TBR News September 26, 2017

Sep 26 2017

The Voice of the White House

Washington, D.C., September 26, 2017: Five surgeons are discussing who makes the best patients to operate on.

The first surgeon says, “I like to see accountants on my operating table, because when you open them up, everything inside is numbered.”

The second responds, “Yeah, but you should try electricians! Everything inside them is color coded.”

The third surgeon says, “No, I really think librarians are the best; everything inside them is in alphabetical order.”

The fourth surgeon chimes in: “You know, I like construction workers…those guys always understand when you have a few parts left over at the end, and when the job takes longer than you said it would.”

But the fifth surgeon shut them all up when he observed: “You’re all wrong! Politicians are the easiest to operate on. They have no guts, no heart, no balls, no brains and no spine, plus, the head and the ass are interchangeable.”



Table of Contents

  • Senate Republicans admit defeat in latest effort to repeal Affordable Care Act
  • Far-right AfD’s surge worries Muslim refugees in Germany
  • A Visit to Germany’s Flyover Country
  • ‘Israeli flags won’t save you’: Erdogan threatens Iraqi Kurds with famine over referendum
  • Catalonia: The fight for independence explained
  • S. consumer confidence slips; new home sales hit eight-month low
  • The Worst Mistake in U.S. History
  • China’s Top 6 Environmental Concerns

Senate Republicans admit defeat in latest effort to repeal Affordable Care Act

Senate leaders admitted they did not have the votes to pass a bill, hours after Trump railed against ‘certain so-called Republicans’ for refusing to vote for it

September 26, 2017

by Lauren Gambino in Washington

The Guardian

The latest Republican attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act died on Tuesday as Senate leaders admitted they did not have the votes to pass a bill which would rob millions of health insurance.

The admission of defeat came from Senate leader Mitch McConnell and the sponsors of the bill after party discussions over lunch on Capitol Hill left them in no doubt that their slim majority could not survive a revolt.

Republicans were at least one vote short in their effort to repeal Obama’s signature policy and were running out of time to force the bill through this week before a key procedural deadline.

They conceded defeat on one of their central promises of the last decade, hours after Donald Trump was left railing against “certain so-called Republicans” refusing to vote for the latest bill.

On Tuesday, McConnell opened debate in the Senate by assailing the ACA, widely known as Obamacare, but offered no guidance on whether he would hold a vote or not. Hours later, he admitted defeat.

Donald Trump has been frustrated by Republicans’ repeated failures on healthcare and has expressed displeasure with the senators who have stood in the way of repeal measures.

Asked on Tuesday if he would demand Republican leadership hold a vote on the healthcare bill, Trump replied: “We’ll see what happens.”

“It’s going along and at some point, there will be a repeal and replace,” he added.

“But we’ll see whether that point is now or whether it will be shortly thereafter. But we are disappointed in certain so-called Republicans.”

His frustration came after the very public opposition of senators Susan Collins, Rand Paul and John McCain, who have made clear they would vote no. That would be enough to sink the bill given the Republicans’ narrow 52-48 majority in the Senate.

In an interview on Tuesday, Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who has not publicly stated her position on the bill, said she did not expect a vote on the measure, which would almost certainly fail.

On Monday, Collins announced her opposition moments after the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office published an analysis predicting that millions would lose their health insurance if the bill became law.

During a televised debate on healthcare on Monday night, senators Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, the authors of the latest repeal attempt, acknowledged the setbacks but vowed to push forward with their bill.

“We are going to press on,” Graham said during the CNN debate. “It’s OK to vote. It’s OK to fall short, if you do, for an idea that you believe in.”

For seven years, Republicans have won elections on the promise to repeal the healthcare law and replace it with a conservative plan that removes decision-making power from the federal government. Repealing the ACA was also a central thrust of Trump’s campaign, though his fickle expectations for its replacement have complicated Republican attempts to repeal the law.

In order to overhaul the healthcare system on a party-line vote, Republicans want to use a process called “reconciliation” that allows lawmakers to pass bills affecting taxes and spending with a simple majority. But the reconciliation process is time-bound, tied to a budget resolution Congress passed earlier this year, which ends on 30 September.

The analysis followed a frantic attempt by the bill’s authors to win over reluctant senators, revising the bill to deliver more federal funds to states where the senators were undecided, such as Alaska and Maine.

While Paul opposed the measure because he believed it did not go far enough in repealing the ACA, Collins and McCain, two of the three senators who derailed a repeal attempt in July, lamented a rushed process and urged a return to “regular order”, which includes public hearings and a full CBO analysis.

Democrats have meanwhile called on Republicans to drop this effort and focus on bipartisan negotiations over ways to stabilize the insurance markets. Those talks were under way when Republicans decided to try again on repealing the healthcare law. Democrats agree the law has flaws but refuse to negotiate on any proposal that includes repeal.


Far-right AfD’s surge worries Muslim refugees in Germany

The strong performance of the populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) party in the German election has worried Afghan and other Muslim migrants, who fear that AfD’s anti-immigration agenda may make life harder for them.

September 25, 2017


The entry of the populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) in the Bundestag (German parliament) has shocked many Germans, but the anti-immigration party’s surge has also unsettled Muslim migrants in Germany.

The AfD gained around 13 percent of votes in Sunday’s parliamentary election, becoming the Bundestag’s third largest party after Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and Martin Schulz’s Social Democratic Party (SPD). It is also the first time in more than half a century that a far-right group has made its way into the national parliament.

The AfD capitalized on anti-immigrant sentiment in Germany in the wake of Europe’s unprecedented refugee crisis. The party vehemently opposes Merkel’s pro-refugee policies that have resulted in an influx of over a million refugees from Middle Eastern and North African countries into Germany over the past two years.

The party raised anti-refugee slogans and held protests against what they deem the “Islamization” of Germany.

Winning back voters

In her victory speech, Merkel said she would try to win back right-wing voters in her next four years as German chancellor. This raises the specter of the AfD’s success forcing mainstream political parties to alter their stance on immigration and push the agenda toward the political right that could result in more deportations and difficult asylum conditions.

“I have been having sleepless nights since the election results came out. I fear the government could deport me to Afghanistan,” Kabir Usmani, a Frankfurt-based Afghan asylum-seeker, told DW.

“I left Afghanistan because I feared for my life, but I still live in fear — the fear of deportation,” Usmani, who has been living in Germany for three years, added.

Usmani’s asylum application has been rejected by the authorities but he still hopes to stay in the country for a longer period.

Tougher policies

Even after losing over eight percent of votes compared to the 2013 election, German Chancellor Merkel has bravely defended her refugee policy, insisting that her decision to take in refugees mainly from Syria, Iran and Afghanistan in 2015 was right. But many, even in her own party, are skeptical toward the chancellor’s approach.

The major concern is that in order to win back right-wing supporters, Merkel could be forced to tighten her refugee policy.

“I’m worried about the future. I fear that in order to gain right-wing support, Germany’s political parties will toughen their stance towards us,” Wafa Khan Wafa, an Afghan refugee living in a village near Cologne, told DW.

Experts point out that the government has already taken a tough line towards refugees. Prior to the election, German authorities decided to resume deportations to Afghanistan that it had stopped after a deadly suicide attack near the German embassy in Kabul in June.

Belief in the system

Some migrants, however, are optimistic that Angela Merkel won’t go too far in appeasing conservative sections of society. They say the AfD cannot undermine secular governance in Germany.

“Post election, the behavior towards foreigners may change to some extent, similar to what happened in the US after Donald Trump became president, but as long as Merkel and other democratic politicians are determined, the system will be protected,” a Bonn-based researcher from Pakistan told DW on condition of anonymity.

Afghan refugee Wafa says the new situation demands that asylum-seekers must also do their best to fully integrate in German society.

“It is very important for refugees to integrate in German society and fulfill their duties as law-abiding people so that the public opinion does not shift against them,” he underlined.


A Visit to Germany’s Flyover Country

The right-wing populist party Alternative for Germany raked in over 30 percent of the vote in many areas of the eastern state of Saxony. It is a region with few foreigners but plenty of anti-immigrant sentiment. Why?

September 26, 2017

by Heike Klovert in Wilsdruff, Germany


Yes, it was a risk, says Ramona B., a saleswoman in a clothing store on the town square. Alexander Gauland, the overtly racist lead candidate for the right-wing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, is a catastrophe, she contends, adding that it is important to fight against climate change and for the European Union. Nevertheless, the 59-year-old clothing saleswoman cast her ballot on Sunday for the AfD. “Something has to change.”

A lot of people in the small town of Wilsdruff, located a 30-minute drive west of Dresden, agree with Ramona B. Fully 36 percent of voters in the town cast their ballots for the AfD, significantly higher than for the second-place party, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats, which received 32 percent of the vote in Wilsdruff.

The town is located in an electoral district in Saxony, the German state which shows the strongest support for the AfD. It is the district that Frauke Petry, the erstwhile co-head of the AfD who announced on Tuesday that she is leaving the party due to its stark rightward shift, calls home. In total, 36 percent of voters in the district overall voted for the right-wing populists, with some municipalities returning results of over 40 percent. Everywhere in the district, AfD emerged as the strongest political party.

But why?

Ramona B. says she couldn’t make up her mind for a long time, until she saw a photo on television shortly before the election. It showed a blonde woman allegedly being cornered by dark-skinned men at the new year’s eve celebrations in Cologne in 2015, when dozens of women were sexually harassed and some raped. The same TV report, however, pointed out that the image was a photoshopped montage. “Still,” she says, “something did happen in Cologne!” She says she has nothing against foreigners, “but when they get the upper hand, it’s not good for the country.”

A Mistake

The conversation quickly turns to immigration when you ask people in Wilsdruff about the AfD’s victory in the region. Not far from the clothing store, a stocky, 64-year-old man with a brown buzzcut turns into a side-street. He, too, voted for the AfD, he says, as did most of his friends and acquaintances.

“I need to know who is coming to our country,” he says. Merkel, he says, should have admitted that it was a mistake to allow so many foreigners to cross the border into Germany. He argues that the money now being spent on integration could instead have been used to renovate schools and build more kindergartens.

He also says that he believes the EU and climate protection are important, nor does he have much regard for either Gauland or the AfD’s ambiguous pension plan. But, he adds, domestic security is extremely important. He also doesn’t really care that his district’s representative in German parliament, Frauke Petry, has said she won’t be part of the AfD parliamentary group in Berlin. “I voted for the party, the people are interchangeable,” he says.

Neither the 64-year-old man, who asked that his name not be used, nor Ramona B. say that they have had any concrete problems with refugees. According to the town’s administration, Wilsdruff is currently home to 10 asylum-seekers — compared to an overall population of 13,900 residents. Right-wing violence of the type seen in towns like Freital and Heidenau, both of which are in the same electoral district, haven’t been seen in Wilsdruff.

Nevertheless, many people here are plagued by fears of foreigners and of terror — even those who didn’t vote for the AfD. More must be done to prevent attacks, says Marie-Christin Saalbach, 21, while taking a walk with her young daughter and grandmother on the town square. That was a decisive factor in casting her ballot, though she ultimately chose the business-friendly Free Democrats instead of the AfD.

‘An Insurgency Against the CDU’

Still, it is clear that in Saxony, Chancellor Merkel and her Christian Democrats are still closely identified with the decision to allow in hundreds of thousands of refugees in 2015 — even though a lot has changed since then. Merkel has repeatedly emphasized the importance of securing the EU’s borders, she has massively limited family reunification rights for asylum recipients and she was also instrumental in negotiating the EU-Turkey deal aimed at putting a stop to the influx of refugees flowing into Greece.

Ralf Rother is a member of Merkel’s CDU and has been the mayor of Wilsdruff since 2003. He says he has often been asked recently why there is so much money available for migrants but what people view as a lack of funding for education and new teachers. People in his town, he says, have often expressed a lack of understanding for what they perceive as a significant problem.

It is an insurgency against the CDU,” says AfD politician Tobias Fuchs, 43, who lost to Rother in March mayoral elections in Wilsdruff. The region used to be a stronghold of CDU support, but Fuchs says the party isn’t nearly as conservative as it was just 10 years ago. “AfD took over many of their issues,” Fuchs says.

Plus, he adds, “AfD bashing” from politicians and the media contributed to his party’s success in the general election. “There hasn’t been a serious debate about the demands being made by the AfD.”

The 64-year-old AfD voter with the buzzcut says that such bashing actually served to confirm his decision to vote for the party. “As soon as you say something against the government’s refugee policy, people think you are a right-winger,” he says. “That isn’t the kind of democracy that we once wanted,” he adds, referring to the state’s East German past.


‘Israeli flags won’t save you’: Erdogan threatens Iraqi Kurds with famine over referendum

September 26, 2017


Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has warned that Iraqi Kurds will “not be able to find food” if Ankara decides to halt the flow of trucks and oil into the region, adding that all military and economic sanctions are on the table.

“[They] will be left in the lurch when we start imposing our sanctions,” Erdogan said in a speech broadcast live on television on Tuesday, as quoted by Reuters.

It will be over when we close the oil taps, all [their] revenues will vanish, and they will not be able to find food when our trucks stop going to northern Iraq.”

The Turkish president then warned that Israel’s support would be insufficient to sustain the Iraqi Kurds’ drive for independence and would not save them from international isolation. Erdogan added that Tel Aviv does not exercise sufficient leverage over the world community.

“Who will recognize your independence? Israel. The world is not about Israel. You should know that the waving of Israeli flags there will not save you,” he said, as quoted by Hurriyet.

“If the only support for the KRG’s referendum is given by Israel and if the [outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party] PKK starts celebrating [the results] even before the polls close then there can be neither innocence nor legitimacy,” Erdogan said.

The Israel reference comes after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed support for an independent Kurdistan earlier this month, while taking aim at Ankara’s support of Hamas.

“Israel opposes the PKK and considers it a terrorist organization, in contrast to Turkey, which supports the terrorist group Hamas,” Netanyahu said during a state visit to Argentina. “While Israel is opposed to any kind of terrorism, it supports the legitimate means of the Kurdish people to obtain their own state.”

The Turkish leader said Iraqi Kurds are incapable of creating their own state. “They don’t have an idea on how to be a state. They think that they are a state just by saying it. This can’t and won’t happen,” he said.

He also called the Iraqi Kurds’ decision to hold an independence referendum “a betrayal to our country [Turkey] in an era where our relations were at their best level in history,” adding that the referendum would be “null and void” regardless of its results.

If the Kurdish Regional Government that does not backtrack on their decision concerning the referendum “as soon as possible,” they will “go down in history with the shame of having dragged the region into an ethnic and sectarian war,” Erdogan added.

The Turkish president warned that all options – from economic sanctions to military measures – are on the table. Although the Turkish president has repeatedly warned of sanctions, he has so far provided few details.

A halt in Ankara’s supply of oil to the region would be welcomed by Baghdad, which has asked foreign countries to stop direct oil trading with the region

However, retaliatory moves following the referendum may have already begun, according to a Turkish broadcasting official who told Reuters that Turkey has pulled Kurdish TV channel Rudaw from its TurkSat satellite service.

The Turkish president’s comments come just one day after the KRG held an independence referendum, prompting Erdogan to accuse the KRG’s president, Massoud Barzani, of “treachery” over the vote.

“Until the very last moment, we weren’t expecting Barzani to make such a mistake as holding the referendum, apparently we were wrong,” the Turkish president said in his Tuesday speech.

“This referendum decision, which has been taken without any consultation, is treachery.”

Barzani has stressed, however, that the vote is not binding. Rather, it is aimed at prompting negotiations with Baghdad and neighboring countries over a peaceful breakaway of the region from Iraq.

KRG Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani expressed a similar sentiment on Monday.

“The referendum does not mean independence will happen tomorrow, nor are we redrawing borders,” he said. “If the ‘yes’ vote wins, we will resolve our issues with Baghdad peacefully.”

However, Baghdad has said it will not hold talks with the KRG on the results of the “unconstitutional” referendum.

“We are not ready to discuss or have a dialogue about the results of the referendum because it is unconstitutional,” Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said in a speech broadcast on state TV on Monday night.

Turkey, Iran, and Syria are also against the secession of the region, fearing it will inflame separatism among their own ethnic Kurdish populations.

Meanwhile, Ankara and Baghdad banded together in a show of force on Tuesday, with their militaries holding joint military exercises in southeast Turkey, near the border with Iraq’s Kurdistan Region.

Although official results of the referendum are expected by Wednesday, initial results indicated that 72 percent of eligible voters had taken part in the referendum, and that a huge majority – perhaps over 90 percent – had voted ‘yes’ to independence, according to Rudaw.


Catalonia: The fight for independence explained

Catalans are pushing ahead with an independence referendum despite police raids and Madrid’s vow to prevent the vote at any cost.

September 26, 2017

by Adam Parris-Long


Catalan separatist leaders have vowed to stage an independence referendum on Sunday, despite the Spanish government’s pledge to crack down on what it calls an illegal vote.

As pro-independence campaigners defy authorities by handing out millions of ballots, Sky News takes a look at the region’s fight for self-rule.

Where is Catalonia?

The northeastern region of Spain is home to 7.5 million citizens and has its own devolved government.

It has its own language, cultural traditions and the country’s second biggest city, Barcelona.

Prior to the Spanish Civil War (1936-39) the region was given broad autonomy, but this was rolled back under the dictatorship of Francisco Franco.

Catalonia regained autonomy after General Franco’s death in 1975, then secured enhanced judiciary and taxation powers following a landmark vote in 2006.

However, in July 2010 Spain’s constitutional court ruled that parts of the region’s autonomy statute were unlawful and that references to Catalonia as a nation had “no legal validity”.

More than a million people held a march in Barcelona to oppose the ruling.

What is happening?

Decades of separatist tensions have come to a head, with increasing support for the pro-independence cause.

In November 2014, Catalonia’s government held an informal referendum in which more than 80% voted in favour of independence.

It has since fought for the right to hold a legally binding vote and is pushing ahead with a referendum on Sunday despite the firm opposition of the Spanish government.

The yes/no ballot paper asks: “Do you want Catalonia to become an independent state in the form of a republic?”

What does the Spanish government say?

Since the nation’s constitutional court declared the referendum illegal, Madrid has launched a crackdown to confiscate millions of ballot slips.

State police have been sent to the region to monitor public spaces and “act in case the illegal referendum is maintained”, sparking protests in Barcelona and other cities.

Madrid has moved to put Catalan forces in the area under central control and 12 Catalan officials were arrested during a raid on several government offices.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has said he will “do whatever is needed, without relinquishing anything” to prevent the referendum going forward.

Foreign minister Alfonso Dastis claimed separatists were using “Nazi” tactics to intimidate opponents, adding: “Referendums are a weapon of choice of dictators”

Why does Catalonia have a link with Scotland?

The cause of Catalan and Scottish independence campaigners is largely the same – both are fighting against centralised powers for the ultimate right of self-rule.

As such, a fraternity between the two campaigns is embraced by top-level ministers and grassroots campaigners alike.

Catalonia’s Estelada flag is a common sight on SNP marches and during the Scottish referendum a group of Catalan firefighters drove 1,500 miles to Glasgow to lend their support.

Meanwhile, FC Barcelona fans threatened to wave Scottish flags at a cup final last year after being denied the right to take pro-Catalan flags to the game.

Last week, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon issued her concern over Madrid’s resistance to the Catalan vote and suggested that the agreement that led to the Scottish referendum was “a template that could be used by others elsewhere in the world”.

The Spanish government hit back, accusing Ms Sturgeon and SNP ministers of “totally” misunderstanding Spanish law.

What will happen if Catalonia votes for independence?

While former prime minister David Cameron promised the Scottish referendum was “decisive and irreversible”, Catalonia’s vote is anything but clear cut.

Separatists are holding the ballot against the wishes of the Spanish government, which is certain to block a move for independence in the event of a ‘yes’ vote.

However, the Catalan government says the vote is legally binding and if separatists are successful independence must be declared by parliament within two days of the result.

The referendum has a large amount of symbolic significance.

A ‘yes’ vote would add fuel to the fire but even without it independence campaigners have taken advantage of the police crackdown, which they claim has suppressed democracy.

Protesters have called for an “unstoppable wave of democracy”, while Catalan President Carles Puigdemont warned the Spanish government: “You can’t stem the tide”.



U.S. consumer confidence slips; new home sales hit eight-month low

September 26, 2017

by Lucia Mutikani


WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. consumer confidence fell in September and home sales dropped to an eight-month low in August due to the impact of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, supporting the view that the storms would hurt economic growth in the third quarter.

Still, relatively high levels of consumer confidence together with continued strong gains in house prices should support consumer spending and keep the economy on solid ground. Rebuilding in the hurricane-ravaged Texas and Florida also is expected to deliver a boost in the fourth quarter.

“Though hurricane disruptions will make spending uneven geographically over the next few months, we expect consumers to remain a primary driver of U.S. economic growth in 2018,” said James Bohnaker, a U.S. economist at IHS Markit in Lexington, Massachusetts.

The Conference Board said on Tuesday its consumer confidence index declined to a reading of 119.8 this month from 120.4 in August, which was the highest reading in five months. It said confidence in Texas and Florida “decreased considerably.”

The survey’s so-called labor market differential, derived from data about respondents who think jobs are hard to get and those who think jobs are plentiful, slipped to 14.5 this month from 16.0 in August.

That measure, which closely correlates to the unemployment rate in the Labor Department’s employment report, still remains consistent with more absorption of labor market slack.

The number of consumers expecting an improvement in their incomes rose marginally to 20.5 percent in September from 19.9 percent last month. The share expecting a drop in income was little changed at 8.3 percent.

Despite being near full employment, the labor market has struggled to generate strong wage growth, frustrating both consumers and policymakers. But rising home prices should continue to underpin consumer spending, even though the housing market is slowing.

The Atlanta Federal Reserve is forecasting the economy to grow at a 2.2 percent annualized rate in the third quarter, slowing from the April-June period’s brisk 3.0 percent pace.

A second report on Tuesday showed the S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller composite index of house prices in 20 metropolitan areas rose 5.8 percent in July on a year-on-year basis after increasing 5.6 percent in June.

U.S. financial markets were little moved by the data.

The dollar rose to a one-month high against the euro as investors worried that months of talks to form a coalition government in Germany could hurt the country’s economy and make closer euro zone integration difficult. Stocks on Wall street were little changed, while prices for U.S. Treasuries fell.


In a third report on Tuesday, the Commerce Department said new home sales decreased 3.4 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 560,000 units last month, which was the lowest level since December 2016. Sales were down 1.2 percent on a year-on-year basis in August.

New home sales, which are drawn from permits, account for 9.5 percent of overall home sales. The Commerce Department suggested Harvey and Irma likely impacted new home sales data last month.

It said “information on the sales status at the end of August was collected for only 65 percent of cases in Texas and Florida counties” affected by the hurricanes. That compared to a normal response rate of 95 percent.

Harvey weighed on retail sales and industrial production in August.

Last month, new home sales fell 4.7 percent in the South, which accounts for more than 50 percent of the new homes market. Harvey hurt sales of previously owned homes in August and held back the completion of houses under construction.

With Irma slamming Florida in September, housing market activity could remain weak. The areas in Texas and Florida affected by the storms accounted for 14 percent of single-family home permits in 2016.

The housing market was softening even before the hurricanes struck, buffeted by headwinds including shortages of homes available for sale, skilled labor and suitable land for building. Rising prices for building materials are also undercutting the market.

In August, new single-family homes sales also fell in the Northeast and West. They were unchanged in the Midwest.

“The U.S. housing market entered a strange kind of twilight zone over the summer, in which home prices kept rising steadily, but actual home sales activity largely leveled off at fairly underwhelming levels,” said Svenja Gudell, chief economist at Zillow.

Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Paul Simao



The Worst Mistake in U.S. History

June 1, 2017

by Jacob G. Hornberger


The worst mistake in U.S. history was the conversion after World War II of the U.S. government from a constitutional, limited-government republic to a national-security state. Nothing has done more to warp and distort the conscience, principles, and values of the American people, including those who serve in the U.S. military.

A good example of how the national-security state has adversely affected the thinking of U.S. soldiers was reflected in an op-ed entitled “What We’re Fighting For” that appeared in the February 10, 2017, issue of the New York Times. Authored by an Iraq War veteran named Phil Klay, the article demonstrates perfectly what the national-security state has done to soldiers and others and why it is so imperative for the American people to restore a constitutional republic to our land.

Klay begins his op-ed by extolling the exploits of another U.S. Marine, First Lt. Brian Chontosh, who, displaying great bravery, succeeded in killing approximately two dozen Iraqis in a fierce firefight during the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq. Klay writes,

When I was a new Marine, just entering the Corps, this story from the Iraq invasion defined heroism for me. It’s a perfect image of war for inspiring new officer candidates, right in line with youthful notions of what war is and what kind of courage it takes — physical courage, full stop.

Klay then proceeds to tell a story about an event he witnessed when he was deployed to Iraq in 2007. After doctors failed to save the life of a Marine who had been shot by an Iraqi sniper, those same doctors proceeded to treat and save the life of the sniper, who himself had been shot by U.S. troops. Klay used the story to point out the virtuous manner in which U.S. forces carried out their military mission in Iraq.

Well, except perhaps, Klay observes, for Abu Ghraib, the Iraqi prison in which Saddam Hussein’s government had tortured and abused countless Iraqis and which the U.S. military turned into its own torture and abuse center for Iraqis captured during the 2003 U.S. invasion of the country. Klay tells the story of a defense contractor named Eric Fair, who tortured an Iraqi prisoner into divulging information about a car-bomb factory. Encouraged by that successful use of torture, Fair proceeded to employ it against many other Iraqis, none of whom had any incriminating evidence to provide.

Klay points out that both Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay were major turning points in the Iraq War because prisoner abuse at both camps became a driving force for Iraqis to join the insurgency in Iraq. Thus, while Fair may have saved lives through his successful use of torture, he and other U.S. personnel who tortured and abused people at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay may well have cost the lives of many more U.S. soldiers in the long term.

Klay, however, suggests that none of that was really Fair’s fault. While he might have crossed some moral lines, everything he did, Klay suggests, was in accordance with legal rules and regulations. Klay writes,

And Eric did what our nation asked of him, used techniques that were vetted and approved and passed down to intelligence operatives and contractors like himself. Lawyers at the highest levels of government had been consulted, asked to bring us to the furthest edge of what the law might allow. To do what it takes, regardless of whether such actions will secure the “attachment of all good men,” or live up to that oath we swear to support and defend the Constitution.

Klay refers to the oath that U.S. soldiers take to support and defend the Constitution. Clearly patting himself and other members of the U.S. military on the back, he says U.S. soldiers fight with honor to defend a “set of principles” that are reflected in the Constitution and that define America.

It would be difficult to find a better example of a life of the lie than that of Phil Klay. He provides an absolutely perfect demonstration of what a national-security state does to soldiers’ minds and why the Founding Fathers were so opposed to that type of governmental structure.

The rights of invaders

Notice one big omission from Klay’s self-aggrandizing article: Iraq never attacked the United States or even threatened to do so. Instead, it was the U.S government, operating through its troops, that was the aggressor nation in the Iraq War. Wars of aggression — i.e., attacking, invading, and occupying other countries — were among the crimes of which the defendants at Nuremburg were convicted.

It is absolutely fascinating that that critically important point seems to escape Klay so completely. It’s as if it just doesn’t exist or just doesn’t count. His mindset simply begins with the fact that U.S. troops are engaged in war and then it proceeds from there to focus on the courage and humanity of the troops, how their bravery in battle inspired him, and how they treated the enemy humanely. It never occurs to him to ask the vital question: Did U.S. troops have any legal or moral right to be in Iraq and to kill anyone there, including Iraqi soldiers, insurgents, civilians, and civil servants working for the Iraqi government?

Many years ago, I posed a question about the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq to a libertarian friend of mine who was a Catholic priest. I asked him, If a U.S. soldier is placed in Iraq in a kill-or-be-killed situation, does he have a right to fire back at an Iraqi who is shooting at him?

My friend’s answer was unequivocal: Absolutely not, he responded. Since he has no legitimate right to be in Iraq, given that he is part of the aggressor force that initiated the war, under God’s laws he cannot kill anyone, not even by convincing himself that he is only acting in “self-defense.”

I responded, “Are you saying that his only choice is to run away or permit himself to be killed”? He responded, “That is precisely what I am saying. Under the laws of God, he cannot kill anyone in Iraq because he has no right to be there.”

Suppose a burglar enters a person’s home in the dead of night. The homeowner wakes up, discovers the intruder, and begins firing at him. The burglar fires back and kills the homeowner.

The burglar appears in court and explains that he never had any intention of killing the homeowner and that he was simply firing back in self-defense. He might even explain to the judge how bravely he reacted under fire and detail the clever manner in which he outmaneuvered and shot the homeowner.

The judge, however, would reject any claim of self-defense on the part of the burglar. Why? Because the burglar had no right to be in the homeowner’s house. Like the U.S. soldier in Iraq, when the homeowner began firing the burglar had only two legal and moral options: run away or be killed.

That’s what my Catholic priest friend was pointing out about U.S. soldiers in Iraq. They had no right to be there. They invaded a poor, Third World country whose government had never attacked the United States and they were killing, torturing, and abusing people whom they had no right to kill, torture, or abuse.

That’s what Klay as well as most other members of the U.S. military and, for that matter, many Americans still don’t get: that the Iraqi people were the ones who wielded the right of self-defense against an illegal invasion by a foreign power and that U.S. forces, as the aggressor power in the war, had no legal or moral right to kill any Iraqi, not even in “self-defense.”

Klay waxes eloquent about the U.S. Constitution and the oath that soldiers take to support and defend it, but it’s really just another perfect demonstration of the life of the lie that he and so many other U.S. soldiers live. The reality is that when U.S. soldiers vow to support and defend the Constitution, as a practical matter they are vowing to loyally obey the orders and commands of the president, who is their military commander in chief.

There is no better example of this phenomenon than what happened in Iraq. The U.S. Constitution is clear: The president is prohibited from waging war without a declaration of war from Congress. No declaration, no war. Every U.S. soldier ordered to invade Iraq knew that or should have known that.

Everyone, including the troops, also knew that Congress had not declared war on Iraq. Yet, not a single soldier supported or defended the Constitution by refusing George Bush’s order to attack and invade Iraq. Every one of them loyally obeyed his order to attack and invade, knowing full well that it would mean killing people in Iraq — killing people who had never attacked the United States. And they all convinced themselves that by following the president’s orders to invade Iraq and kill Iraqis, they were supporting and defending the Constitution.

How do U.S. soldiers reconcile that? They convince themselves that they are supporting and defending the Constitution by obeying the orders of the president, who has been democratically elected by the citizenry. It’s not their job, they tell themselves, to determine what is constitutional and what isn’t. Their job, they believe, is simply to do what the president, operating through his subordinates, orders them to do. In their minds, they are supporting and defending the Constitution whenever they loyally and obediently carry out the orders of the president.

That means, then, that the standing army is nothing more than the president’s private army. As a practical matter, soldiers are going to do whatever they are ordered to do. If they don’t, they are quickly shot or simply replaced, which provides a good incentive for others to do as they are told. That’s why soldiers invaded Iraq, which had never attacked the United States, and killed people who were defending their country against an unlawful invasion. That’s also why soldiers and defense contractors tortured and abused people at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay, and elsewhere. They all believed they were carrying out the orders of their superiors, from the president on down, and that they were supporting and defending the Constitution in the process.

As people throughout history have learned, that is also why a standing army constitutes such a grave threat to the freedom and well-being of the citizenry. It is the means by which a tyrant imposes and enforces his will on the citizenry. Just ask the people of Chile, where the troops of a military regime installed into power by the U.S. national-security establishment rounded up tens of thousands of innocent people and incarcerated, tortured, raped, abused, or executed them, all without due process of law and with the support of the U.S. government.

Prior to the invasion of Iraq, I read that some Catholic soldiers were deeply troubled by the prospect of killing people in a war that the U.S. government was initiating. I was stunned to read that a U.S. military chaplain told them that they had the right under God’s laws to obey the president’s order to invade Iraq and kill Iraqis. God would not hold it against them, he said, if they killed people in the process of following orders.

Really? Are God’s laws really nullified by the orders of a government’s military commander? If that were the case, don’t you think God’s commandment would have read: “Thou shalt not kill, unless your ruler orders you to do so in a war of aggression against another nation”?

To this day, there are those who claim that George W. Bush simply made an honest mistake in claiming that Saddam Hussein, Iraq’s dictator, was maintaining weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) and that U.S. soldiers were justified in trusting him by loyally obeying his orders to invade and occupy Iraq to “disarm Saddam.”

They ignore three important points: it was a distinct possibility that Bush and his people were simply lying. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time that a president had lied in order to garner support for a war. Lyndon Johnson’s lies regarding a supposed North Vietnamese attack on U.S. warships in the Gulf of Tonkin in Vietnam come to mind. Two, Bush didn’t secure the constitutionally required congressional declaration of war, most likely because he knew that congressional hearings on the issue would expose his WMD scare for the lie it was. And three, only the UN, not the U.S. government, was entitled to enforce its resolutions regarding Iraq’s WMDs.

Moreover, the circumstantial evidence establishes that Bush was lying and that the WMD scare was entirely bogus. Many people forget that throughout the 1990s the U.S. government was hell-bent on regime change in Iraq. That’s what the brutal sanctions were all about, which contributed to the deaths of half a million Iraqi children. When U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Madeleine Albright was asked on Sixty Minutes whether the deaths of half a million Iraqi children from the sanctions were “worth it,” she responded that such deaths were “worth it.” By “it,” she was referring to regime change.

That desire for regime change in Iraq grew with each passing year in the 1990s, both among liberals and conservatives. Demands were ever growing to get rid of Saddam. Therefore, when Bush started coming up with his WMD scare after the 9/11 attacks, everyone should have been wary because it had all the earmarks of an excuse to invade Iraq after more than 10 years of sanctions had failed to achieve the job.

The best circumstantial evidence that Bush lied about the WMD scare appeared after it was determined that there were no WMDs in Iraq. At that point, if Bush had been telling the truth, he could have said, “I’m very sorry. I have made a grave mistake and my army has killed multitudes of people as a consequence of my mistake. I am hereby ordering all U.S. troops home and I hereby announce my resignation as president.”

Bush didn’t do that. In fact, he expressed not one iota of remorse or regret over the loss of life for what supposedly had been the result of a mistake. He knew that he had achieved what the U.S. national-security state had been trying to achieve for more than a decade with its brutal sanctions — regime change in Iraq — and he had used the bogus WMD scare to garner support for his invasion. And significantly, the troops were kept occupying Iraq for several more years, during which they killed more tens of thousands of Iraqis.

One thing is for sure: By the time Phil Klay arrived in Iraq in 2007, he knew full well that there had been no WMDs in Iraq. He also knew that Iraq had never attacked the United States. By that time, he knew full well that the U.S. government had invaded a country under false or, at the very least, mistaken pretenses. He knew there had been no congressional declaration of war. He knew that there was no legal or moral foundation for a military occupation that was continuing to kill people in an impoverished Third World country whose worst “crime” was simply trying to rid their country of an illegal occupier.

Yet, reinforced by people who were thanking them for “their service in Iraq,” Klay, like other U.S. troops, convinced himself that their “service” in Iraq was a grand and glorious sacrifice for his nation, that they were defending Americans’ rights and freedoms, and that they were keeping us safe. It was a classic life of the lie because our nation, our rights and freedoms, and our safety were never threatened by anyone in Iraq, including the millions of Iraqis who were killed, maimed, injured, tortured, abused, or exiled, or whose homes, businesses, or infrastructure were destroyed by bombs, missiles, bullets, and tanks.

In fact, the entity that actually threatened the rights and freedoms of the American people was the U.S. government, given the totalitarian-like powers that it assumed as part of its effort to keep us safe from the enemies its interventionist policies were producing. Coming to mind are the totalitarian-like power to assassinate Americans, secret mass surveillance, and the incarceration and torture of American citizens as suspected terrorists — all without due process of law and without trial by jury.

This is what a national-security state does to people — it warps, damages, or destroys their conscience, principles, and values; induces them to subscribe to false bromides; and nurtures all sorts of mental contortions to enable people to avoid confronting reality.

Many years after Brian Chontosh’s exploits in Iraq, Phil Klay was surprised to learn that Chontosh was experiencing some ambivalence about what he had done. “It’s ugly, it’s violent, it’s disgusting. I wish it wasn’t part of what we had to do,” Chontosh later wrote.

Perhaps that’s because conscience was beginning to stir within him. That’s a good sign. Maybe it will begin to stir in Phil Klay too. And other members of the military as well.


Storms complicate Puerto Rico’s debt problems

September26, 2017

BBC News

Puerto Rico’s more than $70bn in debt is casting a shadow over recovery efforts on the Caribbean island, which was badly destroyed by Hurricane Maria.

Puerto Rican Governor Ricardo Rosello, who is seeking federal funds, warned of a “massive exodus” without aid.

US President Donald Trump wrote on Twitter on Monday night that the island was in “deep trouble”.

He added that its debts, “sadly, must be dealt with”.

In May, Puerto Rico declared a form of bankruptcy, seeking to restructure more than $70bn (£52bn) in debt.

Analysts said a chief risk is that the storm will accelerate the population decline on the island, exacerbating its economic problems and hurting its ability to repay.

Puerto Rico’s population has already fallen by more than 8% since 2010 to about 3.4 million.

“Really, the fundamental thing is if people leave the island, will they be willing to come back,” said Cate Long, founder of the research firm Puerto Rico Clearinghouse.

Trump tweet

Puerto Rico is facing the collapse of its electricity and communications network as it evacuates flooded families and examines damaged infrastructure. A major dam is at risk of failure.

Insured losses across the Caribbean are already estimated to range from $40bn to $85bn, with about 85% of the damage found in Puerto Rico, according to disaster modelling firm AIR Worldwide.

President Trump said the priorities for federal relief were immediate needs for food, water and medical assistance.

In his tweets, he did not address longer-term rebuilding plans, but he contrasted its situation with Texas and Florida, which have also been hit by major storms this season.

“Texas and Florida are doing great but Puerto Rico, which was already suffering from broken infrastructure & massive debt, is in deep trouble,” he wrote.

“Much of the island was destroyed, with billions of dollars … owed to Wall Street and the banks which, sadly, must be dealt with.”

The federal panel that oversees Puerto Rico’s finances said it would work to speed recovery funds.

But the island’s debt means that it cannot borrow money for the emergency on its own.

Some Democrats have said relief is coming too slowly.

“The situation is desperate. Puerto Rico has taken a serious punch to the gut and they need our help,” Sen Chuck Schumer said in a statement.

‘Completely different set of circumstances’

Credit ratings agency Moody’s issued a report on Monday examining the impact of the disaster on the debt. It noted that the federal response was key.

“Severe damage to infrastructure and private property that is not offset through federal relief efforts will signal reduced economic capacity,” the report said.

The island’s status as a commonwealth and not a state means it has fewer advocates in Congress, which could complicate funding efforts, said Ted Hampton, a Moody’s analyst.

The price of Puerto Rico debt declined on Monday, as traders factored in possible losses.

But Mr Hampton said the situation was still evolving and it was too soon to say how the situation will develop.

“There is going to be a pause and disruption near-term, but we’ve often seen by the same token that after devastating hurricanes the influx of federal aid and other funds… can really spur an economy – so a year from now, or maybe two years from now, who knows?” he said.

Puerto Rico had been working on a financial plan with cuts that would satisfy the federal oversight panel.

But Governor Rosello told broadcaster CNN that the hurricanes were “a game changer” for those discussions.

“This is a completely different set of circumstances,” he said.



World War III With China

How It Might Actually Be Fought

by Alfred W. McCoy


[This piece has been adapted and expanded from Alfred W. McCoy’s new book, In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power.]

For the past 50 years, American leaders have been supremely confident that they could suffer military setbacks in places like Cuba or Vietnam without having their system of global hegemony, backed by the world’s wealthiest economy and finest military, affected. The country was, after all, the planet’s “indispensible nation,” as Secretary of State Madeleine Albright proclaimed in 1998 (and other presidents and politicians have insisted ever since). The U.S. enjoyed a greater “disparity of power” over its would-be rivals than any empire ever, Yale historian Paul Kennedy announced in 2002. Certainly, it would remain “the sole superpower for decades to come,” Foreign Affairs magazine assured us just last year. During the 2016 campaign, candidate Donald Trump promised his supporters that “we’re gonna win with military… we are gonna win so much you may even get tired of winning.” In August, while announcing his decision to send more troops to Afghanistan, Trump reassured the nation: “In every generation, we have faced down evil, and we have always prevailed.” In this fast-changing world, only one thing was certain: when it really counted, the United States could never lose.

No longer.

The Trump White House may still be basking in the glow of America’s global supremacy but, just across the Potomac, the Pentagon has formed a more realistic view of its fading military superiority. In June, the Defense Department issued a major report titled on Risk Assessment in a Post-Primacy World, finding that the U.S. military “no longer enjoys an unassailable position versus state competitors,” and “it no longer can… automatically generate consistent and sustained local military superiority at range.” This sober assessment led the Pentagon’s top strategists to “the jarring realization that ‘we can lose.’” Increasingly, Pentagon planners find, the “self-image of a matchless global leader” provides a “flawed foun­dation for forward-looking defense strategy… under post-primacy conditions.” This Pentagon report also warned that, like Russia, China is “engaged in a deliberate program to demonstrate the limits of U.S. authority”; hence, Beijing’s bid for “Pacific primacy” and its “campaign to expand its control over the South China Sea.”

China’s Challenge

Indeed, military tensions between the two countries have been rising in the western Pacific since the summer of 2010. Just as Washington once used its wartime alliance with Great Britain to appropriate much of that fading empire’s global power after World War II, so Beijing began using profits from its export trade with the U.S. to fund a military challenge to its dominion over the waterways of Asia and the Pacific.

Some telltale numbers suggest the nature of the future great power competition between Washington and Beijing that could determine the course of the twenty-first century. In April 2015, for instance, the Department of Agriculture reported that the U.S. economy would grow by nearly 50% over the next 15 years, while China’s would expand by 300%, equaling or surpassing America’s around 2030.

Similarly, in the critical race for worldwide patents, American leadership in technological innovation is clearly on the wane. In 2008, the United States still held the number two spot behind Japan in patent applications with 232,000. China was, however, closing in fast at 195,000, thanks to a blistering 400% increase since 2000. By 2014, China actually took the lead in this critical category with 801,000 patents, nearly half the world’s total, compared to just 285,000 for the Americans.

With supercomputing now critical for everything from code breaking to consumer products, China’s Defense Ministry outpaced the Pentagon for the first time in 2010, launching the world’s fastest supercomputer, the Tianhe-1A. For the next six years, Beijing produced the fastest machine and last year finally won in a way that couldn’t be more crucial: with a supercomputer that had microprocessor chips made in China. By then, it also had the most supercomputers with 167 compared to 165 for the United States and only 29 for Japan.

Over the longer term, the American education system, that critical source of future scientists and innovators, has been falling behind its competitors. In 2012, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development tested half a million 15-year-olds worldwide. Those in Shanghai came in first in math and science, while those in Massachusetts, “a strong-performing U.S. state,” placed 20th in science and 27th in math. By 2015, America’s standing had declined to 25th in science and 39th in math.

But why, you might ask, should anybody care about a bunch of 15-year-olds with backpacks, braces, and attitude? Because by 2030, they will be the mid-career scientists and engineers determining whose computers survive a cyber attack, whose satellites evade a missile strike, and whose economy has the next best thing.

Rival Superpower Strategies

With its growing resources, Beijing has been laying claim to an arc of islands and waters from Korea to Indonesia long dominated by the U.S. Navy. In August 2010, after Washington expressed a “national interest” in the South China Sea and conducted naval exercises there to reinforce the claim, Beijing’s Global Times responded angrily that “the U.S.-China wrestling match over the South China Sea issue has raised the stakes in deciding who the real future ruler of the planet will be.”

Four years later, Beijing escalated its territorial claims to these waters, building a nuclear submarine facility on Hainan Island and accelerating its dredging of seven artificial atolls for military bases in the Spratly Islands. When the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague ruled, in 2016, that these atolls gave China no territorial claim to the surrounding seas, Beijing’s Foreign Ministry dismissed the decision out of hand.

To meet China’s challenge on the high seas, the Pentagon began sending a succession of carrier groups on “freedom of navigation” cruises into the South China Sea. It also started shifting spare air and sea assets to a string of bases from Japan to Australia in a bid to strengthen its strategic position along the Asian littoral. Since the end of World War II, Washington has attempted to control the strategic Eurasian landmass from a network of NATO military bases in Europe and a chain of island bastions in the Pacific. Between the “axial ends” of this vast continent, Washington has, over the past 70 years, built successive layers of military power — air and naval bases during the Cold War and more recently a string of 60 drone bases stretching from Sicily to Guam.

Simultaneously, however, China has conducted what the Pentagon in 2010 called “a comprehensive transformation of its military” meant to prepare the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) “for extended-range power projection.” With the world’s “most active land-based ballistic and cruise missile program,” Beijing can target “its nuclear forces throughout… most of the world, including the continental United States.” Meanwhile, accurate missiles now provide the PLA with the ability “to attack ships, including aircraft carriers, in the western Pacific Ocean.” In emerging military domains, China has begun to contest U.S. dominion over cyberspace and space, with plans to dominate “the information spectrum in all dimensions of the modern battlespace.”

China’s army has by now developed a sophisticated cyberwarfare capacity through its Unit 61398 and allied contractors that “increasingly focus… on companies involved in the critical infrastructure of the United States — its electrical power grid, gas lines, and waterworks.” After identifying that unit as responsible for a series of intellectual property thefts, Washington took the unprecedented step, in 2013, of filing criminal charges against five active-duty Chinese cyber officers.

China has already made major technological advances that could prove decisive in any future war with Washington. Instead of competing across the board, Beijing, like many late adopters of technology, has strategically chosen key areas to pursue, particularly orbital satellites, which are a fulcrum for the effective weaponization of space. As early as 2012, China had already launched 14 satellites into “three kinds of orbits” with “more satellites in high orbits and… better anti-shielding capabilities than other systems.” Four years later, Beijing announced that it was on track to “cover the whole globe with a constellation of 35 satellites by 2020,” becoming second only to the United States when it comes to operational satellite systems.

Playing catch-up, China has recently achieved a bold breakthrough in secure communications. In August 2016, three years after the Pentagon abandoned its own attempt at full-scale satellite security, Beijing launched the world’s first quantum satellite that transmits photons, believed to be “invulnerable to hacking,” rather than relying on more easily compromised radio waves. According to one scientific report, this new technology will “create a super-secure communications network, potentially linking people anywhere.” China was reportedly planning to launch 20 of the satellites should the technology prove fully successful.

To check China, Washington has been building a new digital defense network of advanced cyberwarfare capabilities and air-space robotics. Between 2010 and 2012, the Pentagon extended drone operations into the exosphere, creating an arena for future warfare unlike anything that has gone before. As early as 2020, if all goes according to plan, the Pentagon will loft a triple-tier shield of unmanned drones reaching from the stratosphere to the exosphere, armed with agile missiles, linked by an expanded satellite system, and operated through robotic controls.

Weighing this balance of forces, the RAND Corporation recently released a study, War with China, predicting that by 2025 “China will likely have more, better, and longer-range ballistic missiles and cruise missiles; advanced air defenses; latest generation aircraft; quieter submarines; more and better sensors; and the digital communications, processing power, and C2 [cyber security] necessary to operate an integrated kill chain.”

In the event of all-out war, RAND suggested, the United States might suffer heavy losses to its carriers, submarines, missiles, and aircraft from Chinese strategic forces, while its computer systems and satellites would be degraded thanks to “improved Chinese cyberwar and ASAT [anti-satellite] capabilities.” Even though American forces would counterattack, their “growing vulnerability” means Washington’s victory would not be assured. In such a conflict, the think tank concluded, there might well be no “clear winner.”

Make no mistake about the weight of those words. For the first time, a top strategic think-tank, closely aligned with the U.S. military and long famous for its influential strategic analyses, was seriously contemplating a major war with China that the United States would not win.

World War III: Scenario 2030

The technology of space and cyberwarfare is so new, so untested, that even the most outlandish scenarios currently concocted by strategic planners may soon be superseded by a reality still hard to conceive. In a 2015 nuclear war exercise, the Air Force Wargaming Institute used sophisticated computer modeling to imagine “a 2030 scenario where the Air Force’s fleet of B-52s… upgraded with… improved standoff weapons” patrol the skies ready to strike. Simultaneously, “shiny new intercontinental ballistic missiles” stand by for launch. Then, in a bold tactical gambit, B-1 bombers with “full Integrated Battle Station (IBS) upgrade” slip through enemy defenses for a devastating nuclear strike.

That scenario was no doubt useful for Air Force planners, but said little about the actual future of U.S. global power. Similarly, the RAND War with China study only compared military capacities, without assessing the particular strategies either side might use to its advantage.

I might not have access to the Wargaming Institute’s computer modeling or RAND’s renowned analytical resources, but I can at least carry their work one step further by imagining a future conflict with an unfavorable outcome for the United States. As the globe’s still-dominant power, Washington must spread its defenses across all military domains, making its strength, paradoxically, a source of potential weakness. As the challenger, China has the asymmetric advantage of identifying and exploiting a few strategic flaws in Washington’s otherwise overwhelming military superiority.

For years, prominent Chinese defense intellectuals like Shen Dingli of Fudan University have rejected the idea of countering the U.S. with a big naval build-up and argued instead for “cyberattacks, space weapons, lasers, pulses, and other directed-energy beams.” Instead of rushing to launch aircraft carriers that “will be burned” by lasers fired from space, China should, Shen argued, develop advanced weapons “to make other command systems fail to work.” Although decades away from matching the full might of Washington’s global military, China could, through a combination of cyberwar, space warfare, and supercomputing, find ways to cripple U.S. military communications and thus blind its strategic forces. With that in mind, here’s one possible scenario for World War III:

It’s 11:59 p.m. on Thanksgiving Thursday in 2030. For months, tensions have been mounting between Chinese and U.S. Navy patrols in the South China Sea. Washington’s attempts to use diplomacy to restrain China have proven an embarrassing failure among long-time allies — with NATO crippled by years of diffident American support, Britain now a third-tier power, Japan functionally neutral, and other international leaders cool to Washington’s concerns after suffering its cyber-surveillance for so long. With the American economy diminished, Washington plays the last card in an increasingly weak hand, deploying six of its remaining eight carrier groups to the Western Pacific.

Instead of intimidating China’s leaders, the move makes them more bellicose. Flying from air bases in the Spratly Islands, their jet fighters soon begin buzzing U.S. Navy ships in the South China Sea, while Chinese frigates play chicken with two of the aircraft carriers on patrol, crossing ever closer to their bows.

Then tragedy strikes. At 4:00 a.m. on a foggy October night, the massive carrier USS Gerald Ford slices through aging Frigate-536 Xuchang, sinking the Chinese ship with its entire crew of 165.  Beijing demands an apology and reparations. When Washington refuses, China’s fury comes fast.

At the stroke of midnight on Black Friday, as cyber-shoppers storm the portals of Best Buy for deep discounts on the latest consumer electronics from Bangladesh, Navy personnel staffing the Space Surveillance Telescope at Exmouth, Western Australia, choke on their coffees as their panoramic screens of the southern sky suddenly blip to black. Thousands of miles away at the U.S. CyberCommand’s operations center in Texas, Air Force technicians detect malicious binaries that, though hacked anonymously into American weapons systems worldwide, show the distinctive digital fingerprints of China’s People’s Liberation Army.

In what historians will later call the “Battle of Binaries,” CyberCom’s supercomputers launch their killer counter-codes. While a few of China’s provincial servers do lose routine administrative data, Beijing’s quantum satellite system, equipped with super-secure photon transmission, proves impervious to hacking. Meanwhile, an armada of bigger, faster supercomputers slaved to Shanghai’s cyberwarfare Unit 61398 blasts back with impenetrable logarithms of unprecedented subtlety and sophistication, slipping into the U.S. satellite system through its antiquated microwave signals.

The first overt strike is one nobody at the Pentagon predicted. Flying at 60,000 feet above the South China Sea, several U.S. carrier-based MQ-25 Stingray drones, infected by Chinese “malware,” suddenly fire all the pods beneath their enormous delta wingspans, sending dozens of lethal missiles plunging harmlessly into the ocean, effectively disarming those formidable weapons.

Determined to fight fire with fire, the White House authorizes a retaliatory strike. Confident their satellite system is impenetrable, Air Force commanders in California transmit robotic codes to a flotilla of X-37B space drones, orbiting 250 miles above the Earth, to launch their Triple Terminator missiles at several of China’s communication satellites. There is zero response.

In near panic, the Navy orders its Zumwalt-class destroyers to fire their RIM-174 killer missiles at seven Chinese satellites in nearby geostationary orbits. The launch codes suddenly prove inoperative.

As Beijing’s viruses spread uncontrollably through the U.S. satellite architecture, the country’s second-rate supercomputers fail to crack the Chinese malware’s devilishly complex code. With stunning speed, GPS signals crucial to the navigation of American ships and aircraft worldwide are compromised.

Across the Pacific, Navy deck officers scramble for their sextants, struggling to recall long-ago navigation classes at Annapolis. Steering by sun and stars, carrier squadrons abandon their stations off the China coast and steam for the safety of Hawaii.

An angry American president orders a retaliatory strike on a secondary Chinese target, Longpo Naval Base on Hainan Island. Within minutes, the commander of Andersen Air Base on Guam launches a battery of super-secret X-51 “Waverider” hypersonic missiles that soar to 70,000 feet and then streak across the Pacific at 4,000 miles per hour — far faster than any Chinese fighter or air-to-air missile. Inside the White House situation room the silence is stifling as everyone counts down the 30 short minutes before the tactical nuclear warheads are to slam into Longpo’s hardened submarine pens, shutting down Chinese naval operations in the South China Sea. Midflight, the missiles suddenly nose-dive into the Pacific.

In a bunker buried deep beneath Tiananmen Square, President Xi Jinping’s handpicked successor, Li Keqiang, even more nationalistic than his mentor, is outraged that Washington would attempt a tactical nuclear strike on Chinese soil. When China’s State Council wavers at the thought of open war, the president quotes the ancient strategist Sun Tzu: “Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.” Amid applause and laughter, the vote is unanimous. War it is!

Almost immediately, Beijing escalates from secret cyberattacks to overt acts. Dozens of China’s next-generation SC-19 missiles lift off for strikes on key American communications satellites, scoring a high ratio of kinetic kills on these hulking units. Suddenly, Washington loses secure communications with hundreds of military bases. U.S. fighter squadrons worldwide are grounded. Dozens of F-35 pilots already airborne are blinded as their helmet-mounted avionic displays go black, forcing them down to 10,000 feet for a clear view of the countryside. Without any electronic navigation, they must follow highways and landmarks back to base like bus drivers in the sky.

Midflight on regular patrols around the Eurasian landmass, two-dozen RQ-180 surveillance drones suddenly become unresponsive to satellite-transmitted commands. They fly aimlessly toward the horizon, crashing when their fuel is exhausted. With surprising speed, the United States loses control of what its Air Force has long called the “ultimate high ground.”

With intelligence flooding the Kremlin about crippled American capacity, Moscow, still a close Chinese ally, sends a dozen Severodvinsk-class nuclear submarines beyond the Arctic Circle bound for permanent, provocative patrols between New York and Newport News. Simultaneously, a half-dozen Grigorovich-class missile frigates from Russia’s Black Sea fleet, escorted by an undisclosed number of attack submarines, steam for the western Mediterranean to shadow the U.S. Sixth fleet.

Within a matter of hours, Washington’s strategic grip on the axial ends of Eurasia — the keystone to its global dominion for the past 85 years — is broken. In quick succession, the building blocks in the fragile architecture of U.S. global power start to fall.

Every weapon begets its own nemesis. Just as musketeers upended mounted knights, tanks smashed trench works, and dive bombers sank battleships, so China’s superior cybercapability had blinded America’s communication satellites that were the sinews of its once-formidable military apparatus, giving Beijing a stunning victory in this war of robotic militaries. Without a single combat casualty on either side, the superpower that had dominated the planet for nearly a century is defeated in World War III.


China’s Top 6 Environmental Concerns

March 15, 2013

by Marc Lallanilla

Live Science

China’s environmental crises seem to arise on a scale as sweeping and epic as the vast nation itself:

Thousands of dead, bloated pigs floating down the river that supplies Shanghai with its drinking water. Air pollution in Beijing so impenetrable the U.S. Embassy’s air quality measuring station can only call it “beyond index.” Industrial towns where rates of cancer are so high they’re known as “cancer villages.”

Compounding these problems is the Chinese government’s stony silence about anything that might imperil the country’s economic development — including environmental regulation.

But China’s increasingly restive population of 1.3 billion people is now starting to demand government action to combat the deadly plagues of pollution and disease that are stalking the 21st century’s economic powerhouse. [The 10 Most Polluted Places on Earth]

Chinese officials, however, have barely started to acknowledge the problem. In the meantime, the people of China are forced to face the following environmental catastrophes on a daily basis:

Air pollution

According to the Environmental Protection Agency’s air quality scale, any pollution rating above 300 means the air is unsafe to breathe. Under these conditions, people should stay indoors with an air purifier running and remain as motionless as possible, according to U.S. Embassy Beijing guidelines.

In January alone, there were 19 days when the index in Beijing surpassed that 300 threshold, according to the Washington Post, and readings above 500 are no longer unusual. On Jan. 12, the reading reached an eye-bleeding 886, comparable to living inside a smoking lounge.

Manufacturing industries and Beijing’s 5 million-plus cars all contribute to the city’s crippling air pollution, but most experts primarily blame the coal-burning electrical plants that power China’s breakneck economic growth.

China now burns 47 percent of the world’s coal, roughly equal to the amount used by all other countries of the world combined, the New York Times reports. And Beijing is surrounded by a vast network of coal-burning power plants.

But as foul as it is, Beijing’s air isn’t even China’s worst: That dubious honor goes to Ürümqi in the country’s far west, which frequently joins other Chinese cities like Lanzhou and Linfen on lists of the world’s most polluted places. [Top 10 Ways to Destroy Earth]

Water pollution

Thousands of dead pigs floating past Shanghai, dramatic though they are, may be the least of China’s water pollution worries.

In January, a chemical accident leaked benzene, a known cancer-causing agent, into a tributary of the Huangpu River (where the dead pigs were discovered). More than 20 people were hospitalized as a result, according to the Wall Street Journal, and area residents were forced to rely on fire trucks to deliver safe drinking water.

More than half of China’s surface water is so polluted it cannot be treated to make it drinkable, the Economist reports, and one-quarter of it is so dangerous it can’t even be used for industrial purposes.

Groundwater isn’t any safer: About 40 percent of China’s farmland relies on underground water for irrigation, and an estimated 90 percent is polluted, Reuters reports. About 60 percent of the groundwater beneath Chinese cities is described as “severely polluted” by the Economist.

Last December — shortly after his sister died of lung cancer at age 35 — businessman Jin Zengmin from Zhejiang province offered a 200,000-yuan ($32,000) reward to any local environmental official who would swim in a nearby river, where Jin once swam as a boy, Time.com reports. The river is now black with sludge from an upstream shoe factory.

His reward remains uncollected.


China has a history of intensive agriculture going back millennia, so it’s perhaps unsurprising that much of the nation’s 3.7 million square-mile (9.6 million square kilometers) territory has been subject to deforestation.

Population pressure, the conversion of forests to farmland, and hydroelectric and other infrastructure projects have placed China’s remaining forests at risk. This prompted the United Nations Environment Programme to list the country’s forests as threatened and in need of protection.

Following closely on the heels of deforestation and agricultural development is desertification, the destruction of vegetative land cover that results in a landscape defined by bare soil and rock. About 1 million square miles (2.6 million sq km) of China is now under desertification — that’s about one-quarter of the country’s total land surface, spread across 18 provinces, according to IPS News Agency.

Blinding dust storms, mud-choked rivers and eroded topsoil are often the result of desertification. Despite recent gains in reforestation and grasslands restoration, the desert continues to expand each year by about 950 square miles (2,460 sq km), according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). [Dry and Drying: Stark Images of Drought]

The resulting loss of arable land has created a generation of “eco-migrants,” the Guardian reports, who are forced to leave their homelands, because their traditional agricultural lifestyle is no longer an option.

“We’ve made progress, but we face a daunting challenge,” Liu Tuo, Chinese desertification control officer, told the Guardian. “It may take China 300 years.”


Closely related to deforestation and desertification is the issue of habitat loss and the resulting drop in biodiversity. As vast areas of forest are cleared for farmland, bamboo plantations, timber and fuel wood, endangered animals like pandas struggle to survive.

China’s issues with species loss extend far beyond its borders: The slaughter of elephants for ivory, the killing of rhinos for their horns, and the culling of tigers for their bones (as medicine) and penises (as aphrodisiacs) have one primary source: the Chinese market.

Sharks are endangered worldwide, largely because of shark finning — the removal of dorsal fins from still-living sharks — for the Chinese delicacy known as shark fin soup.

Cancer villages

Perhaps no other issue underscores China’s reckless disregard for environmental and public health more than the existence of “cancer villages,” entire towns that have been written off as so polluted that simply living there is a cancer risk.

For years, individuals and groups have waged a desperate campaign to force the government to address — or even acknowledge — the high rates of stomach, liver, kidney and colon cancer in certain areas, usually adjacent to heavy industrial complexes, the BBC reports.

In Shangba, a city in southern Guangdong province, the river that flows through town changes from white to a startling shade of orange because of varying types of industrial effluent, Reuters reports. Many of the river’s contaminants, like cadmium and zinc, are known to cause cancer.

“All the fish died, even chickens and ducks that drank from the river died. If you put your leg in the water, you’ll get rashes and a terrible itch,” He Shuncai, a 34-year-old farmer from Shangba, told Reuters. “Last year alone, six people in our village died from cancer and they were in their 30s and 40s.”

In February of this year, a report from China’s environment ministry noted that chemicals and heavy metals banned in other countries are found throughout China. The report went on to state that there are “some serious cases of health and social problems like the emergence of cancer villages in individual regions,” marking the first official admission of the problem that has plagued the country for decades.

Population growth

China’s “one-child” policy is universally acknowledged as having effectively kept the country’s population in check. Nonetheless, China is home to about 1.3 billion people — over one-seventh of the planet’s people live in the nation.

What’s more of a concern to environmental advocates is the growing affluence of China’s middle class, who are now adopting Western-style consumer patterns. While items like red meat, liquor and automobiles were once considered forbidden luxuries, more and more families are driving their car to a market to buy tenderloin beef, 120-proof baijiu liquor and other consumer goods.

The health risks associated with these kinds of purchases have not gone unnoticed: Binge drinking and alcohol-related hospitalizations have now reached “epidemic proportions,” the Guardian reports, and the Chinese — who once enjoyed a relatively healthy diet and low rates of cancer — now dine on twice as much meat as Americans, consuming one-quarter of the world’s supply, according to the Telegraph.

These consumer trends, multiplied across a large and heavily populated country, have a global reach that affects everything from sugar prices in Europe to climate change in Greenland: Most climate experts agree that China’s industrial growth, and its dependence on coal-burning, are significant drivers of climate change, Scientific American reports.

Can China change course?

While China’s traditionally obdurate government hierarchy has seemed to value economic development at any cost, including the health of its citizens and wholesale eco-destruction, there are signs of a thaw in the icy silence that shrouds much environmental action in the country.

The government’s recent admission that cancer villages exist “shows that the environment ministry has acknowledged that pollution has led to people getting cancer,” environmental lawyer Wang Canfa told Agence Frence-Presse. “It shows that this issue, of environmental pollution leading to health damages, has drawn attention.”

Coupled with the public outcry over the thick blanket of toxic smog that covered Beijing earlier this year, there are glimmers of hope that the Chinese people may succeed in wresting some measure of control over their environment — and their lives — back from government and industry leaders.

Whether they will succeed remains to be seen.











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