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Established 1973 — Last updated: Monday, February 27, 2017, 11:23 AM
Aggregated news for a better world – we raise awareness of what corporate media stifles
Today's posts in bigger type—>
Prior 2/3 days in little type.
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Obama's ACA didn't fix this:
The U.S. wastes $1.6 Trillion/yr on bloated health care spending compared with the 2013 OECD per capita average of advanced countries, which becomes extra cost overhead on U.S. exports—resulting in offshoring manufacturing and jobs. Let's end price gouging and adopt efficient practices instead of cutting Medicare and Medicaid coverage as part of some "Grand Bargain"
In 2013 US total per capita health care spending was $8713, $4589 more per person than in France—acclaimed as having the 'best' healthcare—and $5260 above the OECD average without better results. (Ref. 2011, 2009, 2007, selected 2007 with avg. doctor visits showing we're least cared for for the money, 2003 and 1998.)

Lastly, importantly, health worker pay is NOT the problem.

Head of the EPA told the conservative audience they would be ‘justified’ in believing the environmental regulator should be completely disbanded

Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), has vowed to roll back flagship regulations that tackle climate change and water pollution, telling a conservative audience in Maryland they would be “justified” in believing the environmental regulator should be completely disbanded.

The Trump appointee signalled that the president is set to start the work of dismantling climate and water rules as early as next week. Pruitt said the administration will “deal” with the Clean Power Plan, Barack Obama’s centrepiece policy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and the Waters of the United States rule, which gives the EPA wider latitude to reduce pollution of waterways.

Speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), Pruitt said the EPA under Obama’s administration caused “regulatory uncertainty” for businesses and trampled on the rights of states and Congress. He promised to “restore federalism” by giving states more of a say in air and water protection and ensure that “regulations are reined in”.

“The agency has been used by the previous administration in ways we couldn’t imagine eight years ago,” he said.

“People across the country look at the EPA at the way they look at [the Internal Revenue Service]. We want to change that. There are a lot of changes that need to take place at my agency to restore the rule of law and federalism.

“This president, who is leading with great decisiveness, great action, is saying we will fix that. I’m grateful we’ve got that kind of leader in the White House. We should celebrate that.”

Oliver Milman | The Guardian
Last year, photographer Matt Black documented the logistics chain of international food aid from a warehouse hub in Dubai to Unity State in South Sudan, where famine has just been declared
Various | The Guardian
Complaints about ‘green crap’ have been a convenient excuse for governments unable or unwilling to intervene and cap suppliers’ prices

Last week, photographs of wind turbines were once again juxtaposed with headlines about rising energy prices. The cause on this occasion was no less pre-eminent a body than a Lords committee, comprising former chancellor Norman Lamont and other heavyweight peers.

“To reduce carbon emissions, governments have subsidised renewables, passing on the cost to consumers in their electricity bills. The average domestic electricity bill was 58% higher in 2016 than it was in 2003,” the economic affairs committee said in its report on energy policy.

Anyone reading it would have been forgiven for directing their anger at windfarms when increases in their energy bills land, as half of the big six energy suppliers are planning.

Yet the peers’ report admits that “rising international prices for fossil fuels” were the main driver for energy bills going up over the period. Renewable energy subsidies on bills – the “green crap”, as former PM David Cameron reportedly called them – do add a cost. But it’s small, at 10% of an average dual-fuel bill, as the peers themselves note.

The blame for the latest round of price rises announced by energy suppliers, big and small, does not lie primarily with wind turbines and solar panels. Energy regulator Ofgem was clear about that in front of MPs last week and in its analysis last month.

'Business Leader' | The Guardian
Revealed: thousands of children at London schools breathe toxic air [you can't see the most dangerous pollution, the particles are too small which makes them dangerous]
Exclusive: 802 schools, nurseries and colleges are in areas where levels of nitrogen dioxide breach EU legal limits

Tens of thousands of children at more than 800 schools, nurseries and colleges in London are being exposed to illegal levels of air pollution that risk causing lifelong health problems, the Guardian can disclose.

A study identifies 802 educational institutions where pupils as young as three are being exposed to levels of nitrogen dioxide that breach EU legal limits and which the government accepts are harmful to health.

The research, commissioned by the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, suggests thousands more children and young people are at risk from toxic air than previously thought.

Khan said the results were devastating and warned that it was the capital’s poorest children who were bearing the brunt of the air pollution crisis.

“It is an outrage that more than 800 schools, nurseries and other educational institutions are in areas breaching legal air pollution limits,” he said.

“This is an environmental challenge, a public health challenge but also – and no one talks about this – it is fundamentally an issue of social justice. If you are a poor Londoner you are more likely to suffer from illegal air.”

Matthew Taylor and Sandra Laville | The Guardian
Twenty countries aim to raise $600m to fill gap left by Donald Trump’s ban on funding for pro-abortion NGOs in developing world

The Dutch government has voiced hope that the UK will join 20 countries to set up a safe abortion fund to fill the gap left by Donald Trump’s “global gag rule”.

Lilianne Ploumen, the Dutch international development minister, is leading an international campaign to raise $600m (#480m) to compensate for the Trump administration’s ban on funding for NGOs that provide abortion or information on the procedure to women in developing countries.

Belgium, Denmark and Norway have joined the Netherlands in pledging $10m each, while at least 15 other countries are preparing to join the scheme, including Canada, Cape Verde, Estonia, Finland and Luxembourg.

The British government has yet to declare whether it will sign up to the initiative, prompting concerns from British Labour MPs that Trump’s ban could undermine the Department for International Development’s work in promoting the health and education of poor women around the world.

Jennifer Rankin | The Guardian
The Oceans Melting Greenland project is taking important measurements to determine how fast sea levels will rise
John Abraham | The Guardian
Gas drilling will not be the economic bonanza that supporters claim.
Some 4,100 complaint filings—all told, one official complaint for nearly every well drilled—were filed against fracking in Pennsylvania, nearly one official complaint per well drilled, yet it appears that the vast majority of complaints were never investigated.

Next week, on Feb. 28, the Health, Education and Environmental Affairs Committee in the Maryland Senate will take up legislation dealing with shale-gas drilling (fracking). For public safety, economic, and environmental reasons, we believe the technology should not be allowed in Maryland.

Nearly three out of four senators have indicated a willingness to extend the current fracking moratorium, set to expire in October. This suggests they recognize that gas-drilling will not be the economic bonanza that supporters have claimed since 2011, when the mountains above Marcellus Shale deposits in Western Maryland were first targeted.

Paul Roberts and Mike Tidwell / Bay Journal News Service | Baltimore Chronicle
Researchers will have to deal with attacks from a range of powerful foes in the coming years – and for many, it has already started
Oliver Milman | The Guardian

ExxonMobil Corporation will admit this week that it can no longer profitably develop up to 3.6 billion barrels of its Alberta tar sands/oil sands reserves unless oil prices rise, the Wall Street Journal reports.

The formal acknowledgement, forced on Exxon by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, followed a quarterly report last fall in which Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s former employer admitted that up to 4.6 billion barrels of its reserves might have to stay in the ground.

The move comes after Exxon burned through $20 billion to “put the oil sands at the centre of its growth plans” through its Kearl project, about 70 kilometres north of Fort McMurray, and “highlights how dramatically the prospects of the region have dimmed,” the Journal reports [sub req’d]. “Once considered a safe bet, Canada’s vast deposits are emerging as a prominent case of reserves being stranded by a combination of high costs, low prices, and tough new environmental rules.”

Sarah Kent, Bradley Olson, and Georgi Kantchev | The Energy Mix

The highly-respected medical publication, The Lancet, released an important new study yesterday, Future life expectancy in 35 industrialised countries: projections with a Bayesian model ensemble (hat tip Emma). To the extent it was noticed by the media, this Google News search show that coverage focused on how life expectancies are expected to continue to rise, to the degree that the projected best performer, South Korea, will have better than 50% odds an expected lifespan of 90 years for women.

However, the focus on the high performers, which after South Korea are, in order, France, Spain, and Japan, gives short shrift to the continuing fall in the relative performance of the US, which Lancet projects as landing solidly in third world terrain in terms of women’s life expectancies. Men show better relative results and do well now by global standards, but they show a much bigger expected relative fall in the upcoming decade plus.

If you look at the data charts, the big reason is that the researchers project the US to show very little in the way of improvement, while they anticipate many other countries to register big gains, to the degree that they leapfrog the US. Japan is even more stagnant, but it now ranks so high that the relative fall is not as dramatic.

Posted by YVES SMITH | Naked Capitalism

Reference:
dryriver | SlashDot

....Researchers, Eicke Latz at the University of Bonn and colleagues, followed up on the parents’ hypothesis and found that in mice, cyclodextrin indeed blocked plaque formation, melted away plaques that had already formed in arteries, reduced atherosclerosis-associated inflammation, and revved up cholesterol metabolism—even in rodents fed cholesterol-rich diets.

Beth Mole | ars technica | Ref.
Though it won't 'cure' Alzheimer's, tests show compound, similar to that found in energy drinks, clears amyloid beta plaques, which build up in the brain in early stages of Alzheimer’s
Ian Sample | Guardian | Ref.
JOE ROMM | Climate Progress | Ref.
Phys.org | Ref.
Green buildings and better infrastructure would not only spur economic growth but also cut carbon emissions equal to India’s annual output
Suzanne Goldenberg | Guardian | Ref.

A growing body of evidence suggests pollution can do a number on the brain. The July/August Mother Jones cover story chronicled the research connecting neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's to the dirty air we breathe; studies have found that pollution may also age the brain prematurely. And according to new research from the University of Texas-El Paso, pollution's damage to the brain may start even sooner than was previously thought: Fourth and fifth graders exposed to exhaust emissions, researchers found, don't do as well in school as their peers who breathe cleaner air.

Gabrielle Canon | Mother Jones | Ref.
Janet Redman / Foreign Policy in Focus | Informed Comment | Ref.
Though Canada's system is the second most expensive in the world per capita, it would save America $1.3 Trillion/yr and cover everyone
OLGA KHAZAN | Atlantic | Ref.
Lesley Stahl discovers the shock and anxiety of a cancer diagnosis can be followed by a second jolt: the astronomical price of cancer drugs
[All the other OECD countries negotiate much lower drug & medical procedure costs]
CBS News | Ref.
Elisabeth Rosenthal in New York Times | Ref.




Betsy DeVos gave a speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), explaining that the programs created by George W. Bush and Barack Obama had failed, and she would replace them with her own ideas. She did not point out that her own ideas have failed too. Just look at the mess she has made of Michigan, where the state’s rankings on the federal test (NAEP) have plummeted, and where Detroit is a mess thanks to the miasma of school choice.

Diane Ravitch | Common Dreams
Revealed: how US billionaire helped to back Brexit [and Trump] [at what point is the label "traitor" apropriate?]
Robert Mercer, who bankrolled Donald Trump, played key role with ‘sinister’ advice on using Facebook data
US hedge fund manager Robert Mercer, a long-time friend of Nigel Farage, is now known to be one of the owners of the Breitbart News Network. Photograph: USA/Rex
US hedge fund manager Robert Mercer, a long-time friend of Nigel Farage, is now known to be one of the owners of the Breitbart News Network. Photograph: USA/Rex

The US billionaire who helped bankroll Donald Trump’s campaign for the presidency played a key role in the campaign for Britain to leave the EU, the Observer has learned.

It has emerged that Robert Mercer, a hedge-fund billionaire, who helped to finance the Trump campaign and who was revealed this weekend as one of the owners of the rightwing Breitbart News Network, is a long-time friend of Nigel Farage. He directed his data analytics firm to provide expert advice to the Leave campaign on how to target swing voters via Facebook – a donation of services that was not declared to the electoral commission.

Cambridge Analytica, an offshoot of a British company, SCL Group, which has 25 years’ experience in military disinformation campaigns and “election management”, claims to use cutting-edge technology to build intimate psychometric profiles of voters to find and target their emotional triggers. Trump’s team paid the firm more than $6m (£4.8m) to target swing voters, and it has now emerged that Mercer also introduced the firm – in which he has a major stake – to Farage.

The communications director of Leave.eu, Andy Wigmore, told the Observer that the longstanding friendship between Nigel Farage and the Mercer family led Mercer to offer his help – free – to the Brexit campaign because of their shared goals. Wigmore said that he introduced Farage and Leave.eu to Cambridge Analytica: “They were happy to help. Because Nigel is a good friend of the Mercers. And Mercer introduced them to us. He said, ‘Here’s this company we think may be useful to you’. What they were trying to do in the US and what we were trying to do had massive parallels. We shared a lot of information.”

The strategy involved harvesting data from people’s Facebook and other social media profiles and then using machine learning to “spread” through their networks. Wigmore admitted the technology and the level of information it gathered from people was “creepy”. He said the campaign used this information, combined with artificial intelligence, to decide who to target with highly individualised advertisements and had built a database of more than a million people, based on advice Cambridge Analytica supplied. Two weeks ago Arron Banks, Leave.eu’s founder, stated in a series of tweets that Gerry Gunster (Leave.eu’s pollster) and Cambridge Analytica with “world class” AI had helped them gain “unprecedented levels of engagement”. “AI won it for Leave,” he said.

Carole Cadwalladr | The Guardian

....Trump’s petty attacks on journalists as enemies of America, as the worst people, and as irrationally denying him the credit for his 4 weeks of economic turnaround, are deeply worrisome to many Americans sensitive to the danger of a spiral down into authoritarian rule. William H. McRaven, the retired four-star admiral and former Navy Seal who led the raid against Usama Bin Laden, called Trump’s remark on the press as an enemy of the people “the greatest threat to democracy” he has ever seen.

Trump’s immature sidelining of reporters on his enemy’s list kept rolling on this weekend. White House spokesman Sean Spicer was set to do an on-camera press briefing on Friday, and then Donald Trump spoke at the conservative gathering CPAC. It is a custom that the spokesman doesn’t do an on-camera event the same day the president gives a substantial address. So Spicer switched to doing what is called a “gaggle,” a smaller briefing in his office attended only be a few reporters in a pool who then would convey his remarks to others.

Spicer pared down the invitee list to the bare bones. He excluded the BBC, CNN, the New York Times, the Guardian, the Los Angeles Times, Buzzfeed, the Daily Mail and Politico, among others. He allowed ABC, Fox News, Breitbart News, Reuters and the Washington Times. Breitbart is not a news outlet, but a propaganda arm of elements of the Ku Klux Klan who wear suits rather than white robes.

The exclusions were so egregious and petty that the Associated Press, USA Today and Time magazine declined to be present. The Washington Post and McClatchy did not know about the disinvitees, and said that if they had been aware of what was going on, they would not have attended, either.

Since Spicer often conveys fake news (the Atlanta Attack) or pro-Trump propaganda at his briefings, it isn’t clear that the excluded media were exactly missing anything.

Juan Cole | Informed Comment
The Guardian, New York Times, CNN and more were barred from ‘gaggle’ hours after Trump once again called much of the media an ‘enemy of American people’
Sabrina Siddiqui | The Guardian
Unprofessional journalists are 'roasted'.
BOB SOMERBY in The Daily Howler | EVERY DAY
'Incredibly Disappointing': Democrats Choose Tom Perez to Head Party [not changing is not the answer; can a party taking large campaign donations from healthcare companies ever support price-controlled single-payer?]
DNC 'chose to continue the failed Clinton strategy of prioritizing wealthy donors over the activist base'

Democrats on Saturday chose Tom Perez to lead the party, sparking criticism from progressive organizations who say picking the former labor secretary over the other front-runner, Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), was a missed opportunity for the party.

Perez's win was secured in a second round of voting by the Democratic National Committee (DNC) gathered in Atlanta, getting 235 votes to Ellison's 200.

It marks the end of a race many observers saw as a choice between the establishment and the progressive wing of the party. Ellison had the backing of lawmakers like Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and groups including National Nurses United and the Communications Workers of America; Perez was backed by "many from former President Obama's political orbit," as ABC News writes, and "is viewed—with good reason—as a reliable functionary and trustworthy loyalist by those who have controlled the party and run it into the ground," journalist Glenn Greenwald wrote this week.

Andrea Germanos, staff writer | Common Dreams
Trump national security adviser wants to avoid term 'radical Islamic terrorism', sources say [McMaster seems an unusually sane member of Trump's administration]
HR McMaster felt phrase castigates ‘an entire religion’ and indicated ‘he’s not on board’ – a contrast with the president and many key staff members

HR McMaster, a respected army lieutenant general, struck notes more consistent with traditional counterterrorism analysts and espoused consensus foreign-policy views during a meeting he held with his new National Security Council staff on Thursday.

Some in the meeting left with questions about whether McMaster’s evident disagreements with Trump and his key aides portend further turbulence for the key national security and foreign policy decision-making forum.

Participants tell the Guardian that they were struck by the contrast between McMaster’s worldview and that of the president, who has repeatedly used a phrase that Muslims in the US and globally feel portrays them as threats to be confronted.

A participant, paraphrasing McMaster, said: “He said he doesn’t want to call it radical Islamic terrorism because the terrorists are, quote, ‘un-Islamic’.”

Spencer Ackerman | The Guardian
Oust millions of people from the economy and just watch the G.D.P. drop.

Let’s be clear: The moral case against President Trump’s plan to uproot and expel millions of unauthorized immigrants is open-and-shut. But what about the economic cost? This is where deeply shameful collides with truly stupid.

The Migration Policy Institute reported in 2013 that the federal government spends more each year on immigration enforcement — through Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Border Patrol — than on all other federal law enforcement agencies combined. The total has risen to more than $19 billion a year, and more than $306 billion in all since 1986, measured in 2016 dollars. This exceeds the sum of all spending for the Federal Bureau of Investigation; the Drug Enforcement Administration; the Secret Service; the Marshals Service; and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

ICE and the Border Patrol already refer more cases for federal prosecution than the entire Justice Department, and the number of people they detain each year (more than 400,000) is greater than the number of inmates being held by the Federal Bureau of Prisons for all other federal crimes.

That is blank-check, steroidal enforcement — and Mr. Trump and the Homeland Security secretary, John Kelly, want more.

THE EDITORIAL BOARD | The New York Times
The president, former Ukip leader Nigel Farage and NRA chief Wayne LaPierre addressed CPAC, the biggest conservative conference in the world on Friday
Paul Owen | The Guardian
Steve Bannon: Trump is 'maniacally focused' on executing promises [videos; will increasingly unregulated and immoral capitalism save us?]
Chief White House strategist pushes economic nationalist agenda at CPAC and continues relentless attacks on media, vowing: ‘Every day is going to be a fight’

Steve Bannon, the man seen as the power behind Donald Trump’s throne, has declared that the president will take the US back from a “corporatist, globalist media” that opposes his brand of economic nationalism.

Trump is “maniacally focused” on fulfilling his campaign pledges, Bannon warned, predicting a daily fight against the media he has branded as the opposition party.

“The mainstream media ought to understand something: all those promises are going to be implemented,” Bannon told a gathering of thousands of conservatives near Washington on Thursday, who feted him and the White House chief of staff, Reince Priebus.

Bannon is a liberal bete noire whose confrontational, populist brand of Republican politics also upends decades of conservative orthodoxy. He has emerged as Trump’s most powerful aide and been dubbed “Trump’s Rasputin” or, in Twitterspeak, #PresidentBannon. On Thursday, he stepped out of the shadows to make rare public remarks.

David Smith and Sabrina Siddiqui | The Guardian

WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—Saying “Enough is enough,” Republican senators on Friday angrily accused their constituents of “intentionally and opportunistically” using recent town-hall meetings as vehicles to express themselves.

One of the angriest Republicans, Senator Tom Cotton, of Arkansas, said he was “disgusted and offended” by the “flagrant exercise of freedom of speech” he witnessed at his town hall.

“The spectacle of people standing up, asking their elected representatives questions, and expecting them to answer is the most disgraceful thing I’ve ever experienced,” Cotton said. “This will not stand.”

Cotton accused “outside agitators” of sending voters to the town halls “to cynically exploit an obscure provision in the Constitution called the First Amendment.”

“I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but isn’t it a little suspicious that, in town hall after town hall, all these voters were so well-versed in one tiny sentence in the Constitution?” he said. “It doesn’t pass the smell test.”

While Cotton said that he would consider participating in future town halls, he warned that some modifications to the town-hall format were necessary, such as banning voters from the events.

“We need to send a strong message to these people,” he said. “A town-hall meeting is not a time for everyone in town to come to a hall and meet.”

Humor: Andy Borowitz | The New Yorker

Rep. Dave Trott’s constituents in the Northeastern suburbs of Detroit gathered at his office to ask him about his stance on health care, refugees and other urgent issues. Instead of scheduling a meeting, Trott’s staff called the police.

The delegation was organized by Michigan People’s campaign, an affiliate of People’s Action, a national organization fighting for economic and social justice.

Since last weekend dozens of other town hall meetings and constituent forums have been dominated by vocal and angry people wondering where their lawmakers stand on Trump’s agenda, in particular regarding plans to dismantle the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Embracing the #ResistanceRecess hashtag, national organizations such as MoveOn.com, Daily Kos, the AFL-CIO and People’s Action are helping mobilize grassroots frustration with the direction of the country after just one month of the Trump presidency.

Many Republicans in Congress have concealed or simply refused to hold public town halls and opted to spend their time at home in private fundraisers among loyal supporters. Rep. John Faso (R-N.Y.) was met outside of a recent $1,000-per-ticket fundraiser in Albany with dozens of protesters demanding a public town hall. The protest, organized by People’s Action affiliate Citizen Action of New York along with the SEIU 1199 health care workers union, included many first-time protesters.

Libero Della Piana | Common Dreams
Just a handful of individuals could restore the checks and balances that are so needed in the Trump era

Jim Jeffords was the first senator in history to change the balance of power in the upper chamber, but it's not unprecedented in state capitals. Eight New York state senators who were elected as Democrats currently caucus with the Republicans, giving the Grand Old Party a veto on policy that the solidly blue state's electorate never voted for.

It would take guts to do the same in D.C.'s hyper-polarized environment. Many Republicans would see it as treason. When Jeffords retired after three decades on Capitol Hill, only one of his former colleagues took the floor to praise him in keeping with the tradition in the upper chamber.

But today, some Republicans who are skeptical of Trump would understand – and even applaud – the move. And of course they would become heroes to millions of Americans who fear for their futures under this president. It's also very likely that in the future, history would look back kindly on their courage in defense of the republic.

Joshua Holland | RollingStone
In recognition of the dangers inherent in the consolidation of mainstream corporate media The Baltimore Chronicle & Sentinel (formerly a newspaper) advances awareness of important ignored news and opinion.
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HOW PETER THIEL’S PALANTIR HELPED THE NSA SPY ON THE WHOLE WORLD [3:51 video; technology East Germany's STASI would have loved!]

DONALD TRUMP HAS inherited the most powerful machine for spying ever devised. How this petty, vengeful man might wield and expand the sprawling American spy apparatus, already vulnerable to abuse, is disturbing enough on its own. But the outlook is even worse considering Trump’s vast preference for private sector expertise and new strategic friendship with Silicon Valley billionaire investor Peter Thiel, whose controversial (and opaque) company Palantir has long sought to sell governments an unmatched power to sift and exploit information of any kind. Thiel represents a perfect nexus of government clout with the kind of corporate swagger Trump loves. The Intercept can now reveal that Palantir has worked for years to boost the global dragnet of the NSA and its international partners, and was in fact co-created with American spies.

Peter Thiel became one of the American political mainstream’s most notorious figures in 2016 (when it emerged he was bankrolling a lawsuit against Gawker Media, my former employer) even before he won a direct line to the White House. Now he brings to his role as presidential adviser decades of experience as kingly investor and token nonliberal on Facebook’s board of directors, a Rolodex of software luminaries, and a decidedly Trumpian devotion to controversy and contrarianism. But perhaps the most appealing asset Thiel can offer our bewildered new president will be Palantir Technologies, which Thiel founded with Alex Karp and Joe Lonsdale in 2004.

Palantir has never masked its ambitions, in particular the desire to sell its services to the U.S. government — the CIA itself was an early investor in the startup through In-Q-Tel, the agency’s venture capital branch. But Palantir refuses to discuss or even name its government clientele, despite landing “at least $1.2 billion” in federal contracts since 2009, according to an August 2016 report in Politico. The company was last valued at $20 billion and is expected to pursue an IPO in the near future. In a 2012 interview with TechCrunch, while boasting of ties to the intelligence community, Karp said nondisclosure contracts prevent him from speaking about Palantir’s government work.

“Palantir” is generally used interchangeably to refer to both Thiel and Karp’s company and the software that company creates. Its two main products are Palantir Gotham and Palantir Metropolis, more geeky winks from a company whose Tolkien namesake is a type of magical sphere used by the evil lord Sauron to surveil, trick, and threaten his enemies across Middle Earth. While Palantir Metropolis is pegged to quantitative analysis for Wall Street banks and hedge funds, Gotham (formerly Palantir Government) is designed for the needs of intelligence, law enforcement, and homeland security customers. Gotham works by importing large reams of “structured” data (like spreadsheets) and “unstructured” data (like images) into one centralized database, where all of the information can be visualized and analyzed in one workspace. For example, a 2010 demo showed how Palantir Government could be used to chart the flow of weapons throughout the Middle East by importing disparate data sources like equipment lot numbers, manufacturer data, and the locations of Hezbollah training camps. Palantir’s chief appeal is that it’s not designed to do any single thing in particular, but is flexible and powerful enough to accommodate the requirements of any organization that needs to process large amounts of both personal and abstract data.

Sam Biddle | The Intercept
What lay behind Russia’s interference in the 2016 election—and what lies ahead?

....The working theory among intelligence officials involved in the case is that the Russian approach—including hacking, propaganda, and contacts with Trump associates—was an improvisation rather than a long-standing plan. The official said, “After the election, there were a lot of Embassy communications”—to Moscow—“saying, stunned, ‘What we do now?’ ”

Initially, members of the Russian élite celebrated Clinton’s disappearance from the scene, and the new drift toward an America First populism that would leave Russia alone. The fall of Michael Flynn and the prospect of congressional hearings, though, have tempered the enthusiasm. Fyodor Lukyanov, the editor-in-chief of a leading foreign-policy journal in Moscow, said that Trump, facing pressure from congressional investigations, the press, and the intelligence agencies, might now have to be a far more “ordinary Republican President than was initially thought.” In other words, Trump might conclude that he no longer has the political latitude to end sanctions against Moscow and accommodate Russia’s geopolitical ambitions. As a sign of the shifting mood in Moscow, the Kremlin ordered Russian television outlets to be more reserved in their coverage of the new President.

Konstantin von Eggert, a political commentator and host on Russian television, heard from a friend at a state-owned media holding that an edict had arrived that, he said, “boiled down to one phrase: no more Trump.” The implicit message, von Eggert explained, “is not that there now should be negative coverage but that there should be much less, and more balanced.” The Kremlin has apparently decided, he said, that Russian state media risked looking “overly fawning in their attitude to Trump, that all this toasting and champagne drinking made us look silly, and so let’s forget about Trump for some time, lowering expectations as necessary, and then reinvent his image according to new realities.”

Alexey Venediktov, the editor-in-chief of Echo of Moscow, and a figure with deep contacts inside the Russian political élite, said, “Trump was attractive to people in Russia’s political establishment as a disturber of the peace for their counterparts in the American political establishment.” Venediktov suggested that, for Putin and those closest to him, any support that the Russian state provided to Trump’s candidacy was a move in a long-standing rivalry with the West; in Putin’s eyes, it is Russia’s most pressing strategic concern, one that predates Trump and will outlast him. Putin’s Russia has to come up with ways to make up for its economic and geopolitical weakness; its traditional levers of influence are limited, and, were it not for a formidable nuclear arsenal, it’s unclear how important a world power it would be. “So, well then, we have to create turbulence inside America itself,” Venediktov said. “A country that is beset by turbulence closes up on itself—and Russia’s hands are freed.”

Evan Osnos, David Remnick, and Joshua Yaffa | The New Yorker

....On Saturday, China announced what could be read as a rare rebuke of Kim Jong-un’s excesses: Beijing was suspending all imports of North Korean coal for the rest of the year. In effect, North Korea’s total exports were being slashed by around forty per cent. Last year, even as Beijing promised to implement United Nations sanctions punishing North Korea for its nuclear program, Chinese imports of North Korean coal actually increased year-over-year, due to a loophole that allowed for trade for “livelihood” purposes. The new embargo may have been meant as a signal directed as much at Washington as at Pyongyang. “The Chinese are sick of hearing that they’re the only ones with leverage, so the effect of the coal ban is to say, “O.K., we’ve done it, now it’s your turn to deal with them,” Delury, the expert in Seoul, said. “It’s almost as if the Chinese want the Americans to own the North Korea problem.”

Ultimately, geography and ideology guarantee that North Korea is China’s problem, even if Beijing wishes it were otherwise. “There is no issue that divides China’s foreign-policy community more than the D.P.R.K.,” Zhu, of Nanjing University, said. Reprimanding a wayward little brother is one thing; abandoning him altogether is quite another. But, with every one of Kim’s provocations, Zhu and some others in the Chinese foreign-policy establishment have reached a stark conclusion—one that Beijing’s traditionalists worry demeans the memory of the hundreds of thousands of Chinese soldiers estimated to have died defending North Korea. “Regime change and unification of the Korean peninsula is inevitable,” Zhu said. “We all know it’s going to happen sooner or later. The question is: Will China choose to be on the right side of history?”

Hannah Beech | The New Yorker
Far-right leader presents EU funds probe as a politically motivated plot

Ms Le Pen, who is leading pre-election polls with her anti-establishment and anti EU rhetoric, rejected a formal summons from French investigators this week, according to the French prosecutor’s office and her lawyer.

She is free to decline police interviews because she enjoys parliamentary immunity as a member of the European Parliament. Magistrates can seek to have her immunity lifted but that process could take months, according to lawyers.

Rodolphe Bosselut, Ms Le Pen’s lawyer, told the Financial Times on Friday that French justice was “artificially speeding up the questioning” before the election, adding that she did not want to answer questions during the campaign.

The investigation has added to a sense of uncertainty in France’s tight election race, which has been marked by a funding scandal engulfing François Fillon, the centre-right candidate.

Ms Le Pen remains the favourite to win the first round of the presidential election on April 23, although polls suggest that she will lose in the second round run-off on May 7 to a more centrist candidate.

Ms Le Pen is accused by the European Parliament of using two legislative aides who were on the EU payroll for her party’s political activity. French judicial authorities are investigating, raiding the FN’s offices this week. The party has denied wrongdoing.

Michael Stothard | The Financial Times
UN chief Antonio Guterres says more than 20 million people face starvation in South Sudan, Nigeria, Somalia and Yemen.

More than 20 million people face starvation in the four countries and action is needed now to avert a humanitarian disaster, Guterres told a news conference at UN headquarters on Wednesday.

"We need $4.4 billion by the end of March to avert a catastrophe," he said.

So far, the UN has raised just $90m.

Source: News agencies | Al Jazeera
While the far right is on the march globally, there are signs progressives are stirring from their slumber.
John Feffer | Common Dreams
Kuala Lumpur airport terminal to be decontaminated after deadly attack on North Korean leader’s half-brother
Oliver Holmes, Tom Phillips and agencies | The Guardian
Hate Crime Is Feared as 2 Indian Engineers Are Shot in Kansas [two foreigners walk into a red state bar...]

OLATHE, Kan. — “The Jameson guys,” as some on the staff at Austins Bar and Grill knew the pair, were on the patio on Wednesday evening. It was hardly unusual: Srinivas Kuchibhotla and Alok Madasani, two immigrants from India, often enjoyed an after-work whiskey at the bar they had adopted as a hangout.

Adam W. Purinton was also there, tossing ethnic slurs at the two men and suggesting they did not belong in the United States, other customers said. Patrons complained, and Mr. Purinton was thrown out.

But a short time later, he came back in a rage and fired on the two men, the authorities said. Mr. Kuchibhotla was killed, and Mr. Madasani was wounded, along with a 24-year-old man who had tried to apprehend the gunman, who fled.

Mr. Purinton, 51, was extradited to Kansas from Missouri on Friday, and he is charged with premeditated first-degree murder and two counts of attempted premeditated first-degree murder.

JOHN ELIGON, ALAN BLINDER and NIDA NAJAR | The New York Times
The White House reportedly tried to influence an active counter-intelligence investigation. All else, press ban included, is designed to deflect attention

Narrative switching. That is what the Trump administration is desperately trying to do around Russia right now. The White House reportedly interfered with the FBI in the middle of an active investigation involving counter-intelligence. This was not only foolhardy but also suspicious, as it directly undermined their apparent objective: distracting us.

On 14 February, the New York Times reported that advisors and associates of Donald Trump may have been in direct and continuous contact with officers of the Russian intelligence agency, the FSB, during a tumultuous election campaign in which the American democracy itself was hacked. A major party – now in opposition – was the victim of an unprecedented cyber attack.

According to the Times, intercepted telephone calls and phone records indicated to American counter-intelligence officers [that] direct contact with the Russians [had occurred].

The stakes are high. Most Democrats and more than a few Republicans believe this investigation could unearth details that could plunge the nation into a political and constitutional crisis not seen since the secession of the South in 1860 and 1861.

The Trump administration has repeatedly denied the characterization and defended the campaign’s conduct. However, its denials have always been couched in the most legalistic terms and each falls apart with every new revelation. It doesn’t help that Trump himself calls the allegations “fake news” then validates the reporting by attacking the leaks – suggesting that they are true.

Now, thanks to CNN, we learned on Thursday that Trump chief of staff Reince Priebus had reportedly contacted the deputy director of the FBI, Andrew McCabe, and requested that the bureau publicly characterize the Times story as not being serious – in McCabe’s reported words, “total BS”.

When this was rebuffed by McCabe, Priebus reportedly went to FBI director James Comey, who allegedly also refused to comment publicly. Priebus then allegedly asked both if he could quote them anonymously as “top intelligence officials”, saying the story was totally wrong. According to CNN, McCabe and Comey agreed to let him do that, despite the fact that the FBI and the White House are prohibited from communicating about open investigations.

The White House then turned to other intelligence officials and to members of Congress. According to the Washington Post, House and Senate intelligence committee chairs Devin Nunes and Richard Burr were asked to push back against Russian stories that did not favor the administration. They told the Post they did so.

No matter what the contention, the fundamental fact exists that the FBI, based on McCabe’s and Comey’s remarks, has inadvertently verified that there is, in fact, a counter-intelligence investigation going on involving the associates of the president. Until now the investigation had only been reported through anonymous sources.

This bungled attempt to manage the media reveals the fear in the White House: that there may actually be a smoking gun that ties Trump to Moscow’s hacking.

Opinion: Malcolm Nance | The Guardian
Reince Priebus, FBI director James Comey and deputy director Andrew McCabe had a conversation which appears to violate justice department rules

....The administration had sought to push back against reports from CNN and the Associated Press that the chief of staff, Reince Priebus, had asked the FBI’s top two officials to rebut news reports about Trump allies’ ties to Russia.

But in doing so, the White House on Friday acknowledged that Priebus, the FBI director, James Comey, and deputy director, Andrew McCabe, had discussed what the FBI knew about Russian ties to the Trump presidential campaign.

“The White House appears to have violated accepted protocols and procedures,” said former FBI special agent Ali Soufan.

“As an FBI agent, we always know there shouldn’t be any appearance of political interference over a pending investigation. Any kind of appearance of political influence will be considered against existing protocols and procedures.”

Another retired FBI special agent, Michael German, said the FBI leadership had potentially jeopardized an investigation.

Spencer Ackerman | The Guardian
Progressive parties have overwhelmingly failed to develop alternative policies. Listening to a modern progressive politician is like taking a tepid bath

Just as neoliberalism is on its knees, so too is the left. It matters not whether we are describing social democrats, socialists, the hard left or the moderate left. A swath of populist extreme rightwing forces is sweeping through many developed countries. Europe now resembles a graveyard for social democracy.

How did it come to this?

First and foremost, there is incompetence.

Neoliberal economics, a creation of the right and embraced to varying degrees by social democrats, has dominated western politics for nigh on four decades. Its mantras of deregulation, privatisation and cutting tax for the wealthy and corporations have been exhausted, if not discredited.

Opinion: Josh Bornstein | The Guardian
Excerpts:

From Babylonian times people owed debts for fees owed to the palace. We might call them taxes, but they actually were fees for public services. And for beer, for instance. The palace would supply beer and you would run up a tab over the year, to be paid at harvest time on the threshing floor. You also would pay for the boatmen, if you needed to get your harvest delivered by boat. You would pay for draught cattle if you needed them. You’d pay for water. Cornelia Wunsch did one study and found that 75% of the debts, even in neo-Babylonian times around the 5th or 4th century BC, were arrears.

Sometimes the harvest failed. And when the harvest failed, obviously they couldn’t pay their fees and other debts. Hammurabi canceled debts four or five times during his reign. He did this because either the harvest failed or there was a war and people couldn’t pay.

What do you do if you’re a ruler and people can’t pay? One reason they would cancel debts is that most debts were owed to the palace or to the temples, which were under the control of the palace. So you’re canceling debts that are owed to yourself.

These Clean Slates [jubilee years] had three elements: Number one, they would cancel the personal debts – not the business debts, not the debts denominated in silver among merchants and other rich people. These debts were business contracts, and they remained in place. It was the petty debts, the consumer debts, that were canceled. Number two, lands that had been forfeited were restored: the crop rights, if they’d been pledged to creditors. And three, all the human beings who had been pledged as bondservants would be free to return to their families.

Rulers had a good reason for doing this. If they didn’t cancel the debts, then people who owed money would become bondservants to the tax collector or the wealthy creditors, or whoever they owed money to. If they were bondservants, they couldn’t serve in the army.

The choice was: either you’re going to have economic renewal and restore people’s ability to support themselves; or you’re going to have feudalism.

Well we’re going into a similar situation today, where I think we’re going into a kind of neo-feudalism. The strain of today’s society is as much a debt strain as it was back then.

What has caused this basic shift away from debt cancellation is the privatization of credit. In Sumer and Babylonia the temples and the palace were the source of credit. In medieval Japan it also was the temples that were the creditors. Most people ran up debts, in Japan, to the temples for sake – the temples were also sake-makers. There were revolts against the sake-makers to cancel the debts, and they were successful.

The problem is the privatization of credit. The government today could cancel the student debts that are owed to the government. But they can’t cancel the debts that are owed, say, to David Rockefeller or to other banks – to somebody else.

The banks should be a public option, just like health care should be a public option. Even the University of Chicago right-wingers, in the 1930s, proposed a 100% reserve. The idea is that banks should not be able to create credit, meaning create debt. When you create credit, you’re creating somebody’s debt. That should be a government function, because the government can relieve the debts.

The bankruptcy law was re-written in 2005. It made it almost impossible to declare bankruptcy. It used to be you could declare bankruptcy and have a clean slate, on an individual basis, not a social basis, but now even that has been closed here. And for student loans you can’t have bankruptcy at all.

Michael Hudson | Naked Capitalism

Reference:
How to Hide $400 Million [("Ideal," thinks Trump.) Tax-shelters have evolved into a distributed, international system of deregulation loopholes that enable vast worldwide corruption]
When a wealthy businessman set out to divorce his wife, their fortune vanished. The quest to find it would reveal the depths of an offshore financial system bigger than the U.S. economy.
NICHOLAS CONFESSORE | The New York Times Magazine | Ref.

The Financial Times headline is uncharacteristically dramatic: America’s Middle Class Meltdown: core shrinks to half of US homes.

YVES SMITH | Naked Capitalism | Ref.
We're tracking where taxpayer money has gone in the ongoing bailout of the financial system. Our database accounts for both the broader $700 billion bill and the separate bailout of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
ProPublica | Ref.
SARAH ANDERSON in CounterPunch | Ref.
ANDREW HACKER in The New York Review of Books | Ref.
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