TBR News January 30, 2018

Jan 30 2018

The Voice of the White House

Washington, D.C. January 30, 2018: “The French philosopher Blaise Pascal discusses self-important individuals in his essay on ‘Thoughts.’

As I recall the passage, he says that men would be great but know that they are small, would be happy but are miserable, wish to be perfect but know that they are full of imperfections and wish to be honored and loved by others but know that their flaws merit only contempt. I believe the passage goes in that way. And it continues to say that these persons become violently angry against these truths which so clearly expose their faults. This man becomes a Communist or a liberal as they call them in England.

He sees that only in reducing all men to a common state he can feel, if not superior, at least equal. These persons cannot achieve or create but can certainly destroy that which others have achieved or created. You find these creatures in the academic world filled with hatred that they cannot create that which they teach or in trade unions where they curse the man who has built a factory that they could not. And if they come to power, they only ruin what they touch.

They start out by demanding that you accept the idea that all men are equal and every man must be the equal to…but not the superior to his neighbor. In mathematics this is called a common denominator. Now these intellectual unemployed want all men to be equal and they, of course, are the natural leaders of these masses because of their superior, if previously unrecognized, brilliance.

They manipulate the masses to whom they condescend in order to overthrow an existing government and supplant it with… themselves!.

And the tyranny of the market place, which is more or less natural, is replaced by the tyranny of the failed intellectual who knows with a certainty that he alone is right and wishes to force everyone not as brilliant as himself to worship him as a small clay God.”




Table of Contents

  • Too Many Wars. Too Many Enemies.
  • US general: US troops won’t withdraw from Syrian city of Manbij
  • Turkey’s huge crackdown is destroying civil society
  • Secrecy News 
  • Tet Offensive
  • The Doomsday Weapon
  • Saudi anti-corruption drive generates $106bn in settlements
  • Trump administration refuses to impose new Russia sanctions despite law
  • Second Trump-Russia dossier being assessed by FBI
  • Austria’s Sebastian Kurz backs Hungary’s Viktor Orban against EU migrant quotas
  • Russia’s Putin says Moscow wants to develop relations with the United States
  • Facebook ‘no place’ for young children
  • Robert Mueller’s forgotten surveillance crime spree



Too Many Wars. Too Many Enemies.

January 30, 2018

by Patrick J. Buchanan


If Turkey is not bluffing, U.S. troops in Manbij, Syria, could be under fire by week’s end, and NATO engulfed in the worst crisis in its history.

Turkish President Erdogan said Friday his troops will cleanse Manbij of Kurdish fighters, alongside whom US troops are embedded.

Erdogan’s foreign minister demanded concrete steps by the US to end its support of the Kurds, who control the Syrian border with Turkey east of the Euphrates, all the way to Iraq.

If the Turks attack Manbij, the US will face a choice: Stand by our Kurdish allies and resist the Turks, or abandon the Kurds.

Should the US let the Turks drive the Kurds out of Manbij and the entire Syrian border area with Turkey, as Erdogan threatens, US credibility would suffer a blow from which it would not soon recover.

But to stand with the Kurds and oppose Erdogan’s forces could mean a crackup of NATO and loss of US bases inside Turkey, including the air base at Incirlik.

Turkey also sits astride the Dardanelles entrance to the Black Sea. NATO’s loss of Turkey would thus be a triumph for Vladimir Putin, who gave Ankara the green light to cleanse the Kurds from Afrin.

Yet Syria is but one of many challenges to US foreign policy.

The Winter Olympics in South Korea may have taken the threat of a North Korean ICBM that could hit the US out of the news. But no one believes that threat is behind us.

Last week, China charged that the USS Hopper, a guided missile destroyer, sailed within 12 nautical miles of Scarborough Shoal, a reef in the South China Sea claimed by Beijing, though it is far closer to Luzon in the Philippines. The destroyer, says China, was chased off by one of her frigates. If we continue to contest China’s territorial claims with US warships, a clash is inevitable.

In a similar incident Monday, a Russian military jet came within five feet of a US Navy EP-3 Orion surveillance plane in international airspace over the Black Sea, forcing the Navy plane to end its mission.

US relations with Cold War ally Pakistan are at rock bottom. In his first tweet of 2018, President Trump charged Pakistan with being a duplicitous and false friend.

“The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies & deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools. They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!”

As for America’s longest war, in Afghanistan, now in its 17th year, the end is nowhere on the horizon.A week ago, the International Hotel in Kabul was attacked and held for 13 hours by Taliban gunmen who killed 40. Midweek, a Save the Children facility in Jalalabad was attacked by ISIS, creating panic among aid workers across the country.

Saturday, an ambulance exploded in Kabul, killing 103 people and wounding 235. Monday, Islamic State militants attacked Afghan soldiers guarding a military academy in Kabul. With the fighting season two months off, US troops will not soon be departing.

If Pakistan is indeed providing sanctuary for the terrorists of the Haqqani network, how does this war end successfully for the United States?

Last week, in a friendly fire incident, the U.S.-led coalition killed 10 Iraqi soldiers. The Iraq war began 15 years ago.

Yet another war, where the humanitarian crisis rivals Syria, continues on the Arabian Peninsula. There, a Saudi air, sea and land blockade that threatens the Yemeni people with starvation has failed to dislodge Houthi rebels who seized the capital Sanaa three years ago.

This weekend brought news that secessionist rebels, backed by the United Arab Emirates, have seized power in Yemen’s southern port of Aden, from the Saudi-backed Hadi regime fighting the Houthis.

These rebels seek to split the country, as it was before 1990.

Iran, Saudi Arabia and the UAE appear to be backing different horses in this tribal-civil-sectarian war into which America has been drawn.

There are other wars – Somalia, Libya, Ukraine – where the US is taking sides, sending arms, training troops, flying missions.

Like the Romans, we have become an empire, committed to fight for scores of nations, with troops on every continent, and forces in combat operations of which the American people are only vaguely aware.

“I didn’t know there were 1,000 troops in Niger,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham when four Green Berets were killed there. “We don’t know exactly where we’re at in the world, militarily, and what we’re doing.”

No, we don’t, Senator.

As in all empires, power is passing to the generals.

And what causes the greatest angst today in the imperial city?

Fear that a four-page memo worked up in the House Judiciary Committee may discredit Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russia-gate.


US general: US troops won’t withdraw from Syrian city of Manbij

January 29, 2018

by Ruan McKirdy


US troops will not withdraw from Manbij, a strategically important city in northern Syria, a leading US military figure told CNN Sunday.

This means that US troops risk being caught up in Turkey’s military push into northern Syria should Ankara follow through with a pledge to advance into the area.Gen. Joseph Votel, commander of the United States Central Command, said that withdrawing US forces from Manbij is “not something we are looking into.”

Manbij is a key flashpoint in northern Syria — located northeast of Aleppo and around 40 kilometers (25 miles) south of Jarabulus, which sits on the Syrian-Turkish border.

Turkey launched a ground operation across the border into Syria a week ago in an attempt to drive US-allied Kurdish militia from the area. The military incursion has raised tensions between Turkey and the United States, which supports and openly arms Kurdish militias fighting ISIS.

he confirmation of US commitment to Manbij comes as parties involved in the conflict prepare to meet in Russia-hosted peace talks in the Black Sea resort of Sochi.

The Syrian National Dialogue Congress will take place over Monday and Tuesday, and will be attended by up to 1,500 delegates from across the Syrian political landscape, Russian state media says.

The UN’s special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, will attend, the world body confirmed.

Differing accounts

Conflicting accounts of a Wednesday phone call between US President Donald Trump and Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan further muddied the waters concerning Turkish ambitions in the area.

According to the White House’s readout of the call, Trump “urged Turkey to exercise caution and to avoid any actions that might risk conflict between Turkish and American forces.”

However, the White House version of the call was immediately disputed by Turkish officials.

Turkey’s foreign minister told reporters Thursday that Erdogan had asked Trump to withdraw US troops from Manbij.

“The US is engaged with the Turkish government at all levels to develop a solution which addresses Turkey’s security concerns and ensures there is no decrease in pressure on ISIS,” Department of Defense spokesman Eric Pahon told CNN at the time.

Defense of the the city is the responsibility of the Manbij Military Council (MMC), a primarily Arab force made up of Manbij locals. It is aligned with the US coalition partner Syrian Defense Force (SDF). The MMC was created to defend Manbij from ISIS and assumed the defense of the town in August 2016 after the SDF liberated the area from the jihadi group.

Coalition troops trained, advised, assisted and accompanied the MMC in 2016, and continues to provide material and training support.

“This allows the citizens of Manbij to continue to make progress in restoring the city to its pre-conflict way of life,” Pahon said.

“This return to normalcy is an important factor in preventing the return of ISIS.”

The city is 60% ethnically-Arab and an approximately 40% mix of Kurdish, Turkmen and Circassia, according to Pahon.

Continued activity

Two US defense officials told CNN earlier in January that the US military was carrying out overt patrols in the Manbij area, with the primary mission of deterring conflict.

The officials added that Turkish-backed rebels in the area regularly fire on these patrols and US forces occasionally return fire. One military official said US troops in the Manbij area had come under fire from Turkish-backed rebels “within the last week,” and had returned fire in self-defense.

On a visit to London last week, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had voiced “concern” about Turkey’s offensive against Kurdish militia in northern Syria, urging restraint but stopping short of demanding an end to the operation.

Tillerson said that Turkey had a right to protect its citizens but urged “restraint” on both sides.

Earlier in January, he said the US must remain both diplomatically and militarily engaged in Syria to protect its own national security interests.

CNN’s Jomana Karadsheh, Ryan Browne and Barbara Starr contributed to this report


Turkey’s huge crackdown is destroying civil society

January 30, 2018

by Kate Allen

The Guardian

Turkey’s military offensive in Afrin ​looks set to dominate news coverage of the region for weeks to come.

Which is no surprise. The operation is taking place on the much bigger stage of the war in Syria, Russia and the US are both deeply involved, and the UN is anxiously assessing the scale of the impact on the already dire humanitarian situation, the number of displaced people running into the thousands.

But back across the border in Turkey, one underreported aspect of the Afrin offensive is yet another domestic crackdown. In the past week more than 150 people, including at least four journalists, have been detained in various locations in Turkey on the grounds that they had criticised the Afrin operation in social media posts. They’re being investigated for “making propaganda for a [terrorist] organisation”.

This is the new normal in Turkey. Almost any criticism of government officials or policy is quickly recharacterised as a “threat to national security”, “terrorist propaganda”, an “insult” or similar.

Indeed, since the bloody coup attempt of 2016, the Turkish authorities have launched a truly huge crackdown. It has been wide-ranging and frighteningly indiscriminate. Criminal investigations have been opened against a staggering 150,000 people accused of links to the “Fethullah Terrorist Organisation”, which the government claims masterminded the attempted coup. More than 50,000 remain in prison on remand. Thousands more have been detained, accused of links to the armed Kurdish PKK or other banned organisations. More than 100,000 public sector workers, including a quarter of the judiciary and hundreds of academics, have been arbitrarily dismissed under state of emergency powers. At least 100 journalists are in jail, the most in any country in the world.

Meanwhile, if they haven’t already been sacked or arrested, numerous academics and other public sector workers have been trying to leave the country, part of a dispiriting Turkish brain drain​. It’s hard to see all this as anything other than a vast opportunistic backlash against political opponents (real and perceived), as well as multifarious critics and anyone deemed inconvenient by the Ankara authorities.

To that end, it’s no exaggeration to say Turkey’s entire civil society has come under attack. Toward the end of 2016, some 375 non-government organisations (NGOs) – some of which were providing care for the massive numbers of Syrian refugees and people internally displaced in the country – were forcibly shut down ​under a draconian executive decree.

Which is where it gets personal. Because my counterpart in Istanbul, Idil Eser, the director of Amnesty International Turkey, is one of those swept up in this frightening purge. Alongside her colleague Taner Kılıç, the chair of Amnesty International Turkey, as well as another nine human rights workers, she’s on trial for terrorist offences. According to the indictment, Idil is said to be linked to three unrelated – and opposing – terrorist organisations. Some of the allegations against her refer to two Amnesty documents issued before she joined the organisation.

Meanwhile, Taner is accused of membership of the “Fethullah Terrorist Organisation”. There’s not a shred of evidence to substantiate this. A principal prosecution claim is that he downloaded the messaging app ByLock, which the Turkish authorities say has been used by Gülenists ​ to communicate. Two independent reports – one from Turkey, the other from the UK – confirm the app was never downloaded on Taner’s phone. Despite this, he’s spent the last eight months in jail.

Without doubt, then, it’s a put-up job. At Amnesty we’ve had enough experience down the years – Pinochet’s Chile, South Africa under apartheid – to know a politically motivated trial when we see one. The authorities are trying to make examples out of my colleagues to frighten, dishearten and disempower anyone else inclined to pursue human rights activism.

Hearteningly, none of this has gone unnoticed. More than a million people have signed a petition calling for this sham trial to be halted. Governments around the world, including the UK’s​, have expressed their concern. Theresa May reportedly tackled the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, about the case in a telephone call last week. We’re still hopeful that sense will prevail, and the case be abandoned.

But barring good news in the coming days, I’ll be in court on Wednesday to observe the latest act in this judicial charade, showing my solidarity and support for embattled colleagues.

It’s usually Amnesty’s job to stand up for others whose human rights are under threat. It’s a measure of the country’s increasingly precipitous decline that we now find that it’s ourselves who are under threat in the repressive new Turkey.

  • Kate Allen is the director of Amnesty International UK


Secrecy News 

From the FAS Project on Government Secrecy

Volume 2018, Issue No. 7

January 30, 2018


The House Intelligence Committee voted yesterday to invoke a provision of committee rules to authorize the release of a classified memo that is said to be critical of the FBI and its role in investigating Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election.

That provision — Rule X of the Rules of the House of Representatives, section 11(g)(1) — has never been successfully employed before. Strictly speaking, it would not result in “declassification” of classified information, which is an executive branch function, but it would authorize its public disclosure anyway:

Nothing herein shall be construed to prevent the select committee from publicly disclosing classified information in a case in which it determines that national interest in the disclosure of classified information clearly outweighs any infringement on the privacy of a person.

(g)(1) The select committee may disclose publicly any information in its possession after a determination by the select committee that the public interest would be served by such disclosure.


(2)(A) In a case in which the select committee votes to disclose publicly any information that has been classified under established security procedures, that has been submitted to it by the executive branch, and that the executive branch requests be kept secret, the select committee shall notify the President of such vote.

(B) The select committee may disclose publicly such information after the expiration of a five-day period following the day on which notice of the vote to disclose is transmitted to the President unless, before the expiration of the five-day period, the President, personally in writing, notifies the select committee that the President objects to the disclosure of such information, provides reasons therefor, and certifies that the threat to the national interest of the United States posed by the disclosure is of such gravity that it outweighs any public interest in the disclosure.

(C) If the President, personally in writing, notifies the select committee of objections to the disclosure of information as provided in subdivision (B), the select committee may, by majority vote, refer the question of the disclosure of such information, with a recommendation thereon, to the House. The select committee may not publicly disclose such information without leave of the House.

Open government advocates have periodically urged Congress to assert itself in this way in order to overcome the classification of important records they believed were improperly withheld. The idea was briefly considered by some intelligence committee members in connection with the “28 pages” that were initially withheld from the report of the congressional joint inquiry into 9/11, and in connection with the Senate Intelligence Committee report on CIA interrogation practices.

But prior to yesterday’s vote, “It does not appear that either house has invoked its procedure for disclosing classified information,” wrote Jennifer K. Elsea of the Congressional Research Service.

So is this a victory for open government? Or is it a cynical manipulation of congressional rules?

One indication that House Intelligence Committee Republicans are acting in bad faith is that they voted in favor of public disclosure of their own memo, but voted against public disclosure of the dissenting memo prepared by Committee Democrats.

“We raised, of course, the transparently political objective behind this, which is to allow the majority to set a certain narrative for a week or so,” said Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA). But to no avail.

Congressional oversight of intelligence has never been immaculately neutral and above the fray. The Senate Intelligence Committee memorably split along partisan lines in its oversight of CIA interrogation. But when the Democratic majority under Sen. Feinstein released its critical findings, it also released a harsh rebuttal by Committee Republicans. Now, under House Intelligence Committee chairman Rep. Devin Nunes, even that minimal level of bipartisan cooperation has been abandoned.


The U.S. State Department provided crime scene investigation (CSI) equipment to Palestinian security forces to encourage a “move away from a confession-based investigation process,” according to a 2016 report to Congress that was recently released under the Freedom of Information Act.

See U.S. Assistance for Palestinian Security Forces and Benchmarks for Palestinian Security Assistance Funds, FY 2016 report to Congress, US Department of State.

The report provides a snapshot of US security assistance to the Palestinian Authority (PA) in March-August 2016, when the US provided training as well as technical support to enhance the quality and professionalism of Palestinian security practices. The report also describes steps taken by the State Department to ensure that any such assistance would not be diverted to unauthorized purposes.

U.S. support for PA security forces and the criminal justice sector in the West Bank has averaged around $100 million since 2008, according to the Congressional Research Service, though the amount has declined in recent years.

This funding “has been given to train, reform, advise, house, and provide nonlethal

equipment for PA civil security forces in the West Bank loyal to President Abbas. This

aid is aimed at countering militants from organizations such as Hamas and Palestine Islamic Jihad-Shaqaqi Faction, and establishing the rule of law for an expected Palestinian state.” See U.S. Foreign Aid to the Palestinians by Jim Zanotti, Congressional Research Service, December 16, 2016.

Prior background on the origins of US-Palestinian cooperation was presented by CRS in U.S. Security Assistance to the Palestinian Authority, January 8, 2010.

Some Palestinian critics object to the US security assistance program as an improper intervention in Palestinian politics that effectively strengthens Israeli occupation of the West Bank. See How US security aid to PA sustains Israel’s occupation by Alaa Tartir, Al Jazeera, December 2, 2016.

The current state of implementation of the Freedom of Information Act at the State Department is such that even a request for a specified unclassified document — such as the 2016 report to Congress on security assistance to the Palestinian Authority — took nearly two years to fulfill.


The potential risks associated with air cargo on domestic and international flights, and the challenges involved in assessing and addressing them, are discussed in a new report from the Congressional Research Service. See Security of Air Cargo Shipments, Operations, and Facilities, January 24, 2018,

Other new and updated reports from the Congressional Research Service include the following.

Federal Research and Development Funding: FY2018, updated January 25, 2018

Banking Law: An Overview of Federal Preemption in the Dual Banking System, January 23, 2018

Economic Impact of Infrastructure Investment, updated January 24, 2018

EPA’s Methane Regulations: Legal Overview, updated January 24, 2018

The Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS): An Overview, updated January 24, 2018

The United Arab Emirates (UAE): Issues for U.S. Policy, updated January 25, 2018

China-U.S. Trade Issues, updated January 23, 2018



Tet Offensive

The History Channel

The Tet Offensive was a coordinated series of North Vietnamese attacks on more than 100 cities and outposts in South Vietnam. The offensive was an attempt to foment rebellion among the South Vietnamese population and encourage the United States to scale back its involvement in the Vietnam War. Though U.S. and South Vietnamese forces managed to hold off the attacks, news coverage of the massive offensive shocked the American public and eroded support for the war effort. Despite heavy casualties, North Vietnam achieved a strategic victory with the Tet Offensive, as the attacks marked a turning point in the Vietnam War and the beginning of the slow, painful American withdrawal from the region.

What Was the Tet Offensive?

As the celebration of the lunar new year, Tet is the most important holiday on the Vietnamese calendar. In previous years, the holiday had been the occasion for an informal truce in the Vietnam War between South Vietnam and North Vietnam (and their communist allies in South Vietnam, the Viet Cong).

In early 1968, however, the North Vietnamese military commander General Vo Nguyen Giap chose January 31 as the occasion for a coordinated offensive of surprise attacks aimed at breaking the stalemate in Vietnam. Giap believed that the attacks would cause Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) forces to collapse and foment discontent and rebellion among the South Vietnamese population.

Furthermore, Giap believed the alliance between South Vietnam and the United States was unstable—he hoped the offensive would drive the final wedge between them and convince American leaders to give up their defense of South Vietnam.

Khe Sanh Attacked

In preparation for the planned offensive, Giap and the troops of the People’s Army of Vietnam (PAVN) launched a series of attacks in the fall of 1967 on isolated American garrisons in the highlands of central Vietnam and along the Laotian and Cambodian frontiers.

On January 21, 1968, PAVN forces began a massive artillery bombardment of the U.S. Marine garrison at Khe Sanh, located on the principal road from northern South Vietnam into Laos. As President Lyndon B. Johnson and General William Westmoreland focused their attention on the defense of Khe Sanh, Giap’s 70,000 poised to begin their true objective: the Tet Offensive.

Tet Offensive Begins

On the early morning of January 30, 1968, Viet Cong forces attacked 13 cities in central South Vietnam, just as many families began their observances of the lunar new year.

Twenty-four hours later, PAVN and Viet Cong forces struck a number of other targets throughout South Vietnam, including cities, towns, government buildings and U.S. or ARVN military bases throughout South Vietnam, in a total of more than 120 attacks.

In a particularly bold attack on the U.S. Embassy in Saigon, a Viet Cong platoon got inside the complex’s courtyard before U.S. forces destroyed it. The audacious attack on the U.S. Embassy, and its initial success, stunned American and international observers, who saw images of the carnage broadcast on television as it occurred.

Though Giap had succeeded in achieving surprise, his forces were spread too thin in the ambitious offensive, and U.S. and ARVN forces managed to successfully counter most of the attacks and inflict heavy Viet Cong losses.

The Battle of Hue

Particularly intense fighting took place in the city of Hue, located on the Perfume River some 50 miles south of the border between North and South Vietnam.

The Battle of Hue would rage for more than three weeks after PAVN and Viet Cong forces burst into the city on January 31, easily overwhelming the government forces there and taking control of the city’s ancient citadel.

Early in their occupation of Hue, Viet Cong soldiers conducted house-to-house searches, arresting civil servants, religious leaders, teachers and other civilians connected with American forces or with the South Vietnamese regime. They executed these so-called counter-revolutionaries and buried their bodies in mass graves.

U.S. and ARVN forces discovered evidence of the massacre after they regained control of the city on February 26. In addition to more than 2,800 bodies, another 3,000 residents were missing, and the occupying forces had destroyed many of the grand city’s temples, palaces and other monuments.

The toughest fighting in Hue occurred at the ancient citadel, which the North Vietnamese struggled fiercely to hold against superior U.S. firepower. In scenes of carnage recorded on film by numerous television crews on the scene, nearly 150 U.S. Marines were killed in the Battle of Hue, along with some 400 South Vietnamese troops.

On the North Vietnamese side, an estimated 5,000 soldiers were killed, most of them hit by American air and artillery strikes.

Impact of the Tet Offensive

Despite its heavy casualty toll, and its failure to inspire widespread rebellion among the South Vietnamese, the Tet Offensive proved to be a strategic success for the North Vietnamese.

Before Tet, Westmoreland and other representatives of the Johnson administration had been claiming that the end of the war was in sight; now, it was clear that a long struggle still lay ahead. Westmoreland requested more than 200,000 new troops in order to mount an effective counteroffensive, an escalation that many Americans saw as an act of desperation.

As anti-war sentiment mounted on the home front, some of Johnson’s advisers that had supported past military buildup in Vietnam (including soon-to-be Secretary of Defense Clark Clifford) now argued for scaling back U.S. involvement.

On March 31, a beleaguered President Johnson declared that he was limiting the bombing of North Vietnam to the area below the 20th parallel (thus sparing 90 percent of communist-held territory) and calling for negotiations to end the war. At the same time, he announced that he would not be running for re-election that November.

Though peace talks would drag on for another five years—during which more American soldiers were killed than in the previous years of the conflict—Johnson’s decision to halt escalation after the Tet Offensive marked a crucial turning point in American participation in the Vietnam War.


The Doomsday Weapon

January 27, 2018

by Eric Margolis

The Unz Review

While we agonize over such life and death questions as clumsy men groping women and the crucial need for gender and racial ‘inclusion,’ let me spare a few seconds thought to something really important and scary: Russia’s doomsday nuclear torpedo.

Code-named by NATO ‘Kanyon,’ it’s reportedly something new and terrifying, a ‘third strike’ weapon designed to obliterate the US east and west coasts in a nuclear war. US intelligence seems to think this doomsday weapon is very real indeed.

I just re-watched for the umpteenth time the wonderful, 1964 Kubrick film, ‘Dr. Strangelove’ and marveled anew at how prescient this razor-sharp satire was. In the film, the Soviets admit they ran out of money to keep up the nuclear arms race with the United States. Their answer was to create a secret, automated doomsday nuclear device that would destroy the entire planet in the event of a major war.

Now, the Russians appear to have responded to a new, trillion dollar US program to develop and deploy an anti-missile system that would negate their ballistic missile system: the ‘Kanyon.’ Fact imitates fiction.

This revelation comes just after the Trump administration has also embarked on new programs to deploy an entire new generation of lower yield nuclear weapons that can be used for tactical war-fighting purposes. North Korea and Iran are the evident targets, as well as Afghanistan. But there is now talk aplenty in Pentagon circles about waging a limited tactical nuclear war against Russia. New US bomber and drone programs are being speeded up. War talk is in the air. Military stocks are booming.

‘Kanyon,’ according to the right-wing Heritage Foundation, a cheerleader for military spending, is a mammoth 100-megaton nuclear device carried by an unmanned submarine. This monster weapon is designed to detonate on the US west coast, destroying the ports of San Diego, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. The device is reportedly covered with cobalt, for maximum radioactive effect.

A similar device launched from the Atlantic Ocean would devastate the US East coast, leaving it under a lethal shroud of radiation for generations.

If these reports are true, any hopes that some US generals have of fighting and winning a ‘limited’ nuclear exchange with Russia or China (never mind India) are absurd. But in fact any serious nuclear exchange between the great powers would be a death sentence for the entire planet, wrapping us in a lethal shroud of nuclear winter.

One US intelligence study done of a nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan estimated two million immediate dead and 100 million deaths within weeks. That was from a rather limited nuclear war using first generation weapons. Today’s weapons have ten times the explosive power.

Russia has a large and effective nuclear arsenal. The sharp decline of Russia’s once-mighty conventional military forces after 1991 drove Moscow to place ever greater reliance on nuclear weapons to defend its interests. Russia has also begun introducing modernized nuclear weapons in strategic and tactical versions. China is also slowly developing its nuclear forces to be able to fight a thermonuclear war against the United States and India at the same time.

President Trump, who dodged the draft during the Vietnam War on spurious medical grounds, appears infatuated by military affairs and the panoply of weapons that he commands. In an act of historic irresponsibility, he has brought the US to the edge of nuclear war against North Korea heedless of the dire consequences of even a ‘small’ nuclear war in Asia.

Anyone who thinks a nuclear war can be waged without permanently polluting our planet should be put under psychiatric care. As crazy as this notion sounds, there are some senior US generals who share this view and, most likely, President Trump, the man with the big red button. Russia’s marshals are more cautious. They still see the scars of World War II, in which some 27 million Soviet civilians died, and know what war means.

Perhaps leaks about this Russian monster weapon are clever disinformation spread by Moscow to give the Americans a big scare. Let’s hope so because, if real, they should scare the pants off all of us.


Saudi anti-corruption drive generates $106bn in settlements

January 30, 2018

BBC News

A sweeping anti-corruption drive in Saudi Arabia has generated an estimated $106.7bn (£75.6bn) in settlements, the kingdom’s attorney general has said.

Sheikh Saud al-Mojeb said 56 of the 381 people called in for questioning since 4 November remained in custody.

The others had been cleared or admitted guilt and handed over properties, cash, securities and other assets, he added.

Sheikh Mojeb did not name any of those involved, but they reportedly include princes, ministers and businessmen.

In recent days, the billionaire investor Prince Alwaleed bin Talal and Alwalid al-Ibrahim, owner of the Arab satellite television network MBC, were released from detention at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Riyadh’s diplomatic quarter.

Both men insisted they were innocent, but Saudi official sources said they had agreed to financial settlements after admitting unspecified “violations”.

Others known to have been freed include Prince Miteb bin Abdullah, a son of the late King Abdullah who sources said had handed over more than $1bn in assets; and state minister Ibrahim al-Assaf, who was reportedly cleared of any wrongdoing.

Sheikh Mojeb said he had “refused to settle” with the 56 individuals still being detained “due to other pending criminal cases, or in order to continue the investigation process”.

They are believed to have been transferred to prison from the Ritz-Carlton, which will reopen to the public next month.

Last week, Finance Minister Mohammed al-Jadaan said the money recovered through the settlements would be used to fund a $13.3bn programme to help Saudi citizens cope with the rising cost of living.

The anti-corruption drive is being spearheaded by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the 32-year-old son of King Salman, who has rejected as “ludicrous” analysts’ suggestions that it is a power grab. He said many of those detained had pledged allegiance to him since he became heir apparent in June.


Trump administration refuses to impose new Russia sanctions despite law

The Trump administration has said it will ignore a new sanctions law aimed to punish Moscow for its alleged election meddling. The White House has, however, released a list of Russia elites with close ties to Putin.

January 30, 2018


The Trump administration on Monday declined to impose fresh sanctions on anyone found to have conducted major business with Russia’s defense and intelligence sectors.

It did, however, make good one part of the sanctions bill: the release of the so-called “Putin list.” The seven-page document is a who’s who of Russian elites believed to be benefiting directly from Russian President Vladimir Putin’s tenure as the head of the Kremlin. Each of the 114 listed individuals is estimated to have a net worth of over $1 billion.

What do the new Russia sanctions target?

The latest round of sanctions target companies or foreign governments found to have engaged in “significant transactions” with blacklisted Russian entities, particularly in the defense and intelligence industry.

However, the term “significant transactions” has no given dollar figure attached to it, making it effectively impossible to establish what is and isn’t permissible.

Why the White House refused to impose the sanctions

State Department spokesman Heather Nauer said that, given the long time frame associated with defense deals, it would be more effective to wait and impose the new sanctions at a better time.

In the meantime, the State Department said that sanctions imposed on Moscow last summer were already serving as a deterrent and hitting blacklisted Russian companies.

Reactions to Trump’s decision

Representative Eliot Engel, the top Democrat on the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, said he was “fed up waiting for this Administration to protect our country and our elections.”

“The State Department claims that the mere threat of sanctions will deter Russia’s aggressive behavior. How do you deter an attack that happened two years ago, and another that’s already underway? It just doesn’t make sense,” Engel said in a statement.

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday described the list of Russian political and business leaders eligible for sanctions as an “unfriendly act,” but also joked of being offended that his name wasn’t included.

Putin added that, although the list would further strain US-Russia ties, he would not be taking reciprocal measures. “We are not interested in curtailing our ties with the United States,” he told supporters. “We are not going to look for trouble and aggravate relations. We know what we want. We want to build long-term, stable ties (with the US) based on international law.”

New sanctions already kicked in: Congress voted almost unanimously last year on a law setting sweeping new sanctions designed to punish Russia for its alleged interference in the 2016 presidential election. While the new sanctions have technically kicked in, they will remain unenforced until US President Donald Trump decides otherwise.

State Department cautious on sanctions: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said last year that the US would proceed cautiously with sanctions since US allies have much at stake. NATO partner Turkey recently agreed to a deal to purchase Russian air defense systems, while Saudi Arabia also struck a series of arms deals with Moscow.

President under investigation: Special Counsel Robert Mueller and with several US congressional committees continue to investigate alleged ties between Russia and Trump’s electoral campaign team. The White House’s refusal to impose new sanctions will add fuel to accusations that Trump is acting far too soft on Moscow.

Trump denies collusion: The president has repeatedly denied claims that his campaign officials colluded with the Kremlin to tilt the 2016 presidential election in his favor.


Second Trump-Russia dossier being assessed by FBI

Exclusive: memo written by former journalist Cody Shearer independently sets out some of the allegations made by ex-spy Christopher Steele

January 30, 2018

by Stephanie Kirchgaessner and Nick Hopkins

The Guardian

The FBI inquiry into alleged Russian collusion in the 2016 US presidential election has been given a second memo that independently set out some of the same allegations made in a dossier by Christopher Steele, the British former spy.

The second memo was written by Cody Shearer, a controversial political activist and former journalist who was close to the Clinton White House in the 1990s.

Unlike Steele, Shearer does not have a background in espionage, and his memo was initially viewed with scepticism, not least because he had shared it with select media organisations before the election.

However, the Guardian has been told the FBI investigation is still assessing details in the ‘Shearer memo’ and is pursuing intriguing leads.

One source with knowledge of the inquiry said the fact the FBI was still working on it suggested investigators had taken an aspect of it seriously.

It raises the possibility that parts of the Steele dossier, which has been derided by Trump’s supporters, may have been corroborated by Shearer’s research, or could still be.

The revelation comes at a moment when Donald Trump and some Republican lawmakers have been seeking to cast doubt on the credibility of the Mueller inquiry and the motivation of the FBI in examining Russian collusion, including unproven allegations that investigators had a bias in favour of Hillary Clinton when the investigation was initially launched before November

Republicans on the House intelligence committee voted on Monday night to release a highly contentious memo, commissioned by the Republican chairman of the committee, Devin Nunes. The memo reportedly claims the FBI had an anti-Trump bias when it sought a warrant from the US foreign intelligence surveillance court to collect intelligence on Carter Page, an adviser to the Trump campaign. The Fisa court is a secret court that examines law enforcement requests to surveil Americans suspected of acting as foreign agents.

The Republican memo reportedly alleges that the FBI relied on the Steele dossier, which was partly paid for using Democratic funds, in seeking the Carter Page warrant, according to the New York Times.

Democrats have said that the Republican allegations are misleading and based on selective use of classified materials. Justice department officials have said the release of the document, because of the classified elements, would be “extraordinarily reckless”.

Trump now has five days to decide whether the Nunes document should become public.

The Shearer memo was provided to the FBI in October 2016.

It was handed to them by Steele – who had been given it by an American contact – after the FBI requested the former MI6 agent provide any documents or evidence that could be useful in its investigation, according to multiple sources.

The Guardian was told Steele warned the FBI he could not vouch for the veracity of the Shearer memo, but that he was providing a copy because it corresponded with what he had separately heard from his own independent sources.

Among other things, both documents allege Donald Trump was compromised during a 2013 trip to Moscow that involved lewd acts in a five-star hotel.

The Shearer memo cites an unnamed source within Russia’s FSB, the state security service. The Guardian cannot verify any of the claims.

Shearer is a controversial figure in Washington. Conservative outlets have accused him of being part of a “hatchet man” and member of a “secret spy ring” and within Clinton’s orbit. There is no evidence that the Clinton campaign was aware of the Shearer memo.

But other people who know Shearer say he is not just a Democratic party hack and there is no evidence that his memo was ever sought by Clinton campaign officials.

Sources say that while he lacks the precision and polish of a seasoned former spy like Steele, Shearer has also been described as having a large network of sources around the world and the independent financial means to pursue leads.

The White House has vigorously denied allegations that the US president was ever compromised and has rejected claims that campaign officials ever conspired with the Kremlin before the 2016 election.

Steele’s dossier, his motives for writing it and his decision to share it remain controversial among Republicans.

He says he approached the FBI about concerns he had about links between Russia and the Trump campaign after he was commissioned to investigate the matter by a private investigative firm called Fusion GPS on behalf of the firm’s clients.

Glenn Simpson, the founder of Fusion GPS, told congressional investigators that Steele approached the FBI out of a sense of duty and concern for US national security.

Republican supporters of Trump have derided it as “fake news”. Chuck Grassley, a Republican senator from Iowa and ally of Trump, has called for an investigation into Steele amid unspecified allegations about the former spy’s conduct.

Democrats have said the campaign against Steele is part of an effort to seek to discredit him in order to shift attention away from allegations about Trump and Russia.

A spokesman for the US special counsel leading the criminal investigation into the Trump campaign declined to comment. Shearer did not return emails and calls for comment.

A federal criminal investigation into the Trump campaign has so far resulted in four indictments. Two former Trump campaign officials, including Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser, have pleaded guilty to perjury and are cooperating with Robert Mueller, the special counsel who is leading the ongoing investigation.


Austria’s Sebastian Kurz backs Hungary’s Viktor Orban against EU migrant quotas

The EU migrant redistribution scheme “isn’t working,” Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said while welcoming Hungary’s Viktor Orban in Vienna. The two leaders called for opposition to illegal migration to Europe.

January 30, 2018


Austria should work to ease tensions between western and the eastern EU members, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said in Vienna at the joint press conference with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban on Tuesday.

The countries of the so-called Visegrad group – Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic – have repeatedly clashed with other EU states over the migrant crisis, which reached unprecedented levels in 2015. Hungary’s Orban has been especially vocal in his rejection of EU migrant quotas, which would see some of the newcomers relocated in central Europe.

Orban calls for protecting ‘Christian culture’

On Tuesday, Kurz seemed to back Orban by saying that the quota scheme “isn’t working” and called for a new asylum-granting system.

“We have to stop illegal immigration in order to ensure security in Europe,” the 31-year-old Kurz said. “I am glad that there has been a change in thinking in many European countries in recent years.”

Orban calls for protecting ‘Christian culture’

In turn, Hungarian leader Viktor Orban said that migration was “the biggest danger today to the hopeful future of central Europe.”

“When I say that the future needs to be protected I mean that we have a culture, a Christian culture… We have a way of life, and we want to protect this way of life,” Orban said.

Both leaders called for more protection on the EU’s external border. At the same time, Kurz and Orban denied recent speculation that Austria might join the Visegrad group.

“Our great aim in Austria is to be a bridge-builder in this respect between the Visegrad states and the countries in western Europe,” Kurz said.

Vienna and Budapest clash over nuclear plant, child benefits

Later on Tuesday, Orban was scheduled to meet Austrian Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache from the far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ) which serves as a coalition partner for Kurz’s conservatives. Both parties called for a hard stance on immigration during last year’s election campaign.

While the governments of the two neighboring countries seem to have similar views on immigration, Vienna and Budapest remain divided on several other issues.

Most notably, Austria plans to sue the EU Commission for allowing Hungary to expand its Paks nuclear power plant.

Another contentious issue is the Austrian government plan to cut child benefits for people working in Austria whose children live abroad. This could affect thousands of Hungarian workers in Austria, who take about €80 million ($99 million) in child benefits each year.

On Tuesday, Orban said that cutting child benefits would amount to “discrimination.” Kurz, however, said the proposed changes were “about justice.”


Russia’s Putin says Moscow wants to develop relations with the United States

January 30, 2018


MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin said that Moscow wanted to develop relations with the United States instead of taking any retaliatory steps after the report on the people with ties to Putin was published on Tuesday.

“We want to establish long-term and stable relations,” Putin said.

Reporting by Darya Korsunskaya; writing by Katya Golubkova


Facebook ‘no place’ for young children

January 30, 2018

by Jane Wakefield Technology reporter

BBC News

More than 100 child health experts are urging Facebook to withdraw an app aimed at under-13s.

In an open letter to Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg, they call Messenger Kids an “irresponsible” attempt to encourage young children to use Facebook.

Young children are not ready to have social media accounts, they say.

Facebook says the app was designed with online safety experts in response to parental calls for more control over how their children used social media.

It is a simplified, locked-down version of Facebook’s Messenger app, requiring parental approval before use, and data generated from it is not used for advertising.

The open letter says: “Messenger Kids will likely be the first social media platform widely used by elementary school children [four- to -11-year-olds].

“But a growing body of research demonstrates that excessive use of digital devices and social media is harmful to children and teens, making it very likely this new app will undermine children’s healthy development.

“Younger children are simply not ready to have social media accounts.

“They are not old enough to navigate the complexities of online relationships, which often lead to misunderstandings and conflicts even among more mature users.”

In response, Facebook said: “Since we launched in December we’ve heard from parents around the country that Messenger Kids has helped them stay in touch with their children and has enabled their children to stay in touch with family members near and far.

“For example, we’ve heard stories of parents working night shifts being able to read bedtime stories to their children, and mums who travel for work getting daily updates from their kids while they’re away.”

The letter questions whether there is a need for Facebook to fulfil such a role, saying: “Talking to family and friends over long distances doesn’t require a Messenger Kids account.

“Kids can use parents’ Facebook, Skype, or other accounts to chat with relatives. They can also just pick up a phone.”

The letter cites a range of research linking teenagers’ social media use with increased depression and anxiety.

“Adolescents who spend an hour a day chatting on social networks report less satisfaction with nearly every aspect of their lives.

“Eighth graders [13- to 14-year-olds] who use social media for six to nine hours per week are 47% more likely to report they are unhappy than their peers who use social media less often.”

It also cites a study of 10- to -12-year-old girls who are “more likely to idealise thinness, have concerns about their bodies, and to have dieted”.

Other statistics, quoted from a range of different research, include:

◾78% of adolescents check their phones hourly

◾50% say they are addicted to their phones

◾Half of parents say regulating screen time is a constant battle

The experts also dispute Facebook’s claims that Messenger Kids provides a safe alternative for children who have lied their way on to social media platforms, by pretending to be older than they are.

“The 11- and 12-year-olds who currently use Snapchat, Instagram, or Facebook are unlikely to switch to an app that is clearly designed for younger children.

“Messenger Kids is not responding to a need – it is creating one,” the letter states.

The letter is signed by a range of child welfare groups, chief among them the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood. Other signees included Massachusetts American Civil Liberties Union and Parents Across America. A host of individuals also signed, including British scientist Baroness Susan Greenfield.

The UK government met social media companies and hardware manufacturers such as Apple in November 2017 and asked them to look at a series of issues – including:

◾how to prevent under-age users from accessing their platforms

◾what constituted cyber-bullying and how to address it

◾whether it was feasible to create pop-up warnings for youngsters who spend a long time online.



Robert Mueller’s forgotten surveillance crime spree

January 29, 2018

by James Bovard

The Hill

When Robert Mueller was appointed last May as Special Counsel to investigate Trump, Politico Magazine gushed that “Mueller might just be America’s straightest arrow — a respected, nonpartisan and fiercely apolitical public servant whose only lifetime motivation has been the search for justice.” Most of the subsequent press coverage has shown nary a doubt about Mueller’s purity. But, during his 11 years as director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Mueller’s agency routinely violated federal law and the Bill of Rights.

Mueller took over the FBI one week before the 9/11 attacks and he was worse than clueless after 9/11. On Sept. 14, 2011, Mueller declared, “The fact that there were a number of individuals that happened to have received training at flight schools here is news, quite obviously. If we had understood that to be the case, we would have — perhaps one could have averted this.” Three days later, Mueller announced: “There were no warning signs that I’m aware of that would indicate this type of operation in the country.” His protestations helped the Bush administration railroad the Patriot Act through Congress, vastly expanding the FBI’s prerogatives to vacuum up Americans’ personal information.

Deceit helped capture those intrusive new prerogatives. The Bush administration suppressed until the following May the news that FBI agents in Phoenix and Minneapolis had warned FBI headquarters of suspicious Arabs in flight training programs prior to 9/11. A House-Senate Joint Intelligence Committee analysis concluded that FBI incompetence and negligence “contributed to the United States becoming, in effect, a sanctuary for radical terrorists.” FBI blundering spurred the Wall Street Journal to call for Mueller’s resignation, while a New York Times headline warned: “Lawmakers Say Misstatements Cloud F.B.I. Chief’s Credibility.”But the FBI was off and running. Thanks to the Patriot act, the FBI increased by a hundredfold — up to 50,000 a year — the number of National Security Letters (NSLs) it issued to citizens, business, and nonprofit organizations, and recipients were prohibited from disclosing that their data had been raided. NSLs entitle the FBI to seize records that reveal “where a person makes and spends money, with whom he lives and lived before, how much he gambles, what he buys online, what he pawns and borrows, where he travels, how he invests, what he searches for and reads on the Web, and who telephones or e-mails him at home and at work,” the Washington Post noted. The FBI can lasso thousands of people’s records with a single NSL — regardless of the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition of unreasonable warrantless searches.

The FBI greatly understated the number of NSLs it was issuing and denied that abuses had occurred, thereby helping sway Congress to renew the Patriot Act in 2006. The following year, an Inspector General report revealed that FBI agents may have recklessly issued thousands of illegal NSLs.  Shortly after that report was released, federal judge Victor Marrero denounced the NSL process as “the legislative equivalent of breaking and entering, with an ominous free pass to the hijacking of constitutional values.”

Rather than arresting FBI agents who broke the law, Mueller created a new FBI Office of Integrity and Compliance.  The Electronic Freedom Foundation, after winning lawsuits to garner FBI reports to a federal oversight board, concluded that the FBI may have committed “tens of thousands” of violations of federal law, regulations, or Executive Orders between 2001 and 2008.

Mueller was a front-and-center Bush cabinet member when the president, scorning a unanimous 1972 Supreme Court ruling, decided he was entitled to impose warrantless wiretaps on Americans. At an April 2005 Senate hearing, Sen. Barbara Mikulski

(D-Md.) asked Mueller: “Can the National Security Agency, the great electronic snooper, spy on the American people?” Mueller replied: “I would say generally, they are not allowed to spy or to gather information on American citizens.”

Mueller presumably knew his answer was at least misleading if not blatantly deceptive. Nearly nine months later, the New York Times revealed that Bush had unleashed NSA to illegally wiretap up to 500 people within the U.S. at any given time and peruse millions of other Americans’ emails. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales responded to the uproar by asserting that “the president has the inherent authority” to order such wiretaps. Mueller had no trouble with that dictatorial doctrine — even though the same claim spurred one of the articles of impeachment crafted against President Nixon.

Mueller’s biggest coup against privacy occurred with Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which entitles the FBI to demand “business records” that are “relevant” to a terrorism or espionage investigation. In 2011 testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee, Mueller “suggested the FBI interpreted (Section 215) narrowly and used it sparingly,” the ACLU noted. But Mueller was the point man for the Bush administration’s bizarre 2006 decision (perpetuated by Obama) that all Americans’ telephone records were “relevant” to terrorism investigations. Several times a year, Mueller signed orders to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, swaying it to continually renew its order compelling telephone companies to deliver all their calling records (including time, duration, and location of calls) to the National Security Agency.

On June 5, 2013, leaks from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden blew the lid off this surveillance regime. Federal judge Richard Leon slammed that records roundup as “almost Orwellian… I cannot imagine a more indiscriminate and arbitrary invasion than this systematic and high-tech collection and retention of personal data on virtually every single citizen for purposes of querying and analyzing it without prior judicial approval.”

Mueller sought to dampen the Snowden uproar by testifying to Congress that the feds could not listen to Americans’ calls without a warrant for that “particular phone and that particular individual.” But NSA employees had broad discretion to vacuum up Americans’ info without warrants, and NSA’s definition of terrorist suspect was so ludicrously broad that it includes “someone searching the web for suspicious stuff.”

If Mueller’s team finds clear evidence that Trump colluded with Russia in his 2016 presidential campaign, any abuses Mueller sanctioned as FBI director will be irrelevant. But if Mueller’s case relies on his halo instead of smoking guns, then Americans should pay more heed to Mueller’s record than to his press clips. Gravitas is no substitute for fidelity to the Constitution.


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