Deep Politics Forum

Full Version: USA under presidency of a know-nothing, neo-fascist, racist, sexist, mobbed-up narcissist!!
You're currently viewing a stripped down version of our content. View the full version with proper formatting.

The Feuding Kleptocrats

Posted on Mar 26, 2017
By Chris Hedges
[Image: Face_the_Nation_590.jpg]
Mr. Fish / Truthdig
The Trump kleptocrats are political arsonists. They are carting cans of gasoline into government agencies and Congress to burn down any structure or program that promotes the common good and impedes corporate profit.
They ineptly have set themselves on fire over Obamacare, but this misstep will do little to halt the drive to, as Stephen Bannon promises, carry out the "deconstruction of the administrative state." Donald Trump's appointees are busy diminishing or dismantling the agencies they were named to lead and the programs they are supposed to administer. That is why they were selected. Rex Tillerson at the State Department, Steven Mnuchin at the Treasury Department, Scott Pruitt at the Environmental Protection Agency, Rick Perry at the Department of Energy, Tom Price at Health and Human Services, Ben Carson at the Department of Housing and Urban Development and Betsy DeVos at the Department of Education are eating away the foundations of democratic institutions like gigantic termites. And there is no force inside government that can stop them.
The sparing of Obamacare last week was a Pyrrhic victory. There are numerous subterfuges that can be employed to cripple or kill that very flawed health care program. These include defunding cost-sharing subsidies for low-income families, allowing premium rates for individual insurance to continue to soar (they have gone up 25 percent this year), cutting compensation to insurers in order to drive more insurance companies out of the program, and refusing to enforce the individual mandate that requires many Americans to purchase health insurance or be fined. The Trump administration's Shermanesque march to the sea has just begun.
William S. Burroughs in his novel "Naked Lunch" creates predatory creatures he calls "Mugwumps." "Mugwumps," he writes, "have no liver and nourish themselves exclusively on sweets. Thin, purple-blue lips cover a razor-sharp beak of black bone with which they frequently tear each other to shreds in fights over clients. These creatures secrete an addictive fluid though their erect penises which prolongs life by slowing metabolism." Those addicted to this fluid are called "Reptiles."
The addiction to the grotesque, to our own version of Mugwumps, has become our national pathology. We are entranced, even as the secretion of Trump's Mugwump fluid repulses us. He brings us down to his level. We are glued to cable news, which usually sees a huge falling off of viewership after a presidential election. Ratings for the Trump-as-president reality show, however, are up 50 percent. CNN, which last year had its most profitable year ever, looks set in 2017 to break even that record and is projecting a billion dollars in profit. The New York Times added some 500,000 subscribers, net, over the past six months. The Washington Post has seen a 75 percent increase in new subscribers over the past year. Subscriptions to magazines like The New Yorker and The Atlantic have increased.This growth is provoked not by a sudden desire to be informed, but by Americans' wanting to be continually updated on the soap opera that epitomizes the U.S. government. What country will the president insult today? Mexico? Australia? Sweden? Germany? What celebrity or politician will he belittle? Arnold Schwarzenegger? Barack Obama? John McCain? Chuck Schumer? What idiocy will come out of his mouth or from his appointees? Can Kellyanne Conway top her claim that microwave ovens that turned into cameras were used to spy on Donald Trump? Will DeVos say something as stupid as her assertion that guns are needed in schools to protect children from grizzly bears? Will Trump make another assertion such as his insistence that Obama ordered his phone in Trump Tower to be tapped?
It is all entertainment all the time. It is the result of a media that long ago gave up journalism to keep us amused. Trump was its creation. And now we get a daily "Gong Show" out of the White House. It is good for Trump. It is good for the profits of the cable news networks. But it is bad for us. It keeps us distracted as the kleptocrats transform the country into a banana republic. Our world is lifted from the pages of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's novel "The Autumn of the Patriarch," in which the "eternal" dictator was feared and mocked in equal measure.

The kleptocratsand, now, those they conhave no interest in the flowery words of inclusivity, multiculturalism and democracy that a bankrupt liberal class used with great effectiveness for three decades to swindle the public on behalf of corporations. That rhetoric is a spent force. Barack Obama tried it when he crisscrossed the country during the presidential campaign telling a betrayed public that Hillary Clinton would finish the job started by his administration.
Political language has been replaced by the obscenities of reality television, professional wrestling and the daytime shows in which couples find out if they cheated on each other. This is the language used by Trump, who views reality and himself through the degraded lens of television and the sickness of celebrity culture. He, like much of the public, lives in the fantasy world of electronic hallucinations.
The battle over health care was all about the most effective way to hand money to corporations. Do we stick with Obamacare, already a gift to the for-profit insurance and pharmaceutical industries, or do we turn to a sham bill of pretend care that gives even more tax cuts to the rich? This is what passes for nuanced political debate now. The courtiers in the media give the various sides in this argument ample airtime and space in print, but they lock out critics of corporate power, especially those who promote the rational system of Medicare for all. Health care costs in the United States, where 40 cents of every health care dollar goes to corporations, are double what they are in industrial countries that have a national health service. This censorship on behalf of corporations is the press' steadfast lie of omission. And it is this lie that leaves the media at once distrusted by the public and complicit in Trump's fleecing of America. When we are not being amused by these debates among corporate lackeys we listen to retired generals, all making six-figure incomes from the weapons industry, selling the public on the imperative of endless war and endless arms purchases.
Trump understands the effectiveness of illusions, false promises and lies, an understanding that eludes those in the Freedom Caucus, many of whom want to do away with health care systems that involve government. If the ruling kleptocrats strip everything away at once, it could provoke an angry backlash among the population. Better to use the more subtle mechanisms of theft that worked in Trump's casinos and his fake university. Better to steal with finesse. Better to strip the government on behalf of corporations while promising to make America great again.
The kleptocrats, whatever their differences, are united by one overriding fear. They fear large numbers of people will become wise to their kleptocracy and revolt. They fear the mob. They fear revolution, the only mechanism left that can rid us of these parasites.
They are perverting the legal system and building mechanisms and paramilitary groups that will protect the kleptocrats and oligarchs when the last bits of the country and the citizens are being "harvested" for corporate profit. They don't want anything to impede the pillage, even when climate change forces people to confront the reality that they and their children may soon become extinct. They will steal despite the fact that the ecosystem is collapsing, heat waves and droughts are destroying crop yields, the air and water are becoming toxic and the oceans are being transformed into dead zones. There will be hundreds of millions of desperate climate refugees. Civil society will break down. They won't stop until their own generators have run out of fuel in their gated compounds and their private security forces have deserted them. When the end comes they will greet it with their characteristic blank expression of idiocy and greed. But most of us won't be around to see their epiphany.

The kleptocrats have placed all citizens under surveillance. This is by design. They sweep up our email correspondence, tweets, web searches, phone records, file transfers, live chats, financial data, medical data, criminal and civil court records and information on movements. They do this in the name of the war on terror. They have diverted billions of taxpayer dollars to store this information in sophisticated computer systems. They have set up surveillance cameras, biosensors, scanners and face recognition technologies in public and private places to obliterate our anonymity and our privacy. They are watching us constantly. And when a government watches you constantly you cannot use the word "liberty." The people's relationship to government is that of slave to master.
The kleptocrats have used the courts to strip us of due process and habeas corpus. They have constructed the largest prison system in the world. They have militarized police and authorized them to kill unarmed citizens, especially poor people of color, with impunity. They have overturned the 1878 Posse Comitatus Act, which once prohibited the military from acting as a domestic police force, by passing Section 1021 of the National Defense Authorization Act. Section 1021 gives the kleptocrats the power to carry outextraordinary rendition on the streets of American cities and hold citizens indefinitely in military detention centers without due processin essence disappearing them as in any totalitarian state. The kleptocrats have handed the executive branch of government the power to assassinate U.S. citizens. And they have stacked the courts with corporate loyalists who treat corporations as people and people as noisome impediments to corporate profit.
This omnipresent surveillance state and militarization of the forces of internal security are designed to thwart popular revolt. These tools are the moats the kleptocrats have built to protect themselves from the threatening hordes. Full surveillance, as political philosopher Hannah Arendt wrote, is not a means to discover or prevent crimes, but a device to have "on hand when the government decides to arrest a certain category of the population." The most innocuous information will be twisted and used by the kleptocrats to condemn anyone considered a threat.
The kleptocrats, in the end, have only one real enemy: us. Their goal is to make sure we are mesmerized by their carnival act or, if we wake up, shackled while they do their dirty work. Our goal must be to get rid of them.

U.N. Experts: Americans' Right to Protest Is in Danger Under Trump

Posted on Apr 2, 2017

By Common Dreams staff
[Image: CallingAttentionDAPL_590.jpg]
Demonstrators against the Dakota Access pipeline project face police in Bismarck, N.D., in late 2016. Throughout the United States, anti-protest bills are being passed, raising an alarm among human rights experts. (Donald Kaufman / Truthdig)

At least 19 U.S. states have introduced bills that attack the right to protest since Donald Trump's election as president, an "alarming and undemocratic" trend, U.N. human rights investigators said this week.
Maina Kiai and David Kaye, independent U.N. experts on freedom of peaceful assembly and expression respectively, are calling on lawmakers in the United States to stop the "alarming" trend of "undemocratic" anti-protest bills designed to criminalize or impede the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and expression.
"The trend also threatens to jeopardize one of the United States' constitutional pillars: free speech," they said in a statement, calling for action to reverse such legislation.
"From the Black Lives Matter movement, to the environmental and Native American movements in opposition to the Dakota Access oil pipeline, and the Women's Marches, individuals and organizations across society have mobilized in peaceful protests, as it is their right under international human rights law and US law," Kiai and Kaye said.● The Arizona State Senate in February voted to expand racketeering laws to allow police to arrest anyone involved in a protest and seize their assets, treating demonstrators like organized criminals. ::darthvader::
● Portland, Oregon activists organizing against police killings of Black men, white nationalist politicians, and the countless systems of racism throughout our local, state, and federal governments are now considered "domestic terrorists" by Department of Homeland Security. ::facepalm:: ::darthvader::
● In January, North Dakota Republicans proposed legislation to legalize running over protesters if they are blocking roadways. (The legislation failed, for now.) ::facepalm::
● Missouri lawmakers want to make it illegal to wear a robe, mask or disguise (remarkably, a hoodie would count) to a protest.
● In Minnesota, following the police shooting death of Philando Castile, protests caused part of a highway to shut down. Then, at the beginning of the state legislative session, Minnesota legislators drafted bills that would punish highway protestors with heavy fines and prison time and would make protesters liable for the policing costs of an entire protest if they individually were convicted of unlawful assembly or public nuisance.
● Republicans in Washington state have proposed a plan to reclassify as a felony civil disobedience protests that are deemed "economic terrorism."
● Lawmakers in North Carolina want to make it a crime to heckle lawmakers. ::facepalm::
● In Indiana, conservatives want to allow police to use "any means necessary" to remove activists from a roadway.
● Colorado lawmakers are considering a big increase in penalties for environmental protesters. Activists who tamper with oil or gas equipment could be, under the measure, face felony charges and be punished with up to 18 months behind bars and a fine of up to $100,000.
● A bill before the Virginia state legislature would dramatically increase punishment for people who "unlawfully" assemble after "having been lawfully warned to disperse." Those who do so could face a year in jail and a $2,500 fine.
The experts took particular issue with the characterization in some bills of protests being "unlawful" or "violent".
"There can be no such thing in law as a violent protest," the experts said. "There are violent protesters, who should be dealt with individually and appropriately by law enforcement. One person's decision to resort to violence does not strip other protesters of their right to freedom of peaceful assembly. This right is not a collective right; it is held by each of us individually," the experts stressed.
"Peaceful assembly," they added, "is a fundamental right, not a privilege, and the government has no business imposing a general requirement that people get permission before exercising that right."
The experts also emphasized that legislators should be mindful of the important role that the right to freedom of peaceful assembly has played in the history of American democracy and the fight for civil rights.
"We call on the U.S. authorities, at the federal and state level, to refrain from enacting legislation that would impinge on the exercise of the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly, expression and opinion," they concluded.

April 5, 2017 | Russ Baker and C. Collins

More About Felix Sater the Problematical Friend Trump Forgot

FBI Informant at the Heart of Trump-Russia Story

[Image: 2-700x470.jpg] Photo credit: Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from Emilio Labrador / Flickr (CC BY 2.0), 591J / Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0), and Boing Boing CC BY-NC-SA 3.0.
Note to Readers: Our recent 6,500-word exclusive on Donald Trump and Russia was, admittedly, long. But based on the tremendous response, you liked it a lot. We still weren't able to fit in everything important, so in the coming days we'll be publishing supplementary pieces with noteworthy material and additional reporting and analysis. Here is one such piece.
WhoWhatWhy's March 27 exclusive on Donald Trump, the FBI, Russia, and the mob focused on several key figures. One was Felix Sater, a Trump associate and prized FBI informant. We delved into his criminal past, his company, Bayrock, and its work with the Trump Organization.
Sater was even more intimately involved with Trump and his fortunes than we initially realized. According to a sworn 2008 deposition in a suit Trump filed against the author Timothy O'Brien, the developer gave Sater's company, Bayrock, an exclusive on all development deals in Russia.
Sater expanded on the point of how central their relationship was.
"It's highly unlikely I've had conversations prior to the end of 2005 with almost any developer where I didn't use my Trump card' my Trump card' was what is my value added, my competitive advantage. My competitive advantage is anybody can come in and build a tower. [But] I can build a Trump Tower, because of my relationship with Trump."
Sater had even proposed to take the Mar-a-Lago brand global, to pitch a "high-end resort situation." He was going around the world selling Trump's name while playing to Trump's megalomaniacal instincts.
Because of his close relationship with Trump, understanding more about Sater may prove illuminating as the story continues to unfold. Let's go back to the beginning for some background as well as previously unreported information on figures at Sater's first employer who later showed up in the recent Trump political orbit.

"The Shabby Side of the Street"

Felix Sater was born in 1966 in what was then the Soviet Union. Sater's father, who had been born in Kiev, Ukraine then a republic of the Soviet Union moved the family to Israel when Sater was a child. In the 1970s, the Saters emigrated to the United States and joined the expanding enclave of Russian-speaking immigrants in Brooklyn.
Sater took some classes at Pace University, and from about the age of 20 he went to work at a series of brokerages, eventually landing at Gruntal & Co. in 1988.
By the 1980s, the once-staid Gruntal was known for its "anything goes" atmosphere on the "shabby side of the street," where the emphasis was on volume of sales rather than profits for customers, and punctuated by charges of racial and sexual harassment an "Island of Misfit Toys" where no one seemed in control.
Regulators nearly shut it down in 1995. "The culture at Gruntal was to push as much product as possible, whether the client makes money or not," notes an unnamed former executive quoted in a 2003 Fortune profile of Gruntal by Richard Behar.
Despite its less-than-sterling reputation, a number of future well-known financiers cycled through Gruntal. The future billionaire "activist investor" Carl Icahn (now President Trump's special adviser on regulatory reform) created the options department at the firm in the late 1960s before its reputation took a turn for the worse in the 1970s.

Another Fox in the Hen House

Here's another Sater contemporary: Steven A. Cohen. He went to work for Gruntal straight out of college in 1978; Cohen became part of the options arbitrage department and was managing his own pool of funds by 1984, when he bragged about making $100,000 a day.
Cohen who is invariably described as "secretive" finally left Gruntal in 1993 to found SAC Capital Management, going on to run what again was referred to as "a highly secretive and stupendously successful" group of hedge funds worth $4 billion by 2003. He became one of the wealthiest men on Wall Street, despite a later years-long effort by US Attorney Preet Bharara to make a case against him for alleged criminal insider trading. He was never charged with a crime, though SAC agreed to pay $1.8 billion in fines.
We were intrigued by the connections between Kevin J. O'Connor and Cohen. Trump brought O'Connor, formerly Number 3 in George W. Bush's Department of Justice (DOJ), onto his transition team to help oversee DOJ picks. He had worked for Trump supporter Rudy Giuliani's law firm, Bracewell & Giuliani, and then, in 2015, began serving as Cohen's own general counsel a position he continued to hold during his transition advisory role about DOJ.
With Cohen having cut a deal in 2013 with the DOJ, and with Trump bringing in Cohen's guy for advice on picking prosecutors and then firing Cohen's nemesis Bharara, it seems clear who has thus far won.

Stephen Feinberg, Also in Trump's Ear

Another previously unreported connection between Sater and Trump World is Gruntal alum Stephen Feinberg, who also worked at the firm at the same time as Sater. Feinberg joined Gruntal in 1985 and left in 1992, when he co-founded Cerberus Capital Management. This extremely successful private equity firm is deeply involved with outside contracts in military and intelligence work. As Bloomberg noted, "Feinberg has bought companies that refuel spy planes, train Green Berets, make sniper rifles and watch America's foes from space."
By 2017, Feinberg was worth about $1.2 billion, according to Forbes, and Cerberus managed over $30 billion in assets. Feinberg, one of Trump's largest campaign contributors, was a member of the economic advisory team during the transition, and early on he was tapped by Trump to lead a review of intelligence agencies, with the backing of advisors Steve Bannon and Jared Kushner, it was reported. That plan was later walked back; no reporting on the topic mentioned a possible connection to Felix Sater.
(Neither Cohen nor Feinberg could immediately be found in the broker-listing database maintained by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority [FINRA], at Gruntal or elsewhere; standard biographies indicate that both Cohen and Feinberg "managed" funds at Gruntal, thus precluding their need to be registered as brokers. However, in a 2003 Bloomberg Businessweek profile, a former boss notes that Cohen made $8,000 profit there "his very first day.")

A Cutting Remark

Late in 1991, Sater was at a chic upper East Side restaurant-bar with Salvatore Lauria, a friend from Gruntal, celebrating Lauria's success at passing the brokerage exam. (Lauria had been trading quite successfully, but illegally, before he passed his exam, apparently a not-uncommon practice at Gruntal, according to The Scorpion and the Frog, by Lauria and journalist David S. Barry.)
[Image: 3-1024x682.jpg]Photo credit:

According to Lauria, Sater flew into a sudden rage at comments made by a man at the bar about a woman, in a scene to which he would remain forever tied. He smashed a martini glass on the bar and shoved its stem into the man's face, severing a nerve, resulting in injuries that required more than 100 stitches.
For that crime, Sater not only spent a year in jail, but the National Association of Securities Dealers barred him for life from working as a broker or otherwise associating with firms that sell securities to the public.
Yet by 1994, Sater, Lauria, Gennady Klotsman, and another Gruntal trader controlled the brokerage White Rock Partners and Company, which in 1995 changed its name to State Street Capital Markets Corporation. They brought in a number of traders who had worked at Gruntal as well as other, mobbed-up brokerages, including members and associates of four of the five major New York City organized crime families, such as the nephew of mobster Carmine "the Snake" Persico and the brother-in-law of Gambino hit man Sammy "the Bull" Gravano. Klotsman, like Sater, had been born in the Soviet Union and was connected to the Russian mob.
White Rock existed only to defraud its customers. For the few years it was in existence, its illegal profits reached an astounding $40 million to $60 million and it fleeced thousands (some of whom were Holocaust survivors). The scams centered around "pump and dump" schemes: artificially inflating the price of stocks, selling them to unsophisticated, often elderly, buyers usually through cold calls and using high-pressure tactics and then walking away with the commission.
It did so by gaining control of certain "house stocks" and then hiking their prices through various illegal schemes, including paying off complicit brokerages to sell them, and then aggressively selling those stocks. There were also phony investment opportunities in companies whose shares White Rock insiders and other associates secretly controlled. Barred, unregistered, and non-compliant brokers, and brokers with long histories of complaints also found a home at White Rock. The principals then laundered the funds.
One of White Rock/State Street's scams was a phony investment scheme for a casino in Colorado near Black Hawk, about an hour west of Denver, associated with Country World Casinos, an over-the-counter stock based in Pennsylvania. State Street and affiliated brokerages touted the stock, while complicated shell companies shuffled the funds back to the principals.
In 1999, Country World roped in Max Baer, Jr., who played "Jethro" on "The Beverly Hillbillies," in an agreement to create "Jethro's Beverly Hillbillies Mansion and Casino;" Baer had long nurtured hopes of founding a chain of casinos after he had secured a licence to use the Beverly Hillbillies name. The casino never happened, of course.
Another company, Holly Products, bought a small electronics manufacturer and moved it to a Navajo reservation near Shiprock, New Mexico; tribal officials contributed the collateral so that the company could obtain a loan to renovate a manufacturing site there. The tribe lost the collateral $600,000 when the factory closed. Frank Coppa Sr., identified by the government as a captain of the Bonanno organized crime family, owned Holly Products.
[Image: 4.jpg]Alleged Russian organized crime boss Semion Mogilevich.
Photo credit: Mark Nilstein / Getty Images

White Rock's rise very much coincides with the arrival in the US in 1992 of Vyacheslav "Yaponchik" Ivankov, an associate of Russian boss Semion Mogilevich. Ivankov promptly went to work brutally organizing the Russian mob in the US. Soon he launched a number of complicated large-scale money laundering operations. When the Feds finally tracked Ivankov down (after he skipped out of his Trump Tower pad and abandoned his haunts at the Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City), the Feds arrested him in an early morning raid in Brooklyn in 1995.
By 1996, the Feds had begun to close in on State Street. According to court documents, State Street stopped operating that year, and Sater and Lauria left the country. Eventually, Sater, Lauria, and Klotsman signed agreements to serve as "cooperating witnesses" against the 19 other defendants; Sater signed his agreement in December 1998.
Sater never served any time, nor was he forced to pay any restitution to his victims, as his cooperation agreement mandated: $60 million. Just a few years later, Sater was working at the real estate firm Bayrock, in Trump Tower, a floor below the Trump Organization, making deals with Donald Trump himself.
A request to Sater's attorney for an interview received no reply by publication time.

Resurrecting the Unholy Trinity: Torture, Rendition and Indefinite Detention Under Trump

Posted on Apr 6, 2017
By Rebecca Gordon / TomDispatch
[Image: goodmantorture_590.jpg]
When George W. Bush and Dick Cheney launched their forever warsunder the banner of a "Global War on Terror"they unleashed an unholy trinity of tactics. Torture, rendition and indefinite detention became the order of the day. After a partial suspension of these policies in the Obama years, they now appear poised for resurrection.
For eight years under President Obama, this country's forever wars continued, although his administration retired the expression "war on terror," preferring to describe its war-making more vaguely as an effort to "degrade and destroy" violent jihadists like ISIS. Nevertheless, he made major efforts to suspend Bush-era violations of U.S. and international law, signing executive orders to that effect on the day he took office in 2009. Executive Order 13491, "Ensuring Lawful Interrogations," closed the CIA's secret torture centersthe "black sites"and ended permission for the Agency to use what had euphemistically become known as "enhanced interrogation techniques."
On that same day in 2009, Obama issued Executive Order 13492, designedunsuccessfully, as it turned outto close the U.S. military prison at Guantánamo Bay, the site of apparently endless detention without charges or trials. In 2015, Congress reinforced Obama's first order in a clause for the next year's National Defense Authorization Act that limited permissible interrogation techniques to those described in the U.S. Army Field Manual section on "human intelligence collector operations."
All of that already seems like such ancient history, especially as the first hints of the Trump era begin to appear, one in which torture, black sites, extraordinary rendition, and so much more may well come roaring back. Right now, it's a matter of reading the Trumpian tea leaves. Soon after the November election, Masha Gessen, a Russian émigrée who has written two books about Vladimir Putin's regime, gave us some pointers on how to do this. Rule number one: "Believe the autocrat." When he tells you what he wants to dobuild a wall, deport millions, bring back torture"he means what he says." Is Gessen right? Let's examine some of those leaves.
Torture ReduxIt should come as no surprise to anyone who paid minimal attention to the election campaign of 2016 that Donald Trump has a passionate desire to bring back torture. In fact, he campaigned on a platform of committing war crimes of various kinds, occasionally even musing about whether the United States could use nukesagainst ISIS. He promised to return waterboarding to its rightful place among twenty-first-century U.S. practices and, as he so eloquently put it, "a hell of a lot worse." There's no reason, then, to be shocked that he's been staffing his administration with people who generally feel the same way (Secretary of Defense James "Mad Dog" Mattis being an obvious exception).
The CIA was certainly not the only outfit engaged in torture in the Bush years, but it's the one whose practices were most thoroughlyexamined and publicized. Despite his enthusiasm for torture, Trump's relationship with the Agency has, to say the least, been frosty. Days before his inauguration, he responded to revelations of possible Russian influence on the U.S. election by accusing its operatives of behaving like Nazis, tweeting: "Intelligence agencies should never have allowed this fake news to leak' into the public. One last shot at me. Are we living in Nazi Germany?"
He quickly appointed a new director of the CIA (as hasn't been true of quite a few other positions in his administration). He chose former Congressman Mike Pompeo, whose advice about torture he has also said he would consider seriously. A polite term for Pompeo's position on the issue might be: ambiguous. During his confirmation hearings, he maintained that he would "absolutely not" reinstate waterboarding or other "enhanced techniques," even if the president ordered him to. "Moreover," he added, "I can't imagine that I would be asked that."
However, his written replies to the Senate Intelligence Committee told quite a different, far less forthright tale. Specifically, as the British Independent reported, he wrote that if a ban on waterboarding were shown to impede the "gathering of vital intelligence," he would consider lifting it. He added that he would reopen the question of whether interrogation techniques should be limited to those found in the Army Field Manual. ("If confirmed, I will consult with experts at the Agency and at other organizations in the U.S. government on whether the Army Field Manual uniform application is an impediment to gathering vital intelligence to protect the country.")
In other words, as the Independent observed, if the law prohibits torture, then Pompeo is prepared to work to alter the law. "If experts believed current law was an impediment to gathering vital intelligence to protect the country," Pompeo wrote to the Senate committee, "I would want to understand such impediments and whether any recommendations were appropriate for changing current law." Unfortunately for both the president and him, there are laws against torture that neither they nor Congress have the power to change, including the U.N. Convention against Torture, and the Geneva Conventions.
Nor is Mike Pompeo the only Trump nominee touched by the torture taint. Take, for instance, the president's pick for the Supreme Court. From 2005 to 2006, Neil Gorsuch worked in the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, the wellspring for John Yoo's and Jay Bybee's infamous "torture memos." Gorsuch alsoassisted in drafting Bush's "signing statement" on the 2005 Detainee Treatment Act. That act included an amendment introduced by Senator John McCain prohibiting the torture of detainees. As the White House didn't want its favorite interrogation methods curtailed, Gorsuch recommended putting down "a marker to the effect that… McCain is best read as essentially codifying existing interrogation policies." In other words, the future Supreme Court nominee suggested that the McCain amendment would have no real effect, because the administration had never engaged in torture in the first place. This approach was the best strategy, he argued, to "help inoculate against the potential of having the administration criticized sometime in the future for not making sufficient changes in interrogation policy in light of the McCain portion of the amendment."
In his brief tenure at the Office of Legal Counsel, Gorsuch providedfurther aid to the supporters of torture by, for example, working on government litigation to prevent the exposure of further "Darby photos." These were the shocking pictures from Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison that came into the possession of U.S. Army Sergeant Joe Darby. He then passed them up the chain of command, which eventually led to the public revelation of the abuses in that U.S.-run torture palace.
Trump's new attorney general, Jeff Sessions, is also a torture enthusiast. He was one of only nine senators to vote against the 2005 Detainee Treatment Act. The Act limited the military to the use of those interrogation methods found in the Army Field Manual. In 2015, he joined just 20 other senators in opposing an amendment to the next year's military appropriations bill, which extended the Field Manual rules to all U.S. agencies involved in interrogation, not just the military.
Reviving the Black Sites?
So far, President Trump hasn't had the best of luck with his executive orders. His two travel bans, meant to keep Muslims from entering the United States, are at present trapped in federal court, but worse may be in the offing.
Trump promised during the campaign to reopen the CIA's notoriousblack sites and bring back torture. Shortly after the inauguration, a draft executive order surfaced that was clearly intended to do just that. It rescinded President Obama's orders 13491 and 13492 and directed the secretary of defense and the attorney general, together with "other senior national security officials," to review the interrogation policies in the Army Field Manual with a view to making "modifications in, and additions to those, policies." That would mean an end run around Congress, since it doesn't take an act of that body to rewrite part of a manual (and so reinstitute torture policy).
It also called on the director of national intelligence, the CIA director, and the attorney general to "recommend to the president whether to reinitiate a program of interrogation of high-value alien terrorists to be operated outside the United States and whether such program should include the use of detention facilities operated by the Central Intelligence Agency." In other words, they were to consider reopening the black sites for another round of "enhanced interrogation techniques."
As in so many such documents, that draft order included a cover-your-ass clause, in this case suggesting that "no person in the custody of the United States shall at any time be subjected to torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, as proscribed by U.S. law." As we learned in the Bush years, however, such statements have no real effectbecause, as in a2002 memo produced by John Yoo and Jay Bybee, "torture" can be redefined as whatever you need it to be. That memo certified that, to qualify as torture, the pain experienced by a victim would have to be like that usually associated with "serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death." In other words, if he didn't die or at least come close, you didn't torture him.

After the recent draft executive order on these subjects was leaked to the media and caused a modest to-do, a later version appearedto drop the references to black sites and torture. While no final version has yet emerged, it's clear enough that the initial impulse behind the order was distinctly Trumpian and should be taken seriously.
As soon as the draft order surfaced in the press in late January, the White House disclaimed all knowledge of it and no version of it appears on current lists of Trump executive actions since taking office. But keep in mind that presidents can issue secret executive orders that the public may never hear aboutunless the news spills out from an administration whose powers of containment so far could be compared to those of a sieve.
Déjà Vu, Rendition Edition
Notably, neither of Obama's Inauguration Day executive orders addressed extraordinary rendition. In fact, this was a weapon he preferred to keep available.
What is extraordinary rendition?Ordinary rendition simply means transferring someone from one legal jurisdiction to another, usually through legal extradition. Rendition becomes "extraordinary" when it happens outside the law, as when a person is sent to a country with which the United States does not have an extradition treaty, or when it is likely (or certain) that the rendered person will be tortured in another country.
In the Bush years, the CIA ran an extraordinary rendition machine, involving the kidnapping of terror suspects (sometimes, as it turned out, quite innocent people) off the streets of global cities as well as in the backlands of the planet, and sending them to those brutal CIA black sites or rendering them to torturing regimes around the world. Rendition continued in a far more limited way during Obama's presidency. For example, a 2013 Washington Poststory described the rendition of three Europeans "with Somali roots" in the tiny African country of Djibouti and of an Eritrean to Nigeria. The article suggested that, in part because of congressional intransigence on closing Guantánamo and allowing the jailing and trial of suspected terrorists in U.S courts, rendition represented "one of the few alternatives" to the more extreme option of simplykilling suspects outright, usually by drone.
Recently, there was news that a Trump associate might have been involved in planning a rendition of his own. Former CIA Director James Woolsey told the Wall Street Journal that, last September, Lieutenant General Michael Flynn discussed arranging an extralegal rendition with the son-in-law of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu. At the time, he was serving as an adviser to the Trump campaign. He laterbrieflyserved as President Trump's national security adviser.
The target of this potential rendition? Fethullah Gulen, an Islamic cleric who has lived for decades in the United States. President Erdogan believes that Gulen was behind a 2016 coup attempt against him and has asked the U.S. to extradite him to Turkey. The Obama administration temporized on the subject, insisting on examining the actual evidence of Gulen's involvement.
Flynn's foray may have been an instance of potential rendition-for-profit, a plan to benefit one of his consulting clients. At the time, Flynn's (now-defunct) consulting firm, the Flynn Intel Group, was working for a Dutch corporation, Inovo, with ties to Erdogan. The client reviewed a draft op-ed eventually published in the Hill in which Flynn argued that Gulen should be extradited, because he is a "radical cleric" and Turkey is "our friend." In addition to lyingabout his contacts with the Russian ambassador during the election campaign, it turns out that Flynn was probably working as an unregistered foreign agent for Turkish interests at that time.
Mike Pompeo also appears to be bullish on renditions. In hiswritten testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee, he indicated that under him the CIA would probably continue this practice. When asked how the Agency would avoid sending prisoners to countries known to engage in torture, his reply could have come straight from the Bush-Cheney playbook:
"I understand that assurances provided by other countries have been a valuable tool for ensuring that detainees are treated humanely. In most cases other countries are likely to treat assurances provided to the United States government as an important matter."
Asking for such assurances has in the past given the U.S. government cover for what was bound to occur in the prisons of countries known for torture. (Just ask Maher Arar rendered to Syria or Binyam Mohammed rendered to Morocco about what happened to them.)
We'll Always Have Guantánamo…
"We'll always have Paris," Rick reminds Ilsa during their bittersweet goodbye in the classic film Casablanca. Our Guantánamo lease with Cuba (which reads, "for use as coaling [refueling] or naval stations only, and for no other purpose") is a permanent one. So it looks like we'll always have Guantánamo, with its memories of torture and murder, and its remaining 41prisoners, undoubtedly stranded there forever.
As it happens, Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch's fingerprints are all over the Bush administration's Guantánamo policy, too. While at the Office on Legal Counsel, he helped the administration fight a major legal challenge to that policy in Hamdan v.Rumsfeld. In that case, the government argued that detainees at Guantánamo did not have the right of habeas corpus, that the president has the authority to decide not to abide by the Geneva Conventions, and that detainees could be tried by military "commissions" in Cuba rather than by U.S. courts. Given that history, it's unlikely he'd rule in favor of any future challenge to whatever use President Trump made of the prison.
While on the campaign trail, Trump made it clear that he would keep Guantánamo eternally open. In a November rally in Sparks, Nevada, he told a cheering crowd:
"This morning, I watched President Obama talking about Gitmo, right, Guantánamo Bay, which by the way, which by the way, we are keeping open. Which we are keeping open… and we're gonna load it up with some bad dudes, believe me, we're gonna load it up."
In mid-February, Trump Press Secretary Sean Spicer reiteratedhis boss's affection for the prison, when he told the White House press corps that the president believes it serves "a very, very healthy purpose in our national security, in making sure we don't bring terrorists to our seas." Perhaps Spicer meant "our shores," but the point was made. Trump remains eager to keep the whole Guantánamo prison systemincluding, we can assume, indefinite detentionup and running as an alternative to bringing prisoners to the United States.
It seems that the head of the Pentagon agrees. In December 2016, retired Marine General (now Secretary of Defense) James Mattistold the Senate Armed Services Committee that any detainee who "has signed up with this enemy" and is captured wherever "the president, the commander-in-chief, sends us" should know that he will be a "prisoner until the war is over." Given that our post-9/11 military conflicts are truly forever wars, in Mattis's view, pretty much anyone the U.S. captures in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen, or who knows where else will face at least the possibility of spending the rest of his life in Guantánamo.
Reading the Tea Leaves
As far as we know, President Trump has yet to green-light his first case of torture or his first extraordinary rendition, or even to add a single prisoner to the 41 still held at Guantánamo. All we have for now are his ominous desires and promisesand those of his underlings. These are enough, however, to give us a clear understanding of his intentions and those of his appointees. If they can, they will resurrect the unholy trinity of torture, rendition, and indefinite detention. The future may not yet be inscribed in Trumpian gold anywhere, but on such matters we should believe the autocrat.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: On Friday, the stock price of the military contractor Raytheon briefly surged after the U.S. attack on a Syrian airbase, which used 59 of the company's Tomahawk missiles, estimated to cost $1.4 million apiece. While the stock surge was brief, it called attention to the fact that President Trump himself has held personallyhas been personally invested in Raytheon in the past. A 2015 Federal Election [Commission] disclosure, filed when Trump launched his presidential bid, reveals that he held Raytheon stocks worth $1,000 to $15,000 in value.
AMY GOODMAN: While the value is low, the revelations have raised additional questions about the lack of transparency in Trump's financial holdings and the fact that he could potentially benefit from almost any military decision he makes as president. Overall, the stocks of military contractors, such as Boeing and General Dynamics, have increased since Trump's election, further fueled by his promise of an "historic" tens of billions of dollars' increase in U.S. military spending.
For more, we're joined by Bill Hartung. He's the director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy. Latest book, Prophets of War: Lockheed Martin and the Making of the Military-Industrial Complex.
William Hartung, welcome back to Democracy Now!
AMY GOODMAN: So, tell us, as those Tomahawk cruise missiles were pummeling this base, though not enough to take it outit was immediately in use againhow did President Trump profit personally?
WILLIAM HARTUNG: Well, as far as we know, he may still have shares in Raytheon, as reported in his financial disclosure. Of course, as with all things Trump, there's a black box here, because he's not reporting his tax returns, he hasn't done a blind trust. As you said, virtually anything he does, not just in the military sphere, could benefit him, his family, his inner circle financially. And the only way to deal with that is release the tax returns, that people have demanded, and have a true blind trust that's not run by his family. But it'sno question, it's an outrage to have the commander-in-chief profiting from a military contract in the middle of a conflict, however small the amount may be. And the fact that he's not willing to disclose his current position, in some ways, makes it even worse.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I wanted to ask you, in terms of thisthe emphasis on military action that's emerging in the first few weeks of the Trump administrationyou wrote a piece for TomDispatch titled "Could War with Iran Be on Washington's Agenda?" Could you talk about that?
WILLIAM HARTUNG: Sure. Well, there's this sort of notion that, you know, the adults in the room are Mattis and McFarlandrather, McMaster, who are, you know, military people, they'll be careful, they know the costs of war. But they're also among the most hawkish generals of their generation. Mattis himself wanted to attack Iran during the Iraq War, which is one of the reasons
AMY GOODMAN: This is "Mad Dog" Mattis, self-described.
WILLIAM HARTUNG: Yes, exactly, is his self-described moniker. And he, you know, in the middle of that war, actually left the administration, because he wanted to attack them at the very same time they were negotiating to limit Iran's nuclear options. So, they've already stepped up in Yemenmore special forces, more airstrikes. They're still arming the Saudis, who are killing thousands with civilian bombings. So, they see that as a strike against Iran. Of course, Iran is not the problem there, but their worldview says it is. And now the step up in Syria, of course, Iran is allies with Assad, so it's another kind of potential strike at Iranian concerns. Now the question is: Will they go further? And I think there, you know, Iran would have many ways to respondthrough nonstate actors, through missile strikes. It's not a small country. You know, invading Iran would make the Iraq War look like a walk in the park. So, how are these military people going to address this? But there's certainly a danger of some sort of military action. And, of course, they're not going to telegraph it. I mean, Trump apparently decided this on rather short notice, if we're to believe the accounts. He saw something on TV, and he got exercised.
AMY GOODMAN: You've got the advertisements on television, and then the news being an advertisement, as well, for these weapons contractors. Let's turn to MSNBC's Brian Williams the night of the Tomahawk cruise missile attack.
BRIAN WILLIAMS: Go into greater detail. We see these beautiful pictures at night from the decks of these two U.S. Navy vessels in the eastern Mediterranean. I am tempted to quote the great Leonard Cohen: "I'm guided by the beauty of our weapons." And they are beautiful pictures of fearsome armaments making what is for them a brief flight over to this airfield. What did they hit?
AMY GOODMAN: I daresay Leonard Cohen might be rolling over in his grave and not rock 'n' rollin'.
AMY GOODMAN: Bill Hartung?
WILLIAM HARTUNG: Well, you know, obviously, it's obscene to worship weaponry, whoever it's targeted at. And on Raytheon's webpage, where they're advertising the cruise missile, they have exactly the same kind of pictures. So, to have them on MSNBC and CNN is all the publicity money could buy and more. And, of course, this has happened before in wartime, and even in the first Persian Gulf War under Bush the elder, where these kinds of displays have upped the images of these companies and almost made the weapons seem benign. There's all these things about how accurate they are and how they're not going to hit civilians, which has been disproved almost uniformly in the history of U.S. intervention in the Middle East. So there's that. And also it's a question of how it's going to affect Trump's push for his military buildup, because he's going to sort of posture as the wartime president. You know, as Fareed Zakaria said, much to his detriment, he's now the president; he's proved he's the president, because he can launch a military strikewhich, again, to me, is not what this country should stand for.
Trump has a new bromance.

Putin out, Xi in.

With an eye on mega-fortune for Trump, Inc.
Cliff Varnell Wrote:
Trump has a new bromance.

Putin out, Xi in.

With an eye on mega-fortune for Trump, Inc.

While the MSM won't mention it, Eric Prince is the brother of DeVoss and has long been a hidden adviser to Trumpf.
U.S. Drops Mother of All Bombs' in Afghanistan

Posted on Apr 13, 2017

[Image: MOAB_bombWikimedia_590.jpg]
A Massive Ordnance Air Blast (MOAB) weapon is prepared for testing at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida in 2003. (Wikimedia Commons)

The U.S. military announced on Thursday that it dropped a 21,600-pound non-nuclear bomb in Afghanistan. The GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast (MOAB), nicknamed the "mother of all bombs," was developed in 2003 but never used on a battlefield.CNN reported:
[MOAB] was dropped at 7:32 pm local time Thursday, the sources said. A MOAB is a 21,600-pound, GPS-guided munition that is America's most powerful non-nuclear bomb.
The bomb was dropped by an MC-130 aircraft, stationed in Afghanistan and operated by Air Force Special Operations Command, Pentagon spokesman Adam Stump told CNN.
Officials said the target was an ISIS cave and tunnel complex and personnel in the Achin district of the Nangarhar province. ...
Gen. John Nicholson, commander of US forces in Afghanistan, signed off on the use of the bomb, according to the sources. The authority to deploy the weapon was granted to Nicholson by the commander of US Central Command, Gen. Joseph Votel, Stump said. [BothNicholson and Votel assumed their current positions during the Obama administration.]
According to the online news site Heavy, the Achin district has a population of around 95,000 people.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer said in a subsequent press conference that the U.S. "took all precautions necessary to prevent civilian casualties."
"The United States takes the fight against ISIS very seriously and in order to defeat the group we must deny them operational space," he added.
Pressed by reporters for more information on the use of MOAB, Spicer responded, "Please refer to Department of Defense for specifics."
According to CNN, the military is still "assessing the damage" from MOAB.
A 2003 article in the Los Angeles Times explained the massive bomb's effect:
Military analysts in the U.S. say that because the 21,000-pound massive ordnance air burst, or MOAB, is so huge, it can be dropped only from a military cargo plane that flies slowly and at relatively low altitudes, making the plane vulnerable to antiaircraft weapons. And because the bomb causes devastation across such a broad swath, it is unlikely to be used against anything but a large concentration of entrenched enemy troopsjust the kind of target likely to be armed with antiaircraft weapons.
"It's really quite improbable that it would be used," said Loren Thompson, a military analyst at the Lexington Institute, a defense think tank in Arlington, Va.
"The Pentagon is committed to avoiding large concentrations of civilians, and it is committed to avoiding putting its pilots and its planes at unnecessary risk. The only real use for this kind of indiscriminate terror weapon is to scare the bejesus out of Saddam Hussein."
According to The Fiscal Times, MOAB "took $314 million to develop and has a unit cost of $16 million." Below, watch a video of a test drop of MOAB:

Some very interesting analysis and history from John Pilger on Trump and current political hotspots.

US has quietly dropped "Free Tibet"...