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Friday, March 31, 2017

$20 Trillion and Counting

Here’s how the U.S. got to $20 trillion in debt




The U.S. is approaching $20 trillion in national debt — the nation is a cool $19.8 trillion in the red as of Thursday — and when it crosses that mark, get ready for some finger pointing over who’s to blame. 
If history shows anything, it’s that both parties share responsibility for boosting the debt. Fighting wars, big tax cuts and economic stimulus packages have all added to the burden over the years. 
Here, we’ll take a look at some key moments in the debt’s trajectory until now, and also where it is going. 



In August 1981, with the U.S. at the beginning of a recession, President Ronald Reagan signed major tax cuts into law. While Reagan’s supporters credit the cuts in tax rates with juicing the stock market and the U.S. economy, the downside was obvious: less money flowing into the government’s coffers. A U.S. Treasury paper shows the 1981 act reduced federal revenue by an average of $118 billion a year (in today’s dollars) during the first four years. 



President George W. Bush also signed tax-cut packages into law in 2001 and 2003. Individual-income tax rates were cut, as were taxes on capital gains and dividends. This table shows where the Bush tax cuts fall in size compared to other major bills. President Barack Obama extended the cuts for two years in 2010, and made most of them permanent in 2012. Kathy Ruffing, a consultant to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, estimates that the cuts originally enacted during the Bush years will account for $5 trillion of debt outstanding through fiscal 2017. That includes interest. 



The U.S. spent heavily on the wars in Afghanistan — which the U.S. invaded after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks — and Iraq. According to consultant Kathy Ruffing, the two wars account for about $2 trillion of the debt, including interest. 



The year-and-a-half long Great Recession began in December 2007, brought on by the collapse of the U.S. housing market. The downturn spanned the Bush and Obama presidencies, and heralded the ballooning of budget deficits as the government responded with huge bank bailout and stimulus programs. In fiscal years 2009-2012, deficits exceeded $1 trillion. 



With the U.S. still reeling from the Great Recession, President Barack Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in February 2009. In addition to tax cuts, Obama’s stimulus bill spent billions of dollars on unemployment benefits and infrastructure projects. Obama said the plan would be “a major milestone on our road to recovery,” but Republicans trashed the measure as a waste of government money. Originally scored at $787 billion, the Congressional Budget Office in 2015 put its price tag higher, at $836 billion. Including interest payments, it added $1 trillion to the debt through fiscal 2016, according to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. 


CBO

The debt is projected to keep growing as the U.S. spends more on programs for its aging population. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that if current laws remain the same — that is, if President Donald Trump and the Republican Congress were to do nothing — debt held by the public would rise to 150% of the total economy in 2047 from the 77% it’s at now. Trump has vowed a few polices that could have a big impact on the debt, including major tax cuts and a military buildup. What’s more, he pledged to leave programs including Medicare and Social Security unchanged. A tax plan Trump proposed during the campaign would add about $7.2 trillion to the debt over a decade, the Tax Policy Center estimated
More from MarketWatch
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How Is the Fed Monetizing the U.S. Debt?


Why the Nation's Central Bank Is Making the Government Debt Worse


The Federal Reserve monetizes debt any time it buys U.S. Treasuries. When the Federal Reserve purchases these Treasuries, it doesn't have to print money to do so. It issues credit and puts the Treasuries on its balance sheet. Everyone treats the credit just like money, even though the Fed doesn't print cold hard cash.
The Fed doesn't buy Treasuries directly at auction. Instead, it purchases them from its member banks.

 It does this through an office at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

How does this monetize the debt? The U.S. government borrows when it auctions Treasuries. It's taking a loan from all buyers, including individuals, corporations, and foreign governments. The Fed turns this debt into money by removing those Treasuries from circulation. That decreases the supply of Treasuries, making the remaining Treasuries more valuable.

Treasuries that are more valuable don't have to pay as much in interest to get buyers. This lower yield drives down interest rates on the U.S. debt. Lower interest rates mean the government doesn't have to spend as much to pay off its loans. That's money it can use for other programs.

The net effect is that it is as if the Treasuries bought by the Fed didn't exist. But they do exist on the Fed's balance sheet. Technically, the Treasury must pay the Fed back one day. Until then, the Fed has given the Federal government more money to spend.

That increases the money supply. That's called monetizing the debt.

Exactly How the Fed Monetizes Debt

The Fed monetizes the debt whenever it engages in its open market operations.The Fed has always used this tool to raise and lower interest rates. It lowers interest rates when it buys Treasuries from its member banks.
The Fed issues credit to the banks. They now have more reserves than they need to meet the Fed's reserve requirement.

Banks will lend these excess reserves, known as Fed funds, to other banks to meet the requirement. The interest rate they charge each other is the Fed funds rate. Banks will lower this rate to unload these excess reserves. 

Most people didn't worry about the Fed monetizing the debt until the recession. That's because prior open market operations weren't large purchases. The Fed bought $600 billion of longer-term Treasuries between November 2010 and June 2011. That was the first phase of Quantitative Easing, known as QE1.

Why Does the Fed Buy Bonds?

The Fed's primary purpose in all phases of QE was to keep the Fed funds rate, and all interest rates, low. That helps companies create jobs as they expand. Low interest rates also help people afford expensive homes. Therefore, the Fed was trying to revive the housing market. Low-interest rates also reduce returns on bonds. In time, investors look for stocks and other higher-yielding investments. For all these reasons, low-interest rates help boost economic growth.

However, part of the Fed's intention probably was to monetize the debt.
That helped the Treasury increase government spending and boost growth. It didn't have to raise interest rates, which would depress the economy. Eventually, it will reverse the transaction and get the Treasuries off of its balance sheet. At that time, it will remove the credit from the Federal government's operating budget.

The St. Louis Fed Disagrees

In February 2013, the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis issued a report that denies the Fed is monetizing debt. The central bank can only monetize debt if its intention is to keep the Treasuries on its balance sheet indefinitely. In other words, it would be using its power to create money out of thin air to permanently subsidize Federal government spending.

Instead, former Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke explicitly said that the Fed would sell Treasuries when Quantitative Easing ended. Although the Fed ended QE in October 2014, it hasn't begun selling its Treasuries. When it does, interest rates will rise. The Federal government will find financing its spending will become more expensive. (Source: Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, Is the Fed Monetizing Government Debt?, February 1, 2013.) 

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Who the hell is Evelyn Farkas?

If Evelyn Farkas Resigned in 2015, How Did She Have Access to Trump-Russian Intelligence? | Zero Hedge

This was making waves yesterday, after Evelyn Farkas admitted to Mika from The Morning Joe show that she strongly advised people 'on the hill' and in our intelligence agencies to tuck away intelligence regarding Russo-Trump ties for the sake of preservation, in an effort to protect it from the onerous bureaucracy she obviously finds to be deplorable.

"Get as much intelligence as you can before President Obama leaves the administration," said Farkas in an interview yesterday on MSNBC.
She was afraid the Trump people would gain access to their intelligence and whisk it away -- because they're all Russian spies, obviously.

Aside from what appears to be a brazen confirmation of spying on the Trump team, the bigger red flag here is Dr. Farkas wasn't employed by the Obama administration at the time the Russian allegations arose.

According to Pentagon records, Dr. Farkas resigned in September of 2015.
So how did this non-resident fellow at the Atlantic Council, member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and former deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia, gain knowledge of intelligence regarding members of Trump's team and their relations with Russia, when she was the senior foreign policy advisor for Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton?

Farkas was the prime driver behind the anti-Russia phobia inside the Pentagon during the Obama years -- shilling hard for the Ukraine -- requesting that the President send them anti-tank missiles -- which, essentially, would mean outright war with Russia.

Back to the interview with Mika Brzezinski. Dr. Farkas said 'we' had good intel on Russia. Who does she refer to when she says 'we?'
Professional Deep Stater, Dr. Evelyn Farkas, Globalist Shill

Here's Mark Levin's take on this scandal.

Perhaps someone inside the Obama government was leaking to the Hillary campaign?

I think we all know what the answer is to the rhetorical question.


Content originally generated at iBankCoin.com

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Senator McCain, Please step back a step or two, we would like to get a fuller view of the Rotunda balcony...



Democrats Should Be Weary of Anti-Russia Conservative Hucksters

Embracing Republican war hawks McMain and Graham will backfire

Opinion
gettyimages 161811051 Democrats Should Be Weary of Anti Russia Conservative Hucksters
Sen. John McCain and Sen. Lindsey Graham. Alex Wong/Getty Images

Several media outlets reported former Vice President Dick Cheney’s comments at a speech he gave on March 27 that Russia’s alleged election interference could be considered an “act of war,” lending credence the former public official who manipulated the public and Congress into providing consent for the Iraq War. Several members of Congress have made similar charges, including Sen. John McCain. Others have cautioned that such rhetoric could escalate tensions to a military conflict.

McCain is one of the leading Republicans pushing for an investigation of Russia’s role in the election and driving the McCarthyist narrative on the topic. In response to a foreign policy disagreement, he claimed that one of his colleagues, Sen. Rand Paul, was “working for Vladimir Putin.” Though McCain’s rhetoric has been praised by Democratic establishment leaders and Clinton partisans, it has proven to be unreliable. In December 2016, McCain and Sen. Lindsey Graham raised concerns about Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s relationship with Russia, ignoring the conflict of interest inherent in having the former CEO of Exxon Mobil serve as secretary of state. Those concerns apparently disappeared when they both voted to approve his confirmation weeks later, and McCain recently insisted that President Donald Trump provide Tillerson with a team of senior officials at the State Department.

Here lies the problem with the Trump resistance banking on conservative war hawks, such as Cheney and McMain, to help them lead the Russia election interference narrative: Conservatives will participate as long as it furthers their hawkish foreign policy views. The moment it threatens to undermine the Republican Party or their conservative ideology, they will abandon the cause in favor of partisanship.

Monday, March 27, 2017

CENTCOM Headquarters (Where It’s Always Groundhog Day)

“Fifteen years after launching a worldwide effort to defeat and destroy terrorist organizations, the United States finds itself locked in a pathologically recursive loop; we fight to prevent attacks and defend our values, only to incite further violence against ourselves and allies while destabilizing already chaotic regions..." Major John Q. Bolton, a veteran of both the Iraq and Afghan Wars

Tomgram: Andrew Bacevich, Words Not to Die For | TomDispatch

U.S. Marines are, for the first time, deploying to Syria (with more to come). 

There’s talk of an “enduring” U.S. military presence in Iraq, while additional U.S. troops are being dispatched to neighboring Kuwait with an eye to the wars in both Iraq and Syria.  Yemen has been battered by a veritable blitz of drone strikes and other air attacks.  Afghanistan seems to be in line for an increase in American forces.  The new president has just restored to the CIA the power to use drones to strike more or less anywhere on the “world battlefield,” recently a Pentagon prerogative, and is evidently easing restrictions on the Pentagon’s use of drones as well.  U.S. military commanders are slated to get more leeway to make decisions locally and the very definition of what qualifies as a “battlefield” looks like it’s about to change (which will mean even less attention to “collateral damage” or civilian casualties). President Trump may soon designate various areas outside more or less official American war zones -- since the U.S. Congress no longer declares war, they can’t truly be official -- as “temporary areas of active hostility.” That will grant U.S. commanders greater leeway in launching attacks on terror groups in places like Somalia.  In fact, this already seems to have happened in Yemen, according to the New York Times, opening the way for a disastrous Special Operations Forces raid there that caused the death of a Navy SEAL and possibly nine Yemeni children (the youngest three months old), while evidently accomplishing next to nothing.

In other words, in the early months of the Trump era, U.S. wars and conflicts across the Greater Middle East are being expanded and escalated.  This isn’t exactly a new process, and isn’t yet at the level of either the failed Iraqi Surge of 2007 or the failed Afghan one of 2010.  Still, you might think that the almost instant failure of that Yemen raid would have rung a few familiar warning bells in Washington when it comes to escalating America’s wars in the region.  If so, you would evidently be oh-so-wrong.  The history of the last 15 years tells us that in Washington such setbacks couldn’t matter less. At the moment, the generals who have headed down these very paths before are evidently recommending to an eager new president that it’s the height of wisdom to head down them again.
As TomDispatch regular Andrew Bacevich, author of America’s War for the Greater Middle East, points out today, this is now business as usual in militarized Washington in the twenty-first century.  It’s so much the law of the land that the Pentagon has developed the perfect language for masking, perhaps to itself as much as others, just how dismally familiar this process actually is. Tom
Prepare, Pursue, Prevail! 
Onward and Upward with U.S. Central Command 
By Andrew J. Bacevich 
By way of explaining his eight failed marriages, the American bandleader Artie Shaw once remarked,  “I am an incurable optimist.” In reality, Artie was an incurable narcissist. Utterly devoid of self-awareness, he never looked back, only forward. 
So, too, with the incurable optimists who manage present-day American wars.  What matters is not past mistakes but future opportunities.  This describes the view of General Joseph Votel, current head of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM).  Since its creation in 1983, CENTCOM has emerged as the ne plus ultra of the Pentagon’s several regional commands, the place where the action is always hot and heavy.  Votel is the latest in a long train of four-star generals to preside over that action. 
The title of this essay (exclamation point included) captures in a single phrase the “strategic approach” that Votel has devised for CENTCOM.  That approach, according to the command’s website, is “proactive in nature and endeavors to set in motion tangible actions in a purposeful, consistent, and continuous manner.” 
This strategic approach forms but one element in General Votel’s multifaceted (if murky) “command narrative,” which he promulgated last year upon taking the helm at CENTCOM headquarters in Tampa, Florida.  Other components include a “culture,” a “vision,” a “mission,” and “priorities.”  CENTCOM’s cultureemphasizes “persistent excellence,” as the command “strives to understand and help others to comprehend, with granularity and clarity, the complexities of our region.”  The vision, indistinguishable from the mission except perhaps for those possessing advanced degrees in hermeneutics, seeks to provide “a more stable and prosperous region with increasingly effective governance, improved security, and trans-regional cooperation.”  Toward that estimable end, CENTCOM’s priorities include forging partnerships with other nations “based upon shared values,” “actively counter[ing] the malign influence” of hostile regimes, and “degrading and defeating violent extremist organizations and their networks.” 
At present, CENTCOM is busily implementing the several components of Votel’s command narrative across an “area of responsibility” (AOR) consisting of 20 nations, among them Iran, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.  As the CENTCOM website puts it, without batting a digital eyelash, that AOR “spans more than 4 million square miles and is populated by more than 550 million people from 22 ethnic groups, speaking 18 languages with hundreds of dialects and confessing multiple religions which transect national borders.”
According to the Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms, an AOR is the “geographical area associated with a combatant command within which a geographic combatant commander has authority to plan and conduct operations.” Yet this anodyne definition fails to capture the spirit of the enterprise in which General Votel is engaged. 
One imagines that there must be another Department of Defense Dictionary, kept under lock-and-key in the Pentagon, that dispenses with the bland language and penchant for deceptive euphemisms. That dictionary would define an AOR as “a vast expanse within which the United States seeks to impose order without exercising sovereignty.”  An AOR combines aspects of colony, protectorate, and contested imperial frontier. In that sense, the term represents the latest incarnation of the informal empire that American elites have pursued in various forms ever since U.S. forces “liberated” Cuba in 1898. 
To say that a military officer presiding over an AOR plans and conducts operations is a bit like saying that Jeff Bezos sells books.  It’s a small truth that evades a larger one.  To command CENTCOM is to function as a proconsul, to inhabit as a co-equal the rarified realm of kings, presidents, and prime ministers.  CENTCOM commanders shape the future of their AOR -- or at least fancy that they do. 
Sustaining expectations of shaping the future requires a suitably accommodating version of the past.  For CENTCOM, history is a record of events selected and arranged to demonstrate progress.  By testifying to the achievements of previous CENTCOM commanders, history thereby validates Votel’s own efforts to carry on their work.  Not for nothing, therefore, does the command’s website include this highly sanitized account of its recent past:
“In the wake of 9-11, the international community found Saddam Hussein's continued lack of cooperation with United Nations Security Council (UNSC) Resolutions regarding weapons of mass destruction unacceptable. Hussein's continued recalcitrance led the UNSC to authorize the use of force by a U.S.-led coalition. Operation Iraqi Freedom began 19 March 2003. 

“Following the defeat of both the Taliban regime in Afghanistan (9 November 2001) and Saddam Hussein's government in Iraq (8 April 2003), CENTCOM has continued to provide security to the new freely-elected governments in those countries, conducting counterinsurgency operations and assisting host nation security forces to provide for their own defense.”
Setbacks, disappointments, miscalculations, humiliations: you won’t hear about them from CENTCOM.  Like Broadway’s Annie, down at headquarters in Tampa they’re “just thinkin' about tomorrow,” which “clears away the cobwebs, and the sorrow, till there's none! 
(Give the Vietnam War the CENTCOM treatment and you would end up with something like this: “Responding to unprovoked North Vietnamese attacks and acting at the behest of the international community, a U.S.-led coalition arrived to provide security to the freely-elected South Vietnamese government, conducting counterinsurgency operations and assisting host nation security forces to provide for their own defense.”) 
In fact, the U.N. Security Council did not authorize the 2003 invasion of Iraq.  Indeed, efforts by George W. Bush’s administration to secure such an authorization failed abysmally, collapsing in a welter of half-truths and outright falsehoods.  What much of the international community found unacceptable, more so even than Saddam’s obstreperousness, was Bush’s insistence that he was going to have his war regardless of what others might think.  As for celebrating the “defeat” of the Taliban and of Saddam, that’s the equivalent of declaring “game over” when the whistle sounds ending the first quarter of a football game. 
More to the point, to claim that, in the years since, CENTCOM “has continued to provide security to the new freely-elected governments” of Afghanistan and Iraq whitewashes history in ways that would cause the most shameless purveyor of alt-facts on Fox News to blush.  The incontestable truth is that Afghans and Iraqis have not known security since U.S. forces, under the direction of General Votel’s various predecessors, arrived on the scene.  Rather than providing security, CENTCOM has undermined it. 
CENTCOM Headquarters (Where It’s Always Groundhog Day) 
Even so, as the current steward of CENTCOM’s culture, vision, mission, strategic approach, and priorities, General Votel remains undaunted.  In his view, everything that happened prior to his assuming ownership of the CENTCOM AOR is irrelevant.  What matters is what will happen from now on -- in Washington-speak, “going forward.”  As with Artie Shaw, serial disappointments leave intact the conviction that persistence will ultimately produce a happy ending.  
Earlier this month, Votel provided a progress report to the Senate Armed Services Committee and outlined his expectations for future success.  In a city that now competes for the title of Comedy Central, few paid serious attention to what the CENTCOM commander had to say.  Yet his presentation was, in its own way, emblematic of how, in the Age of Trump, U.S. national security policy has become fully divorced from reality.  
General Votel began by inventorying the various “drivers of instability” afflicting his AOR.  That list, unsurprisingly enough, turned out to be a long one, including ethnic and sectarian divisions, economic underdevelopment, an absence of opportunity for young people “susceptible to unrest [and] radical ideologies,” civil wars, humanitarian crises, large refugee populations, and “competition among outside actors, including Russia and China, seeking to promote their interests and supplant U.S. influence in the region.”  Not qualifying for mention as destabilizing factors, however, were the presence and activities of U.S. military forces, their footprint dwarfing that of Russia and China. 
Indeed, the balance of Votel’s 64-page written statement argued, in effect, that U.S. military activities are the key to fixing all that ails the CENTCOM AOR.  After making a brief but obligatory bow to the fact that “a solely military response is not sufficient” to address the region’s problems, he proceeded to describe at length the military response (and only the military response) that will do just that.  
Unfortunately for General Votel, length does not necessarily correlate with substance.  Once upon a time, American military professionals prized brevity and directness in their writing.  Not so the present generation of generals who are given to logorrhea.  Consider just this bit of cliché-ridden drivel -- I could quote vast passages of it -- that Votel inflicted on members of the United States Senate.  “In a region beset by myriad challenges,” he reported,
“we must always be on the look-out for opportunities to seize the initiative to support our objectives and goals. Pursuing opportunities means that we are proactive -- we don’t wait for problems to be presented; we look for ways to get ahead of them. It also means that we have to become comfortable with transparency and flat communications -- our ability to understand our AOR better than anyone else gives us the advantage of knowing where opportunities exist.  Pursuing opportunities also means we have to take risk -- by delegating authority and responsibility to the right level, by trusting our partners, and being willing to trust our best instincts in order to move faster than our adversaries.” 
In third-tier business schools, bromides of this sort might pass for “best practices.”  But my guess is that George C. Marshall or Dwight D. Eisenhower would award the author of that paragraph an F and return him to staff college for further instruction. 
Frothy verbiage aside, what exactly does General Votel propose?  The answer -- for those with sufficient patience to wade through the entire 64 pages -- reduces to this: persist.  In concrete terms, that means keeping on killing and enabling our “allies” to do the same until the other side is finally exhausted and gives up.  In other words, it’s the movie Groundhog Day transposed from Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, to Tampa and then to Afghanistan, Iraq, and other countries where the bodies continue to pile up. 
True, the document Votel presented to Congress is superficially comprehensive, with sections touting everything from “Building Partner Capacity” (“we must be forward-leaning and empower our partners to meet internal security challenges”) to creating a “Global Engagement Center” (“The best way to defeat an idea is to present a better, more appealing idea”).  Strip away the fluff, however, and what’s left is nothing more than a call to keep doing what CENTCOM has been doing for years now. 
To see what all this really means, practically speaking, just check out CENTCOM press releases for the week of March 5th through 10th.  The titles alone suffice to describe a situation where every day is like the one that preceded it:
As the good nuns used to tell me back in parochial school, actions speak louder than words.  What the CENTCOM commander says matters less than what CENTCOM forces do.  What they are doing is waging an endless war of attrition.

Ludendorff Would Have Approved 
“Punch a hole and let the rest follow.”  
During the First World War, that aphorism, attributed to General Erich Ludendorff, captured the essence of the German army’s understanding of strategy, rooted in the conviction that violence perpetrated on a sufficient scale over a sufficient period of time will ultimately render a politically purposeless war purposeful.  The formula didn’t work for Germany in Ludendorff’s day and yielded even more disastrous results when Hitler revived it two decades later.
Of course, U.S. military commanders today don’t make crude references to punching holes.  They employ language that suggests discrimination, deliberation, precision, and control as the qualities that define the American way of war.  They steer clear of using terms like attrition.  Yet differences in vocabulary notwithstanding, the U.S. military’s present-day MO bears a considerable resemblance to the approach that Ludendorff took fully a century ago.  And for the last decade and a half, U.S. forces operating in the CENTCOM AOR have been no more successful than were German forces on the Western Front in achieving the purposes that ostensibly made war necessary. 
To divert attention from this disturbing fact, General Votel offers Congress and by extension the American people a 64-page piece of propaganda.  Whether he himself is deluded or dishonest is difficult to say, just as it remains difficult to say whether General William Westmoreland was deluded or dishonest when he assured Congress in November 1967 that victory in Vietnam was in sight.  “With 1968,” Westmoreland promised, “a new phase is now starting.  We have reached an important point when the end begins now to come into view.”
Westmoreland was dead wrong, as the enemy’s 1968 Tet Offensive soon demonstrated.  That a comparable disaster, no doubt different in form, will expose Votel’s own light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel assessment as equally fraudulent is a possibility, even if one to which American political and military leaders appear to be oblivious.  This much is certain: in the CENTCOM AOR the end is not even remotely in view. 
What are we to make of this charade of proconsuls parading through Washington to render false or misleading reports on the status of the American empire’s outer precincts? 
Perhaps the time has come to look elsewhere for advice and counsel.  Whether generals like Votel are deluded or dishonest is ultimately beside the point.  More relevant is the fact that the views they express -- and that inexplicably continue to carry weight in Washington -- are essentially of no value.  So many years later, no reason exists to believe that they know what they are doing.
To reground U.S. national security policy in something that approximates reality would require listening to new voices, offering views long deemed heretical.  
Let me nonetheless offer you an example
“Fifteen years after launching a worldwide effort to defeat and destroy terrorist organizations, the United States finds itself locked in a pathologically recursive loop; we fight to prevent attacks and defend our values, only to incite further violence against ourselves and allies while destabilizing already chaotic regions..." 
That is not the judgment of some lefty from Cambridge or San Francisco, but of Major John Q. Bolton, a veteran of both the Iraq and Afghan Wars.  Within that brief passage is more wisdom than in all of General Votel’s 64 pages of blather. 
I submit that Bolton’s grasp of our predicament is infinitely superior to Votel’s.  The contrast between the two is striking.  The officer who wears no stars dares to say what is true; the officer wearing four stars obfuscates.  If the four-stars abandon obfuscation for truth, then and only then will they deserve our respectful attention.  In the meantime, it’s like looking to Artie Shaw for marriage counseling.  
Andrew J. Bacevich, a TomDispatch regular, is the author most recently of America’s War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History.
Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, John Feffer's dystopian novel Splinterlands, as well as Nick Turse’s Next Time They’ll Come to Count the Dead, and Tom Engelhardt's latest book, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.
Copyright 2017 Andrew J. Bacevich

Sunday, March 26, 2017

The GOP Taliban Caucus

Paul Ryan Was Warned About These Assholes - 2015:



WHO ARE THE FREEDOM COCKASSES? -2015:


Freedom Caucus drives dagger into heart of young Trump presidency


It is hard to overestimate the damage the Freedom Caucus has done to the fledgling presidency of Donald Trump, and to the country. By blocking the American Health Care Act of 2017, the conservative group has guaranteed that Americans will struggle forward under the burden of Obamacare. In the next few months insurers will announce their premium hikes for the coming year; chances are, given the continuing withdrawal of major companies from the marketplaces and the ongoing failure of the bill to attract enough young and healthy participants, the new rates will not be pretty. Last year premiums went up 25%; it’s likely the increases will be higher this year.

Republicans will own those higher rates. Their failure to repeal the financial underpinnings of Obamacare and start replacing that failing program with an approach that encourages competition and that embodies numerous other common sense reforms will mean that families hit by ever-higher costs will blame the GOP. Voters elected Donald Trump and a GOP Congress to get this job done – the number one promise of every Republican campaign since 2010.

Now the Republican Party inherits the Sisyphean task of managing Obamacare’s inevitable decline. They are no longer critics; they are now the producers of the show. It is unlikely that House Speaker Paul Ryan or Trump will have the political will and patience to return to the drawing board and attempt to craft a brand new bill. They have made other commitments to voters, and so Obamacare, as a defeated Paul Ryan admitted after withdrawing the AHCA, is the law of the land. Live with it.

Of course, the damage is not limited to healthcare reform. The undermining of the House leadership is profound and clouds prospects of tax reform, infrastructure spending and other important jobs to be done. If Ryan cannot be counted on to herd the cats on healthcare, how do we know he can round up votes on tax reform?

It is the young Trump presidency, however, that takes the biggest hit here. Trump was elected because people across the political spectrum thought he could fix some of our problems. He was the businessman who could import common sense to Washington, and the deal maker who could bring people together. He made big promises; a country tired of stalemate and disappointment believed that he could bring back jobs, reduce our debt, build the wall, find a better healthcare solution.
His credibility and credentials now lie in tatters. All that optimism that has stoked the stock market and boosted investment plans – all that may fade.

Who is to blame? House Speaker Paul Ryan will be dragged through the mud for failing to win enough votes. He will also be criticized for concocting an arguably complicated and overly cerebral approach to the mission at hand. The AHCA was only part of the solution; Ryan vowed to press forward with more changes – like allowing insurers to compete across state lines, expanded health savings accounts and Medicaid reforms – in future legislation. It was a complex three-step approach; framing a sales pitch was all but impossible.

He was hemmed in by the strictures of reconciliation, through which Obamacare was to be dismantled but even so, it was a hard story to tell. Once the CBO published their score, showing that 24 million would lose coverage by 2026, Nancy Pelosi and her colleagues were off to the races, souring the country on Ryan’s bill. Few noted that subsequent measures would make the numbers significantly more appealing. Negative polling encouraged those keen to defeat it, and defeat it they did.

Nancy Pelosi mocked Trump for bringing the bill to the floor before he had the votes; that won’t sit well with a president who likes winning. So far, he is blaming Democrats, but he will doubtless find others – including perhaps the Speaker – to chastise for the loss. That will be unfortunate. As an outsider, President Trump has to rely on some seasoned hands to move bills through Congress; notwithstanding this recent defeat, Vice President Pence, chief of staff Reince Priebus and Paul Ryan are an excellent and necessary team. Relying on executive orders, as Obama did, produces unsustainable measures easily overturned by the courts.

Outraged Republicans should save most of their ire for the Freedom Caucus. The group of 30-odd conservatives are patting themselves on the backs this evening; joining their celebration are Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer. Hillary Clinton declared the failure a victory, while disgusted Republicans across the country wonder how it went so wrong.

Caucus leader Mark Meadows, who hails from western North Carolina, may find himself under scrutiny. People may wonder why the American Society of Anesthesiologists was one of the top five funders of Meadows’ campaign and why health professionals were among the top five industries donating to his reelection in 2016. Medical groups typically like Obamacare, which provides healthcare services to an expanded population. Did they count on Meadows undermining Obamacare repeal? Did they know that thanks to his efforts, Obamacare would carry on?

Meadows could well find himself with a primary challenger in 2018 who promises to support Donald Trump. After all, Trump carried North Carolina, and especially the western regions.  

And Meadows may not be alone. The National Republican Congressional Committee has been hauling in record amounts of money these past few months – money that can go to fielding candidates that support the White House. The Chair of the NRCC is Ohio’s Steve Stivers, who was a yes vote for the AHCA. His predecessor at the NRCC was Oregon Representative Greg Walden, who campaigned all-out for the AHCA. It’ unlikely either Stivers or Walden will champion the reelection of Meadows or his colleagues. 

The Trump White House is apparently going to move on to the other items on the agenda. The country will watch to see if the administration can bring tax reform about. With Democrats obstructing every move, nothing will be easy. But with Democrats and the Freedom Caucus standing in the way of the Trump agenda, nearly everything becomes impossible. 


Liz Peek is a writer who contributes frequently to FoxNews.com. She is a financial columnist who also writes for The Fiscal Times. For more visit LizPeek.com. Follow her on Twitter@LizPeek.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Trump Turning Point




Friday on his nationally syndicated radio show, conservative talker Mark Levin made the case that President Donald Trump’s reaction to House Speaker Paul Ryan’s decision not to proceed with the House GOP’s legislative effort to repeal and replace Obamacare was a positive.

Levin called it “actually outstanding” and likened that leadership style to former President Dwight Eisenhower.

“I thought the president’s comments today were actually outstanding,” Levin said. “And he showed enormous humility. And this guy doesn’t give up. I mean, he said OK, we’ll fight another day. In essence, he said that events will reach a point where this is going to have to be resolved. And when it reaches that point, I’m. ‘Mark, that’s not leadership.’ But it kind of is, actually. I’m not making a comparison. It is the sort of way that Dwight Eisenhower managed. When things reach a certain point, they’ll be knocking on my door. Then we’ll figure things out.”

(h/t RCP Video)

Follow Jeff Poor on Twitter @jeff_poor

Where is US Foreign Policy Today? Why are We Doing this? A Pernicious Congruous Influence of the Military Corporate State and our Incompetent Political Masters

There is now more capital in the World than there is income. The concentration of this capital, control and influence is in the hands of fewer and fewer people. Wilkerson in 25 minutes explains where we are today:

Friday, March 24, 2017

CroudStrike, DNC and the Russian Hack that Never Was?

Cybersecurity Firm That Attributed DNC Hacks to Russia May Have Fabricated Russia Hacking in Ukraine




The cyber security firm outsourced by the Democratic National Committee, CrowdStrike, reportedly misread data, falsely attributing a hacking in Ukraine to the Russians in December 2016. Voice of America, a US Government funded media outlet, reported, “the CrowdStrike report, released in December, asserted that Russians hacked into a Ukrainian artillery app, resulting in heavy losses of howitzers in Ukraine’s war with Russian-backed separatists. But the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) told VOA that CrowdStrike erroneously used IISS data as proof of the intrusion. IISS disavowed any connection to the CrowdStrike report.

Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense also has claimed combat losses and hacking never happened.” The maker of the military app allegedly hacked called CrowdStrike’s report “delusional,” and told VOA that CrowdStrike never contacted him either before or after they completed their report. VOA News noted Ukraine’s rebuttal to CrowdStrike received little media attention as CrowdStrike’s report was widely cited in media outlets throughout the United States as further evidence of Russia hacking the United States. Alperovitch, who gave several interviews on CrowdStrike’s initial report to the Washington Post and other media outlets, refused to comment on VOA News’ report.

The report sheds further skepticism on CrowdStrike’s findings and objectivity in their conclusions, which several cyber security experts and former CIA and NSA officials have cast doubt on, especially given that several media outlets reported in early January 2017 that the DNC never allowed the FBI to examine their servers themselves, rather the FBI relied on forensic data gathered by CrowdStrike.

The investigation methods used to come to the conclusion that the Russian Government led the hacks of the DNCClinton Campaign Chair John Podesta, and the DCCC were further called into question by a recent BuzzFeed report by Jason Leopold, who has developed a notable reputation from leading several non-partisan Freedom of Information Act lawsuits for investigative journalism purposes. On March 15 that the Department of Homeland Security released just two heavily redacted pages of unclassified information in response to an FOIA request for definitive evidence of Russian election interference allegations. 

Leopold wrote, “what the agency turned over to us and Ryan Shapiro, a PhD candidate at MIT and a research affiliate at Harvard University, is truly bizarre: a two-page intelligence assessment of the incident, dated Aug. 22, 2016, that contains information DHS culled from the internet. It’s all unclassified — yet DHS covered nearly everything in wide swaths of black ink. Why? Not because it would threaten national security, but because it would reveal the methods DHS uses to gather intelligence, methods that may amount to little more than using Google.”

In lieu of substantive evidence provided to the public that the alleged hacks which led to Wikileaks releases of DNC and Clinton Campaign Manager John Podesta’s emails were orchestrated by the Russian Government, CrowdStrike’s bias has been cited as undependable in its own assessment, in addition to its skeptical methods and conclusions. The firm’s CTO and co-founder, Dmitri Alperovitch, is a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, a think tank with openly anti-Russian sentiments that is funded by Ukrainian billionaire Victor Pinchuk, who also happened to donate at least $10 million to the Clinton Foundation.

In 2013, the Atlantic Council awarded Hillary Clinton it’s Distinguished International Leadership Award. In 2014, the Atlantic Council hosted one of several events with former Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, who took over after pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych was ousted in early 2014, who now lives in exile in Russia.

In August, Politico reported that Donald Trump’s favorable rhetoric to Russia was concerning Ukraine, who have been recovering from Russian interference in their own country’s revolution.  The article cited, “Russia wants Trump for U.S. 
president; Ukraine is terrified by Trump and prefers Hillary Clinton.” Trump recently appointed Atlantic Council Chairman Jon Huntsman as U.S. Ambassador to Russia, which Vox called a “baffling” choice, and Democrats and anti-Russian hysterics haven’t bothered to attempt to criticize, scrutinize or insinuate ties between Huntsman and Russia.

Cyber security expert Jeffrey Carr called the FBI/Department of Homeland Security Report, the only alleged evidence released by intelligence officials, released in late December 2016 a “fatally flawed effort” that provided no evidence to substantiate the claims that the Russian government conducted the hacks, though that’s what it was purported to do.

“If the White House had unclassified evidence that tied officials in the Russian government to the DNC attack, they would have presented it by now. The fact that they didn’t means either that the evidence doesn’t exist or that it is classified,” he wrote in a Medium post on December 30, 2016, while Obama was still in office. “If it’s classified, an independent commission should review it because this entire assignment of blame against the Russian government is looking more and more like a domestic political operation run by the White House that relied heavily on questionable intelligence generated by a for-profit cybersecurity firm with a vested interest in selling ‘attribution-as-a-service.'”

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VOICE of AMERICA Report


Think Tank: Cyber Firm at Center of Russian Hacking Charges Misread Data

An influential British think tank and Ukraine’s military are disputing a report that the U.S. cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike has used to buttress its claims of Russian hacking in the presidential election.

The CrowdStrike report, released in December, asserted that Russians hacked into a Ukrainian artillery app, resulting in heavy losses of howitzers in Ukraine’s war with Russian-backed separatists.

But the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) told VOA that CrowdStrike erroneously used IISS data as proof of the intrusion. IISS disavowed any connection to the CrowdStrike report. Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense also has claimed combat losses and hacking never happened.

A CrowdStrike spokesperson told VOA that it stands by its findings, which, they say, "have been confirmed by others in the cybersecurity community.”
The challenges to CrowdStrike’s credibility are significant because the firm was the first to link last year’s hacks of Democratic Party computers to Russian actors, and because CrowdStrike co-founder Dimiti Alperovitch has trumpeted its Ukraine report as more evidence of Russian election tampering.

Alperovitch has said that variants of the same software were used in both hacks.

FILE - CrowdStrike co-founder and CTO Dmitri Alperovitch speaks during the Reuters Media and Technology Summit in New York, June 11, 2012.

HERE IS THE SHITBIRD SOURCE FOR US MEDIA:


While questions about CrowdStrike’s findings don’t disprove allegations of Russian involvement, they do add to skepticism voiced by some cybersecurity experts and commentators about the quality of their technical evidence.

The Russian government has denied covert involvement in the election, but U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Russian hacks were meant to discredit Hillary Clinton and help Donald Trump’s campaign. An FBI and Homeland Security report also blamed Russian intelligence services.

On Monday, FBI Director James Comey confirmed at a House Intelligence Committee hearing that his agency has an ongoing investigation into the hacks of Democratic campaign computers and into contacts between Russian operatives and Trump campaign associates. The White House says there was no collusion with Russia, and other U.S. officials have said they’ve found no proof.
Signature malware
VOA News first reported in December that sources close to the Ukraine military and the artillery app’s creator questioned CrowdStrike’s finding that a Russian-linked group it named “Fancy Bear” had hacked the app. CrowdStrike said it found a variant of the same “X-Agent” malware used to attack the Democrats.

FBI Director James Comey, left, and National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers during the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence hearing on Russian actions during the 2016 election campaign, March 20, 2017.

HERE IS COMEY:


CrowdStrike said the hack allowed Ukraine’s enemies to locate its artillery units. As proof of its effectiveness, the report referenced publicly reported data in which IISS had sharply reduced its estimates of Ukrainian artillery assets. IISS, based in London, publishes a highly regarded, annual reference called “The Military Balance” that estimates the strength of world armed forces.

“Between July and August 2014, Russian-backed forces launched some of the most-decisive attacks against Ukrainian forces, resulting in significant loss of life, weaponry and territory,” CrowdStrike wrote in its report, explaining that the hack compromised an app used to aim Soviet-era D-30 howitzers.

“Ukrainian artillery forces have lost over 50% of their weapons in the two years of conflict and over 80% of D-30 howitzers, the highest percentage of loss of any other artillery pieces in Ukraine’s arsenal,” the report said, crediting a Russian bloggerwho had cited figures from IISS.

The report prompted skepticism in Ukraine.

Yaroslav Sherstyuk, maker of the Ukrainian military app in question, called the company’s report “delusional” in a Facebook post. CrowdStrike never contacted him before or after its report was published, he told VOA.

Pavlo Narozhnyy, a technical adviser to Ukraine’s military, told VOA that while it was theoretically possible the howitzer app could have been compromised, any infection would have been spotted. “I personally know hundreds of gunmen in the war zone,” Narozhnyy told VOA in December. “None of them told me of D-30 losses caused by hacking or any other reason.”

VOA first contacted IISS in February to verify the alleged artillery losses. Officials there initially were unaware of the CrowdStrike assertions. After investigating, they determined that CrowdStrike misinterpreted their data and hadn’t reached out beforehand for comment or clarification.

In a statement to VOA, the institute flatly rejected the assertion of artillery combat losses.

“The CrowdStrike report uses our data, but the inferences and analysis drawn from that data belong solely to the report's authors,” the IISS said. “The inference they make that reductions in Ukrainian D-30 artillery holdings between 2013 and 2016 were primarily the result of combat losses is not a conclusion that we have ever suggested ourselves, nor one we believe to be accurate.”

One of the IISS researchers who produced the data said that while the think tank had dramatically lowered its estimates of Ukrainian artillery assets and howitzers in 2013, it did so as part of a “reassessment” and reallocation of units to airborne forces.

"No, we have never attributed this reduction to combat losses," the IISS researcher said, explaining that most of the reallocation occurred prior to the two-year period that CrowdStrike cites in its report.

“The vast majority of the reduction actually occurs ... before Crimea/Donbass,” he added, referring to the 2014 Russian invasion of Ukraine.

‘Evidence flimsy'

In early January, the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense issued a statement saying artillery losses from the ongoing fighting with separatists are “several times smaller than the number reported by [CrowdStrike] and are not associated with the specified cause” of Russian hacking.

But Ukraine’s denial did not get the same attention as CrowdStrike’s report. Its release was widely covered by news media reports as further evidence of Russian hacking in the U.S. election.

In interviews, Alperovitch helped foster that impression by connecting the Ukraine and Democratic campaign hacks, which CrowdStrike said involved the same Russian-linked hacking group—Fancy Bear—and versions of X-Agent malware the group was known to use.

“The fact that they would be tracking and helping the Russian military kill Ukrainian army personnel in eastern Ukraine and also intervening in the U.S. election is quite chilling,” Alperovitch said in a December 22 story by The Washington Post.

The same day, Alperovitch told the PBS NewsHour: “And when you think about, well, who would be interested in targeting Ukraine artillerymen in eastern Ukraine? Who has interest in hacking the Democratic Party? [The] Russia government comes to mind, but specifically, [it's the] Russian military that would have operational [control] over forces in the Ukraine and would target these artillerymen.”

Alperovitch, a Russian expatriate and senior fellow at the Atlantic Council policy research center in Washington, co-founded CrowdStrike in 2011. The firm has employed two former FBI heavyweights: Shawn Henry, who oversaw global cyber investigations at the agency, and Steven Chabinsky, who was the agency's top cyber lawyer and served on a White House cybersecurity commission. Chabinsky left CrowdStrike last year.

CrowdStrike declined to answer VOA’s written questions about the Ukraine report, and Alperovitch canceled a March 15 interview on the topic. In a December statement to VOA’s Ukrainian Service, spokeswoman Ilina Dimitrova defended the company’s conclusions.

“It is indisputable that the [Ukraine artillery] app has been hacked by Fancy Bear malware,” Dimitrova wrote. “We have published the indicators to it, and they have been confirmed by others in the cybersecurity community.”

In its report last June attributing the Democratic hacks, CrowdStrike said it was long familiar with the methods used by Fancy Bear and another group with ties to Russian intelligence nicknamed Cozy Bear. Soon after, U.S. cybersecurity firms Fidelis and Mandiant endorsed CrowdStrike’s conclusions. The FBI and Homeland Security report reached the same conclusion about the two groups.
Still, some cybersecurity experts are skeptical that the election and purported Ukraine hacks are connected. Among them is Jeffrey Carr, a cyberwarfare consultant who has lectured at the U.S. Army War College, the Defense Intelligence Agency, and other government agencies.

In a January post on LinkedIn, Carr called CrowdStrike’s evidence in the Ukraine “flimsy.” He told VOA in an interview that CrowdStrike mistakenly assumed that the X-Agent malware employed in the hacks was a reliable fingerprint for Russian actors.

“We now know that’s false,” he said, “and that the source code has been obtained by others outside of Russia."

This report was produced in collaboration with VOA's Ukrainian Service.