Author Archive: mrdsk

Meet the Hundreds of Officials Trump Has Quietly Installed Across the Government

Justin Elliott, Derek Kravitz and Al Shaw report for ProPublica:

Image result for Meet the Hundreds of Officials Trump Has Quietly Installed Across the GovernmentA Trump campaign aide who argues that Democrats committed “ethnic cleansing” in a plot to “liquidate” the white working class. A former reality show contestant whose study of societal collapse inspired him to invent a bow-and-arrow-cum-survivalist multi-tool. A pair of healthcare industry lobbyists. A lobbyist for defense contractors. An “evangelist” and lobbyist for Palantir, the Silicon Valley company with close ties to intelligence agencies. And a New Hampshire Trump supporter who has only recently graduated from high school.

These are some of the people the Trump administration has hired for positions across the federal government, according to documents received by ProPublica through public-records requests.

While President Trump has not moved to fill many jobs that require Senate confirmation, he has quietly installed hundreds of officials to serve as his eyes and ears at every major federal agency, from the Pentagon to the Department of Interior.

Unlike appointees exposed to the scrutiny of the Senate, members of these so-called “beachhead teams” have operated largely in the shadows, with the White House declining to publicly reveal their identities.

While some names have previously dribbled out in the press, we are publishing a list of more than 400 hires, providing the most complete accounting so far of who Trump has brought into the federal government.

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Amy Goodman speaks to journalist Justin Elliott who has been looking into the hundreds of officials Trump has quietly installed across the government. He describes the backgrounds of these officials in a recent piece for ProPublica. (Democracy Now!)

Mini-Nukes and Mosquito-like Robot Weapons Being Primed for Future Warfare

Jeff Daniel reports for CNBC:

A mosquito used for Zika research.Several countries are developing nanoweapons that could unleash attacks using mini-nuclear bombs and insect-like lethal robots.

While it may be the stuff of science fiction today, the advancement of nanotechnology in the coming years will make it a bigger threat to humanity than conventional nuclear weapons, according to an expert. The U.S., Russia and China are believed to be investing billions on nanoweapons research.

“Nanobots are the real concern about wiping out humanity because they can be weapons of mass destruction,” said Louis Del Monte, a Minnesota-based physicist and futurist. He’s the author of a just released book entitled “Nanoweapons: A Growing Threat To Humanity.”

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Inside the ‘Blackwater of Jihad’

Kim Sengupta reports for The Independent:

malhama-tactical.jpgThey wear the latest and most advanced body armour and helmets, camouflage gear and anti-ballistic sunglasses: the fashion statement favoured by frontline private security companies across the world’s combat zones. But Malhama Tactical is not from the West like most of the others. Its fighters are in Syria training Islamists: a “Blackwater of jihad” who have found a new way of cashing in on the self-styled “caliphate”.

Blackwater became the most high-profile of Western security contractors in Iraq, gaining notoriety as the most violent and aggressive of the corporate military firms that spotted a highly lucrative trade following the “liberation” of the country in 2003. Such firms were largely immune from scrutiny or prosecution: that changed after a particularly bloody day in Baghdad.

One late morning in September in 2007, I watched as Blackwater’s guards opened fire from their armoured cars into families out on a Sunday in a popular location, Nisoor Square: 17 civilians were killed and more than were 40 injured. Four of the guards were later convicted in connection with the deaths. Blackwater changed its name, first to Xe Services and then Academi and continues to receive US government contracts.

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Louise Mensch Op-Ed Sparks Feud At The New York Times

Steven Perlberg reports for BuzzFeed:

A civil war between news and opinion has broken out at the New York Times.

In a Times op-ed posted online Friday, Louise Mensch, a writer and former member of the UK Parliament, gives her suggestion for what questions the House Intelligence Committee should ask as it holds hearings on Russia’s influence in the US election. Mensch offers Times readers reason to trust her expertise: “In November, I broke the story that a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court had issued a warrant that enabled the F.B.I. to examine communications between ‘U.S. persons’ in the Trump campaign relating to Russia-linked banks,” she writes.

On Twitter, Times reporters lashed out.

“Please note that the NYT newsroom disagrees,” national security reporter Charlie Savage tweeted. Savage highlighted from his report this month knocking down the FISA claim: “To date, reporters for The New York Times with demonstrated sources in that world have been unable to corroborate that the court issued any such order.”

The core of the dispute is whether the FISA court granted a warrant, which the Times and Washington Post have not reported, though the BBC and McClatchy have. The Guardian reported about a June FISA request but stopped short at confirming the supposed October one was granted.

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How Egypt’s Activists Became ‘Generation Jail’

Joshua Hammer reports for The New York Times:

Image result for How Egypt’s Activists Became ‘Generation Jail’[…] It was just six years ago that Ahmed Maher was celebrated around the world as a symbol of freedom and democracy. In January 2011, as the leader of a social-media-savvy network of young activists called the April 6 Youth Movement, Maher mobilized hundreds of thousands of Egyptians in demonstrations in Cairo’s Tahrir Square and across the country that took down President Hosni Mubarak. The movement was considered for a Nobel Peace Prize, and Maher traveled across Europe and the United States talking about the Arab Spring and Egypt’s future with the likes of Ban Ki-moon and Lech Walesa. But the hopes that were raised by the revolution dissolved into sectarianism and chaos, and Maher’s aspirations were extinguished within two years. Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the defense minister and commander in chief of the armed forces, seized power in July 2013 and outlawed protests. Five months later, a judge found Maher guilty of illegal demonstration, rioting and “thuggery” and sentenced him to three years in jail. Another judge added six months to Maher’s sentence for “verbally assaulting a public officer while on duty” after he demanded that the police remove his handcuffs while in court for a 2014 appeal. Maher spent almost all of that period sealed in a small cell in a solitary-confinement wing at Tora Prison, a notorious complex on the outskirts of Cairo, built during British rule, that houses about 2,500 political prisoners and common criminals. Hidden behind 25-foot-high walls, the vast compound encompasses seven prison blocks, ranging from a minimum-security facility for policemen and judges convicted of taking bribes to the supermax “Scorpion Prison,” a labyrinth of cells largely reserved for Islamists and April 6 leaders.

Today Maher is nominally a free man, but the restrictions on his movements are stifling. The regime is deeply concerned that he could revive the social-media network that brought his followers to the streets six years ago. As it was explained to Maher, “tweets can lead to demonstrations, and demonstrations can lead to revolution, and that will bring down the regime and create martyrs,” he said. “So if you are tweeting, you are like a terrorist.”

Every day for the next three years, Maher must spend 12 of every 24 hours at his local police station, a “surveillance period” intended to ensure that he refrains from anti-regime activity. Under Egyptian law, he told me, low-risk felons “have the right to have their surveillance inside the home with a guard downstairs. But they are using this surveillance as punishment. It is a kind of control to keep me all the time under pressure.”

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Trump Broadens CIA Powers, Allows Deadly Drone Strikes

Gordon Lubold and Shane Harris reports for The Wall Street Journal:

Image result for Trump Broadens CIA Powers, Allows Deadly Drone StrikesPresident Donald Trump has given the Central Intelligence Agency secret new authority to conduct drone strikes against suspected terrorists, U.S. officials said, changing the Obama administration’s policy of limiting the spy agency’s paramilitary role and reopening a turf war between the agency and the Pentagon.

The new authority, which hadn’t been previously disclosed, represents a significant departure from a cooperative approach that had become standard practice by the end of former President Barack Obama’s tenure: The CIA used drones and other intelligence resources to locate suspected terrorists and then the military conducted the actual strike. The U.S. drone strike that killed Taliban leader Mullah Mansour in May 2016 in Pakistan was the best example of that hybrid approach, U.S. officials said.

The Obama administration put the military in charge of pulling the trigger to promote transparency and accountability. The CIA, which operates under covert authorities, wasn’t required to disclose the number of suspected terrorists or civilian bystanders it killed in drone strikes. The Pentagon, however, must publicly report most airstrikes.

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Debunking America’s “Good” Occupation

Andrew J. Bacevich reviews The Good Occupation by Susan Carruthers for The American Conservative:

At what point do egregious factual errors undermine the credibility of an otherwise carefully researched and thoughtful book? I can’t say with precision, but The Good Occupation by Susan Carruthers, a professor of history at Rutgers University-Newark, comes precariously close to that line.

The subject at hand is a cherished myth: that after World War II, U.S. occupation forces handily converted enemies into friends, inculcating into peoples with a prior affinity for militarism and totalitarianism a deep devotion to liberal values. In fascist Italy, the western precincts of the former Third Reich, and emperor-worshipping Japan, the United States military demonstrated a unique capacity to export democracy. In a mere handful of years, tutored by helpful GIs, the “other” thereby became a reasonable facsimile of “us.” So the story goes.

In the ensuing decades, liberal interventionists and neoconservatives have taken turns insisting that the United States military can (and should) replicate these putative successes elsewhere. Rarely have the results proved favorable. In Vietnam during the 1960s, the outcome was plain awful. During more recent endeavors in Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States has hardly fared any better. Yet even today, as Carruthers notes, “the virtuous aura around the post-1945 occupations remains undimmed.”

Take a closer look at what actually occurred when U.S. forces were calling the shots in former Axis countries, Carruthers insists, and such subsequent disappointments should come as no surprise. As with the “Good War” so too with the “Good Occupation”: between what actually happened then and what Americans have since chosen to remember, there yawns a very wide gap.

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How Russia and WikiLeaks Became Allies Against the West

Matthew Kupfer writes for The Moscow Times:

[…] If Russia has ties with WikiLeaks today, that certainly wasn’t the case seven years ago, says Mika Velikovsky, a Russian journalist who worked extensively with WikiLeaks and interviewed Assange three times.

While working for the magazine Russian Reporter, WikiLeaks’ main partner in Russia, Velikovsky received packets of U.S. diplomatic cables from Shamir, sorted through the documents and published articles based upon them. He also worked on the 2012 leak of emails from the intelligence company Stratfor and collaborated with WikiLeaks on the 2013 documentary film Mediastan.

In 2010, Velikovsky defended WikiLeaks on Russian state television’s political talk shows — programs that often reflect the positions of the Kremlin. There, he clashed with pro-Kremlin experts who claimed that WikiLeaks was the anti-Russian project of American spies.

“At the time, it seemed the authorities were worried about WikiLeaks and didn’t know what it was,” he says. “So the Russian mainstream media was very anti-WikiLeaks.”

Then, in 2012, Julian Assange got a show on RT, a Russian state-funded propaganda channel. The development came amid a worldwide financial blockade of WikiLeaks, when the organization desperately needed money. Velikovsky thinks Assange’s appearance on RT marked WikiLeaks’ transformation from a threat to an ally in the eyes of the Russian authorities.

However, he suggests that WikiLeaks’ seeming alliance with Russia stems from Assange’s own personal predicament. Hiding in the Ecuadorian Embassy for over 4 years has robbed Assange of “a lot of the joy [of life] that you and I have,” Velikovsky says. “If someone did that to us, it would be very personal.”

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Key Democratic Officials Now Warning Base Not to Expect Evidence of Trump/Russia Collusion

Glenn Greenwald writes for The Intercept:

From MSNBC politics shows to town hall meetings across the country, the overarching issue for the Democratic Party’s base since Trump’s victory has been Russia, often suffocating attention for other issues. This fixation has persisted even though it has no chance to sink the Trump presidency unless it is proven that high levels of the Trump campaign actively colluded with the Kremlin to manipulate the outcome of the U.S. election — a claim for which absolutely no evidence has thus far been presented.

The principal problem for Democrats is that so many media figures and online charlatans are personally benefiting from feeding the base increasingly unhinged, fact-free conspiracies — just as right-wing media polemicists did after both Bill Clinton and Obama were elected — that there are now millions of partisan soldiers absolutely convinced of a Trump/Russia conspiracy for which, at least as of now, there is no evidence. And they are all waiting for the day, which they regard as inevitable and imminent, when this theory will be proven and Trump will be removed.

Key Democratic officials are clearly worried about the expectations that have been purposely stoked and are now trying to tamp them down. Many of them have tried to signal that the beliefs the base has been led to adopt have no basis in reason or evidence.

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Trump’s Tax Returns Were Released By… Trump?

Stephen Colbert pokes fun at Rachel Maddow for making a complete hash of her apparent scoop regarding President Trump’s tax returns. (The Late Show)

Why Does WikiLeaks Keep Publishing U.S. State Secrets? Private Contractors

Tim Shorrock, author of Spies for Hire, writes for The Washington Post:

Image result for Why does WikiLeaks keep publishing U.S. state secrets? Private contractorsWhen WikiLeaks released more than 8,000 files about the CIA’s global hacking programs this month, it dropped a tantalizing clue: The leak came from private contractors. Federal investigators quickly confirmed this, calling contractors the likeliest sources. As a result of the breach, WikiLeaks editor Julian Assange said, the CIA had “lost control of its entire cyberweapons arsenal.”

Intelligence insiders were dismayed. Agencies “take a chance with contractors” because “they may not have the same loyalty” as officers employed by the government, former CIA director Leon Panetta lamented to NBC.

But this is a liability built into our system that intelligence officials have long known about and done nothing to correct. As I first reported in 2007, some 70 cents of every intelligence dollar is allocated to the private sector. And the relentless pace of mergers and acquisitions in the spies-for-hire business has left five corporations in control of about 80 percent of the 45,000 contractors employed in U.S. intelligence. The threat from unreliable employees in this multibillion-dollar industry is only getting worse.

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The Empire Files: Steve Bannon Exposé

Steve Bannon has been propelled over the last year from fringe media outlier to top propagandist of the U.S. Empire as Trump’s Chief Strategist. From his Wall Street roots and apocalyptic film career to his cultivation of alt-right bigots at Breitbart News, Abby Martin exposes Bannon’s true character in this explosive documentary. Dissection of Bannon’s ideology of “economic nationalism” and desire to “Make America Great Again” reveals the danger of his hand in Trump’s agenda. (The Empire Files)

South Korea Removes President, North Korea Test Fires Missile During Annual U.S. War Games

Amy Goodman speaks to University of Chicago professor Bruce Cumings, author of several books on the Koreas, and Christine Ahn, founder and international coordinator of Women Cross DMZ, about ousted South Korean leader Park Geun-hye and North Korea’s latest missile test. (Democracy Now!)

Dermokratiya, USA

Sean Guillory writes for Jacobin:

Image result for yeltsin time cover yanks to the rescueIn January, the CIA, FBI, and NSA released their much-anticipated report on Russian interference in the 2016 election. It states that Putin had a “clear preference” for Trump and personally ordered operations designed to get him elected. Russia’s intervention, the report goes on, was the “boldest” in its “longstanding desire to undermine the US-led liberal democratic order.”

The outcry over Russian machinations comes with a heavy dose of irony considering that, twenty years ago, the United States launched an even bolder interference campaign to ensure Boris Yeltsin’s reelection.

The 1990s were one of the most tumultuous and tragic periods in modern Russian history. In 1996, a chaotic mix of Russian schemes — from fraud and profiteering to old-fashioned conspiracy — worked to keep Yeltsin in the driver’s seat. Throughout, American players silently watched, facilitated, and at times, actively helped construct the Faustian bargain between Yeltsin and his oligarch supporters. This pact would have ruinous effects on Russia’s democracy and economy in the decades to come.

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Inside the Illuminati with Rosie Kay and Adam Curtis

Judith Mackrell reports for The Guardian:

“I’ve fallen down the rabbit hole,” admits Rosie Kay with a slightly wild giggle, as she describes the world of conspiracies, cults and celebrities that she has been exploring for her latest work. The choreographer has long been known for her brave and sometimes surprising choices, and for the depth of research she undertakes. She and her dancers spent weeks in training with the British army for 5 Soldiers, while for Sluts of Possession she worked with the School of Anthropology at Oxford, investigating tribal and spiritual ritual. None of her projects, though, have taken her into such alien territory as MK Ultra.

Named after the experiments in mind control that the CIA developed during the last century, Kay’s new show explores the phenomenon of the Illuminati, a shadowy cult believed to be on an elaborate mission of global domination, spreading its agenda through the brainwashing of prominent individuals in politics and the media.

Belief in the cult is particularly strong among young people, and when Kay first began hearing about it from the teenagers who came to her dance workshops, she discovered that pop stars are considered to be the Illuminati’s most targeted “recruits”. Groomed from a young age, singers like Britney Spears, Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber, Lindsay Lohan and Kanye West have supposedly been made agents of the Illuminati’s New World Order, their songs and videos carrying messages designed to subtly alter the public’s consciousness. According to Kay, “the under-25s now have a whole system for decoding the imagery of music videos, looking for symbols like thrones, butterflies, checkered floors and bird cages, to see if they’re carrying the cult’s message and to see which celebrities have been programmed”.

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Sir Tim Berners-Lee: ‘Fake News’ One of Three Challenges Stopping Web From Serving Humanity

Freddy Mayhew reports for Press Gazette:

Inventor of the World Wide Web Sir Tim Berners-Lee has pointed to the spread of “fake news” as one of three challenges stopping his creation from being “a tool which serves all of humanity”.

The exchange of personal data for free content and a lack of transparency around political advertising were also highlighted as areas of concern for the computer scientist.

In an open letter on the 28th anniversary of his original proposal for the World Wide Web, Berners-Lee set out a five-year plan to tackle these three “complex problems”.

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The Choose-Your-Own-News Adventure

[…] As George Stephanopoulos told me when we spoke by phone over the weekend, the trend may have been heading this way for a while — you don’t need an algorithmic feed to turn on Fox News or to catch Rush Limbaugh. But in the era of the curated digital news stream, the choose-your-news phenomenon has “ended up in a whole new place,” Mr. Stephanopoulos said.

It’s easy to overdo it, he noted, given that no specially tailored plotline can fully tune out the contradicting details of another one. “Filters do have to contend with each other in some way, too,” he said.

Really, arguments between adherents of the different adventure plots are the stuff of cable news programming, with each narrative vying for supremacy in debates that too often become arguments over established facts that should be indisputable.

Because, after all, one of the plots we’re talking about here is of the sort that democracy depends on — that would be Adventure B, the one based on established facts that exist in the real world — and the others are of the sort that threatens to undermine any shared sense of truth while driving us into our corners.

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Trump Never Needed a Trump TV — He’s Got the Fox Business Network

Andrew Kirell writes for The Daily Beast:

It turns out Donald Trump never would have needed to launch his own cable-news outlet if he’d lost the election. He already has one: It’s called the Fox Business Network.

Fox News’s sister channel, founded in 2007 as a direct competitor to CNBC, struggled for nearly a decade to gain any steam with viewers. It was only a few years ago that much of FBN was experiencing abysmal ratings, often in the single-digit thousands for its key demographic. The schedule routinely shuffled, programs were slashed wholesale, and the network constantly seemed to be grappling with an identity crisis.

That was until Trump ran for president.

Over the past two years, FBN—which employed this writer from 2009 to 2012—has experienced explosive ratings growth tracking with the ascent of the president to whom it has devoted hours and hours of unabashedly positive coverage. In 2015, it was the fastest-growing network on all of cable, raking in double- and triple-digit growth in almost all relevant ratings factors. And last year, it continued that impressive, record-shattering surge, this time claiming to have beaten CNBC in business-day ratings for an entire quarter—a trend that has continued into 2017.

Of course, a former reality-TV-star-turned-presidential-candidate throwing punches on a daily basis for 17 months was an obvious boon to all of television news, as executives of all stripes have freely admitted. But Trump’s rise was especially integral in shaping Fox Business Network’s identity.

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The Dance of Death

Chris Hedges writes for Truthdig:

The ruling corporate elites no longer seek to build. They seek to destroy. They are agents of death. They crave the unimpeded power to cannibalize the country and pollute and degrade the ecosystem to feed an insatiable lust for wealth, power and hedonism. Wars and military “virtues” are celebrated. Intelligence, empathy and the common good are banished. Culture is degraded to patriotic kitsch. Education is designed only to instill technical proficiency to serve the poisonous engine of corporate capitalism. Historical amnesia shuts us off from the past, the present and the future. Those branded as unproductive or redundant are discarded and left to struggle in poverty or locked away in cages. State repression is indiscriminant and brutal. And, presiding over the tawdry Grand Guignol is a deranged ringmaster tweeting absurdities from the White House.

The graveyard of world empires—Sumerian, Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Mayan, Khmer, Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian—followed the same trajectory of moral and physical collapse. Those who rule at the end of empire are psychopaths, imbeciles, narcissists and deviants, the equivalents of the depraved Roman emperors Caligula, Nero, Tiberius and Commodus. The ecosystem that sustains the empire is degraded and exhausted. Economic growth, concentrated in the hands of corrupt elites, is dependent on a crippling debt peonage imposed on the population. The bloated ruling class of oligarchs, priests, courtiers, mandarins, eunuchs, professional warriors, financial speculators and corporate managers sucks the marrow out of society.

The elites’ myopic response to the looming collapse of the natural world and the civilization is to make subservient populations work harder for less, squander capital in grandiose projects such as pyramids, palaces, border walls and fracking, and wage war. President Trump’s decision to increase military spending by $54 billion and take the needed funds out of the flesh of domestic programs typifies the behavior of terminally ill civilizations. When the Roman Empire fell, it was trying to sustain an army of half a million soldiers that had become a parasitic drain on state resources.

The complex bureaucratic mechanisms that are created by all civilizations ultimately doom them. The difference now, as Joseph Tainter points out in “The Collapse of Complex Societies,” is that “collapse, if and when it comes again, will this time be global. No longer can any individual nation collapse. World civilization will disintegrate as a whole.”

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Yemen Is a Complicated and Unwinnable War

Patrick Cockburn writes for The Independent:

yemen.jpg[…] If ever there was a complicated and unwinnable war to keep out of, it is this one.

Despite Saudi allegations, there is little evidence that the Houthis get more than rhetorical support from Iran and this is far less than Saudi Arabia gets from the US and Britain. There is no sign that the Saudi-led air bombardment, which has been going on for two years, will decisively break the military stalemate. All that Saudi intervention has achieved so far is to bring Yemen close to all out famine. “Seven million Yemenis are ever closer to starvation,” said Jamie McGoldrick, the UN humanitarian coordinator for Yemen in an appeal for more aid this week.

But at the very moment that the UN is warning about the calamity facing Yemen, the US State Department has given permission for a resumption of the supply of precision guided weapons to Saudi Arabia. These sales were suspended last October by President Obama after Saudi aircraft bombed a funeral in the capital Sana’a, killing more than 100 mourners. Ever since Saudi Arabia started its bombing campaign in March 2015, the US has been refuelling its aircraft and has advisors in the Saudi operational headquarters. For the weapons sales to go ahead all that is needed is White House permission.

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Women and Children in Yemeni Village Recall Horror of Trump’s ‘Highly Successful’ SEAL Raid

Iona Craig reports for The Intercept:

Map-04-07-1488835482[…] The Intercept’s reporting from al Ghayil in the aftermath of the raid and the eyewitness accounts provided by residents, as well as information from current and former military officials, challenge many of the Trump administration’s key claims about the “highly successful” operation, from the description of an assault on a fortified compound — there are no compounds or walled-off houses in the village — to the “large amounts of vital intelligence” the president said were collected.

According to a current U.S. special operations adviser and a former senior special operations officer, it was not intelligence the Pentagon was after but a key member of al Qaeda. The raid was launched in an effort to capture or kill Qassim al Rimi, the leader of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, according to the special operations adviser, who asked to remain anonymous because details behind the raid are classified.

Villagers interviewed by The Intercept rejected claims that al Rimi was present in al Ghayil, although one resident described seeing an unfamiliar black SUV arriving in the village hours before the raid. Six days after the operation, AQAP media channels released an audio statement from al Rimi, who mocked President Trump and the raid. The White House and the military have denied that the AQAP leader was the target of the mission, insisting the SEALs were sent in to capture electronic devices and material to be used for intelligence gathering. A spokesperson for CENTCOM told The Intercept the military has not yet determined whether al Rimi was in al Ghayil when the SEALs arrived.

Although some details about the mission remain unclear, the account that has emerged suggests the Trump White House is breaking with Obama administration policies that were intended to limit civilian casualties. The change — if permanent — would increase the likelihood of civilian deaths in so-called capture or kill missions like the January 29 raid.

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Jesse Ventura Challenges Alex Jones on His Support for Trump

Former Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura challenges Alex Jones on his support for Trump and the electoral college, as well as his views on marijuana legalisation and climate change. (Reich Wing Watch)

Valut 7: John Kiriakou and James Bamford on What the Wikileaks Dump Tells Us

Thom Hartmann speaks to former CIA analyst and whistleblower John Kiriakou and journalist James Bamford, author of Body of Secrets and The Shadow Factory, about the recent Wikileaks ‘Vault 7’ dump and what it reveals about hacking and surveillance techniques used by the CIA. (The Big Picture)

The New Authoritarians: Today’s Dictators Speak for the Complainer, Not the Idealist

Holly Case, associate professor of history at Brown University and the author of Between States, writes for Aeon:

Image result for The new authoritariansWe might take the demonstrative demise of strongmen such as Nicolae Ceaușescu in Romania, Saddam Hussein in Iraq, and – more recently and unobtrusively – Fidel Castro in Cuba to indicate that the day of the dictator has largely passed. Alas, authoritarianism is staging a comeback. Yet it is clear to poets and political scientists alike that the new authoritarians – Vladimir Putin in Russia, Recep Tayyıp Erdoğan in Turkey, Viktor Orbán in Hungary – are not like the old ones. In his recent poem ‘Some Advice for the New Government’, the poet Adam Zagajewski gave Poland’s newly elected cabinet some mock advice on how to be a new authoritarian:

All professors of constitutional law should be interned for life.
Poets can be left alone. No one reads them anyway.
You’ll need isolation camps, but gentle ones that won’t annoy the United Nations.
Most journalists should be sent to Madagascar.

These new strongmen seem milder, less openly brutal than the likes of Stalin or Hitler. In the words of the Austrian publicist and historian Hans Rauscher: ‘Brutal, naked mass violence against subjects is, at least in Europe and around Europe, no longer declared, insofar as Putins, Erdoğans, and Orbáns govern with the consent of a becalmed people, “freed” from all critical voices.’

But the difference goes well beyond their choice of whom to oppress and how. The autocrat of the mid-20th century was a strict and demanding father out to shape you into an ideal. He wanted you to modernise, learn self-discipline and, above all, self-sacrifice. When Mustafa Kemal Atatürk addressed soldiers during the Entente attack on Ottoman-held Gallipoli in 1915, he told them: ‘I am not ordering you to fight. I am ordering you to die.’ ‘In the Soviet army,’ said Stalin, ‘it takes more courage to retreat than to advance.’

Tough love was thus the signature attribute of the 20th-century dictator. Even when he wasn’t demanding the ultimate sacrifice, he wanted you to lose a few pounds, mothball your fez, lay some more bricks, join a state-run youth organisation (or five), learn a new alphabet (or even a new language) and call it your own, memorise some poems, songs or passages penned by the supreme leader and call them ‘history’. Even democratic heads of state once had higher expectations of their citizenry. That line from John F Kennedy’s 1961 inaugural speech – ‘Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country’ – now sounds like an admonition from an earlier, distant century.

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Are Trump’s Ties to Russia a Dangerous Security Issue or Critics’ Fodder for New Red Scare?

Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez host a debate between attorney Scott Horton, lecturer at Columbia Law School and a contributing editor at Harper’s Magazine, and Robert Parry, veteran investigative journalist and editor of the website Consortium News. (Democracy Now!)

Why the Russia Story Is a Minefield for Democrats and the Media

Matt Taibbi writes for Rolling Stone:

Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper appeared on Meet the Press this past weekend to discuss the Trump-Russia scandal. Chuck Todd asked: Were there improper contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian officials?

JAMES CLAPPER: We did not include any evidence in our report, and I say, “our,” that’s N.S.A., F.B.I. and C.I.A., with my office, the Director of National Intelligence, that had anything, that had any reflection of collusion between members of the Trump campaign and the Russians. There was no evidence of that…

CHUCK TODD: I understand that. But does it exist?

JAMES CLAPPER: Not to my knowledge.

Todd pressed him to elaborate.

CHUCK TODD: If [evidence of collusion] existed, it would have been in this report?

JAMES CLAPPER: This could have unfolded or become available in the time since I left the government.

This is the former Director of National Intelligence telling all of us that as of 12:01 a.m. on January 20th, when he left government, the intelligence agencies had no evidence of collusion between Donald Trump‘s campaign and the government of Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

Virtually all of the explosive breaking news stories on the Trump-Russia front dating back months contain some version of this same disclaimer.

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Leading Putin Critic Warns of Xenophobic Conspiracy Theories Drowning U.S. Discourse and Helping Trump

Glenn Greenwald writes for The Intercept:

Masha Gessen is a Russian-American journalist and author who has become one of the nation’s leading Russia experts and one of its most relentless and vocal critics of Vladimir Putin. She has lived her life on and off in the U.S. and Russia, but as a Jewish lesbian and mother of three children, she left Russia in 2013 and moved back to the U.S. in part because she felt threatened by the increasingly anti-LGBT climate there, one that began particularly targeting LGBT adopted families with discriminatory legislation.

Throughout the years Gessen has become one of the go-to Kremlin critics for the U.S. media, publishing harshly anti-Putin reporting and commentary in numerous media outlets, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, Slate, Harper’s and several articles about political repression in Russia for the Intercept. She has also become a virulent critic of Donald Trump, writing shortly after the election that “Trump is the first candidate in memory who ran not for president but for autocrat—and won,” while describing the critical lessons that can be learned on how to resist Trump’s autocratic impulses by studying Putin.

She now has a new article in the New York Review of Books – entitled “Russia: the Conspiracy Trap” – that I cannot recommend highly enough. Its primary purpose is to describe, and warn about, the insane and toxic conspiracy-mongering about Russia that has taken over not the fringe, dark corners of the internet that normally traffic in such delusional tripe, but rather mainstream U.S. media outlets and the Democratic Party. Few articles have illustrated the serious, multi-faceted dangers of what has become this collective mania in the U.S. as well as Gessen’s does.

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Downplaying U.S. Contribution to Potential Yemen Famine

Adam Johnson writes for Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting:

AP: Almost 1.4 million children face 'imminent death:' UN agencyFor almost two years, the United States has backed—with weapons, logistics and political support—a Saudi-led war in Yemen that has left over 10,000 dead, 40,000 wounded, 2.5 million internally displaced, 2.2 million children suffering from malnutrition and over 90 percent of civilians in need of humanitarian aid.

A recent UN report on the humanitarian crisis and near-famine conditions in Yemen (that encompassed South Sudan, Nigeria and Somalia as well) has led to a rare instance of Western media taking notice of the war and its catastrophic effect. But missing from most of these reports is the role of the United States and its ally Saudi Arabia—whose two-year-long siege and bombing have left the country in ruins.

A Daily News editorial (“USA for Africa (and Yemen),” 2/27/17) called on readers to give to aid organizations helping to alleviate the crisis, but neglected to mention the US/Saudi role in the humanitarian disaster the Daily News itself insisted was “caused by acts of man rather than God.” Which men were those? The Daily News doesn’t say.

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Battle for Manbij shows Syria’s civil war is almost over – and it looks like Bashar Assad has won

Patrick Cockburn reports for The Independent:

manbij-syria.jpgWinners and losers are emerging in what may be the final phase of the Syrian civil war as anti-Isis forces prepare for an attack aimed at capturing Raqqa, the de facto Isis capital in Syria. Kurdish-led Syrian fighters say they have seized part of the road south of Raqqa, cutting Isis off from its other territory further east.

Isis is confronting an array of enemies approaching Raqqa, but these are divided, with competing agendas and ambitions. The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), whose main fighting force is the Syrian Kurdish Popular Mobilisation Units (YPG), backed by the devastating firepower of the US-led air coalition, are now getting close to Raqqa and are likely to receive additional US support. The US currently has 500 Special Operations troops in north-east Syria and may move in American-operated heavy artillery to reinforce the attack on Raqqa.

This is bad news for Turkey, whose military foray into northern Syria called Operation Euphrates Shield began last August, as it is being squeezed from all sides. In particular, an elaborate political and military chess game is being played around the town of Manbij, captured by the SDF last year, with the aim of excluding Turkey, which had declared it to be its next target. The Turkish priority in Syria is to contain and if possible reduce or eliminate the power of Syrian Kurds whom Ankara sees as supporting the Kurdish insurrection in Turkey.

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Snowden Calls Trove of Alleged CIA Hacking Tools Published by Wikileaks a ‘Big Deal’

Nika Knight reports for Common Dreams:

WikiLeaks on Tuesday released a trove of purported CIA documents hailed by security expert Jessalyn Radack as “in same category as [the] biggest leaks of classified info by [whistleblowers] Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden.”

Indeed, Snowden himself described the leak as “genuinely a big deal” on Twitter. “Looks authentic,” the National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower added. The New York Times also described the documents’ authenticity as “likely.”

The Times went on to describe the bombshell revelations included in the trove of documents:

Among other disclosures that, if confirmed, would rock the technology world, the WikiLeaks release said that the CIA and allied intelligence services had managed to bypass encryption on popular phone and messaging services such as Signal, WhatsApp, and Telegram. According to the statement from WikiLeaks, government hackers can penetrate Android phones and collect “audio and message traffic before encryption is applied.”

Tuesday’s release of documents comprise part one of a series, WikiLeaks wrote in a press statement. This first installment, titled “Year Zero,” contains “8,761 documents and files from an isolated, high-security network situated inside the CIA’s Center for Cyber Intelligence in Langley, Va.,” according to WikiLeaks.

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