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TBR News June 4, 2018

Jun 04 2018

The Voice of the White House 

Washington, D.C. June 4, 2018:”Washington has always been a city filled with rumors, speculations, gossip, and many manifestations of self-importance.

I had lunch the other day with a member of one of the alphabet agencies who told me, in strict confidence, that his agency had ‘positive proof’ that Trump had gay connections when he was younger and still lived back in the closet.

He said that Trump’s very aggressive (and blatantly crude) attitudes towards women was a sure indicator of his orientation and that his wife was keeping their attractive son as far away from his attentions as she could.

I would dismiss this as gossip save for the fact that I have been hearing the same theme from others, one of whom is a prominent psychologist who deals extensively with closeted males.

If all of this is true, my informant assured me, it would soon emerge in public via a ‘cooperative blogger’ and an even more cooperative mainline media.

Interesting times we live in.”


The Table of Contents

  • Project Blitz: The legislative assault by Christian nationalists to reshape America
  • What are the End Days? A study in deception
  • Donald Trump claims he has ‘absolute right to pardon myself’
  • Babchenko’s Non-murder Shares Parallels with the Killing of Gongadze
  • Putin signs law on countermeasures against US & its allies
  • Facebook fends off new NYT charges over data access
  • Paris welcomes Merkel’s ‘first answer’ to Macron’s EU reform plan
  • Syria demands U.S. withdrawal from Tanf base ahead of deal in southern Syria
  • The new lighter-than-air race for space
  • The Military-Industrial Complex Strikes (Out) Again


Project Blitz: The legislative assault by Christian nationalists to reshape America

Since Donald Trump became president, rightwing groups are helping flood state legislatures with bills that promote hardline Christian conservative views

June 4, 2018

by David Taylor in New York

The Guardian

The emboldened religious right has unleashed a wave of legislation across the United States since Donald Trump became president, as part of an organised bid to impose hardline Christian values across American society.

A playbook known as Project Blitz, developed by a collection of Christian groups, has provided state politicians with a set of off-the-shelf pro-Christian “model bills”.

Some legislation uses verbatim language from the “model bills’” created by a group called the Congressional Prayer Caucus Foundation (CPCF), set up by a former Republican congressman which has a stated aim to “protect religious freedom, preserve America’s Judeo-Christian heritage and promote prayer”.

At least 75 bills have been brought forward in more than 20 states during 2017 and 2018 which appear to be modelled on or have similar objectives to the playbook, according to Americans United for Separation of Church and State, a campaign group which tracks legislation that undermines the principle of separation of church and state.

Opponents warn that the CPCF (which claims more than 600 politicians as members across state legislatures ) is using the banner of “religious freedom” to impose Christianity on American public, political and cultural life.

In Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Louisiana and Tennessee so-called “In God We Trust” bills have become law since 2017, which will see the phrase emblazoned on public buildings, hung in schools and displayed on the side of public vehicles including police cars.

But the Project Blitz playbook sees those largely symbolic bills as just the first stage on the way to more hardline laws. They are presented as measures to preserve religious liberty, but are intended to give businesses, pastors and childcare providers the right to discriminate against LGBT people in line with their “sincerely held religious beliefs”.

Samantha Sokol, who studied the bills for the Americans United for Separation of Church and State campaign group said: “In God We Trust bills are the most common. We had 26 of those, they really just exploded this year. .

“I think that it is due to the promotion of Project Blitz. They have sent this playbook to state legislators and told them that these In God We Trust bills are the first step.”

She added: “Some would see these bills as very trivial and unimportant but even the most simple or trivial bills would really undermine American religious freedom and separation of church and state, and undermine the promise of our public schools that kids are welcome, whether they are religious or non-religious, whether they are evangelical Christians or not.”

Frederick Clarkson, senior research analyst at Political Research Associates, a think-tank which studies the political right, was first to write about Project Blitz, which he said had been hiding in plain sight.

“It’s very rare that you come across a major primary source document that changes the way you view everything, and this is one of those times. This is a 116-page strategy manual hidden away on a website explaining at least what a section of the religious right are doing in the United States. To me that’s astounding.”

The playbook came to wider attention in April after Clarkson was tipped off to its existence. He also highlighted recordings of conference calls where leading figures in the CPCF set out their plans to flood state legislatures with bills.

One of the steering team behind Project Blitz is David Barton, the Texas-based founder of an organisation called WallBuilders, which takes its inspiration from the Old Testament in describing a a mission of “rebuilding our nation’s foundations”.

In a recording of a call with state legislators, he describes in detail the strategy behind Project Blitz, which he said packages together about two dozen bills in separate categories based on the type of opposition they are likely to receive. There are three categories of bills in Project Blitz.

The first category of “In God We Trust” bills are likely to trigger opposition saying the bills are a waste of time, or the sponsor of the bill ‘just wants to fight culture wars and divide people”.

Part of the strategy is to pave the way for later political attacks, painting an election opponent as ‘anti-faith’. Recent attacks on a Minnesota Democratic politician by Republican opponents followed exactly those lines.

Barton told legislators on the call: “They are gonna be things people yell at, but they help move the ball down the court, really if we can do this, get this going with all the states, it’s kind of like whack-a-mole for the other side, it’ll drive ‘em crazy that they’ll have to divide their resources out in opposing this.”

Category two include bills for a range of proclamations or resolutions – declaring a religious freedom day, or Christian heritage week that can then be used to get religious teaching into schools. The playbook adds: “If any legislator opposes this, it will be helpful to get him or her on the record against this heritage and freedom.”

Category three bills will have the greatest impact but will be “the most hotly contested” the playbook says – they include resolutions in favour of “biblical values concerning marriage and sexuality”, such as “establishing public policy favoring adoption by intact heterosexual, marriage-based families” and “establishing public policy favoring intimate sexual relations only between married, heterosexual couples”.

The playbook warns that the most far-reaching model bills – designed to deny LGBT people access to adoption services or marriage services – are “more dangerous” because they will face well-organised and financed opposition.

According to the Americans United for Separation of Church and State analysis, Oklahoma and Georgia have brought forward but not passed “adoption refusal” Child Protection bills. And six states have “wedding services refusal” measures, often framed as Pastor Protection bills, although none have become law.

A recording of the call is still on the CPCF website, dated 13 February2016, although it actually appears to have taken place in February 2017, because it refers to events of the early days of the Trump administration.

THE CPCF did not respond to request for comment on Project Blitz. Lea Carawan, director of the CPCF said on the call that the Trump administration was more receptive than any in over 30 years, adding: “We believe this is just the beginning. There is a powerful momentum that is happening.”

Trump – on his third marriage and mired in controversy after paying off a porn actress – has been a useful ally for Christian evangelicals, appointing more than 20 conservative judges, including filling the supreme court vacancy with conservative justice Neil Gorsuch.

The Supreme Court is due this month to give its opinion in a case where a cakeshop owner refused to provide a wedding cake for a gay couple.

Andrew Whitehead, Assistant Professor of Sociology at Clemson University, recently published a study titled Make America Christian Again, which concluded that the more someone believed the United States was and should remain a Christian nation, the more likely they were to vote Trump in 2016.

Whitehead described the so-called quest for ‘dominion’ as the aim of Christian nationalists who consider that the Christian faith and their particular interpretation should be imposed.

Clarkson, whose research first highlighted Project Blitz, said: “It’s a Christian supremacist agenda, the idea that God intended and mandates Christians to lead and control the United States for the religious vision that they hold and the policy implications that flow from it.

“If you are a more liberal Christian , a Jew or a Muslim or a non-believer of any sort, or whatever you happen to be, you’re a second class citizen at best.


What are the End Days? A study in deception

June 4, 2018

by Frederick Norris

‘Armageddon’ is actually purported to be a battle. According to Pentecostal interpretations, the Bible states that Armageddon will be a battle where God finally comes in and takes over the world and rules it the way it should have been ruled all along. After this vaguely-defined battle of Armageddon, Pentecostals firmly believe that there will follow 1000 years of peace and plenty which, according to their lore and legend, will be the sole lot of their sect and no other.

The actual scene of the fictional battle is referred to by Pentecostals as being clearly set forth in Revelation 16:14-16. It is not. The specific citation reads, in full:

  • “14. For they are the spirits of devils, working miracles, which go forth unto the kings of the earth and of the whole world, to gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty.
  • “15. Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame.
  • “16. And he gathered them together into a place called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon.”

This sparse mention of Armageddon has given rise to the elaborate but entirely fictional legend of the Final Battle between the forces of good and evil. There is no mention in Revelations 16: 14-15 whatsoever of Parusia or the second coming of Jesus, the apocryphal Anti-Christ, the Rapture or the many other delightful inventions designed to bolster the Pentecostal elect and daunt their adversaries. These adversaries consist of all other branches of the Christian religion with especial emphasis placed on Jews and Catholics. The Pentecostals also loathe Muslims, Buddhists, agnostics, atheists, and an endless list of anyone and everyone whose views clash with theirs, such as scientists and any academic who views the evolutionary theories of Charles Darwin and Gregor Mendel as anything but tissues of lies.

The Antichrist

The Antichrist is described by Pentecostals as the “son of perdition” and the “beast”!

They claim that this interesting creature will have great charisma and speaking ability, “a mouth speaking great things”.

The Antichrist, they allege, will rise to power on a wave of world euphoria, as he temporarily saves the world from its desperate economic, military & political problems with a brilliant seven year plan for world peace, economic stability and religious freedom.

The Antichrist could well rise out of the current chaos in the former Soviet Union. The prophet Ezekiel names him as the ruler of “Magog”, a name that Biblical scholars agree denotes a country or region of peoples to the north of Israel. Many have interpreted this to mean modern day Russia. It could also be Turkey, Greece, Macedonia, Croatia, Hungary, Poland, perhaps one of the Baltic States or even the lewd and dissolute Socialist Sweden.

His power base will include the leading nations of Europe, whose leaders, the Bible says, will “give their power & strength unto the beast.”

The Bible even gives some clues about his personal characteristics. The prophet Daniel wrote that the Antichrist “does not regard the desire of women.” This could imply that he is either celibate or a homosexual. Daniel also tells us that he will have a “fierce countenance” or stern look, and will be “more stout than his fellows”–more proud and boastful.

Unfortunately, the so-called Book of Daniel was written during the reign of the Roman Emperor Nero, not many decades earlier as its proponents claim, and has been extensively modified by early Christian writers to predict the arrival of their personal Messiah, or Christ, on the Judean scene. The so-called “wonderful” prophetic statements put into the mouth of Daniel are absolutely and wondrously accurate…up to the reign of Nero and then fall as flat as a shaken soufflé afterwards

It is well known that Pentecostals loathe homosexuals, among many other groups not pleasing to them, and would like nothing better than to shove them into a bottomless pit filled with Catholics, rock and roll fans, teenaged mothers, Communists, gun control advocates, Tarot card readers, Christian Scientists, abortionists, Wayne Newton fans, Asians, Jews, African-Americans and Latino Surnamed Hispanics.

The seven year peace-pact (or covenant) that is engineered by the Antichrist is spoken of a number of times in the Bible, and may even have already been signed in secret. The historic peace agreement signed between Israel and the PLO at the White House on September 13, 1993, vividly illustrates how dramatically events in the Middle East are presently moving in this direction eager Pentecostals, awaiting their Celestial Omnibus, will inform anyone who is interested and a greater legion of those who are not.

Under the final terms of the fictional Covenant, Jerusalem will likely be declared an international city to which Judaism, Islam and Christianity will have equal rights. Scripture indicates that the Jews will be permitted to rebuild their Temple on Mt. Moriah, where they revive their ancient rituals of animal sacrifice.

According to modern prophecy the Antichrist will not only be a master of political intrigue, but also a military genius. Daniel describes several major wars that he fights during his 7-year reign, apparently against the U.S. and Israel, who will oppose him during the second half of his reign.

For awhile, most of the world is going to think the Antichrist is wonderful, as he will seem to have solved so many of the world’s problems. But, three-and-a-half years into his seven year reign he will break the covenant and invade Israel from the North.

At this time he will make Jerusalem his world capitol and outlaw all religions, except the worship of himself and his image. The Bible, according to the Pentecostals, says that the Antichrist will sit in the Jewish Temple exalting himself as God and demanding to be worshipped. If this passage, and many others of its kind, actually appears in the King James Version of the Bible, no one has ever been able to find it

It is at this time that the Antichrist imposes his infamous “666” one-world credit system.

It must be said that the Antichrist does, in point of fact exist. He can be seen on a daily basis on the walls of the Cathedral at Orvieto, Italy in the marvelous frescos of Lucca Signorelli. He looks somewhat like a Byzantine depiction of Christ with either a vicious wife or inflamed hemorrhoids .

Pentecostals strongly believe that U.S. public schools “departed from the faith” when in 1963 the Bible and prayer were officially banned. Now, Pentecostals believe with horror, thousands of these same schools are teaching credited courses in “the doctrines of devils”–the occult and Satanism.

Even a cursory check of curriculum of a number of American public school districts does not support this claim but then the Pentecostals have stated repeatedly that they represent 45% of all Protestants in America. The actual number, excluding the Baptists, is more like 4%.

What they lack in actual numbers they more than compensate for by their loud and irrational views so that at times it sounds like the roar of a great multitude when in truth, it is only a small dwarf wearing stained underwear and armed with a bullhorn, trumpeting in the underbrush

Frantic Pentecostals estimated that according to their private Census for Christ there are over 200,000 practicing witches in the United States and allege there are literally millions of Americans who dabble in some form of the occult, psychic phenomena, spiritualism, demonology and black magic. Their statistics claim that occult book sales have doubled in the last four years.

What is seen by terrified Pentecostals as The Occult today is no longer the stuff of small underground cults. They believe that many rock videos are an open worship of Satan and hell that comes complete with the symbols, liturgies, and  rituals of Satanism, and the Pentecostals firmly and loudly proclaim to anyone interested in listening, that “millions of young people” have been caught in their evil sway.

Popular music is termed “sounds of horror and torment” that Pentecostals firmly believe is literally “driving young people insane and seducing them into a life of drugs, suicide, perversion and hell.” It is forgotten now but the same thing was once said about ragtime and later, jazz. If this had been true, perhaps the real reason behind the First World War, the 1929 market crash, the rise of Franklin Roosevelt and the lewd hula hoop can be attributed to Scott Joplin and Ella Fitzgerald.

It is also to be noted that the immensely popular Harry Potter series of children’s books are loudly proclaimed as Satanic books designed to lure unsuspecting children into the clutches of the Evil One. Any sane person who has read these delightful fantasy books will certainly not agree with these hysterical strictures. In point of fact, it would be exceedingly difficult to locate any person possessing even a modicum of sanity who would believe any of the weird fulminations of the Pentecostals.

Outraged Pentecostals now firmly state that in the beginning years of the Twenty First Century, “even the most shameless acts of blasphemy and desecration are socially acceptable.”

“Acts of blasphemy and desecration” sound like human sacrifices carried out on nuns at bus stops during the noontime rush hour or lewd acts with crucifixes performed by drug-maddened transvestites on commercial airlines.

In his weird Book of Revelation the lunatic John of Patmos claimed he foresaw that in the last days the world would turn away from God in order to worship and follow Satan.

Such a prophecy would have seemed believable to previous generations, but not so in our more enlightened and secular humanist day. Hard-core Satanism has been called by rabid Pentecostals noise-makers as: “the fastest-growing subculture among America’s teens”, and the revival of witchcraft & the occult is “one of the World’s fastest growing religions!”

Modern Pentecostals trace their origins, not to the New Testament but rather, to the Bethel Bible School in Topeka, Kansas, where a certain Agnes Ozman began to speak in “tongues” in 1901 when hands were laid on her. It was claimed (though certainly not credibly confirmed) that Ozman ‘spoke in Chinese for three days’, unable to speak English, and on the second day she ‘spoke in Bohemian.’ Soon, most of the others at the school were speaking and singing “in tongues.” Parham claimed that language professors and other linguistically educated people confirmed that the tongues were languages, but this was not confirmed outside of the movement. Newspaper reporters of the day described the phenomenon, with some acumen and certainly accuracy, as “gibberish.” In 1914, Charles Shumway diligently sought evidence to prove that early Pentecostal tongues were real languages. He failed to find even one person to corroborate the claims which had been “In his 1919 Ph.D. dissertation, Shumway censured the local Houston Chronicle for credulous reporting and stated that ‘letters are on hand from several men who were government interpreters in or near Houston at the time [when Parham conducted a Bible school there], and they are unanimous in denying all knowledge of the alleged facts'”

Parham’s Bible school students jotted down strange writings which they claimed were the product of the gift of tongues. They claimed these writings were foreign languages, such as Chinese, but when they were examined by linguists, they were found to be mere indecipherable scratchings.

The press called these writings “quaint and indistinguishable hieroglyphics”

Parham was so enthused that he said missionaries would go to the ends of the earth and would not have to learn the languages. In fact, most of the early Pentecostals believed this. It didn’t work that way, though. When A.G. Garr traveled to India and attempted to speak to the people in supernatural tongues, he quickly found that he could not communicate.

Parham, the founder of Pentecostalism, was riddled with doctrinal heresies. He believed in annihilation of the unsaved and denied the Bible doctrine of eternal torment. He believed in the unscriptural doctrine of anglo-Israelism. He taught that there were two separate creations, and that Adam and Eve were of a different race than people who allegedly lived outside of the Garden of Eden. The first race of men did not have souls, he claimed, and this race of unsouled people was destroyed in the flood. Parham believed that those who received the latter days ‘spirit baptism’and ‘spoke in tongues’ have a special place of authority at Christ’s hopeful return.

Parham believed that physical healing is the Christian’s birthright. In spite of his teaching that it was always God’s will to heal and that medicine and doctors must be shunned, one of Parham’s sons died at age 16 of a sickness which was not healed. His other son died at age 37. Most of those who attended Parham’s meetings were not healed, saving for those whose “illnesses” were psychosomatic in nature. In October 1904 a nine-year-old girl named Nettie Smith died.

Her father was an avid follower of Parham and refused medical treatment for his daughter. Nettie’s death turned local public opinion against Parham because the little girl’s sickness was treatable and the community therefore considered her death unnecessary. Parham himself suffered various sicknesses throughout his life and at times was too sick to preach or travel.

For example, he spent the entire winter of 1904-05 sick and bedridden. Parham was the first Pentecostal preacher to pray over handkerchiefs and mail them to those who desired his ministrations . Naturally, Parham charged money for these energized handkerchiefs.

In 1907 Parham encountered legal difficulties that did terrible harm to his reputation. He was arrested and charged in Texas for sexual misconduct involving young boys.*

In 1908 Parham raised funds from among his deluded parishioners to travel to the Holy Land on an “archaeological expedition to search for the lost ark of the covenant.” He claimed to the press that he had information about its location and that his finding the ark would fit into the end times biblical scheme. By December he announced that he had sufficient funds and he traveled to New York allegedly to begin his journey to Jerusalem. He never purchased a ticket to the Middle East and returned home dejectedly in January, claiming he was robbed after arriving in New York.

Parham attempted to influence or possibly even take over the strange ministry of Alexander Dowie, the man the Dictionary of Pentecostal-Charismatic Movements calls the father of modern healing evangelism, at his Zion City north of Chicago. Dowie had proclaimed himself Elijah the Restorer and the first apostle of the end times church.

In most Pentecostal histories Parham is listed as one of the chief founding fathers of Pentecostalism.

The Rapture is a term most commonly used to describe an event in certain systems of Christian eschatology (study of the end times) whereby all true Christians are taken from Earth by God into Heaven. Although almost all forms of Christianity believe that those who are “saved” will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, the term “rapture” is usually applied specifically to those theories saying that “Christians alive before the end of the world will be taken into heaven,” and there will be an intermediate time frame where non-Christians will be still left on earth before Christ arrives to set up his earthly kingdom.

The word “Rapture” is not found in the Bible. There is also no single word used by the numerous biblical authors to describe the prophetic factors which comprise the doctrine. Roman Catholics and nearly all of the main-line Protestants do not accept the concept of a rapture in which some are “taken up into Heaven” before the end of the world; this idea did not exist in the teachings of any Christians whatsoever until the late 18th, and early 19th centuries, so it cannot be said to belong to Apostolic Tradition.

The legend of the Rapture is not mentioned in any Christian writings, until after the year 1830. Whether the early writers were Greek or Latin, Armenian or Coptic, Syrian or Ethiopian, English or German, orthodox or heretic, no one mentioned a syllable about it. Of course, those who feel the origin of the teaching is in the Bible would say that it only ceased being taught (for some unknown reason) at the close of the apostolic age only to reappear in 1830 But if the doctrine were so clearly stated in Scripture, it seems incredible that no one should have referred to it before the 19th and early 20th century. This does not, in and of itself prove conclusively that the story is wrong, but it does mean that thousands of eminent scholars who lived over a span of seventeen centuries (including some of the most astute of the religious scholars of the early Christian and, later of the Reformation and post-Reformation periods) must be considered as grossly incompetent  for not having  either knowledge or understanding  of a teaching viewed by fringe religious groups as so central to their beliefs. This lapse of seventeen centuries when no one mentioned anything about it is certainly a serious obstacle to its reliability or its acceptance by the less credulous.

*Parham’s reputation was severely damaged by allegations of sexual misconduct in fall 1906 and his arrest in 1907 in San Antonio, Texas on charges of homosexuality.


Donald Trump claims he has ‘absolute right to pardon myself’

  • Trump: ‘why would I do that when I have done nothing wrong?’
  • President renews attack on special counsel Russia investigation

June 4, 2018

The Guardian

Donald Trump on Monday said that he has an “absolute right to pardon myself”, adding “but why would I do that when I have done nothing wrong?” in his latest broadside against the Russia investigation.

The US president’s remarks came in tweets in which he said his right to pardon had been “stated by numerous legal scholars”.

Last year Trump had said that he has the “complete power to pardon”.

On Monday Trump was renewing his attacks on the special counsel investigation into Russia meddling in the 2016 election and allegations of collusion with the Trump campaign.

Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, in television interviews on Sunday, suggested Trump might have that authority to pardon himself but would be unwise to use it.

Giuliani told NBC’s Meet the Press: “Pardoning himself would be unthinkable and probably lead to immediate impeachment.”

He added: “He has no need to do it, he’s done nothing wrong.”

Giuliani said he would be “willing to sit down with Mueller and argue it out if he has an open mind to it”.

The former New York Mayor and mob prosecutor has taken a leading role in defending Trump, sometimes with conflicting statements that get information out there but also making it appear accidental or disinformation.

On Thursday, Trump said that he is considering pardoning Martha Stewart, the home decorating mogul who served five months in prison for obstructing justice and similar charges as part of a 2004 insider trading investigation, and the former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich.


Babchenko’s Non-murder Shares Parallels with the Killing of Gongadze

June 1, 2018

by Patrick Cockburn

The Independent

The faked assassination of Arkady Babchenko is a bizarre affair which has intriguing features similar to the murder of another journalist in Ukraine 18 years ago. The difference is that this previous killing was all too real, but in both cases the Ukrainian government and its security services showed the same weird capacity to discredit themselves by engaging in ill-conceived plots always likely to do them more harm than good.

The first of these scandals, which rapidly developed into a political crisis, began in November 2000 when a headless body was found by villagers in a wood on the outskirts of Kiev. The authorities were slow in identifying the corpse, but it seemed likely to be that of Georgiy Gongadze, the editor of an online paper called Ukraina Pravda that specialised in investigating official corruption.

Gongadze had disappeared on 16 September after dining with a friend and was last seen alive buying cat food in a shop on his way home. From the beginning, his friends suspected that his disappearance had been arranged by the security services of Leonid Kuchma, the Ukrainian president who was known to resent any criticism of his corrupt and authoritarian rule.

Even after the discovery of the decapitated body, it appeared unlikely that responsibility for the murder could ever be pinned on anybody in power. But this changed when Alexander Moroz, the well-regarded leader of the socialist opposition party in the Ukrainian parliament, revealed that he had been given a tape recording of Kuchma, his chief of staff and the interior minister in which they are heard denouncing Gongadze and discuss ways of silencing him, such as having him kidnapped by Chechen gangsters.

It looked likely that the leaders had concluded that the simplest way of dealing with Gongadze was to kill him. What they did not know was that their conversations were being recorded on a tape recorder installed by an officer called Mykola Melnichenko who belonged to the Ukrainian SBU security service – the successor to the KGB. He was singularly well placed to bug because he was in charge of making sure that the presidential offices were not being monitored by listening devices. He placed a tape recorder under the presidential sofa and changed the tapes every day.

The senior officials tried to discredit the evidence that they had ordered Gongadze’s abduction and murder by a special squad of security men. They claimed that the voices were not theirs or the tape recordings were fabricated, though they had been authenticated by experts. The police investigation went on at a snail’s pace, keen not to identify the body or allow anybody else to do so.

By this time international interest was aroused and foreign journalists like myself were arriving in Kiev. I met a friend of Gongadze called Alyona Prytula, who worked with him on his magazine and told me that he had shrapnel wounds which he had received when reporting fighting in Georgia. She had seen the body and said that “the corpse had shrapnel in it in the same places he did.” It was already becoming clear that the decision to kill Gongadze had come from the top, but all of those involved spent years trying to shift the blame onto each other.

What fascinated me at the time was the way in which Kuchma and his chief lieutenants had become obsessed with Gongadze, though his magazine had limited influence and posed no real threat to them. They could well have left him alone. Yet the tape recordings show that these men who were running the second largest country in Europe with a population of 50 million had repeatedly discussed how to eliminate this brave, but not very important, critic.

The self-destructive idiocy of the conspiracy has much in common with the faked murder of Babchenko earlier this week. It should have been obvious to Kuchma and his underlings that Gongadze dead could be a lot more dangerous to them than Gongadze alive. It should likewise have been blindingly clear to the densest Ukrainian security chief that fabricating the assassination of Babchenko and lying about it to everybody would permanently discredit whatever the Ukrainian government says in future. The claim that the scheme had a precedent in a fictional investigation by Sherlock Holmes was scarcely likely to improve their credibility.

To be fair, the Ukrainian SBU is not the only security service that has a fondness for crackpot schemes which will do them little good if they work, but will have disastrous consequences if anything goes wrong. Remember how the French foreign intelligence service attached limpet mines to the Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior in Auckland harbour in New Zealand in 1985. This lunatic scheme, approved at the highest levels, sank the ship and killed one of those on board, all in order to prevent the minor irritant of Greenpeace protesting against a French nuclear test in the Pacific.

Intelligence services everywhere seem to attract crackpots with poor judgement who are dangerously detached from reality and revel in cunning plots. Because they can claim that secrecy is essential for their operations, they are not held to account and their failures are well hidden. In Britain in particular the skills and professionalism of MI5 and MI6 are lauded in awed tones by government ministers. But the outcome of British military intervention since 2003 shows the intelligence agencies have repeatedly failed to assess the risks correctly. In the Iraq war, trust was placed in the most patent conmen who claimed intimate knowledge of Saddam Hussein’s regime and its non-existent WMD programme.

Politicians and intelligence agencies are easily pilloried for their failures in recent wars and crises, but the media generally gives itself a free pass. Governments lied or were misinformed about Saddam being a threat to the world, but why did journalists allow themselves to be so easily spoon-fed with official propaganda? This self-serving naiveté skewed reporting in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria and was very visible once again in the reporting of the Babchenko affair. There was a knee-jerk belief that Vladimir Putin must be responsible for any killing of a critic of Russia, even when all the evidence for this is being provided by a government hostile to Russia.

I have always found that Ukraine and Russia operate in much the same way, both drawing on their traditions of authoritarianism, violence, corruption and criminality.

There is something absurd about journalists and news organisations complaining that they had been misled by the Ukrainian SBU. Why should it have suddenly developed such an interest in the safety of journalists, except as useful counters in the renewed Cold War between Russia and the West? Pity the Ukrainian journalists who enjoy no such protection. According to the Ukrainian National Union of Journalists, there were 90 assaults on journalists last year and nobody was punished in a single case.

Those hoodwinked by Ukrainian security services about the non-death of Babchenko have only themselves to blame for relying on such a partisan source. As the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists points out: “Given the SBU is an intelligence agency, which engages in deception, obfuscation, and propaganda, determining the truth will be very difficult.”


Putin signs law on countermeasures against US & its allies

June 4, 2018


Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a law stipulating implementation of counter-sanctions against the US and its allies.

The legislation is to be applied to any state or person for “hostile actions” against Russia. It allows Russian authorities to cut international cooperation with foreign states, and to impose import and export restrictions among other countermeasures. Trade embargos will not extended to certain goods, however, that are imported by Russian citizens for personal use.

Contrary to public fears, the countersanctions do not apply to imported essential items, for which no replacements are produced in Russia or other countries.

The bill aimed at defending “economic interests and security” was drafted by State Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin and the heads of all four parliamentary caucuses in mid-April. It was approved by Russian lawmakers by the end of May. The move came in retaliation to Washington’s economic penalties against Moscow.

In early April, the US Treasury included 24 Russians, including high-profile politicians, and 14 corporations on a sanctions list relating to alleged “malign activity around the globe.” The move has been repeatedly condemned by Russian authorities, with Moscow immediately promising to retaliate.


Facebook fends off new NYT charges over data access

June 4, 2018


(Reuters) – Facebook Inc (FB.O) on Sunday rejected claims by the New York Times that it had allowed Apple and other major device makers “deep” access to users’ personal data saying any such links were tightly controlled and largely subject to users’ consent.

Facebook shares fell 1.3 percent to $191.50 before the bell on Monday, in what was otherwise an upbeat start for Wall Street.

The software referred to by the newspaper was launched 10 years ago and was used by about 60 companies, including Amazon (AMZN.O), Apple (AAPL.O), Blackberry (BB.TO), HTC (2498.TW), Microsoft (MSFT.O) and Samsung (005930.KS), Facebook’s vice president of product partnerships Ime Archibong wrote in a blog post.

The Times said that Facebook allowed companies access to the data of users’ friends without their explicit consent, even after declaring that it would no longer share such information with outsiders.

Some device makers could retrieve personal information even from users’ friends who believed they had barred any sharing, the newspaper said.

“Contrary to claims by the New York Times, friends’ information, like photos, was only accessible on devices when people made a decision to share their information with those friends,” said Ime Archibong, Facebook’s vice president of product partnerships.

Facebook has been under scrutiny from regulators and shareholders after it failed to protect the data of some 87 million users that was shared with now-defunct political data firm Cambridge Analytica.

The data scandal was first reported in March by the New York Times and London’s Observer.

Archibong also said that these cases were “very different” from the use of data by third party developers in the Cambridge row.

Reporting by Supantha Mukherjee in Bengaluru; editing by Patrick Graham


Paris welcomes Merkel’s ‘first answer’ to Macron’s EU reform plan

Paris has welcomed remarks by German Chancellor Angela Merkel on EU reform – her first since President Emmanuel Macron’s Sorbonne call for “a Europe that protects.” They meet at a road-map summit near Berlin on June 19.

June 4, 2018


France’s presidential Elysée Palace hailed Merkel’s remarks in an interview with the Frankfurter Allgemeinen Sonntagszeitung (FAS) weekly newspaper as a move “toward the French view” on ways to strengthen the eurozone and European Union.

Merkel said Europe needed “quicker economic convergence” but stopped short of Macron’s vision of a major investment budget, saying, in euros, it should be “at the lower end of the double-digit billions” and only phased in gradually.

It was, however, said Paris, the “first answer” from Merkel since last September when Macron outlined his plan to Sorbonne University students, including a tax to fund a stronger eurozone budget, and closer environmental and military measures.

“This is a positive move which shows the commitment to Europe of the chancellor and her government,” said the Elysée Palace.

Macron’s September vision initially drew cautionary reactions in Germany among parties that ended up forming Merkel’s fourth coalition cabinet in early March and warnings from smaller European nations that such planning required an “inclusive format.”

When receiving his European Charlemagne peace prize in Aachen last month, Macron had expressed impatience over delays in forming the Berlin coalition and Germany’s “fetish” for budget and trade surpluses.

Nine months after his Sorbonne speech, Macron will meet Merkel – accompanied by their top ministers – at Meseberg palace outside Berlin on June 19 to finalize joint policy on EU reform.

European leaders will then meet at a summit on and June 28 to 29 in Brussels, just before Austria, led by Chancellor Sebastian Kurz’s conservatives and the EU-skeptic far-right Freedom Party, assumes the EU’s six-month rotating presidency from Bulgaria in July.

Crises roiling Europe included a Euroskeptic government assuming government in EU-founding member Italy, Spain’s change of government, and rocky trans-Atlantic relations exemplified by US tariffs on steel and aluminum, and President Donald Trump’s exit from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, in which Germany had a major role.

Syria demands U.S. withdrawal from Tanf base ahead of deal in southern Syria

June 2, 2018


DAMASCUS,– Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem said on Saturday that the U.S. should withdraw from the al-Tanf base in southeastern Syria ahead of any agreement reached in the south of the country.

“Don’t believe the remarks about a deal in southern Syria unless the U.S. withdraws from al-Tanf,” al-Moallem said.

“The U.S. presence in Syria is illegitimate and they should withdraw from al-Tanf and any other area in Syria,” he noted.

The remarks by al-Moallem came in response to the recent reports of a Russian-backed deal in southern Syria about the withdrawal of Iranian-backed forces from areas close to the Syrian border with the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

Meanwhile, the minister denied what Israel claims the involvement of Iranian forces in Syria, saying Iran has only sent military advisors upon the request of the Syrian government.

He also expressed gratitude for Iran’s help against foreign-backed terrorism in Syria since the beginning of the crisis.

A day earlier, Russian Ambassador to the UN Vasily Nebenzya said he believed an agreement has been reached on the withdrawal of Iranian forces from the border between Syria and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

“As I understand it, an agreement was reached,” Nebenzya told reporters at the UN.

“I cannot answer if it is being realized, but as far as I understand, the parties involved in reaching an agreement are satisfied with what they have achieved,” he added.

Israel was said to be a part of the agreement with Russia.

The situation in southern Syria has grabbed attention recently as the Syrian army is preparing for a wide-scale offensive to dislodge rebels from the southern provinces of Qunaitera and Daraa amid talks of a reconciliation agreement.

Israel has for long demanded the pullout of Iranian forces from Syria’s southern borders, and launched multiple airstrikes on Syrian military positions on the pretext that Iranian fighters are running them.

The Syrian government hopes to restore military presence in Daraa and Qunaitera after the evacuation of rebels, in order to control all border points between Daraa and Jordan as well as areas between Quanitera and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, while activating the 1974 Disengagement of Forces Agreement between Syria and Israel.


The new lighter-than-air race for space

High-altitude balloons paved the way for satellites. Decades later, could they be poised to replace them?

June 1, 2018

by David Hambling

BBC News

The near future: tourists peer excitedly out of portholes far above the Earth, entranced by the sight of the starry blackness above and the curved blue horizon below. However, this is not a spacecraft, but a ‘near-space balloon’. It was launched from Mongolia, not Houston. And the tourists are Chinese.

Such balloons are a new ‘high frontier’. In 1958, Russia amazed the world by launching Sputnik, the first satellite. American hurriedly set up Nasa to compete in the space race and became the world’s pre-eminent space power. Satellites are vital in communications, weather monitoring, navigation and other areas. But 60 years after Sputnik high-altitude balloons are challenging them.

Balloons provide a vantage point at 30 kilometres (18.7 miles) for communications or monitoring, much closer than satellites. They cost a fraction of the price and, unlike satellites, can easily return to Earth for upgrade or repairs.

Nasa pioneered the first stratospheric balloons in the 1950s; today the agency uses them for atmospheric research, Earth observation and exploring cosmic rays. The balloons are huge – some are seven times the size of St Paul’s Cathedral – made of plastic the thickness of a sandwich and filled with helium. Their weakness is that they can only drift with the wind; the big breakthrough in recent years has been learning how to steer them.

“We’re learning a whole new area of navigation,” says Jeffrey Manber, CEO of US space company Nanoracks. “To me, what’s going on now harkens back to the great days of sailing by the stars and the winds – it’s back to the future.”

The upper atmosphere is called the stratosphere because it is ‘stratified’, divided into many different layers, with winds blowing in different directions at different altitudes. In principle, and given the necessary weather information, a balloon can go in any direction desired simply by moving to the right altitude and riding the wind.

Project Loon, part of Google parent Alphabet, is one of the first to exploit these countervailing winds with high-altitude balloons to provide communications in remote or disaster-hit areas. The original plan was a stream of balloons following the prevailing wind, but researchers found the balloons could stay in place by using countervailing winds at different heights. Sophisticated machine-learning algorithms change height to catch the right wind.

Project Loon gave internet access to 300,000 people in Puerto Rico after hurricane Maria destroyed infrastructure in 2017. This proved that the concept works, even though it is still at the experimental stage.

WorldView, based in Las Vegas, plan to use their balloons, known as Stratollites, not just as communications relays, but also as surveillance platforms. BBC Future visited their facility back in 2016.

“Applications are endless, from persistently monitoring forests to notifying first responders when a fire sparks, to watching remote parts of the ocean for maritime piracy, to real-time monitoring of crop health,” says WorldView’s Angelica DeLuccia Morrissey.

Three years ago WorldView looked like a dream, but after a series of increasingly ambitious test flights, the company has government contracts and commercial customers. The defence community sees Stratollites as the new eyes in the sky.

We think this has the potential to be a game-changer for us,” says Admiral Kurt Tidd, commander of US Southern Command, following a successful Stratollite test flight. “A great, long-duration, long-dwell surveillance platform.”

The same technology could help track weather in real-time, for example getting a close-up view of a hurricane from above. The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is taking an active interest.

Current Stratollites carry a 50kg (110lb) payload and thanks to solar cells they can operate indefinitely, with enough power to drive radar or powerful communications. Bigger balloons capable of carrying larger payloads are in the pipeline. Longer-term plans include near-space tourism and delivering cargo. When its mission is over, a Stratollite goes to a given point and parachutes to the ground. The same technique could be used to deliver emergency supplies or other cargo to remote locations anywhere in the world.

There is growing competition, and it comes from China. KuangChi Science (KC), founded in Shenzhen in 2010, specialises in airships and communications technology. The company is developing its Traveller balloon and its own version of wind-riding stratospheric navigation.

“The initial focus in China is remote sensing and telecommunications, with customers including municipalities seeking to integrate Traveller into a Smart City system,” says Zhou Fei, head of KC Space’s R&D team. He says it will cost between one-tenth and one hundredth of a comparable satellite system.

Traveller will also carry a capsule with six passengers high into the stratosphere. Last October, KuangChi launched and safely retrieved a balloon carrying a turtle to an altitude of 21 kilometres (13.1 miles). This could lead to passenger flights by 2021 costing around £70,000 ($96,600) a seat.

Fei says that Traveller could also be a ‘secondary launch’ platform. This would mean lifting a rocket above most of the Earth’s atmosphere, from where it could fire a small rocket into orbit far more easily than from sea level. This would be useful for the growing market for tiny CubeSats.

“One of the holy grails around the world is whether you can lower the cost of launching a small CubeSat into orbit,” says Jeffrey Manber, whose company Nanoracks is working with KC on the Traveller programme.

Balloons might also launch vehicles downward. In 2017 a team from the Chinese Academy of Sciences led released two small drones from a stratospheric balloon, turning it into a flying airbase. This setup could carry out search and rescue missions, with sensors on the balloon identifying likely locations and dropping drones for a close-up view. They believe the  balloon could carry hundreds of drones.

The Chinese military is also taking an interest  in ‘near space’. Nobody controls this domain – yet – and stratospheric balloons offer an inexpensive means for military surveillance and other applications. The could lead to a slew of military contracts.

After the Russian Sputnik showed the world what satellites could do, the US outmatched them in the space race. More and more stratospheric balloons for near-space tourism, communication and surveillance are likely to appear in the near future. The near-space race is on and while America is currently leading, China is catching up – quickly.


The Military-Industrial Complex Strikes (Out) Again

June 4, 2018

by William J. Astore


The Air Force’s Strange Love for the New B-21 Bomber

Did you know the U.S. Air Force is working on a new stealth bomber? Don’t blame yourself if you didn’t, since the project is so secret that most members of Congress aren’t privy to the details. (Talk about stealthy!) Known as the B-21 Raider, after General Doolittle’s Raiders of World War II fame, it’s designed to carry thermonuclear weapons as well as conventional missiles and bombs. In conceptual drawings, it looks much like its predecessor, the B-2 Spirit stealth bomber, all wing and no fuselage, a shape that should help it to penetrate and survive the most hostile air defense systems on Earth for the purposes of a “global strike.” (Think: nuclear Armageddon.)

As the Air Force acquires those future B-21s, the B-2s will be retired along with the older B-1B bomber, although the venerable B-52 (of the Cold War era), much modified, will remain in service for the foreseeable future. At $550 million per plane (before the inevitable cost overruns even kick in), the Air Force plans to buy as many as 200 B-21s. That’s more than $100 billion in procurement costs alone, a boon for Northrop Grumman, the plane’s primary contractor.

If history is any judge, however, a boon for Northrop Grumman is likely to prove a bust for the American taxpayer. As a start, the United States has no real need for a new, stealthy, super-expensive, nuclear-capable, deep-penetrating strategic bomber for use against “peer” rivals China and Russia. But before tackling that issue, a little history is in order.

Déjà Vu All Over Again

A long time ago (1977, to be exact), in a country far, far away, President Jimmy Carter did a brave thing: he cancelled a major Pentagon weapons system just before it was due to start production. That was the B-1 bomber, a plane with sophisticated – that is, expensive – avionics designed to allow it to penetrate Soviet airspace in the event of a nuclear war and survive. Carter cancelled it for the most sensible of reasons: it wasn’t needed.

The Air Force had already developed air-launched cruise missiles that allowed bombers like the B-52 to strike enemy targets with precision from hundreds of miles away. It was also, like all modern weapons systems, outrageously expensive. Why spend vast sums on a new bomber, Carter reasoned, when the plane added little to the nation’s nuclear deterrent? In addition, that cancellation was meant to send a message to the military-industrial complex – that he would neither be beholden to nor intimidated by defense hawks who touted each and every new weapons system, no matter how expensive or redundant, as “essential.”

I was then a teenager with a yen for American warplanes. I’d even made a model of the B-1, complete with “variable geometry” wings that could be extended forward for low-speed flight and swept backward for high-speed, supersonic flight. In my mind’s eye, I can still see it, almost all white like the prototype that Rockwell International, its primary contractor, actually built. In a symbolic act of protest against Carter’s action, I took my model, taped a couple of firecrackers to it, and dropped it from the top floor of our house, blowing it up in a most satisfying way. So much for the B-1, I thought.

I was too young to know better. When Ronald Reagan became president in 1981, as part of a massive defense buildup (that Carter, ironically enough, had actually begun), he revived the B-1. The Air Force soon committed itself to buying 100 of them at a then-astronomical $280 million each. The B-1B Lancer (as it became known) has served in the Air Force for the last three decades, never (thankfully) fulfilling the purpose for which it was built: a nuclear attack. Plagued by accidents, high operating costs, and maintenance issues, the B-1 has been a disappointment to an Air Force now eager to replace it with an entirely new bomber, more or less guaranteed to have a similar history.

However much I loved the prospective plane as a teenager, I felt quite differently once I was myself in the Air Force. As a young lieutenant in 1986, I even wrote a paper for a contest within the service in which I argued that the concept of a manned, “penetrating,” strategic nuclear bomber was deeply flawed. In essence, I took the Carter position, suggesting that the other “legs” of America’s nuclear triad (ballistic missiles launched from silos and similar missiles on nuclear submarines) were more than enough to deter and defeat enemies (no less destroy the world), and that new “precision” technologies like cruise missiles rendered risky manned bombing missions deep into enemy airspace not just obsolete but antediluvian.

Not surprisingly, my paper didn’t win and the B-1B did. But it was an absurd addition, even by Air Force standards, given that the U.S. had an overwhelming arsenal of missiles at its command, together with a fleet of B-52s that, though lacking in speed and stealth, was aging rather well. In fact, B-52s are still flying today, which isn’t that surprising when you consider the development of highly accurate missiles that allow such a plane to “standoff” from targets and so limit its exposure to enemy air defenses.

Meanwhile, the Air Force, never a service to say no to expensive, high-tech weapons systems, no matter how redundant, was hard at work on a stealthy bomber that would achieve its vision of “global reach, global power, and global strike.” What emerged was the B-2 Spirit, a stealth bomber so expensive ($2.1 billion a pop) that only 21 were ever built. It was also pricier than the B-1 to operate and less reliable thanks to its fragile “stealth” coatings, which required lengthy, high-cost maintenance. In other words, both planes proved expensive disappointments that, fortunately, were never tested on the primary mission for which they were built: incinerating millions of people in a nuclear war.

Enter the B-21, whose very name is supposed to indicate its cutting-edge nature, as the first bomber of a new century. It’s already being readied to reprise the grim, predictable histories of its predecessors.

Will the Bomber Go the Way of the Dodo?

Old ideas and hallowed traditions die hard, especially when they’re so lucrative for the military-industrial-congressional complex. Just look at the staying power of the disastrously overpriced F-35 stealth fighter, projected to cost $1.45 trillion over the life of the program. Put bluntly, today’s future-driven Air Force still wants to be capable of taking the fight to the enemy in a manned bomber, just as in the past. It still wants its air crews to put bombs on target. At a time when remotely piloted drones like the Predators and Reapers are rendering redundant so many human fighter pilots sitting in real cockpits, the Air Force has no intention of allowing its strategic bombing force to go the way of the dodo. Its leaders will always fight for manned strategic bombers because it fits their image of themselves: dodging enemy fighters, missiles, and flak, and taking the fight to the enemy’s doorstep.

In fact, not only does the Air Force want the B-21 as its “fifth generation” bomber, it also wants a new fighter jet to escort it on deep penetrating missions into China, Russia, or other countries. Think here of the legendary P-51 Mustangs, which accompanied U.S. strategic bombers deep into Nazi Germany during World War II. In other words, the Air Force’s vision of future aerial war bears an eerie resemblance to the action scenes in the classic 1949 war movie Twelve O’Clock High, except instead of the B-17s and P-51s of World War II, fifth generation bombers will join with sixth-generation fighters to claw their way through enemy airspace.

Of course, Pentagon officials have an array of talking points to support their case for the B-21. These include: maintaining parity, if not supremacy, vis-à-vis China or Russia or some future, ill-defined enemy and the need of our heroic troops for the latest and best in weaponry. They emphasize that canceling a major weapons system like the B-21 is tantamount to unilateral disarmament, that it would betray weakness to rivals and foes, and that manned bombers provide maximum flexibility since, unlike missiles, they can be recalled or redirected after being launched.

In truth, however, Twelve O’Clock High scenarios look increasingly ridiculous and outmoded in the twenty-first century. But don’t tell that to the U.S. Air Force. When its strategists visualize bombers, all they see is potential, promise, and even fulfillment. But history shows us something else: the potential for widespread and indiscriminant destruction and massive casualties. If anything, since World War II, America’s arsenal of bombers has emboldened the U.S. to strike in places and in ways clearly counterproductive to just about any definition of national security, even as untold numbers of innocents have perished from the ordnance fired or dropped from those planes. The Vietnam War – during which the U.S. dropped seven million tons of bombs – is a perfect example of this.

Here’s the nightmarish reality of actually bringing such weapons systems online: when the U.S. military develops a capability, it seeks to use it, even in cases where it’s wildly inappropriate. (Again, think of the massive B-52 bombings in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia in a counterinsurgency campaign classically meant to win “hearts and minds.”) Fielding a new strategic bomber for global strike, including potential thermonuclear attacks, will not so much enhance national security as potentially embolden future presidents to strike whenever and wherever they want in a fashion devastating to human life. The B-21 isn’t a force-multiplier. It’s an Armageddon-enabler.

Flying High in our B-21s

Having marketed himself as a savvy military critic, is there any possibility that Donald Trump will have the smarts of Jimmy Carter when it comes to the B-21 program? Will he save America at least $100 billion (and probably far more) while eliminating yet another redundant weapons system within the Department of Defense? Fat chance. Even if he wanted to, The Donald doesn’t stand a chance against the Pentagon these days.

Flush with billions and billions of new taxpayer dollars, including funds for those F-35s and for new nukes from a bipartisan coalition in an otherwise riven Congress, America’s military services will fight for any and all major weapons systems, the B-21 included. So, too, will Congress, especially if Northrop Grumman follows the production strategy first employed by Rockwell International with the B-1: spreading the plane’s subcontractors and parts suppliers to as many states and Congressional districts as possible. This would, of course, ensure that cuts to the B-21 program would impact jobs and so drive votes in Congress in its favor. After all, what congressional representative would be willing to vote against high-paying jobs in his or her own state or district in the name of American security?

So here’s my advice to young model-builders everywhere: don’t blow up your B-21s anytime soon. Rest assured that the real thing is coming. If the Air Force wants to ensure that it has a new bomber, in the name of blasting America’s enemies to oblivion, so be it. It worked (partially and at tremendous cost) in 1943 in the flak- and fighter-filled skies of Nazi Germany, so why shouldn’t it work in 2043 over the skies of who-knows-where-istan?

Why does “your” Air Force think this way? Not just because it loves big bombers, but also because its biggest rivals aren’t in Russia or China or some “rogue” state like Iran. They’re right here in “the homeland.” I’m talking, of course, about the other military services. Yes, interservice rivalries remain alive and well at the Pentagon. If the U.S. Navy can continue to build breathtakingly expensive nuclear-powered aircraft carriers (like the much-troubled USS Gerald R. Ford) and submarines, and if the Army can have all its tanks, helicopters, and associated toys, then, dammit, the Air Force can have what truly makes it special and unique: a new stealthy strategic bomber escorted by an even newer long-range stealthy fighter.

And don’t just blame the Air Force for such retrograde thinking. Its leaders know what’s easiest to sell Congress: big, splashy projects that entail decades of funding and create tens of thousands of jobs. As congressional representatives line up to push for their pieces of the action, military contractors are only too happy to oblige. As the lead contractor for the B-21, Northrop Grumman of Falls Church, Virginia, has the most to gain, but other winners will include United Technologies of East Hartford, Connecticut; BAE Systems of Nashua, New Hampshire; Spirit Aerosystems of Wichita, Kansas; Orbital ATK of Clearfield, Utah, and Dayton, Ohio; Rockwell Collins of Cedar Rapids, Iowa; GKN Aerospace of St Louis, Missouri; and Janicki Industries of Sedro-Woolley, Washington. And these are just the major suppliers for that aircraft; dozens of other parts suppliers will be needed, and they’ll be carefully allocated to as many Congressional districts as possible. Final assembly of the plane will likely take place in Palmdale, California, integrating components supplied from sea to shining sea. Who says America’s coastal enclaves can’t join with the heartland to get things done?

Even if President Trump wanted to cancel the B-21 – and given his recent speech to graduates of the Naval Academy, the odds are that there isn’t a weapons system anywhere he doesn’t want to bring to fruition – chances are that in today’s climate of militarism he would face enormous push-back. As a colleague who’s still on active duty in the Air Force puts it, “What makes today worse than the Carter days is our flag-humping, military-slobbering culture. We can’t even have a discussion of what the country’s needs are for fear of ‘offending’ or ‘disrespecting’ the troops. Today, Carter would be painted as disloyal to those troops he was consigning to an early death because every procurement decision centers on a ‘grave’ or ‘existential’ threat to national security with immediate and deadly consequences.”

And so the Air Force and its flyboy generals will win the fight for the B-21 and take the American taxpayer along for the ride – unless, that is, we somehow have the courage to pry the control sticks from the cold, dead hands of hidebound military tradition and lobbying firepower. Until we do, it’s off we go (yet again), into the wild blue yonder, flying high in our B-21s.

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