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Zero Hedge

Labour Splitters: Getting The Bland Back Together

Authored by Kit Knightly via Off-Guardian.org,

A damp squib of a press conference displays a group struggling for charisma, coherence and identity...

As of yesterday morning, seven MPs have officially resigned the whip and quit the Labour Party. They are now “independent”, apparently. Their names, if you don’t know already: Chris Leslie, Chuka Umunna, Luciana Berger, Mike Gapes, Angela Smith…and the other two.

It doesn’t really matter, to quote David Lindsay on Twitter:

And so our 7 brave little soldiers head off into the unknown. The Seven Samurai. Ronin, the Japanese might say. Warriors without masters, if you’re in the mood to be flatteringly poetic.

Chickens without heads if you’re being a little more honest.

It’s not gone terribly well so far.

For one thing, the announcement was NOT of the long-awaited [name-to-be-announced] party. There is no party. They have no policies except Brexit is bad and no ideology except Corbyn is worse. There is no leader. No manifesto. No direction.

They are the “independent group”, that is all. A not-at-all catchy name for a sordid collection of also-rans and never-weres. A line up that looks more like a staff photo for a struggling comprehensive than a political party. Or the roster of one of those dodgy personal injury law firms that are always advertising on daytime TV.

(Just imagine Mike Gapes walking at 45 degrees to the camera and asking “Have you or someone you know been injured in an accident at work?”)

They are the smattering of New Labour who don’t realise they got old, and aren’t so much moving away as being left behind. Refusing to flow with the current, and slumping heavily down to the riverbed, to be buried in silt and fossilised.

Who knows, in ten thousand years they might be worth something. Historical curiosities. Archaeologists, yet born, will be poring over old documents and asking “Yes yes…but who IS Chris Leslie…and what did he do?” without realising that everyone was asking that while he was alive too.

The strangest aspect of this is the lack of unity on their part. They are not a party, they are barely a group. They all seem to be leaving for different reasons. Mike Gapes likes war and wants more of it. Chuka wants other people to edit his Wikipedia page for him this time. Luciana Berger wants to do whatever she wants and scream “antisemite!” at anyone who tries to stop her. Angela Smith wants to stop Brexit and run a campaign on the line “Vote for Labour because we won’t win”.

This announcement, of course, has been expected for a while now. The “new centrist party” has been the subject of frenzied negotiation behind the scenes for weeks…now we know they decided on literally nothing and held a press conference anyway.

They aren’t so much a group of comrades storming out as a united front, but rather a bunch of near-strangers who all happen to be leaving the staff Christmas party at the same time and are forced to walk down to the car park together in stony silence.

Less the “Gang of Four”, more “The Seven People Who Sort of Know Each Other Well Enough to Exchange Polite Chat in a Lift But Only for Two or Three Floors and then it Gets Awkward”.

Labour, naturally, have been quick to declare that these MPs should now face by-elections. A gauntlet the seven of them have been startlingly reticent to pick up.

Angela Smith was on the BBC after the press conference, declaring she won’t be running in a by-election because she’d definitely win, before capping it all off with a good old-fashioned piece of British racism.

Angela parted with Labour over “antisemitism” and, as of right now, her new political party has more racism scandals than it has names.

There’s even talk of bringing John Woodcock into the “Independent Group”. A man who was suspended from the party of allegations of sexual misconduct, but then endeavoured to turn it into an epic “you can’t dump me if I dump you first”, and pretend he quit on a point of principle (he didn’t) instead of being fired for being creepy (he was). Since then he has not gone more than three or four consecutive minutes without criticising Jeremy Corbyn. It would probably be annoying if anyone was listening.

All in all, this is the most humiliating and pointless Labour press conference since the last time they made a futile political gesture to try to get rid of Corbyn.

From our outside perspective, we can at least formulate a rough draft of a manifesto for these people. Broadly speaking they are in favour of stopping Brexit, apartheid Israel, selling arms to Saudi Arabia, declaring war under a false pretenseprivatising water and right-wing coups in Latin America. Some niche opinions there, but it’s a foundation at least.

One thing we can’t really help them with is a name. They need a new one, and soon. “The Independent Group” is dreadful. Shortening it to “TIG” doesn’t work either, because whatever else they are…they sure ain’t “it”.

Some people have been calling them “the seven dwarves”, a rather unfitting moniker when you think about it. After all, the seven dwarves worked as a team, had discernible personalities and most people know their names.

They are much more the “seven veils”: Disposable, transparent, and they go wherever the wind is blowing.

"But They Are Dangerous!" European Leaders Shocked At Trump's ISIS Ultimatum 

After President Trump's provocative tweets on Sunday wherein he urged European countries to "take back" and prosecute some 800 ISIS foreign fighters as US forces withdraw from Syria, or else "we will be forced to release them," the message has been met with shock, confusion and indifference in Europe. Trump had warned the terrorists could subsequently "permeate Europe"

Possibly the most pathetic and somewhat ironic response came from Denmark, where a spokesperson for Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen said Copenhagen won’t take back Danish Islamic State foreign fighters to stand trial in the country, according to the German Press Agency DPA“We are talking about the most dangerous people in the world. We should not take them back,” the spokesperson stressed, and added that the war in Syria is ongoing, making the US president's statement premature. 

Image source: Alamy News/BBC

Germany's response was also interesting, given a government official framed ISIS fighters' ability to return as a "right".  A spokeswoman for Germany’s interior ministry said, “In principle, all German citizens and those suspected of having fought for so-called Islamic State have the right to return.” She even added that German ISIS fighters have "consular access" — as if the terrorists would walk right up to some embassy window in Turkey or Beirut! 

Noting that the Iraqi government has also of late contacted Germany to transport foreign fighters to their home country for trial, she added, “But in Syria, the German government cannot guarantee legal and consular duties for jailed German citizens due to the armed conflict there.”

France, for its part, has already agreed to repatriate over 130 French Islamic State members as part of a deal reached in January with US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) who are holding them, after which they will go through the French legal system. However, French Secretary of State Laurent Nuñez still insisted that the west's Kurdish allies would never merely let ISIS terrorists walk out their battlefield prisons free

"It's the Kurds who hold them and we have every confidence in their ability to keep them," Nuñez told French broadcaster BFMTV on Sunday. "Anyway, if these individuals return to the national territory, they all have ongoing judicial proceedings, they will all be put on trial, and incarcerated," he said, in comments which appeared to leave it up to others to make happen. 

And representing the Belgian government, Justice Minister Koen Geens charged Trump with blindsiding his European allies with the demand, which included Trump underscoring that it is "time for others to step up and do the job" before it's too late. "It would have been nice for friendly nations to have these kinds of questions raised through the usual diplomatic channels rather than a tweet in the middle of the night," Geens said during a broadcast interview on Sunday, according to the AFP.

Meanwhile in the UK the issue has recently become politically explosive as debate over so-called British jihadist bride Shamima Begum continues. The now 19-year old joined Islamic State in 2015 after fleeing the UK when she was just 15. She's now given birth in a Syrian refugee camp and is demanding safe return to Britain for fear that she and her child could die in the camp, so near the war zone.

Conservatives in Britain, such as Interior Minister Sajid Javid have argued that "dangerous individuals" coming back to the UK from battlefields in the Middle East should be stripped of their British citizenship. He said this option has already been "so far exercises more than 100 times," otherwise he also advocates prosecution of apprehended returning suspects "regardless of their age and gender." 

Identified as French nationals fighting within ISIS' ranks, via Khaama press news agency

The UN has estimated that in total up to 42,000 foreign fighters traveled to Iraq and Syria to join IS — which appears a very conservative estimate — and which includes about 900 from Germany and 850 from Britain.

SDF leaders have previously complained about the "lack the capacity" for mass incarceration of ISIS terrorists and the inability to have proper battlefield trials for them. Recent estimates have put the number of ISIS militants in US-SDF battlefield jails at over 1000, though Trump put the number at 800 in his tweet. 

However, even once they do return to Europe it's unclear the extent to which they'll be properly prosecuted and locked in prison by European authorities.

For example, another fresh controversy that lately erupted in Britain involved a 29-year old UK woman who traveled to join ISIS, and was convicted for membership in a terrorist group upon her return to Britain. She was jailed on a six year sentence in 2016, but is now already walking free a mere less than three years after her conviction. 

Warsaw And Munich: Whistling Past NATO's Graveyard

Authored by Tom Luongo,

If the Anti-Iran conference in Warsaw was the opening act, the annual Munich Security Conference was the main event. Both produced a lot of speeches, grandstanding and virtue-signaling, as well as a lot of shuffling of feet and looking at the ground.

The message from the U.S., Israel and Saudi Arabia was clear, “We are still committed to the destruction of Syria as a functional state to end the growing influence of Iran.”

Europe, for the most part, doesn’t buy that argument anymore. Germany certainly doesn’t. France is only interested in how they can curry favor with the U.S. to wrest control of the EU from Germany. The U.K. is a hopeless has-been, living on Deep State inertia and money laundered through City of London.

The Poles just want to stick it to the Russians.

Everyone else has a bad case of, “been there, done that, ain’t doin’ it again.”

They know supporting the fiction that the War in Syria was a war against the evil President Bashar al-Assad is counter-productive.

The geopolitical landscape is changing quickly. And these countries, like Hungary, Italy, and the Czech Republic, know that the current policy trajectory of the Trump administration vis a vis Russia, Iran and China is a suicide pact for them.

So they show up when called, receive our ‘diplomats’ and then pretty much ignore everything they said. This is what happened, ultimately, in Munich.

Even the EU leadership has no illusions about the goals of the U.S./Israeli/Saudi policy on Syria. And that’s why they refused to shut Russia and Iran out of the Munich Security Conference despite the hyperventilating of Pompeo’s amateur-hour State Dept.

The Syria Hangover

These countries are struggling with the after-effects of eight years of war displacing millions who Angela Merkel invited into Europe for her own political purposes.

The resultant chaos now threatens every major political power center in Europe, which could culminate in a Euroskeptic win at the European Parliamentary elections in May.

Continuing on this road will only lead to Russia, Iran, Turkey and China forming a bloc with India to challenge the economic and political might of the West over the next two decades.

So it was no surprise to see Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu glad-handing looking for support to beam back home for his re-election campaign.

It was also no surprise to see NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg grovel at the feet of the U.S. over the shared mission because he knows that’s where the gravy flows from.

But there was no statement of purpose coming out of Munich after two days of talks. Warsaw already set the stage for that. Vice-President Mike Pence fell completely flat as the substitute Trump. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo looked sad and confused as to why no one applauded him for his cheap and empty rhetoric about how evil Iran is.

The Syria operation was put together by the U.S., Israel, Saudi Arabia and Qatar with the expressed purpose of creating a failed state of ungoverned fiefdoms. Syria was to be carved up piecemeal with a great land grab for all major partners getting a piece.

Israel gets a buffer zone east of the Golan Heights, Turkey gets Idlib, Afrin and Aleppo. The Kurds get everything east of the Euphrates. And Europe gets pipelines from the Arabian peninsula.

Meanwhile Iran loses Syria and Lebanon, Russia gets pushed out of the European gas market (along with the putsch in Ukraine) and the center of the country is a hot mess of terrorism which can be exported all around the region and further directed against Russia and Iran.

It all looked so good on paper.

But, as I’ve described multiple times, it was an operation built on perception and the false premise that no one would stand up to it.

In came Russia in October 2015 and the rest, unfortunately for the neocons, is just a chase scene.

Sanctions Cut Both Ways

Because for Europe, once it became clear what the costs would be to continue this project, there was little to no incentive to do so. That’s why they sued for peace with Iran by negotiating the JCPOA.

For every MAGApede and Fox News neocon who excoriates Obama for giving Iran $150 billion dollars (of their own money back which we stole) I remind you that it was Obama in 2012 that signed the sanctions which froze that money in the first place.

The JCPOA was signed because in 2014 the Syria operation looked like it was on auto-pilot to success. Iran could have their money back because it wouldn’t matter. They would be vassals and the money wouldn’t buy them anything of substance.

It was Russia and China’s making the move into Syria that changed that calculus.

That’s why the only ones who keep pushing for this balkanization strategy are the ones who still stand to gain from it. The U.S., Saudi Arabia and Israel. It was clear in Munich that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was the man everyone wanted to talk to.

Everyone has cut bait. Even the Saudis are hedging their best cozying up to Vladimir Putin.

The U.S. still needs to project power globally to support the dollar and its obscene fiscal debauchery. Israel is staring at a future in which its myriad enemies have won and the Saudis need to rule the Sunni Arab world by leading them in a war against Iran.

The Warsaw Summit was a triumph only insofar as the U.S. can still call its allies to attention and they’ll do so. But that’s about it. But it was clear at Munich that Europe isn’t buying what the U.S. is selling about its relationship anymore.

It’s an not only an abusive one with Trump applying maximal economic pressure but also a wholly unrealistic one. Foreign policy midgets like Pompeo and Pence were literally pleading with everyone to not undermine their latest plan to make the world safe for Israel and Trump’s moronic Energy Dominance plan.

Whistling in Munich

In the end, the whole Munich affair looked like a bunch of people gathering to whistle past the graveyard of the fraying post-WWII institutional order. Trump wants Europe to pay for NATO so we don’t but Europe doesn’t want NATO on Trump’s terms which put them in the cross-hairs of his power play with Russia and China over the INF treaty.

Putin has built a version of fortress Russia that is for all practical purposes impregnable, short-of an all-out nuclear conflict which no one except maybe the most ideologically possessed in D.C. and Tel Aviv wants.

The naysayers have had their day but the weapons unveiled by Putin at last March’s State of the Union address changed the board state in a way that requires different tactics. I said so last March and it identified a shift narrative for all of us as to what Putin’s long-game was.

These new weapons represent a state change in weapons technology but, at the same time, are cheap deterrents to further escalation.  They fit within Russia’s budget, again limited by demographic and, as I pointed out in a recent article, domestic realities...

...[They highlight] we’re not winning in technology.  So, all we can do is employ meat-grinder policies and force Russia and her allies to spend money countering the money we spend.

It’s a game that hollows everyone out.  And it’s easier for Putin to sell the defensive nature of his position to Russians than it is to sell our backing Al-Qaeda and ISIS to defeat them.  Because that reality has broken through the barrier to it.

And that’s why Europe is so unwilling to go along with Trump on the INF Treaty, Iranian regime change and even his Arab NATO plan. They are the ones being asked to be on the front lines, pay for and fight a war against their best interests.

And that’s why no one was willing to join the latest ‘coalition of the willing’ in Munich to perpetuate the conflict in Asia. They’ll go along with Trump’s plans in Venezuela, it doesn’t cost them anything strategically.

But even Merkel knows that in light of the events of the past three and a half years, the right move for Europe is to cut a deal with Russia and Iran while keeping their head down as the U.S. loses its mind.

*  *  *

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Improving Housing Markets Tally Jumps by Nearly a Quarter

Posted on November 7, 2012 at 12:32am 0 Comments

The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB)/First American list of improving markets jumped by a net of 22 metropolitan areas (MSAs) this month, the third consecutive monthly increase in the Improving Markets Index (IMI) which now stands at a total of 125.  The index now includes at least one MSA in each of 38 states and the District of Columbia.  Last month the index represented 33 states plus the District.

The IMI identifies markets in which there has been improvement…

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