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After Putin’s move Obama’s ‘Russian hacking’ story starts to unravel

After Putin’s skilful countermove Obama’s transparently partisan misuse of the Russian hacking scandal to embarrass Donald Trump begins to backfire.

Alexander Mercouris

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Over the last few weeks I have repeatedly made the point that Barack Obama’s recent moves, especially his criticisms of Israel and his hyping up of the hacking scandal against Russia, are first and foremost intended to box in and undermine his successor Donald Trump.

What is interesting is how what was essentially a lone view when I first expressed it ten days ago is now rapidly becoming the consensus.  Obama’s moves and Putin’s counter-moves of the last three days has brought all this into stark relief by making Obama’s motives altogether too transparent.

A flood of articles appeared in the British and US media yesterday, some written in an obviously gloating tone, lauding the “difficult dilemma” in which Obama had supposedly placed Trump by imposing more sanctions on Russia.

Supposedly Trump now faced a choice: either he rescinded the sanctions, in which case he risked being branded (including by some leaders of his own party) as a stooge of the Kremlin, or he failed to do so, in which case he supposedly risked antagonising Putin and the Russians.

Either way the legitimacy of his election would be called into question, with the claim he owed his election to Russian election manipulation being given extra force.

This was of course exactly the point I made shortly after the new sanctions were introduced

The true target of these sanctions is Donald Trump.

By imposing sanctions on Russia, Obama is lending the authority of the Presidency to the CIA’s claims of Russian hacking, daring Trump to deny their truth.

If Trump as President allows the sanctions to continue, he will be deemed to have accepted the CIA’s claims of Russian hacking as true.  If Trump cancels the sanctions when he becomes President, he will be accused of being Russia’s stooge.

It is a well known lawyer’s trick, and Obama the former lawyer doubtless calculates that either way Trump’s legitimacy and authority as President will be damaged, with the insinuation that he owes his Presidency to the Russians now given extra force.

Lots of these articles appeared – a sure sign by the way of a pre-arranged campaign – with this article in Bloomberg serving as just one example.  Note the title – “Trump Must Choose Between Obama Sanctions and Putin Detente” – and its opening paragraph

Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin are forcing Donald Trump to pick sides: undo sanctions the U.S. just imposed on Russia for hacking e-mails before last month’s election or set aside a campaign vow to improve relations with Moscow.

Along with these articles there was also what was surely a pre-arranged chorus of support for Obama’s move from various members of Congress, including several prominent Republicans.

Much has been made of these comments, especially those of Republican leaders like Paul Ryan.  These people have however never liked Trump, or his moves towards detente with Russia, so the fact they lent themselves to this campaign is not surprising.  Trump’s support does not come from these people, but from the Republican base.

The key point about Putin’s response yesterday is that it has made clear that the “difficult dilemma” Obama thought he was creating for Trump does not exist.

By blaming Obama for the sanctions, by getting his diplomats to call Obama a “lame duck”, and by refusing to respond in kind, Putin and the Russians have enabled Trump to sidestep the trap Obama laid for him, and have given him the political space he needs to forge ahead with his policy of improving relations with Russia.

In other words what Putin is doing is signalling that he does not require Trump to lift the latest sanctions as a condition for improving relations with Russia.  Putin will not allow the future improvement of US-Russian relations to be held hostage to Obama’s spoiling tactics.

This explains Trump’s response to Putin’s move.  Trump’s now famous tweet – “Great move on delay (by V. Putin) – I always knew he was very smart!” – is not only an acknowledgment by Trump of Putin’s cleverness.  It reflects Trump’s relief that Putin is giving him the political space he needs by refusing to be goaded by Obama into action that might box Trump in.

At the same time the overtly transparent tone of the campaign, with the frank admission that Obama’s motive was to box in Trump, has effectively given the whole game away.

That this is so is shown by the extent to which sections of the Western media are now frankly acknowledging the motivations behind Obama’s and Putin’s various moves.

Again an article by Tim Stanley in the Daily Telegraph may serve as a good example.  It begins with the title “Putin has helped Trump escape Obama’s trap” and then discusses with intelligently and factually the motives behind the various moves.  Here is what it has to say about Obama’s

 t would be nice to say that America’s spat with Russia is all about national security, but let’s not be naïve. Donald Trump’s foreign policy approach is defined by rapprochement with Russia – and Barack Obama is clearly trying to limit his room for manoeuvre when he takes over in the New Year. By taking such a tough stance with Russia, Obama hopes to force Trump either to acknowledge Putin’s aggression and follow suit, which would amount to a u-turn, or repudiate Obama’s actions and risk looking weak.

(bold italics added)

It then discusses Putin’s counter-move and the reasons behind it

It is a game of chess, and Obama played a clever move. By expelling Russian diplomats on Thursday he tried to commit the United States to one line of policy: confrontation. Happily for the Democrats, this also split the Republicans. Hawks such as John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Paul Ryan welcomed Obama’s action as necessary if belated. What would Trump do?

On the other side of the world, Putin prepared to move his pieces – and did nothing. Better, he decided, to treat Obama as a lame duck and ignore him. Play the long game and wait for Trump to take over.

Happily for Trump, this means that he doesn’t inherit a frozen diplomatic Cold War on January 20. The reset of Russian relations is more likely to go ahead.
(bold italics added)
Alongside these articles, which discuss these moves and counter-moves intelligently and objectively, there is also (as I discussed yesterday) considerable admiration for Putin’s move.  However there is also considerable anger.  This furious editorial in the strongly neocon London Times serves as a good example

Whether or not the hacking succeeded in depressing Democratic turnout, to interfere in US internal affairs is a hostile act that demands a firm bipartisan response. That unified front has not appeared. On the contrary, the insouciant reaction of President-elect Trump to the hacking has handed the diplomatic initiative to Mr Putin. Yesterday the Russian leader conspicuously declined to follow the urging of his foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, to impose tit-for-tat expulsions of US diplomats. With calculated fulsomeness, Mr Putin invited the children of US diplomats to new year parties in the Kremlin.;Russia, he said, would not “stoop” to the level of “irresponsible diplomacy” but would work to restore ties with the US under President-elect Trump. The lofty riposte allowed Mr Putin to win this diplomatic bout and he now undoubtedly hopes that Mr Trump will be a more malleable diplomatic partner on entering the White House next month. That should serve as a warning to the US and its allies. Russia’s diplomatic aims have been triumphantly served in 2016 by a lack of resolution on the part of western democracies. Extraordinarily, the Russian embassy in London posted online an insulting response to Mr Obama’s actions, comparing him to a lame duck.

This cannot be allowed to go on. Britain has a part to play in making life difficult for hostile Russian interventions. It should start by demanding swift regulatory action against the Russian propaganda outlets Russia Today and Sputnik, both with bases in Britain. Meddling with western democratic procedures is an outrage; it must bear a heavy cost.

To which one need only respond by wondering what RT (not Russia Today) and Sputnik have to do with any of this; and by referring to a comment by one of The London Times’s own readers

“Putin’s Provocation” This is just getting beyond ridiculous. If Putin were to eject American diplomats he would have been presented as pariah, Putin decides not to eject American diplomats and that is presented as provocation.

The fundamental problem with Obama’s scheme was that it depended on Putin and the Russians reacting as he expected them to react: imposing counter-sanctions and reciprocal expulsions of diplomats.   When they failed to react as Obama expected, his scheme unravelled; in The London Times’s words “allowing Mr. Putin to win this diplomatic bout”.

It is the sort of mistake clever people who (like Obama) are not quite as clever as they believe they are, routinely make.

In the process the obviously partisan way in which Obama is using the hacking scandal is creating more and more doubts about it.

A good example is this article in Rolling Stone – “Something about this Russia Story Stinks” – written by someone who clearly has no time for either Putin or Trump, but who is becoming increasingly concerned by the all too obviously manipulated nature of this story.  Reading through the article one comes across comments like this

The problem with this story is that, like the Iraq-WMD mess, it takes place in the middle of a highly politicized environment during which the motives of all the relevant actors are suspect. Nothing quite adds up.

If the American security agencies had smoking-gun evidence that the Russians had an organized campaign to derail the U.S. presidential election and deliver the White House to Trump, then expelling a few dozen diplomats after the election seems like an oddly weak and ill-timed response. Voices in both parties are saying this now…..

…….Also, like the WMD story, there’s an element of salesmanship the government is using to push the hacking narrative that should make reporters nervous. Take this line in Obama’s statement about mistreatment of American diplomats in Moscow:

“Moreover, our diplomats have experienced an unacceptable level of harassment in Moscow by Russian security services and police over the last year.”

This appears to refer to an incident this summer in which an American diplomat was beaten outside the diplomatic compound in Moscow. That followed a 2013 case in which a U.S. diplomat named Ryan Fogle was arrested in similar fashion…..

If the Russians messed with an election, that’s enough on its own to warrant a massive response – miles worse than heavy-handed responses to ordinary spying episodes. Obama mentioning these humdrum tradecraft skirmishes feels like he’s throwing something in to bolster an otherwise thin case.”

(bold italics added)

Obama is now promising a further report, which will supposedly provide more evidence to back his story of Russian interference in the election.  However this report too will apparently fail to disclose evidence that is said to be ‘classified’.  This does make the story look increasingly like the Iraq WMD scandal, with one ‘dodgy dossier’ succeeding another.

As for Obama, very late in his Presidency he has now been given a lesson on how unwise it is to try to beat the Russians at diplomatic chess.

 

 

 

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Social media purge continues, as platforms operate as publishers (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 80.

Alex Christoforou

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Following the suspension of Alex Jones, Twitter has also moved to restrict Jones’ Infowars account.

BuzzFeed News is reporting that the Infowars account will be restricted from tweeting, but will still be able to browse Twitter and send direct messages to other users, while users will still be able to view the account.

The move, which essentially puts the account in read-only mode, comes less than a day after Twitter temporarily limited Infowars proprietor Alex Jones for a week after he tweeted a link to a video in which he called on his supporters to get their “battle rifles” ready. That video, which was shared on Twitter-owned live streaming service Periscope, was also shared by Infowars earlier on Wednesday.

A Twitter spokesperson confirmed that Infowars’ account, which has more than 430,000 followers, will be prevented from tweeting, retweeting, liking or following other users during a seven-day window. The account will stay online, allowing users to view it during that period.

Via Zerohedge

On Tuesday, Twitter suspended the conspiracy theorist and blogger for violating the social media company’s policies, in a stark reversal for Jack Dorsey who previously bucked the trend by other tech giants to muzzle the Infowars creator.

As CNET first reported, Jones’ account was put in “read only” mode and will be blocked from posting on Twitter for seven days because of an offending tweet, the company said. While Twitter declined to comment on the content that violated its policies, a Twitter spokesperson told CNN the content which prompted the suspension was a video published Tuesday in which he said, “now is time to act on the enemy before they do a false flag.”

A Twitter spokesperson wouldn’t say what would get Jones or Infowars permanently suspended, however they noted “We look at [the] volume and nature of violations before suspending an account,” according to Buzzfeed.

The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss the latest twists and turns in the vicious social media purge of conservative right and libertarian accounts. Platforms are acting like publishers and this may mean the end of monopoly social media services.

Remember to Please Subscribe to The Duran’s YouTube Channel.

Meanwhile, in a censorship move against Libertarian commentary, Ron Paul Institute director Daniel McAdams and Antiwar editor Scott Horton were suspended by Twitter for simply retweeting. Justin Raimondo informs…

Target Liberty reports

Update from Justin:

Neither @scotthortonshow nor @DanielLMcAdams have been reinstated. You can see their tweets: they can’t tweet.

RW

Daniel McAdams explain what happened…

Robert I can give you an update from my perspective regarding what happened:

Yesterday on Twitter, former US diplomat Peter Van Buren (@WeMeantWell) took members of the mainstream media to task for swallowing and printing government lies without even bothering to check them out. He said as a former US government official (turned whistleblower) he also lied to the press on behalf of the government and was astonished that the press swallowed each one, hook, line and sinker.

Several corporate media hacks and in particular one employee of an NGO funded by George Soros — a fellow called Jonathan Katz — piled on Peter, accusing him of all manner of treachery. When Peter ended one response with a sarcastic reference to zombie attacks – “I hope a MAGA guy eats your face” — which is obviously a joke, Katz replied that he is reporting Peter for promoting violence.

So he and his buddies ganged up on Peter and got him banned. Scott Horton and I were incensed over the ban, which seemed to us totally arbitrary. There was no threat of violence and it was no different than millions of Tweets all the time. So Scott and I both joined in and criticized Katz for running off to the authorities in attempt to get someone banned rather than just walk away from the debate.

Katz then did his usual routine and ran to the authorities and had Scott and me banned. Mine was for, as Twitter informed me, because “you may not promote violence against, threaten, or harass other people on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, disability, or serious disease.” There is no way at all that my Tweet violated the above rule. In no way did I harass or threaten based on those criteria. I merely strongly criticized Katz for running to the authorities to get Peter banned.

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“I’m Not A Racist, But I’m A Nationalist”: Why Sweden Faces A Historic Election Upset

Sweden is set to have a political earthquake in September.

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Via Zerohedge


“Trains and hospitals don’t work, but immigration continues,” Roger Mathson, a retired vegetable oil factory worker in Sweden, told Bloomberg on the same day as the violent, coordinated rampage by masked gangs of youths across five Swedish cities.

We noted earlier that Swedish politicians were quick to react with anti-immigrant party ‘Sweden Democrats’ seeing a surge in the polls ahead of the September 9th election.

“I’m not a racist, but I’m a nationalist,” Mathson said. “I don’t like seeing the town square full of Niqab-clad ladies and people fighting with each other.”

Is Sweden set to have its own political earthquake in September, where general elections could end a century of Social Democratic dominance and bring to power a little known (on the world stage), but the now hugely popular nationalist party often dubbed far-right and right-wing populist, called Sweden Democrats?

Sweden, a historically largely homogeneous population of 10 million, took in an astounding 600,000 refugees over the past five years, and after Swedes across various cities looked out their windows Tuesday to see cars exploding, smoke filling the skies, and possibly armed masked men hurling explosives around busy parking lots, it appears they’ve had enough.

Over the past years of their rise as a political force in Swedish politics, the country’s media have routinely labelled the Sweden Democrats as “racists” and “Nazis” due to their seemingly single issue focus of anti-immigration and strong Euroscepticism.

A poll at the start of this week indicated the Sweden Democrats slid back to third place after topping three previous polls as the September election nears; however, Tuesday’s national crisis and what could legitimately be dubbed a serious domestic terror threat is likely to boost their popularity.

Bloomberg’s profile of their leader, Jimmie Akesson, echoes the tone of establishment Swedish media in the way they commonly cast the movement, beginning as follows:

Viking rock music and whole pigs roasting on spits drew thousands of Swedes to a festival hosted by nationalists poised to deliver their country’s biggest political upheaval in a century.

The Sweden Democrats have been led since 2005 by a clean-cut and bespectacled man, Jimmie Akesson. He’s gentrified a party that traces its roots back to the country’s neo-Nazi, white supremacist fringe. Some polls now show the group may become the biggest in Sweden’s parliament after general elections on Sept. 9. Such an outcome would end 100 years of Social Democratic dominance.

The group’s popularity began surging after the 2015 immigration crisis began, which first hit Europe’s southern Mediterranean shores and quickly moved northward as shocking wave after wave of migrants came.

Jimmie Akesson (right). Image source: Getty via Daily Express

Akesson emphasizes something akin to a “Sweden-first” platform which European media often compares to Trump’s “America First”; and the party has long been accused of preaching forced assimilation into Swedish culture to be become a citizen.

Bloomberg’s report surveys opinions at a large political rally held in Akkeson’s hometown of Solvesborg, and some of the statements are sure to be increasingly common sentiment after this week’s coordinated multi-city attack:

At his party’s festival, Akesson revved up the crowd by slamming the establishment’s failures, calling the last two governments the worst in Swedish history. T-shirts calling for a Swexit, or an exit from the EU, were exchanged as bands played nationalist tunes.

Ted Lorentsson, a retiree from the island of Tjorn, said he’s an enthusiastic backer of the Sweden Democrats. “I think they want to improve elderly care, health care, child care,” he said. “Bring back the old Sweden.” But he also acknowledges his view has led to disagreement within his family as his daughter recoils at what she feels is the “Hitler”-like rhetoric.

No doubt, the media and Eurocrats in Brussels will take simple, innocent statements from elderly retirees like “bring back the old Sweden” as nothing short of declaration of a race war, but such views will only solidify after this week.

Another Sweden Democrat supporter, a 60-year old woman who works at a distillery, told Bloomberg, “I think you need to start seeing the whole picture in Sweden and save the original Swedish population,” she said. “I’m not racist, because I’m a realist.”

Sweden’s two biggest parties, the Social Democrats and Moderates, are now feeling the pressure as Swedes increasingly worry about key issues preached by Akesson like immigration, law and order, and health care – seen as under threat by a mass influx of immigrants that the system can’t handle.

Bloomberg explains further:

But even young voters are turning their backs on the establishment. One potential SD supporter is law student Oscar Persson. Though he hasn’t yet decided how he’ll vote, he says it’s time for the mainstream parties to stop treating the Sweden Democrats like a pariah. “This game they are playing now, where the other parties don’t want to talk to them but still want their support, is something I don’t really understand,” he said.

Akesson has managed to entice voters from both sides of the political spectrum with a message of more welfare, lower taxes and savings based on immigration cuts.

With many Swedes now saying immigration has “gone too far” and as this week’s events have once again thrust the issue before both a national and global audience, the next round of polling will mostly like put Sweden’s conservative-right movements on top

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The Turkish Emerging Market Timebomb

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s populist economic policies have finally caught up to him.

The Duran

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Authored by Jim O’Neill, originally on Project Syndicate:


As the Turkish lira continues to depreciate against the dollar, fears of a classic emerging-market crisis have come to the fore. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s populist economic policies have finally caught up to him, and sooner or later, he will have to make nice with his country’s traditional Western allies.

Turkey’s falling currency and deteriorating financial conditions lend credence, at least for some people, to the notion that “a crisis is a terrible thing to waste.” I suspect that many Western policymakers, in particular, are not entirely unhappy about Turkey’s plight.

To veteran economic observers, Turkey’s troubles are almost a textbook case of an emerging-market flop. It is August, after all, and back in the 1990s, one could barely go a single year without some kind of financial crisis striking in the dog days of summer.

But more to the point, Turkey has a large, persistent current-account deficit, and a belligerent leader who does not realize – or refuses to acknowledge – that his populist economic policies are unsustainable. Moreover, Turkey has become increasingly dependent on overseas investors (and probably some wealthy domestic investors, too).

Given these slowly gestating factors, markets have long assumed that Turkey was headed for a currency crisis. In fact, such worries were widespread as far back as the fall of 2013, when I was in Istanbul interviewing business and financial leaders for a BBC Radio series on emerging economies. At that time, markets were beginning to fear that monetary-policy normalization and an end to quantitative easing in the United States would have dire consequences globally. The Turkish lira has been flirting with disaster ever since.

Now that the crisis has finally come to pass, it is Turkey’s population that will bear the brunt of it. The country must drastically tighten its domestic monetary policy, curtail foreign borrowing, and prepare for the likelihood of a full-blown economic recession, during which time domestic saving will slowly have to be rebuilt.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s leadership will both complicate matters and give Turkey some leverage. Erdoğan has  constitutional powers, reducing those of the parliament, and undercutting the independence of monetary and fiscal policymaking. And to top it off, he seems to be reveling in an escalating feud with US President Donald Trump’s administration over Turkey’s imprisonment of an American pastor and purchase of a Russian S-400 missile-defense system.

This is a dangerous brew for the leader of an emerging economy to imbibe, particularly when the United States itself has embarked on a Ronald Reagan-style fiscal expansion that has pushed the US Federal Reserve to raise interest rates faster than it would have otherwise. Given the unlikelihood of some external source of funding emerging, Erdoğan will eventually have to back down on some of his unorthodox policies. My guess is that we’ll see a return to a more conventional monetary policy, and possibly a new fiscal-policy framework.

As for Turkey’s leverage in the current crisis, it is worth remembering that the country has a large and youthful population, and thus the potential to grow into a much larger economy in the future. It also enjoys a privileged geographic position at the crossroads of Europe, the Middle East, and Central Asia, which means that many major players have a stake in ensuring its stability. Indeed, many Europeans still hold out hope that Turkey will embrace Western-style capitalism, despite the damage that Erdoğan has done to the country’s European Union accession bid.

Among the regional powers, Russia is sometimes mentioned as a potential savior for Turkey. There is no doubt that Russian President Vladimir Putin would love to use Turkey’s crisis to pull it even further away from its NATO allies. But Erdoğan and his advisers would be deeply mistaken to think that Russia can fill Turkey’s financial void. A Kremlin intervention would do little for Turkey, and would likely exacerbate Russia’s own .

The other two potential patrons are Qatar and, of course, China. But while Qatar, one of Turkey’s closest Gulf allies, could provide financial aid, it does not ultimately have the wherewithal to pull Turkey out of its crisis singlehandedly.

As for China, though it will not want to waste the opportunity to increase its influence vis-à-vis Turkey, it is not the country’s style to step into such a volatile situation, much less assume responsibility for solving the problem. The more likely outcome – as we are seeing in Greece – is that China will unleash its companies to pursue investment opportunities after the dust settles.

That means that Turkey’s economic salvation lies with its conventional Western allies: the US and the EU (particularly France and Germany). On August 13, a White House spokesperson confirmed that the Trump administration is watching the financial-market response to Turkey’s crisis “very closely.” The last thing that Trump wants is a crumbling world economy and a massive dollar rally, which could derail his domestic economic ambitions. So a classic Trump “trade” is probably there for Erdoğan, if he is willing to come to the negotiating table.

Likewise, some of Europe’s biggest and most fragile banks have significant exposure to Turkey. Combine that with the ongoing political crisis over migration, and you have a recipe for deeper destabilization within the EU. I, for one, cannot imagine that European leaders will sit by and do nothing while Turkey implodes on their border.

Despite his escalating rhetoric, Erdoğan may soon find that he has little choice but to abandon his isolationist and antagonistic policies of the last few years. If he does, many investors may look back next year and wish that they had snapped up a few lira when they had the chance.

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