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Washington passes intelligence bill, Russia's alleged attempts to "exert covert influence over peoples and governments"

© Jonathan Ernst / Reuters
Capitol Hill in Washington
The House of Representatives has passed an intelligence authorization bill containing a provision aimed at tackling what Washington claims is political interference by Russia on a global level.

The 93-page HR 6393, passed by the House in a 390-30 vote on Wednesday, calls for setting up a new, interagency panel to suppress Russia's alleged attempts to "exert covert influence over peoples and governments," the Washington Post reported.

The panel would be tasked with "countering active measures by Russia to exert covert influence, including exposing falsehoods, agents of influence, corruption, human rights abuses, terrorism and assassinations carried out by the security services or political elites of the Russian Federation or their proxies," the draft legislation goes on to say.

Eye 1

Pa. releases Trump electors' contact info, GOP slams "unprecedented harassment"

© James Robinson
Trump supporters celebrate as more states are called at a watch party at the Radisson in Camp Hill, Nov. 09, 2016.
Republican Party officials say they believe the Pennsylvania Department of State willfully disregarded open records protections when it released the contact information of President-elect Donald Trump's electors, opening them up to harassment.

The Department of State says certain information, including a list of Electoral College electors, is publicly available as part of the Pennsylvania Election Code. That list, provided by the president-elect or his representative, included the electors' contact information, according to the department.

PennLive spoke to an elector said she received 18,000 emails, 130 letters and postcards and numerous phone calls after her address and phone number was released. She said she hasn't attempted to read all the emails, but most were urging her to cast her vote for Hillary Clinton.

The elector asked not to be identified, out of fear of further harassment.

Comment: See also: What happens if an electoral college voter switches their vote on Dec. 19?


Bullseye

Iran's Supreme Court confirms death penalty for billionaire Zanjani, money laundering through oil sales deals

© YouTube/NewsReport24
A death sentence for Iranian billionaire Babak Zanjani charged with fraud and money laundering has been upheld by the Iranian Supreme Court, court's senior official Gholamreza Ansari said on Saturday.

"The main verdict on Zanjani oil case was confirmed," Ansari was quoted as saying by Iranian IRIB broadcaster.

Chart Pie

What happens if an electoral college voter switches their vote on Dec. 19?


Alexander Hamilton, inspiration for faithless electors?
There is a distinct possibility that at least one Electoral College member will switch votes on December 19. So what happens to an elector when a person doesn't vote for their pledged candidate and to the election in general?

On Thursday, two electors indicated in an op-ed on the political website The Hill that they could opt to vote for a presidential candidate during the December 19 Electoral College meetings other than the candidate they are pledged to vote for.

Polly Baca from Colorado and Levi Guerra from Washington state are electors, Democrats and pledged to vote for Hillary Clinton after the former Secretary of State won those two states on November 8 in the general election. "Though we come from different generations, as a retired elected official and the youngest 2016 Elector, we agree with millions of Americans that Donald Trump is unfit to be president," they wrote.

Baca and Guerra may switch their Electoral College votes to a candidate other than Trump (and seemingly Clinton) if such a candidate emerges, or they may not vote at all. "Electors of good conscience should exercise their Constitutional right to elect the best person for the job of President or simply abstain from voting for either of the major party candidates," they said.

Guerra, who is 19 years old, explained her decision at a Wednesday press conference. "I'm only 19 and this is my first time being involved in politics, but I hope that my willingness to put my country before my party will show that my generation cares about all Americans," Guerra said.

Attention

Iran postures 'wait and see' regarding Trump administration after US Congress approves new sanctions

© Articles From The latimes - Los Angeles Times
As the Obama administration applies a series of tough new sanctions against Iran, contravening prior agreements, Iranians have no choice but to hope for the best from Donald Trump, Professor Seyed Mohammad Marandi from the University of Tehran told RT.

The US Senate has voted unanimously to renew sanctions against Iran for another decade. It's been described as a symbolic move, but it allows the president to impose new restrictions on Tehran if it violates the 2015 nuclear accord. The vote was 99 to 0 and follows a similar ballot in the House of Representatives last month when only one person voted against the extension of the Iran Sanctions Act.


Comment: The legislation indicates Obama has never intended to uphold the agreement with Iran. USA is above the law, so it can change agreements as it sees fit. US has symbolically stabbed Iran in the back. Can Trump see through the manipulations and regain this lost ground?


Bullseye

US House of Representatives passes bill targeting "Russian propaganda" websites

© Getty images
On November 30, one week after the Washington Post launched its witch hunt against "Russian propaganda fake news", with 390 votes for, the House quietly passed "H.R. 6393, Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017", sponsored by California Republican Devin Nunes (whose third largest donor in 2016 is Google parent Alphabet, Inc), a bill which deals with a number of intelligence-related issues, including Russian propaganda, or what the government calls propaganda, and hints at a potential crackdown on "offenders."

A quick skim of the bill reveals "Title V—Matters relating to foreign countries", whose Section 501 calls for the government to "counter active measures by Russia to exert covert influence ... carried out in coordination with, or at the behest of, political leaders or the security services of the Russian Federation and the role of the Russian Federation has been hidden or not acknowledged publicly."

The section lists the following definitions of media manipulation:
  • Establishment or funding of a front group.
  • Covert broadcasting.
  • Media manipulation.
  • Disinformation and forgeries.
  • Funding agents of influence.
  • Incitement and offensive counterintelligence.
  • Assassinations.
  • Terrorist acts.
As ActivistPost correctly notes, it is easy to see how this law, if passed by the Senate and signed by the president, could be used to target, threaten, or eliminate so-called "fake news" websites, a list which has been used to arbitrarily define any website, or blog, that does not share the mainstream media's proclivity to serve as the Public Relations arm of a given administration.

Comment: Real 'fake news' is maneuvering to tighten the noose around alternative news sites, knee-jerking Congressional action into suppressing freedom of speech, or shall we more specifically say, freedom of reporting truths. When a government does what it protests against, it protests the loudest and makes the rashest moves.


Red Flag

Ghana: Fake US embassy closed; decade of issuing counterfeit visas and collecting fees

© state.gov
Exterior of fake embassy in Accra, Ghana.
A fake US Embassy in Ghana operated by organized crime gangs has been shut down after a decade of operations which included issuing counterfeit US visas. The US Department of State revealed in a statement that the sham embassy was run by Ghanian and Turkish criminals as well as a Ghanaian attorney who practiced immigration and criminal law.

The bizarre enterprise operated for around 10 years at a property in the capital Accra, where the real US embassy is also located. The fake embassy flew an American flag outside the building three days a week and hung a photo of President Barack Obama inside while it issued fraudulent documents at a cost of $6,000 to prearranged clients. Services were advertised through flyers and billboards in Ghana, Cote d'Ivoire and Togo. Customers were driven in from some of the most remote parts of West Africa and put up in a hotel during their visit to the fake embassy.

© state.gov
Exterior of legitimate US Embassy in Accra, Ghana.
In addition to visas, fake bank records, education records and birth certificates were also issued by the "consular officers," who were English- and Dutch-speaking Turkish citizens. The operation ran without interruption due to the cooperation of corrupt officials and the ability to obtain legitimate blank documents to be doctored, according to the State Department. Two satellite locations, including a dress shop which acted as a front for the operation and a base for document production, were also used.

Comment: Any 'government' scam that can operate under the radar for 10 years, in this day and age of global intelligence spy-craft, is some sort of record. Or could it be...(think covertly).


No Entry

Germany: Ruling parties attempt to block Snowden's appearance to testify before Parliament

© Berit Roald/AFP
Germany's ruling CDU and SPD parties have filed an appeal to the Federal Supreme Court to revise its earlier decision that allowed the US whistleblower Edward Snowden to testify before the German parliament on the NSA scandal and Berlin's ties to it.

The respective document was sent by the Christian Democratic Party (CDU) and the Social Democrats (SPD) to the Supreme Court on Thursday, Berliner Zeitung reports. Martina Renner from the opposition Left Party (Die Linke) has slammed the move, saying the government has "fear of the witness testimony," the outlet notes.

In 2013 the former US National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Snowden, revealed that the agency widely spied on own citizens as well as international leaders and officials, while getting significant help from German intelligence agency, the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND). In 2014 the German parliament launched a parliamentary inquiry and set up a special committee to investigate the matter. Snowden, who is currently living in exile in Moscow, is wanted by the US on espionage charges following his disclosures.

The CDU and SPD have staunchly opposed the questioning of the whistleblower in Germany, fearing that might lead to tensions with Washington. In order to avoid any "adverse" publicity for Merkel, the government simply "violated the rights of the minority," the Green MP and parliamentary chief in the Bundestag, Konstantin von Notz reacted to Thursday's BGH appeal, as quoted by the BZ.


Comment: "Adverse publicity for Merkel" Now what could that be?


Comment: Could they make this decision more obfuscating? How can you determine 'truth and justice' based on preconditions? And, of course, they are playing the delay game for as long as possible. Perhaps it comes down to who is protecting Merkel and who wants to give her up. Maybe the German people ought to have a say.


Sheriff

US govt being sued by the ACLU for making entire state of Michigan a 'border zone'

© google
Light gray line is the Canadian border. Dark purple is the outline of Lower and Upper Michigan. 100 mile perimeter should only parallel the light gray line.
A lawsuit is accusing the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) of turning the entire state of Michigan into a "border zone" where anyone can be detained and searched without a warrant, according to ACLU-Michigan.

The complaint is centered on the CBP's interpretation of a 100-mile zone regulation and how it is applied in Michigan, according to documents filed in Detroit federal court on Wednesday. "CBP agents patrolling the 'border' could potentially subject anyone in Michigan - regardless of where he or she is within the state - to warrantless detention and search," the complaint said.

Under federal law, CBP agents can conduct warrantless searches of vehicles "within a reasonable distance from an external boundary of the United States...for the purpose of patrolling the border to prevent the illegal entry of non-citizens," the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan (ACLU-Michigan) said in its complaint.

Michigan borders four of the five Great Lakes, although Lake Michigan is not on the international border. Many parts of the state are technically more than 100 miles from Canada. Federal authorities have said checkpoints elsewhere within the nation's 100-mile border zone are crucial to catching human and drug smugglers who illegally cross into the US.
© ACLU
As you can see, Michigan is doubly border patrolled even though Lake Michigan is US waters.

Comment: Government agencies willingly give up information they want you to know and will take liberties with what you don't know. Michigan is not the only state where the 100 mile perimeter is being violated. The reality is that Border Patrol's interior enforcement operations encroach deep into and across the United States with more than 170 interior checkpoints. Adopted in 1953 without public comment or debate, the Border Patrol utilizes watch lists, database systems, automated targeting, traveler risk assessment, advanced identification and tracking systems including electronic passports, the "virtual border fence" and drone aircraft. In other words, the militarization of an unlimited US Border Zone and infringement on Constitutional rights.

For a primer on the 100-mile border zone and your rights, go here.


Telephone

Trump-Tsai call was arranged, media and diplomats freak out

© Reuters
A phone call between Donald Trump and Taiwan's leader that risks damaging relations between the U.S. and China was pre-arranged, a top Taiwanese official told NBC News on Saturday.

Trump — who lambasted China throughout the election campaign and promised to slap 45 percent tariffs on Chinese goods — tweeted that Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen had called him.

"Maintaining good relations with the United States is as important as maintaining good relations across the Taiwan Strait," Taiwanese presidential spokesman Alex Huang told NBC News. "Both are in line with Taiwan's national interest."

He added that the call had not been a surprise.

Comment: The western media are writing about how "horrified" China's diplomats are about the call. Scott Adams's take on it is more level-headed:
Trump is "setting the table" for future negotiations with China. He just subtracted something from China's brand that they value, and later he will negotiate with them to maybe give it back in some fashion. Probably in return for some trade concessions.

But what about the risk? Does it ever make sense to poke a nuclear power? In this case, probably yes. As I have said in this blog before, China's leadership is both mature and competent. Many of them have engineering degrees. They understand what Trump is doing, and none of it is a path to war because neither side has any interest in war. None. Zero.
...
Don't worry about China going to war over a phone call. They understand Trump, in part because they read my blog too. And look at the brilliance of China's diplomatic response. Their Foreign Minister labelled the phone call, "a shenanigan by the Taiwan side." That is exquisite diplomatic framing, Master Persuader-style. You can see why China and Trump respect each other; they both earned it.

Mutual respect is a safe place to be. Relax. Adults are in charge.