TBR News April 18, 2017

Apr 18 2017

The Voice of the White House

Washington, D.C. April 18, 2017:”A Chinese philosopher once said ‘Spare me from living in interesting times.’

We are in the midst of interesting times and Yeats was right when he said ‘things fall apart, the centre cannot hold…’

Overpopulation lies behind the rumbling chaos we see on all sides and until this corrects itself, as it always does in all species, even ones God Himself has created (probably in jest), we will all find ourselves living in interesting times.

And the centre has indeed fallen apart a few months ago but these things take time to understand.”

Table of Contents

  • How Western civilization could collapse
  • SECRECY NEWS
  • What happens now following the ‘yes’ vote in the Turkish referendum?
  • Happy Tax Day! Here’s How Corporations Plan to Screw You Over.
  • Is Our Political Class Mentally Ill?
  • War Cries Drown Out ‘America First’
  • The American Government’s Secret Plan for Surviving the End of the World

 How Western civilization could collapse

April 18, 2017

by Rachel Nuwer

BBC News

The political economist Benjamin Friedman once compared modern Western society to a stable bicycle whose wheels are kept spinning by economic growth. Should that forward-propelling motion slow or cease, the pillars that define our society – democracy, individual liberties, social tolerance and more – would begin to teeter. Our world would become an increasingly ugly place, one defined by a scramble over limited resources and a rejection of anyone outside of our immediate group. Should we find no way to get the wheels back in motion, we’d eventually face total societal collapse.

Such collapses have occurred many times in human history, and no civilisation, no matter how seemingly great, is immune to the vulnerabilities that may lead a society to its end. Regardless of how well things are going in the present moment, the situation can always change. Putting aside species-ending events like an asteroid strike, nuclear winter or deadly pandemic, history tells us that it’s usually a plethora of factors that contribute to collapse. What are they, and which, if any, have already begun to surface? It should come as no surprise that humanity is currently on an unsustainable and uncertain path – but just how close are we to reaching the point of no return?

Some possible precipitating factors are already in place. How the West reacts to them will determine the world’s future.

While it’s impossible to predict the future with certainty, mathematics, science and history can provide hints about the prospects of Western societies for long-term continuation.

Safa Motesharrei, a systems scientist at the University of Maryland, uses computer models to gain a deeper understanding of the mechanisms that can lead to local or global sustainability or collapse. According to findings that Motesharrei and his colleagues published in 2014, there are two factors that matter: ecological strain and economic stratification. The ecological category is the more widely understood and recognised path to potential doom, especially in terms of depletion of natural resources such as groundwater, soil, fisheries and forests – all of which could be worsened by climate change.

That economic stratification may lead to collapse on its own, on the other hand, came as more of a surprise to Motesharrei and his colleagues. Under this scenario, elites push society toward instability and eventual collapse by hoarding huge quantities of wealth and resources, and leaving little or none for commoners who vastly outnumber them yet support them with labour. Eventually, the working population crashes because the portion of wealth allocated to them is not enough, followed by collapse of the elites due to the absence of labour. The inequalities we see today both within and between countries already point to such disparities. For example, the top 10% of global income earners are responsible for almost as much total greenhouse gas emissions as the bottom 90% combined. Similarly, about half the world’s population lives on less than $3 per day.

For both scenarios, the models define a carrying capacity – a total population level that a given environment’s resources can sustain over the long term. If the carrying capacity is overshot by too much, collapse becomes inevitable. That fate is avoidable, however. “If we make rational choices to reduce factors such as inequality, explosive population growth, the rate at which we deplete natural resources and the rate of pollution – all perfectly doable things – then we can avoid collapse and stabilise onto a sustainable trajectory,” Motesharrei said. “But we cannot wait forever to make those decisions.”

Unfortunately, some experts believe such tough decisions exceed our political and psychological capabilities. “The world will not rise to the occasion of solving the climate problem during this century, simply because it is more expensive in the short term to solve the problem than it is to just keep acting as usual,” says Jorgen Randers, a professor emeritus of climate strategy at the BI Norwegian Business School, and author of 2052: A Global Forecast for the Next Forty Years. “The climate problem will get worse and worse and worse because we won’t be able to live up to what we’ve promised to do in the Paris Agreement and elsewhere.”

While we are all in this together, the world’s poorest will feel the effects of collapse first. Indeed, some nations are already serving as canaries in the coal mine for the issues that may eventually pull apart more affluent ones. Syria, for example, enjoyed exceptionally high fertility rates for a time, which fueled rapid population growth. A severe drought in the late 2000s, likely made worse by human-induced climate change, combined with groundwater shortages to cripple agricultural production. That crisis left large numbers of people – especially young men – unemployed, discontent and desperate. Many flooded into urban centres, overwhelming limited resources and services there. Pre-existing ethnic tensions increased, creating fertile grounds for violence and conflict. On top of that, poor governance – including neoliberal policies that eliminated water subsidies in the middle of the drought – tipped the country into civil war in 2011 and sent it careening toward collapse.

In Syria’s case – as with so many other societal collapses throughout history – it was not one but a plethora of factors that contributed, says Thomas Homer-Dixon, chair of global systems at the Balsillie School of International Affairs in Waterloo, Canada, and author of The Upside of Down. Homer-Dixon calls these combined forces tectonic stresses for the way in which they quietly build up and then abruptly erupt, overloading any stabilising mechanisms that otherwise keep a society in check.

The Syrian case aside, another sign that we’re entering into a danger zone, Homer-Dixon says, is the increasing occurrence of what experts call nonlinearities, or sudden, unexpected changes in the world’s order, such as the 2008 economic crisis, the rise of ISIS, Brexit, or Donald Trump’s election.

The past can also provide hints for how the future might play out. Take, for example, the rise and fall of the Roman Empire. By the end of the 100BC the Romans had spread across the Mediterranean, to the places most easily accessed by sea. They should have stopped there, but things were going well and they felt empowered to expand to new frontiers by land. While transportation by sea was economical, however, transportation across land was slow and expensive. All the while, they were overextending themselves and running up costs. The Empire managed to remain stable in the ensuing centuries, but repercussions for spreading themselves too thin caught up with them in the 3rd Century, which was plagued by civil war and invasions. The Empire tried to maintain its core lands, even as the army ate up its budget and inflation climbed ever higher as the government debased its silver currency to try to cover its mounting expenses. While some scholars cite the beginning of collapse as the year 410, when the invading Visigoths sacked the capital, that dramatic event was made possible by a downward spiral spanning more than a century.

According to Joseph Tainter, a professor of environment and society at Utah State University and author of The Collapse of Complex Societies, one of the most important lessons from Rome’s fall is that complexity has a cost. As stated in the laws of thermodynamics, it takes energy to maintain any system in a complex, ordered state – and human society is no exception. By the 3rd Century, Rome was increasingly adding new things – an army double the size, a cavalry, subdivided provinces that each needed their own bureaucracies, courts and defences – just to maintain its status quo and keep from sliding backwards. Eventually, it could no longer afford to prop up those heightened complexities. It was fiscal weakness, not war, that did the Empire in.

So far, modern Western societies have largely been able to postpone similar precipitators of collapse through fossil fuels and industrial technologies – think hydraulic fracturing coming along in 2008, just in time to offset soaring oil prices. Tainter suspects this will not always be the case, however. “Imagine the costs if we have to build a seawall around Manhattan, just to protect against storms and rising tides,” he says. Eventually, investment in complexity as a problem-solving strategy reaches a point of diminishing returns, leading to fiscal weakness and vulnerability to collapse. That is, he says “unless we find a way to pay for the complexity, as our ancestors did when they increasingly ran societies on fossil fuels.”

Also paralleling Rome, Homer-Dixon predicts that Western societies’ collapse will be preceded by a retraction of people and resources back to their core homelands. As poorer nations continue to disintegrate amid conflicts and natural disasters, enormous waves of migrants will stream out of failing regions, seeking refuge in more stable states. Western societies will respond with restrictions and even bans on immigration; multi-billion dollar walls and border-patrolling drones and troops; heightened security on who and what gets in; and more authoritarian, populist styles of governing. “It’s almost an immunological attempt by countries to sustain a periphery and push pressure back,” Homer-Dixon says.

Meanwhile, a widening gap between rich and poor within those already vulnerable Western nations will push society toward further instability from the inside. “By 2050, the US and UK will have evolved into two-class societies where a small elite lives a good life and there is declining well-being for the majority,” Randers says. “What will collapse is equity.”

Whether in the US, UK or elsewhere, the more dissatisfied and afraid people become, Homer-Dixon says, the more of a tendency they have to cling to their in-group identity – whether religious, racial or national. Denial, including of the emerging prospect of societal collapse itself, will be widespread, as will rejection of evidence-based fact. If people admit that problems exist at all, they will assign blame for those problems to everyone outside of their in-group, building up resentment. “You’re setting up the psychological and social prerequisites for mass violence,” Homer-Dixon says. When localised violence finally does break out, or another country or group decides to invade, collapse will be difficult to avoid.

Europe, with its close proximity to Africa, its land bridge to the Middle East and its neighbourly status with more politically volatile nations to the East, will feel these pressures first. The US will likely hold out longer, surrounded as it is by ocean buffers.

On the other hand, Western societies may not meet with a violent, dramatic end. In some cases, civilisations simply fade out of existence – becoming the stuff of history not with a bang but a whimper. The British Empire has been on this path since 1918, Randers says, and other Western nations might go this route as well. As time passes, they will become increasingly inconsequential and, in response to the problems driving their slow fade-out, will also starkly depart from the values they hold dear today. “Western nations are not going to collapse, but the smooth operation and friendly nature of Western society will disappear, because inequity is going to explode,” Randers argues. “Democratic, liberal society will fail, while stronger governments like China will be the winners.”

Some of these forecasts and early warning signs should sound familiar, precisely because they are already underway. While Homer-Dixon is not surprised at the world’s recent turn of events – he predicted some of them in his 2006 book – he didn’t expect these developments to occur before the mid-2020s.

Western civilisation is not a lost cause, however. Using reason and science to guide decisions, paired with extraordinary leadership and exceptional goodwill, human society can progress to higher and higher levels of well-being and development, Homer-Dixon says. Even as we weather the coming stresses of climate change, population growth and dropping energy returns, we can maintain our societies and better them. But that requires resisting the very natural urge, when confronted with such overwhelming pressures, to become less cooperative, less generous and less open to reason. “The question is, how can we manage to preserve some kind of humane world as we make our way through these changes?” Homer-Dixon says.

SECRECY NEWS

From the FAS Project on Government Secrecy

Volume 2017, Issue No. 27

April 18, 2017

HISTORY OF IRAN COVERT ACTION DEFERRED INDEFINITELY

A declassified U.S. Government documentary history of the momentous 1953 coup in Iran, in which Central Intelligence Agency personnel participated, had been the object of widespread demand from historians and others for decades. In recent years, it finally seemed to be on the verge of publication.

But now its release has been postponed indefinitely.

Last year, “the Department of State did not permit publication of the long-delayed Iran Retrospective volume because it judged the political environment too sensitive,” according to a new annual report from the State Department Historical Advisory Committee (HAC). “The HAC was severely disappointed.”

“The HAC was unsuccessful in its efforts to meet with [then-]Secretary Kerry to discuss the volume, and now there is no timetable for its release,” the new report stated.

The controversy originally arose in 1989 when the State Department published its official history of US foreign relations with Iran that somehow made no mention of the 1953 CIA covert action against the Mossadeq government, triggering protests and ridicule.

That lapse led to enactment of a 1992 statute requiring the Foreign Relations of the United States series to present a “thorough, accurate, and reliable” documentary history of US foreign policy. The State Department also agreed to prepare a supplemental retrospective volume on Iran to correct the record. The retrospective volume is what now appears to be out of reach.

In truth, a fair amount of documentation related to the events of 1953 in Iran has been declassified and released. It is unclear how much more of significance remains to be disclosed. (Those who have read the missing volume say there is at least some new substance to it.)

But the position taken by the Obama State Department that 60 year old policy documents are too politically sensitive to be released is disheartening in any case.

Instead of disrupting relations with Iran, which are already fraught, an honest official U.S. account of events in 1953 might actually have elicited a constructive response. But that argument, advanced by the Historical Advisory Committee and its Chairman, Prof. Richard H. Immerman, did not get the serious consideration it deserved.

More broadly, the new annual report of the HAC did identify a few bright spots. One volume of the Foreign Relations series that was released last year met the statutory deadline for publication within 30 years of the events it describes. That hasn’t happened for two decades.

Overall, however, “the declassification environment is discouraging,” the HAC report found.

ARMY EXPLORES COUNTER-DRONE TECHNIQUES

Having developed and utilized unmanned aerial systems (UAS, or drones) for surveillance, targeting and attack, the US military now finds itself in the position of having to defend against the same technology.

The US Army last week issued a new manual on Counter-Unmanned Aircraft System Techniques (ATP 3-01.81, April 13, 2017).

“UASs have advanced technologically and proliferated exponentially over the past decade,” the manual notes. “As technology has progressed, both reconnaissance and attack capabilities have matured to the point where UASs represent a significant threat to Army, joint, and multinational partner operations from both state and non-state actors.”

The unclassified Army document describes the nature of the threat and then considers the options that are available for dealing with it. These range from various forms of attack avoidance (“Operate at night or during limited visibility”) to active defense, such as surface-to-air weapons.

“Defending against UAS is a difficult task and no single solution exists to defeat all categories of the… threat,” the manual says.

Last week, the Islamic State released video footage of one of its drones dropping a bomb on an Iraqi target, Newsweek reported.

SHARING CLASSIFIED INFO WITH FOREIGN GOVERNMENTS

Disclosing classified information to foreign government personnel is ordinarily forbidden, and may constitute espionage. But sometimes it is permitted, even to non-allies.

“National Disclosure Policy Committee (NDPC) policy prohibits the release of classified information [to] a foreign government without an explicit authorization, such as an Exception to United States (U.S.) National Disclosure Policy (ENDP), and an information sharing agreement,” explained VADM James D. Syring, director of the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency, in response to a congressional question last year.

Such Exceptions are occasionally requested, however, and granted.

“The Missile Defense Agency (MDA) submitted three requests for Exception to United States National Disclosure Policy (ENDP) from 2007–2011 seeking authority to disclose classified information to the Russian Federation (RF) relating to three ballistic missile defense flight test events,” VADM Syring said.

“In each case, authority granted by the NDPC was limited to oral and visual disclosure only under controlled conditions. The RF sent attendees to two of the three test events (in 2007 and 2010). No invitations were extended for the third event (in August 2011), and no disclosure occurred. MDA has not submitted any further requests for ENDP for the RF.”

“MDA has not sought ENDP [Exceptions] for release of any information to the People’s Republic of China,” he added.

The exchange between VADM Syring and Rep. Mike Rogers appeared in a newly published hearing volume on The Missile Defeat Posture and Strategy of the United States — The Fiscal Year 2017 President’s Budget Request, House Armed Services Committee, April 14, 2016 (at pp. 118-119).  The same volume notably includes discussion of “left of launch” approaches to countering ballistic missile threats.

At its best, congressional oversight can be a powerful engine of disclosure that matches or exceeds what the Freedom of Information Act or other mechanisms can offer. (The FOIA does not permit requesters to ask questions, only to request records.) Hearings of the House Armed Services Committee regularly generate new information on military policy, especially in the published hearing records.

Another newly published HASC hearing containing some nuggets of interest is National Security Space: 21st Century Challenges, 20th Century Organization, September 27, 2016.

What happens now following the ‘yes’ vote in the Turkish referendum?

The referendum to change Turkey into an “executive presidential system” has passed with the narrowest of margins. DW examines the next steps in the transition period as the constitution undergoes an overhaul.

April 18, 2017

by Beklan Kulaksizoglu

DW

The constitutional changes approved in Sunday’s referendum in Turkey will be implemented in three stages. The first round of the amendments will deal with the impartiality of the president, the status of the military courts and structural changes to the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK).

– Erdogan left with a divided Turkey after referendum

– Turkish expats in Europe approve Erdogan power grab

– OSCE: Turkey referendum contested on ‘unlevel playing field’

Erdogan will become a member of the AKP

The first expected change is the annulment of the impartiality clause, which prevents the president from being a member of a political party.

When the changes are made to the constitution, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is expected to become a member of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

Judiciary

Once the constitutional changes have been published in the government gazette (similar to the Congressional Record in the US), the HSYK will be restructured within 30 days. Renamed the Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSK), the number of members will be reduced from 22 to 13.

The justice minister who leads the council and his/her undersecretary will become automatic members of the HSK. Four members will be appointed by the president and seven will be picked by parliament.

Military courts

Another immediate change in the aftermath of the referendum is expected to be the abolition of military courts. They consist of the Military Court of Cassation, the High Military Administrative Court and other military courts.

The two members appointed by the two aforementioned military courts to the Constitutional Court will carry on with their membership but once their terms are over, they won’t be replaced. Therefore, the number of the Constitutional Court judges will be reduced from 17 to 15.

Six months transition

Parliament is then required to enact the constitutional changes and amend laws accordingly within six months following the publication of the results on the official gazette.

This period will be the legislative preparation for the entire constitutional change package, which is expected to be fully implemented in 2019.

It will be a busy six months for the Turkish parliament. MPs will be required to change 144 articles in seven different codes, including the presidential election law.

2019: Triple Election Year

Erdogan’s first term in office runs out in 2019, following his election in August 2014.

The most recent parliamentary elections were held in November 2015 , meaning the next ones are scheduled for November 2019.

In addition, local elections are due to be held in March 2019.

In other words, Turkey will go to the polls three times in 2019 to vote in presidential, general and local elections.

According to the constitutional changes, the presidential and general elections are due to be held on the same day, November 3, 2019. However, an early election option is also on the table.

Article 17 of the constitutional amendment allows parliament to hold early parliamentary and presidential elections.

After the presidential election

The constitutional changes approved in the April 16 referendum will only be fully implemented after the next presidential and parliamentary elections.

Once the official results of both elections – which will be held on the same day – are announced, the constitutional changes which require presidential decree will be fully ratified within six months by the president.

Happy Tax Day! Here’s How Corporations Plan to Screw You Over.

April 17 2017

by Jon Schwarz

The Intercept

Few things transform us into frustrated baboons like navigating Turbotax each year. It’s incredible any computers physically survive April.

First there’s the maddening fact, when all is said and done, that the U.S. has something approaching a flat tax system. It’s true that, as right-wing think tanks constantly bleat, the top 1 percent pay a much higher rate than everyone else in federal income tax. But most people pay higher rates than the rich do in payroll and state and local taxes. Add everything together, and everyone from the middle class on up is paying about the same percentage in taxes overall.

Then there’s the grim reality that a big chunk of our money goes to buy things like 21,000-pound bombs, which we drop on, say, Afghanistan, a country with an economy one-one thousandth the size of ours.

And then there’s the process of paying taxes itself, which is mind-numbingly baroque — and for absolutely no reason. After all, the government already has copies of all of your tax forms. Countries like Denmark, Sweden and Spain use that information to fill out your return and send it to you. If it looks good, you sign it and you’re done (or if you think you see a mistake, you can change it). The sole reason we don’t have such a system is that the current disaster makes billions of dollars for tax software companies, which then use a slice of that to relentlessly lobby Congress to keep the status quo.

But if those are the only things turning you into a rage monkey this Tax Day, you’re not paying attention. As an extensive new report from Oxfam America explains, the biggest U.S. multinational corporations have positioned themselves for a political victory that will not just slash their taxes and leave regular people to pick up the bill, but also will set the stage for further corporate tax cuts in the future.

Corporate America has three main goals when it comes to taxes:

  • Bring their “overseas” profits home. The top statutory tax rate for American corporations is 35 percent, on profits earned anywhere on earth. However, taxes aren’t assessed on profits from outside the U.S. until the money is brought back here.

This creates a huge incentive for companies to engage in complicated financial machinations to make it appear that as much of their profits as possible have been “earned” in other countries. They then leave the cash overseas in hopes of arranging a tax holiday allowing them to bring it back at a much lower rate. This already happened once, in 2004, when companies were assessed taxes at 5 percent on repatriated profits.

Oxfam determined that as of the 2015 tax year, the 50 largest U.S. multinational corporations have a gargantuan $1.6 trillion stashed in other countries. That’s about one-tenth the size of the entire U.S. economy.

Even more remarkably, Oxfam found the tally was up $200 billion from the year before. Tim Cook — CEO of Apple, which has more money overseas than any other company — said before last year’s election that he was “optimistic” there would be a new tax holiday no matter who was president. That jump in overseas profits suggests corporate lawyers and accountants throughout the business world were making a special effort to prepare for such an optimistic future.

Oxfam calculated that the top 50 companies spent $2.5 billion lobbying from 2009 to 2015, or about $46 million per member of Congress. The report also tracked the plethora of front groups set up by corporations to make the case for their kind of tax “reform.” The 50 companies belong to two such organizations on average, while eight of the 50 are members of four or more.

In public, the front groups claim that if big corporations can bring their money home at a special low tax rate, they’ll go on a hiring spree in the U.S. and pour money into investments here. In private, when discussing the subject with Wall Street analysts and investors, they explain that they’ll actually spend it on mergers and stock buybacks. An analysis by Goldman Sachs last November said the same thing, predicting that three-fourths of profits brought back to the U.S. would be used for buybacks.

  • Bring down the corporate tax rate as far as possible. Read the Wall Street Journal op-ed page on any day or watch five minutes of CNBC, and you’ll learn that America’s 35 percent statutory corporate tax rate is one of the highest in the world.

Corporate America would dearly love to lower that as far as possible, and if that’s all you hear about the subject it sounds like it makes sense.

However, the effective U.S. corporate tax rate — what companies actually pay after taking advantage of every deduction and loophole — is much lower. A 2014 Congressional Research Service report found the effective U.S. rate was 27.1 percent, slightly lower than the 27.7 percent weighted average of the rest of the Organization for Economic and Cooperative Development, made up of most of the world’s richest countries. The 2015 Economic Report of the President, covering a more recent period, calculated that the effective marginal tax rate in the U.S. was 23.9 percent, compared to a weighted average of 20.6 percent for Japan, France, Germany, Canada, Italy and the UK.

Looked at another way, in 2014 OECD members raised an average of 2.8 percent of their GDP in revenue from corporate taxes. That same year the U.S. raised significantly less, at 2.2 percent.

In other words, there’s little sign U.S. companies are overtaxed by world standards.

  • Use lowered U.S. tax rates to ratchet down rates everywhere else – and then come back for more here. The most important thing to understand about this issue is that multinational corporations will not be satisfied with a one-time tax cut. Instead, their goal is to use any reduction in U.S. taxes to force taxes down in the rest of the world, and then start complaining again that U.S. rates are too high.

This process is already well underway around the globe. The Oxfam report points out that in 1990 the average corporate tax rate in the world’s 20 major countries was 40 percent; by 2015 it had fallen to 28.7 percent. Moreover, the average 2.8 percent of GDP that OECD companies raised via corporate taxes in 2014 was significantly down from the 3.6 percent they raised just seven years before in 2007.

Politicians acutely feel pressure to bring down rates to make their countries “competitive.” Speaking last September, Bill Clinton explained that he didn’t mind a 35 percent corporate rate when he was president because at that point “it was precisely in the middle of the OECD countries” — but “it isn’t anymore,” so “we should try to get it as close to the international average as we can.”

Likewise, soon after Donald Trump won the election while calling for a top corporate tax rate of 15 percent, British Prime Minister Theresa May declared that her goal was for the UK to reduce its corporate tax from 20 percent to “the lowest corporate tax rate in the G20.”

The logical endpoint of this beggar-thy-neighbor dynamic is that eventually corporations will pay nothing in taxes, at which point everyone will in fact be beggars. “Rather than competing to win a race to the bottom,” says Robert Silverman, the main author of the Oxfam report, “international tax reform needs to be built on a new framework of cross-border cooperation, transparency and accountability.”

At this point, both the good news and the bad news on this subject is that Donald Trump is president. On the one hand, he animatedly vowed during last year’s debates that “I’ll be reducing taxes tremendously” on corporations and that “it’s going to be a beautiful thing to watch.” With a Republican Congress, the years of lobbying and payoffs by big business should be set to bear not just fruit but an entire orchard. But on the other hand, Trump is so lazy and incompetent he probably couldn’t get Congress to pass a resolution endorsing the American Revolution.

So as of now, Trump appears set to enjoy the same rousing success with taxes as he did with healthcare. He’s apparently thrown out the tax plan on which he campaigned and is starting over again from scratch.

Obamacare, however, was a subject of only tangential interest to corporate America. By contrast, a new and improved tax code could be worth trillions of dollars to them. With the stars so seemingly aligned, it’s unlikely that they’ll let their dream be deferred without a significant fight.

So as you sign your tax return, save some screeching and hooting for this infuriating topic. Regular people think about taxes as little as possible because we have no control over them, and the core unfairness of the U.S. system brings us nothing but vexation. But big corporations think about taxes every day — because they know that sooner or later, one way or another, they’ll get what they want.

Is Our Political Class Mentally Ill?

Sadistic commentators hail death and destruction

April 17, 2017

by Justin Raimondo

AntiWar

I write this on Easter Sunday, the day of resurrection and hope in the Christian calendar, but such a bright promise looks a bit thin given what is going on in our world, our country: what looks like a mass outbreak of mental illness among our political class.

I say this because here is a group of people – journalists, politicians, and other Very Serious Persons – who have hated our new President from the get-go. He’s Hitler, he’s Mussolini, he’s Pepe the frog! He’s this, he’s that, he’s Our National Nightmare! And yet the minute he starts bombing foreigners he’s suddenly not so bad after all. Over at the Washington Post, David Ignatius, the CIA’s journalistic front man, says he’s “becoming a credible foreign policy leader.” Ruth Marcus opines that we’re witnessing “the normalization of Donald Trump.” Finally, she enthuses, “rationality is dawning” on the forty-fifth President! Among the liberal elite, the hosannas were well nigh universal. As Ann Coulter noted:

“Cable news hosts gushed, ‘Trump became president of the United States tonight!’ On MSNBC, Brian Williams called the bombing ‘beautiful’ three times in less than a minute. Sen. Lindsey Graham (one of the ‘women of the Senate,’ according to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg) compared Trump to Reagan. The New York Times headlined an article, ‘On Syria Attack, Trump’s Heart Came First.’”

Fareed Zakaria’s joy over the bombing seemed to indicate that, for him, it was practically an erotic experience. And this weird bloodlust wasn’t limited to the liberal precincts of the commentariat – far from it. When we dropped the MOAB on Afghanistan, Kimberly Guilfoyle practically had an orgasm over at Fox News. Sitting there in her low cut red dress, her breasts heaving with passion, her lips parted, and an ecstatic smile plastered on her heavily made-up face, she hailed the bombing as if it were the climax – so to speak – of a pornographic movie: “America is back!” Oh, yeeeesssss!!!!

The craziness is pandemic, and it doesn’t only revolve around war-worship. The new sadism is flavored with the spice of paranoia. A major political party is now in the throes of a paranoid delusion that the Russians are in control of the US government, and one of their agents sits in the Oval Office, where he is addressed as “Mr. President.” And not only that, but someone who is invited to write for the New York Times and is considered a legitimate journalist is telling us that …. well, see for yourself.

Okay, Louise Mensch may be a bit of an outright lunatic, and yet we have no less than two congressional committees investigating this conspiracy theory, with the Washington Post, the New York Times, CNN, and Rachel Maddow all doing their best to validate it. Paranoia used to be considered a form of mental illness: today it is regarded as just another ideology, and not a fringe phenomenon but the animating style and overriding preoccupation of what we used to call “liberalism” in this country.

So we have both sadism and paranoia as widespread symptoms of mental illness in our political class – and with these two usually come another unattractive personality trait: delusions of grandeur. This form of craziness often accompanies both sadism and paranoia, and we can see it manifested in the assumption that a country which is nearly bankrupt, and which hasn’t won a war since the end of World War II, can fix the world’s problems by dropping some bombs.

In Syria, for example, we have what is at least a six-sided war, involving the Syrian government, the Turks, the Kurds, the “moderate” Islamist rebels, al-Qaeda, and ISIS, and our political class stands up and cheers because President Trump launched 59 missiles at Syrian military base. The real effect is almost nil, although it does make the situation a bit worse, and yet with all the applause one would think we actually accomplished something. Oh, but we’re told that it “sent a message”! Like lobbing the MOAB into Afghanistan, it was a purely symbolic act.

Symbolic thinking is just another form of pathology, related to psychosis: when psychic pain precludes the perception of concretes, the mind resorts to pure symbolism, and this is also common in paranoiacs. A sick mind imputes meaning to unrelated phenomena, and letting go of this epistemological error is the road to recovery.

Over time, as the psychosis develops, a person experiencing mental illness begins to have hallucinations: the symbolic thinking manifests itself as images in the brain. As one former psychotic describes the process:

“Hallucinatory reality is analogous to dreaming in the same room where a television is on. The physical reality of the television is translated into the idiosyncratic symbols of the person’s dreaming and the person’s consciousness experiences the dream, not the television. In the same way, the themes and events of the individual’s personal world become projected into the symbolic hallucinations of the psychotic state and create a highly exaggerated symbolic framework that parallels the actual reality of the schizophrenic.”

Now imagine that the people on television are themselves psychotic: in “reporting” what they regard as the news, and the meaning of that news, they are projecting their own symbolic hallucinations. Yes, they are telling us about things that really happened – the Syria strike, the MOAB dropped on Afghanistan – but they are also creating a highly exaggerated framework, a “narrative,” that is absolutely unhinged.

Our society is experiencing an episode of what can only be called mass psychosis. Is it a temporary thing, or are we headed for a large-scale mental breakdown? Is it just the political class, or is it contagious – is it spreading to the general population via the media? And, most importantly, is there a cure?

I don’t have the answers to most of these questions, but one thing I do know: yes, the media is indeed the transmission belt that projects the sadism, the paranoia, and the all around general madness that originates in our sick political class, and carries it to the general population. And while Antiwar.com is not the cure, it is the equivalent of a few aspirin when the patient has a fever – specifically, war fever. So we’re doing our part to alleviate at least some of the symptoms of what ails American society, although I fear we’re going to need a medicine much stronger than a few aspirin.

War Cries Drown Out ‘America First’

April 18, 2017

by Patrick J. Buchanan,

AntiWar

“Why would I call China a currency manipulator when they are working with us on the North Korean problem?” tweeted President Donald Trump on Easter Sunday.

Earlier, after discovering “great chemistry” with Chinese President Xi Jinping over “the most beautiful piece of chocolate cake” at Mar-a-Lago, Trump had confided, “I explained … that a trade deal with the U.S. will be far better for them if they solve the North Korean problem!”

“America First” thus takes a back seat to big-power diplomacy with Beijing. One wonders: How much will Xi end up bilking us for his squeezing of Kim Jong Un?

Trump once seemed to understand how America had been taken to the cleaners during and after the Cold War. While allies supported us diplomatically, they piled up huge trade surpluses at our expense and became virtual free-riders off the U.S. defense effort.

No nations were more successful at this than South Korea and Japan. Now Xi is playing the game – and perhaps playing Trump.

What is the “North Korean problem” Beijing will help solve in return for more indulgent consideration on future U.S.-China trade deals?

North Korea’s nuclear arsenal. As 80 percent of Pyongyang’s trade comes through China, Trump believes that Beijing can force Kim to stop testing missiles and atomic bombs before he produces an intercontinental ballistic missile that could hit the U.S.

But what is to prevent Xi from pocketing Trump’s concessions and continuing on the strategic course China has long pursued?

For in many ways, Pyongyang’s goals parallel China’s.

Neither could want an all-out war on the Korean Peninsula. For Kim, this would devastate his country, bring down his regime, and cost him his life. For China, war could mean millions of Koreans crossing the Yalu into Manchuria and a disruption of Beijing’s march to Asian hegemony.

A continuing crisis on the peninsula, however, with Trump and the U.S. relying on Beijing’s help, could leave Xi in the catbird seat.

And now that North Korea has declared its goal to be building missiles with nuclear warheads that could hit all U.S. bases in Asia – and even California – the clock is running for the White House.

“It won’t happen,” Trump has said of North Korea’s developing an ICBM that could hit the United States. “If China is not going to solve North Korea, we will.”

“The threat is upon us,” says outgoing deputy national security adviser K.T. McFarland. “This is something President Trump is going to deal with in the first year.”

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Vice President Mike Pence have declared that our policy of “strategic patience” with Pyonyang is at an end.

National security adviser H.R. McMaster said Sunday the U.S. has “to take action, short of armed conflict, so we can avoid the worst” in dealing with “this unpredictable regime.”

With a stunning parade of missiles in Pyongyang on Saturday, the North’s failed firing of a solid-fueled missile that same day, and the promise of new missile tests weekly, Kim is forcing our hand.

Either he backs away from building atomic bombs and long-range missiles or Trump and his generals must make good on their warnings.

How did we get to this point?

Why, 64 years after the Korean War, a quarter-century after the Cold War, are we still obliged to go to war to defend South Korea from a North with one-half the South’s population and 3 percent of its gross domestic product?

Why are we, on the far side of the Pacific, still responsible for containing North Korea when two of its neighbors – Russia and China – are nuclear powers and South Korea and Japan could field nuclear and conventional forces far superior to Kim’s?

How long into the future will containing militarist dictators in Pyongyang with nuclear missiles be America’s primary responsibility?

Another issue arises. Before the U.S. launches any pre-emptive strike on North Korea, Congress should be called back into session to authorize any act of war against the North.

Perhaps this time, Congress would follow the Constitution.

Though Korea is the crisis of the moment, it is not the only one.

Not since 9/11 have the Afghan Taliban been stronger or controlled more territory. The United States’ commanding general there is calling for thousands more U.S. troops. Russia and Iran are reportedly negotiating with the Taliban. Pakistan is said to be aiding them.

To counter Vladimir Putin’s Russia, we have moved U.S. and NATO troops into Poland, the Baltic States, Romania and Bulgaria. We have fired missiles into Syria. We are reportedly preparing to back the Saudis in the latest escalation of their war on the Houthi rebels in Yemen.

Twenty-four years after “Black Hawk Down,” the weekend brought reports of U.S. troops returning to Somalia.

The promise of a Trump presidency – that we would start looking out for our own country and own national interests first and let the rest of the world solve, or fail to solve, its own problems – appears, not 100 days in, to have been a mirage.

Will more wars make America great again?

The American Government’s Secret Plan for Surviving the End of the World

Newly declassified CIA files offer a glimpse of the playbook the Trump administration will reach for if it stumbles into a nuclear war.

April 14, 2017

by Marc Ambinder

Foreign Policy

Among the greatest foreign-policy dilemmas faced by former President Jimmy Carter is one that has never been publicly aired but is gaining new relevance. It concerns nuclear war, and how the U.S. government would survive it. Carter’s decisions remain classified, but documents newly declassified by the CIA, along with the archives at several presidential libraries, provide a new window into the White House’s preparations for an imminent apocalypse.

Today, such an apocalypse could be triggered by any number of nuclear-armed states, including North Korea and Pakistan. During Carter’s presidency, such anxieties were focused squarely on the Soviet Union. It was during that period that military planners in both the Soviet Union and United States began to grapple with what until then had been an unthinkable heresy: abandoning the Mutually Assured Destruction catechism that had governed global order since the 1950s and preparing for surviving an all-out nuclear war.

Carter and his White House were interested in more specific questions. If the presidency could survive after a nuclear war, what exactly would it do afterward? How could the surviving commander in chief be identified? Who would identify him? How would he fulfill the three main functions of the presidency: to be the chief executive of the government, the head of state, and the commander in chief of its armed forces?

Carter’s answers came in the form of Presidential Directive 58, which was issued in the final months of his presidency; Ronald Reagan amended those plans with his own presidential directive in 1983. Their contents inform the continuity of government plans that remain in effect for the Trump administration. They have been the object of a multibillion-dollar pastiche of programs and a magnet for conspiracy theorists around the world.

What follows is a glimpse at how the government developed some of its most closely held national-security secrets — and how the Trump administration, or any of its successors, might rely on them to survive the end of the world as we know it.

When Carter took office, the Soviet Union had a head start on preparing for nuclear war. It had an expensive civil preparedness program; hundreds, perhaps thousands, of underground bunkers; and extensive continuity of government programs.

The United States, for its part, had Ray Derby. Born in Iowa in 1935, Derby became one of the Defense Department’s premier experts on emergency preparedness and disaster response. In Europe, he led noncombatant evacuation drills across NATO, training the trainers who evaluated each unit’s ability to absorb and withstand an attack. In the United States, he led numerous governmentwide task forces on civil defense for nuclear, biological, and chemical accidents. He also developed the standard plan that America’s nuclear bases would use in a disaster. By the time of Carter’s inauguration in 1977, he was in charge of training and operations at the West Virginia Operations Office in the General Services Administration’s Federal Preparedness Agency (FPA).

At the time, the principal federal plan for catastrophic disasters like nuclear war — Federal Emergency Plan D — called for each federal agency to design, develop, and build its own hardened, underground facility. In an emergency, the government would be run from the bunkers. Most agencies did not take the responsibility too seriously.

The FPA tasked Derby with evaluating the implementation of Plan D. The first thing he noticed was that agencies rarely, if ever, rehearsed their respective plans. Few had made any provisions for maintaining vital records — even the laws, regulations, and directives that agencies used in their daily work. Many agency employees didn’t even know whether they were part of the teams that were supposed to evacuate during a disaster.

These failures were the product of systemic neglect since the dawn of the nuclear age. Aside from a brief boom after the Cuban Missile Crisis, during which six federal government relocation centers were built around the nation, the United States did not treat civil defense as a part of its strategic deterrence. The federal government proved eager to spend money to upgrade weapons, not to protect the population or help them survive a nuclear attack. In the 1970s, many government agencies gave up planning post-disaster operations, assuming that the various federal organizations that had the word “preparedness” or “mobilization” in their titles were taking care of it.

Derby thought the problem was larger than funding. The American public said in polls that they wanted a civil defense program. But they lived in peace and didn’t pay attention to its development. They might have assumed that a big program existed somewhere out there, ready to be used in a Soviet attack. By the 1970s, the “duck and cover” years had given way to the comforting dulcet tones of détente. There was no urgency. And presidents were not insisting on any.

There was one other complication: to effectively save the country during a nuclear war, the military had to cross one of its red lines by getting involved in domestic security. After nuclear war, martial law would almost certainly have to be declared, and the military given extraordinary powers to manage resource distribution. But the government also assumed that some sort of martial law would be required before the start of the actual war. As soon as it believed a war might be imminent, the government planned to move significant parts of the population, specifically those who lived near significant strategic military targets, and policymakers knew this might require a degree of coercion, even force. The military did not like to talk about this scenario, and neither did politicians. Plans were therefore developed in secret and classified, ensuring less visibility and public accountability.

And what about members of the government themselves? In an emergency, or a changing of the Defense Condition status, the Joint Chiefs of Staff would order 60 officials to primary relocation sites. The government operated a so-called special facility atop Mount Weather in Berryville, Virginia, where a cadre of top executive branch officials would ride out a nuclear war. Other standby relocation sites were near Hagerstown, Maryland, and Martinsburg, West Virginia, at the Marine base near Quantico, Virginia (for the FBI), and Front Royal, Virginia, near a facility where the State Department was supposed to reconstitute. Still others were hidden at colleges inside or near the Beltway.

But the Army and Air Force had enough helicopters to transport only about a third as many officials as would be required — assuming that aboveground transportation was possible. (Instructions called for them to make their way there in some other unspecified fashion if the helicopters were not available.) And for any top American leaders who managed to make it to Mount Weather, their ability to communicate with federal agencies, other governments, and the American people was questionable, at best, not least because the sites were generally minimally staffed.

Many political leaders disdained suggestions that they practice for war or the very idea they would voluntarily hide themselves in secret bunkers away from the public and their families. (Dick Cheney, a congressman in the 1970s, was one such skeptic.) The assumption in the U.S. government was that the Soviets knew everything anyway. They had even bought land at the base of Mount Weather solely to monitor the comings and goings of emergency personnel. If the apocalypse was coming, warding it off was considered a fool’s errand.

By the time Jimmy Carter became president, the country was spending less than $100 million a year on civil defense, compared with more than $30 billion a year to keep its nuclear weapons from becoming obsolete. Congress had identified the value of a unified civil defense program but hadn’t done much to fund it. Carter became the first president since John F. Kennedy to pay significant attention. In September 1978, he declared that civil defense was part of the country’s strategic deterrence, because a population, or government, vulnerable to nuclear attack was more vulnerable to being coerced by threats of an attack. A short presidential decision directive, which was classified at the time, said as much — and little else.

America’s civil defense budget rose modestly at first. But a series of studies acknowledged how weak the country’s civil defenses had become. Fallout shelters built in the 1950s were obsolete and needed to be refurbished or replaced. Executive orders assigning functions to different agencies were widely ignored. There were no federal provisions for evacuating large populations, the lynchpin of any civil defense program. Military exercises all but ignored the hypothetical scenario. These studies also set the path for a whole new policy.

Over the objections of the Pentagon, Carter eventually endorsed a consolidation of the government’s civil defense and continuity programs into one agency and set an ambitious goal. During an all-out nuclear war, the government would aim to have 80 percent of the country survive — and it should prepare to do so on a budget of less than $250 million per year.

On June 19, 1979, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was written into existence. Carter elevated the importance of the agency’s director, assigning to the National Security Council and the Pentagon the task of overseeing civil preparedness. It was now inextricably linked to national security — and strategic nuclear policy. A secret CIA memo said that “trans-attack planning” — how the presidency could function during a nuclear war — was now a part of a national security strategy.

This was sweet music for Ray Derby. FEMA would take charge of the FPA’s Continuity of Government program Derby had been working on, but he would be tasked by FEMA with taking control of the special facility at Mount Weather, becoming, for all intents and purposes, its mayor. Its secrecy would increase, as would its budget and footprint. It would be responsible for the official survival items list, the stockpile of resources that would be needed to rebuild the government after nuclear war.

Meanwhile, the White House was focusing on the hardest challenge of all — providing a mechanism for presidential successors to execute nuclear war orders during and after a nuclear exchange. Early in Carter’s presidency, the director of the White House Military Office, Hugh Carter, convened a small working group to review the White House Emergency Plan, the top secret document that set out how the Secret Service would evacuate the president — and how the White House Military Office would instantiate successors if the president were killed.

The basic blueprint was contained in a series of proposed PEADS — presidential emergency action documents — which National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski’s military aide Col. Bill Odom then reviewed and revised. Odom, as he wrote in a memoir, found the proposed procedures conspicuously lacking in both imagination and a connection to reality.

One White House memo noted that day-to-day communications between the Pentagon and presidential emergency facilities at Mount Weather, Camp David, and the White House were “satisfactory” under normal conditions. But during a civil disorder, or “uncoordinated sabotage,” it was obvious that satisfactory wouldn’t suffice. And in a conventional or nuclear war, it was determined that the facilities would provide “little protection” — in other words, whichever survivors were stashed there probably wouldn’t survive for long before being targeted themselves.

This meant, in practice, that fixed command posts would not work. A mobile command post was a theoretical option. But the White House couldn’t depend on getting the president or a successor to an emergency escape aircraft in a surprise nuclear attack. Even if they managed to do so, it was impossible to know what kind of staff they would have around them.

Meanwhile, because only Carter and Vice President Walter Mondale had “presidential emergency satchels” — the famed nuclear footballs that verified their identities as commanders in chief — the country’s nuclear command-and-control system would risk coming to a halt if both men were incapacitated or had died, unless there was some other way of identifying presidential successors to the military.

The original solution offered by the White House Military Office were code names uttered by their designees. So if Speaker of the House Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill Jr. found himself the only surviving successor, all he would need to acquire complete control of the government and its nuclear arsenal would be to offer the surviving Pentagon command center’s emergency action officer a vocal verification of his identity by using the term FLAG DAY. The president pro tempore of the Senate, next in line, was FOUR FINGER. Secretary of State Cyrus Vance would authenticate his identity by calling himself FADE AWAY.

In reality, the Pentagon’s emergency action officer would try to ensure that a survivor was who he said he was. But if Soviet missiles were on the way, the designers of this fragile system had little doubt that the shortcuts would be used, with untold risks for the efficiency of the country’s military response and its basic security.

In light of these challenges, the White House task force tried to conceive of a more flexible, and de-centralized, idea of what it meant for the government to survive. In defining the presidency’s continuity, the task force found itself coming back to three central, if decidedly bureaucratic, concepts: survivability (the president and his basic support team had to ride out a war), connectivity (they had to communicate with one another, the country, and other heads of state), and supportability (people needed other people elsewhere in the country to help them).

This led to a key recommendation: five 50-person “interagency cadres” that would be pre-positioned or pre-deployed during emergencies to support would-be presidential successors. These “presidential successor support teams,” codenamed TREETOP cadres by the Pentagon, would deploy randomly to any one of “several hundred sites, perhaps 2-3 thousand, that would be pre-selected,” allowing for a relocation of institutional knowledge that was “highly flexible and adaptive.”

Odom’s team drew up a list of requirements for these teams. The first thing that a deployed team would do was to identify and authenticate the actual president — the ranking successor. The details of the system they developed remain highly classified, but as it was described to me, it involved what might be the first example of “tracking chips” embedded in presidential successor support cards, which would be amplified by radio frequency repeaters. The signals would be collected by FEMA and the National Military Command Center. Other critical technology that would be deployed to assist the would-be presidents would also be tagged and tracked, which might offer a layer of protection against spoofing. (The plan, however, flew ahead of the technology available to make this work. It wasn’t until the George W. Bush administration that the government could passively and electronically track some presidential successors by satellites and the cellular phone system.)

Second: Each team would have to, on its own, help the successor carry out the three main presidential functions: commander in chief, chief of state, chief executive. The team would have to talk to other deployed teams that had survived and securely identify themselves. It would have to talk to the Pentagon, or its surviving elements, to execute the nuclear war plan. It would have to receive intelligence and damage assessments. It would have to talk to state and local governments, too. More prosaically, the 50 people on each team would have to be prepared to function as a stand-alone executive branch without outside help for at least six months.

Odom’s review proceeded slowly. Agencies were asked to weigh in on whether they could carry out a series of secret executive orders. These orders remain classified to this day, but certain public documents offer scraps of information. The Carter White House eventually issued at least 29 PEADs. PEAD 2 dealt with the reconstitution of Congress, a touchy issue for the executive branch, much less mentioned in open correspondence. PEAD 5 was titled “Providing for the Mobilization of the Nation’s Resources.” PEAD 6 dealt with calling an emergency civilian reserve force.

How would Congress be reconstituted? What resources would be mobilized? Who would be drafted? We still don’t know.

We do know this. When Carter’s presidential directive codifying these changes went into effect in late 1980, the CIA set up its own secret agency, the National Intelligence Emergency Support Office, which would be headquartered in Virginia, receive input from all CIA directorates, and deploy three-person successor support teams to randomly chosen TREETOP locations at a moment’s notice.

We also know, from budget documents, that agencies began to request more money to fund successor support teams. We know that the Pentagon began to test hardened mobile command centers. We know that the Air Force developed plans to add electromagnetic bandwidth devoted to continuity of government to its latest satellites. We know that a designated presidential successor would start being brought to Mount Weather during events that gathered all the branches of government together, like the State of the Union address.

We also know that Reagan found the system inadequate. He was briefed on it before his presidency, but his participation in the 1982 Ivy League war games convinced him that a survivable presidency was untenable and a major gap in the defenses of the country. One of his top aides, Thomas Reed — along with a Marine attached to the National Security Council by the name of Oliver North — persuaded Reagan to permit some modifications to Carter’s system, rather than abandon it.

Flash-forward 35 years. Russia has taken Crimea by force, and an under-resourced NATO worries that an invasion of the Baltic States could bring the alliance to the brink of war. The United States worries that North Korea is on the verge of mating nuclear warheads to intercontinental ballistic missiles that could reach portions of the Unites States. President Donald Trump can still be baited with tweets, has resorted to military force against a sovereign nation backed by Russia after seeing television images of children dying from exposure to sarin gas, has spoken of building a bigger (and not just better) nuclear arsenal, and has not (yet) demonstrated the temperament to respond to a crisis with tact.

Emergency survival plans have evolved since the era of Jimmy Carter. We can safely assume that presidential successors will be authenticated by something more than a whispered code name. But the threats that might prompt their use are still nearer than we all would hope.

 

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