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Lt. General McMaster’s Silver Star Was Essentially Earned for Target Practice

Resume inflation at the NSC

 

In the annals of human conflict, the Gulf War of 1991, when the US dispatched half a million troops and a huge armada of ships, planes and tanks into the desert south of Iraq and Kuwait and then crushed Iraqi forces in both those countries in a six-week blitz from Jan. 17-Feb. 28, surely has to rank as one of the most one-sided wars since Hitler’s Wehrmacht marched through Holland in four days in 1940.

That war, called Operation Desert Storm by the Pentagon, was really just a massive live-fire exercise for US forces, which suffered only 146 casualties, 35 of them in “friendly-fire” incidents and 111 to enemy fire. Iraqi losses were estimated at 35,000, most of them killed in US air strikes as they were trapped trying to retreat to Iraq up a Kuwaiti highway that became known as the “Highway of Death,” where fleeing Iraqi troops -- most of them hapless draftees -- were bombed and strafed mercilessly and nonstop as they sat trapped in an epic traffic jam caused by strategically destroyed vehicles along the route.

It was also the “war” in which President Trump’s new National Security Adviser pick, Lt. Gen. Herbert Raymond McMaster, “earned” his much touted Silver Star. Then a young captain in charge of a unit of nine Abrams battle tanks, he stumbled onto a dug-in group of some 80 Iraqi tanks which he then succeeded in completely destroying without losing a single one of his own tanks or men.

It sounds at first blush like something out of Gen. Erwin Rommel’s autobiography, but this “heroic action” on Gen. McMaster’s part was actually nothing more than a case of having much better equipment. The Abrams tanks he was leading were a couple of generations advanced over the antique Iraqi Russian-built T-62 and T-72 tanks and a few Chinese Type 69 tanks that he was confronting. For one thing, the Abrams tanks are constructed with depleted uranium armor -- especially on the front-facing part of the vehicle -- a dense metal which is virtually impenetrable to conventional Iraqi tank shells, rockets and RPGs. For another, the Abrams tanks were firing anti-tank shells that were also tipped with depleted uranium penetrators, which can puncture through normal tank armor as if it were cardboard, igniting the interiors and turning them into infernos, exploding the ordnance inside and incinerating a tank crew instantly. Furthermore, the significantly longer range of their primary cannons meant McMasters and his men could stand off in complete safety and fire at the Iraqi tanks, while the Iraqi tank shells all fell short of their targets, making the whole idea of a “battle” a joke.

McMaster’s tank action was later glorified with a name: the “Battle of 73 Easting,” and is featured in a number of books about the war, including one by novelist Tom Clancey. This is no surprise, given the limited number of actual firefights in the Gulf War that could remotely be characterized as combat, much less qualify as a “battle” worthy of immortalizing with a name. The war was really just a much larger version of the Reagan invasion of Grenada, where a US naval armada and swarming ground troops bravely battled a handful of Grenadian soldiers and a crew of Cuban airport construction workers while garnering a total of 7000 battle awards for their efforts.

 Capt. McMaster's vastly superior Abrams tanks were able to destroy Iraqi tanks at a distance, out of range of any Iraqi returning fire, makinTurkey shoot: Capt. McMaster's vastly superior Abrams tanks were able to destroy Iraqi tanks at a distance, out of range of any Iraqi returning fire
 

Three Years Since the Kitty Litter Disaster at Waste Isolation Pilot Plant

From WIPP with love

 

There is a place in the United States, almost half-a-mile underground, in a salt mine, where radioactive waste leftover from the production of tens of thousands of nuclear bombs was to be held separate from all contact with humanity for 10,000 years, equivalent to the entire history of civilization. This separation of civilization from the byproduct of its folly had lasted one-tenth of one percent of that immense time when on Valentine’s Day, three years ago, an explosion sent the deadly contamination back to the world of humans.

It shouldn’t have been a surprise because there were already two other failed geological repositories for nuclear waste, both in Germany and designed for civilian not military waste, that have also leaked within a short time of operation. But despite the signs of potential failure the United States in an leap of technological faith spent billions to hollow out a salt cavern in south eastern New Mexico, near the small town of Carlsbad, not far from the Texas border called the Waste Isolation pilot Plant or WIPP.

That faith wasn’t justified as events unfolded.

Supposedly safe for storage for 10,000 years, WIPP's nuke waste repository failed epically in just three yearsSupposedly safe for storage for 10,000 years, WIPP's nuke waste repository failed catastrophically in just three years
 

What happened on August 14, 2014 was that at least one of 683 barrels, about three feet tall and a little under two feet in diameter each and filled with plutonium contaminated waste burst into flames contaminating 8000 feet of tunnels and 22 workers who were either on the surface or arrived at the scene soon afterward.

The still unfinished clean up has cost taxpayers $2 billion since then.

On Killers and Bullshitters*

In search of Trumpian reality

 

* NOTE: The term bullshit is used here in the sense established by Harvard philosophy professor Harry Frankfurt in his little gem of a book titled On Bullshit, which opens with: "One of the most salient features of our culture is that there is so much bullshit."
 

We’re living in a very weird and convoluted moment in the annals of truth and bullshit. For some reason Americans saddled themselves with a rich and obnoxious reality TV star significantly unmoored from reality. A George W. Bush aide famously told a reporter: We’re an empire now and we make our own reality. Maybe it’s an axiom of our age: The wealthy and powerful have the right to make their own reality. As for the poor and the powerless, the same condition of being unmoored from reality is generally linked with what we call “mental illness,” which leads to marginalization, institutionalization or incarceration.

The same corrupt double standard works in the realm of violence. I‘ve been writing for decades about the killing our government has officially undertaken in places like Vietnam and Iraq and in smaller venues. I’ve always liked the bumper sticker that says: Kill One Person It’s Murder; Kill 100,000 It’s Foreign Policy. In my thinking, it isn’t a joke; it’s more like the Rules Of Engagement.

For me, the exemplary culprit in this equation is Henry Kissinger and the cold-blooded slaughter of millions of Vietnamese in a war that really makes no sense at all. (I challenge anyone to tell me what the Vietnamese ever did to us other than work as our ally against the Japanese in World War Two.) The most truthful narrative is that the Vietnamese were betrayed and attacked by the United States, one, to support French re-colonization after WWII, and, two, because US leaders felt compelled to dominate the wrecked post-WWII world. To recognize Vietnamese nationalism and the Vietnamese urge for freedom was too complicated for our fearful and reductive Cold War mindset. Rich and powerful, we ended up killing millions of Vietnamese in an ultimately failed effort to impose our reality -- although in the end the Vietnamese developed excellent capitalistic instincts.

President Trump and Bill O'Reilly before the Super Bowl talking about killers in the US governmentPresident Trump and Bill O'Reilly before the Super Bowl talking about killers in the US government
 

In a very weird turn of events, our new president seems to agree with the idea that killing is very American and that there are killers in our government. President Trump revealed this in an interview with his old pal Bill O’Reilly. The interview was appropriately run just before the Super Bowl, our culture’s pre-eminent gladiatorial extravaganza, an annual event of such masculine escapist power that it defines Bread & Circus for our media-addled, couch-potato age. Here's O'Reilly and Trump:

A Rapidly Warming Arctic Could Loose a Methane Climate Bomb Causing Mass Extinction in Nine Years

Looming climate catastrophe?

A methane hydrate deposit erupts suddenly from the sea floor off the northern coast of NorwayA methane hydrate deposit erupts suddenly from the sea floor off the northern coast of Norway
 

Reports from the Arctic are getting pretty grim.

The latest, from a blog called Arctic News, warns that by 2026 -- that’s just nine years from now -- warming above the Arctic Circle could be so extreme that a massively disrupted and weakened jet stream could lead to global temperature rises so severe that a massive extinction event, including humans, could result.

This latest blog post, written by Arctic News editor Sam Carana, draws on research by a number of scientists (linked in his article), who report on various feedback loops that will result from a dramatically warmer north polar region, even in winter. But the critical concern, he says, is methane already starting to be released in huge quantities from the shallow sea floor of the continental shelves north of Siberia and North America. That methane, produced by bacteria acting on biological material that sinks to the sea floor, for the most part, is currently lying frozen in a form of ice that is naturally created over millions of years by a mixing of methane and water, called a methane hydrate. Methane hydrate is a type of molecular structure called a clathrate. Clathrates are a kind of cage, in this case made of water ice, which traps another chemical, in this case methane. At normal temperatures, above the freezing temperature of water, these clathrates can only form under high pressures, such as a 500 meters or more under the ocean, and indeed such clathrates can be found under the sea floor even in places like the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico, where the temperature is 8-10 degrees above freezing. But in colder waters, they can exist and remain stable at much shallower levels, such as a in a few hundred feet of water off the coast of Alaska or Siberia.

The concern is that if the Arctic Ocean waters, particularly nearer to shore, were to warm even slightly, as they will do as the ice cap vanishes in summer and becomes much thinner in winter, at some point the clathrates there will suddenly dissolve releasing tens of thousands of gigatons of methane in huge bursts. Already, scientists are reporting that portions of the ocean, as well as shallow lakes in the far north, look as though they are boiling, as released methane bubbles to the surface, sometimes in such concentrations that they can be lit on fire with a match as they surface.

As Carana writes:
 

“As the temperature of the Arctic Ocean keeps rising, it seems inevitable that more and more methane will rise from its seafloor and enter the atmosphere, at first strongly warming up the atmosphere over the Arctic Ocean itself -- thus causing further methane eruptions -- and eventually warming up the atmosphere across the globe.”
 

The Whatsapp Scandal

The house with the built-in backdoor

Since adding the feature in April, 2016, the Whatsapp app (or really its parent, Facebook) has paraded its "end to end encryption" as the reason to use it above all other smartphone message applications. It can handle calls, messages, video, files and just about everything any computer can and, because it's encrypted end to end, nobody can read, see or hear any of it unless you want them to.

The pitch has worked; over a billion people now use the app and it is particularly prominent among people who need encryption -- the computer protocol that makes reading your message impossible for anyone but the person you're sending it to.

Activists, particularly, use Whatsapp to communicate everything from places for emergency demonstrations to important announcements to the latest information about their personal lives. Whatsapp is, in effect, a universe of communications for a billion people. It does everything and everything it does is encrypted. With Whatsapp, they've been saying, you are safe from intrusion and spying.

 safety or vulnerability?Whatsapp: safety or vulnerability?

The problem is, you're not safe at all; the encryption can easily be broken. That news, first made public in the Guardian, has provoked a public gasp and a joust between developers and activists covered by journalists who, anxious to provide both "sides", cloud the issue more than clarify.

Unlike many other debates, there aren't two sides to this story. Whatsapp is not safe because its encryption has a huge exploit (or weakness): a product of what the company says is an attempt to make life a lot simpler for its users. Basically, it rewrites the keys used for encryption without telling you and that means a third party (like the government) can decrypt what you've written.

Repeal of Affordable Care Act is Politics Playing with the Wellbeing of Americans

Three clear ways the Affordable Care Act has made healthcare better

 

It’s the weekend after Thanksgiving and, for once, I’m not scheduled to work at the hospital. Yet, on Friday evening I found myself fastening my badge to my clothes and walking into the Intensive Care Unit.

One of my most beloved patients, Ms. Chhem is passing away. I’ve come to say goodbye. It’s not a complete surprise as she’s had serious chronic medical issues for years, but after being part of her care team for a countless number of prior hospitalizations, it’s hard to believe that this will be her last.

When I first met her five years ago, I was shocked at the number of hospitalizations she had survived. Her chart identified her as a refugee from Cambodia with significant psychological trauma, two kinds of hepatitis from poor healthcare, and end-stage kidney disease requiring dialysis three times a week. She had low health literacy, few resources and didn’t speak English. I was terrified to be the young doctor in charge of coordinating her care and keeping track of all the pieces that inevitably get lost in our complex medical system.

Of course, in real life, she was nothing like the chronically ill patient her chart suggested. Despite the physical and emotional trauma her life had brought, she was always upbeat, laughing, and ready to experience life’s next moment. Or perhaps it was because of that trauma that she learned that this was the only way to cope.

During our visits her delightful pragmatism grounded me in what otherwise seemed like an impossibly chaotic healthcare plan. Our last visit had only been only 72 hours ago. As I walked into the exam room she had erupted into laughter, jumped up, and grabbed my hands with both of hers in greeting. It was a relaxed visit. Ironically, for once I was feeling good about her medical care. All of the loose ends I had been trying to resolve had recently been tied up.

Protestors in Washington the first time the ACA was challengedProtestors in Washington the first time the ACA was challenged

So despite being familiar with intubated patients, it was jarring to see Ms. Chhem, the same woman who just a few days ago was relating to me the hilarity of coping with recently misplaced dentures, as a patient, intubated, sedated, and surrounded by machines and IV drips. Death doesn’t impact me the way it used to when I first became a doctor, but I still choked up as I held her hand and said goodbye.

As I walked home, I reflected on how, despite all the obstacles, she had received top quality medical care in her lifetime. For Ms. Chhem, medicine did exactly what it was supposed to do: prolong and improve health to allow patients to lead more fulfilling lives.

And then my thoughts darkened. What would happen to my patients if the Affordable Care Act is repealed?

I fear its repeal. As a queer person, I fear its repeal even more than a repeal of same-sex marriage.

Fidel's Death Brings Forth Great and Sad Memories

Fidel Castro: 1926-2016

¤ Fidel defied the monster and got away with it all these years, something cherished by billions in a hundred countries. He even brought a warmongering US president to his land, sporting his fine talk. For the first time, the perennial enemy pretends to be a friend hoping to stab Cuba in the back.
 

Brexit-Trump Comparisons Miss Key Points

Trans-Atlantic bigotry

 

"Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful."
-- George Orwell, author of "1984."
 

The election of Donald Trump as U.S. president, upending projections of pollsters and pundits that predicted his defeat, has triggered comparisons with Brexit, the vote earlier this summer where British citizens voted to leave the European Union, also catching the pollsters and pundits by surprise.

And yes, the campaigns for Brexit and the Trump presidency each employed similarities. Each campaign utilized ‘make our country great again’ slogans.

Further, each campaign also targeted immigrants as the source of deep-seated societal problems, particularly in the employment arena. Trump targeted Mexican immigrants while Brexit targeted Eastern European immigrants in Britain, primarily those coming from Poland as well as Muslims and blacks.

Brexit support sign in former home of author George Orwell. LinnWashingtonPhotoBrexit support sign in former home of author George Orwell. LinnWashingtonPhoto
 

Despite accurately citing some similarities, too many of the news media comparisons of Brexit and Trump on both sides of ‘The Pond’ have been simplistic, infused with failures to sufficiently contextualize the array of forces entangled in those stunning votes.

Comparisons on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, for example, have downplayed the upsurge in racist attacks, primarily targeting blacks and Muslims during the immediate aftermaths of both the Brexit and Trump victories.

Obama Has a Small Window to Go Out with Some Flair and Excitement

About that legacy, Mr. President

 

There is a lot of talk going on among the pundits about how President Obama is leaving no enduring legacy -- that his progressive actions as president, few and small that they may have been, were written in the sand of executive orders, which can and likely will be erased within days of Donald Trump’s inauguration.

In fact though, while there is truth to that observation, there is a legacy of President Obama that will last. It’s just that it’s a terrible one: His failure to prosecute and put an end to the many crimes and constitutional violations of the prior George W. Bush/Dick Cheney administration, like torture, the horrific and unconstitutional war-crime prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; the Tuesday morning White House drone murder-planning sessions (which he actually institutionalized); the continuation of a program of mass incarceration (mostly of males of color); the expansion of the NSA’s domestic and international surveillance program, aimed at monitoring all electronic communications domestically and eventually globally; his signing instead of vetoing of a renewal of the wretched USA PATRIOT Act and related constitutional atrocities; and of course the decision to authorize a trillion-dollar upgrade of the US nuclear force, including the development of “useable” tactical nukes, coupled with the emplacement of nuclear missiles along Russia’s western border. I could go on, but in the interest of brevity I’ll let the reader finish this list of horrors.

Trump has vowed to cancel most of Obama's legacy of executive orders, but he still can act to leave an immutable legacyTrump has vowed to cancel most of Obama's legacy of executive orders, but he still can act to leave an immutable legacy
 

It’s too late now to undo most of this legacy of horrors, but there are still some things that our ill-deserving Nobel Peace Prize Laureate president could yet do as a lame-duck and largely powerless president before Trump’s move into the White House to at least do penance for his failures, and to perhaps salvage some measure of integrity as a legacy. Here’s my list:
 

1. At this point, with Trump waiting in the wings ready to reverse them, any new executive orders would be a waste of time, without even any symbolic value. But there is one power conferred specifically in the Constitution which Obama owns until the minute Trump finishes taking the presidential oath, and that is the power to commute sentences and to pardon. To date, Obama has been one of the most stingy presidents in history in his application of this awesome power. He should start wielding it like a saber, cutting the chains of all those languishing in jails around the country who are non-violent offenders, primarily for possession of drugs, all those sentenced to lengthy terms or to life in prison for minor crimes because of harsh mandatory sentencing guidelines and especially “three-strikes” laws, all those sentenced to life in prison for crimes they committed as minors or even young kids, all those sentenced to death in a system that we all, including this president, know were tried, conficted and sentenced by a wholly unfair and corrupted judicial system that excludes from capital juries anyone who opposes the death penalty, all those young people in juvenile detention who were sentenced without a lawyer, and all those jailed because of unpaid debts. Obama could go further: He could pardon all those in prison who have served, say, five years of their sentence and who are over 60, or perhaps 50 years old. Statistics show that older people do not commit much violent crimes. If rehabilitation is to mean anything, then keeping such older prisoners in jail any longer is simply a self-destructive, incredibly costly act of national vengeance, not intelligent and humane justice.

Here and There

 
 
We worship the moon here;
we sing her songs.
She charms us,
she heals us.
There they bow deep to the sun.
 
Here we plant our dreams
and harvest visions.
There they plant periods,
and harvest silence.
 
Here we intuit.
There they know.
 
Here we weave stories out of dreams and grief.
There they weave cities of blood and sand.
 
Here the tide ebbs
and rises and when it rises
the barnacles open and wave little ferns.
There the coral reefs are dying;
the bottle with their message
never reaches shore.
 
Here we call out names
in celebration of the family of life.
Here a name holds power.
There a name is lost and found,
cemented to a building
printed on the sky.
 
Here a fish leaps and the river sings.
There a river
is a million drinks of water,
a million sad stories of once upon a time.
 
Here the land is alive,
and the wind
and the stones are alive.
There the land is thirsty
and confused.
The wind is hungry,
the stones, asleep.
If you disturb them
they will begin to whisper
to the minerals in your bones
and they will gently ask you to return
the diamonds in your necklace.
 
 
--Gary Lindorff

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Here's the link to prairie radio radical Mike Caddell's Radio Free Kansas program, where you can hear the podcast of the whole group interview that was conducted on Saturday, May 8.

Also, listen to Dave Lindorff on Chris Cook's Gorilla Radio on CFEV Radio in Victoria, Canada.

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