Archive for the ‘National Security’ Category

Monopoly power on the feudal Internet

June 21, 2017

Maciej Ceglowski, a writer and software entrepreneur in San Francisco, spoke at a conference in Berlin last May about monopoly power on the Internet: –

There are five Internet companies—Apple, Google, Microsoft, Amazon and Facebook.  Together they have a market capitalization just under 3 trillion dollars.

Bruce Schneier has called this arrangement the feudal Internet.  Part of this concentration is due to network effects, but a lot of it is driven by the problem of security.  If you want to work online with any measure of convenience and safety, you must choose a feudal lord who is big enough to protect you.

Maciej Ceglowski

These five companies compete and coexist in complex ways.

Apple and Google have a duopoly in smartphone operating systems.  Android has 82% of the handset market, iOS has 18%.

Google and Facebook are on their way to a duopoly in online advertising.  Over half of the revenue in that lucrative ($70B+) industry goes to them, and the two companies between them are capturing all of the growth (16% a year).

Apple and Microsoft have a duopoly in desktop operating systems.  The balance is something like nine to one in favor of Windows, not counting the three or four people who use Linux on the desktop, all of whom are probably at this conference.

Three companies, Amazon, Microsoft and Google, dominate cloud computing. AWS has 57% adoption, Azure has 34%. Google has 15%.

Outside of China and Russia, Facebook and LinkedIn are the only social networks at scale.  LinkedIn has been able to survive by selling itself to Microsoft.

And outside of Russia and China, Google is the world’s search engine.

That is the state of the feudal Internet, leaving aside the court jester, Twitter, who plays an important but ancillary role as a kind of worldwide chat room.  [1]

There is a difference between the giant Silicon Valley companies and Goldman Sachs, Citicorp and the big Wall Street banks.   The Silicon Valley companies have created value.  The Wall Street banks, by and large, have destroyed wealth.

I depend on Google; I found Ceglowski’s talk through Google Search.   I use Apple products; I’m typing this post on my i-Mac.  I don’t use Facebook or Windows, but many of my friends do.  I try to avoid ordering books through Amazon, because I disapprove of the way Jeff Bezos treats Amazon employees and small book publishers, but I use subscribe to Amazon Prime.

I don’t deny the achievements of the founders of these companies, nor begrudge them wealth and honor.  But I do not think that they or their successors have the right to rule over me, and that’s what their monopoly power gives them.

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The real question about U.S. election hacking

June 16, 2017

The important question about computer hacking of the American voting system is not:

  • Is there evidence that Russian computer hackers interfered with the 2016 presidential election?

The important question is:

  • Can the American voting system be hacked?

Because if the American voter registration rolls or vote counting systems are vulnerable to outside interference, sooner or later somebody is going to interfere.

It may be Russian agents.  It may be agents of some other foreign country.   It may be unscrupulous American political operatives or special interests.  But somebody will do it.

POLITICO magazine recently reported that last August, Logan Lamb, a 29-year-old cybersecurity specialist, accidentally gained access to the voting records and systems for the whole state of Georgia.   He reported the problem to the proper authorities, but was brushed off.

Bloomberg News reported that investigators said that, prior to the 2016 election, Russians gained access to voter databases and software systems in 39 states, including software designed to be used by poll watchers and, in one state, a campaign finance data base.

There is no evidence that 2016 election results were actually changed, according to Bloomberg.  Whatever happened may have been a training exercise for a future operation.

Vladimir Putin, in his interviews with Oliver Stone for a soon-to-be-released movie, accused the United States of interfering in Russian elections.  Putin denied allegations of Russian hacking, but, when asked whether there is a secret U.S.-Russian cyber war, he said that for every action, there is always an equal and opposite reaction, which sounds like a semi-admission.

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What we don’t know about Russia election hack

June 8, 2017

Double click to enlarge

Thomas Jefferson once wrote that newspaper articles should be classified into truths, probabilities, possibilities and lies.

I think the investigation of connections of President Trump and his supporters to Russia has uncovered possibilities and some probabilities, but few if any truths.

I don’t want to jump to conclusions, but I don’t want to overlook any probabilities or truths.

Scott Ritter, in an article in Truthout, points out that this leaked NSA document, published by The Intercept, uses a color code to differentiate truths, probabilities and possibilities.

The green lines point to things that the NSA analysts say are true, the yellow lines to things that the NSA analysts say they believe are probable and the grey lines to things they believe are possible.

In short, we the people are at the same point we were before.  We don’t have any certain knowledge.   Smart people make different judgments based on the same facts.  All the more reasons for Congress, the special prosecutor and the press to pursue their investigations.

LINK

Leaked NSA Report Short on Facts, Proves Little in ‘Russiagate’ by Scott Ritter for Truthdig

Second thoughts on the Russian hack leaks

June 7, 2017

Cooler heads point out unanswered questions about Reality Winner’s NSA leaks about Russian intelligence activities during the 2016 U.S. elections, but come to different conclusions.

At this point, in almost everything related to Trump, Russia and secret intelligence agencies, the only that we the public know for sure is that we don’t know the whole story.

LINKS

A few thoughts on the leaks by TTG for Sic Semper Tyrannis.

Hey, Intercept, Something Is Very Wrong With Reality Winner and the NSA Leak by Peter Van Buren for Hooper’s War.

Was Russia Probing U.S. Electoral Systems? by Philip Giraldi for The American Conservative.

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NSA reports Russia tried to hack voting system

June 6, 2017

A National Security Agency report, leaked to The Intercept, says that Russian military intelligence attempted to hack U.S. voter records shortly before the 2016 election.

The GRU reportedly was able to obtain passwords that enabled it to penetrate an electronic vote systems company.   The Intercept identified the company as VR Systems, which serves local election boards in eight states.  Using those passwords, the GRU attempted to penetrate at least 122 local governments.

The FBI has arrested a 25-year-old government contractor named Reality Leigh Winner on charges of giving the top-secret NSA documents to The Intercept.

Whether the Russian hackers succeeded and what, if anything, they did or tried to do to affect the election isn’t known.   And there is no indication that anybody in the Trump campaign was aware of any of this.

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Donald Trump didn’t come out of nowhere

March 7, 2017

During the election campaign, I wrote that Donald Trump is intellectually, temperamentally and morally unfit to be President of the United States.  Nothing since then has changed my mind.

But it is not as if Trump overturned a well-functioning system.   The United States was already committed to perpetual war and rule by Wall Street.

My friend Bill Elwell called my attention to an article by Tom Engelhardt, who wrote in part:

Odd as it may seem under the circumstances, Trump’s presidency came from somewhere, developed out of something. To think of it (as many of those resisting Trump now seem inclined to do) as uniquely new, the presidential version of a virgin birth, is to defy both history and reality.

Donald Trump, whatever else he may be, is most distinctly a creature of history. He’s unimaginable without it.  This, in turn, means that the radical nature of his new presidency should serve as a reminder of just how radical the 15 years after 9/11 actually were in shaping American life, politics and governance. 

In that sense, to generalize (if you’ll excuse the pun), his presidency already offers a strikingly vivid and accurate portrait of the America we’ve been living in for some years now, even if we’d prefer to pretend otherwise.

After all, it’s clearly a government of, by and evidently for the billionaires and the generals, which pretty much sums up where we’ve been heading for the last decade and a half anyway. 

Let’s start with those generals.  In the 15 years before Trump entered the Oval Office, Washington became a permanent war capital; war, a permanent feature of our American world; and the military, the most admired institution of American life, the one in which we have the most confidence among an otherwise fading crew, including the presidency, the Supreme Court, public schools, banks, television news, newspapers, big business and Congress (in that descending order).  […]

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On the trail of the Russian red herring

March 6, 2017

The Watergate investigation was to determine responsibility for a definite crime—the Watergate burglary and its cover-up.  Its result was the resignation of President Richard M. Nixon under threat of impeachment.

The Whitewater investigation was a fishing expedition to find a crime for which President Bill Clinton could be blamed.   Its result was a failed impeachment of Clinton for lying about his sex life.

The investigation into the Trump campaign’s alleged contacts with Russians is more like the Whitewater investigation than the Watergate investigation.

spy-vs-spy-without-bombs-775529In the investigation of Trump campaign officials’ contacts with Russians, nobody has produced evidence of any wrongdoing or even claimed they have such evidence.

What you have is reports of conversations between Russian diplomats and politicians and Trump supporters.  It is not a crime to talk to a Russian.  It is not even suspicious behavior.  Talking to foreigners and diplomats is something that Washington politicians and officials do all the time.

The biggest harm the Russian red herring does for progressives is to give Donald Trump a free ride on creating a government of militarists and Wall Street plutocrats.

And his actual policies—tax cuts for the rich, increased spending for the military and austerity for everybody else, privatization of public education and infrastructure, covert attacks on Medicaid, free rein to polluters, attacks on science, climate change denial, and much more..

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Can intelligence agencies overturn the election?

January 12, 2017

The following is by Lambert Strether on the Naked Capitalism web log.

Since November 8 we’ve had four crises of legitimacy of escalating intensity, each one pointing to a change in the Constitutional order.

  • First, we had Stein’s recount effort, justified in part by a(n unproven) theory that “Russian hacking” had affected the vote tallies.  (Recall that 50% of Clinton voters believe this, although no evidence has ever been produced for it, it’s technically infeasible at scale, and statistically improbable.)  Since the “Russian hacking” theory was derived from intelligence not shown to the public, the change to the Constitutional order would be that the Intelligence Community (IC) would gain a veto over the legitimacy of a President during a transfer of power; veto power that would be completely unaccountable, since IC sources and methods would not be disclosed.
  • Second, we had the (hilariously backfired) campaign to have “faithless electors” appoint somebody other than Trump to be President.  Here again, the change in the Constitutional order was exactly the same, as (Clintonite) electors clamored to be briefed by the IC on material that would not be shown to the public, giving the IC veto power over the appointment of a President after the vote tallies had been certified.
  • office_of_the_director_of_national_intelligence_seal_usaThird, we had the IC’s JAR report, which in essence accused the President-elect of treason (a capital offense).  Here again the publicly available evidence of that quite sloppy report has been shredded, so in essence we have an argument from IC authority that secret evidence they control disqualifies the President elect, so the change in the Constitutional order is the same.
  • Fourth, we have the “Golden Showers” report, which again is an argument from IC authority, and so again gives the IC veto power over a President appointed by the Electoral College. 

Needless to say, once we give the IC veto power over a President before the vote is tallied, and before the electoral college votes, and after the electoral college votes but before the oath of office and the Inaugural, we’re never going to be able to take it back.

This is a crossing the Rubicon moment.  Now, you can say this is unique, not normal, an exceptional case, but “sovereign is he who decides on the exception” (Nazi legal theorist Carl Schmidt).  And who then is the sovereign?  The IC.  Is that what liberals want?

Source: naked capitalism

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The unclassified report on Russian hacking

January 7, 2017

The unclassified CIA-FBI-NSA report asserts that they have “high confidence” that Russian intelligence agencies hacked the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign in order to elect Donald Trump.

office_of_the_director_of_national_intelligence_seal_usaPossible motives are retaliation for the Panama Papers leaks, the reports on Russian doping of Olympic athletes, and activities of the U.S.-funded National Endowment for Democracy in Russia.

But the report presents no actual evidence that this happened.   All it says is that Vladimir Putin hoped Donald Trump would defeat Hillary Clinton, which is plainly true, and that this is the sort of thing that Putin would do, which might well be true.  Most of the report is devoted to analysis of anti-Clinton reporting by RT News, a Russian-funded TV news broadcaster.

It’s possible that the conclusion is true, but the report does not consider alternative explanations, such as leaks by a disgruntled DNC employee.   It does not describe the scope of the investigation—for example, whether the FBI had access to the DNC e-mails, or relied on the word of the DNC contractor, or whether it used NSA signal intelligence.

Maybe the classified version of the report does answer the unanswered questions.   I look forward with great interest to the congressional investigation.

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Did the DNC leaks really affect the election?

December 17, 2016

I have learned throughout my long life never to say that some powerful person or institution could not have done a certain thing because doing would have been idiotic.

150px-fsbBut it certainly would have been idiotic for Russian intelligence agents to think they could influence the 2016 election by leaking e-mails from the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign chief.

And while that isn’t proof that they weren’t the leakers, it is a reason to reserve judgment.

The Clinton campaign leaks had little or no effect on the election outcome.  All they did was to confirm what some of us already thought about how the DNC was tied in with the Clinton primary election campaign, and Clinton was tied in with her rich donor friends.  If I had been pro-Clinton, this would not have been new information that would have changed my mind.

Within my circle of friends, I don’t know anybody who cared much about the Clinton campaign leaks.  On the other hand, everybody I know who ever handled classified information was upset by the FBI reports on Clinton’s mishandling of classified information.

The CIA statements of about possible Russian involvement in the Clinton campaign leaks have had much greater impact on American public opinion than the leaks themselves ever did.

Where is the National Security Agency in all this?  All this is in the NSA area of expertise.  The NSA would have better information than the FBI or CIA.

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The CIA and FBI in the 2016 election

December 15, 2016

During the election campaign, FBI statements about Hillary Clinton’s mishandling of classified information hurt her and helped Donald Trump.

CIA statements about alleged Russian hacking of Clinton campaign e-mails hurt Trump and helped Clinton.  As it turns out, the FBI counter-intelligence service is not convinced that it was the Russians who hacked the Clinton campaign.

cia-logoAnd, in fact, Craig Murray, a former British diplomat and human rights activist close to Julian Assange, claims to have personal knowledge that the Clinton campaign leaks came from a disgruntled Democratic campaign staffer.

President Obama wants the “intelligence community” to produce a report on whether Russian intelligence agencies have interfered in U.S. elections going back to 2008.  And he wants the report done before Donald Trump is sworn in on Jan. 20, which seems like an impossible deadline to produce anything more than informed—or uniformed—opinion.

Meanwhile Democrats who are trying to change the Electoral College vote want the electors to be briefed by the CIA on alleged Russian inference.

I have no evidence that the disagreements between the FBI and CIA are any more than an honest difference of opinion.   Even if that is so, I don’t like the idea of presidential candidates being vetted by the CIA.

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Russian cyber-warriors and the U.S. election

June 17, 2016

The Democratic National Committee charges that Russian hackers penetrated its files on Trump opposition research.   Some people also speculate that Hillary Clinton’s e-mails have been hacked.

If Vladimir Putin—I emphasize if—is intervening in the U.S. election on behalf of Donald Trump, this could backfire not only against Trump, but in a dangerous way against Putin and Russia.

Vladimir PutinPutin and Trump have repeatedly praised each other.  Trump advocates better relations with Russia (which I agree with) while  Clinton has compared Putin to Hitler, which is the worst thing you can say about a Russian leader.

Paul Manafort, Trump’s main campaign adviser, managed the comeback of the pro-Russian Viktor Yanukovitch as President of Ukraine in 2010.   A Hillary Clinton protege, Victoria Nuland, helped engineer the overthrow of Yanukovich in 2014.  A leaked phone conversation in which she discussed strategy may well have come from Russian intelligence services.

So you have an American election aligned with factions in a conflict in a foreign country.  This is not good.

It is true that Russians, Chinese and other foreign hackers are attacking U.S. computer systems all the time, and that the CIA and NSA hack foreign systems.  It is true that U.S. intelligence agencies have been interfering in foreign elections for decades.  And it is true that foreign lobbyists actively try to influence American policy.

But this would be the first time a foreign intelligence service was caught intervening on behalf of a presidential candidate in an American national election.

We don’t know the full story yet.  Maybe this is less sinister than it seems.   But maybe Putin sees electing Trump as a way of crippling the United States without a nuclear strike.  Or maybe somebody is playing some sort of double game.  We’ll see how it plays out.

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What it would take to rein in the Deep State

February 1, 2016

DeepState51cdQwM-Z8LMike Lofgren’s new book, The Deep State, describes the interlocking  U.S. military-industrial complex, financial oligarchy and police state which is not subject to either the rule of law or democratic control.   The particulars of his description are available in the previous two posts and in the linked articles.

Here’s what I think needs to be done in order to rein in the Deep State.

∞∞∞

authoritarianism9fd18cCongress should exercise the power of the purse to prevent the President from committing acts of war on his or her own initiative.  President Obama has stated that he considers himself free to attack foreign countries by means of bombing from the air, killer drones and Special Operations because these things are not war.  It is only war when large numbers of American ground troops are involved.

Refusing to levy taxes is the historic method used by parliaments and national assemblies to force absolute monarchs to cease aggressive wars and submit to the rule of law.  The U.S. precedent is the Case-Church Amendment of 1973 forced a cutoff of funds for military operations in Vietnam after August 15 of that year, and brought the Vietnam Conflict to an end.

Congress should pass a resolution ending funding for military operations and military aid and subsidies in the Middle East after a specific deadline, except for what is specifically authorized by Congress.

And if the executive refused to comply with that resolution?  The Constitutional remedy for this is impeachment.

∞∞∞

Congress should pass a law allowing prosecuted whistle-blowers to be acquitted if they can show that the information they revealed was kept secret in order to cover up lawbreaking, incompetence or failure, to limit business competition, or to suppress information that is not related to national security.

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Why I trust the ayatollahs on nuclear weapons

January 7, 2016
Ayatollah Khameini

Ayatollah Khameini

The Ayatollah Seyyid Hosseini Khameini, the Supreme Leader of Iran, said that Iran will not develop nuclear weapons because this is contrary to Islamic teachings.

I believe him.  The reason that I believe him is that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq used chemical weapons, including mustard gas and nerve gas, in his 1980-1988 war against Iran, and Iran never developed or used poison gas of its own.

The then Ayatollah Ruhbollah Khomeini ruled that use of chemical weapons, and also nuclear weapons were contrary to Islamic law.  Instead Iran defended itself against the invaders by sacrificing its young men in human wave attacks.

When I consider the history of how the United States developed and used atomic weapons, and our “balance of terror” strategy during the cold war, I cannot imagine my government behaving with such restraint under such circumstances.  In fact, if I were an Iranian leader today, threatened with attack by war hawks in the USA and Israel, I would want nuclear weapons as a deterrent.

I think Iran’s ayatollahs have earned the right to be believed on this issue.

The passing scene – October 16, 2015

October 16, 2015

THE DRONE PAPERS  an eight-part series by The Intercept about the U.S. military’s assassination program, based on a whistle-blower’s secret document.  (Hat tips to Bill Harvey, my expatriate friend Jack, etc.)

droneattackobamaEach week the President of the United States approves a list of death warrants, which are sometimes executed by trained assassins but more usually by flying killer robots.

The United States is at war, we are told, and the targets are our enemies.  But the war has no defined enemy, the battlefield is the whole world, and there is no expectation it will ever end.

Hardly anybody I know thinks this is strange or abnormal.

Snowden: NSA, GCHQ Using Your Phone to Spy on Others (and You) by Peter Van Buren for We Meant Well.

The Fog of Intelligence by Tom Englehardt for TomDispatch.

The size and power of intelligence agencies is huge and growing.  Actual intelligence, not so much.

Hillary Clinton’s Take on Banks Won’t Hold Up by Matt Taibbi for Rolling Stone (Hat tip to Jack, etc.)

Bernie Won All the Focus Groups and Online Polls, So Why Is the Media Saying Hillary Won the Debate? by Adam Johnson for Alternet.

The Final Leaked TPP Text Is All That We Feared by Jeremy Malcolm for the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Reality Check: What We Know About TPP Makes It the Worst Trade Deal Ever by Ben Swann for Truth in Media.

Slave Trafficking, the TPP & the 2016 Presidential Contest by Gaius Publius for Down With Tyranny!

The passing scene – August 8, 2015

August 8, 2015

Republican Assault on Trump May Only Make Him Stronger by Matt Taibbi for Rolling Stone.

Trump’s Triumph: Billionaire Bloward Exposes Fake Political System by Mike Whitney for Counterpunch.

How Pathetic: Why Donald Trump May Be the Best Thing Going by Andrew Levine for Counterpunch.

The Republican Candidates Agree that the System Is Rigged for the Rich by William K. Black for New Economic Perspectives.

720x405-GettyImages-483208910I still can’t take Donald Trump seriously as a Presidential candidate, but he has said things that need to be said, especially about how he and other billionaires have the power to buy politicians.

Other Republican candidates also point out that the political system is rigged in favor of Wall Street and the large corporations.

Their answer appears to be lower taxes, less regulation and a minimal role for government, on the theory that the less government does, the less it matters whether corporations and wealthy individuals can manipulate government.

My problem with this is that some large corporations have grown so large and powerful that they are the next thing to governments themselves.

Hillary’s Libyan Torturers by Daniel McAdams for The Ron Paul Institute.

hillary-tortureThe achievement of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in foreign affairs was to find a way to find a way to continue the policies of George W. Bush without large numbers of American casualties.

The attack on Libya is an example of this.  The U.S. government supported an attack on a country that did not threaten the United States, based on lies, and reduced it to bloody chaos in which terrorists such as ISIS flourish.

The problem with Bernie Sanders by Joseph Cannon of Cannonfire.

Bernie Sanders is like many democratic socialists of the 1950s and 1960s—a defender of the interests of working people, a defender of civil rights, but also a cold warrior.

He thinks the United States should support Saudi Arabia and Turkey against ISIS, when these two governments are interested only in fighting the enemies of ISIS—Syria for Saudi Arabia and the Kurds for Turkey.   Likewise he favors confrontation of Vladimir Putin over Ukraine, which puts the United States at risk of nuclear war.

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Reflections on Deep State America

July 30, 2015

“Thoreau” on Unqualified Offerings called attention to an article by Philip Giraldi in The American Conservative about a favorite topic of mine—the Deep Statethe hidden government that seems to operate no matter who wins the elections.

Consider for a moment how Washington operates.  There is gridlock in Congress and the legislature opposes nearly everything that the White House supports. 

quibvulturecitizenrydeepstateNevertheless, certain things happen seemingly without any discussion: Banks are bailed out and corporate interests are protected by law.  Huge multi-year defense contracts are approved.  Citizens are assassinated by drones, the public is routinely surveilled, people are imprisoned without being charged, military action against “rogue” regimes is authorized, and whistle-blowers are punished with prison.  The war crimes committed by U.S. troops and contractors on far-flung battlefields, as well as torture and rendition, are rarely investigated and punishment of any kind is rare.

America, the warlike predatory capitalist, might be considered a virtual definition of deep state.

via The American Conservative.

In many countries of Latin America and the Middle East, it is obvious that ultimate power rests with the military, working with an oligarchy of wealth.   Turkey is a good example, Giraldi wrote.  Such an alliance also exists in the United States.

America’s deep state is completely corrupt: it exists to sell out the public interest, and includes both major political parties as well as government officials.

1olPoliticians like the Clintons who leave the White House “broke” and accumulate $100 million in a few years exemplify how it rewards.   A bloated Pentagon churns out hundreds of unneeded flag officers who receive munificent pensions and benefits for the rest of their lives.

And no one is punished, ever. 

Disgraced former general and CIA Director David Petraeus is now a partner at the KKR private equity firm, even though he knows nothing about financial services.  More recently, former Acting CIA Director Michael Morell has become a Senior Counselor at Beacon Global Strategies.  Both are being rewarded for their loyalty to the system and for providing current access to their replacements in government.

What makes the deep state so successful? It wins no matter who is in power, by creating bipartisan-supported money pits within the system. 

Monetizing the completely unnecessary and hideously expensive global war on terror benefits the senior government officials, beltway industries, and financial services that feed off it. 

Because it is essential to keep the money flowing, the deep state persists in promoting policies that make no sense, to include the un-winnable wars currently enjoying marquee status in Iraq/Syria and Afghanistan.

via The American Conservative.

It will take more than a few individuals winning a few elections to root out this system.  It would take a strong and committed mass movement, embracing a majority of the American people, and astute leaders working over a long period of time.

I think it’s unlikely that the United States faces a danger of a military coup as in the movie “Seven Days in May” or in Chile in real life in 1973.  But there are other ways to topple an elected government.  The financial and national security elite have the power to create crises which the public will turn to them, and not the elected politicians, to solve.

The USA can’t expect to always get its way

June 26, 2015

Everybody has met self-centered people who behave as if they are the only people in the world who matter, and everybody else exists only to carry out their wishes.

If they are sufficiently rich and powerful, they can get away with this for a certain amount of time.  But in the end, they wind up isolated and friendless.

Unfortunately the United States conducts its foreign policy as if we Americans are the only people in the world who matter, and everybody else exists only to carry out Washington’s wishes.

This is bound to end badly.

Peter Van Buren, who was kicked out of the State Department for writing about the fouled-up U.S. occupation of Iraq, pointed out in an article for TomDispatch how this is playing out in current U.S. policy toward Iraq and the Islamic State (ISIS)

The fundamental problem underlying nearly every facet of U.S. policy toward Iraq is that “success,” as defined in Washington, requires all the players to act against their own wills, motivations, and goals in order to achieve U.S. aims.

is_control_over_time_624_1805The Sunnis need a protector as they struggle for a political place, if not basic survival, in some new type of Iraq.

The Shiite government in Baghdad seeks to conquer and control the Sunni regions.

Iran wants to secure Iraq as a client state and use it for easier access to Syria.

The Kurds want an independent homeland.

When Secretary of Defense Ash Carter remarked, “What apparently happened [in Ramadi] was that the Iraqi forces just showed no will to fight,” what he really meant was that the many flavors of forces in Iraq showed no will to fight for America’s goals.

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The risk of war in the South China Sea

May 22, 2015

chinasea-1x-1The Chinese People’s Republic seeks to control the South China Sea.  It is building artificial islands which it will claim as Chinese territory.

Its claims are in conflict with the claims of smaller nations of Southeast Asia, which, so far as I can tell, are equally valid in international law.

The Obama administration is preparing to confront China militarily over these claims.  This is a big mistake.

map_disputed-reefsThe sea routes in the South China Sea are vital to China and not vital to any other nation.   The South China Sea route is the cheapest and most convenient sea route for Japan, Korea and the nations of Southeast Asia.  But if worst comes to worst, they could take a longer route.  The Pacific Ocean is a big body of water.

The United States government is currently confronting Russia and China, the only two nations in the world that are beyond the reach of American naval and air power, over matters that the Russian and Chinese governments see as vital to national survival, and which are not vital to the United States.

artificialislandIn the case of Russia, it is the goal of bringing Ukraine into an anti-Russian military alliance and making Crimea a possible base for NATO forces.  In the case of China, it is the goal of U.S. domination of the sea routes to eastern Asia.

I am not an admirer of the Russian or Chinese governments.  They both abuse human rights.  They both believe in their own versions of exceptionalism, believing they have the right to dominate their smaller and weaker neighbors.   An increase in Russian or Chinese power is a bad thing, not a good thing.

But I don’t think trying to roll back the existing Russian or Chinese spheres of influence is worth risking war over, any more than Russia or China would think it worthwhile to risk war over U.S. domination of the Caribbean and Central America.

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Interview of Seymour Hersh on bin Laden killing

May 14, 2015

As I think about it, I can understand why the governments of the United States, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia preferred to permanently silence Osama bin Laden than to question him or put him on trial.  I don’t like this, but I can understand it.

The most damning thing about Seymour Hersh’s article on the killing of Osama bin Laden was how President Obama panicked when a helicopter crashed, and broke the U.S. agreement with Pakistan on the agreed-upon cover story on the bin Laden killing.

I strongly disagree with Barack Obama’s policies and priorities, which I think are very different from what his supporters think they are, but I always thought of him as exceptionally cool and self-controlled.  Apparently not.   Of course revealing sensitive security information for political purposes isn’t new.

The video embedded above is most of an interview of Seymour Hersh by Amy Goodman of Democracy Now!  Below is a link to the full interview, with a transcript.

Seymour Hersh Details Explosive Story on Bin Laden Killing & Responds to White House, Media Backlash | Democracy Now  [Hat tip to Mike Connelly]

Below is a link to an interview with Jeffrey Sterling, who either is a brave whistleblower who is going to prison because he revealed corruption and incompetence in the Central Intelligence Agency to investigative reporter James Risen, or a victim of injustice who was convicted on circumstantial evidence.

Exclusive: CIA Whistleblower Jeffrey Sterling Speaks Out upon Sentencing to 3.5 Years in Prison | Democracy Now

U.S. Mideast policy: Links & comments 12/5/14

December 5, 2014

Malarkey on the Potomac: Five bedrock Washington assumptions that are hot air by Andrew J. Bacevich for TomDispatch (via the Unz Review).

The five false assumptions are:

  • The presence of U.S. forces in the Islamic world contributes to regional stability and enhances American influence.
  • The Persian Gulf constitutes a vital U.S. national security interest.
  • Egypt and Saudi Arabia are valued and valuable American allies.
  • The interests of the United States and Israel align.
  • Terrorism poses an existential threat that the United States must defeat.

I strongly recommend reading Bacevich’s whole article.

41 men targeted for U.S. drone strikes, but 1,147 killed by Spencer Ackerman for The Guardian.

A sixth false assumption is that flying killer drones are a safe, precise and effective way to wage war.  In fact, the U.S. government is making enemies at a faster rate than it is killing them off.

Iraq’s 50,000 ‘Ghost Soldiers’ by Patrick Cockburn for The Independent (via the Unz Review)

A seventh false assumption is that the U.S. government can use foreign fighters as proxies for American troops.  Either the foreign fighters have their own aims, which may not be identical with U.S. interests, or they are more interested in collecting pay than fighting.  In Iraq, certain military officers and contractors collect pay for troops that don’t even exist.

U.S. to Use Psych Tests to Vet Syrian Rebels for Moderateness by Peter Van Buren.

This may seem like satire, but it isn’t.

 

Our elected vs our unelected governments

November 6, 2014

The most important political question in the United States is whether our elected government can and will assert its authority over our unelected governments..

The elected government consists of the President, Congress, state governors and legislators and all other parts of government controlled by persons chosen by voters in contested elections.

revolving-doorThe unelected governments are (1) the secret “national security” espionage, covert action, surveillance and police agencies and (2) the Wall Street banks and financiers.  The reasons I call them governments are:

  • Their policies affect the direction of the USA as much as the policies of the elected governments do.
  • They are independent of the authority of the elected government and violate laws with impunity.
  • They exercise more influence and control over the elected government than the elected government does over them.

Wall Street exercises power over economic policy.  It has political power based on campaign contributions to the Democratic and Republican parties and on the revolving door between banks and top government positions.

Our political campaign system makes it virtually impossible to run for national office, or for statewide office in large states, without millions of dollars in campaign contributions.  Unless you are rich yourself, you need money from rich individuals or large corporations.  While big contributors differ among themselves in important ways, they all oppose anything that would diminish their wealth and power.

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Putin’s important speech deserves an answer

November 1, 2014

Vladimir Putin gave an important speech last week calling for respect for international law and strengthening of international institutions, and rejecting the U.S. claim to world leadership.

Putin_Valdaiclub.jpegAddressing the Valdai Discussion Club in Sochi, he expressed a willingness to co-operate with the United States and the European Union on the basis of equality and recognition of Russia’s legitimate interests.

The speech has largely been ignored in the U.S. press, but it deserves a response by President Obama or Secretary of State John Kerry.

I do not admire President Putin, nor Putin’s Russia.  When I think of all the ways the United States is going downhill, the world “Putinization” comes to mind.

Russia is a country in which a corrupt government and a corrupt financial oligarchy interlock, the surveillance state is unchecked and independent journalists are persecuted and even killedOpponents of the regime have been murdered.  The United States has a long way to go before we catch up with the authoritarianism and corruption of the Russian Federation.

Having said all that, I also have to say that Putin’s statements and actions, are rooted in reality, which I can’t say that for President Obama nor Secretary of State John Kerry.

In dealing with American statesmen, Putin seems like the only adult in the room.  He is like a Mafia don talking to a juvenile delinquent street gang.

Here are excerpts from Putin’s Oct. 25 speech, followed by links to the full transcript.

The Cold War ended, but it did not end with the signing of a peace treaty with clear and transparent agreements on respecting existing rules or creating new rules and standards.

This created the impression that the so-called ‘victors’ in the Cold War had decided to pressure events and reshape the world to suit their own needs and interests.  If the existing system of international relations, international law and the checks and balances in place got in the way of these aims, this system was declared worthless, outdated and in need of immediate demolition. [snip]

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Why it’s hard to know what is going on

October 20, 2014

Number of American journalists, correspondents and broadcast news analysts.

57,600.

Number of Americans with security clearances.

5.1 million.

The GOP contradiction on Iraq and ISIS

September 13, 2014

This comment by Kevin Drum of Mother Jones magazine seems like a just observation to me.

Republicans seem to universally hold the following two opinions about Iraq and ISIS:

  • President Obama is to blame for the military success of ISIS because he declined to keep a residual force in Iraq after 2011.
  • In the fight against ISIS, we certainly don’t want to send in combat troops.  No no no.

via Kevin Drum | Mother Jones.

 Either you are okay with American troops fighting in Iraq, or you aren’t.  You can’t have it both ways.