Peace Prize On The Rocks: North Korea Calls Pence A “Political Dummy”, Threatens To Call Off Summit

Trump’s Nobel Peace Prize is suddenly in jeopardy.

Just a few weeks after the US president seemed on the verge of a historic diplomatic breakthrough by getting North Korea to open its borders to the world and end its nuclear program, progress appears to have taken a sharp U-turn, and after several rounds of increasingly harsher verbal outbursts, a senior North Korean official called VP Mike Pence a “political dummy”, repeated a threat to call off the planned summit with President Donald Trump and in a flashback to Pongyang’s ICBM launch days, warned that Pyongyang could “make the U.S. taste an appalling tragedy it has neither experienced nor even imagined.”

As the WSJ reports, “in its most direct language aimed at Washington following a recent rapprochement between the two countries, Choe Son Hui, the North’s vice minister of foreign affairs, said if the June 12 talks were called off, the U.S. could instead face off with North Korea in a “nuclear-to-nuclear showdown.

In other words, the US is almost back to square one in dealing with Kim.

Choe Son Hui, North Korea’s vice minister for foreign affairs

In the past few weeks, tensions between North Korea and the United States have once again been rising after Korea refused to meet the United States’ demand of denuclearization, while the reason why Choe called Mike Pence a “political dummy” is in refernce to his Fox News interview earlier this week in which the VP reiterated the administrataion’s insistence on denuclearization for North Korea.

She also criticized the vice president for bringing up Libya in the context of denuclearization—a sensitive subject for North Korea, after Moammar Gadhafi was overthrown and killed in 2011, eight years after giving up Libya’s nuclear weapons. Mr. Pence said the Libya model would only come about if North Korea failed to denuclearize.

Choe’s statement followed “strongly worded statements” last week from other senior North Korean officials aimed at U.S. national security adviser John Bolton and at the South Korean government of Moon Jae-in, who has pushed for dialogue with Pyongyang to avoid a nuclear standoff. The latest outburst also follows yesterday’s meeting at the White House between Trump and Moon, who as the WSJ puts it “have both staked their hopes—and their credibility” on a successful U.S.-North Korea summit, which has been planned for June 12 in Singapore.

However, that summit is looking increasingly precarious, especially after a series of ominously worded North Korean statements: Last week, Pyongyang warned the U.S. and South Korea against conducting joint air force drills, and called on Seoul to muzzle defectors who were questioning the North’s motives in seeking detente. The North also canceled previously scheduled talks with Seoul after the US refused to call off joiont US-South Korean military drills in the region. Then last ago, a senior North Korean official said that Pyongyang wasn’t interested in a summit with the U.S. focused solely on denuclearization and accused Washington of trying to “impose on our dignified state the destiny of Libya or Iraq.”

Trump said in his meeting with Moon on Tuesday that he would call off his summit with Kim if the conditions didn’t work out, and put the odds of it continuing as planned at about 50-50.

“I don’t want to waste a lot of time, and I’m sure he doesn’t want to waste a lot of time. So there’s a very substantial chance that it won’t work out. And that’s OK,” Mr. Trump said.

Still, Trump had expressed hope that Mr. Kim was sincere about wanting to make a big change in policy: “He has a chance to do something that maybe has never been done before,” Mr. Trump said. “If you look 25 years into the future—50 years into the future—he will be able to look back and be very proud of what he did for North Korea, and actually for the world.”

Meanwhiole, Pompeo who secretly flew to Pyongyang over Easter to meet with Kim and break the ice between the two nations, remained adamant that denuclearization must be part of any deal with North Korea in some capacity despite the country’s refusal to do so. The U.S. has maintained that they will keep military pressure on North Korea until denuclearization is achieved.

So far North Korea does not appear will to make any concessions.

In her Thursday statement published by KCNA, Choe took issue with Pence’s Fox News interview in which he suggested that the North sought the summit meeting with Trump; she called Pence’s words “unbridled and impudent,” and said that “Pence should have seriously considered the terrible consequences of his words.”

“As a person involved in the U.S. affairs, I cannot suppress my surprise at such ignorant and stupid remarks gushing out from the mouth of the U.S. vice president,” she said and added that if the U.S. continues to offend the North’s “goodwill,” she would tell leader Kim Jong Un to reconsider the Singapore summit with the U.S.

“It is the U.S. who has asked for dialogue, but now it is misleading the public opinion as if we have invited them to sit with us,” Ms. Choe said. “We will neither beg the U.S. for dialogue nor take the trouble to persuade them if they do not want to sit together with us.”

And so, with just over three weeks left until the highly anticipated meeting between the two nations, Trump will have to decide whether it will back off its denuclearization demand or take a more aggressive approach with North Korea.  If it is the latter, the US will likely end up using the “Libya model”, and instead of winning the Nobel prize, Trump will instead find himself greenlighting a decapitation strike, and potentially launching a new global conflict.

US Will Blow $700 Billion On Obamacare Subsidies In 2018

While Democrats have continuously griped about how Republican measures to slowly dismantle the Affordable Care Act (otherwise known as Obamacare) will sink their chances of cementing control of Congress in this year’s midterm elections, the US government is now estimating that it will spend $700 billion on subsidies this year to help provide Americans under the age of 65 with health insurance through their jobs or in government-sponsored health programs, according to a report from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

The subsidies come from four main categories:

Roughly $300 billion is federal spending on programs like Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which typically help insure low-income people.

Almost as big are the tax write-offs that employers take for providing coverage to their workers.

Medicare-eligible people, such as the disabled, account for $82 billion.

Subsidies for Obamacare and for other individual coverage are the smallest segment, at $55 billion.

Or, as the chart below shows, a plurality of spending goes to Medicaid + CHIP:

FBI

While Obamacare initially added tens of millions of Americans to the rolls of the insured, 29 million people will likely go without health coverage for an average of at least one month this year, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

According to Bloomberg, the subsidies in the Affordable Care Act are designed to insulate people from the deleterious impact of premium hikes. The CBO forecast that premiums for mid-range plans will hike by 15% by 2019, and by about 7% annually through 2028.

Several rule changes enacted by the Trump administration have impacted the program more broadly. The non-payment of those subsidies, less enforcement of a rule requiring people to have insurance and limited competition caused insurers to raise their premiums by about 34 percent in 2018, compared to 2017.

That increased the cost of the subsidies to the federal government, according to the CBO.

Thirty-five million Americans could lack coverage by 2028 as rising premiums and the elimination of the individual mandate drive more people to drop coverage.

Sharyl Attkisson: 8 Signs Pointing To A Counter-Intel Op Deployed Against Trump

Authored by Sharyl Attkisson, op-ed via The Hill,

It may be true that President Trump illegally conspired with Russia and was so good at covering it up he’s managed to outwit our best intel and media minds who’ve searched for irrefutable evidence for two years. (We still await special counsel Robert Mueller’s findings.)

But there’s a growing appearance of alleged wrongdoing equally as insidious, if not more so, because it implies widespread misuse of America’s intelligence and law enforcement apparatus.

Here are eight signs pointing to a counterintelligence operation deployed against Trump for political reasons.

1. Code name

The operation reportedly had at least one code name that was leaked to The New York Times: “Crossfire Hurricane.”

2. Wiretap fever

Secret surveillance was conducted on no fewer than seven Trump associates: chief strategist Stephen Bannon; lawyer Michael Cohen; national security adviser Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn; adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner; campaign chairman Paul Manafort; and campaign foreign policy advisers Carter Page and George Papadopoulos.

The FBI reportedly applied for a secret warrant in June 2016 to monitor Manafort, Page, Papadopoulos and Flynn. If true, it means the FBI targeted Flynn six months before his much-debated conversation with Russia’s ambassador, Sergey Kislyak.

The FBI applied four times to wiretap Page after he became a Trump campaign adviser starting in July 2016. Page’s office is connected to Trump Tower and he reports having spent “many hours in Trump Tower.”

CNN reported that Manafort was wiretapped before and after the election “including during a period when Manafort was known to talk to President Trump.” Manafort reportedly has a residence in Trump Tower.

Electronic surveillance was used to listen in on three Trump transition officials in Trump Tower — Flynn, Bannon and Kushner — as they met in an official capacity with the United Arab Emirates’ crown prince.

The FBI also reportedly wiretapped Flynn’s phone conversation with Kislyak on Dec. 31, 2016, as part of “routine surveillance” of Kislyak.

NBC recently reported that Cohen, Trump’s personal attorney, was wiretapped. NBC later corrected the story, saying Cohen was the subject of a “pen register” used to monitor phone numbers and, possibly, internet communications.

3. National security letters

Another controversial tool reportedly used by the FBI to obtain phone records and other documents in the investigation were national security letters, which bypass judicial approval.

Improper use of such letters has been an ongoing theme at the FBI. Reviews by the Department of Justice’s Inspector General found widespread misuse under Mueller — who was then FBI director — and said officials failed to report instances of abuses as required.

4. Unmasking

“Unmasking” — identifying protected names of Americans captured by government surveillance — was frequently deployed by at least four top Obama officials who have subsequently spoken out against President Trump: James Clapper, former Director of National Intelligence; Samantha Power, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations; Susan Rice, former national security adviser; Sally Yates, former deputy attorney general.

Names of Americans caught communicating with monitored foreign targets must be “masked,” or hidden within government agencies, so the names cannot be misused or shared. 

However, it’s been revealed that Power made near-daily unmasking requests in 2016.

Prior to that revelation, Clapper claimed ignorance. When asked if he knew of unmasking requests by any ambassador, including Power, he testified: “I don’t know. Maybe it’s ringing a vague bell but I’m not — I could not answer with any confidence.”

Rice admitted to asking for unmasked names of U.S. citizens in intelligence reports after initially claiming no knowledge of any such thing.

Clapper also admitted to requesting the unmasking of “Mr. Trump, his associates or any members of Congress.” Clapper and Yates admitted they also personally reviewed unmasked documents and shared unmasked material with other officials.

5. Changing the rules

On Dec. 15, 2016 — the same day the government listened in on Trump officials at Trump Tower — Rice reportedly unmasked the names of Bannon, Kushner and Flynn. And Clapper made a new rule allowing the National Security Agency to widely disseminate surveillance material within the government without the normal protections.

6. Media strategy

Former CIA Director John Brennan and Clapper, two of the most integral intel officials in this ongoing controversy, have joined national news organizations where they have regular opportunities to shape the news narrative — including on the very issues under investigation.

Clapper reportedly secretly leaked salacious political opposition research against Trump to CNN in fall 2017 and later was hired as a CNN political analyst. In February, Brennan was hired as a paid analyst for MSNBC.

7. Leaks

There’s been a steady and apparently orchestrated campaign of leaks — some true, some false, but nearly all of them damaging to President Trump’s interests.

A few of the notable leaks include word that Flynn was wiretapped, the anti-Trump “Steele dossier” of political opposition research, then-FBI Director James Comey briefing Trump on it, private Comey conversations with Trump, Comey’s memos recording those conversations and criticizing Trump, the subpoena of Trump’s personal bank records (which proved false) and Flynn planning to testify against Trump (which also proved to be false).

8. Friends, informants and snoops

The FBI reportedly used one-time CIA operative Stefan Halper in 2016 as an informant to spy on Trump officials. 

Another player is Comey friend Daniel Richman, a Columbia University law professor, who leaked Comey’s memos against Trump to The New York Times after Comey was fired. We later learned that Richman actually worked for the FBI under a status called “Special Government Employee.”

The FBI used former reporter Glenn Simpson, his political opposition research firm Fusion GPS, and ex-British spy Christopher Steele to compile allegations against Trump, largely from Russian sources, which were distributed to the press and used as part of wiretap applications.

*  *  *

These eight features of a counterintelligence operation are only the pieces we know.

It can be assumed there’s much we don’t yet know. And it may help explain why there’s so much material that the Department of Justice hasn’t easily handed over to congressional investigators.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Says Trump Will “Vanish From History” In Response To Pompeo’s “12 Requirements”

Iran’s leadership heightened its rhetoric in response to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s bellicose speech given at the Heritage Foundation in which he outlined 12 “basic requirements” issued to Iran in the wake of Trump’s pulling the US from the 2015 nuclear deal.

Pompeo’s list included demands that Iran withdraw from Syria, release all US citizens, stop enrichment of uranium, end support for anti-Saudi Houthi fighters in Yemen, and allow “unqualified access” to all nuclear sites, among other things. Pompeo warned that “the sting of sanctions will be painful” and Iran will struggle to “keep its economy alive” if Tehran “does not change its course from the unacceptable and unproductive path it has chosen.”

On Wednesday Iran’s top cleric and theocratic ruler, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, fired back, saying that President Trump “would vanish from history just like his predecessors” in statements repeated by Iranian national television. 

Image source: AP/Office of the Supreme Leader

And Reuters further reports of Khamenei’s first official statements since Pompeo’s Monday speech that he issued an unspecified threat of “defeating” America: “There is no doubt that the Americans will be defeated … provided Iranian officials fully perform their duties,” Khamenei said. 

“The Islamic Republic cannot deal with a government that easily violates an international treaty, withdraws its signature and in a theatrical show brags about its withdrawal on television,” the ‘Supreme Leader’ explained in excerpts of his speech posted on his official website.

Khamenei continued, “Iran was committed to the deal. They (the Americans) have no excuse. International Atomic Energy Agency has repeatedly verified Iran’s commitment. But you see they (Americans) easily cancel this international agreement.”

“The current U.S. president will meet the same fate as his predecessors, Bush and the neoconservatives and Reagan, and will vanish from history,” he said, referring to Trump and previous American presidents.

While it’s unclear if the Iranian cleric’s words imply “defeating” the US militarily or just diplomatically as Iran’s foreign minister continues traveling across world capitals to convince European signatories to JCPOA to say the course, his words follow what many analysts are calling Pompeo’s signalling that the US is on a “path to forcible regime change” in Iran. 

#Pompeo‘s Iran plan is practically a declaration of war. No country with any dignity and self respect would accept the conditions he is putting on #Iran to stop the sanctions campaign that he announced. #Irandeal https://t.co/eVeqOktqzd

— Walid (@walid970721) May 21, 2018

Bonnie Kristian, a fellow at Defense Priorities, notes in a CNBC editorial that Pompeo’s “basic requirements” list is a purposeful provocation aimed ultimately at pursuing regime change in Tehran. She describes Pompeo’s ‘Plan B’ for Iran in the following:

this unrealistic, all-or-nothing ultimatum makes escalation more likely. It is one thing to want the changes Pompeo demands and quite another to present them as a public ultimatum. This is reckless and unproductive — unless the aim is to provoke Iran into providing a pretext for military intervention.

Kristian further predicts what will come next should Washington follow through in enforcing what were essentially ultimatums issued by Pompeo:

Military intervention and a Washington-orchestrated regime change attempt in Iran would be a dangerous mistake with catastrophic consequences. The United States’ well-remembered history of meddling in Iranian politics; our extensive and costly military interventions already underway across the greater Mideast; and Iran’s size and wealth all make invasion a fool’s errand.

But with today’s counter-threats coming out of Iran or at least what American leaders will surely construe as militaristic threats (we should note that the immediate context of Khamenei’s statement is in reference to sanctions, and diplomatic and economic warfare)  it appears we could already be on the early path of escalation. 

Earlier this week Iranian President Hassan Rouhani rejected Pompeo’s bombastic demands and vowed to continue “our path,” insisting that the US could not “decide for the world,” while Iranian FM Mohammad Javad Zarif dismissed Pompeo and US diplomacy in general as “a sham”. 

Rouhani’s words, as quoted by ILNA news agency, were as follows: “Who are you to decide for Iran and the world? The world today does not accept America to decide for the world, as countries are independent … that era is over… We will continue our path with the support of our nation.”

The only question that remains is whether we will see war coming directly to Tehran, or if things will first get hotter in Syria as both Iran and Israel continue their proxy war there. 

Is Oil About To Become Front-Page News Again?

Authored by John Rubino via DollarCollapse.com,

Here’s a new indicator for you: It seems that the difference between the price of oil here and abroad is a measure of tightness in the market, with a rising spread indicating higher prices in the future, with all the inflationary pressures that that implies. From today’s Wall Street Journal:

Trans-Atlantic Oil-Price Spread Soars as Supply Glut Disappears

U.S. oil prices are lagging behind global oil prices climbing toward $80 a barrel, the latest sign of a market that has gone from glutted to exceptionally tight in the past year.

U.S. oil futures are trailing Brent, the global benchmark, by more than $7 a barrel, settling at $71.28 a barrel on Friday. The two oil benchmarks are further apart than they have been since 2015, before U.S. crude could be freely exported.

The divergence is a sign of how stretched global oil supplies have become even as U.S. output has marched higher, overtaking Saudi Arabia and rivaling Russia. That has contributed to soaring U.S. exports, which have hit a record of nearly 2.6 million barrels a day as users clamor.

“The market is screaming right now, ‘We need every barrel we can get,’ ” said Phil Flynn, an analyst at the Price Futures Group.

Both benchmarks have been on a tear lately. The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies have been holding oil off the market for more than a year, and demand has surged as the global economy roared to life. Unexpected disruptions, like plunging oil output from Venezuela, have tightened supplies even further. A glut of oil that held prices down for years is essentially gone.

Higher oil prices are starting to boost inflation and some worry that they will rein in the pace of economic growth, cutting into disposable income. U.S. gasoline prices have climbed to $2.92 a gallon on average, and are already more than $3 in several states. Companies like Walmart Inc. have warned that higher fuel prices are starting to threaten margins.

The political jockeying over higher oil prices has begun. President Donald Trump has pointed the finger at OPEC, blaming the cartel for “artificially Very High” prices in a tweet in April. Sen. Ed Markey (D., Mass.) has said Mr. Trump’s foreign policy is driving prices higher and is calling to reinstate the oil-export ban, which was lifted in 2015.

“Rather than sending American crude oil abroad to benefit Big Oil’s bottom line and foreign nations such as China, it should be kept here to help insulate consumers from geopolitical uncertainty and benefit American families,” a report to be released by his office on Monday says.

Some economists have argued that shipping oil abroad wouldn’t contribute to higher prices at the pump. Retail fuel prices have historically been more closely tied to the world benchmark rather than the national one, since gasoline is exported.

Some analysts said Brent’s push higher may be a signal that U.S. oil can’t fill the void in the global oil market quickly enough.

Soaring oil means several things:

Geopolitically, it’s a big net negative for the US, since the main beneficiaries are countries that are at best frenemies and at worst flat-out threats. Saudi Arabia, Iran, Venezuela, and Russia are all big oil exporters and will, to varying degrees, use the coming windfall to do things that liberal democracies will not appreciate.

Economically, expensive oil means tighter margins for businesses that operate with long supply chains. Food, for instance, tends to travel long distances to reach local grocery stores, so higher transport costs mean more expensive tomatoes and hamburgers. Businesses suffering in this way will raise their prices to compensate, which will combine with tight labor conditions to goose the official inflation numbers.

This in turn will push up interest rates, with potentially serious consequences. See There’s A Number That Ends This Cycle — But What Is It?

And the car companies, well, they’ll find themselves on the wrong side of history once again, going all-in on trucks just as Big Iron becomes too expensive to own. See America’s Dumbest Companies Repeat Their Biggest Mistakes.

For precious metals miners the picture is mixed. Mining is energy intensive, so higher oil means rising costs. But inflation is great for gold and silver prices, which will more-or-less offset oil. The experience of the 1970s, when gold and silver soared along with oil, gives cause for optimism.

Anyhow, rising oil is one more peak-cycle indicator that solidifies the comparisons with past peaks and the carnage that followed.

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