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TBR News July 13, 2018

Jul 13 2018

The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Isaiah 40:3-8

Washington, D.C. July 13, 2018:  “Trump is beating a very dead horse when he demands that Nato members cough up more more. Nato was formed by the US to act as a barrier against Communist Russian military aggression. Huge amounts of American tax payer’s money has gone into this obsolete system and now Europe is trying to escape American control and take care of their own problems. It is obvious that Putin’s Russia has no interest in military aggression and Europe, not unreasonably, has decided to move away from an American-controlled Nato and to that end are down-sizing their military. Trump thinks that by shouting and using brutal speech to his putative allies he will have his way but the attached article indicates that he is barking up the wrong tree:

The Crossroads

The French are establishing military defense treaties with the Russian Federation, and in order to deal with the problems of high energy costs, the E.E.C. is trying to work with the Russians to establish an oil industry [in the Arctic] that will enable Europe to free itself from the need for Middle Eastern oil. Reserves of oil believed to be located both in the Russian Arctic and north of the Caspian may turn out to be larger than the reserves in the Middle East and if the Europeans can get the upper hand over the United States in helping develop these reserves, the geopolitical balance may rapidly shift from U.S. domination to the Eurobloc domination.

The German and French governments have already been seriously considering divesting of all of their investment in U.S. Government bonds, and have already decided that they will stop investing in new U.S. bonds. Given the growing strength of the Euro against the dollar this may make the E.E.C. the de facto world economic superpower.

If they can institute a mutual defense pact with Russia, this alliance may be able to challenge U..S. superpower status, Russia still has a large nuclear arsenal, and their military capability is still potentially formidable . A joint Russian/E.U. defense union, based upon EU/Russian military forces would be a formidable deterrent to U.S. domination in the Eastern hemisphere.

The promulgation of such a pact could well result in an Eastern Hemisphere version of the Monroe Doctrine in which the new superpower demands that no power outside of the Eastern Hemisphere has the right to interfere in the politics of that area. The French most certainly want to challenge US. world domination. and such an alliance would give them the muscle to do so.

The interests of Europe and European Russia are far closer than any alliance with the U.S. and Europe is starting to surpass the United States as an economic superpower. The massive outsourcing of U.S. jobs, as well as the decline of the U.S. as an exporting industrial power also is a massive weakness of the U.S. that the Europeans can and no doubt will exploit to their own economic and political advantage .

Europe still has a significant industrial base, and a large portion of their outsourcing is done in nations that are geographically contiguous to Europe itself. While they do some outsourcing to India and China, they also do a large amount of outsourcing to the Balkans and the ex- Warsaw Pact Nations which greatly lowers their transportation problems, while the U.S. is withdrawing a lot of its outsourced industry from geographically close countries like Canada and Mexico, for places like China and India. This makes our economy far more fragile, and certainly more vulnerable than the European economy.

America is desperately attempting to prevent the formation of an E.U. military/ Russian economic and military alliance which would be ipso facto, a catastrophe from the PNAC point of view. In fact the fall of the Soviet Bloc may be something that will be regretted by those who are claiming it to be one of the great accomplishments of Reagan’s neo con government.

Most of the Warsaw Pact is and the Baltics are now a part of the E.U. All that would be necessary would be for the Russians to form some alliance in order for the entire continental Europe up to the Urals to form a unified continental force. If Turkey were to join such a union, as they have expressed a desire to, this alliance will reach the borders of the Middle East and be able to challenge the U.S for dominations over the region.

The Table of Contents

  • Trump claims victory at Nato summit after fresh row over defence spending
  • Time for a Mercy Killing at NATO
  • How to Start a Nuclear War: The increasingly direct road to ruin
  • Another Season of Despair
  • Secrecy News
  • Rising ocean waters from global warming could cost trillions of dollars

 Trump claims victory at Nato summit after fresh row over defence spending

European members contradict assertion that US president secured notable concessions

July 12, 2018

by Ewen MacAskill in Brussels

The Guardian

Donald Trump has claimed victory at the Nato summit, saying progress had been made on defence spending only hours after throwing the Brussels meeting intodisarray with fresh attacks on European allies.

Asked whether he had threatened to pull out of Nato, the US president did not directly deny it. He told a surprise press conference before he was scheduled to leave that he only told people he would be “extremely unhappy” if spending was not increased.

Trump claimed he could pull the US out of Nato without the approval of Congress. “I think I probably can but that’s unnecessary,” he said.

He said the alliance members had agreed to reach spending 2% of GDP on defence faster than previously planned and claimed financial commitments would increase beyond that in future.

But other delegations and Nato officials contradicted Trump, saying he had secured no significant concessions and their defence spending plans remained basically the same as they had been before the summit.

The French president, Emmanuel Macron, denied Trump’s claim that Nato powers agreed to increase defence spending beyond previous targets.

The renewed criticism of European Nato members for not spending enough on defence came at a closed session on Thursday morning that had been intended to be confined to non-budgetary issues.

The US president’s outburst led to the scrapping of a series of press conferences and bilateral meetings as European leaders struggled to respond. The British prime minister, Theresa May, and the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, cancelled press conferences.

Trump turned up late for the morning sessions involving Nato leaders, intended to discuss the accession of Ukraine and Georgia to the alliance. When he delivered his rebuke about defence spending, the Ukrainian and Georgian leaders were asked to leave because it was a purely Nato matter.

Soon after, the meeting broke up. European leaders retreated to their offices for discussion with their officials.

At a 35-minute press conference at Nato headquarters, Trump seemed to contradict his earlier criticism of Nato and the European member states. He said US commitment to Nato “remained “very strong” and the “fantastic” meeting of the alliance members had demonstrated “a great collegial spirit”.

He added: “Nato is much stronger now than it was two days ago.”

Trump, who leaves Brussels for a visit to the UK, said he was fine about the protests planned for his trip and insisted he was popular in the UK.

He said he had described the UK as “a hotspot” because of Brexit and the cabinet resignations. “There will be protests. There will always be protests,” he said, adding that people in the UK liked him and agreed with him on immigration.

The turmoil at the Nato summit came a day after Trump strongly criticised Germany for not spending enough on defence. Officials from the European delegations subsequently said he had been relatively calm in the closed sessions later on Thursday and during a working dinner.

In spite of that, a tweet from Trump on Wednesday showed he remained far from satisfied with the European response.

The tweet fitted into a pattern throughout the two-day summit, with Trump at one moment ranting at European allies and the next insisting relations are good.

Five of the 29 Nato members have reached the target of spending at least 2% of GDP on defence. These include the US, which spends 3.5%, and the UK on just over 2%.

Trump had planned to step out of the closed session to hold bilateral meetings with the leaders of Azerbaijan, Romania, Ukraine and Georgia.


Time for a Mercy Killing at NATO

July 12, 2018

by David Stockman


The Great Disrupter was in fine fettle Wednesday. First he scolded Germany for investing in a natural gas pipeline from Russia that makes all the sense in the world and then blasted it for not spending money on defense it doesn’t need.

Well, I have to say, I think it’s very sad when Germany makes a massive oil and gas deal with Russia, where you’re supposed to be guarding against Russia, and Germany goes out and pays billions and billions of dollars a year to Russia……On top of that, Germany is just paying a little bit over 1 percent, whereas the United States, in actual numbers, is paying 4.2 percent of a much larger GDP. So I think that’s inappropriate also. You know, we’re protecting Germany, we’re protecting France. We’re protecting everybody. And yet we’re paying a lot of money to protect.

But not to worry. The talking heads of bubblevision say today’s market dip is the pause which refreshes. It’s still “risk-on” because by their lights when push comes to shove no mere politician – including the Donald – is going to do anything that the boys and girls on Wall Street might find troubling.

They apparently don’t dare – as was well and truly proven in late September 2008. When the remnants of principled Republicans voted down the TARP bailout of Wall Street, the Dow instantly plunged by 7% or $1.2 trillion, which would be equivalent to a 1700 point meltdown at today’s index level.

Of course, that particular hissy fit brought the GOP pols scampering back to the House floor. Having gotten their heads right in the interim, they marched back up the hill to approve George Bush’s $700 billion package of crony capitalist loot.

There hasn’t been even a close call since then. The only thing the gamblers really fear, apparently, is that a central banker might look at them cross-eyed. But as we told CNBC viewers yesterday, no central banker has the backbone to even wrinkle his brow in the direction of Wall Street.

We also told them that a bone-crushing trade war is coming. That’s because the Donald has no idea what he’s doing and is triggering an avalanche of bouncing billiard balls on the $17 trillion global trade table that is too complex and too interactive to even fathom and which, therefore, will be nigh impossible to stop.

Needless to say, our bubble vision hosts were having none of it. Since the Russell 2000 – the index of America’s home-based small and midsized companies – hit an all-time record yesterday, albeit at 90X its meager earnings, they averred the market is attesting that no serious trouble looms..

Likewise, when we mentioned 43-years of continuous and growing US current account deficits, Mike Santoli, a casino croupier if there ever was one, suggested there is nothing to see here, implying that viewers should move along toward the buy key on their trade stations.

After all, America’s huge current account deficits – $7 trillion in the last 15 years alone – are allegedly just the accounting record of happy campers all around the world cheerfully sending their savings to America so that we can buy their goods and live high on the hog.

Besides, Santoli intoned, what’s the “emergency” if it’s been going on for 43 years?

Which, of course, is exactly what the 43-year smoker said right before he was felled by lung cancer.

What we are saying is that it’s dangerous out there because the conventional wisdom has incorporated big memes and postulates that are fundamentally untrue.

In this particular case, for crying out loud, the world is not sending the US its “savings”.

To the contrary, other central banks have spent 3o years pumping-up their own fiat monies in order to scoop-up unwanted US dollars, thereby sequestering America’s prodigious debt emissions in the vaults of foreign central banks. And that was done, of course, to suppress their own exchange rates and boost export industries so that they could sell America even more goods on credit.

This is sustainable? You can borrow your way to everlasting prosperity?

We will have much more to say on this topic in the future because in his blunderbuss manner, the Donald is finally bringing it all to a head. Not withstanding that a tariff war is exactly the wrong solution, Trump is actually asking the right question: To wit, how in the world can the US still be running an $800 billion trade deficit long after the world economy was allegedly fixed by ZIRP and QE?

The fact is, the US’ massively imbalanced trade accounts are the flip-side of the very hollowed out economy in Flyover America that put the Donald in the Oval Office.

And yet establishment groupthink doggedly insists that the richest big country in the world can borrow indefinitely from the mostly poorer ranks elsewhere on the planet, and that sooner or later the Donald will flinch from his quest to fix the problem because Wall Street will take him to the woodshed if he doesn’t.

We’d call that head-in-the-sand insouciance, and suggest it is exactly reason why the coming correction will be so tumultuous. And the comforting theory that the Donald is all bark and no bite on trade is not the end of the complacency, either.

Both ends of the Acela Corridor, in fact, are riven with dangerous groupthink that is utterly detached from reality.

With that in mind, the topic at hand is another of these groupthink falsehoods and provides another angle on why the current third great central bank fostered financial bubble of this century is fixing to burst.

Here’s the money quote from Trump’s harangue at NATO General Secretary Stoltenberg:

Trump: ….. I don’t know what you can do about it now, but it certainly doesn’t seem to make sense that they paid billions of dollars to Russia and now we have to defend them against Russia.”

Well, here’s a news flash for the Donald: You don’t need to your budget-busting $716 billion defense budget to defend Germany from Russia because there is absolutely no reason to believe the latter wants to attack Germany or any other country in Europe.

Indeed, the very idea is just plain madness – yet the quest for ever more funding for the Warfare State is exactly what is helping to bring-on a thundering crisis in the bond pits just ahead.

To the contrary, what Trump should have said was well capsulized by Bruce Fein in a recent post:

……. President Donald Trump should tell the other 28 other members what Congressman John Randolph of Virginia told Greek proponents of American military assistance during their war of independence against the Ottoman Empire: “Let us say to those seven millions of Greeks, ‘We defended ourselves, when we were but three millions against a Power, in comparison to which the Turk is a lamb. Go and do thou likewise.’”

Now that’s exactly right. As shown by the table below, the NATO-28 (excluding the US) are now actually spending $250 billion per year on defense (2017). That’s 4X Russia’s entire military budget of $61 billion.

So what is NATO doing with all those tens of billions that wouldn’t keep the Russkies at bay – even if they had aggressive intentions, which by the record they most surely do not?

Likewise, the GDP of Russia is but $1.4 trillion compared to $18 trillion for the NATO-28. So is Cool Hand Vlad so completely foolish and reckless as to think that he could invade and occupy territories that have an economy 13X bigger than that of Russia?

Actually, it’s far more ludicrous than that. As we have often pointed out, Russia is a giant hydrocarbon province attached to some wheat fields, timber lands and mineral deposits – all dependent upon an aging work force afflicted with an undue fondness for Vodka etc.

What that means is that Russia must export its commodities big time or die. In fact, during 2017 Russian exports totaled $357 billion or 26% of its GDP. And 55% or nearly $200 billion went to Europe!

Moreover, when you breakdown Russian exports it is plain to see that the industrial maw of Europe is the port of first call for its vast tonnages of exported commodities. These included $173 billion of oil and gas and $60 billion of iron, steel, aluminum, precious metals, forest products, fertilizers, grains and copper, among others.

Finally, the table on defense spending by country below speaks for itself as to the purported Russian threat. If the German government really feared that Russian tanks would be soon rolling through the Brandenburg Gates, it would have more than 20 operational tanks, and it would spend far more than $40.6 billion or 1.2% of GDP to defend itself.

And the same is even more true of the former Warsaw pact countries that are located cheek-by-jowl on Russia’s border. Yet Romania spends the tiny sum of $2.8 billion or 1.2% of GDP on its military, while the figure for Hungary, which learned all about Soviet-style invasion in 1956, spends only $1.2 billion or barely 1.0% of GDP. And besides that, its intrepid leader, Viktor Orban, doesn’t even support NATO’s ridiculous sanctions on Putin’s cronies and allies.

And as for the allegedly threatened Baltic states, their combined defense budgets are less than $1.5 billion, representing a miniscule 1.7% of combined GDP; and Bulgaria, fast upon the Russian Lake called the Black Sea, spends only $660 million or 1.4% of its GDP.

In short, European policy action on the defense spending front trumps all the hot air that wafts from NATO’s spanking new Brussels headquarters. Their governments and parliaments positively do not think they are threatened by the Russian Bear because they aren’t.

What would help alot, therefore, is for the Great Disrupter to forget about his unfortunate infatuation with the idea that bigger is always better, and do what no other American politician in thrall to the Warfare State has been unable to do since 1991 when the Soviet Union slithered off the pages of history.

That is, declare “mission accomplished” with respect to NATO and disband it forthwith.

You could call it a Mercy Killing, and yet a couple more NATO summits like this one, and the Europeans themselves may well start begging for exactly that.


How to Start a Nuclear War: The increasingly direct road to ruin

by Andrew Cockburn

Harper’s Magazine- From the August 2018 issue

Serving as a US Air Force launch control officer for intercontinental missiles in the early Seventies, First Lieutenant Bruce Blair figured out how to start a nuclear war and kill a few hundred million people. His unit, stationed in the vast missile fields at Malmstrom Air Force Base, in Montana, oversaw one of four squadrons of Minuteman II ­ICBMs, each missile topped by a W56 thermonuclear warhead with an explosive force of 1.2 megatons—eighty times that of the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima. In theory, the missiles could be fired only by order of the president of the United States, and required mutual cooperation by the two men on duty in each of the launch control centers, of which there were five for each squadron.

In fact, as Blair recounted to me recently, the system could be bypassed with remarkable ease. Safeguards made it difficult, though not impossible, for a two-man crew (of either captains or lieutenants, some straight out of college) in a single launch control center to fire a missile. But, said Blair, “it took only a small conspiracy”—of two people in two separate control centers—to launch the entire squadron of fifty missiles, “sixty megatons targeted at the Soviet Union, China, and North Korea.” (The scheme would first necessitate the “disabling” of the conspirators’ silo crewmates, unless, of course, they, too, were complicit in the operation.) Working in conjunction, the plotters could “jury-rig the system” to send a “vote” by turning keys in their separate launch centers. The three other launch centers might see what was happening, but they would not be able to override the two votes, and the missiles would begin their firing sequence. Even more alarmingly, Blair discovered that if one of the plotters was posted at the particular launch control center in overall command of the squadron, they could together format and transmit a “valid and authentic launch order” for general nuclear war that would immediately launch the entire US strategic nuclear missile force, including a thousand Minuteman and fifty-four Titan missiles, without the possibility of recall. As he put it, “that would get everyone’s attention, for sure.” A more pacifically inclined conspiracy, on the other hand, could effectively disarm the strategic force by formatting and transmitting messages invalidating the presidential launch codes.

When he quit the Air Force in 1974, Blair was haunted by the power that had been within his grasp, andhe resolved to do something about it. But when he started lobbying his former superiors, he was met with indifference and even active hostility. “I got in a fair scrap with the Air Force over it,” he recalled. As Blair well knew, there was supposed to be a system already in place to prevent that type of unilateral launch. The civilian leadership in the Pentagon took comfort in this, not knowing that the Strategic Air Command, which then controlled the Air Force’s nuclear weapons, had quietly neutralized it.

This reluctance to implement an obviously desirable precaution might seem extraordinary, but it is explicable in light of the dominant theme in the military’s nuclear weapons culture: the strategy known as “launch under attack.” Theoretically, the president has the option of waiting through an attack before deciding how to respond. But in practice, the system of command and control has been organized so as to leave a president facing reports of incoming missiles with little option but to launch. In the words of Lee Butler, who commanded all US nuclear forces at the end of the Cold War, the system the military designed was “structured to drive the president invariably toward a decision to launch under attack” if he or she believes there is “incontrovertible proof that warheads actually are on the way.” Ensuring that all missiles and bombers would be en route before any enemy missiles actually landed meant that most of the targets in the strategic nuclear war plan would be destroyed—thereby justifying the purchase and deployment of the massive force required to execute such a strike.

Among students of nuclear command and control, this practice of precluding all options but the desired one is known as “jamming” the president. Blair’s irksome protests threatened to slow this process. When his pleas drew rejection from inside the system, he turned to Congress. Eventually the Air Force agreed to begin using “unlock codes”—codes transmitted at the time of the launch order by higher authority without which the crews could not fire—on the weapons in 1977. (Even then, the Navy held off safeguarding its submarine-launched nuclear missiles in this way for another twenty years.)

Following this small victory, Blair continued to probe the baroque architecture of nuclear command and control, and its extreme vulnerability to lethal mishap. In the early Eighties, while working with a top-secret clearance for the Office of Technology Assessment, he prepared a detailed report on such shortcomings. The Pentagon promptly classified it as SIOP-ESI—a level higher than top secret. (SIOP stands for Single Integrated Operational Plan, the US plan for conducting a nuclear war. ESI stands for Extremely Sensitive Information.) Hidden away in the Pentagon, the report was withheld from both relevant senior civilian officials and the very congressional committees that had commissioned it in the first place.

From positions in Washington’s national security think tanks, including the Brookings Institution, Blair used his expertise and scholarly approach to gain access to knowledgeable insiders at the highest ranks, even in Moscow. On visits to the Russian capital during the halcyon years between the Cold War’s end and the renewal of tensions in the twenty-first century, he learned that the Soviet Union had actually developed a “dead hand” in ultimate control of their strategic nuclear arsenal. If sensors detected signs of an enemy nuclear attack, the USSR’s entire missile force would immediately launch with a minimum of human intervention—in effect, the doomsday weapon that ends the world in Dr. Strangelove.

Needless to say, this was a tightly held arrangement, known only to a select few in Moscow. Similarly chilling secrets, Blair continued to learn, lurked in the bowels of the US system, often unknown to the civilian leadership that supposedly directed it. In 1998, for example, on a visit to the headquarters of Strategic Command (­STRATCOM), the force controlling all US strategic nuclear weapons, at Offutt Air Force Base, near Omaha, Nebraska, he discovered that the ­­­STRATCOM targeting staff had unilaterally chosen to interpret a presidential order on nuclear targeting in such a way as to reinsert China into the ­SIOP, from which it had been removed in 1982, thereby provisionally consigning a billion Chinese to nuclear immolation. Shortly thereafter, he informed a senior White House official, whose reaction Blair recalled as “surprised” and “befuddled.”

In 2006, Blair founded Global Zero, an organization dedicated to ridding the world of nuclear weapons, with an immediate goal of ending the policy of launch under attack. By that time, the Cold War that had generated the ­SIOP and all those nuclear weapons had long since come to an end. As a result, part of the nuclear war machine had been dismantled—warhead numbers were reduced, bombers taken off alert, weapons withdrawn from Europe. But at its heart, the system continued unchanged, officially ever alert and smooth running, poised to dispatch hundreds of precisely targeted weapons, but only on receipt of an order from the commander in chief.

The destructive power of the chief executive is sanctified at the very instant of inauguration. The nuclear codes required to authenticate a launch order (reformulated for each incoming president) are activated, and the incumbent begins an umbilical relationship with the military officer, always by his side, who carries the “football,” a briefcase containing said codes. It’s an image simultaneously ominous and reassuring, certifying that the system for initiating World War III is alert but secure and under control.

Even as commonly understood, the procedures leading up to a launch order are frightening. Early warning satellites, using heat-seeking sensors, followed a minute later by ground radars, detect enemy missiles rising above the curve of the earth. The information is analyzed at the North American Aerospace Defense Command (­­NORAD) in Colorado and relayed to the National Military Command Center in the basement of the Pentagon. The projected flight time of the missiles—thirty minutes from Russia—determines the schedule. Within eight minutes, the president is alerted. He then reviews his options with senior advisers such as the secretary of defense, at least those who can be reached in time. The momentous decision of how to respond must be made in as little as six minutes. Using the unique codes that identify him to the military commands that will carry out his instruction, he can then give the order, which is relayed in seconds via the war room and various alternate command centers to the missile silos, submarines, and bombers on alert. The bombers can be turned around, but otherwise the order cannot be recalled.

Fortunately, throughout the decades of confrontation between the superpowers, neither US nor Soviet leaders were ever personally contacted with a nuclear alert, even amid the gravest crises. When Brzezinski, Car­ter’s national security adviser, was awakened at three in the morning in 1979 by what turned out to be a false alarm regarding incoming Soviet missiles, the president learned what had happened only the following day.

Today, things are different. The nuclear fuse has gotten shorter.

Generally unrecorded by the outside world, there has been a “streamlining” of the system of command and control, as Blair put it in a somewhat opaque article in Arms Control Today. Though the shift, which dates to the George W. Bush era and was additionally confirmed to me by a former senior Pentagon official, may appear to outsiders as a merely bureaucratic rearrangement, it has deadly serious implications. Formerly, attack warnings were received and processed by ­­NORAD, in its lair deep inside Cheyenne Mountain, and passed via the National Military Command Center to the White House. But intelligence of a possible attack now goes almost directly to the head of Strategic Command. From his headquarters, far from Washington at Offutt Air Force Base, this powerful officer, currently an Air Force general named John Hyten, reigns supreme over the entire US strategic nuclear arsenal. He now dominates the whole nuclear countdown process: alerting the president, briefing him on the threat, and guiding him through the various options for a retaliatory or, as is likely given the jamming, preemptive strike.1

At one level, the change reflects a skirmish in the perennial internecine battles for budget share within the military, in which ­­STRATCOM has clearly triumphed at the expense of ­NORAD, which was relegated to a basement at Peterson Air Force Base in 2006. But it appears there was a more significant motive for the decision. The head of ­­STRATCOM is invariably a four-star general or admiral commanding a global fiefdom of 184,000 people, in and out of uniform. As Hyten reminded a congressional committee this year, “US ­STRATCOM is globally dispersed from the depths of the ocean, on land, in the air, across cyber, and into space, with a matching breadth of mission areas. The men and women of this command are responsible for strategic deterrence, nuclear operations, space operations, joint electromagnetic spectrum operations, global strike, missile defense, analysis and targeting.”

In contrast, the director of the National Military Command Center is customarily a mere one-star officer, far down in the military pecking order. Furthermore, as befits an administrator, this officer is often absent from the command center buried deep under the Pentagon. On 9/11, for example, the commander at the time was out of the building during the attacks. The actual watch officers pulling eight-hour shifts in the center are colonels, even more lowly and therefore unpardonably reluctant to disturb or wake the commander in chief for what could be a false alarm. Four-stars, on the other hand, are the gods of the military hierarchy, accustomed to deference from all around them. Such panjandrums, especially those with the means to end human civilization, can be expected to have fewer inhibitions against disturbing presidential slumbers.

So it has proved. According to Blair’s high-level sources, Bush and Obama received urgent calls from Omaha on “multiple occasions” during their time in office, and it would seem highly likely that Trump has had the same experience. This March, Colonel Carolyn Bird, the battle watch commander in the ­STRATCOM Global Operations Center at Offutt, hinted at this privileged access in a CNN report, boasting, “There’s nobody we can’t get on the phone.” Hyten himself dutifully attested to CNN that Trump “asked me very hard questions. He wants to know exactly how it would work,” and sententiously acknowledged that “there is no more difficult decision than the employment of nuclear weapons.” Hyten did not mention that in both actual alerts and exercises, according to Blair, it has sometimes proved impossible to locate and patch in officials such as the defense secretary, despite the fact that the system calls for them to be connected automatically. Thus, in a real or apparent crisis, the crucial and necessarily fraught conversation may be between two men: General Hyten and Donald Trump.

Furthermore, in addition to being shorter, the nuclear fuse may now be lit earlier. For decades, the typical scenario for a nuclear alert began with early warning detection of Russian missiles piercing the clouds over Siberia and following a predictable trajectory. But these days the threats that necessitate those direct calls from Omaha to the White House are more diffuse and ambiguous. Ominous but unverified intelligence reports cite Chinese and Russian progress in hypersonic weapons—missiles that launch toward space and then turn to race toward their targets at five times the speed of sound, allegedly rendering any form of defense impossible. Vla­dimir Putin has bragged publicly about Russia’s development of intercontinental nuclear-powered cruise missiles and other innovations in his strategic arsenal. (He even personally fired four ballistic missiles in an exercise last October.) North Korean ­ICBMs, seemingly reliant on a stash of old Soviet rocket engines smuggled out of Ukraine, could supposedly threaten the West Coast of the United States. Iran has tested and deployed home-grown medium-range missiles, as have Pakistan and India.

This new world of multiple threats has sparked public alarm among the military leadership. General Hyten and other powerful officers, for instance, have spoken ominously of the Russian and Chinese hypersonic weapons, maneuvering in unpredictable fashion as they flash toward us at up to five miles a second. Blair has heard the same worries expressed by his sources, and not just about the hypersonics. “There are all kinds of missiles going off all the time now,” he told me. “We’re regularly picking up these launches and trying to figure out what the fuck’s going on.” Presuming that the paths of these supposedly maneuverable weapons are unpredictable, an “imminent” threat no longer necessarily means that enemy missiles are already on the way. Today, the mere suspicion that something is about to happen could be enough for the general in Omaha to phone the presidential bedroom. Hypothetically, given the torrent of incoming and necessarily ambiguous information, intelligence reports that the command crew of a Chinese hypersonic missile squadron have canceled their dinner reservations could prompt such a call and a hurried, lethal decision. The jamming of the president, in other words, can begin earlier than ever.

While Bush and Obama were at the helm, their untrammeled power to launch excited little public concern, even though both men were prone to initiating conventional wars. Obama’s commitment to “modernize” America’s entire nuclear arsenal at a reported cost of at least $1.2 trillion generated no public outrage, or even much concern. According to Jon Wolfsthal, Obama’s senior director for arms control and nonproliferation at the National Security Council, “There is no clear understanding of how much these weapons systems actually cost.” When asked to produce a budget for the entire cost of our nuclear weapons forces, he told me, the Pentagon declined, on the grounds that it would be “too hard” to come up with that figure. But the arrival of Donald Trump, irascible, impulsive, and ignorant, was a different matter, especially given his threats to destroy North Korea with fire and fury. For the first time in decades, nuclear weapons were becoming a matter of public interest and concern.

For the Pentagon, busy extracting more than a trillion dollars from taxpayers to buy and operate an entirely new force of nuclear weapons, Trump’s irresponsible rants cannot have been a welcome development. As Maryland senator Ben Cardin remarked in a Foreign Relations Committee hearing last fall, “We don’t normally get a lot of foreign policy questions at town hall meetings, but as of late, I’ve been getting more and more questions about, Can the president really order a nuclear attack without any controls?” The senators were seeking reassurance that Trump couldn’t really incinerate the planet in a fit of pique, and to that end had summoned a former ­STRATCOM commander, C. Robert Kehler, as witness.

Kehler, a general who retired in 2013, was evidently anxious to put to rest any unwelcome notions the senators might entertain of overhauling the existing nuclear command system: “Changes or conflicting signals,” he warned, “can have profound implications for deterrence, for extended deterrence, and for the confidence of the men and women in the nuclear forces.” As the general chose to depict it, launching the nukes would be a somewhat laborious bureaucratic process, involving “assessment, review, and consultation between the president and key civilian and military leaders” (including their lawyers), which would only then be “followed by transmission and implementation of any presidential decision by the forces themselves. All activities surrounding nuclear weapons are characterized by layers of safeguards, tests, and reviews.” Of course, as a recent commander, Kehler had to have known that in contemporary alerts and exercises it has sometimes proved impossible to get those key leaders (or their lawyers) on the line, let alone find time for “assessment, review, and consultation.”

But if the president determines that the United States is under the threat of an imminent attack, asked Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, “he has almost absolute authority” to launch, “correct?” Kehler gave a reluctant yes. But, persisted Johnson, what if the president (i.e., Trump) issued a completely unjustified strike order? What would Kehler have done? “I would have said I am not ready to proceed,” answered the general. In other words, he would disobey the order.

Asked to comment on Kehler’s statement at a security conference just a few days later, Hyten confirmed that he, too, was fully prepared to defy a direct order from his commander in chief. “The way the process works is this simple: I provide advice to the president. He’ll tell me what to do, and if it’s illegal, guess what’s going to happen?”

“You say no,” prompted the moderator.

“I’m going to say, Mr. President, it’s illegal,” continued Hyten, expressing confidence that the president, rather than brushing his objection aside and brusquely transmitting the order to launch, would obligingly respond, “‘What would be legal?’ And we’ll come up with options of a mix of capabilities to respond to whatever the situation is.”

Neither of the generals provided any example of what might actually constitute an illegal order (Kehler offered only some vague references to “military necessity” and “proportion”), still less any precedent for American military commanders defying civilian authority when ordered to launch an attack. In any event, though their comments may have served their purpose in calming public fears, they were entirely irrelevant. Unless the principal command center has been knocked out, once the president gives his order the ­STRATCOM commander has no role in actually executing the nuclear strike. He sees a presidential launch order at the same time as the other command centers that execute it.2

In the event that a commander did choose to defy the president, the former senior Pentagon official suggested, it could even lead to a situation where officers in the launch centers would be receiving contrary orders through different channels, leading to what he called “the biggest shitstorm in the world.”

Despite the generals’ reassurances and Kehler’s plea to leave things alone, there are moves to curb the president’s “absolute authority” to push the button. In September 2016, Ted Lieu, a Democratic congressman from California, introduced legislation, along with Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts, to prevent the president from calling a first strike without congressional approval. Lieu, a former member of the Air Force judge advocate general well versed in the laws of war, could not see any legal justification for the president to unilaterally launch such an attack. The framers, he pointed out when we discussed the matter recently, gave Congress the power to declare war. “There’s no way they would have let one person launch thousands of nuclear weapons that could kill millions of people in less than an hour and not have called that war. If you don’t call that war, you run down the Constitution.” He was unimpressed by the ­STRATCOM generals’ pledge to defy an illegal launch order and hence felt the urgent need for legislation. “Do we really want to depend on military officers not following an order?”

Not only would Lieu’s bill, which has attracted eighty-one cosponsors, preclude Trump from dropping a nuclear weapon on Syria “because he’s angry at Assad” or some similarly impulsive initiative, it would also, he suggested, prevent launching in response to intelligence of a potential threat (it would not, however, prevent a US nuclear response in the event of incoming missiles). As he reminded me, intelligence has a poor record on threat warnings. “We had intelligence that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, and it turned out they didn’t.” He also cited the near-disaster of Brzezinski’s late-night wake-up call.

In the past, it should be noted, reliance on intelligence warnings has brought us closer to disaster than we knew. In the Fifties, General Curtis ­LeMay, the father of the Strategic Air Command, secretly deployed his own fleet of electronic intelligence planes over the Soviet Union. “If I see that the Russians are amassing their planes for an attack,” he told a visiting emissary from Washington, Robert Sprague, “I’m going to knock the shit out of them before they can take off.” “But General ­LeMay, that’s not national policy,” cried a horrified Sprague. “I don’t care,” replied ­LeMay. “It’s my policy. That’s what I’m going to do.”

In the event that faulty intelligence had actually led to a launch order during the Cold War, the civilian leadership would have been kept in the dark as to what was on the target list, just as they were unaware that ­LeMay planned to launch World War III on his own initiative. It is well known, for example, that since the early Sixties the war plan has contained “counterforce” options allowing the president to strike military targets while “withholding” attacks on cities. Brilliant minds at the Rand Corporation and elsewhere labored to design such flexibility and have it adopted as policy. But in reality, the distinction was a fiction. War plans enjoined at the highest level were simply ignored by those charged with implementing them. As Franklin Miller, the director of strategic forces policy in the Office of the Secretary of Defense during the Eighties, later explained, whatever the civilian leadership devised, the Joint Strategic Target Planning Staff at Offutt Air Force Base totally controlled the actual selection of targets and the weapons assigned to destroy them. If the civilians ever asked for specific information, the planners in Omaha coolly replied that they had “no need to know.” So successfully did the Offutt targeters guard their turf that even the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the presiding military bureaucracy at the Pentagon, were reportedly denied access to their internal guide for assigning targets. Sheltered by secrecy, the planners were able to define “city” in their targeting guidance so narrowly, Miller later wrote, that had the president ordered a large-scale nuclear strike against military targets with the “urban withhold” option, “every Soviet city would have nonetheless been obliterated.” The degree of overkill was extraordinary. One small target area, for example, five miles in diameter, was due to suffer up to thirteen thermonuclear explosions.

Things should be different today. Mild-mannered and professorial, Kehler and Hyten present a striking contrast to the bellicose, cigar-chewing ­LeMay, who promised to reduce the Soviet Union to a “smoking, radiating ruin at the end of two hours,” or his successor as head of the Strategic Air Command, General Thomas S. Power, whom even ­LeMay reportedly considered “not stable” and “a sadist.” Modern communications ensure tighter command and control. The national nuclear weapons stockpile, which peaked at more than 30,000 in the late Sixties, has now passed 6,000, of which some 1,800 are deployed on missiles and aircraft.

But the reduction in numbers obscures the staggering amount of destruction baked into today’s war plans. Blair has published an authoritative estimate of America’s global targets, identifying at least 900 such designated aimpoints for US missiles and bombers in Russia, of which 250 are classed as “economic” and 200 as “leadership,” most of them in cities. Moscow itself could be subject to a hundred nuclear explosions. Poverty-stricken North Korea supplies eighty targets, while Iran furnishes forty. “These are still just huge numbers of weapons,” Blair said to me recently. “The targets are still in those three categories: weapons of mass destruction—which means nuclear—war-sustaining industry, and leadership, same as they always were.” Much of the drawdown in warhead numbers, sanctified by arms control treaties, has been thanks to military confidence that both weapons and intelligence have become more accurate, meaning that fewer weapons need be assigned to any given target. Thus, whereas targeting plans once called for destroying every single bridge along a key Russian railroad, current aimpoints are far more select—destroying just one bridge to shut down the whole line. “They have gotten smart about where the real entrances are to command bunkers,” says Blair. “You usually have a whole set of fake entrances, so you have to put down ten weapons on one major command post. Now we have intelligence on where the actual entrance is, so you only need one weapon for that.”

Such confidence may be misplaced. The 1991 Gulf War was hailed at the time as a triumph of precision targeting and intelligence, as demonstrated by videos of missiles homing in unerringly on their targets. Yet a subsequent and exhaustive inquiry by the Government Accountability Office found that far from precision-guided-bomb maker Texas Instruments’ claims of “one bomb, one target,” it had required an average of four of the most accurate weapons, and sometimes ten, to destroy a given target. A Baghdad bunker destroyed in full confidence that it housed a high-level Iraqi command post had in fact sheltered some four hundred civilians, almost all women and children, most of whom were incinerated.

Even so, the Pentagon is working hard on developing the B61-12, a nuclear bomb that not only incorporates all the most desirable precision-guidance features but is also one of several “dial-a-yield” weapons in the US inventory, meaning that its explosive power can be adjusted as desired, in this case from as little as 0.3 kilotons (equivalent to 300 tons of TNT) all the way up to fifty kilotons. Such programs, as with the low-yield submarine-launched missile that is a key feature of the Trump Administration’s Nuclear Posture Review, are supposedly aimed at “enhancing deterrence,” justified as indicating to the Russians that if they use low-yield weapons, we can respond in kind. But these weapons appear to fulfill the function of conventional weapons in a conventional war, and therefore seem designed to fight, rather than deter, a nuclear war. The ongoing “modernization” (read “replacement”) of the entire US nuclear arsenal that was set in motion by Obama included at least one low-yield bomb. Under Trump, however, the drive to treat nuclear weapons as if they can be used in a conventional battle appears to have gained greater prominence. The most recent Nuclear Posture Review, after all, was co-written by Keith Payne, president of the National Institute for Public Policy, and best known for the dubious notion that “victory or defeat in a nuclear war is possible,” as he wrote in 1980. He added that “such a war may have to be waged to that point; and, the clearer the vision of successful war termination, the more likely war can be waged intelligently at earlier stages.” His directives on the means to win such a war (more weapons, better targeting) are coupled with pious assurances that they are in the interests of maintaining a “credible deterrent.”

Concepts such as dial-a-yield are no less dangerous for being potentially undependable in practice. Thanks to its observance of the (unratified) Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, the United States has not detonated a nuclear bomb since 1992. New warheads, such as those planned by the Trump Administration, are tested by computer simulations that stop short of actually initiating a chain reaction. Phil Coyle, a former director of the Nevada test site in the days when the United States actually detonated nuclear weapons to test them, told me that new, experimental designs could sometimes fail to perform according to plan. “Sometimes, they wouldn’t work. I can remember some series where it took five or six tries to finally get it right, so to speak. If you were expecting a particular yield, you might not get it,” he said, explaining that a new design might on rare occasions produce a yield greater than expected, or less, or no yield at all. Coyle is adamant, however, that all weapons currently in the stockpile are a hundred percent reliable.

But such faith is necessarily based on “virtual” tests, and belief that such simulations adequately reflect the real world is not universally accepted. Referring to the specialists who perform such simulations, Thomas P. Christie, the former director of operational tests and evaluation at the Pentagon, told me, “I’m sure that community has done some great work so far as simulations are concerned, because they can’t test. But, if you can’t test, you can’t verify. I’m very skeptical. All you have to do is get about five percent wrong and you’ve got a real problem.” Such caveats are important, not because they make the case for renewed testing but because nuclear war plans tend to assume a degree of certainty in systems performance, a dangerous misapprehension when everything to do with nuclear war is uncertain.

The same uncertainty holds true of the human element. Blair’s lifetime study of nuclear command and control has convinced him that in a real crisis the system would be “prone to collapse under very little pressure.” This stark conclusion was confirmed on the only occasion when it was put to the test: the terrorist attacks on 9/11, when it failed utterly. According to a detailed exposé by William Arkin and Robert Windrem of NBC News, senior officials found they could not communicate with one another. The commander of ­NORAD (still a player at that time) moved US nuclear forces to a higher stage of nuclear alert and closed the blast doors at Cheyenne Mountain for the only time since the end of the Cold War. Putin, alarmed by these developments, wanted to call Bush to ask what was going on, but Air Force One, which was running out of gas and looking for a secure place to land, could not receive phone calls. When the plane did land, at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana, it was parked next to a runway littered with nuclear bombs—­STRATCOM had been in the middle of a nuclear exercise when the hijackers hit the first tower and was now, while ­NORAD increased the level of nuclear alert, canceling the exercise and hurriedly unloading the active nukes from their bombers. Almost none of the senior officials in line to succeed the president followed their assigned procedures for evacuation to secure locations. One who did, Dennis Hastert, who as Speaker of the House was third in line for the presidency, took shelter in a secure bunker in Virginia, out of contact with the rest of the government. The education secretary, Rod Paige, sixteenth in line, who had gone with Bush to Florida, was left there when the president’s party rushed to the plane. He eventually rented a car and drove back to Washington.

Even assuming every component of the system worked according to plan, the idea of initiating a nuclear exchange is obviously irrational in the extreme—a hundred nuclear explosions in and around Moscow? “Would it have made any difference if lots of weapons didn’t go off, or (probably) a lot of missiles didn’t get out of their silos?” Daniel Ellsberg emailed me in response to a query regarding the reliability of the weapons. “A first strike was insane from the start; and a damage-limiting second-strike (which I acknowledge accepting, foolishly, for some years) not really less so.”

Nevertheless, there has clearly been a rational motivation underlying all these elaborate preparations for nuclear war over the years: money. The counterforce option, spawned in the early Sixties by the so-called wizards of Armageddon at the Air Force–funded Rand Corporation (the damage-limiting to which Ellsberg was referring), was enthusiastically endorsed by its patron because it parried a threat to Air Force budgets posed by the Navy’s new submarine-launched missiles. Invulnerable to enemy attack, the subs clearly rendered the Air Force’s land-based missiles and bombers superfluous to deterrence. But the sub-launched missiles were not accurate enough, even in theory, to hit military targets on the other side of the world, whereas the land-based ­ICBMs supposedly were. When I asked Ellsberg, who worked at Rand for many years, whether he knew of any of its proposals that would have resulted in a cut to the Air Force budget, he said no. That little has changed in our own day is evidenced by the Obama-Trump modernization plan to annually produce eighty new plutonium pits—the core of a nuclear weapon—at a potential overall cost of $42 billion, even though the United States already has 14,000 perfectly usable pits in storage.

Critics of our current nuclear arrangements, while quick to advocate for arms reduction or call for a reduction in executive power, generally accept the fundamental premise of deterrence. Congressman Lieu, for example, despite his sensible suggestions for keeping the president’s finger as far as possible from the button, is wholly in tune with the consensus. “For purposes of mutually assured destruction,” he assured me, “if any country were to launch a nuclear first strike on us, all bets would be off.” Given such assumptions, even among the well intentioned, there seems little chance that the nuclear war machine’s massive apparatus will be dismantled anytime soon. When Kehler testified on the merits of deterrence and “extended deterrence” (threatening to use nukes in support of an ally) at the Senate hearing, no one disagreed.

But one individual who most certainly does disagree is a man who spent a large portion of his life in the heart of the US nuclear machine and rose to command it all. “I spent much of my military career serving the ends of . . . deterrence, as did millions of others,” Lee Butler, who as a four-star general had headed the Strategic Air Command, and its successor ­STRATCOM, from 1991 to 1994, wrote in a 2015 memoir. “I fervently believed that in the end it was the nuclear forces that I and others commanded and operated that prevented World War III and created the conditions leading to the collapse of the Soviet empire.” But he grew increasingly skeptical about the role of nuclear weapons in maintaining global peace.

I came to a set of deeply unsettling judgments. That from the earliest days of the nuclear era, the risks and consequences of nuclear war have never been properly understood. That the stakes of nuclear war engage not just the survival of the antagonists, but the fate of mankind. That the prospect of shearing away entire societies has no politically, militarily or morally acceptable justification. And therefore, that the threat to use nuclear weapons is indefensible.

In retirement, Butler joined calls for the total abolition of nuclear weapons.

The fundamental fallacy regarding deterrence, he reasoned, lay in the assumption that we know how an enemy would react to a nuclear threat. As he put it in the memoir, “How is it that we subscribe to a strategy that requires near-perfect understanding of enemies from whom we are often deeply alienated and largely isolated?” Furthermore, he pointed out, the whole theory rested on each side having a credible capacity to retaliate to a nuclear first strike with its own devastating counterattack. But the forces required for such a counterstrike can easily be perceived by a suspicious enemy to be deliberately designed to carry out their own first strike. Since nuclear rivals can never concede such an advantage, “new technology is inspired, new nuclear weapons designs and delivery systems roll from production lines. The correlation of forces begins to shift, and the bar of deterrence ratchets higher.”

Interviews with former Soviet military leaders immediately after the Cold War, conducted by the BDM Corporation on a Pentagon contract, confirm that Butler was entirely correct as to their reaction to US nuclear preparations in the name of deterrence. For years, the Soviets told the interviewers, they believed the United States was preparing for a first strike. They therefore prepared to launch a preemptive strike if and when they detected signs of such preparations. Ignorant of Soviet thinking, the United States failed to curb military activities that might have confirmed their suspicions and sparked a preemptive attack.

None of this seems to have made much impression on the current crop of nuclear war planners, as Butler recently pointed out to me. “Over the past decade,” he wrote in an email, “the Air Force has undertaken a concerted effort to resurrect the old deterrence arguments. In the process, they have dredged up all of the deplorable straw men to knock down the case for arms control/abolition.” This effort, he lamented, has been largely successful: “Arms control is now relegated to the back burner with hardly a flicker of heat, while current agreements are violated helter-skelter.

“Sad, sad times for the nation and the world,” he concluded bleakly, “as the bar of civilization is ratcheted back to the perilous era we just escaped by some combination of skill, luck, and divine intervention.”

1.STRATCOM declined to comment on the process, citing its classification status, but a spokesperson for the Joint Chiefs of Staff noted that a review conducted in May suggested that STRATCOM should play an even larger role in the nuclear command and control system.

2 A STRATCOM spokesperson assured Harper’s Magazine that any presidential order to employ nuclear weapons would be preceded by “a serious and deliberate discussion regarding all available options, to include diplomatic and conventional military actions, guided by the advice of the Cabinet, national security experts, and relevant military advisers.”



Another Season of Despair

Or a Pigskin Blue Wave?

July 12, 2018

by Robert Lipsyte


Snatching immigrant babies may have scored some points for President Trump with his base, but it was never going to light up the scoreboard like tackling black jocks. That one really played to the grandstands. The complicated combination of adoration and resentment so many white males feel for those rich, accomplished über-men is a significant but rarely discussed aspect of fandom, especially in relation to football, that magna cum macho of American sports.

Last September, when the commander-in-chief of toxic masculinity dubbed any football player who didn’t stand during the playing of the national anthem a “son of a bitch,” the war on black men took a spectacular pop-cultural surge. And unlike white cops who shoot unarmed black men, President Trump didn’t even have to claim that he had been afraid.

He should have been, though. After all, he might have sparked a slaves’ revolt that, in the end, could do him in. The opportunity to crack the whip on the fantasy plantation called pro football was, however, just too irresistible for him. Whether it will trigger a long-awaited, long-deferred Jock Spring is the big question of the coming season to which there’s a critical corollary: Will such sustained activism be supported by the white players of the National Football League as well? That hasn’t happened yet and it could change things in major ways.

“For white players it’s about the fear of losing their jobs,” David Meggyesy, a white former NFL linebacker, who in the 1960s set a standard for radical outspokenness, told me recently. “But too many white fans share Trump’s tribalism that includes seeing white players as the brains and black players as the bodies, not too smart, who should just shut up and play.”

Trump, once a pro football owner himself, clearly understands a white male mindset in which black football players exist only to provide on-field thrills, never to be humanized, much less allowed to protest inequality and racism. Meanwhile, the players, most of whom know that they are easily replaceable, often lacking guaranteed contracts, exist at the sufferance of their white billionaire team owners, a number of whom were early Trump donors.

Silent Seasons

Looking back, it’s little wonder that, for almost half a century, black athletes had been a politically silent segment of the black entertainment industry. The reigning superstars — O.J. Simpson, Michael Jordan, and Tiger Woods — collaborated with owners, television, and corporate America in their successful pursuit of record-breaking wealth, while refusing to take stands against racism. Simpson and Woods even denied their own blackness. O.J. once explained to me that he wasn’t black or white, he was O.J., while Tiger, with a Thai mother and an African-American father, claimed to be “Cablinasian.” They set the standard and its reward system: as long as the players continued to remain apolitical, owners and fans were basically willing to tolerate bad behavior, ostentation, and a sullen refusal to be grateful.

But by 2016, with Trump soon to be elected, O.J. in jail, Tiger in decline, and Jordan now the principal owner of the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets, the resistance, led by Colin Kaepernick on that now-famous knee, began to grow. President Trump would be directly dissed when, in April 2017, many New England Patriots declined invitations to the White House after winning the 2017 Super Bowl. That September, after the president disinvited Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry to the White House for comments he made suggesting that he might not attend a championship ceremony there, the Cleveland Cavaliers’ LeBron James chipped in. He addressed Trump in a tweet as “U Bum” and wrote that “going to White House was a great honor until you showed up!” In June 2018, Trump had to cancel a Super Bowl party after most of the Super-Bowl-winning Philadelphia Eagles team indicated they wouldn’t be attending. And in June, LeBron and Curry once again said that, whichever of their teams won the NBA championship, neither would be stopping by with the league trophy and a jersey with Trump’s name on the back.

That could be part of the reason why, a week before that title tournament began, the president issued a posthumous pardon for Jack Johnson, who in 1908 was the first African-American to become world heavyweight boxing champion. Both Presidents Bush and Obama had declined to pardon him when asked.

In 1913, Johnson had been convicted of transporting a white woman over a state line “for immoral purposes” in violation of the Mann Act. He fled the country but eventually returned to serve prison time. The son of former slaves, Johnson, who died in 1946, became a symbol of black athletic activism for flaunting his money, his bling, and his white paramours.

Sports fans were so outraged by his success and his attitude that the call went out for a “Great White Hope” who would beat him in the ring. Novelist Jack London even begged a retired white champ, Jim Jeffries, to “emerge from his alfalfa farm and remove that smile off Johnson’s face.” In 1910, in the “fight of the century,” Jeffries was soundly beaten and race riots subsequently broke out across the country with hundreds injured and 20 people killed. Back when a boxing champion was the beau ideal of masculinity, it was simply unacceptable to have a black Mr. Man.

Ghosts in the House

Sixty years later, when boxing legend Muhammad Ali returned to the ring (after he had been stripped of his championship title for refusing to be drafted into the Army in a protest against the Vietnam War), he said he had drawn strength from Johnson standing up to his persecutors. Visiting with Ali in those days, I remember him watching old films of Johnson on a bed sheet hung in the living room of his training camp quarters. He kept pointing at Johnson and yelling, “He’s the ghost in the house, the ghost in the house!”

Between Johnson and Ali, what I once termed SportsWorld produced plenty of ghosts — star athletes who were punished for exhibiting a free man’s outspokenness in the confines of what filmmaker Ken Burns, in his documentary on Johnson, called “unforgiveable blackness.” Brooklyn Dodgers second baseman Jackie Robinson, now a saint for breaking baseball’s color barrier, was subjected to pressures that probably led to his fatal heart attack at 53; Ali lost the prime of his boxing career and never made Jordan-style money; sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos were thrown off the Olympic team and marginalized for raising their fists in protest against racism at the 1968 Mexico City games. NBA basketball stars Bill Russell and Kareem Abdul Jabbar were treated coldly for their starchy sense of independence and baseball All-Star centerfielder Curt Flood’s career went into the tank after he unsuccessfully challenged baseball’s former restrictive reserve clause that kept players tethered to the teams holding their contracts.

Each of those lives also represented a grim lesson learned by the generations of black athletes who followed them. You can be forgiven for violence (especially against women) and even greed (if it isn’t at the expense of club owners), but you can’t challenge the establishment. As Harry Edwards, the sociologist who advised Smith and Carlos before their Olympic demonstration, once told me, white fans prefer the “grinners” when choosing their favorite black athletes, the ones who allow them to feel good about their fandom.

Not coincidentally, it was Edwards, in his role as an official guidance counselor for the San Francisco 49ers, who advised Colin Kaepernick in his brilliant and apparently career-ending refusal to stand for the anthem.

Again, the empire struck back, as it had 48 years earlier against Smith and Carlos. Without either official acknowledgement or explanation, club owners have simply denied Kaepernick, a skilled quarterback in his prime, a chance to work. In that group decision, the arrogance of the National Football League seemed modeled on the Olympic Committee’s. The severity of the response was also an updated affirmation that, in SportsWorld, star athletes are never to repudiate the values of the establishment, that independence will be quashed.

The Heritage

Sportswriter Howard Bryant, author of The Heritage: Black Athletes, A Divided America, and the Politics of Patriotism, traces the recent rise of black activism to a post-9/11 transformation of sports events into celebrations of the military and the police even as African Americans were victimized in America. In an interview with Dave Zirin, Bryant said:

“And now we have black players being turned against their own country by the White House and by the people who own the teams, and it is deliberate. It’s deliberate and it’s designed to demonize not only the black athlete, but the black concern over police brutality: to turn fighting police brutality into being un-American. It has essentially turned the American flag into a symbol of whiteness and turned the players who are protesting police brutality into symbols of anti-Americanism, which could not be further from the truth.”

Zirin himself co-authored Things That Make White People Uncomfortable with star Seattle Seahawks defensive lineman Michael Bennett, who decided last year not to stand for the anthem “to honor the founding principles of this country.” That was soon after the alt-right, neo-Nazi violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, that the president did anything but condemn. In response, Bennett wrote: “I can’t hide behind the glamour and glitz of football and fame. The reality is that I’m a Black man in America and I am going to be a Black man in America long after I’m out of this league.”

While no one can doubt the physical courage that NFL players are paid to display in game after game at the risk of disability and early death, moral courage is another matter. Once you get beyond figures like Kaepernick, his 49ers teammate Eric Reid (who has also been shunned by the NFL), Bennett, Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins, and — a true rarity in these years — his white teammate defensive end Chris Long, things thin out relatively quickly.

Those pro football players who want to protest without necessarily meeting Kaepernidk’s end will be challenged further in the coming season by new league rules. In a clear concession to Trump and the preponderance of owners who backed him, the NFL decided several months ago that players must stand for the national anthem or be subject to fines. Alternatively, they may remain out of sight in the locker room until the anthem is over, which, of course, is just another way of shutting them up (or down).

For a variety of reasons, despite the president’s focus on them, National Football League players are not in the same progressive league as their basketball equivalents, although the NFL and the NBA are both about 70% black. Basketball superstars like LeBron, Curry, and Carmelo Anthony, as well as white coaches Gregg Popovich and Steve Kerr have spoken out strongly against Trump and racial inequality. Oscar Robertson, now 79, an all-time NBA star and activist, has, for instance, wondered out loud just where the white allies of the protesting black football players might be.

“They don’t fully understand the issues yet,” said Meggysey, now 76, in a phone interview. He became an official of the NFL players union long after his football days ended and now he concludes, “For all the talk of color-blind team brotherhood and shared goals, the racialism that black players live with every day is simply not shared by whites. It would be great if a Tom Brady, an Aaron Rodgers had the balls to step forward. Thank God for Colin. Every so often a hero comes forward. Ali, Smith and Carlos, Billie Jean King. You can only hope their message is delivered.”

Then he laughed and added, “You know, this new rule about staying in the locker-room during the anthem, it doesn’t say for how long or when you have to come out. If they could just all get together and delay the TV broadcast of the game for ten or fifteen minutes, cost millions in commercials, who knows. Maybe that’s something the owners and Trump would understand.”

They would also understand that a wider resistance among young men who posture as warriors but too often act like the serfs of the owners, coaches, and even doctors who use them as avatars of their own macho dreams of power could make common cause with those in the grandstands. Sports fans, seeing activist athletes finally standing up as the multi-colored brotherhood they are supposed to be, might figure out which side they are really on.


Secrecy News

From the FAS Project on Government Secrecy

Volume 2018, Issue No. 44

July 12, 2018


Today’s national security classification system is unsustainable, says a new annual report to the President from the government’s Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO). It is “hamstrung by old practices and outdated technology” and a new, government-wide technology strategy will be required “to combat inaccurate classification and promote more timely declassification.”

The secrecy system has expanded to the point that it is effectively unmanageable and often counterproductive, ISOO indicated.

“Too much classification impedes the proper sharing of information necessary to respond to security threats, while too little declassification undermines the trust of the American people in their Government. Reforms will require adopting strategies that increase the precision and decrease the permissiveness of security classification decisions, improve the efficiency and effectiveness of declassification programs, and use modern technology in security classification programs across the Government,” the report said.

“We are at a crossroads” wrote ISOO director Mark Bradley in a May 31 letter to the President transmitting the report, which was made public today.

ISOO’s sense of urgency is reflected in the annual report itself, which strives to be more forward leaning and policy-relevant than many past ISOO reports. It goes beyond the recitation of (often questionable) statistics on classification activity to present a series of findings and recommended actions that it says are needed to restore the integrity of the system.

In addition to a call for development of a comprehensive new technology strategy for classification and declassification, ISOO specifically recommends adding a new budget line item for security classification in agency budget requests to help regulate and justify expenditures, and adding a public member to the Information Security Classification Appeals Panel to represent the broad public interest in that Panel’s work on declassification.

Some of the other recommendations in the report flag problem areas rather than advance solutions, and tend to do so in the passive voice: “Policies must be revised to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of automatic declassification.” How exactly should the policies be revised? Adopt a “drop-dead date” for classification? Eliminate agency referrals for older documents? Grant broad declassification authority to the National Declassification Center? The report doesn’t say.

Much of the data traditionally reported by ISOO regarding classification activity is suggestive but not truly informative. Just as one cannot judge the overall health of the economy from stock market averages, changes in the volume of classification activity say nothing about its quality or legitimacy. In 2017, ISOO found that original classification activity (production of new secrets) increased for the first time in four years. At the same time, derivative classification decreased. The significance of these developments, if any, is unclear.

But other ISOO findings in the new report are more interesting.

ISOO said that last year there were again hundreds of classification challenges presented by government employees who disputed the classification of particular items of information. Most of the challenges were denied, but in 8% of the cases (a small but non-negligible number) they were upheld and the classifications in question were overturned. Such classification challenges “serve a critical role by uncovering information improperly classified in the first instance,” the ISOO report said, providing “an internal check on the system.” Because the challenges are now mostly localized in just a few agencies, this practice has the potential to have far more impact in combating overclassification if it can be adopted and encouraged more widely across the executive branch.

The ISOO report summarized the results of the latest Fundamental Classification Guidance Review, which led to the cancellation of 221 security classification guides (out of 2,865 guides). The cancelled guides will no longer be available for use in classifying information.

ISOO also cast a favorable spotlight on the new approach to classification led by the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. NGA now requires written justifications for original classification decisions, along with a description of the damage that would result from unauthorized disclosure, and an unclassified paraphrase of the classified information. The resulting NGA classification guidance currently represents a “best practice” in classification policy, ISOO said. That is to say, it represents a model that could constructively be applied elsewhere in agencies that classify national security information.

The ISOO report also addressed escalating classification costs (which reached a new high in 2017), growing backlogs of mandatory declassification review requests, and the contentious implementation of Controlled Unclassified Information policy, among other topics.

Fixing the classification system is a slow and uncertain process, and some people don’t want to wait.

Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.) introduced legislation this week to accelerate the release of records concerning unsolved criminal civil rights cases from half a century ago. Some of those records, in his estimation, “remain classified unnecessarily.” So his bill (S. 3191) would work around that classification obstacle with an alternative approach. Modeled in part on the JFK Assassination Records Act of 1992, the bill would empower a panel of private citizens to review and decide on disclosure of the records.

Meanwhile, the Department of Defense recently issued a “request for information” about technology that could aid in the classification process. The desired technology “must be able to make real-time decisions about the classification level of the information and an individual’s ability to access, change, delete, receive or forward the information.” (FBO, NextGov, ArsTechnica)


What is the role of ethics in intelligence and at the CIA in particular?

“Some former employees and others with experience at the agency have been critical of CIA’s ethics program as focusing too much on legal compliance in a reactive, ad hoc manner that falls short of a comprehensive approach to ethics education at the CIA,” the Congressional Research Service said in a recent discussion of the topic.

But “Others are skeptical of introducing training on morality into what is often viewed as the inherently amoral environment of covert action or clandestine foreign intelligence.” See CIA Ethics Education: Background and Perspectives, CRS In Focus, June 11, 2018.

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

United States Special Operations Command Acquisition Authorities, July 9, 2018

Defense Acquisitions: How and Where DOD Spends Its Contracting Dollars, updated July 2, 2018

Mexico: Organized Crime and Drug Trafficking Organizations, updated July 3, 2018

China-U.S. Trade Issues, updated July 6, 2018

Navy Force Structure and Shipbuilding Plans: Background and Issues for Congress, July 6, 2018

The Army’s Modular Handgun Procurement, CRS In Focus, June 19, 2018

President Trump Nominates Judge Brett Kavanaugh: Initial Observations, CRS Legal Sidebar, July 10, 2018

Who Interprets Foreign Law in U.S. Federal Courts?, CRS Legal Sidebar, July 9, 2018

The Designation of Election Systems as Critical Infrastructure, CRS In Focus, July 6, 2018

Section 232 Investigations: Overview and Issues for Congress, July 5, 2018

The Congressional Review Act: Determining Which “Rules” Must Be Submitted to Congress, July 5, 2018

Federal Quantum Information Science: An Overview, CRS In Focus, July 2, 2018


Rising ocean waters from global warming could cost trillions of dollars

We’ll need to mitigate and adapt to global warming to avoid massive costs from sea level rise

July 12, 2018

by John Abraham

The Guardian

Ocean waters are rising because of global warming. They are rising for two reasons. First, and perhaps most obvious, ice is melting. There is a tremendous amount of ice locked away in Greenland, Antarctica, and in glaciers. As the world warms, that ice melts and the liquid water flows to the oceans.

The other reason why water is rising is that warmer water is less dense – it expands. This expansion causes the surface of the water to rise.

Rising oceans are a big deal. About 150 million people live within 1 meter (3 feet) of sea level. About 600 million live within 10 meters (33 feet) of sea level. As waters rise, these people will have to go somewhere.

It is inevitable that climate refugees will have to move their homes and workplaces because of rising waters.

In some places, humans will be able to build sea walls to block off the water’s rise. But, in many places, that won’t be possible. For instance, Miami, Florida has a porous base rock that allows sea water to permeate through the soils. You cannot wall that off. In other places, any sea walls would be prohibitively expensive.

It isn’t just the inevitable march of sea level that is an issue. Rising waters make storm surges worse. A great example is Superstorm Sandy, which hit the US East Coast in 2012. It cost approximately $65 bn of damage. The cost was higher because of sea level rise caused by global warming.

Climate scientists do their best to project how much and how fast oceans will rise in the future. These projections help city planners prepare future infrastructure. My estimation is that oceans will be approximately 1 meter higher in the year 2100; that is what our infrastructure should be prepared for. What I don’t know is how much this will cost us as a society.

A very recent paper was published that looked into this issue. The authors analyzed the cost of sea level if we limit the Earth to 1.5°C or 2°C warming. They also considered the future cost using “business as usual” scenarios.

What the authors found was fascinating. If humans take action to limit warming to 1.5°C, they estimate sea level will rise 52 cm by the year 2100. If humans hold global warming to 2°C, sea levels will rise by perhaps 63 cm by 2100.

The difference (11 cm) could cost $1.4 tn per year if no other societal adaptation is made. This is a staggering number and in itself, should motivate us to take action.

But the authors went further, they considered an even higher future temperature scenario (one that is essentially business as usual). With that future, global annual flood costs would increase to a whopping $14 tn per year.

In the study, the authors considered which countries and regions would suffer most. It turns out upper middle income countries will be worse off, particularly China. Higher-income countries have a slightly better prognosis because of their present flood protection standards. But make no mistake about it, we will all suffer and the suffering will be very costly.

There are four important takeaways from this study.

 First, while the economic costs are large, there is some range of projections. The actual costs may be lower or higher than the median predicted in the study. This is largely due to the fact that we don’t know how fast Greenland and Antarctica will melt. If they melt faster than projected, things will be worse than what I’ve described here.

Second, adaptation will help. By adaptation I mean making our societies less susceptible to sea level rise. For example, building sea walls when possible, building new infrastructure away from coasts, putting in natural breaks to limit storm surge during large storms, and making infrastructure more water-resistant.

Third, what we do now matters. If we can get off the high-emissions business as usual scenarios – if we can increase investment in clean and renewable energy – we can reduce the future costs.

Finally, while scientists often use 2100 as a benchmark year, it isn’t like oceans will stop rising then. In fact, we are committing ourselves to hundreds of years of rising oceans. The ocean has a lot of climate inertia. Once it starts rising, you cannot stop it. So, by focusing only on the year 2100, we are deluding ourselves into underestimating the long term costs.

This research shows it’s important to connect climate science with economic science. Too often, social scientists and economists with very little climate science understanding have tried to tell us that climate change is not a problem. Whenever you hear an economist or a social scientist give you a rosy future prediction, take it with a grain of salt. Their opinion is worthless without being backed by physical understanding. And the loudest economists and social scientists often have very little of this physical understanding.



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