Posts Tagged ‘U.S. Government’

Cuba, North Korea reject ‘unilateral and arbitrary’ U.S. demands

November 23, 2017

HAVANA (Reuters) – Cuba’s foreign minister and his North Korean counterpart rejected the United States’ “unilateral and arbitrary” demands on Wednesday while expressing concern about escalating tensions on the Korean peninsula, the ministry said.

North Korea is searching for support amid unprecedented pressure from the United States and the international community to cease its nuclear weapons and missile programs, which it carries out in defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions.

The country, which has made no secret of its plans to develop a missile capable of hitting the U.S. mainland, has maintained warm political relations with Cuba since 1960, despite the island’s opposition to nuclear weapons.

Some diplomats said Cuba was also one of the few countries that might be able to convince North Korea to move away from the current showdown with the United States that threatens war.

The ministers, meeting in Havana, called for “respect for peoples’ sovereignty” and “the peaceful settlement of disputes,” according to a statement released by the Cuban foreign ministry.

“They strongly rejected the unilateral and arbitrary lists and designations established by the U.S. government which serve as a basis for the implementation of coercive measures which are contrary to international law,” the statement said.

U.S. President Donald Trump has also increased pressure on Cuba since taking office, rolling back a fragile detente begun by predecessor Barack Obama and returning to the hostile rhetoric of the Cold War.

A U.S. State Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that the United States had made clear it wanted a peaceful resolution to the North Korean nuclear issue.

“The DPRK’s belligerent and provocative behavior demonstrates it has no interest in working toward a peaceful solution,” the official said.

DPRK stands for North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Cuba said in the statement the Cuban and North Korean foreign ministers had “expressed concern about the escalation of tensions” on the Korean peninsula.

“The ministers discussed the respective efforts carried out in the construction of socialism according to the realities inherent to their respective countries.”

Cuba and North Korea are the last in the world to maintain Soviet-style command economies, though under President Raul Castro, the Caribbean nation has taken some small steps toward the more market-oriented communism of China and Vietnam.

Cuba maintains an embassy in North Korea, but publicly trades almost exclusively with the South. Last year, trade with the latter was $67 million and with the North just $9 million, according to the Cuban government.

North Korea defends its weapons programs as a necessary defense against U.S. plans to invade. The United States, which has 28,500 troops in South Korea, a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean war, denies any such intentions.

Reporting by Sarah Marsh; Additional Reporting by Phillip Stewart in Washington; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Nick Macfie


Kaspersky antivirus software sometimes copies your files files

November 4, 2017

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SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Eugene Kaspersky said his company’s widely used antivirus software has copied files that did not threaten the personal computers of customers, a sharp departure from industry practice that could increase suspicions that the Moscow-based firm aids Russian spies.

The acknowledgement, made in an interview last Friday as part of the Reuters Cyber Security Summit, comes days after Kaspersky’s company said its software had copied a file containing U.S. National Security Agency hacking tools from the home computer of an agency worker in 2014.

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Kaspersky’s firm has for years faced suspicions that it has links with Russian intelligence and state-sponsored hackers. Kaspersky denies any cooperation with Russian authorities beyond cyber crime enforcement.

In September, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security banned Kaspersky software from use in federal offices, citing the company’s ties with Russian intelligence. The company is the subject of a long-running probe by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, sources have told Reuters.

Antivirus software is designed to burrow deeply into computer systems and has broad access to their contents, but it normally seeks and destroys only files that contain viruses or are otherwise threatening to a customer’s computers, leaving all other files untouched.

Searching for and copying files that might contain hacking tools or clues about cyber criminals would not be part of normal operations of antivirus software, former Kaspersky employees and cyber security experts said.

In the Reuters interview, conducted at Kaspersky Lab’s offices in Moscow, Eugene Kaspersky said the NSA tools were copied because they were part of a larger file that had been automatically flagged as malicious.

He said the software removed from the agency worker’s computer included a tool researchers dubbed GrayFish, which the company has called the most complex software it has ever seen for corrupting the startup process for Microsoft’s Windows operating system.

Kaspersky said he had ordered the file to be deleted “within days” because it contained U.S. government secrets.

But he defended the broader practice of taking inert files from machines of people that the company believes to be hackers as part of a broader mission to help fight cyber crime.

“From time to time, yes, we have their code directly from their computers, from the developers’ computers,” Kaspersky told Reuters.


Three former Kaspersky employees and a person close to the FBI probe of the company, who first described the tactic to Reuters this summer, said copying non-infectious files abused the power of antivirus software. The person associated with the FBI said in one case Kaspersky removed a digital photo of a suspected hacker from that person’s machine.

Eugene Kaspersky declined to discuss specific instances beyond the NSA case, saying he did not want to give hackers ideas for avoiding detection.

“Sometimes we are able to catch cyber criminals, that’s why I am not so comfortable to speak about this to media,” he said in the interview. “Many of them are very clever, they can learn from what I am saying.”

Other industry experts called the practice improper. Mikko Hypponen, chief research officer at Finnish security company F-Secure, said that when his firm’s software finds a document that might contain dangerous code, “it will prompt the user or the administrator and ask if it can upload a copy to us.”

Dan Guido, chief executive of cyber security firm Trail of Bits, which has performed audits on security software, said Kaspersky’s practices point to a larger issue with all antivirus software.

“All of them aggregate a huge amount of information about their clients, which can be easily exploited when put in willing hands,” he said.

U.S. news organizations have reported that Kaspersky, or Russian spies hijacking its service, have been searching widely among customers’ computers for secret files, citing anonymous U.S. intelligence officials. Reuters has not verified such reports.

Kaspersky said he hoped to alleviate concerns about his company by opening up his source code for review by third parties in independently run centers, as well as by raising the maximum amount it offers for information about security flaws in its programs to $100,000.

To read the latest Reuters coverage of cyber security, click on

Reporting by Joseph Menn in San Francisco; Additional reporting by Jack Stubbs in Moscow, Jim Finkle and Alastair Sharp in Toronto and Dustin Volz in Washington; Editing by Jonathan Weber and Bill Rigby

Russia’s Kaspersky to Allow Outside Review of Its Cybersecurity Software

October 23, 2017

Company hopes sharing source code will build trust after allegations its software helped Russia spy on Americans

Kaspersky Lab, the Moscow-based cybersecurity firm whose software U.S. officials suspect helped the Russian government spy on Americans, promised to make its source code available for an independent review.

The company said Monday the review is part of a “global transparency initiative” that it hopes will improve the trustworthiness of its products. It said it would hand over the source code for its software in the first quarter of next year but didn’t specify who would undertake the review or how widely the code would be…

Image result for Eugene Kaspersky, photos

Eugene Kaspersky


Kaspersky fights spying claims with code review plan

October 23, 2017 — 0745

Apple Pay now in 20 markets, nabs 90% of all mobile contactless transactions where active

Russian cybersecurity software maker Kaspersky Labs has announced what it’s dubbing a “comprehensive transparency initiative” as the company seeks to beat back suspicion that its antivirus software has been hacked or penetrated by the Russian government and used as a route for scooping up US intelligence.

In a post on its website today the Moscow-based company has published a four point plan to try to win back customer trust, saying it will be submitting its source code for independent review, starting in Q1 2018. It hasn’t yet specified who will be conducting the review but says it will be “undertaken with an internationally recognized authority”.

It has also announced an independent review of its internal processes — aimed at verifying the “integrity of our solutions and processes”. And says it will also be establishing three “transparency centers” outside its home turf in the next three years — to enable “clients, government bodies and concerned organizations to review source code, update code and threat detection rules”.

It says the first center will be up and running in 2018, and all three will be live by 2020. The locations are listed generally as: Asia, Europe and the U.S.

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Finally it’s also increasing its bug bounty rewards — saying it will pay up to $100K per discovered vulnerability in its main Kaspersky Lab products.

That’s a substantial ramping up of its current program which — as of April this year — could pay out up to $5,000 per discovered remote code execution bugs. (And, prior to that, up to $2,000 only.)

Kaspersky’s moves follow a ban announced by the US Department of Homeland Security on its software last month, citing concerns about ties between “certain Kaspersky officials and Russian intelligence and other government agencies, and requirements under Russian law that allow Russian intelligence agencies to request or compel assistance from Kaspersky and to intercept communications transiting Russian networks”.

The US Senate swiftly followed suit, voting to oust Kaspersky software from federal use. While three months earlier the General Services Administration also removed Kaspersky Lab from a list of approved federal vendors.

The extensive system-wide permissions of antivirus software could certainly make it an attractive target for government agents seeking to spy on adversaries and scoop up data, given the trust it demands of its users.

The WSJ has previously reported that Russian hackers working for the government were able to obtain classified documents from an NSA employee who had stored them on a personal computer that ran Kaspersky software.

Earlier this month CEO Eugene Kaspersky blogged at length — rebutting what he dubbed “false allegations in U.S. media”, and writing: “Our mission is to protect our users and their data. Surveillance, snooping, spying, eavesdropping… all that is done by espionage agencies (which we occasionally catch out and tell the world about), not us.”

We’re proud to keep on protecting people against all cyberthreats – no matter of false allegations in U.S. media 

Photo published for What’s going on?

What’s going on?

I doubt you’ll have missed how over the last couple months our company has suffered an unrelenting negative-news campaign in the U.S. press.

But when your business relies so firmly on user trust — and is headquartered close to the Kremlin, to boot — words may evidently not be enough. Hence Kaspersky now announcing a raft of “transparency” actions.

Whether those actions will be enough to restore the confidence of US government agencies in Russian-built software is another matter though.

Kaspersky hasn’t yet named who its external reviewers will be, either. But reached for comment, a company spokeswoman told us: “We will announce selected partners shortly. Kaspersky Lab remains focused on finding independent experts with strong credentials in software security and assurance testing for cybersecurity products. Some recommended competencies include, but are not limited to, technical audits, code base reviews, vulnerability assessments, architectural risk analysis, secure development lifecycle process reviews, etc. Taking a multi-stakeholder approach, we welcome input and recommendations from interested parties at

She also sent the following general company statement:

Kaspersky Lab was not involved in and does not possess any knowledge of the situation in question, and the company reiterates its willingness to work alongside U.S. authorities to address any concerns they may have about its products as well as its systems.

As there has not been any evidence presented, Kaspersky Lab cannot investigate these unsubstantiated claims, and if there is any indication that the company’s systems may have been exploited, we respectfully request relevant parties responsibly provide the company with verifiable information. It’s disappointing that these unverified claims continue to perpetuate the narrative of a company which, in its 20 year history, has never helped any government in the world with its cyberespionage efforts.

In addition, with regards to unverified assertions that this situation relates to Duqu2, a sophisticated cyber-attack of which Kaspersky Lab was not the only target, we are confident that we have identified and removed all of the infections that happened during that incident. Furthermore, Kaspersky Lab publicly reported the attack, and the company offered its assistance to affected or interested organisations to help mitigate this threat.

Contrary to erroneous reports, Kaspersky Lab technologies are designed and used for the sole purpose of detecting all kinds of threats, including nation-state sponsored malware, regardless of the origin or purpose. The company tracks more than 100 advanced persistent threat actors and operations, and for 20 years, Kaspersky Lab has been focused on protecting people and organisations from these cyberthreats — its headquarters’ location doesn’t change that mission.

“We want to show how we’re completely open and transparent. We’ve nothing to hide,” added Kaspersky in another statement.

Interestingly enough, the move is pushing in the opposite direction of US-based cybersecurity firm Symantec — which earlier this month announced it would no longer be allowing governments to review the source code of its software because of fears the agreements would compromise the security of its products.


U.S. Trying to Find More Doctors to Send to Disaster Areas

October 14, 2017

Hurricane Maria left Puerto Rico’s hospitals in bad shape

Volunteer doctors organize medical supplies during a visit to a shelter to check refugees in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in Humacao, Puerto Rico, on Oct. 2.
Volunteer doctors organize medical supplies during a visit to a shelter to check refugees in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in Humacao, Puerto Rico, on Oct. 2. PHOTO: RICARDO ARDUENGO/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

A U.S. government program that sends doctors and nurses to disaster zones says it needs more health-care workers, as relief efforts during this hurricane season are near the end of a second month with no end in sight in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The National Disaster Medical System, which recently wrapped up big deployments to hurricane-ravaged areas in Texas and Florida, says it will start recruiting more medical professionals in the next few weeks.

“We’re far from the recovery stage of this event,” Robert Kadlec, a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services assistant secretary, said Thursday of Hurricane Maria’s devastation. The storm largely destroyed Puerto Rico’s power grid, leaving half the local hospitals without power, and downed its communications network. The federal health agency oversees the program that temporarily hires health-care workers for what are typically two-week rotations.

The U.S. teams, which set up temporary hospitals and clinics, are helping relieve the strain on Puerto Rican hospitals. Nearly half of the local hospitals are depending on sometimes unreliable generators for power. Generator failures have forced recent evacuations at two hospitals. And others suffered storm damage that crippled operations, said Jaime Pla Cortes, executive president of the Puerto Rico Hospital Association, in an interview.

“Everybody has to improvise,” Mr. Pla Cortes said. “The nurses and the doctors are tired, they are working full time.”

The National Disaster Medical System entered the hurricane season understaffed, system director Ron Miller said, adding that the U.S. Office of Personnel Management recently authorized expedited hiring.

Since Hurricane Harvey hit Texas in late August, the federal system has deployed more than 40 36-person teams to Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico, plus several smaller teams, including some with logistics personnel, veterinarians and morticians. The system has also dispatched one team to California in response to the state’s wildfires.

The prolonged response is a “huge anomaly” for the system, Mr. Miller said. Two-week rotations have occasionally stretched into a month, he said.

The program has enough teams to deploy through mid-November, he said. The U.S. program set up a temporary hospital in San Juan and dispatched teams to hubs around Puerto Rico, Dr. Kadlec said.

To fill open positions, the system has relied on medical staff from the Department of Defense and Department of Veterans Affairs, the latter of which has 73 staffers helping in Manati, Puerto Rico.

Other American health-care workers are traveling to Puerto Rico as volunteers, coordinating efforts with HHS. About 80 nurses and doctors from New York-area hospitals flew to Puerto Rico Thursday.

Demand for volunteers is strong, said Jenna Mandel-Ricci, an executive with the Greater New York Hospital Association, which helped organize the trip with HHS and New York state officials. The federal agency “is saying they are taxed,” and volunteers left without knowing where they would be working during a two-week stay, she said. “That’s how fluid things are on the ground.”

Write to Melanie Evans at

US agencies banned from using Russia’s Kaspersky software

September 14, 2017

Federal agencies in the US have 90 days to wipe Kaspersky software from their computers. Officials are concerned about the Russian company’s ties to the Kremlin and possible threats to national security.

Headquarters of Internet security giant Kaspersky in Moscow (Getty Images/AFP/K. Kudryavtsev)

The administration of US President Donald Trump has ordered government agencies to remove products made by Russian company Kaspersky Labs from their computers.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said Wednesday it was concerned that the cybersecurity firm was susceptible to pressure from Moscow and thus a potential threat to national security.

Read more: Facebook, Russia and the US elections – what you need to know

DHS said in a statement that it was “concerned about the ties between certain Kaspersky officials and Russian intelligence and other government agencies,” as well as Russian laws that might compel Kaspersky to hand over information to the government.

But the makers of the popular anti-virus software have said “no credible evidence has been presented publicly by anyone or any organization as the accusations are based on false allegations and inaccurate assumptions.”

US tech retailer Best Buy confirmed earlier Wednesday that it would no longer sell Kaspersky products, but has declined to give further details on the decision.

Ties between Kaspersky, Kremlin ‘alarming’

Civilian government agencies have 90 days to completely remove Kaspersky software from their computers. The products have already been banned in the Pentagon.

US congressional leaders have applauded the move. Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen said the “strong ties between Kaspersky Lab and the Kremlin are alarming and well-documented,” and asked the DHS if the company’s products were used for any critical infrastructure, such as for voting systems, banks and energy supply.

Although Kaspersky Labs was founded by a KGB-trained entrepreneur, Eugene Kaspersky, and has done work for Russian intelligence, the company has repeatedly denied carrying out espionage on behalf of President Vladimir Putin and his government.

es/cmk (AP, Reuters)

Iraqi Kurds to Vote on Independence Despite Region’s Fears — “They earned their own Independence.”

September 14, 2017

IRBIL, Iraq — Iraq’s Kurds vote this month on whether or not they support independence for their enclave in the country’s north, a step toward their long-held dream of statehood. The outcome, almost certain to be “yes,” will further rattle a region still engulfed in the fight against the Islamic State group.

A “yes” vote won’t mean immediate independence for the Kurdish region since the referendum does not have legal force. But Kurdish officials say they will use it to pressure the Iraqi government in Baghdad to come to the negotiating table and formalize their independence bid.

Already the Sept. 25 vote is fueling tensions. Baghdad and Iraq’s neighbors, Iran and Turkey, which worry it will encourage their own sizeable Kurdish populations, have all demanded it be called off. Iraq’s prime minister has called the referendum unconstitutional and warned of potential violence in territory claimed by both the Kurds and Baghdad. The United States, the Kurds’ top ally, has tried to persuade them to postpone the vote, fearing it will open a new chapter of instability even as U.S.-backed forces try to recapture the last remaining IS-held pockets in Iraq.

The results could mark an important, historic shift. Since Saddam Hussein’s fall in 2003, the Kurdish government has held off on dreams of statehood, saying it would try working within a united Iraq, albeit with a large degree of autonomy. A vote for independence would proclaim their determination to go it alone.

If they eventually do break away, it would be the most significant redrawing of borders in the Middle East since the creation of Israel in 1948. It will split Iraq, tearing away a Switzerland-sized chunk, including key oil resources, and leaving the remainder with an Arab population split between a Shiite Muslim majority and Sunni minority. The Kurdish self-rule zone officially makes up about 10 percent of Iraq’s territory, with a population of about 3 million, around 8 percent of Iraq’s total 37 million.

Further adding to the explosive mix, the Kurds have expanded control beyond their enclave’s formal borders, increasing its size by more than half. In fighting with IS, they seized parts of northern Nineveh province and the oil-rich central region Kirkuk, territory claimed by the Baghdad government.

The Kurds say they intend to keep those areas. Some will likely be bargaining chips in negotiations on independence — but they could also become flashpoints for violence.

In a recent sermon, the leader of a powerful Shiite militia warned that his forces were ready to fight for those territories, saying they would be considered Iraqi land occupied by Kurds if independence goes through.

“We have experience in dealing with occupation forces,” Sheikh Qais al-Khazali told worshippers, referring to the fight his Asaib Ahl al-Haq group previously waged against U.S. troops in Iraq.

There are brakes on the Kurds’ independence drive. The Kurdish region is wrestling with an economic crisis deepened by reduced oil revenues, and its government is mired in divisions. Many Kurds are hesitant to break away without ensuring international support or recognition. The referendum in part may aim to show the United States, Baghdad, Turkey and Iran that they have to find a peaceful way toward a Kurdish state.

Large-scale violence following the vote is unlikely, though there could be small-scale friction in disputed areas, said Kirk Sowell, publisher of the newsletter Inside Iraqi Politics. The regional reaction will also likely be muted because the referendum won’t immediately change anything, he said.

Still, Iraq’s Kurds are stockpiling goods in case Turkey or Iran close borders in retaliation for the vote.

Large Kurdish populations in Turkey and Iran are pressing for greater rights — with fringes demanding outright autonomy. Turkey has battled Kurdish rebels, and unrest has been common in Iran’s northwestern Kurdish region. Hiking Turkish and Iranian concerns, Syria’s Kurds are moving aggressively toward their own self-rule after carving out territory across northern Syria in that country’s war.

Iran described the Iraqi Kurds’ referendum as “dangerous and provocative.”

“If Iraq’s division begins, it will spill over to Syria and Turkey and a war of separatism will begin which may make the region insecure for 20 years,” said Mohsen Rezaei, the secretary of Iran’s Expediency Council, a senior government body.

On Thursday, Turkey said “there will most certainly be a price to pay” for the Kurds’ insistence on holding the referendum, without elaborating.

Also wary of the vote are non-Kurdish minorities in the Kurds’ newly captured territories.

In Kirkuk, local lawmakers voted last month in favor of participating in the referendum. But 14 lawmakers from local minorities — Turkmens and Arabs — boycotted, so it was the provincial parliament’s Kurdish members who pushed through the measure.

Despite the pressure, the Kurds are determined to hold the vote.

Denied their own state after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, they have long pushed for independence. They were brutally oppressed under Saddam, whose military in the 1980s killed at least 50,000 Kurds, many with chemical weapons.

The self-rule Kurdistan Regional Government with its capital in Irbil was established in 1992 after the U.S. enforced a no-fly zone across the north following the Gulf War. After the 2003 U.S.-led invasion ousted Saddam, the autonomous region secured constitutional recognition.

“I hope the referendum will succeed. We have been in the same circle with the Arabs for 50 years. We cannot trust them,” said Saber Salim, an old man sitting outside Irbil’s citadel. He said his family was driven out of Kirkuk during the Saddam era and his brother was killed in clashes with Saddam’s forces in the 1980s.

Ali Awni, a leading member of the ruling Kurdish party KDP, said this is “the perfect time to declare independence.”

“Turkey has internal political problems, the Iranians are fighting on different fronts, Iraq is in a miserable state … and Syria is dead,” he said.

But some Kurds who oppose the referendum believe the autonomous region’s president, Masoud Barzani, is trying to distract from failures and entrench his own position. The Kurdish parliament was suspended in 2015 and Barzani has remained in office beyond his term, with oil prices harming his government’s ability to pay salaries amid charges that security forces are intimidating referendum opponents.

“By rejecting the referendum, we want to say no to the elite who have ruled the region for 26 years,” said lawmaker Raboun Maarouf, who heads the anti-referendum campaign. But he says he is not opposed to independence in principle.

Kardo Abdulkhaleq, an Irbil shopkeeper, said the divisive mood makes him fear a repeat of heavy fighting that erupted between Kurdish parties in the mid-1990s.

“My concern is that we’d end up like South Sudan or other places that got their independence and then fell into civil war.”


Salaheddin reported from Baghdad. Associated Press writer Jon Gambrell in Dubai contributed to this report.


Iraq’s Kurds Have Earned Their Right to Independence

The U.S. should offer full-throated support, not a quibble over timing.
The very model of a modern ethnic group seeking self-determination.

 Photographer: Safin Hamed/AFP/Getty Images

Consider the plight of an ethnic group seeking self-determination in the Middle East.

Its leaders have renounced terrorism. Their militias fight alongside U.S. soldiers. While their neighbors built weapons of mass destruction, they built a parliament, universities and the infrastructure for an independent state. And they pursue independence through a recognized legal process, enshrined in their country’s constitution.

I am, of course, talking about Iraq’s Kurds. On Sept. 25, they will vote in a referendum to endorse a state of their own.

One might think the U.S. government would see the Kurds as ideal candidates for statehood in a region where self-determination is often sought through violence. But the Trump administration so far has worked assiduously to dissuade the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq from giving its people the opportunity to vote for independence.

The U.S. arguments against the statehood referendum revolve mainly around timing, according to both U.S. and Kurdish officials. Next year, Iraqis themselves are supposed to have elections. A vote to break away from Iraq would weaken Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi at a moment when he has been helpful in keeping Iraq together and leading the fight against the Islamic State.

What’s more, the Kurdish referendum will offer Iraqis in disputed areas like Sinjar, and most importantly the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, the opportunity to choose between Iraq and an independent Kurdish state. Asking citizens to vote for independence in areas that are already disputed within Iraq is a recipe for trouble, U.S. diplomats say. They want the Kurds to reconsider.

Michael Rubin, an expert on the Kurds at the American Enterprise Institute, told me the referendum “is being done for the wrong motives.” He said the decision to apply the referendum to people in Kirkuk and other disputed areas “will guarantee conflict.” “If they were to go independent, immediately Kurdistan would have a fight over its borders,” he said.

These objections, however well intentioned, have not deterred the initiative. The Iraqi constitution promised such a vote, and Kurdish leaders have delayed it for years. It is time for Iraq’s Kurds to at least formally convey what anyone who has followed this issue already knows: Kurds deserve their own country.

Aziz Ahmad, an adviser to Masrour Barzani, the national security adviser to the Kurdistan Regional Government, told me senior delegations who traveled to Washington and Baghdad asked the U.S. for some assurance in exchange for flexibility. “We told them, ‘If you have disagreements on the timing, give us formal guarantees of when we should hold the referendum.’ And they never did,” he said.

Instead of treating this like a problem, President Donald Trump should see the Kurdish referendum as an opportunity. Here we have an ethnic minority that has done — for the most part — everything we ask of groups seeking statehood. Compare this to the Palestinians, who have squandered billions in aid and years of exquisite international attention, yet still lack the kind of functioning institutions the world takes for granted in Erbil, the capital of the Kurdistan region.

“We hear daily statements about the two-state solution and the right of self determination for the Palestinians, by the same officials who tell us we cannot have a vote to express the will of Kurds to have their own country,” Hoshyar Zebari, a former foreign minister for both the Kurdish region and Iraq, told me. “This is a double standard.”

There are of course important differences between the Palestinian and Kurdish cases for independence. Because the Kurds are not Arabs, their cause never got strong support from Arab states in the region, like the Palestinian cause has. And Israel never committed the kinds of large-scale war crimes against Palestinians that Saddam Hussein and Turkish governments have against Kurds. Also Kurds make no claim to Baghdad, the way both Palestinians and Israelis makes claims to Jerusalem. There is also still considerable support within Israel for a two-state solution, whereas there is no such support for Kurdish independence among Iraqi Arabs.

But the most consequential difference between the Palestinians’ case for statehood and the Kurds’ may end up being U.S. national interests.

Ten years ago, the U.S. needed to at least support a peace process for Israel and the Palestinians as a way to persuade Arab allies like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to join American efforts against Iran. The presidency of Barack Obama and the emboldened predations of Iran changed all of that. Today, America’s Arab allies in the region are frustrated at the lack of a more robust policy to counter Iran, peace process or not.

The Kurdistan regional government today is by no means perfect. Its politics are still dominated mainly by two families. They are three years past due for elections on a new government, though the region’s president, Masoud Barzani, today says there will be new elections in November, and he has pledged he will not stand for office. Corruption, like in all Middle Eastern governments, remains a problem.

But compared with its neighbors, the Kurdistan regional government is Switzerland. Kurdish leaders do not name parks and streets after suicide bombers. Kurdish leaders have implored their citizens to fight alongside the U.S. against Iraq’s common enemies. The Kurdish people do not burn American flags. Most of them are not gulled by Muslim fanatics. They have pursued statehood the way we hope the Palestinians would.

The Kurdish referendum this month closes a chapter that began 25 years ago, when President George H.W. Bush in the aftermath of the first Gulf War established a no-fly zone to protect Kurdish families driven into the mountains by Saddam Hussein’s storm troopers.

In the last quarter century the Kurdish people have built a state worthy of independence, under the protection of the U.S. military. That should be a source of pride for all Americans. Our president shouldn’t quibble over timing. The administration should welcome Kurdish independence.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Treasury Secretary Mnuchin Rejects Calls to Resign, Defends President Trump — Yale alumni said it was his “moral obligation” to resign “in protest of President Trump’s support of Nazism and white supremacy.”

August 20, 2017

‘Some of these issues are far more complicated than we are led to believe by the mass media,’ Treasury chief says

Steven Mnuchin is pictured. | AP Photo


Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, citing his own Jewish heritage, said he understood the long history of violence and hatred against Jews and other minorities. | Susan Walsh/AP Photo


Aug. 19, 2017 10:20 p.m. ET

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin rejected calls for him to resign in protest of President Donald Trump’s response to violence at a white-nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va., last weekend, and defended the president in a statement Saturday evening.

Mr. Mnuchin condemned the “actions of those filled with hate and with the intent to harm others.”

“While I find it hard to believe I should have to defend myself on this, or…

From Politico
Mnuchin, facing calls for resignation, defends Trump

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Saturday defended President Donald Trump and called out his critics amid growing condemnation of the president’s response to racist violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, last weekend.

“I don’t believe the allegations against the president are accurate,” Mnuchin said in a statement. “I believe that having highly talented men and women in our country surrounding the president in his administration should be reassuring to you and all the American people.”

Earlier this week, a group of Mnuchin’s fellow Yale alumni drafted a letter saying it was his “moral obligation” to resign “in protest of President Trump’s support of Nazism and white supremacy.” Trump was criticized after the Charlottesville incident for saying “both sides” were to blame for the unrest.

Mnuchin on Saturday condemned the actions of “those filled with hate and with the intent to harm others.”

Citing his own Jewish heritage, he said he understood the long history of violence and hatred against Jews and other minorities.

“While I find it hard to believe I should have to defend myself on this, or the president, I feel compelled to let you know that the president in no way, shape or form, believes that neo-Nazi and other hate groups who endorse violence are equivalent to groups that demonstrate in peaceful and lawful ways,” he said.

Mnuchin said he was “familiar with the culture wars being fought in our country.”

“Some of these issues are far more complicated than we are led to believe by the mass media, and if it were so simple, such actions would have been taken by other presidents, governors, and mayors, long before President Trump was elected by the American people,” he said.

Mnuchin then went after Trump’s critics.

“Our president deserves the opportunity to propose his agenda and to do so without the attempts by those who opposed him in the primaries, in the general election and beyond to distract the administration and the American people from these most important policy issues – jobs, economic growth, and national security,” he said.

Venezuela rejects Trump sanctions — Total cut in oil exports to the U.S. would slash Venezuelan government income by 75 percent, limit ability to repay debts to China

July 19, 2017

JPMorgan smashes Wall Street estimates, but shares decline on outlook — U.S. Business Still Handcuffed By Government

July 14, 2017
  • JPMorgan reports much better-than-expected second quarter earnings.
  • However, the bank lowers its net interest income forecast for the year.
  • Trading revenue also fell.

JPMorgan Chase on Friday reported second-quarter earnings that beat on the top and bottom line as strong lending results offset declines in trading.

However, its stock turned down in premarket trading because of its lower expectations for lending income.

Adjusted earnings per share: $1.71 versus $1.58 estimated by Thomson Reuters analysts’ consensus.

Revenue: $26.41 billion versus $24.96 billion estimated by Thomson Reuters analysts’ consensus.

Shares briefly rose 1 percent in premarket trade before turning to negative 1 percent. In addition to the concerns about lending income, traders believed much of the strong results were already priced into the stock. Shares hit an all-time high on July 6 and are up nearly 8 percent this year.

The bank lowered its net interest income forecast for the year by about half a billion dollars to a $4 billion increase from the prior year. JPMorgan’s Chief Financial Officer Marianne Lake said on the firm’s conference call that the majority of that reduction came from lower-than-expected net interest income in the second quarter.

Gerard Cassidy, banking analyst at RBC Capital Markets, pointed out on CNBC’s “Squawk Box” that the lowered net interest income estimate “certainly is affecting the way the stock is going to be trading today.”

“JPMorgan has put up remarkably strong loan growth and it’s slowed down a little bit this quarter, but we also saw the net interest margin, which is very critical for all the banks, that came in lower than expected due to higher funding costs,” he said. “So I think that’s the reason why they’re guiding down on the net interest revenue for the year.”

JPMorgan two-day performance, extended hours

Source: FactSet

Including a $406 million after-tax benefit from a legal settlement, the bank reported second quarter earnings of $1.82 a share.

In the second quarter of 2016, the bank reported earnings of $1.55 per share on revenue of $25.2 billion.

“We continued to post very solid results against a stable-to improving global economic backdrop,” JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon said in a release. “The U.S. consumer remains healthy, evidenced in our strong underlying performance in Consumer & Community Banking.”

Average loans in consumer and community banking rose 3 percent from last year, while core loans climbed 9 percent. For the rest of the year, JPMorgan said it expects average core loan growth to rise 8 percent.

However, overall market trading revenue declined 14 percent year on year. Fixed income trading fell 19 percent “due to reduced flows driven by sustained low volatility and tighter credit spreads, against a strong prior year,” the bank said.

Revenue from stock trading fell 1 percent year on year.

The earnings benefit from legal costs relates to a settlement with federal regulators over the bank’s acquisition of Washington Mutual.

The bank also forecast adjusted expenses of about $58 billion for the year, unchanged from prior estimates.

Return on equity rose to 12 percent, up from 11 percent the prior quarter and 10 percent a year ago.

Jamie Dimon, chief executive officer of JPMorgan Chase & Co.

Andrew Harrer | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Jamie Dimon, chief executive officer of JPMorgan Chase & Co.

Wall Street was watching whether trading revenues have held up amid low market volatility. In the first quarter, the bank reported a 17 percent year-on-year increase in revenue from fixed income trading.

Loan growth and any comments from Dimon during the earnings conference call later Friday could shed light on the state of economic growth.

JPMorgan said in late June it authorized share buybacks of up to $19.4 billion through June 30, 2018, its largest since the financial crisis.

JPMorgan and 33 other big banks passed the second round of the Federal Reserve’s annual stress tests in late June when the central bank did not object to their capital return plans. Only Capital One Financial was given conditional approval of its plan. All 34 banks also passed the Dodd-Frank Act Stress Tests for the third time by topping the Fed’s requirements for being able to handle a severe recession.


JP Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon angry at the dysfunction, ‘stupid s—‘ in Washington DC

July 14, 2017

Jamie Dimon blows up at DC’s dysfunction, says he’s tired of ‘listening to the stupid s—‘

JP Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon

Larry Downing | Reuters
JP Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon

JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon expressed frustration at the U.S. federal government during the company’s earnings conference call Friday.

“It’s almost embarrassment to be an American citizen traveling around the world and listening to the stupid s— we have to deal with in this country,” Dimon said in response to an analyst question.

“Since the Great Recession, which is now 8 years old, we’ve been growing at 1.5 to 2 percent in spite of stupidity and political gridlock, because the American business sector is powerful and strong,” he said. ‘What I’m saying is that it would be much stronger growth if there were more intelligent decisions and less  gridlock .”

 Image result for JPMorgan Chase, signage, photos

JPMorgan Chase reported earnings that handily beat Wall Street estimates Friday. However, the bank lowered its forecast for lending revenue.

Shares erased earlier gains to fall more than 1 percent in premarket trade.

Here’s the full rant, according to the FactSet transcript of the call:

Since the Great Recession which is now eight years old we’ve been growing at 1.5 to 2% despite the stupidity and political gridlock. Because the American business sector is powerful and strong and is going to grow regardless of they went to feed their kids and want to buy home they want to do things the same as American businesses what I’m saying is it would be much stronger growth had we made intelligent decisions and that gridlock, and thank you for pointing it out because I’m going to be a broken record until this gets done, we are unable to build bridges, unable to build airports, not graduating.

I was just in France in Argentina Israel Ireland we met with the Prime Minister of India and China it’s amazing to me that every single one of those countries understands that practical policies to promote business growth is good for the average citizens of those countries for jobs and wages and somehow this great American free enterprise system we no longer get it.

My view is corporate taxation is critical to that by the way regarding capital brings overseas, which is why the $2 trillion overseas benefiting all these other countries don’t like that, so if we don’t get our act together we can still grow. It’s just unfortunate but it’s hurting us, it’s hurting the body politic, it’s hurting the average American that we don’t have these right policies. So no in spite of gridlock we will grow at 1 ½ or 2%.

I don’t buy the argument that we are relegated to this effort. We are not.  This administration can make breakthroughs in taxes and infrastructure ready for reform we have become one of the most bureaucratic confusing litigious societies on the planet it’s almost an embarrassment be an American citizen traveling around the world and listening to the stupid s— we have to deal with in this country and at one point we have to get our act together. We won’t do what were supposed to for the average Americans and unfortunately people write about this like corporations is not corporations competitive taxes are important for business and business growth which is important to jobs in wage growth and we should be making that along to every single one of you every time you talk to a client.