foundation. It works to find private donors both in France and across the Atlantic.

“‘We know Americans are wealthy, so we go where we think we can find money to help restore the cathedral,’ Picaud said.”

On the evening of the fire at Notre Dame, hundreds of French people gathered in front of the burning cathedral to sing Psalms and pray. They seemed suddenly to understand that they were losing something immensely precious.

Following the fire, the French government decided to start collecting donationsfrom private individuals, businesses and organizations for reconstruction; more than one billion euros have poured in. French billionaires promised to pay large sums: the Pinault family (the main owners of the retail conglomerate Kering) promised 100 million euros, the Arnault family (owners of LVMH, the world’s largest luxury-goods company), 200 million euros, the Bettencourt family (owners of L’Oréal), also 200 million. Many on the French “left” immediately said that wealthy families had too much money, and that these millions would be better used helping the poor than taking care of old stones.

For the foreseeable future, the heart of Paris will bear the terrible scars of a fire that devastated far more than a cathedral. The fire destroyed an essential part of what is left of the almost-lost soul of France and what France could accomplish when the French believed in something higher than their own day-to-day existence.

Some hope that the sight of the destroyed cathedral will inspire many French people to follow the example of those who prayed on the night of the disaster. Michel Aupetit, Archbishop of Paris, said on April 17, two days after the fire, that he was sure France would know a “spiritual awakening”.

Others, not as optimistic, see in the ashes of the cathedral a symbol of the destruction of Christianity in France. The art historian Jean Clair said that he sees in the destruction of Notre Dame an additional sign of an “irreversible decadence” of France, and of the final collapse of the Judeo-Christian roots of Europe.

An American columnist, Dennis Prager, wrote:

“The symbolism of the burning of Notre Dame Cathedral, the most renowned building in Western civilization, the iconic symbol of Western Christendom, is hard to miss.

“It is as if God Himself wanted to warn us in the most unmistakable way that Western Christianity is burning — and with it, Western civilization.”

Another American author, Rod Dreher, noted:

“This catastrophe in Paris today is a sign to all of us Christians, and a sign to all people in the West, especially those who despise the civilization that built this great temple to its God on an island in the Seine where religious rites have been celebrated since the days of pagan Rome. It is a sign of what we are losing, and what we will not recover, if we don’t change course now.”

For the moment, nothing indicates that France and Western Europe will change course.

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Author: Tyler Durden

UK Borrowing Surpasses Most Other Countries

The rate at which UK institutions, households and businesses are borrowing money is greater than that of all other OECD countries.

This fact is alarming some economists not only because the rate of UK borrowing is high against the country’s GDP, but, as Statista’s Katharina Buchholz points out, it also because households, business and state coffers are running a deficit simultaneously for the first time since the 1980s.

Infographic: UK Borrowing Surpasses Most Other Countries | Statista

You will find more infographics at Statista

Yet, a lot of the of the money borrowed is going into the housing market that is currently booming in the UK, therefore potentially creating valuable assets for citizens in the future. The same is true for the state, with some economists claiming investment in the future to be more important than a positive net lending score, according to reporting by the Financial Times.

The opposite of this attitude can be observed in OECD countries like Germany, where the government is among those pursuing a radically different borrowing strategy aimed at reducing debt. The country with the lowest borrowing rate in the OECD was Ireland.

Not included in the data by the OECD are overseas investments by Britons as well as foreigners’ financial business in the UK. Here, another troublesome statistic emerges. While the UK had been running a net profit for overseas lending and borrowing in the past, the situation has reversed since the financial crisis.

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Author: Tyler Durden

Pepe Escobar: War On Iran & Calling America’s Bluff

Authored by Pepe Escobar via ConsortiumNews.com,

Vast swathes of the West seem not to realize that if the Strait of Hormuz is shut down a global depression will follow…

The Trump administration once again has graphically demonstrated that in the young, turbulent 21st century, “international law” and “national sovereignty” already belong to the Realm of the Walking Dead.

As if a deluge of sanctions against a great deal of the planet was not enough, the latest “offer you can’t refuse” conveyed by a gangster posing as diplomat, Consul Minimus Mike Pompeo, now essentially orders the whole planet to submit to the one and only arbiter of world trade: Washington.

First the Trump administration unilaterally smashed a multinational, UN-endorsed agreement, the JCPOA, or Iran nuclear deal. Now the waivers that magnanimously allowed eight nations to import oil from Iran without incurring imperial wrath in the form of sanctions will expire on May 2 and won’t be renewed.

The eight nations are a mix of Eurasian powers: China, India, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Turkey, Italy and Greece.

Apart from the trademark toxic cocktail of hubris, illegality, arrogance/ignorance and geopolitical/geoeconomic infantilism inbuilt in this foreign policy decision, the notion that Washington can decide who’s allowed to be an energy provider to emerging superpower China does not even qualify as laughable. Much more alarming is the fact that imposing a total embargo of Iranian oil exports is no less than an act of war.

Ultimate Neocon Wet Dream 

Those subscribing to the ultimate U.S, neocon and Zionist wet dream – regime change in Iran – may rejoice at this declaration of war. But as Professor Mohammad Marandi of the University of Tehran has elegantly argued, “If the Trump regime miscalculates, the house can easily come crashing down on its head.”

Reflecting the fact Tehran seems to have no illusions regarding the utter folly ahead, the Iranian leadership — if provoked to a point of no return, Marandi additionally told me — can get as far as “destroying everything on the other side of the Persian Gulf and chasing the U.Sout of Iraq and Afghanistan. When the U.Sescalates, Iran escalates. Now it depends on the U.Show far things go.”

This red alert from a sensible academic perfectly dovetails with what’s happening with the structure of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) — recently branded a “terrorist organization” by the United States. In perfect symmetry, Iran’s Supreme National Security Council also branded the U.S. Central Command — CENTCOM — and “all the forces connected to it” as a terrorist group.

The new IRGC commander-in-chief is Brigadier General Hossein Salami, 58. Since 2009 he was the deputy of previous commander Mohamamd al-Jafari, a soft spoken but tough as nails gentleman I met in Tehran two years ago. Salami, as well as Jafari, is a veteran of the Iran-Iraq war; that is, he has actual combat experience. And Tehran sources assure me that he can be even tougher than Jafari.

In tandem, IRGC Navy Commander Rear Admiral Alireza Tangsiri has evoked the unthinkable in terms of what might develop out of the U.S. total embargo on Iran oil exports; Tehran could block the Strait of Hormuz.

Western Oblivion 

Vast swathes of the ruling classes across the West seem to be oblivious to the reality that if Hormuz is shut down, the result will be an absolutely cataclysmic global economic depression.

Warren Buffett, among other investors, has routinely qualified the 2.5 quadrillion derivatives market as a weapon of financial mass destruction. As it stands, these derivatives are used — illegally — to drain no less than a trillion U.S. dollars a year out of the market in manipulated profits.

Considering historical precedents, Washington may eventually be able to set up a Persian Gulf of Tonkin false flag. But what next?

If Tehran were totally cornered by Washington, with no way out, the de facto nuclear option of shutting down the Strait of Hormuz would instantly cut off 25 percent of the global oil supply. Oil prices could rise to over $500 a barrelto even $1000 a barrel. The 2.5 quadrillion of derivatives would start a chain reaction of destruction.

Unlike the shortage of credit during the 2008 financial crisis, the shortage of oil could not be made up by fiat instruments. Simply because the oil is not there. Not even Russia would be able to re-stabilize the market.

It’s an open secret in private conversations at the Harvard Club – or at Pentagon war-games for that matter – that in case of a war on Iran, the U.SNavy would not be able to keep the Strait of Hormuz open. 

Russian SS-NX-26 Yakhont missiles — with a top speed of Mach 2.9  are lining up the Iranian northern shore of the Strait of Hormuz. There’s no way U.Saircraft carriers can defend a  barrage of Yakhont missiles.

Then there are the SS-N-22 Sunburn supersonic anti-ship missiles — already exported to China and India — flying ultra-low at 1,500 miles an hour with dodging capacity, and extremely mobile; they can be fired from a flatbed truck, and were designed to defeat the U.SAegis radar defense system.

What Will China Do?

The full–frontal attack on Iran reveals how the Trump administration bets on breaking Eurasia integration via what would be its weakeast node; the three key nodes are China, Russia and Iran. These three actors interconnect the whole spectrum; Belt and Road Initiative; the Eurasia Economic Union; the Shanghai Cooperation Organization; the International North-South Transportation Corridor; the expansion of BRICS Plus.

So there’s no question the Russia-China strategic partnership will be watching Iran’s back. It’s no accident that the trio is among the top existential “threats” to the U.S., according to the Pentagon. Beijing knows how the U.SNavy is able to cut it off from its energy sources. And that’s why Beijing is strategically increasing imports of oil and natural gas from Russia; engineering the “escape from Malacca” also must take into account a hypothetical U.S. takeover of the Strait of Hormuz.

Night view of coast of Oman, including Strait of Hormuz. (Intl Space Station photo via Wikimedia)

A plausible scenario involves Moscow acting to defuse the extremely volatile U.S.-Iran confrontation, with the Kremlin and the Ministry of Defense trying to persuade President Donald Trump and the Pentagon from any direct attack against the IRGC. The inevitable counterpart is the rise of covert ops, the possible staging of false flags and all manner of shady Hybrid War techniques deployed not only against the IRGC, directly and indirectly, but against Iranian interests everywhere. For all practical purposes, the U.Sand Iran are at war.

Within the framework of the larger Eurasia break-up scenario, the Trump administration does profit from Wahhabi and Zionist psychopathic hatred of Shi’ites. The “maximum pressure” on Iran counts on Jared of Arabia Kushner’s close WhatsApp pal Mohammad bin Salman (MbS) in Riyadh and MbS’s mentor in Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Zayed, to replace the shortfall of Iranian oil in the market. Bu that’s nonsense — as quite a few wily Persian Gulf traders are adamant Riyadh won’t “absorb Iran’s market share” because the extra oil is not there.

Much of what lies ahead in the oil embargo saga depends on the reaction of assorted vassals and semi-vassals. Japan won’t have the guts to go against Washington. Turkey will put up a fight. Italy, via Salvini, will lobby for a waiver. India is very complicated; New Delhi is investing in Iran’s Chabahar port as the key hub of its own Silk Road, and closely cooperates with Tehran within the INSTC framework. Would a shameful betrayal be in the cards?

China, it goes without saying, will simply ignore Washington.

Iran will find ways to get the oil flowing because the demand won’t simply vanish with a magic wave of an American hand. It’s time for creative solutions. Why not, for instance, refuel ships in international waters, accepting gold, all sorts of cash, debit cards, bank transfers in rubles, yuan, rupees and rials— and everything bookable on a website?

Now that’s a way Iran can use its tanker fleet to make a killing. Some of the tankers could be parked in— you got it — the Strait of Hormuz, with an eye on the price at Jebel Ali in the UAE to make sure this is the real deal. Add to it a duty free for the ships crews. What’s not to like? Ship owners will save fortunes on fuel bills, and crews will get all sorts of stuff at 90 percent discount in the duty free.

And let’s see whether the EU has grown a spine —  and really turbo-charge their Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) alternative payment network conceived after the Trump administration ditched the JCPOA. Because more than breaking up Eurasia integration and implementing neocon regime change, this is about the ultimate anathema; Iran is being mercilessly punished because it has bypassed the U.Sdollar on energy trade.

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Author: Tyler Durden

America’s Hottest Housing Markets See Biggest Sale Declines 

Given mortgage rates have plummeted and home prices aren’t appreciating fast enough, the real estate industry has transformed into a buyers market, where inventory is flooding top metropolitan areas across the US, reported Redfin.

Home prices were slightly lower in March, falling .10% from a year ago, to a median of $295,100 across 85 metros Redfin monitors. Although this hardly reads as a decline, it’s the first y/y decrease since February 2012.

About 10.5% or nine of the 85 metros Redfin tracks saw y/y declines in their median price in March, including a 13% plunge in San Jose and a 1% decline in San Francisco. West Coast markets are under pressure, including Los Angeles, Orange County, and Seattle recorded the largest y/y declines in the number of homes sold while more affordable markets on the East Coast saw annual sale increases.

Redfin notes that housing market activity is shifting to less expensive regions, the slight decline in the median price last month reflects just that.

“Homebuyers have backed off in West Coast metros where home prices have risen far out of their budgets,” said Redfin chief economist Daryl Fairweather. “The opposite is happening in more affordable metros where buyers are eager to buy now to take advantage of low mortgage rates. In California, where the tax burden is high, some people are finding they have to move out of state to afford to buy a home. As a result, home sales are down in metros throughout the state.”

Home sales increased 2% y/y in March, but there was a lot of variation among the 85 metro areas. Homes sold in 37 of the 85 metros recorded declines, while 24 metros saw double-digit increases in sales compared to last year.

The report showed most of the home sale declines were situated on the West Coast and some of the biggest increases were on the East Coast:

Demand in Orange County went from “good to horrible” in late 2018 Rick Palacios, director of research at John Burns Real Estate Consulting LLC, told Bloomberg. In 4Q18, sales of new homes on the coast were the weakest since the Great Recession, he said.

Across the 85 metros, cities that saw the weakest activity in home sales were listed at a steep premium versus the median price, indicating demand for luxury real estate has collapsed.

The number of homes for sale at the end of the month was up 3.6% from a year earlier in March. The number of homes newly listed for sale fell 2.8% from March 2018.

 

Redfin warns that 46 of the 85 metro areas were currently experiencing a flood of inventory in March on a y/y basis, with the largest gains coming from the West Coast: San Jose (+104.3%) and Seattle (+82.9%).

The report shows that housing markets across the US could be at a cycle turn. Let’s hope this isn’t the start of a multi-year housing slump that could leave many millennials holding the bag in West Coast cities. 

 

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Author: Tyler Durden

Globalists Detail Short- And Long-Term Guidance For Further Centralisation Of Powers

Authored by Steven Guinness,

During this month’s Spring Meetings in Washington DC, the IMF and World Bank held their annual Development Committee conference which looked at the economic outlook and potential risks for the global economy.

As is tradition, IMF head Christine Lagarde produced a written statement outlining several areas of priority. All of them were predicated on ‘reaching the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals‘. Whilst on paper the statement is geared towards emerging and developing countries, elements of it relate notably to western nations such as the United Kingdom, despite Britain being considered an advanced economy.

To explain, let’s first examine the stance taken on monetary policy:

In countries with elevated inflation or where exchange rate depreciations could trigger inflation pass-through, central banks should focus on containing inflation expectations (Angola, Argentina, Iran, Turkey). By contrast, monetary policy can be more accommodative where expectations are well anchored (Brazil, Indonesia).

In October 2018, a communique from the thirty-eighth meeting of the International Monetary and Financial Committee stated that where inflation was ‘close to or above target‘, central banks should tighten policy. On the opposite end of the scale, banks should ‘maintain monetary accommodation where inflation is below target‘.

As we have already seen since the 2016 EU referendum, the sustained fall in the value of sterling was according to the Bank of England ‘entirely‘ responsible for a subsequent spike in inflation. Doing what very few thought they would, the BOE raised interest rates in response – the first rise in over ten years. They then followed up with a second hike nine months later, with inflation remaining above the central bank’s mandate of 2%.

Today, inflation has fallen back to just below 2%. Little surprise then that there are no immediate signs of the BOE planning to raise rates for a third time in under two years. Leaving the EU without a withdrawal agreement could quickly see that change. As I have reasoned on several occasions, I believe further depreciation of the pound amidst a no deal scenario would likely see the BOE raise interest rates rather than cut them.

The statement goes on to mention that for central banks to combat exchange rate instability, they should fall back on their foreign exchange reserves. According to the IMF, such intervention ‘can be used to mitigate disorderly market conditions‘.

In the 21st century, this has yet to be tested in the UK. In a series of posts I published last month which discussed the possible demise of sterling as a reserve currency, I detailed how the Bank of England’s foreign currency holdings stand close to $150 billion. In the event of a run on the pound, it is these reserves which the bank could use to purchase sterling in an attempt to stave off a collapse. The last example of the BOE doing this was on Black Wednesday in 1992. Some $15 billion was spent on interventions, which at the time amounted to around half the bank’s currency reserves.

The IMF’s guidance on monetary policy and exchange rates are presented around policies in the short term‘. The ‘medium to longer term‘ takes in a potentially much wider breadth of economic reforms.

As expressed by the Bank for International Settlements, short term plans for central banks are measured at one to three years, with the medium term at one to six years. We can therefore assume that plans beyond the medium term would stretch out to the ten year mark and beyond, bringing them into line with the United Nation’s Agenda 2030.

Two key aspects for the medium to longer term include fiscal policy and the rise of Fintech (Financial Technology).

The IMF make it clear that ‘the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals cannot be achieved‘ without ‘robust and inclusive growth‘. This is a roundabout way of saying that widescale reforms of financial and ecological systems are necessary for globalists to fulfil the objectives mapped out by the UN.

Looking at fiscal policy first, the statement reads:

Fiscal policy needs to generate space for priority development spending, while at the same time preserving public debt sustainability. This requires tax policies and administrative reforms that broaden the tax base and enhance revenue collection, as well as prudent debt management. Increasing the efficiency of public spending is also needed, including in priority areas such as education, health, and infrastructure.

Back in 2017 I posted two articles that discussed the ‘normalisation‘ of monetary policy in the EU using speeches given by Bundesbank chairman and BIS director Jens Weidmann. The subject of national fiscal policies is one that Weidmann paid particular attention to. From his perspective, a future rise in interest rates would serve to place greater emphasis on the importance of ‘fiscal consolidation‘. Central bank intervention in the EU had, according to Weidmann, ‘blurred the boundary between monetary and fiscal policy‘.

A line that has often been spoken by central banks is that they cannot forever be ‘the only game in town‘. Weidmann’s ideal scenario would see member states relinquish their fiscal autonomy (and with it suffer further inroads into their national sovereignty) by handing control of their national finances over to a centralised authority under the directorship of the EU.

A fiscal union within the EU would represent a major advancement in the project for European integration. The first step towards the creation of the EU began in 1947 with the Paris agreement on multilateral payments. After multiple stages of centralisation spanning over forty years (for which the Bank for International Settlements played an instrumental part), 1992 saw the inception of the Maastricht Treaty which brought the EU into existence and in so doing established the Economic and Monetary Union. Six years later the European Central Bank was created, and four years on from that marked the introduction of the Euro. So far, though, a fiscal union that binds together national budgets has yet to be conceived.

Unsurprisingly, globalists continue to call for it. In 2018 the IMF published a paperdetailing the case for a fiscal union in the Euro Area. This was followed by a short precis titled, ‘The Euro Area Needs a Fiscal Union.’

To summarise, without a fiscal union in place, the IMF’s position is that ‘the architecture supporting Europe’s currency union remains incomplete and leaves the region vulnerable to future financial crises.’ They outline the solution as consisting of a ‘common fiscal policy‘, brought to fruition in the name of preserving ‘financial and economic integration and stability‘ and ‘sharing fiscal risk‘.

One important aspect the precis highlights is that the 2010-12 Euro debt crisis (which globalists coined as a ‘sovereign‘ debt crisis) led to the creation of the European Stability Mechanism. The ESM is described as being an ‘international financial institution‘ that helps countries in major financial distress by providing them with emergency loans. It currently has the capacity to lend a total of €700 billion.

Once again this is another example of crisis leading to consolidation. The push for a fiscal union has intensified over the past few years. With public debt at record highs and stymied growth in the Euro Area, it is logical to conclude that the first steps of its introduction would coincide with major economic rupture in the EU. Crisis invariably breeds opportunity for globalists.

In the IMF’s words, a fully realised fiscal union would need ‘effective rules and institutions to contain it.’ They readily admit that for such rules to get off the ground would likely require ‘moving some decision-making power from the member states to the central level.’

The economic jeopardy caused by unsustainable levels of debt is a vehicle which globalists may attempt to utilise in a bid to gain full spectrum control over national budgets.

Along with efforts towards a fiscal union is the development of Financial Technology (Fintech). On this, the statement issued by the Development Committee reads:

Diversified financial systems increase resilience and facilitate access to financial services for small enterprises and lower-income households. Recent developments in Fintech hold both promise and risks in this regard.

Fintech relates directly to the rise of digital money through the use of cryptocurrencies and the future issuance of central bank digital currencies (CBDC’s). Over the past year I have written about how both the BIS and IMF have begun to openly question ‘money in the digital age‘, whilst central banks are in the midst of reforming national payment systems that will be compatible with distributed ledger technology (DLT).

To develop a clearer picture on Fintech, once again we can reference the IMF. At the beginning of April the institution held its second meeting of the IMF Fintech Roundtable Program. Tobias Adrian, Financial Counsellor and Director of the Monetary and Capital Markets Department, gave a speech to mark the occasion (Framing the Debate on Fintech: Current Trends and Continuing Policy Concerns).

In the speech, Adrian mentions the correlation between the reform of payment systems and the use of DLT:

Recent developments in retail payments systems suggest a move toward real-time settlements, flatter structures, continuous operations, and global reach. Coinciding with these developments, an increasing number of countries are experimenting with, or researching, Distributed Ledger Technologies (DLT) for use in financial market infrastructures, although few countries have carried out pilot projects.

We also learn from the speech that the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank and the Central Bank of the Bahamas are in the advanced stages of carrying out ‘blockchain-based CBDC pilots‘. The Riksbank of Sweden, a country that is rapidly becoming cashless, is also advancing plans to issue what is termed an ‘e-krona‘ currency.

Adrian makes the point that Fintech provides ‘new opportunities for central banks to improve their services – including issuing digital currency.’ A recent blog post of mine (BIS General Manager Outlines Vision for Central Bank Digital Currencies) looks into this in more detail.

Exactly how far advanced globalists are in introducing digital currencies is an open question. If we go simply by what the IMF and the BIS are communicating, they remain in the developmental stages, with less than a quarter of central banks actively seeking to issue CBDC’s and just four pilot tests being undertaken. But behind the scenes the push in the direction of digital currencies grows exponentially. A sign that globalists are rapidly advancing an agenda is when they ratchet up communications on the subject.

According to Adrian, the Fintech Roundtable Program was launched to ‘facilitate peer-to-peer, in-depth dialogue and information-sharing among the IMF’s member countries regarding the fintech challenges they face and discuss policy responses.’

The sharing of information, under the direction of the IMF, has no doubt accelerated over the past twelve months. As central banks undertake surveys and conduct pilot tests of new technology, the data accrued eventually goes towards building what Adrian calls a ‘global consensus‘.

Tied in with this are calls for regularly reforms which Adrian eludes to:

New issues are also being raised by the introduction of new products that fall within cross-sectoral regulatory gaps, and that are outside existing legal definitions. Such products require adapting prudential regimes and modernizing the legal frameworks.

Changes on the legal and regularly front are already underway, with China devising a new system of regulations on Fintech and the Swiss Federal Council beginning a consultation on adapting federal law to ‘DLT developments‘.

What I believe these issues combined illustrate is that ambitions for regional fiscal unions and digital currencies are in no way confined to developing countries. If anything, such nations are being used as test beds for piloting technology and preparing the groundwork for its implementation to advanced economies.

I also think it would be unwise to assume that extreme fluctuations in currency markets, as witnessed in countries like Argentina and India, will not become a feature in the West as central banks edge nearer to making CBDC’s a reality. From a UK perspective, Brexit is a prime vehicle for destabilising foreign exchange markets.

If globalists ever manage to successfully present CBDC’s as a solution to economic crisis – one that the general population buys into – that is when their rise will be unstoppable.

2025 is one staging post for reforms to the financial system. 2030 remains the target for implementing sustainable development goals – goals that work hand in hand with the full digitisation of money. Time is increasingly short, but recognising the dangers now and resisting the advancement of what is a globalist agenda for control remains within our ability.

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Author: Tyler Durden

She Wrote The Patriot Act. Her Next Job Is With Facebook

Facebook announced Monday that Jennifer Newstead, a Trump appointee who served in the Department of Justice (DoJ) under President Bush, will join the social media company as General Counsel, supervising its global legal functions.

Newstead replaces Colin Stretch, who announced in 3Q18 that he will exit. Stretch will remain with Facebook through the transition phase, expected to be completed in the coming months.

“Jennifer is a seasoned leader whose global perspective and experience will help us fulfill our mission,” said Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer. “We are also truly grateful to Colin for his dedicated leadership and wise counsel over the past nine years. He has played a crucial role in some of our most important projects and has created a strong foundation for Jennifer to build upon.”

Newstead brings a terrifying history of lobbying and legislating for an Orwellian style of mass electronic surveillance of Americans.

The Hill explains she was credited with writing the controversial 2001 Patriot Act, a piece of legislation that stripped Americans of their First and Fourth Amendments in the name of fighting the War on Terror.

In a 2002 statement, Assistant Attorney General Viet Dinh described Newstead’s role in drafting the Patriot Act: “Her enhanced leadership duties and her excellent service on a range of issues — including helping craft the new U.S.A. Patriot Act to protect the United States against terror — have earned her this important distinction. She is first among equals.”

Congress enacted the Patriot Act in the wake of September 11, 2001 attacks, the Act expanded the scope of the government’s surveillance powers to investigate terrorism, organized crime, and drug trafficking. It allowed government investigators to use roving wiretaps and the ability to collect telephone records from US carriers.

The Patriot Act also launched the national security letter (NSL), an administrative subpoena issued by the government to collect specific data without the authorization of a court or judge, citing threats to national security.

Facebook continues to process the National Security Agency (NSA) data demands, which have spiked in the last five years. The company’s lawyers received more than 32,000 requests for data from law enforcement in the second 2H18, and 20,000 accounts were requested by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court over the same period.

Newstead’s new position will likely spearhead Facebook’s legal troubles as the company continues to fight ongoing privacy battles. Her professional history suggests – she will be more inclined to accept government requests for users’ data than fight them. 

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Author: Tyler Durden

REIT ETF Routed With Biggest Outflow In History

Last week, with a delay of about two years, mall and shopping center stocks and REITs finally tumbled, led by Tanger Factory Outlet Centers, as Scotiabank warned about surging mall occupancy risks, while the 10-year Treasury yield reached its highest level since the March Fed meeting, an ominous development for most REITs.

In justifying its opinion, ScotiaBank calculated that the potential impact of bankruptcies to malls (SKT, MAC, SPG, TCO) was at least double that of shopping centers (REG, WRI, KIM, FRT, BRX) due to apparel exposure; meanwhile Tanger crashed to a nine-year low as the stock screened as having the greatest level of exposure to tenants with a bankruptcy risk in malls.

As a reminder, shorting malls via CMBX has long been dubbed the “next big short”, one which even Goldman recommended to clients, while providing the handy cheat sheet which CMBX has the most sensitivity to what part of the commercial real estate sector.

And while investors have long been shorting the melting ice cube that is malls, via CMBX, that changed last week when REITs finally got routed: “About 60% of the ~40 retailer bankruptcies since 2017 were apparel-focused; only 4 of the total bankruptcies were listed as top REIT tenants, so we caution that our analysis may under-represent true bankruptcy risk,” ScotiaBank analyst Nicholas Yulico wrote.

Then this week, the rout finally spilled over to REIT ETFs, and in the first three days of the week, more than $475 million in funds was pulled from the $2.4 billion SPDR Dow Jones REIT ETF, or RWR, reducing the fund’s assets by about 15% according to Bloomberg. The bulk of outflows took place on Monday, when the fund lost $403 million, the most since 2004, in what appeared to be a delayed response to last week’s REIT collapse.

And while the general aversion to REITs took place in response to a (delayed) realization that creeping mall defaults will sooner or later catch up with the equity tranche, another reason cited for the plunge has been the creeping push higher in interest rates, although considering the sharp rate drop in recent days, the REIT plunge was driven not by interest rate fears but by idiosyncratic factors such as mounting delinquencies and defaults.

Confirming as much, Bloomberg notes that REITs have other exogenous concerns, including potential impacts of retailer and mall bankruptcies. Curiously, despite the sudden and sharp outflow from the ETF, both RWR and the MSCI US REIT Index remain up about 14% year-to-date, as investor refuse to anticipate a worst case scenario.

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Author: Tyler Durden

Mueller Time Is Finally Over (But Not For Democrats)

Authored by Peter van Buren via The American Conservative,

When it comes to the Mueller report, believing there are still more questions than answers means refusing to accept the answers. With the release of the redacted report, #MuellerTime is now over. Robert Mueller has ended conclusively the three-year Russiagate tantrum, and chosen not to pursue obstruction via indictment or a direct referral to Congress for action. He could have but he did not. Trump will serve his full term and voters will decide whether he gets another. That should be it.

But it won’t be. Mueller’s inclusion of information on obstruction of justice that portrays unbecoming conduct by the president that nonetheless doesn’t rise to the level of indictable crime allows Democrats to decide where to take this next. Mueller has not tossed the ball to a Democratic Congress to play out its check and balance role so much as handed dirt to Democratic politicians to use as they see fit. It’s an odd end for the righteous Robert Mueller, twisting the tools of justice and state to slander.

The report was issued in two “volumes.” Volume I focuses on Russian interference in the election. Volume II focuses on obstruction of justice.

Volume I concludes two important and exclusive things. First, the Russian government, under Barack Obama’s watch, tried to influence the election via social media and by obtaining Democratic National Committee emails. And second, no American colluded, cooperated, or coordinated with that effort. The report (volume I, page 2) is clear that the Trump campaign’s reacting to or even anticipating released materials was not criminal. A crime would have required coordinated interaction, not merely two parties (in Mueller’s words) “informed by or responsive to the other’s actions or interests.”

An analogy (not in the report) might involve the Clinton campaign and the infamous Access Hollywood tape. The campaign may have heard that the tape was going to leak and exploited its release, but that would not have created “collusion” between Clinton and the leaker.

The report also deflates any credibility left in the Steele Dossier and most of the Russiagate reporting. None of the subplots matter outside of the Washington-Twitter-New York corridor because either they didn’t happen or they did not constitute a crime. That includes the Trump Tower meeting, the Moscow Hotel Project, the polling data, the Alfa Bank server, the changed Republican platform on Ukraine, Jeff Sessions meeting Ambassador Kislyak, the meeting in the Seychelles, Cohen (not) in Prague, Manafort (not) meeting Assange, and Trump (not) ordering Cohen to lie to Congress.

All of that should be in the headlines but isn’t. That’s because of a new focus on obstruction of justice.

Volume I of the report deals with actions taken independently by the Russians that had no coordinated connection to Trump’s own actions or decisions. The second half deals with obstruction of justice, events that occurred because there was an investigation into collusion that itself never happened. Obstruction, like a perjury trap, is a process crime, which can only exist because an investigation exists. As with most of Mueller’s perjury convictions in this saga, there was no underlying crime

And as with collusion, we already know the ending on obstruction. Mueller did not indict because the evidence did not support it. Attorney General Bob Barr and his deputy Rod Rosenstein, by law the actual intended recipients of the report, agreed with Mueller. Trump’s actions were lawful. Though some of them were troublesome and even immoral, they were not criminal. Most significantly, Mueller could not indict on obstruction because it was not possible to determine that Trump had showed the legally required corrupt intent. All of that precedes any consideration given to Department of Justice and Office of Legal Counsel advice that a sitting president cannot be indicted.

If Mueller had an obstruction case, he would have made it. He could have specifically recommended indictment and made explicit that the complex legal issues around presidential obstruction meant a decision was beyond his and the attorney general’s constitutional roles and must be addressed by Congress via impeachment. He could have indicted any number of people in Trump’s inner circle, or issued a sealed indictment against post-White House Trump himself. He could have said that he couldn’t indict solely because of DOJ/OLC rules and therefore explicitly created a road map for impeachment to guide the next step.

None of that happened. Mueller had no reason to speak in riddles, show restraint, send signals, embed hidden messages, or hint at things that others should do. He could have swung in any number of ways but instead found reason to leave the bat on his shoulder. Volume II should have ended there.

But it seems obvious from reading the report that stories alleging that members of Mueller’s team saw evidence of obstruction that they found “alarming and significant” were true. Barr did a great disservice in omitting at least mention of this from his summary, as it forms the bulk of Volume II and will fuel nearly everything that happens next.

Despite no indictment, the report outlines 10 instances containing elements of obstructed justice by Trump, with a suggestion (volume II, page 8) that someone may want to look again. Apparently not everyone on Mueller’s team agreed with the boss’s conclusion that the evidence was insufficient, and Mueller chose to allow what is essentially dissent Talmudically contradicting his major Volume II conclusion to be baked into his own work.

Mueller was tasked with making an unambiguous decision: either to prosecute or not. He made it, and then included pages of reasons suggesting he might be wrong even as he also found space to say that the dissent might also be missing the key element of corrupt intent. There is no explanation for this confusing, ambiguous, and jumbled departure from traditional prosecutorial judgment. The final line (volume II, page 182) reads like a Twilight Zone script: “while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”

One focus of the dissent is on Trump firing former FBI director James Comey. For this to be obstruction, Trump would have had to have fired Comey with the corrupt intent to impede the investigation. The Mueller report is clear that this was not what happened. Despite the public messaging, the firing was related to Comey’s mishandling of the Clinton email case. The report shows that the president was angry at Comey for telling him privately that he was not under investigation but refusing to say so publicly, as Comey had done (once) for Hillary Clinton. Volume II, page 75: “Substantial evidence indicates that the catalyst for the president’s decision to fire Comey was Comey’s unwillingness to publicly state that the president was not personally under investigation.” That’s not obstruction of justice; it’s presidential rage.

Yet elsewhere, the report says something more…leading to set up the argument for obstruction post-Comey. Volume II, page 7: “Some of [Trump’s] actions, such as firing the FBI director, involved facially lawful acts,” but “at the same time, the President’s position as the head of the Executive Branch provided him with unique and powerful means of influencing official proceedings, subordinate officers, and potential witnesses—all of which is relevant to a potential obstruction-of-justice analysis.” It was even clearer elsewhere. Volume II, page 157: “[we] found multiple acts by the President that were capable of exerting undue influence over law enforcement investigations, including the Russian-interference and obstruction investigations.”

Mueller’s team concluded that Trump lawfully fired Comey, as the intent was not to obstruct, but it was still dirty play, “undue influence,” not a crime but still something that, according to Volume II, page 2, “presents difficult issues that prevent us from conclusively determining that no criminal conduct occurred.”

Ironically, while Trump was not under investigation when he fired Comey for refusing to say that publicly, he was placed under investigation by the FBI (for obstruction) after he fired Comey.

The report suggests that Trump’s post-Comey actions (broken down into 10 episodes) would have constituted obstruction if seen as a pattern of behavior, not as the discrete acts the law focuses on, and if they had included the critical element of corrupt intent. Those “if” words are doing all the work because there was no corrupt intent. Mueller said so.

So if Trump could not take his obstructive actions to cover up his crimes with Russia because they did not exist to be covered up, i.e. corrupt intent, why did he act in ways that appear designed to disrupt the investigation? Mueller answers the question. Vol II, page 61:

Evidence indicates that the President was angered by both the existence of the Russia investigation and the public reporting that he was under investigation, which he knew was not true based on Comey’s representations. The President complained to advisers that if people thought Russia helped him with the election, it would detract from what he had accomplished. Other evidence indicates that the President was concerned about the impact of the Russia investigation on his ability to govern. The President complained that the perception that he was under investigation was hurting his ability to conduct foreign relations, particularly with Russia.

If you believe Mueller, Trump was concerned about his ability to govern, about as far from corrupt intent as you can get. At the pre-release press conference, Barr agreed with Mueller’s assessment. Trump knew, and Mueller came to know, that he did not collude with the Russians. To show corrupt intent, Mueller would have had to prove Trump was trying to stymie the process that would ultimately clear him. And while there can be obstruction without an underlying crime, that requires even clearer evidence of corrupt intent, because in such cases obstruction on its face is counterproductive.

Everything that’s happened over the last two years was because Democrats, the media, and the FBI falsely conflated Russia’s actions with Trump’s, and then imagined that Trump committed serial acts of obstruction to cover up something he never did.

Prosecutors don’t issue road maps for others. They charge or drop a case. Not charging is a conclusion and the only one that matters in the end. The Mueller report is not a pretty picture of power being exercised. But ultimately Trump did not commit a chargeable crime, and in between some muddled dissent text, Mueller the prosecutor said so.

Politicians, however, are bound by a different code. They can conduct investigations, hold hearings, speculate about what’s under black redaction bars, and file articles of impeachment whose only purpose is to drag Trump through the Benghazi-like muck. They can desperately pursue a climax to this anti-climatic report, but they’ll never achieve it. Democrats know they have no chance of impeaching Trump.

The question is, by playing at trying, do they think they have a better chance of defeating him in 2020?

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Author: Tyler Durden