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TBR News July 17, 2018

Jul 17 2018

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

Washington, D.C. July 17, 2018:” The highly entertaining hysteria about the Trump/Putin meeting beats watching Hillary Clinton drowing in a septic tank any day.

The far right, personified by the Neo-Cons, the gun-loving and pot-bellied Farmer Johns, personified by the NRA, the shrinking number of believers in a fictional Jesus and his imminent return, personified by the Pat Robertson Institute, are shrieking with rage at what they claim is a betrayal by a Trump they hoped would carry America in all its tattered glory back to the Middle Ages.

And in order to justify the enormous amounts of tax-payer’s dollars needed for the maintenance of a huge military establishment, it is necessary to have an enemy to justify the lootings.

Japan, Germany and later, Russia were once such perceived enemies but the current Russian state clearly has no intentions of invading Poland, Norway or Seattle.

Any repudiation of the media-hyped purported enemy, in this case Vladimir Putin’s Russia, means a loss of money and influence for the American economic and political oligarchy, hence the howls of animal rage from those who seek to profit by a manufactured need to defend against a non-existent enemy.

Why not invent a new enemy?

Perhaps ‘Militant Invading Polar Bears’?

They could be accused of invading Alaska and eating virgins.

Then the military could demand, and get, Congressional approval for Anti-Bear guns at $2,000,000 per item, the US Army could also demand that Canada allow it to set up billion dollar anti-Bear bases in the northern reaches of that country, and the DHS could get more Congressional approval to shoot small children carrying stuffed bears.

Then the America official media could assure the taxpayers that great progress was being made to stem the Polar Bear Invasion if only whatever political party is in power be allowed to continue to Protect America from Her Vicious, Satanic (read non-Christian here) Enemies.”

 

 

The Table of Contents

  • Trump Calls Off Cold War II
  • In Taking Crimea, Putin Gains a Sea of Fuel Reserves
  • National (In)Security
  • Transcript of Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin’s joint press conference
  • Trump beholden to Putin? Summit does nothing to dispel impression
  • Trump-Putin summit was a troubling media circus
  • ‘Traitor, appeaser’: Era of Twitter’s hysterical ‘hot-take’ comes of age after Putin-Trump summit
  • Commandos Sans Frontières

 

 

Trump Calls Off Cold War II

July 17, 2018

by Patrick J. Buchanan

AntiWar

Beginning his joint press conference with Vladimir Putin, President Trump declared that U.S. relations with Russia have “never been worse.”

He then added pointedly, that just changed “about four hours ago.”

It certainly did. With his remarks in Helsinki and at the NATO summit in Brussels, Trump has signaled a historic shift in U.S. foreign policy that may determine the future of this nation and the fate of his presidency.

He has rejected the fundamental premises of American foreign policy since the end of the Cold War and blamed our wretched relations with Russia, not on Vladimir Putin, but squarely on the U.S. establishment.

In a tweet prior to the meeting, Trump indicted the elites of both parties: “Our relationship with Russia has NEVER been worse thanks to many years of U.S. foolishness and stupidity and now, the Rigged Witch Hunt!”

Trump thereby repudiated the records and agendas of the neocons and their liberal interventionist allies, as well as the archipelago of War Party think tanks beavering away inside the Beltway.

Looking back over the week, from Brussels to Britain to Helsinki, Trump’s message has been clear, consistent and startling.

NATO is obsolete. European allies have freeloaded off U.S. defense while rolling up huge trade surpluses at our expense. Those days are over. Europeans are going to stop stealing our markets and start paying for their own defense.

And there will be no Cold War II.

We are not going to let Putin’s annexation of Crimea or aid to pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine prevent us from working on a rapprochement and a partnership with him, Trump is saying. We are going to negotiate arms treaties and talk out our differences as Ronald Reagan did with Mikhail Gorbachev.

Helsinki showed that Trump meant what he said when he declared repeatedly, “Peace with Russia is a good thing, not a bad thing.”

On Syria, Trump indicated that he and Putin are working with Bibi Netanyahu, who wants all Iranian forces and Iran-backed militias kept far from the Golan Heights. As for U.S. troops in Syria, says Trump, they will be coming out after ISIS is crushed, and we are 98 percent there.

That is another underlying message here: America is coming home from foreign wars and will be shedding foreign commitments.

Both before and after the Trump-Putin meeting, the cable news coverage was as hostile and hateful toward the president as any this writer has ever seen. The media may not be the “enemy of the people” Trump says they are, but many are implacable enemies of this president.

Some wanted Trump to emulate Nikita Khrushchev, who blew up the Paris summit in May 1960 over a failed U.S. intelligence operation – the U-2 spy plane shot down over the Urals just weeks earlier.

Khrushchev had demanded that Ike apologize. Ike refused, and Khrushchev exploded. Some media seemed to be hoping for just such a confrontation.

When Trump spoke of the “foolishness and stupidity” of the U.S. foreign policy establishment that contributed to this era of animosity in U.S.-Russia relations, what might he have had in mind?

Was it the U.S. provocatively moving NATO into Russia’s front yard after the collapse of the USSR?

Was it the U.S. invasion of Iraq to strip Saddam Hussein of weapons of mass destruction he did not have that plunged us into endless wars of the Middle East?

Was it U.S. support of Syrian rebels determined to oust Bashar Assad, leading to ISIS intervention and a seven-year civil war with half a million dead, a war which Putin eventually entered to save his Syrian ally?

Was it George W. Bush’s abrogation of Richard Nixon’s ABM treaty and drive for a missile defense that caused Putin to break out of the Reagan INF treaty and start deploying cruise missiles to counter it?

Was it U.S. complicity in the Kiev coup that ousted the elected pro-Russian regime that caused Putin to seize Crimea to hold onto Russia’s Black Sea naval base at Sevastopol?

Many Putin actions we condemn were reactions to what we did.

Russia annexed Crimea bloodlessly. But did not the U.S. bomb Serbia for 78 days to force Belgrade to surrender her cradle province of Kosovo?

How was that more moral than what Putin did in Crimea?

If Russian military intelligence hacked into the emails of the DNC, exposing how they stuck it to Bernie Sanders, Trump says he did not collude in it. Is there, after two years, any proof that he did?

Trump insists Russian meddling had no effect on the outcome in 2016 and he is not going to allow media obsession with Russiagate to interfere with establishing better relations.

Former CIA Director John Brennan rages that, “Donald Trump’s press conference performance in Helsinki … was … treasonous. … He is wholly in the pocket of Putin. Republican Patriots: Where are you???”

Well, as Patrick Henry said long ago, “If this be treason, make the most of it!”

 

 

In Taking Crimea, Putin Gains a Sea of Fuel Reserves

May 17, 2014

by William J. Broad

New York Times

When Russia seized Crimea in March, it acquired not just the Crimean landmass but also a maritime zone more than three times its size with the rights to underwater resources potentially worth trillions of dollars.

Russia portrayed the takeover as reclamation of its rightful territory, drawing no attention to the oil and gas rush that had recently been heating up in the Black Sea. But the move also extended Russia’s maritime boundaries, quietly giving Russia dominion over vast oil and gas reserves while dealing a crippling blow to Ukraine’s hopes for energy independence.

Russia did so under an international accord that gives nations sovereignty over areas up to 230 miles from their shorelines. It had tried, unsuccessfully, to gain access to energy resources in the same territory in a pact with Ukraine less than two years earlier.

“It’s a big deal,” said Carol R. Saivetz, a Eurasian expert in the Security Studies Program of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “It deprives Ukraine of the possibility of developing these resources and gives them to Russia. It makes Ukraine more vulnerable to Russian pressure.”

Gilles Lericolais, the director of European and international affairs at France’s state oceanographic group, called Russia’s annexation of Crimea “so obvious” as a play for offshore riches.

In Moscow, a spokesman for President Vladimir V. Putin said there was “no connection” between the annexation and energy resources, adding that Russia did not even care about the oil and gas. “Compared to all the potential Russia has got, there was no interest there,” the spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said Saturday.

Exxon Mobil, Royal Dutch Shell and other major oil companies have already explored the Black Sea, and some petroleum analysts say its potential may rival that of the North Sea. That rush, which began in the 1970s, lifted the economies of Britain, Norway and other European countries.

William B. F. Ryan, a marine geologist at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University, said Russia’s Black Sea acquisition gave it what are potentially “the best” of that body’s deep oil reserves.

Oil analysts said that mounting economic sanctions could slow Russia’s exploitation of its Black and Azov Sea annexations by reducing access to Western financing and technology. But they noted that Russia had already taken over the Crimean arm of Ukraine’s national gas company, instantly giving Russia exploratory gear on the Black Sea.

“Russia’s in a mood to behave aggressively,” said Vladimir Socor, a senior fellow at the Jamestown Foundation, a research group in Washington that follows Eurasian affairs. “It’s already seized two drilling rigs.”

The global hunt for fossil fuels has increasingly gone offshore, to places like the Atlantic Ocean off Brazil, the Gulf of Mexico and the South China Sea. Hundreds of oil rigs dot the Caspian, a few hundred miles east of the Black Sea.

Nations divide up the world’s potentially lucrative waters according to guidelines set forth by the 1982 Law of the Sea Treaty. The agreement lets coastal nations claim what are known as exclusive economic zones that can extend up to 200 nautical miles (or 230 statute miles) from their shores. Inside these zones, countries can explore, exploit, conserve and manage deep natural resources, living and nonliving.

The countries with shores along the Black Sea have long seen its floor as a potential energy source, mainly because of modest oil successes in shallow waters.

Just over two years ago, the prospects for huge payoffs soared when a giant ship drilling through deep bedrock off Romania found a large gas field in waters more than half a mile deep.

Russia moved fast.

In April 2012, Mr. Putin, then Russia’s prime minister, presided over the signing of an accord with Eni, the Italian energy giant, to explore Russia’s economic zone in the northeastern Black Sea. Dr. Ryan of Columbia estimated that the size of the zone before the Crimean annexation was roughly 26,000 square miles, about the size of Lithuania.

“I want to assure you that the Russian government will do everything to support projects of this kind,” Mr. Putin said at the signing, according to Russia’s Interfax news agency.

A month later, oil exploration specialists at a European petroleum conference made a lengthy presentation, the title of which asked: “Is the Black Sea the Next North Sea?” The paper cited geological studies that judged the waters off Ukraine as having “tremendous exploration potential” but saw the Russian zone as less attractive.

In August 2012, Ukraine announced an accord with an Exxon-led group to extract oil and gas from the depths of Ukraine’s Black Sea waters. The Exxon team had outbid Lukoil, a Russian company. Ukraine’s state geology bureau said development of the field would cost up to $12 billion.

“The Black Sea Hots Up,” read a 2013 headline in GEO ExPro, an industry magazine published in Britain. “Elevated levels of activity have become apparent throughout the Black Sea region,” the article said, “particularly in deepwater.”

When Russia seized the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine on March 18, it issued a treaty of annexation between the newly declared Republic of Crimea and the Russian Federation. Buried in the document — in Article 4, Section 3 — a single bland sentence said international law would govern the drawing of boundaries through the adjacent Black and Azov Seas.

Dr. Ryan estimates that the newly claimed maritime zone around Crimea added about 36,000 square miles to Russia’s existing holdings. The addition is more than three times the size of the Crimean landmass, and about the size of Maine.

At the time, few observers noted Russia’s annexation of Crimea in those terms. An exception was Romania, whose Black Sea zone had been adjacent to Ukraine’s before Russia stepped in.

“Romania and Russia will be neighbors,” Romania Libera, a newspaper in Bucharest, observed on March 24. The article’s headline said the new maritime border could become a “potential source of conflict.”

Many nations have challenged Russia’s seizing of Crimea and thus the legality of its Black and Azov Sea claims. But the Romanian newspaper quoted analysts as judging that the other countries bordering the Black Sea — Georgia, Turkey, Bulgaria and Romania — would tacitly recognize the annexation “in order to avoid an open conflict.”

Most immediately, analysts say, Russia’s seizing may alter the route along which the South Stream pipeline would be built, saving Russia money, time and engineering challenges. The planned pipeline, meant to run through the deepest parts of the Black Sea, is to pump Russian gas to Europe.

Originally, to avoid Ukraine’s maritime zone, Russia drew the route for the costly pipeline in a circuitous jog southward through Turkey’s waters. But now it can take a far more direct path through its newly acquired Black Sea territory, if the project moves forward. The Ukraine crisis has thrown its future into doubt.

As for oil extraction in the newly claimed maritime zones, companies say their old deals with Ukraine are in limbo, and analysts say new contracts are unlikely to be signed anytime soon, given the continuing turmoil in the region and the United States’ efforts to ratchet up pressure on Russia.

“There are huge issues at stake,” noted Dr. Saivetz of M.I.T. “I can’t see them jumping into new deals right now.”

The United States is using its wherewithal to block Russian moves in the maritime zones. Last month, it imposed trade restrictions on Chernomorneftegaz, the breakaway Crimean arm of Ukraine’s national gas company.

Eric L. Hirschhorn, the United States under secretary of commerce for industry and security, said sanctions against the Crimean business would send “a strong message” of condemnation for Russia’s “incursion into Ukraine and expropriation of Ukrainian assets.”

Alexandra Odynova contributed reporting from Moscow

 

National (In)Security

In the United States of Inequality

July 16, 2018

by Rajan Menon

Tom Dispatch

So effectively has the Beltway establishment captured the concept of national security that, for most of us, it automatically conjures up images of terrorist groups, cyber warriors, or “rogue states.”  To ward off such foes, the United States maintains a historically unprecedented constellation of military bases abroad and, since 9/11, has waged wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, and elsewhere that have gobbled up nearly $4.8 trillion.  The 2018 Pentagon budget already totals $647 billion — four times what China, second in global military spending, shells out and more than the next 12 countries combined, seven of them American allies.   For good measure, Donald Trump has added an additional $200 billion to projected defense expenditures through 2019.

Yet to hear the hawks tell it, the United States has never been less secure.  So much for bang for the buck.

For millions of Americans, however, the greatest threat to their day-to-day security isn’t terrorism or North Korea, Iran, Russia, or China.  It’s internal — and economic.  That’s particularly true for the 12.7% of Americans (43.1 million of them) classified as poor by the government’s criteria: an income below $12,140 for a one-person household, $16,460 for a family of two, and so on… until you get to the princely sum of $42,380 for a family of eight.

Savings aren’t much help either: a third of Americans have no savings at all and another third have less than $1,000 in the bank.  Little wonder that families struggling to cover the cost of food alone increased from 11% (36 million) in 2007 to 14% (48 million) in 2014.

The Working Poor

Unemployment can certainly contribute to being poor, but millions of Americans endure poverty when they have full-time jobs or even hold down more than one job.  The latest figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that there are 8.6 million “working poor,” defined by the government as people who live below the poverty line despite being employed at least 27 weeks a year.  Their economic insecurity doesn’t register in our society, partly because working and being poor don’t seem to go together in the minds of many Americans — and unemployment has fallen reasonably steadily.  After approaching 10% in 2009, it’s now at only 4%.

Help from the government?  Bill Clinton’s 1996 welfare “reform” program, concocted in partnership with congressional Republicans, imposed time limits on government assistance, while tightening eligibility criteria for it. So, as Kathryn Edin and Luke Shaefer show in their disturbing book, $2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America, many who desperately need help don’t even bother to apply.  And things will only get worse in the age of Trump.  His 2019 budget includes deep cuts in a raft of anti-poverty programs.

Anyone seeking a visceral sense of the hardships such Americans endure should read Barbara Ehrenreich’s 2001 book Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America.  It’s a gripping account of what she learned when, posing as a “homemaker” with no special skills, she worked for two years in various low-wage jobs, relying solely on her earnings to support herself.  The book brims with stories about people who had jobs but, out of necessity, slept in rent-by-the-week fleabag motels, flophouses, or even in their cars, subsisting on vending machine snacks for lunch, hot dogs and instant noodles for dinner, and forgoing basic dental care or health checkups.  Those who managed to get permanent housing would choose poor, low-rent neighborhoods close to work because they often couldn’t afford a car.  To maintain even such a barebones lifestyle, many worked more than one job.

Though politicians prattle on about how times have changed for the better, Ehrenreich’s book still provides a remarkably accurate picture of America’s working poor.  Over the past decade the proportion of people who exhausted their monthly paychecks just to pay for life’s essentials actually increased from 31% to 38%.  In 2013, 71% of the families that had children and used food pantries run by Feeding America, the largest private organization helping the hungry, included at least one person who had worked during the previous year.  And in America’s big cities, chiefly because of a widening gap between rent and wages, thousands of working poor remain homeless, sleeping in shelters, on the streets, or in their vehicles, sometimes along with their families.  In New York City, no outlier when it comes to homelessness among the working poor, in a third of the families with children that use homeless shelters at least one adult held a job.

The Wages of Poverty

The working poor cluster in certain occupations.  They are salespeople in retail stores, servers or preparers of fast food, custodial staff, hotel workers, and caregivers for children or the elderly.  Many make less than $10 an hour and lack any leverage, union or otherwise, to press for raises.  In fact, the percentage of unionized workers in such jobs remains in the single digits — and in retail and food preparation, it’s under 4.5%.  That’s hardly surprising, given that private sector union membership has fallen by 50% since 1983 to only 6.7% of the workforce.

Low-wage employers like it that way and — Walmart being the poster child for this — work diligently to make it ever harder for employees to join unions.  As a result, they rarely find themselves under any real pressure to increase wages, which, adjusted for inflation, have stood still or even decreased since the late 1970s. When employment is “at-will,” workers may be fired or the terms of their work amended on the whim of a company and without the slightest explanation. Walmart announced this year that it would hike its hourly wage to $11 and that’s welcome news.  But this had nothing to do with collective bargaining; it was a response to the drop in the unemployment rate, cash flows from the Trump tax cut for corporations (which saved Walmart as much as $2 billion), an increase in minimum wages in a number of states, and pay increases by an arch competitor, Target.  It was also accompanied by the shutdown of 63 of Walmart’s Sam’s Club stores, which meant layoffs for 10,000 workers.  In short, the balance of power almost always favors the employer, seldom the employee.

As a result, though the United States has a per-capita income of $59,500 and is among the wealthiest countries in the world, 12.7% of Americans (that’s 43.1 million people), officially are impoverished. And that’s generally considered a significant undercount.  The Census Bureau establishes the poverty rate by figuring out an annual no-frills family food budget, multiplying it by three, adjusting it for household size, and pegging it to the Consumer Price Index.  That, many economists believe, is a woefully inadequate way of estimating poverty.  Food prices haven’t risen dramatically over the past 20 years, but the cost of other necessities like medical care (especially if you lack insurance) and housing have: 10.5% and 11.8% respectively between 2013 and 2017 compared to an only 5.5% increase for food.

Include housing and medical expenses in the equation and you get the Supplementary Poverty Measure (SPM), published by the Census Bureau since 2011.  It reveals that a larger number of Americans are poor: 14% or 45 million in 2016.

Dismal Data

For a fuller picture of American (in)security, however, it’s necessary to delve deeper into the relevant data, starting with hourly wages, which are the way more than 58% of adult workers are paid.  The good news: only 1.8 million, or 2.3% of them, subsist at or below minimum wage.  The not-so-good news: one-third of all workers earn less than $12 an hour and 42% earn less than $15.  That’s $24,960 and $31,200 a year. Imagine raising a family on such incomes, figuring in the cost of food, rent, childcare, car payments (since a car is often a necessity simply to get to a job in a country with inadequate public transportation), and medical costs.

The problem facing the working poor isn’t just low wages, but the widening gap between wages and rising prices.  The government has increased the hourly federal minimum wage more than 20 times since it was set at 25 cents under the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act.  Between 2007 and 2009 it rose to $7.25, but over the past decade that sum lost nearly 10% of its purchasing power to inflation, which means that, in 2018, someone would have to work 41 additional days to make the equivalent of the 2009 minimum wage.

Workers in the lowest 20% have lost the most ground, their inflation-adjusted wages falling by nearly 1% between 1979 and 2016, compared to a 24.7% increase for the top 20%.  This can’t be explained by lackluster productivity since, between 1985 and 2015, it outstripped pay raises, often substantially, in every economic sector except mining.

Yes, states can mandate higher minimum wages and 29 have, but 21 have not, leaving many low-wage workers struggling to cover the costs of two essentials in particular: health care and housing.

Even when it comes to jobs that offer health insurance, employers have been shifting ever more of its cost onto their workers through higher deductibles and out-of-pocket expenses, as well as by requiring them to cover more of the premiums.  The percentage of workers who paid at least 10% of their earnings to cover such costs — not counting premiums — doubled between 2003 and 2014.

This helps explain why, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 11% of workers in the bottom 10% of wage earners even enrolled in workplace healthcare plans in 2016 (compared to 72% in the top 10%). As a restaurant server who makes $2.13 an hour before tips — and whose husband earns $9 an hour at Walmart — put it, after paying the rent, “it’s either put food in the house or buy insurance.”

The Affordable Care Act, or ACA (aka Obamacare), provided subsidies to help people with low incomes cover the cost of insurance premiums, but workers with employer-supplied healthcare, no matter how low their wages, weren’t covered by it.  Now, of course, President Trump, congressional Republicans, and a Supreme Court in which right-wing justices are going to be even more influential will be intent on poleaxing the ACA.

It’s housing, though, that takes the biggest bite out of the paychecks of low-wage workers.  The majority of them are renters.  Ownership remains for many a pipe dream.  According to a Harvard study, between 2001 and 2016, renters who made $30,000-$50,000 a year and paid more than a third of their earnings to landlords (the threshold for qualifying as “rent burdened”) increased from 37% to 50%.  For those making only $15,000, that figure rose to 83%.

In other words, in an ever more unequal America, the number of low-income workers struggling to pay their rent has surged.  As the Harvard analysis shows, this is, in part, because the number of affluent renters (with incomes of $100,000 or more) has leapt and, in city after city, they’re driving the demand for, and building of, new rental units.  As a result, the high-end share of new rental construction soared from a third to nearly two-thirds of all units between 2001 and 2016.  Not surprisingly, new low-income rental units dropped from two-fifths to one-fifth of the total and, as the pressure on renters rose, so did rents for even those modest dwellings. On top of that, in places like New York City, where demand from the wealthy shapes the housing market, landlords have found ways — some within the law, others not — to get rid of low-income tenants.

Public housing and housing vouchers are supposed to make housing affordable to low-income households, but the supply of public housing hasn’t remotely matched demand. Consequently, waiting lists are long and people in need languish for years before getting a shot — if they ever do.  Only a quarter of those who qualify for such assistance receive it.  As for those vouchers, getting them is hard to begin with because of the massive mismatch between available funding for the program and the demand for the help it provides.  And then come the other challenges: finding landlords willing to accept vouchers or rentals that are reasonably close to work and not in neighborhoods euphemistically labelled “distressed.”

The bottom line: more than 75% of “at-risk” renters (those for whom the cost of rent exceeds 30% or more of their earnings) do not receive assistance from the government.  The real “risk” for them is becoming homeless, which means relying on shelters or family and friends willing to take them in.

President Trump’s proposed budget cuts will make life even harder for low-income workers seeking affordable housing.  His 2019 budget proposal slashes $6.8 billion (14.2%) from the resources of the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) by, among other things, scrapping housing vouchers and assistance to low-income families struggling to pay heating bills.  The president also seeks to slash funds for the upkeep of public housing by nearly 50%.  In addition, the deficits that his rich-come-first tax “reform” bill is virtually guaranteed to produce will undoubtedly set the stage for yet more cuts in the future.  In other words, in what’s becoming the United States of Inequality, the very phrases “low-income workers” and “affordable housing” have ceased to go together.

None of this seems to have troubled HUD Secretary Ben Carson who happily ordered a $31,000 dining room set for his office suite at the taxpayers’ expense, even as he visited new public housing units to make sure that they weren’t too comfortable (lest the poor settle in for long stays).  Carson has declared that it’s time to stop believing the problems of this society can be fixed merely by having the government throw extra money at them — unless, apparently, the dining room accoutrements of superbureaucrats aren’t up to snuff.

Money Talks

The levels of poverty and economic inequality that prevail in America are not intrinsic to either capitalism or globalization. Most other wealthy market economies in the 36-nation Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) have done far better than the United States in reducing them without sacrificing innovation or creating government-run economies.

Take the poverty gap, which the OECD defines as the difference between a country’s official poverty line and the average income of those who fall below it.  The United States has the second largest poverty gap among wealthy countries; only Italy does worse.

Child poverty?  In the World Economic Forum’s ranking of 41 countries — from best to worst — the U.S. placed 35th.  Child poverty has declined in the United States since 2010, but a Columbia University report estimates that 19% of American kids (13.7 million) nevertheless lived in families with incomes below the official poverty line in 2016.  If you add in the number of kids in low-income households, that number increases to 41%.

As for infant mortality, according to the government’s own Centers for Disease Control, the U.S., with 6.1 deaths per 1,000 live births, has the absolute worst record among wealthy countries. (Finland and Japan do best with 2.3.)

And when it comes to the distribution of wealth, among the OECD countries only Turkey, Chile, and Mexico do worse than the U.S.

It’s time to rethink the American national security state with its annual trillion-dollar budget.  For tens of millions of Americans, the source of deep workaday insecurity isn’t the standard roster of foreign enemies, but an ever-more entrenched system of inequality, still growing, that stacks the political deck against the least well-off Americans.  They lack the bucks to hire big-time lobbyists.  They can’t write lavish checks to candidates running for public office or fund PACs.  They have no way of manipulating the myriad influence-generating networks that the elite uses to shape taxation and spending policies.  They are up against a system in which money truly does talk — and that’s the voice they don’t have.  Welcome to the United States of Inequality.

 

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Transcript of Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin’s joint press conference

  • The full transcript of President Donald Trump’s news conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
  • Standing side-by-side with Vladimir Putin, US President Donald Trump has refused to blame the Russian leader for meddling in the 2016 elections, casting doubt on the findings of his own intelligence agencies and sparking a storm of criticism at home.

July 17, 2018

News.com.au

This is the full transcript of the joint press conference.

PUTIN: Thank you so much. Shall we start working, I guess? Distinguished Mr. President, ladies and gentlemen. Negotiations with the President of the United States Donald Trump took place in a frank and businesslike atmosphere. I think we can call it a success and a very fruitful round of negotiations. We carefully analysed the current status — the present and the future of the Russia/United States’ relationship — key issues of the global agenda.

It’s quite clear to everyone that the bilateral relationship are going through a complicated stage and yet those impediments — the current tension, the tense atmosphere — essentially have no solid reason behind it. The Cold War is a thing of past. The era of acute ideological confrontation of the two countries is a thing of remote past, is a vestige of the past. The situation in the world changed dramatically.

Today both Russia and the United States face a whole new set of challenges. Those include a dangerous maladjustment of mechanisms for maintaining international security and stability, regional crises, the creeping threats of terrorism and transnational crime, the snowballing problems in the economy, environmental risks and other sets of challenges.

We can only cope with these challenges if we join the ranks and work together, hopefully we will reach this understanding with our American partners.

Today’s negotiations reflected our joint wish, our joint wish with President Trump to redress this negative situation in the bilateral relationship, outline the first steps for improving this relationship to restore the acceptable level of trust and going back to the previous level of interaction on all mutual interests issues.

As major nuclear powers, we bear special responsibility for maintaining international security. It’s vital — and we mentioned this during the negotiations — it’s crucial that we fine-tune the dialogue on strategic stability and global security and nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

We submitted our American colleagues a note with a number of specific suggestions. We believe it necessary to work together further to interact on the disarmament agenda, military and technical co-operation. This includes the extension of the strategic offensive arms limitation treaty. It’s a dangerous situation with the global American antimissile defense system. It’s the implementation issues with the INF treaty. And, of course, the agenda of non-placement of weapons in space.

We favour the continued co-operation in counter-terrorism and maintaining cyber security. And I’d like to point out specifically that our special services are co-operating quite successfully together. The most recent example is their operational co-operation within the recently concluded World Football Cup.

In general, the contacts among the special services should be put to a system-wide basis should be brought to a systemic framework. I reminded President Trump about the suggestion to re-establish the working group on anti-terrorism.

We also mentioned a plethora of regional crises. It’s not always that our postures dovetail exactly, and yet the overlapping and mutual interests abound.

We have to look for points of contact and interact closer in a variety of international fora. Clearly, we mentioned the regional crisis, for instance Syria. As far as Syria is concerned, the task of establishing peace and reconciliation in this country could be the first showcase example of this successful joint work.

Russia and the United States apparently can act proactively and take leadership on this issue and organise the interaction to overcome humanitarian crisis and help Syrian refugees to go back to their homes. In order to accomplish this level of successful co-operation in Syria, we have all the required components.

Let me remind you that both Russian and American military acquired useful experience of co-ordination of their actions, established the operational channels of communication, which permit it to avoid dangerous incidents and unintentional collisions in the air and in the ground. Also crushing terrorists in the south west of Syria. The south of Syria should be brought to the full compliance with the Treaty of 1974 about the separation of forces, about separation of forces of Israel and Syria.

This will bring peace to Golan Heights and bring a more peaceful relationship between Syria and Israel and also to provide security of the state of Israel.

Mr President paid special attention to the issue during today’s negotiations. And I would like to confirm that Russia is interested in this development and this will act accordingly. Thus far, we will make a step toward creating a lasting peace in compliance with the respective resolutions of the Security Council, for instance the resolution 338.

We’re glad that the Korean peninsula issue is starting to resolve. To a great extent it was possible thanks to the personal engagement of President Trump, who opted for dialogue instead of confrontation.

We also mentioned our concern about the withdrawal of the United States from the JCPOA. Well, the U.S., our U.S. counterparts are aware of our posture.

Let me remind you that thanks to the Iranian nuclear deal, Iran became the most controlled country in the world. It submitted to the control of IAEA. It effectively ensures the exclusively peaceful nature of Iranian nuclear program and strengthens the nonproliferation regime.

While we discussed the internal Ukrainian crisis, we paid special attention to the bona fide implementation of Minsk agreements by Kiev.

At the same time, the United States could be more decisive and nudging the Ukrainian leadership and encourage it work actively in this. We paid more attention to economic ties and economic co-operation. It’s clear that both countries, the business of both countries, are interested in this.

American delegation was one of the largest delegations in the St. Petersburg Economic Forum. It featured over 500 representatives from American businesses.

We agreed, and President Trump, we agreed to create the high level working group that would bring together captains of Russian and American business, entrepreneurs and businessmen know better how to articulate this successful business co-operation, will let them think and make their proposals and suggestions in this regard.

Once again, President Trump mentioned the issue of the so-called interference of Russia when the American elections and I had to reiterate things I said several times, including during our personal contacts that the Russian state has never interfered and is not going to interfere in the internal American affairs, including the election process. Any specific material, if such things arise, we are ready to analyse together. For instance, we can analyse them through the joint working group on cyber security, the establishment of which we discussed during our previous contacts.

And clearly, it’s past time we restore our co-operation in the cultural area, in the humanitarian area.

As far as that, I think you know that recently we hosted the American congressmen delegation and now it’s perceived and portrayed almost as a historic event, although it should have been just a current affairs, just business as usual. And in this regard, we mentioned this proposal to the president. We have to think about the practicalities of our co-operation but also about the rationale, the underlying logic of it.

And we have to engage experts on bilateral relationship, who know history and the background of our relationship. The idea is to create an expert council that would include political scientists, prominent diplomats and former military experts in both countries, who would look for points of contact between two countries, that would look for ways on putting the relationship on the trajectory of growth.

In general, we are glad the outcome of our first full-scale meeting because previously we only had a chance to talk briefly on international fora.

We had a good conversation with President Trump and I hope that we start to understand each other better and I’m grateful to Donald for it.

Clearly, there are some challenges left when we were not able to clear all the backlog but I think that we made the first important step in this direction.

And in conclusion, I want to point out that this atmosphere of co-operation is something that we are especially grateful for to our Finnish hosts. We are grateful for Finnish people and Finnish leadership for what they’ve done. I know that we have caused some inconvenience to Finland and we apologise for it.

Thank you for your attention.

TRUMP: Thank you. I have just concluded a meeting with President Putin on a wide range of critical issues for both of our countries.

We had direct, open, deeply productive dialogue. Went very well. Before I begin, I want to thank President Niinisto of Finland for graciously hosting today’s summit.

President Putin and I were saying how lovely it was and what a great job they did. I also want to congratulate Russia and President Putin for having done such an excellent job in hosting the World Cup. It was really one of the best ever and your team also did very well. It was a great job.

I’m here today to continue the proud tradition of bold American diplomacy. From the earliest days of our republic, American leaders have understood that diplomacy and engagement is preferable to conflict and hostility.

A productive dialogue is not only good for the United States and good for Russia but it is good for the world. The disagreements between our two countries are well-known and President Putin and I discussed them at length today.

But if we’re going to solve many of the problems facing our world, then we’re going to have to find ways to co-operate in pursuit of shared interests. Too often in both recent past and long ago, we have seen the consequences when diplomacy is left on the table.

We have also seen the benefits of co-operation. In the last century, our nations fought alongside one another in the Second World War. Even during the tensions of the Cold War, when the world looked much different than it does today, the United States and Russia were able to maintain a strong dialogue.

But our relationship has never been worse than it is now. However, that changed, as of about four hours ago. I really believe that. Nothing would be easier politically than to refuse to meet, to refuse to engage, but that would not accomplish anything.

As president, I cannot make decisions on foreign policy in a futile effort to appease partisan critics, or the media, or Democrats who want to do nothing but resist and obstruct.

Constructive dialogue between the United States and Russia afford the opportunity to open new pathways toward peace and stability in our world. I would rather take a political risk in pursuit of peace than to risk peace in pursuit of politics. As president, I will always put what is best for America and what is best for the American people.

During today’s meeting, I addressed directly with President Putin the issue of Russian interference in our elections. I felt this was a message best delivered in person. I spent a great deal of time talking about it and President Putin may very well want to address it and very strongly, because he feels very strongly about it and he has an interesting idea.

We also discussed one of the most critical challenges facing humanity: nuclear proliferation. I provided an update on my meeting last month with Chairman Kim on the denuclearisation of North Korea and after today, I am very sure that President Putin and Russia want very much to end that problem. Going to work with us and I appreciate that commitment.

The president and I also discussed the scourge of radical Islamic terrorism. Both Russia and the United States have suffered horrific terrorist attacks and we have agreed to maintain open communication between our security agencies to protect our citizens from this global menace.

Last year, we told Russia about a planned attack in St. Petersburg and they were able to stop it cold. They found them. They stopped them. There was no doubt about it.

I appreciated President Putin’s phone call afterwards to thank me. I also emphasised the importance of placing pressure on Iran to halt its nuclear ambitions and to stop its campaign of violence throughout the area, throughout the Middle East.

As we discussed at length, the crisis in Syria is a complex one. Co-operation between our two countries has the potential to save hundreds of thousands of lives. I also made clear that the United States will not allow Iran to benefit from our successful campaign against ISIS. We have just about eradicated ISIS in the area.

We also agreed that representatives from our national security councils will meet to follow up on all of the issues we addressed today and to continue the progress we have started right here in Helsinki.

Today’s meeting is only the beginning of a longer process but we have taken the first steps toward a brighter future and one with a strong dialogue and a lot of thought.

Our expectations are grounded in realism but our hopes are grounded in America’s desire for friendship, co-operation and peace. And I think I can speak on behalf of Russia when I say that also.

President Putin, I want to thank you again for joining me for these important discussions and for advancing open dialogue between Russia and the United States. Our meeting carries on a long tradition of diplomacy between Russia, the United States for the greater good of all and this was a very constructive day. This was a very constructive few hours that we spent together. It’s in the interest of both of our countries to continue our conversation and we have agreed to do so. I’m sure we’ll be meeting again in the future often and hopefully we will solve every one of the problems that we discussed today.

So again, President Putin, thank you very much.

 

Trump beholden to Putin? Summit does nothing to dispel impression

The US president fails to stand up for national interests during bewildering press conference

July 16, 2018

by Luke Harding

The Guardian

Donald Trump’s press conference with Vladimir Putin will go down in history as one of the most astonishing ever. The US president took Putin’s side over that of his own intelligence community, and refused to acknowledge that Russia hacked the 2016 presidential election.

When asked point-blank to condemn Moscow’s meddling in US democracy, Trump couldn’t bring himself to do so. For two years, Trump has faced claims that he was beholden to Russia and in some intangible way even controlled by it. Monday’s press conference did nothing to banish this impression.

The trickiest part of the summit concerned the Kremlin’s hacking of Democratic party emails, which were released in 2016 to damage Hillary Clinton when she was the party’s presidential candidate. Robert Mueller, the special prosecutor, on Friday accused 12 Russian military intelligence officers of carrying it out. He gave granular detail in the indictment of how the operation was done. On Monday, however, Trump refused to condemn the attack or even accept Russia was behind it. Instead, Trump said that both sides – Washington and Moscow – had “made mistakes”. He added: “I don’t see any reason why they [the Russians] would have done it.”

Trump then launched an attack on the FBI and wanted to know why it had failed to find Clinton’s “missing” 33,000 emails. Trump was unable to move beyond the campaign rhetoric of 2016 or stand up for US national interests. His critics, including the former CIA director John Brennan, saw this as nothing less than treason. If Trump is impeached, this clip will play in all subsequent TV dramas and documentaries.

Extradition

One of the big questions pre-summit was whether Trump would call for the extradition to the US of the 12 Russian spies indicted by Mueller. He didn’t. When the subject came up in the question and answer session, Putin sought to throw the accusation back. He said he would investigate the report and even offered to “cooperate”. The Kremlin, he said, would allow Mueller’s team to visit Moscow and to question suspects. In return, however, it wanted access to Bill Browder, a US-born British financier who is a Kremlin bogeyman. Putin was well aware that Mueller’s investigators won’t be visiting Russian anytime soon. He extended a similar offer in 2006 to Scotland Yard following the radioactive murder of Alexander Litvinenko using a cup of tea. The detectives who flew to Moscow found themselves in a PR pantomime, with their efforts to get evidence thwarted by the state.

Kompromat

Does Moscow have compromising information on Trump? The question has haunted the president since publication, in January 2017, of the dossier by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele. Asked about this, Putin said he did not know Trump was in Moscow when the future US president visited Russia in 2013 for the Miss Universe beauty contest. ”Please disregard these issues,” he said. This was a classic non-denial answer. And a lie. Putin knew of Trump’s trip at the time, had tentative plans to meet him and sent Trump a gift. Asked about kompromat, Trump said that if it did exist “it would have come out by now”.

Collusion

Trump again denied that there had been any collusion between his campaign and Russia. This was, he said, a pathetic excuse by the Democrats who should have won the election but failed to do so. Plus, he said, “there was no one to collude with”. Putin agreed. He said there was no evidence. And added that Mueller’s claims should be tested in court, rather than taken for granted. Even so, Putin made one interesting admission. Asked if he wanted Trump to win in 2016, he replied: “Yes, I did”. Russia’s president said he backed Trump as a candidate because Trump wanted to normalise relations with Russia. This is as close as Putin has come to admitting he favoured one candidate over the other.

Putin’s opening statement featured a boilerplate list of international issues – arms control, counter-terrorism, Iran, North Korea and Syria. He said a bilateral group of experts could meet to discuss international problems – including cybersecurity. Trump’s list was far shorter. He said nothing about Ukraine. The Obama administration imposed sanctions on Russia in 2014, after Putin annexed Crimea and started a covert war in the east of the country. Putin defended his decision to seize Crimea, while Trump stayed silent. The US president also had nothing to say about the attempted murder of Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury with the military-grade nerve agent novichok, or the apparently collateral death this month of Dawn Sturgess. Britain’s prime minister, Theresa May, had explicitly asked Trump to raise the attempted assassination when she held talks with the US president last week – apparently in vain.

 

Trump-Putin summit was a troubling media circus

US President Donald Trump clearly showed weakness in his high-profile meeting with Russia’s Vladimir Putin. It was a diplomatic mistake made on the world stage

July 16, 2018

by Bernd Riegert

DW

Donald Trump is a good president — for Russia. Not for the United States and not for the rest of the world.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry liked one of Trump’s tweets (and thus avoided putting their seal directly on the statement) in which he blamed US “foolishness and stupidity” for the poor relations between his country and Russia. Is the US to blame for Russian hacking during the 2016 presidential elections, or for Putin choosing to annex Crimea? The idea is laughable, and also unprecedented in recent US history. But Trump repeated this line of thinking once again during his summit with the Russian president in Helsinki on Monday, and disqualified himself in the process.

A US president has never behaved this way before, nor should one. The question is: How long will the Republicans continue to back this inept, overrated headache in the White House? Trump routinely utters contradicting half-truths. A selection just from the last few days includes the love-hate US relationship with NATO, arguing the UK should sue the European Union over Brexit, conflicting statements over his relationship with Prime Minister Theresa May, and calling Germany a prisoner to Putin but then later calling the Russian leader a fair competitor.

How much more Trump must we endure?

The reality TV star-turned president’s recent statements have been difficult to listen to. In comparison to Putin, Trump appeared weak, unsure and unprepared for Monday’s summit. Whenever Trump rips up standard diplomatic practice, his aides have to pick up the confusing, contradicting pieces and turn them into understandable policy. How much longer will they want to keep doing that?

Putin appeared to have a sheepish grin during his meeting with Trump. All he had to do was sit by and listen to the US president dismantle the global order. In just the past few weeks, Trump has alienated his NATO allies, slighted the UK and called the EU a “foe.” Putin couldn’t have wished for anything better. The accusations of Russian meddling in US affairs continue without consequences. Did Putin attempt to influence the 2016 presidential election? Did he want to put Trump in office? Does he possess compromising material on the president and his family? If you put it all together, you could understandably assume that is the case, because there must be something that causes Trump to behave how he does around the Russian autocrat.

That is probably why the US president wanted to sit down with his Russian counterpart in Helsinki. The unprofessional egomaniac meets the former intelligence agent. The only thing that unites these two men is that they do not particularly care about the truth. Putin has made it clear that he is not concerned about trust, but rather furthering his own interests. Obviously it is good when two such powerful men talk with one another. But this media show that Trump obviously wants is not enough. The world expects more, something Trump has even recognized in one of his few light moments. The expectations were not met. Unfortunately for US citizens, they have a dangerous, unpredictable oddball as their president. Hopefully he doesn’t do more damage than he already has.

 

‘Traitor, appeaser’: Era of Twitter’s hysterical ‘hot-take’ comes of age after Putin-Trump summit

July 17, 2018

by Simon Rite

RT

Donald Trump’s news conference with Vladimir Putin gave Twitter’s angry analysts the chance to vent, and they really went for it. The question they need to be asking themselves really, is can they get angrier than this?

You could argue that short of attempting a citizen’s arrest on Putin whilst adorning a new stars and stripes toupe, there was little chance of America’s mainstream media and rent-a-quote twitterati giving Trump any credit for at least opening talks to ease tensions with Moscow.

The hot takes on the chosen social media platform for spleen-rupturing fury were truly something to behold. It was treason! The darkest hour! Appeasement!

The unspoken truth is that it’s far more lucrative and, dare I say it, fun for so-called experts to simply dump on Trump, than to try and come up with a more considered take on what happened. Social media ‘hot takes’ are another way of describing an ill-thought out opinion, usually one that has been conceived before an event has taken place.

In the bad old days, it would take at the very least a few hours of contemplation to decide that a news conference involving a football being thrown at the first lady, but in which no one actually died, was the worst moment in US history. Nowadays though, history is written by twitchy trigger fingers with 280 characters to play with in a matter of seconds. In the era of the ‘hot take,’ there were some absolute classics of the genre.

One of the best came from chess master and one of the West’s Putin-critics of choice – Garry Kasparov. He tweeted: “I’m ready to call this the darkest hour in the history of the American presidency. Let me know if you can think of any competition.”

Hmmm, what do you think Richard Nixon?  Got any ideas George Dubya? People of the Middle East or south east Asia, can you think of any competition for the darkest hour of the American presidency? Twitter and perspective are not easy bed fellows.

Former Republican Congressman Joe Walsh called Trump a traitor within minutes of the president’s news conference with Putin. Walsh was commenting shortly after a comedian had shown him supporting the arming of toddlers to take out school shooters, so this is a man with an ill-thought out take on most issues.

David Corn is an analyst for MSNBC and Washington Bureau chief for Mother Jones. Within minutes he declared: “This may be the worst moment in US foreign policy history that does not directly involve a war or another act of violence.” So in other words, not all that bad then.Former US Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul wrote a tweet (actually he wrote lots of them, all of a theme) that really cut through the nonsense to highlight the real problem.

This may be the most telling piece of hot take analysis you’ll find anywhere. A former senior US official still genuinely has no idea what America may have done wrong.

Former CIA Director John Brennan took the opportunity to engage in his favorite pastime of recent months, and that is to empty his thesaurus of invective on the current US president. Trump’s words at the news conference amounted to “high crimes & misdemeanors. It was nothing short of treasonous.”

A few months back Brennan tweeted that Trump would end up a “disgraced demagogue in the dustbin of history.” Ultimately his comments are unlikely to come without just a pinch of subjectivity, although after dropping the ‘T-word,’ he hasn’t got much more room for linguistic maneuver in the future.

So this is where political discourse is at the moment in the US. Trump behaves as he always has (the way that got him elected), and the usual suspects who don’t like it respond as they always do. When it happens and Vladimir Putin is in the room, the hyperbole reaches fever pitch and, before you know it, an expression of opinion during talks aimed at easing tensions between nuclear rivals ends in accusations of treason – in no small part because it’s so easy to get your opinion out there thanks to social media. Anyone who is anyone is hot-taking online, so get on the bandwagon but make sure it’s the same opinion as everyone else, just with a little more hysteria.

 

Commandos Sans Frontières

The Global Growth of U.S. Special Operations Forces

July 17, 2018

by Nick Turse

TomDispatch

Early last month, at a tiny military post near the tumbledown town of Jamaame in Somalia, small arms fire began to ring out as mortar shells crashed down. When the attack was over, one Somali soldier had been wounded — and had that been the extent of the casualties, you undoubtedly would never have heard about it.

As it happened, however, American commandos were also operating from that outpost and four of them were wounded, three badly enough to be evacuated for further medical care. Another special operator, Staff Sergeant Alexander Conrad, a member of the U.S. Army’s Special Forces (also known as the Green Berets), was killed.

If the story sounds vaguely familiar — combat by U.S. commandos in African wars that America is technically not fighting — it should. Last December, Green Berets operating alongside local forces in Niger killed 11 Islamic State militants in a firefight. Two months earlier, in October, an ambush by an Islamic State terror group in that same country, where few Americans (including members of Congress) even knew U.S. special operators were stationed, left four U.S. soldiers dead — Green Berets among them. (The military first described that mission as providing “advice and assistance” to local forces, then as a “reconnaissance patrol” as part of a broader “train, advise, and assist” mission, before it was finally exposed as a kill or capture operation.) Last May, a Navy SEAL was killed and two other U.S. personnel were wounded in a raid in Somalia that the Pentagon described as an “advise, assist, and accompany” mission. And a month earlier, a U.S. commando reportedly killed a member of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a brutal militia that has terrorized parts of Central Africa for decades.

And there had been, as the New York Times noted in March, at least 10 other previously unreported attacks on American troops in West Africa between 2015 and 2017. Little wonder since, for at least five years, as Politico recently reported, Green Berets, Navy SEALs, and other commandos, operating under a little-understood legal authority known as Section 127e, have been involved in reconnaissance and “direct action” combat raids with African special operators in Somalia, Cameroon, Kenya, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, and Tunisia.

None of this should be surprising, since in Africa and across the rest of the planet America’s Special Operations forces (SOF) are regularly engaged in a wide-ranging set of missions including special reconnaissance and small-scale offensive actions, unconventional warfare, counterterrorism, hostage rescue, and security force assistance (that is, organizing, training, equipping, and advising foreign troops). And every day, almost everywhere, U.S. commandos are involved in various kinds of training.

Unless they end in disaster, most missions remain in the shadows, unknown to all but a few Americans. And yet last year alone, U.S. commandos deployed to 149 countries — about 75% of the nations on the planet. At the halfway mark of this year, according to figures provided to TomDispatch by U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM or SOCOM), America’s most elite troops have already carried out missions in 133 countries. That’s nearly as many deployments as occurred during the last year of the Obama administration and more than double those of the final days of George W. Bush’s White House.

Going Commando

“USSOCOM plays an integral role in opposing today’s threats to our nation, to protecting the American people, to securing our homeland, and in maintaining favorable regional balances of power,” General Raymond Thomas, the chief of U.S. Special Operations Command, told members of the House Armed Services Committee earlier this year. “However, as we focus on today’s operations we must be equally focused on required future transformation. SOF must adapt, develop, procure, and field new capabilities in the interest of continuing to be a unique, lethal, and agile part of the Joint Force of tomorrow.”

Special Operations forces have actually been in a state of transformation ever since September 11, 2001. In the years since, they have grown in every possible way — from their budget to their size, to their pace of operations, to the geographic sweep of their missions. In 2001, for example, an average of 2,900 commandos were deployed overseas in any given week. That number has now soared to 8,300, according to SOCOM spokesman Ken McGraw. At the same time, the number of “authorized military positions” — the active-duty troops, reservists, and National Guardsmen that are part of SOCOM — has jumped from 42,800 in 2001 to 63,500 today. While each of the military service branches — the so-called parent services — provides funding, including pay, benefits, and some equipment to their elite forces, “Special Operations-specific funding,” at $3.1 billion in 2001, is now at $12.3 billion. (The Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps also provide their special operations units with about $8 billion annually.)

All this means that, on any given day, more than 8,000 exceptionally well-equipped and well-funded special operators from a command numbering roughly 70,000 active-duty personnel, reservists, and National Guardsmen as well as civilians are deployed in approximately 90 countries. Most of those troops are Green Berets, Rangers, or other Army Special Operations personnel. According to Lieutenant General Kenneth Tovo, head of the U.S. Army Special Operations Command until his retirement last month, that branch provides more than 51% of all Special Operations forces and accounts for more than 60% of their overseas deployments. On any given day, just the Army’s elite soldiers are operating in around 70 countries.

In February, for instance, Army Rangers carried out several weeks of winter warfare training in Germany, while Green Berets practiced missions involving snowmobiles in Sweden. In April, Green Berets took part in the annual Flintlock multinational Special Operations forces training exercise conducted in Niger, Burkina Faso, and Senegal that involved Nigerien, Burkinabe, Malian, Polish, Spanish, and Portuguese troops, among others.

While most missions involve training, instruction, or war games, Special Forces soldiers are also regularly involved in combat operations across America’s expansive global war zones. A month after Flintlock, for example, Green Berets accompanied local commandos on a nighttime air assault raid in Nangarhar province, Afghanistan, during which a senior ISIS operative was reportedly “eliminated.” In May, a post-deployment awards ceremony for members of the 2nd Battalion, 10th Special Forces Group, who had just returned from six months advising and assisting Afghan commandos, offered some indication of the kinds of missions being undertaken in that country. Those Green Berets received more than 60 decorations for valor — including 20 Bronze Star Medals and four Silver Star Medals (the third-highest military combat decoration).

For its part, the Navy, according to Rear Admiral Tim Szymanski, chief of Naval Special Warfare Command, has about 1,000 SEALs or other personnel deployed to more than 35 countries each day. In February, Naval Special Warfare forces and soldiers from Army Special Operations Aviation Command conducted training aboard a French amphibious assault ship in the Arabian Gulf. That same month, Navy SEALs joined elite U.S. Air Force personnel in training alongside Royal Thai Naval Special Warfare operators during Cobra Gold, an annual exercise in Thailand.

The troops from U.S. Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command, or MARSOC, deploy primarily to the Middle East, Africa, and the Indo-Pacific regions on six-month rotations. At any time, on average, about 400 “Raiders” are engaged in missions across 18 countries.

Air Force Special Operations Command, which fields a force of 19,500 active, reserve, and civilian personnel, conducted 78 joint-training exercises and events with partner nations in 2017, according to Lieutenant General Marshall Webb, chief of Air Force Special Operations Command. In February, for example, Air Force commandos conducted Arctic training — ski maneuvers and free-fall air operations — in Sweden, but such training missions are only part of the story. Air Force special operators were, for instance, recently deployed to aid the attempt to rescue 12 boys and their soccer coach trapped deep inside a cave in Thailand. The Air Force also has three active duty special operations wings assigned to Air Force Special Operations Command, including the 24th Special Operations Wing, a “special tactics” unit that integrates air and ground forces for “precision-strike” and personnel-recovery missions. At a change of command ceremony in March, it was noted that its personnel had conducted almost 2,900 combat missions over the last two years.

Addition Through Subtraction

For years, U.S. Special Operations forces have been in a state of seemingly unrestrained expansion. Nowhere has that been more evident than in Africa. In 2006, just 1% of all American commandos deployed overseas were operating on that continent. By 2016, that number had jumped above 17%. By then, there were more special operations personnel devoted to Africa — 1,700 special operators spread out across 20 countries — than anywhere else except the Middle East.

Recently, however, the New York Times reported that a “sweeping Pentagon review” of special ops missions on that continent may soon result in drastic cuts in the number of commandos operating there. (“We do not comment on what tasks the secretary of defense or chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff may or may not have given USSOCOM,” spokesman Ken McGraw told me when I inquired about the review.) U.S. Africa Command has apparently been asked to consider what effect cutting commandos there by 25% over 18 months and 50% over three years would have on its counterterrorism missions. In the end, only about 700 elite troops — roughly the same number as were stationed in Africa in 2014 — would be left there.

Coming on the heels of the October 2017 debacle in Niger that left those four Americans dead and apparent orders from the commander of United States Special Operations forces in Africa that its commandos “plan missions to stay out of direct combat or do not go,” a number of experts suggested that such a review signaled a reappraisal of military engagement on the continent. The proposed cuts also seemed to fit with the Pentagon’s latest national defense strategy that highlighted a coming shift from a focus on counterterrorism to the threats of near-peer competitors like Russia and China. “We will continue to prosecute the campaign against terrorists,” said Secretary of Defense James Mattis in January, “but great power competition — not terrorism — is now the primary focus of U.S. national security.”

A wide range of analysts questioned or criticized the proposed troop reduction. Mu Xiaoming, from China’s National Defense University of the People’s Liberation Army, likened such a reduction in elite U.S. forces to the Obama administration’s drawdown of troops in Afghanistan in 2014 and noted the possibility of “terrorism making a comeback in Africa.” A former chief of U.S. commandos on the continent, Donald Bolduc, unsurprisingly echoed these same fears. “Without the presence that we have there now,” he told Voice of America, “we’re just going to increase the effectiveness of the violent extremist organizations over time and we are going to lose trust and credibility in this area and destabilize it even further.” David Meijer, a security analyst based in Amsterdam, lamented that, as Africa was growing in geostrategic importance and China is strengthening its ties there, “it’s ironic that Washington is set to reduce its already minimal engagement on the continent.”

This is hardly a foregone conclusion, however. For years, members of SOCOM, as well as supporters in Congress, at think tanks, and elsewhere, have been loudly complaining about the soaring operations tempo for America’s elite troops and the resulting strains on them. “Most SOF units are employed to their sustainable limit,” General Thomas, the SOCOM chief, told members of Congress last spring. “Despite growing demand for SOF, we must prioritize the sourcing of these demands as we face a rapidly changing security environment.” Given how much clout SOCOM wields, such incessant gripes were certain to lead to changes in policy.

Last year, in fact, Secretary of Defense Mattis noted that the lines between U.S. Special Operations forces and conventional troops were blurring and that the latter would likely be taking on missions previously shouldered by the commandos, particularly in Africa. “So the general purpose forces can do a lot of the kind of work that you see going on and, in fact, are now,” he said. “By and large, for example in Trans-Sahel [in northwest Africa], many of those forces down there supporting the French-led effort are not Special Forces. So we’ll continue to expand the general purpose forces where it’s appropriate. I would… anticipate more use of them.”

Earlier this year, Owen West, the assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict, referred to Mattis’s comments while telling members of the House Armed Services Committee about the “need to look at the line that separates conventional operating forces from SOF and seek to take greater advantage of the ‘common capabilities’ of our exceptional conventional forces.” He particularly highlighted the Army’s Security Force Assistance Brigades, recently created to conduct advise-and-assist missions. This spring, Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe, a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, recommended that one of those units be dedicated to Africa.

Substituting forces in this way is precisely what Iowa Senator Joni Ernst, an Iraq War veteran and member of the Armed Services Committee, has also been advocating. Late last year, in fact, her press secretary, Leigh Claffey, told TomDispatch that the senator believed “instead of such heavy reliance on Special Forces, we should also be engaging our conventional forces to take over missions when appropriate, as well as turning over operations to capable indigenous forces.” Chances are that U.S. commandos will continue carrying out their shadowy Section 127e raids alongside local forces across the African continent while leaving more conventional training and advising tasks to rank-and-file troops. In other words, the number of commandos in Africa may be cut, but the total number of American troops may not — with covert combat operations possibly continuing at the present pace.

If anything, U.S. Special Operations forces are likely to expand, not contract, next year. SOCOM’s 2019 budget request calls for adding about 1,000 personnel to what would then be a force of 71,000. In April, at a meeting of the Senate Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities chaired by Ernst, New Mexico Senator Martin Heinrich noted that SOCOM was on track to “grow by approximately 2,000 personnel” in the coming years. The command is also poised to make 2018 another historic year in global reach. If Washington’s special operators deploy to just 17 more countries by the end of the fiscal year, they will exceed last year’s record-breaking total.

“USSOCOM continues to recruit, assess, and select the very best. We then train and empower our teammates to solve the most daunting national security problems,” SOCOM commander General Thomas told the House Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities earlier this year. Why Green Berets and Navy SEALs need to solve national security problems — strategic issues that ought to be addressed by policymakers — is a question that has long gone unanswered. It may be one of the reasons why, since Green Berets “liberated” Afghanistan in 2001, the United States has been involved in combat there and, as the years have passed, a plethora of other forever-war fronts including Cameroon, Iraq, Kenya, Libya, Mauritania, Mali, Niger, the Philippines, Somalia, Syria, Tunisia, and Yemen.

“The creativity, initiative and spirit of the people who comprise the Special Operations Force cannot be overstated. They are our greatest asset,” said Thomas. And it’s likely that such assets will grow in 2019.

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