Tuesday, April 10, 2018

War with Russia Approaching

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No sign this morning of Washington coming to its senses. Zero Hedge reports that Trump is canceling his trip to Peru’s Summit of the Americas in order to oversee the US attack on Syria. If the attack is real and not merely a hit at an unimportant target for PR effect, war could be upon us.
Russia Furious As U.S. Navy Destroyer Approaches Syria Without Notification
Late on Monday we reported that US Navy Destroyer, USS Donald Cook (DDG-75), equipped with Tomahawk cruise missiles, as well as the Aegis missile defence system, was approaching the port of Tartus in Syria, which doubles as the location for the Syrian logistics base of the Russian Navy. According to CNN Turk, the US destroyer was at at a distance of 100 km from the port, as of Monday.
To be sure, Russia is concerned, and seemingly angry, that another showdown may be imminent. According to Pravda, the Chairman of the State Duma Defence Committee Vladimir Shamanov said that the United States did not notify Russia of the approach of the group of US warships to the Russian naval base in Tartus.
“A group of ships of the US Navy has appeared at a distance of 150 miles from the Tartus region. It is common in international practice potential participants of events in the area should be notified accordingly in advance. We have not been notified, although we had legally ratified the agreement on two bases in Tartus and Khmeymim,” the official said.
“Moreover, US President Donald Trump said that he would think about the missile attack on Syria despite any resolutions at the UN Security Council. All this smells of something are outside the framework of universally recognised international norms,” Shamanov added, suggesting that Russia is preparing for a Syria attack.
More troubling is that also on Monday, Russia’s Ambassador to the UN Vasily Nebenzia said that the Americans would have to deal with  “serious consequences” should they attack Syria.
“We have repeatedly warned the American side about highly negative consequences that may follow if they apply weapons against the legitimate Syrian government, and especially if the use of these weapons – God forbid, affects our military men, who legally stay in Syria,” the Russian Ambassador to the UN said at a meeting of the UN Security Council.
However, after yesterday news that the office of Trump’s personal lawyer was raided by the FBI and that attorney-client privilege between Trump and Cohen may be compromised, it now appears that in a desperate diversion attempt from his domestic troubles, a military response against Syria by Trump is now inevitable, especially following today’s news that the president is canceling his trip to Peru’s Summit of the Americas in order to “oversee” the Syria Military Response.

On the brink of war: US and NATO prepare military strike on Syria

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The United States and NATO are on the brink of a major escalation of the war in Syria, which could lead to a direct clash with nuclear-armed Russia.
Amid a wave of labor unrest throughout the United States and Europe, coupled with acute domestic political crises, the ruling elites see in war a means not only of reversing a series of geopolitical setbacks in the Middle East, but also of cracking down on political opposition.
The United States, Britain, France and Germany are all being shaken by a growing strike movement amid crisis and turmoil within the political establishment and the state. On the very day that US President Trump met with his National Security Council to decide on military action against Syria, the FBI raided the office and residences of Trump’s personal lawyer, escalating the conflict raging within the American ruling class.
The potential consequences of a war against Syria are massive. Last month, Russian Chief of Staff Valery Gerasimov vowed to retaliate against any attack on Russian troops in Syria, declaring, “In the event of a threat to the lives of our servicemen, Russia’s armed forces will take retaliatory measures against the missiles and launchers used.”
On Monday, Gerasimov again warned, “We have to say once again that military interference in Syria…is absolutely unacceptable and can lead to very grave consequences.”
Such statements underscore just how close the world is to war between nuclear-armed powers, threatening the lives of millions of people and human civilization itself.
The pretext for this escalation is the chemical weapons attack alleged by the US, without any substantiation, to have been carried out by the Syrian government. This casus belli is the crudest of fabrications. What possible reason could there be for the Assad regime to stage such an attack under conditions where it has routed the US-backed Islamist rebels on the outskirts of Damascus and is in its strongest position since the early stages of the US-fomented civil war?
The media hysteria over the alleged gas attack is in line with the relentless campaign of provocations and threats against Russia—a campaign that has reached a new crescendo in recent weeks. The latest allegations take place within days of the discrediting of the claims that Russia was responsible for the supposed chemical poisoning in Salisbury, England of ex-double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter.
Trump has issued a series of tweets that proclaim the Syrian government guilty of “horrendous” crimes, charging Russia and Iran with complicity and promising that those responsible will pay a “big price.”
The US media, military-intelligence apparatus and political establishment are baying for blood. Republican Senator John McCain blamed Trump’s “inaction” in Syria for “emboldening” Washington’s enemies. Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic Party leader in the House of Representatives, signaled her support for military action against Syria while demanding that the Trump administration “finally provide a smart, strong and consistent strategy” to overthrow the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
France and Britain have said they will join the US attack in Syria, if invited, or even mount their own strikes. The New York Times cited a Trump administration official as saying that Washington is feeling pressure to hasten an American attack on Syria “lest French President Emanuel Macron do so first.”
Last week saw a furious dispute within the American ruling elite, including the senior-most levels of the Trump administration, as the Pentagon, the CIA, the Democrats and much of the Republican Party leadership successfully pushed back against Trump’s suggestion that US troops would soon be “coming home” from Syria. Trump was bluntly told that such a pullout would not only be to the benefit of Russia, but would also cut across Trump’s plans to intensify economic and military pressure on Iran by torpedoing the Iran nuclear accord.
Vladimir Putin and the regime of capitalist oligarchs he heads have long sought an accommodation with Washington. But US imperialism, under successive administrations, has made clear that it would be satisfied only with Russia’s semi-colonial subjugation.
That Moscow, in the face of NATO’s expansion to its borders, US-sponsored “color revolutions” in neighboring states, and a quarter-century of US wars across North Africa, the Middle East, the Balkans and Central Asia, has intervened to disrupt Washington’s plans in Ukraine and Syria is deemed by Washington and Wall Street to be intolerable.
The real causes of the United States’ reckless provocations against Russia have nothing to do with “meddling” in US politics or an alleged poison gas attack.
In the quarter-century since the dissolution of the USSR, US imperialism sought to reverse the erosion of its global economic position through aggression and war. In its quest for world hegemony, the United States has razed entire countries such as Libya and Iraq. But Washington’s never-ending wars have failed to reverse its decline. Instead, they have metastasized into military-strategic offensives against Russia and China and official declarations from Washington that the US is involved in a new age of great-power conflict.
The eruption of US militarism is accelerated by deepening economic crisis. In an article titled “Cracks Form in Global Growth Story, Rattling Investors,” published Monday, the Wall Street Journal warned, “Investor confidence has flagged amid fears that a long-expected global synchronized surge may be turning into a synchronized stall.”
Most importantly, the ruling elite sees war as the most expedient means of attacking democratic rights at home in order to crush the growing upsurge of the working class. On Tuesday, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg will testify before Congress amid demands that major technology firms implement even more aggressive measures to crack down on “foreign propaganda” and “fake news.” Against the backdrop of a major new military conflict, calls will be redoubled for the banning of political opposition.
But it is precisely the growing international movement of the working class that represents the antipode to imperialist war. The class struggle is more and more demonstrating the common interests of workers around the world.

Pentagon Plans for a Perpetual Three-Front “Long War” Against China and Russia

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Think of it as the most momentous military planning on Earth right now. Who’s even paying attention, given the eternal changing of the guard at the White House, as well as the latest in tweets, sexual revelations, and investigations of every sort? And yet it increasingly looks as if, thanks to current Pentagon planning, a twenty-first-century version of the Cold War (with dangerous new twists) has begun and hardly anyone has even noticed. 

In 2006, when the Department of Defense spelled out its future security role, it saw only one overriding mission: its “Long War” against international terrorism. “With its allies and partners, the United States must be prepared to wage this war in many locations simultaneously and for some years to come,” the Pentagon’s Quadrennial Defense Review explained that year.  Twelve years later, the Pentagon has officially announced that that long war is drawing to a close -- even though at least seven counterinsurgency conflicts still rage across the Greater Middle East and Africa -- and a new long war has begun, a permanent campaign to contain China and Russia in Eurasia. 

“Great power competition, not terrorism, has emerged as the central challenge to U.S. security and prosperity,” claimed Pentagon Comptroller David Norquist while releasing the Pentagon’s $686 billion budget request in January.  “It is increasingly apparent that China and Russia want to shape a world consistent with their authoritarian values and, in the process, replace the free and open order that has enabled global security and prosperity since World War II.” 

Of course, just how committed President Trump is to the preservation of that “free and open order” remains questionable given his determination to scuttle international treaties and ignite a global trade war. Similarly, whether China and Russia truly seek to undermine the existing world order or simply make it less American-centric is a question that deserves close attention, just not today.  The reason is simple enough. The screaming headline you should have seen in any paper (but haven’t) is this: the U.S. military has made up its mind about the future. It has committed itself and the nation to a three-front geopolitical struggle to resist Chinese and Russian advances in Asia, Europe, and the Middle East. 

Important as this strategic shift may be, you won’t hear about it from the president, a man lacking the attention span necessary for such long-range strategic thinking and one who views Russia’s Vladimir Putin and China’s Xi Jinping as “frenemies” rather than die-hard adversaries. To fully appreciate the momentous changes occurring in U.S. military planning, it’s necessary to take a deep dive into the world of Pentagon scripture: budget documents and the annual “posture statements” of regional commanders already overseeing the implementation of that just-born three-front strategy. 

The New Geopolitical Chessboard

This renewed emphasis on China and Russia in U.S. military planning reflects the way top military officials are now reassessing the global strategic equation, a process that began long before Donald Trump entered the White House. Although after 9/11, senior commanders fully embraced the “long war against terror” approach to the world, their enthusiasm for endless counterterror operations leading essentially nowhere in remote and sometimes strategically unimportant places began to wane in recent years as they watched China and Russia modernizing their military forces and using them to intimidate neighbors.

While the long war against terror did fuel a vast, ongoing expansion of the Pentagon’s Special Operations Forces (SOF) -- now a secretive army of 70,000 nestled inside the larger military establishment -- it provided surprisingly little purpose or real work for the military’s “heavy metal” units: the Army’s tank brigades, the Navy’s carrier battle groups, the Air Force’s bomber squadrons, and so forth. Yes, the Air Force in particular has played a major supporting role in recent operations in Iraq and Syria, but the regular military has largely been sidelined there and elsewhere by lightly equipped SOF forces and drones. Planning for a “real war” against a “peer competitor” (one with forces and weaponry resembling our own) was until recently given far lower priority than the country’s never-ending conflicts across the Greater Middle East and Africa.  This alarmed and even angered those in the regular military whose moment, it seems, has now finally arrived.

“Today, we are emerging from a period of strategic atrophy, aware that our competitive military advantage has been eroding,” the Pentagon’s new National Defense Strategy declares. “We are facing increased global disorder, characterized by decline in the long-standing rules-based international order” -- a decline officially attributed for the first time not to al-Qaeda and ISIS, but to the aggressive behavior of China and Russia. Iran and North Korea are also identified as major threats, but of a distinctly secondary nature compared to the menace posed by the two great-power competitors.

Unsurprisingly enough, this shift will require not only greater spending on costly, high-tech military hardware but also a redrawing of the global strategic map to favor the regular military. During the long war on terror, geography and boundaries appeared less important, given that terrorist cells seemed capable of operating anyplace where order was breaking down. The U.S. military, convinced that it had to be equally agile, readied itself to deploy (often Special Operations forces) to remote battlefields across the planet, borders be damned. 

On the new geopolitical map, however, America faces well-armed adversaries with every intention of protecting their borders, so U.S. forces are now being arrayed along an updated version of an older, more familiar three-front line of confrontation. In Asia, the U.S. and its key allies (South Korea, Japan, the Philippines, and Australia) are to face China across a line extending from the Korean peninsula to the waters of the East and South China Seas and the Indian Ocean. In Europe, the U.S. and its NATO allies will do the same for Russia on a front extending from Scandinavia and the Baltic Republics south to Romania and then east across the Black Sea to the Caucasus. Between these two theaters of contention lies the ever-turbulent Greater Middle East, with the United States and its two crucial allies there, Israel and Saudi Arabia, facing a Russian foothold in Syria and an increasingly assertive Iran, itself drawing closer to China and Russia.  From the Pentagon’s perspective, this is to be the defining strategic global map for the foreseeable future. Expect most upcoming major military investments and initiatives to focus on bolstering U.S. naval, air, and ground strength on its side of these lines, as well as on targeting Sino-Russian vulnerabilities across them. 

There’s no better way to appreciate the dynamics of this altered strategic outlook than to dip into the annual “posture statements” of the heads of the Pentagon’s “unified combatant commands,” or combined Army/Navy/Air Force/Marine Corps headquarters, covering the territories surrounding China and Russia:Pacific Command (PACOM), with responsibility for all U.S. forces in Asia; European Command(EUCOM), covering U.S. forces from Scandinavia to the Caucasus; and Central Command (CENTCOM), which oversees the Middle East and Central Asia where so many of the country’s counterterror wars are still underway. 

The senior commanders of these meta-organizations are the most powerful U.S. officials in their “areas of responsibility” (AORs), exercising far more clout than any American ambassador stationed in the region (and often local heads of state as well). That makes their statements and the shopping lists of weaponry that invariably go with them of real significance for anyone who wants to grasp the Pentagon’s vision of America’s global military future.

The Indo-Pacific Front

Commanding PACOM is Admiral Harry Harris Jr., a long-time naval aviator. In his annual posture statement, delivered to the Senate Armed Services Committee on March 15th, Harris painted a grim picture of America’s strategic position in the Asia-Pacific region. In addition to the dangers posed by a nuclear-armed North Korea, he argued, China was emerging as a formidable threat to America’s vital interests. “The People’s Liberation Army’s rapid evolution into a modern, high-tech fighting force continues to be both impressive and concerning,” he asserted. “PLA capabilities are progressing faster than any other nation in the world, benefitting from robust resourcing and prioritization.”

Most threatening, in his view, is Chinese progress in developing intermediate-range ballistic missiles (IRBMs) and advanced warships. Such missiles, he explained, could strike U.S. bases in Japan or on the island of Guam, while the expanding Chinese navy could challenge the U.S. Navy in seas off China’s coast and someday perhaps America’s command of the western Pacific. “If this [shipbuilding] program continues,” he said, “China will surpass Russia as the world’s second largest navy by 2020, when measured in terms of submarines and frigate-class ships or larger.”

To counter such developments and contain Chinese influence requires, of course, spending yet more taxpayer dollars on advanced weapons systems, especially precision-guided missiles. Admiral Harris called for vastly increasing investment in such weaponry in order to overpower current and future Chinese capabilities and ensure U.S. military dominance of China’s air and sea space. “In order to deter potential adversaries in the Indo-Pacific,” he declared, “we must build a more lethal force by investing in critical capabilities and harnessing innovation.”

His budgetary wish list was impressive. Above all, he spoke with great enthusiasm about new generations of aircraft and missiles -- what are called, in Pentagonese, “anti-access/area-denial” systems -- capable of striking Chinese IRBM batteries and other weapons systems intended to keep American forces safely away from Chinese territory. He also hinted that he wouldn’t mind having new nuclear-armed missiles for this purpose -- missiles, he suggested, that could be launched from ships and planes and so would skirt the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, to which the U.S. is a signatory and which bans land-based intermediate-range nuclear missiles. (To give you a feel for the arcane language of Pentagon nuclear cognoscenti, here’s how he put it: “We must continue to expand Intermediate Nuclear Force Treaty-compliant theater strike capabilities to effectively counter adversary anti-access/area-denial [A2/AD] capabilities and force preservation tactics.”)

Finally, to further strengthen the U.S. defense line in the region, Harris called for enhanced military ties with various allies and partners, including Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, and Australia. PACOM’s goal, he stated, is to “maintain a network of like-minded allies and partners to cultivate principled security networks, which reinforce the free and open international order.” Ideally, he added, this network will eventually encompass India, further extending the encirclement of China.

The European Theater

A similarly embattled future, even if populated by different actors in a different landscape, was offered by Army General Curtis Scaparrotti, commander of EUCOM, in testimony before the Senate Committee on Armed Services on March 8th. For him, Russia is the other China. As he put it in a bone-chilling description, “Russia seeks to change the international order, fracture NATO, and undermine U.S. leadership in order to protect its regime, reassert dominance over its neighbors, and achieve greater influence around the globe… Russia has demonstrated its willingness and capability to intervene in countries along its periphery and to project power -- especially in the Middle East.”

This, needless to say, is not the outlook we’re hearing from President Trump, who has long appearedreluctant to criticize Vladimir Putin or paint Russia as a full-fledged adversary. For American military and intelligence officials, however, Russia unquestionably poses the preeminent threat to U.S. security interests in Europe.  It is now being spoken of in a fashion that should bring back memories of the Cold War era. “Our highest strategic priority,” Scaparrotti insisted, “is to deter Russia from engaging in further aggression and exercising malign influence over our allies and partners. [To this end,] we are… updating our operational plans to provide military response options to defend our European allies against Russian aggression.” 

The cutting edge of EUCOM’s anti-Russian drive is the European Deterrence Initiative (EDI), a project President Obama initiated in 2014 following the Russian seizure of Crimea. Originally known as theEuropean Reassurance Initiative, the EDI is intended to bolster U.S. and NATO forces deployed in the “front-line states” -- Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland -- facing Russia on NATO’s “Eastern Front.” According to the Pentagon wish list submitted in February, some $6.5 billion are to be allocated to the EDI in 2019. Most of those funds will be used to stockpile munitions in the front-line states, enhance Air Force basing infrastructure, conduct increased joint military exercises with allied forces, and rotate additional U.S.-based forces into the region. In addition, some $200 million will be devoted to a Pentagon “advise, train, and equip” mission in Ukraine.  

Like his counterpart in the Pacific theater, General Scaparrotti also turns out to have an expensive wish list of future weaponry, including advanced planes, missiles, and other high-tech weapons that, he claims, will counter modernizing Russian forces. In addition, recognizing Russia’s proficiency in cyberwarfare, he’s calling for a substantial investment in cyber technology and, like Admiral Harris, he cryptically hinted at the need for increased investment in nuclear forces of a sort that might be “usable” on a future European battlefield.

Between East and West: Central Command

Overseeing a startling range of war-on-terror conflicts in the vast, increasingly unstable region stretching from PACOM’s western boundary to EUCOM’s eastern one is the U.S. Central Command. For most of its modern history, CENTCOM has been focused on counterterrorism and the wars in Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan in particular. Now, however, even as the previous long war continues, the Command is already beginning to position itself for a new Cold War-revisited version of perpetual struggle, a plan -- to resurrect a dated term -- to contain both China and Russia in the Greater Middle East. 

In recent testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, CENTCOM commander Army General Joseph Votel concentrated on the status of U.S. operations against ISIS in Syria and against the Taliban in Afghanistan, but he also affirmed that the containment of China and Russia has become an integral part of CENTCOM’s future strategic mission: “The recently published National Defense Strategy rightly identifies the resurgence of great power competition as our principal national security challenge and we see the effects of that competition throughout the region.”

Through its support of the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad and its efforts to gain influence with other key actors in the region, Russia, Votel claimed, is playing an increasingly conspicuous role in Centcom’s AOR. China is also seeking to enhance its geopolitical clout both economically and through a small but growing military presence. Of particular concern, Votel asserted, is the Chinese-managed port at Gwadar in Pakistan on the Indian Ocean and a new Chinese base in Djibouti on the Red Sea, across from Yemen and Saudi Arabia. Such facilities, he claimed, contribute to China’s “military posture and force projection” in CENTCOM’s AOR and are signals of a challenging future for the U.S. military. 

Under such circumstances, Votel testified, it is incumbent upon CENTCOM to join PACOM and EUCOM in resisting Chinese and Russian assertiveness. “We have to be prepared to address these threats, not just in the areas in which they reside, but the areas in which they have influence.”  Without providing any details, he went on to say, “We have developed… very good plans and processes for how we will do that.”

What that means is unclear at best, but despite Donald Trump’s campaign talk about a U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria once ISIS and the Taliban are defeated, it seems increasingly clear that the U.S. military is preparing to station its forces in those (and possibly other) countries across CENTCOM’s region of responsibility indefinitely, fighting terrorism, of course, but also ensuring that there will be a permanent U.S. military presence in areas that could see intensifying geopolitical competition among the major powers. 

An Invitation to Disaster

In relatively swift fashion, American military leaders have followed up their claim that the U.S. is in a new long war by sketching the outlines of a containment line that would stretch from the Korean Peninsula around Asia across the Middle East into parts of the former Soviet Union in Eastern Europe and finally to the Scandinavian countries. Under their plan, American military forces -- reinforced by the armies of trusted allies -- should garrison every segment of this line, a grandiose scheme to block hypothetical advances of Chinese and Russian influence that, in its global reach, should stagger the imagination. Much of future history could be shaped by such an outsized effort.

Questions for the future include whether this is either a sound strategic policy or truly sustainable. Attempting to contain China and Russia in such a manner will undoubtedly provoke countermoves, some undoubtedly difficult to resist, including cyber attacks and various kinds of economic warfare. And if you imagined that a war on terror across huge swaths of the planet represented a significant global overreach for a single power, just wait. Maintaining large and heavily-equipped forces on three extended fronts will also prove exceedingly costly and will certainly conflict with domestic spending priorities and possibly provoke a divisive debate over the reinstatement of the draft.  

However, the real question -- unasked in Washington at the moment -- is: Why pursue such a policy in the first place? Are there not other ways to manage the rise of China and Russia’s provocative behavior? What appears particularly worrisome about this three-front strategy is its immense capacity for confrontation, miscalculation, escalation, and finally actual war rather than simply grandiose war planning. 

At multiple points along this globe-spanning line -- the Baltic Sea, the Black Sea, Syria, the South China Sea, and the East China Sea, to name just a few -- forces from the U.S. and China or Russia are already in significant contact, often jostling for position in a potentially hostile manner. At any moment, one of these encounters could provoke a firefight leading to unintended escalation and, in the end, possibly all-out combat. From there, almost anything could happen, even the use of nuclear weapons.  Clearly, officials in Washington should be thinking hard before committing Americans to a strategy that will make this increasingly likely and could turn what is still long-war planning into an actual long war with deadly consequences.

Department Of Homeland Security Compiling Database Of Journalists And 'Media Influencers'

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In today’s installment of "I’m Not Terrified, You Are," Bloomberg Law reports on a FedBizOpps.gov posting by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) with the relatively benign-sounding subject “Media Monitoring Services.”
The details of the attached Request for Information, however, outline a plan to gather and monitor the public activities of media professionals and influencers and are enough to cause nightmares of constitutional proportions, particularly as the freedom of the press is under attack worldwide.

And "attack" is not hyperbolic.

Every day, journalists face serious consequences including physical violenceimprisonment and death. A few days ago, the Committee to Protect Journalists launched its annual Free The Press campaign to raise awareness about imprisoned journalists throughout the world. On May 3, UNESCO will once again markWorld Press Freedom Day "to inform citizens of violations of press freedom — a reminder that in dozens of countries around the world, publications are censored, fined, suspended and closed down, while journalists, editors and publishers are harassed, attacked, detained and even murdered."

Meanwhile, the United States government, traditionally one of the bastions of press freedom, is about to compile a list of professional journalists and "top media influencers," which would seem to include bloggers and podcasters, and monitor what they're putting out to the public.

What could possibly go wrong? A lot.

As part of its "media monitoring," the DHS seeks to track more than 290,000 global news sources as well as social media in over 100 languages, including Arabic, Chinese and Russian, for instant translation into English. The successful contracting company will have "24/7 access to a password protected, media influencer database, including journalists, editors, correspondents, social media influencers, bloggers etc." in order to "identify any and all media coverage related to the Department of Homeland Security or a particular event."

"Any and all media coverage," as you might imagine, is quite broad and includes "online, print, broadcast, cable, radio, trade and industry publications, local sources, national/international outlets, traditional news sources, and social media."

The database will be browsable by "location, beat and type of influencer," and for each influencer, the chosen contractor should "present contact details and any other information that could be relevant, including publications this influencer writes for, and an overview of the previous coverage published by the media influencer."

One aspect of the media coverage to be gathered is its "sentiment."

Why "Media Monitoring" and Why Now?

DHS says the "NPPD/OUS [National Protection and Programs Directorate/Office of the Under Secretary] has a critical need to incorporate these functions into their programs in order to better reach Federal, state, local, tribal and private partners." Who knows what that means, but the document also states the NPPD's mission is “to protect and enhance the resilience of the nation’s physical and cyberinfrastructure."

That line makes it sound as if the creation of this database could be a direct response to the rampant allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election — although President Donald Trump, who has normalized the term "fake news," can't seem to decide whether that's even an issue or not.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg thinks it is. Earlier this week, he announced the social networking site would remove "more than 270 pages and accounts operated by a Russian organization called the Internet Research Agency" in an effort "to protect the integrity of elections around the world."

Within the context of increasing concerns over "fake news" and foreign interference in elections, an action such as the DHS's database might seem, at first glance, to be a sensible approach.

Not exactly.

Unfortunately, increasing government encroachment on the freedom of the press is the sinister backdrop to all of this. Freedom House, which has monitored the status of the press for nearly 40 years, recently concluded that global media freedom has reached its lowest level in the past 13 years. The independent watchdog organization blames "new threats to journalists and media outlets in major democracies" as well as "further crackdowns on independent media in authoritarian countries like Russia and China." And then it goes one step further.

"But it is the far-reaching attacks on the news media and their place in a democratic society by Donald Trump, first as a candidate and now as president of the United States, that fuel predictions of further setbacks in the years to come," the report said.

Could the DHS media database be such a setback?

Possibly, and it's not even the first time potential regulation of journalists has drifted across the American political scene.

Last October, an Indiana lawmaker proposed that journalists be licensed. Representative Jim Lucas's bill was mostly a publicity stunt, but could this DHS action be a way for the government to keep track of American and foreign journalists as well as “citizen journalists," threatening not only the freedom of the press but also individual freedom of speech?

The real question, of course, is what the government plans to do with the information it compiles, and there's been no comment on that beyond what is in the posting, which, by the way, has interest from at least seven companies. Will those on the DHS media database be questioned more harshly coming in and out of the country? Will they have trouble getting visas to go to certain countries for their own reporting or personal vacations? Worse?
Speaking of visas — and showing that social media activity is squarely on the radar of this administration — earlier this week, the State Department placed two notices in the Federal Register seeking comments on its proposal to require that all visa applicants to the U.S. turn over their social media information for the previous five years.

Regarding the DHS media database, we are entering potentially dangerous territory with the government keeping track of the "sentiment" of citizens and foreign nationals. If not legal challenges from organizations that defend press freedom and freedom of speech interests, the government should expect, at the very least, backlash from the public.

And that means you. If you think the idea of the U.S. government's compiling and monitoring a list of media professionals and "top media influencers" is a potential threat to democracy, now would be the perfect time to call your local and congressional representatives to let them know how much you value a free press and the freedom of speech, just in case they've forgotten.

Sleep tight, kids!

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Our Criminal Justice System Serves to Protect the Villains

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Recently, a hero got sentenced to three years in jail. I’m not talking a traditional hero who gets saluted during halftime shows because when he was 18, he went to a country he’d never heard of, to shoot at people he’d never heard of (who we’re not even technically at war with), and he did it all to get enough money to attend college, because college is too fucking expensive. We all know that’s a real hero. No, I’m talking about a climate activism hero.
Michael Foster is one of five climate activists who broke through a chain-link fence and, in a grotesquely criminal act, shut off TransCanada’s oil flow for a few hours. For stopping the oil, he got three years in jail. However, for actually drilling that oil and destroying our environment, polluting the land and water and risking our future—the heads of these oil companies get “sentenced” to zero years in jail. They instead get billions of dollars and private jets. But I bet the cocktail parties you have to attend if you’re that rich are boring as sin, so the joke’s on you, billionaire oil tycoons. You have boring dinners.
This proves our society is backward. The actions that are illegal versus legal are inverted from what they should be in an evolved culture. A few weeks ago, nine activists with the organization No More Deaths were arrested for leaving jugs of water in the desert to help migrants dying of thirst. That’s illegal. They were charged, basically, with littering. But it’s not illegal to buy up all our clean water, even near Flint, Mich. Soon, NestlĂ© is going to have it all, and we’re going to have to bathe in Coca-Cola because there will be no water left. We’ll have to fill our water beds with small stones, and that’s not comfortable.
What does illegal even mean anymore? In our land of the free, it’s illegal to feed the homeless in some states. According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, between 2013 and 2015, “over 26 cities and communities passed laws restricting the distribution of food to the homeless, and the number is growing every year.” That’s right, a 90-year-old was taken down to the station for the crime of handing out baked beans. You may think this is ridiculous, but if you don’t stop him now, what’s next? Refried beans? Then, before you know it, you’re involved in a pico de gallo situation. And pico de gallo leads to guacamole, and guac opens the gates to cheese, rice and cilantro. You thought you were going to be the cool cop, look the other way, let a few beans slide, and before you know it, you’re dealing with burritos, enchiladas, fajitas. And now the salsa is on your hands, too.
Also illegal is housing the homeless. Earlier this year, according to Splinter News, “police arrived at [a Chicago man’s] house with a warrant and threatened to condemn his property unless he closed his ‘unlawful basement sleeping area.’ ” Not illegal is taking blankets away from the homeless, as the Denver police were caught doing. Also not illegal: destroying tiny homes built for the homeless. Cops did that, too. Banks foreclose on millions of homes, making millions of families homeless. That’s not illegal. We throw out 40 percent of all food. That’s not illegal.
And this isn’t just a “What’s the matter with us?” kind of situation. It’s also a question of freedom. If I were truly free, wouldn’t I be free to give somebody whatever I want? Shouldn’t I be free to give away food, drinks, my Star Wars figurines, two broken umbrellas, three nose-hair trimmers, my virginity and my award-winning collection of scabs from around the globe? Shouldn’t I be allowed to give away anything I want?
The real reason we can’t have people helping the homeless, giving out food and housing, is because it threatens to give a good example, to show another way forward. As “Act Out!” host Eleanor Goldfield wrote: “Filling the gaping chasms purposefully carved by capitalism and its keepers raises people’s awareness; it forces them to reckon with the system they live in and ask whether or not it’s worth protecting—or fighting against.”
Also illegal: having cocaine or heroin or selling marijuana in most states. Not illegal: making billions of dollars from the opioid crisis that’s killing hundreds of thousands of people. According to the CDC, “On average, 115 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose.” You know how many died from smoking marijuana over the past year? One. A guy accidentally lit his sleeve on fire while he was trying to take a bong hit. Then, as he was trying to put it out, he knocked over a lamp that hit the dog. While driving the dog to an animal hospital, he drove into a mailbox and died. Marijuana: The Silent Killer.
Illegal: Living off the grid. In most areas of our “Land of the Free,” there are a myriad of regulations designed to make it nearly impossible to live off the grid. In fact, a lot of states consider living off the grid to be “camping.” And in most places throughout the U.S., it is not legal to camp on your own land for more than two weeks. That’s right, on your own land. What does that even mean? What if I set up a tent in my living room? Would that be camping? What if I’m not camping, I just happen to be an alcoholic and pass out in my yard nightly? So much so that I start leaving a pillow and blanket and jammies out there. You may call it camping, but I call it “a regularly scheduled blackout.”
It’s illegal to camp in this country, yet it’s legal for our military to camp out in Iraq, Afghanistan, Niger, Syria, Germany, Cuba, Djibouti, South Korea. We fucking love camping out all over the world. We have military bases in 70 percent of the world’s countries. And those very assholes have the nerve to tell me I can’t get a piece of land and live however the hell I want? If I decide I want to live on a 40-foot plot of dirt, wearing underwear on my head, sleeping in the grass, plugging my phone and George Foreman grill into a fecal-matter-powered generator, what does it matter to you?
Illegal: The crime of secretly filming a slaughterhouse. Yes, in some states people were arrested for filming the abuse of farm animals. Not illegal: abusing farm animals.
Also not illegal: filming every human being in this country at all times. Cameras are on every lamppost, stop light and storefront. Soon, those cameras will have facial recognition software. Our government spies on us constantly at all hours on all our devices and says it’s perfectly legal. But you bring home a tape of a piglet getting flat-out tortured, and that’s not permissible because it might harm the profits of the factory farm corporations.
Same goes for war crimes. You reveal war crimes, as Chelsea Manning did, and they’re going to lock you up for a good long time. You commit war crimes, as our military does on a daily basis, you can become the secretary of defense. James Mattis bombed a wedding party and then bragged he didn’t lose any sleep over that decision. If only he’d bombed a daycare center, he could be president by now. Come on, Gen. Mattis, believe in yourself.
Illegal: Laughing at Jeff Sessions during a Senate hearing. Because that type of free speech is “dangerous.” On the other hand, it’s completely legal to spout full-on propaganda daily like CNN or Fox News or MSNBC does. You can push for endless war while being funded by weapons contractors, and it ain’t no thing. But you chuckle at an elfish-looking racist under oath saying how much he loves black people, and you get the cuffs slapped on.
Illegal: To stage a die-in protest to call attention to people murdered by police. Legal: For police to murder people. And our police do it far more than any other country. U.S. police kill more people in a day than Iceland police have killed in the past 70 years. (Iceland police have killed one person in the past 70 years.)
I could go on with how backward our justice system is for hours, but here’s one last one. I was in a plane recently flying over the middle of the U.S., and I saw something out my window that stretched for miles. As far as the eye could see, something had torn apart the earth in a gruesome and systematic manner. And then I figured out what I was looking at: fracking. From an aerial view, fracking looks like a virus on the planet. It’s like the globe got smallpox. Our system is a plague on spaceship earth. And if you try to stop the virus, you’re arrested, maligned and repressed.
At the end of the Bush administration, climate activist Tim DeChristopher tried to stop stuff like fracking. He went to an auction, posed as a bidder and “bought” 22,000 acres of land in Utah’s pristine red rock country to stop oil and gas companies from getting it, even though he couldn’t pay for it. He succeeded at stopping them. He’s a genuine hero. And for faking those energy lease bids, he spent two years in jail and was fined $10,000. The parasitic rich are now above the law, and those trying to fix the system are sentenced to years in jail. This is the moral collapse of our culture and our criminal justice system. When sociopathic rulers are this powerful, they use the courts—traditionally used to stop pillaging—to continue their takeover of land and extraction of resources. They have captured the fail-safe mechanisms meant to defend against exactly this type of moral inversion.
Chris Hedges explained in February: “Oligarchs cynically view laws as mechanisms to legalize their fraud and plunder.” They also use the captured courts to arrest those who try to stop them. While in a Birmingham jail, Martin Luther King Jr. wrote: “One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.” We should all seek to be illegal now.
So get out there and stop the pipelines, reveal the war crimes and let the pico de gallo run free.

Building the Iron Wall

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Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, along with 18 members of the House of Representatives—15 Republicans and three Democrats—has sent a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions demanding that the Qatari-run Al-Jazeera television network register as a foreign agent under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). The letter was issued after Al-Jazeera said it planned to air a documentary by a reporter who went undercover to look into the Israel lobby in the United States. The action by the senator and the House members follows the decision by the Justice Department to force RT Americato register as a foreign agent and the imposition of algorithms by Facebook, Google and Twitter that steer traffic away from left-wing, anti-war and progressive websites, including Truthdig. It also follows December’s abolition of net neutrality.
The letter asks the Justice Department to investigate “reports that Al Jazeera infiltrated American non-profit organizations.” It says that the “content produced by this network often directly undermines American interests with favorable coverage of U.S. State Department-designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations, including Hamas, Hezbollah, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and Jabhat al-Nusra, al-Qaeda’s branch in Syria.”
“American citizens deserve to know whether the information and news media they consume is impartial, or if it is deceptive propaganda pushed by foreign nations,” the letter reads.
The ominous assault on the final redoubts of a free press, through an attempt to brand dissidents, independent journalists and critics of corporate power and imperialism as agents of a foreign power, has begun. FARA, until recently, was a little-used regulation, passed in 1938 to combat Nazi propaganda. The journalists Max Blumenthal and Ali Abunimah do a good job of addressing the issue in this clip on The Real News Network.
Those who challenge the dominant corporate narrative already struggle on the margins of the media landscape. The handful of independent websites and news outlets, including this one, and a few foreign-run networks such as Al-Jazeera and RT America, on which I host a show, “On Contact,” are the few platforms left that examine corporate power and empire, the curtailment of our civil liberties, lethal police violence and the ecocide carried out by the fossil fuel and animal agriculture industries, as well as cover the war crimes committed by Israel and the U.S. military in the Middle East. Shutting down these venues would ensure that the critics who speak through them, and oppressed peoples such as the Palestinians, have no voice left.
I witnessed and was at times the victim of black propaganda campaigns when I was a foreign correspondent. False accusations are made anonymously and then amplified by a compliant press. The anonymous site PropOrNot, replicating this tactic, in 2016 published a blacklist of 199 sites that it alleged, with no evidence, “reliably echo Russian propaganda.” More than half of those sites were far-right, conspiracy-driven ones. But about 20 of the sites were progressive, anti-war and left-wing. They included AlterNet, Black Agenda Report, Democracy Now!, Naked Capitalism, Truthdig, Truthout, CounterPunch and the World Socialist Web Site. PropOrNot charged that these sites disseminated “fake news” on behalf of Russia, and the allegations became front-page news in The Washington Post in a story headlined “Russian propaganda effort helped spread ‘fake news’ during the election, experts say.” Washington Post reporter Craig Timberg wrote in that article that the goal of “a sophisticated Russian propaganda effort,” according to “independent researchers who have tracked the operation,” was “punishing Democrat Hillary Clinton, helping Republican Donald Trump and undermining faith in American democracy.”
To date, no one has exposed who operates PropOrNot or who is behind the website. But the damage done by this black propaganda campaign and the subsequent announcement by Google and other organizations such as Facebook last April that they had put in filters to elevate “more authoritative content” and marginalize “blatantly misleading, low quality, offensive or downright false information” have steadily diverted readers away from some sites. The Marxist World Socialist Web Site, for example, has seen its traffic decline by 75 percent. AlterNet’s search traffic is down 71 percent, Consortium News is down 72 percent, and Global Research and Truthdig have seen declines. And the situation appears to be growing worse as the algorithms are refined.
Jeff Bezos, the owner of The Washington Post and the founder and CEO of Amazon, has, like Google and some other major Silicon Valley corporations, close ties with the federal security and surveillance apparatus. Bezos has a $600 million contract with the CIA. The lines separating technology-based entities such as Google and Amazon and the government’s security and surveillance apparatus are often nonexistent. The goal of corporations such as Google and Facebook is profit, not the dissemination of truth. And when truth gets in the way of profit, truth is sacrificed.
Google, Facebook, Twitter, The New York Times, The Washington Post, BuzzFeed News, Agence France-Presse and CNN have all imposed or benefited from the algorithms or filters—overseen by human “evaluators.” When an internet user types a word in a Google search it is called an “impression” by the industry. These impressions direct the persons making the searches to websites that use the words or address the issues associated with them. Before the algorithms were put in place last April, searches for terms such as “imperialism” or “inequality” directed internet users mostly to left-wing, progressive and anti-war sites. Now they are directed primarily to mainstream sites such as The Washington Post. If you type in “World Socialist Web Site,” which has been hit especially hard by the algorithms, you will be directed to the site—but you have to ask for it by name. Searches for associated words such as “socialist” or “socialism” are unlikely to bring up a list in which the World Socialist Web Site appears near the top.
There are 10,000 “evaluators” at Google, many of them former employees at counterterrorism agencies, who determine the “quality” and veracity of websites. They have downgraded sites such as Truthdig, and with the abolition of net neutrality can further isolate those sites on the internet. The news organizations and corporations imposing and benefiting from this censorship have strong links to the corporate establishment and the Democratic Party. They do not question corporate capitalism, American imperialism or rising social inequality. They dutifully feed the anti-Russia hysteria. An Al-Jazeera report on this censorship begins at 14:07 in this link.
The corporate oligarchs, lacking a valid response to the discrediting of their policies of economic pillage and endless war, have turned to the blunt instrument of censorship and to a new version of red baiting. They do not intend to institute reforms or restore an open society. They do not intend to address the social inequality behind the political insurgencies in the two major political parties and the hatred of the corporate state that spans the political spectrum. They intend to impose a cone of silence and the state-sanctioned uniformity of opinion that characterizes all totalitarian regimes. This is what the use of FARA, the imposition of algorithms and the attempt to blame Trump’s election on Russian interference is about. Critics and investigative journalists who expose the inner workings of corporate power are branded enemies of the state in the service of a foreign power. The corporate-controlled media, meanwhile, presents the salacious, the trivial and the absurd as news while fanning the obsession over Russia. This is one of the most ominous moments in American history. The complicity in this witch hunt by self-identified liberal organizations, including The New York Times and MSNBC, will come back to haunt them. When the voices for truth are erased, they will be next.
The steps to tyranny are always small, incremental and often barely noticed, as Milton Mayer wrote in “They Thought They Were Free: The Germans 1933-1945.” By the time a population wakes up, it is too late. He noted:
But the one great shocking occasion, when tens or hundreds or thousands will join you, never comes. That’s the difficulty. If the last and the worst act of the whole regime had come immediately after the first and the smallest, thousands, yes, millions would have been sufficiently shocked. If, let us say, the gassing of the Jews in ’43 had come immediately after the “German Firm” stickers on the windows of non-Jewish shops in ’33. But of course this isn’t the way it happens. In between come all the hundreds of little steps, some of them imperceptible, each of them preparing you not to be shocked by the next. Step C is not so much worse than Step B, and if you did not make a stand at Step B, why should you at Step C? And so on to Step D.
And one day, too late, your principles, if you were ever sensible of them, all rush in upon you. The burden of self-deception has grown too heavy, and some minor incident, in my case my little boy, hardly more than a baby, saying “Jew swine,” collapses it all at once, and you see that everything, everything has changed and changed completely under your nose. The world you lived in—your nation, your people—is not the world you were born in at all. The forms are all there, all untouched, all reassuring, the houses, the shops, the jobs, the mealtimes, the visits, the concerts, the cinema, the holidays. But the spirit, which you never noticed because you made the lifelong mistake of identifying it with the forms, is changed. Now you live in a world of hate and fear, and the people who hate and fear do not even know it themselves; when everyone is transformed no one is transformed. Now you live in a system which rules without responsibility even to God. The system itself could not have intended this in the beginning, but in order to sustain itself it was compelled to go all the way.
Despots, despite their proclaimed ideological, national and religious differences, speak the same language. Amoral, devoid of empathy and addicted to power and personal enrichment, they are building a world where all who criticize them are silenced, where their populations are rendered compliant by fear, constant surveillance and the loss of basic liberties and where they and their corporate enablers are the undisputed masters.
The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that the Qatari government is seeking to improve relations with the Trump administration by forging alliances with right-wing Jewish organizations in the United States. It has promised Jewish leaders, the paper reported, not to air the Al-Jazeera documentary about the Israel lobby. Al-Jazeera in 2016 shut down Al-Jazeera America, which broadcast to U.S. audiences. With no broadcaster in the U.S., the program would have reached few American viewers even if Al-Jazeera had put it on the air.
Haaretz reported that Jewish organizational leaders who have visited Qatar in recent months include Mort Klein of the Zionist Organization of America; Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations; Jack Rosen of the American Jewish Congress; Rabbi Menachem Genack of the Orthodox Union; Martin Oliner of the Religious Zionists of America; and attorney Alan Dershowitz.
“What these leaders share is that none of them are considered critics of the right-wing Netanyahu government in Israel or the Trump administration in Washington,” Haaretz correspondent Amir Tibon wrote in the newspaper.
The despotism of the United States and the despotism of Israel have found an ally in the despotism of Qatar. Professed beliefs are meaningless. Israel is bonded with the regime in Saudi Arabia and the Christian right in the United States, each of which is virulently anti-Semitic. Dissidents, including Jewish and Israeli dissidents, are attacked as “self-hating Jews” or anti-Semites onlybecause they are dissidents. The word “traitor” or “anti-Semite” has no real meaning. It is used not to describe a reality but to turn someone into a pariah. The iron wall is rising. It will cement into place a global system of corporate totalitarianism, one in which the old vocabulary of human rights and democracy is empty and where any form of defiance means you are an enemy of the state. This totalitarianism is being formed incrementally. It begins by silencing the demonized. It ends by silencing everyone.
“You walk into the room with your pencil in your hand,” Bob Dylan sang in “Ballad of a Thin Man.” “You see somebody naked and you say, ‘Who is that man?’ You try so hard but you don’t understand just what you will say when you get home. Because something is happening here, but you don’t know what it is, do you, Mr. Jones?