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A Dam in Syria Was on a ‘No-Strike’ List. The U.S. Bombed It Anyway.

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Too often the US acts as a criminal nation. Obviously, some other nations do as well, and some do much worse. Still, the US professes ideals, and the US military professes “honor” (whatever they mean by that — in general, military “honor” seems to cover a multitude of sins, crimes, and coverups). Dave Philipps, Azmat Khan, and Eric Schmitt report in the NY Times (link is a gift link: no paywall):

Near the height of the war against the Islamic State in Syria, a sudden riot of explosions rocked the country’s largest dam, a towering, 18-story structure on the Euphrates River that held back a 25-mile-long reservoir above a valley where hundreds of thousands of people lived.

The Tabqa Dam was a strategic linchpin and the Islamic State controlled it. The explosions on March 26, 2017, knocked dam workers to the ground and everything went dark. Witnesses say one bomb punched down five floors. A fire spread, and crucial equipment failed. The mighty flow of the Euphrates River suddenly had no way through, the reservoir began to rise, and local authorities used loudspeakers to warn people downstream to flee.

The Islamic State, the Syrian government and Russia blamed the United States, but the dam was on the U.S. military’s “no-strike list” of protected civilian sites and the commander of the U.S. offensive at the time, then-Lt. Gen. Stephen J. Townsend, said allegations of U.S. involvement were based on “crazy reporting.”

“The Tabqa Dam is not a coalition target,” he declared emphatically two days after the blasts.

In fact, members of a top secret U.S. Special Operations unit called Task Force 9 had struck the dam using some of the largest conventional bombs in the U.S. arsenal, including at least one BLU-109 bunker-buster bomb designed to destroy thick concrete structures, according to two former senior officials. And they had done it despite a military report warning not to bomb the dam, because the damage could cause a flood that might kill tens of thousands of civilians.

Given the dam’s protected status, the decision to strike it would normally have been made high up the chain of command. But the former officials said the task force used a procedural shortcut reserved for emergencies, allowing it to launch the attack without clearance.

Later, three workers who had rushed to the dam to prevent a disaster were killed in a different coalition airstrike, according to dam workers.

The two former officials, who spoke on the condition that they not be named because they were not authorized to discuss the strikes, said some officers overseeing the air war viewed the task force’s actions as reckless.

The revelation of Task Force 9’s role in the dam attack follows a pattern described by The New York Times: The unit routinely circumvented the rigorous airstrike approval process and hit Islamic State targets in Syria in a way that repeatedly put civilians at risk.

Even with careful planning, hitting a dam with such large bombs would likely have been seen by top leaders as unacceptably dangerous, said Scott F. Murray, a retired Air Force colonel, who planned airstrikes during air campaigns in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kosovo.

“Using a 2,000-pound bomb against a restricted target like a dam is extremely difficult and should have never been done on the fly,” he said. “Worst case, those munitions could have absolutely caused the dam to fail.”

After the strikes, dam workers stumbled on an ominous piece of good fortune: Five floors deep in the dam’s control tower, an American BLU-109 bunker-buster lay on its side, scorched but intact — a dud. If it had exploded, experts say, the whole dam might have failed.

In response to questions from The Times, U.S. Central Command, which oversaw the air war in Syria, acknowledged dropping three 2,000-pound bombs, but denied targeting the dam or sidestepping procedures. A spokesman said that the bombs hit only . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, and the link bypasses the paywall.

As you can see, the military, after hiding the facts failed, went immediately to their standard Plan B, which is to lie. (“Honor,” you know.)

Written by Leisureguy

21 January 2022 at 1:03 pm

The Rise of A.I. Fighter Pilots

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After poker, warfare. Sue Halpoern in the New Yorker describes how A..I. will be flying fighter planes. Skynet, here we come! The article begins:

n a cloudless morning last May, a pilot took off from the Niagara Falls International Airport, heading for restricted military airspace over Lake Ontario. The plane, which bore the insignia of the United States Air Force, was a repurposed Czechoslovak jet, an L-39 Albatros, purchased by a private defense contractor. The bay in front of the cockpit was filled with sensors and computer processors that recorded the aircraft’s performance. For two hours, the pilot flew counterclockwise around the lake. Engineers on the ground, under contract with DARPA,  the Defense Department’s research agency, had choreographed every turn, every pitch and roll, in an attempt to do something unprecedented: design a plane that can fly and engage in aerial combat—dogfighting—without a human pilot operating it.

The exercise was an early step in the agency’s Air Combat Evolution program, known as ace, one of more than six hundred Department of Defense projects that are incorporating artificial intelligence into war-fighting. This year, the Pentagon plans to spend close to a billion dollars on A.I.-related technology. The Navy is building unmanned vessels that can stay at sea for months; the Army is developing a fleet of robotic combat vehicles. Artificial intelligence is being designed to improve supply logistics, intelligence gathering, and a category of wearable technology, sensors, and auxiliary robots that the military calls the Internet of Battlefield Things.

Algorithms are already good at flying planes. The first autopilot system, which involved connecting a gyroscope to the wings and tail of a plane, débuted in 1914, about a decade after the Wright brothers took flight. And a number of current military technologies, such as underwater mine detectors and laser-guided bombs, are autonomous once they are launched by humans. But few aspects of warfare are as complex as aerial combat. Paul Schifferle, the vice-president of flight research at Calspan, the company that’s modifying the L-39 for DARPA, said, “The dogfight is probably the most dynamic flight program in aviation, period.”

A fighter plane equipped with artificial intelligence could eventually execute tighter turns, take greater risks, and get off better shots than human pilots. But the objective of the ace program is to transform a pilot’s role, not to remove it entirely. As DARPA envisions it, the A.I. will fly the plane in partnership with the pilot, who will remain “in the loop,” monitoring what the A.I. is doing and intervening when necessary. According to the agency’s Strategic Technology Office, a fighter jet with autonomous features will allow pilots to become “battle managers,” directing squads of unmanned aircraft “like a football coach who chooses team members and then positions them on the field to run plays.”

Stacie Pettyjohn, the director of the Defense Program at the Center for a New American Security, told me that the ace program is part of a wider effort to “decompose our forces” into smaller, less expensive units. In other words, fewer humans and more expendable machines. DARPA calls this “mosaic warfare.” In the case of aerial combat, Pettyjohn said, “these much smaller autonomous aircraft can be combined in unexpected ways to overwhelm adversaries with the complexity of it. If any one of them gets shot down, it’s not as big of a deal.”

All told, the L-39 was taken up above Lake Ontario twenty times, each sortie giving the engineers and computer scientists the information they need to build a model of its flight dynamics under various conditions. Like self-driving cars, autonomous planes use sensors to identify discrepancies between the outside world and the information encoded in their maps. But a dogfighting algorithm will have to take into account both the environment and the aircraft. A plane flies differently at varying altitudes and angles, on hot days versus cold ones, or if it’s carrying an extra fuel tank or missiles.

“Most of the time, a plane flies straight and level,” Phil Chu, an electrical engineer who serves as a science adviser to the ace program, explained. “But when it’s dogfighting you have to figure out, O.K., if I’m in a thirty-degree bank angle, ascending at twenty degrees, how much do I have to pull the stick to get to a forty-degree bank angle, rising at ten degrees?” And, because flight is three-dimensional, speed matters even more. “If it’s flying slowly and you move the stick one way, you get a certain amount of turn out of it. If it’s flying really fast and you move the stick the same way, you’ll get a very different response.”

In 2024, if the ace program goes according to plan, four A.I.-enabled L-39s will participate in a live dogfight in the skies above Lake Ontario. To achieve that goal, DARPA  has enlisted three dozen academic research centers and private companies, each working on one of two problem areas: how to get the plane to fly and fight on its own, and how to get pilots to trust the A.I. enough to use it. Robert Work, who was the Deputy Secretary of Defense during the Obama Administration, and pushed the Pentagon to pursue next-generation technologies, told me, “If you don’t have trust, the human will always be watching the A.I. and saying, ‘Oh, I’ve got to take over.’ ”

There is no guarantee that ace will succeed. DARPA projects are  . . .

Continue reading. (Unfortunately, the New Yorker offers no gift links.)

Update: Here is the man vs. AI dogfight mentioned in the article.

Written by Leisureguy

18 January 2022 at 4:04 pm

How Killer Rice Crippled Tokyo and the Japanese Navy

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Problems due to nutrition (whether from a deficit or an excess of some micronutrient) are sneaky: even when the health impact is evident, the cause may remain obscure. Anne Ewbank writes in Gastro Obscura:

IN 1877, JAPAN’S MEIJI EMPEROR watched his aunt, the princess Kazu, die of a common malady: kakke. If her condition was typical, her legs would have swollen, and her speech slowed. Numbness and paralysis might have come next, along with twitching and vomiting. Death often resulted from heart failure.

The emperor had suffered from this same ailment, on-and-off, his whole life. In response, he poured money into research on the illness. It was a matter of survival: for the emperor, his family, and Japan’s ruling class. While most diseases ravage the poor and vulnerable, kakke afflicted the wealthy and powerful, especially city dwellers. This curious fact gave kakke its other name: Edo wazurai, the affliction of Edo (Edo being the old name for Tokyo). But for centuries, the culprit of kakke went unnoticed: fine, polished, white rice.

Gleaming white rice was a status symbol—it was expensive and laborious to husk, hull, polish, and wash. In Japan, the poor ate brown rice, or other carbohydrates such as sweet potatoes or barley. The rich ate polished white rice, often to the exclusion of other foods.

This was a problem. Removing the outer layers of a grain of rice also removes one vital nutrient: thiamine, or vitamin B-1. Without thiamine, animals and humans develop kakkenow known in English as beriberi. But for too long, the cause of the condition remained unknown. [See also this article by the Harvard School of Public Health. From the article: “The bran is the fiber-rich outer layer that supplies B vitaminsiron, copper, zincmagnesiumantioxidants, and phytochemicals. Phytochemicals are natural chemical compounds in plants that have been researched for their role in disease prevention.” That’s in part why I cook intact whole grain for my meals. – LG]

In his book Beriberi in Modern Japan: The Making of a National Disease, Alexander R. Bay describes the efforts of Edo-era doctors to figure out the disease. A common suspect was dampness and damp ground. One doctor administered herbal medicines and a fasting regimen to a samurai, who died within months. Other doctors burned dried mugwort on patients’ bodies to stimulate qi and blood flow.

Some remedies did work—even if they didn’t come from a true understanding of the disease. Katsuki Gyuzan, an early, 18th-century doctor, believed Edo itself was the issue. Samurai, he wrote, would come to Edo and get kakke from the water and soil. Only samurai who went back to their provincial homes—going over the Hakone Pass—would be cured. Those who were seriously ill had to move quickly, “for the worst cases always result in death,” Katsuki cautioned. Since heavily processed white rice was less available outside Edo and in the countryside, this likely was a cure. Similarly, a number of physicians prescribed barley and red beans, which both contain thiamine.

By 1877, Japan’s beriberi problem was getting really serious. When the princess Kazu died of kakke at 31, it was only a decade after her former husband, Japan’s shogun, had died, almost certainly from the mysterious disease. Machine-milling made polished rice available to the masses, and as the government invested in an army and navy, it fed soldiers with white rice. (White rice, as it happened, was less bulky and lasted longer than brown rice, which could go rancid in warm weather.) Inevitably, soldiers and sailors got beriberi.

No longer was this just a problem for the upper class, or even Japan. In his article British India and the “Beriberi Problem,” 1798–1942, David Arnold writes that by the time the emperor was funding research, beriberi was ravaging South and East Asia, especially “soldiers, sailors, plantation labourers, prisoners, and asylum inmates.”

Into this mess stepped a precocious doctor: Takaki Kanehiro. Almost immediately after joining the navy in 1872, he noticed the high numbers of sailors suffering from beriberi. But it wasn’t until he returned from medical school in London and took up the role of director of the Tokyo Naval Hospital that he could do anything about it. After surveying suffering sailors, he found that “the rate [of disease] was highest among prisoners, lower among sailors and petty officers, and lowest among officers.”

Since they differed mainly by diet, Takaki believed a lack of protein among lower-status sailors caused the disease. (This contradicted the most common theory at the time: that beriberi was an infectious disease caused by bacteria.) Takaki even wrangled a meeting with the emperor to discuss his theory. “If the cause of this condition is discovered by someone outside of Japan, it would be dishonorable,” he told the emperor. Change couldn’t come soon enough. In 1883, 120 Japanese sailors out of 1,000 had the disease.

Takaki also noticed that Western navies didn’t suffer from beriberi. But instituting a Western-style diet was expensive, and sailors were resistant to eating bread. An unfortunate incident, though, allowed Takaki to make his point emphatically. In late 1883, a training ship full of cadets returned from a journey to New Zealand, South America, and Hawaii. Out of the 370 cadets and crewmen, 169 had gotten beriberi, and 25 had died.

Takaki proposed an experiment. Another training ship, the Tsukuba, would set out on the exact same route. Takaki leveraged every connection he had to arrange for the Tsukuba to carry bread and meat instead of just white rice. So while the Tsukuba made its way around the world, the doctor spent sleepless nights fretting about the result: If crew members died from beriberi, he would look like a fool. Later, he told a student that he would have killed himself if his experiment failed.

Instead, the Tsukuba returned to Japan in triumph. Only 14 crew members had gotten beriberi, and those men had not eaten the ordered diet. Takaki wasn’t exactly right: He believed the issue was protein rather than thiamine. But since meat was expensive, Takaki proposed giving sailors protein-filled barley, which is actually rich in thiamine. In the face of this evidence, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

17 January 2022 at 9:56 am

Russia’s Mystic Destiny

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David Troy’s current situation report in Medium:

The Hunt for Casus Belli

What’s Happening Now

Some academic Kremlinologists tend to dismiss Dugin’s influence in the Kremlin, a message that also seems to be echoed in some Kremlin propaganda. However, as Putin’s domestic fortunes become increasingly precarious, Kremlin actions and messaging seem to be converging with Duginist themes — namely the “mystic destiny” of the Rus people represented in the reunification of Russia and Ukraine.

This piece from the Center for European Policy Analysis also cites Dugin’s recent rhetoric:

According to Dugin: “The moment has come for Moscow to announce the renaming of the CIS into the Eurasian Union, including all the political units of the post-Soviet space.”

Dugin advocates a Russian land grab in Ukraine. This would involve the occupation of so-called Left-Bank Ukraine — that is, the land between the current international border and the River Dniepr — presumably including eastern Kyiv, making the Ukrainian capital a divided city and placing much of its hinterland under Russian rule. He also argued that Russia should push right up to the borders of the Baltic states, which would likely mean sending troops through Belarus, and issue an ultimatum to the thee NATO members: neutrality or war. He was echoed by the head of the RT TV channel Margarita Simonyan, who wrote on Twitter that if Russia itself could produce the goods that it buys in the United States, it could “liberate Donbas right now, and not leave out Odesa either.”

The convergence of that rhetoric with that of Margarita Simonyan, who is very close to Putin and the Kremlin, represents a new high water mark for Dugin’s apparent grip on Putin’s imagination. Russia also has been contemplating false-flag attacks that would provide a casus belli to justify an invasion.

The next few weeks will be critical. It seems likely that if there is an invasion it will be in the next couple of weeks. If for some reason Russia loses its nerve, possibly this episode will pass, but that seems increasingly less likely.

It was a busy week in imaginary money land. One of the more insane projects to surface this week is a project called “Cryptoland,” a Disneyland-style crypto theme park island fully divorced from reality. It was unveiled in a 20 minute infomercial video that features Pixar-style animation, and an apparently pirated John Williams soundtrack. It truly must be seen to be believed.

It’s so insanely ludicrous as to stretch the imagination, and raise questions whether it might in fact be some sort of intelligence operation. But the evidence so far just points to sheer lunacy. The Financial Times has more [behind a paywall – LG].

Meanwhile, Paul Krugman has started to see the substantial ties between the MAGA and crypto worlds. :

But let’s leave market predictions aside and ask what’s with the deepening alliance between Bitcoin and MAGA?

The answer, I’d argue, is that Bitcoin was supposed to create a monetary system that functions without trust — and the modern right is all about fostering distrust. Covid is a hoax; the election was stolen; California’s forest fires had nothing to do with climate change, and they were started by Rothschild-controlled space lasers.

In this context it’s perfectly natural for MAGAesque politicians to demand an end to a monetary system that runs through banks — we know who controls them, right? — and rests on a currency that’s managed by government-appointed officials. There’s no evidence of widespread monetary abuse, but that doesn’t matter on the extreme right.

A couple of weeks ago . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

15 January 2022 at 1:28 pm

The Human Toll of America’s Air Wars

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Azmat Khan reports in the NY Times on the effects of US Air Force attacks. (Link is a gift link that bypasses the paywall.) The report begins:

For Ali Fathi Zeidan and his extended family, West Mosul was in 2016 still the best of many bad options. Their longtime home in a nearby village, Wana, had been taken by ISIS, then retaken by Kurdish pesh merga forces, and — as if that were not enough — it stood just seven miles below the crumbling Mosul Dam, which engineers had long warned might soon collapse, creating a deluge that would kill everyone in its path. The family had avoided the camps for internally displaced people, where they would have faced a constant risk of separation, and found their way instead to the city, to a grimy industrial neighborhood called Yabisat. They moved into a storage facility, divided it up into separate rooms, brought in a water tank, built a kitchen and a bathroom. Though ISIS had taken Mosul, parts of the city were still relatively safe. Now it was home.

Family was everywhere. Zeidan’s daughter Ghazala was married to a man named Muhammad Ahmed Araj, who grew up in the neighborhood. Araj’s brother, Abdul Aziz Ahmed Araj, lived nearby in a small, crowded apartment. Zeidan’s other daughter moved into an apartment on the other side of Mosul with her husband and their six children, but one of them, 11-year-old Sawsan, preferred to spend her time across town in Yabisat: She was attached to her grandparents and loved playing with her cousins.

Sawsan had been staying with her grandparents for a week when the whole family sat down to dinner on March 5, 2016. All told, there were 21 people around the table. None of them knew that their Iraqi neighborhood was at that moment in the cross hairs of the American military.

Weeks before, Delta Force commandos had captured a high-ranking operative in ISIS’ burgeoning chemical-weapons program, and the information he provided interrogators led military officials to a chemical-weapons production plant in Yabisat; observers had been studying the site for weeks, by way of surveillance flights.

On March 2, military officials presented their findings for validation, as part of the Pentagon’s “deliberate targeting” process, which — as opposed to the rapid process of targeting in the heat of battle — required vetting at multiple levels and stages across the U.S.-led coalition. It had all the makings of a good strike. Unlike with so many other targets, military officials had human intelligence directly from the enemy and video surveillance that showed clear target sites.

They had also concluded that there was no civilian presence within the target compound. Though the surveillance video had captured 10 children playing near the target structure, the military officials who reviewed this footage determined the children would not be harmed by a nighttime strike because they did not live there: They were classified as “transient,” merely passing through during daylight hours.

But as investigators later documented, during the target-validation process one U.S. official disputed this conclusion: A “representative” with the United States Agency for International Development said that the children and their families most likely lived at or around the target compound. In the current environment, she argued, parents would be unlikely to let their children stray far from home. In her view, the determination that there was “no civilian presence” at the target was wrong, and authorizing the strike could lead to the deaths of these children and their parents and families. Military officials dismissed her concerns and authorized the strike.

Three days later, on the evening of March 5, Abdul Aziz heard the explosions, maybe a dozen in all. They came from the direction of his brother’s house. He wanted to see what happened, but because bombings were often accompanied by a second round of missiles, he waited. Later, when he approached the block, he saw the flames and fire consuming what was once his brother’s home. “The place was flattened,” he told me when I first met him, nearly four years later. “It was just rocks and destruction. There was fire everywhere.” They returned at dawn, with blankets to carry the dead. “We searched for our relatives,” he told me, “picking them up piece by piece and wrapping them.”

Across town, Ali Younes Muhammad Sultan, Sawsan’s father, heard the news from his brother. Everyone at the dinner had been killed: Zeidan and his wife, Nofa; Araj, Ghazala and their four children; Zeidan’s adult son Hussein, Hussein’s wife and their six children; Zeidan’s adult son Hassan, Hassan’s wife and their two children; and Sawsan, their own beloved daughter. Sultan and his wife went to the hospital where Sawsan’s remains were taken.

“If it weren’t for her clothes, I wouldn’t have even known it was her,” he later told me. “She was just pieces of meat. I recognized her only because she was wearing the purple dress that I bought for her a few days before. It’s indescribable. I can’t put it into words. My wife — she didn’t even know whether to go to her daughter, or the rest of the family first. It is just too hard to describe. We’re still in denial and disbelief. To this day, we cannot believe what happened. That day changed everything for us.”

In the immediate aftermath of the strike, Defense Department officials lauded it as an intelligence coup. But doubts quickly began to surface. A series of ISIS videos taken at the hospital and the strike site was posted online, showing the burned and bloody corpses of children. The coalition opened a civilian casualty review.

The Pentagon’s review process is one of the few, if indeed not the only, means by which the U.S. military holds itself to account with regard to civilian casualties as it executes its air wars. The coalition has conducted at least 2,866 such assessments since the air war against ISIS in Iraq and Syria began in August 2014, but little more than a dozen of the resulting reports have ever been made public until now. Instead, each month,

Continue reading. There’s much more, including photos and an audio recording of the article read aloud.

Again, this gift link should bypass the paywall — and the report has much more worth reading.

Written by Leisureguy

2 January 2022 at 3:13 pm

David Troy’s blunt thoughts for 2022

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From Dave Troy’s Facebook post:

Some blunt thoughts for 2022.

1. Omicron will either mark the end of COVID by forcing everyone into immunity, OR a new set of deadly variants will be born in the process.

2. Cryptocurrency is political, and a misanthropic enterprise aiming to shove hardcore libertarianism down everyone’s throats.

3. Ukraine conflict is, at root, the aforementioned libertarian conflict. It is a test of institutions against capital and corruption. The way Americans will experience this war is through cyberattacks, economic warfare against the dollar, psychological warfare, and a final shattering of reality—especially around money.

4. Conflict over Taiwan will merge with the Ukraine conflict, and will turn into a world war against the US and NATO over the continuance of the dollar as reserve currency; also at issue is the EU and the Euro. While we will most likely encounter this conflict domestically via electronic means, kinetic, nuclear and EMP warfare is a possibility. Taiwan chip shortages may cripple global manufacturing for an indeterminate period.

5. US politics is now about only one thing: individualism (libertarianism) vs. democracy. People will try to tell you “maximizing freedom” is democratic and it’s a lie. Same thing is playing out in the UK and EU. “Communism” is the bogeyman they will use to try to fight democracy in any form. There are people on both the “left” and “right” fighting against democracy.

6. Web3 is an attempt to shame/FOMO smart people into advancing libertarianism. Fuck that, with prejudice.

7. The oil/gas industry is behind the libertarian drive, because it doesn’t want to be regulated (translated: ended) by “mob rule” (i.e. democracy).

8. The libertarian influence campaign is driving COVID disinformation because they want to maximize oil/gas/industrial profits via maximizing movement and consumption. This is being done through many layers of overt influence and covert influence (cults and intelligence ops).

9. We will never, ever address the climate disaster in time if this libertarian agenda is allowed to dominate.

10. Casual opinions are no match for expertise and study. If you have something to contribute here, slow down and be thoughtful. There is a good chance I have, through deep study of this domain, facts and perspective you may not yet; I’m sharing this here with the full knowledge that most others have not been able to do this study. Performative, reactive comments will be deleted; I’m also deprecating my use of Messenger. Going forward, please email me if you have something important to share: davetroy at gmail.

Best case scenario: COVID burns out by Spring, and no new variants emerge; Putin gets cold feet and is deterred; China takes a slow, economic approach to Taiwan absorption; Tether investigation sparks crash, unwinding the sector without harming broader recovery; anti-democratic momentum is reversed; climate investments are begun.

Worst case scenario: Omicron surge sparks multiple variants with high mortality rates among vaccinated and unvaccinated, with a slow incubation time; Putin advances in Jan or Feb; China follows suit; Thiel, Bannon et al push crypto assault to try to destabilize dollar in parallel; government is captured and unable to squelch anti-democratic forces; dollar is actually challenged as reserve currency; chip manufacturing is halted, crashing tech deliveries and stocks; people’s 401(k)s are effectively wiped out; rioting, unrest. EMP or nuclear attacks leave entire regions in 1800’s mode, with little communication or transportation, and possibly uninhabitable. A neofeudal, libertarian hellscape, if it can even qualify as a society.

Worst case is unlikely as a whole, but any one of these things is possible if we fail to understand our moment.

Best case is achievable if we get lucky and know what we are dealing with. Putin respects strength; let’s show it. Tether is a scam and needs to be taken down aggressively; the whole sector needs regulation. China won’t be emboldened if Russia is curbed. This is the year that institutions need to be strengthened and shine brightly, for if they fail to do so, they will be lost for good, along with our hopes for democracy or any sort of just world.

Written by Leisureguy

2 January 2022 at 7:10 am

The Massacre at Wounded Knee

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One incident among many in the genocidal campaign the US has waged against Native Americans. Heath Cox Richardson writes:

On the clear, cold morning of December 29, 1890, on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, three U.S. soldiers tried to wrench a valuable Winchester away from a young Lakota man. He refused to give up his hunting weapon; it was the only thing standing between his family and starvation. As the men struggled, the gun fired into the sky.

Before the echoes died, troops fired a volley that brought down half of the Lakota men and boys the soldiers had captured the night before, as well as a number of soldiers surrounding the Lakotas. The uninjured Lakota men attacked the soldiers with knives, guns they snatched from wounded soldiers, and their fists.

As the men fought hand-to-hand, the Lakota women who had been hitching their horses to wagons for the day’s travel tried to flee along the nearby road or up a dry ravine behind the camp. The soldiers on a slight rise above the camp turned rapid-fire mountain guns on them. Then, over the next two hours, troops on horseback hunted down and slaughtered all the Lakotas they could find: about 250 men, women, and children.

But it is not December 29 that haunts me. It is the night of December 28, the night before the killing.

On December 28, there was still time to avert the Wounded Knee Massacre.

In the early afternoon, the Lakota leader Big Foot—Sitanka—had urged his people to surrender to the soldiers looking for them. Sitanka was desperately ill with pneumonia, and the people in his band were hungry, underdressed, and exhausted. They were making their way south across South Dakota from their own reservation in the northern part of the state to the Pine Ridge Reservation. There, they planned to take shelter with another famous Lakota chief, Red Cloud. His people had done as Sitanka asked, and the soldiers escorted the Lakotas to a camp on South Dakota’s Wounded Knee Creek, inside the boundaries of the Pine Ridge Reservation.

For the soldiers, the surrender of Sitanka’s band marked the end of the Ghost Dance Uprising. It had been a tense month. Troops had pushed into the South Dakota reservations in November, prompting a band of terrified men who had embraced the Ghost Dance religion to gather their wives and children and ride out to the Badlands. But, at long last, army officers and negotiators had convinced those Ghost Dancers to go back to Pine Ridge and turn themselves in to authorities before winter hit in earnest.

Sitanka’s people were not part of the Badlands group and, for the most part, were not Ghost Dancers. They had fled from their own northern reservation two weeks before when they learned that officers had murdered the great leader Sitting Bull in his own home. Army officers were anxious to find and corral Sitanka’s missing Lakotas before they carried the news that Sitting Bull had been killed to those who had taken refuge in the Badlands. Army leaders were certain the information would spook the Ghost Dancers and send them flying back to the Badlands. They were determined to make sure the two bands did not meet.

But South Dakota is a big state, and it was not until late in the afternoon of December 28 that the soldiers finally made contact with Sitanka’s band, and it didn’t go quite as the officers planned: a group of soldiers were watering their horses in a stream when some of the traveling Lakotas surprised them. The Lakotas let the soldiers go, and the men promptly reported to their officers, who marched on the Lakotas as if they were going to war. Sitanka, who had always gotten along well with army officers, assured the commander that his band was on its way to Pine Ridge anyway, and asked his men to surrender unconditionally. They did.

By this time, Sitanka was so ill he couldn’t sit up and his nose was dripping blood. Soldiers lifted him into an army ambulance—an old wagon—for the trip to the Wounded Knee camp. His ragtag band followed behind. Once there, the soldiers gave the Lakotas an evening ration, and lent army tents to those who wanted them. Then the soldiers settled into guarding the camp.

And they celebrated, for they were heroes of a great war, and it had been bloodless, and now, with the Lakotas’ surrender, they would be demobilized back to their home bases before the South Dakota winter closed in. As they celebrated, more and more troops poured in. It had been a long hunt across South Dakota for Sitanka and his band, and officers were determined the group would not escape them again. In came the Seventh Cavalry, whose men had not forgotten that their former leader George Armstrong Custer had been killed by a band of Lakota in 1876. In came three mountain guns, which the soldiers trained on the Lakota encampment from a slight rise above the camp.

For their part, the Lakotas were frightened. If their surrender was welcome and they were going to go with the soldiers to Red Cloud at Pine Ridge, as they had planned all along, why were there so many soldiers, with so many guns?

On this day and hour in 1890, in the cold and dark of a South Dakota December night, there were soldiers drinking, singing and visiting with each other, and anxious Lakotas either talking to each other in low voices or trying to sleep. No one knew what . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

29 December 2021 at 6:48 am

Hidden Pentagon Records Reveal Patterns of Failure in Deadly Airstrikes

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The NY Times has a lengthy article on how the US military attempted to cover up the fact that it was killing large numbers of civilians, including children in airstrikes. This is a gift link: no paywall.

This is the first part of a series. Part 2 examines the air war’s human toll.

Shortly before 3 a.m. on July 19, 2016, American Special Operations forces bombed what they believed were three ISIS “staging areas” on the outskirts of Tokhar, a riverside hamlet in northern Syria. They reported 85 fighters killed. In fact, they hit houses far from the front line, where farmers, their families and other local people sought nighttime sanctuary from bombing and gunfire. More than 120 villagers were killed.

In early 2017 in Iraq, an American war plane struck a dark-colored vehicle, believed to be a car bomb, stopped at an intersection in the Wadi Hajar neighborhood of West Mosul. Actually, the car had been bearing not a bomb but a man named Majid Mahmoud Ahmed, his wife and their two children, who were fleeing the fighting nearby. They and three other civilians were killed.

In November 2015, after observing a man dragging an “unknown heavy object” into an ISIS “defensive fighting position,” American forces struck a building in Ramadi, Iraq. A military review found that the object was actually “a person of small stature” — a child — who died in the strike.

None of these deadly failures resulted in a finding of wrongdoing.

These cases are drawn from a hidden Pentagon archive of the American air war in the Middle East since 2014.

The trove of documents — the military’s own confidential assessments of more than 1,300 reports of civilian casualties, obtained by The New York Times — lays bare how the air war has been marked by deeply flawed intelligence, rushed and often imprecise targeting, and the deaths of thousands of civilians, many of them children, a sharp contrast to the American government’s image of war waged by all-seeing drones and precision bombs.

The documents show, too, that despite the Pentagon’s highly codified system for examining civilian casualties, pledges of transparency and accountability have given way to opacity and impunity. In only a handful of cases were the assessments made public. Not a single record provided includes a finding of wrongdoing or disciplinary action. Fewer than a dozen condolence payments were made, even though many survivors were left with disabilities requiring expensive medical care. Documented efforts to identify root causes or lessons learned are rare.

The air campaign represents a fundamental transformation of warfare that took shape in the final years of the Obama administration, amid the deepening unpopularity of the forever wars that had claimed more than 6,000 American service members. The United States traded many of its boots on the ground for an arsenal of aircraft directed by controllers sitting at computers, often thousands of miles away. President Barack Obama called it “the most precise air campaign in history.”

This was the promise: America’s “extraordinary technology” would allow the military to kill the right people while taking the greatest possible care not to harm the wrong ones.

The ISIS caliphate ultimately crumbled under the weight of American bombing. For years, American air power was crucial to the beleaguered Afghan government’s survival. And as U.S. combat deaths dwindled, the faraway wars, and their civilian tolls, receded from most Americans’ sights and minds.

On occasion, stunning revelations have pierced the silence. A Times investigation found that a Kabul drone strike in August, which American officials said had destroyed a vehicle laden with bombs, had instead killed 10 members of one Afghan family. The Times recently reported that dozens of civilians had been killed in a 2019 bombing in Syria that the military had hidden from public view. That strike was ordered by a top-secret strike cell called Talon Anvil that, according to people who worked with it, frequently sidestepped procedures meant to protect civilians. Talon Anvil executed a significant portion of the air war against ISIS in Syria.

The Pentagon regularly publishes bare-bones summaries of civilian casualty incidents, and it recently ordered a new, high-level investigation of the 2019 Syria airstrike. But in the rare cases where failings are publicly acknowledged, they tend to be characterized as unfortunate, unavoidable and uncommon.

In response to questions from The Times,  . . .

Continue reading. There a lot more. And it’s a gift link = no paywall.

Later in the report:

He described minimizing the risk of harm to civilians as “a strategic necessity as well as a legal and moral imperative,” driven by the way these casualties are used “to feed the ideological hatred espoused by our enemies in the post 9/11 conflicts and supercharge the recruiting of the next generation of violent extremists.”

Yet what the hidden documents show is that civilians have become the regular collateral casualties of a way of war gone badly wrong.

To understand how this happened, The Times did what military officials admit they have not done: analyzed the casualty assessments in aggregate to discern patterns of failed intelligence, decision-making and execution. It also visited more than 100 casualty sites and interviewed scores of surviving residents and current and former American officials. In the coming days, the second part of this series will trace those journeys through the war zones of Iraq and Syria.

Taken together, the reporting offers the most sweeping, and also the most granular, portrait of how the air war was prosecuted and investigated — and of its civilian toll.

The military likes to use the word “honor.” I wonder what they think it means. I don’t think it means killing a multitude of civilians with no warning. That’s usually called “terrorism.’P

Written by Leisureguy

20 December 2021 at 5:25 pm

Congress Agreed on Drastic Military Sexual Assault Reform. Then “Four Men Behind Closed Doors” Got Their Hands On It.

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I get so tired of this shit. Madison Pauly reports in Mother Jones:

Thirty years ago, at a raucous Las Vegas conference of Navy aviators, dozens of male military officers crowded into a dimly lit hotel hallway, where they grabbed, groped, and jeered at female service members and civilians trying to pass by. Eighty-three women and seven men were sexually assaulted during the three-day conference, a Department of Defense Inspector General investigation later found. Yet after commanders and military judges decided there wasn’t enough evidence to proceed with individual assault prosecutions, not a single serviceman faced court-martial or serious discipline.

The event was the first scandal to draw public attention to the crisis of military sexual violence, though far from the last. In the decades since, the Pentagon has repeatedly pledged to address the problem, while at the same time successfully resisting what advocates and some lawmakers say is one of the most important reforms needed to end the culture of permissiveness of sexual violence: eliminating commanders’ influence over sexual assault trials. That influence is substantial. Among other powers, commanders currently decide whether to prosecute the accused—and more often than not, they don’t. Last fiscal year, commanders reviewed 3,358 sexual assault investigations and decided to prosecute 798 of them. Just a fraction of those cases actually went to a court-martial; ultimately, only 50 people were convicted of sexual assault. Meanwhile, a DoD survey from 2018 showed that around 20,500 service members were assaulted that year alone, though the vast majority chose not to report it.

Now, after another public tragedy—last year’s murder of Army Specialist Vanessa Guillén, whose family said she was sexually harassed before she was killed—Congress appears to have finally reached a tipping point. Before the end of the day tomorrow, the Senate is poised to approve a defense policy bill that includes significant changes to the military justice system, including taking the decision to prosecute sexual assault out of commanders’ hands. Instead, such decisions will be made by independent military prosecutors reporting to the secretaries of the Army, Navy, and Air Force.

“I can have some peace tonight,” Mayra Guillén, Vanessa’s sister, tweeted after the House approved the bill last week. “We will still keep working, this is not the end but a HUGE step in history.”

With the exception of Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, Democratic women lawmakers and survivor advocacy groups have widely praised the final bill, which will pass as part of this year’s National Defense Authorization Act, as a significant step toward making the military court system fairer. In a statement, Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), called the reforms “the most significant since the creation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice in 1950.” The reforms amount to a “sea change” in how the military approaches sexual assault cases, writes New York Times reporter Jennifer Steinhauer, who has been covering the topic for years. “This is huge,” says retired Col. Don Christensen, the former chief prosecutor for the U.S. Air Force and the president of Protect Our Defenders, a nonprofit advocating for military justice system reform. “But,” he adds, “it’s also a missed opportunity.”

Christensen is referring to Gillibrand’s Military Justice Improvement and Increasing Prevention Act, a bill with far stronger provisions than those contained in this year’s NDAA, and which received unprecedented bipartisan support this year. Under it, commanders would lose not only the decision to prosecute, but also other powers in the court-martial process. And the bill would cover all serious crimes, not just those most closely related to gender-based violence, meaning it would also go partway toward addressing the racial discrimination Black and brown service members experience in the current, commander-driven system.

After nearly a decade of effort by Gillibrand to pass this bill, a supermajority of senators signed on as cosponsors this year, and its provisions were added to an earlier version of the NDAA. Then, last week, in closed-door negotiations over the NDAA’s final text, leaders of the Senate and House Armed Services Committees—Sen. Jack Reed (D-Rhode Island), Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Oklahoma), Rep. Adam Smith (D-Washington), and Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Alabama)—kneecapped the reforms. The version the Senate is expected to approve tomorrow takes the decision over whether or not to prosecute sexual assault away from commanders, but they’ll still play a major role in trials, including selecting potential jurors, says Christensen. And rather than applying to all felony-level crimes, the settled-on bill only covers certain ones—sexual assault, kidnapping, and murder among them—creating a separate class of crimes subject to special rules, which, according to Gillibrand, could further stigmatize women in the military.

“This is an act of blatant disregard for the service members, veterans, and survivors who have fought for an impartial and independent military justice system that’s worthy of the sacrifice they make every day for our country,” Gillibrand said on the Senate floor last week, blasting the decision of “four men behind closed doors” to water down the reforms.

Much of the issue boils down to “anachronistic” nuances of the military justice system, according to Fredric Lederer, a professor at William & Mary Law School. While the NDAA approved by the Senate gives the decision to file charges to special, independent prosecutors, commanders will keep a role in the trial known as the “convening authority.” “Unlike civilian life, there are no freestanding, permanent courts,” Lederer explains. Instead, for each trial, a court has to be called into existence by a commander, who selects members of his command to serve as jurors; controls the trial’s purse strings; and grants or denies immunity to witnesses. “‘The rationale for this is basically that commanders are the ones best situated to understand the consequences of what happened and what ought to be done,” Lederer explains. They can also allow service members accused of a crime the option of taking a discharge instead of going to court—the functional equivalent of being fired.

What does all of this mean for survivors? The decision . . .

Continue reading.

Given the military lies about the airstrikes on civilians, and the military’s refusal to hold anyone accountable for the deaths, I think it is clear that the US military is a deeply corrupted organization.

Written by Leisureguy

15 December 2021 at 5:16 pm

What on earth is Mark Meadows thinking?

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Heather Cox Richardson writes:

Tonight the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol released a report urging Congress to hold Trump’s White House chief of staff Mark Meadows in contempt of Congress after he has refused to honor a congressional subpoena.

It’s quite a document.

First of all, it pieces together a wide range of material from a number of different sources to lay out very clearly Meadows’s actions in the White House leading up to January 6. Anyone out there who is concerned that they have not heard much from the January 6 Committee will take heart from this comprehensive document, concerning, as it does, only one witness. The committee must have an astonishing amount of material and a number of talented personnel to produce such a report.

More specifically, though, the report places Meadows at key junctures in the lead-up to the January 6 insurrection and on January 6 itself. It places him with Trump on January 6.

But what jumps off the page in the report is the discussion of the National Guard’s response to the riot. The report says that “Mr. Meadows reportedly spoke with Kashyap Patel, who was then the chief of staff to former Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller, ‘nonstop’ throughout the day of January 6. And, among other things, Mr. Meadows apparently knows if and when Mr. Trump was engaged in discussions regarding the National Guard’s response to the Capitol riot.”

The committee also wrote that “Mr. Meadows sent an email to an individual about the events on January 6 and said that the National Guard would be present to ‘protect pro Trump people’ and that many more would be available on standby.”

Why it took more than three hours for the D.C. National Guard to deploy on January 6 remains a central question about what happened that day. Then–U.S. Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund began calling for help at 1:49 p.m., but the National Guard, whose chain of command had been reordered on January 5 to require Miller to approve mobilizing the guard, didn’t deploy until 5:08 p.m.

Army officials have said they moved as quickly as possible; National Guard officials have said they were held back by army leaders who complained about the “optics” of deploying the National Guard to the Capitol. As the title of Amanda Carpenter’s December 10 article in The Bulwark notes: “Someone is lying about why it took so long for the National Guard to deploy on January 6.”

The news that Meadows was on the phone “nonstop” to Miller’s chief of staff on January 6, and that he told someone that “the National Guard would be present to ‘protect pro Trump people’ and that many more would be available on standby,” adds more information to that muddled timeline, although still not enough to figure out what was actually going on.

Did the Trump team expect a counter-protest that day that would enable Trump to declare a state of emergency, as it appears all the living defense secretaries feared when they wrote an open letter on January 3 insisting that the military must stay out of the transition? “Acting defense secretary Christopher C. Miller and his subordinates — political appointees, officers and civil servants—are each bound by oath, law and precedent to facilitate the entry into office of the incoming administration, and to do so wholeheartedly,” the ten living former defense secretaries wrote in a Washington Post op-ed on January 3. “They must also refrain from any political actions that undermine the results of the election or hinder the success of the new team.”

If counter-protesters had shown up, muddying the story of what was happening, the day might have played out very differently.

The report from the January 6 Committee also notes that Meadows apparently used an encrypted phone and that he communicated frequently with members of Congress about challenging the election.

The report demolishes Meadows’s argument that he cannot testify because of executive privilege. It notes that President Joe Biden has not asserted executive privilege over the matters about which Meadows would testify, and neither has former president Donald Trump. It appears Meadows is basing his refusal to testify on a letter from “former-President Trump’s counsel, Justin Clark, to Mr. Meadows’s then-counsel, Mr. Gast, expressing former-President Trump’s apparent belief that ‘Mr. Meadows is immune from compelled congressional testimony on matters related to his official responsibilities.’’’ The letter told Meadows not to testify or produce documents.

Such a letter does not officially assert privilege, even if Trump had the authority to do so, which it seems likely he does not (since it is the current president who asserts privilege to protect the office, and Biden has declined to do so).

The January 6 Committee also notes that Meadows is refusing to talk about material that he, himself, produced for the committee, and which he has discussed in his new book, thereby waiving any claims to privilege.

Lawyer Teri Kanefield today put together the timeline for Meadows’s production of documents and then abrupt refusal to testify. She notes that Meadows cooperated with the January 6 Committee over materials from his official work accounts. But then he discovered that the committee had subpoenaed the records from his private cell phone from Verizon, records that he had not transferred to the National Archives and Records Administration, as required by law. He stopped cooperating and sued to have the subpoena to Verizon blocked.

Considering how bad the materials Meadows gave to the committee are—both a PowerPoint outlining how to overturn the election and emails about the National Guard protecting pro-Trump protesters, as well as texts with members of Congress about undermining the election results—one can only wonder what’s in the material he is trying so desperately to protect.

The committee will vote tomorrow at 7:00 p.m. whether  . ..

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by Leisureguy

13 December 2021 at 4:26 am

Stanford Professor Garry Nolan Is Analyzing Anomalous Materials From UFO Crashes

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As it happens, I’m reading a Douglas E. Richards sci-fi novel, Unidentified, on this same issue. In Vice, Thobey Campion interviews Garry Nolan, Professor of Pathology at Stanford University.

Dr. Garry Nolan is a Professor of Pathology at Stanford University. His research ranges from cancer to systems immunology. Dr. Nolan has also spent the last ten years working with a number of individual analyzing materials from alleged Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon.

His robust resume—300 research articles, 40 US patents, founding of eight biotech companies, and honored as one of Stanford’s top 25 inventors—makes him, easily, one of the most accomplished scientists publicly studying UAPs.

Motherboard sat down with Garry to discuss his work. It has been edited for length and clarity.

[For more with Dr. Garry Nolan, watch this interview with Jesse Michels on American Alchemy.]

MOTHERBOARD: How long have you had an interest in UAPs?
Dr. Garry Nolan: 
I’ve always been an avid reader of science fiction, so it was natural at some point that when YouTube videos about UFOs began to make the rounds I might watch a few. I noticed that this guy at the time, Steven Greer, had claimed that a little skeleton might be an alien. I remember thinking, ‘Oh, I can prove or disprove that.’ And so I reached out to him. I eventually showed that it wasn’t an alien, it was human. We explain a fair amount about why it looked the way it did. It had a number of mutations in skeletal genes that could potentially explain the biology. The UFO community didn’t like me saying that. But you know, the truth is in the science. So, I had no problem just stating the facts. We published a paper and it ended up going worldwide. It was on the front page of just about every major newspaper. What’s more appealing or clickbait than ‘Stanford professor sequences alien baby’?

That ended up bringing me to the attention of some people associated with the CIA and some aeronautics corporations. At the time, they had been investigating a number of cases of pilots who’d gotten close to supposed UAPs and the fields generated by them, as was claimed by the people who showed up at my office unannounced one day. There was enough drama around the Atacama skeleton that I had basically decided to forswear all continued involvement in this area. Then these guys showed up and said, ‘We need you to help us with this because we want to do blood analysis and everybody says that you’ve got the best blood analysis instrumentation on the planet.’ Then they started showing the MRIs of some of these pilots and ground personnel and intelligence agents who had been damaged. The MRIs were clear. You didn’t even have to be an MD to see that there was a problem. Some of their brains were horribly, horribly damaged. And so that’s what kind of got me involved.

Does the Department of Pathology at Stanford have a track record of pulling practical jokes on you?
I thought it was a practical joke at the beginning. But no, nobody was pulling a practical joke. And just as an aside, the school is completely supportive, and always has been of the work that I’ve been doing. When the Atacama thing hit the fan, they stepped in and helped me deal with the public relations issues around it.

Are you able to mention which folks from which governmental departments other than aeronautics approached you?
No, I’m not.

Can you describe the more anomalous effects on the brains you observed with the MRIs?
If you’ve ever looked at an MRI of somebody with multiple sclerosis, there’s something called white matter disease. It’s scarring. It’s a big white blob, or multiple white blobs, scattered throughout the MRI. It’s essentially dead tissue where the immune system has attacked the brain. That’s probably the closest thing that you could come to if you wanted to look at a snapshot from one of these individuals. You can pretty quickly see that there’s something wrong. [There are photos in the article. – LG]

How many patients did you take a look at in that first phase?
It was around 100 patients. They were almost all defense or governmental personnel or people working in the aerospace industry; people doing government-level work. Here’s how it works: Let’s say that a Department of Defense personnel gets damaged or hurt. Odd cases go up the chain of command, at least within the medical branch. If nobody knows what to do with it, it goes over to what’s called the weird desk, where things get thrown in a bucket. Then somebody eventually says, ‘Oh, there’s enough interesting things in this bucket worth following up on that all look reasonably similar.’ Science works by comparing things that are similar and dissimilar to other things. Enough people were having very similar kinds of bad things happen to them, that it came to the attention of a guy by the name of Dr. Kit Green. He was in charge of studying some of these individuals. You have a smorgasbord of patients, some of whom had heard weird noises buzzing in their head, got sick, etc. A reasonable subset of them had claimed to have seen UAPs and some claimed to be close to things that got them sick. Let me show you the MRIs of the brains of some of these people. [More photos. – LG]

We started to notice that there were similarities in what we thought was the damage across multiple individuals. As we looked more closely, though, we realized, well, that can’t be damaged, because that’s right in the middle of the basal ganglia [a group of nuclei responsible for motor control and other core brain functions]. If those structures were severely damaged, these people would be dead. That was when we realized that these people were not damaged, but had an over-connection of neurons between the head of the caudate and the putamen [The caudate nucleus plays a critical role in various higher neurological functions; the putamen influences motor planning, learning, and execution]. If you looked at 100 average people, you wouldn’t see this kind of density. But these individuals had it. An open question is: did coming in contact with whatever it was cause it or not?

For a couple of these individuals we had MRIs from prior years. They had it before they had these incidents. It was pretty obvious, then, that this was something that people were born with. It’s a goal sub-goal setting planning device, it’s called the brain within the brain. It’s an extraordinary thing. This area of the brain is involved (partly) in what we call intuition. For instance, Japanese chess players were measured as they made what would be construed as a brilliant decision that is not obvious for anybody to have made that kind of leap of intuition, this area of the brain lights up. We had found people who had this in spades. These are all so called high-functioning people. They’re pilots who are making split second decisions, intelligence officers in the field, etc.

Everybody has this connectivity region in general, but let’s say for the average person that the density level is 1x. Most of the people in the study had 5x to 10x and up to 15x, the normal density in this region. In this case we are speculating that density implies some sort of neuronal function. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, and it gets even more interesting.

FWIW, I bet those “Japanese chess players” were playing Go, not Shogi (Japanese chess).

Written by Leisureguy

11 December 2021 at 3:34 pm

The Eurasian Century

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From Englesberg Ideas:

In a special edition, leading historian and  geopolitical commentator Hal Brands wrote a five-part series exploring what he calls the Eurasian century…

In Part I, he explained the ideas put forward in 1904 by Hal Mackinder. Mackinder believed major showdowns in international affairs of the 20th century would revolve over control of the Eurasian continent and its maritime approaches.

In Part II, he demonstrated how these theories played out when Germany’s drive for dominance unleashed the great black tornado of the First World War.

In Part III, he outlined how the Second World War and the rise of totalitarianism showed that delaying addressing Eurasian challenges early only stores up problems for later. Waiting incurs high costs.

In Part IV, he considered how in the Cold War the Soviet Union represented the heartland threat Mackinder had long foreseen. But ironically, his insights also inspired a strategy for containing that threat.

In Part V, he examined China’s contemporary ambitions for global supremacy. It is a new twist on a familiar problem and the West is working out how to respond.

If you want to learn more, listen to our editor Iain Martin interviewing Hal Brands on our latest episode of the Worldview podcast.

Written by Leisureguy

11 December 2021 at 12:53 am

‘Absolute liars’: Ex-D.C. Guard official says generals lied to Congress about Jan. 6

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Betsy Woodruff Swan and Meridith McGraw report in Politico:

A former D.C. National Guard official is accusing two senior Army leaders of lying to Congress and participating in a secret attempt to rewrite the history of the military’s response to the Capitol riot.

In a 36-page memo, Col. Earl Matthews, who held high-level National Security Council and Pentagon roles during the Trump administration, slams the Pentagon’s inspector general for what he calls an error-riddled report that protects a top Army official who argued against sending the National Guard to the Capitol on Jan. 6, delaying the insurrection response for hours.

Matthews’ memo, sent to the Jan. 6 select committee this month and obtained by POLITICO, includes detailed recollections of the insurrection response as it calls two Army generals — Gen. Charles Flynn, who served as deputy chief of staff for operations on Jan. 6, and Lt. Gen. Walter Piatt, the director of Army staff — “absolute and unmitigated liars” for their characterization of the events of that day. Matthews has never publicly discussed the chaos of the Capitol siege.

On Jan. 6, Matthews was serving as the top attorney to Maj. Gen. William Walker, then commanding general of the D.C. National Guard. Matthews’ memo defends the Capitol attack response by Walker, who now serves as the House sergeant at arms, amplifying Walker’s previous congressional testimony about the hourslong delay in the military’s order for the D.C. National Guard to deploy to the riot scene.

“Every leader in the D.C. Guard wanted to respond and knew they could respond to the riot at the seat of government” before they were given clearance to do so on Jan. 6, Matthews’ memo reads. Instead, he said, D.C. guard officials “set [sic] stunned watching in the Armory” during the first hours of the attack on Congress during its certification of the 2020 election results.

Matthews’ memo levels major accusations: that Flynn and Piatt lied to Congress about their response to pleas for the D.C. Guard to quickly be deployed on Jan. 6; that the Pentagon inspector general’s November report on Army leadership’s response to the attack was “replete with factual inaccuracies”; and that the Army has created its own closely held revisionist document about the Capitol riot that’s “worthy of the best Stalinist or North Korea propagandist.”

The memo follows Walker’s own public call for the inspector general to retract its detailed report on the events of Jan. 6, as first reported by The Washington Post. Walker told the Post he objected to specific allegations by the Pentagon watchdog that Matthews’ memo also criticizes, calling the inspector general’s report “inaccurate” and “sloppy work.”

Reached for comment on Matthews’ memo, Walker, the former head of the D.C. Guard, said the report speaks for itself and that he had nothing further to add. A Jan. 6 committee spokesperson declined to comment.

The new memo from Matthews, who now serves in the Army reserves, emerges as officials involved in the response that day try to explain their decision-making to investigators. The House select committee has probed the attack for months, and earlier this year top officials testified before the House oversight panel.

Reached for comment, Matthews said the memo he wrote is entirely accurate. “Our Army has never failed us and did not do so on January 6, 2021,” he said. “However, occasionally some of our Army leaders have failed us and they did so on January 6th. Then they lied about it and tried to cover it up. They tried to smear a good man and to erase history.”

Flynn, now the commanding general of the U.S. Army Pacific, and Piatt didn’t respond to messages. Army spokesperson Mike Brady said in a . . .

Continue reading. One might believe, given the military’s strong lip-service in favor of honor, that such senior officers would not lie, but “honor” in the military has a special meaning, which includes “cover-up.”

Written by Leisureguy

6 December 2021 at 3:34 pm

Stanley McChrystal Accidentally Reveals the Dishonesty of U.S. Generals

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Peter Maas reports in The Intercept:

IT IS TIME to make a strange addition to the shortlist of essential documents on the dishonesty of America’s generals: a new book from retired Gen. Stanley McChrystal titled “Risk: A User’s Guide.”

McChrystal was removed from his command by President Barack Obama but afterward created a thriving consulting firm and often appears on TV to talk about war and politics. His new book is intended to be a primer for corporate leaders trying to navigate the perils of doing business in America. The conceit is straightforward: Hello, I am a retired four-star general who bravely led troops into battle, and I can tell you everything you need to know about managing risk.

There is a lot that McChrystal might teach us, because he was responsible for a series of consequential errors from which valuable lessons could be learned. Those errors include the concoction of a plan in 2009 to defeat the Taliban insurgency by flooding Afghanistan with as many as 80,000 additional U.S. soldiers. This was the kind of troops-and-money strategy that succeeded mainly in killing lots of civilians and helping the Taliban return to power.

On a less catastrophic scale, McChrystal actively participated in the cover-up of the friendly fire killing of NFL player-turned-soldier Pat Tillman, whose 2004 death the Pentagon initially blamed on the Taliban, knowing that this was untrue. McChrystal also took the ill-advised risk of allowing a Rolling Stone reporter to embed with his entourage on a trip around Europe, and the resulting article, which conveyed the general’s disdain for America’s elected leaders, led to his early retirement in 2010.

I am not arguing that McChrystal should abstain from writing about risk or suggesting that he didn’t have wartime successes. A book that intelligently drew from both sides of his military career could be useful. But that is not the book McChrystal chose to write, and for that we should be grateful, because he has instead provided us with a far more important document. “Risk” is stuffed with so many displays of dishonesty, ignorance, and banality that it’s the ultimate self-own for a generation of generals who led America into disaster after 9/11 — and profited from it.

With his new book, McChrystal turns himself into an accidental whistleblower.

Fighting the Truth

There is a basic question to ask before buying a general’s advice book: Why are we listening to this guy?

America treats its generals as revered proxies for its ordinary soldiers, loving them even though the wars they’ve presided over have been catastrophic. There has been more than $14 trillion in defense spending since 9/11, more than 7,000 U.S. soldiers dead in Iraq and Afghanistan, and at least several hundred thousand civilians killed (which is a conservative estimate). Throughout these calamities, the generals lied about what was happening, telling Congress and the American public that things were going well when they knew it wasn’t true. The breathtaking scale of their deceit was revealed in classified documents that the Washington Post published in an award-winning 2019 series titled “At War With the Truth.”

Their failures have occurred outside the battlefield too.

One of the most venerated generals of recent times is James Mattis, who commanded U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan and went on to become President Donald Trump’s first defense secretary. Before joining the Trump administration, Mattis was on the board of directors of Theranos to provide advice on “building elite teams.” He received an annual stipend of $150,000 and continued to defend Theranos even after the Wall Street Journal revealed in 2015 that the company’s blood-testing machines were fraudulent. Testifying in September at the trial of the company’s founder, Elizabeth Holmes, Mattis avidly threw her under the bus, saying that he was “disappointed at the level of transparency from Ms. Holmes.”

A different type of flameout happened to retired Gen. David Petraeus, another famous commander of U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan who served as Obama’s director of the CIA. Petraeus didn’t last long at Langley because he was having an affair with his biographer and shared classified information with her. The tradecraft he employed to covertly communicate with her was amateurish: They used the drafts folder in a shared Gmail account. And while in Afghanistan, his military aides were excluded from helicopter trips so that his secret girlfriend could ride along. Petraeus resigned from the CIA and pleaded guilty to mishandling classified information, but he’s still respected and has a lucrative partnership at KKR, a private equity firm.

One more item from the annals of generals gone bad:

There’s retired Gen.  . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by Leisureguy

5 December 2021 at 5:58 pm

The Cost of Sentimentalizing War

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Carlos Lozada reviews a new book by Elizabeth Samet in the New Yorker:

The terrorist strikes of September 11, 2001, supposedly launched a new kind of American war, with unfamiliar foes, unlikely alliances, and unthinkable tactics. But the language deployed to interpret this conflict was decidedly old-school, the comfort food of martial rhetoric. With the Axis of Evil, the menace of Fascism (remixed as “Islamofascism”), and the Pearl Harbor references, the Second World War hovered over what would become known as the global war on terror, infusing it with righteousness. This latest war, President George W. Bush said, would have a scope and a stature evoking the American response to that other attack on the U.S. “one Sunday in 1941.” It wouldn’t be like Desert Storm, a conflict tightly bounded in time and space; instead, it was a call to global engagement and even to national greatness. “This generation will lift the dark threat of violence from our people and our future,” Bush avowed.

Elizabeth D. Samet finds such familiarity endlessly familiar. “Every American exercise of military force since World War II, at least in the eyes of its architects, has inherited that war’s moral justification and been understood as its offspring: motivated by its memory, prosecuted in its shadow, inevitably measured against it,” she writes in “Looking for the Good War: American Amnesia and the Violent Pursuit of Happiness” (Farrar, Straus & Giroux). A professor of English at West Point and the author of works on literature, leadership, and the military, Samet offers a cultural and literary counterpoint to the Ambrose-Brokaw-Spielberg industrial complex of Second World War remembrance, and something of a meditation on memory itself. It’s not simply that subsequent fights didn’t resemble the Second World War, she contends; it’s that the war itself does not resemble our manufactured memories of it, particularly the gushing accounts that enveloped its fiftieth anniversary. “The so-called greatness of the Greatest Generation is a fiction,” she argues, “suffused with nostalgia and with a need to return to some finest hour.” Those who forget the past may be condemned to repeat it, but those who sentimentalize the past are rewarded with best-seller status.

The mythology of the Second World War features six main elements, by Samet’s tally: that the United States joined the war in order to rid the world of tyranny and Fascism; that “all Americans were absolutely united” in their commitment to the fight; that “everyone” in the country sacrificed; that Americans got into the war reluctantly and then waged it decently; that the war was tragic but ended on a happy note; and, finally, that “everyone has always agreed” on the first five points.

The word choices here—“all,” “absolutely,” “everyone,” and “always”—do stretch the myths to the point of easy refutability, but some of the best-known popular chronicles clearly display the tendencies Samet decries. “Citizen Soldiers,” Stephen Ambrose’s 1997 book about Allied troops in Europe, presents the reticence of American G.I.s in describing their motivations as a kind of self-conscious idealism and aw-shucks humility. “They knew they were fighting for decency and democracy and they were proud of it,” Ambrose writes. “They just didn’t talk or write about it.” But, without such oral or written records, can one really divine such noble impulses? Samet dismisses Ambrose’s œuvre, including the nineteen-nineties best-sellers, “Band of Brothers” and “D-Day,” as “less historical analysis than comic-book thought bubble.” Obsessed with notions of masculinity and chivalry, Ambrose indulges in “a fantasy that American soldiers somehow preserved a boyish innocence amid the slaughter,” she writes. If anything, the boyish innocence may belong to Ambrose himself, who admits that he grew up venerating veterans of the Second World War, a youthful hero worship that, Samet notes, “tends to overwhelm the historian’s mandate.”

For a more accurate account, Samet highlights a multivolume study, “The American Soldier,” by the sociologist Samuel Stouffer and a team of collaborators. During the war, they studied the ideological motives of American troops, and concluded that, “beyond acceptance of the war as a necessity forced upon the United States by an aggressor, there was little support of attempts to give the war meaning in terms of principles and causes.” Samet finds this real-time depiction of a nonideological American soldier to be credible. In the words of the military sociologist Charles C. Moskos, who studied the motivations of soldiers in the Second World War and in Vietnam, each man fights a “very private war . . . for his own survival.” Or, as John Hersey put it in a later foreword to “Into the Valley,” his narrative of U.S. marines battling on Guadalcanal, the soldiers fought “to get the damn thing over and go home.”

Samet argues that Steven Spielberg’s blockbuster movie “Saving Private Ryan,” from 1998, is “wholly unrepresentative” of Second World War attitudes toward the individual soldier. She contrasts the 1949 film “Twelve O’Clock High,” in which a brigadier general (played by Gregory Peck) insists that his men place collective loyalties above personal ones. After one pilot breaks formation, during a sortie over Nazi Europe, in order to assist a fellow-aviator at risk of being shot down, Peck lashes out, “You violated group integrity. . . . The one thing which is never expendable is your obligation to this group. . . . That has to be your loyalty—your only reason for being.” By focussing on the fate of a single survivor, Samet writes, Spielberg’s film “effectively transforms the conflict from one characterized by mass mobilization and modern industrial warfare to something more old-fashioned, recalling the heroism of ancient epics,” in which individual glories and tragedies take narrative precedence over the wider war.

Samet is particularly harsh on Tom Brokaw’s “The Greatest Generation,” also from 1998, with its “explicitly messianic agenda” of showing us a cohort so packed with honor and honesty and self-sacrifice that it was, as the newsman writes, “birthmarked for greatness.” In a section titled “Shame,” Brokaw acknowledges the racism that was so “pervasive in practice and in policy” in this greatest of eras, but he responds with uplifting sketches of members of racial minorities who manage to overcome it. (“It is my country, right or wrong,” one of them concludes. “None of us can ever contribute enough.”) Samet dissents, stressing, for instance, that the conflict in the Pacific, “begun in revenge and complicated by bitter racism” against the Japanese, has been overshadowed by the less morally troubling sagas of European liberation.

“Unity must always prevail,” Samet writes of the war myths. “Public opinion must turn overnight after Pearl Harbor, while the various regional, racial, and political divisions that roiled the country must be immediately put aside as Americans rally toward a shared cause.” A more complicated reality emerges in Studs Terkel’s 1984 “ ‘The Good War’ ” (the title includes quotation marks because the notion of a good war seemed “so incongruous,” Terkel explained), an oral history that amasses the recollections of wartime merchant marines, admirals, U.S.O. entertainers, G.I.s, and nurses. Their views on the war span “the sentimental and the disillusioned, the jingoistic and the thoughtfully patriotic, the nostalgic and the dismissive,” Samet writes.

To investigate cultural attitudes toward G.I.s in the aftermath of the war, she considers such novels as John Horne Burns’s “The Gallery” (1947), in which American soldiers in Italy engage in black-market transactions with locals; and such movies as “Suddenly” (1954), in which Frank Sinatra portrays a veteran turned contract killer who hopes that his war record will win him sympathy. (“I’m no traitor, Sheriff. I won a Silver Star.”) In other noir films of the era, returning G.I.s are loners disillusioned not just with the war and the years taken from them but also with what their country seemed to have become in their absence: hard, greedy, indifferent. Samet even scours military handbooks, including a 1945 one, memorably titled “112 Gripes About the French,” which admonished American G.I.s that they “didn’t come to Europe to save the French,” or “to do anyone any favors,” so they should stop stomping through the Continent as though expecting everyone’s gratitude. Not exactly “Band of Brothers,” is it?

There is a before-and-after quality to the Second World War in American political writing. The adjective “postwar” still clings to this one conflict, as if no American soldiers had wielded weapons in battle since. But if memories of one conflict shape attitudes toward the next, Samet writes, then the Good War legend has served “as prologue to three-quarters of a century of misbegotten ones.” There’s plenty of support for this quandary. In “A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam” (1988), Neil Sheehan identified the “disease of victory,” wherein U.S. leaders, particularly in the military ranks, succumbed to postwar complacency and overconfidence. Samet recalls the reflections of Rear Admiral Gene La Rocque, a Second World War veteran who retired during Vietnam, and who told Terkel that “the twisted memory” of the Good War “encourages the men of my generation to be willing, almost eager, to use military force anywhere in the world.”

Memories of the Good War also helped shape the views of military life held by the men who fought in Vietnam. Samet takes up Philip Caputo’s Vietnam memoir . . .

Continue reading. There’s more — or just read Samet’s book.

I think what the book discusses why the US is the most war-inclined nation on earth, constantly involved in formal wars and in covert military operations, nonstop.

Book Excerpt: Navy SEAL’s Behavior Led Teammates to Change Their Mission

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The NY Times has an article adapted from Alpha: Eddie Gallagher and the War for the Soul of the Navy SEALs,” by David Philipps, published in August 2021 by Crown. The article link is a gift link that bypasses the paywall. The article begins:

Throughout the contentious trial of Eddie Gallagher, a Navy SEAL chief accused of killing a prisoner in Iraq in 2017, Navy prosecutors never mentioned the name of the Islamic State fighter he had actually been charged with murdering. He was just “the kid” or “the victim,” sometimes “the dirtbag” — not even “John Doe.” In “Alpha: Eddie Gallagher and the War for the Soul of the Navy SEALs,” the New York Times reporter David Philipps names and writes a chapter about the captive, a 17-year-old whose father had desperately tried to stop him from running away to join ISIS. The teenager’s name is Moataz, and his father did not know he was dead until he saw his son’s photo in media coverage of the trial.

This is one of many revelations in the book by Mr. Philipps, who covered Chief Gallagher’s trial and acquittal for The Times, and whose detailed new reporting of those events and what led to them is based on dozens of interviews, thousands of text messages, and thousands of pages of court transcripts, service records and confidential military documents. “The Line,” a docuseries on Apple TV+ that was inspired by The Times’s reporting on the case, premieres on Nov. 19.

(In May 2020, Eddie Gallagher filed a lawsuit accusing the Navy of illegally leaking information to Mr. Philipps and alleging that his articles were defamatory. A judge dismissed most of the lawsuit’s claims against Mr. Philipps last month.)

The book paints a picture of Chief Gallagher that contradicts the image presented by his defenders in court and by some conservative media outlets. In “Alpha,” the SEAL platoon members, deployed in Mosul, worry their chief is becoming “unglued” — abusing opioids and other drugs, stealing, and putting their lives at risk so he can court more battlefield action without any tactical gain. Both in Iraq and after they break their code of silence to report him, platoon members fear he might kill one of them.

In the edited excerpt below, during their time in Mosul, they also worry he is indiscriminately killing civiliansThis account is based on the author’s coverage in The Times, Navy investigators’ interviews and investigation files, photos, Navy service records, texts between Eddie Gallagher and several SEALs, and SEALs’ court testimony and their interviews with the author. — Grace Maalouf

Dylan Dille scanned the medieval maze of old Mosul through the black-rimmed eye of his scope. The senior sniper was hidden about 750 meters away in a pile of rubble across the Tigris River. As he searched the alleyways and street corners, he could feel his heart beat under his body armor and his brow go tense because he knew Eddie was hunting, too, and he would have to try to get the first shot.

It was June 2017, four months into the deployment. Eddie had given up on going back to the roof of the pink house and instead had settled on a new place that the SEALs in Alpha called the Towers. The site was two buildings on the east bank of the Tigris standing side by side across the green water from old Mosul. Around the Towers stood the ruins of a carnival grounds still filled with rides and a weed-choked park where locals once spent holidays. The Towers had high ceilings and curving staircases designed to host lavish celebrations. But the war had left the park waist-high with weeds and littered with unexploded shells, and the Towers were little more than bombed-out gray concrete bones.

At the base of the Towers, a modern six-lane concrete bridge had once crossed the river, but it and every other bridge across the Tigris had been destroyed. The center lay broken in two by a massive airstrike, as if snapped by a mighty karate chop. The pieces had fallen into the water, leaving two jagged stumps that jutted out over the river.

The battle for Mosul was in its last desperate weeks. Block by block the Iraqi Army had pushed ISIS into one corner of the old city with its back up against the river. Alpha had set up across the river to shoot the enemy in the back. The platoon spent day after day there, harassing ISIS from the rear while the Iraqi Army attacked from the front. . .

Continue reading. Link bypasses the paywall.

Written by Leisureguy

14 November 2021 at 9:55 pm

How to Make Power Less Corrupting

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Jennifer Taub reviews in Washington Monthly a book that addresses a perennial problem with some interesting ideas:

Does power corrupt, or does it attract the already corrupt? Are scoundrels and tyrants created by corrupt institutions, or are they just born that way? With enough power, would almost any of us skim riches or torture enemies? These compelling questions are the centerpiece of Brian Klaas’s Corruptible. To solve these and other puzzles about power, Klaas, a professor of global politics at University College London, travels the globe introducing some of the “cult leaders, war criminals, despots, coup plotters, torturers, mercenaries, generals, propagandists, rebels, corrupt CEOs, and convicted criminals” he has interviewed. The result is a fascinating look at how power is dispensed by heads of state, police forces, school administrators, and pretty much anyone else who has authority over others. His tour of rulership styles yields the depressing fact that humans being humans, tyrants will probably always be among us. But in the tradition of Nudge, authored by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein, or The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg, Klaas suggests ways in which we can steer people in the right direction. The U.S. Constitution was written in the belief that without checks and balances, tyrants would rise. (And the past four years show they can, even with a multitude of constitutional safeguards.) Klaas wants us to think about how we can make any abuse of power—not just, as the title may imply, forms of corruption such as bribery—less likely.

We eagerly drink in the details of his bistro conversation with a daughter of Jean-Bédel Bokassa, the former dictator of the Central African Republic, who was rumored to have served human flesh to his guests. We share his amused disdain for petty tyrants like a school facilities director in Schenectady, New York, who plotted violence against his rivals and whistleblowers. It’s not only stories, though. Klaas elucidates complex concepts, exposing readers, including this one, to scholarly research about human behavior that he draws on to address core questions about what leads to corruption. Such literature reviews can be excruciating in the hands of a dull author, but Klaas lays out the academic tableau clearly. He weaves together research about the Neolithic revolution with recent studies about gender bias when reviewing résumés. His historical examples are telling. King Leopold II’s progressive reforms in Belgium in the 19th century were impressive because Leopold “faced accountability and oversight.” His colonial and savage treatment of the Congolese, where “he was a tyranny of one and his atrocities were hidden,” demonstrates that accountability plays a crucial role in guiding individual behavior.

That said, Corruptible does not offer precise answers about why there are tyrants among us. Instead, Klaas invites us on an epistemological adventure with no destination. We are warned in the first chapter that “our world is too complex for one unifying theory that explains everything.” Armed with historical evidence, empirical data, and persuasive theories, readers are exposed to diminutive despots and everyday corruption. The book provides suggestions for designing recruitment efforts to avoid attracting sadists and psychopaths for important positions in private and public spheres. He recommends that we “recruit smarter; randomly select people to perform oversight; rotate people around more; and audit decision-making processes, not just results.” Corruptible is also filled with enough cautionary tales that we can more quickly recognize red flags or establish monitoring systems (such as surveillance of suspected corrupt police officers to see whether they will steal money from what they believe is a drug den). This allows institutions to detect and remove bad actors as soon as possible. Abusive behavior in one area—say, inappropriate language—is a warning sign for other abuses. Sexual harassers are usually abusive in other fora as well. Speaking of which, Klaas recommends giving power to more women. Why? “Substantial research has demonstrated that, on average, women are less prone to despotism than men and more eager to rule by democratic means.” However, he correctly cautions against “being a gender essentialist (suggesting that men and women are fundamentally and irreconcilably good at some things and bad at others).” 

Quite welcome are the instances in which he corrects widespread misunderstandings that may have warped our view of power. For example, the fascist dictator Benito Mussolini did not make the trains in Italy run on time—a
common bit of conventional wisdom suggesting that his hold on power was due to ruthless efficiency rather than just ruthlessness. 

Klaas is particularly instructive when he explains why the widely understood belief about the results of the Stanford Prison Study of 1971 is wrong. A staple of Psych 101 classes for decades, the study supposedly demonstrates how ordinary people will behave when assigned the role of a guard or a prisoner, respectively. According to the study, those tapped to be guards became sadistic and the pseudo prisoners became compliant. But, as it happened, the 18 student participants were not quite a random sample. They responded to an ad regarding a “psychological study of prison life,” which may have unintentionally but decisively skewed the results. In 2007, researchers from Western Kentucky University conducted a new version of the study. In some college towns, they used the original wording in the ad, but they removed any mention of prison in others. When the volunteers arrived, researchers conducted personality evaluations and psychological screenings. Those who responded to the ad that included the word prison scored higher on tests measuring “aggressiveness, authoritarianism, Machiavellianism, narcissism, and social dominance and significantly lower on dispositional empathy and altruism.” 

In other words, you get what you ask for, which should give pause to anyone writing a “Help Wanted” ad or trying to reform a government agency—the latter being a longtime concern of this magazine. Consider police departments. The federal government has given police departments more than $7 billion in military hardware since 1997, including “helicopters, military-grade ammunition, bayonets,” and more. These weapons of war have apparently attracted more aggressive applicants. “Even after controlling for confounding variables such as crime rate or population size,” Klaas explains, “researchers have found that police departments that bought the most surplus military gear killed more civilians to begin with and saw the numbers of civilians that they killed in a given year rise significantly after the military equipment arrived.” 

What can be done? Perhaps we can follow . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

14 November 2021 at 6:23 pm

How the U.S. Hid an Airstrike That Killed Dozens of Civilians in Syria

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Military ideas of “honor” seem to be self-serving. Dave Philipps and Eric Schmitt report in the NY Times. Link here is a gift link that bypasses the paywall.

In the last days of the battle against the Islamic State in Syria, when members of the once-fierce caliphate were cornered in a dirt field next to a town called Baghuz, a U.S. military drone circled high overhead, hunting for military targets. But it saw only a large crowd of women and children huddled against a river bank.

Without warning, an American F-15E attack jet streaked across the drone’s high-definition field of vision and dropped a 500-pound bomb on the crowd, swallowing it in a shuddering blast. As the smoke cleared, a few people stumbled away in search of cover. Then a jet tracking them dropped one 2,000-pound bomb, then another, killing most of the survivors.

It was March 18, 2019. At the U.S. military’s busy Combined Air Operations Center at Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar, uniformed personnel watching the live drone footage looked on in stunned disbelief, according to one officer who was there.

“Who dropped that?” a confused analyst typed on a secure chat system being used by those monitoring the drone, two people who reviewed the chat log recalled. Another responded, “We just dropped on 50 women and children.”

An initial battle damage assessment quickly found that the number of dead was actually about 70.

The Baghuz strike was one of the largest civilian casualty incidents of the war against the Islamic State, but it has never been publicly acknowledged by the U.S. military. The details, reported here for the first time, show that the death toll was almost immediately apparent to military officials. A legal officer flagged the strike as a possible war crime that required an investigation. But at nearly every step, the military made moves that concealed the catastrophic strike. The death toll was downplayed. Reports were delayed, sanitized and classified. United States-led coalition forces bulldozed the blast site. And top leaders were not notified.

The Defense Department’s independent inspector general began an inquiry, but the report containing its findings was stalled and stripped of any mention of the strike.

“Leadership just seemed so set on burying this. No one wanted anything to do with it,” said Gene Tate, an evaluator who worked on the case for the inspector general’s office and agreed to discuss the aspects that were not classified. “It makes you lose faith in the system when people are trying to do what’s right but no one in positions of leadership wants to hear it.”

Mr. Tate, a former Navy officer who had worked for years as a civilian analyst with the Defense Intelligence Agency and the National Counterterrorism Center before moving to the inspector general’s office, said he criticized the lack of action and was eventually forced out of his job.

The details of the strikes were pieced together by The New York Times over months from confidential documents and descriptions of classified reports, as well as interviews with personnel directly involved, and officials with top secret security clearances who discussed the incident on the condition that they not be named

The Times investigation found that the bombing had been called in by a classified American special operations unit, Task Force 9, which was in charge of ground operations in Syria. The task force operated in such secrecy that at times it did not inform even its own military partners of its actions. In the case of the Baghuz bombing, the American Air Force command in Qatar had no idea the strike was coming, an officer who served at the command center said.

In the minutes after the strike, an alarmed Air Force intelligence officer in the operations center called over an Air Force lawyer in charge of determining the legality of strikes. The lawyer ordered the F-15E squadron and the drone crew to preserve all video and other evidence, according to documents obtained by The Times. He went upstairs and reported the strike to his chain of command, saying it was a possible violation of the law of armed conflict — a war crime — and regulations required a thorough, independent investigation.

But a thorough, independent investigation never happened.

This week, after The New York Times sent its findings to U.S. Central Command, which oversaw the air war in Syria, the command acknowledged the strikes for the first time, saying 80 people were killed but the airstrikes were justified. It said the bombs killed 16 fighters and four civilians. As for the other 60 people killed, the statement said it was not clear that they were civilians, in part because women and children in the Islamic State sometimes took up arms. [Sounds a lot like “Kill ’em all and let God sort them out.” – LG]

“We abhor the loss of innocent life and take all possible measures to prevent them,” Capt. Bill Urban, the chief spokesman for the command, said in the statement. “In this case, we self-reported and investigated the strike according to our own evidence and take full responsibility for the unintended loss of life.”

The only assessment done immediately after the strike was performed by the same ground unit that ordered the strike. It determined that the bombing was lawful because it killed only a small number of civilians while targeting Islamic State fighters in an attempt to protect coalition forces, the command said. Therefore no formal war crime notification, criminal investigation or disciplinary action was warranted, it said, adding that the other deaths were accidental.

But the Air Force lawyer, Lt. Col. Dean W. Korsak, believed he had witnessed possible war crimes and repeatedly pressed his leadership and Air Force criminal investigators to act. When they did not, he alerted the Defense Department’s independent inspector general. Two years after the strike, seeing no evidence that the watchdog agency was taking action, Colonel Korsak emailed the Senate Armed Services Committee, telling its staff that he had top secret material to discuss and adding, “I’m putting myself at great risk of military retaliation for sending this.”

“Senior ranking U.S. military officials intentionally and systematically circumvented the deliberate strike process,” he wrote in the email, which was obtained by The Times. Much of the material was classified and would need to be discussed through secure communications, he said. He wrote that a unit had intentionally entered false strike log entries, “clearly seeking to cover up the incidents.” Calling the classified death toll “shockingly high,” he said the military did not follow its own requirements to report and investigate the strike.

There was a good chance, he wrote, that “the highest levels of government remained unaware of what was happening on the ground.”

Colonel Korsak did not  . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, and no paywall on this one.

Written by Leisureguy

13 November 2021 at 1:05 pm

An Air Force sergeant killed himself on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. The note he left is heartbreaking.

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The US is not doing right by its veterans, nor by its armed forces.

Petula Dvorak writes in the Washington Post (and that’s a gift link: no paywall):

Kenneth Omar Santiago’s perfect smile dazzles on social media as he poses in his Air Force uniforms — flight suits to mess dress.

He accepts military awards, travels to far-off places, salsa dances and swims with sharks to oohs and aahs from friends in Lowell, Mass., his hometown.

“He’s got it all,” more than one commented.

Before Veterans Day, he posted a 1,116 word message, his longest yet.

Then, in a green T-shirt with an American flag emblazoned across his chest, the 31-year-old walked to the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and shot himself.

Statistics tell us at least 16 other members of the military community also took their lives that Monday night and every night — the average daily toll — leading up to Veterans Day, when the nation thanks veterans for their service with a free 10-piece order of boneless chicken wings or a free doughnut.

At 7:09 p.m., minutes after he posted the note, his friends began responding:

“Kenny, you are loved. Do not do this!!”

“Hey, you are not alone!! Rob is trying to call you now.”

“Santi for the love of god don’t do this.”

“Call his unit.”

“Call the cops!”

“Command post is tracking.”

But by then, two nurses visiting the memorial at night were trying to give him CPR. A medevac helicopter flew in minutes later, landing next to the Reflecting Pool to take Santiago to the hospital. He was pronounced dead hours later, 1 a.m. on Tuesday Nov. 9, police said.

Naveed Shah reposted a video of that helicopter landing when he saw it on social media.

It made Shah, an Army veteran and political director of the veteran’s group Common Defense, furious.

“In the past decade that I have spent in veterans advocacy, much has been done about the veterans suicide epidemic with few results,” Shah said. “Santiago’s death in this hallowed place, at this time of reverence for veterans, perhaps should provide pause for government officials and elected leaders in Washington to consider the impact 20 years of wars have had on our armed forces.”

Veterans know it’s bad and it’s going to get worse, with the 20-year anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan and the covid-19 death rate in the military doubling these past few months.

And when we tell them to go get help, help is hard to find. There’s a “severe occupational staffing shortage” in more than half of the psychiatric facilities veterans are sent to, according to the September Inspector General’s report on the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The struggle to get treatment has always been there for veterans. Take an equally public suicide eight years ago across the National Mall, at the other end of the cross that makes America’s most iconic space. Vietnam War veteran John Constantino saluted the white dome of the Capitol and immolated himself. At the time, his family attorney said it was the result of “a long battle with mental illness.”

Constantino’s death was public, laden with symbolism, just like Santiago’s.

“Nobody ever knows who is struggling or [waging] wars the eye cannot see. What does chronic depression even look like?” Santiago wrote in his note, which he double-posted on Instagram and Facebook, along with a slide show of him as a baby, with family, in Bali, at games, at work. “At times I think my close friends just tolerate me. Moreover, I feel truly alone. I always have. For a long time (years) I’ve known I would take my own life.”

His friends told me they wish he could’ve shared this when he was alive.

“In the military, he had to always have this front, he had to always appear strong,” said Sarah Kanellas, one of his childhood friends from Lowell, Mass. Her partner is in the military, and she knows that no matter what military officials say, there’s a stigma.

“You know how in basic training they break them down so they can build them back up? I get it, I know why they have to do that,” Kanellas said. “But they need to make mental health part of the building back up.”

Military bigwigs say they’re doing this. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin often says “mental health is health.”

And this week in his Veterans Day statement, Austin said: “We are working so hard to provide the best medical and mental health care possible for those whose military service has concluded. We must prove capable of treating the wounds we see, as well as the ones we cannot see.”

But that message hasn’t trickled down to the troops. . .

Continue reading. Gift link = no paywall.

Written by Leisureguy

11 November 2021 at 10:16 pm

The US, Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia

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Heather Cox Richardson describes how we got here regarding the Ukraine and where “here” is:

Today, in a joint press conference with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that the U.S. is “concerned by reports of unusual Russian military activity,” which it is “monitoring very closely” out of concern that Russia might invade Ukraine again as it did in 2014.

Russia has been building up troops near the border, and Russian leaders have been talking more forcefully about asserting control over Ukraine.

The Biden administration is taking the apparent change in Russia’s posture seriously. It has reached out to European allies apparently to share specific information about Russian activities. “The administration is very, very concerned—this is the most concerned I’ve heard them about Russia in a really, really long time,” one diplomat told Natasha Bertrand, Jim Sciutto, and Kylie Atwood of CNN. “I wouldn’t underestimate this. They’re doing a massive outreach to raise awareness….”

The administration is also trying to deescalate the tensions between Russia and Ukraine.

Earlier this month, Biden sent a team of senior U.S. officials, led by CIA Director William J. Burns, to Russia to meet with officials there. After the meeting, Burns called Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky to assure him of U.S. support. The U.S. also made it a point to have Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, Dr. Karen Donfried, visit Kyiv “to reaffirm our strategic partnership, the U.S. commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and cooperation to advance Ukraine’s Euro-Atlantic integration.”

In his own meeting with Ukraine officials today, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan “emphasized the United States’ unwavering commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

The struggle between the U.S. and Russia about Ukraine’s future is a proxy war between authoritarianism and democracy.

Ukraine was part of the USSR until the USSR fell apart in 1991. After that, Ukraine remained under the sway of the Russian oligarchs who rose to replace the region’s communist leaders, monopolizing formerly publicly held industries as those industries were privatized.

In 2004, a Russian-backed politician, Viktor Yanukovych, appeared to be elected president of Ukraine. But Yanukovych was rumored to have ties to organized crime, and the election was so full of fraud—including the poisoning of a key rival who wanted to break ties with Russia and align Ukraine with Europe—that the government voided the election and called for a do-over. Yanukovych needed a makeover fast, and for that he called on a political consultant with a reputation for making unsavory characters palatable to the media: Paul Manafort, the same man who went on to lead Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.

For ten years, from 2004 to 2014, Manafort worked for Yanukovych and his party, trying to make what the U.S. State Department called a party of “mobsters and oligarchs” look legitimate. In 2010, Yanukovych finally won the presidency on a platform of rejecting the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), through which Europe and the U.S. joined together to oppose first the USSR, and then the rising threat of Russia. Immediately, Yanukovych turned Ukraine toward Russia. In 2014, after months of popular protests, Ukrainians ousted Yanukovych from power in what is known as the Revolution of Dignity. He fled to Russia.

Shortly after Yanukovych’s ouster, Russia invaded Ukraine’s Crimea and annexed it, prompting the United States and the European Union to impose economic sanctions on Russia itself and also on specific Russian businesses and oligarchs, prohibiting them from doing business in U.S. territories. These sanctions have crippled Russia and frozen the assets of key Russian oligarchs, including Russian president Vladimir Putin.

Desperate to get the sanctions lifted, Putin helped get Trump elected, and American policy swung his way as Trump attacked NATO and the European Union, weakened our ties to our traditional European allies, and threatened to withdraw our support for Ukraine.

Now, though, the Biden administration has renewed support for Ukraine and its move toward stronger ties to NATO and the European Union, while it is also cracking down on the cybercrime that has enhanced Russian power.

So, with Germany’s Angela Merkel finishing up her career, France’s Emmanuel Macron five months out from an election, and Biden trying to deal with an insurrection, it is not a bad time for Putin to test NATO’s resolve and see if it will, indeed, hang together against his expansion.

Horrifically, to destabilize the EU and NATO further, Russia and its ally Belarus are weaponizing migrants.

According to Elisabeth Braw, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute who is a specialist on the region, Belarus officials are promising people eager to leave the Middle East that they can move easily from Belarus to Poland or other EU countries. (Belarus is currently running 55 “tourist” flights a week from the Middle East.) Once the migrants arrive in Minsk, officials push them across the borders of neighboring EU countries Poland, Latvia, and Lithuania, which try to force them back, creating a humanitarian crisis in what are now freezing conditions.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko are well aware that migrants spark right-wing opposition: Hungary’s Viktor Orbán and America’s Donald Trump both took power by inflaming fears of migrants. Lukashenko vowed to “flood the EU with migrants and drugs,” this May after the outcry when he downed a plane crossing Belarusian territory in order to abduct dissident journalist Roman Protasevich and his girlfriend Sofia Sapega.

“This is not normal asylum seekers, that seek the protection of Europe fleeing war, dictatorship. These are groups of people that are flown to Minsk, they are put in buses, they are escorted by Belarusian police and special forces, pushed to the border and pushed into the European Union,” European Commission Vice President Margaritis Schinas told CNN’s Becky Anderson today. “This is not a normal migratory movement. This is a hybrid attack.”

Poland is a NATO country, as are the Baltic countries of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia, and much of this chaos appears to be taking place in a narrow sliver of Poland known as the Suwalki Gap that separates Belarus from the Russian territory of Kaliningrad. Mark Hertling, Commanding General of United States Army Europe and the Seventh Army from March 2011 to November 2012, tweeted that “any misstep by . . .

Continue reading. There’s more, and it’s worth reading.

Written by Leisureguy

11 November 2021 at 9:01 am

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