Sunday, February 26, 2017

Today's Links

1--How ‘New Cold Warriors’ Cornered Trump, Gareth Porter (Today's "must read")

Opponents of the Trump administration have generally accepted as fact the common theme across mainstream media that aides to Donald Trump were involved in some kind of illicit communications with the Russian government that has compromised the independence of the administration from Russian influence....

But close analysis of the entire series of leaks reveals something else that is equally sinister in its implications: an unprecedented campaign by Obama administration intelligence officials, relying on innuendo rather than evidence, to exert pressure on Trump to abandon any idea of ending the New Cold War and to boost the campaign to impeach Trump.

A brazen and unprecedented intervention in domestic U.S. politics by the intelligence community established the basic premise of the cascade of leaks about alleged Trump aides’ shady dealing with Russia. Led by CIA Director John Brennan, the CIA, FBI and NSA issued a 25-page assessment on Jan. 6 asserting for the first time that Russia had sought to help Trump win the election.

A former U.S. intelligence official with decades of experience dealing with the CIA as well other intelligence agencies, who insisted on anonymity because he still has dealings with U.S. government agencies, told this writer that he had never heard of the intelligence agencies making public unverified information on a U.S. citizen.

“The CIA has never played such a open political role,” he said.....

The egregious triple abuse of the power in publishing a highly partisan opinion on Russia and Trump’s election, appending raw and unverified private allegations impugning Trump’s loyalty and then leaking that fact to the media begs the question of motive. Brennan, who initiated the whole effort, was clearly determined to warn Trump not to reverse the policy toward Russia to which the CIA and other national security organizations were firmly committed.

A few days after the leak of the two-page summary, Brennan publicly warned Trump about his policy toward Russia. In an interview on Fox News, he said, “I think Mr. Trump has to understand that absolving Russia of various actions that it’s taken in the past number of years is a road that he, I think, needs to be very, very careful about moving down.”

Graham Fuller, who was a CIA operations officer for 20 years and was also National Intelligence Officer for the Middle East for four years in the Reagan administration, observed in an e-mail, that Brennan, Clapper and Comey “might legitimately fear Trump as a loose cannon on the national scene,” but they are also “dismayed at any prospect that the official narrative against Russia could start falling apart under Trump, and want to maintain the image of constant and dangerous Russian intervention into affairs of state.”...

Any interception of a communication by the NSA or the FBI has always been considered one of the most highly classified secrets in the U.S. intelligence universe of secrets. And officers have long been under orders to protect the name of any American involved in any such intercepted communication at all costs. But the senior official who leaked the story of Flynn-Kislyak conversation to Ignatius – obviously for a domestic political purpose – did not feel bound by any such rule....

There was little subtlety in how mainstream media outlets made their point. CNN’s headline was, “Trump aides were in constant touch with senior Russian officials during campaign.” The Times headline was even more sensational: “Trump Campaign Aides Had Repeated Contacts with Russian Intelligence.”...

Even more important, however, the Times story made it clear that the intelligence community was seeking evidence that Trump’s aides or associates were colluding with the Russians on the alleged Russian effort to influence the election, but that it had found no evidence of any such collusion. CNN failed to report that crucial element of the story

Former CIA Director Brennan and other former Obama administration intelligence officials have used their power to lead a large part of the public to believe that Trump had conducted suspicious contacts with Russian officials without having the slightest evidence to support the contention that such contacts represent a serious threat to the integrity of the U.S. political process

Saturday, February 25, 2017

The American People; Smarter than you think

A new survey finds that a majority of the American people think Washington's foreign wars are making them "less safe".  Also a significant majority of people think their tax dollars should be spend on domestic issues. (like jobs, infrastructure and education, not wars.) Also, Americans believe that "national interests" should determine U.S. foreign policy... "not the interests of other nations".

And-- despite all the demonizing of Russia in the media-- only 12%  of the people surveyed thought Russia posed "the greatest security challenge currently facing the United States".

The Charles Koch Institute and the Center for the National Interest today released a poll of 1,000 Americans taken the last weekend of January demonstrating that Americans want Washington to show greater restraint when it comes to military spending and intervention in foreign matters. ..... This is the third foreign policy poll the Charles Koch Institute and the Center for the National Interest have conducted since October, and each survey has shown that Americans don’t think that U.S. foreign policy has served to make Americans and the world safer."

...“U.S. voters want their elected officials in Washington to prioritize American national interests. Moreover, respondents believe that any additional tax revenue should be focused on domestic priorities, especially reducing the debt and deficit. Americans simply don’t want more military spending. Congress should think twice about sending additional money to the Pentagon and focus on getting more bang for their taxpayers’ buck.”

Americans Still Believe Recent U.S. Foreign Policy Has Made Them Less Safe:
  • When asked if U.S. foreign policy over the last 15 years had made Americans more or less safe, a majority (51%) said less safe. Just 11% said more safe, while 27% said U.S. foreign policy had not affected their level of safety.
Americans Want Greater Foreign Policy Realism And For American Interests to Drive Foreign Policy Decision Making:
  • 69% of Americans believe that U.S. national interests should drive U.S. foreign policy; 30% strongly believe that U.S. national interests should always come first. Only 17% believe the interests of other nations should have greater weight than U.S. interests.
Americans Are Skeptical of More Military Spending:
  • When asked how the federal government should spend a hypothetical additional tax dollar, 79% expressed a desire to see it go toward a domestic priority. 42% percent said it should go toward debt and deficit reduction, and 37% said it should go toward domestic spending generally. Only 12% said it should go toward military spending, and 1% said foreign aid. An additional 8% did not know how that dollar should be spent.
Americans See Potential Even in Our Relationships With China, Russia:
  • When asked to identify the greatest security challenge currently facing the United States, 36% of respondents said ISIS, 12% said Russia, 12% said immigration, and 11% said the national debt. 7% said North Korea, 4% said China, 2% said Iran, and 1% said Syria. Another 15% said “other” or that they did not know.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Today's Links

1--We're About to See the US and UK’s Global Power Decline

It will be difficult for the US to remain a super-power under a leader who is an international figure of fun and is often visibly detached from reality. His battle cry of “Fake News” simply means an inability to cope with criticism or accept facts or views that contradict his own. World leaders who have met him say they are astonished by his ignorance of events at home and abroad.

This cannot go on very long without sizeably diminishing American global influence as its judgement and actions become so unpredictable. Over the last three quarters of a century, countries of all political hues – dictatorships and democracies, republics and monarchies – have wanted to be an ally of the US because it was the most powerful player in world affairs....

Despite its vastly expensive armed forces, the US has failed to win wars in Afghanistan and Iraq or to obtain regime change in Syria. In all three wars, it made serious mistakes and suffered important setbacks. ...

As presidential candidate Trump presented himself as an isolationist, claiming to have opposed the wars in Iraq and Libya. He had taken on board, as Hillary Clinton had not, that the American public does not want to fight another ground war in the Middle East. But Trump’s appointment of two senior generals – James Mattis as Defence Secretary and HR McMaster as National Security Adviser – tells a different and more belligerent story. Already, there are steps being taken to create a Sunni Arab coalition, led by Saudi Arabia and the Gulf monarchies and in cooperation with Israel, to confront Iran.

2--Surprise: Earnings Actually Drive Stocks --One of the reasons behind the market’s big rally is a surprisingly good earnings season

Fourth-quarter earnings are expected to log an increase of 4.6% from the same period a year ago, according to FactSet. That would mark the second consecutive quarter of year-over-year growth. And it would put the prior earnings recession of five consecutive quarterly contractions further in the rearview mirror. The last time the market had back-to-back quarters of earnings growth was in the fourth quarter of 2014 and the first quarter of 2015....

As for the overall market, corporate tax reform, infrastructure spending and fiscal stimulus have helped push the Dow Jones Industrial Average up about 13% since the election.

Rising valuations shouldn’t be dismissed. The S&P 500 has a forward price/earnings ratio of 17.6, the highest multiple since 2004 and above the averages of the past five, 10, 15 and 20 years.

Even with earnings growing again, that valuation can’t be justified without corporate tax reform and stimulus. The higher the market goes, the more dependent it is on success of Donald Trump’s policies.

3--Don't bet too heavily on buybacks--Investors bullish about a Trump capital expenditure boom must realize that buybacks, one of the bull market’s drivers, may suffer

Weak corporate investment has been one of the economy’s great flaws. An expected boost in capital spending—driven by rising confidence, stronger profits and tax reform—is one reason the stock market has soared.

But investors are confusing the benefits that rising spending would bring to the economy with its short-term impact on the stock market. A boom in corporate investment could be a drag on stocks.

As the economy struggled to grow, companies lacked the confidence to write big checks, except when they bought competitors. Instead they have been purchasing their own shares furiously. Companies in the S&P 500 have spent more than $2.5 trillion on share buybacks in the five years through 2016’s third quarter, according to FactSet. In the third quarter of 2016 alone buyback champs Apple Inc. and General Electric Co. repurchased $11.5 billion worth of their shares combined.

Yet the third quarter marked the second consecutive period of declining buybacks compared with a year earlier. In dollar terms, the drop was the largest since 2009, and it could get worse if more cash is diverted to new factories and equipment....

And then there is the market’s rich valuation, which teeters precariously on top of earnings growth driven by share buybacks. The stock market’s valuation is now in the 96th percentile of all observations in the past 135 years based on a cyclically adjusted measure used by Yale professor Robert Shiller. Even if buybacks stay strong, they produce less bang-for-the-buck. A company now has to spend about $1.34 of its earnings to repurchase as many shares as $1 did in February 2012. So, even as dollars spent have dropped, the number of shares repurchased has fallen even more.

That matters because the 5.3% in annualized, cyclically-adjusted earnings per share growth since 2009 would be less than half as much if not for gross buybacks. With so little earnings growth, it is no surprise that most of the S&P 500’s 17.1% annualized price gain since the bottom in 2009 has come as a result of valuation rather than real earnings growth or inflation. Justin Sibears of money manager Newfound Research calculated that a larger portion of the current bull market’s returns have come from valuation gains than any since the 1920s bubble. Perhaps not coincidentally, the Shiller price-to-earnings ratio is at the same level as observed in July 1929.

Is there a rosier scenario for buybacks? They could surge temporarily, much as they did back in 2005, if the Trump administration gives companies a tax holiday on the more than $2 trillion in unremitted corporate profits held overseas. As a share of market value, that is even higher than the Bush-era tax holiday.

The positive view of a boost in capital spending is that it will earn high future returns. That may be true, but earnings growth would be depressed a bit in the short-term as buybacks slow and earnings are hit by increased depreciation and amortization expenses, which are the result of higher capex.

Investors are forgetting that what’s good for the economy isn’t always good for stocks.

4--Eurozone Finally Finds Itself Free of Deflation-- January consumer prices were 1.8% higher than a year earlier

For the first time in almost four years, none of the eurozone’s 19 members was in deflation during January, an encouragement to the European Central Bank in its long struggle to lift inflation to its target and keep it there.

5--Veterans Say Organizers Concealed Saudi Sponsorship of Their Trip to DC to Lobby for Changes to 9/11 Lawsuit Legislation...

Lobbyists May Be Planning to Kill 9/11 Suits Against Kingdom by Restricting Lawyers’ Compensation

Senior Leader of Military Order of the Purple Heart Working for Saudi Lobbyists for $100,000 Fee

Today's Links

War-- “A violent struggle between hostile, independent, irreconcilable wills characterized by chaos, friction, and uncertainty." Clausewitz

1---This Rally in Stocks is Doomed: Goldman

Goldman shares have surged 58% since early October when it became clear to the markets that Trump had a chance. Some of its former executives are now dutifully holding down key positions in the Trump administration. Markets are expecting that all manner of goodies will rain down upon Goldman and the broader Wall Street community.

But Goldman’s analysts are worried about this market enthusiasm because those goodies may not show up, or show up late and in watered-down form once Congress gets through with them, if it gets through with them at all. And for any disappointment, there will be a price to pay...

But quick and substantive corporate tax reform is what the markets are counting on when they pushed the S&P index up 10% since the election. Now the efforts to deal with Obamacare may push corporate tax reform on the back burner

2--Trade growth slows to lowest level since global financial crisis; Relentless looting, fraud and manipulation lead to global slowdown

The World Bank report on trade followed the publication of its annual Global Economic Prospects report published last month.
That report painted a somewhat dismal picture of the world economy.

“Stalling global trade, weak investment and heightened political uncertainty have depressed world economic activity,” the report stated. Global growth was estimated to have fallen to 2.3 percent in 2016, the weakest performance since the global financial crisis and 0.1 percentage point below the forecast by the World Bank made in June 2016.

“Advanced economies continue to struggle with subdued growth and low inflation in a context of increasing uncertainty about policy direction, tepid investment, and sluggish productivity growth. Activity decelerated in the United States and, to a lesser degree in some other major economies.”
Advanced-economy growth was estimated to have slowed to 1.6 percent in 2016 with a small pick-up to a level of 1.8 percent expected in 2017.

The situation is no better in emerging market economies. While growth in these economies was expected to rise over 2017 and 2018, and could account for 60 percent of global growth in the coming year, the long-term outlook for these economies was “clouded by a number of factors.”

These include uncertainty about global trade prospects, advanced-economy economic policies, a weakening of potential output flowing from subdued investment and sluggish productivity growth.
The report noted that since 2010 investment growth in emerging market economies had slowed sharply. While the deceleration had been most pronounced in the largest of these markets and commodity-exporting countries, it had now spread to the rest with the result that investment growth was below its long-term average over the past quarter century, except during serious global downturns.

These economies, it pointed out, account for than more one third of global GDP and three-quarters of the world’s population and the world’s poor.

3--Robert Shiller: With stock valuations high, it’s time to reduce your holdings

4--Killer, kleptocrat, genius, spy: the many myths of Vladimir Putin

Vladimir Putin, you may have noticed, is everywhere. He has soldiers in Ukraine and Syria, troublemakers in the Baltics and Finland, and a hand in elections from the Czech Republic to France to the United States. And he is in the media. Not a day goes by without a big new article on “Putin’s Revenge”, “The Secret Source of Putin’s Evil”, or “10 Reasons Why Vladimir Putin Is a Terrible Human Being”....

Putin-as-evil-genius is, unquestionably, the primary theoretical view in the west of the Russian president, whether by his multitude of critics or his smattering of admirers. Those who take a more jaundiced view of Putin’s political, intellectual, and military capabilities – President Barack Obama, for one – are treated as naive, soft on Putin: the sort of people who play checkers, not chess. Meanwhile, most Russian observers of Putin tend to be surprised at the western awe of his overwhelming strategic prowess...

The first sight many Russians got of Vladimir Putin was on New Year’s Eve, 1999, when in a remarkable turn of events, a clearly ailing Boris Yeltsin, with six months left in his term, used his traditional televised end-of-year address to announce that he was resigning the presidency and handing the reins to his recently appointed, younger and more energetic prime minister

5--The absolute dominance of the U.S. economy, in one chart

6--The myth of Tal Afar  2007--  H.R. McMaster: The Warrior's-Eye View of Afghanistan--

The two-star general wrote the book on Vietnam and showed the way for the surge in Iraq. Now he's back from 20 months in Afghanistan—and says the war can be won (archive 2012--Afghanistan is still a mess)

See also--2006

Gen. McMaster really earned his renown applying the tenets of counterinsurgency strategy, or COIN, during the war in Iraq. As a colonel in 2005, he took responsibility for a place called Tal Afar. In that city of 200,000 people, the insurgents' "savagery reached such a level that they stuffed the corpses of children with explosives and tossed them into the streets in order to kill grieving parents attempting to retrieve the bodies of their young," wrote Tal Afar's mayor in 2006. "This was the situation of our city until God prepared and delivered unto them the courageous soldiers of the 3d Armored Cavalry Regiment."

Gen. McMaster's troops fought in Tal Afar with the understanding that victory would not be achieved by using maximum violence to hunt and kill insurgents. Instead, the key tasks were to secure and improve life for the local population, establish reliable local government, and project determination and staying power.

Before long, President George W. Bush was citing Tal Afar as a model. It helped inspire the strategy shift that turned around the Iraq War under David Petraeus, Gen. McMaster's mentor and a fellow West Point graduate with a Ph.D. and a penchant for quoting theorists like Carl von Clausewitz (1780-1831), the Prussian officer who famously defined war as the continuation of politics by other means....

"What do the Taliban have to offer the Afghan people?" he asks. They are "a criminal organization, criminal because they engage in mass murder of innocent people, and criminal because they're also the largest narcotics-trafficking organization in the world. Are these virtuous religious people? No, these are murderous, nihilistic, irreligious people who we're fighting—we along with Afghans who are determined to not allow them to return."

Taliban groups, he adds, are increasingly seen by Afghans "as a tool of hostile foreign intelligence agencies. These are people who live in comfort in Pakistan and send their children to private schools while they destroy schools in Afghanistan." He notes, too, that indigenous Afghan fighters are wondering where their leadership is: "One of the maxims of military leadership is that you share the hardships of your troops, you lead from the front. Well they're leading from comfortable villas in Pakistan. So there's growing resentment, and this could be an opportunity to convince key communities inside of Afghanistan into joining the political process."

As a tool for this, Gen. McMaster praises the U.S. military's "village stability operations," which send small teams of Special Forces to live among Afghans in remote villages vulnerable to Taliban intimidation.

7--New Poll: Americans Crystal Clear: Foreign Policy Status Quo Not Working

Americans Still Believe Recent U.S. Foreign Policy Has Made Them Less Safe:
  • When asked if U.S. foreign policy over the last 15 years had made Americans more or less safe, a majority (51%) said less safe. Just 11% said more safe, while 27% said U.S. foreign policy had not affected their level of safety.

8--CIA-backed aid for Syrian rebels frozen after Islamist attack

9--Federal Reserves Eyes Aggressive Rate Increases-- Minutes suggest the Fed could consider raising its benchmark rate as soon as its next policy meeting in March

Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellen suggested the bank might raise rates as soon as March when she told Congress last week that an increase might come “at our upcoming meetings...

For now, markets still see a March increase as unlikely. Investors pegged the probability of a move next month at around 22% Wednesday afternoon, up from about 18% on Tuesday, according to CME Group data.....

President Donald Trump’s plans for tax cuts, new spending and deregulation have buoyed market hopes of faster economic growth and higher corporate profits. But Fed officials at the meeting underscored their uncertainty about the details and effects of the potential policy changes, according to the minutes.

If the White House’s fiscal policies send inflation surging and unemployment falling too low, officials might have to raise rates more than expected to prevent the economy from overheating, central-bank officials noted. On the other hand, a strengthening dollar could push inflation down and lead officials to raise rates less than anticipated, the minutes said.
Fed policy makers in December raised their benchmark federal-funds rate to a range of between 0.5% and 0.75% and penciled in three quarter-percentage-point increases this year. At their recent meeting, they left rates unchanged and saw little reason to change their plans for the year ahead....

The Fed’s growing readiness to raise rates partly reflects a firming economy, particularly in the weeks since the February statement. The latest jobs report, released Feb. 3, showed employers added 227,000 jobs last month while the labor-force participation rate—the share of adults holding or seeking jobs—ticked up to 62.9%. A measure of annual inflation also moved up to 2.5% in January, the largest increase since March 2012. A separate inflation measure that is preferred by the Fed has also been moving up but remains at 1.6%, still below the 2% target.

The minutes also showed Fed officials expect to start talking “at upcoming meetings” about when and how to begin shrinking the central bank’s large asset portfolio—a process that would likely push long-term rates higher.
The Fed boosted its portfolio, or balance sheet, since the crisis through three rounds of asset purchases aimed at bolstering the economy by lowering long-term rates. The central bank maintains the portfolio’s size—now at $4.5 trillion—by reinvesting the proceeds of maturing securities. When it comes time to shrink the balance sheet, the Fed plans to scale back its reinvestments, letting the maturing assets run off.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Today's Links

Trump: “But I want to just tell you, the false reporting by the media, by you people, the false, horrible, fake reporting makes it much harder to make a deal with Russia. And probably Putin said ‘you know.’  He’s sitting behind his desk and he’s saying ‘you know, I see what’s going on in the United States, I follow it closely. It’s going to be impossible for President Trump to ever get along with Russia because of all the pressure he’s got with this fake story.’ OK?  And that’s a shame because if we could get along with Russia — and by the way, China and Japan and everyone. If we could get along, it would be a positive thing, not a negative thing.

And later, Trump: “But you know what? I want to do the right thing for the American people. And to be honest, secondarily, I want to do the right thing for the world.
“If Russia and the United States actually got together and got along — and don’t forget, we’re a very powerful nuclear country and so are they. There’s no upside. We’re a very powerful nuclear country and so are they. I have been briefed. And I can tell you one thing about a briefing that we’re allowed to say because anybody that ever read the most basic book can say it, a nuclear holocaust would be like no other. (Emphasis, jw)……..  “They’re a very powerful nuclear country and so are we. If we have a good relationship with Russia, believe me, that’s a good thing, not a bad thing.”

"If we extrapolate the longstanding experience of the new US national security advisor and his views on the US' foreign policy, we could foretell high probability of new military conflicts in various parts of the planet in the nearest future. I also suggest that the new Pentagon's chief, James Mattis will be eager to support hybrid concepts and military solutions of his co-thinker."  RIA Novosti political analyst Alexander Khrolenko

1--Trump's new security advisor differs from him on Russia, other key issues

McMaster will not be alone, however. His prominent administration allies include Defense Secretary Jim Mattis; Marine General Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and Senator John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee; as well as many of the soldiers who have served with him....

The real potential for flashpoints is with some of the people that Steve Bannon has brought into the administration ... people who see things very ideologically," said Andrew Exum, a former Army officer and Defense Department Mideast policy official and McMaster friend for more than a decade.Trump's early missteps on immigration and other issues "have strengthened the leverage available to not only H.R. McMaster, but also Defense Secretary Mattis and Secretary (of State Rex) Tillerson potentially," Exum said....

Unlike his predecessor, Michael Flynn, and Trump himself, McMaster regards Moscow as an adversary rather than a potential partner. Last May, at the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank, McMaster cited Russia's annexation of Crimea and support for rebels in eastern Ukraine as evidence of a broader effort "to collapse the post-World War Two, certainly the post-Cold War, security, economic, and political order in Europe and replace that order with something that is more sympathetic to Russian interests." A third area where McMaster's thinking differs from the president's rhetoric is the size and shape of the U.S. military

2--CIA Freezes Aid To Free Syrian Army

The FSA will continue to receive aid, however, from nations that receive weapons from the US and who oppose the Assad administration. While US aid to the FSA has been severed, at least temporarily, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and NATO-member Turkey continue to pour weapons and money into groups aligned with the FSA. In 2015, Qatar, a nation of two million, spent more money on US weapons than any other country, while Saudi Arabia ranked third, behind Egypt, according to the US Congressional Research Service.

3--US may deploy more troops to Syria: Commander

The top US commander for the Middle East says more American troops may be needed in Syria to step up the so-called campaign against the Takfiri Daesh terrorist group in the war-torn country.

General Joseph L. Votel, the head of the US Central Command, made the announcement on Wednesday while speaking to reporters accompanying him on a trip to the Middle East region.
Asked by CBS News if further US troops would be dispatched to Syria, Votel said, “Perhaps,” stressing that he was "very concerned about maintaining momentum."

4--Russia says it was in touch with Trump's campaign during election

5--CIA Arms for Syrian Rebels Frozen Amid Infighting         

No Official Explanation Offered for Freeze

6--Appointment of "Warrior-Scholar" McMaster signals intensification of anti-Russia confrontation

The appointment Monday of Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, an active duty military commander, as national security advisor has been welcomed by both Democratic and Republican critics of the foreign policy being pursued by the Trump White House.

He has been hailed by virtually all sections of the corporate media as a “warrior-scholar” or “soldier-intellectual,” whose record supposedly stands in stark contrast to that of his recently ousted predecessor, Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn (ret.), the former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, a partisan Trump supporter whose worldview encompassed a global war against Islam....

Last year, McMaster headed up an initiative known as the “Russia New Generation Warfare Study,” designed to reorient the US military toward military confrontation with Russia. He is also the author of a 2015 report titled “Continuity and Change: The Army Operating Concept and Clear Thinking About Future War,” which calls for the Pentagon to prepare “to prevent the aggressor from doing what Russia has in Ukraine.”

In Moscow, the appointment was taken as an unmistakable signal. “McMaster is…a 100 percent threat to Russia from the US, and it’s not getting weaker or smaller. Defense and intelligence wing of Washington will carry out a Russophobic policy,” the first deputy chairman of Russia’s Federation Council Committee on Defense and Security Franz Klintsevich told Sputnik on Tuesday....

The Journal has ample grounds for trusting McMaster to pursue such a strategy. In addition to his anti-Russia credentials, the army general has voiced open opposition to the idea that the US can pursue its objectives by means of drone assassination strikes and special operations raids. He is a proponent of “going in big” and a critic of the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, Washington Post columnist David Ignatius, who has close ties to US intelligence, was ecstatic. “McMaster is the real deal,” he said in a television interview Tuesday. “He is a warrior intellectual; he is someone who has made his name through his career speaking to power.”...

Both Democratic and Republican critics of the administration are now openly placing their hopes on a cabal of generals controlling the majority of security posts to counter what they see as the destabilizing influence of Trump’s fascistic chief White House strategist, former Breitbart news chief Stephen Bannon.
Neither of the two major parties and none of the extreme right-wing and militaristic factions contending for power within the Trump administration have anything to do with defending the democratic and social interests of the vast majority of the population, which are under unprecedented attack.
Rather, behind the scenes, elements within the state and its vast military and intelligence apparatus, unelected and unaccountable, are fighting out matters of US imperialist war strategy that have deadly implications for the population of the United States and the entire planet.

7--More US troops headed to ME

Trump ordered the Pentagon at the end of January to prepare plans for a new strategy he claimed would be aimed at defeating ISIS. Mattis is expected to present the proposals at the end of the month, but reports already indicate thousands more ground troops will be sent to Syria under the pretext of establishing so-called “safe zones” for refugees, and the current level of air strikes will be increased.
US-led air strikes have already killed civilians and struck infrastructure, most notably in December when hospitals in Mosul were bombed on two separate occasions.

On the ground in Iraq, the escalation has already begun. Lieutenant General Stephen Townsend, commander of US forces in Iraq, noted in comments this week that US troops embedded with Iraqi forces began playing a more aggressive role when the Mosul offensive was first initiated last October. The Obama administration gave authorization for US soldiers to operate closer to the front line. “We adjusted our posture during the east Mosul fight and we embedded advisers a bit further down into the formation,” Townsend told a news conference, noting that the so-called “advisers” were now close enough to the front line to be able to direct air strikes.

Mattis went even further, noting that the new plan for operations in Syria and Iraq due February 27 could see a further loosening of the restrictions on where US military personnel can operate, as well as a recommendation to deploy more troops to Iraq, although he declined to be more specific. “We owe some degree of confidentiality so we don’t expose to the enemy what we have in mind as to the timing of operations,” he said.

8--James Steele, How the US pacified Iraq

9--Amid ongoing conflicts, Pence extends olive branch to EU

At the Munich Security Conference, Pence declared that “the United States of America strongly supports NATO and will be unwavering in our commitment to this trans-Atlantic alliance.” He said that the US government would “continue to hold Russia accountable.” He also echoed calls in the ruling class in Europe for stepped-up rearmament, particularly in Germany, demanding that Europe contribute a “fair share to our common defense.”
In Brussels, Pence reaffirmed the “strong commitment of the United States to continued cooperation and partnership with the European Union… Whatever our differences, our two continents share the same heritage, the same values and above all the same purpose: to promote peace and prosperity through freedom, democracy and the rule of law.”...

according to a detailed Reuters report denied by the White House, Trump’s neo-fascist chief political strategist, Steve Bannon, spoke to German diplomats before Pence’s trip to repeat that the EU was “flawed.” He reportedly made comments similar to 2014 remarks he delivered to a Vatican conference, that he does not “believe in this kind of pan-European Union” and that Western Europe was founded on “strong nationalist movements

10--Lavrov: Russia waiting for US to provide ‘details’ on proposed safe zones in Syria

11-- Trump’s “America First” policies and the global eruption of economic nationalism

Outlining the rationale for the proposed agreements in 2014, (eg--Trans-Pacific Partnership and its counterpart for Europe, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership)  Obama’s trade representative Michael Froman wrote in a major Foreign Affairs article that “trade policy is national security policy,” and that the aim of the agreements was to “place the US at the center of agreements that will provide unfettered access to two-thirds of the global economy.”

He went on to explain that the post-war system was no longer adequate and that the US no longer held “as dominant a position as it did at the end of World War II” and had to build new “trade coalitions working toward consensus positions.” In other words, the development of new mechanisms whereby the US could counter its economic decline vis-à-vis its rivals....(trade agreements are designed to maintain US dominance. Trump is meddling in a system he doesn't understand)

While the battle in Washington between the intelligence agencies, the media and the Trump administration over the question of Russia and Trump’s supposed ties to Putin is attracting most of the headlines, a conflict on the economic front is of no less significance.
Earlier this month, in response to Trump’s “America First” agenda and what it called his “divisive delusions on trade,” the Financial Times, the voice of British and to some extent European finance capital, warned that if the Trump administration continued on its present course, it would represent a “clear and present danger to the global trading and monetary system.”...

Last month, speaking to the New York Times on the sidelines of the Davos summit of the World Economic Forum, Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the president of the euro group of finance ministers, pointed to possible major shifts in orientation. “We’ve always said that America is our best friend,” he said. “If that’s no longer the case, if that’s what we need to understand from Donald Trump, then, of course, Europe will be looking for new friends.
“China is a very strong candidate for that. The Chinese involvement in Europe in terms of investment is already very high and expanding. If you push away your friends, you mustn’t be surprised if the friends start looking for new friends.”

12--Anti Russia hysteria mounts:  Moscow’s Peace Efforts Are Sabotaged as Washington Aims to Make War With Russia Inevitable

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Today's Links

Arthur Rimbaud--"Il faut être absolument modern"

  trans--One must be absolutely contemporary

---"“There is a need to rethink the problem of limited nuclear war in which the United States is a direct participant, or between other parties where the United States has a major security interest,” Krepinevich writes. “As opposed to the global apocalypse envisioned in the wake of a superpower nuclear exchange during the Cold War, there will very likely be a functioning world after a war between minor nuclear powers, or even between the United States and a nuclear-armed Iran or North Korea. US forces must, therefore, be prepared to respond to a range of strategic warfare contingencies along the Eurasian periphery."  WSWS

1--Goose-stepping Our Way Toward Pink Revolution

Now I want to be clear about this “deep state” thing, as the mainstream media is already labeling anyone who uses the term a hopelessly paranoid conspiracy theorist. The deep state, of course, is not a conspiracy. It is simply the interdependent network of structures where actual power resides (i.e., the military-industrial complex, multinational corporations, Wall Street, the corporate media, and so on). Its purpose is to maintain the stability of the system regardless of which party controls the government. These are the folks, when a president takes office, who show up and brief him on what is and isn’t “possible” given economic and political “realities.” Despite what Alex Jones may tell you, it is not George Soros and roomful of Jews...

The system the deep state primarily serves is not the United States of America, i.e., the country most Americans believe they live in; the system it serves is globalized Capitalism. The United States, the nation state itself, while obviously a crucial element of the system, is not the deep state’s primary concern. If it were, Americans would all have healthcare, affordable education, and a right to basic housing, like more or less every other developed nation....

And this is the essence of the present conflict. The Trump regime (whether they’re sincere or not) has capitalized on people’s discontent with globalized neoliberal Capitalism, which is doing away with outmoded concepts like the nation state and national sovereignty and restructuring the world into one big marketplace ...

we’re in a state of crisis, aren’t we? This is not the time to sit around and analyze political and historical dynamics. No, this is a time for all loyal Americans to set aside their critical thinking and support democracy, the corporate media, and the NSA, and CIA, and the rest of the deep state  as they take whatever measures are necessary to defend us from Putin’s diabolical plot to Nazify the United States and reenact the Holocaust for no discernible reason. (sarcasm) The way things are going, it’s just a matter of time until they either impeach his puppet, Trump, or, you know, remove him by other means. .... After he’s convicted and dying in jail, triumphant Americans will pour out onto the lawn of Lafayette Square again, waving huge flags and hooting vuvuzelas, like they did when Obama killed Osama bin Laden. I hope you’ll forgive me if I don’t attend

2--Is a Trump-Putin Detente Dead?

Among the reasons Donald Trump is president is that he read the nation and the world better than his rivals.
He saw the surging power of American nationalism at home, and of ethnonationalism in Europe. And he embraced Brexit.

While our bipartisan establishment worships diversity, Trump saw Middle America recoiling from the demographic change brought about by Third World invasions. And he promised to curb them.
While our corporatists burn incense at the shrine of the global economy, Trump went to visit the working-class casualties. And those forgotten Americans in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin, responded.

And while Bush II and President Obama plunged us into Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Syria, Trump saw that his countrymen wanted to be rid of the endless wars, and start putting America first...

The anti-Putin paranoia here is astonishing.
That he is a killer, a KGB thug, a murderer, is part of the daily rant of John McCain. At the Munich Security Conference this last weekend, Sen. Lindsey Graham promised, “2017 is going to be a year of kicking Russia in the ass in Congress.” How’s that for statesmanship...

they mean to beat him to death is this narrative:
Trump is the Siberian Candidate, the creature of Putin and the Kremlin. His ties to the Russians are old and deep. It was to help Trump that Russia hacked the DNC and the computer of Clinton campaign chief John Podesta, and saw to it WikiLeaks got the emails out to the American people during the campaign. Trump’s people secretly collaborated with Russian agents.
Believing Putin robbed Hillary Clinton of the presidency, Democrats are bent on revenge — on Putin and Trump....

we see U.S. troops headed for Poland, Bulgaria, Romania, NATO troops being sent into the Baltic States, and new tough rhetoric from the White House about Russia having to restore Crimea to Ukraine. We read of Russian spy ships off the coast, Russian planes buzzing U.S. warships in the Black Sea, Russians deploying missiles outlawed by the arms control agreement of 1987.
An Ohio-class U.S. sub just test-fired four Trident missiles, which carry thermonuclear warheads, off the Pacific coast.
Any hope of cutting a deal for a truce in east Ukraine, a lifting of sanctions, and bringing Russia back into Europe seems to be fading.
Where Russians saw hope with Trump’s election, they are now apparently yielding to disillusionment and despair.
The question arises: If not toward better relations with Russia, where are we going with this bellicosity?

3--Priebus says US intel officials call campaign-Russia story 'garbage

(Did the NYTs lie?) “I can assure you, the top levels of the intelligence community have assured me that [the allegation] is not only grossly overstated, but also wrong,” Priebus told “Fox News Sunday.” “They have made it very clear that the story is complete garbage.”

4--The Deep State Targets Trump

the deep state is deeply committed to Cold War II.

Hence, suddenly, we read reports of a Russian spy ship off the Connecticut, Delaware and Virginia coasts, of Russian jets buzzing a U.S. warship in the Black Sea, and Russian violations of Reagan’s INF treaty outlawing intermediate-range missiles in Europe.

Purpose: Stampede the White House into abandoning any idea of a detente with Russia. And it appears to be working. At a White House briefing Tuesday, Sean Spicer said, “President Trump has made it very clear that he expects the Russian government to … return Crimea.”

Is the White House serious?

Putin could no more survive returning Crimea to Ukraine than Bibi Netanyahu could survive giving East Jerusalem back to Jordan.

How does the deep state go about its work? We have seen a classic example with Flynn. The intelligence and investigative arms of the regime dig up dirt, and then move it to their Fourth Estate collaborators, who enjoy First Amendment immunity to get it out.

For violating their oaths and breaking the law, bureaucratic saboteurs are hailed as “whistleblowers” while the journalists who receive the fruits of their felonies put in for Pulitzers....

Those in the FBI, Justice Department and intelligence agencies who were complicit in a conspiracy to leak the contents of Flynn’s private conversations in order to bring down the national security adviser should be exposed and prosecuted.

5--Has the Deep State already neutered Trump’s foreign policy?

“In the end, it was Trump’s decision to cut Flynn loose. In doing this he caved in to his political and bureaucratic opposition. [Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Devin] Nunes told me Monday night, that this will not end well. ‘First it’s Flynn, next it will be Kellyanne Conway, then it will be Steve Bannon, then it will be Reince Priebus,’ he said. Put another way, Flynn is only the appetizer. Trump is the entrée.”...

It is precisely this back-to-front neocon world view that has so corrupted American foreign policy: America, for decades now, has aligned itself with Saudi Arabia and Gulf States who finance, arm and support terrorist movements (such as Al Qaeda), while labeling Iran, which actually fights and defeats these “jihadists,” as the chief sponsor of terror in the Middle East. One really cannot get it more back-to-front. This is now more widely understood by the American public, yet the neocons never pull back; they never desist in trying to tie America to the Saudi Arabia-Israeli axis and to promote phobia towards Iran...

“[On Feb. 14] the White House spokesperson said: President Trump has made it very clear that he expects the Russian government to deescalate violence in the Ukraine and return Crimea.

“[On Feb. 15] Trump tweeted: Donald J. Trump Verified account @realDonaldTrump
Crimea was TAKEN by Russia during the Obama Administration. Was Obama too soft on Russia?

6--Trump’s Foreign Policy: Retreat or Rout?

what was perhaps even more remarkable about this ambush of Flynn...was the collusion between U.S. intelligence agencies and a mainstream media intent on bringing down President Trump — or at least preventing him from redirecting U.S. foreign policy away from “regime change” wars in the Middle East and toward a détente with Russia.

When Trump hastily demanded Flynn’s resignation – at least in part to appease Vice President Mike Pence who complained that Flynn hadn’t been fully forthcoming with him – a media feeding frenzy followed....

Then we heard Defense Secretary James Mattis in Brussels (NATO headquarters), Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Bonn (G20 Foreign Ministers meeting) and Vice President Pence in Munich (Security Conference) collectively pledge unswerving loyalty to the NATO alliance, insist that any new talks with Russia must be conducted from “a position of strength,” and vow to hold Russia accountable for the full implementation of the Minsk Accords, meaning all sanctions stay in place pending that achievement which the Ukrainian government has consistently blocked while blaming Moscow.

Amid these signals of surrender from the Trump Administration – suggesting continuation of the disastrous foreign policy of the last 25 years – the newly revived enemies of détente on Capitol Hill added more anti-Russian sanctions and threats. In response to alleged violations by the Kremlin of the Treaty on Intermediate and Short-range Missiles (INF) dating back to 1987, Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas, introduced a bill enabling the re-installation of American nuclear-tipped cruise missiles in Europe. If enacted, this would undo the main achievements of disarmament from the Reagan years and bring us back to a full-blown Cold War....

On a related front, The New York Times has reported that Trump plans to appoint businessman Stephen Feinberg to evaluate and recommend reorganization of the intelligence agencies, viewed as a shake-up to restore order and loyalty to the Chief Executive....

Only via détente – meaning an end to the permanent wars abroad with their heavy operational costs and the dismantling of the vast global network of U.S. military bases – can Trump free up budgetary resources to finance his plans for massive U.S. infrastructure investments, modernizing the military, and addressing the needs of veterans. The sums involved are on the order of $600 billion annually which presently go to maintain some 800 military bases in 70 countries, bases which generate much anti-Americanism and entangle the U.S. in regional conflicts.

7--Trump’s ISIS Plan: Another US Invasion?

In language reminiscent of his plans to build a wall on the Mexican border, the president told a political rally in Florida over the weekend that he was going to set up “safe zones” in Syria and would make the Gulf States pay for them. There are several problems with this plan.

First, any “safe zone” set up inside Syria, especially if protected by US troops, would amount to a massive US invasion of the country unless the Assad government approves them. Does President Trump want to begin his presidency with an illegal invasion of a sovereign country?

Second, there is the little problem of the Russians, who are partners with the Assad government in its efforts to rid the country of ISIS and al-Qaeda. ISIS is already losing territory on a daily basis. Is President Trump willing to risk a military escalation with Russia to protect armed regime-change forces in Syria?
Third, the Gulf States are the major backers of al-Qaeda and ISIS in Syria – as the president’s own recently-resigned National Security Advisor, Michael Flynn, revealed in a 2015 interview. Unless these safe zones are being set up to keep al-Qaeda and ISIS safe, it doesn’t make any sense to involve the Gulf States.

Many will say we should not be surprised at these latest moves. As a candidate, Trump vowed to defeat ISIS once and for all. However, does anyone really believe that continuing the same strategy we have followed for the past 16 years will produce different results this time?

8--The CIA vs. The Presidency: This is Not the First Time

President Trump is in his own war against the CIA and other parts of the intelligence community (IC).

In his case, he has overtly criticized the IC and called them disseminators of fake news and lies. He claims he’s putting an end to foreign wars of conquest. He’s already canceled a major Globalist trade treaty, the TPP.

But the IC believes it owns the Presidency and sets his agenda.

This is not a recent assumption. It goes all the way back to the early days of the CIA; Eisenhower, Kennedy.

In 2016, the IC leadership decided Trump would be a threat to their power, so they leaked/invented information about the Russians influencing the election on behalf of Trump. This effort was aimed at corroding his right to claim that he was the legitimate president.

The war continues.

The IC doesn’t want presidents with independent ideas.

They’re the bosses, and they intend to keep it that way....

“The CIA had already planned the April 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion before Kennedy took office in January, and when the invasion failed, Kennedy felt that the CIA had set him up. He let it be known he intended to dismantle the CIA and assign its functions to the other intelligence units within the government. He reportedly vowed ‘to splinter the CIA in a thousand pieces and scatter it to the winds’… Kennedy, a Democrat, forced the Republican Allen Dulles to resign, along with other senior CIA officers. But the CIA was too deeply involved just then in operations around the world to be disassembled. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, in a way that implicated the CIA…critics of the Warren Commission Report, maybe even J. Edgar Hoover—believed the CIA had some hand in Kennedy’s assassination and the coverup. If it had, the CIA was again demonstrating that the presidency was subordinate to the CIA

9--Global Stocks and Bond Yields Rise -- U.S. stocks approach fresh records, equity gains in Europe checked by bank shares

The Dow Jones Industrial Average, S&P 500, and Nasdaq Composite all closed at record highs on Friday. Investors have been betting that a growing economy and friendly fiscal policies in the U.S. will boost corporate profits and keep stock markets supported, even as interest rates move higher.
“We are in the early stages of long-term interest rates returning to conventional levels,” said Ian Williams, strategist at brokerage Peel Hunt. “With growth and inflation picking up slightly, it makes equities more favorable as a place to put your cash.”

The Dow has risen over 4% since Inauguration Day, marking the best first 30 days in office since President Roosevelt in 1945, while the Nasdaq has closed at a record levels 18 times this year, the most since 1999.
The 12-month forward price-to-earnings ratio for the S&P 500, a common measure of the market’s valuation, recently rose to 17.6, according to FactSet, —its highest since 2004.

The ascent we’ve seen since election day is just incredible,” said Lindsey Bell, investment strategist at CFRA Research. “It makes us a little nervous…we think a lot of the move is based on euphoria and hope surrounding [Mr. Trump’s] policies, especially tax reform,” she said.
Meanwhile, guidance from companies for the end of the year has been more negative, but analysts’ earnings estimates have yet to come down, posing a risk to the stock market in the second half of the year, she said.

10-- In Policy Dissent, Jim Mattis Wields Influence-- Defense chief’s disagreements with President Trump may be prodding the White House away from some positions

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis appears to be at odds with President Donald Trump on Russia and other key issues, setting up potential discord but also helping to nudge the White House toward more conventional policy stances.
In recent days, other top administration officials have aired foreign-policy views that don’t align perfectly with the new president. Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, for example, have suggested a tougher line with Russians, demanding they de-escalate violence in Ukraine.
While the president has turned to generals for several key posts—on Monday naming Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster as national security adviser—Mr. Mattis remains the highest-profile and most widely respected of all the generals in the administration. Further, on some matters, including Russia and Ukraine, Mr. Mattis has strong allies, including Mr. Pence....

At nearly every stop of his second overseas trip that finished Tuesday, after a visit to Iraq, Mr. Mattis made clear his own positions, which haven’t always squared with the public pronouncements of the president....

Mr. Mattis has also taken a different stance on Russia than Mr. Trump, although there are signs the administration is moving his way. The defense secretary and Mr. Pence have said Russia must be held accountable for its actions in Ukraine and that Moscow’s annexation of Crimea wouldn’t be recognized. Mr. Tillerson and U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley have also taken a tough line against relaxing sanctions.

11--US-European tensions remain despite reassurances on NATO

The US would be “unwavering” in its support for NATO, Pence declared, and Donald Trump would “stand with Europe.” He added, “Know this: The United States will continue to hold Russia accountable,” even as the Trump administration seeks “common ground” with Moscow.
After his remarks, Pence met with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and, according to a White House statement, “underlined that the United States does not recognize Russia’s occupation and attempted annexation of the Crimean peninsula,” which rejoined Russia following a popular referendum held in the wake of the Western-orchestrated right-wing coup in Kiev in 2014.

Pence’s statement regarding Russia followed similar remarks last week by Trump’s defense secretary, former Marine General James “Mad Dog” Mattis, who ruled out any military collaboration with Russia until Moscow “proves itself” regarding Ukraine and Crimea.

Even more bellicose were members of a bipartisan congressional delegation present in Munich. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said on Sunday that “2017 is going to be a year of kicking Russian ass in Congress,” and vowed that Congress would pass new rounds of sanctions against both Russia and Iran. Senator Christopher Murphy, a Democrat from Connecticut who spoke on the same panel as Graham in Munich, said there would be no “partisan divide” on the push for redoubled sanctions.

Whatever differences have surfaced between the Trump administration and Washington’s NATO allies over Russia—not to mention the bitter internecine struggle in Washington over the issue—the US-NATO build-up continues with the deployment of some 4,000 US troops to Eastern Europe, while the remarks in Munich suggest that no lifting of US sanctions against Moscow are imminent.
Present in Munich for Pence’s remarks to the conference, Konstantin Kosachyov, the head of Russia’s parliamentary foreign affairs committee, responded: “I heard nothing in the speech. The new American leaders have started to reproduce the negatives accumulated under the previous administration.”

Much of Pence’s speech was given over to a celebration of American militarism and vows that under Trump the US build-up to war would undergo a dramatic acceleration.

“I can assure you that the United States will be strong, stronger than ever before,” said the vice president. “We will strengthen our military, restore the arsenal of democracy and, working with many members of congress gathered here today, we’re going to provide soldiers, sailors, airmen and coast guard with renewed resources to defend our nation and our treaty allies from the threats of today and unknown threats of tomorrow.”...

One notable feature of Vice President Pence’s speech was that, while it included multiple vows of support for NATO, it made not a single mention of the European Union, which some in Munich took as a warning that Washington is embarking on an aggressive pursuit of US imperialist interests at Europe’s expense.
Wolfgang Ischinger, the former German ambassador to Washington who chairs the Munich Security Conference, told Deutsche Welle that if the Trump administration continued to take a hostile attitude to the EU, “it would amount to a kind of nonmilitary declaration of war. It would mean conflict between Europe and the United States. Is that what the US wants? Is that how he wishes to make America great again?”

12--Trump White House under mounting pressure from anti-Russia campaign

Trump’s congressional defenders are pushing back against his opponents within the intelligence apparatus. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes sent a letter Friday to the FBI asking it to investigate leaks of classified information to the media. He suggested that the leaks came from either career officials who oppose Trump’s policies or holdovers from the Obama administration. According to one press report, Nunes “believes that Trump is being targeted by the intelligence community. It’s an abuse of authority.”

White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus appeared on three Sunday television interview programs to denounce the media reports of “constant contact” between the Trump campaign and Russia as false and deliberately aimed at undermining the Trump administration.

Speaking on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Priebus acknowledged receipt of the Senate Intelligence Committee letter and said the White House would cooperate with the request. “I know what they were told by the FBI,” he said, “because I’ve talked to the FBI. I know what they’re saying. I wouldn’t be on your show right now telling you that we’ve been assured that there’s nothing to the New York Times story if I actually wasn’t assured.”

13--Trump’s DHS memos: Millions at risk of deportation as crackdown looms

14--Military junta continues in Washington-- Trump names Iraq war general and militarist as national security adviser

The appointment has special significance in terms of policy towards Russia because McMaster has been engaged in a major military project to study the conflict in Ukraine and the lessons to be drawn by US military planners preparing for war in Eastern Europe against the Russian army and air force. He said in 2016 that the Ukraine conflict has “revealed that the Russians have superior artillery firepower, better combat vehicles, and have learned sophisticated use of UAVs [drones] for tactical effect.”

According to a report last year in Politico, “McMaster is quietly overseeing a high-level government panel intended to figure out how the Army should adapt to this Russian wake-up call.” He told a Senate committee, “Russia possesses a variety of rocket, missile and cannon artillery systems that outrange and are more lethal than US Army artillery systems and munitions.” He called for developing advanced weapons to replace the two main Army armored vehicles, the Abrams tank and the Bradley Fighting Vehicle.

This background suggests that McMaster will be aligned with Secretary of Defense Mattis in viewing Russia as the main strategic adversary of US imperialism in both the Middle East and Europe. That accounts for the widespread praise for his selection by those who have been spearheading the anti-Russian campaign on behalf of the US military-intelligence apparatus...

More significant from the standpoint of his current position is the attitude McMaster adopted towards social and political constraints on the military. His book strongly attacked the Joint Chiefs of Staff of that period, 1963-1965, for failing to demand the all-out mobilization of up to 700,000 troops they believed necessary to win the war. They did not press these demands because Johnson was committed to a strategy of limited war in order to provide resources for domestic social reforms such as Medicare, Medicaid and the “war on poverty.”

Such an approach suggests that General McMaster, like Trump himself, would favor the plundering of social programs in order to pay for the rapid and extensive military buildup that both have advocated, preparing for an explosion of American militarism on a scale that would dwarf both Vietnam and the current wars in the Middle East and Central Asia.

Retired or active-duty military brass hold four top positions: Secretary of Defense James “Mad Dog” Mattis and Secretary of Homeland Security John F. Kelly are both retired Marine Corps major generals. McMaster will head the NSC, and retired Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg, who had been acting head during the week since Flynn’s dismissal, will resume his position as NSC chief of staff, now as McMaster’s deputy....

The appointment was backed by many of those who have been denouncing Trump for his alleged “softness” on Russia. The ultra-right magazine National Review hailed the appointment, comparing it to the nomination of Neil Gorsuch for the Supreme Court, and writing that “Trump’s key generals—James Mattis, John Kelly, and now H.R. McMaster—represent the best of modern military leadership. Their presence in the government is deeply reassuring. It’s now incumbent on President Trump to heed their counsel and give them the level of authority that they have earned.”

Senator John McCain, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, fresh from a speech to the Munich Security Conference in which he portrayed the new administration as a potential threat to world stability, praised the nomination as well. “I give President Trump great credit for this decision, as well as his national security cabinet choices,” McCain said in a statement. “I could not imagine a better, more capable national security team than the one we have right now

15--Thinking the unthinkable--How many people would die in a war between the US and Russia?

Behind the scenes, however, the intelligence agencies and Pentagon, along with their allied geo-strategic think tanks, are engaged in intense discussions and detailed planning premised on the possibility, indeed inevitability, of a major war with Russia. Plans are being laid and preparations made to wage and “win” such a war, including through the use of nuclear weapons.

One does not have to look far to find the people who are heading up the war planning. Yesterday, President Trump appointed Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster, an army strategist, as his new national security advisor.

The selection of McMaster is broadly seen as a concession to Trump’s anti-Russia critics in the political and intelligence establishment. He is the leading figure in an Army project called the Russia New Generation Warfare study, whose participants have made repeated trips to the battlefields of eastern Ukraine to study Russia’s military capabilities and devise strategies and weapons systems to defeat them. McMaster has called on the US to prepare for high-intensity conventional war with Russia, involving not only long-range missile systems and stealth aircraft, but also “close” combat.

Beyond conventional warfare, US think tank strategists are discussing what it would take to “win” a nuclear war. The Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA) recently put out a 140-page report, “Preserving the Balance: A US Eurasia Defense Strategy,” which discusses this issue in detail. The CSBA is headed by Andrew Krepinevich, the report’s author, and includes on its Board of Directors figures such as former Under Secretary of the Army Nelson Ford, former CIA Director James Woolsey and retired general Jack Keane.

“There is a need to rethink the problem of limited nuclear war in which the United States is a direct participant, or between other parties where the United States has a major security interest,” Krepinevich writes. “As opposed to the global apocalypse envisioned in the wake of a superpower nuclear exchange during the Cold War, there will very likely be a functioning world after a war between minor nuclear powers, or even between the United States and a nuclear-armed Iran or North Korea. US forces must, therefore, be prepared to respond to a range of strategic warfare contingencies along the Eurasian periphery

In an earlier report entitled “Rethinking Armageddon,” Krepinevich argued that the use of a “small number” of battlefield nuclear weapons should be included among the appropriate responses by a US president to conventional threats from Russia.

During the Cold War, the “limited” use of nuclear weapons was seen as an invitation for a full-scale nuclear exchange and the destruction of the planet. Now such discussions are considered “respectable” and prudent.

These plans are being realized in the US military arsenal. The US is currently in the midst of a $1 trillion nuclear weapons modernization program commissioned under Obama. The program centers on the procurement of lower-yield, maneuverable nuclear weapons that are more likely to be used in combat. However, the Defense Science Board, a committee appointed to advise the Pentagon, recently called on the Trump administration to do more to develop weapons suitable for a “tailored nuclear option for limited use...

More contemporary studies have shown similarly disastrous outcomes. A 2007 report by the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War suggested that a “limited” nuclear exchange could lead to the deaths of over a billion people, mostly as a result of widespread climate disruption.

16--White House delivered EU-skeptic message before Pence visit: Sources

In those remarks, delivered via Skype, Bannon spoke favorably about European populist movements and described a yearning for nationalism by people who "don't believe in this kind of pan-European Union."...

The worst-case scenario from Europe's point of view was described by Ischinger in an article published last week, entitled "How Europe should deal with Trump".
He said that if the U.S. administration actively supported right-wing populists in the looming election campaigns it would trigger a "major transatlantic crisis".

17--Worse Than a Decade of Stagnation --

18--Biggest Gasoline Glut In 27 Years Could Crash Oil Markets

the glut of gasoline is now the worst in 27 years. At 259 million barrels, U.S. gasoline storage levels are now at their highest level since the EIA began tracking the data back in 1990

19--Election year spending spree-- Half of 2016 GDP came from gov spending

20--US stock market record rally irrational – Goldman Sachs

“Cognitive dissonance exists in the US stock market. S&P 500 is up 10 percent since the election despite negative [earnings per share] revisions from sell-side analysts,”said David Kostin, the chief US equity strategist at Goldman Sachs.

21--Media as "enemy of the American people"  Trump presser

"And I'm saying, the first thing I thought of when I heard about it, is how does the press get this information that's classified? How do they do it? You know why? Because it's an illegal process, and the press should be ashamed of themselves, but more importantly, the people that gave out information to the press should be ashamed of themselves. Really a shame," Trump said....

"The press has become so dishonest that if we don't talk about it, we are doing a tremendous disservice to the American people. Tremendous disservice. We have to talk about it. We have to find out what's going on because the press, honestly, is out of control. The level of dishonesty is out of control," the US president said in the course of the conference.

22--US Subprime Car, College Loans Surge to Hazardous Levels

This would not be such a big deal had US economic growth and gains in disposable incomes been sustainable enough to offset the risks associated with rising household debt burden. However, with the post-recession economic recovery being rather weak, and salaries and wages having stagnated for two decades, US consumers can't service their obligations as efficiently as ten years ago, when the mortgage meltdown unravelled due to the rising number of home loan delinquencies.

In December 2016, total US household debt stood at $12.5 trln, its highest since mid-2008, the NY Fed reported, while the share of car loans was at its highest since at least 2003, when records on this parameter were first taken.
"Debt held by Americans is approaching its previous peak, yet its composition today is vastly different as the growth in balances has been driven by non-housing debt," Wilbert van der Klaauw, Senior Vice President of the NY Fed, said.


Before assuming office, Trump suggested he could
end support for FSA groups and give priority to the fight against Islamic State (IS), whose well-armed jihadists hold large tracts of eastern and central Syria.

But Trump's administration has yet to declare a firm policy towards Syria and Iraq, despite his repeated vows to eradicate IS, so it has been "business as usual" with covert and overt training and military support programs, one U.S. official said....

The CIA-backed program has regulated aid to the rebels after a period of unchecked support early in the war - especially from Gulf states - helped give rise to an array of insurgent groups, many of them strongly Islamist in ideology....

U.S. intelligence and military officials said the leakage, sale and capture of U.S.-supplied and other weapons from units of the FSA to Islamic State, the Nusra Front, and other splinter militant groups have been a concern since the CIA and U.S. military began arming and training a limited number of rebels.

From the start, said one of the officials, some U.S.-backed rebels have migrated from groups that were battered by Syrian government forces to others such as IS that were seizing and holding territory at the time. Aid has slowed or stopped in Idlib and nearby areas, officials said, amid fears the pattern may be continuing after rebels lost ground there.

24--McCain meets Salman and Erdogan, talks "safe zones"

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Today's Links

1--A Peace Plan for Syria, RAND (plan to split the country. Important maps)

2--Greenwald: Empowering the "Deep State" to Undermine Trump is Prescription for Destroying Democracy

3--The popular movement against Trump vs. the corporate media’s anti-Russia witch-hunt

4--Pentagon chief warns of “arc of instability” at Munich security conference

Both Mattis and the US secretary of state, former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, who was attending a nearby meeting of the G-20 foreign ministers in Bonn, have signaled that there is no imminent prospect of a rapprochement that would significantly ease tensions between Washington and Moscow.
Even as Mattis was speaking in Munich, the US military was deploying to Bulgaria as part of the US-NATO buildup in Eastern Europe and on Russia’s borders that now involves 4,000 American troops as well as forces from Britain, Germany and other NATO allies. This buildup has continued unabated since Trump entered the White House.

Tillerson sounded a similar note Friday, explicitly rejecting any shift from the general strategy pursued by Washington in relation to Syria since the launching of the CIA-orchestrated war for regime change nearly six years ago. Meeting with his counterparts from other major backers of the Islamist “rebels,” including France, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Britain, the US secretary of state stressed that there would be no military cooperation with Russia in Syria until Moscow distanced itself from the government of Bashar al-Assad and accepted the legitimacy of the Al Qaeda-linked rebels that the US and its allies have armed and supported....

Drawing a distinction between Trump’s “America First” rhetoric and the policies advanced by his top advisors, McCain continued: “I know there is profound concern across Europe and the world that America is laying down the mantle of global leadership. I can only speak for myself, but I do not believe that that is the message you will hear from all of the American leaders who cared enough to travel here to Munich this weekend. That’s not the message you heard today from Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis. That is not the message you will hear from Vice President Mike Pence. That’s not the message you will hear from Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly.”
McCain, one of Washington’s most vociferous advocates of aggression against Russia, was at the center of a controversy last month in which he passed documents to US intelligence agencies alleging secret ties between Moscow and Trump and his campaign team.

5--Pentagon prepares plan to deploy ground troops in Syria

Army Gen. Raymond Thomas, speaking at the National Defense Industrial Association’s “Special Operational/Low Intensity Conflict” conference in Washington, DC Tuesday, said, “There’s some recommendation in the offing for the administration to consider. We’ll see which consideration they opt for.”
General Thomas boasted to the assembled military contractors that the US intervention in the region had already killed 60,000 ISIS fighters.

“I’m not into morbid body counts, but that matters,” Thomas said. “So when folks ask, do you need more aggressive [measures], do you need better [rules of engagement], I would tell you that we’re being pretty darn prolific right now.”...

deployment of US ground forces in Syria would represent a dramatic escalation of what is already a multi-sided conflict which threatens to spill over into a regional and even world war.
Last month, Trump announced in a televised interview that he was preparing an executive order directing the Pentagon to establish US-controlled “safe zones” in northern Syria, in large measure to stem the flow of refugees out of the country as part of his attempt to implement a reactionary ban on Muslims traveling into the US.
While the setting up of such zones had also been supported by his Democratic presidential rival, Hillary Clinton, the Obama administration had resisted calls by both Democratic and Republican politicians for such an escalation of US involvement in the Syrian war. Implementing such zones would require US control of both Syrian territory and air space, creating the conditions for a direct military confrontation with the forces of the Assad government and the Russian air and ground forces that have been sent to Syria to support it against the US-backed war for regime change...

These currents were expressed in a statement issued Wednesday by the influential Washington think tank, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, titled “Half-Measures in Syria: The United States needs to go big or go home.”
Written by former State Department official Jon Alterman, the statement complains that Washington has “poured billions into the Syria problem, but it remains on the sidelines of the conflict’s resolution. Russia has put far less into the fight, and it has an outsized influence on the outcome.”

Alterman goes on to argue that the supposed goal of defeating ISIS “doesn’t do much for the future of Syria” and has “the effect of supporting the Assad government without providing much influence on the terms of a Syrian settlement.”

He concludes by saying that Washington has a choice between “abandoning Syria to Assad” or acting to “enhance US leverage in Syria, presumably through increasing military activity to threaten not just the ISG [ISIS], but also those carrying out atrocities against civilian populations.” Such a strategy, he states “would risk greater conflict with Russia, but it would give the United States greater say in Syria’s future and enhance U.S. influence in the Middle East.”
In other words, what is now under consideration within the US military and intelligence apparatus and the Trump administration is the deployment of US troops to prosecute the war for regime change, posing the direct threat of a head-on confrontation between the world’s two major nuclear powers

6---In Russia, reality sinks in after Flynn ouster

Flynn’s removal from office is part of the relentless anti-Russian campaign being waged by powerful sections of the American ruling class, which sees Moscow’s control over the Eurasian landmass as an intolerable obstacle to the US drive for global hegemony.

Even as Trump continues to defend Flynn and insist that his government is the victim of illegal insider leaks, tensions between the US and Russia mount.
Shortly after news broke of Flynn’s resignation, Trump spokesman Sean Spicer declared that the US president expects Russia to return Crimea, the predominantly ethnically Russian region of Ukraine absorbed by Moscow following a popular referendum after the February 2014 US-backed anti-Russian coup in Kiev....

Top figures in both leading US parties adamantly oppose any lifting of the anti-Russian sanctions imposed by the US starting in 2014, with Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer preparing a bipartisan bill that would significantly limit Trump’s ability to enact any changes to the sanctions regime. Flynn was pushed out of office over allegations that he indicated to Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak that some sanctions could be lifted once Trump came into office. The Kremlin denies that the matter was discussed.

7---Trump is dangerous, but so is the CIA

As it is to many of us on the left, it is obvious to me that Trump is the most dangerous, unqualified, and reckless US President I have ever seen—much less imagined. And while it seems as if he will soon enough seize some opportunity to declare a national security disaster granting himself new unlimited powers, I know no reason to trust the CIA and other intelligence agencies any more than we trust Trump.

This attack on the Executive Branch is like nothing we’ve ever seen before. The most historically interesting element of this moment is the rarity of seeing the CIA operating, in real time, not in its usual historical role as a covert arm of the presidency (which Congressman Otis Pike argued was its primary function), but as the sort of rogue elephant that Senator Frank Church and others long ago claimed it is. As members of the Republic, no matter what momentary joy we might feel watching this rogue elephant canter towards our incompetent Commander and Chief, we must not ignore the danger this beast presents to one and all.

We should welcome calls to investigate Trump, Flynn, Bannon, Pence and others within the administration, but we need to also investigate and monitor the CIA for this latest in its long history of attempted coups.

8--President in waiting?--US 'unwavering' in support for Nato allies, says Pence

9--More warplans-- Half-Measures in Syria

The United States needs to go big or go home

Cheap money, combined with uncertainty about the regulatory and tax landscape, has encouraged corporations to buy back their shares rather than invest in their future. Companies in the S&P 500 Index—the benchmark for America’s top five hundred publicly listed companies—dispersed more than $600 billion to buy back their stock in 2014, and more than $500 billion in 2015

Because that’s the way the world works.
“No wonder share buybacks and corporate investment into research and development have moved inversely in recent years,” wrote Rana Foroohar in an op-ed in the Financial Times on May 15, 2016. “It is easier for chief executives with a shelf life of three years to try to please investors by jacking up short-term share prices than to invest in things that will grow a company over the long haul.”

Compared to the immediate post–World War II period, some American corporations now earn about five times more revenue from purely financial activities such as trading, hedging, tax optimization, and selling financial services, as compared to their core businesses.
As a result, the labor market has atrophied. Though lots of so-called eat, drink, and get sick jobs—for waiters, bartenders, and health care workers—have been created, Fed policy effectively pulled the plug on long-term investment and compromised high-paying job growth.

By mid-2015, only 62.6 percent of adult workers were employed or actively looking for a job, the lowest in nearly four decades. The so-called shadow unemployment rate is estimated to be as high as 23 percent. Many of these people will never come back into the workforce...

The percentage of U.S. adults invested in the stock market fell from 65 percent in 2007 to 52 percent by the spring of 2016, a twenty-year low. Inflows into U.S. stock mutual funds—a good gauge of small-investor sentiment—were negative in six of the seven years since 2009. In 2015 alone, mutual fund investors withdrew $170.8 billion—this despite a bull market. Americans retrenched and retreated, especially those nearing retirement years. Fed-blown bubbles have decimated their savings not once, but twice.

Though they might not be able to name the Fed as the party rigging the game, their instincts remind them about the old adage: Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.
As for those mom-and-pop investors who remain in the market, they have little chance of escaping Fed policy because their assets are tied up in expensive and rigid 401(k) plans that emphasize index funds.

The Fed’s artificially low interest-rate level has distorted the relationship between stocks and bonds. Rather than one providing cover when the other is in distress, asset classes have increasingly moved in concert. And though portfolio advisers make it sound safe, index investing will prove disastrous when markets finally correct.

The one true growth industry? That would be all that high cotton harvested in high finance. Since 2007, world debt has grown by about $60 trillion, enriching legions of investment bankers one bond deal at a time...

According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), since 2008 federal debt held by the public has nearly doubled and now stands at 75 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). If this lunacy doesn’t end, debt will be 110 percent of GDP by 2036, exceeding the post–World War II peak of 106 percent....

Were there voices of dissent to be heard in that conference room on that December day in 2008? Did anyone argue for the little guy, the cautious investor? Did someone in the room speak on behalf of pension fund managers now forced to take undue risks? What about the leadership of firms and big banks whose incentives are perverted to the extent that they no longer invest in our country’s future?
The short answer is yes. I worked for one of those who pushed back against the majority. He was the lone member of the FOMC who voted against the professor’s theories at that fateful meeting.
He fought the good but lonely fight, and I, in my capacity as trusted adviser, waged many a battle with him. But the sad truth is we lost the people’s war. In a world rendered unsafe by banks that were too big to fail, we came to understand the Fed was simply too big to fight.

I wrote a book to tell from the inside the story of how the Fed went from being lender of last resort to savior—and then destroyer—of America’s economic system.
During my nine-year tenure at the Federal Reserve Eleventh District Bank of Dallas, where I served as adviser to President Richard Fisher, I witnessed the tunnel vision and arrogance of Fed academics who can’t understand that their theoretical models bear little resemblance to real life....

People are waking up. And it’s about time. Although I do not believe it is right to end the Fed, it’s high time it was upended. Every American must understand this extraordinarily powerful institution and how it affects his or her everyday life and fight back.
This is a special preview excerpt from FED  UP: An Insider’s Take on Why The Federal Reserve is Bad for America By Danielle DiMartino Booth

14--Trump Campaign Aides Had Repeated Contacts With Russian Intelligence

15--The AP Asked Trump's Supporters How Feel About His War With The Press: This Is What It Found

16--Nobody trusts the media

17--Trump Gets Ready to Pick John Bolton as Advisor

18--Poll Finds DC Is Out Of Touch With Americans On Foreign Policy-- The American people are smarter than you think

when asked if America’s foreign policy since 9/11 has made us more or less safe, a non-dangling-chad majority (51 percent) said “less safe.” Only 11 percent thought we were safer after two costly large-scale wars involving nation-building and countless smaller interventions across the Middle East and Arica.

Intervention Hasn’t Gone So Well

They thought that what was true for America was probably true for the larger world as well. A huge plurality (47 percent) said we had made the world “less safe” versus only a tiny minority (9 percent) who said we’d made things any better.

Our country’s national interest is what ought to drive our foreign policy going forward, a supermajority (69 percent) in the poll believe. They don’t necessarily like the ring of “America first” (only 30 percent signed on to more exclusive language), but they’re not okay with most of the things our country is doing that fall outside of a national interest framework.

Democracy promotion through military power? A plurality of 41 percent thought we should knock it off versus 24 percent who said full speed ahead. Only 11 percent thought the country ought to deploy more troops to Europe, and 27 percent said even our current garrison levels are too high.

We’re Not Getting What We Want

Although they are not typically aware of just how much America is spending on defense, Americans by and large do not want more spending for more wars. Fully 79 percent said that any additional tax dollars that come in should go toward domestic spending, not a military buildup. They think the amount of money we budget for military now is enough for a truly national defense.

In sharp contrast with DC, they’re also not wild about poking Russia or China. Only 12 percent said Russia was America’s greatest security challenge, and only 17 percent said that Russia should mainly be viewed only as a rival. Large numbers thought Russia should be viewed either mainly as a partner (29 percent) or as a realistic mix of partner and rival (35 percent). And only 5 percent signaled that they wanted confrontation with China.

These numbers are not flukes. They’re mostly consistent with two polls the same two groups commissioned in October and December of last year. If they persist, and if American foreign policy under President Trump does not significantly change, we may have a long-term democracy problem on our hands.

What the people want is not what we are getting. Our leaders need to know this, and either change course or tell us in convincing words why they are right and we are wrong.