Make America Constitutional Again?

Make America Constitutional Again? Tyler Durden Fri, 07/31/2020 – 22:05

Authored by James Bovard via The American Institute for Economic Research,

The American political system may be on the eve of its worst legitimacy crisis since the Civil War. Early warning signals indicate that many states could suffer catastrophic failures in counting votes in November. The election will occur amidst the vast economic devastation inflicted by a political class that responded to COVID by seizing almost unlimited power. And Deep State federal agencies have already proven that they will trample the law to sabotage election results. 

America could soon see a hundred-times worse replay of the Florida presidential balloting 20 years ago in the Bush-Gore showdown. Some Florida counties had antiquated voting equipment while others had harebrained ballot designs that confounded voters. The Florida Supreme Court ordered a manual recount of disputed votes but the Supreme Court, in a 5-to-4 decision, stopped the recount because it could result in “a cloud upon what [George W. Bush] claims to be the legitimacy of his election,” Justice Antonin Scalia wrote. Two days, the same Supreme Court majority blocked any subsequent recounting because it was “not well calculated to sustain the confidence that all citizens must have in the outcome of elections.” Unfortunately, “legitimacy via blocked recounts” may also be the epithet for the 2020 presidential election. 

Because of the pandemic, many states are switching primarily to mail-in voting even though experiences with recent primaries were a disaster.

In New York City, officials are still struggling to count mail-in ballots from the June primary.

Up to 20% of ballots “were declared invalid before even being opened, based on mistakes with their exterior envelopes,” the Washington Post noted, thanks largely to missing postmarks or signatures. In Wisconsin, more than 20,000 “primary ballots were thrown out because voters missed at least one line on the form, rendering them invalid.”

Some states are mailing ballots to all the names on the voting lists, providing thousands of dead people the chance to vote from the grave. President Trump claims that the shift to mail-in voting could result in “the most corrupt vote in our nation’s history.” Trump is often wrong on issues but even a New York Daily News article tagged the recent primary results a “dumpster fire.” Delayed election results and potentially millions of disputed ballots could minimize support for whoever is designated the next president. 

Elections supposedly choose which candidates are selected to follow the law and uphold the Constitution, but COVID shutdown dictates vividly how political power is now practically unlimited. Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer prohibited “all public and private gatherings of any size” (prohibiting people from visiting friends) and also prohibited purchasing seeds for spring planting in stores after she decreed that a “nonessential” activity. Oregon Governor Kate Brown banned the state’s four million residents from leaving their homes except for essential work, buying food, and other narrow exemptions, and also banned all recreational travel – even though much of her state had almost zero COVID cases. 

In the name of reducing risks, politicians entitled themselves to destroy tens of millions of jobs. Permitting governors to shut down churches was not on the ballot but that didn’t stop many states from banning worship services at the same time politicians cheered mass protests that scorned “stay-at-home” orders.

The media has often whitewashed the damage from COVID power grabs in part because every restriction was supposedly justified by “science.” After New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo dictated that nursing homes must admit COVID patients, more than 6,000 elderly nursing home residents were killed by the coronavirus. Cuomo has yet to reveal which “science” textbook spawned this policy (which several other states also imposed). Were those state governments grossly incompetent or were they murderous? It doesn’t matter because Trump made rude comments about N.I.H. honcho and media darling Anthony Fauci. What’s the point of voting for politicians who merely need to invoke dubious statistical extrapolations to sow death and economic devastation?

Finally, does the presidential election even matter?

Deep State federal agencies are a Godzilla that have established their prerogative to undermine if not overturn election results. The FBI has achieved saint-like status among many liberals for its efforts to topple Trump. For almost three years, the nation’s political life was roiled by an investigation driven by false allegations that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia in the 2016 election. As George Washington University professor Jonathan Turley observed last week, the media continues to ignore “one of the biggest stories in decades. The Obama administration targeted the campaign of the opposing party based on false evidence.” Obama officials who exploited the CIA and other intelligence agencies to illicitly target Trump campaign officials have laughed all the way to million-dollar book advances. 

During the Trump impeachment effort, the establishment media openly cheered the Deep State. New York Times columnist James Stewart assured readers that the secretive agencies “work for the American people,” New York Times editorial writer Michelle Cottle hailed the Deep State as “a collection of patriotic public servants,” and Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson captured the Beltway’s verdict: “God bless the Deep State!” The media has almost completely abandoned its watchdog role, and its veneration will make it easier for the FBI, CIA, and National Security Agency to ravage not just elections but also Americans’ rights and liberties in the coming years.

Even before the voting starts, surveys show that for the first time “a majority of Americans (55 percent) are dissatisfied with their system of government,” the Atlantic reported. The percentage of Americans who “expressed trust in government in Washington” has fallen from 73% in 1958 to only 17% now, according to the Pew Research Center. But those numbers could quickly become far more ominous for our political ruling class. 

What happens if Trump continues to repel many if not most potential voters, and then Biden comes across in the presidential debates as clueless and doddering as did Special Counsel Robert Mueller in a congressional hearing last July? How many Americans will feel forced to choose between a scoundrel and an idiot?

Many pundits and professors presume that a Biden victory in November will magically re-legitimize the American political system. But almost all the problems of recent years will continue or intensify. The Centers for Disease Control and the Food and Drug Administration, both of which horribly botched the nation’s response to COVID, will continue bollixing public health crises. U.S. foreign policy will continue to be reckless and self-defeating, with American pretensions to global hegemony becoming ever more ludicrous. Deficit spending will continue to spin out of control, spiraling closer to the day when the Federal Reserve’s sorcery fails to entrance financial markets. Unfortunately, both Democrats and Republicans appear willing to bankrupt the nation to perpetuate their own power.

Federal legitimacy hinges on the Constitution, but there is not a snowball’s chance in hell that either Trump or Biden will “make America constitutional again.” As Thomas Jefferson declared in 1786, “An elective despotism was not the government we fought for.” What’s the point of voting if “government under the law” is not a choice on Election Day? American political legitimacy will continue plummeting as long as politicians scorn any legal and constitutional limits on their power.


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In 3rd Intercept This Week, Russia Scrambles Fighter Jet Against US Spy Plane Over Black Sea

In 3rd Intercept This Week, Russia Scrambles Fighter Jet Against US Spy Plane Over Black Sea Tyler Durden Fri, 07/31/2020 – 23:05

The tit-for-tat probing of borders and airspace between the US and Russia has continued, and now this week there’s been no less than three Russian intercepts of American spy planes over the Black Sea.

Reuters reports of the latest on Friday:

The Russian defense ministry said it had sent an Su-27 fighter plane on Friday to intercept a U.S. surveillance plane over the Black Sea, prompting it to change course away from the Russian border, Russian news agencies reported.

Two similar incidents were reported earlier this week over the Black Sea.

Su-27 fighter file image via The Aviationist

Russian MoD statements said there were two American military planes, with one likely being a smaller fighter jet escort to the larger spy plane.

“The crew of the Russian jet fighter approached the air targets at a safe distance and identified them as a US RC-135 US Air Force recon plane and a P-8A US Navy patrol plane,” TASS cited military officials as saying. Both sides acknowledged the incident took place over neutral waters. 

This comes after a spate of such close aerial encounters throughout June and July. The past two months have witnessed a noticeable uptick.

Most close encounters have taken place off Alaska’s coast, as well as over the Black and Baltic Seas, as well as the Mediterranean near Syria, and lately perhaps more rare over the Seas of Japan and over the remote Sea of Okhotsk just off the Russian far east.


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Smith: Martial Law Is Unacceptable Regardless Of The Circumstances

Smith: Martial Law Is Unacceptable Regardless Of The Circumstances Tyler Durden Sat, 08/01/2020 – 00:05

Authored by Brandon Smith via Alt-Market.com,

Back in 2014, hundreds if not thousands of conservatives and liberty movement activists converged on a farm in rural Clark County, Nevada. The purpose was to protest the incursion of federal government agents onto the property of the Bundy family, who had defied pressure from the Bureau of Land Management to stop allowing their cattle to feed on “federal land” in a form of free ranging. It was a practice that had been going on for decades and one that was required for the Bundy farm to survive, ended abruptly by environmental laws protecting a tortoise.

The Bundy family had been improving on the area with aquifers and other measures for generations without interference. The claim by the BLM and other agencies was that the farmers were destroying wildlife habitat with their cattle, yet the Bundy’s land improvements had actually allowed wildlife to THRIVE in areas where animals would find life difficult or impossible otherwise.

The federal government became fixated on the Bundy’s, and decided to make an example out of them. Their defiance of the crackdown on their use of the land was met with extreme measures, including their cattle impounded, their farm being surrounded and sniper teams placed in the hills nearby. The liberty movement saw this as the last straw, and so reacted at a grassroots level. The concern was that Bundy Ranch could become another Waco. They locked and loaded and went to defend the Bundy’s.

I completely agreed at the time with the efforts surrounding Bundy Ranch and I still agree with them today. The federal government had overstepped its bounds on multiple occasions when it came to rural farmers in sagebrush country and everyone had finally had enough. The feds were faced with a group of armed liberty movement members and eventually ran away. They even gave the Bundy’s back the cattle the feds had initially tried to confiscate. This event showcased the power of the people to repel tyranny when necessary.

The claim that the public is impotent against government force was summarily trounced.  The action was not perfect, and there were many internal disputes and a plethora of mistakes, but overall it had achieved its goal.  It sent a message to the establishment that if you try to assert unconstitutional force against the citizenry there is a chance a Bundy Ranch scenario might happen again, and next time it might not simply be a defensive measure.

I mention Bundy Ranch because I want to remind conservatives of their roots. We are a constitutional movement. We are a small government movement. We believe in individual rights, states rights and the 10th Amendment, as well as strict limitations placed on the federal government and state governments when they try to violate the Bill of Rights.  If you don’t believe in these things, you are not a conservative or a constitutionalist.

No government, whether state or federal, supersedes the boundaries placed upon them by the constitution. Once they violate those boundaries, they must be put in check by the citizenry, for the constitution is merely an object that represents an ideal. It can’t defend itself. If a government undermines constitutional protections, it is not a failure of the constitution, it is a failure by the public to act.

Sadly, there are “conservatives” out there who supported the efforts at Bundy Ranch in 2014, but are now calling for federal overreach and martial law today. The very same people who argued vehemently against unconstitutional actions back then are arguing for bending or breaking the rules of the constitution now. This is something I have been warning about for years…

The greatest threat to freedom is not the government, extreme leftists or the globalist cabal; the greatest threat is when freedom fighters foresake their own principles and start rationalizing tyranny because it happens to benefit them in the moment. If freedom fighters stop fighting for freedom, who remains pick up the mantle? No one. And thus, the globalists and collectivists win the long game.

Right now there are two sides calling for martial law-like restrictions on the public, and both sides think they are doing what is best for society at large. They both believe they are morally justified and that totalitarian actions are necessary for “the greater good”. Both sides are wrong.

The Pandemic Puritans

On one side, we have a group made up primarily of political leftists but also some conservatives who say that the coronavius pandemic creates a scenario in which medical tyranny must be established to protect the public from itself. Leftists enjoy control in general and the pandemic simply offers an opportunity for them to act out their totalitarian fantasies in real life.

These are the people who wag their fingers at others on the street or in the park or at the beach for not “social distancing” properly. These are the people that inform on their neighbors, or inform on local businesses for not following strict guidelines. These are the people that get a thrill from forcing other people to conform.

This is not to say that precautions are not warranted, they certainly are. However, these precautions MUST be up to individuals, not enforced by bureaucracy. The moment you hand government ultimate power to dictate people’s health decisions, personal daily activities, freedom of assembly and their ability to participate in the economy, you have given the government ultimate power to destroy our very culture. No government should be allowed to have that kind of influence.

The issue here is one of the greater EVIL, not the greater good. What is the greater evil? To avoid unconstitutional measures, avoid violating individual rights and allow the virus to spread faster than it normally would? Or, to completely throw out the Bill of Rights, individual liberty and economic security in the name of a brand of “safety” that is ambiguous and undefined?

As I write this, the state of New Jersey among others is implementing a draconian response against businesses that defy lockdown orders. NJ just arrested the owners of a gymnasium in Bellmawr who refused to close down. Even though they used social distancing measures and applied their own guidelines, the state has decided that citizens are children that must be controlled rather than adults that can make their own choices. This sets a dangerous precedence for the whole country.

Understand that small businesses that are not deemed “essential” by arbitrary decree from the state are on the verge of bankruptcy and collapse. Millions of people are having their livelihoods threatened by the lockdowns. Millions of jobs are at risk. Is the coronavirus really worth destroying our own economic system? Because that is EXACTLY what is happening right now. The US economy was already suffering from destabilization, and now the pandemic response is putting the final nail in the coffin.

If the economy tanks far more people will die from the resulting crisis of poverty, crime and civil unrest than will EVER die from the coronavirus pandemic. When you look at the big picture, how can anyone justify medical tyranny and martial law measures? There is simply no logical explanation for violating the economic and personal freedom of Americans in response to a disease. If some people die from the virus, so be it. Its a small price to pay to keep our freedoms intact.  Furthermore, I would stand by that argument even if I get sick from the virus.

Sock Puppet Conservatives

There are people out there that like constitutional rights and civil liberties “in theory”, but in practice they view these rights as inconvenient to their goals.  For these so-called “conservatives”, the Bill of Rights is only for peacetime. When war or domestic conflict rolls around, our rights are suddenly forfeit.

I use this particular metaphor often but I really can’t find a better one:

Government power is like the “one ring” in Lord Of The Rings. Everyone desperately wants control of it. The side of evil thirsts for it. The side of good thinks that if only they had it they could use it for honorable ends; they think they can use it to defeat evil. They are wrong.

The “one ring” (government power) corrupts ALL. It cannot be controlled. It cannot be used for good. Eventually, it warps the minds of those who hold it, twisting them into something grotesque. Good people who exploit the ring end up becoming the very monsters they were trying to defeat, and evil wins.

Right now through the Trump Administration conservatives are being tempted with the “one ring”. We are being tempted with ultimate government power. The leftist hordes and their actions are egregious. They act irrationally and foolishly. Their communist ideology and mindless zealotry is destructive and they openly seek the collapse of western civilization. But in the end this doesn’t matter.  They are nothing more than useful idiots for a greater agenda.

It’s interesting that the only solution I see being presented in conservative circles lately is the use of federal power to crush the protests and riots. Again, this might seem like a reasonable action in the face of so much lawlessness, but if taken too far the implications are horrifying.

Some conservative groups are cheering the deployment of federal agencies to cities like Portland in the name of stopping civil unrest, but there is a fine line between law enforcement and martial law. And by martial law, I mean ANY government force that is designed to suppress or break civil protections. This does not only include a military presence, it can also include federal agencies overstepping their bounds, just as they did at Bundy Ranch.

In Portland and other cities like New York, federal agents and police have been snatching protesters off the street in unmarked vans without identifying themselves.  Essentially, they are black-bagging people. This is the kind of behavior which real conservatives traditionally despise.

Yes, some of these protesters did in fact loot or participate in property damage; and some of them did absolutely nothing.  This is being done under 40 US Code 1315 which was signed into law by Neo-con president George W. Bush after the 9/11 attacks as part of the tidal wave of unconstitutional Patriot Act measures that were railroaded through during mass fear and panic.

Conservatives have been warning for years about the potential for misuse of these laws to violate people’s rights. Will we now support them because they are being enforced against people we don’t like? I will say this: If an unmarked van with unidentified armed people tried to grab me off the street, I would do everything in my power to put a bullet in each and every one of them.  And, I would not hold it against any person who did the same, even if they were my ideological opponent.

Some conservatives are calling for much more, including the deployment of the National Guard or a standing military presence. The use of such tactics opens the door to serious consequences, and I believe if we allow the federal government to bend the rules now, we set the stage for expansive martial law in the near future. By extension, labeling looters or rioters as “terrorists” also has dangerous implications.  Those of us that were activists during the Obama years know how freely that label is thrown around by government and the media.

We might feel righteous in violating the civil liberties of social justice Marxists because of their insane behavior and the threat they pose to the stability of the country, but, what happens when the roles are reversed? During Bundy Ranch, conservatives were also being labeled “terrorists”, and who is to say we won’t find ourselves in that position again?   Would defying the pandemic lockdowns also be considered an existential threat to the country?

Uncomfortable Questions

There are some questions in all of this that are either not being asked or are being deliberately avoided.  For example:

1) Why is it that the Trump Administration has not bothered to go after the elites and globalists FUNDING Antifa and BLM groups behind the unrest?  Why does George Soros and his Open Society Foundation get to operate in the US with impunity?  And what about the Ford Foundation?  Members of that institution openly admit that they have been funding and organizing the social justice cult for decades.  Shouldn’t the men behind the curtain paying for the entire thing be targeted first, instead of going after the useful idiots?  Perhaps the fact that Trump is surrounded by those very same elites in his cabinet has something to do with it…

2) If we support martial law measures, WHO are we giving that power to?  Is it Trump, or the deep state ghouls that advise him daily?  People like Wilber Ross, a New York Rothschild banking agent, Mike Pompeo, a long time Neo-con warmonger and promoter of mass surveillance, Robert Lightheizer, a member of the globalist Council On Foreign Relations, Steve Mnuchin, former Goldman Sachs banker, Larry Kudlow, former Federal Reserve, etc.  Even if you think Trump has the best of intentions, can anyone honestly say the same for his cabinet?

3) When the left is “defeated” and the riots stop, will martial law simply fade away, or, is it a Pandora’s Box that can never be closed again?  And if it doesn’t end, will supporters justify fighting against not just leftists, but also conservatives who will not tolerate it?  I for one will be among the people that will not tolerate it.

Real Solutions

There are other much better solutions than martial law when confronting the leftist riots or the pandemic.

For the pandemic, stop trying to dictate public behavior.  If individuals feel they are at risk from the virus, then they can take their own precautions.  The only other option is to continue on the path of shutdowns and an informant society that will destroy this nation in a matter of months.

For the leftists, communities that stage an armed presence in the face of protests have ALL escaped riots and property damage. Sometimes Antifa and BLM decide to not even show up. We DON’T NEED a federal presence or a military presence to get the job done. We can do it ourselves. We already have proof that this strategy works.

And, if the lefties want to burn down their own neighborhoods and cities and local governments don’t want to stop them, then I say let it happen. It’s sad for the people in these places that had no dog in the fight, but maybe this will teach the locals to speak out against BLM or Antifa instead of remaining silent or virtue signaling their support in the hopes that their businesses won’t be attacked.  Maybe they should look for better government officials as well.

Finally, it’s far past time to go after the elites that fund and engineer such groups.  Remove their influence and I suspect many people will be shocked at how fast all this unrest and chaos suddenly disappears.  Isn’t this what people wanted Trump to do from the very beginning?  And yet, nothing happens to the vampires at the top.

Only cowards demand everyone else give up their freedoms just so they can feel safe.  The establishment is trying to pit the American people against each other as a means to pave a path to tyranny. I believe what the elites want more than anything else is to trick conservatives into forsaking their own principles. If we do, we become hypocrites that can no longer sustain a movement for freedom. By becoming the monster to fight the monster we hand our enemies victory. This is unacceptable.

*  *  *

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Xi Hails Now “Fully Operational” China-Controlled Satellite Navigation System Which Rivals GPS

Xi Hails Now “Fully Operational” China-Controlled Satellite Navigation System Which Rivals GPS Tyler Durden Fri, 07/31/2020 – 23:45

Multiple official statements have come out of China that reveal, predictably enough, that the US pressure and sanctions campaign are not at all curbing its global ambitions or efforts at rapid defense technology modernization. Actually Washington’s hawkish stance is perhaps doing the opposite, given that President Xi Jinping told the Politburo on Friday that “only a strong military can ensure national security” while urging the country to “push forward national defense and military modernization,” according to Bloomberg citing official Xinhua.

And this includes the potential for military modernization in space, at a moment leaders across the globe fear that space will soon become a “war-fighting domain” — which is also subject of discussions in Vienna currently, as US and Russian diplomats work to extend the New START nuclear arms reduction treaty. Xi officially commissioned China’s BeiDou Navigation Satellite System (BDS-3) on Friday, which state media now says is fully operational, is will compete with GPS.

Prior BDS-3 launch file image

This means that China joins a very few number of nations, which includes the US, Russia, and EU, that has its own independent global navigation system. The network includes 35 satellites as part of an ambitious program that’s been under development since the 1990’s.

Xinhua news also noted that BeiDou-based services are already in use in more than 120 countries and regions. While Beijing has specifically condemned the pursuit of the ‘weaponization of space’, Xi took the opportunity as touting the huge advantage that newly operational BDS-3 represents. 

As Xinhua describes, “Xi said the completion and opening of the BDS-3 fully reflects the political advantage of China’s socialist system in mobilizing resources for major undertakings.”

“It is of great significance to enhance China’s comprehensive national strength, to promote China’s economic development and improvement of people’s livelihood under regular epidemic prevention and control, to promote China’s opening-up under the current international economic situation, to further enhance national self-confidence, and to strive to achieve the two centenary goals, noted Xi,” Xinhua continues.

It was on June 22 that China launched the final Beidou satellite in completion of its orbital navigation constellation.

According to a US-based space technology analysis site, “The first four Beidou satellites were launched between 2000 and 2007. Based on the CAST developed DFH-3 satellite bus, the satellites were orbited by Long March-3A launch vehicles to geostationary orbits.”


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Susan Rice’s Testimony On Being Out Of Russiagate Loop Doesn’t Add Up

Susan Rice’s Testimony On Being Out Of Russiagate Loop Doesn’t Add Up Tyler Durden Fri, 07/31/2020 – 23:25

Authored by Eric Felten via RealClearInvestigations.com,

Susan Rice, the vice presidential contender with a high-profile history of questionable public statements, has another dubious claim in her past that until now has escaped scrutiny. Rice swore under oath that as President Obama’s national security adviser she was never told about the FBI’s Trump-Russia investigation. But former FBI Director James Comey testified that Rice was present when he informed Obama all about Crossfire Hurricane just weeks after the investigation was launched.

James Comey: His account of telling the White House about Crossfire Hurricane differs markedly from Susan Rice’s. She testified: “We were not informed by Director Comey or the attorney general that there was an active investigation of anybody in the Trump orbit.” (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

The contradiction could lead to charges that Rice lied to Congress about a topic still of intense interest to investigators: How actively involved in the effort to spy on the Trump campaign was the inner circle of the Obama White House, including the president himself? More immediately, the question of whether Rice told the truth on Capitol Hill might damage her bid to join Joe Biden on the Democratic presidential ticket.

Rice earned a reputation for shading the truth after the 2012 terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. She was famously dispatched to five different Sunday morning news shows to repeat false talking points: that the mob that killed four Americans – including Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens – was merely reacting to an obscure YouTube video mocking Islam.

Questions about her forthrightness were redoubled when Senate investigators found that, in the waning minutes of the Obama administration, Rice wrote a curious “memo to the file.” She sent an email to herself on the day of Donald Trump’s inauguration, and in it claimed that Obama had insisted that everything to do with Russia, whether law enforcement or counterintelligence, be done “by the book.”

President Obama and Rice: Both were present at a meeting where, the FBI’s Comey said, the Trump-Russia probe was discussed at its outset. She denied knowing about it. AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

Asked about that memo later, Rice insisted she knew nothing about the FBI’s counterintelligence probe regarding Trump and Russia, let alone anything that could be characterized as spying on the incoming administration. She had her lawyer, Kathryn Ruemmler, write a letter to Sens. Charles Grassley, Dianne Feinstein, Lindsey Graham, and Sheldon Whitehouse. “While serving as National Security Advisor, Ambassador Rice was not briefed on the existence of any FBI investigation into allegations of collusion between Mr. Trump’s associates and Russia,” Ruemmler wrote, “and she later learned of the fact of this investigation from Director Comey’s subsequent public testimony” – testimony that didn’t occur until March 20, 2017

On Wednesday, September 8, 2017, Rice repeated that she knew nothing of the FBI’s investigation while in the White House. This time she made the claim under oath.

Rice was at the Capitol, sitting in a secure room used by the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. The official reason for the interview was to ask what the Obama administration had done to thwart Russian efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election. Behind those questions was a different query: Had Barack Obama’s team used the power of the presidency to spy on and smear the Trump campaign?

With the expectation of facing unfriendly questions, Rice arrived with two attorneys from the law firm Latham & Watkins.

Adam Schiff: “… [W]ould Director Comey brief you on the progress of his investigation?” he asked Rice. “No,” replied Rice under oath. (Scott Applewhite)

 The Republican staffer running the interview emphasized to Rice the importance of telling the truth: “You are reminded that it is unlawful to deliberately provide false information to members of Congress or staff.” She was asked to raise her right hand and take an oath: “Madam Ambassador, do you swear or affirm that the testimony you’re about to give is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?”

“I do,” Rice said.

The Democrats at the interview weren’t looking to trip Rice up. But it was questions from two California Democrats in the room that Rice may regret. Rep. Adam Schiff cited the former head of the FBI: “Director Comey testified that, in July of last year [2016], he began a counterintelligence investigation into people associated with the Trump campaign and what contacts they may have had with Russia.

“That investigative responsibility,” Schiff asked Rice, “wasn’t part of your portfolio, I take it?”

“No, not at all.”

“And would Director Comey brief you on the progress of his investigation?”

“No,” said Rice. And then she elaborated. “I think it’s important for everybody to understand: We were not informed by Director Comey or the attorney general that there was an active investigation of anybody in the Trump orbit,” she said. “[I]n the Obama White House, we maintained scrupulously the firewall between people in the While House and contacts with Justice about potential or actual criminal matters. The only communication that was sanctioned in that vein was between the White House counsel and the Justice Department or the FBl.”

Eric Swalwell: “ls it fair to say that, as the national security adviser, you were not read in on active, ongoing investigations that the Department of Justice or the FBI were conducting?” Rice’s reply under penalty of perjury: “Absolutely, that’s the case.”  AP Photo/Alex Brandon

If that weren’t definitive enough, Rice added, “And Director Comey did not volunteer to us, not only then but through the duration of the administration, that there was an active investigation of anybody in the Trump orbit. I knew he was looking at this issue, that he was concerned about it. But he never specifically shared with me or others, to my knowledge, that such an investigation was ongoing. And I learned about it formally in the public domain after I left office.”

A little later in the closed-door Capitol Hill interview, Democratic Rep. Eric Swalwell came back to the question that Rice had already answered so definitively: “Speaking of investigations, you talked about Director Comey and the FBl,” Swalwell said to Rice. “ls it fair to say that, as the national security adviser, you were not read in on active, ongoing investigations that the Department of Justice or the FBI were conducting?”

If Rice were concerned that she might have misspoken earlier, she was presented with the opportunity to correct her testimony. She didn’t take it.

“Absolutely, that’s the case,” Rice replied. “Those were law enforcement matters. They were not things that I was privy to unless the Justice Department chose to share them with me. The Justice Department’s normal contact in the White House, at least in the Obama administration, for anything to do with law enforcement, criminal stuff, was the White House counsel.”

Rice’s testimony took place two years before the inspector general for the Justice Department, Michael Horowitz, released his report on the origins of the FBI’s Trump-Russia investigation. In that report is an admission from James Comey that contradicts Rice’s sworn statements. According to testimony obtained from Comey by Horowitz, the Obama team knew about the FBI’s investigation from nearly the start, and in detail.

Above, a footnote from the IG report undercuts Susan Rice’s claim of no knowledge of Crossfire Hurricane.

DoJ Office of the Inspector General

“Crossfire Hurricane,” as the counterintelligence investigation was called, was officially launched at the end of July 2016. Sometime in August – just weeks into the secret, “close-hold” probe – Comey was at the White House for a meeting, he told Horowitz.

“When we asked Comey about meetings with the White House concerning Crossfire Hurricane” Horowitz writes, the former FBI director said “he did not brief the White House about the investigation.”

Michael Horowitz: In his report on the origins of Trump-Russia, the Justice Department inspector general listed the attendees at a White House meeting where the probe was discussed, including Rice and President Obama. AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

Comey may not have considered it an official “briefing” but that doesn’t mean he didn’t share the information. Comey told Horowitz that in August 2016 “he did mention to President Obama and others at a meeting in the Situation Room that the FBI was trying to determine whether any U.S. person had worked with the Russians in their efforts to interfere in the 2016 U.S. election.”

Comey claimed that he wasn’t eager at that White House meeting to share specifics of the inquiry, but he had done so nonetheless.

“[A]lthough [Comey] did not recall exactly what he said,” Horowitz writes, “he may have said there were four individuals with ‘some association or connection to the Trump campaign.’” This revelation failed to strike anyone at the meeting as remarkable: “Comey stated that after he provided this information, no one in the Situation Room responded or followed up with any questions.”

Who were the strangely incurious officials who remained mum when they were told four individuals associated with the Trump campaign were being investigated on suspicion of conspiring with Russians to interfere in the election? Comey provided Horowitz with a list of those at the meeting. The inspector general shares that list in footnote 194 to his report: President Obama was there, as well as his chief of staff, Dennis McDonough; also present were James Clapper, John Brennan, Michael Rogers and Susan Rice.

So Rice was among those told by James Comey about Crossfire Hurricane within weeks of the investigation’s launch. Yet she told the House Intelligence Committee under oath that “I think it’s important for everybody to understand: We were not informed by Director Comey or the Attorney General that there was an active investigation of anybody in the Trump orbit.”

Reached by RealClearInvestigations, Rice spokesperson Erin Pelton said that Rice’s testimony was true:

“As Ambassador Rice wrote in her book and stated to Congress, she was not briefed by the FBI or the Department of Justice on the existence of an FBI investigation into allegations of collusion between Mr. Trump’s associates and Russia, nor was she informed of any FISA applications sought by the FBI in its investigation.” Pelton said Rice “only learned of the fact of this investigation after leaving office, when FBI Director Comey testified before Congress to that effect.”

The spokesperson offered no comment, however, about Comey’s assertion to the inspector general that he had told Obama, Rice, and the others about Crossfire Hurricane shortly after the investigation’s launch in the summer of 2016.


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Escobar: The Heart Of The Matter In The South China Sea

Escobar: The Heart Of The Matter In The South China Sea Tyler Durden Fri, 07/31/2020 – 22:45

Authored by Pepe Escobar via The Asia Times,

When the Ronald Reagan and Nimitz carrier strike groups recently engaged in “operations” in the South China Sea, it did not escape to many a cynic that the US Pacific Fleet was doing its best to turn the infantile Thucydides Trap theory into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The pro forma official spin, via Rear Adm. Jim Kirk, commander of the Nimitz, is that the ops were conducted to “reinforce our commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific, a rules-based international order, and to our allies and partners”.

Nobody pays attention to these clichés, because the real message was delivered by a CIA operative posing as diplomat, Secretary of State Mike “We Lie, We Cheat, We Steal” Pompeo: “The PRC has no legal grounds to unilaterally impose its will on the region”, in a reference to the Nine-Dash Line. For the State Dept., Beijing deploys nothing but “gangster tactics” in the South China Sea.

Once again, nobody paid attention, because the actual facts on the sea are stark. Anything that moves in the South China Sea – China’s crucial maritime trade artery – is at the mercy of the PLA, which decides if and when to deploy their deadly DF-21D and DF-26 “carrier killer” missiles.

There’s absolutely no way the US Pacific Fleet can win a shooting war in the South China Sea.

Electronically jammed

A crucial Chinese report, unavailable and not referred to by Western media, and translated by Hong Kong-based analyst Thomas Wing Polin, is essential to understand the context.

The report refers to US Growler electronic warplanes rendered totally out of control by electronic jamming devices positioned on islands and reefs in the South China Sea.

According to the report, “after the accident, the United States negotiated with China, demanding that China dismantle the electronic equipment immediately, but it was rejected. These electronic devices are an important part of China’s maritime defense and are not offensive weapons. Therefore, the US military’s request for dismantling is unreasonable.”

It gets better:

“On the same day, former commander Scott Swift of the US Pacific Fleet finally acknowledged that the US military had lost the best time to control the South China Sea. He believes that China has deployed a large number of Hongqi 9 air defense missiles, H-6K bombers, and electronic jamming systems on islands and reefs. The defense can be said to be solid. If US fighter jets rush into the South China Sea, they are likely to encounter their ‘Waterloo.’”

The bottom line is that the systems – including electronic jamming – deployed by the PLA on islands and reefs in the South China Sea, covering more than half of the total surface, are considered by Beijing to be part of the national defense system.

I have previously detailed what Admiral Philip Davidson, when he was still a nominee to lead the US Pacific Command (PACOM), told the US Senate. Here are his Top Three conclusions:

1) “China is pursuing advanced capabilities (e.g., hypersonic missiles) which the United States has no current defense against. As China pursues these advanced weapons systems, US forces across the Indo-Pacific will be placed increasingly at risk.”

2) “China is undermining the rules-based international order.”

3) “China is now capable of controlling the South China Sea in all scenarios short of war with the United States.”

Implied in all of the above is the “secret” of the Indo-Pacific strategy: at best a containment exercise, as China continues to solidify the Maritime Silk Road linking the South China Sea to the Indian Ocean.

Remember the nusantao

The South China Sea is and will continue to be one of the prime geopolitical flashpoints of the young 21st century, where a great deal of the East-West balance of power will be played.

I have addressed this elsewhere in the past in some detail, but a short historical background is once again absolutely essential to understand the current juncture as the South China Sea increasingly looks and feels like a Chinese lake.

Let’s start in 1890, when Alfred Mahan, then president of the US Naval College, wrote the seminal The Influence of Sea Power Upon History, 1660-1783. Mahan’s central thesis is that the US should go global in search of new markets, and protect these new trade routes through a network of naval bases.

That is the embryo of the US Empire of Bases – which remains in effect.

It was Western – American and European – colonialism that came up with most land borders and maritime borders of states bordering the South China Sea: Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam.

We are talking about borders between different colonial possessions – and that implied intractable problems from the start, subsequently inherited by post-colonial nations.

Historically, it had always been a completely different story. The best anthropological studies (Bill Solheim’s, for instance) define the semi-nomadic communities who really traveled and traded across the South China Sea from time immemorial as the Nusantao – an Austronesian compound word for “south island” and “people”.

The Nusantao were not a defined ethnic group. They were a maritime internet. Over centuries, they had many key hubs, from the coastline between central Vietnam and Hong Kong all the way to the Mekong Delta. They were not attached to any “state”. The Western notion of “borders” did not even exist. In the mid-1990s, I had the privilege to encounter some of their descendants in Indonesia and Vietnam.

So it was only by the late 19th century that the Westphalian system managed to freeze the South China Sea inside an immovable framework.

Which brings us to the crucial point of why China is so sensitive about its borders; because they are directly linked to the “century of humiliation” – when internal Chinese corruption and weakness allowed Western “barbarians” to take possession of Chinese land.

A Japanese lake

The Nine Dash Line is an immensely complex problem. It was invented by the eminent Chinese geographer Bai Meichu, a fierce nationalist, in 1936, initially as part of a “Chinese National Humiliation Map” in the form of a “U-shaped line” gobbling up the South China Sea all the way down to James Shoal, which is 1,500 km south of China but only over 100 km off Borneo.

The Nine Dash Line, from the beginning, was promoted by the Chinese government – remember, at the time not yet Communist – as the letter of the law in terms of “historic” Chinese claims over islands in the South China Sea.

One year later, Japan invaded China. Japan had occupied Taiwan way back in 1895. Japan occupied the Philippines in 1942. That meant virtually the entire coastline of the South China Sea being controlled by a single empire for the fist time in history. The South China Sea had become a Japanese lake.

Well, that lasted only until 1945. The Japanese did occupy Woody Island in the Paracels and Itu Aba (today Taiping) in the Spratlys. After the end of WWII and the US nuclear-bombing Japan, the Philippines became independent in 1946 and the Spratlys immediately were declared Filipino territory.

In 1947, all the islands in the South China Sea got Chinese names.

And in December 1947 all the islands were placed under the control of Hainan (itself an island in southern China.) New maps duly followed, but now with Chinese names for the islands (or reefs, or shoals). But there was a huge problem: no one explained the meaning of those dashes (which were originally eleven.)

In June 1947 the Republic of China claimed everything within the line – while proclaiming itself open to negotiate definitive maritime borders with other nations later on. But, for the moment, there were no borders.

And that set the scene for the immensely complicated “strategic ambiguity” of the South China Sea that still lingers on – and allows the State Dept. to accuse Beijing of “gangster tactics”. The culmination of a millennia-old transition from the “maritime internet” of semi-nomadic peoples to the Westphalian system spelled nothing but trouble.

Time for COC

So what about the US notion of “freedom of navigation”?

In imperial terms, “freedom of navigation”, from the West Coast of the US to Asia – through the Pacific, the South China Sea, the Malacca Strait and the Indian Ocean – is strictly an issue of military strategy.

The US Navy simply cannot imagine dealing with maritime exclusion zones – or having to demand an “authorization” every time they need to cross them. In this case the Empire of Bases would lose “access” to its own bases.

This is compounded with trademark Pentagon paranoia, gaming a situation where a “hostile power” – namely China – decides to block global trade. The premise in itself is ludicrous, because the South China Sea is the premier, vital maritime artery for China’s globalized economy.

So there’s no rational justification for a Freedom of Navigation (FON) program. For all practical purposes, these aircraft carriers like the Ronald Reagan and the Nimitz showboating on and off in the South China Sea amount to 21st century gunboat diplomacy. And Beijing is not impressed.

As far as the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is concerned, what matters now is to come up with a Code of Conduct (COC) to solve all maritime conflicts between Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and China.

Next year, ASEAN and China celebrate 30 years of strong bilateral relations. There’s a strong possibility they will be upgraded to “comprehensive strategic partner” status.

Because of Covid-19, all players had to postpone negotiations on the second reading of the single draft of COC. Beijing wanted these to be face to face – because the document is ultra-sensitive and for the moment, secret. Yet they finally agreed to negotiate online – via detailed texts.

It will be a hard slog, because as ASEAN made it clear in a virtual summit in late June, everything has to be in accordance with international law, including the UN Convention on the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS).

If they can all agree on a COC by the end of 2020, a final agreement could be approved by ASEAN in mid-2021. Historic does not even begin to describe it – because this negotiation has been going on for no less than two decades.

Not to mention that a COC invalidates any US pretension to secure “freedom of navigation” in an area where navigation is already free.

Yet “freedom” was never the issue. In imperial terminology, “freedom” means that China must obey and keep the South China Sea open to the US Navy. Well, that’s possible, but you gotta behave. That’ll be the day when the US Navy is “denied” the South China Sea. You don’t need to be Mahan to know that’ll mean the imperial end of ruling the seven seas.


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Ford Uses Robot Dogs To Map Plant, Human Surveyors No Longer Needed 

Ford Uses Robot Dogs To Map Plant, Human Surveyors No Longer Needed  Tyler Durden Fri, 07/31/2020 – 22:25

Ford Motor Company is set to abandoned traditional human surveyors for robot dogs with sensors to laser map a production plant ahead of retooling.

Ford partnered with Boston Dynamics to digitally map its Van Dyke Transmission Plant in Michigan. The data will enable engineers to retool the plant for future products. The ability to use robot dogs, outfitted with sensors, is a much timelier and cost-effective approach than using human surveyors. 

“Equipped with five cameras, the robots can travel up to 3 mph on a battery lasting nearly two hours and will be used to scan the plant floor and assist engineers in updating the original Computer-Aided Design which is utilized when we’re getting ready to retool our plants,” Ford said.

Ford’s digital engineering manager Mark Goderis said, “by having the robots scan our facility, we can see what it actually looks like now and build a new engineering model. That digital model is then used when we need to retool the plant for new products.”

“We used to use a tripod, and we would walk around the facility stopping at different locations, each time standing around for five minutes waiting for the laser to scan,” Goderis said. “Scanning one plant could take two weeks. With Fluffy’s [the robot dog’s name] help, we are able to do it in half the time.”

A typical digital scan of a plant costs around $ 300,000. Ford claims the robot dogs can do it for a “fraction of the cost.” 

Here’s the robot dog in action.

The takeaway is that automation and artificial intelligence will displace millions of jobs by 2030. The virus pandemic, forcing corporations to adopt cutting-edge (non-virus-catching) technology, will continue to weigh on the labor market recovery. As robots take human jobs, politicians, pressured by high unemployment and collapsing consumption (and supported by an enabling Fed), will increasingly support people’s quantitative easing. Washington’s socialist checks to broke Americans are likely prelude to UBI… and that likely explains the surge in gold prices.


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US Takes Unprecedented Step Of Imposing Sanctions On Assad’s Teenage Son

US Takes Unprecedented Step Of Imposing Sanctions On Assad’s Teenage Son Tyler Durden Fri, 07/31/2020 – 21:45

This week the US imposed a new round of sanctions against the Syrian government, and while this is nothing new, what is gaining attention is the unprecedented step Washington has taken against Bashar al-Assad’s teenage son.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo cited that the continued sanctions under the ‘Caesar Act’ were geared toward ending Assad’s “brutal war against the Syrian people.”  

President Assad’s oldest son, 18-year old Hafez Bashar al-Assad (named after his grandfather who previously ruled Syria), is not known to be politically active or connected, and holds no office or decision-making abilities, but now under the new sanctions he won’t be allowed to travel to or have assets in the US, reports The Guardian.

When pressed US officials admitted that the action against Assad’s children are preemptive. US deputy assistant secretary of state, Joel Rayburn, was cited in the following:

Asked why Assad’s teenage son had been added to the list – he was born in 2001 – Rayburn said: “There has been a trend of senior Syrian regime actors and business people who have been active in the regime to do business through their adult family members to evade sanctions.”

“It seems very clear that the immediate family of Bashar al-Assad and their in-laws are attempting to consolidate economic power inside Syria so that they could use this to further consolidate political power.”

He said: “Assad would only use such power to strengthen the killing machine against the Syrian people”. He denied that the sanctions would have any impact on humanitarian trade or on the economy of Lebanon.

However, many analysts have pointed out that the sanctions are designed to ensure that Syria never recovers from its crushed war-time economy, not to mention the billions in damage to buildings, homes, and infrastructure across the country.

Hafez al-Assad, 18, is named after his grandfather, who ruled syria prior to Bashar. Image source: Reuters

Also interesting is the fact that the sanctions do not target al-Qaeda held Idlib province, nor the oil and gas rich northeast section of the country occupied by US forces in support of Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

The far-reaching US sanctions now essentially “blacklist” anyone doing business with Damascus for any reason. As geopolitical commentator Jason Ditz points out: “This would cover a lot of basic commerce Syria might engage in in the course of reconstruction, particularly importing goods and services, and may force Syria to delay such rebuilding for lack of willing contractors.”

Thus it appears that the US war on Syria will grind on for many more years to come. 


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Google Says New ‘Contact Tracing’ App To Launch In Coming Weeks

Google Says New ‘Contact Tracing’ App To Launch In Coming Weeks Tyler Durden Fri, 07/31/2020 – 21:05

Shortly after launching a new contact-tracing program in Ontario, a top Google executive said in a blog post published Friday that 20 US states and territories (roughly 45% of the country’s population) are “exploring” using the tool Google built with Apple to create new contact-tracing programs, and that the new apps are set to launch in the coming weeks.

Google had previously said in May that three states, Alabama, North Dakota and South Carolina, would be launching apps using the exposure notification tool. Those states are still using the protocols, it appears.

Additionally, the company said during its update that 16 countries and regions outside the US have launched apps using the Apple-Google tool, while other countries – including France and the UK – have sought to build their own tools from scratch, though the UK infamously pivoted, abandoned its custom system, and adopted the Google-Apple protocol.

However, the UK has yet to launch this new app, and it’s unclear when it will be ready, as the Telegraph recently reported.

Here’s how the UK’s app-based system (which is based on the Google-Apple system) is supposed to work, per the Telegraph.

Source: The Telegraph

The technology should enable users to track whether they came in contact with any infected people via bluetooth signals.

VP of Engineering David Burke penned the post, which was published Friday afternoon on the East Coast. Read it in full below:

* * *

In May, we partnered with Apple to launch the Exposure Notifications System (ENS) and made it available to public health authorities around the world in their fight against COVID-19. The ENS allows public health authorities to develop apps that augment manual contact tracing efforts while preserving the privacy of their citizens. As of today, public health authorities have used ENS to launch in 16 countries and regions across Africa, Asia, Europe, North America and South America, with more apps currently under development.

In the United States, 20 states and territories—representing approximately 45 percent of the U.S. population—are exploring apps based on ENS. We expect to see the first set of these apps roll out over the coming weeks. The Association of Public Health Laboratories also announced recently that it will host a national key server to support all U.S. states, which will allow people with Exposure Notification apps to receive alerts even if they travel across state borders.

We’ve continued to improve the technology and provide more transparency based on feedback we’ve received from public health authorities and other experts. Public health authorities will continue to make their own decisions about how exposure notifications become part of their plans in controlling COVID-19, and we will work to improve the technology in response to their feedback. Here are some of the changes we’ve already made, as well as some upcoming additional changes.

Improvements to the Exposure Notification API

Since the Exposure Notification API was publicly released in May, we’ve spoken with dozens of public health authorities to understand how the API could be improved to help them better manage the COVID-19 pandemic while preserving privacy. Based on this feedback, we recently launched an update to the API, which includes the following changes:

When an exposure is detected, public health authorities now have more flexibility in determining the level of risk associated with that exposure based on technical information from the API.

Bluetooth calibration values for hundreds of devices have been updated to improve the detection of nearby devices.

The API now supports interoperability between countries, following feedback from governments that have launched Exposure Notification apps.

To help public health authorities build apps more efficiently, we’ve added reliability improvements for apps and developer debug tools.

We’ve improved clarity, transparency and control for users. For example, the Exposure Notifications settings on Android now include a simple on/off toggle at the top of the page. In addition, users will also see a periodic reminder if ENS is turned on.

Technical guidance and transparency

We’ve heard feedback that public health authorities and developers want more technical guidance about how ENS works. In response, we’ve published the following resources over the last few weeks:

Reference verification server to help guide public health authorities in building a server that allows verification of test results when users report themselves as positive for COVID-19.

Implementation code showing how the Exposure Notification API works underneath the hood.

Telemetry design explaining what de-identified diagnostics data is collected to ensure that ENS is functioning properly and securely.

Additional technical resources will be publicly shared as we continue to improve ENS.

Education and privacy protections

The Exposure Notifications website has more information about ENS, and offers educational and technical resources, as well as the latest updates.

As a quick reminder, here are some of the core privacy protections that were built into ENS:

You decide whether you want to use Exposure Notifications—it’s off unless you turn it on.

ENS doesn’t use location data from your device.

Your identity is not shared with Google, Apple or other users.

Only public health authorities can use this system.

Finally, we’ve received questions about why your Android device location setting has to be turned on if you want to use an Exposure Notification app. We want to explain why this particular setting needs to be on, and how you can control your location settings on Android.

To be absolutely clear, ENS does not use device location, and the policies for using ENS prohibit public health authority apps from requesting or collecting device location. Instead, ENS uses Bluetooth technology to detect when two devices are near each other, without revealing the location of either device. While Bluetooth scanning doesn’t necessarily reveal location, it can in some cases be used to infer your device’s location. For example, if a shopping app scans for the Bluetooth signals of a stationary Bluetooth beacon located inside a store, then the app could infer that you went to that store. So in 2015, with privacy in mind, we designed the Android operating system to prevent Bluetooth scanning unless the device location setting is on. At that time no one could have anticipated that Bluetooth scanning might one day be helpful in controlling a global pandemic like COVID-19.

Our engineering teams have been working to update the next version of Android with Exposure Notifications in mind. On Android 11, which will soon be released, users will be able to use Exposure Notification apps without turning on the device location setting. We’re making this update for Exposure Notifications only, given that ENS has been designed in such a way that neither the system nor the apps using it can infer device location through Bluetooth scanning, and apps that are allowed to use ENS are subject to additional policies that disallow automatic collection of location. All other apps and services will still be prohibited from performing Bluetooth scanning unless the device location setting is on.

But even in current versions of Android, when you turn on the device location setting, your phone continues to prohibit access to any apps, including Google apps, that don’t have permission to use device location. The device location setting is like a circuit breaker in a house: When it’s on, power is flowing to the house, but you can turn the lights on or off in each room. If you turn on the device location setting to use ENS, it won’t affect the decisions you’ve already made about specific apps. You can always view and change which apps have access to your device location by going to Settings > Location > App permissions.

We’re committed to supporting public health authorities as they build tools to fight COVID-19. We’ll continue to improve ENS based on feedback, while ensuring that people can trust in the privacy-preserving design of this technology.

* * *

Source: Google

 


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Why The Iran-China Oil Alliance Is So Important

Why The Iran-China Oil Alliance Is So Important Tyler Durden Fri, 07/31/2020 – 20:45

Via Defense and Foreign Affairs,

The steady rise in U.S. strategic competition with the People’s Republic of China (PRC) over trade and the South China Sea already has so many dimensions that it is sometimes easy to ignore shifts in the PRC’s behavior in other areas. On July 6, 2020, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif announced that Iran was negotiating an agreement with the PRC – with which it long has had trade and strategic links – which would now make the two countries the equivalent of strategic partners.

This expanded U.S.-PRC competition to new parts of the world. Perhaps more importantly, the move is a substantive and significant response to India’s success in militarily outmaneuvering the PRC in Kashmir during June 2020.

The PRC-Iran accord means the end of Indian use of the Iranian port of Chah Bahar and the construction of a rail link from that port city northward to link with a new rail spur into Afghanistan. India’s moves into Kashmir in 2019-2020 are widely perceived in Beijing to presage a new move by India to cut off the PRC-Pakistan landbridge through Pakistani controlled Azad (Free) Kashmir, giving India its own landbridge to Central Asia.

Thus, after the confrontation between the Indian Army and People’s Liberation Army (PLA) troops in the Ladakh region of Kashmir on June 15-16, 2020, Beijing determined it would respond by cutting Indian access to Central Asia through Iran. The first signs came as the Iran-PRC deal was announced and the Iranian government canceled the Chah Bahar to Zahedan rail link which was to be built by India, citing Indian delays on the 628 km project. The Iranian government said that it would complete the line on its own, with a $ 400 million investment from the Iranian National Development Fund to the Iranian Railways.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had gone to Tehran in May 2016 to sign the Chah Bahar deal, but work was indeed delayed as India fretted that the project might invoke U.S. sanctions against India.

The PRC-Iran agreement could involve serious military ties and lead to major PRC defense sales to Iran, involve some $ 400 billion in PRC economic investment over 25 years, and lead to a major PRC role in modernizing Iranian railroads, ports, 5G Networks, and telecommunications generally. In return, the PRC would get discounted supplies of Iranian oil products and gas for the next 25 years.

The PRC would be able to make Iran part of its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), and be able to establish free trade zones in Iran in Maku in the northwest, Abadan in Khuzestan Province near Iraq, and Qeshm island just inside the Persian Gulf near the Strait of Hormuz.

The agreement would give the PRC access to Jask, a major Iranian port outside the Strait of Hormuz. The PRC began developing its strategic position in the Persian Gulf region during the Iran-Iraq war as far back as 1980-1988. And the PRC presence in the Persian Gulf has only increased since that time.

PRC activity over the last decade shows a clear intent to secure its energy imports from the Persian Gulf, compete with the U.S. and India, and look toward a day when it would be as real a power in the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean as it was striving to be in Asia and Pacific.

The PRC had also made Pakistan a key partner in its Belt and Road Initiative, and the PRC now plays a key part in developing and managing the Pakistani port of Gwadar, on the Arabian Sea. The PRC also invested some $ 10.7 billion into transforming an Omani fishing village into the special Economic Zone Authority of Duqm. But, significantly, Oman has reserved significant parts of the maritime facilities at Duqm for British and U.S. forces.

The PRC has taken these steps for both economic and strategic reasons. In 2019, Beijing attempted, without success, to bring Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates into its orbit. It found it could not, however, have a strategic relationship with Iran and the Arabian Peninsula states simultaneously. It stayed with the more significant choice, Iran.

It is vital to the PRC to secure its access to the Persian Gulf oil and gas, and limit U.S. capability to influence this flow to the PRC during a crisis or war. The PRC imports more than 70 percent of its petroleum, and gets more than 40 percent of its supplies from the Persian Gulf.

Iranian-PRC trade and strategic linkages in many ways circumvent U.S. attempts to sanction the leadership of both states. At a time when both sanctioned states have come under great pressure, the new alliance, then, offers Beijing and Tehran some real respite and strategic resilience. Adding Russia into the mix only widens the trading zone of both states.

The real challenges, however, comes from whether the PRC economy can be sustained for the duration of the new accord, and whether an Indian military thrust to cut off the Pakistan corridor to the PRC will cause grave difficulties for Beijing.

But, certainly, the new deal with Iran is Beijing’s signal that it is planning for the day when the Pakistan corridor to the Indian Ocean may be lost to it.


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