Many liberals and even leftists put unwarranted faith in the Mueller investigation which apart from indictments of all the President’s men disappointed on every issue regarding the President and Russian collusion. While I never had faith in Mueller given his history, temperament and and Washington establishment leanings, the reality of hiss whitewash of the President in the face of Trump’s self evident quilt is disturbing.
Apparently see no evil still prevails in Washington despite the fact that the emperor has no clothes. Most of America can see that even if Mueller is blind.
The real reason behind the USA plot to overthrow the Venezuela government is the need for a stable oil supply during the wrong headed Trump administration planned assault on Iran
The long term goal of the Trump administration faction led by John Bolton is Iran but the overriding problem with John Bolton’s plan is the fact that such action would block shipping in the Persian gulf. The straits of Hormous rest on Iranian soil and, if blocked, stop 35 percent of the world’s oil traffic from the gulf including Saudi Arabia and all gulf nations.
The problem facing John Bolton and the Trump administration is in finding a reliable replacement for the loss of Arabian oil during an future war against Iran. The solution would appear to be Venezuela. However, U.S. relations with Venezuela are not amicable. Further, Venezuela just signed long term contracts to supply its oil to China. Hence American need to overthrow the Venezuela government in order to further Bolton’s plan to attack Iran.
And why attack Iran? Israel views Iran as a potential threat despite US intelligence reports that Iran has complied with US requirements to cease manufacturing refined uranium suitable for bombs. But reality has never clouded the Trump administration views.
The United States tried to engineer a coup in Venezuela Wed., January 23, 2019. Trump was expecting the Venezuela Army to desert the government and support the opposition leader picked by the USA. The United States signaled its desire by recognizing the opposition minority leader as the legitimate ruler and getting several client states to follow suit. Venezuela responded by breaking diplomatic relations with the United States and ordering its diplomats to leave in 72 hours. The United States refused to withdraw the diplomats by saying it does not recognize the authority of the Venezuela government. Trump, who has a history of advocating military intervention in Venezuela, may now use the claim that the safety of United States diplomats are endangered in Venezuela as an excuse for military intervention to overthrow the government in Venezuela.
Such intervention would surely trigger opposition in the rest of Latin America and the world at large. We are very close to a return to gunboat diplomacy with all the evils that entails to self determination and democracy for the people of Latin America.
The Trump administration has withdrawn recognition of the elected Venezuela government prompting Venezuela to issue an order expelling American diplomats giving 72 hours to leave. Trump refuses to withdraw diplomats thereby setting stage for a military overthrow of the government in Venezuela under the guise of protecting diplomats illegally in Venezuela.
Sabre rattlingly by the USA will inevitably lead to military conflict.
Earlier, the Trump administration said it recognizes opposition leader Juan Guaido as the country’s interim president.
Maduro says U.S. diplomatic personnel have 72 hours to leave the country. The U.S. State Department said it would not comply with that order.
Published 22 January 2019 (20 hours 33 minutes ago)
While the so-called Lima Group and the U.S. refused to recognize Maduro’s new mandate, many progressive governments and international organizations have shown support and solidarity to Maduro.
Venezuelan Vice President Delcy Rodriguez Tuesday said U.S. Vice President Mike Pence was “openly calling for a coup d’état in Venezuela ” after Pence issued a video message of support to the Venezuelan opposition to encourage those who are protesting against President Nicolas Maduro and underline U.S. backing for opposition lawmaker Juan Guaido, the self-appointed head of the suspended National Assembly.
The Venezuelan VP’s statement followed an earlier message from Venezuelan Information Minister Jorge Rodriguez who said Pence was, “promoting instability and violence in Venezuela.”
“Because Mr. Pence doesn’t have a job, now he wants to come and run Venezuela, handing out instructions on what should happen in Venezuela tomorrow,” Rodriguez said in a press in a short statement following Pence’s interventionist message. “Openly calling for a coup d’état in Venezuela. I will say it like the Venezuelan people would say it to you, ‘Yankee, go home.’ We’re not going to allow you to intrude on issues of the country of Bolivar and the country of Hugo Chavez.”
Venezuela’s opposition on Wednesday plans to hold marches nationwide as part of an annual event that marks the fall of a military government in 1958.
In a taped video message in English with a few Spanish words and phrases mixed in, Pence, who has lashed out at Maduro before, declared him a “dictator” who has no rightful claim to power.
Pence declared U.S. support again for Guaido, with whom he spoke by phone earlier this month, and the suspended National Assembly, which he leads, as the “last vestige of democracy.” Pence said Washington supported Guaido’s decision to assert the body’s powers, declare Maduro a “usurper” and push for a transitional government to be established.
The decision by the suspended National Assembly to appoint Guaido as the head of the body was invalidated by the country’s Supreme Court because the body itself has been in contempt of court since 2016.
On Jan. 11, 2016, the Supreme Court of Justice declared the National Assembly in contempt of court for swearing in three deputies from the self-appointed Unity Roundtable (MUD) elected by the state of Amazonas in December 2015. The three Indigenous legislators should have been temporarily suspended because of voting irregularities in that region, but instead took possession of their seats on July 28.
The contempt of court is maintained to this day because the new board of the assembly refuses to accept the judgments of the top court.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro was inaugurated for a second term in office on Jan. 10 and his term would last until 2025. His new term comes amid continuing economic war against the country and its people using harsh economic sanctions led by the United States in an effort to oust Maduro and his progressive government.
While the so-called Lima Group, the United States and other right-wing governments refused to recognize Maduro’s new mandate, many progressive governments and international organizations have shown support and solidarity to Maduro. It is a critical moment for the region and the world amid a rise in right-wing politics and governments such as that of far-right Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil.
LONDON — As the upstart voter-profiling company Cambridge Analytica prepared to wade into the 2014 American midterm elections, it had a problem.
The firm had secured a $15 million investment fromRobert Mercer, the wealthy Republican donor, and wooed his political adviser, Stephen K. Bannon, with the promise of tools that could identify the personalities of American voters and influence their behavior. But it did not have the data to make its new products work.
So the firm harvested private information from the Facebook profiles of more than 50 million users without their permission, according to former Cambridge employees, associates and documents, making it one of the largest data leaks in the social network’s history. The breach allowed the company to exploit the private social media activity of a huge swath of the American electorate, developing techniques that underpinned its work on President Trump’s campaign in 2016.
An examination by The New York Times and The Observer of London reveals how Cambridge Analytica’s drive to bring to market a potentially powerful new weapon put the firm — and wealthy conservative investors seeking to reshape politics — under scrutiny from investigators and lawmakers on both sides of the Atlantic.
Christopher Wylie, who helped found Cambridge and worked there until late 2014, said of its leaders: “Rules don’t matter for them. For them, this is a war, and it’s all fair.”
“They want to fight a culture war in America,” he added. “Cambridge Analytica was supposed to be the arsenal of weapons to fight that culture war.”
Details of Cambridge’sacquisitionand use of Facebookdatahave surfaced in several accounts since the business began working on the 2016 campaign, setting offa furious debateabout the merits of the firm’s so-called psychographic modeling techniques.
But the full scale of the data leak involving Americans has not been previously disclosed — and Facebook, until now, has not acknowledged it. Interviews with a half-dozen former employees and contractors, and a review of the firm’s emails and documents, have revealed that Cambridge not only relied on the private Facebook data but still possesses most or all of the trove.
Cambridge paid to acquire the personal information through an outside researcher who, Facebook says, claimed to be collecting it for academic purposes.
During a week of inquiries from The Times, Facebook downplayed the scope of the leak and questioned whether any of the data still remained out of its control. But on Friday, the companyposted a statementexpressing alarm and promising to take action.
“This was a scam — and a fraud,” Paul Grewal, a vice president and deputy general counsel at the social network, said in a statement to The Times earlier on Friday. He added that the company was suspending Cambridge Analytica, Mr. Wylie and the researcher, Aleksandr Kogan, a Russian-American academic, from Facebook. “We will take whatever steps are required to see that the data in question is deleted once and for all — and take action against all offending parties,” Mr. Grewal said.
Alexander Nix, the chief executive of Cambridge Analytica, and other officials had repeatedly denied obtaining or using Facebook data, most recently during a parliamentary hearing last month. But in a statement to The Times, the company acknowledged that it had acquired the data, though it blamed Mr. Kogan for violating Facebook’s rules and said it had deleted the information as soon as it learned of the problem two years ago.
In Britain, Cambridge Analytica is facing intertwined investigations by Parliament and government regulators, who are scrutinizing possible data privacy violations and allegations that it performed illegal work on the “Brexit” campaign. In the United States, Mr. Mercer’s daughter, Rebekah, a board member, Mr. Bannon and Mr. Nix received warnings from their lawyer that it was illegal to employ foreigners in political campaigns, according to company documents and former employees.
Congressional investigators have questioned Mr. Nix about the company’s role in the Trump campaign. And the Justice Department’s special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, hasdemandedthe emails of Cambridge Analytica employees who worked for the Trump team as part of his investigation into Russian interference in the election.
While the substance of Mr. Mueller’s interest is a closely guarded secret, documents viewed by The Times indicate that the firm’s British affiliate claims to have worked in Russia and Ukraine. And the WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange,disclosed in Octoberthat Mr. Nix had reached out to him during the campaign in hopes of obtaining private emails belonging to Mr. Trump’s Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton.
The documents also raise new questions about Facebook, which is already grappling with intense criticism over the spread of Russian propaganda and fake news. The data Cambridge collected from profiles, a portion of which was viewed by The Times, included details on users’ identities, friend networks and “likes.”
“Protecting people’s information is at the heart of everything we do,” Mr. Grewal said. “No systems were infiltrated, and no passwords or sensitive pieces of information were stolen or hacked.”
Still, he added, “it’s a serious abuse of our rules.”
Reading Voters’ Minds
The Bordeaux flowed freely as Mr. Nix and several colleagues sat down for dinner at the Palace Hotel in Manhattan in late 2013, Mr. Wylie recalled in an interview. They had much to celebrate.
Mr. Nix, a brash salesman, led the small elections division at SCL Group, a political and defense contractor. He had spent much of the year trying to break into the lucrative new world of political data, recruiting Mr. Wylie, then a 24-year-old political operative with ties to veterans of President Obama’s campaigns. Mr. Wylie was interested in using inherent psychological traits to affect voters’ behavior and had assembled a team of psychologists and data scientists, some of them affiliated with Cambridge University.
The group experimented abroad, including in the Caribbean and Africa, where privacy rules were lax or nonexistent and politicians employing SCL were happy to provide government-held data, former employees said.
Then a chance meeting bought Mr. Nix into contact with Mr. Bannon, the Breitbart News firebrand who would later become a Trump campaign and White House adviser, and with Mr. Mercer,one of the richest men on earth.
Mr. Nix and his colleagues courted Mr. Mercer, who believed a sophisticated data company could make him a kingmaker in Republican politics, and his daughter Rebekah, who shared his conservative views. Mr. Bannon was intrigued by the possibility of using personality profiling to shift America’s culture and rewire its politics, recalled Mr. Wylie and other former employees, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they had signed nondisclosure agreements. Through a spokeswoman, Mr. Bannon declined to comment.
Mr. Mercer agreed to help finance a $1.5 million pilot project to poll voters and test psychographic messaging in Virginia’s gubernatorial race in November 2013, where the Republican attorney general, Ken Cuccinelli, ran against Terry McAuliffe, the Democratic fund-raiser. Though Mr. Cuccinelli lost, Mr. Mercer committed to moving forward.
The Mercers wanted results quickly, and more business beckoned. In early 2014, the investor Toby Neugebauer and other wealthy conservatives were preparing to put tens of millions of dollars behind a presidential campaign for Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, work that Mr. Nix was eager to win.
When Mr. Wylie’s colleagues failed to produce a memo explaining their work to Mr. Neugebauer, Mr. Nix castigated them over email.
“ITS 2 PAGES!! 4 hours work max (or an hour each). What have you all been doing??” he wrote.
Mr. Wylie’s team had a bigger problem. Building psychographic profiles on a national scale required data the company could not gather without huge expense. Traditional analytics firms used voting records and consumer purchase histories to try to predict political beliefs and voting behavior.
But those kinds of records were useless for figuring out whether a particular voter was, say, a neurotic introvert, a religious extrovert, a fair-minded liberal or a fan of the occult. Those were among the psychological traits the firm claimed would provide a uniquely powerful means of designing political messages.
Mr. Wylie found a solution at Cambridge University’s Psychometrics Centre. Researchers there had developed a technique to map personality traits based on what people had liked on Facebook. The researchers paid users small sums to take a personality quiz and download an app, which would scrape some private information from the their profiles and those of their friends, activity that Facebook permitted at the time. The approach, the scientists said, could reveal more about a person than their parents or romantic partners knew — a claim that has been disputed.
When the Psychometrics Centre declined to work with the firm, Mr. Wylie found someone who would: Dr. Kogan, who was then a psychology professor at the university and knew of the techniques. Dr. Kogan built his own app and in June 2014 began harvesting data for Cambridge Analytica. The business covered the costs — more than $800,000 — and allowed him to keep a copy for his own research, according to company emails and financial records.
All he divulged to Facebook, and to users in fine print, was that he was collecting information for academic purposes, the social network said. It did not verify his claim. Dr. Kogan declined to provide details of what happened, citing nondisclosure agreements with Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, though he maintained that his program was “a very standard vanilla Facebook app.”
He ultimately provided over 50 million raw profiles to the firm, Mr. Wylie said, a number confirmed by a company email and a former colleague. Of those, roughly 30 million contained enough information, including places of residence, that the company could match users to other records and build psychographic profiles. Only about 270,000 users — those who participated in the survey — had consented to having their data harvested.
Mr. Wylie said the Facebook data was “the saving grace” that let his team deliver the models it had promised the Mercers.
“We wanted as much as we could get,” he acknowledged. “Where it came from, who said we could have it — we weren’t really asking.”
Mr. Nix tells a different story. Appearing before a parliamentary committee last month, he described Dr. Kogan’s contributions as “fruitless.”
An International Effort
Just as Dr. Kogan’s efforts were getting underway, Mr. Mercer agreed to invest $15 million in a joint venture with SCL’s elections division. The partners devised a convoluted corporate structure, forming a new American company, owned almost entirely by Mr. Mercer, with a license to the psychographics platform developed by Mr. Wylie’s team, according to company documents. Mr. Bannon, who became a board member and investor, chose the name: Cambridge Analytica.
The firm was effectively a shell. According to the documents and former employees, any contracts won by Cambridge, originally incorporated in Delaware, would be serviced by London-based SCL and overseen by Mr. Nix, a British citizen who held dual appointments at Cambridge Analytica and SCL. Most SCL employees and contractors were Canadian, like Mr. Wylie, or European.
But in July 2014, an American election lawyer advising the company, Laurence Levy, warned that the arrangement could violate laws limiting the involvement of foreign nationals in American elections.
In a memo to Mr. Bannon, Ms. Mercer and Mr. Nix, the lawyer, then at the firm Bracewell & Giuliani, warned that Mr. Nix would have to recuse himself “from substantive management” of any clients involved in United States elections. The data firm would also have to find American citizens or green card holders, Mr. Levy wrote, “to manage the work and decision making functions, relative to campaign messaging and expenditures.”
In summer and fall 2014, Cambridge Analytica dived into the American midterm elections, mobilizing SCL contractors and employees around the country. Few Americans were involved in the work, which included polling, focus groups and message development for the John Bolton Super PAC, conservative groups in Colorado and the campaign of Senator Thom Tillis, the North Carolina Republican.
Cambridge Analytica, in its statement to The Times, said that all “personnel in strategic roles were U.S. nationals or green card holders.” Mr. Nix “never had any strategic or operational role” in an American election campaign, the company said.
Whether the company’s American ventures violated election laws would depend on foreign employees’ roles in each campaign, and on whether their work counted as strategic advice under Federal Election Commission rules.
Cambridge Analytica appears to have exhibited a similar pattern in the 2016 election cycle, when the company worked for the campaigns of Mr. Cruz and then Mr. Trump. While Cambridge hired more Americans to work on the races that year, most of its data scientists were citizens of the United Kingdom or other European countries, according to two former employees.
Under the guidance of Brad Parscale, Mr. Trump’s digital director in 2016 and now the campaign manager for his 2020 re-election effort, Cambridge performed a variety of services, former campaign officials said. That included designing target audiences for digital ads and fund-raising appeals, modeling voter turnout, buying $5 million in television ads and determining where Mr. Trump should travel to best drum up support.
Cambridge executives have offered conflicting accounts about the use of psychographic data on the campaign. Mr. Nix has said that the firm’s profiles helped shape Mr. Trump’s strategy — statements disputed by other campaign officials — but also that Cambridge did not have enough time to comprehensively model Trump voters.
In a BBC interview last December, Mr. Nix said that the Trump efforts drew on “legacy psychographics” built for the Cruz campaign.
After the Leak
By early 2015, Mr. Wylie and more than half his original team of about a dozen people had left the company. Most were liberal-leaning, and had grown disenchanted with working on behalf of the hard-right candidates the Mercer family favored.
Cambridge Analytica, in its statement, said that Mr. Wylie had left to start a rival firm, and that it later took legal action against him to enforce intellectual property claims. It characterized Mr. Wylie and other former “contractors” as engaging in “what is clearly a malicious attempt to hurt the company.”
Near the end of that year, a report in The Guardianrevealedthat Cambridge Analytica was using private Facebook data on the Cruz campaign, sending Facebook scrambling. In a statement at the time, Facebook promised that it was “carefully investigating this situation” and would require any company misusing its data to destroy it.
Facebook verified the leak and — without publicly acknowledging it — sought to secure the information, efforts that continued as recently as August 2016. That month, lawyers for the social network reached out to Cambridge Analytica contractors. “This data was obtained and used without permission,” said a letter that was obtained by the Times. “It cannot be used legitimately in the future and must be deleted immediately.”
Mr. Grewal, the Facebook deputy general counsel, said in a statement that both Dr. Kogan and “SCL Group and Cambridge Analytica certified to us that they destroyed the data in question.”
But copies of the data still remain beyond Facebook’s control. The Times viewed a set of raw data from the profiles Cambridge Analytica obtained.
While Mr. Nix has told lawmakers that the company does not have Facebook data, a former employee said that he had recently seen hundreds of gigabytes on Cambridge servers, and that the files were not encrypted.
Today, as Cambridge Analytica seeks to expand its business in the United States and overseas, Mr. Nix has mentioned some questionable practices. This January, in undercover footage filmed by Channel 4 News in Britain and viewed by The Times, he boasted of employing front companies and former spies on behalf of political clients around the world, and even suggested ways to entrap politicians in compromising situations.
All the scrutiny appears to have damaged Cambridge Analytica’s political business. No American campaigns or “super PACs” have yet reported paying the company for work in the 2018 midterms, and it is unclear whether Cambridge will be asked to join Mr. Trump’s re-election campaign.
In the meantime, Mr. Nix is seeking to take psychographics to the commercial advertising market. He has repositioned himself as a guru for the digital ad age — a “Math Man,” heputs it. In the United States last year, a former employee said, Cambridge pitched Mercedes-Benz, MetLife and the brewer AB InBev, but has not signed them on.
Matthew Rosenberg, Nicholas Confessore and Carole Cadwalladr reported from London. Gabriel J.X. Dance contributed reporting from London, and Danny Hakim from New York.
03 December 18 Our long-awaited “Mueller Time” has filled the punditocracy with tales of collusion and delusion. But most have missed the two-word trap door through which Donald Trump is likeliest to fall.
Yes, the Trumputins did steal 2016.
Collusion, technically, is not a crime. Treason is. So is conspiracy. But they may be hard to prove.
Yes, the Don Jr.-Eric-Ivanka-Kushner-Cohen-Manafort cabal has lied to Congress, the courts, and the people. More will arise as the Trump consiglieri flee the sinking ship.
These Rosetta Stones let us view the evolution of Trump’s most obvious illegalities:
• The Donald was born into organized crime.
• His grandfather (a German immigrant) ran a mobbed-up brothel in California.
• His father, a mobbed-up Queens slumlord, was a KKK-supporting, federally-prosecuted racist intimately linked to at least two of the city’s infamous Five Families.
• From age six, Donald helped launder dad’s money with a six-figure income that did not come from his youthful paper route.
• Infamous for stiffing those who backed and worked for him, Donald plunged into billions of debt and at least four bankruptcies.
• But after the Soviet Union fell, a new mobster class of Russian billionaires needed to launder cash into the U.S.
• Many favored Germany’s Deutsche Bank, which became the only financial institution willing to loan Trump money.
• As a shady real estate developer who took cash and asked few questions, The Donald became a Russo-American bag man.
• Trump obliged his ex-Soviet saviors with at least 1300 real estate transactions allowing them to slip countless rubles into the American banking system.
• At the peak sits Vladimir “don” Putin, who took power at the moment of Y2K, to whom nearly all the new Russian billionaires owe fealty, and whose files (forget about that “pee tape”) undoubtedly contain more than enough documentation to sink the entire Trump apparatus in a single afternoon.
• Trump Tower on Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue has became largely a dormitory for Putin’s billionaire cohorts.
• Trump and his family have used the White House as a personal laundromat, leveraging licenses, a bailout for Kushner’s disastrous investments in 666 Fifth Avenue, and much more.
• Much of this has happened in New York, where prosecutions will be beyond the reach of White House pardons.
But the methodical Mueller clearly has Trump’s tax returns. The Donald’s net worth may well be negligible, all in rubles, defined by mobster illegalities dating back at least three decades, many of them prosecutable in Manhattan, where his enemies are legion.
Will Trump’s fake House of Cards then collapse, and his presidency with it?
The real bottom line to the Trump trifecta of collusion, mass perjury, and fiscal felony will not require likely impeachment by a Democratic House or unlikely removal by a GOP Senate.
It could come instead with Trump desperately trying to negotiate pardons for his children … facing post-presidency jail time for the money-laundering buried in those Deutsche Bank files and the testimony of so many desperate consiglieri trying to avoid prison … with the almost certain collapse of his phony financial empire … and with the fury of a media and public to whom he’s been lying nonstop with felonious contempt dating at least from the 1980s.
At some point, the stability-loving corporations that really run this world just might say (as with Dick Nixon):
“ENOUGH!… He got us our tax break and gutted environmental regulation … now he needs to leave.”
The collapse could come in months and weeks, not years. Given his relentless assault on the planet, let’s project Donald’s departure to happen by Earth Day. Nature always bats last.
So, too, might Mueller and New York.
But ultimately, the real push must come from an awakened public, bouncing back at last (in a process begun with2018’s Rainbow Tsunami) with a rebirth of grassroots outrage and social democracy.
Harvey “Sluggo” Wasserman’sLife & Death Spiral of US History: From Deganawidah to Trump to Solartopia,will be published around Earth Day, hopefully in sync with Trump’s departure. His Green Power & Wellness Show podcasts atprn.fm; California Solartopia broadcasts at KPFA-Pacifica 90.7FM in Los Angeles.
We Know How Trump’s War Game Ends
December 21, 2018
Nothing unites our political class like the threat of ending our never-ending war
So we’re withdrawing troops from the Middle East.
What’s the War on Terror death count by now, a half-million? How much have we spent, $5 trillion? Five-and-a-half?
For that cost, we’ve destabilized the region to the point of abject chaos, inspired millions of Muslims to hate us, and torn up the Geneva Convention and half the Constitution in pursuit of policies like torture, kidnapping, assassination-by-robot and warrantless detention.
It will be difficult for each of us to even begin to part with our share of honor in those achievements. This must be why all those talking heads on TV are going crazy.
Unless Donald Trump decides to reverse his decision to begin withdrawals from Syria and Afghanistan, cable news for the next few weeks is going to be one long Scanners marathon of exploding heads.
“Today’s decision would cheer Moscow, ISIS, and Iran!” yelped Nicole Wallace, former George W. Bush communications director.
“Maybe Trump will bring Republicans and Democrats together,” said Bill Kristol, on MSNBC, that “liberal” channel that somehow seems to be populated round the clock by ex-neocons and Pentagon dropouts.
Kristol, who has rarely ever been in the ballpark of right about anything — he once told us Iraq was going to be a “two month war” — might actually be correct.
Trump’s decisions on Syria and Afghanistan will lay bare the real distinctions in American politics. Political power in this country is not divided between right and left, and not even between rich and poor.
The real line is between a war party, and everyone else.
This is why Kristol is probably right. The Democrats’ plan until now was probably to impeach Trump in the House using at minimum some material from the Michael Cohen case involving campaign-finance violations.
That plan never had a chance to succeed in the Senate, but now, who knows? Troop withdrawals may push a collection of hawkish Republicans like Lindsey Graham, Marco Rubio, Ben Sasse and maybe even Mitch McConnell into another camp.
The departure of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis — a standard-issue Pentagon toady who’s never met an unending failure of a military engagement he didn’t like and whose resignation letter is now being celebrated as inspirational literature on the order of the Gettysburg Address or a lost epic by Auden or Eliot — sounded an emergency bell for all these clowns. The letter by Mattis, Rubio said:
“Makes it abundantly clear we are headed towards a series of grave policy errors which will endanger our nation, damage our alliances & empower our adversaries.”
Talk like this is designed to give political cover to Republican fence-sitters on Trump. That wry smile on Kristol’s face is, I’d guess, connected to the knowledge that Trump put the Senate in play by even threatening to pull the plug on our Middle Eastern misadventures.
You’ll hear all sorts of arguments today about why the withdrawals are bad. You’ll hear Trump has no plan, which is true. He never does, at least not on policy.
But we don’t exactly have a plan for staying in the Middle East, either, beyond installing a permanent garrison in a dozen countries, spending assloads of money and making ourselves permanently despised in the region as civilian deaths pile up through drone-bombings and other “surgical” actions.
You’ll hear we’re abandoning allies and inviting massacres by the likes of Turkish dictator Recep Tayyip Erdogan. If there was any evidence that our presence there would do anything but screw up the situation even more, I might consider that a real argument. At any rate, there are other solutions beyond committing American lives. We could take in more refugees, kick Turkey out of NATO, impose sanctions, etc.
As to the argument that we’re abandoning Syria to Russians — anyone who is interested in reducing Russian power should be cheering. If there’s any country in the world that equals us in its ability to botch an occupation and get run out on a bloody rail after squandering piles of treasure, it’s Russia. They may even be better at it than us. We can ask the Afghans about that on our way out of there.
The Afghan conflict became the longest military engagement in American history eight years ago. Despite myths to the contrary, Barack Obama did not enter office gung-ho to leave Afghanistan. He felt he needed to win there first, which, as anyone who’s read The Great Game knows, proved impossible. So we ended up staying throughout his presidency.
We were going to continue to stay there, and in other places, forever, because our occupations do not work, as everyone outside of Washington seems to understand.
TV talking heads will be unanimous on this subject, but the population, not so much. What polls we have suggest voters want out of the region in increasing numbers.
A Morning Consult/Politico poll from last year showed a plurality favored a troop decrease in Afghanistan, while only 5 percent wanted increases. Polls consistently show the public thinks our presence in Afghanistan has been a failure.
There’s less about how the public feels about Syria, but even there, the data doesn’t show overwhelming desire to put boots on the ground.
When Trump first ordered airstrikes in Syria over Assad’s use of chemical weapons, 70 percent favored sanctions according to Politico, while 39 percent favored sending troops. A CBS poll around that time found 45 percent wanted either no involvement period, or airstrikes and no ground troops, versus 18 percent who wanted full military involvement.
Trump is a madman, a far-right extremist and an embarrassment, but that’s not why most people in Washington hate him. It’s his foreign-policy attitudes, particularly toward NATO, that have always most offended DC burghers.
You could see the Beltway beginning to lose its mind back in the Republican primary race, when then-candidate Trump belittled America’s commitment to Middle Eastern oil states.
“Every time there’s a little ruckus, we send those ships and those planes,” he said, early in his campaign. “We get nothing. Why? They’re making a billion a day. We get nothing.”
As he got closer to the nomination, he went after neoconservative theology more explicitly.
“I don’t think we should be nation-building anymore,” he said, in March of 2016. He went on: “I watched as we built schools in Iraq and they’re blown up. We build another one, we get blown up.”
Trump was wrong about a thousand other things, but this was true. I had done a story about how military contractors spent $72 million on what was supposed to be an Iraqi police academy and delivered a pile of rubble so unusable, pedestrians made it into a toilet.
The Special Inspector General for Iraqi Reconstruction noted, “We witnessed a light fixture so full of diluted urine and feces that it would not operate.”
SIGIR found we spent over $60 billion on Iraqi reconstruction and did not significantly improvelife for Iraqis. The parallel body covering Afghanistan, the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction, concluded last year that at least $15.5 billion had been wasted in that country between 2008 and 2017, and this was likely only a “fraction” of financial leakage.
Trump, after sealing the nomination, upped the ante. In the summer of 2016 he said he wasn’t sure he’d send troops to defend NATO members that didn’t pay their bills. NATO members are supposed to kick in 2 percent of GDP for their own defense. At the time, only four NATO members(Estonia, Poland, the U.K. and the U.S.) were in compliance.
Politicians went insane. How dare he ask countries to pay for their own defense! Republican House member Adam Kinzinger, a popular guest in the last 24 hours, said in July 2016 that Trump’s comments were “utterly disastrous.”
“There’s no precedent,” said Thomas Wright, a “Europe scholar” from the Brookings Institute.
When the news came after Trump’s election that he’d only read his intelligence briefings once a week instead of every day as previous presidents had dutifully done, that was it. The gloves were off at that point.
“The open disdain Trump has shown for the agencies is unprecedented,” said Patrick Skinner, a former CIA official for both George W. Bush and Obama.
All that followed, through today, has to be understood through this prism.
Trump dumped on basically every segment of the political establishment en route to Washington, running on a classic authoritarian strategy — bash the elites, pose as a populist.
However fake he was, there were portions of the political establishment that deserved abuse, the Pentagon most of all.
The Department of Defense has been a money pit for decades. It has trillions in expenditures it can’t account for, refused an audit for nearly 30 years and then failed this year (as in failed completely, zero-point-zero, not producing any coherent numbers) when one was finally funded.
We have brave and able soldiers, but their leaders are utter tools who’ve left a legacy of massacres and botched interventions around the world.
NATO? That’s an organization whose mission stopped making sense the moment the Soviet Union collapsed. We should long ago have repurposed our defense plan to focus on terrorism, cyber-crime and cyber-attacks, commercial espionage, financial security, and other threats.
Instead, we continued after the Soviet collapse to maintain a global military alliance fattened with increasingly useless carriers and fighter jets, designed to fight archaic forms of war.
NATO persisted mainly as a PR mechanism for a) justifying continued obscene defense spending levels and b) giving a patina of internationalism to America’s essentially unilateral military adventures.
We’d go into a place like Afghanistan with no real plan for leaving, and a few member nations like Estonia and France and Turkey would send troops to get shot at with us. But it was always basically Team America: World Police with supporting actors. No wonder so few of the member countries paid their dues.
Incidentally, this isn’t exactly a secret. Long before Trump, this is what Barney Frank was saying in 2010: “I think the time has come to reexamine NATO. NATO has become an excuse for other people to get America to do things.”
This has all been a giant, bloody, expensive farce, and it’s long since time we ended it.
We’ll see a lot of hand-wringing today from people who called themselves anti-war in 2002 and 2003, but now pray that the “adults in the room” keep “boots on the ground” to preserve “credibility.”
Part of this is because it’s Trump, but a bigger part is that we’ve successfully brainwashed big chunks of the population into thinking it’s normal for a country to exist in a state of permanent war, fighting in seven countries at once, spending half of all discretionary funding on defense.
It’s not. It’s insane. And we’ll never be a healthy society, or truly respected abroad, until we stop accepting it as normal.
Matt Taibbi is a contributing editor for Rolling Stone and winner of the 2008 National Magazine Award for columns and commentary. His most recent book is ‘I Can’t Breathe: A Killing on Bay Street,’ about the infamous killing of Eric Garner by the New York City police. He’s also the author of the New York Times bestsellers ‘Insane Clown President,’ ‘The Divide,’ ‘Griftopia,’ and ‘The Great Derangement.’
**Veteran died after confrontation at Kansas City VA hospital. Senators demand answers**
BY ANDY MARSO
DECEMBER 11, 2018 05:30 AM
A man named Dale Farhner died in May after a confrontation with Kansas City VA Medical Center police. The VA has declined to provide any information about his death.
Two U.S. senators are seeking answers about the death of a veteran following an altercation at the Kansas City \[VA Medical Center\]\[\]. VA officials have declined for months to provide information to The Star.
Dale Farhner of Kingston, Mo., died in May, and since then The Star has sought details about what happened. ButVA officials have withheld information, saying the matter remains under review.
U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat, and U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, a Missouri Republican, sent a joint letter to U.S. Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie last week, asking for answers.
“We certainly appreciate the requirements of an investigation, but hope that after over six months some initial information can be forthcoming,” the letter reads. “The health and well-being of our veterans have been among our highest shared priorities in Congress. Please release any information that can be made public regarding Mr. Farhner, and if not, please explain the reasons why.”
The Star received an anonymous tip that on May 10 Farhner had a confrontation with VA police outside the entrance to the medical center’s emergency department, at 4801 Linwood Blvd. The tipster said Farhner was comatose following the confrontation and was taken to the University of Kansas Hospital, where he was diagnosed with a brain hemorrhage.
The tipster said Farhner died May 12 at KU Hospital. That much is confirmed by \[online obituaries\]\[\], which said he was 66 and from Kingston. Efforts to reach his next-of-kin, as identified by his funeral home, were not successful.
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The Star sought comment in May from Dwayne Rider, who was then the spokesman for the Kansas City VA Medical Center.
Rider responded via email on May 31, saying “due to privacy restrictions, we cannot release additional information at this time.”
The Star filed a formal request under the Freedom of Information Act that same day.
The VA responded on July 7 with an emailed letter saying it had identified “nine documents totaling 18 pages of written records, and one video, and one audio recording” relevant to the request.
But VA records manager Laura Hughes wrote that she was withholding all of it “based on the open/pending status of the Veterans Health Administration Office of Security & Law Enforcement review.”
“Due to the open/pending status the documents are pre-decisional to VHA’s findings and decision regarding this incident,” Hughes said. “Based upon the information available to me I believe release of the records could potentially impair the deliberative process as release of the pre-decisional document to the public would likely negatively impact a frank discussion on matters of policy between subordinates and supervisors.”
The Star lodged a formal appeal of that decision on July 20.
As of Monday, the VA’s appeals office had provided no response. Tracy Knight, an information specialist in the Washington, D.C., office of the VA’s general legal counsel, said she could give no time line for a decision.
“The attorney who’s working it has been in contact with his deputy and they’ve got to go back and forth and do some additional work,” Knight said.
On Monday, Kansas City VA staff once again rebuffed requests for comment on Farhner’s death.
The Jackson County Medical Examiner’s office performed Fahrner’s autopsy, but Marshanna Hester, a spokeswoman for the office, said no information could be released because the case is still open.
“All documents prepared by and in the custody of the Jackson County Medical Examiner’s Office relating to this matter are investigative reports of a law enforcement agency and are thus closed records until the investigation becomes inactive,” Hester said Friday via email.