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Trump is Not Hitler: How the Misuse of History Distorts the Present as Well as the Past

Counterpunch - 13 hours 53 min ago

Photo by DonkeyHotey | CC BY 2.0


In the period beginning with Donald J. Trump’s announcement in spring 2015 that he would run for president and ending with his surprise win last November, Trump roused a great deal of distaste and hostility by his racist and a bigoted statements particularly against Mexicans , women, and the disabled. He also refused to reject an endorsement by the KKK, claiming he did not really know what they were about. Of course, while Trump’s ivory tower is rather tall, we can be sure he knows about the KKK. In any event, the distaste and hostility were fully justified, even if he did not, you know, mean it. After all, as others have noted, Trump is either a racist and bigot or merely a very cynical manipulator who believes it perfectly okay to use racism and bigotry to leverage a few extra votes. Alternatively, and more likely, he is somewhere in between.

Whatever the case may be, he is not Hitler, an equation already common enough among progressives and others on the left or among anti-authoritarians of all stripes to encourage countless rejoinders, such as this one. We all have our virtue-pants on; we would like to think we are ready this time around, having missed fascism’s first rise. Therefore, no one wants to be caught off guard and miss the New Hitler. However, again, Trump is not Hitler; and saying he is may only guarantee we miss what is actually happening in the United States.

Anyway, why is Trump not Hitler? Before turning to that, however, it is important to point out that if an outright version of fascism develops in the United States, it might happen in the obvious ways we expect—a Hitler-like personality heading a fascist party festooned in the predictable fascist regalia and ideology. Yet, we should not be surprised if it does not happen like that at all, ever. Instead, an entirely new form of authoritarianism may develop. If it does, it will necessarily grow out of features and circumstances unique to the United States. To the frayed Romantics, tired liberals, and Right Marxists who puttered around Europe in the 1920s and 1930s, we would do well to remember fascism was a rather new and somewhat unexpected phenomenon. Certainly, some saw the dangers, but others did not. The New York Times pooh-poohed the idea Hitler could possibly be serious. Why? The fascists seemed fresh. Where did this thing come from? Arguably, there was a hint of the fascism-to-come in the French Second Empire. Still, would Germans who noticed these matters have been wise to say Hitler was the new Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte? Probably not. Such comparisons are probably never instructive. And comparisons cut both ways, too. The negative, and faulty, mobilization of Hitler to explain Trump itself mirrors the Nazis’ positive, but faulty, association of themselves and their ideas with the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche—that is, both instances drum up history fraudulently and therefore not towards understanding, but to political ends.

Trump is not Hitler. Trump is not Hitler because he is not the undisputed head of an explicitly fascist party, with an explicitly fascist ideology. The Republican Party, for all its significant faults from the point of view of the left and others, is not fascist. Incidentally, the GOP is plainly not all that enamored of Donald Trump, either. Some heavy hitters in the party, like John McCain and Lindsay Graham, are fully on board the “Russia Hacked Us” story, despite the flaky evidence. McCain has also energetically rejected Trump’s proposal to improve relations with Russia. Another reason Trump is not Hitler is—we can safely predict right now—there will not be an Enabling Act, the 1933 law passed in Germany by Nazi coercion to give the Party leader the right to legislate without democratic interference or objection. Despite these things, and for some apparent good reason, others have necessarily made comparisons to Hitler or fascism, some implicitly, others less so.

The editor of The Federalist, a politically and culturally conservative outlet that does not subscribe to fascist or alt-right views, worried in late 2015 whether Trump would lead a “a significant shift in the Republican Party toward white identity politics for the American right.” The alt-right certainly hoped and believed he would. They arguably had real basis for supposing he might, given his plainly bigoted statements during the campaign. However, Trump threw the alt-right under the bus the first post-election chance he got. The occasion followed a real display of fascist sentiment by the would-be leader of the alt-right, Richard Spencer. You may recall Spencer led conference attendees in a stiff-armed salute accompanied with shouts of “Hail, Trump!” Spencer, however, later expressed his disappointment when Trump promptly “disavow[ed] the [alt-right] movement.” Of course, Hitler never disavowed the fascist movement after his party’s electoral and parliamentary manipulations put him in power; quite the contrary.

Inversely to The Federalist, historian Fedja Buric rejects the Hitler-as-Trump comparison. Why? Because we should “beware of historical analogies and generally eschew them…particularly when it comes to an ideology that during World War II caused the deaths of 60 million human beings.” Further, he writes, the “oversaturation of our discourse with Hitler comparisons is not only exasperating for any historian, but is offensive to the memory of Hitler’s many victims…” All good points. So what does Buric suggest instead? He opts for comparing Trump to Mussolini, as if introducing a novel exasperating comparison is any more helpful. In any event, Buric lists a few, rather generic similarities between Trump and Mussolini, similarities that could apply to many American leaders as easily as foreign authoritarians. Why not compare Trump to H. Ross Perot or countless other American politicians and candidates who expressed contempt for democratic process in favor of executive action? Because however informative that might be, it would not be scary enough, that is why. Of course, Buric is careful with the comparison and lists all the ways in which Trump is not like Mussolini–which calls into question why he thought the comparison was useful in the first place. In fact, it calls into question why any comparison is useful. Maybe what we need to do is figure out Trump and the political moment rather than look for any comparisons. That might actually lead to discovery and insight. Because while looking for patterns is literally natural for human beings, it does not mean it always proves helpful to settle on an apparent one.

It is also worth noting that comparisons of Trump with Hitler are not as popular in Germany as they are in the U.S. The Washington Post quotes German historian Thomas Weber on this matter. Weber, echoing Buric to a point, says there are two reasons Germans do not lightly compare anyone to Hitler. One, because such comparisons diminish the crimes of the Nazis, and two, they signal “the end of serious factual conversation, and the beginning of an ideological mud-bath.” But if Trump is not Hitler, what is he?

Trump is an American, to put it simply. Of course, we need a little more than that. Certainly, a New Yorker is one good place to start if you want to know what Trump is. On Quora, Jim Ryan answered the question, “Why do residents of New York Hate Donald Trump so much?” “Simple: because we know him,” he wrote. “We’ve watched his low-class act for too long. We scanned his soul with our hard-won schmuck radar and he’s failed—repeatedly…Trump is the human equivalent of those counterfeit Rolex watches they try and sell you on Canal Street: glitzy on the outside, cheap and defective on the inside.” He is those things, and there is no telling really, what he has in store for Americans aside from a nationwide version of what he was for New York. He is a schmuck and a con, but he is not Hitler. Phil Sandifer does not compare him to Hitler, either. Rather, he compares him simply to a generic “rich idiot” that is all too common in the “Atlantic northeast.” These types ooze conceit and vacuity. “Their favorite movie is The Godfather, but they don’t have the patience for Part II.” In contrast, Hitler believed.

Historian Nikos Evangelos also rejects the idea Trump is Hitler and told me that while men of similar personality to Hitler may seek and gain power, “how it plays out depends on context and historical conjuncture. Germany produced Hitler,” he said, “not vice-versa.” That is, even if Trump’s personality compared with Hitler’s, the context and historical conjunction do not compare. As for who produced whom, America produced Trump, and what we need to look at is the producer, not the product. Trump represents the culmination of the neoliberal ideology, embraced by both Obama and Clinton and nearly every other mainstream politician or thinker. As Evangelos puts it: “Trump was born rich. He is a symptom of the U.S. ruling class, and was celebrated as a wonderful symbol of American success right up until it looked like he could win.” He is the poster-boy of neoliberalism, of individualism, not fascist collectivism. He personifies the very American attitude, particularly prevalent in the last number of decades, “that your value on the market is your virtue as a person. You’re a winner or a loser, and either way it’s your choice.”

One last reason Trump is not Hitler, nor Mussolini: he is not nearly as articulate and well read as they. In that sense alone, judgment is in their favor. Trump is like most of us, even on our best days: barely literate, by choice if not capacity.

Perhaps the biggest reason we should not compare Trump to Hitler is not that his spokesmodel Kelley Anne Conway might threaten us with legal retaliation, but because it encourages us to be inattentive to the actual historical moment. The contingencies of history, as it unfolds in front of us, do not wait on those trying to fit the square pegs of the past into the round holes of the present. We should learn from distant history. However, we should probably learn first from the immediate past and present. And what is the present?

Arguably, US leaders that are decidedly not considered new Hitlers have and are carrying out or implementing actual, substantively fascist-like actions and policies. For instance, the Obama Administration has repeatedly reaffirmed a law allowing for the “indefinite detention [of Americans] without charge or trial.” How might Trump use that? Additionally, the Obama Administration, when Clinton was Secretary of State, leveraged fake news about imminent massacres by the Libyan government to destroy the country, overthrow its leader, and leave it at the mercy of rightwing terrorists. Nazis were hanged for doing similar things. In general, in fact, Obama helped to expand the power of the executive in war making through actions related to Libya and Syria at the expense Congress’s prerogative and responsibility. Obama has now bequeathed this arguably Hitlerian power to Trump, too. How does one fit Trump and Obama and Clinton into a Hitler comparison? Or, is it dumb to try?

Speaking of Clinton, we might do well to examine some of what is happening regarding the “Russia Hacked Us” story and the thinking, or lack of thinking, which underpins it. It is telling that the Trump-Hitler comparisons more or less coexist in time with the CIA’s Russia Hacked Us story. This is important because the latter inflates the plausibility of the former. However, the latter is flaky at best and certainly compares unfavorably with the Iraqi WMD deceit of 2002-3. How does the Trump-as-Hitler narrative itself encourage the development of an actual authoritarian moment in the United States? Well, propagandizing about another nation to manipulate the public in circumstances that could lead to a serious increase of tensions, if not war, is thoroughly authoritarian. Trump-as-Hitler serves a Hitler-like deceit. Recently, even before the inauguration, and in the midst of the Russia Hacked Us frenzy, we have witnessed the spectacle of Congressman John Lewis saying the Trump presidency is illegitimate and Rosie O’Donnell telling us she would accept the imposition of martial law to prevent Trump being sworn in. Those are startlingly authoritarian attitudes implying or pushing startlingly authoritarian measures. What Americans who make such comparisons may not realize is that the relevant manipulators (CIA, elite media, etc.) are more likely to cite a dictator from the past (Hitler) as a useful trope rather than to invent a generic bogeyman from scratch. Not only that, such manipulators will cite the dictator from the past as they carry out manipulations (the Russia Hacked US story) purported to be in reply to the subject of the trope (in this case, Trump) in ways alleged to be opposed to rather than in harmony with the methods of the dictator cited. It is not the first time this has been done. I mentioned the Iraqi WMD story from thirteen years ago. Moreover, we are the purest naïfs every time they do it. Surely, this time they are not lying, right?

There are other, more philosophical, reasons to object to the comparison. For instance, despite notions to the contrary, history does not repeat itself; though, it does rhyme (a phrase falsely attributed to Mark Twain). Yet, if we are not attuned to the poetry, we will not understand what we can learn from the past and why it both relates and does not relate to the present. While we are looking for obvious parallels, such as Trump = Hitler (not true), we miss less obvious rhymes: Clinton is neoliberal and neocon and Obama facilitated permanent detention and endless drone wars and those are the kind of authoritarian and destructive things we need to pay attention to. In addition, to repeat what I said above, the new version of authoritarianism arising in your midst will use old tropes (like Hitler) to smooth its own way to power, to continue and enhance its power, or merely for everyday maintenance sort of deceits.

Still, the comparison seems alluring because it seems to do what historians have implored us to do, learn from the past. Arguably, comparing Trump to Hitler may look like a case of heeding the wisdom of George Santayana, who said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Comparing Trump to Hitler is, we are to believe, a case of remembering the past so as not to repeat it. However, it is worth considering the full measure of Santayana’s words: “Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement: and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Comparing Trump to Hitler fails to retain understanding of the past even as it references it. The comparison compounds this failure with a failure to understand the present. I would reject Santayana’s disparaging reference to “savages,” but I would think it undoubtedly fair to say Trump-Hitler comparisons may, to the surprise of some, suggest our “infancy is perpetual.”

If we want to pay attention to history, rather than merely virtue-signal that we are, why not give some attention first to the history of the United States, particularly the history, say, of the last fifty years when neoliberalism went from swear word to  virtual watchword (if not explicitly)? This period tells us more about Trump and his rise than do grainy images of goose-stepping Nazis. As my historian friend, Evangelos points out, assuming for the moment Trump’s personality matches Hitler’s, “It’s more important that the U.S. in 2016 is not at all like Germany in 1932, than whether or not a particular personality type has come to power.” That is what it looks like to understand the past and the present.

Ron Leighton is studying history at California State University, Fullerton.

An Open Letter to President-Elect Donald Trump

Counterpunch - 13 hours 57 min ago

Photo by Jamelle Bouie | CC BY 2.0

Dear President-Elect Donald Trump,

You’ve come a long way without my advice, but ascension to the White House invites listening to what this letter has to say.

During the primary campaign you said more than once that you had to speak and behave the way you did to get the mass media’s attention. But you also pledged that, once in the White House, you would be “so presidential you [all] will be so bored.”

Judging by your remarkably low national polls for an incoming president-elect, it is not just Meryl Streep and John Lewis who think that your transition to becoming “presidential” has not yet  materialized. In the spirit of this transition, here are some pitfalls you will need to overcome in order to avoid embroiling your administration (and the nation) in a self-initiated avalanche of charges, disputes and scandals.

1. Your “Achilles heel” has thus far proven to be your easily bruised ego, which is put on display with every one of your furious, sometimes bullying tweets. When you are President, however, you have more ways to retaliate and more ways to get both yourself and our country in trouble if you do so in such a spasmodic manner. This is the Big Leagues. Adversaries abroad are keenly aware of how easily they can provoke you into impulsive missteps that play into their hands. You would benefit from reading the 2004 book by Richard Clarke, Against All Enemies: Inside America’s War on Terror—What Really Happened, on leaving his position as anti-terrorist advisor to President George W. Bush.

In it, Mr. Clarke writes, “It was as if Osama bin Laden, hidden in some high mountain redoubt, was engaging in long-range mind control of George Bush, chanting, ‘Invade Iraq, you must invade Iraq.’”

As for the widespread dissent by the American people, if you take this personally instead of presidentially, you’re going to give way to your worst traits and end up stereotyping whole groups in bigoted ways. There are reasons past presidents did not personalize their presidency, however, with some going to extremes and ignoring any responsibility to respond to serious letters (see my book, Return to Sender: Unanswered Letters to the President 2001-2015).

2. Your Twitter account can get you into 24/7 disputes that are unbecoming of our nation’s highest office. Thus far, you have managed to distract media attention from other negative stories about you with personal Twitter attacks. Unlike your campaigns, as president, your customary aggressive tweets will distract focus and attention from your own agenda and turn off even your crucial Republican friends on Capitol Hill. Continuing lack of impulse control will erode your presidency quickly during the 100 day honeymoon period. Best to restrain yourself. There are other more important decisions waiting on your desk.

3. Early on you’ll have to decide the issue of wholesale delegation to your nominees at the cabinet and agency levels and to what extent you will make these significant decisions yourself. Since you are known for your aversion to details, requiring briefings and reading piles of memos, your subordinates will take advantage of your de-management style and go on their own, undoubtedly clashing with each other. In this case, the decision will end up in the White House after lots of press about chaos and tumult in your administration and low morale within the critical civil service.

The most immediate manifestation of the foregoing is the phenomenon widely known as “Killer Tuesday” during which national security advisors briefed President Obama about suspects or “signature targets” to be destroyed in faraway places like Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria by a drone operator in Virginia or Nevada with the push of a button. President Obama wanted to make many of these decisions directly as prosecutor, judge, jury and executioner. Do you wish to continue these violations of international laws known as extra-judicial slayings (inside sovereign nations) that have taken the lives of thousands of innocent women, children and men?

4. Your well-publicized business ownerships are to be transferred to family members. Many constitutional experts, including Harvard Law Professor Larry Tribe and ethics experts, both Republican and Democratic, are not at all persuaded that this move complies with the Emolument Clause of the Constitution (Article 1, Section 9, Clause 8). They believe that your assets must be sold to non-family members with the proceeds, liquid or otherwise, being held in a “blind trust.”

Once again, whether to curry favor with you by patronizing your hotels and other properties, brandishing your surname here and abroad, or to subject you to an extortion attempt or provocative attacks on these properties, you should change your transfer plan. Otherwise, this could be early constitutional trouble for you, including lawsuits by contractors claiming loss of business due to others currying favor with you. A Supreme Court case gives such businesses “standing to sue.”

5. Lastly, some various suggestions. Please meet early on with a leading delegation of top scientists and engineers and their groups such as the National Academy of Sciences. They can prevent your administration from getting into lots of unsound and costly, ill-advised science/technology trouble.

Because you wish to squeeze out hundreds of billions of dollars in waste, reach out to legendary presidential, gubernatorial consultant and manager of four large public utilities (including the TVA), S. David Freeman on energy waste; to Professor Malcom Sparrow of Harvard on over $300 billion in annual billing fraud in the healthcare industry – including $60 billion rip offs of Medicare alone yearly – and Dr. Marcia Angell, former editor of the New England Journal of Medicine, on soaring drug prices and other bilks and harms from the “politically protected” (your words) drug giants. These are three of numerous experts who are unlikely to be recommended to you by corporatists in your administration.

In conclusion, can you break the mold of your predecessors and at least acknowledge receipt of substantive letters sent to you, if your staff, cabinet or agencies do not substantively respond to them? Canadian Prime Ministers extend such courtesies. Being president is much more difficult than campaigning to be president. You need to rise above what is petty.


Ralph Nader

NATO and Obsolescence: Donald Trump and the History of an Alliance

Counterpunch - 13 hours 58 min ago

It should be a point of some delicious reflection for peace activists who have fought for decades against the nature of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.  It brought the US deep into West European affairs, turning European states into garrisons.  It involved the stationing of nuclear weapons. It compelled member states to go to war if the security of any one was threatened or breached.

Donald Trump, however, has little time for it.  Selecting the Bild newspaper and the Times of London as forums to expand on his views on NATO, the President-elect decided to shake the tree that much more.

America First as an idea means that the alliance system needs to be reviewed.  For one, Trump took issue with military spending from the members, suggesting that it did not even make 2 percent of gross domestic product.

But for Trump, the core issue was utility.  What had the alliance actually done?  Ever in the zone of the next news entertainment cycle, Trump felt that the alliance had done little on the issue of dealing with terrorism.

It was, in his carefree words, “obsolete because it wasn’t taking care of terror.” It had been “designed many, many years ago.”  Just to confuse readers, and perhaps himself, Trump then explained that NATO was still “very important to me.”

Obsolescence is probably not quite the term. If it had just been a museum piece, a historical reminder, little fuss would be made.  In actual fact, this was an alliance which ballooned with aggressive enthusiasm, one that was treated as a mechanism, not merely as a defence against the old Soviet Union and its allies, but offensively to operate in theatres far away from the area.

The one thing that stands out here is the momentum NATO developed at the end of the Cold War, doing its bit, less for stability than aggravating instability.   With gloating hubris, the US-led alliance began to move into areas of influence in eastern Europe.  Russian strategists, ever sensitive to threats on its borders, wished to prevent that matter in negotiations in 1990 which also featured the re-unification of Germany.

As an old foe was set to merge, Washington and Moscow were debating where traditional alliances would go. Would a reunified Germany join hands with NATO, or embrace the Soviet-dominated Warsaw Pact?  The third option, that it would have nothing to do with either in middle-European distance, was also considered.

Meetings that took place in February 1990 show US Secretary of State James Baker discussing that a cooperative arrangement with Germany could be bought by making “iron-clad guarantees” that NATO would not enlarge “one inch eastward.”[1] Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev was sufficiently moved by the suggestion to begin reunification talks within a matter of days.

The picture soon changed.  US policymakers were wondering whether they had given too much unnecessary ground.  An initial concession was made: the former German Democratic Republic would be designated as an area where NATO forces would have limited influence.  This was not a “status” that would last.

By March 1990, the State Department was pretending it had never proffered an enticing olive branch to Soviet officials. Eastern Europe, breathing gusts of the post-communist air, would be gathered to Washington’s large bosom.  The odd remark would still be issued to reassure Moscow that this process would take place in a cooperative way.

None of this got away from the objective, as noted in a National Security Council memo from October 1990, that the US should “signal to the new democracies of Eastern Europe NATO’s readiness to contemplate their future membership.”  In what seemed like a giddying rush, old Soviet foes – the Baltic States, Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary – became card carrying NATO members, happy to become forward bases for Washington’s weapons.  Murmurs of encouragement were then sent on their merry way to Georgia and Ukraine.

As the sole superpower, and the Soviet Union unravelling, promises were there to be ignored. The Russian bear had repaired to the forest of desperate isolation to lick its wounds, powerless to hold any sway over the decisions being made to its west. Now resurgent, that bear remains curious to see how a Trump administration will deal with NATO.

Trump’s comments, for all their worth, will have to bear up against the views of his own appointee for Defense Secretary, retired Marine Gen. James Mattis. As he reasoned in his Senate confirmation hearing last week, “If we didn’t have NATO today, we’d need to create it.  NATO is vital to our interests.”[2]

Mattis also sees old threats in newly fashioned bottles.  “We recognize that [Vladimir Putin] is trying to break the North Atlantic alliance, and that we take steps – the integrated steps, diplomatic, economic, military and the alliance steps – working with our allies to defend ourselves where we must.”

Members of Congress, among them Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain, have already told European allies that the alliance will be a business as usual affair, though German Foreign Minister Frank-Walker Steinmeier concedes to there having been “no easing of tensions.”[3]  It is hard to envisage that much will change on the ground, though it adds to the delightful dysfunction that is abound to descend upon Washington and various European capitals.



[1] http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-shifrinson-russia-us-nato-deal–20160530-snap-story.html

[2] http://www.military.com/daily-news/2017/01/17/trump-widens-potential-rift-with-mattis-over-nato.html

[3] http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trump-germany-idUSKBN1500XW

‘The Power to Create a New World’: Trump and the Environmental Challenge Ahead

Counterpunch - 13 hours 59 min ago

Photo by Steve Johnson | CC BY 2.0

The catastrophic climate change is no longer a subject for argument, at least on a mainstream level within the science community. Yet, as temperatures continue to rise, American efforts to combat global warming, sadly seem to decline.

President Elect, Donald Trump is more concerned by the economic cost of combating global warming, and has repeatedly rejected United States’ role in the Paris Climate Agreement that took place in December of 2015.

In fact, Trump has pledged to end US involvement in the Paris climate deal, arguing that the main concern of the American government is the continuation of the construction of various pipelines, like that of Keystone XL Pipeline, as well as drilling, fracking, and so on, because it is “a big piece of profits” for the American people.

Of course, his statement is baseless and self-serving considering the ‘big piece of profits’ will mostly benefit American corporations and elites, not the American people.

Such arguments certainly complement Trump’s views which have historically been self-absorbed and hold little regard for the environment. Moreover, Trump had referred to climate change as a “hoax”. He explained in one of his numerous tweets: “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make US manufacturing non-competitive.”

Trump’s eccentric views aside, the seriousness of global climate change has been taken for granted. The situation is too critical for political pandering and empty promises by large corporations.

A study conducted by Climate Central – which reports on the science and impact of climate change – identified 414 towns and cities within the United States that will become submerged no matter what climate action is taken as of now.

“Historic carbon emissions have already locked in enough future sea level rise to submerge most of the homes in each of several hundred American towns and cities,” a report on the Climate Central’s website stated.

This devastating forecast includes some of the most condensed population centers in the United States, such as Miami and New Orleans.

According to the lead author of the study, Benjamin Strauss, if immediate action is not taken, New York is guaranteed to join the growing list.

“The most interesting thing to me is there are a great deal of cities where our carbon choices make a huge difference,” Strauss told the Huffington Post.

“To me this is really a question of our American legacy and American heritage: are we going to let the ocean take a state-sized bite out of America? If we make extreme efforts to cut carbon, we can avoid that.”

Alas, there are many in the media who are still parroting the ‘hoax’ theory.

Fox News host, Andrea Tantaros, argued with little knowledge against climate change scientists as she sarcastically asked her co-hosts: “How many Americans have died from climate change?”

Yet, according to Euro News report, citing scientific data: “Climate change will lead to 250,000 extra deaths a year from 2030.”

“The study, published by the World Health Organization (WHO), estimates around 48,000 will die from diarrhea, 60,000 due to malaria, 95,000 from childhood undernutrition, as well as 38,000 elderly people because of heat exposure.”

These numbers don’t include deaths that have already taken place due to intensified and abnormal weather conditions directly linked to climate change.

But Tantaros’s co-host, Melissa Francis seems to think that the whole science is a mere conspiracy. “I think this is all about the president (Barack Obama) wanting to make corporations the enemy,” she commented.

No conspiracies here, however. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had reported that as of 2014, US carbon emissions totaled 6,870 million metric tons (15.1 trillion pounds) of carbon dioxide equivalents.

NASA gives context to the numbers, stating on their website: “A minor but very important component of the atmosphere, carbon dioxide is released through natural processes such as respiration and volcano eruptions and through human activities such as deforestation, land use changes, and burning fossil fuels. Humans have increased atmospheric CO2 concentration by a third since the Industrial Revolution began. This is the most important long-lived ‘forcing’ of climate change.”

Grim as the forecasts maybe, there are reasons for hope as more nations are making steady strides for cleaner energy.

As of 2016, Germany’s overall economy already operates with 27% renewable energy. In fact, on May 8th of 2016, 95% of Germany’s energy consumption was reportedly met by renewables alone.

“Power prices actually went negative for several hours…meaning commercial customers were being paid to consume electricity,” reported Quartz writer, Michael J. Coren.

But ordinary citizens are too making a difference. In January of 2016, the Standing Rock Sioux tribe initiated a mobilization effort to protest the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, a crude oil pipeline trailing from North Dakota to Illinois. The pipelines journey was meant to cut through the ancient burial grounds as well as threaten the water supply of the Standing Rock Sioux.

Native Americans from over 100 tribes and thousands of other protesters joined in solidarity to resist the destruction the pipeline would ensue. They were met with violence from the police force that quickly amassed, using concussion grenades, pepper spray, and police dogs and water cannons.

Through the determination of the ‘water protectors’, they managed to push for the rerouting of the pipeline; though they continue to protest the construction of the Dakota Access as a whole.

The US must heed calls for massive change of attitude towards renewable energy. In fact, by doing so, it is set to economically benefit from the change.

The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) had stated in a recent report that “compared with fossil fuel technologies, which are typically mechanized and capital intensive, the renewable energy industry is more labor-intensive. This means that, on average, more jobs are created for each unit of electricity generated from renewable sources than from fossil fuels.”

The organization also conducted a study that showed if the US meets the 25% renewable energy standard by the year 2025, 202,000 new jobs will be created. This number doesn’t include jobs that the renewable energy industry has already produced.

In addition, converting to renewable energy will create other economic development benefits.

According to UCS: “Local governments collect property and income taxes and other payments from renewable energy project owners…Owners of the land on which wind projects are built also often receive lease payments ranging from $3,000 to $6,000 per megawatt of installed capacity, as well as payments for power line easements and road rights-of-way. Or they may earn royalties based on the project’s annual revenues. Similarly, farmers and rural landowners can generate new sources of supplemental income by producing feedstocks for biomass power facilities.”

In December 2015, an historic Paris Agreement took place. During this event, global leaders claimed that they would prioritize tackling climate change, agreeing to reduce carbon emissions to remain “well below” increasing world temperature by a major 20C.

Understandably, skeptics question whether all 195 countries will hold up their part of the deal. For example, according to CNN, US oil output has nearly doubled over the past decade. Also, as of 2016, fracking (“a drilling technique used for extracting oil or natural gas from deep underground”) fuels half of the US oil output.

US Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported that fracking “has allowed the United States to increase its oil production faster than at any time in its history.”

Thus it is not illogical to question the US commitment to the Paris agreement, especially when Trump hardly recognizes that there is a problem in the first place.

Rational voices like former presidential candidate, and Green Party nominee, Jill Stein must be listened to. Her seemingly ‘radical’ views are in fact the needed mindset to overcome the burgeoning challenge.

“Fracking has no place in our future. We will not survive our fossil fuel addiction. We need to transition to 100% clean renewables by 2030,” she tweeted recently.

She wrote, “This plan will end unemployment and poverty; avert climate catastrophe, build a sustainable, just economy; and recognize the dignity and human rights of everyone in our society and our world. The power to create this new world is not in our hopes, it’s not in our dreams – it’s in our hands.”

Time is running out for anyone to create yet more excuses as to why the US transition to renewables is difficult and long delayed. This selfish, corporate mindset has not only put the well-being of ordinary Americans at stake, but also that of the entire world – now and generations to come.

Obama Must Pardon the Black Panthers in Prison or in Exile

Counterpunch - 13 hours 59 min ago

Photo by Alex Barth | CC BY 2.0

On 20 December, President Obama offered pardons and commutations to 231 individuals within the penal system of the United States.  This brings the total number to 1,176 which include 395 life sentences. Still, Obama has time for more pardons and commutations before he leaves office on January, as there are murmurs that Mumia Abu-Jamal, Assata Shakur, Edward Snowden, and Chelsea Manning are contenders for this ceremonial nod.

While the list of people who should be pardoned stretches far beyond these four individuals, the first two are noteworthy given what they represent in terms of America’s historical erasure of black activism as both Abu-Jamal and Shakur being form Black Panther Party members.   And their sentencing is not coincidental to their political activism.

Anyone a stranger to journalist and activist Abu-Jamal’s plight need only refer to the media coverage by Democracy Now! which has kept up with his story, from living under a death order since the 1990s to his release from solitary confinement to his more recent hospitalisation as a result of diabetes and the state’s refusal to give him hepatitis C treatments.  One also need be aware of the travesty of the US justice system to which Abu-Jamal was subjected which included, but is not limited to: unreliable prosecution witnesses, unreliable evidence tampering,  and the denial of a trial de novo into which new evidence would be submitted.

Shakur’s story is fascinating in that there is now evidence to suggest that she and other Panthers were targeted by the FBI’s COINTELPRO which sought to frame black political activists, focussing on several Black Panther Party and Black Liberation Army members.  Hoover notoriously marked the Black Panther Party as the “greatest threat to the internal security of the country.”  During and even after the Civil Rights Movement, there was an all out war against the black liberation movement which has been well-documented over the past thirty years.  Notwithstanding, Shakur,  today resides in Cuba having escaped from prison in 1979, later receiving political asylum in Cuba in 1984 where she has lived since.

Angela Davis, commenting on Shakur’s case, points out what is little known by most Americans even today:

It’s horrendous, the extent to which the repression associated with the era of the late 1960s and 1970s continues to this day. And we might also mention the fact that vast numbers of people are still behind bars from that era, members of the Black Panther Party—Mondo we Langa, Ed Rice. My co-defendant, Ruchell Magee, has been in prison for over 50 years. So I think that when we put all of these things together, they create a kind of invitation for increased radical activism for trying to resolve these issues that have been decades in the making.

In the aftermath of the US election with many liberals in shock over the Trump victory, what has shocked me in recent weeks in discussions with my fellow Americans is how uninformed most are as to the complicity that both parties have had in the imprisonment of black Americans. While Mondo we Langa (formerly David Rice) died after 44 years behind bars, his co-defendant, Edward Poindexter, along with many others like the recently released Eddie Conway (2014) and Albert Woodfox (2015) are some of the longest incarcerated political prisoners in US history.

While it is no secret the problems of forensic evidence within the courts, the abuses within the justice system which have historically demonstrated disfavour towards people of colour, and the practices of former FBI Director, J.Edgar Hoover (1924-1972), who set out to silence minorities as he held unchecked authority for his almost fifty years in power, the state’s unjust war against former Black Panther Party members demonstrates that these individuals were often framed or put into prison with insufficient evidence. For decades.

Sekou Odinga, a former Panther who spent fifteen years incarcerated, lists the Black Panthers still in prison today:

  • • Romaine “Chip” Fitzgerald
  • • Ed Poindexter
  • • Joseph Bowen
  • • Jalil Muntaqim
  • • Herman Bell
  • • Russell Shoats
  • • Sundiata Acoli
  • • Veronza Bowers
  • • Robert Seth Hayes
  • • Zulu Whitmore
  • • Maliki Shakur
  • • Mutulu Shakur
  • • Imam Jamil Al-Amim
  • • Kamau Sadiki
  • • Mumia Abu-Jamal

Those in exile include Assata Shakur and Pete O’Neal.

While the concern over Donald Trump’s policies towards immigrants and people of colour is reason for caution, this concern should pale in comparison to the political entelechy at hand— the suspended animation of the legal cases of these former Black Panther members still behind bars or in self-imposed exile.  After a string of Republican and Democrat presidents, the reality is that these injustices could have been exonerated long ago by former presidents from both parties.  The fact of these political prisoners and exiles evidences the perniciousness and longevity of structural racism within the United States, racism that casts a long shadow upon the US justice system.

I ask that President Obama please pardon all the Black Panthers behind bars and in exile!

The Whattsapp Scandal

Counterpunch - 14 hours 1 min ago

Since adding the feature in April, 2016, the Whatsapp app (or really its parent, Facebook) has paraded its “end to end encryption” as the reason to use it above all other smartphone message applications. It can handle calls, messages, video, files and just about everything any computer can and, because it’s encrypted end to end, nobody can read, see or hear any of it unless you want them to.

The pitch has worked; over a billion people now use the app and it is particularly prominent among people who need encryption — the computer protocol that makes reading your message impossible for anyone but the person you’re sending it to.

Activists, particularly, use Whatsapp to communicate everything from places for emergency demonstrations to important announcements to the latest information about their personal lives. Whatsapp is, in effect, a universe of communications for a billion people. It does everything and everything it does is encrypted. With Whatsapp, they’ve been saying, you are safe from intrusion and spying.

The problem is, you’re not safe at all; the encryption can easily be broken. That news, first made public in the Guardian [1], has provoked a public gasp and a joust between developers and activists covered by journalists who, anxious to provide both “sides”, cloud the issue more than clarify.

Unlike many other debates, there aren’t two sides to this story. Whatsapp is not safe because its encryption has a huge exploit (or weakness): a product of what the company says is an attempt to make life a lot simpler for its users. Basically, it rewrites the keys used for encryption without telling you and that means a third party (like the government) can decrypt what you’ve written.

This takes a bit of explanation. First, the basics…

Encryption uses keys — long, random strings of numbers and symbols and letters that make no sense and cannot be guessed. You get two: a public key and a private key. When you send me an encrypted message, the encryption program garbles it beyond comprehension using my public key, which your email client downloaded (and saved) before sending me your first message.

When I get the email, I use my private key to decrypt it. If I don’t have the private key, the email from you is unreadable: the garble the program turned it into. I apply my key and your message to me is magically transformed to human language. Unlike my public key that is all over the place, my private key is on my computer (or phone) and nowhere else.

That’s the security and that’s how the keys work in encryption.

Whatsapp works the same way except for one thing. When using an encryption program (like Signal) on my phone, when I change keys, I know the keys have been changed. When you change yours, I’ll get a notification the moment I try to send you a new email because it detects the key change and sends the warning.

With Whatsapp, if you turn off or break your phone, Facebook holds any messages sent to you. Then, if your phone comes back with a new key, Facebook sends a request to anyone who sent you a message asking them to re-encrypt the message to the new key.

But here’s the problem. Say I sent you a bunch of messages using your old key while your phone is turned off. Those messages are stored by Whatsapp and not delivered until you to turn the phone on. When you do that, and the new key is generated, the messages are decrypted by this new key. In other words, the message I sent to your original key (which I know was yours) is now picked up and decrypted by this other key that I don’t know and haven’t verified.

What’s more, Whatsapp doesn’t tell you it did this on your phone unless you turn on the notification (which people rarely do) and even then it tells you after it’s generated the new key and sent the old messages with it. You learn you’ve been hacked after they hacked you. Privacy advocates are crying blooding murder: Whatsapp has touted its end to end encryption and now we find that it has a “backdoor” (a way of getting into the app without using normal passcode protection).

Why is this important? Because it’s not secure enryption.

The federal government and its spying agencies like the National Security Agency and the FBI have a history of demanding that companies that store data decrypt it when a user’s data is encrypted. This is what happened with Apple computer in February, 2016 [2]. The government wanted it to decrypt the cell phone of the suspect in the San Bernadino terrorist attacks and Apple said it couldn’t break the encryption. The government found a way to do it but, up to then, it had been pressuring Apple to get its developers to develop a decryption method.

That dispute went to court. This time, were a demand made on Facebook for Whatsapp info, there would be no such defense. Facebook has a way of decrypting these messages. All if has to do is generate a new key for a phone and share it with a government spy and wait until the phone is turned off. In fact, cellphones can be disrupted and forced off remotely. The data isn’t safe.

Would such a thing happen? That’s been one of the two issues being hotly debate over the Internet by the app’s developers and just about everyone else.

The debate’s been clouded by the developer’s assertion that this isn’t a backdoor at all. They knew exactly what they were building into the app and did so to make encryption easier: a worthy goal given how complicated encryption can be for the average user.

WhatsApp itself issued a statement to the Guardian: “WhatsApp does not give governments a ‘backdoor’ into its systems and would fight any government request to create a backdoor.”

The problem says my colleague and comrade Jamie McClelland [3] in his superb blog “Current Working Directory” is that the government doesn’t have to ask. The backdoor’s already there. “…using the default installation, your end-to-end encrypted message could be intercepted and decrypted without you or the party you are communicating with knowing it,” he explains. “How is this not a back door?”

But McClelland, and many others, point out something even more disturbing: the complete lack of warning when keys are changed. “Why in the world would you distribute a client that not only has the ability to suppress such warnings, but has it enabled by default?”

That addresses the developers’ second argument. The issue, they say, isn’t what “could” happen but what “would” happen. Facebook insists that, were the government to demand its data, it would refuse.

It’s a laughable contention because Facebook is one of the most intercepted and data-captured protocols in the world. The government captures Facebook data regularly and it admits as much. Facebook doesn’t protest, claiming that its social media application is public and so protecting it makes no sense. So why in the world would it take a different position here when the circumstances are basically the same and, as Jamie points out, why would you enable the suppression of those warnings by default in the first place? Who, exactly, are you keeping in the dark?

What’s more, they may not need cooperation from the company. Government hackers and criminal data thieves are notorious for successfully hacking systems that have vulnerabilities without any permission. And Whatsapp, by all accounts, now has a big one.

Given what we already know about the blanket, constitution-dismissing surveillance under the Obama administration and what we can expect from the Presidency of a rights-dismissive, paranoid crypto-fascist like Donald Trump, do you really want to use this app on your phone?

While not as robust in features, an app like Signal can encrypt text reliably and should in the toolbox of every activist (or person for that matter) using a cellphone. Whatsapp should not.

Rio Tinto, Chinalco call it quits on joint exploration venture

Reuters Us Markets - 14 hours 4 min ago
BEIJING/SYDNEY, Jan 18 (Reuters) - Rio Tinto and Aluminium Corporation of China (Chinalco) have terminated an exploration joint venture after six years of searching unsuccessfully for copper in...

UPDATE 1-HSBC to shift staff from Britain to Paris after Brexit

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* Shares up 1 percent by 0821 GMT (Adds details, share price)

UK receives positive responses from Brussels on leaving plan -Brexit minister

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Indonesia expects Freeport to pay higher taxes -Finance Ministry official

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Iran opposes US presence at Syria talks in Astana

MiddleEasteye - 14 hours 12 min ago
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Officials say they see 'no reason' for United States to participate in negotiations in Kazakhstan

MIDEAST STOCKS-Saudi Electricity slumps, other shares mixed after Q4 results

Reuters Us Markets - 14 hours 18 min ago
DUBAI, Jan 18 (Reuters) - Shares in Saudi Electricity Co (SEC) weighed on Saudi Arabia's stock market on Wednesday morning after the company reported a wider net loss for the fourth quarter. Other...

Russian Hacking and the Smell Test

Counterpunch - 14 hours 26 min ago

A few days ago I urged friends to grow a pair of ears sensitive to bullshit language. How about adding a new nose?

That murky “Russian hacking” story fails – so far – to pass the smell test.

So called “news items” after item have been found to be false or half true. Newspapers like the Washington Post (but not yet NYTimes) have “walked back” the fabrications. (Putin cut off Vermont’s electricity supply, Putin caught Trump in a honey trap etc etc. – O that it were true!)

So we hate Trump for all the good reasons. Check. He’s a cruel and reckless monster. Check.

He’ll make our daily lives more miserable. Check.

Here’s what we know so far which isn’t much:

Balancing the odds, and listening to perhaps contradictory advice from his secret service and tech experts, Putin decided to mess with America in Trump’s favor – in some as yet unspecified, unsourced and unproven ways.

There is NO independent verification EXCEPT secret reports from the CIA-FBI-Homeland Security apparatus.

And we know how honest unblemished unbiased unpolitical and disinterested they are in the current fevered atmosphere. Oh, please.

It’s so hard for us to face the harsh, complicated reality that Trump won due to a perfect storm of boring sociological factors like the catastrophic decline in union membership (up to now a shield against racism), “de-industrialization” of whole regions, the plague of state right to work laws, the loss of jobs through automation and anti pollution regulations and massive outsourcing – and oh yes an unpopular Democratic candidate running a dumb campaign.

Until Putin comes crawling on his hands and knees before a Congressional committee to confess his intervention sins, you best go down to the corner grocery and buy a barrel of salt to pour on this Russian-hacking story.

Haven’t we been here before with Saddam Hussein’s invisible – except to neo-cons with eyes fixed on war – chemical and nuclear weapons?

Fake, fake, fake – until we have MULTIPLY-SOURCED EVIDENCE BASED proof that smells fresh and good.

That comes from other than the “intelligence community”. Since when do we trust them on a political issue in which they have their own pot to stir?

It takes no genius to figure out that any Russian, high or low, bad or good, would prefer a blustering salesman like Trump who has money interests to protect in Russia over Hillary a high minded war hawk who, rightly, has condemned Putin’s bloody imperialist adventures in the Crimea and Ukraine.

Paging Judith Miller!

The Truth About Ethics and Condoms

Counterpunch - 14 hours 27 min ago

To read and listen to the mainstream media these days you’d think that power and money haven’t

to this point in U.S. history been connected in even the remotest sense, and Donald Trump’s depth of corruption is unprecedented.

You might believe the U.S. hasn’t any history of profiteering in the halls of Congress, or in the office of the presidency itself. Trump represents the fall, the sudden collapse of virtue, and the end of sweet, leveling democratic values as we once knew them.

What has happened to our democracy!?  It was so fine until yesterday, wasn’t it?

So goes the engrained narrative delivered from the mainstream to Main Street in the time of Trump. Like everything in popular culture the narrative is seized, built up, and torn down for the explicit purpose of making money.

Are we to believe that to this point the system has been kind to everyone, because the playing field was level and uncorrupted until the very moment Trump’s greed and ability to manipulate the media made him electable?

Political thieves are legion and they’ve always been with us, and ethics have historically been slow on the uptick.  Ethics are like condoms; you use them when you’re concerned something bad might happen if you don’t.

That’s correct; ethics are like prophylactics.  Many politicians don’t use them until they need to.  Then they’re easy to toss, if messy at times.

We know Trump is not the smartest or subtlest politician to ever seek the golden crown (or, allegedly, a golden shower), but he is far from being alone among the corrupt seeking profit from their offices.  He’s just more inclined to go for it right now, transparently and in full-throttle, while most others wait for the best moment to cash in post-partum.

Let us be frank about this and not kid ourselves. Money is power.  Power is money. Our so-called democracy is bought and used for the main purpose of protecting dickheads. If the rabble gets anything out of governance it’s usually of lesser value than what the dickheads get.

Some of the more obvious crooked politicians, on too-few glorious days, might end up in jail if they forget to wear their prophylactics while attempting to protect the interests of their elite friends while spewing all over the rest of us.

Even so, the justice app has always stopped short of the executive branch at the national level, where the dickheads are wrapped in the best prophylactics money can buy.

Presidents and their inner circles have historically been too big to fail, discounting Spiro Agnew under Nixon, who was such an enormous dickhead that not even the best prophylactic in the world could protect him.

The near-miss on Nixon himself wasn’t good enough to break our insane habit of letting the biggest dickheads squirm away.  His prophylactic burst, but he pulled out just in time.  Before him Andrew Johnson was impeached but not convicted, because even some rudimentary prototype of the modern prophylactic worked miraculously for him.

Clinton was impeached for accepting a blow job in the Oval Office and then lying about it. With the citizenry’s sense of moral outrage sparked, Clinton was lucky to have friends in the Senate and dodged a conviction.  He took his prophylactic off at the wrong time and the truth leaked out.

Clinton was very big, way too was big to fail.

But a blow job in the O.V. was small stuff compared to Clinton’s real legacy of viciously regenerating a quiet arms trade in a time of corporate need.  Bombs dropped must be repurchased, etc.; that is the only way arms manufacturers, some of the biggest protected dickheads around, can survive.

Fortunately for Clinton, bomb-making is not illegal among powerful nation-states who want to rub out other less-powerful dickheads around the world.

Corruption isn’t all about presidential politics, of course; it’s pervasive throughout the political system. Witness the number of state governors who have failed to use protection in Illinois alone!

Governors are frequently not too big to fail.  They sometimes forget to use a prophylactic when they need one the most.

A few legislators here and there have also been put up as an example of our exceptional prophylactic-like judicial system, but mainly for show evidently, because others have fallen through the cracks and escaped jail time—like the prophylactic has magical powers.

The thickest chasm of injustice happens to belong to the Bush administration, led by perhaps the most despicable war profiteer and biggest dick of them all—Dick Cheney.

He was certainly too big to fail, and also too big for his britches.

The entire chorus surrounding Bush should have been jailed, but thanks to the great healer Obama, America’s best prophylactic post-Bush, what should have happened didn’t.

No justice needed, he said, because he didn’t want to harm the country, thereby harming reality instead.

The executive branch of the U.S. is one gigantic prophylactic.  Scooter Libby was convicted of perjury for instance, before Bush pardoned him, which made Bush himself a condom.

Libby was fined 250K, a drop in the bucket.  Money too is a prophylactic.

Cheney is one example of what you can do if you’re smart, evil and properly protected. He used exceptionally crafted propaganda and kept his braggadocio in check, though his libido ran wild, which happens when one gets a hard on for war.  He mastered the few ethics rules that exist by creating just enough scare-smoke to obscure the view for the silent and complacent majority.

He used the threat of terrorism as a prophylactic, making his man-love of war ethical; suddenly protected, everyone felt safer and freer than ever.

With the terrorists at the gate and the WMD about to be launched at us at any minute, the Bushies needed to move pronto.  Lying and plausible deniability became super-safe prophylactics, necessary to prevent the mushroom cloud from seeding our loins.

As the lie evolved, Cheney was there to save the United States, not to take its treasure for the company, Halliburton, which had been very good to him. He carefully placed condoms around the big dickheads who made him richer than ever.

It’s a proven fact.  Hold a high office, play it right, and you will not be forgotten by those counting the beans or creating the speech-making roster in subsequent years.

This is how the Clintons finally achieved their chief goal of becoming rich.  The Clinton Foundation is a prophylactic, meeting all the ethics requirements an ex-prez and his failed wife need to live until the happy end.

Palestinian man and Israeli officer killed in Bedouin village clash

MiddleEasteye - 14 hours 52 min ago
Language Undefined

Teacher shot dead, police officer killed and Palestinian Joint List MP Ayman Odeh injured in Umm al-Hiran, a village marked for demolition

Egypt adds football legend to Brotherhood terrorism list

MiddleEasteye - 15 hours 14 min ago
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Assets frozen of retired captain of national team, Mohamed Aboutrika, who denies supporting outlawed organisation

Deutsche Bank sees Q4 pretax impact of $1.2 bln from DoJ civil penalty

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FRANKFURT, Jan 18 (Reuters) - Deutsche Bank expects a negative impact of $1.2 billion on its fourth-quarter pretax profit from a civil monetary penalty of $3.1 billion agreed with the U.S....

UK Stocks-Factors to watch on Jan 18

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Jan 18 (Reuters) - Britain's FTSE 100 index is seen opening 14 points higher on Wednesday, according to financial bookmakers. * The UK blue chip index closed 1.5 percent lower at 7,220.38...

RPT-UPDATE 3-Toshiba mulls chips business stake sale to Western Digital - source

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* Toshiba says considering memory biz spin-off, nothing decided

Nikkei rises as weaker yen helps lift mood; Yellen speech awaited

Reuters Us Markets - 16 hours 35 min ago
TOKYO, Jan 18 (Reuters) - Japanese stocks rose on Wednesday after recovering from five-week lows as the yen weakened against the dollar and helped restore investor sentiment.