MoveOn.org (November 28, 2016) — Donald Trump is a con man who is using his political position to enrich himself and his family. In the nearly three weeks since the election, he has already demonstrated that he views the presidency as a funnel to his personal coffers.
Trump’s behavior is so outrageous and unprecedented that top ethics lawyers for both the Bush and Obama administrations have said that Trump should not assume the presidency until he deals with these conflicts of interest.
And all of this — his meetings with international real estate developers during his presidential transition, his pitch for his golf courses and construction projects during conversations with foreign leaders, his invitation to his daughter who helps run his private businesses to meet with a visiting head of state, and his $25 million settlement with students he had defrauded with Trump University — is taking place before he’s even taken power.
Imagine how bad it will get when he has the power of the Oval Office.
Trump for the Defense Tom Englehardt / TomDispatch
(November 22, 2016) â€“ It couldn’t be stranger when you think about it (which few here care to do). In the latter part of the twentieth century and the first years of this one, Washington did what no power in history had ever done. It garrisoned the globe with a staggering number of military bases in a remarkably blanket fashion (China, Russia, North Korea, Iran, and a few similar places aside). In these years, it just built and built and built.
At one point, there were something like 1,000 installations in Iraq and Afghanistan alone, from bases large enough to be small American towns to tiny combat outposts. In 2015, there were at least 800 significant US bases in foreign countries (and more small camps and places where US military equipment was pre-positioned for future use). No great power, not even Britain at its imperial height, had ever had such a global military “footprint,” such an “empire of bases,” and yet in this country it was as if no one noticed, as if it were of no importance at all.
The media rarely even acknowledged the existence of such bases. They were never considered news. They played no part in American politics. They went largely unmentioned in “the homeland,” despite the fact that hundreds of thousands of American military personnel, their families, private contractors, and others cycled through them annually.
Particularly in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, those bases reflected a growing belief in Washington that it might indeed be possible for a single nation, the planet’s “sole superpower,” to militarily dominate the planet, lock, stock, and barrel. As a result, investment in the US military proceeded apace and the urge for it to be everywhere only spread.
At one point in recent years, the Pentagon’s budget was larger than those of the next 10 countries combined, including a number of allies; and as Nick Turse has reported, by 2015, the Pentagon had created a vast secret military, its Special Operations forces, which played a role in 147 countries, a figure for the record books.
Meanwhile, new drone bases (on which we have no count) were being built in significant numbers to ensure that a Hellfire missile could be delivered to anyplace in the Greater Middle East, much of the rest of Eurasia, or northern Africa on more or less a moment’s notice. Nor did Washington’s efforts stop there. In these last years, the US has conducted bombing campaigns and other kinds of military activities in no less than seven countries.
And yet here’s what’s notable: unlike other imperial powers with such garrisons in their heyday — the Romans, the French, the British, the Soviets — the US managed to dominate next to nothing, to impose its will on no place militarily. Instead, in the post-9/11 era, under military pressure from Washington, country after country, area after area passed into a state of chaos, not order, and it seemed to make no difference what form that pressure took.
Neither this tale of failure nor the costs of such militaristic fantasies to the American taxpayer have yet been fully grasped here. As we enter the new era of Donald Trump, amid a welter of conflicting signals, only one thing seems clear when it comes to the US military.
Whatever extreme figures end up in key posts in the Trump version of the national security state, as TomDispatch regular William Hartung indicates today, yet more money will be sent swirling down the Pentagon’s drain. It’s like going into hock to finance your own imperial decline.
A Pentagon Rising Is a Trump Presidency Good News for the Military-Industrial Complex? William D. Hartung / TomDispatch
As with so much of what Donald Trump has said in recent months, his positions on Pentagon spending are, to be polite, a bundle of contradictions. Early signs suggest, however, that those contradictions are likely to resolve themselves in favor of the usual suspects: the arms industry and its various supporters and hangers-on in the government, as well as Washington’s labyrinthine world of think-tank policymakers and lobbyists.
Of course, to quote a voice of sanity at this strange moment: it ain’t over till it’s over. Eager as The Donald may be to pump vast sums into a Pentagon already spending your tax dollars at a near-record pace, there will be significant real-world obstacles to any such plans.
Let’s start with a baseline look at the Pentagon’s finances at this moment. At $600 billion-plus per year, the government is already spending more money on the Pentagon than it did at the peak of the massive military buildup President Ronald Reagan initiated in the 1980s.
In fact, despite what you might imagine, the Obama administration has pumped more tax dollars into the military in its two terms than did George W. Bush. According to the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, the US currently spends four times what China does and 10 times what the Russians sink into their military.
So pay no attention to those cries of poverty emanating from the Pentagon. There’s already plenty of money available for “defense.” Instead, the problems lie in Washington’s overly ambitious, thoroughly counterproductive global military strategy and in the Pentagon’s penchant for squandering tax dollars as if they were in endless supply.
Supposedly, the job of the president and Congress is to rein in that department’s notoriously voracious appetite. Instead, they regularly end up as a team of enablers for its obvious spending addiction.
Which brings us back to Donald Trump. He’s on the record against regime-change-style wars like Bush’s intervention in Iraq and Obama’s in Libya. He also wants our allies to pay more for their own defense. And he swears that, once in office, he’ll eliminate waste and drive down the costs of weapons systems. Taken at face value, such a set of policies would certainly set the stage for reductions in Pentagon spending, not massive increases. But those are just the views of one Donald Trump.
Don’t forget the other one, the presidential candidate who termed our military a “disaster” and insisted that huge spending increases were needed to bring it back up to par. A window into this Trump’s thinking can be found in a speech he gave in Philadelphia in early September.
Drawing heavily on a military spending blueprint created by Washington’s right-wing Heritage Foundation, Trump called for tens of thousands of additional troops, a Navy of 350 ships (the current goal is 308), a significantly larger Air Force, an anti-missile, space-based Star Wars-style program of Reaganesque proportions, and an acceleration of the Pentagon’s $1 trillion “modernization” program for the nuclear arsenal (now considered a three-decade-long project).
Todd Harrison of the Center for Strategic and International Studies estimates that, if Trump faithfully follows the Heritage Foundation’s proposal, he could add more than $900 billion to the Pentagon’s budget over the next decade. Trump asserts that he would counterbalance this spending splurge with corresponding cuts in government waste but has as yet offered no credible plan for doing so (because, of course, there isn’t one).
You won’t be surprised to learn, then, that the defense industry, always sensitive to the vibes of presidential candidates, has been popping the champagne corks in the wake of Trump’s victory. The prospects are clear: a new Pentagon spending binge is on the horizon.
Veteran defense analyst David Isenberg has convincingly argued that the “military-industrial-congressional-complex,” not the white working class, will be the real winner of the 2016 presidential election. The Forbes headline for a column Loren Thompson, an industry consultant (whose think tank is heavily funded by weapons contractors), recently wrote says it all: “For the Defense Industry, Trump’s Win Means Happy Days are Here Again.”
The stocks of industry giants Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, and Northrop Grumman rose sharply upon news of his election and the biggest winner of all may be Huntington Ingalls, a Virginia-based manufacturer of aircraft carriers and nuclear attack submarines that would be a primary beneficiary of Trump’s proposed naval buildup.
The Ideologues Form Their Ranks
Of course, the market’s not always right. What other evidence do we have that Trump will follow through on his promises to dramatically increase Pentagon spending? One clue is his potential appointees to national security positions.
Let’s start with his transition team. Mira Ricardel, a former executive at Boeing’s Strategic Missiles and Defense unit, has been running the day-to-day operations of the defense part of the transition apparatus. She also served a lengthy stint in the Pentagon under George W. Bush.
As Marcus Weisgerber of Defense One has noted, she’s advocated for the development of space laser weapons and more military satellites, and is likely to press for appointees who will go all in on the Pentagon’s plan to spend hundreds of billions of dollars on a new nuclear bomber and a new generation of intercontinental ballistic missiles.
So much for “draining the swamp” of special-interest advocates, as Trump had promised to do. Vice President-elect Mike Pence, recently named to head the Trump transition team in place of former New Jersey governor Chris Christie, has promised to cleanse the transition team of lobbyists. But government watchdog groups like Public Citizen are skeptical of this pledge, noting that corporate executives like Ricardel who have not been registered lobbyists are likely to survive any changes Pence may make.
The person currently rumored to be the frontrunner for the defense job is General James “Mad Dog” Mattis, a 44-year Marine and former head of the US Central Command who left the military in 2013 amid disagreements with the Obama administration over how many troops to deploy in Iraq and how hard a line to take on Iran.
According to a Washington Post profile of Mattis, he “consistently pushed the military to punish Iran and its allies, including calling for more covert actions to capture and kill Iranian operatives and interdictions of Iranian warships.”
These proposals were non-starters at a time when the Obama administration was negotiating a deal to curb Iran’s nuclear weapons program, but may receive a warmer reception in a Trump White House.
Another candidate for the Pentagon post is Jim Talent, a former senator from Missouri who is now based at the conservative American Enterprise Institute after a seven-year stint at the Heritage Foundation. Talent is a long-time advocate of spending an arbitrary 4% of gross domestic product on defense, an ill-advised policy that would catapult the Pentagon budget to over $800 billion per year by 2020, one-third above current levels. The conservative National Taxpayers Union has derided the idea as a gimmick that is “neither fiscally responsible nor strategically coherent.”
Another person allegedly in the mix for Pentagon chief is Kelly Ayotte, who just lost her Senate seat in New Hampshire. She was a rising star in the ranks of the Capitol Hill hawks who roamed the country with Senators Lindsey Graham and John McCain advocating an end to caps on Pentagon spending.
Ayotte’s name may have been mentioned primarily to show that Trump was casting a wide net (the whole spectrum from hawks to extreme hawks). Conservative Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas — a fierce opponent of the Iran nuclear deal and an avid booster of increasing Pentagon spending beyond what even the Pentagon has asked for — is reputedly another contender.
Congressman Randy Forbes, a Republican from Virginia, is looking for a job after losing his seat in a primary earlier this year. He has been mentioned as a possible secretary of the Navy. The outgoing chairman of the House Armed Services Committee’s Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee, he has been the most vocal advocate in Congress for a larger Navy. Not coincidentally, Virginia is also home to Huntington Ingalls Shipbuilding.
Retired Army Lieutenant General Mike Flynn has now been selected to serve as Trump’s national security adviser, where he may get the last word on foreign policy issues. A registered Democrat, he was an early Trump supporter who gave a fiery anti-Obama speech at the Republican convention and led anti-Clinton chants of “lock her up” at Trump rallies — hardly the temperament one would want in a person who will be at the president’s side making life-and-death decisions for the planet.
To his credit, Flynn has expressed skepticism of military interventions like those in Iraq and Afghanistan, but he has also advocated regime change as a way to keep Iran from getting a nuclear weapon and criticized President Obama for being too “politically correct” to use the term “radical Islam.”
His own views on Islam and how best to deal with terrorism are particularly concerning. He has described Islam as a “political ideology” rather than a religion, and has made demonstrably false assertions regarding the role of Islam in American life, including the absurd claim that Islamic law, or Sharia, has taken hold in certain communities in the United States.
The scariest potential Trump appointees — or at least the scariest voices that could have the president-elect’s ear or those of his closest advisers, are not necessarily the ones with preexisting economic stakes in high levels of Pentagon spending. They are the ideologues.
R. James Woolsey, former CIA director and fierce advocate of the Bush administration’s invasion of Iraq, punches both tickets. He’s closely connected to right-wing think tanks that press for spending more on all things military and was a member of neoconservative networks like the Project for the New American Century and the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq. Woolsey is also an executive at Booz, Allen, Hamilton, a major defense and intelligence contractor.
Then there’s Frank Gaffney of the Center for Security Policy. A former Reagan-era Star Wars enthusiast turned professional Islamophobe, he has insinuated that President Obama might be a secret Muslim and slandered fellow conservatives for allegedly having questionable ties to radical Muslim organizations. Such claims should make Gaffney unfit to serve in the government of a democratic society.
However, his advice is reportedly being listened to by key Trump insiders and appointing him to some national security post may not prove a problem for a president-elect who has already installed white supremacist Stephen Bannon as his strategic adviser in the White House.
And then there’s John Bolton, the hawk’s hawk who never met an arms control agreement he didn’t despise, and who took to the pages of the New York Times last year to advocate bombing Iran. Prominent neoconservatives are pushing Bolton as a possible secretary of state in a Trump administration.
A potential obstacle to a Bolton appointment is his strong anti-Russian stance, but he could still get a post of significance or simply be an important voice in the coming Trump era. He has already called for Trump to scrap the Iran nuclear deal on his first day in office.
Another reported candidate in the race for secretary of state is Rudy Giuliani, perhaps the most undiplomatic man in America. Recent reports suggest, however, that the former New York mayor no longer has the inside track on the job. The latest name to be mentioned in the secretary of state sweepstakes is former Massachusetts governor and failed presidential candidate Mitt Romney, a harsh critic of Trump during the campaign.
Below the cabinet level, certain Republican foreign policy experts who opposed Trump or remained neutral during the campaign have been trying to mend fences — even some of those who signed a letter suggesting that he might be “the most reckless president in American history.”
Part of this backpedaling has included preposterous claims that Trump’s pronouncements have become more “nuanced” in the post-election period, as if he didn’t really mean it when he called Mexican immigrants rapists and criminals or talked about banning Muslims from the country.
One hawk who hasn’t accommodated himself to a Trump presidency is Eliot Cohen, a leader of the “Never Trump” movement who had initially urged foreign policy specialists to put aside their reservations and enter his administration. Cohen has since reversed course and suggested that no “garden variety Republican” go near Trump, arguing that he and his “mediocre” appointees will “smash into crises and failures” on a regular basis.
In the end, it may not matter much just how the contest for top positions in the new administration plays out. Given the likely cast of characters and the nascent crop of advisers in the world of national security, it’s hard to imagine that Trump won’t be strongly encouraged in any efforts to pump up Pentagon spending to levels possibly not seen in the post-World War II era.
Reaganomics on Steroids?
One thing, however, does stand in the way of Trump’s current plans: reality.
As a start, how in the world will Trump pay for his ambitious military, “security,” and infrastructure plans? A huge military buildup, a $25 billion wall on the Mexican border, a potentially enormous increase in spending on immigration enforcement officials and private detention centers, and a trillion-dollar infrastructure program, all against the backdrop of a tax plan that would cut trillions in taxes for the wealthiest Americans. The only possible way to do this would be to drown the country in red ink.
Trump is likely to turn to deficit spending on a grand scale, which will undoubtedly exacerbate divisions among congressional Republicans and cause potentially serious pushback from the Party’s deficit hawks. On the other hand, his desire to lift current caps on Pentagon spending without a corresponding increase in domestic expenditures could generate significant opposition from Senate Democrats, who might use current Senate rules to block consideration of any unbalanced spending proposals.
Nor will Trump’s incipient infatuation with Pentagon spending do much for members of his working class base who have been left behind economically as traditional manufacturing employment has waned. In fact, Pentagon spending is one of the worst possible ways of creating jobs.
Much of the money goes to service contractors, arms industry executives, and defense consultants (also known as “Beltway bandits”), and what does go into the actual building of weapons systems underwrites a relatively small number of manufactured items, at least when compared to mass production industries like automobiles or steel.
In addition, such spending is the definition of an economic dead end. If you put taxpayer money into education or infrastructure, you lay the foundations for further growth. If you spend money on an F-35 fighter plane, you get… well, an overpriced F-35. A study by economists at the University of Massachusetts indicates that infrastructure spending creates one and one-half times the number of jobs per dollar invested as money lavished on the Pentagon.
If Trump really wants to create jobs for his base, he should obviously pursue infrastructure investment rather than dumping vast sums into weapons the country doesn’t actually need at prices it can’t afford.
At present, with its proposals for steep military spending increases and deep tax cuts, Trump’s budget plan looks like Reaganomics on steroids. A Democratic Congress and citizens’ movements like the nuclear freeze campaign managed to blunt Reagan’s most extreme policy proposals. The next few years will determine what happens with Mr. Trump’s own exercise in fantasy budgeting.
William D. Hartung, a TomDispatch regular, is the director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy. He is the author of Prophets of War: Lockheed Martin and the Making of the Military-Industrial Complex. Copyright 2016 William D. Hartung
Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Nick Turse’s Next Time They’ll Come to Count the Dead, and Tom Engelhardt’s latest book, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.
Note for TomDispatch Readers: As we enter the grim Age of Trump, a lot of good places will undoubtedly be looking for help. This website is one of them. In that light, I just wanted to remind you that, in return for a donation of $100 or more ($125 if you live outside the United States), you can go to the TomDispatch donation page and find quite an impressive range of books, including ones by Nick Turse and myself. Whichever one you decide on, the author will send you a signed, personalized copy of it. We can always use the help, of course, and I guarantee you that you won’t regret the reading!
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ACTION ALERT: Sign the Petition to Defend the First Amendment PEN America, Daily Kos, et al.
(November 29, 2016) — On January 20, Donald J. Trump will take the oath of office and swear to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. During his presidential campaign, his statements and actions called into question his commitment to constitutional principles, including the freedom of expression.
Of specific concern were his threats and insults directed toward journalists, arbitrary limitations on media access and comments in support of potential legal reforms that would weaken First Amendment protections.
Donald Trump’s campaign tone and rhetoric also fostered the rise of threats and actions by many of his supporters directed against people of color, Muslims, Jews, immigrants, the disabled, LGBTQ people, and women.
The United States is recognized globally for having the broadest and most powerful protections for free speech in the world. But those protections are now under attack.
In the face of this very real threat to our most basic rights, we must stand united to defend the First Amendment, the very foundation of our democratic system.
Please join us and become a co-signer of the pledge to:
As American residents, writers, artists, and readers, we will stand united to preserve, protect and defend our right to a free press, to express our opinions, and to engage in dissent, and we will work tirelessly to protect these rights for all. Become a co-signer of the pledge to defend the First Amendment, the very foundation of our democratic system.
Become a co-signer of the pledge to: * Defend the vital role and the rights of a free press in a democracy and all those performing acts of journalism with the broadest possible access to matters of public interest and without fear of government interference or retaliation;
* Protect our right to peaceful protest and assembly, and not allow the government to criminalize dissent;
* Stand up for religious liberty and pluralism, and against the persecution of religious minorities;
* Safeguard existing laws and court decisions that limit the use of libel and slander defamation lawsuits to intimidate critics of public figures;
Speak out to reject the bigotry and hate that are creating a widespread and alarming chilling effect on freedom of expression for people of color, Muslims, Jews, the disabled, immigrants, LGBTQ, and women.
JOIN THESE SIGNERS, INCLUDING ALL PAST U.S. POETS LAUREATE:
18 Million Rising
American Family Voices
Center for Popular Democracy Action (CPD)
People Demanding Action
People For the American Way
Charles Wright Sponsored by PEN America, Daily Kos, 18 Million Rising, American Family Voices, Center for Popular Democracy Action, Common Cause, Courage Campaign, Demand Progress, Free Press, People’s Action, People Demanding Action, People For the American Way, Presente.org, and The Nation.
(November 30, 2016) — With the Trump campaign’s policy positions and the transition team’s history of attacks on science, we know you’re concerned about attempts to gut landmark public health and safety protections such as the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts. We are with you.â€¨â€¨
That’s why the Union of Concerned Scientists will not back down — we will use our voice for science to fight for safeguards that protect all of us. The Senate is already hearing from corporations that stand to benefit from rollbacks of science-based protections — we need you to make sure your senators hear loud and clear that this matters to their constituents.â€¨â€¨
As with every administration, UCS is prepared to fight anti-science attacks — and we’ve learned that speaking up and standing firm for science is key to our success. â€¨â€¨We cannot roll back the progress we have made for the health of our families, especially for communities who already face the burden of living in unsafe environments.
As our elected officials gear up for the new session, we must act fast and let our senators know we are holding them accountable for our health, safety, and environment — and will continue to do so.â€¨â€¨
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Land Grab Congressman Now Wants
Trump to Abolish National Monuments Dan Zukowski / EcoWatch
(November 27, 2016) — US Rep. Rob Bishop, a fierce anti-public lands Republican in Utah, is urging President-elect Donald Trump to abolish national monuments created by Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton. More than 270 million acres of American land and waters are potentially at risk — an area two and a half times the size of California.
The action would be unprecedented. No president in history has undone the creation of a national monument by a predecessor.
Among the lands that could lose protection are the magnificent Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah, the recently-designated Kathadin Woods & Waters National Monument in Maine (a gift of private land), and national monuments in the Sonoran Desert, Organ Mountains of New Mexico and San Gabriel Mountains of California.
Where would these lands go if Rep. Bishop gets his way? A clue might come from where the congressman, who is chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, gets his campaign contributions.
Since 1999, Bishop has accepted $452,610 from oil, gas and coal interests, according to Dirty Energy Money. More than 10 percent of that has come from the coal-friendly National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, which has been leading the fight against the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan. ExxonMobil, Chevron, Tesoro and bankrupt Arch Coal round out his top-five contributors.
“In Rob Bishop’s world, land owned by all Americans should be taken over by those who see them as nothing but a source of profit for drilling, mining and logging,” said Randi Spivak public lands director with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Fortunately there are laws that protect places like national monuments — Rep. Bishop apparently doesn’t understand them or doesn’t think they should apply to his ideology.”
“If Rob Bishop has his way, where would it stop? Taking Yellowstone and Yosemite off the list of national parks?,” asked Spivak.
Legal opinion on whether Trump could do away with these national monuments is mixed. An opinion issued by the Congressional Research Service concluded: “There is no language in the 1906 [Antiquities] Act that expressly authorizes revocation; there is no instance of past practice in that regard, and there is an attorney general’s opinion concluding that the President lacks that authority.”
However, the same report notes that presidents have modified previous designations, both expanding and contracting the areas covered. That essentially means a president could choose to drastically shrink the size of a national monument without abolishing it.
Sixteen presidents — starting with Republican President Theodore Roosevelt — have used the Antiquities Act to establish national monuments. The 1906 act established presidential authority “to declare by public proclamation historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest that are situated upon the lands owned or controlled by the government of the United States.”
Along with Roosevelt, other Republican presidents that have used the 1906 Act to create national monuments include William Howard Taft, Warren G. Harding, Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover, Dwight D. Eisenhower and George W. Bush. Nixon, Reagan and George H.W. Bush are the only presidents of either party since 1906 who have not created national monuments.
But, listen here to what Bishop thinks about the Antiquities Act. He actually says, if you like the Antiquites Act, “die.”
Some of the lands protected under the Antiquities Act, such as the Gila Cliff Dwellings and Navajo national monuments, were established to protect significant ancestral Native American sites from robbery and destruction. But Bishop doesn’t care about that, either.
The Bears Ears region in southeastern Utah is home to 100,000 Native American archeological sites, which have seen ongoing looting and desecration. Although 71 percent of Utah voters support the creation of a Bears Ears national monument, Rep. Bishop is firmly opposed and has introduced legislation that would remove protection from 18 million acres of land in eastern Utah and prevent creation of a new national monument.
Dr. Adrienne Keene âœ” @NativeApprops
Federal Bill Seeks First Native American Land Grab in 100 Years via â€ª@EcoWatch
9:30 AM – 23 Sep 2016
Congress has used its authority to designate national monuments 40 times, and 32 times it has elevated national monuments to the status of national parks. These include the Grand Canyon, Olympic National Park, Acadia National Park and the Statue of Liberty.
Congress also has the power to revoke any Antiquities Act designation. And there are opponents of the Antiquities Act that would like to see the act itself repealed. Efforts to repeal or limit it have been tried before, and are likely to be renewed when the 115th Congress is seated in January.
Despite various legal opinions, the authority of a president to revoke a national monument designation has never been tested in court. With the incoming president and the Republican House and Senate, certain to appoint at least one Supreme Court justice, that authority could be tested at the highest level.
However, many elected officials are speaking out against Bishop’s alarming idea.
“If any administration thinks they’re going to start divesting us of a hundred-year history of lands that belong to every American, they’re going to have to do it over my dead body,” New Mexico Sen. Martin Heinrich told the Albuquerque Journal.
New Mexico Democrats US Sen. Tom Udall and US Rep. Ben Ray LujÃ¡n also condemned Bishop’s plans.
“No president has ever overturned a previous president’s decision to designate a national monument and I sincerely hope that the president-elect respects this precedent so that this treasure of northern New Mexico will be protected and preserved for future generations,” LujÃ¡n said in reference to the Rio Grande del Norte monument.
“Extremists in Congress may be urging President-elect Trump to take radical and unprecedented actions against our public lands, but I will fight any such actions every step of the way,” Udall said. “I urge Western communities to join me in informing Mr. Trump about the value these lands hold for New Mexicans and all Americans.”
Dan Zukowski is an environmental journalist and nature photographer and a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists.
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The Uselessness of NATO Justin Raimondo / AntiWar.com
(November 29, 2016) — The latest entrant into the NATO alliance, Montenegro, underscores both the absurdity of this archaic Cold War relic and the dangers it poses to the United States.
Yes, Montenegro is a real country, kind of: with a little over 600,000 citizens, and around 5,000 square miles, it has an army of under 2,000 soldiers and sailors.
During the medieval era it was divided into warring clans who were unified only by their fierce opposition to Ottoman rule: the boundaries, and the rulers who presided over what became a duchy, were fluid, like the boundaries of neighboring Balkan states whose instability and propensity for conflict gave rise to the phrase “balkanization” as a synonym for volatility.
Once the ancient bastion of Serbian nationalism — the country was bombed by the US during the Kosovo war — Montenegro’s demographics underwent a transformation and now the country is pretty evenly split between Serbs and other nationalities: the country’s politics, too, are polarized, with the pro-Serb pro-Russian opposition parties and the pro-EU pro-NATO parties almost evenly matched, although the latter have tenuous control of the government at present.
A referendum severing Montenegro from the Serbian-dominated Yugoslav Federation was successful, but only after a protracted campaign by the state-controlled media — already in the hands of pro-NATO forces — and a 1997 coup led by Milo Djukanovic, the current President. The New York Times describes President Djukanovic as “notoriously devious,” and he is otherwise known as “Mr. Ten Percent,” an allusion to his reputation for corruption.
The elections in which Djukanovic displaced his former friend, Momir Bulatovic — both had previously been Communist Party officials with no history of dissidence — featured gangs of Djukanovic’s supporters attacking the opposition, 40,000 questionable voters suddenly added to the rolls, voters registered multiple times, and other “irregularities.”
As I reported at the time: “On election night, as the Djukanovic forces celebrated their victory by shooting their kalashnikovs into the air, the security forces and the secret police moved in on opposition headquarters and cordoned it off.”
This is “democracy” in Montenegro. And it’s been downhill ever since.
The 2006 independence referendum passed the required 55% margin by a few thousand votes, and Djukanovic has managed to retain office by hook or by crook up until now. The most recent elections, however, ended inconclusively, with the ruling party short of a majority able to form a government.
Djukanovic and his Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) campaigned as NATO’s champion, portraying the election as a referendum on the two issues dividing the country along ethnic and ideological lines: Djukanovic’s proposal that Montenegro join both NATO and the European Union.
In what has become a trend of late, the campaign was the occasion for the DPS to charge that the Russians were plotting to steal the election on behalf of Russian “agents,” and a complicated plot was invented, featuring an alleged GRU agent who was supposedly scheming to seize the Parliament building, assassinate Djukanovic & Co., and establish a pro-Russian regime. There is no evidence to support these charges, which the New York Times called “murky.”
In short, this is a somewhat more dramatic version of the same charges Hillary Clinton leveled at Donald Trump during the American presidential contest. (In Germany, too, a version of the “Russians-will-hack-the-election-results” meme floated here by US intelligence agencies and Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein is currently being circulated.)
Montenegro is a cauldron of ethno-nationalist tensions that could explode into a civil war — or a cross border conflict with any number of its neighbors — at a moment’s notice. The NATO treaty requires signatories to come to the aid of member states who face aggression or any sort of conflict.
Montenegro is currently involved in border disputes with Kosovo, Croatia, and Bosnia. Furthermore, it is bedeviled by a pan-Albanian nationalist insurgency that claims southern Montenegro as part of “Greater Albania,” not to mention a pan-Slavic nationalist movement that wants reunion with Serbia and looks to Russia as its lodestar.
Put another way: the country is a ticking time bomb just waiting to go off. Its membership in NATO would require the United States to intervene if any one of these incipient conflicts flared into violence. Divided as it is into pro-Russian and anti-Russian factions, Montenegro is the perfect fulcrum for a wider conflict between the US/NATO on the one hand and Vladimir Putin on the other.
Do we really want to lay the groundwork for World War III with nuclear-armed Russia in order to incorporate Montenegro’s tiny make-believe “army” into NATO?
In a sane world, the clear answer would be: of course not. But we are living in the world created by our political class, which is bound and determined to police the “world order” and push the boundaries of their bankrupt empire as far as their hubris will take them.
The reality is this: we are paying out billions of dollars in order to bear the costs of NATO, while our shiftless “allies” have refused to pay their fair share and instead use their wealth to subsidize generous welfare states — while importing hundreds of thousands of refugees from the devastated sites of their foreign wars.
And why are we footing their bill? In order to “protect” them from a nonexistent threat which hasn’t existed (if it ever did) since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the implosion of the Soviet empire.
During his campaign for president, Trump said that not only is NATO “obsolete,” but that he would have to reevaluate the utility of the alliance to American interests, and that he would think twice about coming to the defense of its deadbeat members.
This is half right: what’s needed is a firm commitment to get out of NATO and let these nations defend themselves. NATO is not only expensive, it’s a system of tripwires, any one of which could set us on the road to a military confrontation with Russia.
So let Montenegro join NATO if it wants — just as long as we are on our way out as they come in.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
US Admits ‘Mistake’ in Killing Scores of Syrian Troops in Airstrikes Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com
(November 29, 2016) — On September 17, in the middle of a ceasefire negotiated by the US and Russia, US warplanes attacked a Syrian military base in the Deir Ezzor Province, killing at least 62 troops and setting the stage for an ISIS offensive into the region.
US officials have finally gotten around to issuing a report on the matter, calling the attack a “mistake” that was caused by “human error.” Centcom further labeled the killing of all the Syrian troops as “regrettable.” Lt. Gen. Jeff Harrigan added that US forces must “do better than this.”
The weekend attack did major harm to the Syrian military’s position around the key city of Deir Ezzor, and the Syrian government withdrew from the ceasefire just days after the US attack, saying there was no point to keeping the ceasefire in place given how much they were getting attacked.
Britain, whose planes were also involved in the attack, were even less contrite about it than the US officials were, insisting that they had attacked the “Syrian Regime” in the middle of a ceasefire “in good faith,” and insisting the US report proved that the attack “was reasonable.”
(November 29, 2016) — Sometimes it’s tough to pull lessons of any sort from our confusing world, but let me mention one obvious (if little noted) case where that couldn’t be less true: the American military and its wars.
Since September 11, 2001, the US has been in a state of more or less permanent war in the Greater Middle East and northern Africa. In those years, it’s been involved in a kaleidoscopic range of activities, including full-scale invasions and occupations, large-scale as well as pinpoint bombing campaigns, drone strikes, special ops raids, advisory missions, training programs, and counterinsurgency operations.
The US military has fought regular armies, insurgencies, and terror groups of all sorts, Shiites as well as Sunnis. The first war of this era, in Afghanistan — a country Washington declared “liberated” in 2002 — is still underway 16 years later (and not going well). The second war, in Iraq, is still ongoing 13 years later.
From Afghanistan to Libya, Syria to Yemen, Iraq to Somalia, the US military effort in these years, sometimes involving “nation building” and enormous “reconstruction” programs, has left in its wake a series of weakened or collapsed states and spreading terror outfits. In short, no matter how the US military has been used, nothing it’s done has truly worked out.
Now, we are about to enter the Trump era in which a series of retired generals, previously involved in these very wars, may end up running parts of the government or directly advising the president-elect on what course to take in the world.
As Trump said in his recent interview with the New York Times, speaking of appointing retired General James Mattis as secretary of defense, “I think it’s time maybe, it’s time for a general. Look at what’s going on. We don’t win, we can’t beat anybody, we don’t win anymore. At anything.”
Nonetheless, you don’t have to be either a genius or a general to draw a simple enough lesson from these last 15 years of American war, even if it’s not Trump’s lesson: don’t do it. Of course, the new crew (aka the old crew) will naturally have ideas about how to “utterly destroy ISIS” and fulfill the president’s other promises in ways different from those already used.
They will undoubtedly convince themselves that, unlike their predecessors (who just happen to be them), they have answers to the conundrum of how to effectively prosecute the war on terror.
They will not, in other words, have learned the obvious lesson of these years and will, in some fashion, once again apply US military power to the Greater Middle East and northern Africa — and whatever they do, however successful it may look in its early moments, it’s a guarantee that further disaster will ensue sooner or later.
Guaranteed as well: that vast region will be “greater” only in terms of the ever vaster expanses of rubble where cities and towns used to be; and our “empire of chaos” there will continue to blow back here as well. It will come home in expense, in frustration, and in god knows what other ways.
Rest assured of one thing, it won’t be pretty, either there or here, a point made by TomDispatch regular Andrew Bacevich, author of America’s War for the Greater Middle East, while doing something that, strangely enough, has scarcely been done in all these years of war: evaluating the performance of America’s generals.
Winning: Trump Loves to Do It, But
American Generals Have Forgotten How Andrew J. Bacevich / TomDispatch
(November 29, 2016) — President-elect Donald Trump’s message for the nation’s senior military leadership is ambiguously unambiguous. Here is he on 60 Minutes just days after winning the election.
Trump: “We have some great generals. We have great generals.”
Lesley Stahl: “You said you knew more than the generals about ISIS.”
Trump: “Well, I’ll be honest with you, I probably do because look at the job they’ve done. OK, look at the job they’ve done. They haven’t done the job.”
In reality, Trump, the former reality show host, knows next to nothing about ISIS, one of many gaps in his education that his impending encounter with actual reality is likely to fill. Yet when it comes to America’s generals, our president-to-be is onto something.
No doubt our three- and four-star officers qualify as “great” in the sense that they mean well, work hard, and are altogether fine men and women. That they have not “done the job,” however, is indisputable — at least if their job is to bring America’s wars to a timely and successful conclusion.
Trump’s unhappy verdict — that the senior US military leadership doesn’t know how to win — applies in spades to the two principal conflicts of the post-9/11 era: the Afghanistan War, now in its 16th year, and the Iraq War, launched in 2003 and (after a brief hiatus) once more grinding on.
Yet the verdict applies equally to lesser theaters of conflict, largely overlooked by the American public, that in recent years have engaged the attention of US forces, a list that would include conflicts in Libya, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen.
Granted, our generals have demonstrated an impressive aptitude for moving pieces around on a dauntingly complex military chessboard. Brigades, battle groups, and squadrons shuttle in and out of various war zones, responding to the needs of the moment.
The sheer immensity of the enterprise across the Greater Middle East and northern Africa — the sorties flown, munitions expended, the seamless deployment and redeployment of thousands of troops over thousands of miles, the vast stockpiles of material positioned, expended, and continuously resupplied — represents a staggering achievement.
Measured by these or similar quantifiable outputs, America’s military has excelled. No other military establishment in history could have come close to duplicating the logistical feats being performed year in, year out by the armed forces of the United States.
Nor should we overlook the resulting body count. Since the autumn of 2001, something like 370,000 combatants and noncombatants have been killed in the various theaters of operations where US forces have been active. Although modest by twentieth century standards, this post-9/11 harvest of death is hardly trivial.
Yet in evaluating military operations, it’s a mistake to confuse how much with how well. Only rarely do the outcomes of armed conflicts turn on comparative statistics. Ultimately, the one measure of success that really matters involves achieving war’s political purposes.
By that standard, victory requires not simply the defeat of the enemy, but accomplishing the nation’s stated war aims, and not just in part or temporarily but definitively. Anything less constitutes failure, not to mention utter waste for taxpayers, and for those called upon to fight, it constitutes cause for mourning.
By that standard, having been “at war” for virtually the entire twenty-first century, the United States military is still looking for its first win. And however strong the disinclination to concede that Donald Trump could be right about anything, his verdict on American generalship qualifies as apt.
A Never-Ending Parade of
Commanders for Wars That Never End
That verdict brings to mind three questions. First, with Trump a rare exception, why have the recurring shortcomings of America’s military leadership largely escaped notice?
Second, to what degree does faulty generalship suffice to explain why actual victory has proven so elusive? Third, to the extent that deficiencies at the top of the military hierarchy bear directly on the outcome of our wars, how might the generals improve their game?
As to the first question, the explanation is quite simple: During protracted wars, traditional standards for measuring generalship lose their salience. Without pertinent standards, there can be no accountability. Absent accountability, failings and weaknesses escape notice. Eventually, what you’ve become accustomed to seems tolerable.
Twenty-first century Americans inured to wars that never end have long since forgotten that bringing such conflicts to a prompt and successful conclusion once defined the very essence of what generals were expected to do.
Senior military officers were presumed to possess unique expertise in designing campaigns and directing engagements. Not found among mere civilians or even among soldiers of lesser rank, this expertise provided the rationale for conferring status and authority on generals.
In earlier eras, the very structure of wars provided a relatively straightforward mechanism for testing such claims to expertise. Events on the battlefield rendered harsh judgments, creating or destroying reputations with brutal efficiency.
Back then, standards employed in evaluating generalship were clear-cut and uncompromising. Those who won battles earned fame, glory, and the gratitude of their countrymen. Those who lost battles got fired or were put out to pasture.
During the Civil War, for example, Abraham Lincoln did not need an advanced degree in strategic studies to conclude that Union generals like John Pope, Ambrose Burnside, and Joseph Hooker didn’t have what it took to defeat the Army of Northern Virginia. Humiliating defeats sustained by the Army of the Potomac at the Second Bull Run, Fredericksburg, and Chancellorsville made that obvious enough.
Similarly, the victories Ulysses S. Grant and William T. Sherman gained at Shiloh, at Vicksburg, and in the Chattanooga campaign strongly suggested that here was the team to which the president could entrust the task of bringing the Confederacy to its knees.
Today, public drunkenness, petty corruption, or sexual shenanigans with a subordinate might land generals in hot water. But as long as they avoid egregious misbehavior, senior officers charged with prosecuting America’s wars are largely spared judgments of any sort. Trying hard is enough to get a passing grade.
With the country’s political leaders and public conditioned to conflicts seemingly destined to drag on for years, if not decades, no one expects the current general-in-chief in Iraq or Afghanistan to bring things to a successful conclusion. His job is merely to manage the situation until he passes it along to a successor, while duly adding to his collection of personal decorations and perhaps advancing his career.
Today, for example, Army General John Nicholson commands US and allied forces in Afghanistan. He’s only the latest in a long line of senior officers to preside over that war, beginning with General Tommy Franks in 2001 and continuing with Generals Mikolashek, Barno, Eikenberry, McNeill, McKiernan, McChrystal, Petraeus, Allen, Dunford, and Campbell. The title carried by these officers changed over time. So, too, did the specifics of their “mission” as Operation Enduring Freedom evolved into Operation Freedom’s Sentinel.
Yet even as expectations slipped lower and lower, none of the commanders rotating through Kabul delivered. Not a single one has, in our president-elect’s concise formulation, “done the job.” Indeed, it’s increasingly difficult to know what that job is, apart from preventing the Taliban from quite literally toppling the government.
In Iraq, meanwhile, Army Lieutenant General Stephen Townsend currently serves as the — count ’em — ninth American to command US and coalition forces in that country since the George W. Bush administration ordered the invasion of 2003.
The first in that line, (once again) General Tommy Franks, overthrew the Saddam Hussein regime and thereby broke Iraq. The next five, Generals Sanchez, Casey, Petraeus, Odierno, and Austin, labored for eight years to put it back together again.
At the end of 2011, President Obama declared that they had done just that and terminated the US military occupation. The Islamic State soon exposed Obama’s claim as specious when its militants put a US-trained Iraqi army to flight and annexed large swathes of that country’s territory.
Following in the footsteps of his immediate predecessors Generals James Terry and Sean MacFarland, General Townsend now shoulders the task of trying to restore Iraq’s status as a more or less genuinely sovereign state. He directs what the Pentagon calls Operation Inherent Resolve, dating from June 2014, the follow-on to Operation New Dawn (September 2010-December 2011), which was itself the successor to Operation Iraqi Freedom (March 2003-August 2010).
When and how Inherent Resolve will conclude is difficult to forecast. This much we can, however, say with some confidence: with the end nowhere in sight, General Townsend won’t be its last commander. Other generals are waiting in the wings with their own careers to polish. As in Kabul, the parade of US military commanders through Baghdad will continue.
For some readers, this listing of mostly forgotten names and dates may have a soporific effect. Yet it should also drive home Trump’s point. The United States may today have the world’s most powerful and capable military — so at least we are constantly told. Yet the record shows that it does not have a corps of senior officers who know how to translate capability into successful outcomes.
Draining Which Swamp?
That brings us to the second question: Even if commander-in-chief Trump were somehow able to identify modern day equivalents of Grant and Sherman to implement his war plans, secret or otherwise, would they deliver victory?
On that score, we would do well to entertain doubts. Although senior officers charged with running recent American wars have not exactly covered themselves in glory, it doesn’t follow that their shortcomings offer the sole or even a principal explanation for why those wars have yielded such disappointing results. The truth is that some wars aren’t winnable and shouldn’t be fought.
So, yes, Trump’s critique of American generalship possesses merit, but whether he knows it or not, the question truly demanding his attention as the incoming commander-in-chief isn’t: Who should I hire (or fire) to fight my wars? Instead, far more urgent is: Does further war promise to solve any of my problems?
One mark of a successful business executive is knowing when to cut your losses. It’s also the mark of a successful statesman. Trump claims to be the former. Whether his putative business savvy will translate into the world of statecraft remains to be seen. Early signs are not promising.
As a candidate, Trump vowed to “defeat radical Islamic terrorism,” destroy ISIS, “decimate al-Qaeda,” and “starve funding for Iran-backed Hamas and Hezbollah.” Those promises imply a significant escalation of what Americans used to call the Global War on Terrorism.
Toward that end, the incoming administration may well revive some aspects of the George W. Bush playbook, including repopulating the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and “if it’s so important to the American people,” reinstituting torture.
The Trump administration will at least consider re-imposing sanctions on countries like Iran. It may aggressively exploit the offensive potential of cyber-weapons, betting that America’s cyber-defenses will hold.
Yet President Trump is also likely to double down on the use of conventional military force. In that regard, his promise to “quickly and decisively bomb the hell out of ISIS” offers a hint of what is to come. His appointment of the uber-hawkish Lieutenant General Michael Flynn as his national security adviser and his rumored selection of retired Marine Corps General James (“Mad Dog”) Mattis as defense secretary suggest that he means what he says.
In sum, a Trump administration seems unlikely to reexamine the conviction that the problems roiling the Greater Middle East will someday, somehow yield to a US-imposed military solution. Indeed, in the face of massive evidence to the contrary, that conviction will deepen, with genuinely ironic implications for the Trump presidency.
In the immediate wake of 9/11, George W. Bush concocted a fantasy of American soldiers liberating oppressed Afghans and Iraqis and thereby “draining the swamp” that served to incubate anti-Western terrorism. The results achieved proved beyond disappointing, while the costs exacted in terms of lives and dollars squandered were painful indeed.
Incrementally, with the passage of time, many Americans concluded that perhaps the swamp most in need of attention was not on the far side of the planet but much closer at hand — right in the imperial city nestled alongside the Potomac River.
To a very considerable extent, Trump defeated Hillary Clinton, preferred candidate of the establishment, because he advertised himself as just the guy disgruntled Americans could count on to drain that swamp.
Yet here’s what too few of those Americans appreciate, even today: war created that swamp in the first place. War empowers Washington. It centralizes. It provides a rationale for federal authorities to accumulate and exercise new powers. It makes government bigger and more intrusive. It lubricates the machinery of waste, fraud, and abuse that causes tens of billions of taxpayer dollars to vanish every year. When it comes to sustaining the swamp, nothing works better than war.
Were Trump really intent on draining that swamp — if he genuinely seeks to “Make America Great Again” — then he would extricate the United States from war. His liquidation of Trump University, which was to higher education what Freedom’s Sentinel and Inherent Resolve are to modern warfare, provides a potentially instructive precedent for how to proceed.
But don’t hold your breath on that one. All signs indicate that, in one fashion or another, our combative next president will perpetuate the wars he’s inheriting. Trump may fancy that, as a veteran of Celebrity Apprentice (but not of military service), he possesses a special knack for spotting the next Grant or Sherman.
But acting on that impulse will merely replenish the swamp in the Greater Middle East along with the one in Washington. And soon enough, those who elected him with expectations of seeing the much-despised establishment dismantled will realize that they’ve been had.
Which brings us, finally, to that third question: To the extent that deficiencies at the top of the military hierarchy do affect the outcome of wars, what can be done to fix the problem?
The most expeditious approach: purge all currently serving three- and four-star officers; then, make a precondition for promotion to those ranks confinement in a reeducation camp run by Iraq and Afghanistan war amputees, with a curriculum designed by Veterans for Peace.
Graduation should require each student to submit an essay reflecting on these words of wisdom from US Grant himself: “There never was a time when, in my opinion, some way could not be found to prevent the drawing of the sword.”
True, such an approach may seem a bit draconian. But this is no time for half-measures — as even Donald Trump may eventually recognize.
Andrew J. Bacevich, a TomDispatch regular, is professor emeritus of history and international relations at Boston University. His most recent book is America’s War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History.
Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and Facebook. The newest Dispatch Book is Nick Turse’s Next Time They’ll Come to Count the Dead and Tom Engelhardt’s latest book is Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.
Copyright 2016 Andrew J. Bacevich
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
(November 6, 2016) — Last Wednesday, as Water Protectors attempted to cross a river for prayer services, a police officer on a boat did the unthinkable!
“When American citizens can be shot in the back by law enforcement, we have a major problem.”
— Christian, Progressive Activists.com
Standing Rock Is the Civil Rights
Issue of Our time — Let’s Act Accordingly Bill McKibben / The Guardian UK
LONDON (November 29, 2016) — When John Doar died in 2014, Barack Obama, who’d already awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, called him “one of America’s bravest lawyers”. Without his courage and perseverance, the president said, “Michelle and I might not be where we are today”.
Doar was the federal lawyer sent south by the Kennedy and Johnson justice departments to keep an eye on the explosive centers of the civil rights movement. Those White Houses didn’t do enough — but at least they kept watch on things.
Doar escorted James Meredith to classes at the University of Mississippi, and helped calm crowds at the murder of Medgar Evers; he rescued activists from mobs during the Freedom Rides. A figure of history, in other words.
But history is just news from a while ago. Right now, we’re seeing a scene as explosive as the Freedom Rides or the bus boycotts play out in real time on the high plains of the Dakotas. And it’s a scene that desperately needs some modern-day John Doars to keep it from getting any worse.
Representatives of more 200 Indian nations have gathered at the Standing Rock Sioux reservation in an effort to prevent construction of an oil pipeline that threatens the tribe’s water supply, not to mention the planet’s climate.
It’s a remarkable encampment, perhaps the greatest show of indigenous unity in the continent’s history. If Trump Tower represents all that’s dark and greedy in America right now, Standing Rock is by contrast the moral center of the nation.
But the peaceful protests have been met with repression that closely resembles the work of Bull Connor, as the pipeline company’s hired guards began by using dogs, and the local sheriff escalated from pepper spray to using water guns in freezing weather, “sonic cannons” and rubber bullets.
Clearly the authorities are attempting, a la Birmingham or Selma, to goad nonviolent protesters into some kind of reaction that will justify more repression. They’ve used every trick in the book, including arresting reporters and shutting down camera drones to make sure they’re operating in the dark.
So far the Native Americans and their allies have held back despite the most intense provocation — for instance, the pipeline company bulldozed sacred sites and ancient graves the day after the tribe handed a list of their locations to a federal court.
Now the Army Corps of Engineers has announced that they’re revoking the permit under which everyone is camped at the confluence of the Cannonball and Missouri rivers as of 5 December.
So far the Obama administration has announced at least a short delay before granting the final pipeline permits. But that delay could expire at any moment, adding to the tension in the camp. Clearly the administration needs to do much more: the entire pipeline, which underwent an “antiquated” approval process, needs a full environmental review — by a body other than the project’s own developer.
Yes, Donald Trump will likely overturn the delay. But Trump’s not president yet; this tragedy is playing out in the Obama years.
Along with other actions, the federal government needs to grant the Sioux tribal government request to send justice department observers — contemporary John Doars — to the Standing Rock reservation to ensure that the local authorities don’t keep escalating the situation. They should do it because it’s right, and also because it’s a historic moment.
Arrest of Journalists and Filmmakers Covering
The Dakota Pipeline is a Threat to Democracy Josh Fox / Democracy Now!
Back from Standing Rock Josh Fox / International Wow Company
I just spent the past week at Standing Rock. It was my second trip to report on the unprecedented, indigenous led movement to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline.
There I witnessed North Dakota police attacking “Water Protectors” seeking to protect the Missouri River from potential oil spills. It is as if the last 500 years is being played out in front of us, and for the most part, the mainstream media is ignoring the story and the police and government are ignoring the very laws they are sworn to uphold.
We have to stand with Standing Rock.
We must take a stand for indigenous sovereignty. We must take a stand to stop this fracked oil pipeline from contaminating the drinking water of 17million people. We must take a stand for the climate and keep this oil in the ground.
I’m working on a new short film about the courageous Water Protectors. It’s an urgent project that needs to be completed immediately and today I’m asking you to help me finish it. This video I made with NowThis got nearly 30 million views, people are eagerly waiting for more stories from Standing Rock. (Click to Watch).
With your support we can complete this compelling film and help spread the message and mission of the Climate Movement and Standing Rock. From Gasland to How to Let Go of the World and Love All the Things Climate Can’t Change, I am eternally grateful for all the support you have shown for our reporting the past 8 years. With all the will in the world, it simply could not happen without your understanding and generosity.
International WOW Company is the nonprofit that produces all of my work and other important projects, such as Lee Ziesche’s Thunderdome, USA. The International WOW Company has been an active nonprofit for 20 years, producing film, theatre, tours, rallies and supporting the crucial work of artists/activist across this country.
Please see and share my other reports from Standing Rock. These stories need to be heard.
Josh Fox Breaks Down The Dangers Of DAPL The Young Turks
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
Veterans Head To Standing Rock To Support ‘We The People’ TheRealNews
Veterans Head To Standing Rock To Support ‘We The People’ Lorraine Chow / EcoWatch
(November 24, 2016) — Hundreds of veterans are preparing to join the Water Protectors at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota early next month to peacefully protest the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL).
A Facebook page for the event, Veterans Stand for Standing Rock, has more than 600 confirmed reservations with more than 4,500 other people expressing interest.
Michael A. Wood Jr. @MichaelAWoodJr
I don’t have the words to extend our gratitude and pride at the support for â€ª#VeteranStandingRock We’re working hard!
High-profile veterans including US Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii and retired Baltimore police officer/whistleblower Michael A. Wood, Jr. plan to attend.
“This country is repressing our people,” Wood Jr. told Task & Purpose. “If we’re going to be heroes, if we’re really going to be those veterans that this country praises, well, then we need to do the things that we actually said we’re going to do when we took the oath to defend the Constitution from enemies foreign and domestic.”
The “operations order” states: “In response to the assertion of treaty rights, citizen rights, tribal rights and protection of the most valuable of resources, water, the Sioux tribes and allied comrades, are under sustained assault by agents of and working for private interests under the color of law.
“First Americans have served in the United States Military, defending the soil of our homelands, at a greater percentage than any other group of Americans. There is no other people more deserving of veteran support and this situation encapsulates whether we are called heroes for violence and cashing paychecks or for justice and morality.”
They say their mission is to “prevent progress on the Dakota Access Pipeline and draw national attention to the human rights warriors of the Sioux tribes regarding the United States lack of treaty enforcement.”
Climate Reality âœ” @ClimateReality
Meet 15 indigenous women on the frontline of the â€ª#NoDAPL resistance: http://bit.ly/2f6jNdN
11:02 AM – 20 Nov 2016
A GoFundMe crowdsourcing campaign, created by event organizer and army veteran Wesley Clark Jr., is currently raising funds for the three-day effort. The description states: “We are veterans of the United States Armed Forces, including the US Army, United States Marine Corps, US Navy, US Air Force and US Coast Guard and we are calling for our fellow veterans to assemble as a peaceful, unarmed militia at the Standing Rock Indian Reservation on Dec 4-7 and defend the water protectors from assault and intimidation at the hands of the militarized police force and DAPL security.”
So far, more than $75,000 has been raised toward the $200,000 goal in 11 days. The money raised is “strictly” going towards “transportation and bail money,” Clark Jr. tweeted: “Everyday becomes more evident that the defenders of America must stand with the Water Protectors,” Clark Jr. wrote on the GoFundMe page. “Let’s stop this savage injustice being committed right here at home. If not us, who? If not now, when?”
“We’ll be standing alongside peaceful water protectors, who’ve endured violent attacks from the private security funded by DAPL and more brutality and arrests at the hands of militarized police and DAPL security,” he continued. “We have full support of the Sioux tribe elders and will be cooperating with them every step of the way.”
The Standing Rock Sioux and their supporters say the $3.7 billion, 1,100-mile pipeline which crosses the Missouri River and sacred sites threatens their access to clean water and violates Native American treaty rights.
“It’s immoral, and wrong, and dangerous to us all,” Clark Jr. told Task & Purpose about the DAPL.
The protest, ongoing since April, has been marked by an escalation in violence. The Standing Rock Medic & Healer Council reported 300 injuries on Sunday from the “direct result of excessive force by police.” Eyewitnesses say that law enforcement used tear gas, pepper spray, a Long Range Acoustic Device, stinger grenades, rubber bullets and water cannons to blast away pipeline protestors in freezing temperatures.
A number of veterans have already descended upon the Oceti Sakowin camp near the construction site, as you can see in the video below from The Real News.
“My first duty as a marine is to protect the people of the United States,” Gulf War veteran Michael Markus said. “That’s why I’m here, to protect the people, protect the water, protect future generations.”
Clark Jr., the son of retired general and former Democratic presidential candidate Wesley Clark, is a California-based climate activist, writer and co-host of The Young Turks.
He recently interviewed Ken Ward, a co-founder of the Climate Disobedience Center and one of five activists who successfully shut down five pipelines in October across the US that deliver tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada.
Watch here: Ken Ward With Wes Clark Jr. On The Young Turks TYT Interviews
(November 16, 2016) — Wes Clark Jr. of The Young Turks interviews longtime environmental activist Ken Ward, the founder of the Climate Disobedience Center. The purpose of the Climate Disobedience Center is to serve as a catalyst for direct action, creating points of vivid moral clarity, emboldening both climate activists and the unlikeliest of allies, to capture the heart and soul of the climate debate. http://www.climatedisobedience.org/
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
Is It Propaganda Or Not? PropOrNot.com — Your Friendly Neighborhood
Propaganda Identification Service, Since 2016!
The List: An Initial Set of Sites That Reliably Echo Russian Propaganda
(November 9, 2016) — We have used a combination of manual and automated analysis, including analysis of content, timing, technical indicators, and other reporting, in order to initially identify (â€œred-flagâ€) the following as Russian propaganda outlets.
We then confirmed our initial assessment by applying whatever criteria we did not originally employ during the red-flag process, and we reevaluate our findings as needed.
Please note that our criteria are behavioral. That means the characteristics of the propaganda outlets we identify are motivation-agnostic.
For purposes of this definition it does not matter whether the sites listed here are being knowingly directed and paid by Russian intelligence officers, or whether they even knew they were echoing Russian propaganda at any particular point: If they meet these criteria, they are at the very least acting as bona-fide “useful idiots” of the Russian intelligence services, and are worthy of further scrutiny.
We assess that this overall Russian effort is at least semi-centralized, with multiple Russian projects and influence operations working in parallel to manage the direct and outsourced production of propaganda across a wide range of outlets. It is data-driven, and rewards effective entrepreneurship and innovation with increased funding and other resources.
There are varying degrees of involvement in it, and awareness of involvement. Some people involved seem genuinely unaware that they are being used by Russia to produce propaganda, but many others seem to know full well.
If you have any questions, feel free to contact us.
‘Journalistic Garbage’: Greenwald and Others Slam WashPost for ‘Insane’ Russian Propaganda Story Russia Today News receives financial support from the Russian government]
(November 25, 2016) — Glenn Greenwald, along with other journalists, has unleashed a torrent of criticism at The Washington Post over a piece about Russia leading a “fake news” campaign during the US election, calling it a “disgusting” smear and “supremely shitty” garbage.
The Washington publication, at one time hailed for its role in exposing the Watergate Scandal, has now been rounded on by a number of well-known figures from the media industry for publishing the article.
Award-winning journalist Glenn Greenwald, significant in bringing Edward Snowden’s US security revelations to the public, labeled the story “total journalistic garbage”.
In a series of tweets, Greenwald said the websites listed by chief source PropOrNot were smeared without any evidence by a group hiding its own identity.
Greenwald also indicated that the Washington Post piece is an example of how it has become “100 percent permissible — bordering on obligatory — to spout the most insane, evidence-free conspiracy theories if they involve Russia & Putin.”
Key criticisms levelled against the article are that it was based on a Cold War think tank source and a report by dubious, anonymous researchers. It’s also been slammed for a failing to critically evaluate a blacklist of publications that supposedly comprise a “sophisticated” Russian propaganda machine.
New York based journalist Adam Johnson scolded the Washington Post for “uncritically” publishing the story without asking “who’s behind it.”
EU Neither Specified Propaganda,
Nor Gave Russian Media Right to Defend
— IFJ President to RT RT News
(November 26, 2016) — The EU’s attack on Russian media with its recent “anti-propaganda” resolution was grossly unfair and goes against the principles of free speech and ethical journalism, Philippe Leruth from the International Federation of Journalists told RT.
On Wednesday the European Parliament voted to pass a resolution to “respond to information warfare by Russia.” In a report written by Polish MEP Anna Fotyga, RT and Sputnik news agency were singled out as being among the most dangerous “tools” of “hostile propaganda.”
o get his opinion on the matter, RT reached out to Philippe Leruth, president of the International Federation of Journalists (IJF).
RT: Why was this resolution discussed in the first place, never mind passed?
PL: I really couldn’t know this, but I know this resolution is highly controversial â€“ only 44 percent of the MEPs voted in favor. There were many abstentions, which shows there was a big discussion. But we couldn’t really understand this.
RT: What exactly is the fear? Are we right now warping the fragile minds of European readers? What do they worry about?
PL: We really don’t believe that you can counter propaganda, because they say there is propaganda, I should not say this, but if there is propaganda don’t fight it with propaganda. We believe in ethical journalism, in media literacy and in responsible journalism, and not that way.
RT: The word ‘propaganda’ gets thrown around an awful lot. Was there any evidence or a description of what propaganda is, or did they give an example of how the Russian media isn’t telling the truth?
PL: No, I couldn’t say on what it was based. At least, when you name a media by name, which is highly unusual, first of all you should give them the right to defend themselves, and second, you should show exactly what you mean by saying they are doing propaganda.
RT: What about the timing? Why do you think this initiative was discussed at this particular moment in time?
PL: Well, I find it very unfortunate because as we said, the International Federation of Journalists, which I am chairing from June this year, and its European Branch, we have been working on dialogue between Russian and so-called western journalists.
There were several meetings that year and one will be held in Moscow in December with the support of the EU delegation in Russia. So it’s very difficult to understand why the European parliament took this initiative, which is jeopardizing this dialogue.
RT: The actual resolution itself was fascinating because it says the EU is still committed to democracy, media freedom and media pluralism. How can you limit freedom and give it at the same time?
PL: We have one principle which is very clear. In journalism, facts are sacred, comments are free. So as long as you are reporting … the facts … [accurately] you are free to have an opinion. That’s freedom of expression.
So once again, if they considered the details of this resolution and considered [that] the media had not described the facts the right way, they should one, have shown on what occasion, and two, had invited them to defend themselves.
RT: Do you think there is an anti-Russian narrative existing in the West, in Europe particularly?
PL: Well, I wouldn’t dare myself to have such an opinion. Evidently, there are tensions, there are problems between Russia and the European Union. There were sanctions and there were counter-sanctions, but I am not a politician, I will not comment on this.
I will state this state of tensions exists, but what bothers us is that in this very particular case media are incriminated, and we as a federation of journalists, we are defending the journalists, and we are promoting dialogue. Once again, we may work in different countries but we have one profession based on the same ethical principles.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
“It can be tricky to keep informed these days. The real ‘fake news’ is the mainstream media. I read Antiwar.com often and consider it an important source of news and commentary.”
— Ron Paul, Former Member of US Congress
“The group promoted by the Post thus embodies the toxic essence of Joseph McCarthy, but without the courage to attach individual names to the blacklist.”
— Ben Norton, Glenn Greenwald / The Intercept
The Washington Post ‘Blacklist’ Story Is Shameful and Disgusting The capital’s paper of record crashes legacy media on an iceberg Matt Taibbi / The Rolling Stone
(November 28, 2016) — Last week, a technology reporter for the Washington Post named Craig Timberg ran an incredible story. It has no analog that I can think of in modern times. Headlined “Russian propaganda effort helped spread ‘fake news’ during election, experts say,” the piece promotes the work of a shadowy group that smears some 200 alternative news outlets as either knowing or unwitting agents of a foreign power, including popular sites like Truthdig and Naked Capitalism.
The thrust of Timberg’s astonishingly lazy report is that a Russian intelligence operation of some kind was behind the publication of a “hurricane” of false news reports during the election season, in particular stories harmful to Hillary Clinton. The piece referenced those 200 websites as “routine peddlers of Russian propaganda.”
The piece relied on what it claimed were “two teams of independent researchers,” but the citing of a report by the longtime anticommunist Foreign Policy Research Institute was really window dressing.
The meat of the story relied on a report by unnamed analysts from a single mysterious “organization” called PropOrNot — we don’t know if it’s one person or, as it claims, over 30 — a “group” that seems to have been in existence for just a few months.
It was PropOrNot’s report that identified what it calls “the list” of 200 offending sites. Outlets as diverse as AntiWar.com, LewRockwell.com and the Ron Paul Institute were described as either knowingly directed by Russian intelligence, or “useful idiots” who unwittingly did the bidding of foreign masters.
Forget that the Post offered no information about the “PropOrNot” group beyond that they were “a collection of researchers with foreign policy, military and technology backgrounds.”
Forget also that the group offered zero concrete evidence of coordination with Russian intelligence agencies, even offering this remarkable disclaimer about its analytic methods:
“Please note that our criteria are behavioral. . . . For purposes of this definition it does not matter . . . whether they even knew they were echoing Russian propaganda at any particular point: If they meet these criteria, they are at the very least acting as bona-fide ‘useful idiots’ of the Russian intelligence services, and are worthy of further scrutiny.”
What this apparently means is that if you published material that meets their definition of being “useful” to the Russian state, you could be put on the “list,” and “warrant further scrutiny.”
Forget even that in its Twitter responses to criticism of its report, PropOrNot sounded not like a group of sophisticated military analysts, but like one teenager:
“Awww, wook at all the angwy Putinists, trying to change the subject — they’re so vewwy angwy!!” it wrote on Saturday.
“Fascists. Straight up muthafuckin’ fascists. That’s what we’re up against,” it wrote last Tuesday, two days before Timberg’s report.
Any halfway decent editor would have been scared to death by any of these factors. Moreover the vast majority of reporters would have needed to see something a lot more concrete than a half-assed theoretical paper from such a dicey source before denouncing 200 news organizations as traitors.
But if that same source also demanded anonymity on the preposterous grounds that it feared being “targeted by Russia’s legions of skilled hackers”? Any sane reporter would have booted them out the door. You want to blacklist hundreds of people, but you won’t put your name to your claims? Take a hike.
Yet the Post thought otherwise, and its report was uncritically picked up by other outlets like USA Today and the Daily Beast. The “Russians did it” story was greedily devoured by a growing segment of blue-state America that is beginning to fall victim to the same conspiracist tendencies that became epidemic on the political right in the last few years.
The right-wing fascination with conspiracy has culminated in a situation where someone like Alex Jones of Infowars (who believes juice boxes make frogs gay) is considered a news source. Jones is believed even by our new president-elect, who just repeated one of his outrageous reports, to the effect that three million undocumented immigrants voted in the November 8th election.
That Jones report was based on a tweet by someone named Greg Phillips of an organization called VoteStand.
When asked to comment on his methodology, Phillips replied in the first person plural, sounding like a lone spree killer claiming to be a national terror network. “No. We will release it in open form to the American people,” he said. “We won’t allow the media to spin this first. Sorry.”
This was remarkably similar to the response of PropOrNot when asked by The Intercept to comment about its “list” report. The only difference was, Phillips didn’t use emoticons:
“We’re getting a lot of requests for comment and can get back to you today =)” PropOrNot told The Intercept. “We’re over 30 people, organized into teams, and we cannot confirm or deny anyone’s involvement.”
“They” never called The Intercept back.
Most high school papers wouldn’t touch sources like these. But in November 2016, both the president-elect of the United States and the Washington Post are equally at ease with this sort of sourcing.
Even worse, the Post apparently never contacted any of the outlets on the “list” before they ran their story. Yves Smith at Naked Capitalism says she was never contacted. Chris Hedges of Truthdig, who was part of a group that won the Pulitzer Prize for The New York Times once upon a time, said the same. “We were named,” he tells me. “I was not contacted.”
Hedges says the Post piece was an “updated form of Red-Baiting.”
“This attack signals an open war on the independent press,” he says. “Those who do not spew the official line will be increasingly demonized in corporate echo chambers such as the Post or CNN as useful idiots or fifth columnists.”
All of this is an outgrowth of this horrible election season we just lived through.
A lot of reporters over the summer were so scared by the prospect of a Trump presidency that they talked — in some cases publicly — about abandoning traditional ideas about journalistic “distance” from politicians, in favor of open advocacy for the Clinton campaign. “Trump is testing the norms of objectivity in journalism,” is how The Times put it.
These journalists seemed totally indifferent to the Pandora’s box they were opening. They didn’t understand that most politicians have no use for critical media. Many of them don’t see alternative points of view as healthy or even legitimate. If you polled a hundred politicians about the profession, 99 would say that all reporters are obstructionist scum whose removal from the planet would be a boon to society.
The only time politicians like the media is when we’re helping them get elected or push through certain policies, like for instance helping spread dubious stories about Iraq’s WMD capability. Otherwise, they despise us. So news outlets that get into bed with politicians are usually making a devil’s bargain they don’t fully understand.
They may think they’re being patriotic (as many did during the Iraq/WMD episode), but in the end what will happen is that they will adopt the point of view of their political sponsors. They will soon enough denounce other reporters and begin to see themselves as part of the power structure, as opposed to a check on it.
This is the ultimate in stupidity and self-annihilating behavior. The power of the press comes from its independence from politicians. Jump into bed with them and you not only won’t ever be able to get out, but you’ll win nothing but a loss of real influence and the undying loathing of audiences.
Helping Beltway politicos mass-label a huge portion of dissenting media as “useful idiots” for foreign enemies in this sense is an extraordinarily self-destructive act. Maybe the Post doesn’t care and thinks it’s doing the right thing. In that case, at least do the damn work.
(November 26 2016) — The Washington Post on Thursday night promoted the claims of a new, shadowy organization that smears dozens of US news sites that are critical of US foreign policy as being “routine peddlers of Russian propaganda.”
The article by reporter Craig Timberg — headlined “Russian propaganda effort helped spread ‘fake news’ during election, experts say” — cites a report by an anonymous website calling itself PropOrNot, which claims that millions of Americans have been deceived this year in a massive Russian “misinformation campaign.”
The group’s list of Russian disinformation outlets includes WikiLeaks and the Drudge Report, as well as Clinton-critical left-wing websites such as Truthout, Black Agenda Report, Truthdig, and Naked Capitalism, as well as libertarian venues such as Antiwar.com and the Ron Paul Institute.
Yet the article is rife with obviously reckless and unproven allegations, and fundamentally shaped by shoddy, slothful journalistic tactics. It was not surprising to learn that, as BuzzFeed’s Sheera Frenkel noted, “a lot of reporters passed on this story.” Its huge flaws are self-evident. But the Post gleefully ran with it and then promoted it aggressively, led by its Executive Editor Marty Baron:
Marty Baron âœ” @PostBaron
Russian propaganda effort helped spread fake news during election, say independent researchers
In casting the group behind this website as “experts,” the Post described PropOrNot simply as “a nonpartisan collection of researchers with foreign policy, military and technology backgrounds.” Not one individual at the organization is named. The executive director is quoted, but only on the condition of anonymity, which the Post said it was providing the group “to avoid being targeted by Russia’s legions of skilled hackers.”
In other words, the individuals behind this newly created group are publicly branding journalists and news outlets as tools of Russian propaganda — even calling on the FBI to investigate them for espionage — while cowardly hiding their own identities.
The group promoted by the Post thus embodies the toxic essence of Joseph McCarthy, but without the courage to attach individual names to the blacklist. Echoing the Wisconsin senator, the group refers to its lengthy collection of sites spouting Russian propaganda as “The List.”
The credentials of this supposed group of experts are impossible to verify, as none is provided either by the Post or by the group itself. The Intercept contacted PropOrNot and asked numerous questions about its team, but received only this reply: “We’re getting a lot of requests for comment and can get back to you today =) [smiley face emoticon].” The group added: “We’re over 30 people, organized into teams, and we cannot confirm or deny anyone’s involvement.”
Thus far, they have provided no additional information beyond that. As Fortune‘s Matthew Ingram wrote in criticizing the Post article, PropOrNot’s Twitter account “has only existed since August of this year. And an article announcing the launch of the group on its website is dated last month.” WHOIS information for the domain name is not available, as the website uses private registration.
More troubling still, PropOrNot listed numerous organizations on its website as “allied” with it, yet many of these claimed “allies” told The Intercept, and complained on social media, they have nothing to do with the group and had never even heard of it before the Post published its story.
At some point last night, after multiple groups listed as “allies” objected, the group quietly changed the title of its “allied” list to “Related Projects.” When The Intercept asked PropOrNot about this clear inconsistency via email, the group responded concisely: “We have no institutional affiliations with any organization.”
In his article, the Post‘s Timberg did not include a link to PropOrNot’s website. If readers had the opportunity to visit the site, it would have become instantly apparent that this group of ostensible experts far more resembles amateur peddlers of primitive, shallow propagandistic cliches than serious, substantive analysis and expertise; that it has a blatant, demonstrable bias in promoting NATO’s narrative about the world; and that it is engaging in extremely dubious McCarthyite tactics about a wide range of critics and dissenters.
To see how frivolous and even childish this group of anonymous cowards is — which the Post venerated into serious experts in order to peddle their story — just sample a couple of the recent tweets from this group:
PropOrNot ID Service @propornot
Awww, wook at all the angwy Putinists, trying to change the subject — they’re so vewwy angwy!! It’s cute We don’t censor; just highlight.
PropOrNot ID Service @propornot
Fascists. Straight up muthafuckin’ fascists. That’s what we’re up against. Unwittingly or not, they work for Russia.
As for their refusal to identify themselves even as they smear hundreds of American journalists as loyal to the Kremlin or “useful idiots” for it, this is their mature response:
PropOrNot ID Service â€ª@propornot
We’ll consider revealing our names when Russia reveals the names of those running its propaganda operations in the West
The Washington Post should be very proud: It staked a major part of its news story on the unverified, untestable assertions of this laughable organization.
One of the core functions of PropOrNot appears to be its compilation of a lengthy blacklist of news and political websites that it smears as peddlers of “Russian propaganda.” Included on this blacklist of supposed propaganda outlets are prominent independent left-wing news sites such as Truthout, Naked Capitalism, Black Agenda Report, Consortium News, and Truthdig.
Also included are popular libertarian hubs such as Zero Hedge, Antiwar.com, and the Ron Paul Institute, along with the hugely influential right-wing website the Drudge Report and the publishing site WikiLeaks. Far-right, virulently anti-Muslim blogs such as Bare Naked Islam are likewise dubbed Kremlin mouthpieces.
Basically, everyone who isn’t comfortably within the centrist Hillary Clinton/Jeb Bush spectrum is guilty. On its Twitter account, the group announced a new “plugin” that automatically alerts the user that a visited website has been designated by the group to be a Russian propaganda outlet.
PropOrNot ID Service â€ª@propornot
We just published a BETA (very beta) version of our Chrome plugin, which highlights domains we’ve IDed: http://bit.ly/2fumsNx
1:43 AM — 25 Nov 2016
TO HYPE ITS STORY, the Post article uncritically highlights PropOrNot’s flamboyant claim that stories planted or promoted by Russia’s “disinformation campaign” were viewed more than 213 million times. Yet no methodology is provided for any of this: how a website is determined to merit blacklist designation or how this reach was calculated.
As Ingram wrote: “How is that audience measured? We don’t know. Stories promoted by this network were shared 213 million times, it says. How do we know this? That’s unclear.”
Presumably, this massive number was created by including on its lists highly popular sites such as WikiLeaks, as well the Drudge Report, the third-most popular political news website on the internet. Yet this frightening, Cold War-esque “213 million” number for Russian “planted” news story views was uncritically echoed by numerous high-profile media figures, such as New York Times deputy Washington editor Jonathan Weisman and professor Jared Yates Sexton — although the number is misleading at best.
Some of the websites on PropOrNot’s blacklist do indeed publish Russian propaganda — namely Sputnik News and Russia Today, which are funded by the Russian government. But many of the aforementioned blacklisted sites are independent, completely legitimate news sources that often receive funding through donations or foundations and have been reporting and analyzing news for many years.
The group commits outright defamation by slandering obviously legitimate news sites as propaganda tools of the Kremlin.
One of the most egregious examples is the group’s inclusion of Naked Capitalism, the widely respected left-wing site run by Wall Street critic Yves Smith. That site was named by Time magazine as one of the best 25 Best Financial Blogs in 2011 and by Wired magazine as a crucial site to follow for finance, and Smith has been featured as a guest on programs such as PBS’s Bill Moyers Show.
Yet this cowardly group of anonymous smear artists, promoted by the Washington Post, has now placed them on a blacklist of Russian disinformation.
The group eschews alternative media outlets like these and instead recommends that readers rely solely on establishment-friendly publications like NPR, the BBC, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, BuzzFeed, and VICE. That is because a big part of the group’s definition for “Russian propaganda outlet” is criticizing US foreign policy.
PropOrNot does not articulate its criteria in detail, merely describing its metrics as “behavioral” and “motivation-agnostic.” That is to say, even if a news source is not technically a Russian propaganda outlet and is not even trying to help the Kremlin, it is still guilty of being a “useful idiot” if it publishes material that might in some way be convenient or helpful for the Russian government.
In other words, the website conflates criticism of Western governments and their actions and policies with Russian propaganda. News sites that do not uncritically echo a pro-NATO perspective are accused of being mouthpieces for the Kremlin, even if only unwitting ones.
While blacklisting left-wing and libertarian journalists, PropOrNot also denies being McCarthyite. Yet it simultaneously calls for the US government to use the FBI and DOJ to carry out “formal investigations” of these accused websites, “because the kind of folks who make propaganda for brutal authoritarian oligarchies are often involved in a wide range of bad business.”
The shadowy group even goes so far as to claim that people involved in the blacklisted websites may “have violated the Espionage Act, the Foreign Agent Registration Act, and other related laws.”
In sum: They’re not McCarthyite; perish the thought. They just want multiple US media outlets investigated by the FBI for espionage on behalf of Russia.
WHO EXACTLY IS BEHIND PropOrNot, where it gets its funding, and whether or not it is tied to any governments is a complete mystery. The Intercept also sent inquiries to the Post‘s Craig Timberg asking these questions, and asking whether he thinks it is fair to label left-wing news sites like Truthout “Russian propaganda outlets.” Timberg replied: “I’m sorry, I can’t comment about stories I’ve written for the Post.”
As is so often the case, journalists — who constantly demand transparency from everyone else — refuse to provide even the most basic levels for themselves. When subjected to scrutiny, they reflexively adopt the language of the most secrecy-happy national security agencies: We do not comment on what we do.
Timberg’s piece on the supposed ubiquity of Russian propaganda is misleading in several other ways. The other primary “expert” upon which the article relies is Clint Watts, a fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, a pro-Western think tank whose board of advisers includes neoconservative figures like infamous orientalist scholar Bernard Lewis and pro-imperialist Robert D. Kaplan, the latter of whom served on the US government’s Defense Policy Board.
What the Post does not mention in its report is that Watts, one of the specialists it relies on for its claims, previously worked as an FBI special agent on a Joint Terrorism Task Force and as the executive officer of the US Military Academy’s Combating Terrorism Center. As Fortune‘s Ingram wrote of the group, it is “a conservative think tank funded and staffed by proponents of the Cold War between the US and Russia.”
PropOrNot is by no means a neutral observer. It actively calls on Congress and the White House to work “with our European allies to disconnect Russia from the SWIFT financial transaction system, effective immediately and lasting for at least one year, as an appropriate response to Russian manipulation of the election.”
In other words, this blacklisting group of anonymous cowards — putative experts in the pages of the Washington Post — is actively pushing for Western governments to take punitive measures against the Russian government and is speaking and smearing from an extreme ideological framework that the Post concealed from its readers.
EVEN MORE DISTURBING than the Post‘s shoddy journalism in this instance is the broader trend in which any wild conspiracy theory or McCarthyite attack is now permitted in US discourse as long as it involves Russia and Putin — just as was true in the 1950s when stories of how the Russians were poisoning the US water supply or infiltrating American institutions were commonplace.
Any anti-Russia story was — and is — instantly vested with credibility, while anyone questioning its veracity or evidentiary basis is subject to attacks on their loyalties or, at best, vilified as “useful idiots.”
Two of the most discredited reports from the election season illustrate the point: a Slate article claiming that a private server had been located linking the Trump Organization and a Russian bank (which, like the current Post story, had been shopped around and rejected by multiple media outlets) and a completely deranged rant by Newsweek‘s Kurt Eichenwald claiming that Putin had ordered emails in the WikiLeaks release to be doctored — both of which were uncritically shared and tweeted by hundreds of journalists to tens of thousands of people, if not more.
The Post itself — now posing as a warrior against “fake news” — published an article in September that treated with great seriousness the claim that Hillary Clinton collapsed on 9/11 Day because she was poisoned by Putin. And that’s to say nothing of the paper’s disgraceful history of convincing Americans that Saddam was building non-existent nuclear weapons and had cultivated a vibrant alliance with al Qaeda. As is so often the case, those who mostly loudly warn of “fake news” from others are themselves the most aggressive disseminators of it.
Indeed, what happened here is the essence of fake news. The Post story served the agendas of many factions: those who want to believe Putin stole the election from Hillary Clinton; those who want to believe that the internet and social media are a grave menace that needs to be controlled, in contrast to the objective truth that reliable old media outlets once issued; those who want a resurrection of the Cold War.
So those who saw tweets and Facebook posts promoting this Post story instantly clicked and shared and promoted the story without an iota of critical thought or examination of whether the claims were true, because they wanted the claims to be true. That behavior included countless journalists.
So the story spread in a flash, like wildfire. Tens of thousands of people, perhaps hundreds of thousands or even millions, consumed it, believing that it was true because of how many journalists and experts told them it was.
Virtually none of the people who told them this spent a minute of time or ounce of energy determining if it was true. It pleased them to believe it was, knowing it advanced their interests, and so they endorsed it. That is the essence of how fake news functions, and it is the ultimate irony that this Post story ended up illustrating and spreading far more fake news than it exposed.
(November 26 2016) — The extraordinary phenomenon of fake news spread by Facebook and other social media during the 2016 presidential election has been largely portrayed as a lucky break for Donald Trump.
By that reckoning, entrepreneurial Macedonian teenagers, opportunists in Tbilisi and California millennials have exploited social media algorithms in order to make money — only incidentally leading to the viral proliferation of mostly anti-Clinton and anti-Obama hoaxes and conspiracy theories that thrilled many Trump supporters.
The Washington Post published a shoddy report on Thursday alleging that Russian state-sponsored propagandists were seeking to promote Trump through fabricated stories for their own reasons, independent of the candidate himself.
But a closer look reveals that some of the biggest fake news providers were run by experienced political operators well within the orbit of Donald Trump’s political advisers and consultants.
Laura Ingraham, a close Trump ally currently under consideration to be Trump’s White House press secretary, owns an online publisher called Ingraham Media Group that runs a number of sites, including LifeZette, a news site that frequently posts articles of dubious veracity.
One video produced by LifeZette this summer, ominously titled “Clinton Body Count,” promoted a conspiracy theory that the Clinton family had some role in the plane crash death of John F. Kennedy, Jr., as well as the deaths of various friends and Democrats.
Another LifeZette video, picking up false claims from other sites, claimed that voting machines “might be compromised” because a voting machine company called Smartmatic, allegedly providing voting machines “in sixteen states,” was purchased by the liberal billionaire George Soros. Soros never purchased the company, and Smartmatic did not provide voting machines used in the general election.
One LifeZette article misleadingly claimed that the United Nations backed a “secret” Obama administration takeover of local police departments. The article referenced Justice Department orders that a select few police departments address patterns of misconduct, a practice that, in reality, long predates the Obama presidency, is hardly secret, and had no relation to the United Nations.
Another LifeZette article, which went viral in the week prior to the election, falsely claimed that Wikileaks had revealed that a senior Hillary Clinton campaign official had engaged in occult rituals. Ingraham’s site regularly receives links from the Drudge Report and other powerful drivers of Internet traffic.
But LifeZette, for all its influence, pales in comparison to the sites run by Floyd Brown, a Republican consultant close to Trump’s inner circle of advisers. Brown gained notoriety nearly three decades ago for his role in helping to produce the “Willie Horton” campaign advertisement, a spot criticized for its use of racial messaging to derail Michael Dukakis’s presidential bid.
Brown is also the political mentor of David Bossie, an operative who went to work for Trump’s presidential campaign this year after founding the Citizens United group. In an interview this year, Brown called Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway a “longtime friend.”
Brown now produces a flow of reliably pro-Trump Internet content through a company he co-owns with his family called Liftable Media Inc., which operates a number of high-impact, tabloid-style news outlets that exploded in size over the course of the election.
One of Brown’s sites, Western Journalism, is the 81st largest site in the US with 13 million monthly unique monthly visitors, according to rankings maintained by the site Alexa. Another, called Conservative Tribune, is the 50th largest site with over 19 million monthly unique visitors. Liftable Media is run on a day-to-day basis by Brown’s son, Patrick, who is the president of Liftable Media.
Brown’s sites churn out bombastic headlines with little regard to the truth. One viral piece shared by Brown’s news outlets claimed that President Obama had redesigned the White House logo to change the American flag to a white flag, “a common symbol for surrender, which has many people wondering if Obama was trying to secretly signal to America’s enemies that he was surrendering.”
The Facebook post touted the article with the line, “We all know Obama hates the United States, but what he just did to the White House logo is beyond the pale.”
As the fact-checking website Snopes was quick to note, it was no signal of surrender and the bleached white version of the White House logo, complete with a white flag, was not even an Obama creation. The white logo dates back to as early as 2003, under the Bush administration, which used it for official documents.
The Conservative Tribune and Western Journalism provide a steady stream of similarly deceptive, eye-catching headlines.
“BREAKING: Muslims Ordered to Vote Hillary,” is the headline for one election post that grossly mischaracterized a mundane article about a Pakistani American activist going to door to door to help Clinton’s campaign. “Obama Urges Illegal Immigrants to Vote Without Fear of Getting Caught,” blared Western Journalism, claiming that President Obama had suggested in an interview on issues facing Latino millennial voters that noncitizens could vote and “will never get caught if they do.”
The article left out the part of the Obama interview in which he said noncitizens “can’t legally vote, but they’re counting on you to make sure that you have the courage to make your voice heard.”
The hits go on, with posts on a regular basis making claims ranging from the assertion that Clinton went on a “drug holiday” before the Las Vegas presidential debate to rumors that Obama’s birth certificate is under serious scrutiny.
Thanks to views sourced largely to referrals from Facebook, Brown’s websites now outrank web traffic going to news outlets such as the Wall Street Journal, CBS News, and NPR, according to data compiled by Alexa. Both Western Journalism and Conservative Tribune are certified by Facebook as bonafide news providers.
Trump’s relationship with one particularly influential online news site with a history of fabricated stories couldn’t be much closer. Steve Bannon, the chairman of Breitbart News, took a leave of absence from the organization to become the chief executive officer of Trump’s presidential campaign and has been tapped to serve as Trump’s chief strategist in the White House. Trump himself regularly promoted Breitbart stories, including a tweet used to justify his campaign to prove Obama was not born in the US.
Breitbart News blends commentary and journalism with inflammatory headlines, in many cases producing fake stories sourced from online hoaxes. The site once attempted to pass off a picture of people in Cleveland celebrating the Cavaliers as a massive Trump rally. The site furiously defended Trump’s false claim that “thousands” of Muslims in New Jersey were “cheering” the 9/11 attacks, a claim that multiple fact-checking organizations have thoroughly debunked.
Other conservative content farms, including WorldNetDaily, maintained ties to the Trump election effort. Campaign finance records show that Great America PAC, a Trump-backing Super PAC, paid WND, known as the largest purveyor of Obama birth certificate conspiracy theories, for “online voter contact.”
The surge of fake news has been much commented on in the mainstream media — and its effect on Trump’s election victory has been widely debated — with little mention of the purveyors close to the Trump campaign.
A Buzzfeed News article that came out shortly before the election famously traced more than 100 pro-Trump websites to young entrepreneurs in a single town in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, who discovered that the best way to generate clicks — at a fraction of a penny per click in ad revenue — is to get their politics stories to spread on Facebook.
After the election, New Yorker editor David Remnick described President Obama as “talking obsessively” about that article, and quoted him bemoaning its significance. “[T]he capacity to disseminate misinformation, wild conspiracy theories, to paint the opposition in wildly negative light without any rebuttal, ” Obama said, “that has accelerated in ways that much more sharply polarize the electorate and make it very difficult to have a common conversation.”
The Washington Post interviewed Paul Horner, the “impresario of a Facebook fake-news empire,” who sounded somewhat aghast when he said, “I think Trump is in the White House because of me. His followers don’t fact-check anything — they’ll post everything, believe anything.”
Another Washington Post story described two Southern California slackers turning their website of made-up pro-Trump clickbait in a virtual goldmine. The New York Times profiled a fake news operation run by three brothers in Tbilisi, Georgia, who experimented with a variety of content, sometimes lifted from other sites, at other times made up from whole cloth, finding that pro-Trump material was the most popular, and therefore the most profitable.
Finally, a Washington Post story this week alleged a Russian government role in spreading fake news to help Trump. But its sources were not remotely credible. For instance, it cited a list that characterized as “routine peddlers of Russian propaganda” a number of well-established and well-respected websites including Truthdig, a site published by award-winning journalist and long-time Los Angeles Times columnist Robert Scheer, Naked Capitalism, and Truth Out.
The growth of fake news isn’t confined to Trump or to conservative sites. A number of left-wing political sites have trafficked in demonstrably false stories, including deceptive pieces stoking fear about vaccines. Earlier this year, when critics called for Clinton to release the transcripts of her three paid speeches to Goldman Sachs, as well as to other interest groups, Daily News Bin, a new liberal website specializing in viral hits, published a piece titled, “Video surfaces of Hillary Clinton’s paid speech to Goldman Sachs, and it’s completely harmless.” The video embedded in the piece, however, was not one of Clinton’s paid speeches; it was a public event sponsored by Goldman Sachs. The article was shared over 120,000 times.
“We live in a time when people don’t care about facts,” said Judy Muller, professor of journalism at the University of Southern California.
During the last three months of the campaign, Buzzfeed News found that the top 20 best-performing hoax stories related to the election had more Facebook engagement than the 20 best-performing stories from major news outlets.
Facebook has responded to the recent outcry over fake news websites with promises to crack down on obvious phony sites. Many critics are still worried that Facebook is not doing enough to counter outright lies promoted by the platform; meanwhile, others are concerned that such efforts risk suppressing critical information.
Muller said that if Ingraham is nominated by Trump to be his spokesperson to the press, she will have to distance herself from her growing Facebook content empire.
But the demand for fake news is unlikely to subside.
A recent study by Stanford University researchers found that students have difficulty discerning between fake content, corporate sponsored advertorial content posing as journalism, and legitimate news.
“People only care about opinions that support their own biases,” said Muller. “So they’re not reading other people’s facts, they’re not checking the facts, and they don’t want to know — and that’s the scariest development to me.”
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
Elephant Refugees Flee to Last Stronghold in Africa Christine Dell’Amore / National Geographic
CHOBE NATIONAL PARK, BOTSWANA (November 23, 2016) — The elephants swim across the river in a straight line, trunks jutting out of the water like snorkels. With low, guttural bellows, they push their bodies together, forming a living raft to bolster a calf too tiny to stay afloat on its own.
This pachyderm flotilla has a dangerous destination in mind: The grassy shores of Namibia, where elephants are literally free game for legal hunters. The animals will risk their lives to feed here before fording the Chobe River again, back to the safety of Botswana’s Chobe National Park.
To avoid ivory poachers in neighboring Namibia, Zambia, and Angola, elephants like this family are fleeing in astounding numbers to Chobe, where illegal hunting is mostly kept in check.
“Our elephants are essentially refugees,” says Michael Chase, founder of the Botswana-based conservation group Elephants Without Borders, which works to create transboundary corridors for elephants to travel safely between countries.
But while Chobe offers some protection, it’s not the most welcoming stronghold. The increasingly dry ecosystem is buckling under the pressure of supporting so many of the six-ton animals, which each eat 600 pounds of food daily.
Helicoptering above the park on a searing-hot October afternoon, the landscape looked, as Chase puts it, nuked after a war: Only a few spots of green interrupted a flat, seemingly endless terrain of desiccated trees and brush.
Gray hulks, massive even from the air, moved slowly below, following their noses to the few water holes still left at this time of year. The rains should come soon, but in the meantime, the elephants are desperate. The animals can drink river water, but they prefer to drink from remote water holes because rivers are usually risky places to linger.
These elephants have already eaten some plants, such as marula and acacia trees, to local extinction. Forced to eat bark, some Chobe elephants have died from blocked intestinal tracts, Chase says.
“The irony of elephants seeking refuge in the Kalahari Desert, an environment not compatible to sustaining these numbers of elephants, is a tragedy,” he says.
‘LANDSCAPE OF FEAR’
Under siege from poaching and development, African elephant numbers have plummeted by 30 percent in recent decades, according to the 2016 Great Elephant Census, the biggest continent-wide elephant survey ever undertaken.
Once ranging from the coastal plains of Cape Town to the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro, the species has fallen from 1.3 million in the 1970s to about 352,000 today, according to the survey, which was led by Elephants Without Borders. The International Union for Conservation of Nature lists the African elephant as vulnerable to extinction.
When Chase began collaring and tracking the giants 20 years ago, he was surprised by his initial GPS data, which showed elephants fleeing unsafe territories for safe ones, and then making epic trips back home.
For instance, elephants that had likely escaped Angola during its bloody civil war in the 1970s and ’80s traveled hundreds of miles back to Angola in the early 2000s, his data revealed. Other elephants at the turn of the century returned to Namibia and Zambia, where rampant poaching had pushed them out. “Unfortunately, this time of peace was not to last,” Chase says.
Between 2011 and 2014, when the demand for ivory in Asia boomed once again, the elephants’ movements stopped dramatically. They stayed put in Botswana, and their numbers are mounting each year. About 130,000 of those survivors now live in Botswana, the most in any country.
Chase worries that poachers are following them — 55 elephants have been killed illegally in Chobe National Park in recent months. “These animals are highly intelligent,” he says. “They know where they’re persecuted.”
How the big-brained creatures know to escape danger — and where to go — is part of George Wittemyer’s research in Kenya.
Wittemyer, scientific chair of the Kenya-based nonprofit Save the Elephants, and his colleagues have found that elephants can identify and navigate what ecologists call “a landscape of fear.”
As in Botswana, Kenyan elephants can discern boundaries of protected areas — such as Samburu National Reserve and Amboseli National Park — without the aid of fences or other markers. (See stunning pictures of elephants.)
In a recent study, Wittemyer and his colleagues found that elephants living in a patchwork of protected and human-dominated land will shift their circadian rhythm to rest more during the day, which they’ve learned means fewer encounters with people. In such places, the animals also choose less populated areas to rest — even if they are farther from water.
Then, under the cover of darkness, the elephants make beelines for water holes, dashing through places where people or poachers may lurk. “It’s been remarkable to see the way they will identify areas they see as safe and move rapidly through areas they don’t see as safe,” says Wittemyer.
In protected areas, elephants will switch this behavior and hang out at water holes all day. The herbivores’ evasive skills are due in large part to their highly sophisticated spatial memory.
Satellite data from collared elephants in Namibia’s Etosha National Park show that the animals travel the fastest, most direct route possible to water holes, according to a 2015 study co-authored by Wittemyer.
These animals take the most efficient path to water sources regardless of where they are starting from, suggesting they maintain detailed, wide-ranging maps in their heads.
NO OUTWITTING POACHERS
Joyce Poole, co-founder of the conservation group ElephantVoices, has studied elephants in the wild for 41 years, identifying hundreds of postures and gestures that show the brainy creatures can consciously make decisions — and act on them.
“Elephants may look as if they are doing nothing, but often if you look closely, you can see subtle signs that they are thinking, contemplating,” says Poole, who is also a National Geographic explorer.
Poole says that elephants are superb at hearing and smelling danger. For instance, experiments in Amboseli National Park show that elephants know how dangerous certain humans are from how they speak.
Elephants in the region can distinguish between the language of the Maasai, an ethnic group that sometimes hunts them, and other languages, a study found.
It’s possible, too, that elephants can smell chemical stress levels in other elephants’ dung and feces, which could communicate which areas are safe, Wittemyer adds. (See “Elephants Have 2,000 Genes for Smell — Most Ever Found.”)
“Elephants use their cognitive and sensory abilities to avoid poachers as well, but they aren’t always successful, especially when poachers use sophisticated equipment,” says Poole.
“How do we protect these elephants and not end up with refugees running from one tiny safe haven to another? We’ve got to stop the demand for ivory.”
Several countries, including Kenya, have burned ivory stockpiles in recent years to symbolize their commitment to halting the trade. But poaching shows no sign of stopping: Illegal killing for ivory is so intense that in 10 years scientists expect to lose 50 percent of Africa’s remaining elephants, Chase says.
“As long as there are people out there [who] feel elephants are worth more as ivory trinkets than living animals, we have a battle ahead,” says Poole. (Related: “A Legal Trade in Ivory Would Wipe Out Elephants, Study Finds.”)
SHOCKED INTO ACTION
Anti-poaching and park management are virtually nonexistent in southeastern Angola and southwestern Zambia, and until that changes, Chase says it won’t make sense to establish elephant corridors.
“Those habitats need to be secure, otherwise we are sending elephants to a certain death,” he says. And in some cases, Wittemyer notes, there’s not much left for the elephants to go back to.
Across much of Africa, ill-maintained parks have become overrun with domestic livestock that have denuded the land, he says. Meanwhile, many countries in Africa are expected to double in population by 2050, leaving less space for wildlife and fueling the growth of large-scale development — major highways and railways are sprouting everywhere, severing elephant populations from one another.
Still, there are some victories worth celebrating, the scientists note.
Uganda, Namibia, and Gabon have stable or recovering elephant populations. And in Botswana, ecotourism — which includes wildlife safaris — is the second largest foreign exchange earner, which means the country is “reaping the rewards of successful conservation,” Chase says.
Perhaps most importantly, “the world is listening to the plight of elephants,” he says, citing the growth of wildlife documentaries like Savage Kingdom as one example.
“We’ve shocked people out of apathy and into action.”
Christine Dell’Amore is the online natural history editor for National Geographic News; she also founded the popular blog Weird & Wild.
(April 6, 2016) — A chunk of territory in southern Africa about the size of France has long been considered one of the last strongholds of the African elephant. The Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area, better known as KAZA, straddles Angola, Zambia, Namibia, Botswana, and Zimbabwe and was believed to hold as many as 250,000 elephants.
But all is not well there. The latest statistics from the Great Elephant Census, an ambitious elephant-counting project led by Microsoft co-founder Paul G. Allen’s private company, Vulcan, paints a grim picture in part of KAZA’s Zambian portion.
“The Kwando area of southwestern Zambia is experiencing the worst poaching of any major savanna elephant population,” said Mike Chase, the coordinator of the project.
For the past two years, the Great Elephant Census has flown surveys covering 285,000 miles (460,000 kilometers) across 20 African countries in a first ever effort to reliably count 90 percent of savanna elephants, which many scientists consider a separate species from West Africa’s forest elephants.
At a time when Africa is losing about 30,000 elephants a year to poaching, populations in southern Africa have generally been holding their own, and even increasing in some areas. Most conservation efforts have focused on the harder hit parts of East Africa, including Tanzania and northern Mozambique.
The survey results for Zambia, released in March, show that overall elephant numbers in the country are stable. But in the southwest, especially in the 3,100-square-mile (5,000 square kilometers) Sioma Ngwezi Park between the Zambezi and Kwando Rivers, the declines have been catastrophic — an estimated 95 percent drop in elephant numbers.
A Bad Carcass Ratio
The Great Elephant Census counts both live elephants and elephant carcasses to establish a carcass ratio. A ratio of no more than 8 percent allows a population to remain stable. But in Sioma Ngwezi Park, the team recorded 48 live elephants and 280 carcasses — that’s a staggering 85 percent carcass ratio.
By comparison, the ratio in Tanzania and Mozambique, which have seen drastic and well-publicized population declines, is around 40 percent.
Poachers operate with impunity in Sioma Ngwezi because there isn’t much human activity. “No one’s involved in these regions — no ecotourism, no researchers, and probably very little in the way of anti-poaching initiatives,” Chase said.
Plus, poachers have an easy escape route. “Within a matter of minutes they can be in four different countries, knowing that local law enforcement officials will not pursue them across international borders,” he said.
And it’s not just the elephants that are in trouble. The aerial survey showed that clear-cutting of centuries-old teak forests is occurring in the park on a devastating scale. “Illegal logging is one of the greatest conservation threats in Africa,” Chase said. “It’s turning the Sioma Ngwezi forests into deserts.”
Chase believes that the high poaching levels, coupled with habitat loss, have forced most of Sioma Ngwezi’s remaining elephants to migrate to the safety of neighboring Botswana.
Who’s Minding the Store?
KAZA is run by governments of the member countries, guided by the Peace Parks Foundation. This multinational governmental and private enterprise organization promotes biodiversity, job creation through nature conservation, and regional peace and stability through the establishment of cross-border conservation areas.
Since its formation, the Peace Parks Foundation has lauded KAZA as one of the great “African successes” and southern Africa’s “premier tourist destination for viewing elephants” and “the vehicle for socioeconomic development in the region.”
When the Zambian deputy minister of tourism and arts opened the Sioma Ngwezi Park headquarters, on January 30, 2016, he highlighted the “successes that have been brought about by the law enforcement authorities in combating poaching.” Poaching-related arrests in the park rose from 11 in 2014 to 84 last year, according to the Peace Parks Foundation.
But Simon Munthali and Morris Mtsambiwa, KAZA’s Botswana-based technical advisers, say their organization is more about government-to-government cooperation, information gathering, and research facilitation than action on the ground. “We assist in the conservation development in five countries,” Munthali said, adding that what KAZA needs now is a multinational armed force to stop criminal activity. But he doesn’t think that’s in the cards.
According to Ross Harvey, senior researcher for the South African Institute of International Affairs, an independent research institute specializing in African leadership, the KAZA initiative is a “fantastic concept,” but it’s hobbled by a lack of cooperation among the nations involved. “The success of Peace Parks ultimately depends on political cooperation, but this is basically absent.” he said.
Zambia’s Kafue National Park, which is also part of KAZA, points a way. Thanks to active patrolling by Game Rangers International — an independent wildlife management program supported by the US-based Nature Conservancy — elephant numbers there are stable.
“We believe that this increased enforcement has effectively reduced poaching, said Matt Brown, the conservancy’s Africa conservation director. Brown acknowledged that “protection initiatives may need to be intensified in areas where the elephant population is facing more significant threats.”
The Zambian government has indicated that it will launch a working group to develop a plan for such areas — but time has all but run out for Sioma Ngwezi.
The danger now, warns Mike Chase, is that because Sioma Ngwezi is close to Botswana’s Okavango Delta region — the world’s largest single remaining population — it’s only a matter of time before poachers begin killing elephants there.
Adam Cruise is a senior contributor for the Conservation Action Trust, which promotes reporting on conservation and environmental issues. Follow him on Twitter.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.