Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for the ‘Military’ Category

The Woman Whose Invention Helped Win a War — and Still Baffles Weathermen

leave a comment »

Our common culture has long had a blind spot regarding women — their identity, experience, and achievements — and to some extent it is an active blind spot, in which some efforts are made to hide and erase knowledge of women’s accomplishments and women’s valid experience (cf. Harvey Weinstein and how culture covered for his offenses).

Irena Fischer-Hwang writes in Smithsonian Magazine:

On June 4, 2013, the city of Huntsville, Alabama was enjoying a gorgeous day. Blue skies, mild temperatures. Just what the forecasters had predicted.

But in the post-lunch hours, meteorologists started picking up what seemed to be a rogue thunderstorm on the weather radar. The “blob,” as they referred to it, mushroomed on the radar screen. By 4 PM, it covered the entire city of Huntsville. Strangely, however, the actual view out of peoples’ windows remained a calm azure.

The source of the blob turned out to be not a freak weather front, but rather a cloud of radar chaff, a military technology used by nations all across the globe today. Its source was the nearby Redstone Arsenal, which, it seems, had decided that a warm summer’s day would be perfect for a completely routine military test.

More surprising than the effect that radar chaff has on modern weather systems, though, is the fact that its inventor’s life’s work was obscured by the haze of a male-centric scientific community’s outdated traditions.

The inventor of radar chaff was a woman named Joan Curran.

Born Joan Strothers and raised in Swansea on the coast of Wales, she matriculated at the University of Cambridge’s Newnham College in 1934. Strothers studied physics on a full scholarship and enjoyed rowing in her spare time. Upon finishing her degree requirements in 1938, she went to the University’s preeminent Cavendish Laboratory to begin a doctorate in physics.

At the Cavendish, Strothers was assigned to work with a young man named Samuel Curran. For two years, Strothers got along swimmingly with her new lab partner. But with international conflict brewing in Europe, in 1940 the pair was transferred twice to work on military research, and ended up at Exeter.

There, the two developed proximity fuses to destroy enemy planes and rockets. There also, Strothers married Sam and took on his last name, becoming Joan Curran. Shortly after their wedding in November, the Currans transferred to the Telecommunications Research Establishment (TRE) in the autumn of 1940. Curran joined a team led by British physicist and scientific military intelligence expert R.V. Jones that was developing a method to conceal aircraft from enemy radar detection.

The idea, Jones later explained in his book Most Secret War, was simple. Radar detectors measure the reflection of radio waves of a certain wavelength off of incoming objects. As it turns out, thin metal strips can resonate with incoming waves, and also re-radiate the waves. Under the right conditions, the re-radiated waves create the sonic impression of a large object when in reality, there is none—hence, the blob in Alabama.

This property means that a few hundred thin reflectors could, together, reflect as much energy as a heavy British bomber plane would. A collection of strips might conceal the exact location of an aircraft during a raid behind a large cloud of signal, or even lead the enemy to believe they were observing a major attack when in reality, there was only one or two planes.

By the time Pearl Harbor was attacked in 1941, Curran was nearly a year into painstaking experiments on using metals to reflect radar signals. She had tried a seemingly countless number of sizes and shapes, from singular wires to metal leaflets the size of notebook paper. The leaflets had been a particularly interesting idea, since they could do double-duty as propaganda sheets with text printed on them.

In 1942, Curran finally settled on reflectors that were about 25 centimeters long and 1.5 centimeters wide. The reflectors were aluminized paper strips bundled into one-pound packets and intended to be thrown out of the leading aircraft. When defenestrated from a stream of bombers once every minute, they could produce “the radar equivalent of a smokescreen,” according to Jones.

In 1943, the reflector strips were put to a serious military test when the Allies launched Operation Gomorrah on Hamburg, Germany. Operation Gomorrah was a brutal campaign of air raids that lasted over a week, destroyed most of the city and resulted in almost 40,000 civilian deaths. But with rates of only 12 aircraft losses out of 791 on one evening’s bombing raid, the campaign was a major victory for the Allies, in large part due to Curran’s reflectors.

Perhaps most notably, radar chaff was used as part of a large-scale, elaborate diversion on June 5, 1944 to prevent German forces from knowing exactly where the Allied invasion into Nazi-held continental Europe would begin. Deployed on the eve of what would become known as D-Day, two radar chaff drops, Operations Taxable and Glimmer, were combined with hundreds of dummy parachutists to draw German attention towards the northernmost parts of France, and away from the beaches of Normandy.

Curran went on to work on . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Later in the article:

“We don’t know how many women were working in the labs of famous male scientists, or how many discoveries women contributed to, because for centuries men did a very good job hiding the achievements of women,” Wade remarked in an email.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 January 2021 at 9:45 am

Insurrection Timeline – First the Coup and Then the Cover-Up

leave a comment »

Steven Harper writes at Moyers on Democracy:

The Department of Defense’s January 8, 2021 press release purports to “memorialize the planning and execution timeline” of the deadly insurrection that it calls the “January 6, 2021 First Amendment Protests in Washington, DC.”*

The memo’s minute-by-minute account creates a false illusion of transparency. In truth, its most noteworthy aspects are the omission of Trump’s central role in the insurrection and the effort to shift blame away from Trump and his new Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller.

Who is Christopher Miller?

By November 9, every news organization declared that former Vice President Joe Biden had won the election. On that day, Trump fired Acting Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and replaced him with Miller, an Army retiree who worked for a defense contractor until Trump tapped him as his assistant in 2018. Miller’s promotion began a departmental regime change that embedded three fierce Trump loyalists as top Defense Department officials: Kash Patel (former aide to Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA)), retired army Gen. Anthony Tata (pro-Trump Fox News pundit) and Ezra Cohen-Watnick (former assistant to Trump’s first national security adviser, Mike Flynn).

At such a late date in Trump’s presidency, many asked why the shake-up at the Department of Defense? We may be learning the answer.

Prior to the Attack

The department’s January 8, 2021 memo ignores Trump’s central role in igniting and then encouraging the January 6 insurrection. In fact, the only reference to Trump appears in a January 3 entry, when Miller and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Milley meet with him and he concurs in activation of the DC National Guard “to support law enforcement.”

Other than that, Trump is conspicuously absent, along with the most important parts of the story. In the date and time entries that follow, only those in italics and preceded with “(DoD Memo)” summarize items from the Defense Department’s January 8 memorandum. The memo ignores every other fact set forth in this post.

Dec. 19, 2020: Trump tweets: “Big protest in D.C. on January 6th. Be there, will be wild!”

Jan. 3, 2021: Replying to a tweet from one of the rally organizers, Trump tweets: “I will be there. Historic day.”

Jan. 4: The National Park Service increases the crowd estimate on the January 6 rally permit to 30,000 — up from the original 5,000 in December.

January 6, 2021:

8:17 a.m.: Trump tweets: “States want to correct their votes, which they now know were based on irregularities and fraud, plus corrupt process never received legislative approval. All Mike Pence has to do is send them back to the States, AND WE WIN. Do it Mike, this is a time for extreme courage!”

Noon: Trump begins to address the mob and continues speaking for more than 90 minutes.

  • “We will never give up. We will never concede. It doesn’t happen. You don’t concede when there’s theft involved.”
  • “We won this election, and we won it by a landslide. This was not a close election.”
  • “I hope Mike is going to do the right thing. I hope so. I hope so, because if Mike Pence does the right thing, we win the election. All Vice President Pence has to do is send it back to the states to recertify, and we become president, and you are the happiest people.”

1:00 p.m.: While Trump continues his rant to the mob, some members of Trump’s crowd have already reached the US Capitol Building where Congress assembles in joint session to certify President-elect Joe Biden’s victory. An initial wave of protesters storms the outer barricade west of the Capitol Building. As the congressional proceedings begin, Pence reads a letter saying that he won’t intervene in Congress’s electoral count: “My oath to support and defend the Constitution constrains me from claiming unilateral authority.”

1:10 p.m.: Trump ends his speech by urging his followers to march down Pennsylvania Avenue. “We’re going to the Capitol. We’re going to try and give them [Republicans] the kind of pride and boldness that they need to take back our country…If you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.”

The Attack

If the District of Columbia were a state, its governor alone could have deployed the National Guard to crush the riot. Instead, Trump and his Defense Department had that responsibility, and an unprecedented assault on a sacred institution of government succeeded, if only for a few hours.

(DoD Memo) 1:26 p.m.: The Capitol Police orders the evacuation of the Capitol complex.

1:30 p.m.: The crowd outside the building grows larger, eventually overtaking the Capitol Police and making its way up the Capitol steps. Suspicious packages — later confirmed to be pipe bombs — are found at Republican National Committee headquarters and Democratic National Committee headquarters in Washington.

(DoD Memo) 1:34 p.m.: DC Mayor Muriel Bowser asks Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy — who reports to Miller — for more federal help to deal with the mob.

Bowser is told that the request must first come from the Capitol Police.

(DoD Memo) 1:49 p.m.: The Capitol Police chief asks the commanding general of the DC National Guard for immediate assistance.

2:15 p.m.: Trump’s mob breaches the Capitol building – breaking windows, climbing inside and opening doors for others to follow.

(DoD Memo) 2:22 p.m.: Army Secretary McCarthy discusses the situation at the Capitol with Mayor Bowser and her staff.

They are begging for additional National Guard assistance. Note the time. It’s been almost an hour since Bowser requested help.

2:24 p.m.: Trump tweets: “Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution, giving States a chance to certify a corrected set of facts, not the fraudulent or inaccurate ones which they were asked to previously certify. USA demands the truth!”

After erecting a gallows on the Capitol grounds, the mob shouts, “Hang Mike Pence.” Rioters create another noose from a camera cord seized during an attack on an onsite news team.

2:26 p.m.: Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund joins a conference call with several officials from the DC government, as well as officials from the Pentagon, including Lt. Gen. Walter E. Piatt, director of the Army Staff. Piatt later issues a statement denying the statements attributed to him.

“I am making an urgent, urgent immediate request for National Guard assistance,” Sund says. “I have got to get boots on the ground.”

The DC contingent is flabbergasted when Piatt says that he could not recommend that his boss, Army Secretary McCarthy, approve the request. “I don’t like the visual of the National Guard standing a police line with the Capitol in the background,” Piatt says. Again and again, Sund says that the situation is dire.

(DoD Memo) 2:30 p.m.: Miller, Army Secretary McCarthy and the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff meet to discuss Mayor Bowser’s request.

(DoD Memo) 3:04 p.m.: Miller gives “verbal approval” to full mobilization of the DC National Guard (1,100 members).

It has now been more than 90 minutes since Mayor Bowser first asked Army Secretary McCarthy for assistance. It took an hour for Defense Department officials to meet and another half hour for them to decide to help. And Bowser still doesn’t know the status of her request.

(DoD Memo) 3:19 p.m.: Pelosi and Schumer call Army Secretary McCarthy, who says that Bowser’s request has now been approved.

(DoD Memo) 3:26 p.m.: Army Secretary McCarthy calls Bowser to tell her that her request for help has been approved.

The Defense Department’s notification of approval to Bowser came two hours after her request.

While Miller and his team were slow-walking Mayor Bowser’s request, she had sought National Guard assistance from Virginia Governor Ralph Northam (D) and Maryland Governor Larry Hogan (R). At about the same time, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) called Northam directly for help and he agreed.

3:29 p.m.: Gov. Northam announces mobilization of Virginia’s National Guard. But there’s a hitch. Federal law requires Defense Department authorization before any state’s National Guard can cross the state border onto federal land in DC. That approval doesn’t come until almost two hours later.FBI report warned of ‘war’ at Capitol, contradicting claims there was no indication of looming violence

(DoD Memo) 3:47 p.m. Governor Hogan mobilizes his state’s National Guard and 200 state troopers.

The Defense Department “repeatedly denies” Hogan’s request to deploy the National Guard at the Capitol. As he awaits approval, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) calls Hogan from the undisclosed bunker to which he, Speaker Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) have been evacuated. Hoyer pleads for assistance, saying that the Capitol Police is overwhelmed and there is no federal law enforcement presence.

4:17 p.m.: Trump tweets a video telling rioters, . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Also of interest: “FBI report warned of ‘war’ at Capitol, contradicting claims there was no indication of looming violence,” a report in the Washington Post. Republicans in general, and particularly those who supported the Trump administration prior to the uprising (that is, almost all Republicans), are frantically trying to hide or minimize their involvement and support of the insurrection, including making the ludicrous claim that those storming the Capitol were not Trump supports but Antifa members disguised as Trump supporters.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 January 2021 at 12:08 pm

Report from a toxic work culture: “How I Managed My Mental Illness as a Career Military Officer”

with 2 comments

Stephen Chamberlin writes in Medium:

Zero Defect? Really? Really.

Hidden in Plain Sight

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 January 2021 at 2:51 pm

How to Get Rich Sabotaging Nuclear Weapons Facilities

leave a comment »

Matt Stoller writes in BIG:

Happy new year. Today I’m going to write about the Russian hack of American nuclear facilities, and why a billionaire private equity executive just profiled in the Wall Street Journal as a dealmaker extraordinaire is responsible. Plus some short blurbs on:

  • The Problem with Amazon competitor Shopify
  • Ticketmaster’s Grotesque Settlement with the Department of Justice
  • Economists Non-Surprising But Important Findings about Debt-Fueled Private Equity and Covid
  • Big Tech and Diversity
  • Appliance Parts Monopolization?

Happy New Year! The password is 12345

My Password Is “Password”

Roughly a month ago, the premier cybersecurity firm FireEye warned authorities that it had been penetrated by Russian hackers, who made off with critical tools it used to secure the facilities of corporations and governments around the world.

The victims are the most important institutional power centers in America, from the FBI to the Department of Treasury to the Department of Commerce, as well as private sector giants Cisco Systems, Intel, Nvidia, accounting giant Deloitte, California hospitals, and thousands of others. As more information comes out about what happened, the situation looks worse and worse. Russians got access to Microsoft’s source code and into the Federal agency overseeing America’s nuclear stockpile. They may have inserted code into the American electrical grid, or acquired sensitive tax information or important technical and political secrets.

Cybersecurity is a very weird area, mostly out of sight yet potentially very deadly. Anonymous groups can turn off power plants, telecom grids, or disrupt weapons labs, as Israel did when it used a cyber-weapon to cripple Iranian nuclear facilities in 2010. Bank regulators have to now consult with top military leaders about whether deposit insurance covers incidents where hackers destroy all bank records, and what that would mean operationally. It’s not obvious whether this stuff is war or run-of-the-mill espionage, but everyone knows that the next war will be chock full of new tactics based on hacking the systems of one’s adversary, perhaps using code placed in those systems during peacetime.

And that makes this hack quite scary, even if we don’t see the effect right now. Mark Warner, one of the smarter Democratic Senators and the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, said “This is looking much, much worse than I first feared,” also noting “The size of it keeps expanding.” Political leaders are considering reprisals against Russia, though it’s likely they will not engage in much retaliation we can see on the surface. It’s the biggest hack since 2016, when an unidentified group stole the National Security Agency’s “crown jewels” spy tools. It is, as Wired put it, a “historic mess.”

There is a lot of finger-pointing going on in D.C. and in cybersecurity circles about what happened and why. There are all of the standard questions that military and cyber lawyers love, like whether this hack is war, espionage, or something legally ambiguous. Policymakers are revisiting the longstanding policy of having the National Security Agency focus on offensive hacking instead of securing defensive capacity.

The most interesting part of the cybersecurity problem is that it isn’t purely about government capacity at all; private sector corporations maintain critical infrastructure that is in the “battle space.” Private firms like Microsoft are being heavily scrutinized; I had one guest-post from last January on why the firm doesn’t manage its security problems particularly well, and another on how it is using its market power to monopolize the cybersecurity market with subpar products. And yet these companies have no actual public obligations, or at least, nothing formal. They are for-profit entities with little liability for the choices they make that might impose costs onto others.

Indeed, cybersecurity risk is akin to pollution, a cost that the business itself doesn’t fully bear, but that the rest of society does. The private role in cybersecurity is now brushing up against the libertarian assumptions of much of the policymaking world; national security in a world where private software companies handle national defense simply cannot long co-exist with our monopoly and financier-dominated corporate apparatus.

All of which brings me to what I think is the most compelling part of this story. The point of entry for this major hack was not Microsoft, but a private equity-owned IT software firm called SolarWinds. This company’s products are dominant in their niche; 425 out of the Fortune 500 use Solar Winds. As Reuters reported about the last investor call in October, the CEO told analysts that “there was not a database or an IT deployment model out there to which [they] did not provide some level of monitoring or management.” While there is competition in this market, SolarWinds does have market power. IT systems are hard to migrate from, and this lock-in effect means that customers will tolerate price hikes or quality degradation rather than change providers. And it does have a large market share; as the CEO put it, “We manage everyone’s network gear.”

SolarWinds sells a network management package called Orion, and it was through Orion that the Russians invaded these systems, putting malware into updates that the company sent to clients. Now, Russian hackers are extremely sophisticated sleuths, but it didn’t take a genius to hack this company. It’s not just that criminals traded information about how to hack SolarWinds systems; one security researcher alerted the company last year that “anyone could access SolarWinds’ update server by using the password “solarwinds123.’”

Using passwords ripped form the movie Spaceballs is one thing, but it appears that lax security practice at the company was common, systemic, and longstanding. The company puts its engineering in the hands of cheaper Eastern Europe coders, where it’s easier for Russian engineers to penetrate their product development. SolarWinds didn’t bother to hire a senior official to focus on security until 2017, and then only after it was forced to do so by European regulations. Even then, SolarWinds CEO, Kevin Thompson, ignored the risk. As the New York Times noted, one security “adviser at SolarWinds, said he warned management that year that unless it took a more proactive approach to its internal security, a cybersecurity episode would be “catastrophic.” The executive in charge of security quit in frustration. Even after the hack, the company continued screwing up; SolarWinds didn’t even stop offering compromised software for several days after it was discovered.

This level of idiocy seems off-the-charts, but it’s not that the CEO is stupid. Far from it. “Employees say that under Mr. Thompson,” the Times continued, “an accountant by training and a former chief financial officer, every part of the business was examined for cost savings and common security practices were eschewed because of their expense.” The company’s profit tripled from 2010 to 2019. Thompson calculated that his business could run more profitably if it chose to open its clients to hacking risk, and he was right.

And yet, not every software firm operates like SolarWinds. Most seek to make money, but few do so with such a combination of malevolence, greed, and idiocy. What makes SolarWinds different? The answer is the specific financial model that has invaded the software industry over the last fifteen years, a particularly virulent strain of recklessness typically called private equity.

I’ve written a lot about private equity. By ‘private equity,’ I mean financial engineers, financiers who raise large amounts of money and borrow even more to buy firms and loot them. These kinds of private equity barons aren’t specialists who help finance useful products and services, they do cookie cutter deals targeting firms they believe have market power to raise prices, who can lay off workers or sell assets, and/or have some sort of legal loophole advantage. Often they will destroy the underlying business. The giants of the industry, from Blackstone to Apollo, are the children of 1980s junk bond king and fraudster Michael Milken. They are essentially are super-sized mobsters who burn down businesses for the insurance money.

In private equity takeovers of software, the gist is the same, with the players a bit different. It’s not Apollo and Blackstone, it’s Vista Equity Partners, Thomas Bravo, and Silver Lake, but it’s the same cookie cutter style deal flow, the same financing arrangements, and the same business model risks. But in this case, the private equity owner of SolarWinds burned down far more than just the firm.

Arson for Profit

In October, the Wall Street Journal profiled the man who owns SolarWinds, a Puerto Rican-born billionaire named Orlando Bravo of Thomas Bravo partners. Bravo’s PR game is solid; he was photographed beautifully, a slightly greying fit man with a blue shirt and off-white rugged pants in front of modern art, a giant vase and fireplace in the background of what is obviously a fantastically expensive apartment. Though it was mostly a puff piece of a silver fox billionaire, the article did describe Bravo’s business model.

Thoma Bravo identifies software companies with a loyal customer base but middling profits and transforms them into moneymaking engines by retooling pricing, shutting down unprofitable business lines and adding employees in cheaper labor markets.

The firm then guides its companies to use the profits they generate to do add-on acquisitions, snapping up smaller rivals with offerings that they could spend months and millions of dollars trying to replicate.

As I put it at the time, Bravo’s business model is to buy niche software companies, combine them with competitors, offshore work, cut any cost he can, and raise prices. The investment thesis is clear: power. Software companies have immense pricing power over their customers, which means they can raise prices to locked-in customers, or degrade quality (which is the same thing in terms of the economics of the firm). As Robert Smith, one of his competitors in the software PE game, put it, “Software contracts are better than first-lien debt. You realize a company will not pay the interest payment on their first lien until after they pay their software maintenance or subscription fee. We get paid our money first. Who has the better credit? He can’t run his business without our software.”

SolarWinds represents this thesis perfectly. The company was . ..

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 January 2021 at 11:20 am

The Endgame of the Reagan Revolution

leave a comment »

Heather Cox Richardson writes a good summary of modern American political history:

And so, we are at the end of a year that has brought a presidential impeachment trial, a deadly pandemic that has killed more than 338,000 of us, a huge social movement for racial justice, a presidential election, and a president who has refused to accept the results of that election and is now trying to split his own political party.

It’s been quite a year.

But I had a chance to talk with history podcaster Bob Crawford of the Avett Brothers yesterday, and he asked a more interesting question. He pointed out that we are now twenty years into this century, and asked what I thought were the key changes of those twenty years. I chewed on this question for awhile and also asked readers what they thought. Pulling everything together, here is where I’ve come out.

In America, the twenty years since 2000 have seen the end game of the Reagan Revolution, begun in 1980.

In that era, political leaders on the right turned against the principles that had guided the country since the 1930s, when Democratic President Franklin Delano Roosevelt guided the nation out of the Great Depression by using the government to stabilize the economy. During the Depression and World War Two, Americans of all parties had come to believe the government had a role to play in regulating the economy, providing a basic social safety net and promoting infrastructure.

But reactionary businessmen hated regulations and the taxes that leveled the playing field between employers and workers. They called for a return to the pro-business government of the 1920s, but got no traction until the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision, when the Supreme Court, under the former Republican governor of California, Earl Warren, unanimously declared racial segregation unconstitutional. That decision, and others that promoted civil rights, enabled opponents of the New Deal government to attract supporters by insisting that the country’s postwar government was simply redistributing tax dollars from hardworking white men to people of color.

That argument echoed the political language of the Reconstruction years, when white southerners insisted that federal efforts to enable formerly enslaved men to participate in the economy on terms equal to white men were simply a redistribution of wealth, because the agents and policies required to achieve equality would cost tax dollars and, after the Civil War, most people with property were white. This, they insisted, was “socialism.”

To oppose the socialism they insisted was taking over the East, opponents of black rights looked to the American West. They called themselves Movement Conservatives, and they celebrated the cowboy who, in their inaccurate vision, was a hardworking white man who wanted nothing of the government but to be left alone to work out his own future. In this myth, the cowboys lived in a male-dominated world, where women were either wives and mothers or sexual playthings, and people of color were savage or subordinate.

With his cowboy hat and western ranch, Reagan deliberately tapped into this mythology, as well as the racism and sexism in it, when he promised to slash taxes and regulations to free individuals from a grasping government. He promised that cutting taxes and regulations would expand the economy. As wealthy people—the “supply side” of the economy– regained control of their capital, they would invest in their businesses and provide more jobs. Everyone would make more money.

From the start, though, his economic system didn’t work. Money moved upward, dramatically, and voters began to think the cutting was going too far. To keep control of the government, Movement Conservatives at the end of the twentieth century ramped up their celebration of the individualist white American man, insisting that America was sliding into socialism even as they cut more and more domestic programs, insisting that the people of color and women who wanted the government to address inequities in the country simply wanted “free stuff.” They courted social conservatives and evangelicals, promising to stop the “secularization” they saw as a partner to communism.

After the end of the Fairness Doctrine in 1987, talk radio spread the message that Black and Brown Americans and “feminazis” were trying to usher in socialism. In 1996, that narrative got a television channel that personified the idea of the strong man with subordinate women. The Fox News Channel told a story that reinforced the Movement Conservative narrative daily until it took over the Republican Party entirely.

The idea that people of color and women were trying to undermine society was enough of a rationale to justify keeping them from the vote, especially after Democrats passed the Motor Voter law in 1993, making it easier for poor people to register to vote. In 1997, Florida began the process of purging voter rolls of Black voters.

And so, 2000 came.

In that year, the presidential election came down to the electoral votes in Florida. Democratic candidate Al Gore won the popular vote by more than 540,000 votes over Republican candidate George W. Bush, but Florida would decide the election. During the required recount, Republican political operatives led by Roger Stone descended on the election canvassers in Miami-Dade County to stop the process. It worked, and the Supreme Court upheld the end of the recount. Bush won Florida by 537 votes and, thanks to its electoral votes, became president. Voter suppression was a success, and Republicans would use it, and after 2010, gerrymandering, to keep control of the government even as they lost popular support.

Bush had promised to unite the country, but his installation in the White House gave new power to the ideology of the Movement Conservative leaders of the Reagan Revolution. He inherited a budget surplus from his predecessor Democrat Bill Clinton, but immediately set out to get rid of it by cutting taxes. A balanced budget meant money for regulation and social programs, so it had to go. From his term onward, Republicans would continue to cut taxes even as budgets operated in the red, the debt climbed, and money moved upward.

The themes of Republican dominance and tax cuts were the backdrop of the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001. That attack gave the country’s leaders a sense of mission after the end of the Cold War and, after launching a war in Afghanistan to stop al-Qaeda, they set out to export democracy to Iraq. This had been a goal for Republican leaders since the Clinton administration, in the belief that the United States needed to spread capitalism and democracy in its role as a world leader. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq strengthened the president and the federal government, creating the powerful Department of Homeland Security, for example, and leading Bush to assert the power of the presidency to interpret laws through signing statements.

The association of the Republican Party with patriotism enabled Republicans in this era to call for increased spending for the military and continued tax cuts, while attacking Democratic calls for domestic programs as wasteful. Increasingly, Republican media personalities derided those who called for such programs as dangerous, or anti-American.

But while Republicans increasingly looked inward to their party as the only real Americans and asserted power internationally, changes in technology were making the world larger. The Internet put the world at our fingertips and enabled researchers to decode the human genome, revolutionizing medical science. Smartphones both made communication easy. Online gaming created communities and empathy. And as many Americans were increasingly embracing rap music and tattoos and LGBTQ rights, as well as recognizing increasing inequality, books were pointing to the dangers of the power concentrating at the top of societies. In 1997, J.K. Rowling began her exploration of the rise of authoritarianism in her wildly popular Harry Potter books, but her series was only the most famous of a number of books in which young people conquered a dystopia created by adults.

In Bush’s second term, his ideology created a perfect storm. His . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

The Twelfth Day of Christmas may be very bad

leave a comment »

January 6 is the Twelfth Day of Christmas, ending the Christmas season with the Feast of the Epiphany, commemorating the anniversary of the visit of the Three Magi to view the infant Jesus. This year the date may have a grimmer outcome. David Troy comments on Facebook:

It looks like we have a serious problem emerging. There is a gap between what intelligence analysts and government officials are reporting and what journalists are reporting about our current situation. This may be a potentially catastrophic “failure of imagination” that may lead to dangerous and unpredictable outcomes.

Washington Post’s columnist, the intelligence analyst David Ignatius, shares with increasing alarm that Trump loyalist Kash Patel, recently installed at the Pentagon, may replace Wray at FBI. This may stall important investigations and also threaten intelligence dumps intended to harm political enemies and/or protect allies.

Most alarmingly, he reports that Ezra Cohen-Watnick, whom we have been watching and reporting on here, may replace Gen. Paul Nakasone as head of NSA. This likewise has potential for damaging intelligence dumps.

There is perhaps an unhealthy if understandable focus on the election. There do seem to be efforts to incite violence around DC on January 6th. That violence may spread; it may lead to invocation of the Insurrection Act; there may be calls to invalidate the election and, at Flynn’s urging, re-run the election using “military capabilities.” I rate this as young adult fantasy. The Constitution is clear and the election will not be re-run.

HOWEVER, the actual thing to be on the lookout for here is the final thrust and twist of the knife on the way out the door, and the damage that could ensue. Who benefits? Putin and Trump. Moves that harm the incoming administration’s ability to govern; moves that create chaos and delegitimize American democracy; things that kill Americans through inaction and neglect? All of those things are on the table.

I can’t stress this enough: it’s not about overthrowing the election, it’s about saving face, tearing down as much as possible, creating conditions that favor the maximization of discord and even death.

We have no idea the harms possible with Patel at FBI and with ECW at NSA! The fact that Ignatius is getting the same chatter that we are as lowly OSINT analysts is extremely concerning. The Nashville incident was driven by a 5G fringe lunatic, and is adding momentum to the cult narratives.

We need to close the gap between analysis and reporting immediately and get people within government and media up to speed on the potential for harm here. This is a moment as dangerous as 9/11 (as if every day is not already; difficult to overstate here) and we are suffering from a lack of imagination about what is possible — especially with regards to Iran, as noted by Ignatius. In the end the election is over but there is a high-stakes final roll of the dice. We mustn’t be in denial about the potential for harm.

The article by David Ignatius that Troy references begins:

Not to be alarmist, but we should recognize that the United States will be in the danger zone until the formal certification of Joe Biden’s election victory on Jan. 6, because potential domestic and foreign turmoil could give President Trump an excuse to cling to power.

This threat, while unlikely to materialize, is concerning senior officials, including Republicans who have supported Trump in the past but believe he is now threatening to overstep the constitutional limits on his power. They described a multifaceted campaign by die-hard Trump supporters to use disruptions at home and perhaps threats abroad to advance his interests.

The big showdown is the Jan. 6 gathering of both houses of Congress to formally count the electoral college vote taken on Dec. 14, which Biden won 306 to 232. The certification should be a pro forma event, but a desperate Trump is demanding that House and Senate Republicans challenge the count and block this final, binding affirmation of Biden’s victory before Inauguration Day.

Trump’s last-ditch campaign will almost certainly fail in Congress. The greater danger is on the streets, where pro-Trump forces are already threatening chaos. A pro-Trump group called “Women for America First” has requested a permit for a Jan. 6 rally in Washington, and Trump is already beating the drum: “Big protest in D.C. on January 6th. Be there, will be wild!”

Government officials fear that if violence spreads, Trump could invoke the Insurrection Act to mobilize the military. Then Trump might use “military capabilities” to rerun the Nov. 3 election in swing states, as suggested by Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser. Trump “could take military . . .

Read the whole thing.

Later in the article:

Another strange Pentagon machination was the proposal Miller floated in mid-December to separate the code-breaking National Security Agency from U.S. Cyber Command, which are both currently headed by Gen. Paul Nakasone. That proposal collapsed because of bipartisan congressional opposition.

But why did Trump loyalists suggest the NSA-Cyber Command split in the first place? Some officials speculate that the White House may have planned to install a new NSA chief, perhaps Ezra Cohen-Watnick, the young conservative recently installed to oversee Pentagon intelligence activities.

With firm control of the NSA and the FBI, the Trump team might then disclose highly sensitive information about the origins of the 2016 Trump Russia investigation. Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe tried to release this sensitive intelligence before the election, despite protests from intelligence chiefs that it would severely damage U.S. national security. Trump retreated under pressure from then-Attorney General William P. Barr, among others.

Trump’s final weeks in office will also be a tinder box because of the danger of turmoil abroad. Iranian-backed militias fired more than 20 rockets last Sunday at the U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad, with around nine hitting the compound but inflicting no American casualties. The United States sent intense, high-level messages to Tehran, public and private, warning against any further provocation. The toughest was a Dec. 23 tweet from Trump warning: “If one American is killed, I will hold Iran responsible. Think it over.” State Department and Pentagon officials say Trump’s retaliatory threat is real.

Another potential flash point is just a week away. Jan. 3 marks the first anniversary of the U.S. targeted killing of Quds Force commander Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani and Iraq militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis. Any new violence could . . .

Written by LeisureGuy

27 December 2020 at 7:02 am

Cruel Bombs — Nuclear bombs from various vantages

leave a comment »

Nuclear and thermonuclear bombs are bad to have around. One interesting part of this video are the shots showing the instant of detonation.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 December 2020 at 1:00 pm

Trump Asked About Imposing Martial Law to Run a New Election

leave a comment »

Kevin Drum picks up on something the NY Times seems to view as inconsequential:

Here is the front page of the New York Times at the moment:

Down below the fold, just barely beating out “Biden Introduces His Climate Team,” is a story headlined “Trump Weighed Naming Election Conspiracy Theorist as Special Counsel.” The conspiracy theorist in question is Sidney Powell, who is indeed a complete loon. However, if you click the link and read down to the sixth paragraph, you learn this about Friday’s meeting at the White House:

Ms. Powell’s client, retired Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, the former national security adviser whom the president recently pardoned, was also there….During an appearance on the conservative Newsmax channel this week, Mr. Flynn pushed for Mr. Trump to impose martial law and deploy the military to “rerun” the election. At one point in the meeting on Friday, Mr. Trump asked about that idea.

Now, I’m not a Times editor with decades of experience with this stuff, but doesn’t this seem a wee bit more important than whether a nutter is appointed special counsel for a few weeks? And also perhaps more important than “Britain Tightens Lockdown” at the top of the page?

It does to me! The president of the United States asked a bunch of his advisors about the feasibility of imposing martial law and having the Pentagon run a new election. In other words, staging a military coup. Sure, everyone at the table shot it down, because even Rudy Giuliani isn’t that far gone. But he asked! The president of the United States! What does Trump have to do these days to rate a bigger headline? Invade Canada?

Written by LeisureGuy

19 December 2020 at 8:28 pm

The Republican Party is the party of bad faith

leave a comment »

Heather Cox Richardson writes regarding Friday’s events:

A year ago today, the House of Representatives voted to impeach President Donald J. Trump on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

In his plea to Senators to convict the president, Adam Schiff (D-CA), the lead impeachment manager for the House, warned “you know you can’t trust this president to do what’s right for this country.” Schiff asked: “How much damage can Donald Trump do between now and the next election?” and then answered his own question: “A lot. A lot of damage.” “Can you have the least bit of confidence that Donald Trump will… protect our national interest over his own personal interest?” Schiff asked the senators who were about to vote on Trump’s guilt. “You know you can’t, which makes him dangerous to this country.’’

Republicans took offense at Schiff’s passionate words, seeing them as criticism of themselves. They voted to acquit Trump of the charges the House had levied against him.

And a year later, here we are. A pandemic has killed more than 312,000 of us, and numbers of infections and deaths are spiking. Today we hit a new single-day record of reported coronavirus cases with 246,914, our third daily record in a row. The economy is in shambles, with more than 6 million Americans applying for unemployment benefits. And the government has been hobbled by a massive hack from foreign operatives, likely Russians, who have hit many of our key departments.

Today it began to feel as if the Trump administration was falling apart as journalists began digging into a number of troubling stories.

Acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller, appointed by Trump after he fired Defense Secretary Mark Esper by tweet on November 9, this morning abruptly halted the transition briefings the Pentagon had been providing, as required by law, to the incoming Biden team. Observers were taken aback by this unprecedented halt to the transition process, as well as by the stated excuse: that Defense Department officials were overwhelmed by the number of meetings the transition required. Retired four-star general Barry R. McCaffrey, a military analyst for NBC and MSNBC, tweeted: “Pentagon abruptly halts Biden transition—MAKES NO SENSE. CLAIM THEY ARE OVERWHELMED. DOD GOES OPAQUE. TRUMP-MILLER UP TO NO GOOD. DANGER.”

After Axios published the story and outrage was building, Miller issued a statement saying the two sides had decided on a “mutually-agreed upon holiday, which begins tomorrow.” Biden transition director Yohannes Abraham promptly told reporters: “Let me be clear: there was no mutually agreed upon holiday break. In fact, we think it’s important that briefings and other engagements continue during this period as there’s no time to spare, and that’s particularly true in the aftermath of ascertainment delay,” a reference to the delay in the administration’s recognition of Biden’s election.

Later, the administration suggested the sudden end to the transition briefings was because Trump was angry that the Washington Post on Wednesday had published a story showing how much money Biden could save by stopping the construction of Trump’s border wall. Anger over a story from two days ago seems like a stretch, a justification after the briefings had been cancelled for other reasons. The big story of the day, and the week, and the month, and the year, and probably of this administration, is the sweeping hack of our government by a hostile foreign power. The abrupt end to the briefings might reflect that the administration isn’t keen on giving Biden access to the crime scene.

Republicans appear to be trying to cripple the Biden administration more broadly. The country has been thrilled by the arrival of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine that promises an end to the scourge under which we’re suffering. Just tonight, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized a second vaccine, produced by Moderna, for emergency authorization use. This vaccine does not require ultracold temperatures for shipping the way the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine does. Two vaccines for the coronavirus are extraordinarily good news.

But this week, as the first Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines were being given, states learned that the doses the federal government had promised were not going to arrive, and no one is quite sure why. The government blamed Pfizer, which promptly blasted the government, saying it had plenty of vaccines in warehouses but had received no information about where to send them. Then the White House said there was confusion over scheduling.

Josh Kovensky at Talking Points Memo has been following this story, and concluded a day or so ago that the administration had made no plans for vaccine distribution beyond February 1, when the problem would be Biden’s. Kovensky also noted that it appears the administration promised vaccine distribution on an impossible timeline, deliberately raising hopes for vaccine availability that Biden couldn’t possibly fulfill. Today Kovensky noted that there are apparently doses missing and unaccounted for, but no one seems to know where they might be.

Today suggested yet another instance of Republican bad faith. With Americans hungry and increasingly homeless, the nation is desperate for another coronavirus relief bill. The House passed one last May, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refused to take it up. Throughout the summer and fall, negotiations on a different bill failed as . . .

Continue reading, and read the whole column. The US is sliding into the abyss, pushed along by the GOP.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 December 2020 at 9:29 pm

The end-game seems to be in Russia’s favor

leave a comment »

I blogged earlier about the explicit celebration in Russian media over the damage President Trump has done (and continues to do) to the United States. And Heather Cox Richardson sounds a somber note in her column today in which she reflects on yesterday’s news. I quote from the middle of the column:

. . . The story is getting worse still.

Today CISA said that the hackers used many different tools to get into government systems, taking them into critical infrastructure, which could include the electrical grid, telecommunications companies, defense contractors, and so on. Officials said that the hacks were “a grave risk to the federal government.”

Later in the day, it came out that the Energy Department and the National Nuclear Security Administration, which oversees our nuclear weapons, was also hit, although a Department of Energy spokesperson said that there is no evidence that the hackers breached critical defense systems, including the NNSA.

Microsoft’s president, Brad Smith, today said the company had identified 40 different companies, government agencies, and think tanks the hackers infiltrated, and that those forty were just the tip of the iceberg. Smith said that more companies had been hit than government agencies, “with a big focus on I.T. companies, especially in the security industry.”

The Associated Press quoted a U.S. official as saying: “This is looking like it’s the worst hacking case in the history of America. They got into everything.” Tom Kellermann, the cybersecurity strategy chief of the software company VMware, told Ben Fox of the Associated Press that the hackers could now see everything in the federal agencies they’ve hacked, and that, now that they have been found out, “there is viable concern that they might leverage destructive attacks within these agencies.”

It is not clear yet how far the hackers have penetrated, and we will likely not know for months. But given the fact they have had access to our systems since March and have almost certainly been planting new ways into them (known as “back doors”), all assumptions are that this is serious indeed.

Initially, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo downplayed the attack, saying that such attacks are common and that China, not Russia, is the biggest offender. Trump has said nothing about the attacks, and administration officials say that they are simply planning to hand the crisis off to Biden.

But this attack does not come out of the blue for the Trump administration. There was discussion of strengthening our security systems against attackers after the 2016 election, and on July 9, 2017, Trump suggested we would partner with Russia to address the issue. “Putin & I discussed forming an impenetrable Cyber Security unit so that election hacking, & many other negative things, will be guarded,” he tweeted.

Congress instead created the CISA within the Department of Homeland Security in 2018 to protect against precisely the sort of attack which has just occurred, shortly after Russia hacked our electrical grid, including “multiple organizations in the energy, nuclear, water, aviation, construction, and critical manufacturing sectors,” according to the FBI and Department of Homeland Security report.

In response to the Russian attack, the U.S. hit Russia’s electrical grid in June 2019.

And then — and note this especially:

Since then, administration officials have deliberately forced out of CISA key cybersecurity officials. The destruction was so widespread, according to Dr. Josephine Wolff, a professor of cybersecurity policy at Tufts University’s Fletcher School who holds her PhD from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), “they signify the systematic decimation of the personnel most directly responsible for protecting critical infrastructure, shielding our elections from interference and guarding the White House’s data, devices and networks.”

Almost exactly a year ago, on December 19, 2019, Wolff warned in the New York Times that “As we head into 2020, worrying about the integrity of our elections, the growing scourge of ransomware and the increasingly sophisticated forms of cyberespionage and cybersabotage being developed by our adversaries, it’s disconcerting to feel that many of our government’s best cybersecurity minds are walking out the front door and leaving behind too few people to monitor what’s coming in our back doors.”

Just a month ago, Trump continued this process, firing Christopher Krebs, the former director of CISA, on November 18, saying he was doing so because Krebs defended the 2020 election as “the most secure in American history.” Krebs said that there “is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised.”

Read the whole column and reflect on it. And this morning Mike Allen and Jonathan Swan report in Axios:

Acting Defense Secretary Chris Miller ordered a Pentagon-wide halt to cooperation with the transition of President-elect Biden, shocking officials across the Defense Department, senior administration officials tell Axios.

The latest: Biden transition director Yohannes Abraham contradicted the Pentagon’s official response to this story on Friday afternoon, telling reporters, “Let me be clear: there was no mutually agreed upon holiday break.”

  • “In fact, we think it’s important that briefings and other engagements continue during this period as there’s no time to spare, and that’s particularly true in the aftermath of ascertainment delay,” Abraham continued, referring to the Trump administration’s delay in recognizing Biden as president-elect.
  • Miller had said in a statement following the publication of this story: “At no time has the Department cancelled or declined any interview. … After the mutually-agreed upon holiday, which begins tomorrow, we will continue with the transition and rescheduled meetings from today.”

Behind the scenes: Trump administration officials left open the possibility cooperation would resume after a holiday pause. The officials were unsure what prompted Miller’s action, or whether President Trump approved.

Why it matters: Miller’s move, which stunned officials throughout the Pentagon, was the biggest eruption yet of animus and mistrust toward the Biden team from the top level of the Trump administration.

  • Fury at the Biden team among senior Pentagon officials escalated after the Washington Post published a story on Wednesday night revealing how much money would be saved if Biden halted construction of Trump’s border wall.
  • Trump officials blame the leak on the Biden transition team (Though, it should be noted, they have no evidence of this, and both reporters on the byline cover the Trump administration and have historically been prolific beneficiaries of leaks.)

What happened: Meetings between President Trump’s team and the Biden team are going on throughout the government, after a delayed start as the administration dragged its feet on officially recognizing Biden as president-elect.

  • Then on Thursday night, Miller — who was appointed Nov. 9, when Trump fired Defense Secretary Mark Esper right after the election — ordered officials throughout the building to cancel scheduled transition meetings.

A senior Defense Department official sought . . .

Continue reading.

This all seems quite ominous, particularly since many Republicans (including the White Supremacist wing and President Trump) continue to dispute that Joe Biden is the President-Elect, despite having previously said that they would accept only the decision of the Electoral College. When that decision did not go the way they wanted, they promptly reneged. They are not to be trusted because they so consistently lie.

December 21 seems to be a date that holds a special fascination for them — the winter solstice plus the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn (an unusual astronomical event) plus Trump’s time in office is running out and on that date he will have less than a month left to screw things up for his successor (or, as he undoubtedly sees it, for the person who humiliated him). And in the meantime the daily death toll in the US continues to climb. (That little downturn is an artifact of reports delayed by the Thanksgiving holiday. You can see how the catch-up continued the trend line upward.) The chart shows a 7-day rolling average of deaths per million. The US current death rate is greater than in the earlier peak.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 December 2020 at 11:34 am

David Troy on Trump’s current coup effort

leave a comment »

A Facebook post by David Troy:

The coup against the intelligence community and military is advancing as anticipated. Last night, Chris Krebs of the DHS Cyberintelligence Security Agency, the group that protected the election and which has verified its integrity, angering Trump, was finally actually fired.

Acting Secretary of Defense Miller has now ordered troop drawdowns in Afghanistan, Somalia, South Korea and Germany. However you may feel about American military presence in those places, under no circumstances is it appropriate to rush those actions in the context of a transition, leaving a mess for the next administration, abandoning allies in the process.

We continue to see a clear intention to fire Haspel, Wray, and Barr, all of whom are blocking the release of sensitive intel that the administration (and Russia) wish to release as a political weapon, and to try to erase evidence of Russian involvement in the 2016 election. Nakasone may also be a target but he has not yet been as consistently named; Flynn stooge Michael Ellis is general counsel at NSA however and that may be sufficient to effect compromise there; we don’t know.

It appears that Roger Stone and Jason Sullivan have been collaborating with Ezra Cohen Watnick since at least January to leak secret information out through social media channels and through the QAnon psyop. On Sunday, national security attorney Mark Zaid (Cohen-Watnick’s attorney) denied to us that Ezra was running this operation himself, and Zaid claims not to know who Jason Sullivan is. We have information that suggests Zaid may be being misled by his client. Sullivan is business partners with former NSA technical director Bill Binney, a major promoter of QAnon content. Sullivan is Stone’s social media guru.

The electoral games being played by the Trump team are desperate and likely to fail. We see little evidence of the social or political capital required to betray the will of the voters. We assess this to be a proforma exercise being done by Trump so he can say he did it.

The threat to the intelligence community, American security, and sources and methods is extremely credible. Newspapers are struggling to cover this because it is hairy and hard to understand; we are briefing multiple outlets and they are doing their best. Sharing our assessment here so as to at least get the word out somewhere.

At root, this moment is payback for the perceived gloating by the west in 1991 after the fall of the USSR. To the extent the KGB, then FSB and GRU, sought revenge against US intel agencies, the Trump presidency was that revenge, and as it draws to a close, this is the culmination. We are getting our intel capacity owned by Russian intel. Paybacks are hell.

Militarily, we are seeing the imposition of a “Eurasianist” worldview envisioned by Russian strategist Aleksandr Dugin, vastly reining in American power overseas; diminishing NATO; crushing the EU; eliminating American presence in Asia, Europe, and the Middle East. This is what they aim to do at least; it remains to be seen if military leaders themselves will go along and how quickly.

Trump is on the way out, but the country Biden inherits may be significantly compromised, and it’s not clear we can do much more than watch as that happens.

This Twitter thread is important:

And read “The Unlikely Origins of Russia’s Manifest Destiny” in Foreign Policy. See also

Written by LeisureGuy

18 November 2020 at 10:23 am

How many state secrets will Trump sell to pay his debts?

leave a comment »

Of course, in the past he has simply given away state secrets — and directly to Russian officials, cutting out any middlemen. But now, with time running out and default drawing closer, it may seem to him a good time to cash in on what he’s learned over the past four years. Bess Levin writes in Vanity Fair:

Despite the fact that Donald Trump and his allies have cranked their delusions re: a second term to an 11, the most likely scenario on January 20, 2021, is that Joe Biden is inaugurated the next president of the United States. At that point, Trump will just be another civilian. But the difference between him and your average guy on the street is that he, by his own admission, is in debt for $421 million. And also, that he’s been privy to four years of highly classified information, the kind assorted parties would be thrilled to get their hands on, and which a known con man who thinks he’s been cheated would probably have little issue parting with for the right price.

Of course, that might sound crazy and delusional if not for the fact that Trump has spent nearly his entire term in office making the solid case that he’s a national security risk, a threat that would seemingly become more acute once he leaves office. Per the Washington Post:

As president, Donald Trump selectively revealed highly classified information to attack his adversaries, gain political advantage, and to impress or intimidate foreign governments, in some cases jeopardizing U.S. intelligence capabilities. As an ex-president, there’s every reason to worry he will do the same, thus posing a unique national security dilemma for the Biden administration, current and former officials and analysts said.… Not only does Trump have a history of disclosures, he checks the boxes of a classic counterintelligence risk: He is deeply in debt and angry at the U.S. government, particularly what he describes as the “deep state” conspiracy that he believes tried to stop him from winning the White House in 2016 and what he falsely claims is an illegal effort to rob him of reelection.

“Anyone who is disgruntled, dissatisfied, or aggrieved is a risk of disclosing classified information, whether as a current or former officeholder. Trump certainly fits that profile,” David Priess, a former CIA officer and author of The President’s Book of Secrets, an accounting of the top secret intelligence briefings that presidents receive while in office, told the Post. While experts noted to the Post that Trump reportedly ignored most of his intelligence briefings and has never demonstrated he actually has any idea how the national security apparatus works—“The only saving grace here is that he hasn’t been paying attention,” said Jack Goldsmith, who ran the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel under George W. Bushsome details presumably penetrated the thick layer of concrete surrounding his brain.

The chances are low that Trump knows the fine details of intelligence, such as the name of a spy or where an intelligence agency may have planted a surveillance device. But he almost certainly knows significant facts about the process of gathering intelligence that would be valuable to adversaries. “The president is going to run into and possibly absorb a lot of the capacity and capabilities that you have in intelligence,” said John Fitzpatrick, a former intelligence officer and expert on the security systems used to protect classified information, including after a president leaves office. The kinds of information Trump is likely to know, Fitzpatrick said, include special military capabilities, details about cyber weapons and espionage, the kinds of satellites the United States uses, and the parameters of any covert actions that, as president, only Trump had the power to authorize.

He also knows the information that came from U.S. spies and collection platforms, which could expose sources even if he did not know precisely how the information was obtained. In a now infamous Oval Office meeting in 2017, Trump told Russia’s foreign minister and ambassador to the United States about highly classified information the United States had received from an ally about Islamic State threats to aviation, which jeopardized the source, according to people familiar with the incident.

Intelligence officials are reasonably concerned that Trump could spill state secrets at a rally in an attempt to brag about all the information he was privy to as president, or, in a scenario that the country has never had to worry about before, that he might do so in an effort to pay off his mountain of debt:

Experts agreed that the biggest risk Trump poses out of office is the clumsy release of information. But they didn’t rule out that he might trade secrets, perhaps in exchange for favors, to ingratiate himself with prospective clients in foreign countries or to get back at his perceived enemies.

“People with significant debt are always of grave concern to security professionals,” said Larry Pfeiffer, a veteran intelligence officer and former chief of staff to CIA Director Michael V. Hayden. “The human condition is a frail one. And people in dire situations make dire decisions. Many of the individuals who’ve committed espionage against our country are people who are financially vulnerable.”

Unfortunately, there’s little the Biden administration can do to prevent Trump from spilling national secrets because, unlike many a Trump employeemedical professional, or woman he paid to keep quiet about an alleged affair he says never happened, presidents don’t sign nondisclosure agreements. Biden could refuse to give Trump intelligence briefings, which former presidents have historically received before meetings with foreign leaders or other diplomatic missions. “I think that tradition ends with Trump,” Priess said. “It’s based on courtesy and the idea that presidents may call on their predecessors for frank advice. I don’t see Joe Biden calling up Trump to talk about intricate national security and intelligence issues. And I don’t think Biden will send him anywhere as an emissary.”

And then, there’s the ultimate deterrent:

The last line of defense, like so many chapters in Trump’s presidency, would pose unprecedented considerations: criminal prosecution. The Espionage Act has been successfully used to convict current and former government officials who disclose information that damages U.S. national security. It has never been used against a former president. But as of January 20, 2021, Trump becomes a private citizen, and the immunity he enjoys from criminal prosecution vanishes.

Of course, the odds of the government going after Trump via the Espionage Act are probably slim to none, it likely all depends on how desperate he gets!

On the other hand, maybe he’ll just remain a security risk from the inside

In addition to threatening to fire anyone found looking for a new job and refusing to release funds to the Biden transition team, the Trump administration is reportedly vetting people to serve in a second term, which is exactly as insane as it sounds:

According to two sources familiar with the situation, as well as written communications reviewed by the Daily Beast, the White House Presidential Personnel Office (PPO) is still in the process of vetting candidates for job openings in various parts of the federal government, positions that the White House intended to fill by early next year. The office, which is tasked with staffing the federal agencies, is headed by Trump uber-loyalist and purge-overseer John McEntee. And it is still contacting listed references and conducting background checks, even though major networks called the 2020 presidential election for Biden on Saturday.

Also from the Department of WTF, the White House has apparently told federal agencies to continue preparing the Trump administration’s budget proposal for the 2022 fiscal year, according to the Washington Post, despite the fact that it’s a colossal waste of time since Biden will have already been in office when it would be sent to Congress in February. “They’re pretending nothing happened,” one official said. “We’re all supposed to pretend this is normal, and do all this work, while we know we’re just going to have to throw it away.”

And in related news, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 November 2020 at 2:55 pm

Trump seems to be moving toward a coup attempt — seriously

leave a comment »

Kevin Drum includes this in a post this morning:

https://twitter.com/rabrowne75/status/1326284851268489217

Why does Donald Trump suddenly want a bunch of loyalists in charge of the Pentagon? It’s a little hard to come up with benign answers, isn’t it?

And on Facebook, David Troy writes:

We have an emergency underway in the Department of Defense and in the intelligence community. There is a coup attempt in progress. Multiple staff changes at the Pentagon have replaced career professionals with people loyal to Gen. Michael Flynn, and ultimately Putin. The intention appears to be to replace the heads of multiple agencies (Haspel, Wray, Nakasone) and facilitate coordinated dumps of classified information, thus causing chaos and damaging US interests globally.

This is not a drill. Ezra Cohen-Watnick (age 34) is a Flynn loyalist and a psychopath; he was just made acting undersecretary of intelligence at DoD. He is part of the QAnon operation. This needs to accelerate to the front pages of every newspaper immediately. I’m working on that but I’m not waiting for this story to filter through the press. If you are in a position to do something about this, please do so. If nothing happens, this will seem like an overreaction; but it will be because we intercepted this

And see in Politico “‘Devastating’: Top Pentagon leadership gutted as fears rise over national security.

The situation seems quite ominous to me.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 November 2020 at 12:12 pm

‘Machines set loose to slaughter’: the dangerous rise of military AI

leave a comment »

Anyone who’s discovered that “autocorrect” often means “autoerror” and who has seen the Terminator movies should be at least mildly uncomfortable about releasing into the wild autonomous machines programmed to kill humans (and “mildly uncomfortable” is much better than being on the receiving end of a bug in the latest release of such a machine’s OS).

Highly recommend science-fiction novel: Kill Decision, by Daniel Suarez.

Frank Pasquale writes in the Guardian:

The video is stark. Two menacing men stand next to a white van in a field, holding remote controls. They open the van’s back doors, and the whining sound of quadcopter drones crescendos. They flip a switch, and the drones swarm out like bats from a cave. In a few seconds, we cut to a college classroom. The killer robots flood in through windows and vents. The students scream in terror, trapped inside, as the drones attack with deadly force. The lesson that the film, Slaughterbots, is trying to impart is clear: tiny killer robots are either here or a small technological advance away. Terrorists could easily deploy them. And existing defences are weak or nonexistent.

Some military experts argued that Slaughterbots – which was made by the Future of Life Institute, an organisation researching existential threats to humanity – sensationalised a serious problem, stoking fear where calm reflection was required. But when it comes to the future of war, the line between science fiction and industrial fact is often blurry. The US air force has predicted a future in which “Swat teams will send mechanical insects equipped with video cameras to creep inside a building during a hostage standoff”. One “microsystems collaborative” has already released Octoroach, an “extremely small robot with a camera and radio transmitter that can cover up to 100 metres on the ground”. It is only one of many “biomimetic”, or nature-imitating, weapons that are on the horizon.

Who knows how many other noxious creatures are now models for avant garde military theorists. A recent novel by PW Singer and August Cole, set in a near future in which the US is at war with China and Russia, presented a kaleidoscopic vision of autonomous drones, lasers and hijacked satellites. The book cannot be written off as a techno-military fantasy: it includes hundreds of footnotes documenting the development of each piece of hardware and software it describes.

Advances in the modelling of robotic killing machines are no less disturbing. A Russian science fiction story from the 60s, Crabs on the Island, described a kind of Hunger Games for AIs, in which robots would battle one another for resources. Losers would be scrapped and winners would spawn, until some evolved to be the best killing machines. When a leading computer scientist mentioned a similar scenario to the US’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa), calling it a “robot Jurassic Park”, a leader there called it “feasible”. It doesn’t take much reflection to realise that such an experiment has the potential to go wildly out of control. Expense is the chief impediment to a great power experimenting with such potentially destructive machines. Software modelling may eliminate even that barrier, allowing virtual battle-tested simulations to inspire future military investments.

In the past, nation states have come together to prohibit particularly gruesome or terrifying new weapons. By the mid-20th century, international conventions banned biological and chemical weapons. The community of nations has forbidden the use of blinding-laser technology, too. A robust network of NGOs has successfully urged the UN to convene member states to agree to a similar ban on killer robots and other weapons that can act on their own, without direct human control, to destroy a target (also known as lethal autonomous weapon systems, or Laws). And while there has been debate about the definition of such technology, we can all imagine some particularly terrifying kinds of weapons that all states should agree never to make or deploy. A drone that gradually heated enemy soldiers to death would violate international conventions against torture; sonic weapons designed to wreck an enemy’s hearing or balance should merit similar treatment. A country that designed and used such weapons should be exiled from the international community.

In the abstract, we can probably agree that ostracism – and more severe punishment – is also merited for the designers and users of killer robots. The very idea of a machine set loose to slaughter is chilling. And yet some of the world’s largest militaries seem to be creeping toward developing such weapons, by pursuing a logic of deterrence: they fear being crushed by rivals’ AI if they can’t unleash an equally potent force. The key to solving such an intractable arms race may lie less in global treaties than in a cautionary rethinking of what martial AI may be used for. As “war comes home”, deployment of military-grade force within countries such as the US and China is a stark warning to their citizens: whatever technologies of control and destruction you allow your government to buy for use abroad now may well be used against you in the future.


.
A
re killer robots as horrific as biological weapons? Not necessarily, argue some establishment military theorists and computer scientists. According to Michael Schmitt of the US Naval War College, military robots could police the skies to ensure that a slaughter like Saddam Hussein’s killing of Kurds and Marsh Arabs could not happen again. Ronald Arkin of the Georgia Institute of Technology believes that autonomous weapon systems may “reduce man’s inhumanity to man through technology”, since a robot will not be subject to all-too-human fits of anger, sadism or cruelty. He has proposed taking humans out of the loop of decisions about targeting, while coding ethical constraints into robots. Arkin has also developed target classification to protect sites such as hospitals and schools.

In theory, a preference for controlled machine violence rather than unpredictable human violence might seem reasonable. Massacres that take place during war often seem to be rooted in irrational emotion. Yet we often reserve our deepest condemnation not for violence done in the heat of passion, but for the premeditated murderer who coolly planned his attack. The history of warfare offers many examples of more carefully planned massacres. And surely any robotic weapons system is likely to be designed with some kind of override feature, which would be controlled by human operators, subject to all the normal human passions and irrationality.

Any attempt to code law and ethics into killer robots raises enormous practical difficulties. Computer science professor Noel Sharkey has argued that it is impossible to programme a robot warrior with reactions to the infinite array of situations that could arise in the heat of conflict. Like an autonomous car rendered helpless by snow interfering with its sensors, an autonomous weapon system in the fog of war is dangerous.

Most soldiers would testify that the everyday experience of war is long stretches of boredom punctuated by sudden, terrifying spells of disorder. Standardising accounts of such incidents, in order to guide robotic weapons, might be impossible. Machine learning has worked best where  . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more. It’s a long read.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 October 2020 at 2:55 pm

This Is How It Happens

leave a comment »

Colin Horgan writes on Medium:

Shortly after the Second World War ended, American journalist Milton Mayer set out to investigate how Germany had become a totalitarian state. Mayer wanted to know why, as Adolf Hitler’s Nationalist Socialist Party slowly amassed power and drove the country to war, Germans didn’t stand up for their rights. He’d long earlier realized that the answer to this question would be better found by speaking frankly to Germans, rather than examining or interviewing former Nazi officials. So Mayer decided to focus on Germany’s “little men.”

These “little men,” Mayer wrote, weren’t only “the men for whom the mass media and the campaign speeches are everywhere designed but, specifically in sharply stratified societies like Germany, the men who think of themselves in that way.” Mayer found 10 of them in the town of Marburg (which Mayer called “Kronenberg”), near Frankfurt. He became friendly with them. He interviewed them many times over several months. He didn’t tell them he was Jewish.

His study of these men, They Thought They Were Free, was released in 1955. As historian Richard J. Evans wrote in 2017, it “still stands as a timely reminder of how otherwise unremarkable and in many ways reasonable people can be seduced by demagogues and populists, and how they can go along with a regime that commits more and more criminal acts until it plunges itself into war and genocide.”

How did it happen?


Ofthe ten men Mayer met and interviewed, only one was a soldier, 26 year-old “Gustav Schwenke” (Mayer changed the men’s names for publication — Gustav was actually Georg Steih). Only one other worked directly for the Nazi party: “Heinrich Damm” (Heinrich Doerr) was the local party headquarters office manager. The rest, including a 14 year-old boy, filled relatively ordinary roles in town, and their direct involvement with the Nazis varied. Nine of these men, Mayer wrote, “did not know before 1933 that Nazism was evil. And they do not know it now.” Only one, the high school teacher — “Heinrich Hildebrandt” (Heinrich Haye) — Mayer wrote, “saw Nazism as we…saw it in any respect.” Only the teacher saw it as “naked, total tyranny.” And even then, Mayer reported, Haye believed “in part of its program and practice, ‘the democratic part.’”

“The lives of my nine friends — and even the tenth, the teacher — were lightened and brightened by National Socialism as they knew it,” Mayer recounted. “There were wonderful ten-dollar holiday trips for the family in the ‘Strength through Joy’ program, to Norway in the summer and Spain in the winter for people who had never dreamed of a real holiday trip at home or abroad.” Especially, as Mayer noted, for folks like these who’d never otherwise been anywhere outside Germany. “And ‘nobody’ (nobody my friends knew) went cold, nobody went hungry, nobody went ill and uncared for.”

As for the horrors building as the Nazis amassed power? For these men, that was the realm of hearsay. “There was ‘some sort of trouble’ on the streets of Kronenberg… but the police dispersed the crowd and there was nothing in the local paper. You and I leave ‘some sort of trouble on the streets’ to the police; so did my friends in Kronenberg,” Mayer described.

Mayer’s examination of the ten “little men” hardly excused them, though he withheld much outright judgment. Instead, he let them indict themselves — and by extension, all of us. For, throughout his account of the rise of Nazi Germany through the eyes of ten relatively ordinary individual citizens (albeit living in a more ‘Nazified’ town than some others), Mayer pondered the universal implications for humanity.

Mayer chronicled how and why these men responded to the fictions Hitler created — how they adopted the party’s anti-Communist position, and how they clung to their anti-Semitism, even years after the horrors of the Holocaust had been revealed — but the aim of his study was more profound. These were the specific traits of one regime, but they spoke to deeper, shared human tendencies. Writing on the lingering anti-Semitism his interview subjects shared, for instance, Mayer noted: “We have to justify our having injured those we have injured, or we have to persuade others to our guilty view in order to implicate them in our guilt.”


Atone point during his time in Germany, Mayer had a conversation about Nazismwith someone other than his ten interview subjects. A man Mayer referred to simply as a “philologist” spoke about the pace of information dissemination during the Nazi rise to power. He explained how Germans like those Mayer interviewed were kept in a state of constant change — a technique Hannah Arendt later described as the “perpetual-motion mania of totalitarian movements [that] remain in power only so long as they keep moving and set everything around them in motion.”

The impacts of that technique, according to the philologist, were significant.

“What happened here was the gradual habituation of the people, little by little, to being governed by surprise,” the philologist told Mayer. The Nazi dictatorship was “diverting,” he said, in that it kept people “so busy with continuous changes and ‘crises’ and so fascinated…by the machinations of the ‘national enemies’ without and within, that we had no time to think about these dreadful things that were growing, little by little, all around us.”

Austrian novelist Stefan Zweig, whose books were burned and who fled to London and then South America as the war began, felt similarly. “National Socialism, with its unscrupulous methods of deception, took care not to show how radical its aims were until the world was inured to them,” Zweig wrote in his 1942 reflections, The World of Yesterday, shortly before his suicide. “So it tried at its technique cautiously — one dose at a time, with a short pause after administering it. One pill at a time, then a moment of waiting to see if it had been too strong, if the conscience of the world could swallow that particular pill.”

As Zweig knew already then, the world did swallow that pill for a time. As did many people in Germany — including those who recognized the implications of that gradual progression. Because, as the philologist described to Mayer, that broader pattern of constant societal change that totalitarianism imposed had a profound effect on individual agency. It resulted in a kind of personal inertia, even when one had an inkling of what was being set in motion. Things kept getting worse, but, the philologist explained, one struggled to react properly, or convince others that they should be worried, too. “In your own community, you speak privately to your colleagues, some of whom certainly feel as you do; but what do they say? They say, ‘It’s not so bad’ or ‘You’re seeing things’ or ‘You’re an alarmist,’” he explained. “And you are an alarmist. You are saying that this must lead to this, and you can’t prove it.”

That’s because — just as Zweig had described it — “each act, each occasion, is worse than the last, but only a little worse,” the philologist explained. “You wait for one great shocking occasion, thinking that others, when such a shock comes, will join with you in resisting somehow.” But that moment never came. “That’s the difficulty,” the philologist told Mayer. “If the last and worst act of the whole regime had come immediately after the first and smallest, thousands, yes millions would have been sufficiently shocked… But of course this isn’t the way it happens. In between come all the hundreds of little steps, some of them imperceptible, each of them preparing you to not be shocked by the next. Step C is not so much worse than Step B, and, if you did not make a stand at Step B, why should you at Step C? And so on to Step D.”

The constant motion of totalitarianism Arendt would examine years later — the steady movement toward tyranny — is measured as drips, not as a flood.

“When men who understand what is happening — the motion, that is, of history, not the reports of single acts or developments — when such men do not object or protest, men who do not understand cannot be expected to,” the philologist told Mayer.

How many men, he then asked, understood this in America? “And when . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 September 2020 at 2:52 pm

The real scandal isn’t what Trump said about veterans. It’s what he did to them.

leave a comment »

Judd Legum writes at Popular Information:

For the past several days, coverage of the presidential campaign has focused on comments Trump allegedly made during a 2018 trip to Paris, when he was scheduled to visit a military cemetery where U.S. troops are buried. According to The Atlantic, which cites several anonymous sources, Trump said, “Why should I go to that cemetery? It’s filled with losers.” The magazine reports that, during the same trip, Trump referred to Americans who died in World War 1 as “suckers.” The visit to the cemetery was canceled.

Trump, of course, denies he made either remark. The Atlantic’s reporting was confirmed by the APThe New York TimesFox News, and The Washington Post. But what, exactly, are we trying to figure out about Trump with this story?

Trump’s alleged remarks about veterans are substantively identical to things he has said publicly. In 2015, Trump said the late Senator John McCain (R-AZ) was “not a war hero” because “he was captured” and held as a prisoner of war. “I like people that weren’t captured,” Trump said. He referred to McCain more than once as a “loser.”

But The Atlantic story has received extensive coverage because it contains several elements that are irresistible to the political media — anonymous sources, angry denials, and a private comment that supposedly reveals a hidden aspect of the candidate’s character. The political media has given huge play to similar stories about Clinton in 2016 (“basket of deplorables“), Romney in 2012 (“47 percent“), and Obama in 2008 (“cling to guns or religion.”)

After more than three years in office, however, Trump’s actions related to veterans and more important than his words. While the political media obsesses about what Trump privately said about veterans two years ago, the story of what Trump and his administration are doing to veterans during a pandemic is largely ignored.

This year, Trump and his administration have used veterans as “guinea pigs” to test an unproven and potentially dangerous drug, hydroxychloroquine, as a treatment for coronavirus. Trump insisted the drug would be a “game-changer” that would bring the pandemic under control. The Department of Veteran’s Affairs continued to use hydroxychloroquine even after multiple studies showed it was not only ineffective but hazardous, and the FDA revoked emergency authorization.

Overall, more than 3,000 veterans have died of COVID-19 under the care of the VA. Many others have died of COVID-19 in facilities not under the control of the VA. It’s unknown how many of those veterans received hydroxychloroquine because the Trump administration won’t release the data.

6,339,700 tablets

In late May, the VA Secretary Robert Wilkie revealed in a letter to Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) that, between February 1 and April 23, the VA purchased “approximately 6,339,700 tablets of hydroxychloroquine” for about $2 million. (Hydroxychloroquine is an effective treatment for lupus and some other conditions.) Wilkie said that, during that time period, 1,300 veterans with COVID-19 were treated with the drug. At the time, that represented about 13% of veterans with COVID-19 under VA care.

What were the outcomes for those 1,300 veterans?  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 September 2020 at 9:35 am

A soldier describes how the remains of soldiers killed in combat are transferred

leave a comment »

Charlotte Clymer wrote on Facebook:

The straight line distance between Washington, D.C. and Dover, Delaware is less than 85 miles. It takes a helicopter about 40-45 minutes to make the trip. I was 19 years-old, and it was my first time riding a helicopter. I barely remember any of it. I was distracted.

I was more nervous than I’ve ever been in my life about what was to come next, and so, as this Black Hawk floated above the earth with my casket team–me being the youngest and most junior–I could only think: ‘What if I mess this up? What if I fail? How will I live with myself?’

That’s how it should be in a moment like this. You should be nervous. You should let that sharpen your focus. Because there is no room for error when handling the remains of a service member returning to the U.S. after being killed in combat. You should strive for perfection.

The helicopter landed, and my anxiety spiked. In retrospect, I recall noticing the silence of the rest of the casket team. These were young men, mostly early 20s, loud and boisterous and chests puffed. Now, they were quiet. It was unnerving.

When you’re a new enlisted soldier in an infantry unit–the FNG–you’re treated like you know nothing. Because you don’t. Everyone around you is older and vastly more competent and confident. Yet, in this moment, despite having done this before, they were all nervous, too. Scary.

We were brought into a holding area near the tarmac on Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, where the remains of service members who have died in a theater of operations arrive on a C-17 transport plane. We rehearsed our steps. And did it again. And then again. No room for error.

The plane arrived. The ramp was lowered. The transfer vehicle that would complete the next leg of the journey was parked. Our casket team was positioned. We were now each wearing ceremonial white cotton gloves we had held under the bathroom faucet. Damp gloves have a better grip.

We’re a casket team, but these are not caskets. They’re transfer cases: rectangular aluminum boxes that bear a resemblance to a crate for production equipment. Yet, the dimensions are obvious. Any given civilian would take only a few moments to realize that’s for carrying bodies.

It’s called a ‘dignified transfer’, not a ‘ceremony’, because officials don’t want loved ones to feel obligated to be there while in mourning, but it is as highly choreographed as any ceremony, probably more so. It is done as close to perfection as anything the military does.

I was positioned in formation with my casket team, and I could see the transfer cases precisely laid out, dress right dress, in the cavernous space of the C-17, each draped with an American flag that had been fastened perfectly. I remember my stomach dropping.

There is simply no space for other thoughts. Your full brain capacity is focused on not screwing up. The casket team steps off in crisp, exact steps toward the plane, up the ramp (please, oh god, don’t slip), aside the case, lift up ceremonially, face back and down the ramp.

During movement, everyone else is saluting: the plane personnel, the OIC (officer-in-charge), any senior NCOS and generals, and occasionally, the president. The family is sometimes there. No ceremonial music or talking. All silent, save for the steps of the casket team.

You don’t see the family during this. You’re too focused. There are other distractions. Maybe they forgot, but no one told me there’d be 40-60 lbs. of ice in the transfer case to prevent decomposition over the 10-hour plane ride. You can sometimes feel it sloshing around a bit.

Some of the transfer cases feel slightly heavier, some slightly lighter. The weight is distributed among six bearers, so it’s not a big difference. But then you carry a case that’s significantly lighter, and you realize those are the only remains they were able to recover.

It probably takes all of 30-40 seconds to carry the transfer case from the plane to the mortuary vehicle, but it felt like the longest walk ever each time. The case is carefully placed in the back of the mortuary vehicle, and the casket team moves away in formation.

I don’t know how to describe the feeling after you’re done and on your way back to D.C., but it’s a mixture of intense relief that you didn’t screw up and profound sobriety over what you’ve just done and witnessed. I wouldn’t call it a good feeling. Maybe a numbed pain.

From the outside, the most egalitarian place in America is a military transfer case. They all look exactly the same: an aluminum box covered with the American flag. We didn’t know their names, rank, race, ethnicity, gender, religion, sexual orientation–none of it. All the same.

Whatever cruel and unfathomable politics had brought all of us to that moment–from the killed service member in the box to those of us carrying it to the occasional elected official who attends to pay respects–there were no politics to be found during a dignified transfer.

The fallen service members I helped receive and carry during this part of the journey to their final resting place were not ‘losers’ or ‘suckers’. They were selfless and heroic, and I had the honor of being among the first to hold them when they returned home.

There are service members around the world involved in caring for our war fatalities. The mortuary specialists, the casket teams, the family liaisons–so many people who work to ensure that this final act is done with the greatest amount of dignity and honor, seeking perfection.

I suppose the one thing we all took for granted is that dignity would always be affirmed by all our civilian leaders to those service members who gave everything. I never would have predicted any official, let alone a sitting president, would insult fallen service members.

I cannot adequately describe my anger at Donald Trump for being so willing to send service members halfway around the world to die on his own behalf and then call them ‘losers’ for doing so. This coward is unfit for his office and the power it holds. He needs to go.

 

Written by LeisureGuy

5 September 2020 at 2:58 pm

Trump’s contempt for the military (and military valor) is taking a toll

leave a comment »

Heather Cox Richardson writes:

Most of the oxygen in the world of American news media today has been taken up by last night’s story about Trump’s contempt for the military, which said, among other things, that Trump called soldiers “suckers” and dead service members “losers.” Today, the story was confirmed and expanded by the Associated Press, the Washington Post, and the Fox News Channel, among other outlets.

As more and more voices spoke out against Trump’s sentiments, the White House madly pushed back. “It was a totally fake story, and that was confirmed by many people who were actually there,” Trump told reporters. “I’ve done more for the military than almost anybody else.” Even First Lady Melania Trump got into the fray, tweeting: “[The Atlantic] story is not true. It has become a very dangerous time when anonymous sources are believed above all else, & no one knows their motivation. This is not journalism – It is activism. And it is a disservice to the people of our great nation.”

But one media outlet after another confirmed the story. When even the Fox News Channel vouched for it, Trump tweeted that the FNC reporter who covered the story ought to be fired.

The silence from his former Chief of Staff John Kelly, who declined to contradict the allegations, could not be missed, since one of the most damning stories in the article involved him. In a press conference this evening, Trump seemed rather to confirm the story than prove it wrong when he attacked Kelly, a retired four-star Marine Corps General who was Trump’s longest-serving chief of staff. “He… didn’t do a good job, had no temperament, and ultimately he was petered out,” Trump told reporters. “He got eaten alive. He was unable to handle the pressure of this job.”

The situation permitted Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden to stand forth as the defender of soldiers and the military. Biden’s late son, Beau, served in Iraq. “When my son volunteered and joined the United States military as the attorney general and went to Iraq for a year, won the bronze star and other commendations, he wasn’t a sucker,” Biden said. “The servicemen and women he served with, particularly those who did not come home, were not ‘losers.’ If these statements are true, the president should humbly apologize to every gold star mother and father and every blue star family that he has denigrated and insulted,” he said. “Who the heck does he think he is?”

Since Ronald Reagan ran for office in 1980 on the argument that the Democratic President Jimmy Carter had cut funding for the military (this was not true), the modern Republican Party has wrapped itself in the flag. Republicans have celebrated the image of the U.S. soldier as a lone hero, standing against the faceless and nameless mass of humanity marshaled to defend communism. In this formulation, Americans were individuals, each of value to our country.

But Trump has turned this idea on its head. In a weird echo of the way Republicans used to describe communist leaders, the White House seems to see Americans not as individuals but as faceless statistics. Administration leaders shrug at the deaths of more than 185,000 Americans and urge the country simply to absorb more Covid-19 deaths for the good of the economy. “It is what it is,” Trump said of the pandemic losses earlier this week. That each death is the loss of a daughter, a mother, a father, a son, seems lost in the administration’s tendency to talk about them as percentages.

The story of Trump’s disdain for those who serve the nation and sometimes sacrifice their lives for it suggests that he sees even the soldiers, whom we traditionally celebrate, as “suckers” who are stupid to go into the military. He seems to see them, too, as an expendable mass. Illinois Senator Tammy Duckworth (D), a combat veteran, told CNN that Trump “likes to use the military for his own personal ego as if we were some sort of toy soldiers you could pull out and line up on your desk to play with.”

A devastating ad from Bill Owens, whose son, Navy SEAL William Ryan Owens, died in Yemen, echoed Duckworth. Owens explains that Trump sent his son and his comrades to Yemen five days into his presidency, ordering them in not from the Situation Room surrounded by intelligence experts but “sitting across a dinner table from Steve Bannon.” “There was no vital interest at play,” Owens says. “Just Donald Trump playing big-man-going-to-war. And when it went horribly wrong… Donald Trump demeaned my son’s sacrifice to play to the crowd.”

Duckworth said something similar: “He really doesn’t understand the sacrifice…. He truly doesn’t understand what it means to put something above yourself too, serve this nation and be willing to lay down one’s life with this nation. Because he does nothing that does not benefit Donald Trump.”

Since at least 2018, Democrats, especially Democratic women, have advanced a vision of military service that departs from the Republican emphasis on heroic individualism. Instead, they emphasize teamwork, camaraderie, and community, and the recognition that that teamwork means every single soldier, not just a few visible heroes, matters. Today Duckworth, who lost both her legs and some of the use of her right arm in 2004 when her helicopter was shot down, told NBC’s Nicole Wallace: “When . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 September 2020 at 10:41 am

Operation Condor: the cold war conspiracy that terrorised South America

leave a comment »

The US has much to answer for if it ever truly faces its transgressions (e.g., torturing suspects, sometimes to death, under George W. Bush as an official and systematic program — and then deliberately destroying the video evidence). Giles Tremlett describes another example in the Guardian:

During the 1970s and 80s, eight US-backed military dictatorships jointly plotted the cross-border kidnap, torture, rape and murder of hundreds of their political opponents. Now some of the perpetrators are finally facing justice.

The last time Anatole Larrabeiti saw his parents, he was four years old. It was 26 September 1976, the day after his birthday. He remembers the shootout, the bright flashes of gunfire and the sight of his father lying on the ground, mortally wounded, outside their home in a suburb of Buenos Aires, Argentina, with his mother lying beside him. Then Larrabeiti remembers being taken away by armed police, along with his 18-month-old sister, Victoria Eva.

The two children became prisoners. At first, they were held in a grimy car repair garage that had been turned into a clandestine torture centre. That was in another part of Buenos Aires, the city that their parents had moved to in June 1973, joining thousands of leftwing militants and former guerrillas fleeing a military coup in their native Uruguay. The following month, in October 1976, Anatole and Victoria Eva were taken to Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay, and held at the military intelligence headquarters. A few days before Christmas, they were flown to a third country, Chile, in a small aircraft that climbed high above the Andes. Larrabeiti remembers looking down on snowy peaks from the plane.

Young children do not usually make epic journeys through three countries in as many months without parents or relatives. The closest thing they had to family was a jailer known as Aunt Mónica. It was probably Aunt Mónica who abandoned them in a large square, the Plaza O’Higgins, in the Chilean port city of Valparaíso, on 22 December 1976. Witnesses recall two young, well-dressed children stepping out of a black car with tinted windows. Larrabeiti wandered around the square, hand-in-hand with his sister, until the owner of a merry-go-round ride spotted them. He invited them to sit on the ride, expecting some panicked parents to appear, looking for their lost children. But nobody came, so he called the local police.

No one could understand how the two children, whose accents marked them as foreign, had got here. It was as if they had dropped from the sky. Anatole was too young to make sense of what had happened. How does a four-year-old who finds himself in Chile explain that he does not know where he is, that he lives in Argentina, but is really Uruguayan? All he knew was that he was in a strange place, where people spoke his language in a different way.

The next day, the children were taken to an orphanage, and from there they were sent on to separate foster homes. After a few months, they had a stroke of luck. A dental surgeon and his wife wanted to adopt, and when the magistrate in charge of the children asked the surgeon which sibling he wanted, he said both. “He said that we had to come together, because we were brother and sister,” Larrabeiti told me when we met earlier this year in Chile’s capital, Santiago.

Today, he is a trim, smartly suited 47-year-old public prosecutor with hazel eyes and a shaven head. “I have decided to live without hate,” he said. “But I want people to know.”

What Larrabeiti wants people to know is that his family were victims of one of the 20th century’s most sinister international state terror networks. It was called Operation Condor, after the broad-winged vulture that soars above the Andes, and it joined eight South American military dictatorships – Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Bolivia, Paraguay, Brazil, Peru and Ecuador – into a single network that covered four-fifths of the continent.

It has taken decades to fully expose this system, which enabled governments to send death squads on to each other’s territory to kidnap, murder and torture enemies – real or suspected – among their emigrant and exile communities. Condor effectively integrated and expanded the state terror unleashed across South America during the cold war, after successive rightwing military coups, often encouraged by the US, erased democracy across the continent. Condor was the most complex and sophisticated element of a broad phenomenon in which tens of thousands of people across South America were murdered or disappeared by military governments in the 1970s and 80s.

Most Condor victims disappeared for ever. Hundreds were secretly disposed of – some of them tossed into the sea from planes or helicopters after being tied up, shackled to concrete blocks or drugged so that they could barely move. Larrabeiti’s mother, Victoria, who was last seen in an Argentinian torture centre in 1976, is one of them. His father, Mario, who was a leftwing militant, probably died in the shootout when they were snatched by the police. Enough victims have survived, however, to tell stories that, when matched against a growing volume of declassified documents, amount to a single, ghastly tale.

In the past two decades, Larrabeiti’s story has been told and retold in half a dozen courts and tribunals around the world. In the absence of a fully formed global criminal justice system, the perpetrators of Condor are being taken to court through a piecemeal process. “The trouble with borders is that it is easier to cross them to kill someone than it is to pursue a crime,” says Carlos Castresana, a prosecutor who has pursued Condor cases and the dictators behind them in Spain. Those seeking justice have had to rely on a judicial spider’s web of national laws, international treaties and rulings by human rights tribunals. The individuals they pursue are often decrepit and unrepentant old men, but a tenacious network of survivors, lawyers, investigators and academics, rather like the postwar Nazi-hunters, has taken up the challenge of ensuring that such international state terror does not go untried.

The process is painfully slow. The first major criminal investigation focusing on Condor – with victims and defendants from seven countries – began in Rome more than 20 years ago. It still has not ended. On a sweltering day in July 2019, a judge in the Rome case handed life sentences to a former president of Peru, a Uruguayan foreign minister, a Chilean military intelligence chief and 21 others for their role in a coordinated campaign of extermination and torture. The defendants are appealing, and a final verdict is due within a year.

Much of what we now know about Condor has been unearthed or pieced together in Rome, Buenos Aires and in dozens of court cases – large and small – in other countries. Further evidence comes from US intelligence papers dealing with Argentina that were declassified on the orders of Barack Obama. In 2019, the US completed its handover of 47,000 pages to Argentina. These documents show how much the US and European governments knew about what was happening across South America, and how little they cared.


When he was seven, Anatole Larrabeiti discovered his true identity, thanks to his tenacious paternal grandmother, Angélica, who tracked the siblings down. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more. America’s intense love of and admiration for military dictatorships is puzzling, given the dissonance with America’s own ideals. Is it like those infatuations that good girls have for bad boys? I dunno.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 September 2020 at 10:38 am

Trump: Americans Who Died in War Are ‘Losers’ and ‘Suckers’

leave a comment »

Jeffrey Goldberg reports in the Atlantic:

When President Donald Trump canceled a visit to the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery near Paris in 2018, he blamed rain for the last-minute decision, saying that “the helicopter couldn’t fly” and that the Secret Service wouldn’t drive him there. Neither claim was true.

Trump rejected the idea of the visit because he feared his hair would become disheveled in the rain, and because he did not believe it important to honor American war dead, according to four people with firsthand knowledge of the discussion that day. In a conversation with senior staff members on the morning of the scheduled visit, Trump said, “Why should I go to that cemetery? It’s filled with losers.” In a separate conversation on the same trip, Trump referred to the more than 1,800 marines who lost their lives at Belleau Wood as “suckers” for getting killed.

Belleau Wood is a consequential battle in American history, and the ground on which it was fought is venerated by the Marine Corps. America and its allies stopped the German advance toward Paris there in the spring of 1918. But Trump, on that same trip, asked aides, “Who were the good guys in this war?” He also said that he didn’t understand why the United States would intervene on the side of the Allies.

Trump’s understanding of concepts such as patriotism, service, and sacrifice has interested me since he expressed contempt for the war record of the late Senator John McCain, who spent more than five years as a prisoner of the North Vietnamese. “He’s not a war hero,” Trump said in 2015 while running for the Republican nomination for president. “I like people who weren’t captured.”

There was no precedent in American politics for the expression of this sort of contempt, but the performatively patriotic Trump did no damage to his candidacy by attacking McCain in this manner. Nor did he set his campaign back by attacking the parents of Humayun Khan, an Army captain who was killed in Iraq in 2004.

Trump remained fixated on McCain, one of the few prominent Republicans to continue criticizing him after he won the nomination. When McCain died, in August 2018, Trump told his senior staff, according to three sources with direct knowledge of this event, “We’re not going to support that loser’s funeral,” and he became furious, according to witnesses, when he saw flags lowered to half-staff. “What the fuck are we doing that for? Guy was a fucking loser,” the president told aides. Trump was not invited to McCain’s funeral. (These sources, and others quoted in this article, spoke on condition of anonymity. The White House did not return earlier calls for comment, but Alyssa Farah, a White House spokesperson, emailed me this statement shortly after this story was posted: “This report is false. President Trump holds the military in the highest regard. He’s demonstrated his commitment to them at every turn: delivering on his promise to give our troops a much needed pay raise, increasing military spending, signing critical veterans reforms, and supporting military spouses. This has no basis in fact.”)

Trump’s understanding of heroism has not evolved since he became president. According to sources with knowledge of the president’s views, he seems to genuinely not understand why Americans treat former prisoners of war with respect. Nor does he understand why pilots who are shot down in combat are honored by the military. On at least two occasions since becoming president, according to three sources with direct knowledge of his views, Trump referred to former President George H. W. Bush as a “loser” for being shot down by the Japanese as a Navy pilot in World War II. (Bush escaped capture, but eight other men shot down during the same mission were caught, tortured, and executed by Japanese soldiers.)

When lashing out at critics, Trump often reaches for illogical and corrosive insults, and members of the Bush family have publicly opposed him. But his cynicism about service and heroism extends even to the World War I dead buried outside Paris—people who were killed more than a quarter century before he was born. Trump finds the notion of military service difficult to understand, and the idea of volunteering to serve especially incomprehensible. (The president did not serve in the military; he received a medical deferment from the draft during the Vietnam War because of the alleged presence of bone spurs in his feet. In the 1990s, Trump said his efforts to avoid contracting sexually transmitted diseases constituted his “personal Vietnam.”)

On Memorial Day 2017, Trump visited Arlington National Cemetery, a short drive from the White House. He was accompanied on this visit by John Kelly, who was then the secretary of homeland security, and who would, a short time later, be named the White House chief of staff. The two men were set to visit Section 60, the 14-acre area of the cemetery that is the burial ground for those killed in America’s most recent wars. Kelly’s son Robert is buried in Section 60. A first lieutenant in the Marine Corps, Robert Kelly was killed in 2010 in Afghanistan. He was 29. Trump was meant, on this visit, to join John Kelly in paying respects at his son’s grave, and to comfort the families of other fallen service members. But according to sources with knowledge of this visit, Trump, while standing by Robert Kelly’s grave, turned directly to his father and said, “I don’t get it. What was in it for them?” Kelly (who declined to comment for this story) initially believed, people close to him said, that Trump was making a ham-handed reference to the selflessness of America’s all-volunteer force. But later he came to realize that Trump simply does not understand non-transactional life choices.

“He can’t fathom the idea of doing something for someone other than himself,” one of Kelly’s friends, a retired four-star general, told me. “He just thinks that anyone who does anything when there’s no direct personal gain to be had is a sucker. There’s no money in serving the nation.” Kelly’s friend went on to say, “Trump can’t imagine anyone else’s pain. That’s why he would say this to the father of a fallen marine on Memorial Day in the cemetery where he’s buried.”

I’ve asked numerous general officers over the past year for their analysis of Trump’s seeming contempt for military service. They offer a number of explanations. Some . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

 

 

Written by LeisureGuy

4 September 2020 at 10:26 am

%d bloggers like this: