TBR News July 13, 2016

Jul 13 2016

The Voice of the White House

Washington, D.C. July 13, 2016: “Our dear friends the PRC people have been told by the Permanent Court of Arbitration that their occupation of Pacific islands belonging to other countries is illegal. True to form, the Chinese have given the finger to the rest of the world and threatened everyone in sight with their displeasure. The Chinese hate Trump because he has stated his intention that if elected president, he will force the large number of American businesses now making their products in China (for cheap prices and depriving millions of Americans jobs) to return to the United States. Also, the PRC has been actively considering getting Russia and the United States involved in military activity against each other so China can move up into Russian Siberia and take it over. They want to do this because China is now an ecological disaster. Her rivers are heavily polluted and drying up and in the north, the Gobi desert is moving slowly toward Beijing and blanketing that city with blinding clouds of dust. Grabbing the land of others is an old Chinese custom.”


The Müller Washington Journals   1948-1951

At the beginning of December, 1948, a German national arrived in Washington, D.C. to take up an important position with the newly-formed CIA. He was a specialist on almost every aspect of Soviet intelligence and had actively fought them, both in his native Bavaria where he was head of the political police in Munich and later in Berlin as head of Amt IV of the State Security Office, also known as the Gestapo.

His name was Heinrich Müller.

Even as a young man, Heini Müller had kept daily journals of his activities, journals that covered his military service as a pilot in the Imperial German air arm and an apprentice policeman in Munich. He continued these journals throughout the war and while employed by the top CIA leadership in Washington, continued his daily notations.

This work is a translation of his complete journals from December of 1948 through September of 1951.

When Heinrich Müller was hired by the CIA¹s station chief in Bern, Switzerland, James Kronthal in 1948, he had misgivings about working for his former enemies but pragmatism and the lure of large amounts of money won him over to what he considered to be merely an extension of his life-work against the agents of the Comintern. What he discovered after living and working in official Washington for four years was that the nation¹s capital was, in truth, what he once humorously claimed sounded like a cross between a zoo and a lunatic asylum. His journals, in addition to personal letters, various reports and other personal material, give a very clear, but not particularly flattering, view of the inmates of both the zoo and the asylum.

Müller moved, albeit very carefully, in the rarefied atmosphere of senior policy personnel, military leaders, heads of various intelligence agencies and the White House itself. He was a very observant, quick-witted person who took copious notes of what he saw. This was not a departure from his earlier habits because Heinrich Müller had always kept a journal, even when he was a lowly Bavarian police officer, and his comments about personalities and events in the Third Reich are just as pungent and entertaining as the ones he made while in America.

The reason for publishing this phase of his eventful life is that so many agencies in the United States and their supporters do not want to believe that a man of Müller¹s position could ever have been employed by their country in general or their agency in specific.

Monday, 3. September, 1951

An interesting and very profitable trip to New York this weekend. Went with Angleton (Dulles is in Rome) to meet with a certain Porter, head secretary for the Anglo Iranian Oil Company. He was due to arrive on the Cunarder “Britannic” at eleven so we took two suites at the Plaza under the usual fake names and then went out on a Customs boat to meet the liner in quarantine.

J.R. Porter had a special piece of baggage for us. He was traveling with a fellow named Schick, a gentleman with whom I have a passing acquaintance. Mr. Schick is now living in Peru.

Warm day, slightly overcast, as we came up on the boat and went up the ladder.

Porter, a stout man with a red face, waited for us on the deck with his luggage. Credentials were shown to the Immigration people and off we went, scrambling down the ladders and the Porter bag stuck into a sling.

Back to the Cunard docks on 52nd Street and then, by limousine, to the Plaza.

This all was part of Operation Ajax, the overthrow of Persian prime minster (Mohammed, ed.) Mossadegh who had come to power, was considered to be a dangerous populist and was threatening the stranglehold the AIOC had on the Persian oilfields.

American and British interests were livid and of course, as always, the CIA rushed to assist their moneyed friends.

Porter, at the suggestion of MI 6, came to the United States with a bag stuffed full of large denomination American bills. One million dollars to be more exact.

This was the price his company was prepared to pay to the CIA for murdering their new enemy, Mossadegh.

We all went to one of the suites, sat around on comfortable chairs and had various cool alcoholic beverages while discussing the state of affairs in Persia.

The CIA wants the Shah installed as they own him down to the shoelaces but M. is a clever devil and very popular. The AOIC and the British government want him dead but the CIA does not.

Much friendly conversation with Porter, a nice luncheon served by room service and then, after a few more drinks (Porter does like his liquor) we got down to business.

With dramatic flourishes, he opened his large leather suitcase and dumped out the money on the coffee table. My, such a pleasant sight! I always like to see money, the more the better.

Solemn promises to remove Mossadegh. Much shaking of hands and so on and we put the money back into the suitcase and left him in the suite with a wheeled cart full of bottles and an ice bucket.

Back in our suite, Angleton and I counted out the money into two large piles. One he put in his own suitcase, which he had to empty first, throwing clothes into the wastebasket. I had the Teutonic foresight to bring an empty bag so had no trouble.

Angleton, who has a disgusting smoking habit, was about half drunk and was absolutely gleeful over his part of the take. He explained to me that he wanted to “meet some friends” later and wondered if I would mind getting another suite. I had no problem with this and stuck my loaded suitcase under the bed and went off to a movie.

An Irish movie, “The Man of Aran” and a pleasant dinner elsewhere. It was trying to rain when I got back. I had forgotten something in what was now Angleton’s suite and as I had the key, I let myself in.

He was in the bedroom, entirely naked, with what appeared to be a very drunken and equally naked male college student so I simply got my briefcase and left quickly.

He was far too involved to notice me; the lights were out in the living room and I admit I did look around for his suitcase. It was not in sight, unfortunately. If I had found it, I would certainly have lightened it a bit. He would never tell anyone his collegiate lover had taken the British assassination money.

I spent Sunday sleeping in and around three, got a call from Angleton asking me to have dinner with him. The college student had obviously gone away but he should air the suite out. It smelt like a French whorehouse in July in there.

  1. said he had been entertaining several “very important sources” who had not departed until very late.

Bought a nice gift for Bunny and something for the baby. Angleton wants to be the godfather but I told him the President was going to fulfill that position and he shut up.

The less I have to do with Angleton, the more I like it.

I noticed in the paper that while we were out on the water, a fishing boat capsized off Long Island, drowning a significant number of people. Too bad Angleton doesn’t fish!

Back home on Monday and time to relax. Fortunately, the baby is in the new nursery and his cries, when they happen, cannot be heard.

The money is always welcome and it will be pleasant to get home again.


China to ignore international court ruling over South China Sea rights

China will ignore a ruling from an international court that it has no historical rights to islands in the South China Sea. Beijing made no secret of its intention to carry on building up forces in the disputed region.

June 13, 2016


The Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) tribunal in The Hague a day earlier backed the Philippines’ case against China’s claims to a strategic set of islands in the sea.

Beijing boycotted the PCA proceedings, saying the court had no jurisdiction to rule on the issues.

“It is the Philippines that has created and stirred up the trouble,” Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin, said ahead of introducing a paper on Wednesday that blamed the Philippines for what it said was a violation of an agreement with China to settle the disputes via bilateral negotiation. He said Manila had “distorted facts and concocted a pack of lies.”

Liu added that Beijing reserves the right to declare an Air Defense Identification Zone over the sea. “China has established an ADIZ over the East China Sea,” Liu told reporters on Wednesday. He said that China hopes other countries will not take the opportunity to threaten China and that “we hope that they will work with China to protect the peace and stability of the South China Sea, and not let the South China Sea become the origin of a war.”

Whether Beijing sets up such a zone – which would require civilian aircraft to identify themselves to military controllers – depends on “the level of threat we receive,” Liu said.

“Do not turn the South China Sea into a cradle of war,” he said, insisting: “China’s aim is to turn the South China Sea into a sea of peace, friendship and cooperation.”

The five judges who had ruled in the case “made money from the Philippines,” Liu said, openly attacking the integrity of the tribunal. “Maybe other people gave them money too,” he added. “Are these kinds of judges representative?” he asked rhetorically. “Do they understand Asian culture?” A Japanese former president of the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea, Shunji Yanai, had “manipulated the entire proceedings” from behind the scenes, he alleged.

Philippines content with the decision

Former Philippine President Benigno Aquino III, who had brought the case against China in 2013, said on Wednesday that the ruling had “brought clarity to the South China Sea disputes.”

“The ruling now establishes better conditions that enable countries to engage each other, bearing in mind their duties and rights within a context that espouses equality and amity,” Aquino said.

Aquino’s successor, Rodrigo Duterte, has taken a softer line against Beijing, saying he is open to bilateral talks.

Meanwhile, Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said on Wednesday that China’s reputation and ambitions of becoming a world leader would suffer if it ignored the South China Sea ruling.

She described the ruling as final and legally binding. “To ignore it would be a serious international transgression,” Bishop told Australian Broadcasting Corp. “There would be strong reputational costs.”

She said she expected to speak with her counterparts in China and the Philippines in coming days and that the ruling would be discussed at the upcoming ASEAN and East Asia Summit meetings in mid-July.

Commentary: Can Washington prevent war in Southeast Asia?

July 12, 2016

by Peter Apps


I wrote last week that the risk of war in Europe was back. This week, unfortunately, the likelihood of confrontation in Asia seems to be spiking higher as well.

Two events in particular have driven this development, separate but subtly interlinked. On the Korean peninsula, the deployment of a new South Korean missile defense system and imposition of new U.S. sanctions on the north has nudged tensions higher. Now, an international court decision on China’s claims in the South China Sea could further amplify already growing posturing over disputed maritime boundaries.

For the United States, particularly in an election year, this is a pretty toxic brew. Washington might be the preeminent global military superpower, but it is now being pulled in multiple directions on a scale not seen in recent history. Nor is it truly in control of its own destiny – in Asia even more than Europe, its foes and allies are often calling the shots while the United States is inevitably left playing catch-up.

As with its dealings with Vladimir Putin’s Russia, it faces a balance that is awkward and impossible to determine. If Washington looks too conciliatory, it risks being charged with weakness and may end up encouraging all other parties to take matters into their own hands. Try too hard to dominate the situation and deter potential adversaries, however, and the United States risks simply inflaming matters and ushering in the type of conflict it is desperate to avoid.

Take the North Korean example. Particularly since the accession of Kim Jong Un, the United States has faced a deadly quandary. Under the young Kim’s rule, Pyongyang has become more unpredictable, the human rights situation on the ground reportedly significantly worse. Most seriously from the perspective of outsiders, North Korea has been aggressively arming and moving firmly – if somewhat unsteadily – towards refining its nuclear weapons and missile systems until they pose a major threat in the region and beyond.

Just because it is working on such weapons does not mean Pyongyang necessarily has direct ambitions to use them. Most outside analysts believe its true aim in wanting such weapons is to deter outside powers from considering any Iraq-style regime change. Still, making solid predictions about the highly secretive country is far from exact science and it’s hardly surprising its neighbors want to take precautions.

That makes the decision to deploy the U.S.-made Terminal High Altitude Air Defense (THAAD) system in South Korea entirely reasonable. Missile defense systems like that, however, can themselves raise tensions even though they are defensive systems. In Europe, the deployment of a missile shield in eastern and southern Europe primarily to counter any threat from the Middle East clearly antagonized Russia, suddenly wary of losing its own long-held ability to strike European targets with nuclear and conventional weapons.

In that sense, it might not have been the best time to apply a new round of sanctions to North Korean officials and institutions. In response, Pyongyang has said it will close the one remaining diplomatic channel two U.S. officials via its UN mission. In the short term, the most likely consequence will be to make matters worse for the two U.S. nationals currently held by North Korea. It will also make handling any future crisis that much harder – and that cannot be a good thing.

The key to handling North Korea, however, has always been China. Beijing is Pyongyang’s only real ally and supporter, and while its ability to control North Korea’s activities has always been limited and imperfect, it does have multiple economic and other levers.

The problem, of course, is that relations between China, its regional neighbors and Washington are currently also seriously deteriorating. Outright conflict on that front probably remains less likely than a more limited war involving North Korea, although it would also be cataclysmic. As perhaps the world’s preeminent trading and exporting nation, Beijing has little appetite for international isolation on the scale of North Korea. But it also has very real ambitions, growing military capability and a government that has placed the quest for ever-growing geopolitical power at the heart of its domestic legitimacy.

In that sense, this week’s decision by the International Court of Arbitration in the Hague over China’s maritime boundaries may be something of a turning point, and not in a good way. China largely boycotted the process, which it said had little legitimacy. The problem for Beijing, however, is that most of the countries do take it seriously – and the court roundly rejected Beijing’s assertions to rights to most of the South China Sea.

Chinese regular and auxiliary maritime and other forces have already taken up a relatively assertive position on some of the disputed islands and shoals, and there seems little prospect of them are withdrawing anytime soon. The court judgment, however, may ramp up the confidence of nations like the Philippines to take a much more aggressive approach themselves, with potentially seriously destabilizing consequences.

It’s not necessarily all bad news. While the tribunal did conclude that Beijing had trampled on the territorial rights of the Philippines, it also suggested that some disputed areas such as Scarborough Shoal could be shared, for example when it came to fishing rights. That might offer a path to cooperation – or it could just make confrontation more likely.

Last year, a poll of leading national security experts put the risk of a conventional or nuclear war between the United States and China as marginally lower than the risk of a similar clash between NATO and Russia. That probably remains the case – but the risk of states like the Philippines, Japan and Vietnam — many U.S. Treaty allies — finding themselves in a fight may well be higher.

If peace is based around consensus, the direction of travel in Asia this year seems to be entirely the wrong way.

Vietnam welcomes South China Sea ruling, reasserts its own claims

July 12, 2016

by Mai Nguyen and Ho Binh Minh


Vietnam welcomed a ruling by an international arbitration court concerning the South China Sea on Tuesday, saying it strongly supports peaceful resolution of disputes, while reasserting its own sovereignty claims.

“Vietnam welcomes the arbitration court issuing its final ruling,” foreign ministry spokesman, Le Hai Binh, said in a statement.

“Vietnam strongly supports the resolution of the disputes in the South China Sea by peaceful means, including diplomatic and legal processes and refraining from the use or threats to use force, in accordance with international law.”

The ministry said it would issue a more detailed comment on the content of the ruling at a later time and reasserted Vietnam’s claim of sovereignty over the Paracel and Spratly island, and its jurisdiction over its Exclusive Economic Zone.

(Reporting by Mai Nguyen and Ho Binh Minh; Writing by Martin Petty; Editing by Lincoln Feast)

Eric Holder’s Longtime Excuse for Not Prosecuting Banks Just Crashed and Burned

July 12, 2016

by David Dayen

The Intercept

Eric Holder has long insisted that he tried really hard when he was attorney general to make criminal cases against big banks in the wake of the 2007 financial crisis. His excuse, which he made again just last month, was that Justice Department prosecutors didn’t have enough evidence to bring charges.

Many critics have long suspected that was bullshit, and that Holder, for a combination of political, self-serving, and craven reasons, held his department back.

A new, thoroughly-documented report from the House Financial Services Committee supports that theory. It recounts how career prosecutors in 2012 wanted to criminally charge the global bank HSBC for facilitating money laundering for Mexican drug lords and terrorist groups. But Holder said no.

When asked on June 8 why his Justice Department did not equally apply the criminal laws to financial institutions in the wake of the 2008 economic crisis, Holder told the platform drafting panel of the Democratic National Committee that it was laboring under a “misperception.”

He told the panel: “The question you need to ask yourself is, if we could have made those cases, do you think we would not have? Do you think that these very aggressive U.S. attorneys I was proud to serve with would have not brought these cases if they had the ability?”

The report — the result of a three-year investigation — shows that aggressive attorneys did want to prosecute HSBC, but Holder overruled them.

In September 2012, the Justice Department’s Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section (AFMLS) formally recommended that HSBC be prosecuted for its numerous financial crimes.

The history: From 2006 to 2010, HSBC failed to monitor billions of dollars of U.S. dollar purchases with drug trafficking proceeds in Mexico. It also conducted business going back to the mid-1990s on behalf of customers in Cuba, Iran, Libya, Sudan, and Burma, while they were under sanctions. Such transactions were banned by U.S. law.

Newly public internal Treasury Department records show that AFMLS Chief Jennifer Shasky wanted to seek a guilty plea for violations of the Bank Secrecy Act. “DoJ is mulling over the ramifications that could flow from such an approach and plans to finalize its decision this week,” reads an email from September 4, 2012, to senior Treasury officials. On September 7, Treasury official Dennis Wood describes the AFMLS decision as an “internal recommendation to ask the bank [to] plead guilty.” It was a “bombshell,” Wood wrote, because of “the implications of a criminal plea,” and “the sheer amount of the proposed fines and forfeitures.”

But after British financial minister George Osborne complained to the Federal Reserve chairman and the Treasury Secretary that DOJ was unfairly targeting a British bank, senior Justice Department leadership reportedly sought to “better understand the collateral consequences of a conviction/plea before taking such a dramatic step.”

The report documents how Holder and his top associates were concerned about the impact that prosecuting HSBC would have on the global economy. And, in particular, they worried that a guilty plea would trigger a hearing over whether to revoke HSBC’s charter to do banking in the United States.

According to internal documents, the DOJ then went dark for nearly two months, refusing to participate in interagency calls about HSBC. Finally,on November 7, Holder presented HSBC with a “take it or leave it” offer of a deferred prosecution agreement, which would involve a cash settlement and future monitoring of HSBC.

No guilty plea was required.

But even the “take it or leave it” offer was apparently not the last word. HSBC was able to negotiate for nearly a month after Holder presented that offer, getting more favorable terms in the ultimate $1.9 billion deferred prosecution agreement, announced on December 11, 2012.

The original settlement documents would have forced any HSBC executive officers to void their year-end bonuses if they showed future failures of anti-money laundering compliance. The final documents say that, in the event of such failures, senior executives merely “could” have their bonuses clawed back.

In addition, HSBC successfully negotiated to have individual executives immunized from prosecution over transactions with foreign terrorist organizations and other sanctioned entities, even though the original agreement only covered the anti-money laundering violations and explicitly left open the possibility of prosecuting individuals.

As a Justice Department functionary in 1999, Holder wrote the infamous “collateral consequences” memo, advising prosecutors to take into account economic damage that might result from criminally convicting a major corporation.

In 2013, he unwittingly earned his place in history for telling the Senate Judiciary Committee, “I am concerned that the size of some of these [financial] institutions becomes so large that it does become difficult for us to prosecute them,” which became known as the “Too Big to Jail” theory.

Holder told the Democratic platform drafting committee that “it was not lack of desire or lack of resources” that led to the lack of prosecutions for any major bank executive following the financial crisis. “We had in some cases statutory and sometimes factual inabilities to bring the cases that we wanted to bring,” he said.

The HSBC case, however, shows that lack of desire at the highest levels of the Justice Department was indeed the primary reason that no prosecutions took place.

Former Rep. Brad Miller, D-N.C., who also testified to the drafting committee, cited the HSBC case as an example of the lack of equal application of justice in the Holder era. Referring to the concern over destabilizing the financial system with an HSBC prosecution, Miller said, “That’s not an argument that’s available to too many people: ‘You can’t arrest me for selling cigarettes, it might destabilize the financial system!’ ”

The internal communications in the House report all come from the Treasury Department. The Justice Department, they say, did not comply with subpoenas for information about the settlement.

Holder has returned to Covington & Burling, a corporate law firm known for serving Wall Street clients in 2015. He had worked at Covington from 2001 until he was sworn in as attorney general in Feburary 2009. Covington literally kept an office empty for him, awaiting his return.

Jennifer Shasky, the AFMLS chief who requested the prosecution of HSBC but was overruled, recently resigned as the head of the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network to become a senior compliance officer with HSBC.

The Myth of the ‘War on Terrorism

Debunked at last

July 13, 2016

by Justin Raimondo


Remember “We’re fighting them over there so we don’t have to fight them over here”? That was the justification for the worldwide war on terrorism the Bush administration trumpeted in the early days of the post-9/11 era. Keeping in mind that the American people don’t really care about what goes on thousands of miles away, and that the purpose of our foreign policy is – ostensibly – to keep us safe here at home, the Bushies and their neocon Praetorian Guard always kept their focus on the threat that was supposedly hanging over our heads: another 9/11. As that Old Right prophet Garet Garrett put it some sixty years ago, US foreign policy was rationalized to the public with “a complex of vaunting and fear,” and this was the fear part.

But now we hear that the latest iteration of the Terrorist Threat – ISIS – is losing ground in Syria, its home base: some 12 percent of its territory has been lost to a combination of opponents, and the Caliphate, we’re told, is shrinking. So does that mean the Terrorist Threat is abating, and we can get back to living our lives?

Heck no!

As CNN reports:

“IHS [Information Handling Services] senior analyst Columb Strack says that ‘as the Islamic State’s caliphate shrinks and it becomes increasingly clear that its governance project is failing, the group is re-prioritizing insurgency.”

“He told CNN: ‘As a result, we unfortunately expect an increase in mass casualty attacks and sabotage of economic infrastructure, across Iraq and Syria, and further afield, including Europe.’

“In other words, ISIS is going to become a more ‘traditional’ terror group, boasting of its international reach to attract recruits and bolster morale as it loses ground in Iraq and Syria.”

So let’s see if I have this straight: we fought them over there so we don’t have to fight them over here, but now that we’re winning over there they’re coming over there.

Got that?

This preposterous shell game is becoming so transparently phony that not even the “experts” and government officials pushing it can possibly believe it.

In reality, the “war on terrorism” had nothing to do with protecting the American people from harm: it was always all about projecting US power as far as possible and effecting “regime change” throughout the Middle East. And not only there …

The real regime change came about right here in the good ol’ US of A: a system of universal surveillance was instituted as the “Patriot” Act was passed by a Congress that never bothered to read it. The police were militarized – after all, the Bad Guys were about to launch an attack on Peoria, or wherever, and we had to be ready. The banks were forced to report all “suspicious” transactions, and if you bought a pressure cooker your name went on a list of “terror suspects.” This was followed, more recently, by an attack by the Left on the Second Amendment: if your name is on a “terrorist watch list,” or the mysterious “no fly list,” the Nanny State would prevent you from getting your hands on a gun – and screw the Constitution.

Regime change at home and abroad – that’s the real point of the “war on terrorism.” The idea was and is to overthrow not only whatever government dares to get in the War Party’s way, but also to overthrow the Constitution and the rule of law in the United States. A real double-header!

In fact, our “strategy” empowers what might have been marginal terrorist groups, and seems almost designed to do so. We attacked Iraq, and created a power vacuum which al-Qaeda and ISIS filled: then we aligned with “moderate” jihadists in Syria in order to overthrow Bashar al-Assad and drain off support from ISIS. Instead we accomplished exactly the opposite of our intended goal: the “moderates” defected to ISIS and al-Qaeda, and the “Caliphate” grew in size and stature. Thousands of Muslims flocked to the region to fight the latest holy war. So we essentially re-invaded Iraq – Obama just sent in more troops, with more to come – and retook 12 percent of their territory. And now they’re spreading into Europe – and trying to reach the US, as they did in San Bernardino and Orlando.

ISIS split off from al-Qaeda over a strategic issue: where to concentrate their forces. The original strategic vision of Osama bin Laden was to go after the “far enemy” – that is, to hit America – and wait until going for their ultimate goal: the creation of a global “Caliphate.” ISIS disagreed with this gradualism, and determined that it was time to establish the Caliphate here and now. The advantages of this strategy were twofold: 1) It would show that they could actually govern, and that their program wasn’t just a nihilistic vision of destruction for its own sake, and 2) The Caliphate would attract foreign fighters in sufficient numbers to fight the infidels and win.

Like all successful revolutionaries, the leadership of ISIS employs an entrepreneurial strategic and tactical flexibility while never losing sight of its ultimate goal. So while the Caliphate may be losing territory at the moment, it is extending its reach to make the enemy pay a high price – and attracting more recruits in the process.

The idea that we can stamp out these terrorist outfits by going on the offensive in distant Syria, or wherever – denying them “safe havens” – is a delusion that never seems to die. That’s because the delusion serves the domestic interests of our rulers so well.

The “nations” of the Middle East were never real entities to begin with: the borders of Iraq, Syria, Jordan, and the Gulf states were determined by the European colonialists who carved up the remnants of the old Ottoman empire to suit their own purposes. And when these “nations” achieved “independence,” they did not suddenly become more real. What is happening today is the shakeout of competing factions along religious and ethnic lines: the Sunnis, the Shi’ites, the Kurds, etc. etc. are all asserting their right to self-determination. When ISIS demolished the flimsy barrier that separated Syria from Iraq, and proclaimed the abolition of the Sykes-Picot agreement, they were expressing their contempt for the post-World War I order imposed by the West – an order that is dying a bloody and chaotic death in spite of our futile efforts to preserve it.

So what’s the solution?

Terrorist attacks on the West won’t stop any time soon, no matter what we do or don’t do. Too much blood has been spilled, and the dead cry out for vengeance. We can’t undo the invasion of Iraq – the single most destructive act in the modern history of the Middle East – but we can stop making the same mistake unto eternity. As I’ve written before, we should quarantine the entire region. Stop intervening, and let the religious fanatics who are making the region a killing field stew in their own poisonous juices. Stop supporting the Saudis – the main agitators of jihadism; stop supporting Israel: stop supporting the Iraqi “government”; stop sending in troops – and concentrate our limited resources on making sure the terrorists don’t make it to the continental United States.

And if this be “isolationism,” then let the War Party make the most of it. Because the American people are done with global crusading. Enough is enough: let them kill each other if that’s what they’re intent on doing. Let’s just make sure that they aren’t killing us.

Electorate Tremors: The Era of the Angry Voter Is Upon Us

Whether they are fans of Donald Trump, supporters of Brexit or Marine Le Pen voters in France, “angry voters” have one thing in common: They’ve been left in the dust by globalization.

July 6, 2016

by Julia Amalia Heyer, Gordon Repinski, Mathieu von Rohr, Christoph Scheuermann and Holger Stark


Paula Heap and Joel Coe live 6,400 kilometers apart. They don’t even know each other, but they share the same sense of outrage.

She voted for Brexit and he intends to vote for Donald Trump in November. She hails from Preston, a city in northwest England that never truly recovered from the decline of the textiles industry. He’s an American from the small town of Red Boiling Springs in northern Tennessee. His textiles factory, Racoe Inc., is the last of its kind still in business in the area.

It’s Heap’s view that globalization has created a lot of winners and a lot of losers, and that Preston is among the losers. She describes the EU as an “empire” that regulates her electric water kettle but doesn’t create any prosperity. She’s riled by the many immigrants, saying the pressure on the labor market and the health system is increasing. “We want to retain control over immigration,” she says.

Heap is a career advisor, whose motto could be “Make the UK great again,” to borrow a line from Donald Trump’s US presidential election campaign.

Coe, the Trump backer with bulky upper arms and a bushy, reddish beard, blames the NAFTA free trade agreement for the fact that jobs in his industry have been relocated from Tennessee to Mexico. A little bit more of the America of the clattering sewing machines — which are still standing behind him, operated by around 50 women who sew jackets and pants for the US military — disappears each year.

‘Running Against the System’

Coe says he plans to vote for trump because the candidate has “never been a politician.” Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, has been “bought by large corporations and is corrupt.” He says if Trump weren’t in the picture, he would probably vote for Bernie Sanders. Both candidates, he says, are running against “the system.”

He says he doesn’t know a lot about Britain, but he has the feeling that the British vote against the EU is somehow related to his own battle. “It’s good that Britain is leaving the EU,” he says. “Each country has its own identity.”

The phenomenon of the angry voter currently appears to be making significant strides toward conquering Western democracies at the moment. The outrage is directed against elites in politics and in the business community, against the established political parties, against the “mainstream media,” against free trade and, of course, against immigration. Many Brexiteers are among these angry voters, as are Trump supporters in the United States or Le Pen voters in France.

“Take back control” was one of the main slogans used by Brexit supporters in the United Kingdom. It could stand is as the cry for help from angry voters all around the world. In an era when increasingly complex free trade agreements or unknown EU commissioners are determining peoples’ own living conditions, voters once again yearn for borders, national legislative control and closed economies.

It’s a phenomenon that didn’t just pop up yesterday. But the rage has reached a boiling point this year, fueled by the financial and euro crises, by destabilization in the Middle East and the refugee flows it has spawned, by the rise of China and by the deindustrialization that has taken place in recent decades in many Western countries. In the Internet, this rage has found a forum where it can thrive.

Financial Impotence

Now, much that seemed impossible only a short time ago suddenly feels plausible. Britain leaving the EU? That’s what the majority of British want. Donald Trump as president of the United States? It’s unlikely, but what do we know? Marine Le Pen the next French president? Never! But what if she does win? And what happens if, one day, the Dutch or the Austrians hold referendums on future EU membership?

Voters have become unpredictable. Many are turning away from the traditional political power centers and toward the new populist movements. The outrage of these voters is often neither oriented clearly toward the left nor to the right, and yet it poses an internal threat to Western democracy.

For the most part, the movements that tend to profit from these voters are authoritarian, xenophobic and nationalist in nature. The kind of people open to Trump, Brexit or Le Pen are often less educated, older people who come from rural or former industrial regions.

This says a lot about a world in which fortunes are being accrued like none other seen before, but which not all are profiting from. “The advantages of globalization do not apply equally to all classes of society,” says American political scientist William Galston of the Brookings Institution. “They haven’t sufficiently reached the middle and working classes.”

Since 1999, the average annual salary of a US family has fallen by around $5,000 to $53,657 in 2014. Economists have even come up with a harsh term to describe the phenomenon: financial impotence. The American Dream promises that everyone has the opportunity to become prosperous — but, unfortunately, it no longer applies to many. At the other end of the spectrum, 400 Americans possess as much wealth as two-thirds of the rest of society.

A poll published last week found that 71 percent of Americans believe the economic system is “rigged” in favor of certain groups. It’s a term that socialist candidate Bernie Sanders used during his campaign and it was then coopted by Trump. When the presumptive Republican Party presidential candidate stated in Pennsylvania the week before last that trade ties with Asia had led to the loss of 68,900 jobs, his comments were met with bellicose approval.

Wiping Out the Middle Class?

In a speech before thousands of supporters last Tuesday, Trump said: “The wave of globalization has wiped out our middle class.” It’s a sentence that could just as easily have come out of the mouths of Bernie Sanders, Marine Le Pen or many Brexit voters.

Trump has broken with the Republican Party on several core issues. He rants against free trade agreements like NAFTA in North America, the TPP agreement between the US and Asia, that has not yet gone into effect and the TTIP deal between American and the European Union, which is currently being negotiated. These agreements ease access to foreign markets for corporations, but many workers also blame them for the loss of industrial jobs.

The acceptance of China into the World Trade Organization at the end of 2001 “opened the floodgates for imports of all types,” says Brookings researcher Galston. Globalization has created wealth, but it has also transformed the world.

Post-industrial societies have risen out of the former Western industrial societies and their factories are now located in China, Malaysia and Taiwan. Workers are no longer manning assembly lines in Manchester and Detroit, but in Kuala Lumpur and Wuhan.

The consequence of this structural change has been that the West now needs workers with new qualifications and no longer the skilled workers who formed the backbone of the Western economies for decades. College graduates and programmers are needed — people who are mobile, networked and cosmopolitan. In Britain, such people voted overwhelmingly to remain a part of the EU.

The result is that dividing lines in today’s political debates are often no longer based on worldviews, but instead run between modernization’s winners and losers. The world is divided between those who profit from the barrier-free world and those who believe that world has left them behind.

The Brexit movement succeeded in reaching the heart of disillusioned England. The referendum on future EU membership exposed the conflict between the wealthy center in London and the less prosperous English periphery, between the capital of money and the deindustrialized hinterlands. The working class feels it has been robbed of its purpose. Its jobs are disappearing.

In France, meanwhile, Front National has for years been the country’s biggest workers’ party by far. It too plays to the desire for a France of the past — a country with fewer immigrants and a state controlled economy. Under the label of “intelligent protectionism,” the party peddles the illusion that the country’s economy can return to the glory days of the 1960s.

Marine Le Pen is fond of speaking of those who have been “forgotten;” they are her constituents. Front National has long performed strongest in the former industrial centers in the north and in the structurally weak south. Increasingly, though, the lower-middle class has also felt threatened, making it vulnerable to the populists as well.

In his 2010 book “Fractures françaises,” French social geographer Christophe Guilluy wrote that Front National is gaining most voters in so-called periurban areas. These once rural areas, located outside of major cities, are often struggling with urban problems today. They’ve also lost the most economically.

Guilluy writes that the ruling political classes “still haven’t understood that ideological and cultural divides have long separated them from the simpler classes.” The “overwhelming majority of French may be convinced of the necessity of building social housing,” he writes, but given that they are largely inhabited by immigrants, they nevertheless oppose their construction.

In absolute contrast to educated elites, angry voters in all countries feel threatened by immigrants competing for the remaining jobs. In the United States, the white lower class views itself as threatened by Hispanic immigrants, whereas the well-educated often welcome immigration because it contributes in terms of economic growth, demographics and a society’s cultural richness.

A Failure to Find Appropriate Responses to Globalization

The feeling of having been forgotten by the political system is one that dominates among angry voters in all countries — regardless which government is currently at the helm. “In recent years, it didn’t matter in Western democracies if it was a center-left or center-right government in office,” says Brookings researcher Galston. “They have all failed to provide an appropriate response to the effects of globalization.”

Leftist British journalist George Monbiot wrote in the Guardian that the Brexit vote was “the eruption of an internal wound inflicted over many years by an economic oligarchy on the poor and the forgotten.” He described it as a “howl of rage against exclusion, alienation and remote authority. That’s why the slogan ‘take back control’ resonated. If the left can’t work with this, what are we here for?”

Writing in his New York Times column a few days after the Brexit vote, conservative David Brooks noted, “When people feel their world is vanishing, they are easy prey for fact-free magical thinking and demagogues who blame immigrants.” He added that “the elites pushed too hard, and now history is moving in the opposite direction. The less educated masses have a different conception of the future, a vision that is more closed, collective, protective and segmented.”

Even American columnist Thomas Friedman, generally a champion of globalization, has come to a similar conclusion. “People are feeling deeply anxious about something,” he writes. “We have globalized trade and manufacturing, and we have introduced robots and artificial intelligence systems.” But this has also left a lot of people “dizzy and dislocated.”

Scorn and Radicalization

And because our political system has yet to find any solutions to these problems, particularly to the fears of the less well educated, many are responding with scorn for the elite and with radicalization. This provides a tremendous opportunity for movements that, in the past, never would have stood a chance of even sniffing power, much less influencing politics through elections and referendums as we are now seeing.

Sociologist Michel Wieviorka, 69, a well-known French thinker, just published a book in which he dares to traverse an altogether new terrain to him: that of political fiction.

“Le séisme,” or The Earthquake, begins on Monday, May 8, 2017, the evening before Marine Le Pen, the chair of Front National, is elected as French president after receiving 51.8 percent of the vote in a run-off against François Hollande. Wieviorka imagines Le Pen standing on Place de la Concorde in Paris with longtime Front National supporter Brigitte Bardot at her side. The newly elected president is cheered by the people.

It’s Wieviorka’s hope that the fictitious scenario played out in his book won’t come true in real life. It is alarming though, he says, that the Brexit vote in the UK has lent his thought experiment a frightening degree of legitimacy.

Wieviorka himself recently admitted that he no longer votes because there are no longer any political parties he trusts. It’s not something one would necessarily expect from a well-known sociologist. Wieviorka long described himself as a “friend of the left,” but now he says: “The French left is dead” and that the crisis within the left has accelerated the downfall of the French political system.

Fear of Decline

Many French are infuriated, and the loss of trust between the people and their political leaders has never been as great as it is today. Those who society has left behind have the greatest potential for anger and, as such, also represent the most significant voter potential for the French populists, of whom Marine Le Pen is only the best known. The French politician has succeeded in coopting and taking ownership of the key issues held dearest by the left.

Le Pen has outfitted her party with an anti-liberal economic program that calls for greater protectionism and rejects free trade. She curses the elite, wants to put a stop to immigration and also seeks to give French people priority on the labor market. Under its charismatic leader, the party has become the third-strongest political force in the country and has also succeeded in breaking a two-party system that had prevailed for decades.

Fears of downfall, or at least of creeping decline, Wieviorka says, also pertain to the middle class. “We know that our children are not going to have better lives than we did,” he says. On the contrary, parents these days often find themselves having to provide support for their grown-up children by subsidizing their lean wages or helping them buy a home.

In addition to the economic crisis, France — along with many other European countries — is also facing an identity crisis. French society is deeply divided and the republican ideal, that glue which used to hold the nation together, has lost its power to reconcile. “In France, there is no society left today — all that remains is a state,” says Wieviorka.

In Britain many people are unable to see how the country can find its way back to its lost greatness. In the US, there are fears that the superpower’s importance is diminishing. It is a deep seated fear of decline that can also be found in many continental European countries.

Ultimately, the radicalization of many people is the response to a feeling that politics no longer provides answers to the most pressing issues. The situation is exacerbated in many countries in Europe by the impression that there are hardly any ideological differences between established political parties any more and that they represent the same ideas. That there is little choice left in politics, partly because of the common European currency, which is forcing all euro-zone countries to implement austerity measures and reforms.

The Left’s Struggle

It is the left that has suffered the most under this radicalization in the Western world. Whether in France, the US or Britain, it is quarreling over the question of how best to react to globalization. Part of this is attributable to the fact that the left-leaning electorate is divided into two opposing camps: the classic workers constituency and the urbane, well-educated and liberal milieu that counts among globalization’s winners. This conflict is currently fracturing Britain’s Labour Party and has long been wreaking havoc within the French Socialist Party.

Hillary Clinton is experiencing similar troubles in the United States. It was her husband Bill who once signed the NAFTA into law. She’s a Democrat who is also viewed as a representative of the establishment. These days, though, there’s no label in the West that is as odious as “establishment.” That partially explains why Clinton was faced with an internal party insurgency by anti-establishment socialist candidate Bernie Sanders. Now she will also have to prevail over anti-establishment candidate Trump.

Clinton herself now says she is opposed to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade agreement. As a candidate, she too is seeking to court the angry voters, while at the same time appealing to reason. If Trump weren’t as assailable as a candidate, Clinton’s prospects would likely look dim.

And yet she suffers under the same difficulty that all politicians face when forced to run against populists: Angry voters don’t defect to the populists because they find the details of their platforms to be persuasive — they flock to a Marine Le Pen or a Donald Trump because they see those candidates more convincingly expressing their own anger. They are not bothered by the risk that an end of free trade or a withdrawal from the EU will lead to a further deterioration of their own situation — or they don’t believe it. They see themselves as underprivileged already.

The wall that Trump wants to build along the border to Mexico won’t solve any concrete problems, but it would provide a powerful symbol. It’s not dissimilar to Brexit voters who didn’t necessarily desire to leave the EU, but wanted to send the message: “Hey, we are here. Take us seriously. Do something for us. We have had enough of you.”

It’s possible that the era of the angry voter has only just begun.

We Are The Empire

Of U.S. Military Interventions, Alien Disaster Movies, and Star Wars

by William J. Astore


Perhaps you’ve heard the expression: “We have met the enemy and he is us.” Cartoonist Walt Kelly’s famed possum, Pogo, first uttered that cry. In light of alien disaster movies like the recent sequel Independence Day: Resurgence and America’s disastrous wars of the twenty-first century, I’d like to suggest a slight change in that classic phrase: we have met the alien and he is us.

Allow me to explain. I grew up reading and watching science fiction with a fascination that bordered on passion. In my youth, I also felt great admiration for the high-tech, futuristic nature of the U.S. military. When it came time for college, I majored in mechanical engineering and joined the U.S. Air Force. On graduating, I would immediately be assigned to one of the more high-tech, sci-fi-like (not to say apocalyptic) military settings possible: Air Force Space Command’s Cheyenne Mountain.

For those of you who don’t remember the looming, end-of-everything atmosphere of the Cold War era, Cheyenne Mountain was a nuclear missile command center tunneled out of solid granite inside an actual mountain in Colorado. In those days, I saw myself as one of the good guys, protecting America from “alien” invasions and the potential nuclear obliteration of the country at the hands of godless communists from the Soviet Union. The year was 1985 and back then my idea of an “alien” invasion movie was Red Dawn, a film in which the Soviets and their Cuban allies invade the U.S., only to be turned back by a group of wolverine-like all-American teen rebels. (Think: the Vietcong, American-style, since the Vietnam War was then just a decade past.)

Strange to say, though, as I progressed through the military, I found myself growing increasingly uneasy about my good-guy stature and about who exactly was doing what to whom. Why, for example, did we invade Iraq in 2003 when that country had nothing to do with the attacks of 9/11? Why were we so focused on dominating the Earth’s resources, especially its oil? Why, after declaring total victory over the “alien” commies in 1991 and putting the Cold War to bed for forever (or so it seemed then), did our military continue to strive for “global reach, global power” and what, with no sense of overreach or irony, it liked to call “full-spectrum dominance”?

Still, whatever was simmering away inside me, only when I retired from the Air Force in 2005 did I fully face what had been staring back at me all those years: I had met the alien, and he was me.

The Alien Nature of U.S. Military Interventions

The latest Independence Day movie, despite earning disastrous reviews, is probably still rumbling its way through a multiplex near you. The basic plot hasn’t changed: ruthless aliens from afar (yet again) invade, seeking to exploit our precious planet while annihilating humanity (something that, to the best of our knowledge, only we are actually capable of). But we humans, in such movies as in reality, are a resilient lot. Enough of the plucky and the lucky emerge from the rubble to organize a counterattack. Despite being outclassed by the aliens’ shockingly superior technology and awe-inspiring arsenal of firepower, humanity finds a way to save the Earth while — you won’t be surprised to know — thoroughly thrashing said aliens.

Remember the original Independence Day from two decades ago? Derivative and predictable it may have been, but it was also a campy spectacle — with Will Smith’s cigar-chomping military pilot, Bill Pullman’s kickass president in a cockpit, and the White House being blown to smithereens by those aliens. That was 1996. The Soviet Union was half-a-decade gone and the U.S. was the planet’s “sole superpower.” Still, who knew that seven years later, on the deck of an aircraft carrier, an all-too-real American president would climb out of a similar cockpit in a flight suit, having essentially just blown part of the Middle East to smithereens, and declare his very own “mission accomplished” moment?

In the aftermath of the invasion of Afghanistan and the “shock and awe” assault on Iraq, the never-ending destructiveness of the wars that followed, coupled with the U.S. government’s deployment of deadly robotic drones and special ops units across the globe, alien invasion movies aren’t — at least for me — the campy fun they once were, and not just because the latest of them is louder, dumber, and more cliché-ridden than ever. I suspect that there’s something else at work as well, something that’s barely risen to consciousness here: in these years, we’ve morphed into the planet’s invading aliens.

Think about it. Over the last half-century, whenever and wherever the U.S. military “deploys,” often to underdeveloped towns and villages in places like Vietnam, Afghanistan, or Iraq, it arrives very much in the spirit of those sci-fi aliens. After all, it brings with it dazzlingly destructive futuristic weaponry and high-tech gadgetry of all sorts (known in the military as “force-multipliers”). It then proceeds to build mothership-style bases that are often like American small towns plopped down in a new environment. Nowadays in such lands, American drones patrol the skies (think: the Terminator films), blast walls accented with razor wire and klieg lights provide “force protection” on the ground, and the usual attack helicopters, combat jets, and gunships hover overhead like so many alien craft. To designate targets to wipe out, U.S. forces even use lasers!

In the field, American military officers emerge from high-tech vehicles to bark out commands in a harsh “alien” tongue. (You know: English.) Even as American leaders offer reassuring words to the natives (and to the public in “the homeland”) about the U.S. military being a force for human liberation, the message couldn’t be more unmistakable if you happen to be living in such countries: the “aliens” are here, and they’re planning to take control, weapons loaded and ready to fire.

Other U.S. military officers have noticed this dynamic. In 2004, near Samarra in Iraq’s Salahuddin province, for instance, then-Major Guy Parmeter recalled asking a farmer if he’d “seen any foreign fighters” about. The farmer’s reply was as simple as it was telling: “Yes, you.” Parmeter noted, “You have a bunch of epiphanies over the course of your experience here [in Iraq], and it made me think: How are we perceived, who are we to them?”

Americans may see themselves as liberators, but to the Iraqis and so many other peoples Washington has targeted with its drones, jets, and high-tech weaponry, we are the invaders.

Do you recall what the aliens were after in the first Independence Day movie? Resources. In that film, they were compared to locusts, traveling from planet to planet, stripping them of their valuables while killing their inhabitants. These days, that narrative should sound a lot less alien to us. After all, would Washington have committed itself quite so fully to the Greater Middle East if it hadn’t possessed all that oil so vital to our consumption-driven way of life? That’s what the Carter Doctrine of 1980 was about: it defined the Persian Gulf as a U.S. “vital interest” precisely because, to quote former Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz’s apt description of Iraq, it “floats on a sea of oil.”

Of Cold War Memories and Imperial Storm Troopers

Whether anyone notices or not, alien invasion flicks offer a telling analogy when it comes to the destructive reality of Washington’s global ambitions; so, too, do “space operas” like Star Wars. I’m a fan of George Lucas’s original trilogy, which appeared in my formative years. When I saw them in the midst of the Cold War, I never doubted that Darth Vader’s authoritarian Empire in a galaxy far, far away was the Soviet Union. Weren’t the Soviets, whom President Ronald Reagan would dub “the evil empire,” bent on imperial domination? Didn’t they have the equivalent of storm troopers, and wasn’t it our job to “contain” that threat?

Like most young Americans then, I saw myself as a plucky rebel, a mixture of the free-wheeling, wisecracking Han Solo and the fresh-faced, idealistic Luke Skywalker. Of course, George Lucas had a darker, more complex vision in mind, one in which President Richard Nixon, not some sclerotic Soviet premier, provided a model for the power-mad emperor, while the lovable Ewoks in The Return of the Jedi — with their simple if effective weaponry and their anti-imperial insurgent tactics — were clearly meant to evoke Vietnamese resistance forces in an American war that Lucas had loathed. But few enough Americans of the Cold War-era thought in such terms. (I didn’t.) It went without question that we weren’t the heartless evil empire. We were the Jedi! And metaphorically speaking, weren’t we the ones who, in the end, blew up the Soviet Death Star and won the Cold War?

How, then, did an increasingly gargantuan Pentagon become the Death Star of our moment? We even had our own Darth Vader in Dick Cheney, a vice president who actually took pride in the comparison.

Think for a moment, dear reader, about the optics of a typical twenty-first-century U.S. military intervention. As our troops deploy to places that for most Americans might as well be in a galaxy far, far away, with all their depersonalizing body armor and high-tech weaponry, they certainly have the look of imperial storm troopers.

I’m hardly the first person to notice this. As Iraq war veteran Roy Scranton recently wrote in the New York Times, “I was the faceless storm trooper, and the scrappy rebels were the Iraqis.” Ouch.

American troops in that country often moved about in huge MRAPs (mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles) described to me by an Army battalion commander as “ungainly” and “un-soldier like.” Along with M1 Abrams tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles, those MRAPs were the American equivalents of the Imperial Walkers in Star Wars. Such vehicles, my battalion commander friend noted drolly, were “not conducive to social engagements with Iraqis.”

It’s not the fault of the individual American soldier that, in these years, he’s been outfitted like a Star Wars storm trooper. His equipment is designed to be rugged and redundant, meaning difficult to break, but it comes at a cost. In Iraq, U.S. troops were often encased in 80 to 100 pounds of equipment, including a rifle, body armor, helmet, ammunition, water, radio, batteries, and night-vision goggles. And, light as they are, let’s not forget the ominous dark sunglasses meant to dim the glare of Iraq’s foreign sun.

Now, think how that soldier appeared to ordinary Iraqis — or Afghans, Yemenis, Libyans, or almost any other non-Western people. Wouldn’t he or she seem both intimidating and foreign, indeed, hostile and “alien,” especially while pointing a rifle at you and jabbering away in a foreign tongue? Of course, in Star Wars terms, it went both ways in Iraq. A colleague told me that during her time there, she heard American troops refer to Iraqis as “sand people,” the vicious desert raiders and scavengers of Star Wars. If “they” seem like vicious aliens to us, should we be surprised that we just might seem that way to them?

Meanwhile, consider the American enemy, whether the Taliban, al-Qaeda, or any of our other opponents of this era. Typically unburdened by heavy armor and loads of equipment, they move around in small bands, improvising as they go. Such “terrorists” — or “freedom fighters,” take your pick — more closely resemble (optically, at least) the plucky human survivors of Independence Day or the ragtag yet determined rebels of Star Wars than heavy patrols of U.S. troops do.

Now, think of the typical U.S. military response to the nimbleness and speed of such “rebels.” It usually involves deploying yet more and bigger technologies. The U.S. has even sent its version of Imperial Star Destroyers (we call them B-52s) to Syria and Iraq to take out “rebels” riding their version of Star Wars “speeders” (i.e. Toyota trucks).

To navigate and negotiate the complex “human terrain” (actual U.S. Army term) of “planets” like Iraq and Afghanistan, U.S. troops call on a range of space-age technologies, including direction-finding equipment, signal intercept, terrain modeling, and satellite navigation using GPS. The enemy, being part of that “human terrain,” has little need for such technology to “master” it. Since understanding alien cultures and their peculiar “human terrains” is not its forte, the U.S. military has been known to hire anthropologists to help it try to grasp the strange behaviors of the peoples of Planet Iraq and Planet Afghanistan.

Yet unlike the evil empire of Star Wars or the ruthless aliens of Independence Day, the U.S. military never claimed to be seeking total control (or destruction) of the lands it invaded, nor did it claim to desire the total annihilation of their populations (unless you count the “carpet bombing” fantasies of wannabe Sith Lord Ted Cruz). Instead, it promised to leave quickly once its liberating mission was accomplished, taking its troops, attack craft, and motherships with it.

After 15 years and counting on Planet Afghanistan and 13 on Planet Iraq, tell me again how those promises have played out.

In a Galaxy Far, Far Away

Consider it an irony of alien disaster movies that they manage to critique U.S. military ambitions vis-à-vis the “primitive” natives of far-off lands (even if none of us and few of the filmmakers know it). Like it or not, as the world’s sole superpower, dependent on advanced technology to implement its global ambitions, the U.S. provides a remarkably good model for the imperial and imperious aliens of our screen life.

We Americans, proud denizens of the land of the gun and of the only superpower left standing, don’t, of course, want to think of ourselves as aliens. Who does? We go to movies like Independence Day or Star Wars to identify with the outgunned rebels. Evidence to the contrary, we still think of ourselves as the underdogs, the rebels, the liberators. And so — I still believe — we once were, a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.

We need to get back to that time and that galaxy. But we don’t need a high-tech time machine or sci-fi wormhole to do so. Instead, we need to take a long hard look at ourselves. Like Pogo, we need to be willing to see the evidence of our own invasive nature. Only then can we begin to become the kind of land we say we want to be.

Privacy row over FBI iris scan ‘trial’

July 13, 2016

BBC News

The FBI has collected nearly 430,000 iris scans over the past three years, an investigation by technology website The Verge, has revealed.

What started as a pilot in 2013 has grown into a database “without any public debate or oversight”, said the American Civil Liberties Union.

It amounted to “runaway surveillance”, director of technology Nicole Ozer tweeted.

The FBI said it was developing “best practices” for iris image capture.

The project was launched in September 2013 and has seen the FBI collaborate with agencies in Texas, Missouri and California.

The iris data, taken from people who have been arrested, can be scanned in a fraction of a second.

Repeat offenders

The scan takes a detailed image of the ridges in the coloured part of the eye, which are as detailed and distinctive as a fingerprint.

An average of 189 iris scans were collected every day in California at the start of 2016, according to documents obtained by The Verge.

The programme was started to “evaluate technology, address key challenges and develop a system capable of performing iris image recognition services”, according to the FBI’s website.

Such technology is necessary in order to easily track criminals and quickly catch repeat offenders and suspects who try to hide their identities, the FBI argued.

The project falls under its $1bn (£750m) next-generation identification system that aims to expand the bureau’s old fingerprinting database to other identifiers such as facial recognition and palm prints.

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