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Archive for December 18th, 2016

Washington’s America-First Commandos in Africa

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Tom Englehardt at TomDispatch.com introduces Nick Turse’s piece:

When Donald Trump enters the Oval Office, awaiting him will not only be his own private air assassination corps (those CIA drones that take out terror suspects globally from a White House “kill list”), but his own private and remarkably secret military.  Ever since John F. Kennedy first made the Green Berets into figures of military glamour, there’s always been something alluring to presidents about the U.S. military’s elite special ops forces.

Still, that was then, this is now. In the twenty-first century, the Special Operations Command, which oversees those elite forces cocooned within the regular military, has gained ever more power to act in ever more independent and secretive ways. In those same years, the country’s elite troops, including those Green Berets, the Navy SEALs, and the Army’s Delta Force, have grown to staggering proportions, while ever more money has poured into their coffers. There are now an estimated 70,000 of them — a crew larger than the actual armies of some reasonably sizeable countries — and from trainers to raiders, advisers to hunter-killers, they now operate yearly in an overwhelming majority of the nations on this planet.  Moreover, they generally do so in remarkable secrecy and (as once might have been said of the CIA) their most secretive part, the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), responsible for the killing of Osama bin Laden, is in essence the president’s private army.

In these last years, President Obama, who gained a reputation for being chary of war, has nonetheless taken on with evident relish both those special ops forces and the drone assassins, while embracing what Washington Post columnist David Ignatius recently termedthe role of “covert commander in chief.”  Now, in these last weeks of his presidency, his administration has given JSOC new powers to “track, plan, and potentially launch attacks on terrorist cells around the globe” and to do so “outside conventional conflict zones” and via “a new multiagency intelligence and action force.”  As a result, whatever this new task force may do, it won’t, as in the past, have to deal with regional military commands and their commanders at all.  Its only responsibility will be to the U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) and assumedly the White House; even within the military, that is, it will gain a new patina of secrecy and power (while evidently poaching on territory that once was considered the CIA’s alone, no small thing at a moment when President-elect Trump is not exactly enamored with that agency).

One of the strangest aspects of the growth of America’s special ops forces and their global missions is how little attention those special operators get in the media (unless they want the publicity). The very growth of an enormous secret military, a remarkable development in our American world and a particularly ominous one for the Trumpian years to come, is seldom discussed (no less debated). And all of this, the firepower now available to a president and the potential ability of a commander in chief to wage a global campaign of assassination and make war just about anywhere on Earth, personally and privately, will now be inherited by a man to whom such powers are likely to have real appeal.

In this context, I admit to a certain pride that, thanks to Nick Turse, the exception to the above has been TomDispatch. In these years, due to Turse’s work at this website, you could follow, up close and personal, the growing power and operational abilities of America’s special operations forces.  This was especially true, as with his piece today, of how they have moved, big time, onto a continent that may indeed, in the military’s own phrase, be tomorrow’s battlefield and yet that we hear next to nothing about. Tom

Commandos Without Borders
America’s Elite Troops Partner with African Forces But Pursue U.S. Aims
By Nick Turse

Al-Qaeda doesn’t care about borders. Neither does the Islamic State or Boko Haram. Brigadier General Donald Bolduc thinks the same way.

“[T]errorists, criminals, and non-state actors aren’t bound by arbitrary borders,” the commander of Special Operations Command Africa (SOCAFRICA) told an interviewer early this fall.  “That said, everything we do is not organized around recognizing traditional borders. In fact, our whole command philosophy is about enabling cross-border solutions, implementing multi-national, collective actions and empowering African partner nations to work across borders to solve problems using a regional approach.”

A SOCAFRICA planning document obtained by TomDispatch offers a window onto the scope of these “multi-national, collective actions” carried out by America’s most elite troops in Africa. The declassified but heavily redacted secret report, covering the years 2012-2017 and acquired via the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), details nearly 20 programs and activities — from training exercises to security cooperation engagements — utilized by SOCAFRICA across the continent. This wide array of low-profile missions, in addition to named operations and quasi-wars, attests to the growing influence and sprawling nature of U.S. Special Operations forces (SOF) in Africa.

How U.S. military engagement will proceed under the Trump administration remains to be seen.  The president-elect has said or tweeted little about Africain recent years (aside from long trading in baseless claims that the current president was born there).  Given his choice for national security adviser, Michael Flynn — a former director of intelligence for Joint Special Operations Command who believes that the United States is in a “world war” with Islamic militants — there is good reason to believe that Special Operations Command Africa will continue its border-busting missions across that continent.  That, in turn, means that Africa is likely to remain crucial to America’s nameless global war on terror.

Publicly, the command claims that it conducts its operations to “promote regional stability and prosperity,” while Bolduc emphasizes that its missions are geared toward serving the needs of African allies.  The FOIA files make clear, however, that U.S. interests are the command’s principal and primary concern — a policy in keeping with the America First mindset and mandate of incoming commander-in-chief Donald J. Trump — and that support to “partner nations” is prioritized to suit American, not African, needs and policy goals.

Shades of Gray

Bolduc is fond of saying that his troops — Navy SEALs and Army Green Berets, among others — operate in the “gray zone,” or what he calls “the spectrum of conflict between war and peace.”  Another of his favored stock phrases is: “In Africa, we are not the kinetic solution” — that is, not pulling triggers and dropping bombs.  He also regularly takes pains to say that “we are not at war in Africa — but our African partners certainly are.”

That is not entirely true.  . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 December 2016 at 6:03 pm

You want to know a Brussels sprouts recipe that’s actually very tasty? Here it is.

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Sautéed Brussels Sprouts With Sausage and Pickled Red Onion, by Alison Roman (not a name with which I am familiar, but I’m on the look-out now).

I put the onions in vinegar early, around noon for a 5 o’clock cooking. Worked fine. I like to do the tasks a little at time. An hour later I halved the Brussels sprouts, tossing them with the juice of a lemon to ensure they didn’t oxidize and turn brown. By doing the prep early and in stages, I am not rushed and thus can focus my attention totally on what I’m doing, which makes it enjoyable. Cf. shaving.

The parsley at the end is important, I think. Don’t skip it.

I used a 10″ cast-iron skillet. I think cast-iron will help in this recipe: it has a lot more radiative effect than stainless steel.

I did use Sweet Italian link sausage, but I cut each link lengthwise to remove the casing, and after halving them lengthwise, cut them across into small pieces before browning.

Their instructions about keeping Brussels sprouts flat in the pan are not possible with the 10″ cast-iron skillet I have, so I just cooked the sprouts, stirring from time to time, for 12 minutes total. Then I followed the recipe: returned cooked sausage to the pan, stirred and cooked it a little, then added the pickled onions and vinegar, stirred and cooked a little, turned off heat, sprinkled the parsley over it (and I use the entire bunch), and it was absolutely delicious.

I eat a low-carb diet so no starch (bread, potato, polenta, whatever).

Written by LeisureGuy

18 December 2016 at 5:56 pm

Will Trump’s sharp contrast from Obama and Bush on Islam spur jihadi recruitment?

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Just as gun dealers and manufacturers repeatedly feed threats to the gun-lover community (“Eric Holder is going to take your guns! Obama’s coming for your guns! Hillary Clinton will take your guns!”) in order to spur sales (and it always works: the power of a vanishing opportunity is well-known to everyone in sales and marketing—it’s the whole idea of a limited edition, for example: buy now or be left at the gate.

Well, Trump’s highly publicized remarks on Islam, on Muslims in general, on the wars in the Middle East and on terrorism indicate that he’s going to go after them. So…

William McCants writes in the Washington Post:

This opinion piece is by William McCants, a senior fellow at The Brookings Institution, where he directs the Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World.

President-elect Donald Trump and his top political and security advisers are convinced Islam’s moral rules, the sharia, not only imperil the safety of Americans but their very way of life. They break sharply with Presidents Obama and George W. Bush who refused to equate traditional Islam with terrorism. The rupture view could ultimately serve as a boon to jihadist recruitment.

The president-elect has called for an “ideological screening test” for immigrants “who believe that sharia law should supplant American law.” His chief political strategist, Steve Bannon, has said that the Roman Catholic Church and the “Judeo-Christian West” have to “struggle against Islam” just as their ancestors did. He is reportedly taking advice from the notorious sharia conspiracy theorist Frank Gaffney, whose team briefed Trump on the dangers of sharia during the campaign.

Trump’s national security adviser, Michael Flynn, called Islam a “cancer” and a “political ideology” that “hides behind this notion of it being a religion.” (Flynn regularly promotes false stories of sharia law taking over in the United States.) And Trump’s nominee for the nation’s chief law enforcement officer, Sen. Jeff Sessions, has said that the true threat confronting the United States is “the toxic ideology of Islam” and has proposed screening out immigrants who “believe in sharia law.”

Suspicion of Sharia is not confined to Trump and his advisers. It permeates mainstream Republican politics. More than half Fox viewers believe American Muslims want to impose sharia. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a front-runner in the previous election cycle, described sharia as “a mortal threat to the survival of freedom in the United States and in the world as we know it.” (He upped the ante during Trump’s campaign, calling for deporting every Muslim citizen who believes in it.)

The content of the sharia alone cannot explain fears of it. Many of its controversial rules, like death for blasphemy and apostasy, have parallels in the Hebrew Bible, a book revered by many Americans. Most Muslim countries to do not impose the sharia in total — they either limit its application to family law or ignore it entirely. And most of the 1 percent of Americans who are Muslim believe the sharia is just ethical personal guidelines that should not supersede the Constitution — even according to the crudest online polls promulgated by the right. Like any faith community in the United States, American Muslims can practice the Sharia as long as it does not violate American law.

So whence the worry? It arises from . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 December 2016 at 3:43 pm

What if simply doing your job and being honest triggered death threats?

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Climate scientists know what that’s like. And think about it: you are doing nothing wrong, you are just doing research on the climate, and you’re being honest about what you’re finding, and as a result of that, you get death threats. That’s astonishing, and also peculiar. You’ve done nothing wrong. It’s hard to do better than that. What more can you do?

Michael Mann writes in the Washington Post:

Michael E. Mann is a professor of atmospheric science and director of the Earth System Science Center at Penn State University. He co-authored, with Washington Post cartoonist Tom Toles, “The Madhouse Effect: How Climate Change Denial Is Threatening Our Planet, Destroying Our Politics, and Driving Us Crazy.”

My Penn State colleagues looked with horror at the police tape across my office door.

I had been opening mail at my desk that afternoon in August 2010 when a dusting of white powder fell from the folds of a letter. I dropped the letter, held my breath and slipped out the door as swiftly as I could, shutting it behind me. First I went to the bathroom to scrub my hands. Then I called the police.

It turned out to be cornstarch, not anthrax. And it was just one in a long series of threats I’ve received since the late 1990s, when my research illustrated the unprecedented nature of global warming, producing an upward-trending temperature curve whose shape has been likened to a hockey stick.

I’ve faced hostile investigations by politicians, demands for me to be fired from my job, threats against my life and even threats against my family. Those threats have diminished in recent years, as man-made climate change has become recognized as the overwhelming scientific consensus and as climate science has received the support of the federal government. But with the coming Trump administration, my colleagues and I are steeling ourselves for a renewed onslaught of intimidation, from inside and outside government. It would be bad for our work and bad for our planet.

Donald Trump, of course, famously dismissed global warming as a Chinese hoaxand “a big scam for a lot of people to make a lot of money.” This month, he framed his position on climate change as “nobody really knows — it’s not something that’s so hard and fast.” He has vowed to cancel U.S. participation in the Paris climate agreement and threatened to block the Clean Power Plan, a measure to reduce carbon emissions in the power sector.

The strong anti-science bent of his advisers is similarly ominous. Among the members of his Environmental Protection Agency transition team are some of the most notorious climate change deniers. One adviser has threatened to cut NASA’s entire climate research program , disparaging it, with no apparent sense of irony, as “heavily politicized.”

Trump’s nominee for energy secretary, Rick Perry, wrote in his 2010 book that “we have been experiencing a cooling trend” (in reality, 2016 will go down as the third consecutive record-breaking year for global temperatures), and when he was governor of Texas, his administration removed all references to climate changefrom a report on rising sea levels. Trump’s proposed interior secretary, Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Mont.), plays down climate change as “not proven science” and has a dismal record on the environment, voting again and again in favor of the fossil fuel industry. Rex Tillerson, Trump’s choice for secretary of state, represents those interests even more directly as the chief executive of ExxonMobil.

And then there’s Scott Pruitt, the attorney general of Oklahoma and Trump’s pick for EPA administrator. When it comes to fossil fuel advocacy and climate inaction, Pruitt checks all the boxes. He has received substantial campaign funding from the oil and gas industry and is a self-professed “leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda.” Among the various lawsuits he has brought against the agency is his current suit against the Clean Power Plan. Fox, meet henhouse.

But it is the disrespect Pruitt displays for science that my colleagues and I find most distressing. Consider this statement from a commentary he published this year in National Review: . . .

Continue reading.

I have to confess that I just do not understand people like Pruitt.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 December 2016 at 3:33 pm

Easy Celsius to Farhrenheit conversion you can do in your head

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Double the Celsius number, subtract 10%, then add 32. Result is the Fahrenheit number.

Example: 17ºC: twice 17 is 34; subtract 3.4 to get 30.6; add 32 to get 62.6: 62.6ºF, which is correct.

The reason it works is that it’s simply a restatement of the conversion formula F = 9/5 C + 32

You double the number and then subtract 10% of the doubled number, which amounts to 2x – (.1*2x).

Since .1*2 = .2, that’s the same as 2x – .2x. That’s the same as (2 – .2)x, which is 1.8

1.8 is the decimal representation of 9/5, so you can see that the mental conversion uses the exact conversion formula. The result is not an approximation, but the actual conversion.

 

Written by LeisureGuy

18 December 2016 at 2:31 pm

Posted in Daily life

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