TBR News June 27, 2017

Jun 27 2017

The Voice of the White House

         Washington, D.C., June 27, 2017:”Overpopulation, a shrinking economy, a depletion of supporting natural resources are elements in the global disruptions of the social systems. Riots, terrorism, political upheavals, threats of public rebellions all are growing like rampant weeds in the well-cultivated formal gardens of the very rich. In England, there are now the very rich and the very poor. The very rich are in power and when a public housing building burns due to connivance and disintrest, the very rich do not care. Soon, however, they will care because there are few of them and many of the poor and votes count.”
Table of Contents    

  • New U.K. Government Held Together by Fear — of a Prime Minister Jeremy Corbyn
  • Grenfell disaster highlights UK’s infrastructure problems
  • Image of the United States has plunged under Trump, survey shows
  • Addressing Trump’s Errant Foreign Policy
  • The Koch brothers launch campaign to pass President Trump’s tax cuts
  • The Age of No Privacy: The Surveillance State Shifts Into High Gear
  • HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier runs on Windows XP, vulnerable to cyberattack
  • Isis May be Leaderless and Facing Mosul Loss, But Group Will Fight on
  • America at War Since 9/11


New U.K. Government Held Together by Fear — of a Prime Minister Jeremy Corbyn

June 26 2017

by Robert Mackey

The Intercept

After weeks of wrangling, Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party agreed on Monday to give Prime Minister Theresa May the votes she needs to stay in office and push through legislation ensuring that the United Kingdom exits the European Union.

While the Democratic Unionist leader, Arlene Foster, spoke of the deal being “in the national interest” of the U.K. as a whole, commentators pointed to what looked like a massive concession to Northern Ireland’s local government — an additional 1 billion pounds in social welfare spending.

The money, though, was probably less important to the D.U.P. than staving off what it sees as a nightmarish alternative: the specter of Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the opposition Labour Party, becoming prime minister.

That’s because the election campaign that just concluded, with a hung Parliament in which no single party holds a majority of seats, kicked off a remarkable surge in popularity for Corbyn. That surge, lifting Corbyn and Labour, has shown no signs of abating since the votes were cast on June 8.

The Labour leader was widely seen to have handled the aftermath of the tragic fire at Grenfell Tower in London better than the prime minister — comforting victims as she dodged the public — and opinion polls suggest that his party would win a new election if May is unable to govern.

While Corbyn’s plans to end austerity and reverse cuts to social-welfare spending are anathema to the Conservatives, his long history of support for Sinn Fein, the former political wing of the I.R.A., has made him into a hate figure for the D.U.P. whose voters identify as British, not Irish, and fear being eventually absorbed into a united Ireland.

Scenes of the rapturous reception for Corbyn this weekend at the Glastonbury music festival — where he quoted Percy Bysshe Shelley and heard his name sung repeatedly to the tune of the White Stripes’ anthem “Seven Nation Army” — must have instilled a sense of fear bordering on panic in both the Conservative and D.U.P. camps.

The chant of “Oh, Jeremy Corbyn,” continued to ring out around Glastonbury all weekend, even after the man himself had left the stage.

After the terms of the deal between the government and the D.U.P. were made public on Monday, Corbyn denounced the agreement as not “in the national interest, but in the interest of Theresa May and the Conservatives’ own political survival.”

“Austerity has failed,” Corbyn added. “Cuts to vital public services must be halted right across the UK, not just in Northern Ireland.”


Grenfell disaster highlights UK’s infrastructure problems

The recent fire in west London’s Grenfell Tower has alerted officials to possibly flammable materials used in high-rises across the country, with PM May saying a major probe is needed.

June 27, 2017

by Samira Shackle (London)


This month’s fire at Grenfell Tower in West London – which killed at least 79 people, with the death toll likely to rise considerably – shocked Britain. Since the fire, attention has turned to the quality of other high-rise buildings.

The disaster served to highlight Britain’s housing crisis and the need for concerted action. A spokesman for Prime Minister Theresa May said on Tuesday that all 95 samples of building materials submitted so far for fire-safety testing in the wake of the disaster had failed to meet regulations. The failures greatly magnify fears about safety for thousands of people, with May saying that a “major national investigation” is needed.

Even before the Grenfell disaster, the issue of social housing – suffering after years of chronic under-investment and a long-term policy of selling off council houses to private owners – was high on the political agenda. All three parties made it a part of their election campaigns. Labour’s manifesto promised the largest state house-building initiative for 30 years, the Conservatives included new funding proposals for social housing, and the Liberal Democrats advocated removing the right-to-buy council housing and lifting borrowing caps on local authorities.

The government has not set out what will happen next, but clearly investment is needed. “Now more than ever, political parties must set ideological differences aside and put country before party,” said Richard Beresford, chief executive of the National Federation of Builders. “Government will need to focus on putting builders into a better place to build the homes and train the skilled workers the UK needs to succeed, as well as allowing regional economies to prosper.”

Infrastructure problems

Although Britain is one of the largest global economies, it is not only on social housing where its infrastructure is lacking. The World Economic Forum ranks the UK 24th in the world for the quality of infrastructure – roads and railways are overcrowded, water supply has fallen to critical levels in some areas, flood defenses require improvement, and utilities are often far more expensive than in other European countries.

There are several reasons for this. The first is chronic under-investment; a 2014 report by the Royal Society for Arts, Manufactures and Commerce warned that the UK experienced 5 percent lower growth each year from 2000-10 due to this under-investment in infrastructure.

Another factor is that Britain’s politicians tend to think in four or five year electoral cycles whereas infrastructure projects require much longer-term frameworks. “In many countries, questions about key infrastructure plans would be outside the partisan political game, and long-term investment decisions would not be blighted by political uncertainty and delay,” Diane Coyle, professor of economics at Manchester University, told DW.

For many years, discussions over British infrastructure have been defined by high speed rail, the nuclear plant  at Hinkley Point, and the expansion of Heathrow airport with a third runway. These have been mired in problem, delays, and political disagreements.

Since 2010, successive Conservative-led governments have pursued a program of austerity, meaning deep cuts to public spending. For the most part, capital spending on infrastructure projects was spared from these cuts, as investment in these areas were seen as a means to grow the economy. However, this investment has not always been effectively executed. A damning report by the National Audit Office in January 2016 – found that a third of major government projects due to deliver in the next five years were rated as in doubt or un-achievable unless action was taken to improve delivery.

Uncertain times

Britain is now in the throes of intense political uncertainty, led by a minority government and at the early stages of negotiating an exit from the European Union. Infrastructure is frequently held up as a means by which to shore up the economy – but the uncertainty poses a challenge. The state of public finances cannot be guaranteed and private investors do not see Britain as a safe bet.

“Minority governments are never generally favorable periods for investment markets because of the unpredictability of policy,” says Kevin Cammack, analyst as City stockbroker Cenkos Securities. “I think there is a chance given the circumstances surrounding this that the Tories may be less inclined to pursue some of the major projects like HS2 [High-speed rail network linking London, the West Midlands and the North – the ed.] with the vigor that they have been,” he told DW.

This week, leaders from the British Chambers of Commerce, the Confederation of British Industry and the Federation of Small Businesses publicly called on politicians to ensure infrastructure projects – in sectors as diverse as energy, transport, water and digital – are not delayed.

And Lord Andrew Adonis, head of the National Infrastructure Commission, warned this week that a hard Brexit would undermine crucial projects. “These decisions on Brexit have a crucial bearing on infrastructure. Business will not invest for the long term if they think Britain is going down the tube. It’s as simple as that,” he said. “The projects that will be most affected will be those that require immediate private sector investment – starting with Heathrow.”

Image of the United States has plunged under Trump, survey shows

June 26, 2017

by Noah Barkin


BERLIN- The image of the United States has deteriorated sharply across the globe under President Donald Trump and an overwhelming majority of people in other countries have no confidence in his ability to lead, a survey from the Pew Research Center showed

Five months into Trump’s presidency, the survey spanning 37 nations showed U.S. favorability ratings in the rest of the world slumping to 49 percent from 64 percent at the end of Barack Obama’s eight years in the White House.

But the falls were far steeper in some of America’s closest allies, including U.S. neighbors Mexico and Canada, and European partners like Germany and Spain.

Trump took office in January pledging to put “America First”. Since then he has pressed ahead with plans to build a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico, announced he will pull out of the Paris climate accord, and accused countries including Canada, Germany and China of unfair trade practices.

On his first foreign trip as president in early June, Trump received warm welcomes in Saudi Arabia and Israel, but a cool reception from European partners, with whom he clashed over NATO spending, climate and trade.

Just 30 percent of Mexicans now say they have a favorable view of the United States, down from 66 percent at the end of the Obama era. In Canada and Germany, favorability ratings slid by 22 points, to 43 percent and 35 percent, respectively.

In many European countries, the ratings were comparable to those seen at the end of the presidency of George W. Bush, whose 2003 invasion of Iraq was deeply unpopular.

“The drop in favorability ratings for the United States is widespread,” the Pew report said. “The share of the public with a positive view of the U.S. has plummeted in a diverse set of countries from Latin America, North America, Europe, Asia and Africa”.


The survey, based on the responses of 40,447 people and conducted between Feb. 16 and May 8 this year, showed even deeper mistrust of Trump himself, with only 22 percent of those surveyed saying they had confidence he would do the right thing in world affairs, compared to 64 percent who trusted Obama.

Both Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping, with confidence ratings of 27 percent and 28 percent respectively, scored higher than Trump. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, with a confidence rating of 42 percent, scored highest among the four leaders in the survey.The countries with the lowest confidence in Trump were Mexico, at 5 percent and Spain at 7 percent. The only two countries where ratings improved compared to Obama were Russia, where confidence in the U.S. president surged to 53 percent from 11 percent, and Israel, where it rose 7 points to 56 percent.

Globally, 75 percent of respondents described Trump as “arrogant”, 65 percent as “intolerant” and 62 percent as “dangerous”. A majority of 55 percent also described him as a “strong leader”.

The survey showed widespread disapproval of Trump’s signature policy proposals, with 76 percent unhappy with his plan to build the wall on the border with Mexico, 72 percent against his withdrawal from major trade agreements and 62 percent opposed to his plans to restrict travel to the U.S. from some majority-Muslim countries.

On the positive side, the survey showed that 58 percent of respondents had a positive view of Americans in general. And in many regions of the world, a majority or plurality of respondents said they expected relations with the United States to stay roughly the same in spite of Trump.

(Reporting by Noah Barkin; Editing by Toby Chopra)

Addressing Trump’s Errant Foreign Policy

Realists need a new vanguard in Congress.

June 26, 2017

by William S. Lind

The American Conservative

Conservatives such as myself, who seek a return to America’s historic and successful foreign policy of non-intervention in overseas quarrels that are unrelated to American interests, thought we had won in November. In Donald Trump we had elected a non-interventionist president. He pledged good relations with Russia, avoidance of new wars, and, at least by inference, ending the conflicts he inherited, including the hopeless war in Afghanistan.

But that’s not how things turned out. On some issues, Trump has been true to his campaign. On his recent European trip, he refused to bow down and worship the great clay god NATO, which exists primarily to rekindle the Cold War with Russia. He pulled out of the globalist Paris Agreement. So far he has not signed off on the idiotic plan to send more troops to Afghanistan and resume “nation building” there.

But on a broader basis, the president has allowed his non-interventionist stance to be subverted by the Republican establishment. He has backed away from seeking an alliance with Russia. He has accepted continued deep American involvement in the Middle East. He has given the Pentagon more money, which, without military reform, just buys more expensive defeats. He has pursued strategically irrelevant quarrels with Iran and, dangerously, North Korea. This is not what “America First” looks like.

In the face of this disappointment, where are non-interventionist conservatives to find a voice? We can, of course, write articles for magazines, speak at conferences, and lament “O tempora! O mores!” over sherry at the club. But a rule of life in Washington is that unless you are connected to political power, no one reads what you write or listens to what you say. You don’t count.

There is a place non-intervention conservatives can turn to find a voice, and that is Capitol Hill. In the 1980s I was at the core of an anti-establishment effort that seriously rattled the Defense Department—the military reform movement. The movement became influential when it tied reformers’ ideas to a congressional power base, the Congressional Military Reform Caucus. This bipartisan caucus began when a conservative Republican member of the House Armed Services Committee, Congressman Bill Whitehurst, met with Democratic Senator Gary Hart, who served on the Senate Armed Services Committee, and said, “What do you think we could do for military reform if we put our efforts together?” (I was present at that meeting.) The result was a reform caucus that at one point counted over 100 members of Congress.

If non-intervention conservatives can create something similar to the Military Reform Caucus, they will have a voice. They will count in Washington. But times have changed. The extreme partisanship that now characterizes Capitol Hill makes the hope of a bipartisan caucus unrealistic. Members might fear encouraging a primary challenge if they joined one.

However, there is a way around this obstacle. Non-intervention conservatives should seek to create a Republican anti-intervention caucus. It should be called the “America First Caucus.”  That would make it difficult for neoconservatives to label it “weak.” If President Trump decides against intervention in someone else’s quarrel, it would support him. If he goes with the interventionists, it would criticize and oppose him.

The president is not likely to be comfortable facing an opposition on Capitol Hill that calls itself the America First Caucus.

Just as the Military Reform Caucus did in its time, the America First Caucus would have a symbiotic relationship with other non-interventionists of various stripes. It would put articles they write in the Congressional Record. It would sponsor debates and discussions on Capitol Hill. It would use their work to support the caucus members’ legislative initiatives. In turn, non-interventionist thinkers and writers would contribute their efforts to promoting the caucus and its work in a wide variety of media.

Meanwhile, a similar effort likely would spring up on the left. Anti-intervention liberals would organize a Democratic caucus. Obviously, conservatives cannot do that for them. But the example set by the Republican caucus should inspire someone on the left to try to copy it among Democrats.

Then, on an issue-by-issue basis, the two caucuses could work together to curtail America’s intervention in the wars of other peoples. Despite the current high level of partisanship, that is still possible. A bipartisan effort is currently coming together on the Hill to block money from flowing from this country to terrorist organizations such as ISIS (yes, that happens). I learned long ago that one way—often the only way—to defeat the establishment is to sandwich it in a double envelopment from the right and left. It does not know how to deal with that, because it breaks the matter under consideration free of the usual trench warfare. My old colleague and political mentor Paul Weyrich understood this, which is why he sometimes worked in tandem with figures such as Ralph Nader. The establishment howled, but it howled because it was scared.

As the Military Reform Caucus did, the America First Caucus and its Democratic counterpart would probably both start small. But even a handful of members of Congress is sufficient to give change a voice. As the American people’s disgust grows over unnecessary and avoidable foreign wars—what many of them expressed in voting for Donald Trump—the two caucuses will also grow. Perhaps, in time, they might gain strength to the point that we could once again enjoy a bipartisan foreign policy where our country takes precedence over party.


The Koch brothers launch campaign to pass President Trump’s tax cuts

June 27, 2017

by James Oliphant


COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo.-At a glitzy weekend gathering of donors to the powerful Koch brothers’ network, much of the talk was about the conservative political group’s criticism of the healthcare bill moving through the U.S. Senate.

That opposition suggests billionaires Charles and David Koch, powerful players in Republican politics, remain at odds at least on some key issues with President Donald Trump, whose campaign last year they refused to back.

But beyond healthcare, the Kochs and their operatives have welcomed much of the fledgling administration’s actions, including efforts to roll back federal regulations, the decision to pull out of the Paris global climate accord, a Veterans Administration reform bill and the appointment of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.

Koch officials say their network has better access to the Trump administration than they expected given past frictions, partly because former Koch operatives have been hired in key administration jobs.

“Overall, we’ve made tremendous progress on the federal level that we haven’t been able to make in the last 10 years,” said James Davis, a spokesman for Freedom Partners, a Koch-backed advocacy group.

Vice President Mike Pence has played a key role, meeting privately with Charles Koch on Friday, as well as Marc Short, a former member of the Koch network who is now Trump’s point man in Congress.

Charles Koch, addressing more than 400 supporters gathered at The Broadmoor luxury resort in Colorado for the event, touted the progress the organization is making, particularly since the 2016 election.

“When I look at where we are — at the size and effectiveness of this network — I’m blown away,” he said. “I’m more optimistic now than ever.”

The Koch brothers have been a force in American politics since the 1980s. Their influence has largely been powered by a fortune centered on Koch Industries, the second-largest privately held company in the United States with annual revenues of more than $115 billion from interests in energy, chemicals and other sectors.

Both Trump and the Koch network have incentives to build warmer ties.

The Kochs could end up spending hundreds of millions to preserve the Republican majority in Congress during next year’s midterm elections. Attendees to the weekend meeting had to donate at least $100,000 to be invited.

Koch-funded groups such as Freedom Partners could also help build support among conservative activists for tax reform and other Trump administration agenda items.


During the 2016 campaign, the Kochs kept their distance from Trump. Charles Koch spoke out against Trump’s proposed Muslim registry, invoking a comparison to Nazi Germany.

The network did not actively work to defeat Trump during the Republican primary. But when he secured the nomination, the group did not spend money backing him or criticizing Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. By contrast, the Koch network spent more than $120 million in the 2012 election to defeat President Barack Obama.

For his part, Trump lumped the Kochs in with other special-interest groups, boasting that he did not need their money and that they could not influence him.

But the Koch network began showing its clout in the spring when it worked with the White House to push the House of Representatives healthcare bill in a more conservative direction.

Tim Phillips, president of Americans for Prosperity, a Koch advocacy group, teamed with Pence and Short, Trump’s legislative affairs director, to help get the measure through the House.

Pence is viewed as a trusted friend of the Koch network, dating to his time as a congressman.

At the meeting with Charles Koch on Friday they discussed healthcare and tax reform, Phillips and other Koch aides said.

Short is a former Pence aide and Koch alumni, having run the Koch political organization that became Freedom Partners. Stephen Ford, a speechwriter for Pence, has worked for Freedom Partners.

Koch operatives were encouraged when the White House recently cooled to the idea of a tax on imports, the so-called “border adjustment tax” advocated by House Speaker Paul Ryan.

Americans for Prosperity and Freedom Partners mounted a media and public-pressure campaign against the border tax. Phillips has met with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on the issue. Mnuchin’s chief of staff, Eli Miller, served as the Ohio director of AFP.

Mnuchin has since come out against the tax in meetings with members of Congress, Representative Mark Meadows of North Carolina said at the donor retreat.

On the veterans bill, Koch group Concerned Veterans of America was able to work with one of their own. Darin Selnick, a former senior adviser to that group, is now a top aide to Trump’s Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin.

That group is working with the White House on the more than 130 federal judicial vacancies Trump must fill, partnering with conservative legal advocate Leonard Leo, who has become a trusted Trump adviser on the issue.

Leo joined Charles Koch on stage at a donor event on Saturday night. A Koch group, Concerned Veterans of America, mounted a grassroots campaign to secure Neil Gorsuch’s confirmation to the Supreme Court.

Yet some stark policy differences remain between the Kochs and the Trump administration.

The Kochs, who are proponents of criminal justice reform, are frustrated with the Department of Justice’s effort to crack down on low-level drug offenders. They also disagree with Trump’s hardline immigration stance.

Asked about the Koch network’s successes, a White House aide did not expressly address the network’s goals, but said Trump “has already made tremendous progress toward making our country prosperous and safe again.”

In interviews with attendees at the donor summit, opinions on Trump were mixed, but even some critics found reason to praise the administration. Several mentioned Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, an advocate of charter schools and vouchers.

Other attendees were effusive in their praise of Trump’s actions so far.

“He’s walks the walk,” said Al Hartman, CEO of a property management firm in Houston. “He’s doing exactly what everyone wants done.”

(Reporting By James Oliphant; Editing by Caren Bohan and Cynthia Osterman)


The Koch brothers launch campaign to pass President Trump’s tax cuts

May 18, 2017

by Fredreka Schouten


WASHINGTON — In a major jolt of support for President Trump, the powerful political network overseen by conservative billionaire Charles Koch is launching a multimillion-dollar campaign to drive Trump’s tax plan through Congress.

Koch, who viewed Trump’s candidacy warily, now is racing to build public and congressional support for plans to overhaul the tax code. Trump’s one-page tax blueprint, released last month, includes plans to slash the corporate tax rate, reduce taxes for high-income earners and abolish the federal estate tax.

The group plans to throw “the full weight of the network” behind the campaign with the goal of passing a tax overhaul this year, said James Davis, a top official in Koch’s Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce. Davis would not disclose a specific dollar amount but said the effort would include advertising and mobilizing grassroots activists.

The campaign is expected to last into the fall.

The chaos and controversy engulfing Trump’s White House threatens to imperil his legislative agenda on everything from taxes to a plan to rebuild the country’s infrastructure. But network officials see a window to push the tax plan this year, well in advance of the midterm elections that could risk Republican control of Congress.

“If you don’t do it now, it becomes increasingly difficult,” Davis said.

The network ranks among the most influential players in conservative politics with operations in 36 states and its own grassroots arm and for-profit data and marketing branches. In all, about 550 ultra-wealthy donors help finance the constellation of political and nonprofit groups associated with Koch and his brother David Koch.

Those groups plan to spend $300 million to $400 million on policy and political campaigns ahead of the 2018 elections.

Although Koch opposes Trump’s travel bans and questions the president’s skepticism of free-trade policies, the head of one the country’s largest industrial conglomerates has praised Trump for several actions since taking office, including his move to dismantle “unnecessary” federal regulations.

Koch Industries Inc.’s Companies

Flint Hills Resources, LP

Flint Hills Resources operates refineries in Alaska (North Pole), Minnesota (Rosemont) and Texas (Corpus Christi), which together process more than 800 barrels of crude oil a day.  The company also has facilities in Illinois, Michigan, and Texas that produce aromatics, olefins, polymers and intermediate chemicals.  Additionaly, Flint Hills produces and markets asphalt in the midwest.  Finally, Flint Hills owns an interest in a base oil facility in Lousiana; this plant produces base oils for a number of industries including makers of motor oil and commericial lubricants.

Koch Pipeline Company, LP

Koch Pipeline Company and its affiliates own or operate some 4,000 miles of pipelines in the United States.  These piplines transport crude oil, natural gas, and refined petroleum products.

Koch Alaska Pipeline Company, LLC

Koch Alaska Pipeline Comapny owns the largest stake (28%) in the Colonial Pipeline Company, which operates the world’s largest-volume refined products pipeline.  Koch Alaska also owns a 3% stake in the Trans Alaska Pipeline System (TAPS).  Alyeska Pipeline Service Company operates and maintains the TAPS for five owner companies:  British Petroleum (BP), Chevron, ExxonMobil, Koch, and Conoco Phillips.  TAPS transports approximately 15% of crude oil in the U.S.

Koch Chemical Technology Group, LLC

Koch Chemical Technology Group designs, manufactures, installs, and services pollution control equipment for industries and organizations throughout the world.  The subsidiaries of Koch Chemical that are responsible for producing pollution control equipment are Koch-Glitsch, LP; Koch Memberane Systems, Inc.; Koch Heat Transfer Company, LP; John Zinc Company, LLC; Optimized Process Designs, Inc.; Iris Power, LP; Kock Knight, LLC, and Unifin International, LP.

Koch-Glitsch, LP supplies mass transfer and mist elimination equipment. Its equipment is found in refining, petrochemical, gas processing, and pharmaceutical industries across the globe.

Koch Membrane Systems, Inc. develops membrane separation systems for microfiltration, ultrafiltration, nanofiltration, and reverse osmosis.  It also produces membranes used in wastewater treatment.

Koch Heat Transfer Company, LP designs heat exchangers for consumers in the U.S, Europe, and Asia.

John Zink Company, LLC produces a variety of low-emission burners, flares, and thermal oxidizers.  It is also a supplier of gas/vapour recovery and vapour combustor systems.

Optimized Process Designs, Inc. is a consultant for the natural gas and gas processing industries.  It also offers engineering, fabrication, design, and construction services for gas companies.

Iris Power, LP develops and produces devices to monitor electrical equipment.  Iris Power’s clients include utility companies, pulp and paper manufacturers, mining and ore processing facilities, and petrochemical facilities.

Koch Knight, LLC designs acid and corrosion-proof ceramics and plastic materials.  Its clients include the chemical process and mining industries.

Unifin International, LP designs and manufactures heat transfer systems.  It produces transformer oil coolers, transformer oil pumps, and generator coolers.

Koch Minerals, LLC

Koch Minerals is one of the world’s largest dry-bulk commodity handlers–it trades more than 40 million tons of product per year.

Koch Carbon, LLC

Koch Carbon trades and transports coal, petroleum coke, pulp and paper, cement, and other commodities throughout Europe and the United States.  One of its subsidiaries, Reiss Viking, is one of the largest suppliers of magnetite for the coal industry.  Reiss Viking claims that its products touch more than 40% of the one billion tons of coal produced every year.

Koch Exploration Company, LLC

Koch Exploration Company researches, acquires, develops, and trades petroleum and natural gas properties in the United States, Canada, and Brazil.

Koch Fertilizer, LLC

Koch Fertilizer owns interests in nitrogen fertilizer plants in the United States, Canada, Trinadad and Tobago, and Venezuela.  Koch Fertilizer and its affiliates manufacture and distribute over nine million tons of nitrogen products annually.


In 2004, Koch Industries bought INVISTA.  After its purchase, Koch Industries merged INVISTA with KoSa, thereby creating one of the largest producers of premium fibres and polymers.  INVISTA operates four major businesses–apparel, intermediates, performance surfaces and materials, and polymer and resins.

Georgia-Pacific, LLC

In 2005, Koch Industries completed its $21 billion purchase of Georgia-Pacific.  This acquistion represents the largest purchase of a publicly-traded company by a private firm in United States history.

Georgia-Pacific is one of the leading manufacturers of paper products in the world.  It has 45,000 employees and operates nearly 300 manufacturing facilities throughout North and South America and Europe.

Matador Cattle Company

Matador Cattle Company owns and operates three ranches in the United States.  The ranches represent a total of 425,000 acres of land and 15,000 cattle.  The Matador Cattle Company is one of the ten largest cow/calf operations in the U.S.

Koch Genesis Company, LLC

Koch Genesis Company invests direct capital into nascent-stage companies with revolutionary ideas.  The company is primarily focused on industry-changing innovation in areas such as refining and chemicals, fibres and polymers, forest and consumer products, and chemical processes.  Koch Genesis Company investments total somewhere between $5 and $10 million.


The Age of No Privacy: The Surveillance State Shifts Into High Gear

June 27, 2017

by John W. Whitehead


“We are rapidly entering the age of no privacy, where everyone is open to surveillance at all times; where there are no secrets from government.”

~ William O. Douglas, Supreme Court Justice, dissenting in Osborn v. United States, 385 U.S. 341 (1966)

The government has become an expert in finding ways to sidestep what it considers “inconvenient laws” aimed at ensuring accountability and thereby bringing about government transparency and protecting citizen privacy.

Indeed, it has mastered the art of stealth maneuvers and end-runs around the Constitution.

It knows all too well how to hide its nefarious, covert, clandestine activities behind the classified language of national security and terrorism. And when that doesn’t suffice, it obfuscates, complicates, stymies or just plain bamboozles the public into remaining in the dark.

Case in point: the National Security Agency (NSA) has been diverting “Internet traffic, normally safeguarded by constitutional protections, overseas in order to conduct unrestrained data collection on Americans.”

It’s extraordinary rendition all over again, only this time it’s surveillance instead of torture being outsourced.

In much the same way that the government moved its torture programs overseas in order to bypass legal prohibitions against doing so on American soil, it is doing the same thing for its surveillance programs.

By shifting its data storage, collection and surveillance activities outside of the country – a tactic referred to as “traffic shaping” – the government is able to bypass constitutional protections against unwarranted searches of Americans’ emails, documents, social networking data, and other cloud-stored data.

The government, however, doesn’t even need to move its programs overseas. It just has to push the data over the border in order to “[circumvent] constitutional and statutory safeguards seeking to protect the privacy of Americans.”

Credit for this particular brainchild goes to the Obama administration, which issued Executive Order 12333 authorizing the collection of Americans’ data from surveillance conducted on foreign soil.

Using this rationale, the government has justified hacking into and collecting an estimated 180 million user records from Google and Yahoo data centers every month because the data travels over international fiber-optic cables. The NSA program, dubbed MUSCULAR, is carried out in concert with British intelligence.

No wonder the NSA appeared so unfazed about the USA Freedom Act, which was supposed to put an end to the NSA’s controversial collection of metadata from Americans’ phone calls.

The NSA had already figured out a way to accomplish the same results (illegally spying on Americans’ communications) without being shackled by the legislative or judicial branches of the government.

The USA Freedom Act was just a placebo pill intended to make the citizenry feel better and let the politicians take credit for reforming mass surveillance. In other words, it was a sham, a sleight-of-hand political gag pulled on a gullible public desperate to believe that we still live in a constitutional republic rather than a down-and-out, out-of-control, corporate-controlled, economically impoverished, corrupt, warring, militarized banana republic.

In fact, more than a year before politicians attempted to patch up our mortally wounded privacy rights with the legislative band-aid fix that is the USA Freedom Act, researchers at Harvard and Boston University documented secret loopholes that allow government agents to bypass Fourth Amendment protections to conduct massive domestic surveillance on US citizens.

Mind you, this metadata collection now being carried out overseas is just a small piece of the surveillance pie.

The government and its corporate partners have a veritable arsenal of surveillance programs that will continue to operate largely in secret, carrying out warrantless mass surveillance on hundreds of millions of Americans’ phone calls, emails, text messages and the like, beyond the scrutiny of most of Congress and the taxpayers who are forced to fund its multi-billion dollar secret black ops budget.

In other words, the surveillance state is alive and well and kicking privacy to shreds in America.

On any given day, the average American going about his daily business is monitored, surveilled, spied on and tracked in more than 20 different ways by both government and corporate eyes and ears.

Whether you’re walking through a store, driving your car, checking email, or talking to friends and family on the phone, you can be sure that some government agency, whether the NSA or some other entity, is listening in and tracking your behavior. This doesn’t even begin to touch on the corporate trackers that monitor your purchases, web browsing, Facebook posts and other activities taking place in the cyber sphere.

We have now moved into a full-blown police state that is rapidly shifting into high-gear under the auspices of the surveillance state.

Not content to merely transform local police into extensions of the military, the Department of Homeland Security, the Justice Department and the FBI are working to turn the nation’s police officers into techno-warriors, complete with iris scanners, body scanners, thermal imaging Doppler radar devices, facial recognition programs, license plate readers, cell phone Stingray devices and so much more.

Add in the fusion centers, citywide surveillance networks, data clouds conveniently hosted overseas by Amazon and Microsoft, drones equipped with thermal imaging cameras, and biometric databases, and you’ve got the makings of a world in which “privacy” is reserved exclusively for government agencies.

Thus, the NSA’s “technotyranny”  is the least of our worries.

A government that lies, cheats, steals, sidesteps the law, and then absolves itself of wrongdoing cannot be reformed from the inside out.

Presidents, politicians, and court rulings have come and gone over the course of the NSA’s 60-year history, but none of them have managed to shut down the government’s secret surveillance of Americans’ phone calls, emails, text messages, transactions, communications and activities.

Even with restrictions on its ability to collect mass quantities of telephone metadata, the government and its various spy agencies, from the NSA to the FBI, can still employ an endless number of methods for carrying out warrantless surveillance on Americans, all of which are far more invasive than the bulk collection program.

Just about every branch of the government – from the Postal Service to the Treasury Department and every agency in between – now has its own surveillance sector, authorized to spy on the American people.

And of course that doesn’t even begin to touch on the complicity of the corporate sector, which buys and sells us from cradle to grave, until we have no more data left to mine. Indeed, Facebook, Amazon and Google are among the government’s closest competitors when it comes to carrying out surveillance on Americans, monitoring the content of your emails, tracking your purchases, exploiting your social media posts and turning that information over to the government.

“Few consumers understand what data are being shared, with whom, or how the information is being used,” reports the Los Angeles Times. “Most Americans emit a stream of personal digital exhaust – what they search for, what they buy, who they communicate with, where they are – that is captured and exploited in a largely unregulated fashion.”

It’s not just what we say, where we go and what we buy that is being tracked.

We’re being surveilled right down to our genes, thanks to a potent combination of hardware, software and data collection that scans our biometrics – our faces, irises, voices, genetics, even our gait – runs them through computer programs that can break the data down into unique “identifiers,” and then offers them up to the government and its corporate allies for their respective uses.

All of those Internet-connected gadgets we just have to have (Forbes refers to them as “(data) pipelines to our intimate bodily processes”) – the smart watches that can monitor our blood pressure and the smart phones that let us pay for purchases with our fingerprints and iris scans – are setting us up for a brave new world where there is nowhere to run and nowhere to hide.

For instance, imagine what the NSA could do (and is likely already doing) with voiceprint technology, which has been likened to a fingerprint. Described as “the next frontline in the battle against overweening public surveillance,” the collection of voiceprints is a booming industry for governments and businesses alike.

As The Guardian reports, “voice biometrics could be used to pinpoint the location of individuals. There is already discussion about placing voice sensors in public spaces… multiple sensors could be triangulated to identify individuals and specify their location within very small areas.”

Suddenly the NSA’s telephone metadata program seems like child’s play compared to what’s coming down the pike.

That, of course, is the point.

The NSA is merely one small part of the shadowy Deep State comprised of unelected bureaucrats who march in lockstep with profit-driven corporations that actually runs Washington, DC, and works to keep us under surveillance and, thus, under control.

For example, Google openly works with the NSA, Amazon has built a massive $600 million intelligence database for CIA, and the telecommunications industry is making a fat profit by spying on us for the government.

In other words, Corporate America is making a hefty profit by aiding and abetting the government in its domestic surveillance efforts.

At every turn, we have been handicapped in our quest for transparency, accountability and a representative government by an establishment culture of secrecy: secret agencies, secret experiments, secret military bases, secret surveillance, secret budgets, and secret court rulings, all of which exist beyond our reach, operate outside our knowledge, and do not answer to “we the people.”

Incredibly, there are still individuals who insist that they have nothing to fear from the police state and nothing to hide from the surveillance state, because they have done nothing wrong.

To those sanctimonious few, secure in their delusions, let this be a warning.

There is no safe place and no watertight alibi.

The danger posed by the American police/surveillance state applies equally to all of us: lawbreaker and law-abider alike, black and white, rich and poor, liberal and conservative, blue collar and white collar, and any other distinction you’d care to trot out.

As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, in an age of too many laws, too many prisons, too many government spies, and too many corporations eager to make a fast buck at the expense of the American taxpayer, we are all guilty of some transgression or other.

Eventually, we will all be made to suffer the same consequences in the electronic concentration camp that surrounds us.


HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier runs on Windows XP, vulnerable to cyberattack

June 27, 2017


The HMS Queen Elizabeth, the first of Britain’s two brand new aircraft carriers which left port on Monday for sea tests, runs on outdated Windows XP software which is vulnerable to cyberattack.

It is the same software controversially used on the UK’s nuclear armed Vanguard submarines. Windows XP has not been supported by Microsoft since 2014.

In May, a massive cyberattack struck the National Health Service (NHS), which also uses the software.

During a press visit to the 65,000-tonne carrier ahead of her test launch on Monday, journalists from the Times noticed the software was in use.

“If XP is for operational use, it is extremely risky,” Professor Alan Woodward, an IT expert at the University of Surrey, told the Times.

“Why would you put an obsolete system in a new vessel that has a lifetime of decades?”

One defense source, who told the paper the system would be refitted when the second carrier, HMS Prince of Wales, was launched in 2026, said: “Just think about the difference between year 2000 desktops compared with modern units.”

The Navy defended the presence of the ageing system, which has not received Microsoft security updates for many years.

Commander Mark Deller, who serves aboard the Queen Elizabeth in the control center where the system was spotted, said: “The ship is well designed and there has been a very, very stringent procurement train that has ensured we are less susceptible to cyber [attacks] than most.”

The news comes as it was announced the Ministry of Defense (MoD) has been told to plan to up to £20 billion ($25.5 billion) in savings over the next decade or risk losing out on major projects.

Stephen Lovegrove, the MoD permanent secretary, warned that the procurement and development of jets, submarines and tanks could also be at risk, according to the Times.


Isis May be Leaderless and Facing Mosul Loss, But Group Will Fight on

June 23, 2017

by Patrick Cockburn

The Unz Review

The blowing up by Isis of the al-Nuri mosque in Mosul marks a decisive defeat for the caliphate declared by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in the same mosque three years ago. Isis will continue fighting as a guerrilla force, but it will be the end of a state once the size of Great Britain and fielding a military force more powerful than many members of the United Nations. Presumably Isis decided to destroy the ancient mosque and its famous minaret, a symbol of Mosul, to prevent the Iraqi security forces triumphantly raising the Iraqi flag over a place so closely associated with Isis.

The end of the short-lived caliphate will be underscored if the self-declared caliph is himself dead, killed by a Russian airstrike near Raqqa some three weeks ago. Oleg Syromolotov, the Russian deputy foreign minister, repeated today a claim made last week but with greater certainty, saying that fresh information showed that there was “a high degree of probability” that Baghdadi was dead, killed after a meeting he was attending was targeted by Russian aircraft.

Isis is losing its last and most important urban centres. Hundreds of its fighters still hold parts of the Old City of Mosul, where the narrow alleyways and close-packed housing are ideal terrain for its swiftly moving snipers and suicide bombers. But all the east side of Mosul, which is divided in two by the Tigris river, is now in the hands of the Iraqi government, as is most of the west side of the city apart from a small embattled enclave.

It has been an epic siege. The assault on Mosul started on 17 October last year when Iraqi ground forces, supported by the massive air power of the US-led coalition, began the operation. Iraqi and US generals expected heavy fighting on the outskirts of Mosul, but looked forward to a much quicker advance once its outer defences were breached. This had been the pattern when government forces recaptured Ramadi and Fallujah in Anbar province west of Baghdad in earlier offensives. Exactly the opposite happened: Isis adopted different and more effective tactics based on the fluid defence of built-up areas. Instead of defending fixed points to the last man, its snipers, mortar teams and suicide bombers driving vehicles packed with explosives kept moving their positions so they could not easily be located and destroyed by aircraft and artillery.

It took three months for Iraqi forces to capture the eastern part of the city and they were to find the battle even tougher in the west. By 29 March, they had lost 774 dead and 4,600 wounded since October according to a senior US officer. Some 3,500 Isis fighters are reported to have been killed in and around the city between October and May. The government casualties are even more serious than they appear because Iraqi battle-worthy combat troops are limited in number, being mainly concentrated in the counter-terrorism services (Golden Division), federal police and the emergency response division. The soldiers used to occupy captured territory are of far more dubious quality, often belonging to Shia militias or Hashd al-Shaabi.

At the start of the siege the UN reckoned that there were about 1.5 million civilians in Mosul and there are reported to be 100,000 still trapped in the Isis-held Old City. They are forbidden to leave by Isis whose gunmen shoot anybody trying to escape. Some 231 civilians were executed by Isis in recent weeks as they tried to go, according to the UN. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees said separately that since the offensive started in October some 606,000 people have been displaced from Mosul, of whom 190,000 have returned. The level of destruction in west Mosul, going by aerial photographs, looks very high – as do civilian casualties because there is no way of separating Isis fighters from civilians who are living in the same houses.

Isis will have suffered a serious political and military defeat in Mosul, though fierce street fighting in the Old City could go on for months. But Isis will have held out against superior forces backed by the devastating firepower of planes overhead for over seven months, far longer than anybody expected. Furthermore, the group has withdrawn many of its veteran fighters and administrative personnel who can seek sanctuary in rural areas in Iraq and Syria which Isis still holds. The movement is famous for its cruelty and fanaticism, but it also has a high level of military experience and expertise. It will have foreseen inevitable defeat in Mosul and also in Raqqa, its de facto Syrian capital, and withdrawn forces to long-held strongholds in places like Hawaija, west of Kirkuk and in territory in Syria east of Deir Ezzor on the Euphrates and around Mayadeen.

Isis began to lose the war when, confident that its great victories in Iraq and Syria in 2014 had been divinely inspired, it declared war on the world. As a result it has a long list of enemies who are now closing in on it. In the second half of 2014, it turned on the Kurds in Iraq and Syria, thereby provoking US military intervention against Isis in both countries. Sunni states like Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, which once tolerated or covertly aided Salafi-jihadis, became more cautious.

Though Baghdadi may be dead and surviving Isis forces are being driven into smaller and smaller enclaves in Iraq and Syria, the group will fight on. It can activate cells and sympathisers all over the world to commit high-profile atrocities guaranteed to dominate news agendas. Celebrations over Isis’s defeat may be interrupted and apparently contradicted by its continuing ability to wreak havoc.

Isis may also draw solace from the growing divisions among its enemies, whose loose collaboration was previously underpinned by fear of the jihadis. As that fear diminishes, there is growing friction between the US and Russia, the US and Iran, Syrian Kurds and Turkey, and, further afield, the confrontation between Qatar, on one side, and Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, on the other. Isis has always been able to take root and grow from chaos and war.


America at War Since 9/11

Reality or Reality TV?

by Rebecca Gordon


The headlines arrive in my inbox day after day: “U.S.-led airstrikes in Syria killed hundreds of civilians, U.N. panel says.” “Pentagon wants to declare more parts of world as temporary battlefields.” “The U.S. was supposed to leave Afghanistan by 2017. Now it might take decades.” There are so many wars and rumors of war involving our country these days that it starts to feel a little unreal, even for the most devoted of news watchers. And for many Americans, it’s long been that way. For them, the meaning of war is closer to reality TV than it is to reality.

On a June day, you could, for instance, open the New York Times and read that “airstrikes by the American-led coalition against Islamic State targets have killed hundreds of civilians around Raqqa, the militant group’s last Syrian stronghold, and left 160,000 people displaced.” Or you could come across statistics two orders of magnitude larger in learning from a variety of sources that famine is stalking 17 million people in Yemen. That is the predictable result of a Saudi Arabian proxy war against Iran, a campaign supported by the U.S. with weaponry and logistical assistance, in which, according to Human Rights Watch, the U.S. may well be complicit in torture. You could contemplate the fact that in Iraq, a country the United States destabilized with its 2003 invasion and occupation, there are still at least three million internally displaced people, according to the U.N. High Commission for Refugees; or that more than 411,000 Iraqis remain displaced from their homes in Mosul alone since the Iraqi army launched a U.S.-backed offensive to drive ISIS out of that city last October.

Yes, it’s possible to click on those links or to catch so many other Internet or TV news reports about how such American or American-backed wars are damaging infrastructure, destroying entire health care systems, uprooting millions, and putting at risk the education of whole generations thousands of miles away. But none of it is real for most of us in this country.

How could it be real? Most of us no longer have any idea what war is like for the people who live through it. No major war has been fought on U.S. territory since the Civil War ended in 1865, and the last people who remembered that terrible time died decades before the turn of this century. There is no one around to give us a taste of that reality — except of course for the refugees that the Trump administration is now doing its best to keep out.

In addition, Americans who once were mobilized to support their country’s wars in distant lands (remember Victory Gardens or war bond drives?) are simply told to carry on with their lives as if it were peacetime. And the possibility of going to war in an army of citizen draftees has long been put to rest by America’s “all-volunteer” military.

As the U.S. battlefield expands, the need becomes ever greater for people in this country to understand the reality of war, especially now that we have a president from the world of “reality” TV. During the second half of the twentieth century, Congress repeatedly ceded its constitutional power to declare war to successive executive administrations. At the moment, however, we have in Donald Trump a president who appears to be bored with those purloined powers (and with the very idea of civilian control over the military). In fact, our feckless commander-in-chief seems to be handing over directly to that military all power to decide when and where this country sends its troops or launches its missiles from drones.

Now that our democratic connection to the wars fought in our name has receded yet one more step from our real lives and any civilian role in war (except praising and thanking “the warriors”) is fading into the history books, isn’t it about time to ask some questions about the very nature of reality and of those wars?

War From the Civilian Point of View

We think of wars, reasonably enough, as primarily affecting the soldiers engaged in them. The young men and women who fight — some as volunteers and some who choose military service over unemployment and poverty — do sometimes die in “our” wars. And even if they survive, as we now know, their bodies and psyches often bear the lifelong scars of the experience.

Indeed, I’ve met some of these former soldiers in the college philosophy classes I teach. There was the erstwhile Army sniper who sat in the very back of the classroom, his left leg constantly bouncing up and down. The explosion of a roadside bomb had broken his back and left him in constant pain, but the greatest source of his suffering, as he told me, was the constant anxiety that forced him on many days to walk out halfway through the class. Then there was the young man who’d served in Baghdad and assured me, “If anyone fought in Afghanistan or Iraq, and they say they came back whole, they’re either lying or they just haven’t realized yet what happened to them.”

And there were the young women who told the class that, in fear, they’d had to move out of their homes because their boyfriends came back from the wars as dangerous young men they no longer recognized. If we in this country know anything real about war, it’s from people like these — from members of the military or those close to them.

But we only get the most partial understanding of war from veterans and their families. In fact, most people affected by modern wars are not soldiers at all. Somewhere between 60 and 80 million people died during World War II, and more than 60% of them were civilians. They died as victims of the usual horrific acts of war, or outright war crimes, or crimes against humanity. A similar number succumbed to war-related disease and famine, including millions in places most Americans don’t even think of as major sites of that war’s horrors: China, India, French Indochina, and the Dutch East Indies. And, of course, close to six million Poles, most of them Jews, along with at least 16 million Soviet civilians died in the brutal Nazi invasion and attempted occupation of major parts of the Soviet Union.

And that hardly ends the tally of civilians devastated by that war. Another 60 million people became displaced or refugees in its wake, many forever torn from their homes.

So what is war like for the people who live where it happens? We can find out a reasonable amount about that if we want to. It’s not hard to dig up personal accounts of such experiences in past wars. But what can we know about the civilians living through our country’s current wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, or Yemen?  There, too, personal accounts are available, but you have to go searching.

Certainly, it’s possible, for instance, to learn something about the deaths of 200 people in a school hit by a single U.S. airstrike in the Syrian city of Raqqa. But that can’t make us feel the unendurable, inescapable pain of a human body being crushed in the collapse of that one school. It can’t make us hear the screams at that moment or later smell the stench of the decomposing dead. You have to be there to know that reality.

Still, daily life in a country at war isn’t all screams and stench. A lot of the time it’s just ordinary existence, but experienced with a kind of double awareness.  On the one hand, you send your children to school, walk to the market to do your shopping, go out to your fields to plow or plant. On the other, you know that at any moment your ordinary life can be interrupted — ended, in fact — by forces over which you have no control.

That’s what it was like for me during the months I spent, as my partner likes to say, trying to get myself killed in somebody else’s country. In 1984, I worked for six months in the war zones of Nicaragua as a volunteer for Witness for Peace (WFP). In 1979, the Sandinista movement had led a national insurrection, overthrowing the U.S.-backed dictator Anastasio Somoza. In response, the U.S. had funded counterrevolutionaries, or “contras,” who, by the time I arrived, had launched a major military campaign against the Sandinistas. Under CIA direction, they had adopted a military strategy of sabotaging government services, including rural health clinics, schools, and phone lines, and terrorizing the civilian population with murders, kidnappings, torture, and mutilation.

My job was simple: to visit the towns and villages that they had attacked and record the testimony of the survivors. In the process, for instance, I talked to a man whose son had been hacked into so many pieces he had to bury him in the field where he had been left. I met the children of a 70-year-old man a week after the contras flayed him alive, slicing the skin off his face. I talked to the mayor of a town in northern Nicaragua, whose parents were kidnapped and tortured to death by the contras.

The original dream of WFP was somewhat more grandiose than collecting horror stories. American volunteers were to provide a “shield of love” for Nicaraguans threatened by the U.S.-supported contras. The theory was that they might be less inclined to attack a town if they knew that U.S. citizens were in the area, lest they bite the hand that was (however clandestinely) feeding them. In reality, the Sandinistas were unwilling to put guests like me at risk that way, and — far from being a shield — in times of danger we were sometimes an extra liability. In fact, the night the contras surrounded Jalapa, where I was staying for a few weeks, the town’s mayor sent a couple of soldiers with guns to guard the house of “the American pacifists.”  So much for who was shielding whom. (On that particular night, the Nicaraguan army confronted the contras before they made it to Jalapa. We could hear a battle in the distance, but it never threatened the town itself.)

All that day, we’d been digging to help build Jalapa’s refugio, an underground shelter to protect children and old people in case of an aerial attack. Other town residents had been planting trees on the denuded hillsides where Somoza had allowed U.S. and Canadian lumber companies to clear-cut old-growth forest. This was dangerous work; tree planters were favorite contra targets. But most people in town were simply going about their ordinary lives — working in the market, washing clothes, fixing cars — while the loudspeakers on the edge of town blared news about the latest contra kidnappings.

This is what living in a war zone can be like: you plant trees that might take 20 years to mature, knowing at the same time that you might not survive the night.

Keep in mind that my experience was limited. I wasn’t a Nicaraguan. I could leave whenever I chose. And after those six months, I did go home. The Nicaraguans were home. In addition, the scale of that war was modest compared to the present U.S. wars across the Greater Middle East. And Nicaraguans were fortunate to escape some of the worst effects of a conflict fought in an agricultural society. So often, war makes planting and harvesting too dangerous to undertake and when the agricultural cycle is interrupted people begin to starve. In addition, it was short enough that, although the contras intentionally targeted schools and teachers, an entire generation did not lose their educations, as is happening now in parts of the Greater Middle East.

Many rural Nicaraguans lacked electricity and running water, so there was no great harm done when “se fue la luz” — the electricity was cut off, as often happened when the contras attacked a power generator. Worse was when “se fue el agua” — the water in people’s homes or at communal pumps stopped running, often as a result of a contra attack on a pumping station or their destruction of water pipes. Still, for the most part, these were unpleasant inconveniences in a rural society where electricity and running water were not yet all that common, and where people knew how to make do without.

Imagine instead that you live (or lived) in a major Middle Eastern city — say, Ramadi, Fallujah, Mosul, or Aleppo (all now partially or nearly totally reduced to rubble), or even a city like Baghdad that, despite constant suicide bombings, is still functioning.  Your life, of course, is organized around the modern infrastructure that brings light, power, and water into your home. In the United States, unless you live in Flint, Michigan, it’s hard to grasp what it might be like not to have potable water dependably spilling out of the faucet.

Suppose you got up one morning and your phone hadn’t charged overnight, the light switches had all stopped working, you couldn’t toast your Pop-Tarts, and there was no hope of a cup of coffee, because there was no water. No water all that day, or the next day, or the one after. What would you do after the bottled water was gone from the stores? What would you do as you watched your kids grow weak from thirst? Where would you go, when you knew you would die if you remained in the familiar place that had so long been your home?  What, in fact, would you do if opposing armed forces (as in most of the cities mentioned above) fought it out in your very neighborhood?

Reality or Reality TV?

I’ve been teaching college students for over a decade. I now face students who have lived their entire conscious lives in a country we are told is “at war.” They’ve never known anything else, since the moment in 2001 when George W. Bush declared a Global War on Terror. But their experience of this war, like my own, is less reality, and more reality TV. Their iPhones work; the water and light in their homes are fine; their screens are on day and night. No one bombs their neighborhoods. They have no citizenly duty to go into the military. Their lives are no different due to the “war” (or rather wars) their country is fighting in their name in distant lands.

Theirs, then, is the strangest of “wars,” one without sacrifice. It lacks the ration books, the blackouts, the shortages my parents’ generation experienced during World War II. It lacks the fear that an enemy army will land on our coasts or descend from our skies. None of us fears that war will take away our food, electricity, water, or most precious of all, our Wi-Fi. For us, if we think about them at all, that set of distant conflicts is only an endless make-believe war, one that might as well be taking place on another planet in another universe.

Of course, in a sense, it’s inaccurate to say we’ve sacrificed nothing. The poorest among us have, in fact, sacrificed the most, living in a country willing to put almost any sum into the Pentagon and its wars, but “unable” to afford to provide the basic entitlements enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: life, food, clothing, housing, education, not to speak, these days, of infrastructure. What could a U.S. government do for the health, education, and general wellbeing of its people, if it weren’t devoting more than half the country’s discretionary spending to the military?

There’s something else we haven’t had to sacrifice, though: peace of mind. We don’t have to carry in our consciousness the effects of those wars on our soldiers, on our military adversaries, or on the millions of civilians whose bodies or lives have been mangled in them. Those effects have been largely airbrushed out of our mental portrait of a Pax Americana world. Our understanding of our country’s endless wars has been sanitized, manipulated, and packaged for our consumption the way producers manipulate and package the relationships of participants on reality TV shows like The Bachelor.

If Vietnam was the first televised war, then the 1991 Gulf War against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was the first video-game-style war. Who could forget the haunting green images of explosions over Baghdad on that first night (even if they’ve forgotten the 50 “decapitation” strikes against the Iraqi leadership that killed not one of them but dozens of civilians)? Who could forget the live broadcasts streamed from video cameras attached to “smart” bombs — or the time two of them demolished what turned out to be a civilian air raid shelter, killing more than 200 people hiding inside? Who could forget those live reports from CNN that gave us the illusion that we were almost there ourselves and understood just what was seemingly unfolding before our eyes?

In fact, a University of Massachusetts study later found that “the more people watched TV during the Gulf crisis, the less they knew about the underlying issues, and the more likely they were to support the war.” And even if we did understand the “underlying issues,” did we understand what it’s like to find yourself trapped under the rubble of your own house?

During almost 16 years of war since the attacks of 9/11, the mystification on the “home front” has only grown, as attention has wandered and some of our ongoing wars (as in Afghanistan) have been largely forgotten. Our enemies change regularly. Who even remembers al-Qaeda in Iraq or that it became the Islamic State? Who remembers when we were fighting the al-Qaeda-inspired al-Nusra Front (or even that we were ever fighting them) instead of welcoming its militants into an alliance against Bashir al-Assad in Syria? The enemies may rotate, but the wars only continue and spread like so many metastasizing cancer cells.

Even as the number of our wars expands, however, they seem to grow less real to us here in the United States. So it becomes ever more important that we, in whose name those wars are being pursued, make the effort to grasp their grim reality. It’s important to remind ourselves that war is the worst possible way of settling human disagreements, focused as it is upon injuring human flesh (and ravaging the basics of human life) until one side can no longer withstand the pain. Worse yet, as those almost 16 years since 9/11 show, our wars have caused endless pain and settled no disagreements at all.

In this country, we don’t have to know that in American wars real people’s bodies are torn apart, real people die, and real cities are turned to rubble. We can watch interviews with survivors of the latest airstrikes on the nightly news and then catch the latest episode of ersatz suffering on Survivor. After a while, it becomes hard for many of us to tell (or even to care) which is real, and which is only reality TV.



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