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.

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