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Spending More on Nukes: STRATCOM’s Nuclear Death Wish

Spending More on Nukes: STRATCOM’s Nuclear Death Wish

Photograph Source: Sgt Samuel Rogers (USAF/Barksdale Air Force Base) – CC BY 2.0

Being sufficiently able at your job is a good thing.  But beware the trappings of zeal.  When it comes to the business of retaining an inventory for humanity’s annihilation, the zealous should be kept away.  But there Admiral Charles Richard was in April this year, with his siren calls, urging the US Senate to consider a simple proposition.  “Sustainment of modernization of our modern nuclear forces … has transitioned from something we should do, to something we must do.”  As Commander of the United States Strategic Command (STRATCOM), he was aching to impress the Senate Committee on Armed Services that the nuclear deterrent was there to be polished and improved.

Much of his address as part of the Posture Statement Review should be treated as the conventional lunacy that comes with that cretin-crusted field known as nuclear deterrence.  “Peace is our profession” remains the somewhat obscene motto of STRATCOM, and it is a peace kept by promising the potential extinction of the human species.

For the Admiral, strategic deterrence is the holy of holies.  If it fails, “we are prepared to deliver a decisive response, decisive in every possible way.”  This decisiveness will be achieved “with a modern resilient, equipped, and trained combatant-ready force.”  To avoid the failure of such deterrence also required revisiting “a critical forgotten lesson that deterrence operates continuously from peacetime, through the gray zone, worldwide, across all domains, and into conflict” [Richard’s emphasis].

The fate of the US (Richard humourlessly calls it safety and security) is indelibly linked to an “effective nuclear triad; a reliable and modern nuclear command, control and communications (NC3) architecture; and a responsive nuclear weapons infrastructure.”

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Sanctions, Security and the Nord Stream 2 Pipeline

Sanctions, Security and the Nord Stream 2 Pipeline

The Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, construction of which is intended to transport 55 billion cubic metres of Russian gas to Germany per year under the Baltic Sea, is a ragbag of options and promises.  The fruit of a deal between Berlin and Moscow, it has troubled those within Russia, Germany, Europe and the United States, though for different reasons.

On the subject of environment, the ledger of negatives against the project are weighty.  Environmental organisations fear the ecological threat the pipeline poses to the Baltic Sea.  The Russian office of Greenpeace has claimed that Nord Stream 2 AG, owned by Public Joint Stock Company Gazprom, is an ecological misfit. It threatens the Kurgalsky nature reserve even as it promises transplanting various unique plant species affected by the gas pipeline. 

According to findings from the V. L. Komarov Botanical Institute, the picture is even uglier than a breach of promise: the plant varieties in question, listed in the Red Book of the Russian Federation and the Red Book of the Leningrad region, were actually destroyed.

Bird life has also been affected, with confirmation that white-tailed eagles, which are also Red-listed, have fled their nesting sites in the reserve.  Nord Stream 2’s response has been one of comparing apples and bananas, an analytical approach doomed to inaccuracy.  

“Eagles are known for their resilience. Documentary evidence from the first Nord Stream project shows us that construction activities did not affect eagles’ behavioural patterns in Germany.”

The United States is less concerned with matters green.  Nord Stream 2 poses a security threat. 

Trump’s former secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, saw it as “undermining Europe’s overall energy security and stability.”

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Normal Intrusions: Globalising AI Surveillance

Normal Intrusions: Globalising AI Surveillance

They all do it: corporations, regimes, authorities.  They all have the same reasons: efficiency, serviceability, profitability, all under the umbrella term of “security”.  Call it surveillance, or call it monitoring the global citizenry; it all comes down to the same thing.  You are being watched for your own good, and such instances should be regarded as a norm.

Given the weaknesses of international law and the general hiccupping that accompanies efforts to formulate a global right to privacy, few such restrictions, or problems, preoccupy those in surveillance.  The entire business is burgeoning, a viral complex that does not risk any abatement.

The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace has released an unnerving report confirming that fact, though irritatingly using an index in doing so.  Its focus is Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology.  A definition of sorts is offered for AI, being “an integrated system that incorporates information acquisition objectives, logical reasoning principles, and self-correction capacities.”

When stated like that, the whole matter seems benign.  Machine learning, for instance, “analyses a large amount of information in order to discern a pattern to explain the current data and predict future uses.”

There are several perturbing highlights supplied by the report’s author, Steven Feldstein.  The relationship between military expenditure and states’ use of AI surveillance systems is noted, with “forty of the world’s top fifty military spending countries (based on cumulative military expenditures) also [using] AI surveillance technology.”  Across 176 countries, data gathered since 2017 shows that AI surveillance technologies are not merely good domestic fare but a thriving export business.

The ideological bent of the regime in question is no bar to the use of such surveillance.  Liberal democracies are noted as major users, with 51 percent of “advanced democracies” doing so.  That number, interestingly enough, is less than “closed autocratic states” (37 percent); “electoral autocratic/competitive autocratic states” (41 percent) and “electoral democracies/illiberal democracies” (41 percent). 

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Maximum Pressure in the Strait of Hormuz

Maximum Pressure in the Strait of Hormuz

Hegemons are never going to sound too sensible when they lock horns or joust in spats of childish anger.  Power corrupts, not merely in terms of perspective but language, and making sense about the next move, the next statement, is bound to be challenging.  Otherwise justified behaviour can be read as provocative; retaliatory moves duly rattle and disturb.

The Iran-US standoff is finding a surge of increments, provocations and howlers.  Since the Trump administration withdrew from the 2015 Iran Nuclear deal (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) last year, Tehran has gnawed and scratched at the arrangements.  Threats to close the Strait of Hormuz as a retaliation for frustrating Iranian oil sales have been made.  President Hassan Rouhani last week made it clear that the Islamic republic would scale back on certain JCPOA commitments. Limits on building up stockpiles of low-enriched uranium and heavy water would be abandoned.  A 60-day period has been stipulated in the hope that the E3 (Britain, France and Germany), China and Russia provide relief for the Iranian oil and banking sector.  More suspensions of compliance orders threaten to follow if the powers do not muck in.

Despite not being part of the JCPOA anymore, the Trump administration persists in sticking its oar in the matter.  In May 3, the State Department explicitly warned it would sanction individuals and entities involved in swapping permitted uranium (enriched or natural) with Iran.  Nor would excess heavy water limits be permitted.

With such moves to strangle Iran’s economic feelers, it is little wonder that Rouhani has called on “surgery” to be performed on the JCPOA, one far more effectual than “the painkiller pills of the last year”.  Such a process, he promised, was “for saving the deal, not destroying it.”

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Doubts at the NSA: Shelving a Mass Surveillance Program

Doubts at the NSA:  Shelving a Mass Surveillance Program

Earlier this year, Luke Murry, national security adviser for Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, revealed that the National Security Agency had been averse over the last six months to using the phone surveillance program that hoovers information from millions of US phone calls and text messages.  This was hardly a comforting point; the issue spoke as much to competence as it did to any broader issue of warrantless surveillance of the good people in Freedom’s land.  Vast, cumbersome, and generally self-defeating, the essence of such programs is paranoid inefficiency.  Put it down to “technical issues”, suggested Murry.

The Call Details Records (CDR) program, hostile to liberties in its warrantless nature, has been a fixture of the US security landscape since 2001, when that nasty piece of legislation known as the USA PATRIOT ACT found its way onto the statue books.  The program was given legal approval by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court pursuant to Section 215 of that dastardly piece of penmanship.

The extent of its operation was unveiled in dramatic fashion by Edward Snowden to media outlets in 2013, the surveillance system specific to gathering the metadata of domestic phone calls, a mosaic of caller, recipient and time of contact, has been the subject of scrutiny. There are numerous others, but this one came in for special attention.

As Elliot Harmer of the Electronic Frontier Foundation explains, “While these records don’t contain the actual contents of telephone calls, they do include phone numbers and call times and length – more than enough information to prove the NSA with a clear picture of our social relationships, interests and affiliations.”

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Delegitimising Journalism: The Effort to Relabel Julian Assange

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

“Your honour, I represent the United States government”.  The Westminster Magistrates Court had been left with little doubt by the opening words of the legal team marshalled against the face of WikiLeaks.  Julian Assange was being targeted by the imperium itself, an effort now only garnished by the issue of skipping bail in 2012. Would the case on his extradition to the US centre on the matter of free speech and the vital scrutinising role of the press?

Thomas Jefferson, who had his moments of venomous tetchiness against the press outlets of his day, was clear about the role of the fourth estate.  A government with newspapers rather than without, he argued to Edward Carrington in 1787, was fundamental so long as “every man should receive those papers and be capable of reading them.”  To Thomas Cooper, he would write in November 1802 reflecting that the press was “the only tocsin of a nation.  [When it] is completely silenced… all means of a general effort [are] taken away.”  The press provided the greatest of counterweights against oppressive tendencies, being the “only security” available.

Not so, now.  The fourth estate has been subjected to a withering.  The State has become canny about the nature of the hack profession, providing incentives, attempting to obtain favourable coverage, and, above all, avoiding dramatic reforms where necessary.  An outfit like WikiLeaks is a rebuke to such efforts, to the hypocrisy of decent appearances, as it is to those in a profession long in tooth and, often, short in substance.

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Means of Control: Russia’s Attempt to Hive Off the Internet

Means of Control: Russia’s Attempt to Hive Off the Internet

Such measures were always going to come on the heels, and heavily so, of the utopians.  Where there is Internet Utopia, Dystopia follows with dedicated cynicism.  Where there are untrammelled means of searching, there will be efforts to erect signposts, usually of a warning nature.  Like the librarian ever worried of her reader finding something inappropriate, material will be kept in a different section of the library, forever filed, concealed and kept from overly curious eyes.  The library, however, will never close.

Like many of President Vladimir Putin’s projects, tackling the internet has all the elements of the improbable, the boastful and the grand quixotic.  It also has a certain Icarus, waxwing quality to it, and may end up melting when approaching its sunny objective.  Be that as it may, the Russian Internet Isolation Bill is simply another one for the books, another project in authority’s efforts to control, in the name of security, the way the world wide web works.  It seeks to impose further restrictions on traffic and data, routing it through state-controlled points to be registered with Roskomnadzor, the federal communications regulator. To this will be added a national Domain Name System, enabling the internet to function even if severed from foreign links.

The obvious and sensible point here shared by all states with an interest in using, exploiting and controlling the internet is how best to preserve an information web function that is sovereign and resistant to attack.  The Russian suggestion here is somewhat bolder than others: to hive off and keep RuNet (the state’s internet infrastructure) safe from any cyber mauling. This would effectively link the Russian segment to a switch.  Even after an attack, the internet within the country might still function in its provision of online services, minimising internal chaos.

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Dances of Disinformation: the Partisan Politics of the Integrity Initiative

Dances of Disinformation: the Partisan Politics of the Integrity Initiative

Is there such a plane of blissful, balanced information, deliberated and debated upon?  No.  Governments mangle; corporations distort.  Interest groups tinker.  Wars must be sold; deception must be perpetrated.  Inconsistencies must be removed.  There will be success, measured in small doses; failure, dispatched in grand servings.  The nature of news, hollow as it is, is to fill the next segment for the next release, a promiscuous delivery, an amoral ejaculate.  The notion a complicated world can somehow be compressed into a press release, a brief, an observation, is sinister and defeating.

The believers in an objective, balanced news platform are there.  Grants are forked out for such romantic notions as news with integrity, directed to increase “trust in news”, which is tantamount to putting your trust in an institution which has been placed on the mortician’s table.  The Trump era has seen a spike in such funding, but it belies a fundamental misconception about what news is.

Funny, then, that the environment should now be so neatly split: the Russians (always) seen to distort from a central programme, while no one else does.  The Kremlin manipulates feeble minds; virtuous powers do not.  The most powerful nation on the planet claims to be free of this, the same country that boasts cable news networks and demagoguery on the airwaves that have a distinct allergy against anything resembling balanced reporting, many backed by vast funding mechanisms for political projects overseas.  Britain, faded yet still nostalgically imperial, remains pure with the BBC, known as the Beeb, a sort of immaculate conception of news that purportedly survives manipulation.  Other deliverers of news through state channels also worship the idol of balance – Australia’s ABC, for one, asserts that role.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Dances of Disinformation: The Partisan Politics of the “Integrity Initiative”

Is there such a plane of blissful, balanced information, deliberated and debated upon?  No.  Governments mangle; corporations distort.  Interest groups tinker.  Wars must be sold; deception must be perpetrated.  Inconsistencies must be removed.  There will be success, measured in small doses; failure, dispatched in grand servings. 

The nature of news, hollow as it is, is to fill the next segment for the next release, a promiscuous delivery, an amoral ejaculate.  The notion a complicated world can somehow be compressed into a press release, a brief, an observation, is sinister and defeating.   

The believers in an objective, balanced news platform are there.  Grants are forked out for such romantic notions as news with integrity, directed to increase “trust in news”, which is tantamount to putting your trust in an institution which has been placed on the mortician’s table.  The Trump era has seen a spike in such funding, but it belies a fundamental misconception about what news is. 

Funny, then, that the environment should now be so neatly split: the Russians (always) seen to distort from a central programme, while no one else does.  The Kremlin manipulates feeble minds; virtuous powers do not.  The most powerful nation on the planet claims to be free of this, the same country that boasts cable news networks and demagoguery on the airwaves that have a distinct allergy against anything resembling balanced reporting, many backed by vast funding mechanisms for political projects overseas.  Britain, faded yet still nostalgically imperial, remains pure with the BBC, known as the Beeb, a sort of immaculate conception of news that purportedly survives manipulation.  Other deliverers of news through state channels also worship the idol of balance – Australia’s ABC, for one, asserts that role.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Charges Under Seal: US Prosecutors Get Busy With Julian Assange

Charges Under Seal: US Prosecutors Get Busy With Julian Assange

Photo Source Michael Mayer | CC BY 2.0

Those with a stake in the hustling racket of empire have little time for the contrariness that comes with exposing classified information.  Those who do are submitted to a strict liability regime of assessment and punishment: you had the information (lawfully obtained or otherwise) but you released it for public deliberation.  Ignorance remains a desensitising shield, keeping the citizenry in permanent darkness.

Critics indifferent to the plight of Julian Assange have seen his concerns for prosecution at the hands of US authorities as the disturbed meditations of a sexualised fantasist.  He should have surrendered to the British authorities and, in turn, to the Swedish authorities.  It was either insignificant or irrelevant that a Grand Jury had been convened to sniff around the activities of WikiLeaks to identify what, exactly, could be used against the organisation and its founder.

Cruelty and truth are often matters of excruciating banality, and now it is clearer than ever that the United States will, given the invaluable chance, net the Australian publisher and WikiLeaks founder to make an example of him.  This man, who dirtied the linen of state and exposed the ceremonial of diplomatic hypocrisy, was always an object of interest, notably in the United States.  “He was,” confirmed Andrea Kendall-Taylor, former deputy national intelligence officer for Russia under the director of national intelligence, “a loathed figure inside the government.”

Whether it was the Central Intelligence Agency, the US Department of Justice, or the specific army of investigators assembled by special counsel Robert Mueller III to weasel out material on the Trump-Russia connection, Assange remains a substantial figure who needs to be captured, sealed and disappeared.

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Agents of Chaos: Trump, the Federal Reserve and Andrew Jackson

Agents of Chaos: Trump, the Federal Reserve and Andrew Jackson

Photo Source Eli Christman | CC BY 2.0

“It is to be regretted that the rich and powerful too often bend the acts of government to their selfish purposes.”

– President Andrew Jackson, Washington, July 10, 1832

They are three players, all problematic in their own way.  They are the creatures of inconvenient chaos.  Donald Trump was born into the role, a misfit of misrule who found his baffling way to the White House on a grievance.  Wall Street, with its various agglomerations of vice and ambition constitute the spear of global instability while the US Federal Reserve, long seen as a gentlemanly symbol of stability, has done its fair share to avoid its remit to right unstable ships, a power in its own right.

The Federal Reserve, despite assuming the role of Apollonian stabiliser, remained blind and indifferent through the Clinton era under the stewardship of Alan Greenspan.  The creatures of Dionysus played, and Greenspan was happy to watch. While he is credited with having contained the shock of the 1987 stock-market crash, he proceeded to push a period of manically low interest rates and minimal financial regulation through the hot growth of the 1990s and early 2000s. Rather than condemning “Ninja loans” and other such bank exotica, he celebrated them as creations of speculative genius.

The mood at the Fed these days might seems chastened.  They are the monkish wowsers and party poopers, those who lock down the bar and tell the merrily sauced to head home.  The sense there is that the market, boosted and inflated, needs correction after years of keeping interest rates at floor levels. Unemployment levels are at 3.7 percent; inflation levels are close to 2 percent.  “If the strong growth in income and jobs continues,” reasoned Federal Reserve chairman Jerome H. Powell in August, “further gradual increases in the target range for the federal funds rate will likely be appropriate.”

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Tortured Solutions: Ecuador, the UK and Julian Assange’s Fate

Tortured Solutions: Ecuador, the UK and Julian Assange’s Fate

The pulse of negotiations, a flurry of communications, and the person central to this is one who threatens to go nowhere – for the moment.  But go somewhere these parties would wish Julian Assange to do.  For six years, cramped within a space in London a stone’s throw away from Harrods, one he has made his tenuous home, a citadel of sporadic publishing and exposes; for six years, an unruly, disobedient tenant whose celebrity shine has lost its gloss for certain followers and those who did, at one point, tolerate him.

The landlords have lost patience, and Lenín Moreno is willing to call in the arrears.  He has made it clear that, whilst Assange has been subjected to an unacceptable state of affairs (“Being five or six years in an embassy already violates his human rights”), he should also be moved on in some form with the British authorities.  How that moving takes place is producing a host of large, ballooning questions.

Ultimately, the current Ecuadorean leadership finds little to merit Assange’s effort.  He intrudes into the political affairs of other countries with audacity; he disturbs and interrupts the order of things with relish and, for those reasons, ought to be regarded with suspicion.  “I don’t agree with what he does,” Moreno is on record as saying.  “It is somewhat disgusting to see someone violating people’s right to communicate privately.”

Moreno, despite being classed as a protégé of his predecessor Rafael Correa, has done his level best to spruce up the country’s image for the United States whose Vice President, Mike Pence, duly acknowledged on a visit in June this year. He has moved on former figures within the previous administration, including Correa, claiming instances of corruption and crime.  Previous contracts made with Chinese companies are also being scrutinised for their value.

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The Lasting Condition: Drought in Australia

The Lasting Condition: Drought in Australia

Humans are a funny species.  They create settlements along fault lines that, on moving, can create catastrophe, killing thousands.  They construct homes facing rivers that will, at some point, break their banks, carrying of their precious property.  Importantly, they return in the aftermath.  Existence continues.

The same follows certain settlements of parts of the planet where hostile, environmental conditions discourage rather than endorse a certain form of living.  Changes in weather have been vicious catalysts for the collapse of civilisations; extreme climactic variations prevent and retard stable and sustainable agriculture.

“The flourishing of human civilisation from about 10,000 years ago, and in particular from 7,000 years ago,” notes earth and paleo-climate scientist Andrew Glikson, “critically depended on stabilisation of climate conditions”.  This had its due results: planting and harvesting of seed; cultivation of crops; the growth of villages and towns.

Australia, the second driest continent on the planet, has never been exempt from such patterns of disruption, and those stubborn, pluckily foolish farmers who persist in the notion that they can make a living in parts of it risk going the same way.

Australia’s agrarian purveyors have certainly been persistent, hopeful as pilgrims in search of holy land.  Disasters have not discouraged.  A sense of a certain attendant fatalism can be found in the scribbles of Nancy Fotheringham Cato’s “Mallee Farmer”:

You cleared the mallee and the sand blew over
Fence and road to the slow green river;
You prayed for rain but the sky breathed dust
Of long dead farmers and soil’s red rust.
You ploughed up the paddocks with a stump jump plough
But the gates were open and the drought walked through.

The Settlement Drought (1790-1793) threatened but did not overwhelm early European settlers. The Goyder Line Drought (1861-5) savaged but did not kill farming in parts of South Australia.

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The Death of the Investigative Journalist

The Death of the Investigative Journalist

The Yes Minister series portraying the skulduggery of Whitehall during the Thatcher years throws up a salient reminder how certain things do not mix.  Should the art portfolio be slotted alongside television?  Probably not, but politics is politics. Civil servants will intrigue and seek to influence the minister of the day for their own advancement.  The minister either resists or is duly house trained.

The idea that Australia’s Channel Nine network should be consuming the longstanding press entity that is Fairfax Media in an incongruous commercial merger raises a similarly awkward question.  Not that Channel Nine doesn’t do journalism.  It does, just of a frightful, ambulance chasing sort.

The deal would see the creation of a media behemoth in what is already one of the world’s most concentrated media landscapes. Nine’s free-to-air television network would be linked with the ongoing concern of Fairfax’s The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald, its radio assets (Sydney’s 2GB and Melbourne’s 3AW), the streaming video platform Stan and the real estate portal Domain.

Reassurances given about the continued independence and quality of that press entity are meaningless.  Nine chief executive Hugh Marks is undeterred.  “We just needed to reassure the creators and journalists that their world wasn’t going to change.  It’s all about how a bigger scale company can take their work and generate more revenue.”

Marks, in slanting the emphasis towards generating revenue, ignores the actual practice of meaningful, investigative journalism.  Head entities with the dominant running concern have a habit of heaping their values upon subordinates.  Cross-pollination, of the more sordid kind, is bound to happen, and it is the very sort that is bound to be lethal to a certain species of effective scribbling.

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Facebook, Cambridge Analytica and Surveillance Capitalism

Facebook, Cambridge Analytica and Surveillance Capitalism

Whether it creeps into politics, marketing, or simple profiling, the nature of surveillance as totality has been affirmed by certain events this decade.  The Edward Snowden disclosures of 2013 demonstrated the complicity and collusion between Silicon Valley and the technological stewards of the national security state.

It took the election of Donald J. Trump in 2016 to move the issue of social media profiling, sharing and targeting of information, to another level.  Not only could companies such as Facebook monetise their user base; those details could, in turn, be plundered, mined and exploited for political purpose.

As a social phenomenon, Facebook could not help but become a juggernaut inimical to the private sphere it has so comprehensively colonised.  “Facebook in particular,” claimed WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange in May 2011, “is the most appalling spy machine that has ever been invented.” It furnished “the world’s most comprehensive database about people, their relationships, their names, their addresses, their locations, their communications with each other, and their relatives, all sitting within the United States, all accessible to US intelligence.”

Now, the unsurprising role played by Cambridge Analytica with its Facebook accessory to politicise and monetise data reveals the tenuous ground notions of privacy rest upon.  Outrage and uproar has been registered, much of it to do with a simple fact: data was used to manipulate, massage and deliver a result to Trump – or so goes the presumption.  An instructive lesson here would be to run the counter-factual: had Hillary Clinton won, would this seething discontent be quite so enthusiastic?

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Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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