Thursday, April 13, 2017

What Does an “America-First” Foreign Policy Actually Mean?

Putting the U.S. Military First, Second, and Third

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By William J. Astore

What does an “America-first” foreign policy look like under President Donald Trump? As a start, forget the ancient label of “isolationism.”  With the end of Trump’s first 100 days approaching, it looks more like a military-first policy aimed at achieving global hegemony, which means it’s a potential doomsday machine.

Candidate Trump vowed he’d make the U.S. military so strong that he wouldn’t have to use it, since no one would dare attack us -- deterrence, in a word.  The on-the-ground (or in-the-air) reality is already far different.  President Trump’s generals have begun to unleash that military in a manner the Obama administration, hardly shy about bombing or surging, deemed both excessive and risky to civilians.  Last week, 59 U.S. cruise missiles (value: $60 million) pummeled an airbase in Syria, a profligate response to a chemical weapons attack in that country which may yet lead to further escalation.  Meanwhile, U.S. weapons are to be sold to Sunni monarchies in the Persian Gulf with less concern than ever for human rights abuses, and the Saudis will be provided with yet more of the support they demand for their devastating war on civilians in Yemen.  Doubtless further military interventions and escalations across the Greater Middle East are on that classic “table” in Washington where “all options” are supposedly kept.
Most Americans believe the spin that the U.S. military is all about deterring and preventing attacks on the homeland, especially those orchestrated by “radical Islamic terrorism.”  Sold as a deterrent, Washington’s national security state has, in fact, exploded into something that increasingly resembles a mechanism for permanent war.  Ignorant of the most basic military strategy, impulsive and bombastic, its present commander-in-chief is being enabled by bellicose advisers and the men he calls “my generals,” who dream of ever bigger budgets. (Even Trump’s promise of a $54 billion boost to Pentagon spending this coming fiscal year isn’t enough for some senior military officers.)
The Realities of Trump’s New Era of Winning
Welcome to Trump’s new era of winning.  It’s not really about ending wars, but exerting “global reach/global power” while selling loads of weaponry.  It promises to spread or prolong chaos in Iraq, Yemen, and possibly Iran, among other countries.  In the Greater Middle East, U.S.-led efforts have produced a war-torn Iraq that’s splitting at the seams.  U.S. drone strikes and support for an ongoing Saudi air campaign have left Yemen lurching toward famine.  Syria remains a humanitarian disaster, torn by war even as additional U.S. troops are deployed there. (The Pentagon won’t say how many, telling us instead to focus on “capabilities” rather than boots on the ground.)  Further east, the never-ending war in Afghanistan is, in Pentagon-speak, “stalemated,” which means that the Taliban is actually gaining ground as a new Washington surge-to-nowhere looms.  Looking west and south, Africa is the latest playground for the U.S. military’s special ops community as the Trump administration prepares, among other things, to ramp up operations in Somalia.
To Trump and his generals, an “America-first” approach to such problems actually means putting the military first, second, and third.  It helps that they can’t imagine the actions of that military as destabilizing.  (Possible future headline: Trump destroys Syria in order to save it.)  According to General Joseph Votel, head of U.S. Central Command, for instance, the country that poses “the greatest long-term threat to stability” in the Middle East is Iran, a sentiment seconded by retired general James Mattis, the secretary of defense. 
You might excuse the Iranians, as well as the Russians and the Chinese, for thinking differently.  To them, the United States is clearly the most destabilizing entity in the world. If you were Chinese or Russian or Shia Muslim, how might U.S. military activities appear to you? 
* Expansionist?  Check. 
* Dedicated to dominance via colossal military spending and global interventionism?  Check.
* Committed to economic and ideological hegemony via powerful banking and financial interests that seek to control world markets in the name of keeping them “free”?  Check.
Wouldn’t that be a logical, if unsavory, assessment?  To many outsiders, U.S. leaders seem like the world’s leading armed meddlers (and arms merchants), a perception supported by soaring military action and sinking diplomacy under Trump.  Serious cuts in funding loom at the State Department, even as the Pentagon budget is being boosted (yet again).  To outside observers, Washington’s ambitions seem clear: global dominance, achieved and enforced by that “very, very strong” military that candidate Trump claimed he’d never have to use, but is already employing with gusto, if not abandon.
Never Underestimate the Power of the Military-Industrial Complex
Why do Trump’s “America-first” policies add up to military first ones?  Why is the Pentagon budget, along with actual military operations, surging on his watch?
More than half a century ago, sociologist C. Wright Mills offered answers that still seem as fresh as this morning's news.  In his 1958 essay, “The Structure of Power in American Society,” he dissected the country’s “triangle of power.”  It consisted, he explained, of corporate leaders, senior military men, and politicians working in concert, but also in a manner that merged corporate agendas with military designs.  That combination, he suggested, was degrading the ability of politicians to moderate and control corporate-military imperatives (assuming the latter even wanted to try).
             “The [U.S.] military order,” Mills wrote, “once a slim establishment [operating] in a context of civilian distrust, has become the largest and most expensive feature of government; behind smiling public relations, it has all the grim and clumsy efficiency of a great and sprawling bureaucracy. The high military have gained decisive political and economic relevance. The seemingly permanent military threat places a premium upon them and virtually all political and economic actions are now judged in terms of military definitions of reality.”
For him, the danger was plain enough:  the “coincidence of military domain and corporate realm strengthens both of them and further subordinates the merely political man. Not the party politician, but the corporation executive, is now more likely to sit with the military to answer the question: what is to be done?”
Consider the makeup of Trump’s administration, a riot of billionaires and multimillionaires.  His secretary of state, former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, may not be much of a diplomat.  Indeed, he seems uninterested in the advice of career State Department personnel, but he does know his way around corporate boardrooms.  Trump’s national security adviser and his secretaries of defense and homeland security are all either serving generals or recently retired ones.  In Trump’s inner circle, corporate executives do indeed sit with senior military men to decide what is to be done.
Soon after Mills issued his prophetic critique of America’s power elite, President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned about the growing dangers of a military-industrial complex.  Since then, Ike’s complex has only expanded in power.  With the post-9/11 addition of the Department of Homeland Security and ever more intelligence agencies (seventeen major ones at last count), the complex only continues to grow beyond all civilian control.  Its dominant position astride the government is nearly unchallengeable.  Figuratively speaking, it’s the king of Capitol Hill.
Candidate Trump may have complained about the U.S. wasting trillions of dollars in its recent foreign conflicts, invasions, and occupations, but plenty of American corporations profited from those “regime changes.” After you flatten political states like Iraq, you can rearm them.  When not selling weapons to them or rebuilding the infrastructure you blew up, you can exploit them for resources.  Seemingly never-ending wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are an illustration of what happens when corporate interests merge with military imperatives.
While both Mills and Eisenhower warned of such developments, even they might have been startled by the America of 2017.  By now, the post-draft, “all volunteer” professional military has become remarkably estranged, if not divorced, from the wider populace, a separation aggravated by an ongoing cult of the warrior within its ranks.  Not only are Americans increasingly isolated from “their” warfighter military, but from America’s wars as well.  These continue to be waged without formal congressional declarations and with next to no congressional oversight.  Combine this with the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which translated corporate money directly into political activism, and you have what is increasingly a 1% governing system in which a billionaire president presides over the wealthiest cabinet in history in what is now a war capital, while an ever-expanding corporate-military nexus embodies the direst of fears of Mills and Eisenhower. 
America’s runaway military machine has little to do these days with deterrence and much to do with the continuation of a state of permanent war.  Put it all together and you have a formula for disaster.
Deterring Our Way to Doomsday
Who put America’s oil under all those Middle Eastern deserts?  That was the question antiwar demonstrators asked with a certain grim humor before the invasion of Iraq.  In Trump’s oft-stated opinion, the U.S. should indeed have just taken Iraq’s oil after the 2003 invasion.  If nothing else, he said plainly what many Americans believed, and what various multinational oil companies were essentially seeking to do.
Consider here the plight of President Jimmy Carter.  Nearly 40 years ago, Carter urged Americans to scale back their appetites, start conserving energy, and free themselves from a crippling dependency on foreign oil and the unbridled consumption of material goods.  After critics termed it his "malaise" speech, Carter did an about-face, boosting military spending and establishing the Carter Doctrine to protect Persian Gulf oil as a vital U.S. national interest.  The American people responded by electing Ronald Reagan anyway.  As Americans continue to enjoy a consumption-driven lifestyle that gobbles up roughly 25% of the world’s production of fossil fuels (while representing only 3% of the world’s population), the smart money in the White House is working feverishly to open ever more fuel taps globally.  Trillions of dollars are at stake.
Small wonder that, on becoming president, Trump acted quickly to speed the building of new pipelines delayed or nixed by President Obama while ripping up environmental protections related to fossil fuel production.  Accelerated domestic production, along with cooperation from the Saudis -- Trump’s recent Muslim bans carefully skipped targeting the one country that provided 15 of the 19 terrorists in the 9/11 attacks -- should keep fuel flowing, profits growing, and world sea levels rising. 
One data point here: The U.S. military alone guzzles more fossil fuel than the entire country of Sweden.  When it comes to energy consumption, our armed forces are truly second to none.
With its massive oil reserves, the Middle East remains a hotbed in the world’s ongoing resource wars, as well as its religious and ethnic conflicts, exacerbated by terrorism and the destabilizing attacks of the U.S. military.  Under the circumstances, when it comes to future global disaster, it’s not that hard to imagine that today’s Middle East could serve as the equivalent of the Balkans of World War I infamy.
If Gavrilo Princip, a Serbian “Black Hand” terrorist operating in a war-torn and much-disputed region, could set the world aflame in 1914, why not an ISIS terrorist just over a century later?  Consider the many fault lines today in that region and the forces involved, including Russia, Turkey, Iran, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the United States, all ostensibly working together to combat terrorism even as they position themselves to maximize their own advantage and take down one another.  Under such circumstances, a political temblor followed by a geo-political earthquake seems unbearably possible.  And if not an ISIS temblor followed by major quake in the Middle East, there’s no shortage of other possible global fault lines in an increasingly edgy world -- from saber-rattling contests with North Korea to jousting over Chinese-built artificial islands in the South China Sea.
As an historian, I’ve spent much time studying the twentieth-century German military.  In the years leading up to World War I, Germany was emerging as the superpower of its day, yet paradoxically it imagined itself as increasingly hemmed in by enemies, a nation surrounded and oppressed.  Its leaders especially feared a surging Russia.  This fear drove them to launch a preemptive war against that country.  (Admittedly, they attacked France first in 1914, but that’s another story.)  That incredibly risky and costly war, sparked in the Balkans, failed disastrously and yet it would only be repeated on an even more horrific level 25 years later.  The result: tens of millions of dead across the planet and a total defeat that finally put an end to German designs for global dominance.  The German military, praised as the “world’s best” by its leaders and sold to its people as a deterrent force, morphed during those two world wars into a doomsday machine that bled the country white, while ensuring the destruction of significant swaths of the planet.
Today, the U.S. military similarly praises itself as the “world’s best,” even as it imagines itself surrounded by powerful threats (China, Russia, a nuclear North Korea, and global terrorism, to start a list).  Sold to the American people during the Cold War as a deterrent force, a pillar of stability against communist domino-tippers, that military has by now morphed into a potential tipping force all its own.
Recall here that the Trump administration has reaffirmed America’s quest for overwhelming nuclear supremacy.  It has called for a "new approach" to North Korea and its nuclear weapons program.  (Whatever that may mean, it’s not a reference to diplomacy.) Even as nuclear buildups and brinksmanship loom, Washington continues to spread weaponry -- it’s the greatest arms merchant of the twenty-first century by a wide mark -- and chaos around the planet, spinning its efforts as a “war on terror” and selling them as the only way to “win.”
In May 1945, when the curtain fell on Germany’s last gasp for global dominance, the world was fortunately still innocent of nuclear weapons.  It’s different now.  Today’s planet is, if anything, over-endowed with potential doomsday machines -- from those nukes to the greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming. 
That’s why it’s vitally important to recognize that President Trump’s “America-first” policies are anything but isolationist in the old twentieth century meaning of the term; that his talk of finally winning again is a recipe for prolonging wars guaranteed to create more chaos and more failed states in the Greater Middle East and possibly beyond; and that an already dangerous Cold War policy of “deterrence,” whether against conventional or nuclear attacks, may now have become a machine for perpetual war that could, given Trump’s bellicosity, explode into some version of doomsday.
Or, to put the matter another way, consider this question: Is North Korea’s Kim Jong-un the only unstable leader with unhinged nuclear ambitions currently at work on the world stage?

The Dow Falls Another 138 Points As Geopolitical Shaking Forces Investors To Race For The Exits

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By Michael Snyder

Stock prices just keep on falling, and many analysts are now wondering if a full-blown stock market crash is in our near future.  On Thursday, the S&P 500 and the Dow both closed at 2 month lows after Donald Trump dropped “the mother of all bombs” in Afghanistan.  It was the first time that one of these bombs has ever been used in live combat, and it is being reported that each of these bombs weighs 22,000 pounds and costs 16 million dollars to make.  Of course Trump was trying to send a very clear message to the rest of the world by dropping this bomb, and investors interpreted it as a sign that we are getting even closer to war.
The financial markets will be closed on Friday for the long holiday weekend, and with so much uncertainty about what may happen in Syria and in North Korea, many investors wanted to get their money out of the market while they still could.  The historic losing streak for S&P 500 tech stocks extended to 10 days in a row on Thursday, and all of the major stock indexes are now below their 50 day moving averages for the first time since the election.
And the VIX closed above 16 to close the week, which many analysts saw as a sign that more market volatility is on the way
The fear index on Thursday hit 16.22, its highest since Nov. 10, after closing above its 200-day moving average on Monday for the first time since Nov. 8.
“The VIX confirmed a breakout above its 200-day moving average [Tuesday], supporting a pickup in volatility in the days ahead,” BTIG’s chief technical strategist, Katie Stockton, said in a Wednesday note.
On Tuesday, I wrote about how geopolitical instability is causing many investors to seek out safe havens such as gold and silver, and that trend continued on Thursday.  As I write this, the price of gold is sitting at $1289.20, and the price of silver is up to $18.50.  Of course if the French election goes badly for the globalists or we see a full-blown shooting war erupt in either Syria or North Korea, those prices will go far, far higher.
For quite a while I have been very strongly warning that these ridiculously inflated stock prices were not sustainable.  It was inevitable that they would start to decline, because the underlying economic numbers simply did not support them.
And just today we got some more bad news.  According to Zero Hedge, the mortgage business at one of America’s biggest banks has been absolutely crashing…
When we reported Wells Fargo’s Q4 earnings back in January, we drew readers’ attention to one specific line of business, the one we dubbed the bank’s “bread and butter“, namely mortgage lending, and which as we then reported was “the biggest alarm” because “as a result of rising rates, Wells’ residential mortgage applications and pipelines both tumbled, specifically in Q4 Wells’ mortgage applications plunged by $25bn from the prior quarter to $75bn, while the mortgage origination pipeline plunged by nearly half to just $30 billion, and just shy of all time lows recorded in late 2013 and 2014.”
Fast forward one quarter when what was already a troubling situation, just got as bad as it has been since the financial crisis for America’s largest mortgage lender, because buried deep in its presentation accompanying otherwise unremarkable Q1 results (EPS small beat, revenue small miss), Wells just reported that its ‘bread and butter’ is virtually gone, and in Q1 the amount of all-important Mortgage Applications has tumbled by a whopping 23% to just $59 billion, below the lows hit in early 2014, and at fresh lows since the financial crisis.
Unfortunately, what is going on at Wells Fargo is just part of an enormous “loan collapse” that we are witnessing all over the nation.
This is exactly what we would expect to see if a new recession was beginning.  When economic conditions show down, banks and other lending institutions begin to get tighter with their money, and a tightening of credit causes economic activity to slow down even further.
It can be exceedingly difficult to break out of such a cycle once it starts.
But the mainstream media doesn’t seem to understand these things.  Instead, they are pointing the blame at other sources for the emerging economic slowdown.  For example, consider the following excerpt from a CNN article entitled “Americans have become lazy and it’s hurting the economy”
Americans have become lazy, argues economist Tyler Cowen.
They don’t start businesses as much as they once did. They don’t move as often as they used to. And they live in neighborhoods that are about as segregated as they were in the 1960s.
All of this is causing the U.S. to stagnate economically and politically, Cowen says in his new book: “The Complacent Class: The Self-Defeating Quest for the American Dream.” Growth is far slower than it was in the 1960s, 70s and 80s and productivity growth is way down, despite everyone claiming they are working so hard.
No, our economic problems are not the result of Americans being too lazy.
Rather, the truth is that we have accumulated way too much debt as a society, we have been way too greedy, and there has been way too much manipulation by the Federal Reserve and other central banks.
For decades we have been living way above our means.  We have been able to do this by stealing trillions upon trillions of dollars from future generations of Americans, and now a day of reckoning is rapidly approaching.
Unfortunately for Donald Trump, he just happens to be the president at this moment in history, and so much of the blame for what is about to happen will be pinned on him.  The following comes from a recent interview with Peter Schiff
Trump doesn’t want to preside over a major decline in our standard of living, but ultimately that has to happen. Because this is the consequence of all this excess consumption that went on before he was president. You know, we sacrificed our future to indulge our past. The future is now the present. We’re here, and it’s time to pay the piper.
Schiff is precisely correct.
For decades we have just kept sacrificing the future in order to inflate our current standard of living.
But the funny thing about the future is that it always arrives at some point, and now we are going to pay an enormously high price for being so exceedingly reckless all these years.

BBC documentary exposes Bank of England’s role at centre of Libor-fixing scandal

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By Jean Shaoul 

BBC TV’s flagship Panorama programme broadcast tapes revealing how the Bank of England not only knew of, but repeatedly pressured commercial banks to reduce, the London Inter-bank Offered Rate (Libor) during the 2007-08 financial crisis.
Libor is the rate, set in London by the banks themselves, at which banks lend to each other. It then provides the benchmark for domestic mortgages, personal and commercial loans, municipal bonds and a wide range of financial derivatives worth $350 trillion.
In 2012, the US authorities fined leading banks including UBS, Barclays, RBS, Deutsche Bank, Citigroup, Bank of America and JPMorgan, for systematically rigging Libor—both to increase their profits on a regular basis and to conceal the extent of their financial problems during the global financial crisis.
The banks’ actions amounted to grand larceny. They collectively defrauded hundreds of millions of people who pay interest on mortgages, credit cards, student loans and car loans, institutional investors such as pension funds and state and local governments, and countless millions of retirees who rely for income on fixed investments. Many homeowners were bankrupted and their homes repossessed as a result of mortgages inflated by the bankers.
The amounts involved are colossal. To cite one example: The city of Baltimore and other US cities filed a class action lawsuit against the banks claiming that the systematic rigging had cost them at least $6 billion, in addition to $4 billion they had paid to unwind interest rate swaps.
Yet under sweetheart deals, the banks were required to pay modest fines that totalled less than Baltimore and the other cities’ losses in exchange for being let off without serious repercussions. No senior officials were charged and the banks did not have to plead guilty to any crime. The authorities chose not to pursue criminal charges against the banks for fear of “endangering their stability.” Instead, they sought to portray the settlements as a stinging rebuke to the banks, uttering sanctimonious statements about not tolerating misconduct on Wall Street.
These fines followed an article and study in the Wall Street Journal some four years earlier, in 2008, that some banks were understating their borrowing costs reported for Libor during the credit crunch. It has since been revealed that it was common knowledge that Libor had been rigged since the early 1990s.
The scandal revealed not only the criminality of the global financial system centred on London, but the massive web of corruption and complicity involving governments and financial regulators the world over, all of whom denied any market rigging by the banks.
While it was known that Bank of England Governor Mervyn King and his deputy, Paul Tucker, knew about the Libor-rigging operation in 2007-08, it was presented as though they had looked the other way and done nothing. The BBC’s revelations are the first publicly available evidence showing that Britain’s central bank actively encouraged the banks to fix the rate to disguise the extent of the crisis engulfing the system, limit the cost of the government’s near £1 trillion subventions and boost bank profits.
In July 2012, Tucker told a parliamentary committee investigating the scandal that until just weeks before, “We were not aware of allegations of dishonesty” in setting the Libor rate.
This was a barefaced lie.
Just a few months later, the Times and the BBC revealed leaked court documents showing that Bank officials had been at least aware of, if not complicit in Libor manipulation since 2007.
According to the Panorama tapes, a senior Barclays manager, Mark Dearlove, told a Libor submitter, Peter Johnson, to lower his Libor rates. He said, “The bottom line is you’re going to absolutely hate this... but we’ve had some very serious pressure from the UK government and the Bank of England about pushing our Libors lower.”
When Johnson objected, saying that this would mean breaking the rules for setting Libor, Dearlove replied, “The fact of the matter is we’ve got the Bank of England, all sorts of people involved in the whole thing... I am as reluctant as you are... these guys have just turned around and said just do it.”
That phone call took place the same day that Tucker, at that time an executive director of the Bank of England, phoned Barclays boss Bob Diamond and discussed Barclays’ Libor rate.
Diamond was forced to resign after Barclays received a £290 million fine for massive Libor-rigging, mainly from the US rather than the UK authorities. In response to a question from the BBC, he said, “I never misled parliament and… I stand by everything I have said previously.”
Tucker, deputy governor of the Bank of England at the time, subsequently left the Bank after failing to get the top job in November 2012 and was rewarded with a knighthood for “his services to central banking.” He did not respond to the BBC.
Last year, Johnson, the Barclays Libor submitter, was jailed after pleading guilty to accepting requests from two traders to manipulate Libor, Jay Merchant and Alex Pabon. The two traders and another submitter, Jonathan Mathew, were also jailed, while two others were acquitted last week after a retrial.
In 2015, Tom Mayes, a former UBS trader, was sentenced to a 15-year jail term, reduced to 11 years on appeal, while six other who were accused of aiding him were acquitted. This brings to an end all the Libor-related cases brought by the Serious Fraud Office.
It has also emerged that Sir Jeremy Heywood, the head of the civil service, who held senior positions under the last Labour government before taking a job in investment banking, attended meetings where Libor-setting was discussed, alongside, it is thought, then Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer, Alistair Darling.
Panorama had nothing to say about the broader implications of the Bank of England’s active involvement in criminality that had gone on for years, robbing millions of public institutions and ordinary people all around the world of hundreds of billions, if not trillions, of dollars. It merely pointed out that the involvement of senior people from the Bank of England and Barclays demonstrated that the “little people” were carrying the can for the people at the very top of the ladder, and called into question the jail sentences received by the traders. Indeed, it quoted Diamond supporting jail terms for the Barclays traders on the grounds that they had broken the rules!
The BBC noted that these tapes had only emerged as a result of a private suit brought by a small businessman, Paul Holgate, against Barclays, which had provided him with a loan conditional on an insurance policy, a financial product tied to Libor, which bankrupted him and cost him his home. Barclays agreed to pay him compensation in return for secrecy on the terms of the deal.
Thus, the exposure of criminality at the very top of Britain’s banking and regulatory establishment was the result of a private claim against the bank, and not the actions of the Serious Fraud Office or Financial Conduct Authority. Again, the BBC had nothing to say about the “financial watchdogs”, whose real role is to support and protect the financial institutions.
The financial aristocracy can defraud, steal and plunder with impunity, knowing it will be protected by the thoroughly corrupt political system it controls and uses as its marketing agent around the world. The rampant criminality is not the result of “bad apples.” Illegality and corruption are intrinsic to the system and start from the very top.

The Price Of Gold Spikes As Investors Get Spooked By Talk Of World War III And Nuclear Conflict

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By Michael Snyder

Whenever the world starts going crazy, investors instinctively begin flocking to precious metals.  So it wasn’t exactly a surprise when gold and silver prices started to move upward aggressively as global leaders continued to talk about the possibility of World War III and nuclear conflict.  The price of gold spiked to a five month high on Tuesday, and as I write this article gold is currently sitting at $1277.10 an ounce.  Right now silver is at $18.35 an ounce, and many analysts believe that it is poised for a dramatic jump in the weeks and months to come as global tensions continue to rise.  Google searches for the phrase “going to war” are the highest that they have been at any point in recent years, and many people out there are starting to understand that the U.S. could soon be facing military conflicts in Syria and in North Korea simultaneously.
In response to persistent threats from the Trump administration, the North Koreans are promising that they will not hesitate to use nuclear weapons if they are attacked by the U.S. military.
In particular, an article that was just published in North Korea’s official state newspaper says that U.S bases in South Korea and the Pacific operation theater but also in the U.S. mainland would be targeted.
Most analysts do not believe that North Korea has any missiles that can reach the U.S. mainland, so that is probably an empty threat, but they can definitely hit Seoul, Tokyo and all U.S. military bases in South Korea and Japan.
And even if the U.S. was able to locate and take out all North Korean nukes in an overwhelming first strike, the North Koreans would still have thousands of artillery guns and rockets aimed at Seoul.  Military analysts in the western world have estimated that North Korea could fire off up to half a million rounds within one hour of being attacked, and the devastation that such a barrage would cause in Seoul would be beyond anything that we have ever seen in the modern world.
Personally, I have come to the conclusion that it is going to be nearly impossible to conduct a conventional military assault on North Korea that does not result in an absolutely catastrophic death toll.
Unfortunately, Donald Trump appears determined to do something anyway.  A couple of days ago we learned that he “has ordered his military advisers to be ready with a list of options to smash North Korea’s nuclear threat”, and on Tuesday he told the world that the U.S would “solve the problem” whether China helps or not…
Trump, who has urged China to do more to rein in its impoverished ally and neighbor, said in a tweet that North Korea was “looking for trouble” and the United States would “solve the problem” with or without Beijing’s help.
Just like he did with Syria, Trump’s words have now committed us to taking military action in North Korea.
Let us hope that any military action is delayed for as long as possible, but it is definitely alarming that Trump boasted to the Fox Business Network about the “very powerful” naval armada that is sailing toward North Korea right now
“We are sending an armada. Very powerful,” Trump told Fox Business Network. “We have submarines. Very powerful. Far more powerful than the aircraft carrier. That I can tell you.”
Meanwhile, it is being reported that the Chinese have deployed 150,000 troops to their border with North Korea as they continue to warn both sides against taking military action.
Over in the Middle East, things continue to get even more tense as well.
Russia and Iran have pledged to “respond with force” to any additional U.S. attacks, but the Trump administration is not showing any signs of backing down.  In fact, White House press secretary Sean Spicer has substantially lowered the threshold for more military conflict by suggesting that the use of “barrel bombs” may be enough to justify another attack.  Considering the fact that everyone in the Syrian civil war has been regularly using barrel bombs for many years and that approximately 13,000 were used in 2016 alone, it is very alarming for Spicer to say such a thing.
On Tuesday, Trump told the American people that “we’re not going into Syria”, but what happens if he orders another missile strike and the Russians and Iranians respond by shooting down some U.S. aircraft or by sinking an entire aircraft carrier?
I can guarantee you that members of Congress from both parties will be absolutely screaming for war if CNN starts endlessly playing footage of a U.S. aircraft carrier sinking after it has been struck by the Russians or by the Iranians.
We are so close to World War III erupting in the Middle East, and there was no need for the U.S. to get involved in the first place.  According to former CIA officer Philip Giraldi, evidence continues to mount that Assad had absolutely nothing to do with the chemical attack that Trump got so upset about…
Philip Giraldi, former CIA officer and director of the Council for the National Interest, stated on the Scott Horton show that “military and intelligence personnel” in the Middle East, who are “intimately familiar” with the intelligence, call the allegation that Assad or Russia carried out the attack a “sham.”
Giraldi said the intelligence confirms the Russian account, “which is that they [attacking aircraft] hit a warehouse where al-Qaeda rebels were storing chemicals of their own and it basically caused an explosion that resulted in the casualties.” Moreover, Giraldi noted, “Assad had no motive for doing this.”
Investors that can see the writing on the wall are already getting out of stocks and into precious metals while there is still time to do so.
Because if we get into a direct military conflict with Russia and Iran in Syria, global financial markets will crash and gold and silver will soar into the stratosphere.
And of course a similar scenario would play out if we attack North Korea and the North Koreans respond by firing off nuclear or chemical warheads at targets in South Korea and Japan.
I did not expect that we would be on the verge of World War III less than three months into the Trump administration, but here we are.
These are perilous times, and those that are wise are moving their money and are making key preparations before things spiral completely out of control.


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THE STORY OF EDWARD SNOWDEN’S disclosure of NSA secrets to the press has been told and retold in books, films, and countless articles. Left unreported has been the quiet role of two journalists who literally had Snowden material mailed to them in a cardboard box.
In a new article in Harper’s Magazine, the duo finally tells their story of beginners’ encryption, convoluted codewords, and extreme paranoia. They also reveal that they are not the only people to have received Snowden files without the public knowing about it.
Dale Maharidge is an award-winning journalist and professor of journalism, but was only pulled into the Snowden leak because of a Brooklyn house party he attended one night in December 2011, where he met filmmaker (and Intercept co-founder) Laura Poitras. The two bonded quickly over their work and, throughout the following year, as their respective reporting and film projects allowed, spent time together in New York and at Maharidge’s “very remote” coastal dwelling in Northern California. Then, near the beginning of 2013, Poitras was contacted by an anonymous source claiming to possess materials that would reveal the scope of American surveillance. She confided in Maharidge:
We talked about the source over dinner, and Laura told me that this person wanted a physical address to use in case (as the source put it) “something happens to you or me.” We speculated that perhaps this person might want to send her a parcel. Hard copy? Data? It was unclear. Needless to say, the material couldn’t go directly to Laura: her mail was surely being scrutinized. Nor could I receive it, because of our connection. She said we needed a third party, someone who wouldn’t be on the NSA’s radar.
All the while, Poitras and Maharidge communicated using code words — but not, interestingly, any means of digital encryption:
We would call the unnamed source the “architect” and refer to the mysterious shipment as “architectural materials.” The recipient of the package would be called the “sink.” Should that person prove to be unavailable, I would find a backup choice, whom we would call the “other sink.” The NSA or FBI would be called the “co-op board”—a tribute to the truculent nature of such boards in New York City. And if either of us wrote, “The carpenter quit the job,” that meant it was time to start over with a new plan.
Maharidge suggested his friend Jessica Bruder, a fellow reporter and journalism instructor, receive the source’s package. It would then be relayed to Maharidge, and finally to Poitras, reducing the risk that law enforcement or other bad luck would intervene in the shipping process. The anxiety of awaiting this mystery shipment was overlaid with confusion; Poitras and Maharidge would sometimes become confused about whether they were discussing a national security whistleblower or the actual renovation Poitras was undertaking in her loft, Bruder writes.
Finally, Snowden’s box arrived at Bruder’s apartment building — where packages were often stolen — and then her doorstep.
I picked up the box. The words ARCHITECT MATS ENCL’D were scrawled in block letters on the front. How long has this been sitting here? I wondered. After letting myself into the apartment, I took a closer look. Nothing about the package appeared unusual at first. It had been postmarked May 10 in Kunia, Hawaii, and sent via USPS Priority Mail. I shook the box gently, like a child guessing at the contents of a gift. Something inside made a clunk- ing noise. Otherwise it gave up no secrets.
Then I noticed the return address:
94-1054 ELEU ST
Incredibly, for all Poitras’ efforts to establish a discreet delivery channel, Snowden had shipped the package with a return address that nearly matched his actual location in a small Hawaiian town, altered only by one street number digit. Bruder writes that she was “amazed” and worried that Snowden, in the midst of so much extreme caution, had used an an address so close to his own, along with the name of a famous leaker — Bradley Manning, who had not yet become Chelsea Manning — while in the very process of leaking via Bruder’s own real name and address. The two still don’t know why Snowden would have taken such an exceptional, potentially disastrous step to tempt fate, other than that it was perhaps the equivalent of nervous laughter in the face of possible ruin.
From Bruder’s doorstep, the box was relayed to Poitras, who in turn entrusted Maharidge with a backup copy of its contents: NSA files sent by Snowden. Maharidge now had to decide what to do with a copy of the most dangerous files one could imagine at that moment in time, a copy no one was supposed to find out he possessed. The material took a harrowing journey, moving from hidden in plain sight as airline carry-on baggage to being, in Marahridge’s words, sealed “inside a fifty-five-gallon barrel of old shit” underneath an outhouse.
At some point, at least three other people would receive backup copies of the Snowden material, Maharidge and Bruder write:
Of the three people who got copies, one remains unknown to us. Another asked to remain private. The third was Trevor Timm, a lawyer, journalist, and activist who is the executive director of the Freedom of the Press Foundation.
Trevor received a nondescript package in 2013, with the return address of somebody he knew. “Nobody said a package was coming for me,” he told us.
Eventually, Maharidge decided to keep his cache of files 80 feet up in a fir tree, where they became incorporated into a bird’s nest; today, they are at a new, undisclosed location. “Why keep it at all?,” Bruder and Maharidge wonder. “There is always the possibility that it could be seized as evidence. Yet we hang on to such items.” For all the anxiety the box has caused them, neither seem ready to end their part in the story.

Trump has been easing Obama-era gun restrictions. You just may not have heard.

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With little attention, President Donald Trump’s administration has been quietly loosening firearms restrictions in the United States after successfully seeking the support of gun owners on the campaign trail.
His agencies narrowed the definition of “fugitive,” a change that cuts the number of people who’ll be included in a database designed to keep firearms from people who are barred from owning them.
Federal officials have also signaled that they may no longer defend the Army Corps of Engineers’ ban on carrying loaded firearms and ammunition on federal lands.
Trump signed a bill behind closed doors that killed an Obama-era regulation that required the government to add to the no-buy list people whom the Social Security Administration has deemed eligible for mental disability payments. He signed another one that lifted restrictions on hunting on federal lands in Alaska.
With Republicans in control of the White House and Congress, gun rights groups are on the offensive for the first time in years, aggressively looking to push a series of new laws on Capitol Hill and regulations in various federal agencies to ease restrictions.
“All of these things considered in isolation may not be a big deal,” said Chelsea Parsons, vice president of guns and crime policy for the left-leaning Center for American Progress. “But what is the overall goal, keeping in mind the extreme investments made by the NRA?”
The National Rifle Association was a strong backer of Trump from the start, unlike most traditional conservative organizations, many of which were leery of the brash businessman-turned-reality-TV-host and political novice. It endorsed him earlier than it had other candidates in previous years and became one of his top donors, with $30 million in contributions and TV ads that targeted his opponent, Hillary Clinton.
“Ultimately you judge a politician on whether he or she keeps their promises that they made during the campaign,” said Chris Cox, chief lobbyist and principal political strategist for the Institute for Legislative Action, the NRA’s lobbying arm. “NRA members and supporters across this country are very pleased with what we’ve seen out of this administration so far. But there is still a lot of work to do.”
Before he hit the campaign trail, Trump, who says he doesn’t hunt but does own a gun, had come out in favor of a waiting period for gun purchases and a ban on assault weapons. But after he entered the race, he changed his views, speaking forcefully on behalf of gun rights regularly as he found support in many rural pockets of the country.
Donald Trump in September 2016
“We’re gravely concerned and have been all along . . . to the extent he was making himself beholden to the corporate gun lobby,” said Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. “He is looking to pay them back.”
Trump has already rescinded 13 Obama-era regulations through the rarely invoked Congressional Review Act, which allows lawmakers and a new president to reverse regulations imposed recently by a previous president. Two of those reversals were related to firearms – those involving the Social Security Administration and hunting on federal lands in Alaska.
“We inherited, this administration did, the biggest regulatory burden, we believe, of any president in American history,” said Marc Short, director of legislative affairs for the White House. “We believe this is fulfilling a campaign promise.”
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives referred questions to the FBI, which referred questions to the Justice Department, as did the White House. Justice and the Army Corps of Engineers did not respond to questions for comments.
Gun rights groups have a pair of bills they are pushing in Congress this year: allowing Americans to carry concealed firearms from state to state – bypassing a confusing patchwork of laws – and making it easier and cheaper to purchase silencers. But while those fights will play out in front of cameras on Capitol Hill, others worry about what is being done behind the scenes.
Trump quickly nominated a trio of leaders that gun rights groups supported: Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. By far and away, the NRA’s most important goal was to help secure an acceptable Supreme Court nominee.
On his first day as interior secretary, Zinke canceled a ban on the use of lead ammunition on federal lands – leading some to worry that the lead could be ingested by birds – and directed all agencies managing federal lands to identify areas where hunting could be expanded.
Erika Soto Lamb, a spokeswoman for Everytown for Gun Safety
The Army Corps of Engineers, which controls 12 million acres of land around lakes and rivers, allows hunting in some of the areas it controls. But it’s banned carrying loaded firearms and ammunition on its lands since the 1970s. Courts have disagreed on whether the ban violates the Second Amendment.
The NRA has long advocated that those federal lands be treated the same as national parks, where some guns are allowed or where state gun laws apply. Last year, it supported a bill that would have allowed gun owners to carry firearms on Army Corps of Engineers land.
Last month, the Army Corps of Engineers signaled that it was considering dropping its gun ban in a case now before the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals involving a Georgia couple who objected to the ban. “The Army Corps of Engineers is reconsidering the firearm policy challenged in this case, as well as plaintiff’s requests for permission to carry firearms on Army Corps property,” the Army Corps of Engineers argued in a motion asking that the couple’s case be moved to mediation.
And in February, the Justice Department resolved a long-standing dispute between the FBI and the ATF about who should be called a fugitive – and be barred from buying a firearm.
The ATF considers a fugitive to be anyone subject to an arrest warrant who crossed state lines to avoid arrest. The FBI had a broader definition, describing a fugitive as anyone who’d left the city or county where the warrant had been issued.
In a Feb. 15 memorandum, the FBI agreed to adopt the narrower definition, saying a person must have fled the state to avoid imminent prosecution or court testimony to be considered a fugitive. The NRA did not weigh in on the issue.
Gun control advocates are bracing for Trump to appoint a new head of the ATF, fearful that he’ll pick Ron Turk, the ATF’s associate deputy director and chief operating officer. Critics say Turk managed the agency at a time it was involved in a series of botched sting operations and that he wrote a controversial memo that closely tracked gun rights groups’ priorities, including studying whether the ban on imported assault weapons should be lifted.
“We’ve been reluctant to discuss some of these things for years in ATF, and I think that’s not healthy,” Turk said at a congressional hearing April 4 about his January memo. “It’s important for our staff to be able to totally discuss the entire broad range of gun regulatory issues.”

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