Category Archives: Military

Mapping America, the very rich, unhappy bully


We love Worldmapper, a website run by some British cartographers who look at the world in very interesting ways.

Whilst exploring their extensive collection of maps, we came across three that reveal some very interesting connections, revealing a deeply troublesome portrait of the country Donald Trump wants to “make great again.”

In fact, the nation is already great, in a deeply and very troubling way.

First, it’s the world leader, as revealed in this graphic, in which the nations of the globe are resized according to they number of their billionaire inhabitants, with America leading the way:

Billionaires 2018

“Part of the beauty of me is that I am very rich.”

— Donald Trump in ABC TV’s ‘Good Morning America’ [2011]

 In 2018, “Forbes found a record 2,208 billionaires, collectively worth $9.1 trillion. Among them are 259 newcomers who made their fortunes in everything from wedding dresses to children’s toys to electric cars.” [Quoted from the Forbes World’s Billionaires 2018 Ranking]

Another graphic shows another field another field of American greatness, with each nation resized according spending on another field dominated by Old Gory:

Military Spending 2017

The biggest spender – by far- are the United States, followed by China, Saudi Arabia, India, France and Russia. The United States spent more than double than China on military expenses. The United Kingdom, Japan, Germany and South Korea complete the top 10 spenders. Six of the top spending countries are also nuclear powers.

Some countries have no military, thus no military spending, like Iceland or Costa Rica. Iceland is a member of NATO nonetheless and contributes to NATO operations with both financial contributions and civil personnel. How much of their GDP NATO members are spending on military has always caused discussions within the alliance.

Finally, another map resizes nations according to population,shaded according to their relative happiness as reported in the New Economics Foundation’s Happy Planet Index [HPI]:

The Happy Planet Index

This map shows the results of the most recent Happy Planet Index 2016 report from the perspective of people. The gridded population cartogram, showing world resized according to the number of people living in each area, combined with the national HPI score.

The indicators that are used for calculating the HPI score cover life-satisfaction, life expectancy, inequality of outcomes and the ecological footprint. As argued in the report, “GDP growth on its own does not mean a better life for everyone, particularly in countries that are already wealthy. It does not reflect inequalities in material conditions between people in a country.” This explains, why consumption patterns are seen as more important for well-being than production. It also acknowledges that inequalities in well-being and life expectancy are important factors in the overall happiness of the population in a country.

When taking these notions into account, the rich industrialised countries score much worse in achieving sustainable well-being for all. Of the 140 countries included in the HPI, Luxembourg is the most extreme example for a wealthy nation scoring very badly: The country does well on life expectancy and well-being, and also has low inequality, but sustains this lifestyle with the largest ecological footprint per capita of any country in the world. It would require more than nine planets to sustain this way of life if every person on Earth would live the same way, showing that the standard of living comes at a high cost to the environment.

Generations divide over U.S.foreign policy


America’s youngest adults think it’s high time for the United States to step back from its imperial role on the world stage, while the oldest American’s are beginning to lose their love to the Big Stick.

Perhaps it’s because they grew up, unlike earlier generations, living fully with the blowback from generations of aggressive interventions into the affairs of others, and the mountains of debt this country has incurred from belligerence and bullying.

Perhaps at no previous time in the nation’s history has it become so startlingly apparent that all those bloody adventures have done nothing beyond profiting plutocrats who have no intention of sharing the wealth harvested from oceans of blood.

From Bruce Jentleson, Professor of Public Policy and Political Science at Duke University, writing in The Conversation, an open access journal:

Millennials, the generation born between 1981 and 1996, see America’s role in the 21st century world in ways that, as a recently released study shows, are an intriguing mix of continuity and change compared to prior generations.

For over 40 years the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, which conducted the study, has asked the American public whether the United States should “take an active part” or “stay out” of world affairs.

This year, an average of all respondents – people born between 1928 and 1996 – showed that 64 percent believe the U.S. should take an active part in world affairs, but interesting differences could be seen when the numbers are broken down by generation.

The silent generation, born between 1928 and 1945 whose formative years were during World War II and the early Cold War, showed the strongest support at 78 percent. Support fell from there through each age group. It bottomed out with millennials, of whom only 51 percent felt the U.S. should take an active part in world affairs. That’s still more internationalist than not, but less enthusiastically than other age groups.

There is some anti-Trump effect visible here: Millennials in the polling sample do identify as less Republican – 22 percent – and less conservative than the older age groups. But they also were the least supportive of the “take an active part” view during the Obama administration as well.

Four sets of additional polling numbers help us dig deeper.

Military power: Only 44 percent of millennials believe maintaining superior military power is a very important goal, much less than the other generations. They also are less supportive of increasing defense spending.

And when asked whether they support the use of force, millennials are generally disinclined, especially so on policies like conducting airstrikes against Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime, using troops if North Korea invades South Korea, and conducting airstrikes against violent Islamic extremist groups.

American ‘exceptionalism’: Millennials also were much less inclined to embrace the idea that America is “the greatest country in the world.” Only half of millennials felt that way, compared to much higher percentages of the other three generations. In a related response, only one-quarter of millenials saw the need for the U.S. to be “the dominant world leader.”

These findings track with the 2014 American National Election Study, which found that while 78 percent of silent, 70 percent of boomer and 60 percent of Gen X respondents consider their American identity as extremely important, only 45 percent of millennials do.

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Abby Martin dissects Steve Bannon: It ain’t pretty


There’s little doubt that Steve Bannon is the brains behind President Pussygrabber.

And if Donald Trump is an infantile personality, easily distracted by the latest shiny thing to enter his field of vision, Steve Bannon is another breed of cat altogether, a man with a plan.

And what Bannon plans, Martin shows in this edition of The Empire Files, is a return to the 1950s, when the white man’s word was law, both on the street and in the home, and women, minorities, and others not gifted with testicles and melanin deficiencies could be expected to know their places.

Oh, and he also wants a war with China.

Corrupt, cunning, and vicious, Bannon has fueled the rise of a reign of misfits, and we’ve only seen the beginning.

From teleSUR English:

Empire Files: Abby Martin Exposes Steve Bannon

Program notes:

Steve Bannon has been propelled over the last year from fringe media outlier to top propagandist of the U.S. Empire as Trump’s Chief Strategist.

From his Wall Street roots and apocalyptic film career to his cultivation of alt-right bigots at Breitbart News, Abby Martin exposes Bannon’s true character in this explosive documentary.

Dissection of Bannon’s ideology of “economic nationalism” and desire to “Make America Great Again” reveals the danger of his hand in Trump’s agenda.

Quote of the day: The secret of Trump’s budget


From Michael Paarlberg, lecturer in government at Georgetown University, writing in the Guardian:

Trump’s budget isn’t about saving money – he’s said so himself, that military spending is “more important” than a balanced budget. And it isn’t about rebuilding a “depleted” military for a country that already spends more on defense than the next twelve countries combined. Trump’s plan is about catering to his base. Not the fabled white working class, who will soon lose their WIC, heating subsidies, and job training. No, his real base, those golfing buddies and board members at companies like Lockheed, who want lower taxes and access to the government spigot, and want poor people to pay for it all.

It’s also about disciplining the deep state. Notably, the agencies facing the sharpest cuts are not the most expensive but those Trump has suspected of disloyalty: the EPA, state department and the USDA, all of which Trump’s transition team sought to muzzle and requested lists of names of employees working on programs he opposes.

Taken as a whole, Trump’s proposal points to an increasingly paranoid strongman who sees budgets as tools to reward friends and punish enemies, the military as a personal ornament, and poor Americans as piggy banks for his boondoggles and vanity projects.

Map of the day: Pentagon’s German base hunger


While the TrumpPutinBromance™ is much in the news, the Pentagon is eyeing a beefed up military presence in Deutschland and has been scouting bases abandoned since the end of Cold War 1.0:

The US Army is scouting two sites in northern Germany for potentially basing new American troops in Europe. The bases would mark a geographic shift for the US military, which is largely based in the country’s south. From Deusche Welle.

The story, via Deutsche Welle:

The US Army has scouted two sites in northern Germany for potentially basing new American troops in Europe, according to its command in Wiesbaden.

Survey teams recently visited facilities at Bad Fallingbostel and Bergen, two longtime military communities in Lower Saxony that border a large NATO training area. Local news reports placed the number of potential soldiers at 4,000—roughly the size of a combat brigade.

US Army Europe, the command responsible for American soldiers on the continent, released a statement saying the surveys were meant to provide options should the American and German governments approve a force increase in the future.

“At this time no decisions have been made; we are engaged in prudent planning only,” the statement said.

>snip<

Citing concerns over Russia, American commanders have recently pushed to increase the number of permanently stationed forces in Europe. Army Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, commander of all American forces in Europe, told Congress last year that he believed a heavy armor brigade should be stationed on the continent.

Chris Hedges & Abby Marin on Christian fascism


Trump’s ascent was fueled by a fusion of factions on the far Right of the American political spectrum, the alt-Tight movement fueled by Breitbart and the newly empowered Right — both groups harboring deep strains of racism, a growing sense of rage, and a hunger for the power to  realize their dreams.

In this edition of The Empire Files, Abby Martin’s excellent series for teleSUR English, she talks with Pulitzer-winning journalist, author, and activist Chris Hedges about the likely outcome when the inherent conflicts between the two groups flare into the open.

Hedges is deeply concerned about the fascist strains that run throughout the Christianist spectrum, and the power they’ve been handed by the White House, filling cabinet seats and running crucial agencies.

But what raises his concerns the most is that the brother of the Christian Fundamentalist Secretary of Education is the founder of Blackwater — and he shares her extremist beliefs.

In other words, there’s a ready made crew of highly trained, battle-hardened latter-day Brownshirts should the need arise.

From The Empire Files:

Chris Hedges & Abby Martin: Trump, the Alt-Right & Christianized Fascism

Program notes:

For the first time in modern history, a fringe wing of Christian extremists have obtained the highest seats of power in the US government—from Mike Pence to Betsy DeVos.

This new development is coupled with the emergence of the Alt Right, the Trump movement, and the rise of fascist movements abroad.

Renowned journalist and author Chris Hedges has embedded himself in what he calls “Christianized Fascism” and warns that this is the biggest danger we face under Trump.

How the U.S. military weaponizes video war games


Back in the 1971 a friend took us to the Stanford University campus we were taken to visit a massive mainframe computer that was probably about as powerful as the processor in today’s cell phone.

Ushered into a large , dark room, we were escorted to a man sitting in what resembled the command module of a high tech [for those days] spaceship featuring a comfortable upholstered chair positioned in front of a large black-and-white monitor

The screen displayed a solar system, and the fellow in the chair was controlling a moving objects we soon realized was a spaceship. The game was amazing, precisely the sort of thing you’d expect from a bunch of nerds with advanced degrees, with planets and sun all functioning as gravity wells that could trap the ship. Then there was that enemy ship. . .

When we got our chance to take the helm we were hooked.

But it took at 1960s mainframe to run it, so Spacewars! Was strictly a plaything for academic and corporate nerds.

It wasn’t for another 20 years that we could find a comparable home game, a Spacewars! version for the now-forgotten Vectrex home gaming system.

But the fascination of the game, which goes back to early fascination boys seem to have with playing solder, didn’t come into full blossom until 1990s, with the arrival of the first almost-realistic war games enabled by advances in hardware and software.

And once the games became realistic, they drew the attention of the Pentagon.

And therein lies the tale.

The Pentagon’s war games fascination at its costs

Two European doctoral students, Scott Nicholas Romaniuk of the University of Trento and Tobias Burgers of the Freie Universität Berlin, looked at this unique intersection of popular culture and the military/industrial complex.

They detail their findings in The Conversation, a plain language, open source, online academic  journal:

Violent video games have become embedded within American culture over the past several decades and especially since 9/11. First-person shooters, in particular, have become increasingly popular.

These games – in which players are positioned behind a gun – have turned a generation of kids into digital warriors who fight terrorists and battle alien invaders. Many play first-person shooters for pure, innocent enjoyment. Some like achieving objectives and being a part of a team. And, for others, it simply feels good to eliminate an enemy – especially someone who’s trying to harm them.

For the U.S. military, the rise of first-person shooters has been a welcome development. In recent years, the military has encouraged many of its soldiers to partake in the thrill of violent video games as a way to continue combat training, even when not on active duty. (In fact, using games to teach military tactics has been a longstanding practice in the U.S. military: Before video games, troops were encouraged to play military-themed board games.)

The games allow soldiers to take their combat roles home with them and blur their on-duty responsibilities with their off-duty, noncombat routines and lives.

But what effect have these video games had on U.S. soldiers? How accurately do they depict military life? And do they actually help recruit, train and retain troops?

From battle screen to battlefield

As part of a study, we interviewed 15 current and former members of the U.S. military who were between 24 and 35 years old to understand the role violent first-person shooter games played in their recruitment and training.

The majority of interviewees told us it was important to stay in the mindset of a soldier even when not on duty. To them, first-person shooters were the perfect vehicle for doing this.

Game preferences varied among the soldiers we interviewed, but popular titles included “Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2” and “ARMA 2,” which a current member of the Army said was “one of the most hardcore assault experiences in gaming.”

Meanwhile, an Iraq War veteran described “Call of Duty: Black Ops 2” and “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare” as “the ultimate first-person shooter experiences ever” and “intensive and highly realistic approaches to tactical combat. The choice of attacking with stealth or unleashing an all-out frontal assault full of mayhem is yours. It’s violent, it’s chaotic, it’s beautiful.”

In this, the Iraq War veteran seems to say that video games can reflect real-life combat situations, an attitude that others share.

Altered realities

But it’s tough to make the case that games accurately simulate what a soldier’s life is really like. First, military tours of duty are not solely made up of hard-charging, chaotic battles, like those in first-person shooters. The majority of soldiers won’t participate in any full-frontal combat operations.

Second – and, most importantly – in the digital world there are no legal and ethical considerations. When things go wrong, when innocent people are killed, there are no ramifications. If anything, the games warp these real-world consequences in the minds of players; in 2012, psychologists Brock Bastian, Jolanda Jetten and Helena R.M. Radke were able to use brain scans to show that playing violent video games had the potential to desensitize players to real-life violence and the suffering of others.

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U.S. missiles in Korea prompt a Chinese warning


The Game of Zones is heating up, a clash of powers triggered by an American vision of a unipolar world and growing Chinese assertiveness.

Throw in historical legacies and conflicting claims over marine resources and you’ve got reason to take heed.

China takes issue with U.S. missiles in South Korea

with the Korean government signing an agreement with with a Korean conglomerate to swap the company’s golf course for military land to install a U.S.-provided anti-missile.

The ostensible reason for the base is North Korea’s nuclear missile program, but the Chinese see it differently.

From Xinhua, China’s official state news agency:

China on Monday warned against the deployment of an advanced U.S. missile defense system in the Republic of Korea (ROK), saying China’s security interests should not be undermined.

There were media reports that the Lotte Group board of directors met on Monday to approve a land swap deal between the military and Lotte — a move to facilitate the deployment of the U.S. Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD).

The THAAD deployment initiated by the United States and the ROK seriously undermines regional strategic balance and the strategic security interests of regional countries including China, and is not favorable to safeguarding peace and stability in the Korean Peninsula, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang said at a regular news briefing.

“China has stressed time and again that it understands the reasonable security concerns of certain parties, but one country’s security should not come at the expense of another,” Geng said.

China regrets the persistent ignoring of its concerns over security interests, the spokesperson said. “China expresses firm opposition and strong dissatisfaction,” he said.

China will take necessary measures to safeguard its security interests, and the U.S. and the ROK will have to bear all the resulting consequences, the spokesperson said.

Meanwhile in Japan. . .

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been doing some fast spinning after it emerged that a private school owner hailed as an ideological colleague turned out to be an openly racist zealot.

Abe’s regime has been the recipient of major Pentagon largess, boosted by Barack Obama’s Asian Pivot, a policy based o containment of China’s growing military prowess and the ongoing disputes over rights to the islands and resources of the China Seas.

The latest on Abe’s flub from the Japan Times:

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Monday sought to deny allegations that he is linked to an Osaka-based ultranationalist kindergarten as the public outcry over the operator and its alleged efforts to indoctrinate children with xenophobia and pre-war militarism grows.

At the center of the controversy is Tsukamoto Kindergarten, a private school that recently came under fire for distributing letters to parents that accused Korean residents and Chinese of “possessing wicked thoughts.”

It has also emerged that the principal, Yasunori Kagoike, had briefly used Abe’s name in the past to raise funds to build Mizuho no Kuni, an elementary school slated to open April this year.

It was at this elementary school that Abe’s wife, Akie, had assumed the position of honorary principal until Thursday last week, when her name was abruptly removed from the school’s website amid a groundswell of public attention focused on the pair’s dealings with Moritomo Gakuen, which runs both schools.

TV footage has surfaced online over the past few days showing kindergartners participating in a sports festival at Tsukamoto, lined up, standing at attention, and shouting a nationalist chant that said: “Japanese adults should make sure South Korea and China repent over treating Japan as a villain,” and “refrain from teaching lies in history textbooks.”

>snip<

On Feb. 17, Abe had described Kagoike as someone with an “admirable passion for education” and “whose ideology is similar to mine.”

Chart of the day: Trump want billions for defense


More precisely $54 billion, a ten percent boost in current defense spending a a boon to that military/industrial complex Dwight Eisenhower warned us about in his presidential farewell address.

Which brings us to out chart from BBC News:

blog-military

More from the accompanying story:

If he wants to boost the defence budget by $54bn without adding to the deficit, that money will have to come from somewhere – and mandatory spending on welfare and debt interest takes nearly 70% of the budget off the table.

Early reports are that the Environmental Protection Agency is facing sharp cuts, but its total annual budget is just over $8bn – a drop in the bucket.

The State Department has also been singled out as a source for the needed funds, and its $50bn annually (including $22bn in direct aid) makes it a fatter target.

The lion’s share of humanitarian assistance goes to rebuilding efforts in Afghanistan and Aids treatment in Sub-Saharan Africa, however, which will be difficult to touch. Also unlikely to get the axe is military support, dominated by $3.1 bn annually to Israel.

There’s a reason the Trump administration announced the military budget number before revealing where the money will come from. Spending is easy; cutting is hard.

Will Trump’s National Security Advisor depart?


Before he became National Security Advisor, Gen. Michael Flynn had been a controversial figure. Under Barack Obama he had served as the country’s top military spook, right up until he was canned for inflammatory Islamophobic prouncements.

But mere vulgar blatherings were no big deal to a man known for making a few himself. Indeed, they became valuable assets.

Back in November, after Trump’s win, CNN reported:

Retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, who has been asked to serve as Donald Trump’s National Security Adviser, has, on his verified Twitter account, interacted with far right and anti-Semitic figures, maligned the Muslim faith, and shared unfounded news stories.

A CNN KFile review of Flynn’s Twitter account finds that the retired lieutenant general, who once served as head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, tweeted routinely with members of the so-called alt-right movement, going so far as to endorse a book by one controversial figure who regularly makes offensive comments.

Flynn faced criticism in July when he retweeted an anti-Semitic message. Flynn said the retweet was an accident and deleted the message.

Has Flynn crossed over a line in the sand?

Maybe, but it’s more likely Flynn is headed to the altar of Trumpism as a sacrificial lamb.

The reason?

Allegations of secret per-inauguration talks with the Kremlin.

From the McClatchy Washington Bureau:

A top White House aide sidestepped repeated chances Sunday to publicly defend embattled national security adviser Michael Flynn following reports that he engaged in conversations with a Russian diplomat about U.S. sanctions before Trump’s inauguration.

The uncertainty comes as Trump is dealing with North Korea’s apparent first missile launch of the year and his presidency, along with visits this week from the leaders of Israel and Canada.

Trump has yet to comment on the allegations against Flynn, and a top aide dispatched to represent the administration on the Sunday news shows skirted questions on the topic, saying it was not his place to weigh in on the “sensitive matter.”

Pressed repeatedly, top policy adviser Stephen Miller said it wasn’t up to him to say whether the president retains confidence in Flynn.

“It’s not for me to tell you what’s in the president’s mind,” he said on NBC. “That’s a question for the president.”

But wait, there’s some context to consider

Compared to Richard Nixon’s track record, pre-election talks with Russia amount to chump change.

Consider Tricky Dick and H.R. Haldeman, his soon-to-be White House Chief of Staff.

Nixon and his 1968 campaign allies conducted secret negotiations with a nation the U.S. were currently fighting on the battlefield, actively pushing the North Vietnamese government to hold off on peace talks until after the election.

Nixon then campaigned as the peace candidate against then-Vice President Hubert Horatio Humphrey, promising he had a secret plan to end what was proving to be an ever costlier and bloodier morass, with most of the rest of the world aligned against the U.S. government’s relentless pursuit of an unwinnable and morally reprehensible desire to impose its will and control over an Asian nation.

The secret talks with Hanoi were rumored but unreported during Nixon’s subsequent impeachment hearings.

Haldeman ended up doing time in federal prison for conspiracy and obstruction of justice, stemming from the coverup of a secret funding-and-bugging operation to ensure a Nixon reelection win four years later the Hanoi talks.

Talk about your interfering with a presidential.

So in that context, Flynn’s alleged talks with the Kremlin on behalf of an already openly Putin-friendly candidate, while illegal and possibly criminal, didn’t cost additional U.S. citizens their lives, as did Nixon’s push to delay peace talks.

Game of Zones: China gives Trump a warning


Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was the first foreign head of state received by Donald Trump after his election.

And in the days since the Trump administration has sounded a strident note of support for Japan’s interests in the resources of the China Seas, currently contested by competing claims from China, Vietnam, South Korea, and the Philippines.

But it was finally a declaration by Defense Secretary Gen. James “Mad Dog” Mattis that pushed Being over the line, resulting in a strong declaration from Xinuia, the official state news agency.

The declaration, in other words, is a firm statement of policy from the Chinese government.

From Xinhua:

Three days after U.S. defense chief James Mattis’ remarks on the Diaoyu Islands in Tokyo, China conducted a new round of regular patrol in the territorial waters of the Diaoyu Islands on Monday, showing the world its firm will and determination to safeguard its national sovereignty.

During his first Asia-Pacific debut as defense chief, the former four-star general of the U.S. Marine Corps said Friday that the U.S.-Japan mutual defense treaty applies to the Diaoyu Islands, which was criticized by the Chinese Foreign Ministry as “wrong remarks.”

Washington has long used the Diaoyu Islands as a fulcrum for an “off-shore balance,” i.e., maneuvering Japan while pressuring China in East Asia, particularly under the administration of former U.S. President Barack Obama, who zealously promoted a “Pivot to Asia” strategy during the last eight years.

However, the decaying U.S. credibility in East Asia as well as the rising tensions in the region should make it clear to the new president, Donald Trump, that his predecessor’s “Pivot to Asia” strategy is a deal with no winners and meddling in the waters around the uninhabited islands for so-called “offshore balance” will never pay off.

For one thing, interfering in the Diaoyu Islands issue only provokes China, as Beijing has made it crystal clear that there will be no bargaining over its core interests.

The Diaoyu Island and its adjacent islets have been an inherent part of Chinese territory since ancient times, which is an unchangeable historical fact, and the Chinese government has repeatedly warned that territorial issues are within the domain of its core interests.

If the lesson of Obama’s administration in dealing with China offers any guide to Trump, the first and most important point should be ditching a zero-sum mentality, especially on the issue of the Diaoyu Islands.

For another, by meddling in the Diaoyu Islands issue, Washington is actually risking turning the islands into a powder keg, thus making the issue more complicated and bringing instability to the region.

Meddling in partners’ core interests definitely hurts intimacy. Trump’s business instinct should actually help him realize the simple fact that rivalry between partners hurts business. He and his cabinet members need to think twice about the issue of the Diaoyu Islands, and distance themselves from Obama’s stance and approach.

Trump’s pick for #2 at State has a very dirty past


Our new, Congressionally sanctioned Secretary of State last ran one of the world’s biggest oil companies, a key player in an industry notorious for turning to Uncle Sam whenever foreign governments threaten the bottom line.

Now comes word that his number two will very likely be an old hand at dirty tricks abroad.

From teleSUR English:

Elliott Abrams is believed to be U.S. President Donald Trump’s leading candidate for deputy secretary of state, Reuters reported Tuesday. While Abrams is known for having foreign policy roles with two other Republican administrations, he also has a checkered history in Latin America, linked to killings, disappearances and counterinsurgency across the region.

The 69-year-old last served under George W. Bush’s administration, but his work with Ronald Reagan’s administration is the most alarming. Abrams was a key figure in Reagan’s anti-communist intervention in Nicaragua, otherwise known as the Contra Wars.

During the 1980s, the U.S. funded right-wing paramilitary groups against the leftist Sandinista forces in the country. Contra forces commonly used terror tactics and committed a number of human rights abuses. It is estimated that at least 30,000 people died in the fighting, which also displaced many.

The Reagan administration was later found guilty of violating international law in their support of the Contras and mining Nicaragua’s harbors. Similar abuses with U.S. backing also occurred and were covered up in Guatemala and El Salvador. Abrams was known for downplaying the El Mozote massacre — where a U.S.-trained Salvadoran death squad killed over 1,000 civilians — as communist propaganda.

Around the same time, the U.S. supported brutal right-wing dictatorships in Argentina and Chile to squash the possibility of communist uprising during the Cold War with a counterinsurgency strategy referred to as Operation Condor. During the 17-year rule of Chilean dictator General Augusto Pinochet, thousands are thought to have been killed, disappeared and tortured.

Argentina’s, so-called Dirty War is estimated to have left up to 30,000 killed or disappeared after military dictator Jorge Videla came to power in a 1976 coup against left-wing President Isabel Peron and again received U.S. backing.

Did Pussygrabber threaten to invade Mexico?


Both the Associated Press and a leading Mexican journalist report that a leaked transcript of a call between Narcissist of Pensylvania Avenue and his Mexican counterpart, Donald Trump threatened to send the army South of the Border to take charge and kick ass.

From the Associated Press:

President Donald Trump warned in a phone call with his Mexican counterpart that he was ready to send U.S. troops to stop “bad hombres down there” unless the Mexican military does more to control them, according to an excerpt of a transcript of the conversation obtained by The Associated Press.

The excerpt of the call did not detail who exactly Trump considered “bad hombres,” nor did it make clear the tone and context of the remark, made in a Friday morning phone call between the leaders. It also did not contain Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto’s response. Mexico denies that Trump’s remarks were threatening.

Still, the excerpt offers a rare and striking look at how the new president is conducting diplomacy behind closed doors. Trump’s remarks suggest he is using the same tough and blunt talk with world leaders that he used to rally crowds on the campaign trail.

>snip<

The phone call between the leaders was intended to patch things up between the new president and his ally. The two have had a series of public spats over Trump’s determination to have Mexico pay for the planned border wall, something Mexico steadfastly refuses to agree to.

“You have a bunch of bad hombres down there,” Trump told Pena Nieto, according to the excerpt given to AP. “You aren’t doing enough to stop them. I think your military is scared. Our military isn’t, so I just might send them down to take care of it.”

If Trump really said it [Peña’s mouthpiece firmly denies it], it wouldn’t be the first time, or the second, or even the third.

And make no mistake, sending troops into another country to wage war on civilians [even if they are criminals] is the very definition of invasion.

A Mexican journalist adds context

The reporter who reported on the transcript offered a strong affirmation of her report.

From teleSUR English:

Mexican journalist Dolia Estevez has defended the veracity of the claims she made Wednesday about a phone call between U.S. President Donald Trump and his Mexican counterpart Enrique Peña Nieto, in which the former used a “humiliating” and “threatening” tone.

The information has been strongly rejected by the Mexican Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which said Estevez used absolute “falsehoods” and acted with “obvious malice.”

“The ministry is lying and exerting the same tactic used by Peña Nieto against critical Mexican journalists by trying to discredit my information,” Estevez said in an interview with Aristegui Noticias Thursday morning.

>snip<

According to Estevez’s reports, Trump told Peña Nieto that he could be forced to send in troops to deal with the southern neighbor’s “bad hombres.” CNN reports that a White House official also denied this information. “Even the Mexican government is disputing these reports,” the source said.

Estevez said that time is again proving her points to be true. A phone call between President Trump and the Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has also led to a diplomatic rift between two allied countries after the two leaders exchanged harsh words over refugee policy and Trump abruptly ended the call.

“I don’t understand why the Mexican government is trying to hide this issue. I mean Trump has shown a hostile tone against several world leaders like Turnbull. Why would Peña Nieto be the exception? Now they call me a liar, but it is the Mexican government who is lying again,” Estevez said.

The Washington-based award-winning journalist also mentioned that Mexico’s Foreign Ministry is lying when they rejected her report about a meeting held on Jan. 31, between Mexico’s top diplomat Luis Videgaray and the United States Northern and Southern Command chiefs. According to Estevez, the encounter took place in the southern border city of Tapachula, Mexico.

The U.S. embassy in Mexico said the meeting was part of a cooperation plan to reinforce security at Mexico’s border with Guatemala and that it was scheduled a long time ago. However, they did not reveal who attended the meeting.

And now for some comic relief. . .

For your amusement a report on Trump’s call and other events of the second week of his presidency from Late Night with Seth Meyers:

Trump’s Second Week Is as Chaotic as His First: A Closer Look

Program notes:

Seth takes a closer look at the confusion surrounding President Trump’s controversial travel ban and his bizarre calls with foreign leaders.

Steve Bannon elevated to National Security Council


Be afraid.

Be very, very afraid.

An outspoken white supremacist and guru of the Alt-right has been handed one of the most powerful positions in the White House, in addition to all the others he already holds.

From the New York Times: [emphasis added]:

The whirlwind first week of Donald J. Trump’s presidency had all the bravura hallmarks of a Stephen K. Bannon production.

It started with the doom-hued inauguration homily to “American carnage” in United States cities co-written by Mr. Bannon, followed a few days later by his “shut up” message to the news media. The week culminated with a blizzard of executive orders, mostly hatched by Mr. Bannon’s team and the White House policy adviser, Stephen Miller, aimed at disorienting the “enemy,” fulfilling campaign promises and distracting attention from Mr. Trump’s less than flawless debut.

But the defining moment for Mr. Bannon came Saturday night in the form of an executive order giving the rumpled right-wing agitator a full seat on the “principals committee” of the National Security Council — while downgrading the roles of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the director of national intelligence, who will now attend only when the council is considering issues in their direct areas of responsibilities. It is a startling elevation of a political adviser, to a status alongside the secretaries of state and defense, and over the president’s top military and intelligence advisers.

In theory, the move put Mr. Bannon, a former Navy surface warfare officer, admiral’s aide, investment banker, Hollywood producer and Breitbart News firebrand, on the same level as his friend, Michael T. Flynn, the national security adviser, a former Pentagon intelligence chief who was Mr. Trump’s top adviser on national security issues before a series of missteps reduced his influence.

But in terms of real influence, Mr. Bannon looms above almost everyone except the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, in the Trumpian pecking order, according to interviews with two dozen Trump insiders and current and former national security officials. The move involving Mr. Bannon, as well as the boost in status to the White House homeland security adviser, Thomas P. Bossert, and Mr. Trump’s relationships with cabinet appointees like Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, have essentially layered over Mr. Flynn.

Brazil gives Trump a present: Secret military base


Brazil becomes the first nation to give President Littlefingers a major gift, and it’s a doozy.

The unelected neoliberal regime, installed by the legislature after the ouster of moderate leftist President Dilma Rousseff, has been following the standrad disaster capitalism model, selling off public resources and cutting back on programs for the nation’s poorest.

But their latest action is an imperialist’s wet dream, the handover of a site for a secret U.S, military, located in the heart of Brazil’s threatened Amazonia.

From teleSUR English:

The government of Brazilian President Michel Temer has invited the United States to use the Alcantara missile launching base in the Amazon region to launch satellites as part of bilateral negotiations in the so-called “Brazil and United States Defense Industry Dialogue.”

Defense Minister Raul Jungmann made the announcement following a meeting with U.S. officials at the headquarters of the Ministry of External Relations of Brazil in the national capital of Brasilia.

The final decision will be determined by Congress, as it remains one of the most sensitive issues in the bilateral relationship. The current law imposes safeguards on foreign technology on national soil. Back in 2003, then-President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva vetoed a similar proposal by the Congress that sought to allow the U.S. military to use the facility.

During that time, people poured into the streets to celebrate Lula’s decision to defend Brazilian sovereignty and the Amazon, which alone represents 50 percent of Brazil’s national territory.

The facility was created in 1982 under the last of the U.S.-backed military regimes led by dictator João Figueiredo that ruled the country following a 1964 coup. It is located three degrees south of the equator, which allows rockets to be more efficiently launched into space due to the rotation of the earth.

For its construction, an area of 52,000 hectares was expropriated, a process that displaced tens of thousands from native and Black communities that entirely depended on agriculture. The base was part of Washington’s plans to have a military presence in the Amazon.

If passed in Congress, the law will allow the U.S. to control the area and Brazilian authorities would not be able to monitor their activities. Activists have raised concerns that the activity at the base would not be limited to just launching rockets, but could also include other military actions.

Headline of the day II: The usual suspects


From the Intercept:

Who’s Paying for Inauguration Parties? Companies and Lobbyists With a Lot at Stake

  • Corporate interests that were largely reluctant to embrace Donald Trump during the presidential campaign last year are finally opening their checkbooks to underwrite the festivities sweeping Washington, D.C., to welcome his incoming administration.
  • Firms with a great deal riding on the major policy agenda items of the next four years have lined up to sponsor the endless parade of hors d’oeuvres and open bars at parties across the city.
  • Topping the list are firms with interests in pharmaceuticals, oil, and defense contracting — highly regulated industries that have much at stake with ongoing policy discussions over drug pricing, environmental regulations, and the defense sequester.

Game of Zones: China raises the specter of war


While Barack Obama brought to Sino-American relations to a level of tension not seen sent Nixon went to Beijing, Donald Trump threatens to send them back to darkest days of the Cold War.

And now China is striking back, though only with words — for the moment,

From RT:

Chinese state media has warned that the US would have to launch a “large-scale war” to prevent Beijing from accessing islands it has built in the South China Sea. It comes after secretary of state nominee Rex Tillerson said such access should be restricted.

“Unless Washington plans to wage a large-scale war in the South China Sea, any other approaches to prevent Chinese access to the islands will be foolish,” the state-sanctioned Global Times newspaper wrote on its English-language website.

>snip<

The article also said that China has so far “shown restraint” when Trump’s cabinet picks have expressed “radical views,” as the president-elect has not yet been sworn in. However, it stressed that the US “should not be misled into thinking that Beijing will be fearful of their threats.”

“If Trump’s diplomatic team shapes future Sino-US ties as it is doing now, the two sides had better prepare for a military clash,” the article reads, adding that Tillerson’s statements are “far from professional.”

The former ExxonMobil CEO’s comments were made during his Senate confirmation hearing on Wednesday, in which he said that China’s activities in the disputed South China Sea were “extremely worrisome.”

More from the Global Times report:

China has enough determination and strength to make sure that his rabble rousing will not succeed. Unless Washington plans to wage a large-scale war in the South China Sea, any other approaches to prevent Chinese access to the islands will be foolish.

The US has no absolute power to dominate the South China Sea. Tillerson had better bone up on nuclear power strategies if he wants to force a big nuclear power to withdraw from its own territories. Probably he just has oil prices and currency rates in his mind as former ExxonMobil CEO.

He also lacks legality. If China is not allowed access to islands it has long controlled, does this also apply to Vietnam and the Philippines? Should the Nansha Islands become a depopulated zone? What does so-called US freedom of navigation around the Nansha Islands mean?

As Trump has yet to be sworn in, China has shown restraint whenever his team members expressed radical views. But the US should not be misled into thinking that Beijing will be fearful of their threats.

2016 proved a black year for personal privacy


In brief, new laws and executive orders have given uintelligence agencies in the U.S. and U.K. unprecedented powers to gather a near-infinite harvest of the digital traces of our lives.

And in the U.S., gleanings once accessible only to a handful of political, military, and diplomatic elites will now be open to a host of law enforcement agencies.

From the New York Times:

In its final days, the Obama administration has expanded the power of the National Security Agency to share globally intercepted personal communications with the government’s 16 other intelligence agencies before applying privacy protections.

The new rules significantly relax longstanding limits on what the N.S.A. may do with the information gathered by its most powerful surveillance operations, which are largely unregulated by American wiretapping laws. These include collecting satellite transmissions, phone calls and emails that cross network switches abroad, and messages between people abroad that cross domestic network switches.

The change means that far more officials will be searching through raw data. Essentially, the government is reducing the risk that the N.S.A. will fail to recognize that a piece of information would be valuable to another agency, but increasing the risk that officials will see private information about innocent people.

Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch signed the new rules, permitting the N.S.A. to disseminate “raw signals intelligence information,” on Jan. 3, after the director of national intelligence, James R. Clapper Jr., signed them on Dec. 15, according to a 23-page, largely declassified copy of the procedures.

Previously, the N.S.A. filtered information before sharing intercepted communications with another agency, like the C.I.A. or the intelligence branches of the F.B.I. and the Drug Enforcement Administration. The N.S.A.’s analysts passed on only information they deemed pertinent, screening out the identities of innocent people and irrelevant personal information.

More from the Intercept:

The change was in the works long before there was any expectation that someone like Trump might become president. The last-minute adoption of the procedures is one of many examples of the Obama administration making new executive powers established by the Bush administration permanent, on the assumption that the executive branch could be trusted to police itself.

Executive Order 12333, often referred to as “twelve triple-three,” has attracted less debate than congressional wiretapping laws, but serves as authorization for the NSA’s most massive surveillance programs — far more than the NSA’s other programs combined. Under 12333, the NSA taps phone and internet backbones throughout the world, records the phone calls of entire countries, vacuums up traffic from Google and Yahoo’s data centers overseas, and more.

In 2014, The Intercept revealed that the NSA uses 12333 as a legal basis for an internal NSA search engine that spans more than 850 billion phone and internet records and contains the unfiltered private information of millions of Americans.

In 2014, a former state department official described NSA surveillance under 12333 as a “universe of collection and storage” beyond what Congress has authorized.

And a Snooper’s Charter takes effect in the U.K.

It’s called the Investigatory Powers Act 2016, more familiarly known as the Snooper’s Charter [full text here].

The Guardian reported on the measure’s passage on 19 November:

A bill giving the UK intelligence agencies and police the most sweeping surveillance powers in the western world has passed into law with barely a whimper, meeting only token resistance over the past 12 months from inside parliament and barely any from outside.

The Investigatory Powers Act, passed on Thursday, legalises a whole range of tools for snooping and hacking by the security services unmatched by any other country in western Europe or even the US.

The security agencies and police began the year braced for at least some opposition, rehearsing arguments for the debate. In the end, faced with public apathy and an opposition in disarray, the government did not have to make a single substantial concession to the privacy lobby.

US whistleblower Edward Snowden tweeted: “The UK has just legalised the most extreme surveillance in the history of western democracy. It goes further than many autocracies.”

One major organization, the National Council for Civil Liberties [counterpart of the American Civil Liberties Union in the U.S.], is on the legal offensive.

From their website:

Liberty is launching a landmark legal challenge to the extreme mass surveillance powers in the Government’s new Investigatory Powers Act – which lets the state monitor everybody’s web history and email, text and phone records, and hack computers, phones and tablets on an industrial scale.

Liberty is seeking a High Court judicial review of the core bulk powers in the so-called Snoopers’ Charter – and calling on the public to help it take on the challenge by donating via crowdfunding platform CrowdJustice.

Martha Spurrier, Director of Liberty, said: “Last year, this Government exploited fear and distraction to quietly create the most extreme surveillance regime of any democracy in history. Hundreds of thousands of people have since called for this Act’s repeal because they see it for what it is – an unprecedented, unjustified assault on our freedom.

“We hope anybody with an interest in defending our democracy, privacy, press freedom, fair trials, protest rights, free speech and the safety and cybersecurity of everyone in the UK will support this crowdfunded challenge, and make 2017 the year we reclaim our rights.”

The Investigatory Powers Act passed in an atmosphere of shambolic political opposition last year, despite the Government failing to provide any evidence that such indiscriminate powers were lawful or necessary to prevent or detect crime. A petition calling for its repeal

Liberty will seek to challenge the lawfulness of the following powers, which it believes breach the public’s rights:

  • the Act lets police and agencies access, control and alter electronic devices like computers, phones and tablets on an industrial scale, regardless of whether their owners are suspected of involvement in crime – leaving them vulnerable to further attack by hackers.
  • the Act allows the state to read texts, online messages and emails and listen in on calls en masse, without requiring suspicion of criminal activity.

Bulk acquisition of everybody’s communications data and internet history

  • the Act forces communications companies and service providers to hand over records of everybody’s emails, phone calls and texts and entire web browsing history to state agencies to store, data-mine and profile at its will. This provides a goldmine of valuable personal information for criminal hackers and foreign spies.
  • the Act lets agencies acquire and link vast databases held by the public or private sector. These contain details on religion, ethnic origin, sexuality, political leanings and health problems, potentially on the entire population – and are ripe for abuse and discrimination.

The secret agreements giving those new laws more power

From a review [open access] of the implications of revelations contained in the Snowden leaks in the International Journal of Law and Information Technology:

The US and UK’s signals intelligence agencies, National Security Agency (NSA) and Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), have gained access to very large volumes of Internet communications and data, for extremely broad ‘foreign intelligence’ purposes. A declassified 2011 US court order shows that NSA was already accessing more than 250 million ‘Internet communications’ each year. GCHQ is recording 3 days of international Internet traffic transiting the UK and 30 days of ‘metadata’ about these communications, and has gained access to ‘the majority’ of European Internet and telephone communications. NSA and GCHQ ‘collection’ of data is via intercepts of Internet traffic flowing through international fibre optic cables operated by telecommunications companies, and through automated searches carried out by Internet companies such as Microsoft, Apple, Google and Facebook on their internal systems, as well as the provision of complete records of all US telephone calls by AT&T, Verizon and others. NSA Director Keith Alexander asked his staff in 2008: ‘Why can’t we collect all the signals all the time?’—and they have set out to implement this vision.

The US and UK laws compel this cooperation by telecommunications and Internet companies (including ‘cloud computing’ providers that increasingly provide the infrastructure for Internet services).5 Other European governments cooperate with the USA–UK–Canada–Australia–New Zealand ‘Five Eyes’ intelligence alliance, notably an additional four countries in a ‘9-Eyes’ group (France, The Netherlands, Norway and Denmark) and a further five (Germany, Sweden, Spain, Belgium and Italy) in a ‘14-Eyes’ configuration.

NSA has further bugged EU offices and computer networks in Washington DC and New York, and gained access to UN internal videoconferencing systems. It has interception equipment and staff (jointly with the CIA) at 80 US embassies.

NSA has compromised at least 85,000 ‘strategically chosen’ machines in computer networks around the world; each device ‘in some cases … opens the door to hundreds or thousands of others.’ A new automated system is capable of managing ‘potentially millions’ of compromised machines for intelligence gathering and ‘active attack’. NSA conducted 231 ‘offensive operations’ in 2011, which represents ‘an evolution in policy, which in the past sought to preserve an international norm against acts of aggression in cyberspace, in part because U.S. economic and military power depend so heavily on computers’. NSA is spending $250 million each year to sabotage security standards and systems so that it can maintain access to encrypted data. GCHQ has developed methods to access encrypted data communications to Hotmail, Google, Facebook and Yahoo!

And if is those international agreements that magnify the impact of the increased panoptical powers in the United States and Great Britain.

And foremost among those pacts in the UKUSA Agreement, an accord granting London and Washington unparalleled access to each others intelligence gleanings.

Images of the day: Whistle while you work


First a tweet from security researcher Dan Staples, taking it to the man:

blog-nsa-shirt

And the image on his T-shirt [which you can find online here]:

blog-nsa-shirt-2

Headlines of the day: Today in Trumplandia™


From the Washington Post, the three leading front page stories:

Secretary of state nominee pushed for Exxon deal in Iraq despite U.S. plea

  • The 2011 oil exploration deal overseen by former Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson — whose confirmation hearings to become secretary of state begin Wednesday — defied U.S. diplomats’ requests that the company wait, fearing such an agreement would undermine their credibility with Iraqi authorities and worsen ethnic tensions that had led Iraq to the brink of civil war.

Defense nominee urged U.S. strike against Iran during Iraq War

  • Gen. James Mattis’s falling-out with the Obama administration over Iran offers perspective into how he would lead the world’s largest military and the advice he would bring during sensitive Situation Room debates.

Over China’s objections, Ted Cruz and Texas governor meet with Taiwanese president

  • The meeting is likely to irk officials in Beijing amid already heightened tensions between the U.S. and China.