Sunday, 28 August 2016

We Don’t Know If the Department of Defense Is Actually Providing Security

The U.S. Army has been falsifying its accounting records to the tune of $6.5 trillion for the year, according to a recent report by Department of Defense auditors. And the Department of Defense has been falsifying its accounting on a massive scale for years, as was reported by Reuters in 2013 and others stretching back to at least 2001. A private company or individual would have probably been arrested years ago for such practices, but the government will never arrest itself. Yet the taxpayers need to penalize this flagrant behavior. Other government departments regularly pass audits, but the sacrosanct DOD, shielded by "national security," is apparently exempt from such annoyances. And yet given the recent hyped threat environment, despite the actual very low probability of terrorist attacks, and the usual desire in a presidential election to avoid appearing "unpatriotic," both presidential candidates have pledged to lavish even more cash on defense – despite its already getting a massive $573 billion in 2016.
Yet how can we get much "national security" if the Army, DoD, Congress, and the public cannot tell how trillions of taxpayer dollars are being spent? The fraudulent data in DOD accounting systems render them essentially useless for making resource and management decisions.
In 2001, I went to the Pentagon to get a briefing on the DOD budget. The then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, never a lover of his own Pentagon bureaucracy, had just publicly compared the efficiency of the DOD five-year spending plan to the five-year plans in the former Soviet Union. Also, the media had been running stories about how the DOD accounting system could not account for $1 trillion in spending. Yet, Victoria Clarke, the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs, appeared flummoxed when I asked why the taxpayers should be willing to increase the defense budget even one dollar, given these facts and concerns. At another meeting around that time Dov Zacheim, the DoD’s Comptroller (the chief budgeter), admitted that the massive problems with DOD accounting would likely not be solved for another decade or more. It has been about 15 years since that time, and Pentagon accounting seems to be no better.
Because the United States resides in stable North America, is oceans away from most of the world’s conflict zones, has weak and friendly neighbors, and has the world’s most potent nuclear arsenal, it is – unlike Russia, China, Germany, France, India, Pakistan, and most other major powers – very intrinsically secure. The bulk of foreign terrorist attacks in the United States, which are much lower in numbers than in countries closer to conflict zones, are blowback from the United States’ self-appointed role as world policeman, which thus has little to do with national security and much to do with actually undermining it.
Despite this intrinsic security, the United States accounts for 37 percent of world defense spending (but only about 16 percent of global GDP) and expends on defense equivalent to the next seven largest spending nations. So instead of ever increasing the defense budget, it could actually be lowered and should be, because the United States is in danger of overextension, with a massive $19 trillion national debt strangling its economy – the root of all future national political, military, cultural, and social power.
The expenses of the US Army could be cut back by transferring most of its heavy armored and mechanized divisions into the cheaper National Guard. This would make it harder for politicians to get the country involved in overseas quagmires on the ground, but still provide a potent land force capability to mobilize in case a legitimate security emergency arises. The savings from such transfer first could be put to fixing the accounting systems of the Army and DOD. After establishing a tight time window for that to be accomplished, future savings could be used to close the still yawning federal budget deficit.

Facing the Anthropocene: Fossil Capitalism and the Crisis of the Earth System

By Ian Angus

Monthly Review Press
Review by Seth Sandronsky
IjpgIan Angus’s book about humanity and our planet is a must-read. In Facing the Anthropocene: Fossil Capitalism and the Crisis of the Earth System(Monthly Review Press), Angus makes clear what is happening, why, and where a sustainable alternative can be.
The Anthropocene is not a word in common use. It is a proposed geological term to describe the destructive effects of capitalist industrialization. Its reliance on fossil fuels and the environmental outcomes are not a pretty picture. Angus delivers accounts of recent scientific research which spells out the harm.
To look at, understand, and act on the Anthropocene is a task we must undertake. This is the author’s purpose in writing his book that weds natural and social science, no small task, but vital for improved comprehension to aid collective political action.
Angus’ book has three parts. Part one unpacks the Anthropocene as a biophysical phenomenon. Angus compares and contrasts the recent science about the Anthropocene and the Holocene in terms of Earth as an integrated system, e.g., carbon and nitrogen cycles.
The Holocene epoch is the roughly 11,000 years of human civilization that precedes the Anthropocene. The latter is a tiny fraction of the former, timewise. A major theme Angus develops is that the post-World War II economy in the Global North quantitatively and qualitatively altered Earth’s ecology. He terms that 50 or so years as the Great Acceleration, a blink in geological time, but a radical rift in human society that did and does upend nature’s time with capital’s time.
The latter’s growth imperative rewards the fastest return on commodity investment, from inception to production and circulation, which Angus elaborates on in the second part of his book. Nature has no such imperative, and succumbs to capital’s “grow or die” logic, with the disruption of the climate a clear case in point.
Angus draws in part upon the work of Rachel Carson and Barry Commoner, plus that of more recent scientists with less name recognition. Two leading figures are Paul J. Crutzen (who coined the term Anthropocene recently) and Will Steffen, along with James Hansen, a more recognized scientist who publicly speaks critically on the climate crisis, naming the fossil fuel industry and its political servants as fatal threats to the planetary ecology.
Part two’s focus on the making of fossil capitalism historicizes and politicizes its origin. Here, Angus discusses the Anthropocene as a socio-ecological phenomenon. That is, he addresses the social institution of corporate capitalism, notably the extreme reliance upon war and waste as economic engines for growth that adversely impact the Earth System. Angus’s narrative, free of cant or jargon, is a disciplined discussion.
There is no lumping together of the population that ignores class divisions among and between the Global North and South. Instead, he analyzes the class factors and forces that have propelled us to the current juncture of extreme weather, a part of the ecological unraveling.
His final and third part takes up eco-socialism, human solidarity, and contours of a future movement for human sustainability. Angus’ take on the solidarity activism following Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy is superb. Such recent examples of cooperation in the face of major adversity demonstrate a vital part of human nature. It is about much more than competition.
Angus edits the web journal He uses charts and graphs (but no photos) that dovetail with the text in Facing the Anthropocene. The Appendix, Notes, Bibliography, and Index are an education, but I urge you to read the entire book as a guide in the struggle against ecocide.
Seth Sandronsky is a journalist and member of the Pacific Media Workers Guild. Email

Mass Surveillance Isn’t Colorblind

Government spying is a problem for everyone. But people of color, religious minorities, and political dissidents are far more likely to be victims of unwarranted monitoring.

During the 1960s, the FBI and NSA followed, wiretapped, and bugged Martin Luther King Jr. — all under the veil of proper legal process. Today, the FBI and Department of Homeland Security spy on Black Lives Matter activists under the guise of “counterterrorism” and “situational awareness.”
“Everyone is being watched, but not equally,” Georgetown Law’s Alvaro Bedoya noted in a recent panel discussion in Washington, D.C.
Indeed, invasive technology has made it easier for law enforcement to target groups or individuals. Homeland Security has been monitoring Black Lives Matter protests for nearly two years and collecting information on activists’ activities from Facebook, Twitter, Vine, and other social media platforms.
While mass surveillance is a problem for everyone, these tools aren’t used blindly. Due to biases shaping police practices, people of color, religious and ethnic minorities, and political dissidents are far more likely to be victims of unwarranted monitoring.
The growing use of facial-recognition technology and massive databases that store and record sensitive information — from fingerprints to iris scans — has helped make it all way too easy. Government agencies use such tools to spy on our online activities,monitor our movements,scan our bodies and faces, and record our interactions with authorities.
The FBI, along with state and local police, is able to search the databases storing this information without any real oversight. The FBI has even requested that its new database, which contains more than 411 million photos, be exempt from federal privacy laws, judicial review, and appeals processes designed simply to update records and correct factual errors.
These databases contain a disproportionate number of records on communities of color and immigrants. Why? Because racial bias in law enforcement skews the number of police stops and arrests of people of color, and immigration policies sweep up anyone applying to become residents or naturalized citizens.
Also troubling is the fact that black people are much more likely to be misidentified than white people in facial-recognition programs. The end result is a dangerous mix of bad data, bad oversight, and bad outcomes.
Stingray technology is also a major concern: It allows police to collect sensitive data by intercepting wireless signals sent by thousands of phones in a targeted area.
Law enforcement often uses stingrays in a discriminatory fashion to target certain communities. These tools are increasingly used to investigate minor infractions, exposing some neighborhoods and demographic groups to near-constant surveillance and over-policing.
While new surveillance tools are rapidly developing, our privacy laws aren’t keeping up. For example, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, the main law protecting our online communications from unauthorized government access, hasn’t been updated since 1986, when the internet was in its infancy and there was no such thing as the World Wide Web.
Far too often, police race to adopt new technologies without considering the potential harms or consulting with the communities they serve. Law enforcement should be required to be fully transparent about the adoption of any new technology. And if police want to deploy new tools, the proper privacy safeguards must be in place.
We must remember the surveillance that haunted Dr. King — and do better.
Sandra Fulton is the government relations manager at Free Press

The Terrors of Free Speech: Australia’s Racial Discrimination Act


When sections in a piece of legislation assume their own properties, the state of debate is bound to be strained. In Australia, the Racial Discrimination Act (RDA), notably section 18C, has again become a central ball of political play.
Sections 18C and 18D were introduced as legislative responses to the 1991 National Inquiry into Racist Violence and the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. The assumptions of these reports attribute to words, particularly those used in a certain way, dangers that can cause emotional and psychological harm.
Australia then joined much of the world in legislating against speech of a certain variety. In many European states, bad ideas expressed with the good faith of a denialist, specifically on the subject of the Holocaust, is bound to earn you a prison sentence or a steep fine.
In placing Australian society on the road of good intentions, section 18C renders unlawful something reasonably likely to “offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate” someone (a person or groups) because of their race, colour or national or ethnic origin. Given that individuals take offence regularly using race as a poor alibi should already demonstrate that the argument, and implementation, are bound to be flawed.
The defenders of the provision argue that haters, dissenters and rabblerousers dabbling in the seedy world of racial discrimination are perfectly protected (within bounds of decency, of course), by Section 18D.
The dispensing section is supposedly enlightened, exempting the application of section 18C in cases of artistic works, scientific debate and fair comment on matters of public interest. The railroading proviso is that these are all made “reasonably” and in “good faith”.
This is all fine for Meredith Doig, who writes that the courts “have consistently held that the conduct under question must involve ‘profound and serious’ effects, not ‘mere slights’.” Doig triumphantlyproduces a statistic that is meant to prove the rule. “Less than 3 per cent of racial hatred complaints ever make it to court.” You have to begin somewhere.
Given that much argument and hate is fought in a world of insult (the cleverer the better) often waged intemperately and unreasonably, the protections of such an exempting section are bound to be skimpy. Australia’s continued hostility to a Bill of Rights insists that judges and lawmakers, not the public, which is regarded with suspicion, should determine reason and good faith.
A sense of the state of such argument can be gathered every time chatter about reforming Section 18C disturbs the political landscape. Self-proclaimed vulnerable groups come out of the woodwork agitating against inappropriateness. Submissions are rushed off, with free speech being their enemy.
In 2014, when this issue of reforming the RDA also cropped up, the Australian Tamil Congress submission to the Attorney General’s department (Apr 29) spoke of the constant stream of “stories from Australian Tamils of racism and racial discrimination.”
The organisation wanted to be “free from verbal insults and offensive comments when walking down the street, when on public transport, in the workplace and online, let alone when they are reading the newspaper, listening to the radio or watching television.” A world, in other words, cocooned from anything that might smack of any form of offence based on race.
The reformers have not come up with decent truck on the subject either. Former Federal Court Judge Ronald Sackville argues that two amendments might do the trick in balancing legitimate protection of groups against vilification with the pursuit of free speech.
This would involve replacing “offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate” with “degrade, intimidate or incite hatred or contempt”. Supposedly, the latter is meant to be more onerous to demonstrate, though again, it would be a judicial matter as to how degradation or intimidation is measured. In free speech land, many on the losing end of an argument, notably touching on the untouchables of racial identity, would argue to be intimidated and degraded.
The second point would entail that most deceptive, problematic and foolish of legal devices, the surpreme excuse for judicial meddling: the objective test that simply conceals subjective prejudices and assessments.
For Sackville, the legislation’s effects might be softened by abandoning the subjective test on hurt and offence and adopting an objective test on how “a reasonable member of the community at large” would respond to certain words and conduct.
The policing of words and the means to give a stern refutation, rebuke or attack, however vicious, is always a flirtatious move towards broader policing. Such policy also attributes to a few individuals (the courts, in other words) the means to decide what might have constituted “fair comment” or appropriateness on words. The unfree mind is a safe one, and the authorities will help you stay that way.
Free speech remains the terror of the Antipodean mind, one ever faithful to penal control and state regulation. If a multi-ethnic society cannot broach the subject of discussing race, as opposed to its more hideous alternative of banishing discussion altogether, then its claims to legitimacy must be questioned. One can only be genuinely tolerant in accepting those who are intolerant, even foolishly so. Let me be degraded, in due course, before the sheer force of well-founded argument.
Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email:

Assange slams Clinton for ‘Russian hysteria’ & US media for politicized election coverage

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has accused Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton of creating “hysteria about Russia,” while criticizing the US media for being too politicized in its presidential election coverage.
Speaking to Fox News via a video-link from the Ecuadorian embassy in London, Assange accused Clinton of engendering a “kind of neo-McCarthyist hysteria,” referring to Joe McCarthy, an anti-communist US Senator in the 1950s. 
“She has palled up with the neo-cons responsible for the Iraq war and she has grabbed onto a kind of neo-McCarthy hysteria about Russia and is using this to demonize the Trump campaign,” Assange told Fox News
Clinton went on the attack against Trump again at her latest rally in Reno, Nevada on Thursday, when she accused the Republican presidential candidate of having ties with Russia. 
She accused the property tycoon of having links with Russia and Vladimir Putin, who she referred to as the “grand godfather of this global brand of extreme nationalism.”
“Trump himself heaps praise on Putin and embraces pro-Russian policies,” Clinton said.
Assange said that, while he wouldn’t be backing Trump in November’s election, neither the billionaire nor his campaign team were “Russian agents.” 
“The Trump campaign has all sorts of things wrong with it, but as far as we can see, being Russian agents is not one of them,” the WikiLeaks founder pointed out. 
Around 20,000 DNC emails were made public by WikiLeaks on July 22, some of which revealed a close working relationship between the party and some mainstream media figures, as well as collusion between the Democratic Party and the Hillary Clinton campaign to sideline her challenger Bernie Sanders in the primary race for the presidential nomination.
“I would like to believe that no media organization in the United States would not have published the DNC emails, but I don’t think that is true actually,” Assange said. “I don’t think MSNBC would have published them and I don’t think the New York Times would have published most of them.
“I think that is sad, and there’s incredible politicization in this election of the media. And it is a bit concerning,” he said. 
Clinton and the US media have alleged that Russia was behind the DNC hack, despite failing to provide any actual evidence, while the Obama administration has never publicly blamed the Russian government for that attack.
When asked why he had not published any incriminating links about Trump, Assange said: “It is really hard for us to release anything worse than what comes out of Donald Trump’s mouth… It is part of his charismatic appeal that he speaks off the cuff.” 
Assange has been living at the Ecuadorian Embassy since June of 2012, when he was granted political asylum by the government of Ecuador.
The WikiLeaks founder believes if he is deported to Sweden, he will then be sent to America to face espionage charges in for his role in publishing sensitive classified information.

Saudi-led coalition airstrikes #1 cause of civilian deaths in Yemen – UN body

Airstrikes carried out by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen are responsible for the majority of civilians killed in the country’s ongoing conflict, the UN has found, while calling for an international investigation into the coalition’s violations there.
“OHCHR has documented incidents in which air strikes by the coalition forces had an impact on localities with a high concentration of civilians, including markets and residential areas, as well as on events such as wedding ceremonies, frequently incurring high casualties and causing substantive infrastructural damage,” the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said in a report.
“The cases monitored by the Office indicate that air strikes were the single largest cause of casualties,” the report published on Thursday states. “The prolonged duration of the conflict has strongly heightened the disastrous risk of a systemic collapse of Yemen.”
According to the UN’s human rights office, an estimated 3,799 civilians have been killed since the Saudi-led airstrikes began in March of 2015. The UN and rights groups estimate that at least 9,000 people have died overall, and 6,711 people have been wounded in the conflict.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein has called for an international investigation into the violations committed by the Saudi-led coalition, saying that a national commission had failed to succeed in pursuing those responsible.
Speaking during a news briefing in Geneva, Mohammad Ali Alnsour, chief of the Middle East and North Africa section of the UN’s human rights office, said: “The coalition had shared with us their internal investigation. And our observation as an office [is] we need to see more transparency in terms of these investigations.”
“The compensation of the victims is an important element, but it is not the only element. We think there should be a kind of accountability and these violations not to be repeated again,” he added.
The UN’s 22-page report also condemns the recruitment of child fighters in Yemen, as well as suspected US drone strikes and attacks on human rights defenders. The office also accused the Saudi military of dropping cluster bombs in Yemen’s residential areas.
Tensions in Yemen escalated after Shia President Saleh was deposed in 2012 and his Houthi supporters – reportedly aided by Iran – eventually seized the capital city of Sanaa in 2014. Houthi forces then advanced from Sanaa towards the south, seizing large parts of Yemen and sending current Sunni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi into exile.
In March of 2015, the Saudi-led coalition began airstrikes in order to stop Houthi advances and reinstate Hadi to power. By late summer of that year, Saudi-led forces had launched a ground operation as well.
Yemen’s civil war has cost the country $14 billion so far, according to a confidential joint report compiled by the World Bank, UN, the Islamic Development Bank, and the European Union. 
The most recent strike by the Saudi-led coalition took place on Saturday, when jets struck Sanaa during a rally attended by some 100,000 pro-Houthi rebels and sympathizers of ex-President Saleh. 
Earlier this month, at least 11 people were killed and 19 others injured in an airstrike that targeted a hospital in northwestern Hajjah province, according to Doctors Without Borders (MSF).
Also in August, at least 10 children were killed and almost 30 injured at a school in northwest Yemen, MSF reported. That strike was also blamed on the Saudi-led coalition.
Just days before the school strike, at least nine people were killed in a Saudi-led coalition airstrike in Sanaa that was reported to be the first in recent months. 
Speaking on the atrocities committed against civilians in Yemen, human rights activist Lama Fakih, a senior crisis adviser at Amnesty International, told RT that her organization has called for a range of consequences against the Saudi-led coalition for its “unlawful attacks.”
“We have seen for example attacks against schools rendering them unusable so that children have not been able to start the academic year. We’ve seen the Saudis also use a banned cluster munitions which act as landmines when they are left in civilian areas and are particularly problematic for children, who mistake them for toys and move them around and end up being causalities of this weapons,” she said.
The UN has condemned the actions of the Saudi-led coalition before releasing its Thursday report. In January, it slammed Riyadh for carrying out “widespread and systematic” assaults on civilian targets.
However, in a surprising and controversial move in June, the UN removed Saudi Arabia from a blacklist of children’s rights violators, even after a report found that the Saudi-led coalition was responsible for hundreds of child deaths in Yemen. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon later admitted that the decision was made after threats were received from a number of countries.

Saudi Arabia to exceed Russia, France in defense spending

By Leith Fadel -