Thursday, April 21, 2016

Closing time on IPI -- Sell @ $1.26; +/- .02

I would expect that Capstone Turbine (CPST) would reverse quickly on the morning low -- decent Intraday Buy @ $1.72; +/- .035

Intrepid Potash -- Stock Symbol IPI -- is a quick Intraday Buy @ $1.165; +/- .02

Skyline Med is back for another day -- Buy SKLN @ $.235; +/- .0125

Net Elements (Stock Symbol NETE) is a nice Intraday Buy @ $.345; +/- .02

How David Cameron got Barack Obama to fight Brexit

The British prime minister made a direct appeal for the presidential visit ahead of the June referendum.


By Tom McTague  and Edward-Isaac Dovere
Politico EU
April 21, 2016


LONDON — If all goes according to Downing Street’s plan, David Cameron and Barack Obama will walk side-by-side into Number 10’s grand, wood-paneled state dining room shortly before the evening newscasts Friday to make an emphatic case for why Britain belongs in the European Union.

This is the moment when Obama is fully weaponized in the government’s PR war on Brexit.

For Number 10, it will be the culmination of months of meticulous planning through diplomatic back channels, led by Cameron’s chief of staff, Ed Llewellyn, and American political operative Jim Messina, who has served as a top adviser to Obama and Cameron. The president’s decision to effectively stump for Cameron came after a direct intervention from the prime minister last year, according to a source familiar with Cameron’s thinking.

Rattled by tighter-than-expected poll numbers, Cameron asked Obama to make the trip during the referendum campaign rather than wait until July when the president was also scheduled to be in Europe.

White House officials insist the president will not meddle in Britain’s internal debate over Europe, but acknowledged that if he happened to be asked his view, “as a friend, he will offer it.” Cameron aides expect the intervention to be an important moment, particularly in motivating young voters.

"Also stoking interest in the trip is whether Obama will meet with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn."

The highly unusual U.S. push has stirred controversy in Britain. The Leave campaign views Obama’s three-day London stopover as a Cameron-led effort to inflict maximum damage. Their best hope is that the whole thing looks unseemly to average Brits, an unwelcome campaign by outsiders to bully the country and do Brussels’ bidding.

“The British public won’t take too kindly to a foreigner telling them what to think,” said Conservative MP David Davis, the former shadow home secretary who challenged Cameron for the Tory leadership. “People will think they are being lectured at by someone who does not know what he’s talking about, which would be a fair description.”

They expect that Obama, as the leader of the free world who remains very popular abroad, can make Brexit look dangerously isolating for the U.K.. Obama enjoys favorability ratings of 83 percent among British voters and 91 percent among those who are undecided in the June 23 referendum, according to Downing Street poll numbers.

Cameron, in contrast, is languishing at minus 25 percent, according to the latest IpsosMori survey.

Also stoking interest in the trip is whether Obama will meet with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. So far, nothing is on the books, and a senior Obama administration official said there were “no plans” to meet him.

It would be a major embarrassment for Corbyn, given Obama’s practice of meeting with the U.K.’s opposition leaders. He met Cameron for the first time during a trip to London in 2008, two years before he became prime minister.

Packaged for TV

The timing of the Cameron-Obama press conference isn’t coincidental.

Craig Oliver, Downing Street’s chief spin doctor who is taking over the In campaign’s communications strategy, is aiming for blanket coverage on Britain’s well-watched nightly newscasts. As a former senior BBC executive, Oliver has been credited with tilting Number 10’s media focus away from the print media towards TV, which is legally bound in the U.K. to be impartial.

The BBC’s 6 p.m. news bulletin reaches 4.5 million people, more than twice the audience of any national newspaper, and it hits the right demographic: the informed, professional middle class viewed as the key to a Remain victory.

The 4:50 p.m. start time gives TV producers just enough time to package up the Obama intervention.

A senior British government source told POLITICO the Obama trip had three main objectives.

First, Obama can reach voters who may have already turned on Cameron.

“He’s going to support us on the EU and that’s going to be a really important moment,” the government source said. “It’s a real difficult one for the Leave campaign to rebut. They have been trying to find ways to say that the U.S. president can’t have an opinion on this, which obviously he can.”

Second, the visit is “an opportunity to show the closeness of the relationship” between the U.K. and U.S., which was called into question last month when Obama criticized Cameron over his handling of the Libya crisis. Cameron failed to win parliamentary approval for airstrikes against Syria in 2013, and he dithered over British military spending before the general election last year.

Third, it will show Cameron engaged in “grown-up diplomacy,” the source said. Number 10 hopes to paint the bilateral meeting of the two global leaders in Downing Street’s White Room in stark contrast to the sniping at Obama from Conservative MPs.

There has not been any high-level coordination on what exactly Obama will say. “We believe he should be allowed to say what he wants to say,” the source said. “Look, we can’t tell a U.S. president what to say.”

One of the key targets for Obama is young voters who still overwhelmingly like him.

Youth turnout in a summer referendum could be difficult, with the major Glastonbury festival on that weekend and England, Wales and Northern Ireland playing in football’s European Championships.

“The public polls have it right that the anti-EU voters are more motivated,” said the source familiar with Cameron’s thinking.

To reach that group, Obama will join Cameron for a town hall with young people Saturday at the Royal Horticultural Hall in central London, close to the prestigious Grey Coat Hospital School attended by Cameron’s daughter, Nancy.

“For the president to engage with the next generation is important — not necessarily because he’s going to convince them, but because he’s got to engage them and make sure they turn out,” said Karen Donfried, Obama’s former European adviser at the National Security Council and now head of the German Marshall Fund.

"By the time Obama leaves on Sunday, Downing Street hopes the months of planning was worth the risk."

Messina, who helped run the Tories’ successful general election campaign last year, is acting as a part-time middle man between Number 10 and the White House, as well as providing polling numbers to help target undecided voters. Cameron re-enlisted Messina this year to help the pro-EU campaign.

“So much of PR is bullshit,” the same Number 10 source told POLITICO. “But his strength is data. He’s able to actually provide some evidence for what he’s saying. He’s helping us with floating voters.”

Almost four in 10 voters have yet to make up their mind about which way to vote in June, according the latest poll. The challenge is locking in the undecideds.

Grabbing attention

Obama will keep a full schedule aimed at dominating Britain’s attention. He’s traveling to London with First Lady Michelle Obama. They will have lunch with the Queen at Windsor Castle on Friday.

After talks with Cameron later Friday, the Obamas will join the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry for dinner in London.

Following the town hall Saturday, the Obamas will go on a “cultural visit.” Obama could see Corbyn Saturday afternoon.

By the time Obama leaves on Sunday, Downing Street hopes the months of planning were worth it.

In negotiating the president’s visit last year, the White House offered Number 10 at least two options — either this month, or in July to coincide with the NATO conference in Warsaw, when Obama will be in Europe anyway.

Aware that the July visit would come too late to influence the referendum, Cameron pushed for April.

After all, Obama already had a trip to Germany in the diary, to open the Hannover Messe trade fair with Chancellor Angela Merkel, so he could bolt-on a stop in Britain to say happy 90th birthday to the Queen — and to help keep Britain in Europe while he’s at it.


Article Link to Politico EU:

Cruz can't seal the deal with GOP colleagues

There’s no love for Trump, but they still can't bring themselves to endorse the Texas firebrand.


By Burgess Everett and Katie Glueck
Politico
April 21, 2016


Senate Republicans are all for stopping Donald Trump. But they are twisting themselves like pretzels to avoid officially endorsing their colleague Ted Cruz.

Increasingly, Cruz’s colleagues are grudgingly saying nice things about the Texas senator who has given them headaches for years with his strident stands and scorched-earth tactics. But when it comes down to it, they just can’t bring themselves to make it official, even as Cruz’s campaign could use a shot in the arm after a crushing loss in New York ahead of a string of Northeastern primaries next week that favor Trump.

Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida says he wants a conservative nominee and that Cruz is the only conservative left. But no, no, he says, that’s not an endorsement. Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska voted for Cruz and tweeted about it: But you’re getting ahead of yourself if you call that an official blessing, aides say.

And Sen. Jim Risch of Idaho went on CNN this month to say he “hopes” Cruz wins. Well, did he endorse?

“Wolf Blitzer said I did,” Risch said in an interview, adding that he did “not really” throw his backing behind Cruz. “Having said that, I think he’s the logical heir apparent for the Republican Party.”

This logic by Republicans extends all the way to the top ranks. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told a Louisville TV station over the weekend that he’s “optimistic” that the GOP convention goes to a second ballot, an implicit knock on front-runner Trump. Yet when asked specifically about Cruz, he followed it up with a seemingly incongruent comment: “I’m not going to comment on the presidential candidates.” He conceded Tuesday that his comments were made “somewhat inartfully.”

Add it all up and senators say Cruz is no closer to getting any more congressional backing than he was two weeks ago.

“I don’t hear people talking about it,” said Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the chairman of the Senate Republican Conference. “And my impression is it’s never been a big priority for [Cruz].”

But earlier this month, it appeared Cruz was finally serious about winning over Senate Republicans as the alternative to Trump, who’s viewed as a poor standard-bearer in November that could imperil GOP majorities in both houses and “ruin the party,” in the words of Risch. Cruz even trotted out former Texas Sen. Phil Gramm and Sens. Mike Lee of Utah and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina to help whip up support on Capitol Hill, to little obvious effect.

Asked for a list of endorsements, the Cruz campaign claimed Risch and Sasse, noting that Sasse voted for Cruz — despite protests from both senators that they haven’t officially endorsed Cruz.

Support for Cruz hasn’t materialized for two key reasons: After seeing their favored candidates, Rubio and Jeb Bush, go down in flames, congressional Republicans are reluctant to cast their lot with Cruz, who despite his strong recent finishes remains an underdog to Trump. And, so far, Cruz hasn’t worked to seal the deal with personal outreach to GOP senators.

“I look forward to talking to the campaign. We haven’t had that conversation yet,” said Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.).

Gardner said ahead of the Colorado Republican convention that if Cruz won he’d be more receptive to backing the Texan. That would be a coup for Cruz, considering how energetically the freshman senator pushed Rubio’s candidacy on the Hill. Yet the Colorado contest wrapped up more than a week ago.

Cruz hasn’t been in the Capitol since February, despite senators asking for him to appear. Even as Cruz refuses to apologize for calling McConnell a liar, attending at the GOP caucus weekly lunch would show that he cares enough about the backing of his colleagues to divert his campaign to D.C. and demonstrate in person why they should risk the ire of Trump.

“I still think that’s a good idea,” said Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas), who personally implored Cruz more than a month ago to visit D.C. and the GOP caucus. “If you’re going to be a leader of a unified Republican Party, then I think that would be an important step in that direction.”

Asked whether Cruz would consider ramping up his personal outreach on Capitol Hill, Cruz communications director Alice Stewart would only reiterate that the senator is focused on engaging the grass roots.

“That’s the key to success,” she said, pointing to recent victories in states like Wisconsin and in delegate contests from Colorado to North Dakota.

There’s ample debate over whether an official congressional endorsement matters. And in a year of political outsiders, many Republicans say partywide backing from an unpopular Congress will have little effect on Cruz’s campaign — with some exceptions.

“There’s obviously value in an endorsement from Rubio,” said Cruz supporter Tony Perkins, head of the socially conservative Family Research Council, who added that Cruz is generally better off focusing on winning over voters rather than senators.

Yet Rubio has gone to great lengths not do anything official for Cruz, even though he thinks John Kasich can’t win and Trump is not a conservative. Rubio said he’s trying to stay as far away from the campaign as possible — an impossible task for someone who won 171 delegates and became the presidential favorite of Capitol Hill Republicans.

Rubio argues that though he said Cruz was a conservative and that he wants a conservative nominee that does not mean he made an endorsement.

“Those were my personal preferences,” Rubio said of his praise for Cruz last week. “At this point, I don’t think it’s helpful for the party to have people weighing in and endorsements aren’t really going to change the direction of the campaign, from my perspective.”

Ditto Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), the party’s leading libertarian voice who dropped out of the race in February, with Cruz swooping in to pick up his supporters. But Paul seems to care little about getting involved in the race and said he’d rather concentrate on the Senate than doing TV hits on behalf of a candidate like Cruz, who Paul has said is too sharp-elbowed for the Senate.

“I just don’t know that I’d want to be somebody’s surrogate and be defending all their positions. It might dilute what I stand for,” Paul said.

The uneasy relationship between Cruz and GOP senators goes both ways. People in Cruz’s orbit feel that lawmakers cloistered on Capitol Hill are nursing dated grudges against the senator and are out of touch with the rest of the Republican Party. The grass roots have long adored Cruz and establishment pillars like Bush have come to see him as an acceptable alternative to Trump.

In other corners of GOP politics, Cruz has made some progress landing donors and operatives previously supporting other candidates. Even some of the former candidates, such as Graham and Rick Perry, have thrown their support behind him, in large part because many see him as their last chance to thwart Trump. This all comes as Cruz emphasizes the importance of GOP “unity,” especially in the effort to stop Trump, at every turn.

“Five former presidential candidates who were certainly not in agreement with him in the campaign joined the team; I’ve been on board and am a former U.S. senator, Sen. Mike Lee is on board,” said former Sen. Bob Smith, Cruz’s New Hampshire co-chair who still makes campaign trail appearances.

Lee had been burning up the phones to recruit Senate backers for Cruz but spent the past week pursuing his own bid for party leadership. Graham has helped Cruz raise money and speaks to him regularly, yet has not attracted any like-minded centrists to officially get behind the rock-ribbed conservative.

“People are more aware that he’s probably our best choice left. It’s up to him and members,” Graham said. With a Cruz endorsement, he added, “You make the Trump people mad … you make the Kasich people mad … I can see why people are reluctant to get involved with the mess that we’re in.”


Article Link to Politico:

Cruz can't seal the deal with GOP colleagues

Our Savonarolas

On the ethos of “Burn it down!”


By Kevin D. Williamson 
The National Review
April 21, 2016


Odd news that maybe isn’t so odd: A presidential straw poll conducted by a libertarian student group found that the most popular candidate among its members was Donald Trump. Second place: Bernie Sanders.

?

Young libertarians for elderly socialists: Not as strange as it sounds, or unprecedented.

Fifty years ago, the libertarian (he’d have said “anarcho-capitalist”) economist and political analyst Murray Rothbard dreamt of a grand coalition between far Left and far Right, whose members and interests, he believed, might be unified momentarily and perhaps more than momentarily by opposition to the Vietnam War. This was an error and led him to some ghastly places (thrilling to the stirrings of David Duke and culpable indulgence of Holocaust deniers) and into associations from which the liberty movement has never recovered.

What might drive a young libertarian into the “revolution” that Sanders proclaims? One thing is the ongoing Rothbardian bent in libertarian foreign-policy thinking, and Sanders is the only candidate in the race who isn’t entirely hostile to non-interventionism on the Ron Paul model. On lifestyle-libertarian issues — marijuana, stance toward religious traditionalists and their institutions — Sanders is the libertarians’ man, in practice. Sanders is energetically anti-libertarian on questions of trade and immigration, but a nontrivial number of self-professed libertarians have abandoned those issues or reversed themselves on them, “libertarian” now being used with unfortunate looseness to mean “right-wing populist who does not wish to be identified with Mitch McConnell’s party.”

We also are seeing the poison dividend of the bank bailouts.

Free-marketeers and free-traders must of course be realists about big business and its interests to the extent that we live in the real world, but for a generation, the working assumption was that the party of capitalism and the party of capitalists were if not the same party then largely on the same side, give or take an ethanol subsidy or in-house fight about intellectual property. The bailouts changed that.

The sort of libertarians who might have followed Rothbard into the sweaty precincts of David Duke’s political thinking have always had some uneasiness about the (Jewish) international bankers who terrified Henry Ford, and you’ll generally find them in possession of a copy of The Creature from Jekyll Island, the ur-text of Federal Reserve conspiracy theory. The spectacle of a small number of financial institutions throwing the world into an economic crisis through their fecklessness and rapacity and then demanding sweetheart loans amounting to trillions of dollars to see them through — a drama in which the banks were both the hostages and the hostage-takers — brought new life to the dry bones of 1930s conspiracy theories.

And the banks and other businesses have encouraged those conspiracy theories by conspiring. That is why we have an agency of the federal government whose only meaningful business is providing attractive financing to overseas clients of Boeing and a few other politically connected firms.

There are a number of standing roles in American public life: For example, there is always a place for a spokesman for black America who is treated as a spiritual heir to the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., regardless of whether he merits it. (No, Jesse Jackson does not.) There’s always a Christian preacher-in-chief and an alpha feminist and the Face of Good Capitalism (Bill Gates, I suppose, or Warren Buffett). There is also the Saint, the One Incorruptible Man. I rolled my eyes when Nassim Taleb insisted that Senator Sanders “has all the attributes of a secular saint” and that “he brings sainthood to public service,” but there is something to that. People were attracted to Ralph Nader for that reason, and the same energy animated Ron Paul’s movement and now Senator Sanders’s. The candidates have similar affects and similar presentations: thin adenoidal men in ill-fitting suits, men who display no love of wealth and no awe of its holders, men who do not talk the way politicians usually talk. Senator Sanders may not be a saint, but he is something of a secular Jewish Puritan, a socialist Savonarola. Such men inspire tremendous personal loyalty.

And of course libertarians know a little something about cults of personality.

One of the worse scenes in a very bad novel, Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, concludes with an enlightened judge, working in heroically lonely fashion at his desk in the late hours to revise the Constitution. “He sat at a table, and the light of his lamp fell on the copy of an ancient document. He had marked and crossed out the contradictions in its statements that had once been the cause of its destruction.” Libertarianism, as opposed to liberalism (what we conservatives are obliged to call “classical liberalism” to avoid being confused with Sanders voters) is an ideology, whereas liberalism is a cast of mind, a set of principles that can conflict with one another, some of them axiomatic and some derived from experience. Libertarians of the Rand variety dream of a world without politics: Once you have received the Truth, you become a sort of freedom-mullah, and there is no need to stage a convention or take a vote when revising the fundamental law of the land. A is A and that is that. Liberalism admits contradictions and limitations: freedom, yes, but stability, too; property rights, of course, but Washington still puts down the whiskey rebels.

In American English, the word for “liberalism” is (perversely) “conservatism,” American conservatives being those who would conserve the Anglo-Protestant liberal order that proceeds, in no sort of a straight line, from Magna Carta through Adam Smith to New England and Virginia to F. A. Hayek and Ronald Reagan. Some conservatives, especially those who are suspicious of free trade and believe Americans to be the victims of scheming foreigners, reject that liberalism, dreaming instead of a throne-and-altar conservatism in a nation that knows no throne and whose ancestors threw fits over the installation of altar rails in English churches. Some of them have taken to calling themselves “libertarian nationalists,” a term with no meaning. They dream of arraying Americans into Prussian ranks rather than permitting them to go about their essentially anarchic business as they have for several centuries now; they would curtail free enterprise in the name of preserving the nation, without understanding that to impose such a nationalism on the American nation would produce a disfigurement leaving that nation unrecognizable.

Right-wing anti-capitalism has been both an elite preoccupation (the old aristocrats lamented the nouveaux riches and their manners) and a populist tendency, the latter of which survives (aristocracy didn’t). And libertarian anti-capitalism, for the moment, is thriving, and the operating motto of the liberty movement is “I like weed and porn but don’t think much of taxes and bankers.” Trump or Sanders, Sanders or Trump: not exactly the stuff of inspiration.

There is an inspiring alternative. Homo sapiens has been around for about 200,000 years, and for the first 189,240 nothing happened. And then something did, and the material condition of the human race was changed radically in an almost inconceivably short period of time. Sixty-six years passed between the Wright brothers’ flight at Kitty Hawk and our landing on the moon. Sixteen years passed between the publication of The Grapes of Wrath and the opening of Disneyland. Ten years ago, no one had ever seen an iPhone. These changes did not happen because there is a law of nature demanding that Americans in 2016 be happy, well-fed, and secure. They happened because of ideas, habits, practices, culture, and political institutions that came from particular men in a particular time and place. Those ideas have enemies, two of whom are Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders.

“Give him a shot, it couldn’t be any worse!” they say. But if there’s one thing conservatives know, it’s that things could always be worse. “Revolution!” they say. “Burn it all down!” they say. No, no, no, I think not.


Article Link to the National Review:

The Horrors of Hiroshima in Context

By Victor Davis Hanson 
The National Review
April 21, 2016


The dropping of two atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945 remains the only wartime use of nuclear weapons in history.

No one knows exactly how many Japanese citizens were killed by the two American bombs. A macabre guess is around 140,000. The atomic attacks finally shocked Emperor Hirohito and the Japanese militarists into surrendering.

John Kerry recently visited Hiroshima. He became the first secretary of state to do so — purportedly as a precursor to a planned visit next month by President Obama, who is rumored to be considering an apology to Japan for America’s dropping of the bombs 71 years ago.

The horrific bombings are inexplicable without examining the context in which they occurred.

In 1943, President Franklin Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill insisted on the unconditional surrender of Axis aggressors. The bomb was originally envisioned as a way to force the Axis leader, Nazi Germany, to cease fighting. But the Third Reich had already collapsed by July 1945 when the bomb was ready for use, leaving Imperial Japan as the sole surviving Axis target.

Japan had just demonstrated with its nihilistic defense of Okinawa — where more than 12,000 Americans died and more than 50,000 were wounded, along with perhaps 200,000 Japanese military and civilian casualties — that it could make the Americans pay so high a price for victory that they might negotiate an armistice rather than demand surrender.

Tens of thousands of Americans had already died in taking the Pacific islands as a way to get close enough to bomb Japan. On March 9-10, 1945, B-29 bombers dropped an estimated 1,665 tons of napalm on Tokyo, causing at least as many deaths as later at Hiroshima.

Over the next three months, American attacks leveled huge swaths of urban Japan. U.S. planes dropped about 60 million leaflets on Japanese cities, telling citizens to evacuate and to call upon their leaders to cease the war.

Japan still refused to surrender and upped its resistance with thousands of Kamikaze airstrikes. By the time of the atomic bombings, the U.S. Air Force was planning to transfer from Europe much of the idle British and American bombing fleet to join the B-29s in the Pacific.

Perhaps 5,000 Allied bombers would have saturated Japan with napalm. The atomic bombings prevented such a nightmarish incendiary storm.

The bombs also cut short plans for an invasion of Japan — an operation that might well have cost 1 million Allied lives, and at least three to four times that number of well-prepared, well-supplied Japanese defenders.

There were also some 2 million Japanese soldiers fighting throughout the Pacific, China, and Burma — and hundreds of thousands of Allied prisoners and Asian civilians being held in Japanese prisoner-of-war and slave-labor camps. Thousands of civilians were dying every day at the hands of Japanese barbarism. The bombs stopped that carnage as well.

The Soviet Union, which signed a non-aggression pact with Japan in 1941, had opportunistically attacked Japan on the very day of the Nagasaki bombing.

By cutting short the Soviet invasion, the bombings saved not only millions more lives, but kept the Soviets out of postwar Japan, which otherwise might have experienced a catastrophe similar to the subsequent Korean War.

World War II was the most deadly event in human history. Some 60 million people perished in the six years between Germany’s surprise invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939, and the official Japanese surrender on September 2, 1945. No natural disaster — neither the flu pandemic of 1918 nor even the 14th-century bubonic plague that killed nearly two-thirds of Europe’s population — came close to the death toll of World War II.

Perhaps 80 percent of the dead were civilians, mostly Russians and Chinese who died at the hands of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. Both aggressors deliberately executed and starved to death millions of innocents.

World War II was also one of the few wars in history in which the losers, Japan and Germany, lost far fewer lives than did the winners. There were roughly five times as many deaths on the Allied side, both military and civilian, as on the Axis side.

It is fine for Secretary of State Kerry and President Obama to honor the Hiroshima and Nagasaki victims. But in a historical and moral sense, any such commemoration must be offered in the context of Japanese and German aggression.

Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan started the respective European and Pacific theaters of World War II with surprise attacks on neutral nations. Their uniquely barbaric war-making led to the deaths of some 50 million Allied soldiers, civilians, and neutrals — a toll more than 500 times as high as that of Hiroshima.

This spring we should also remember those 50 million — and who was responsible for their deaths.


Article Link to the National Review:

Bernie Can Still Be the Future of the Democratic Party

The New Republic
April 20, 2016

For Bernie Sanders, his loss in New York’s Democratic primary must be sobering. Hillary Clinton beat him by 16 percent, worse than expected. Moreover, while Sanders can reasonably complain that the rules set up by the party, requiring voters to be registered as Democrats months in advance, were

Bernie Can Still Be the Future of the Democratic Party—If He Plays His Cards Right onerous and disenfranchising, he has to contend with the fact that voter turnout was high. This cuts against Sanders’s claim that he’s attracting the most enthusiastic followers.

Sanders’s campaign had been on a winning streak lately, capturing seven of the last eight states. The national polls have been tightening, and Sanders has been outperforming expectations. While there’s a tendency on the part of the media to dismiss Sanders as already too far behind to catch up, the fact is that he has done far better than anyone would have predicted. He faces long, but not impossible odds.

It’s precisely because winning is still a option that the Sanders campaign has taken a much more aggressive tone lately. He has questioned Clinton’s qualifications to be president, although he later softened that by saying he questioned her judgment. Sanders’s campaign has been more vocal about calling attention to Clinton’s reliance on big-money donors, and his supporters recently picketed a recent Clinton fundraiser. The hearty congeniality of the early days of the campaign are gone, with Sanders and Clinton much more likely to snip at each other in debates and on the trail.

While the loss in the New York doesn’t mark the end of Sanders’s campaign, his odds of winning became much longer. Upcoming delegate-rich states like Pennsylvania and Maryland favor Clinton. On Tuesday night, Sanders consultant Tad Devine said that after the next Tuesday’s primaries in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, Rhode Island, and Connecticut, the campaign will “assess where we are.”

So Sanders has to decide when he will make the pivot from an aggressive outsider who’s trying to take down the front runner to a loyal party member who will support the winner.

If Sanders stays negative as his chances of winning dwindle, he’ll burn bridges and be shut out of the party. By further damaging Clinton ahead of the general election, he runs the risk of being seen as a Ralph Nader–like spoiler.

The other alternative is to revert to the civic idealism of the early days of his campaign, which aimed to reform the Democratic Party from within.

The case for staying negative is that Sanders can highlight genuine problems with the primary system, which is plagued by arbitrary rules. The hurdles the New York Democratic Party has placed on voting go against the larger arguments the party makes about the importance of voting rights in general elections. Given Sanders’s long time as an independent rather than a Democrat, it might be easier for him to return to the role of the prophet in the wilderness castigating the system.

Yet as he himself notes, Sanders’s years in politics have also shown him to be someone who knows how to work with others and push forward a positive agenda. Given that a strong minority in the party love him, he is in a position to leverage his campaign to be a real power broker in the party and push the Clinton campaign to the left.

Sanders has been a surprise contender, and it’s easy to engage in might-have-beens or alternative history scenarios. But a healthier way to think about the Sanders campaign is in terms of what it bodes for the future. He has proven there is a large space to the left of Clinton in the Democratic Party. In the future, his electoral weak spots could be addressed by a candidate who has a similar message but pitches it to a broader audience. The Achilles heel of his campaign has been Southern blacks. But there is not intuitive reason why this group should be immune to a message of economic populism. Indeed, Jesse Jackson showed in 1988 that it could be done.

The Sanders campaign should be seen not as a failed gambit but as a road map to the future of the Democratic Party. If a candidate can combine Sanders’s economic populism with the ability to articulate that message in the South, then the future will belong Sanders, and Clinton’s triumph will be seen as the last gasp of the centrism that dominated the party in the long aftermath of Reaganism.


Strategic Amnesia and ISIS

Forgetting history's hard lessons in Iraq.


By David V. Gioe
The National Interest
April 21, 2016


MARK TWAIN observed, “history doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.” The study of military history teaches us valuable lessons that are applicable to today’s most intractable strategic problems; yet, these lessons are underappreciated in current American strategy formulation. Throughout the history of American armed conflict, the United States has discerned, at great cost, four critical lessons applicable to containing and combating the Islamic State.

First, as war theorist Carl von Clausewitz noted, war is a continuation of politics by other means; but resorting to war rarely yields the ideal political solution envisioned at the start of hostilities. Second, the use of proxy forces to pursue American geopolitical goals is rarely an investment worth making because proxies tend to have goals misaligned with those of their American sponsors. True control is an illusion. The corollary to this axiom is that supporting inept and corrupt leaders with American power only invites further dependency, does not solve political problems and usually prolongs an inevitable defeat. Third, conflating the security of a foreign power with that of America leads to disproportionate resource allocation and an apparent inability at the political level to pursue policies of peace and successful war termination. Fourth, alliance formation through lofty rhetorical positions imperils rational analysis of geopolitical and military realities. Publicly staking out inviable political end states invites a strategic mismatch between military capabilities and political wishes, endangering the current enterprise as well as future national credibility. America has paid for these lessons in blood; our leaders ought to heed them.

THE OBAMA administration’s effort to again increase the number of American military advisors in Iraq, coupled with the reconstruction of a new base at al-Taqaddum in Anbar Province, has given rise to accusations among both Democrats and Republicans about either mission creep (from doves and noninterventionists) or weak incrementalism (from hawks and liberal interventionists). Former defense secretary Robert Gates observed in May 2015 that there simply was no American strategy in the Middle East. Congressional hawks have used Gates’s observation to criticize the Obama administration’s cautious efforts in any ground campaign against the Islamic State, and some have called for thousands of American boots back on the ground in Iraq. However, during a 2011 visit to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, Gates also told the cadets that any adviser who counseled deploying large land forces to the Middle East should “have his head examined,” suggesting that a larger military footprint should not be confused with a robust strategy.

Using rhetoric reminiscent of George W. Bush’s “War on Terror,” in 2014 President Obama pledged to “ultimately destroy” the Islamic State, but over a year later the Obama administration itself admitted that its strategy is not yet “complete.” Indeed, even complete strategies often do not survive first contact with the enemy. As military personnel often quip, “the enemy gets a vote,” and the Islamic State seems to be visiting the ballot box early and often. A candid comment about strategy formulation makes for an interesting sound bite (or cudgel). But discretion may be the better part of valor when facing the slippery slope of another open-ended commitment in Iraq. Many observers took President Bush to task for suggesting that an ideology could be defeated by applying military force, but their critiques could apply just as well to Obama’s turn at the helm.

Pledging victory implies an end state that is ultimately acceptable to one’s adversary—whether it’s forced upon it (like the unconditional surrender of Japan in 1945) or a negotiated political solution (as in Korea eight years later). The Islamic State seems to show little taste for negotiation, and why should it? Most wars are prolonged in the hope that each side will come to the negotiating table with a better hand to play. The Pentagon service chiefs appear reticent to get further involved in Iraq absent a political solution. But the Obama administration has been bullied into increasing troop numbers by Congressional hawks who have conflated the security of Iraqis with that of Americans and the cohesiveness of the Iraqi state with core U.S. national-security interests. America has been here before.

Unlike at the height of its post–Cold War military power, America no longer has the ability to dictate events globally—to the overplayed extent that it ever did. This is particularly true in North Africa, the Middle East and South Asia. Those who argue that an American military campaign could defeat ISIS in a durable way place too much confidence in the ability of any American administration to control events abroad, especially in deeply rooted internecine conflicts. In fact, although what is happening in the Islamic State’s Iraqi strongholds is both primitive and shocking, the state of affairs in Baghdad is what should be cause for even greater concern in Washington. Iraq, under its Shia-dominated government, has marginalized Sunnis and alienated Kurds, perhaps to the point of no return. Indeed, the billions of dollars invested in training Iraqi forces are for naught if the controlling political entity is a house divided against itself.

Iraq did not slide into its current state of affairs without outside help. The United States cannot escape some culpability for what Iraq (and Syria) have become, but expensive U.S. efforts to encourage good governance and interreligious and intertribal dialogue and cooperation have fallen short. Calling for a strategy to defeat an ideology or repair Iraq is tantamount to demanding that a physician devise a strategy to treat a patient admitted to the emergency room with a shotgun blast to the head. Even with the best of intentions, unlimited resources and the best expertise available, there isn’t much that can be done to reach the status quo ante bellum.

SINCE THE end of World War II, the American military has struggled to translate tactical military success on the battlefield into durable political gains. Although America has no peer when it comes to accumulating post-9/11 tactical victories, the record is not enviable at the political level. Witness the bin Laden raid of May 2011 and the daring May 2015 Army Special Forces raid into Raqqa, Syria. These were spectacular tactical successes, and perhaps necessary from a moral perspective, but they achieved little at the strategic level. To be sure, the world is a better place without Osama bin Laden and ISIS financier Abu Sayyaf, and they richly deserved their fates. The problem is what comes next. The United States has been eliminating the leadership of Al Qaeda since the end of 2001 and has transferred those lessons to effectively remove the leadership of many Al Qaeda franchises in Yemen and North Africa as well. No doubt the United States will further apply its lethal craft to ISIS in the near term. However, military history reveals that accumulating tactical successes does not equal strategic victory. The German military learned these lessons the hard way in both twentieth-century world wars. The Germans, although well equipped and tactically sound, were unable to realize their broader political desires through violence.

Soviet leader Joseph Stalin is said to have suggested that quantity has a quality all its own. If this is true, we must recognize American tactical successes for what they have achieved, even absent a broader strategy. The American homeland is arguably safer because those that seek to do it harm are impeded by those tactical successes. American military and intelligence operations have made enemy communications more difficult and secure staging bases hard to come by. The U.S. military killed or captured the top leadership of Al Qaeda and its like, retarding their operational planning and derailing their efforts to undertake spectacular attacks. If American strategy is threat mitigation through sustained special-operations raids and intelligence-driven covert action, it is working. Still, it is an open question how long this is sustainable, especially on the back of a shrinking, all-volunteer military force. American military and political leaders have spoken of a “generational war,” yet they also shrink from serious discussion about national service or a draft.

Assume for a moment that the Obama administration were to pour troops into Iraq and loosen their rules of engagement, permitting direct American participation in the fighting. Could a couple of U.S. divisions retake ISIS strongholds? Absolutely. It would come at a bloody cost to young American soldiers, as when Fallujah fell to American forces in 2004 with 560 American casualties (and thousands more with psychological wounds), but the U.S. military could surely retake the large cities of Anbar province. Could they hold them? Not indefinitely. With the forces and resources available to the Pentagon, the United States could hold it for a time while building Iraqi capacity. This is a key pillar of the Army’s counterinsurgency doctrine, but recent experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan lay bare the failure of this approach, at least on a timeline not measured in decades. The only dramatic success in Anbar province was a political one: the Sunni tribes “awakened” to turn against Al Qaeda of Iraq and the monstrous tactics of AQI leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Political settlement manifested on the battlefield—a much more promising proposition than the other way around.

Most war theorists conceive of war as a contest of wills. Put another way, the party who wants it most—and will thus sacrifice the most—usually wins in the long run. Consider, for instance, a group of mujahideen repelling the Soviets after a decade of fruitless bloodletting in Afghanistan. Or, for that matter, consider some of the same fighters showing NATO the exit a generation later. War’s fundamental character has not changed over time, and the contest of wills remains a bedrock principle. To apply the concept, consider what the average ISIS fighter would do to secure the success of the Islamic State against what the average American would do to roll it back. As things stand, the ISIS fighter is considerably more committed to his cause—particularly in the absence of convincing proof that ISIS poses an existential threat to the American way of life—and only 1 percent of Americans are actually involved in the so-called war on terror. In both of America’s greatest military successes in the twentieth century—the world wars—America came late, but with a total mobilization that called on the resources of a significantly larger proportion of the population. Moreover, that population was considerably more unified in purpose.

Additionally, expeditionary wars on foreign soil represent challenges on several fronts. Deploying and supporting troops, heavy machinery and the routine supplies of war, especially over great distances into landlocked countries with rugged terrain, complicates logistics. This is also expensive and relies on the continued support of the citizenry back home. The expeditionary force is most often at a disadvantage in that it must secure victory while fighting far from home. Its opponents, comfortable on their home soil, do not have to win—they just have to wait out the invading force and not suffer catastrophic battlefield defeat.

During the American Revolution, George Washington employed a Fabian strategy against the expeditionary British force. Washington avoided large engagements on unfavorable terms, as his goal was to preserve a true fighting force and wear down his enemy until Westminster decided to stop throwing men and material at the Continental Army. The militarily superior British pulled the plug on their colonial undertaking after six years of active fighting in North America. They had other strategic considerations and made a difficult choice to concede defeat in the North American theater of a larger war. Unfortunately, today Washington has more in common with Westminster: it holds a losing hand against a determined enemy pursuing a Fabian strategy. The British experience in America suggests that a professional military in an expeditionary capacity may come up short.

Amid fragile truce with Damascus, Syria opposition battles IS

Islamist factions and opposition forces are taking advantage of "downtime" during the regime/opposition cease-fire to take on other enemies in Syria, but all the fighting could undermine the fragile truce.


Al-Monitor
April 21, 2016


ISTANBUL — Battles have erupted again around the Syrian city of Aleppo, despite the cease-fire agreement implemented at the end of February. Under the agreement, opposition forces and the regime are not to engage each other unless a breach occurs, in which case the other party is allowed to respond.

Yet clashes between opposition forces — represented by the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and some Islamic factions — and the Islamic State (IS) erupted in northern Aleppo province in early April. By April 7, opposition forces were able to gain control over the strategic town of al-Rai, which was the IS center of operations against areas controlled by the moderate opposition in northern Syria. IS, however, regained Rai control three days later. Attack-and-retreat engagements have resumed.

“Our battles with IS are not new; we have been fighting the group for two years now," Col. Mohammed Khalil, commander of military operations for al-Mutassim Brigade, told Al-Monitor by phone April 14. "However, when the terrorist threat was revealed to the world and the major powers acknowledged it, they started to cooperate with us to fight this pernicious terrorism, and this is why these battles are important."

"The international coalition provided information on aerial reconnaissance to opposition forces on the ground; it bombed locations in which rigged cars were being prepared and targeted the group’s headquarters. Many opposition factions such as al-Mutassim Brigade, al-Hamza Brigade, Brigade 51 and Sultan Murad Brigade also participated, in addition to smaller factions in the area, which are all part of the Syrian revolution.”

Khalil noted that opposition factions have gained strength. “We have acquired new experiences from our battles against IS over the past couple of years, which are different from those we fought against the regime. The military leaders and revolutionaries now have a greater discipline and are more courageous and experienced. We are driven by our faith in the need to root out terrorism," he said. "Our fight against IS will continue all around Syria, no matter where terrorism emerges, in order to achieve the revolution’s goals."

According to Khalil, the areas liberated from IS are the villages in northern and northeastern Aleppo province, from Azaz further east, but control over these areas keeps changing.

Fighting has not been against IS only. Fierce battles also broke out in southern Aleppo, with the Islamist factions Jabhat al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham clashing with regime forces backed by foreign militias such as Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

These battles coincided with those against IS. Because the cease-fire agreement did not include Jabhat al-Nusra (al-Qaeda’s Syrian branch), that group was not obliged to stop fighting and was determined to control the strategic area of Khan Tuman, which the opposition had lost to regime forces in December.

The Islamic factions' most important victory came April 5 when they shot down a warplane that apparently belonged to the Syrian air force. The plane had carried out several airstrikes in northern Aleppo before crashing near a hill at Eis that had been dominated by the opposition. It was revealed later that Ahrar al-Sham had downed the plane using a ground-to-air missile. Media activists posted pictures online showing the Syrian pilot, who was captured alive.

Ahmad Primo, a journalist from Aleppo, told Al-Monitor via Skype April 14, “The battles in Aleppo’s southern countryside are of major importance, because [Syrian President Bashar] al-Assad’s army and militias are trying to strengthen their presence [there]. The area is considered key to any future military action toward Aleppo’s western countryside, the last safe [area] that must be protected to ensure the safety of Aleppo’s other countrysides and [the] city, all the way to rural parts of Idlib and the Syrian-Turkish border.”

These battles, however, have become a threat to the truce, worrying United Nations special envoy Staffan de Mistura.

The FSA’s legal adviser, Osama Abu Zeid, who is also a member of the opposition’s delegation in Geneva, warned about this issue as he spoke to Al-Monitor by phone from Geneva on April 15. “The FSA has already agreed to the cessation of hostilities, which had a great impact on the humanitarian level and resulted in lifting the siege on some areas. We not only condemn the breach of the truce, but also the failure to abide by the key humanitarian conditions that are supposed to be the beginning of the political process," Abu Zeid said.

"We also condemn the repeated breaches by the regime, which reached the point of massacres, such as the attack on the school in eastern Ghouta a few days ago, in addition to the barrel bombs that the regime is still throwing on a daily basis. This is why it was our moral duty and our legal right to respond to the regime using the same means, and we will respond to any other attack within the same level without harming any civilians.”

Abu Zeid spoke about the current Geneva round of talks and his expectations, saying, “The regime is showing great intransigence in the political negotiations as it constantly avoids tackling its responsibilities, direct discussions and the Security Council resolutions. … It is also still carrying out military operations and escalations, which threatens the political process. This would bring us back to square one, renew violence and put pressure on the Syrian people and the peoples of the entire region."

He added, "This will also take its toll on the international community, which will have to bear moral and legal responsibilities, especially with new waves of migration, because refugees will flee violence again. This will undermine the European Union’s refugee agreements with Turkey.”

The latest round of the negotiations is still in its early stages; De Mistura seems to be optimistic even though the parties refuse direct negotiations. The opposition is calling on the regime and international supporters to immediately start discussing the political transition that would end Assad's rule, an outcome that the regime is trying to avoid as much as possible.


Khamenei Warns of 'Soft War' Between Iran and US

After the Organization of Islamic Cooperation condemned Hezbollah and Iran, Iran's supreme leader has indirectly criticized Saudi Arabia and called the condemnation meaningless.


Al-Monitor
April 21, 2016

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei defended Lebanese group Hezbollah after it was condemned in the closing statement of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) summit in Istanbul.

During a speech to the Islamic Students Association on April 19, Khamenei said, “See what they did against the devout youth in Palestine and Lebanon? How many real and propaganda threats have they made against Hezbollah of Lebanon? Yet Hezbollah of Lebanon is showing its brave [face] in the world of Islam.”

Referring to the OIC statement, which Iranian officials accused of being heavily influenced by Iran's regional rival Saudi Arabia, Khamenei said, “The dependent, corrupt, hollow and empty government, in a statement with petrodollars, condemns Hezbollah. So what? What importance does it have? Hezbollah is shining like the sun. Hezbollah is a source of pride for Muslims.”

The OIC statement, which also contained four paragraphs of condemnation for Iran, “condemned Hezbollah for conducting terrorist activities in Syria, Bahrain, Kuwait and Yemen and for supporting terrorist movements and groups undermining the security and stability of the OIC member states.” While the final statement was not read publicly at the closing ceremony, it was released to the media.

Saudi’s animosity toward Hezbollah became more overt when the group, backed by Iranian forces, entered the Syrian civil war to support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Saudi Arabia has supported and funded opposition fighters attempting to overthrow Assad.

While Khamenei did not address the Syrian civil war in his speech, he did address the 2006 Lebanon war between Hezbollah and Israel. “What [Hezbollah] did, three Arab armies could not do in two or three wars,” Khamenei said, referring to Arab regional forces having lost wars and territory to Israel. “Hezbollah defeated the Zionist regime, which had become stronger by then, in 33 days,” Khamenei said. Despite Israel having overwhelming military power and suffering fewer casualties in that war, many analysts deemed the war a failure for Israel.

Khamenei also warned his young audience about America’s “soft war” against the country, saying, “Right now with the issue of the youth, there is a comprehensive soft war between the Islamic Republic of Iran on one side and America and Zionists and their followers on the other side.” Khamenei said that young Iranian students should consider themselves the officers of this war and warned them, “Westerners, especially America, want the Iranian youth to be without faith, cowardly, unmotivated, inactive, hopeless, optimistic toward the enemy and pessimistic toward their own commanders.”

Khamenei also told the officials at the Education Ministry to be conscious of this war and introduce courses to ensure “the young generation is brought up revolutionary.” He added, “It is rumored that some schools oppose revolutionary work, and the education officials must confront this.” By “revolutionary,” Khamenei is referring to an education system that extols the virtues of what the government believes to be indigenous Iranian and Islamic values, and one that is committed to maintaining and continuing the revolutionary momentum that opposes US dominance in the region.


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Oil rises as IEA expects biggest non-OPEC output fall in 25 years

By Henning Gloystein
Reuters
April 21, 2016


Crude prices rose on Thursday, reversing earlier declines, as the International Energy Agency (IEA) said that 2016 would see the biggest fall in non-OPEC production in a generation, helping rebalance a market that has been dogged by oversupply.

The IEA's chief Fatih Birol said on Thursday that low oil prices had cut investment by about 40 percent in the past two years, with sharp falls in the United States, Canada, Latin America and Russia.

"This year, we are expecting the biggest decline in non-OPEC oil supply in the last 25 years, almost 700,000 barrels per day. At the same time, global demand growth is in a hectic pace, led by India, China and other emerging countries," he told reporters in Tokyo.

The comments reversed earlier declines in crude prices.

After falling to a session low of $45.23 per barrel on Thursday, front-month Brent crude futures rose to $46 a barrel by 0650 GMT, up 20 cents from their last close.

U.S. crude futures dipped to $43.62 before rising to $44.37 a barrel, up 19 cents from their last close.

Both crude prices have now gained 70 percent in value since their lows reached between January and February.

"Optimism has returned to energy markets, at least for now," analysts at Bernstein Research said in a note to clients.

But weighing on markets were earlier statements by Russia and Iran. Russia's energy minister said it might push oil production to historic highs of over 12 million barrels per day (bpd) just days after a global deal to freeze output levels collapsed and Saudi Arabia threatened to flood markets with more crude.

Meanwhile, Iran, determined to regain market share following the lifting of sanctions last January, reiterated its intention to reach output of 4 million bpd.

With major producers in the Middle East and Russia seemingly racing to raise production, much will depend on U.S. drillers and demand to determine how long the global glut lasts, which sees between 1 million and 2 million barrels of crude pumped every day in excess of demand.

"Any hope of market re-balancing from the current surplus in supply (lies) on the predicted decline in U.S. oil production," French bank BNP Paribas said.

"The U.S. accounts for the bulk of non-OPEC's 2016 oil supply contraction of 700,000 barrels per day forecast. If the decline in the U.S. oil supply proves insufficient to tighten balances, then ... the oil price will remain low," it added.

Bernstein said "we believe at $50-$60 per barrel, oil U.S. shale has a clear future."

In refined products, China saw exports of diesel and gasoline soar, spilling surplus fuel into a market that is already well supplied, and threatening to further cut Asian benchmark refining margins that have halved since the beginning of the year.


Thursday, April 21, Morning Global Market Roundup: Oil surge drives world stocks higher, ECB looms

LONDON | BY DHARA RANASINGHE

Reuters
April 21, 2016


World stock markets climbed to their highest in almost five months on Thursday after a surge in oil prices boosted risk appetite, while the euro steadied ahead of a European Central Bank meeting.

European stocks crept higher at the open, with the FTSEurofirst 300 index .FTEU3 of leading European shares briefly touching its highest level since early January as expectations for dovish rhetoric from the ECB supported sentiment.

In Asia, MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan .MIAPJ0000PUS rose 0.8 percent, brushing its highest since early November.

Japan's Nikkei .N225 gained 2.6 percent, while Wall Street shares ended less than 2 percent short of a record-high close on Wednesday.

The MSCI world equity index .MIWD00000PUS rose to its highest level since early December.

Driving the positive sentiment in global stock markets was the rally in oil.

Brent crude, the international benchmark, extended Wednesday's strong gains to hit a five-month peak just above $46 a barrel LCOc1 after the International Energy Agency said 2016 would see the biggest fall in non-OPEC production in a generation.

U.S. crude futures CLc1 were last up 14 cents at $44.32 a barrel. Both crude prices have now gained 70 percent in value since their lows reached between January and February.

"It looks like the trough in oil is now behind us," said Chris Scicluna, head of economic research at Daiwa Capital Markets.

The upbeat tone towards oil resonated across world markets, with emerging market stocks rising to 5-1/2 month highs, while safe-haven German government bond yields DE10YT=TWEB rose.

Many other commodity prices were also firm, with copper CMCU3 rising to as high as $5,029.50 a tonne, its highest in a month. Silver XAG= hit an 11-month high of $17.5950 per ounce.

The Thomson Reuters Core Commodity Index .TRJCRB also rose above its March peak to its highest level since early December.

ECB LOOMS


While the ECB is widely expected to refrain from further action after delivering a comprehensive stimulus package in March, its meeting will be no less eagerly anticipated.

ECB President Mario Draghi is likely to drive home the case for ultra-loose monetary policy, hitting back after a barrage of criticism from German officials who dispute the bank's recipe for tackling the euro zone's economic malaise.

In London trade, the euro was flat at $1.1298 EUR=, well below Wednesday's peak of $1.1388. Against the yen, it edged down about 0.2 percent to 123.84 EURJPY=.

"The FX market is likely to pay particular attention today to what Draghi has to say about further rate cuts," said Lutz Karpowitz, currency strategist at Commerzbank.

"Should he be any more outspoken on the matter than last time round, euro/dollar is likely to ease further. I would certainly steer clear of long positions."

Elsewhere, commodity-linked currencies held firm. The Australian dollar AUD=D4 was at $0.7823, having hit an 11-month high of a $0.7830 on Wednesday.

The Swedish crown hit its highest level against the euro EURSEK= since March 2015 after the Riksbank kept its key interest rate at an unchanged -0.5 percent, as widely expected, and extended its bond-buying program.