US anti-terrorism strategy backfires

SUBHEAD: UN report reveals nations with the most refugees were targets of American anti-terrorist interventions.

By Whitney Webb on 22 June 2017 for Mint Press News -

Image above: Afghan refugee Rasoul Nazari, 15, holds his 10-month-old nephew Imran after crossing the border between Hungary and Austria in Nickelsdorf, Austria. Photo by Muhammed Muheisen. From original article.

A United Nations report has shed light on the world’s burgeoning crisis of displaced peoples, finding that a record 65.6 million were forced to vacate their homes in 2016 alone. More than half of them were minors.

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which drafted the report, put the figure into perspective, stating that increasing conflict and persecution worldwide have led to “one person being displaced every three seconds – less than the time it takes to read this sentence.”

UN High Commissioner Filippo Grandi called the figure “unacceptable” and called for “solidarity and a common purpose in preventing and resolving the crisis.”

However, what the UN report failed to mention was the role of U.S. foreign intervention, indirect or direct, in fomenting the conflicts responsible for producing most of the world’s refugees.

According to the report, three of the nations producing the highest number of refugees are Syria (12 million refugees created in 2016), Afghanistan (4.7 million) and Iraq (4.2 million).

Video above: The UNHCR’s New Global Trends Report on Refugees. From original article and (

The conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan are known to be the direct result of U.S. military invasions in the early 2000s, as well as the U.S.’ ongoing occupation of those nations.

Decades after invading both countries, the U.S.’ destabilizing military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan has continued to increase in recent years, with the Trump administration most recently announcing plans to send thousands of soldiers to Afghanistan in the coming months. It is worth noting that each U.S. soldier in Afghanistan costs U.S. taxpayers $2.1 million.

While the U.S. has yet to directly invade Syria, the U.S. role in the conflict is clear and Syria’s destabilization and the overthrow of its current regime have long been planned by the U.S. government.

The U.S. and its allies, particularly Israel and Saudi Arabia, have consistently funded “rebel” groups that have not only perpetuated the Syrian conflict for six long years, but have also committed atrocity after atrocity targeting civilians in Syrian cities, towns, and communities – a major factor in convincing Syrians to leave their homes.

The report ranks Colombia as the world’s second-largest producer of refugees, with 7.7 million Colombians displaced in 2016. Like Syria, the U.S. has not directly invaded Colombia, but is known to have extensively funded paramilitary groups, also known as “death squads,” in the country since the 1980s, when then-U.S. President Ronald Reagan declared a “war on drugs” in Colombia. 

U.S. efforts have long helped fuel the civil war between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and pro-government, U.S.-funded paramilitary groups. This conflict has lasted for more than half a century.

In 2000, then-President Bill Clinton’s administration funded the disastrous “Plan Colombia” with $4 billion in U.S. taxpayer funds, ostensibly to fight drug trafficking and insurgents. Almost all of this money was used to fund the Colombian military and its weapon purchases. 

“Plan Colombia” ultimately intensified armed violence, military deployments, human rights abuses by the Colombian military, and – of course – the internal displacement of Colombians. 

The legacy of U.S. policy in Colombia and its continuing support of the nation’s right-wing, neo-liberal regime have ensured that the chaos continues into the present.

In addition to the above, U.S foreign policy is also to blame for the conflict in South Sudan, where the UN report found was home to the fastest-growing displacement of people in the world. 

In 2011, the U.S. pushed South Sudan to secede from Sudan, as South Sudan holds the vast majority of Sudan’s oil reserves — the largest oil reserves in all of Africa. 

The U.S.’ push for the creation of an independent South Sudan dislodged Chinese claims to Sudanese oil, as the Chinese had previously signed oil contracts with the (now Northern) Sudanese government.

But when nation-building efforts went awry and civil war broke out just two years later, some analysts suggested that the conflict only started when South Sudan’s president began to cozy up to China. According to the UN report, approximately 3.3 million people in South Sudan have fled their homes since the war began.

Grandi has called on the world’s nations to help prevent and resolve the global refugee crisis. But he would also do well to point out the common cause uniting many of the world’s worst conflicts – the U.S. military-industrial complex’s insatiable lust for conquest, power and profit.


Syngenta loses $218million lawsuit

SOURCE: Jeri DiPietro (
SUBHEAD: Corn producers claimed contaminated crops hurt sales to China in lawsuit over GMO seeds.

By Margaret Cronin Fisk on 23 June 2017 for Bloomberg -

Image above: The logo of Swiss agrochemicals maker Syngenta is seen in front of a cornfield near the company's plant in Stein near Basel Switzerland illustrating another lawsuit in 2014. Photo byArnd Wiegmann. From (

[IB Publisher's note: This is likely a good thing for Kauai if it hurts Syngenta and ultimately reduces their impact of experimental pesticides on the environment and people here. This however, is in no way a rejection of GMO technology. It is merely punishment of Syngenta for letting  factory farms lose money they might have made in China selling them GMO corn grown in America and developed in Hawaii.]

Syngenta AG was ordered to pay $217.7 million to a group of Kansas farmers who claimed the company carelessly marketed its genetically modified corn seed, causing contamination of U.S. crops and a rejection of export sales to China by officials there.

A Kansas jury issued the verdict Friday in the first trial brought by U.S. farmers alleging Syngenta caused five years of depressed corn prices. Several other trials are pending as lawyers pursue suits on behalf of some 350,000 corn growers claiming as much as $13 billion in losses.

The win gives momentum to claims by farmers from more than 20 states who are suing the Swiss agrochemical giant. Syngenta faces its next class action in a Minnesota court in August, where farmers are seeking more than $600 million.

“This drastically changes the complexion of the upcoming litigation,” said Anthony Sabino, law professor at St. John’s University in New York. “A jury found the plaintiffs’ claims of depressed prices so convincing that, not only did the jury give them a win on the liability, they awarded the entire amount of damages asked for. That is not an everyday occurrence.”

A dozen Kansas farmers attended the 13-day trial. The only farmer in the courtroom Friday, when the jury returned its verdict after four hours of deliberation during two days, was Bret Kendrick, 52.

“I’m relieved that things turned out the way they did," Kendrick said. "I’m very happy, especially for Kansas farmers." Kendrick farms 6,000 acres in southwestern Kansas.

Jury Verdict

The Kansas City, Kansas, jury awarded only compensatory damages and no punitive damages. The farmers’ lawyers had asked for $217.7 million for lost sales plus punitive damages.

Syngenta said it would appeal the verdict. “We are disappointed with today’s verdict because it will only serve to deny American farmers access to future technologies even when they are fully approved in the U.S.,’’ the company said in an e-mail. “The case is without merit.’’

More than 7,000 Kansas farmers claimed Syngenta rushed its GMO seed to market before getting approval from China to export grain there. In 2013, China stopped shipments after calling the corn contaminated by the GMO seed. The farmers also claimed Syngenta misled them on when the Chinese would approve the seed.

In all, China barred an estimated 1.4 million metric tons of U.S. corn from entering the country, effectively cutting the U.S. out of the world’s fastest-growing market, the farmers contend. Corn futures tumbled as demand for American corn weakened, they claim.

And while Syngenta’s GMO seeds were approved by the Chinese a year later, corn from Ukraine and other countries continues to supplant U.S. crops, the farmers said.

The average U.S. cash corn price has fallen 20 percent since the 2013 Chinese ban on U.S. shipments, while futures on the Chicago Board of Trade fell 15 percent, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Price Trends

During the worst drought since the 1930s, cash prices peaked in August 2012 at $8.26 a bushel. On June 22, the price of a bushel of corn was $3.30, up from a seven-year low of $2.73 a bushel in September. The farmers blame the lower prices on the Chinese rejection. Syngenta said this wasn’t a factor.

The Swiss company was under pressure because Monsanto Co. had a seed that was equal to Syngenta’s that already had Chinese approval, Scott Powell, the farmers’ lawyer, told jurors Thursday.

“Syngenta rushed this product to market to serve its own commercial interests,’’ he said. “No consideration was given to the farmers.’’

Powell, citing a company document, said Syngenta’s then-CEO, Mike Mack, knew that China would object to his company’s seed, but that Mack wanted to “pressurize’’ China into accepting it.
“For Syngenta, there was no risk,’’ he said. “It was all on the backs of farmers.’’

Loss Analysis

Syngenta did nothing wrong and the farmers suffered no losses, Mike Brock, the company’s attorney, told jurors in closing arguments Thursday.

“Important approvals were in place before the seed went into the ground,’’ he said. Syngenta began marketing the seed in 2011 following U.S. approval the prior year.

The Chinese rejection didn’t cause corn prices to crater, he said. A 2010 corn drought in China forced it to buy foreign corn, and a 2012 drought in the U.S. led to a spike here, he said. A 2013 corn glut sent prices plummeting. Rain, particularly in the corn belt, shapes the corn market, he said.

China’s decision to block Syngenta’s seed wasn’t for safety reasons, but done as a “pretext’’ to lessen its dependence on U.S. corn, Brock said. “They wanted to slow down the export of corn to China.’’

China Watch

Syngenta wasn’t required to wait for Chinese approval and that country was using its biotech regulations to control trade, Brock said. The rejection of U.S. corn was part of that strategy, he said.

The trial in Kansas City, Kansas, comes as state-owned China National Chemical Corp. is completing its $43 billion acquisition of Basel, Switzerland-based Syngenta.

U.S. District Judge John Lungstrum, who is overseeing the Kansas City trial and most of the litigation, has certified eight statewide classes and had said Friday he’d schedule another trial for January or February. Farmers in 14 additional states are awaiting class certification by the Kansas judge.

Grain exporters Archer-Daniels-Midland Co. and Cargill Inc. have accused Syngenta in separate suits of carelessly allowing its seed to taint U.S. corn, causing the Chinese rejection. Those suits are pending in state court in Louisiana, with Cargill’s headed for trial next year.

The case is In Re: Syngenta AG MIR 162 Corn Litigation, 14-md-02591, U.S. District Court, District of Kansas (Kansas City).


Renewable Revolution

SUBHEAD: Renewables to capture 3/4 of the $10 trillion world spends on new generation through 2040.

By Joe Romm on 15 June 2017 for Think Progress -

Image above: Last year, solar in Chile saw lowest global price for unsubsidized electricity by any technology. Source Bloomberg New Energy Finance. Credit BNEF New Energy Outlook 2017. From original article.

The staggering drop in the cost of clean energy has already upended the global power market over the past two decades — and that trend will only continue for the next two decades, according to new analysis from Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF).

As a result, renewables will capture the lion’s share of the $10.2 trillion the world will invest in new power generation by 2040, BNEF projects in its annual New Energy Outlook 2017 report.
Image above: Charts of Investment by Technology 2017-2040. Source: Bllomberg New energy Finance. Credit: BNEF New Energy Outlook 2017 From original article. Click to enlarge.

Despite years of plummeting prices for renewables, BNEF projects that over the next two decades, the cost of solar power will still drop another two-thirds, onshore wind costs will be cut nearly in half, and offshore wind costs will drop a stunning 71 percent.

Here’s how this will profoundly transform power markets in the years ahead:
  • By 2023, solar and onshore wind will be competitive with new U.S. gas plants.
  • By 2028, solar will beat existing gas generation.
  • Solar and wind will make up nearly a half of installed capacity and over a third of global power generation by 2040. That’s a four-fold jump in wind capacity and a 14-fold jump in solar from today.
Image above: Charts of global cumulative installed capacity 2016 and 2040. Source: Bloomberg New energy Finance. Credit: BNEF New Energy Outlook 2017 From original article.

Deep penetration of renewables will be assisted by continued price drops in lithium-ion batteries and explosive growth in electric cars: “This will help renewable energy reach 74 percent penetration in Germany, 38 percent in the U.S., 55 percent in China, and 49 percent in India by 2040.”

BNEF concludes that despite President Donald Trump’s vocal support for the coal industry, “economic realities over the next two decades” work against it, and U.S. coal power generation is “forecast to see a 51 percent reduction in generation by 2040.”

Here’s another key conclusion: “Gas is a transition fuel, but not in the way most people think.” Other than in the Americas, where cheap gas is plentiful, gas plants won’t act as a replacement for “baseload coal,” but will “increasingly act as one of the flexible technologies needed to help meet peaks and provide system stability in an age of rising renewable generation,” BNEF predicts.

With total renewable investment over the next two decades projected to be $7.2 trillion versus $1.5 trillion for fossil fuel power, it’s clear where the biggest high wage job growth will come from.


We Are Still In!

SUBHEAD: Two reasons why this American climate alliance "We Are Still In" could save the world.

By Tegan Tallulah on 19 June 2017 for The Climate Lemon  -

Image above: Supporters of Paris Climate Accord gather to demonstrate on the Andy Warhol Bridge over the Allegheny River in down town Pittsburgh after Trump rejected world climate agreement. Pittsburgh continues its plan to power itself with 100% renewable energy by 2035. From original article.

There are many reasons why Donald Trump is dangerous. His egotism, his authoritarianism, his disregard for facts, his bigotry towards women, Muslims, Mexicans, disabled people… There’s quite a few contenders.

But arguably his most dangerous quality is his views on climate change. Because this is an area where he can damage the whole world, and that damage can reverberate for centuries.

Scary, huh? All through Trump’s campaign he promised to pull the USA out of the Paris Climate Deal, and sure enough, after a period of intense um-ing and ah-ing, he confirmed he would do so. Queue an impressive display of horror and condemnation from leaders around the world.

I was all prepared to be severely depressed about this, but then something amazing happened.
American business leaders, city mayors, state governors and university principals, stood up and said ‘no, we’re not going to put up with this shit’. (I’m not sure that’s a direct quote, I’m paraphrasing).

This unprecedented alliance – known as the ‘We Are Still In coalition’ has formed around support for the Paris Agreement and recognition that climate action is their obligation to the world, and is good for America anyway.

This is incredibly powerful, for two main reasons: the science and the symbolism. By that I mean the physical direct impact on the carbon emissions of America and the world, and the psychological, cultural and political impact that such a move has on the rest of the world, and the indirect climate effect of that.

But before we dive into these two main points, let’s just recap on why the USA’s response to climate change is so crucial for the world, and what this new American climate alliance actually is.

Quick note on why USA is so crucial to climate action

The USA has by far the biggest historical carbon emissions and one of the highest emissions per person in the world. This means they are one of the countries most responsible for causing this climate crisis. Quite frankly, it’s amoral to walk away from your responsibilities. If you make a mess, you should at least help clean it up.

Even if the USA wasn’t a heavy polluter, there would be a strong argument that they should be a key player in sorting out the mess anyway, just because they have the power to do so.

They are the richest country in the world and are routinely regarded as the most powerful, due to immense wealth and military might and ‘cultural power’ – a more fuzzy concept that includes everything from having the most UN diplomats to Hollywood movies dominating the global media market.
Image above: Pie chart of percentage of cumulative CO2 emissions between 1850 and 2011 by country. From World Resource Institute ( Click to enlarge.
Image above: Bar chart of per person carbons emissions in metric tons of CO2 emissions in 2014 per person by country. From original article. This chart was adjusted from the 2011 data from the World Resource Institute ( It separates countries in the European Union. Note, the United States past Canada in CO2 emissions per person. The world average is about what Britain's emissions are (less than a third of USA's. Click to enlarge

So what is the "We Are Still In" coalition?

The We Are Still In coalition is a loose voluntary group of city mayors, state governors, CEOs, investors and university principals who have signed a pledge, on behalf of their communities and organisations, and an open letter to the UN, stating that they are still committed to the Paris Agreement.

They have promised to use their respective powers to lead climate action in their communities and businesses, aiming to meet or exceed the USA’s commitments under the Paris Agreement. (Which by the way is a 26-28% cut in emissions compared to the 2005 level by 2025, and even under Obama they were likely to miss that target).

So who’s actually signed up? The pledge has 1219 signatories so far, and growing. This includes:
  • 9 states: California, Connecticut, Hawaii, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Virginia and Washington
  • 125 cities. Including Washington DC, New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas, Pittsburgh…
  • 902 businesses and investors. Including Amazon, Apple, Google, Gap, Mars, Nike…
  • 183 universities and colleges.
You can check out the full list of signatories and their open letter here.

The cities and states represent 120 million Americans and a GDP of $6.2 trillion. The businesses together have combined revenue of $1.4 trillion.

This means 38% of the American population and at least 35% of their GDP is covered by this new alliance. If just the 9 states were a country, that country would be the fifth richest and sixth highest polluter in the world. So it’s a pretty big deal.

The philanthropist, business investor and former Mayor of New York Michael Bloomberg has been instrumental in coordinating this alliance, and he has even pledged to donate $15million from Bloomberg Philanthropies to the UN, to replace funding from Washington they’ll now miss out on thanks to Trump.

Although he’s certainly been a leader, it has also been a collaborative effort between 21 nonprofit groups, including C40 Cities, CDP (who I am starting a new job with next month!), WWF and others, who really pushed this forward.

The coalition wants to participate in the Paris Agreement, but there is currently no formal way for them to do so on America’s behalf, as it is an agreement between sovereign nations. However the Accord does call for ‘non-state actors’ to be involved. How this would work in practice is still being worked out.

The two big reasons why this is so incredible

Okay. Now into the real tofu and potatoes of this post. "Science" and "Symbolism"

The science

As this Alliance covers 38% of the American people and at least 35% of their GDP, they have significant power to influence the carbon emissions of the country. Due to the USA’s federal structure, states and cities have fairly extensive powers. The large companies have huge power through their supply chains.

However, even under Obama, the USA was not on track to meet its climate targets. With Trump’s hostile regressive stance and deregulation of pollution, it’s going to be even tougher to meet them.
But that doesn’t mean they can’t.

I’m fairly optimistic about their chances, as it looks like the hostility of the federal government is actually acting as an effective motivator to people who would have just sat back and done little otherwise. There really is a huge groundswell of support for the Paris Agreement emerging from the bottom up, and it’s not clear how far that momentum will go.

It’s difficult to estimate what percentage of the USA’s carbon emissions are represented in this coalition, because many of the members are overlapping – so you can’t just add up all their emissions. But the nine states alone represent 17% of USA emissions – and that’s without all the major cities and businesses outside of those states.

The symbolism

Direct cuts in carbon emissions are not even necessarily the most influential thing about the We Are Still In coalition. The symbolism is incredibly powerful. Here are cities, states and businesses directly defying Trump by saying: ‘You made the wrong decision. You do not speak for us. We are still in the Paris Agreement’.

The fact that Washington and New York were two key signatories will be a particular slap in the face for Trump. The small city of Pittsburgh is also notable because in his speech he declared ‘I was elected to represent Pittsburgh, not Paris’.

The mayor of Pittsburgh resented his city being used as an excuse like this, especially considering they already had a climate action plan to go 100% renewable powered. He publicly disagreed with the decision to leave the Paris Agreement, and joined the We Are Still In coalition instead.

The President also argued that climate action is bad for business and he would prioritise business. And what response did he get?

Tesla CEO Elon Musk and Disney CEO Bob Iger promptly quit his presidential advice council in protest. The ‘climate vs business’ position has become more discredited than ever, as over 900 businesses have joined the coalition.

Many of the most outspoken members are American-based tech giants, like Google, Apple and Amazon. They argue that in the short term, there are great business opportunities to be had from clean energy and greener products – and in the long term all business depends on a stable climate.

When Trump said he was going to exit the Paris Agreement, a real worry was that other countries would lose motivation and think ‘if the richest most powerful country, that has some of the highest emissions, is going to walk away, then there’s no point me doing anything.

Screw it, I’m out’. For some, that was an even bigger problem than the USA’s actual emissions. Because it posed the threat of unravelling the delicate international consensus that had been pieced together –finally, painfully- on this global issue.

Luckily, other national leaders were keen to reconfirm their support and to condemn Trump’s decision. (Even Kim Jong-un, who called the move “the height of egosim”, with zero self-awareness).
What this coalition does, is it assures the international community that America is still at the table. Even if the central government pulls out, America will still be informally committed to the Paris Agreement, through this broad and growing coalition.

Conclusion – Thank you America!

It’s imperative for the whole world’s future that America does not walk away from tackling climate change. Despite Trump’s damaging and regressive decision, it now looks like this will not be the case. Where the government steps down, leaders from local government, business and civil society will step up.

This has given me hope for the future. Thank you to everyone involved – thank you to the signatories, the organisers, and to all the everyday Americans who support it.

Security... or Surveillance?

SUBHEAD: Ron Paul interviews Edward Snowden on government threats to essential freedoms.

By James Holbrooks on 20 June 2017 for The AntiMedia -

Image above: Still frame of Ron Paul and Edward Snowden from video of interview below.
Saying that you don’t care about privacy because you have nothing to hide is no different than saying you don’t care about freedom of speech because you have nothing to say.”
That comment was made by famed whistleblower Edward Snowden during a recent interview on the Ron Paul Liberty Report. In his conversation with Dr. Paul and Daniel McAdams, published Tuesday, an articulate Snowden discusses the true meaning of freedom, the nature of the deep state, and even his upbringing as a child of a government family.

“I’d like to know a little bit, what do you do all day long?” a genuinely curious Dr. Paul asks as his opening question. After talking about the insanity that erupted — both in the political spectrum and his personal life — following the revelations he made back in 2013, Snowden says he’s now become a hot commodity for groups championing causes.
“They want me to sort of front for these issues of privacy and civil liberties and protection of people’s rights,” Snowden replies. “And I want to do what I can, but I’m not a politician. I’m an engineer.”
The whistleblower goes on to talk about how he’s now, at long last, finally able to devote time to more practical applications. For him, this means focusing on the area that holds the key to finding a balance between rights and laws in the digital age — technology.
“How technically is this even happening?” Snowden poses, digging straight to the heart of the issue of mass surveillance. “How is it that so many governments are spying on so many people? Because even if we pass the best legal reforms in the world in the United States, that doesn’t do anything against China, or Russia, or Germany, or France or Brazil or any other country in the world.”
Continuing, Snowden says that future generations’ rights and protections will be dependent on the current generation’s ability to adapt to a constantly shifting environment:
“We need to find new means, new mechanisms, for enforcing these rights in the new times. And I think that’s going to be primarily through science and technology.”
When Dr. Paul asks the former NSA contractor about his political affiliation, Snowden responds that he doesn’t associate himself with any faction and that as individuals, we’re more than tribes and labels. Proceeding, Snowden points to how technology has given humanity a means to have a global conversation on issues:
“I think the Internet produces a lot of people who look at these issues differently, in a less tribal way, because you hear more viewpoints. You hear from many more people. And the more people in a conversation, I think the more informed it often is.”
When co-host Daniel McAdams asks Snowden to comment on the idea of security vs. surveillance, the whistleblower again cuts straight to the core of the debate and speaks on the perception of freedom itself.

“What is liberty?” asks Snowden, and then points out that ten questions on the street would result in ten different answers. After stating his view that liberty is the “freedom of self” and the “freedom from permission,” Snowden goes on to say that true liberty is rooted in personal privacy:
“Privacy isn’t about something to hide, privacy is about something to protect. It’s about the ability to be you, to have a thought for yourself, to have a thing for yourself, to have some difference, to have some idea that’s new and untested and untried that you can sort of sharpen amongst those that you trust, and then introduce into the world, into that contest of ideas.”
Next, Dr. Paul asks his guest to comment on the topic of the deep state, which Snowden proceeds to describe as a “mass of government that survives beyond administration” that is “not responding to the politics of the people.” Snowden says this organism lives “across parties” and “across administrations.”

Continuing, Snowden equates the running of state policy to a game, one that favors those who get “better and better” at understanding the evolving rules:
“And eventually, the people who are the greatest experts at understanding and using these rules, the best bureaucrats, are not sitting in the White House, they’re not sitting in the Congress. Because those guys come and go as the years pass, and they win elections, and they lose elections, and it’s the people that sit there for 30 years or more, in these agencies, with their hand on the lever the whole time. And that’s what the deep state is.”
Snowden further states that party affiliation matters little with regard to this behind-the-scenes force and that any political faction in power will eventually “get to the point of saying yes when enough pressure is brought to bear.”

When Daniel McAdams next asks him about whether or not he thinks an agency such as the NSA should even exist, Snowden remarks on the irony of asking him that question — given that he’s a “product of the system” with familial ties to the United States government going back decades.

But the whistleblower presses forward following a question from Dr. Paul on whether or not he thinks any gains have been made from his 2013 revelations, stating that solutions come not from individuals alone, but from many of them who “lay down a single brick upon which others can build.”

Continuing in this vein, Snowden says progress in battling government violations of personal liberty is made in inches and should be accomplished organically:
“Step by step, working together, sharing our views, connecting our values, we can create spaces, more bricks, that when laid together create a defense of rights that can be relied upon, in even historic moments when law cannot be.”
In his final question to Snowden, Dr. Paul asks whether the former government contractor’s decision to sound the alarm was arrived at suddenly or through a gradual process. In response, Snowden links his own decision to the average human being, noting that everyone has a point at which nothing more can be tolerated:
“We all have a level, right, of this kind of cognitive dissonance that we can accept. A level of injustice, of inhumanity, of incivility that we can accept in the daily world, that we can sort of internalize and suppress. And then we have one step more.”

Video above: "Security or Surveillance? The Edward Snowden Interview" From (


Illinois can no longer function

SUBHEAD: It enters third year without a budget, resulting in the state's imminent downgrade to junk status.

By Tyler Durden on 20 June 2017 for Zero Hedge -

Image above: The seal of the State of Illinois with motto "State Sovereignty -National Union". From (

With just 10 days to go until Illinois enters its third year without a budget, resulting in the state's imminent downgrade to junk status and potentially culminating in a default for the state whose unpaid bills now surpass $15 billion, Democratic Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza issued a warning to Illinois Governor Rauner and other elected officials on Tuesday, saying in a letter that her office has "very serious concerns" it may no longer be able to guarantee "timely and predictable payments" for some core services.

In the letter posted on her website, Mendoza who over the weekend warned that Illinois is "in massive crisis mode" and that "this is not a false alarm" said the state is "effectively hemorrhaging money" due to various court orders and laws that have left government spending roughly $600 million more a month than it's taking in.

Mendoza said her office will continue to make debt payments as required, but indicated that services most likely to be affected include long-term care, hospice and supportive living centers for seniors.

She added that managed care organizations that serve Medicaid recipients are owed more than $2.8 billion in overdue bills as of June 15th.

"The state can no longer function without a responsible and complete budget without severely impacting our core obligations and decimating services to the state's most in-need citizens," Mendoza wrote. "We must put our fiscal house in order. It is already too late. Action is needed now."

Unveiling the most dire language yet, in her letter Mendoza said "we are now reaching a new phase of crisis" perhaps in an attempt to prompt the Democrats and Republicans to sit down and come up with a compromise:
As Illinois’ Chief Fiscal and Accountability Officer, my Office is responsible for managing the state’s financial accounts as well as providing the public and the state’s elected leadership with objective and timely data concerning the state’s difficult fiscal condition. As you are quite aware, I have been very vocal regarding these issues and the budgetary impasse since assuming office six months ago; however we are now reaching a new phase of crisis.
She then addresses "the full extent of [Illinois'[ dire fiscal straits and the potential disruptions that we face in addressing even our most critical core responsibilities":
Accordingly, I must communicate to you at this time the full extent of our dire fiscal straits and the potential disruptions that we face in addressing even our most critical core responsibilities going forward into the new fiscal year.
My Office has very serious concerns that, in the coming weeks, the State of Illinois will no longer be able to guarantee timely and predictable payments in a number of areas that we have to date managed (albeit with extreme difficulty) despite an unpaid bill backlog in excess of $15 billion and growing rapidly.

The cause for alarm in America's most bananish state is well-known: living far beyond one's means, resulting in soaring deficits and the critical need for constant debt funding.
My cause for alarm is rooted in the increasing deficit spending combined with new and ongoing cash management demands stemming from decisions from state and federal courts, the latest being the class action lawsuit filed by advocates representing the Medicaid service population served by the state’s Managed Care Organizations (MCOs).

As of June 15th, the MCOs, and their provider networks, are owed a total of more than $2.8 billion in overdue bills at the Comptroller’s Office.
There is no question that these obligations should be paid in a more timely manner and that the payment delays caused by the state’s financial condition negatively impact the state’s healthcare infrastructure.

We are currently in court directed discussions to reach a workable and responsive payment schedule going forward, but any acceleration of the timing of those payments under the current circumstances will almost certainly affect the scheduling of other payments, regardless of other competing court orders and Illinois statutory mandates.

There was one silver lining: a default is not imminent, at least not in Mendoza's view, as the comptroller explained that "debt service payments will not be delayed or diminished going forward and I will use every statutory avenue or available resource to meet that commitment."
It is a necessary pledge in order to attempt to avoid further damage to our already stressed credit ratings and to make possible the additional debt financing that we all know will be required to achieve some measure of stability going forward.
And when "every available resource" runs out, that's when things get really bad.

Meanwhile, as the state's budget director warns of fire and brimstone, in a last ditch attempt to reach an agreement with the legislature, Illinois' Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner will deliver a brief address Tuesday night calling for unity as lawmakers prepare to return to Springfield for a special session, a move Democrats quickly dismissed as a political stunt.

The speech, which is closed to the press but expected to air live on 6 p.m. television newscasts, comes just days after Rauner launched a TV advertising blitz attacking Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan, whom the governor has spent years vilifying as the source of the state's deep financial woes according to the Chicago Tribune. Democrats have long argued that Rauner's frequent political attacks do little to bring about common ground. The governor says political gamesmanship is part of being in public service but should not impact what happens at the Capitol.

Rauner will give his remarks at the Old State Capitol, where Abraham Lincoln gave his "House Divided" speech and Barack Obama kicked off his first White House run in 2007.

The speech will fall short.

Democratic governor candidate J.B. Pritzker called Rauner's address a "sham," saying Rauner "either doesn't have the slightest clue what unity is or just doesn't care." House Democrats called it laughable, saying if Rauner wanted to negotiate he would do it behind closed doors not in front of television cameras. "I find it tragically comedic that a governor who has done more to divide this state than probably any other governor in history is going to give a unity address," said Rep. Christian Mitchell, D-Chicago.

It's not just the Democrats: Republican lawmakers said they would vote for that tax plan, but only if the hike were limited to four years starting in July, and were tied to a four-year property tax freeze. The Senate Democrats' plan makes the tax hikes permanent and applies them retroactively to the beginning of 2017.

While Rauner is expected to talk about the need for unity and compromise, House GOP leader Jim Durkin said last week that Republicans expect "substantial compliance" from Democrats, warning that he would reject "reform light or anything that is significantly diluted."

Finally, in a harbringer of what's to come for the entire state, Bloomberg reports that Chicago’s junk-rated school system just went "no bid", and is paying bond-market penalties similar to those seen during the financial crisis.

The Chicago school district, slammed by the fallout from the Illinois budget gridlock, has been stuck paying punitive interest rates on $167.5 million of adjustable-rate bonds after PNC Capital Markets failed in March to resell the securities once previous owners sold them.

Remember the failure of Auction-Rate Securities just before all hell broke loose in 2008? Well, it's kinda like that.

The rate on the bonds, which are supposed to stay extremely low because investors can resell them to banks periodically, jumped to a maximum 9% on March 1 from 4.64% the week before and has stayed there ever since, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
The spiraling interest bills are reminiscent of the chaos that erupted in the wake of the Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc.’s bankruptcy in 2008, when state and local governments were stung by soaring costs after investors sold the variable-rate securities en masse just as banks were scrambling to raise cash. In Chicago’s case, though, it reflects how skittish investors have become about holding the debt of the cash-strapped school system.
In another preview of what's coming once Illinois is junked, the school district agreed this week to pay a rate of 6.39% for a short-term $275 million loan from JPMorgan Chase & Co. to help make a pension payment and cover the cost of staying open through the end of the school year.

As we reported last week, the schools didn’t receive $215 million more in state aid to make the retirement-fund contribution after a measure was vetoed by Governor Bruce Rauner.

Illinois has failed to pass a budget for more than two years as the Republican governor and Democrat-led legislature battle over how to close the state’s chronic budget deficits.

"Chicago Public Schools has been unable to crate a fiscally responsible budget and it relies on outside sources that, as we see, sometimes comes through and sometimes don’t,” said Matt Dalton, chief executive officer of Rye Brook, New York-based Belle Haven Investments, which manages $6 billion of municipal bonds, including about $3 million of insured Chicago school debt.

“That’s unsettling investors."

Unfortunately, that's just the beginning, and once the state itself is junked, investors will be even more unsettled.

But the biggest insult and injury is to the near-insolvent state is that Illinois is facing a full-blown crisis just one day after chronic defaulter Argentina managed to pull off a 100 year bond offering, which was 3.5x oversubscribed.

Glyphosate harms gut enzyme

SUBHEAD: There are new claims against Monsanto in consumer lawsuit over Roundup herbicide.

By Carey Gillam on 20 June 2017 for Huffington Post -

Image above: Store display of RoundUp for consumer use on home yards. From original article.

Another day, another lawsuit against global seed and chemical giant Monsanto Corporation. In a complaint filed Tuesday in federal court in Wisconsin, six consumers alleged that the company’s top-selling Roundup herbicide has been falsely promoted as uniquely safe when it actually can have profound harmful impacts on human gut bacteria critical to good health.

The lawsuit, which also names Roundup distributor Scotts Miracle-Gro Co. as a defendant, specifically alleges that consumers are being deceived by inaccurate and misleading statements made by Monsanto regarding glyphosate, the active weed-killing ingredient in Roundup.

Plaintiffs include residents of Wisconsin, Illinois, California, New York, New Jersey and Florida.

Glyphosate, which Monsanto introduced as an herbicide in 1974 and is widely used in growing food crops, has been promoted for years as a chemical that kills plants by targeting an enzyme that is not found in people or pets.

The lawsuit claims that assertion is false, however, and argues that research shows glyphosate can target an enzyme found in gut bacteria in people and animals, disrupting the immune system, digestion, and “even brain function.”

“Defendants repeat these false and misleading representations throughout their marketing, including in video advertisements produced for their websites and YouTube Channel,” states the lawsuit, which is filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin.

Monsanto did not respond to a request for comment and neither did Scotts.

Monsanto is currently defending itself against nationwide claims that Roundup has caused hundreds of people to suffer from a type of blood cancer called non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL).

More than 1,100 plaintiffs have lawsuits pending in state and federal courts with many of the lawsuits combined in multidistrict litigation in federal court in San Francisco.

Those lawsuits were triggered by a 2015 decision by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) to classify glyphosate as a probable human carcinogen.

IARC said research showed an association between NHL and glyphosate, with limited evidence from epidemiology data collected on humans and stronger evidence seen in laboratory animals exposed to glyphosate.

The lawsuit filed in Wisconsin is markedly different from the Roundup cancer claims, though some of the same attorneys are involved in both lines of litigation.

Plaintiffs do not claim physical injury; rather they claim violations of trade and business practices laws, and allege Monsanto and Scotts were “unjustly enriched” as plaintiffs purchased and paid for more Roundup products than they would have in absence of the alleged false promotions.

Hokule'a returns to Hawaii

SUBHEAD: Hawaiian sailing canoe completes three-year voyage around the world to inspire people to take care of the Earth.

By Carla Herreria on 18 June 2017 for Huffington Post -

Image above: The Hokoule'a returning to Honolulu harbor after three year journey. From original article.

[IB Publisher's note: Visit the Huffington Posts article to see many more images of the return of the Hokule'a.]

Three years after setting sail from Hawaii using only the stars, the wind and ancient Polynesian navigation techniques to voyage around the world, the Hokulea, a traditional double-hulled Hawaiian sailing canoe, has arrived back home on the island of Oahu.

Thousands of people welcomed the Hokulea as it docked in Magic Island in Honolulu early Saturday morning. Hawaiians greeted the canoe and its crew with traditional chants.

The homecoming, which marks the end of a difficult and meaningful voyage, was an emotional one for many. As the canoe approached land, a rainbow could be seen just off the horizon.

Image above: The Hokoule'a return is welcomed by the public and Hawaiian indigenous practitioners. From original article.

In 2014, navigators with the Polynesian Voyaging Society set sail on the Hokulea with one message: To inspire communities around the world to take care of “island Earth.” In its voyage, the Hokulea and her crew traveled more than 40,000 nautical miles, visiting 150 ports in 23 countries, including stops in South Africa, Brazil, Tahiti and New York City.

The Hokulea’s unique mission is a point of pride for the Aloha State.

Image above: The Hokoule'a finally at dock on Magic Island with the Ala Wai Boat Harbor in the background. From original article.

Hawaii is one of the few states that has pushed back against the Trump administration’s policies on climate change.

This month, Governor David Ige, a Democrat, signed a bill that binds the state of Hawaii to the goals made in the Paris climate accord, despite President Donald Trump’s decision to pull the country from the agreement. In 2015, Hawaii became the first state to enact a law requiring that 100 percent of its electricity come from renewable sources by 2045.

“Watching you on your epic voyage, you taught us that there is more than connects the world than divides us,” Ige said to the Hokulea crew during Saturday’s ceremony, according to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.

Video above: The Honolulu Star Advertiser video of return of Kokule'a to Hawaii. From (

See also:
Ea O Ka Aina: New Sail Power in Mediterranean 6/15/17
Ea O Ka Aina: A houseboat that sails 67/9/16
Ea O Ka Aina: Larry Ellison - Oracle 6/21/12
Ea O Ka Aina: Our Brave Experiment 6/13/12
Ea O Ka Aina: Hokulea sister ship Hikianalia 10/10/12
Ea O Ka Aina: Moving local goods by boat 3/7/12 
Ea O Ka Aina: Polyneisans again tour the Pacific 8/15/11
Ea O Ka Aina: Clear Sky over Polynesian canoes 7/12/11
Ea O Ka Aina: The Sail Transport Network 6/4/11
Island Breath: The future of ocean sailing 8/15/08
Island Breath: Sail Technology Reemerges 12/25/07
Island Breath: Rethinking the sail 12/25/07
Island Breath: THe Polynesian Package 8/24/07
Island Breath: The Future of Ocean Sailing 8/15/06

Review of "The One Device"

SUBHEAD: A new book on the birth and manufacture of Apple's now ten year old iPhone. 

By Les Grossman on 19 June 2017 for the New York Times -

Image above: Apple CEO Steve Jobs introducing the first iPhone at the Macworld Conference in January 2007. From original article.

[IB Publisher's note:  In regards to President Trump's "Muslim Ban" on Syrians entering America - it should be remembered that Steve Jobs was the son of Syrian immigrants.]

Before anybody outside Apple was aware of it, the project that would become the iPhone was referred to internally by the code name Purple. No one seems to remember exactly why; it may have been named after a toy purple kangaroo that belonged to one of the engineers.

Purple was so secret that even inside Apple hardly anybody knew about it. It was developed in a lab sealed tight behind badge readers and a metal door. Employees had to sign Non-Disclosure Agreements for their Non-Disclosure Agreements.

The lab became known as the Purple Dorm because people worked there round the clock, through weekends, holidays, vacations, honeymoons.

They ate there. They slept there. It smelled bad.

In fact, although it would eventually emerge as the gleaming quintessence of the collaboration between the Apple co-founder Steve Jobs and Apple’s design magus, Jony Ive, Purple could seem like a nightmare of overwork, insoluble technical tarballs and political infighting.
“You created a pressure cooker of a bunch of really smart people with an impossible deadline, an impossible mission, and then you hear that the future of the entire company is resting on it,”

Andy Grignon, one of the iPhone’s key engineers, has said. “It was just like this soup of misery.” The Purple Dorm will no doubt one day be the setting of a taut claustrophobic drama by some future Aaron Sorkin.

If it does, that drama may well be based on “The One Device: The Secret History of the iPhone,” a new book by Brian Merchant, an editor at Motherboard, the science and technology division of Vice.

Merchant does the important work of excavating and compiling large numbers of details and anecdotes about the development of the iPhone, many of them previously unrecorded. It’s important because along with being splash-, water- and dust-resistant, the iPhone is resistant to history.

The iPhone dwells among us, but it looks — it’s designed to look — as if it just moments ago entered our world from some higher, more ideal plane of existence. Just as its flat black face makes no compromise with the contours of the human skull, its gleaming, lickable surface offers no clues about where and when it was made, or by whom, or how.

You can’t even open it without a special proprietary screwdriver called a Pentalobe. This is an effect not just of the iPhone’s physical design but of the strange culture of reverence and secrecy that Apple has created around its products. The iPhone knows everything about us, but we know very little about it.

An example: multitouch, the technology that allows the iPhone’s touch-screen to track several fingertips at once — it’s why you can pinch to zoom. Where does it come from? Jobs always maintained that multitouch was invented at Apple. It wasn’t.

As Merchant demonstrates, it was actually invented several different times, including in the 1960s at England’s Royal Radar Establishment and in the 1970s at CERN. The specific multitouch technology that went into the iPhone was pioneered around the turn of the millennium by a man you’ve almost certainly never heard of named Wayne Westerman.

A brilliant engineering Ph.D. at the University of Delaware, Westerman worked on multitouch in part because he suffered from severe repetitive strain injury, which made conventional keyboard interfaces agony. Apple acquired Westerman’s company, FingerWorks, in 2005 — whereupon it and Westerman disappeared behind Apple’s Titanium Curtain.

The rest is, and isn’t, history. (Apple wouldn’t let Merchant interview Westerman, or any current Apple employee, for “The One Device.” Merchant did, with characteristic thoroughness, track down Westerman’s sister.)

The iPhone is designed for maximum efficiency and compactness. “The One Device” isn’t. The three chapters on the development of the iPhone are the heart of the book, but there’s some filler too.

It’s curiously unilluminating to read a metallurgical analysis of a pulverized iPhone, or to watch Merchant trudge around the globe on a kind of iCalvary in search of the raw materials Apple uses — through a Stygian Bolivian tin mine and a lithium mine in the Chilean desert and an e-waste dump in Nairobi where many iPhones end up.
This kind of hacker tourism can be done well — the gold standard is Neal Stephenson’s epic 1996 Wired article “Mother Earth Mother Board".

His one conspicuous success in this line is his visit to a Foxconn factory outside Shenzhen, China, where iPhones are manufactured.

Foxconn has a reputation for bad labor conditions, and visiting Westerners are generally closely chaperoned, but during a trip to the bathroom Merchant manages to ditch his minders and take a stroll through the vast, dystopian facility. “It is factories all the way down,” he writes, “a million consumer electronics being threaded together in identically drab monoliths.

You feel tiny among them, like a brief spit of organic matter between aircraft-carrier-size engines of industry.” It’s a palpable glimpse of the way the iPhone has, like a shiny glossy virus, physically reshaped the world to produce copies of itself.

Merchant also tells the origin stories of the technologies that converged into the iPhone: Gorilla Glass, motion sensors, lithium-ion batteries, ARM chips, wireless technology and so on.

He shows how many people’s work went into the creation of the iPhone, as a counterweight to “the myth of the lone inventor — the notion that after countless hours of toiling, one man can conjure up an invention that changes the course of history.”

The lone inventor starts showing his straw stuffing after a couple of paragraphs, but Merchant spends entire chapters chatting with people like Mitsuaki Oshima, the father of image stabilization.

Oshima undoubtedly has hidden depths, but as an interviewer Merchant is powerless to reveal them. (“Even with a shake of the camera, the image did not blur at all. It was too good to be true!” etc.)

Even worse is Merchant’s ghastly time-traveling habit. In order to talk about magnetometers we first have to sit still for a history lesson (“compasses can be traced back at least as far as the Han dynasty, around 206 B.C.”).

To get to assembly-line production, a concept with which most readers are already pretty familiar, we have to slog back to the Pleistocene Era (“Homo erectus, which emerged 1.7 million years ago, were the first species to widely adopt tools.…”).

And so on. The origin of this kind of writing can be traced back at least as far as the Undergraduate Era, to those leaden essays that begin, “Since the dawn of time, mankind has wondered.…”

But when he gets back to the actual iPhone’s creation, Merchant tells a far richer story than I — having covered Apple for years as a journalist — have seen before. If you’ve ever worked on a hopeless project that felt like it was going nowhere, you will draw spiritual strength from Merchant’s account of life in the Purple trenches.

It includes fascinating dead ends and might-have- beens (a prototype based on the original iPod’s click wheel, backlit in blue and orange); personal sacrifices (“The iPhone is the reason I’m divorced”).

There were obscure technical hurdles (the phone’s infrared proximity sensor, which turns the screen off when it’s near your head, wouldn’t recognize dark hair)

And there was the backstage tension at the launch (I was actually there, watching Jobs rehearse the famous iPhone keynote, but apparently missed everything); even a symbolic onstage assassination (when Jobs publicly demonstrated swiping to delete a contact, he used Apple vice president Tony Fadell’s name, foreshadowing Fadell’s imminent departure).

The iPhone masquerades as a thing not made by human hands. Merchant’s book makes visible that human labor, and in the process dispels some of the fog and reality distortion that surround the iPhone. “The One Device” isn’t definitive, but it’s a start.

What we need is the critical equivalent of a Pentalobe, a book that will crack open the meaning of the iPhone, to properly interrogate this digital symbiont, or parasite, that has introduced new kinds of both connection and disconnection into our lives.

If the iPhone was a revolution, who or what exactly was overthrown? One of the stories Merchant tells comes from Grignon, who was the first person to receive a call on the iPhone.

“Instead of being this awesome Alexander Graham Bell moment, it was just like, ‘Yeah,… go to voice mail,’” Grignon says. “I think it’s very apropos, given where we are now.”

The Secret History of the iPhone
By Brian Merchant
Illustrated. 407 pp.
Little, Brown & Company. $28.


US shoots down Syrian drone

SUBHEAD: US jet shoots down Syrian Army drone in "Dangerous Escalation" in region.

By Tyler Durden on 20 June 2017 for Zero Hedge -

Image above: An Iranian made Shahed drone in hanger. The craft used by Syrian military for air surveillance and attacks. This is the type of aircrarft shot down by American F-15 yesterday.  From (

An American Air Forde F-15E fighter jet shot down a Syrian regime Iranian made Shahed-129 drone on Monday near At Tanf, Syria. This is the third downing of a pro-regime aircraft this month, CNN reported.

The downing of the drone comes a day after a US jet shot down a regime aircraft that was engaging a fleeing ISIS convoy, according to the Syrian government.

An armed Shaheed-129 UAV “displayed hostile intent and advanced on Coalition forces” at 12:30 am local time on Tuesday, the coalition said in a statement. The drone was observed in the same area where another UAV was shot down on June 8th.

"The drone was downed just outside the 55 kilometer de-confliction zone, according to the officials.

It was an Iranian-made Shahed 129 and was thought to be armed and in firing range of US troops.

One official said that the drone was shot down because it was 'assessed to be a threat.'

That drone was shot down after it dropped one of several weapons it was carrying near a position where coalition personnel are training and advising partner ground forces in the fight against ISIS."

According to Fox News, this is the second time the US has shot down an Iranian drone in less than a month. It also marks the fifth time since late May the U.S. military has bombed pro-Syrian forces in southern Syria.

Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy described the attack as “a dangerous escalation" of tensions between the US and the main backers of the Syrian regime, Russia and Iran.

Murphy told CNN that if the US doesn't stop the attacks, the situation could escalate into an armed conflict between the two sides, who both claim to be fighting ISIS.
“I think we’re getting closer and closer to open conflict between Iran and Russia and the American public need to know that we are moving very fast towards what could be another war in the Middle East – something Donald Trump promised he wouldn’t do when he ran for office.”
The US's actions could also prompt its coalition partners to withdraw from Syria, wary of being drawn deeper into an armed conflict with Iran and Russia. On Tuesday, Australia said it would temporarily suspend fights in the conflict zone as a "precautionary measure" after Russia said it would withdraw from an air-safety agreement in retaliation for Sunday's downing of the Syrian aircraft.

On the same day that the drone was shot down by US forces, an armed Russian fighter jet buzzed a U.S. Air Force reconnaissance aircraft in the Baltic Sea, two U.S. officials told Fox News.
In the latest in a long series of close encounters, Fox News reports the Russian Su-27 jet had missiles under its wings and approached the U.S. Air Force RC-135 recon jet "rapidly," coming within five feet of the American aircraft, the officials said.

Once alongside, the Russian jet was “provocative” in its flight maneuvers and flying “erratically,” according to another official.


Australia suspends Syria overflights

SUBHEAD: Australia became the first coalition member to suspend flights in Syria, claiming it's too dangerous for its planes.

By Tyler Durden on 20 June 2017 for Zero Hedge -

Image above: Royal Australian Air Force flying American made F18 Hornets began making their first strike on Islamic State forces in Syria in September 2015. From (

Russia’s Monday decision to suspend a memorandum of cooperation with the US-led coalition in retaliation after a US jet shot down a Syrian Army plane has rattled some US allies, who fear escalating tensions between Russia and the coalition. In what it called a "precautionary measure," Australia became the first coalition member to suspend flights in Syria, claiming it's too dangerous for its planes to fly without the agreement, according to BBC.
“As a precautionary measure, Australian Defense Force (ADF) strike operations into Syria have temporarily ceased,” Australia’s Department of Defense said in a statement, adding its operations in Iraq would continue as part of the coalition.”

“ADF personnel are closely monitoring the air situation in Syria and a decision on the resumption of ADF air operations in Syria will be made in due course.”

“Australian Defense Force protection is regularly reviewed in response to a range of potential threats,” the Department of Defense said.
Australia has deployed about 780 military personnel as part of the US-led coalition fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria

The BBC notes that Australia has a small but highly capable contingent of six F/A-18 strike aircraft; a tanker; and an E-7A Wedgetail early warning aircraft, all based at Al Minhad in the United Arab Emirates.

Most of the Australian strikes have been in Iraq, though its aircraft do also operate over Syria. Australian commanders will reassess the situation in due course. The more fundamental question is what the Russian threat actually amounts to. Is it just rhetoric or does Moscow want to deny certain areas of Syrian airspace to US-led coalition aircraft?

Australian aircraft will continue to fly missions in Iraq.As reported yesterday, Russia suspended cooperation under the “Memorandum on the Prevention of Incidents and Ensuring Air Safety in Syria” on Monday after the US shot down a Syrian Army fighter jet. 

The Russian Defense ministry called the attack “an act of aggression,” on the part of the US-led coalition. The US military neglected to use a communication line with Russia concerning this attack, despite the fact that Russian warplanes were also on a mission in Syrian airspace at the time, the Russian Defense Ministry alleged, conflicting with the Pentagon's explanation of events.

The bilateral memorandum of understanding was signed between the United States and Russia signed in October 2015 to ensure the safety of flights during combat missions over Syria.

In retaliation for the US attack, the ministry warned that Russian missile defense would intercept any aircraft in the area of operations of the Russian Aerospace Forces in Syria.

The Russian Defense Ministry announced, quoted by Sputnik;
"In areas where Russian aviation is conducting combat missions in the Syrian skies, any flying objects, including jets and unmanned aerial vehicles of the international coalition discovered west of the Euphrates River will be followed by Russian air and ground defenses as air targets."
Contrary to the earlier statement by the US, according to which it "contacted its Russian counterparts by telephone via an established "de-confliction line" to de-escalate the situation and stop the firing", Russia claims the US-led coalition command didn't use the deconfliction channel with Russia to avoid an incident during an operation in Raqqa:
"Russian Aerospace Forces' jets were conducting operations in Syrian airspace that time. However, the command of the coalition forces didn't use the existing channel between the air command of the Qatari airbase al Udeid and the [Russian] Hmeymim airbase to avoid incidents over Syria."
We now wait to see which other US allies – Germany, Denmark, the Netherlands, France, Jordan and the UK also are contributing men and arms to the task of "liberating" Syria  – will announce that they're temporarily pulling out of the conflict until tensions once again de-escalate.


Trump lets Mattis set troop levels

SUBHEAD: Delegating too much authority to the military does not shield Trump from responsibility for setbacks.

By Phil Stewart & Idrees Ali on 14 June 2017 for Reuters  -

Image above: Trump on tarmac, in front of President's Marine helicopter, with hand on shoulder of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. From (

U.S. President Donald Trump has given Defense Secretary Jim Mattis the authority to set troop levels in Afghanistan, a U.S. official told Reuters on Tuesday, opening the door for future troop increases requested by the U.S. commander.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said no immediate decision had been made about the troop levels, which are now set at about 8,400. The Pentagon declined to comment.

The decision is similar to one announced in April that applied to U.S. troop levels in Iraq and Syria, and came as Mattis warned Congress the U.S.-backed Afghan forces were not beating the Taliban despite more than 15 years of war.

"We are not winning in Afghanistan right now," Mattis said in testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee earlier on Tuesday. "And we will correct this as soon as possible."

Mattis said the Taliban were "surging" at the moment, something he said he intended to address.
A former U.S. official said such a decision might allow the White House to argue that it was not micromanaging as much as the administration of former President Barack Obama was sometimes accused of doing.

Critics say delegating too much authority to the military does not shield Trump from political responsibility during battlefield setbacks and could reduce the chances for diplomats to warn of potential blowback from military decisions.

It has been four months since Army General John Nicholson, who leads U.S. and international forces in Afghanistan, said he needed "a few thousand" additional forces, some potentially drawn from U.S. allies.

Current and former U.S. officials say discussions revolve around adding 3,000 to 5,000 troops. Those forces are expected to be largely comprised of trainers to support Afghan forces, as well as air crews.
Deliberations include giving more authority to forces on the ground and taking more aggressive action against Taliban fighters.

Some U.S. officials have questioned the benefit of sending more troops to Afghanistan because any politically palatable number would not be enough to turn the tide, much less create stability and security. To date, more than 2,300 Americans have been killed and more than 17,000 wounded since the war began in 2001.

Any increase of several thousand troops would leave American forces in Afghanistan well below their 2011 peak of more than 100,000 troops.

A truck bomb explosion in Kabul last month killed more than 150 people, making it the deadliest attack in the Afghan capital since the Taliban were ousted in 2001 by a NATO-led coalition after ruling the country for five years.

On Saturday, three U.S. soldiers were killed when an Afghan soldier opened fire on them in eastern Afghanistan.

The broader regional U.S. strategy for Afghanistan remains unclear. Mattis promised on Tuesday to brief lawmakers on a new war strategy by mid-July that is widely expected to call for thousands more U.S. troops.

Senator John McCain, the chairman of the Armed Forces Committee, pressed Mattis on the deteriorating situation during the Tuesday hearing, saying the United States had an urgent need for "a change in strategy, and an increase in resources if we are to turn the situation around."
"We recognize the need for urgency," Mattis said.

The Afghan government was assessed by the U.S. military to control or influence just 59.7 percent of Afghanistan's 407 districts as of Feb. 20, a nearly 11 percentage-point decrease from the same time in 2016, according to data released by the U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction.


US shoots down Syrian jet

SUBHEAD: Russia halts cooperation with US in Syria, will "Intercept Any Aircraft" in Russian areas of operation.

By Tyler Durden on 19 June 2017 for Zero Hedge -

Image above: The kind of plane US shot down was a Russian built SU-22 aircraft. They are worn out and their pilots are old, but they’re all still flying. This is a close-up of the fin and rear fuselage of the SyAAF’s Su-22M-4K serial number 3224, as seen during a pre-fight inspection. From (

Shortly after Russia's deputy foreign minister slammed the US downing of a Syrian Su-22 jet as an "act of aggression" and "support for terrorists", Russia announced that starting June 19th it was halting all interactions with the US under the framework on the "memorandum of incident prevention in Syrian skies", the Russian Defense Ministry said on Monday, thereby assuring the probability of even more deadly escalations between Russia and the US-led coalition.

In retaliation, the ministry warned that Russian missile defense will intercept any aircraft in the area of operations of the Russian Aerospace Forces in Syria,

"In areas where Russian aviation is conducting combat missions in the Syrian skies, any flying ojects, including jets and unmanned aerial vehicles of the international coalition discovered west of the Euphrates River will be followed by Russian air and ground defenses as air targets," the Russian Defense Ministry announced, quoted by Sputnik.

Contrary to the earlier statement by the US according to which, it "contacted its Russian counterparts by telephone via an established "de-confliction line" to de-escalate the situation and stop the firing", Russia claims the US-led coalition command didn't use the deconfliction channel with Russia to avoid an incident during an operation in Raqqa:
"Russian Aerospace Forces' jets were conducting operations in Syrian airspace that time. However, the command of the coalition forces didn't use the existing channel between the air command of the Qatari airbase al Udeid and the [Russian] Hmeymim airbase to avoid incidents over Syria."
The Russian ministry also demands a thorough investigation by the US command with the provision of its results and measures taken.
"We consider such actions of the US command as an intentional violation of its obligations in the framework of the memo on avoiding incidents and the safety of aviation flights during operations in Syria signed on October 20, 2015."
A bilateral memorandum of understanding was signed between the United States and Russia signed in October 2015 to ensure the safety of flights during combat missions over Syria.

On June 18, the Syrian army said that the US-led coalition had brought down its aircraft in southern Raqqa countryside when it was fulfilling its mission against Daesh.

Later, the coalition confirmed the attack saying that it shot down the Syrian government forces' Su-22 aircraft as it had allegedly been bombing in an area where US-backed rebel forces, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), were stationed, south of Tabqa in the Raqqa province. The US-led coalition called its attack on the Syrian army's jet "collective self-defense," adding that it contacted the Russian military to de-escalate the situation after the incident.