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Category: topSource: bizjournalsMay 13th, 2022

How China turned a Tiananmen Square memorial into one of the most sought-after sculptures in the world

The "Pillar of Shame" was meant to spread all around the world. It didn't — until now, thanks to its removal in Hong Kong. Danish sculptor Jens Galschiøt (right) with a Pillar of Shame.Mikkel Møller for Insider Last December, Hong Kong removed the Pillar of Shame, a memorial to the Tiananmen Square massacre. The removal only increased the monument's fame – and brought a flood of requests for replicas.  Creator Jens Galschiøt gave up his copyright to the sculpture, enabling 3D printers to make copies. HONG KONG – In the 1990s, a Danish sculptor launched an audacious project to pepper the earth with copies of a grotesque sculpture that depicted human bodies wreathed together in pain. The monument, known as the "Pillar of Shame," is constructed out of bronze, copper or concrete and stands atop a square plinth. It rises about 8 meters, or 26 feet, in all. Its creator, Jens Galschiøt, envisioned it as a "Nobel Prize of Injustice" and vowed to place replicas of the pillar all over the world to mark acts of genocide and murder. For a time, Galschiøt's effort was something of a success. He installed a copy of the pillar in Hong Kong in 1997 to commemorate the Tiananmen Square massacre, in which Chinese troops killed hundreds if not thousands of peaceful pro-democracy protesters. He landed a second copy in Mexico in 1999 to commemorate the slaughter of Indigenous people and a third in Brazil in 2000 to honor landless peasants killed by military police. But then the project stalled. For over two decades, it seemed no one was interested in getting a Pillar of Shame — that is, until now.These days, the 67-year-old sculptor is so inundated with requests for copies of his signature artwork that he needs a full-time apprentice just to manage the endless stream of emails and phone calls. He's being sought out for art exhibitions, speeches, interviews, and new Pillar of Shame installations around the world. At Galschiøt's foundry, about two hours outside of Copenhagen, Denmark, his team is working overtime to cast replicas of various sizes. He has also invited artists everywhere to help meet the demand for replicas by using 3D-printing technologies and a free blueprint of the sculpture."The Pillar of Shame in miniature.Mikkel Møller for InsiderThe spark that led to an explosion of interest in Galschiøt's project came in October, when Hong Kong University  ordered that the Pillar of Shame be removed from its longtime home on the school's campus — part of a larger effort to erase any public commemoration of the Tiananmen Square massacre.The sculpture's removal, carried out in the dead of night two days before Christmas, accomplished its goal of eliminating the controversial monument from public view. But it also unleashed something unexpected: China and Hong Kong authorities gave Galschiøt's struggling art project the sort of publicity that no amount of money and PR firms could buy. Galschiøt's Pillar of Shame was suddenly being discussed in The Washington Post and The New York Times and in outlets in Thailand, Iceland, Brazil, Turkey, Nigeria, Norway, Ireland, Germany, and Indonesia, to name just a few."They have made a big mistake," Galschiøt said in an interview. "Now, instead of one, they're getting hundreds of Pillars of Shame."A group of former US government officials is working to erect a full-size replica in front of the Chinese Embassy in Washington, DC. In Norway, there's a request to display a replica near the Nobel Peace Center in Oslo. In Taiwan, a pro-democracy group plans to unveil a 3D-printed model by June 4 to mark the 33rd anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre. An artists collective is planning to organize a worldwide tour with Galschiøt's pillar to raise awareness of Hong Kong's struggle for democracy.Makerwiz 3D-printing studio in Richmond Hill, Ontario. Source: Makerwiz.Galschiøt is also making smaller, 8.5-foot replicas in copper that he aims to hoist on top of plinths with plates dedicated to Tiananmen victims and Hong Kong's pro-democracy movement, installing them at universities. For everyone else — volunteers at his workshop and ordinary people who are inspired by Galschiøt's vision, or perhaps his tenacity — he has finished a batch of 60 bronze copies that are about a foot tall. He's working on another 40. "There's a lot of people who ask for a copy of that sculpture now," Galschiøt said.The nascent efforts are a cautionary tale of what happens when regimes try to censor art. "The rulers, tyrants know the power of art. That's why artists, poets, and musicians are the first ones they persecute and even kill," said Rose Tang, a Tiananmen survivor and artist. But, as one 3D printer who recently replicated Galschiøt's sculpture put it, "ideas can never be suppressed." Galschiøt's Pillar of Shame is finally an idea whose time has come. Except, rather than commemorating atrocities in spots across the globe, the monument now seems poised to become synonymous with one event above all others: the Tiananmen Square massacre and China's efforts to erase it from memory. A witness For more than two decades, anyone who visited the western edge of Hong Kong University's winding Pok Fu Lam campus would inevitably bump into Galschiøt's Pillar of Shame. It was situated off a major campus walkway, boxed inside a narrow atrium next to a popular student canteen. (Disclosure: The author teaches at Hong Kong University's journalism program.) As you looked up from your meal, your eyes would fall upon the Eiffel Tower-like heap of some 50 twisted bodies screaming in pain. Many of the faces looked like cadavers that had already breathed their last while others appeared to be in the act of dying; a man clutching a baby looked as if he was running away from some danger. Layers of thick orange paint flowed from the top down, turning yellow and peeling in places, giving the whole mass the hellish appearance of a pile of burning human flesh. The inscription "THE TIANANMEN MASSACRE" was etched in thick, blood-red letters on one side of the square base, above the date June 4, 1989. Directly to the left was another inscription that read, "the old cannot kill the young forever."Students gather around Galschiøt's Pillar of Shame sculpture in Hong Kong on October 12, 2021.Cezary Podkul for InsiderFor students who came to study here from mainland China, the pillar might be their first introduction to the Tiananmen massacre. On one side of the pillar's base, a plaque provided "A Brief History of the 1989 Beijing Pro-Democracy Movement." It recounted how the death of pro-reform Communist Party leader Hu Yaobang in April 1989 sparked mass demonstrations in favor of democratic reforms. Beijing's Tiananmen Square became a central gathering spot for students who waged a hunger strike to try to prompt a dialogue with Communist Party leaders. The government refused, declared martial law, and ultimately sent in military convoys to clear the square. On June 3 and 4, 1989, "several thousand soldiers forced their way via various routes into Beijing City, using guns and bullets to shoot unarmed citizens and students. Tanks were deployed to recover the Square," the plaque read. An official death toll was never confirmed. A 1990 report on the massacre by Amnesty International noted that Chinese authorities tallied some 200 civilian casualties, while Amnesty itself concluded that at least 1,000 people had been killed. Another more recent estimate based on a diplomatic cable declassified in 2017 pinned the number of civilian casualties at more than 10,000.Whatever the ultimate toll, there was no doubt in Rose Tang's mind that it had been a bloody day. Rose Tang in Tiananmen Square on May 21, 1989. At the time, she was a 20-year-old freshman in college.Rose Tang/HandoutTang was a freshman studying English at what was then known as the Beijing Second Foreign Languages Institute. She ditched classes in the spring of 1989 to join her classmates in Tiananmen Square to chant pro-democracy slogans, even though, she now says, she had very little idea of what democracy even meant. Her memoir of the events of June 4 describes bullets whizzing overhead, a stampede trampling over dead bodies, and the deafening noise of tanks moving in and crushing tents set up in the square. But there's one detail of the aftermath that helps explain why Galschiøt's sculpture found a loyal following in Hong Kong, which was a British colony until 1997. When Tang revisited Tiananmen Square some seven months after the massacre, she found no trace of what had happened there that day. There were no signs of blood stains or bullet holes from June 4, 1989, let alone any memorial. She walked around, trying to find proof to back up her memories. There were only a few armed soldiers patrolling the square as water trucks sprinkled water on the ground. "All I could see was the clean wet concrete ground glittering in street lights," she recalled in her memoir.Tang turned to a life of art and activism to help her cope with the events of that day. She has written poetry and music inspired by June 4, 1989, and toured with a band that performed songs that student protesters sang at Tiananmen Square. "Making music and using music to heal and mobilize people is my way of carrying on the true legacy of Tiananmen. Art is power. Performance is protest," she said.Tang eschewed making sculptures, though. "I just personally found it really hard to convey the experience of Tiananmen through visual art," she said. She admires Galschiøt for trying. Rose Tang at a Tiananmen Square massacre memorial in New York City on June 4, 2020.Thirdblade PhotographyBut something about Galschiøt's sculpture always puzzled Tang. On close inspection, the figures assembled on Galschiøt's pillar appeared to span the races. One could be excused for wondering whether this was all a mistake: A white man from Denmark created a sculpture to commemorate the killings of Chinese civilians, and he filled it with people from all over the world?'My Inner Beast'The international nature of the sculpture was precisely what Galschiøt had in mind when he began to sketch out the vision for his Pillar of Shame in the early 1990s. Galschiøt had turned to making sculptures in the 1980s after a career as a blacksmith at a Danish shipyard and a rebellious youth filled with drugs, travel, and a desire to distance himself from his father's communist sympathies. After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, he grew hopeful for a more egalitarian future but was soon dismayed by Serbian militias' mass rape of Muslim women in Bosnia and other atrocities. He became convinced that civilization is only a thin veneer that can crumble at any time and unleash an inner barbarism laid bare in such episodes. In 1993 he installed concrete sculptures of a pig dressed in a gentleman's overcoat in 20 cities across Europe. Titled "My Inner Beast," the project aimed to call attention to Europeans' mistreatment of ethnic minorities. The sculptures proved an unwelcome sight to governments that never asked for them. Most were torn down, and only a few remain standing today. Galschiøt's middle son, Kasper Galschiøt Markus, recalled eating "significantly more porridge" in the months that followed since Galschiøt nearly went broke paying for the project out of pocket. But profit wasn't the goal. The reaction to the sculpture became part of the story the art sought to tell, summarized by the motto, "It is not the foreigners but our reaction to the foreigners that threatens our civilization." Galschiøt preparing a Pillar of Shame replica.Mikkel Møller for InsiderGalschiøt began to make small models of the Pillar of Shame that same year. As the idea took shape, he assembled 7 tons of clay to create the casting mold for the sculpture.He included faces of people that represented a wide variety of races and ethnicities, hoping to create a universal symbol. Once he finished his prototype in 1996, he went looking for contacts who could help him install it in various places around the world. The Tiananmen Square massacre quickly came to mind, but he knew it would be impossible to install a pillar in Beijing. 'They made a good fight for freedom'Hong Kong offered the tantalizing possibility of a work-around. After years of negotiations, the UK was due to hand control of Hong Kong back to China on July 1, 1997.  If Galschiøt could get the pillar to Hong Kong while the city was still in British hands, China would take the sculpture with it. "At that time, we had good reason to believe that this statue would not be allowed to enter after the transition," Albert Ho, who helped Galschiøt get the pillar to Hong Kong, recalled in a later interview.Ho was a leader of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, a group founded in 1989 just before the massacre. One of the alliance's signature projects was an annual candlelight vigil commemorating Tiananmen victims. Galschiøt reached out to see whether the group would help him install a replica of the sculpture and soon he had a partner: On May 2, 1997, he packed up a copy of the pillar in a shipping container and sent it off to Hong Kong. The sculpture arrived at a Hong Kong container terminal nine days before the alliance's annual candlelight vigil in the city's sprawling Victoria Park. The alliance displayed it prominently at the June 4 vigil, which happened to coincide with Galschiøt's birthday. Afterward, the pillar was loaded onto a truck headed for Hong Kong University, where student leaders hoped to install it near their student union. Tang joined part of the march to campus, walking alongside Galschiøt. Galschiøt grew concerned as scuffles broke out between students and security guards who wouldn't let the truck through to campus. Security guards eventually relented, and the sculpture was dropped off as onlookers applauded, according to Associated Press archival footage from the night. "They made a good fight for freedom," Galschiøt told an AP reporter at the time.The pillar made the rounds to several schools around the city before the Hong Kong University student union voted in 1998 to permanently host it on its campus. Galschiøt, meanwhile, wrote a manifesto for his artwork. "My name is Jens Galschiøt. I'm a Danish artist born 1954. My new art happening the Pillar of Shame has just been launched, as the sculpture was displayed 4th June '97 in Hong Kong," began the lengthy December 1997 missive, which predicted that "over the next ten years the happening will spread over the Planet." Galschiøt listed Auschwitz, the site of the infamous Nazi death camp, and Rwanda, where a 1994 genocide had just killed an estimated 800,000 people, as two possible candidates for Pillars of Shame.Galschiøt outside his studio in Denmark.Mikkel Møller for InsiderSoon he managed to install a "Columna de la infamia" in Mexico to commemorate the 1997 killings of 45 Indigenous people in Chiapas state and a "Coluna da infâmia" in Brazil to mark the 1996 murder of 19 landless Brazilian peasants. Both sculptures made brief appearances near parliament buildings in their respective countries, elevating their visibility in Mexico and Brazil. In 1999 he outlined a grand vision to install a pillar in Berlin atop a platform covered with bronze plates notched with 10 million lines representing the victims of Nazi-era persecution (the project was too costly, and he gave up on it in late 2002). In 2012, he traveled to Iraq to explore the possibility of placing a pillar there to commemorate the victims of Saddam Hussein's mass murders of Iraqi Kurds in the 1980s (installing a sculpture in a war zone was too dangerous, though Galschiøt hopes to try again someday).Galschiøt openly mused that Hong Kong's Pillar of Shame might someday move to Beijing if political circumstances allowed it. But he acknowledged that it might just as well be removed or destroyed: "The Pillar of Shame will be a test of the validity of the new authorities' guarantees for human rights and freedom of expression in Hong Kong," he wrote in a post on his website.'The old cannot kill the young forever'Galschiøt was right about the possibility of his sculpture being removed from Hong Kong.The early signs of trouble came in April 2008, when Galschiøt flew to the city only to be denied entry. He was there to paint the pillar orange as part of a campaign to raise awareness of China's alleged human-rights abuses ahead of the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing. In Galschiøt's absence, members of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China carried out the paint job. News reports at the time described the ordeal as a test of the freedoms China had granted to Hong Kong when it took over.Hong Kongers would experience many more such tests in the years that followed. In 2014, protests erupted when China insisted on vetting any candidates for the territory's chief executive before allowing the post to be elected directly by the people. The tense 79-day standoff with pro-democracy protesters became known as the Umbrella Movement after demonstrators used umbrellas to shield themselves from the pepper spray police used to try to disperse them. The sense of togetherness and community among the protesters felt like a repeat of the 1989 Tiananmen Square movement to Tang, who flew from the US to Hong Kong to camp out with the protesters and speak up for their cause. Even larger protests shook the city in 2019 after Hong Kong leaders proposed amending the territory's extradition laws to allow criminal suspects to be sent to mainland China to stand trial. The protests grew into a broader movement against Beijing's encroachments on the freedoms guaranteed to Hong Kong under the terms of its handover from the UK. Meanwhile, Beijing readied a national-security law that would give China broad authority to stamp out dissent in Hong Kong. Even before the law took effect, in June 2020, authorities had already taken aim at Hong Kong's long tradition of commemorating the Tiananmen victims. They refused to let the alliance organize its annual June 4 vigil in 2020, citing COVID-19 restrictions. Thousands showed up anyway. In 2021, Hong Kong blocked the June 4 vigil again and put up a massive police presence to deter Hong Kongers from defying the ban. The same month, the alliance's museum commemorating the massacre was forced to shut down. Police raided the museum in September and confiscated its exhibits just a day after arresting the alliance's leaders under the guise of the national-security law. The alliance disbanded on September 25, and days later reports surfaced that the digital version of its Tiananmen Square massacre museum had been blocked in Hong Kong.  By early October, the pillar's time had come. Galschiøt wasn't formally notified that the Pillar of Shame would be removed. Mayer Brown, an American law firm representing Hong Kong University, sent a letter demanding its removal to the liquidators of the alliance (the alliance didn't actually own the sculpture; Galschiøt had always retained ownership). The October 7 letter gave the now-defunct pro-democracy group six days to remove the sculpture from the university, a publicly funded institution, or consider the pillar abandoned property that would be dealt with "at such time and in such manner" as the university saw fit. Galschiøt tried to intervene but said he couldn't get a reply to his lawyer's pleas to let him come to Hong Kong to retrieve the artwork.The sudden deadline was sandwiched between two typhoons that pummeled Hong Kong with heavy rains and winds. As the storms moved through the city, the October 13 removal deadline held firm. Hong Kongers flocked to the sculpture to bid their farewells to what many saw as one of the last vestiges of freedom of expression in the Chinese territory. "Say goodbye to freedom," one man said as he snapped a photo of the sculpture one day before the deadline. Steps away, a father took a selfie in front of the pillar with his 9-year-old daughter. Afterward, the little girl grabbed her father's phone and snapped some photos of it herself. On their way out, he pointed to the inscription "the old cannot kill the young forever" as she looked on attentively. Shortly after, it started to rain again. But the crowds kept coming.A father introduces his daughter to Galschiøt's Pillar of Shame sculpture in Hong Kong on October 12, 2021.Cezary Podkul for InsiderThe university hit a snag when Mayer Brown bowed out of the legal matter amid public outrage that an American law firm would be helping Chinese authorities stifle freedom of expression in Hong Kong. (Mayer Brown's decision prompted a former Hong Kong chief executive to call for a China-wide boycott of the law firm. Spokespeople for Mayer Brown did not respond to comment requests.) Several weeks followed when the sculpture's fate stood in a strange state of limbo; it wasn't clear when exactly it would disappear, but there was no doubt the end was near. An artists' collective known as Lady Liberty Hong Kong made use of the delay to take detailed photos of the pillar and create a three-dimensional model that could be used as a basis for 3D printing. Galschiøt, meanwhile, dusted off old molds that he had used to create smaller replicas of the Pillar of Shame in the 1990s so that he would be ready if his sculpture were removed. The limbo ended on December 22. Galschiøt had just told the workers in his workshop in Odense, Denmark, to go home early and enjoy the holiday when he got a call from a reporter seeking comment on the sculpture's removal.  The energy drained from his body; he looked like a parent who had just learned about the loss of his child, recalled his apprentice, Lauge Jakobsen. Social media lit up with footage of workers fencing off the area around the pillar so no one would witness its removal. Reporters still managed to document parts of the ordeal, which ended with a human-like fragment of the sculpture being loaded into a shipping container by a group of workers in hard hats resembling pallbearers at a funeral.The former site of the Pillar of Shame at Hong Kong University as seen the day after the monument was removed.Cezary Podkul for Insider As Galschiøt watched from a distance, all he could do was decry the university's actions. He issued a statement calling the sculpture's removal an unreasonable act of "self-immolation against private property in Hong Kong." Hong Kong University said in a statement that "no party has ever obtained any approval from the university to display the statue on campus," and the statue would be placed in storage pending legal advice on what to do with it. Galschiøt said the university has now responded to his lawyer, and he is sorting out the details of how to return the sculpture from Hong Kong. A spokeswoman for the university did not provide further details. 'Jens' biggest supporter has been the Chinese government'The sculpture's dramatic removal gave Galschiøt the kind of worldwide attention he had long hoped to bring to his international art project. "Suddenly, all the world's eyes were turned on this Pillar of Shame," recalled Jakobsen, his apprentice. "From 7 a.m. to 3 a.m. at night the phone was calling all the time, and our email was looking like a celebrity's fan email because every 10 seconds there were coming new emails."Jakobsen switched from working in Galschiøt's workshop to assisting him in the office as he juggled media requests and inquiries about how to acquire a Pillar of Shame. "Jens' biggest supporter last year has been the Chinese government," Jakobsen said during a phone interview. Galschiøt could be heard laughing beside him.Jessica Chiu was one of those requesters. The native Hong Konger, who's 32 and lives in Norway, first learned about Tiananmen Square from her high school math teacher, who would abandon his usual lesson every June and instead teach about the massacre. Later, as a student at Hong Kong University, Chiu would occasionally pass by Galschiøt's sculpture. Chiu leads a Norwegian nonprofit focused on supporting human rights in Hong Kong. The group had been interested in exhibiting Galschiøt's pillar in Norway since 2020; its removal in Hong Kong reinforced those plans. "It makes us more motivated to do it, and it just makes the impact bigger," Chiu said. Her nonprofit has already applied for permits to display the sculpture at two locations in Oslo, including a plaza near the Nobel Peace Center.Galschiøt at his gallery in Odense, Denmark.Mikkel Møller for InsiderA similar effort is taking shape to bring a copy of the pillar in the US. The most provocative spot under consideration includes a park directly across from the Chinese Embassy in Washington DC. A group of former US government officials, outraged by Mayer Brown's involvement, is spearheading the initiative, which is still in its initial planning stages, according to a person familiar with the effort. Getting a 2-ton sculpture cast and transported abroad — let alone securing a spot for it — is no easy feat, so it's unclear how many of such installations will ultimately succeed. Galschiøt estimated that making the sculpture in a full-size bronze cast costs about $800,000. To make it more affordable and easier to handle, he has started making the smaller, 8.5-foot replicas in copper using an old mold he created in the 1990s. He hopes to distribute the smaller pillars to universities around the world (and requests that schools interested in a copy contact him). He scored his first win in Budapest, Hungary, on March 2, when one of the copper replicas was installed on the site of a future Budapest campus of Fudan University. Hungary lawmakers had voted in 2021 to donate four plots of land toward the planned campus of the Shanghai-based university, which ranks as one of China's most elite schools. The move sparked criticism of Chinese influence-buying and prompted Budapest's mayor to rename streets near the proposed site after various alleged human-rights abuses committed by China. Galschiøt traveled to Budapest to personally dedicate his "a szégyen oszlopa" (Hungarian for "Pillar of Shame") near the corner of Free Hong Kong Road and Uyghur Martyrs Road.Galschiøt applies paint to a pillar, which will soon be shipped aboard.Mikkel Møller for InsiderThe use of the artwork to make political statements about China's alleged human-rights abuses could get easier thanks to the rise of 3D printing. Lady Liberty Hong Kong's three-dimensional model of the sculpture has enabled anyone with access to a 3D printer to create a copy of the sculpture without bothering with the cost and logistics of transporting it from Denmark. To make the process even more hassle-free, Galschiøt surrendered his copyright to the sculpture, writing in an open letter on Christmas Day that anyone is free to 3D print or mass-produce replicas of the pillar as long as profits go to benefit pro-democracy causes in China and Hong Kong.  A 2-foot-tall replica created using Lady Liberty's model recently showed up at a Hong Kong pro-democracy rally in Manchester, England. An even bigger version — 10 feet or taller — is set to be 3D-printed in Taiwan in time for the June 4 anniversary of the massacre. The New School for Democracy Association Taiwan, a pro-democracy group, is spearheading that effort, which is in the planning and fundraising stages, according to the project's manager.Lady Liberty itself is hoping to organize an international art tour with Galschiøt that would feature the pillar as well as the group's own signature artwork,  a symbol of the 2019 protest movement in Hong Kong known as Lady Liberty Hong Kong. The 3.5-meter-tall, crowdfunded sculpture of a woman wearing a helmet, goggles, and a respirator made the rounds to various sites across Hong Kong in 2019, including a famous summit known as Lion Rock, before being vandalized and thrown off the cliff (most likely by pro-government activists). Lady Liberty is preparing to sell small replicas of the Pillar of Shame to help fund the art tour, which would also invite other artists to participate, a spokesperson said.Galschiøt's team with a copy of the Pillar of Shame.Mikkel Møller for InsiderTang is raising her hand for the effort. She said she'd like to reunite her Tiananmen band and perform under Galschiøt's Pillar of Shame if a replica makes its way for a tour in the US. In Canada, a scrappy group of expatriate Hong Kongers created a supply chain that allows them to 3D print and ship copies of the pillar anywhere in the world. Their website, CanHKer.ca, sells a variety of Hong Kong-themed merchandise — including 3D prints of Lady Liberty Hong Kong — to fund pro-democracy causes. Proceeds from the 3D-printed pillar replicas are earmarked for organizations that help young Hong Kong refugees resettle in Canada and seek asylum, said Eric Li, who cofounded one of the groups and helped launch the merchandise website. Many of the refugees are youths who faced persecution for their pro-democracy activities, Li said. Some are depressed and feel guilty, even suicidal, for having left Hong Kong behind, he said. Others are traumatized after their violent clashes with police. "They feel they betrayed their friends because they ran away from the action," said Li, who helps arrange counseling for the youths as part of his work for one of the groups that will receive proceeds from the pillars'  sales. Art 'without interruption'There isn't much action left when it comes to protests in Hong Kong. The Beijing-imposed national-security law has succeeded in ending the mass demonstrations that gripped the city in 2019. You might find an occasional pro-democracy slogan or poster here or there, but any public artwork the government could deem subversive to Beijing is likely to quickly vanish from public view. A day after Galschiøt's pillar disappeared in December, two other Tiananmen-themed monuments were removed by universities in Hong Kong. The "Goddess of Democracy," an imitation of a sculpture created by Tiananmen Square protesters in 1989, was hauled away from the Chinese University of Hong Kong on December 24. A relief depicting the Tiananmen Square massacre was removed from the campus of Lingnan University the same day. Both artworks were created by Chen Weiming, an exiled Chinese sculptor who lives in California. Chen is now trying to repatriate the monuments from the universities and is planning to house them at a Tiananmen Square museum that he hopes to build at his sculpture park in Yermo, California. "In America, I can do anything I want to do. In China, I can't do it," Chen said.In late January, Hong Kong University covered up the last public tribute to Tiananmen victims on its campus — a hand-painted slogan on a bridge outside a dormitory. It read, "The souls of the martyrs shall forever linger despite the cold-blooded massacre. The spark of democracy shall forever glow for the demise of evil." Every year, students would touch up the paint on the 32-year-old inscription and wash the Pillar of Shame.The former site of the Pillar of Shame at Hong Kong University has been replaced with an outdoor seating area.Cezary Podkul for InsiderThe former site of the pillar is now a seating area with movable plastic furniture atop wooden planks. The area stood empty on a recent Monday evening as the clean, wet planks glittered in overhead lights. With the usual churn of a university, it won't take more than a few years for future generations of students to sit in the area without any idea of what stood here previously, or why. But nearby, another sculpture remains intact. It's a commemoration of Dr. Sun Yat-sen, widely regarded as the father of modern China, who sits calmly in a chair surrounded by a placid fishpond topped with water lilies. Sun is a rare figure in recent Chinese history, revered on both sides of the Taiwan Strait for helping to end feudal imperial monarchy in China and briefly serving as the first president of the Republic of China in 1912. Even as Hong Kong stamps out dissent, posters honoring him as a "great outlaw" invite visitors to a museum of Sun's life and legacy. The university installed Sun's statue in 2003 so students could follow his historic footprint, according to a dedication issued at the time. A sculpture of Sun Yat-sen, the father of modern China, adorns a lily pond on the Hong Kong University campus.Cezary Podkul for InsiderIt is impossible to know what Sun might say about the removal of the Pillar of Shame and other artworks in Hong Kong if he were alive today. But a speech that he gave nearly 100 years ago on Hong Kong University's campus gives a clue. In his remarks, Sun called Hong Kong and the university his "intellectual birthplace" and explained why he got his revolutionary ideas there: "Hong Kong impressed me a great deal, because there was orderly calm and because there was artistic work being done without interruption."Cezary Podkul is an award-winning investigative reporter who has written for ProPublica, The Wall Street Journal and Reuters. He teaches at Hong Kong University's Journalism and Media Studies Centre.Read the original article on Business Insider.....»»

Category: topSource: businessinsiderMar 18th, 2022

An Airbus A320 jet crash landed on the Hudson River with no fatalities 13 years ago. Now the plane is a part of a museum in Charlotte.

Captain Sullenberger's heroic life-or-death decision has become world-famous, with the accident dubbed the "Miracle on the Hudson." Miracle on the Hudson A320.Daniel Barry/Getty Images Exactly 13 years have passed since an Airbus A320 miraculously crash-landed on the Hudson River with no fatalities. Pilots Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger and Jeffrey Skiles ditched the powerless plane on the river after a bird strike. The damaged aircraft sat on display in Charlotte, North Carolina before moving to storage, but will be back in 2022. It has been 13 years since captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger and first officer Jeffrey Skiles maneuvered a fully loaded Airbus A320 jet onto the Hudson River after the plane suffered total engine failure from a bird strike.Miracle on the Hudson A320.John Roca/NY Daily News via Getty ImagesSource: BritannicaThe damaged US Airways aircraft crash-landed on the water, but, there were zero fatalities. Sullenberger's heroic life-or-death decision has become world-famous, with the accident dubbed the "Miracle on the Hudson."Sully presented with keys to the city.Timothy Fadek/Corbis via Getty ImagesSource: Britannica150 passengers were on board the plane, who evacuated after the crash at the direction of flight attendants Donna Dent, Doreen Welsh, and Sheila Dale.Flight attendants presented with keys to the city.Michael Nagle/Getty ImagesSource: Britannica, CN TravelerThe passengers were forced to stand on the wings and sit in rafts in freezing temperatures as the aircraft slowly sunk, anxiously waiting for rescue boats to arrive.Miracle on the Hudson A320.ReutersSource: Britannica, WCNC14 boats and dozens of emergency first responders and ferry crews saved the passengers within minutes of the accident. Many of the passengers had been exposed to harsh 30-degree waters.Passengers being rescued from the raft.ReutersSource: Britannica, Hudson ReporterIn an interview with WCNC in 2019, passenger Barry Leonard, who was first to exit the plane, explained the harrowing situation. "I didn't know what to do," he said. "The flight attendant said jump. So I jumped." He was in the water for about four minutes before being pulled onto a raft.Passengers stand on the wings of the ditched plane.ReutersSource: WCNCThe "miracle" grabbed the attention of people across the world and even inspired the movie Sully, where Tom Hanks played the skilled pilot.Sully, Tom Hanks, and director Clint Eastwood.ReutersSource: IMDbMoreover, the National Transportation Safety Board described the flight as "the most successful ditching in aviation history."NTSB.Ramin Talaie/Getty ImagesSource: Honeywell AerospaceAfter the NTSB determined the cause of the crash, it was clear the historic plane needed a permanent home. So, the A320 was put up for auction by insurance firm Chartis but, unfortunately, had no buyers.Miracle on the Hudson A320.Daniel Barry/Getty ImagesSource: Simple FlyingHowever, the plane was not going to be scraped. Instead, it was donated to the Carolinas Aviation Museum in Charlotte, North Carolina by the American International Group. The plane was transported via highway to its new home.Miracle on the Hudson A320.Tim Shaffer/ReutersSource: TimeSully spoke at the museum in June 2011 for the plane's arrival and was accompanied by many of the passengers and other crewmembers.Sully speaking at the museum.ReutersSource: TimeSurvivors also donated personal belongings to be on display in the museum. Moreover, several artifacts from the crash, like life vests, seat cushions, and emergency doors, are also part of the exhibit.Sully inside the Miracle on the Hudson A320.Todd Sumlin/Charlotte Observer/Tribune News Service via Getty ImagesSource: TimeThe A320 became the museum's centerpiece, complete with the damage it suffered during the crash. Visitors got the opportunity to witness the dents and breaks to the engines...Miracle on the Hudson engine.Taylor Rains/Insider...nose...Miracle on the Hudson nose.Taylor Rains/Insider...wings...Miracle on the Hudson wing.Taylor Rains/Insider...and tail.Miracle on the Hudson tail.Taylor Rains/InsiderAccording to the museum, the aircraft was a "game-changer" for revenue, with guests coming from all over to see the famous plane. What was once a niche site with mostly unknown aircraft quickly became a place of national and historic significance.Insider's Taylor Rains at the Miracle on the Hudson exhibit.Taylor Rains/InsiderSource: Charlotte ObserverNot only could visitors see the plane up close, but they could also hear from the survivors of the accident. Passengers regularly spoke at the museum, sharing their stories from that dramatic day.Insider's Taylor Rains with a Miracle on the Hudson survivor.Taylor Rains/Insider"What's amazing is there's 155 different stories from that day and I like hearing everybody else's stories, and it just makes it so miraculous," Laurie Crane told WCNC in 2019. "Some people thought we were going to die on the plane, then we thought we were going to die on the river. That we all were saved, it's just a godsend."Miracle on the Hudson passengers.Mike Coppola/FilmMagic via Getty ImagesSource: WCNCThe plane was the museum's centerpiece until 2019 when it was moved to storage after the site temporarily closed while it finds a new hangar to store its aviation collection. However, the A320 will not be gone forever.Flight 1549 items in the museum's gift-shop lobby.John Bordsen/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty ImagesSource: WCNCAccording to the museum, the aircraft will find a new home in 2022 where it will once again be on display for public viewings.Miracle on the Hudson fuselage.Taylor Rains/InsiderSource: WCNCRead the original article on Business Insider.....»»

Category: dealsSource: nytJan 15th, 2022

Why the F-14 Tomcat didn"t survive the Cold War

The F-14 Tomcat was highly advanced, but without the Soviet threat, it didn't make much sense to keep it. A specially painted F-14D Tomcat over the Persian Gulf, October 10, 2005.US Navy/Lt. j.g. Scott Timmester In the 1970s, the US had three revolutionary fighters enter service: the F-14, F-15, and F-16. The F-15 and F-16 remain in service and in production, but the F-14 has long since retired. The F-14 Tomcat was highly advanced, but without the Soviet threat, it didn't make much sense to keep it. In the 1970s, the United States had three revolutionary fighters enter service in the F-14 Tomcat, F-15 Eagle, and F-16 Fighting Falcon.Today, two of these platforms remain not only in service, but in production, with only the Top Gun F-14 relegated to museum duty.Today, plenty of airplane nerds (like this author) still count the F-14 Tomcat among their favorite aircraft of all time … so what gives? Why was Maverick's ride not only retired early by very literally being fed into the industrial shredder while the Eagle and Viper continue to roll off assembly lines to this day?The truth is, the F-14 Tomcat was a highly advanced fighter that was really purpose-built for a world-ending nuclear conflict. When you look back on the program, its challenges, and subsequent solutions, the image becomes a bit clearer.The F-14 made sense when we were on the verge of World War III … but without a Soviet boogeyman to keep Uncle Sam's pocketbook upturned and shaking, it became an incredibly expensive and sometimes problematic solution to a problem nobody had anymore. And to make matters worse, only a portion of the F-14 fleet was ever as capable as most of the world believed.But to be completely clear, it was still one hell of a jet.The F-14 Tomcat's target was Soviet bombersAnF-14D, armed with two AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles, a GBU-10 Paveway II laser-guided bomb, and a LANTIRN Pod, over Afghanistan, November 7, 2001.US Air Force/SSgt. Michael D. GaddisThe Grumman F-14 Tomcat was an incredibly capable aircraft, and with good reason. In an era before Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) had matured into the go-to nuclear weapon delivery vehicle they would become, the Tomcat was designed in large part to neuter the Soviet Union's most potent means of putting nukes on American soil: their fleet of strategic bombers.In the present tense, the idea of a foreign power flying bombers over the continental United States seems practically impossible, thanks is no small part to America's broad military footprint, advanced detection technology, and today's geopolitical climate. That wasn't the case at the peak of the Cold War.The threat posed by Soviet long-range bombers was so dire, in fact, that before air-to-air missiles had become prevalent in the 1960s, the US actually developed a rocket-propelled air-to-air nuclear weapon that would wipe out entire formations with a single launch.With the threat of Soviet bombers armed with nuclear weapons or anti-ship missiles at the forefront of their minds, Grumman designed the largest and heaviest carrier fighter in history, with a fair amount of that weight dedicated to the new Phoenix missile and the onboard systems required to leverage it.When fueled up and ready to go, the F-14 weighed in at 61,000 pounds, which is almost twice that of the future F/A-18 and quite a bit more than twice the weight of a fully-fueled F-16 Fighting Falcon.Despite all of that heft, the Tomcat still needed to be fast, so Grumman paired the F-14 with Pratt & Whitney's TF30 engines originally fitted to the F-111B they had failed to sell the Navy on. Each engine could produce 14,560 pounds of thrust under military power, with the afterburner kicking output up to 25,100 pounds.All told, the F-14 could use that combined 50,000+ pounds of thrust to push the aircraft to an astonishing Mach 2.3, and its variable-sweep wing design gave it excellent handling at both the low speeds required for carrier landings and the high speeds needed to intercept Ivan before he could deploy his anti-ship missiles toward an American carrier.Thanks to that variable-sweep wing design, the F-14 could turn tighter than most of its capable 4th-generation competition, including the small and nimble F-16 under the right circumstances. That meant it could not only cover ground quickly to engage Soviet bombers, the Tomcat really could dogfight and win if called upon to do so.'A nice aircraft powered by two pieces of junk'Sailors aboard USS Abraham Lincoln prepare an F-14D for flight operations during Operation Iraqi Freedom, March 24, 2003.US Navy/Photographer's Mate 3rd Class Michael S. KellyFor all its capability, the Tomcat could also be troublesome. The TF30 engines were indeed powerful, but they were also arguably too sensitive for the job.They'd been designed for an even heavier application in the 80,000 pound F-111B, but that platform was more bomber than fighter. Bombers need powerful engines to carry their payloads at combat speeds, but they also have very different flight envelopes than fighters.When operated at high angles of attack, or when the pilot adjusted the throttle position quickly (both common facets of the air combat the jet was built for but uncommon in bomber missions), the engines were prone to compressor stalls. This issue led some to call the Tomcat, "a nice aircraft powered by two pieces of junk.""From the very start you essentially teach the pilots to fly the engine as a priority over flying the airplane," Capt. Lee Tillotson, the Navy's F14 program coordinator, told The Washington Post in 1984."The pilot has to be very aware of what he does with the throttle at all times."More troubling still, with the engines mounted a vast 9 feet apart to allow for greater lift and more weapons carriage space, a stall in one engine could throw the aircraft into an often unrecoverable flat spin. These issues led to the loss of a whopping 40 F-14s in all.But it wasn't just the stall issue plaguing the engine's in Maverick's ride. The turbine blades inside the engine were also prone to failure long before their anticipated service life expired, causing catastrophic damage to the engine and putting pilots' lives at risk.Navy Secretary John F. Lehman Jr. went on to say the TF30 engine "in the F-14 is probably the worst engine-airplane mismatch we have had in many years. The TF30 engine is just a terrible engine and has accounted for 28.2 percent of all F14 crashes."Today, we may look back on the F-14 with wistful awe, remembering how it was the only fighter that could stand toe-to-toe with the (fictional) MiG-28. But when it was in service, not everybody loved the Tomcat."The sooner we are out of it, the happier I will be," Lehman told Congress in 1984. "I guess the good news is that all the Iranian F-14s have the TF30, too."In 1987, F-14s began receiving new engines in the General Electric F110, which offered more thrust and eliminated many of the reliability problems associated with the TF30.These improved F-14Bs and the subsequent F-14Ds were very much the Tomcat of "Top Gun" fame, and as a result, you'll often find Tomcat fans dismissing the TF30's woes as a problem specific to the F-14A in the early days of operation.The truth is, a yoyoing budget made the transition from the TF30 to the F110 slow going.By 1996, nine years after the F110 entered service in the F-14, the Navy F-14 fleet included just 126 Tomcats with the new GE engines, while the other 212 were still flying on the troublesome TF30. In fact, F-14A's running the TF30 were still flying for the Navy until as late as 2004.The problem with a variable-sweep wing designA F-14 during flight testing.US Navy/San Diego Air and Space MuseumThe F-14's variable-sweep wing design is one of the aircraft's most striking visual characteristics, and there's no denying that the premise behind it makes sense. The wings could vary from 20 degrees to 68 degrees while airborne to allow for the best possible flight characteristics at both low and high speeds.Wing positioning was controlled automatically by the Central Air Data Computer onboard, ensuring the wings were positioned for the best possible lift-to-drag ratio for each situation, but they could also be controlled manually by the pilot.As you can imagine, a system that capable and advanced was not only complicated and heavy, it also required quite a bit of upkeep. Depending on the Navy estimate, the F-14 Tomcat required between 30 hours and 60 hours of maintenance for every one hour it spent in the air.The high prices associated with maintaining the complicated sweep-wing systems is often cited as one of the most pressing reasons for the Tomcat's early retirement when compared to its American fighter peers.But while maintenance costs may have been the biggest issue with the F-14's wings, price wasn't the only thing people complained about.While adjustments to wing position were rapid and automatic, pilots training against Tomcats in F-15s and F-16s soon began reporting that the shifts in wing position helped them quickly assess the F-14's energy state and momentum during maneuvers.Like a boxer telegraphing his punch, the F-14 Tomcat telegraphed its maneuvers, making them easier for skilled and experienced opponents to read and predict.The Phoenix missile wasn't much use against fightersAnF-14A launching an AIM-54 Phoenix missile in 1991.US NavyHad the Navy been forced to put their F-14s in to combat, it's likely the branch would have lost more aircraft to engine failures than it would have to enemy fire, and even its incredible Phoenix missile was unlikely to change that fact.While later F-14 iterations like the F-14B and F-14D came with better engines, a digital cockpit, and improved avionics, a good portion of the fleet operated sub-standard TF30 engines for the majority of the fighter's service life.These jets were limited to just 6.5G maneuvers in order to alleviate concerns about the compressor stalls in the engines, but that put the Tomcat at a distinct disadvantage against modern fighters like the F-15, which were rated to exceed 9 Gs.Some, however, still contended that the F-14 Tomcat didn't need to be acrobatic thanks to its amazing new weapon system: the Phoenix missile.The famed AIM-54 Phoenix missile and AN/AWG-9 radar developed specifically to leverage it really does deserve the respect its gained over the years.The AN/AWG-9 radar could identify and track up to six targets from 100 miles out, and when armed with six AIM-54 Pheonix missiles, the F-14 could deploy all of its weapons in just 38 seconds. It was an air-to-air weapon without equal in its day, but it just wasn't really intended for use against enemy fighters.The AIM-54 Phoenix was 13 feet long, 15 inches in diameter, and technically had a maximum range of 125 miles (though targeting was limited to 100). It was dropped like a bomb before igniting its massive engine, which would immediately propel the missile up to 80,000 feet where it would close with its target and use its kinetic energy to guide it down into its intended target.This approach to long-range engagements would work against large, slow moving, prop-driven bombers like those employed by the Soviet Union but weren't much use against faster and more nimble fighters. Covering such long distances just gave enemy fighters too much opportunity to recognize that they were targeted and take sufficient evasive action.In January 1999, two F-14s each fired one Phoenix missile at two Iraqi MiG-25s, only to have both miss. Later that same year, another F-14 fired a Phoenix at a MiG-23, only to miss once again. No F-14 ever shot down an enemy aircraft with the missile it was designed to carry.The F-14 made the F-35 seem like a bargainAn F-14D performs a fly-by past USS Dwight D. Eisenhower in the Atlantic Ocean, June 19, 2006.US Navy/Photographer's Mate Airman Dale MillerWhen we hear discussion about the F-14 being an expensive aircraft, it almost rings hallow in this era of trillion-dollar fighter programs like Lockheed Martin's F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, but just like it's hard to compare box office returns for movies released decades apart, inflation has a way of robbing the shock value from dated figures.So in the interest of context, let's convert these F-14 price points to 2021 figures.The Navy's first batch of F-14As rang in at $38 million per aircraft in 1973. That sounds pretty cheap compared to around $88 million for a new F-15EX these days, but when you adjust that number to reflect nearly five decades of inflation, you get a downright shocking figure of more than $234 million per F-14 Tomcat.The F-35's initial production run per-unit cost was also quite high, but still more than $10 million less than the Tomcat, at $221 million per fighter. By 1988, 13 years later, the F-14D cost $74 million per airframe, which adjusted for inflation brings the Tomcat's price down to $171 million per aircraft in today's dollars.Last year marked 13 years since the F-35's first production batch, with per-unit prices of the F-35A now at around $78 million per airframe — $93 million less than the F-14 per jet.When you see these numbers for what they really are, you begin to appreciate just how potent a threat the United States saw Soviet bombers to be. These prices were considered justifiable as a means of staving off the end of the world, but after the fall of the Soviet Union, the apocalypse seemed to be on hold for the foreseeable future.The F-14 Tomcat was anything but junkAn F-14D aboard USS Theodore Roosevelt completes the final catapult launch of an F-14, July 28, 2006.US Navy/MCS3 Nathan LairdIf you started reading this article with a special place in your heart reserved for the F-14, you may be grinding your teeth by now — but it's important to remember that being expensive and problematic doesn't mean the Tomcat wasn't also a mind-boggling performer with no real peer in its era. Again, it pays to draw comparisons between Maverick's fighter and the modern F-35.Today, you don't have to go far to find people calling the F-35 a failure because of cost over-runs, production delays, and some early reports of the fighter's poor performance against older jets. The people you won't find calling the F-35 a failure, however, are the men and women who fly the 5th-generation powerhouse in combat.The F-35 is just too different to grade using the same metrics we use for fighters like the F-15. It relies on technology, not brute force, to win fights — and effective as that approach may be, it doesn't make for exciting press releases.The F-14 Tomcat also had a troubled development run and sometimes got beat up by America's other fighters in wargames, but like the F-35 … it was built to do things no other fighter was capable of doing at the time.When the F-14 first took to the skies, it was bigger, heavier, and could carry more ordnance than any carrier fighter in history. It could track and engage enemy bombers from triple-digit ranges in a time when many national Air Forces were still focused on guns and cannons for air-to-air fighting. Through subsequent upgrades, it was on the cutting edge of avionic systems and eventually even picked up respectable air-to-ground capabilities like its multi-role peers.But reaching so far ahead is expensive … and ultimately, it's dollars and cents that dictate the makeup of America's fighter fleets. Could the F-14 have been modernized, upgraded, and improved to still be flying today? Of course it could. But like the bringing the F-22 Raptor back from the dead … sometimes it would cost more to keep a really good older fighter than it would cost to design and build a great new one.The F-14 may have had a short shelf-life compared to some of its sister jets of the 70s, but there's no denying … the mighty Tomcat's presence had lasting effects on naval aviation and even on foreign relations around the world.The F-15 and F-16 may have gotten to stick around longer, but the F-14 will always be the Top Gun for some of us.Read the original article on Business Insider.....»»

Category: topSource: businessinsiderNov 17th, 2021

Visiting the gulag where my grandfather was tortured, but didn"t officially exist

My grandfather was held at Bulgaria's most notorious gulag. This summer, I saw it for the first time. A Belene survivor crosses the bridge across the Danube that connects the town of Belene and Persin island in 2015. Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP via Getty Images) This summer, Tana Ganeva traveled to Belene, Bulgaria's most notorious prison camp, where her grandfather was held in the 1950s. Bulgaria has effectively buried the history of its Communist-era gulags, where thousands were starved, tortured, and killed. Ganeva's grandfather attempted to escape Bulgaria four times, before making it to California. See more stories on Insider's business page. The island of Persin is a bird-watcher's paradise. Set on the Danube River, which divides Bulgaria and Romania, it's a nature park covered in wetlands and home to hundreds of rare bird species: the spoonbill, the pygmy cormorant, the corncrake, as well as herons, eagles, storks, and pelicans. Amid the natural beauty, it's jarring to consider that this was the location of a concentration camp where thousands of Bulgarian political prisoners were brutalized and killed from 1949 to 1953 - and in some cases for years after that. Though it's officially known as Belene after the quiet Bulgarian village that sits 750 feet away on the mainland, old-timers here call it by another name: the Island of Death.My stepgrandfather, Georgi Tutunjiev, was sent here at age 24 and spent four years and three months interred at Belene after someone (he suspected his ex-wife) told the authorities of his plan to escape the country. In his notebooks - he had planned to write a memoir about Belene but never did before he died in 2011 at 87 - he remembered the place as "brutal facilities for re-education," where he'd endured "indescribable physical and psychological abuse." He finally managed to escape Bulgaria in 1966 and settle with my grandma in California. In 1989, my parents and I left Bulgaria and joined my grandparents in California, thanks to the family-reunification policy. While many survivors of trauma shut down, my grandfather never stopped talking about the gulag. He seemed to have an unending loop of stories about Belene. For my immediate family, it could be exhausting, and we were alarmed to discover his extensive gun collection, which my grandmother gamely dismissed as a coping mechanism. But guests who came to the house were often riveted by his dark tales, which he mixed with his sense of humor. "Jeko! The Communistie shot you!" he'd shout at his terrier mix, and the dog would sprawl on his back, playing dead. An aerial view of Persin island. The gulag was known as Belene, after the nearby town. Tsvetomir Nikolaev I've come to the town of Belene on a brutally hot day in August for a tour of the Island of Death. I meet Nedyalka Toncheva, who works for the Belene Island Foundation, a nonprofit that organizes tours of the island, close to the bank of the Danube.We cross a rickety water bridge on foot and then jump aboard a Jeep driven by a 24-year-old Belene native named Peter. Toncheva, who is 35, is passionate and knowledgeable about the island's flora and fauna. Every few minutes, she tells Peter to stop the car to point out a roosting stork or a water eagle. She talks about her plans to make Persin a tourist destination comparable to Borovets, a ski resort with luxury hotels in the Rila mountains; or Koprivchitsa, a living museum honoring the Bulgarian rebels who mounted an uprising in 1876 against the Ottoman Empire.In the three decades since the fall of communism, Bulgaria has effectively buried the history of its many gulags, which operated mostly in the 1950s during the early, and most violent, days of Communist rule in the country. In Belene itself, many lower-level guards came from the village and a former mayor was also the gulag's first superintendent. It's not surprising that the village doesn't advertise its history.After 1989, survivors who had been forced to sign documents promising to never talk about the camps started speaking out. For a brief time, they became the subjects of documentaries and newspaper profiles. But soon, the consensus was that it was better to move on. An interior minister tasked with investigating the camps instead secretly ordered a purge of thousands of pages of documents - 40% of the government record. While Bulgaria's defeat of the Ottomans is central to the national identity, and much is made of the fact that Bulgaria saved its Jews during the Holocaust, the memory of the Communist era is more fraught. Georgi Tutunjiev, the author's grandfather, in around 1977. Tana Ganeva Peculiar for a tour, most of our stops lead us to what's not left of the camp. The shacks where prisoners slept have been razed - there's no trace of them.At the entrance, in what is now an open field, an inscription says, "To be human is to have dignity." From inside the camp - what would have been visible to the internees - the engraving says, "If the enemy doesn't surrender, he is destroyed." But no one I've talked to knows whether it's the original or has been recreated. There are a few abandoned, falling-apart buildings, but those were built in 1959, six years after the camp's official (but not real) closing, when it was converted into a prison, in part to kill rumors that it had operated as a secret gulag. Todor Zhivkov, the Communist premier who took power in 1954 and stayed on until 1989, reopened it in the 1980s to detain Muslims who refused to take on Slavic names in place of their own - a disastrous bid to assimilate them. I ask Toncheva whether there's a list of everyone who was held in the camp. I'm thinking of my grandfather and wondering whether there's any documentation. She tells me everyone who comes here for the camp asks the same question."There's no way to know, no list," Toncheva says, apologetic. "There's almost no proof the camp even existed."'Perfectly calculated by Satan himself'The first contingent of 300 men arrived at the Belene camp in the summer of 1949, five years after the 1944 Communist coup. My grandfather, then 24, arrived that first winter. A camp for women was founded on an adjacent island soon after.It was modeled after Josef Stalin's gulags in Siberia. Most of the prisoners had been dragged from their homes by the military police and sent here without trial. (Estimates vary, but 20,000 to 40,000 people were thought to be murdered by the Bulgarian Communist Party.) Even Stalin eventually warned them to scale down the killing of prominent oppositional figures or risk creating martyrs.The first wave of prisoners had to hack through the unpopulated island and build small shacks that were so crowded the prisoners didn't have room to lie down. In his history of the camp, Borislav Skotchev wrote that the island was dotted with towers manned by guards with machine guns. A survivor of Belene during a commemoration ceremony in 2015. Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP via Getty Images) The men held here included the former leader of the Social Democrats, Orthodox priests (many in their 70s), and the mayor of Bulgaria's capital, Sofia. Tsveti Ivanov, the editor of the newspaper Svoboden Narod, or Free People, was sent to Belene after serving 10 months in prison. He was beaten so brutally that he got tetanus from his wounds and died in the compound. Much of what we know about the place comes from survivors' memoirs. They were fed a thin soup, sometimes with a handful of beans thrown in. Their bread ration - moldy or stale when it made its way to them - was small, and could be withheld by the guards as punishment. Sometimes they got tea. My grandfather told me that, in the winter, both the soup and the tea were given to them already frozen.When Toncheva takes us on a brief walk to go look at storks, the ground gives off wet heat, and brambles and thorns claw at us, as if the island is alive and doesn't want us there. I think of the people who had to work days and nights, in sweltering summers, devoured by mosquitoes. It's unbelievable that anyone survived.An internal CIA document described the grim situation of starving prisoners. "A frequent sight is that of a prisoner eating raw green leaves and roots," it said. "To be caught doing this, however, would result in 10 days in detention in a dungeon for such an offense." The lucky ones got packages from family, though those were often taken by guards. Many had little choice but to choke down the rotting carcasses of wild cats, killed and skinned for their fur by the villagers, or pick through horse dung for undigested barley. According to a CIA information report from March 13, 1952, during one brutal winter 30 prisoners died of cold or starvation."It was an Inferno circle, perfectly calculated by Satan himself," Liliana Pirinchiva, one of the female survivors of Belene, wrote in her memoir. "We were reduced to skeletons." A group of Bulgarian anarchists. Tsvetana Dzhermanova Then there were the guards, who brought an especially sadistic approach to their work. Some would chase packs of prisoners on horseback, letting their rifles off "as if we were a flock of sheep," wrote Stefan Botchev, a survivor. When he got a severe case of scabies, the mites burrowing into his skin, he was locked up in a shed alone because the guards didn't want him to infect the cows. He recalled seeing a beating so severe that a prisoner's spine was broken, turning him into a "reptile crawling on the ground."Kouni Genchev Kounev, the chairman of the Bulgarian Youth Agrarian Union who also survived Belene, recalled one especially brutal punishment, in which the guards would pull back a prisoner's head and strike him in the trachea. They called it the "sword stroke."Years later, Krum Horozov, a survivor, would draw water colors of the camp from memory - it's virtually the only visual documentation that exists. In 2011, six years before his death, Horozov wrote: "And when we die, which will be soon, who will remember what happened on that island in the 1950s, and will they know that people were sent there without a trial and sentence?"Lilia Topouzova, a historian in Toronto who writes about the history and the memory of the camps, recalls meeting Horozov at an academic conference; he was trying to give away copies of his drawings of Belene to university students, but they avoided him as if he were a pesky street vendor.The CricketAt 93, Tsvetana Dzhermanova is the last known survivor of the women's camp, which was known as Shturets, or Cricket. We're sitting outside her home in the mountain village of Leskovets, and she's talking so fast I wonder how she manages to breathe.She smiles and laughs a lot, and she reminds me of my grandfather, who also spoke with the speed of a motorboat, frantic to tell his story."I promised to outlive the Communistie, and here I am!" she boasts. (My grandfather also took an understandable delight at outliving the Communistie. "I survived the Communistie, but I won't survive old age," he once told me, when I was 25 and had no idea about either.) Tsvetana Dzhermanova. Tsvetana Dzhermanova Dzhermanova was an anarchist in the 1950s, and still is today. "That's my personal ideology," she says. "I'm not sure humans are evolved enough to make either anarchism or socialism work the way they should, but for me, anarchism is it. Because I value freedom, family, friendship, and love."When she first heard about anarchism as a teenager, she asked her mother what it meant. "Anarchists are the people all regimes persecute," her mother had replied. That sold her. Dzhermanova joined a village group. She had no designs on power (detesting it) and mostly spent her time reading anarchist literature and working on a community vegetable garden. She estimates that 800 anarchists from the town were swept up in a night and sent to the gulags."We sang songs while we worked," Dzhermanova tells me. "That helped." Last spring the sprightly nonagenarian made the three-hour trip to Belene to speak with a group of students about the camps. "They had no idea about this. They were really surprised," she says. "No one had ever talked to them about it, and they don't learn about it in school."'Out of Fashion'Toncheva and our driver, Peter, walk through a falling-down building that was constructed in 1959, in part to hide evidence of the camp. It's covered in bird shit. Plant life is taking over its rotted remnants, and old decayed furniture has been abandoned here and there. We talk about how nobody talks about the camp.Peter tells us that despite having spent almost his entire life roughly 750 feet from Persin, in Belene village, he learned about the camp only two weeks earlier, when Toncheva hired him as a driver for her tours."To think they only gave them bread and water, and made them work so hard," he says, shaking his head in disbelief. A crumbling building built on the site of Belene. Stoyan Nenov/Reuters As far as Toncheva knows, no one from her family was held here, but she remembers asking her grandmother about the island when she was a teenager and again after reading the memoirs of survivors. "Shhh. Don't talk so much about this," her grandmother would say. "You don't want to bring trouble."There are rumors of a mass grave near Persin. Mikhail Mikailev, the head of the Belene Island Foundation, wants to find it. But money for the equipment required to find and dig up the remains eludes this two-person staff.Unlike Peter and Toncheva, my parents, who were born in the mid-1950s and grew up in Bulgaria, tell me that in the 1970s and 1980s, all their friends in Sofia knew about Belene. "We all heard the stories," my mother says.But for the authorities, maintaining official denial was worth murder.In 1969, the celebrated Bulgarian writer Georgi Markov defected to the West, where he wrote about the regime's abuses. In one essay, Markov described traveling on a boat down the Danube and approaching Belene. "I remembered how, feet dangling over the edge of the boat, a youth with a guitar once sang a strange song: Danube, white river, how quiet you flow / Danube, black river, what anguish you know." A view of Persin island. Tsvetomir Nikolaev On a rainy afternoon in London, a man jabbed the tip of his umbrella into Markov's leg. Later, Markov noticed what looked like a small bug bite but didn't think much of it. A few days later he was dead, most likely poisoned by the Bulgarian secret service.Before my visit to Belene, I met Topouzova, the historian, over Zoom to talk about the erasure of the camps in Bulgaria's consciousness. While former generals wrote best-sellers, the owner of a prominent bookstore dismissed any interest in survivors' memoirs - they were "out of fashion," he had told her.It was gaslighting in its purest form. And it showed how we're all so prone to the "just world" fallacy, a phenomenon where if something is too horribly unjust, the human brain just kind of moves on. It's not all that hard to bury inconvenient truths."It turned out that aging men and women with fragmented memories of bygone violence did not make for the faces of change," Topouzova wrote in a recent paper titled "On Silence and History" for the American Historical Association. "The interned were rendered nonexistent - their experiences and memories fated to vanish along with the files." A pile of stonesNations define themselves by their monuments. The memorial in downtown Manhattan demands that we never forget the victims of 9/11. In the past few years, American activists have torn Confederate statues from their perches, signaling a break with the passive acceptance of the history of slavery. Yet grappling with unpleasant history isn't easy. It was only in 2018 when a museum honoring the Black victims of lynching opened in Alabama. The 1619 Project, which posits that the history of the United States is rooted in slavery, has spurred a massive backlash. School districts have banned children's books about Rosa Parks. Vaunted democracies are as likely to try to bury inconvenient truths as former communist states. At an exhibition in Sofia in 2009, Belene survivors look at images of the gulag's victims. Stoyan Nenov/Reuters In Bulgaria, there are monuments everywhere. From the smallest village to Sofia, the heroes of Bulgaria's uprising against the Ottoman Empire are eternalized in stone. In Plovdiv, a giant sculpture overlooks Bulgaria's second-largest city that honors "Alyosha," an everyman Soviet soldier who helped "liberate" Bulgaria in the 1940s - even though many Bulgarians see that period as Soviet imperialism, much like the Ottoman Empire's 500 years of occupation.The victims of Belene and the other camps have no such honor. The Belene foundation does the best it can. They helped organize an art exhibit, where Korozov's pencil drawings were tacked onto the walls of the decaying structures that had been erected to mask evidence of the gulag. A man places photos of famous victims of Soviet policy in front of the Monument to the Soviet Army in Sofia, Bulgaria in 2014. Hristo Vladev/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images There is one modest monument on the island. It's an abstract stone structure, and you'd have no idea what it was if you didn't already know the history. The original idea was to build a monument that listed the names of all the known internees, something like the Vietnam wall on the Mall in Washington. But the survivors and their families who pooled their resources to build it ran out of money, and no one, including the Bulgarian government, stepped in to help. (The survivors also hoped to open a museum and to recreate the shacks where they were held, but that hasn't happened either.)My grandfather's escape Dzhermanova, the 93-year-old anarchist - and eternal optimist, apparently - has hope that younger people will dig up the buried history.As for my grandfather, his ex-wife (or whoever it was who betrayed him to the authorities) was right that he wanted to escape Bulgaria.After his release from Belene in 1953, that resolve was so much stronger. "After 4 years and three months in the Island of Death, I became determined to go to my real home: America," he explained in his notebooks. The author with her grandfather and grandmother, Tsvetana Tutunjieva. Tana Ganeva As he detailed it, it would take four harrowing attempts. Soon after his release from Belene, he managed to make it into Yugoslavia during a "sabor" - a temporary loosening of borders so family and friends in the two countries could see each other. But he got caught and was thrown into a Yugoslavian jail.From there, he organized an inmate breakout after bribing the guard dog, Jeko, with his dinner. But he and the other prisoners were caught in the woods, and the Yugoslavian authorities gave them up to the Bulgarian authorities in exchange for 10 cows. "They weren't even very good cows - scrawny," he wrote.Several years later, he tried to cross Bulgaria's mountainous border into Greece, but he was caught once again.Finally, he made it into Austria and then Germany by clinging to the underside of a freight train. And then on to California, where he gave his new dog a familiar name: Jeko.Tana Ganeva writes about policing, prisons and criminal justice. She's currently working on a book about escapees from the Soviet bloc. Read the original article on Business Insider.....»»

Category: topSource: businessinsiderSep 27th, 2021

The Island of Death: Visiting the gulag where my grandfather was tortured, but didn"t officially exist

My grandfather was held at Bulgaria's most notorious gulag. This summer, I saw it for the first time. A Belene survivor crosses the bridge across the Danube that connects the town of Belene and Persin island in 2015. Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP via Getty Images) This summer, Tana Ganeva traveled to Belene, Bulgaria's most notorious prison camp, where her grandfather was held in the 1950s. Bulgaria has effectively buried the history of its Communist-era gulags, where thousands were starved, tortured, and killed. Ganeva's grandfather attempted to escape Bulgaria four times, before making it to California. See more stories on Insider's business page. The island of Persin is a bird-watcher's paradise. Set on the Danube River, which divides Bulgaria and Romania, it's a nature park covered in wetlands and home to hundreds of rare bird species: the spoonbill, the pygmy cormorant, the corncrake, as well as herons, eagles, storks, and pelicans. Amid the natural beauty, it's jarring to consider that this was the location of a concentration camp where thousands of Bulgarian political prisoners were brutalized and killed from 1949 to 1953 - and in some cases for years after that. Though it's officially known as Belene after the quiet Bulgarian village that sits 750 feet away on the mainland, old-timers here call it by another name: the Island of Death.My stepgrandfather, Georgi Tutunjiev, was sent here at age 24 and spent four years and three months interred at Belene after someone (he suspected his ex-wife) told the authorities of his plan to escape the country. In his notebooks - he had planned to write a memoir about Belene but never did before he died in 2011 at 87 - he remembered the place as "brutal facilities for re-education," where he'd endured "indescribable physical and psychological abuse." He finally managed to escape Bulgaria in 1966 and settle with my grandma in California. In 1989, my parents and I left Bulgaria and joined my grandparents in California, thanks to the family-reunification policy. While many survivors of trauma shut down, my grandfather never stopped talking about the gulag. He seemed to have an unending loop of stories about Belene. For my immediate family, it could be exhausting, and we were alarmed to discover his extensive gun collection, which my grandmother gamely dismissed as a coping mechanism. But guests who came to the house were often riveted by his dark tales, which he mixed with his sense of humor. "Jeko! The Communistie shot you!" he'd shout at his terrier mix, and the dog would sprawl on his back, playing dead. An aerial view of Persin island. The gulag was known as Belene, after the nearby town. Tsvetomir Nikolaev I've come to the town of Belene on a brutally hot day in August for a tour of the Island of Death. I meet Nedyalka Toncheva, who works for the Belene Island Foundation, a nonprofit that organizes tours of the island, close to the bank of the Danube.We cross a rickety water bridge on foot and then jump aboard a Jeep driven by a 24-year-old Belene native named Peter. Toncheva, who is 35, is passionate and knowledgeable about the island's flora and fauna. Every few minutes, she tells Peter to stop the car to point out a roosting stork or a water eagle. She talks about her plans to make Persin a tourist destination comparable to Borovets, a ski resort with luxury hotels in the Rila mountains; or Koprivchitsa, a living museum honoring the Bulgarian rebels who mounted an uprising in 1876 against the Ottoman Empire.In the three decades since the fall of communism, Bulgaria has effectively buried the history of its many gulags, which operated mostly in the 1950s during the early, and most violent, days of Communist rule in the country. In Belene itself, many lower-level guards came from the village and a former mayor was also the gulag's first superintendent. It's not surprising that the village doesn't advertise its history.After 1989, survivors who had been forced to sign documents promising to never talk about the camps started speaking out. For a brief time, they became the subjects of documentaries and newspaper profiles. But soon, the consensus was that it was better to move on. An interior minister tasked with investigating the camps instead secretly ordered a purge of thousands of pages of documents - 40% of the government record. While Bulgaria's defeat of the Ottomans is central to the national identity, and much is made of the fact that Bulgaria saved its Jews during the Holocaust, the memory of the Communist era is more fraught. Georgi Tutunjiev, the author's grandfather, in around 1977. Tana Ganeva Peculiar for a tour, most of our stops lead us to what's not left of the camp. The shacks where prisoners slept have been razed - there's no trace of them.At the entrance, in what is now an open field, an inscription says, "To be human is to have dignity." From inside the camp - what would have been visible to the internees - the engraving says, "If the enemy doesn't surrender, he is destroyed." But no one I've talked to knows whether it's the original or has been recreated. There are a few abandoned, falling-apart buildings, but those were built in 1959, six years after the camp's official (but not real) closing, when it was converted into a prison, in part to kill rumors that it had operated as a secret gulag. Todor Zhivkov, the Communist premier who took power in 1954 and stayed on until 1989, reopened it in the 1980s to detain Muslims who refused to take on Slavic names in place of their own - a disastrous bid to assimilate them. I ask Toncheva whether there's a list of everyone who was held in the camp. I'm thinking of my grandfather and wondering whether there's any documentation. She tells me everyone who comes here for the camp asks the same question."There's no way to know, no list," Toncheva says, apologetic. "There's almost no proof the camp even existed."'Perfectly calculated by Satan himself'The first contingent of 300 men arrived at the Belene camp in the summer of 1949, five years after the 1944 Communist coup. My grandfather, then 24, arrived that first winter. A camp for women was founded on an adjacent island soon after.It was modeled after Josef Stalin's gulags in Siberia. Most of the prisoners had been dragged from their homes by the military police and sent here without trial. (Estimates vary, but 20,000 to 40,000 people were thought to be murdered by the Bulgarian Communist Party.) Even Stalin eventually warned them to scale down the killing of prominent oppositional figures or risk creating martyrs.The first wave of prisoners had to hack through the unpopulated island and build small shacks that were so crowded the prisoners didn't have room to lie down. In his history of the camp, Borislav Skotchev wrote that the island was dotted with towers manned by guards with machine guns. A survivor of Belene during a commemoration ceremony in 2015. Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP via Getty Images) The men held here included the former leader of the Social Democrats, Orthodox priests (many in their 70s), and the mayor of Bulgaria's capital, Sofia. Tsveti Ivanov, the editor of the newspaper Svoboden Narod, or Free People, was sent to Belene after serving 10 months in prison. He was beaten so brutally that he got tetanus from his wounds and died in the compound. Much of what we know about the place comes from survivors' memoirs. They were fed a thin soup, sometimes with a handful of beans thrown in. Their bread ration - moldy or stale when it made its way to them - was small, and could be withheld by the guards as punishment. Sometimes they got tea. My grandfather told me that, in the winter, both the soup and the tea were given to them already frozen.When Toncheva takes us on a brief walk to go look at storks, the ground gives off wet heat, and brambles and thorns claw at us, as if the island is alive and doesn't want us there. I think of the people who had to work days and nights, in sweltering summers, devoured by mosquitoes. It's unbelievable that anyone survived.An internal CIA document described the grim situation of starving prisoners. "A frequent sight is that of a prisoner eating raw green leaves and roots," it said. "To be caught doing this, however, would result in 10 days in detention in a dungeon for such an offense." The lucky ones got packages from family, though those were often taken by guards. Many had little choice but to choke down the rotting carcasses of wild cats, killed and skinned for their fur by the villagers, or pick through horse dung for undigested barley. According to a CIA information report from March 13, 1952, during one brutal winter 30 prisoners died of cold or starvation."It was an Inferno circle, perfectly calculated by Satan himself," Liliana Pirinchiva, one of the female survivors of Belene, wrote in her memoir. "We were reduced to skeletons." A group of Bulgarian anarchists. Tsvetana Dzhermanova Then there were the guards, who brought an especially sadistic approach to their work. Some would chase packs of prisoners on horseback, letting their rifles off "as if we were a flock of sheep," wrote Stefan Botchev, a survivor. When he got a severe case of scabies, the mites burrowing into his skin, he was locked up in a shed alone because the guards didn't want him to infect the cows. He recalled seeing a beating so severe that a prisoner's spine was broken, turning him into a "reptile crawling on the ground."Kouni Genchev Kounev, the chairman of the Bulgarian Youth Agrarian Union who also survived Belene, recalled one especially brutal punishment, in which the guards would pull back a prisoner's head and strike him in the trachea. They called it the "sword stroke."Years later, Krum Horozov, a survivor, would draw water colors of the camp from memory - it's virtually the only visual documentation that exists. In 2011, six years before his death, Horozov wrote: "And when we die, which will be soon, who will remember what happened on that island in the 1950s, and will they know that people were sent there without a trial and sentence?"Lilia Topouzova, a historian in Toronto who writes about the history and the memory of the camps, recalls meeting Horozov at an academic conference; he was trying to give away copies of his drawings of Belene to university students, but they avoided him as if he were a pesky street vendor.The CricketAt 93, Tsvetana Dzhermanova is the last known survivor of the women's camp, which was known as Shturets, or Cricket. We're sitting outside her home in the mountain village of Leskovets, and she's talking so fast I wonder how she manages to breathe.She smiles and laughs a lot, and she reminds me of my grandfather, who also spoke with the speed of a motorboat, frantic to tell his story."I promised to outlive the Communistie, and here I am!" she boasts. (My grandfather also took an understandable delight at outliving the Communistie. "I survived the Communistie, but I won't survive old age," he once told me, when I was 25 and had no idea about either.) Tsvetana Dzhermanova. Tsvetana Dzhermanova Dzhermanova was an anarchist in the 1950s, and still is today. "That's my personal ideology," she says. "I'm not sure humans are evolved enough to make either anarchism or socialism work the way they should, but for me, anarchism is it. Because I value freedom, family, friendship, and love."When she first heard about anarchism as a teenager, she asked her mother what it meant. "Anarchists are the people all regimes persecute," her mother had replied. That sold her. Dzhermanova joined a village group. She had no designs on power (detesting it) and mostly spent her time reading anarchist literature and working on a community vegetable garden. She estimates that 800 anarchists from the town were swept up in a night and sent to the gulags."We sang songs while we worked," Dzhermanova tells me. "That helped." Last spring the sprightly nonagenarian made the three-hour trip to Belene to speak with a group of students about the camps. "They had no idea about this. They were really surprised," she says. "No one had ever talked to them about it, and they don't learn about it in school."'Out of Fashion'Toncheva and our driver, Peter, walk through a falling-down building that was constructed in 1959, in part to hide evidence of the camp. It's covered in bird shit. Plant life is taking over its rotted remnants, and old decayed furniture has been abandoned here and there. We talk about how nobody talks about the camp.Peter tells us that despite having spent almost his entire life roughly 750 feet from Persin, in Belene village, he learned about the camp only two weeks earlier, when Toncheva hired him as a driver for her tours."To think they only gave them bread and water, and made them work so hard," he says, shaking his head in disbelief. A crumbling building built on the site of Belene. Stoyan Nenov/Reuters As far as Toncheva knows, no one from her family was held here, but she remembers asking her grandmother about the island when she was a teenager and again after reading the memoirs of survivors. "Shhh. Don't talk so much about this," her grandmother would say. "You don't want to bring trouble."There are rumors of a mass grave near Persin. Mikhail Mikailev, the head of the Belene Island Foundation, wants to find it. But money for the equipment required to find and dig up the remains eludes this two-person staff.Unlike Peter and Toncheva, my parents, who were born in the mid-1950s and grew up in Bulgaria, tell me that in the 1970s and 1980s, all their friends in Sofia knew about Belene. "We all heard the stories," my mother says.But for the authorities, maintaining official denial was worth murder.In 1969, the celebrated Bulgarian writer Georgi Markov defected to the West, where he wrote about the regime's abuses. In one essay, Markov described traveling on a boat down the Danube and approaching Belene. "I remembered how, feet dangling over the edge of the boat, a youth with a guitar once sang a strange song: Danube, white river, how quiet you flow / Danube, black river, what anguish you know." A view of Persin island. Tsvetomir Nikolaev On a rainy afternoon in London, a man jabbed the tip of his umbrella into Markov's leg. Later, Markov noticed what looked like a small bug bite but didn't think much of it. A few days later he was dead, most likely poisoned by the Bulgarian secret service.Before my visit to Belene, I met Topouzova, the historian, over Zoom to talk about the erasure of the camps in Bulgaria's consciousness. While former generals wrote best-sellers, the owner of a prominent bookstore dismissed any interest in survivors' memoirs - they were "out of fashion," he had told her.It was gaslighting in its purest form. And it showed how we're all so prone to the "just world" fallacy, a phenomenon where if something is too horribly unjust, the human brain just kind of moves on. It's not all that hard to bury inconvenient truths."It turned out that aging men and women with fragmented memories of bygone violence did not make for the faces of change," Topouzova wrote in a recent paper titled "On Silence and History" for the American Historical Association. "The interned were rendered nonexistent - their experiences and memories fated to vanish along with the files." A pile of stonesNations define themselves by their monuments. The memorial in downtown Manhattan demands that we never forget the victims of 9/11. In the past few years, American activists have torn Confederate statues from their perches, signaling a break with the passive acceptance of the history of slavery. Yet grappling with unpleasant history isn't easy. It was only in 2018 when a museum honoring the Black victims of lynching opened in Alabama. The 1619 Project, which posits that the history of the United States is rooted in slavery, has spurred a massive backlash. School districts have banned children's books about Rosa Parks. Vaunted democracies are as likely to try to bury inconvenient truths as former communist states. At an exhibition in Sofia in 2009, Belene survivors look at images of the gulag's victims. Stoyan Nenov/Reuters In Bulgaria, there are monuments everywhere. From the smallest village to Sofia, the heroes of Bulgaria's uprising against the Ottoman Empire are eternalized in stone. In Plovdiv, a giant sculpture overlooks Bulgaria's second-largest city that honors "Alyosha," an everyman Soviet soldier who helped "liberate" Bulgaria in the 1940s - even though many Bulgarians see that period as Soviet imperialism, much like the Ottoman Empire's 500 years of occupation.The victims of Belene and the other camps have no such honor. The Belene foundation does the best it can. They helped organize an art exhibit, where Korozov's pencil drawings were tacked onto the walls of the decaying structures that had been erected to mask evidence of the gulag. A man places photos of famous victims of Soviet policy in front of the Monument to the Soviet Army in Sofia, Bulgaria in 2014. Hristo Vladev/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images There is one modest monument on the island. It's an abstract stone structure, and you'd have no idea what it was if you didn't already know the history. The original idea was to build a monument that listed the names of all the known internees, something like the Vietnam wall on the Mall in Washington. But the survivors and their families who pooled their resources to build it ran out of money, and no one, including the Bulgarian government, stepped in to help. (The survivors also hoped to open a museum and to recreate the shacks where they were held, but that hasn't happened either.)My grandfather's escape Dzhermanova, the 93-year-old anarchist - and eternal optimist, apparently - has hope that younger people will dig up the buried history.As for my grandfather, his ex-wife (or whoever it was who betrayed him to the authorities) was right that he wanted to escape Bulgaria.After his release from Belene in 1953, that resolve was so much stronger. "After 4 years and three months in the Island of Death, I became determined to go to my real home: America," he explained in his notebooks. The author with her grandfather and grandmother, Tsvetana Tutunjieva. Tana Ganeva As he detailed it, it would take four harrowing attempts. Soon after his release from Belene, he managed to make it into Yugoslavia during a "sabor" - a temporary loosening of borders so family and friends in the two countries could see each other. But he got caught and was thrown into a Yugoslavian jail.From there, he organized an inmate breakout after bribing the guard dog, Jeko, with his dinner. But he and the other prisoners were caught in the woods, and the Yugoslavian authorities gave them up to the Bulgarian authorities in exchange for 10 cows. "They weren't even very good cows - scrawny," he wrote.Several years later, he tried to cross Bulgaria's mountainous border into Greece, but he was caught once again.Finally, he made it into Austria and then Germany by clinging to the underside of a freight train. And then on to California, where he gave his new dog a familiar name: Jeko.Tana Ganeva writes about policing, prisons and criminal justice. She's currently working on a book about escapees from the Soviet bloc. Read the original article on Business Insider.....»»

Category: topSource: businessinsiderSep 25th, 2021

"Anything We Touch Is A Weapon": New US PsyOps Recruitment Video Casts Spotlight On China Threat

"Anything We Touch Is A Weapon": New US PsyOps Recruitment Video Casts Spotlight On China Threat Authored by Andrew Thornebrooke via The Epoch Times, The phrase “A threat rises in the east” is superimposed over rolling footage of Chinese and Russian military parades. Ethereal, eerie music plays as cinematic impressions of the Eurasian alliance between China and Russia are interspersed with images of the last century’s most emblematic struggles for democratic values. The video "Ghosts in the Machine" by the U.S. Army's 4th Psyop Group displays an ominous warning about the threat from China and Russia. (Screenshot) There is footage of the fall of the Berlin Wall, a free speech protest in Hong Kong, the toppling of a Saddam Hussein statue in Baghdad, and the resolute stand of Tiananmen Square’s “Tank Man.” This is not some documentary about the myriad threats democracy has faced time and time again, but a new video created by the Army’s 4th Psychological Operations Group and shared on social media by U.S. Special Forces Command. Equal parts recruiting video and actual psychological warfare, the project might best be described as a proof-of-concept for the military’s capability to build confidence at home and to instill fear abroad. The video, aptly titled “Ghosts in the Machine,” opens with a quote from “The Art of War,” written by Chinese military philosopher Sun Tzu some 2,500 years ago: “If your opponent is of a choleric temper, seek to irritate him. Pretend to be weak, that he may grow arrogant.” At first glance, one might think that the quote suggests that the Chinese Communist Party has been pretending to be weak for years in order to lull the United States into a false sense of superiority. By the end of the three and a half minutes of growing unease, however, one wonders whether it has not been the other way around all along. Indeed, that may be just the purpose of Ghost in the Machine. After all, the video itself is psychological warfare. The Sugar-Coated Pill To realize the importance of psychological operations such as Ghosts in the Machine, one needs to look beyond its visage of cinematic splendor and intentional creepiness, and penetrate to the threat that the video is working against. According to innumerable reports from the nation’s think tanks and institutions of higher learning, the United States is in a war, though its leadership seems largely unaware of it. It is a war without conventional weapons, but that is nevertheless being fought in hearts and minds everywhere. Indeed, it is a war on the minds of Americans everywhere. It is the psychological campaign of unrestricted hybrid warfare perpetrated by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) with the purpose of eradicating the United States’ will to defend itself and preserve democratic values. According to one report (pdf) published by the Washington-based think tank Hudson Institute earlier this month, this psychological warfare is one part of a suite of so-called cognitive operations used by China’s communist regime to undermine U.S. security. “Cognitive operations involve using psychological warfare to shape or even control the enemy’s cognitive thinking and decision-making,” the report stated. Indeed, the report quotes directly from the primary propaganda organ of the Chinese military, the PLA Daily, that the ultimate aim of cognitive operations is to “manipulate a country’s values, national spirit/ethos, ideologies, cultural traditions, historical beliefs, etc., to prompt them to abandon their theoretical understanding, social system and development path, and achieve strategic goals without victory.” In not so many words, it is a military campaign against the United States to convince Americans to give up their society without fighting. It is, according to a report by the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (pdf), a “long-standing Chinese government strategy to exploit foreign media to deliver Chinese propaganda.” The goal of which is to destabilize and otherwise interfere in the political processes of the United States by offering a “sugar-coated pill,” something easy to swallow but lethal to consume, often in the form of anti-American propaganda disguised as domestic information and reproduced online. “According to the PLA, China is already in constant battle over the narrative of China’s rise and the PLA’s intentions with other nations, both inside and outside of China, and, most prominently, against the United States,” the report said, referring to the acronym for the People’s Liberation Army, the official name of the regime’s military. The roots of the CCP’s psychological warfare go deep, and their tendrils can be seen crawling rampant across Western media in the form of Twitter bots, sponsored newspaper articles, and state-sponsored misinformation. And the onslaught has been going on for decades. Unrestricted Warfare The CCP’s current efforts can be traced back to the 1999 book “Unrestricted Warfare.” Written by two retired PLA colonels, the book described the strategy and operations through which China could overcome the United States—without being embroiled in kinetic warfare. Unrestricted Warfare argued that the United States’ weakness was the widespread belief among American military and political leadership that military dominance was solely dependent on technological means, rather than legal, economic, or social factors. The book, therefore, advocated the use of lawfare, economic warfare, terrorism, and data and supply chain network disruption as various means of undermining the U.S. military. Much of the book’s proposed strategy was later codified as the “Three Warfares Strategy” in a 2003 document published by the PLA and titled “Political Work Guidelines of the People’s Liberation Army.” Since then, the CCP has worked tirelessly to adapt the Three Warfares Strategy to the social media era, using social networking platforms as tools of war to combat the minds of the party’s enemies. Moreover, the introduction of Three Warfares has helped to underscore the promulgation of military-civil fusion, a CCP strategy that seeks to erode any boundary between civilian and military spheres, thus accelerating the erosion of distinctions between war and peace. To that end, it is vital to understand that the PLA is not a military of the Chinese state, but a wing of the Chinese Communist Party. Thus, the entire military apparatus of China is designed to defend and promote communism first and foremost. Party Above All How the Chinese military serves the whims of the CCP rather than the interests of the Chinese people was elucidated by retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Robert Spalding during an interview with EpochTV’s “China Insider” on May 12. “The People’s Liberation Army is the armed wing of the Chinese Communist Party,” Spalding said. “In the West, we consider the military to be a protector of the state, which in a democracy includes the people. In China’s case, the People’s Liberation Army is actually a party army, so it protects the party’s prerogatives.” “Unlike a national army dedicated to the defense of a state and its people, the Chinese military’s purpose is to create political power for the party.” According to a report (pdf) by the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, U.S. leadership believed for years that the CCP’s psychological warfare efforts were a thing of the past. Such beliefs were proven wrong, however, with the rise of CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping in 2012, whose rule has overseen a resurgence of party initiatives pushing psychological operations as a core part of Chinese national strategy. Xi has referred to the work of organizations that engage in psychological operations for the CCP as China’s “magic weapons.” Those organizations include, most predominantly, the General Political Department within the PLA and the United Front Work Department, the latter of which is charged with overseeing the regime’s overseas influence operations and answers directly to the CCP’s Central Committee. Indeed, since the ascension of Xi, Chinese state-run news agency Xinhua has gone so far as to explicitly characterize the PLA’s psychological warfare and political work as “thoroughly implement[ing] Xi Jinping’s thoughts on socialism with Chinese characteristics in the new era.” Importantly, according to the Johns Hopkins report, the CCP’s psychological warfare units under Xi have sought to leverage social media as a key component of “cognitive domain operations” in order to scale Chinese propaganda to a global audience, and to sway, anger, and misinform the citizens of foreign nations to the benefit of the party. “China uses the tools of information and finance to advance political warfare on a global scale,” Spalding said. “It’s a type of warfare that is completely alien to the way that we think of warfare.” Thus, while U.S. military leaders and members of Congress have harped on budget proposals and the number of ships being built for the Navy, the CCP has already committed itself to winning a war without firing a shot. Brave New World At the heart of the CCP’s efforts to assault the minds of the American public, then, is the critical ability of social media and related technologies to create content that can have a real-world effect. “[T]he PLA is developing technologies for subliminal messaging, deep fakes, overt propaganda, and public sentiment analysis on Facebook, Twitter, LINE, and other platforms,” according to a report by the RAND Corporation (pdf). “Other articles also suggest that the PLA could blackmail or tarnish the reputation of politicians as well as co-opt individual influential civilian social media users to extend the reach of Chinese propaganda while obfuscating its Party origins.” It is through this “hostile social manipulation on foreign platforms” that the CCP can essentially launder state-backed propaganda through proxy channels in the way a mobster might launder ill-gotten gains through a front organization. By obfuscating the origin of social media posts and using technologies such as deep fakes, the party can more effectively diminish American confidence in the United States’ ability and worthiness. “What they’ve been able to do is use proxies in the West to have the same control over the narrative in the West that they have within China,” Spalding said. “We have no institution in the West that is tasked with understanding this form of warfare.” Spalding’s comments were in line with recent remarks made by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who said that the CCP was exploiting the United States’ free and open information channels and social media networks to promote authoritarianism abroad and strike at the heart of American democracy. Ghosts in the Machine The sudden appearance of a recruitment video for psychological warfare units in the U.S. military is perhaps not such a mystery, given the battles being waged against the American mind. The primary objective of the CCP’s efforts is to create doubt, fear, and exhaustion to such an extent that American leadership will make mistakes in planning and executing strategy. Likewise, the U.S. Army’s “Ghosts in the Machine” video lifts the mirror at the effort. “Anything we touch is a weapon,” the video says, before flashing the motto of the 4th Psychological Operations Group, “Verbum Vincet”—”the word will conquer.” The message is clear enough, China’s transnational campaign of repression and psychological terror is not without recourse. The psychological warfare apparatus of the American military and intelligence communities have changed history before and can do it again. It is surely not by accident that images of the famous Tiananmen Square protests were interlaced with videos of pro-democracy revolutions, or that footage of the PLA marching was juxtaposed with the fall of the Soviet Union. The United States has toppled great powers from within and from without, the video implies, and can do so again. As the video so abruptly states, “We are everywhere.” Tyler Durden Fri, 05/20/2022 - 18:20.....»»

Category: personnelSource: nytMay 20th, 2022

The Race To Break The Russia-China Alliance & The "Ukraine Of The Asia Pacific"

The Race To Break The Russia-China Alliance & The "Ukraine Of The Asia Pacific" Authored by Matthew Ehret, There is a window of opportunity open for the west to recognize the total failure of the unipolar model before the point of no return has passed. It has become commonplace western media and armadas of geopolitical think tankers to paint today’s Russia-China alliance as a matter of either “momentary convenience”, or as a strained partnership between two competing authoritarian regimes with global imperial aspirations. However, if one simply looks at the facts as they are without the filter of “experts” telling you how to interpret reality, it becomes extremely clear that those cynical geopolitical assessments painted by geopolitical opinionators are doing little more than trying to analyze life through lenses that only see dead corpses. It isn’t that such analysts aren’t necessarily concerned with the truth (although more than a few aren’t), but due to their fundamental axioms, their limited minds cannot contemplate a system organized by a non-Hobbesian parameters either past, present or future. It is for this reason that such opinionators cannot understand the nature of the Russian-China alliance nor can they see or understand the stark parallels in the asymmetrical war efforts to destroy either Eurasian power. Due to this intellectual blindness, even among many intelligent experts within the alternative media community, I will take this opportunity to briefly assess some of the key elements of the parallel features of both operations that have been deployed to destroy both Russia and China. We will begin by looking at the color revolutionary tactics, followed by ‘Gladio stay behinds’, military encirclement, biowarfare and finally the use of ‘fifth columns’. Color Revolutionary Tactics Over the past decades, both Russia and China have contended with obsessive efforts to carve up and destabilize their governments utilizing “democracy promoting/anti corruption” organizations tied to western intel have fortunately failed to Balkanize them as seen in the tragic case of Yugoslavia. The late geopolitical guru Zbigniew Brzezinski wrote passionately of his vision of a carved-up Russia in his 1997 Grand Chessboard saying: “A loosely confederated Russia- composed of a European Russia, a Siberian Republic, and a Far Eastern Republic- would find it easier to cultivate closer economic regulations with Europe, with the new states of Central Asia and with East Asia, which would thereby accelerate Russia’s own development.” Over the years, western funded movements in China have arisen calling openly for breaking up China into no less than five ethno-nationalist micro-states called ‘East Turkestan, The Free State of Tibet, Canton and Manchuria.’ Purged multibillionaire deep state operative Guo Wengui (aka: Miles Guo), now operating from New York, has gone so far as to establish an international insurrectionary organization called ‘The New Federal State of China’ with a shiny new flag, constitution and cheesy anthem for the post-CCP China which will undoubtedly happen any day within Guo’s wildest imagination. The leaders of both nations have clearly identified “color revolutionary” tactics as an active form of asymmetrical warfare leading both states to ban a wide spectrum of western-funded NGOs (or if permitted to exist within their territories to be forced to register as ‘foreign agents’). While the color revolution financing king George Soros was banned from China back in 1989, Russia took longer to gain the power and confidence to ban the economic hitman’s Open Society operations which finally occurred in 2015. Gladio-type “stay-behinds” on their borders. The asymmetrical warfare tool basket doesn’t stop at color revolutionary tactics, but relies upon networks of provocateurs and extremists who often find their roots in the non-punishment of virulent war criminals in the wake of WW2. Those second and third generation fascist stay-behinds who were incorporated into western intelligence under the helm of NATO after WW2 remains one of the most uncomfortable and dangerous secrets of the modern age. Weaponized ideological groups carefully groomed by Anglo-American intelligence since WWII and who continued to glorify Nazi-collaborators as “great heroes” played a major role both during the Cold War, and also today’s Banderite-filled age with neo-Nazi battalions driven obsessively to carry out jihad against Russia as their spiritual forefathers had done during WW2. This problem is not isolated to Eastern Europe, but persists in China’s own back yard where the American military colony of Japan still maintains a strong tradition of treating WWII fascist war criminals as heroes (much to China’s chagrin). One of the largest parties occupying 30% of the Japanese parliamentary seats (and headed by former PM Shinzo Abe) is the Nippon Kaigi party which claims openly that “Japan should be applauded for liberating much of East Asia” during WW2. Despite many anti-fascist impulses in Japan seeking to maintain peaceful coexistence with their Eurasian neighbors, the Nippon Kaigi goes so far as to deny that Japan committed any atrocities to the Chinese during WW2 while trying to maintain the thesis that Japan was on the side of justice by working with Hitler. Keep in mind that this is also the same colony (now hosting over 50,000 US troops) which saw former PM Shinzo Abe call publicly for acquiring US-owned nuclear weapons to defend against China one week after Zelensky made that same call on behalf of Ukraine in Munich on February 19th. Full Spectrum Dominance: Atlantic, Arctic and Pacific Like Russia, who has watched “full spectrum dominance” wrap around her perimeter over the course of 20+ years, China has also been looking at ongoing efforts to create a “NATO of the Pacific” termed “the Quad” in her backyard. This toxic idea has been championed by NATO-connected think tanks like the Atlantic Council and CFR for years and grows directly out of Obama’s 2012 ‘Asia Pivot’ strategy which saw a broad extension of missile systems, trident-bearing submarines, provocative “freedom of navigation” exercises, military bases and efforts to impose US-controlled governments hostile to China in the Pacific region. The ABM-aspect of this program (which experts agree can be easily converted from “defensive” into “offensive”) is reflected in the THAAD missile system already stationed in South Korea which currently hosts over 28,000 US troops. Nominally justifying its existence to stop the “North Korean threat”, the reality is that this system has always been aimed at China. Describing the $762 billion National Defense Authorization Act of 2022 which received nearly total bipartisan support, analyst Michael Klare observed: “The gigantic 2022 defense bill — passed with overwhelming support from both parties — provides a detailed blueprint for surrounding China with a potentially suffocating network of U.S. bases, military forces, and increasingly militarized partner states. The goal is to enable Washington to barricade that country’s military inside its own territory and potentially cripple its economy in any future crisis. For China’s leaders, who surely can’t tolerate being encircled in such a fashion, it’s an open invitation to… well, there’s no point in not being blunt… fight their way out of confinement.” Taiwan as Ukraine of the Pacific Obviously within this entire mess, Taiwan (which has been an Anglo-American plaything since 1949) is currently acting like the “Ukraine of the Pacific” with many leading agents operating throughout the government calling openly for US military defense of China’s autonomous province from the “evil commie” mainlanders. Biden himself has pledged that Taiwan can “count on America’s support” were an invasion to break out at any time. These supportive words were backed up with a $750 million deal to provide a Howitzer military system to Taiwan in August 2021, a $100 million deal to supply and upgrade Taiwan’s patriot missile systems on February 8, 2022 and another $95 million missile deal on April 6, 2022. After the second of these three deals, the Taiwanese foreign ministry sounded like it was trying to out-Zelensky Zelensky saying: “In the face of China’s continued military expansion and provocative actions, our country will maintain its national security with a solid defence, and continue to deepen the close security partnership between Taiwan and the United States.” China’s concerns over the vast expansion of US efforts to turn Taiwan into a Pacific Ukraine (including a doubling of military officials in the US embassy compound in the past year) are very real. Biowarfare in the 21st Century Then there is the serious issue of the Pentagon’s bioweapons infrastructure that has demonstrated an ethnic-targeting feature as outlined in the September 2000 PNAC manifesto “Rebuilding Americas Defenses”. In this bone-chilling neocon manifesto, its authors stated that in the 21st century “combat will likely take place in new dimensions: In space, cyber-space and perhaps the world of microbes… advanced forms of biological warfare that can “target” specific genotypes may transform biological warfare from the realm of terror to a politically useful tool”. Today over 320 Pentagon-run biolabs are scattered strategically around the world with a very active program titled “Jupitr” and “Centaur” located in in South Korea. This later program has caused grave concern to both the Chinese and many Koreans since Obama launched inaugurated the program in 2010 with an executive order that stated “a robust and productive scientific enterprise that utilizes biological select agents and toxins is essential to national security.” This was the same team that brought us the Obama-Lugar partnership that established a vast bio-laboratory infrastructure in Georgia while Obama was still just another Soros-controlled Senator with Presidential ambitions. Work on some of the deadliest toxins in the world has been conducted within the US run biolabs which include work on botulinum, ricin, staphylococcal, anthrax, plague and more. In 2015 the US military was caught illegally shipping samples of live anthrax via FedEx to the US laboratory at the Oran Air base 70 km south of Seoul resulting in civilian protests across the nation although no evidence of any change in policy by the Americans. Japan’s sordid past is again brought back into the story, as Finian Cunningham’s recent Strategic Culture Foundation study on the origins of US bioweapons complex zeroed in on the Military Industrial Complex’s absorption of the genocidal “Unit 731” under the control of Shiro Ishii. Cunningham wrote: “Ishii’s Unit 731 is estimated to have caused up to 500,000 deaths during the war from the use of biological warfare by dropping pathogens from airplanes on Chinese cities in Hunan and Zhejiang provinces. The unit also carried out diabolic forced experiments on Chinese and Russian prisoners of war to study the epidemiology of diseases and vaccines. Inmates were infected with pathogens and subjected to horrible agonizing deaths… Shiro Ishii and his criminal network were never brought to trial following the war despite earnest Soviet requests. Instead, the Americans who occupied mainland Japan granted him and his team of doctors immunity from prosecution in exchange for exclusive access to the biological and chemical warfare experiments. The Pentagon assigned its experts from Fort Detrick, Maryland, to tap the Japanese trove of data.” This list would not be complete without the last consideration… Fifth Columnists in Russia and China Leaders within both nations have been contending for years with World Economic Forum fifth columnists like Anatoly Chubais in Russia and WEF Trustee Jack Ma (and more than a few other Shanghai Clique connected technocrats and billionaires) both inside and outside of China. Some observations on those foreign influences still exerting relevant influence within China via Shanghai as a hotbed for international finance was Emanuel Pastreich who wrote: “Shanghai is riddled with global financial interests, with the head offices (or certainly the major branch) for all major multinational investment banks and multinational corporations located there. Their impact on the Chinese economy remains immense. Shanghai has a history of over a hundred years as a center for global capital with a parasitic relationship to the rest of the nation. It was Shanghai, after all, that offered extraterritoriality to citizens from imperial powers until the 1940s.” Luckily, since the ousting of Soros, many of the worst elements of China’s deep state have been incrementally de-weeded in bursts starting in 1989, then 1997, and the largest robust purge begun in 2012 and continuing to this day. Some of the biggest operatives purged by Xi’s crackdown on corruption include Ma Jian (former Deputy Director of China’s National Security Bureau), Zhang Yue (former legal affairs secretary of Hebei), Bo Zilai (former Communist Party Secretary of Chonqing), Xu Caihou (Vice Chair of China’s Military Commission), and billionaire Pony Ma (to name but a few). There has been an obvious clash between these traitorous forces and genuine patriots in both nations committed to their peoples’ survival in opposition to the religious like commitment to depopulation, cultural mediocrity and global enslavement. Beyond Simply Survival Russia and China’s commitment to survival and cooperation goes far beyond utilitarian concerns as outlined by their February 4th joint statement for Cooperation Entering a New Era which called for the further integration of the EAEU and BRI, military intelligence harmonization under the growing SCO and broader international integration of the multipolar system. Among its many important points, the statement read: “The sides are seeking to advance their work to link the development plans for the Eurasian Economic Union [EAEU] and the Belt and Road Initiative with a view to intensifying practical cooperation between the EAEU and China in various areas and promoting greater interconnectedness between the Asia Pacific and Eurasian regions. The sides reaffirm their focus on building the Greater Eurasian Partnership in parallel and in coordination with the Belt and Road construction to foster the development of regional associations as well as bilateral and multilateral integration processes for the benefit of the peoples on the Eurasian continent.” There is still a window of opportunity open for the west to wake up and recognize the total failure of the unipolar model of imperial governance before the point of no return has passed. Whether or not the moral fitness to conduct this exercise in humility still exists remains to be seen. Tyler Durden Fri, 05/13/2022 - 23:40.....»»

Category: smallbizSource: nytMay 14th, 2022

"Al Qaeda Is On Our Side": How Obama/Biden Team Empowered Terrorist Networks In Syria

'Al Qaeda Is On Our Side': How Obama/Biden Team Empowered Terrorist Networks In Syria Authored by Aaron Maté via RealClear Investigations, Hours after the Feb. 3 U.S. military raid in northern Syria that left the leader of ISIS and multiple family members dead, President Biden delivered a triumphant White House address.  The late-night Special Forces operation in Syria's Idlib province, Biden proclaimed, was a "testament to America’s reach and capability to take out terrorist threats no matter where they hide around the world." Unmentioned by the president, and virtually all media accounts of the assassination, was the critical role that top members of his administration played during the Obama years in creating the Al Qaeda-controlled hideout where ISIS head Abu Ibrahim al-Qurayshi, as well as his slain predecessor, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, found their final refuge. In waging a multi-billion dollar covert war in support of the insurgency against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, top Obama officials who now serve under Biden made it American policy to enable and arm terrorist groups that attracted jihadi fighters from across the globe. This regime change campaign, undertaken one decade after Al Qaeda attacked the U.S. on 9/11, helped a sworn U.S. enemy establish the Idlib safe haven that it still controls today.  A concise articulation came from Jake Sullivan to his then-State Department boss Hillary Clinton in a February 2012 email: "AQ [Al Qaeda] is on our side in Syria."  Sullivan, the current national security adviser, is one of many officials who oversaw the Syria proxy war under Obama to now occupy a senior post under Biden. This group includes Secretary of State Antony Blinken, climate envoy John Kerry, USAID Administrator Samantha Power, Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, NSC Middle East coordinator Brett McGurk, and State Department Counselor Derek Chollet.  Their efforts to remake the Middle East via regime change, not just in Syria but earlier in Libya, led to the deaths of Americans – including Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other U.S. officials in Benghazi in 2012; the slaughter of countless civilians; the creation of millions of refugees; and ultimately, Russia's entry into the Syrian battlefield.  Contacted through their current U.S. government agencies, none of the Obama-Biden principals offered comment on their policy of supporting an Al Qaeda-dominated insurgency in Syria. The Obama-Biden team's record in Syria resonates today as many of its members handle the unfolding crisis in Ukraine. As in Syria, the U.S. is flooding a chaotic war zone with weapons in a dangerous proxy conflict with Russia, with long-term ramifications that are impossible to foresee. "I deeply worry that what’s going to happen next is that we will see Ukraine turn into Syria," Democratic Senator Chris Coons told CBS News on April 17. Based on declassified documents, news reports, and scattered admissions of U.S. officials, this overlooked history of how the Obama-Biden team's effort to oust the Assad regime – in concert with allies including Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey – details the series of discrete decisions that ultimately led the U.S. to empower terror networks bent on its destruction.  Seizing Momentum – and Munitions – From Libya to Pursue Regime Change in Syria Fresh off the ouster of Libya's Gaddafi in 2011, the Obama administration trained its sights on Syria's Assad. (c-span) The road to Al Qaeda's control of the Syrian province of Idlib actually started hundreds of miles across the Mediterranean in Libya. In March 2011, after heavy lobbying from senior officials including Secretary Hillary Clinton, President Obama authorized a bombing campaign in support of the jihadist insurgency fighting the government of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. Backed by NATO firepower, the rebels toppled Gaddafi and gruesomely murdered him in October.  Buoyed by their quick success in Libya, the Obama administration set their sights on Damascus, by then a top regime change target in Washington. According to former NATO commander Wesley Clark, the Assad regime – a key ally of U.S. foes Iran, Hezbollah, and Russia – was marked for overthrow alongside Iraq in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. A leaked 2006 U.S. Embassy in Damascus cable assessed that Assad's "vulnerabilities" included "the potential threat to the regime from the increasing presence of transiting Islamist extremists," and detailed how the U.S. could "improve the likelihood of such opportunities arising." The outbreak of the Syrian insurgency in March 2011, coupled with the fall of Gaddafi, offered the U.S. a historic opportunity to exploit Syria's vulnerabilities. While the Arab Spring sparked peaceful Syrian protests against the ruling Ba'ath party's cronyism and repression, it also triggered a largely Sunni, rural-based revolt that took a sectarian and violent turn. The U.S. and its allies, namely Qatar and Turkey, capitalized by tapping the massive arsenal of the newly ousted Libyan government. "During the immediate aftermath of, and following the uncertainty caused by, the downfall of the [Gaddafi] regime in October 2011," the Defense Intelligence Agency reported the following year, "…weapons from the former Libya military stockpiles located in Benghazi, Libya were shipped from the port of Benghazi, Libya, to the ports of Banias and the Port of Borj Islam, Syria." The redacted DIA document, obtained by the group Judicial Watch, does not specify whether the U.S. was directly involved in these shipments. But it contains significant clues. With remarkable specificity, it detailed the size and contents of one such shipment in August 2012: 500 sniper rifles, 100 rocket-propelled grenade launchers with 300 rounds, and 400 howitzer missiles. Most tellingly, the document noted that the weapons shipments were halted "in early September 2012." This was a clear reference to the killing by militants that month of four Americans – Ambassador Christopher Stevens, another State Department official, and two CIA contractors – in Benghazi, the port city where the weapons to Syria were coming from. The Benghazi annex "was at its heart a CIA operation," U.S. officials told the Wall Street Journal. At least two dozen CIA employees worked in Benghazi under diplomatic cover. Although top intelligence officials obscured the Benghazi operation in sworn testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, a Senate investigation eventually confirmed a direct CIA role in the movement of weapons from Libya to Syria. A classified version of a 2014 Senate report, not publicly released, documented an agreement between President Obama and Turkey to funnel weapons from Libya to insurgents in Syria. The operation, established in early 2012, was run by then-CIA Director David Petraeus. "The [Benghazi] consulate’s only mission was to provide cover for the moving of arms" to Syria, a former U.S. intelligence official told journalist Seymour Hersh in the London Review of Books. "It had no real political role." The Death of a U.S. Ambassador Ambassador Stevens allegedly facilitated arms transfers from the Benghazi compound where he died. AP  Under diplomatic cover, Stevens appears to have been a significant figure in the CIA program. More than one year before he became ambassador in June 2012, Stevens was appointed the U.S. liaison to the Libyan opposition. In this role, he worked with the Al Qaeda-tied Libyan Islamic Fighting Group and its leader, Abdelhakim Belhadj, a warlord who fought alongside Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan. After Gaddafi's ouster, Belhadj was named head of the Tripoli Military Council, which controlled security in the country's capital. Belhadj's portfolio was not limited to post-coup Libya. In November 2011, the Al Qaeda ally traveled to Turkey to meet with leaders of the Free Syrian Army, the CIA-backed opposition military coalition. Belhadj's trip came as part of the new Libyan government's effort to provide "money and weapons to the growing insurgency against Bashar al-Assad," the London Telegraph reported at the time. On September 14, 2012 – just three days after Stevens and his American colleagues were killed – the London Times revealed that a Libyan vessel "carrying the largest consignment of weapons for Syria since the uprising began," had recently docked in the Turkish port of Iskenderun. Once unloaded, "most of its cargo is making its way to rebels on the front lines." The known details of Stevens' last hours on September 11 suggest that shipping weapons was at the top of his agenda.  Although based in Tripoli and facing violent threats, he nonetheless made the dangerous trek to Benghazi around the fraught anniversary of 9/11. According to a 2016 report from the House Intelligence Committee, one of Stevens' last scheduled meetings was with the head of al-Marfa Shipping and Maritime Services Company, a Libyan firm involved in ferrying weapons to Syria. His final meeting of the day was with Consul General Ali Sait Akin of Turkey, where the weapons were shipped. Fox News later reported that "Stevens was in Benghazi to negotiate a weapons transfer." With the Libyan channel shut down by Stevens' murder, the U.S. and its allies turned to other sources. One was Croatia, where Saudi Arabia financed a major weapons purchase in late 2012 that was arranged by the CIA. The CIA's use of the Saudi kingdom's vast coffers continued an arrangement from prior covert proxy wars, including the arming of the mujahideen in Afghanistan and of the Contras in Nicaragua. Although the Obama administration claimed that the weapons funneled to Syria were intended for "moderate rebels," they ultimately ended up in the hands of a jihadi-dominated insurgency. Just one month after the Benghazi attack, the New York Times reported that "hard-line Islamic jihadists," including groups "with ties or affiliations with Al Qaeda," have received "the lion’s share of the arms shipped to the Syrian opposition." Covertly Arming An Al Qaeda-Dominated Insurgency The Obama administration did not need media accounts to learn that jihadists dominated the Syrian insurgency on the receiving end of a CIA supply chain. One month before the Benghazi attack, Pentagon intelligence analysts gave the White House a blunt appraisal. An August 2012 Defense Intelligence Agency report, disseminated widely among U.S. officials, noted that "Salafi[s], the Muslim Brotherhood, and AQI [Al Qaeda in Iraq] are the major forces driving the insurgency." Al Qaeda, the report stressed, "supported the Syrian opposition from the beginning." Their aim was to create a "Salafist principality in eastern Syria" – an early warning of the ISIS caliphate that would be established two years later. General Michael Flynn, who headed the DIA at the time, later recalled that his staff "got enormous pushback" from the Obama White House. "I felt that they did not want to hear the truth," Flynn said. In 2015, one year after Flynn was forced out, dozens of Pentagon intelligence analysts signed on to a complaint alleging that top Pentagon intelligence officials were "cooking the books" to paint a rosier picture of the jihadi presence in Syria. (The Pentagon later cleared CENTCOM commanders of wrongdoing.) The Free Syrian Army (FSA), the main CIA-backed insurgent force, also informed Obama officials of the jihadi dominance in their ranks. "From the reports we get from the doctors," FSA officials told the State Department in November 2012, "most of the injured and dead FSA are Jabhat al-Nusra, due to their courage and [the fact they are] always at the front line." Jabhat al-Nusra (Al-Nusra Front) is Al Qaeda's franchise in Syria. It emerged as a splinter group of Al Qaeda in Iraq after a falling out between AQI leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and his then-deputy, Mohammed al-Jolani. In 2013, Baghdadi relaunched his organization under the name of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Jolani led his Syria-based Al Qaeda faction under the black flag of al-Nusra. "[W]hile rarely acknowledged explicitly in public," Charles Lister, a Gulf state-funded analyst in close contact with Syrian insurgent groups wrote in March 2015, "the vast majority of the Syrian insurgency has coordinated closely with Al-Qaeda since mid-2012 – and to great effect on the battlefield."  As one Free Syrian Army leader told the New York Times: "No FSA faction in the north can operate without al-Nusra’s approval." According to David McCloskey, a former CIA analyst who covered Syria in the war's early years, U.S. officials knew that "al-Qaeda affiliated groups and Salafi jihadist groups were the primary engine of the insurgency." This, McCloskey says, was "a tremendously problematic aspect of the conflict." In his memoir, senior Obama aide Ben Rhodes acknowledged that al-Nusra "was probably the strongest fighting force within the opposition." It was also clear, he wrote, that U.S.-backed insurgent groups were "fighting side by side with al-Nusra." For this reason, Rhodes recalled, he argued against the State Department's December 2012 designation of al-Nusra as a foreign terrorist organization. This move "would alienate the same people we want to help." (Asked about wanting to help an Al Qaeda-dominated insurgency, Rhodes did not respond). In fact, designating al-Nusra as a terror organization allowed the Obama administration to publicly claim that it opposed Al Qaeda's Syria branch while continuing to covertly arm the insurgency that it dominated. Three months after adding al-Nusra to the terrorism list, the U.S. and its allies "dramatically stepped up weapons supplies to Syrian rebels" to help "rebels to try and seize Damascus," the Associated Press reported in March 2013. 'There Was No Moderate Middle' Harvard 2014: Biden goes off-script, revealing the truth of U.S. support for jihadists in Syria. Despite being privately aware of Nusra's dominance, Obama administration officials continued to publicly insist that the U.S. was only supporting Syria's "moderate opposition," as then-Deputy National Security Adviser Antony Blinken described it in September 2014. But speaking to a Harvard audience days later, then-Vice President Biden blurted out the concealed reality. In the Syrian insurgency, "there was no moderate middle," Biden admitted. Instead, U.S. "allies" in Syria "poured hundreds of millions of dollars and thousands of tons of weapons into anyone who would fight against Assad." Those weapons were supplied, Biden said, to "al-Nusra, and Al-Qaeda and the extremist elements of jihadis coming from other parts of the world." Biden quickly apologized for his comments, which appeared to fit the classic definition of the Kinsley gaffe: a politician inadvertently telling the truth. Biden's only error was omitting his administration's critical role in helping its allies arm the jihadis. Rather than shut down a CIA program that was aiding the Al Qaeda-dominated insurgency, Obama expanded it. In April 2013, the president signed an order that amended the CIA's covert war, codenamed Timber Sycamore, to allow direct U.S. arming and training. After tapping Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Qatar to fund its arms pipeline for insurgents inside Syria, Obama's order allowed the CIA to directly furnish U.S.-made weapons. Just as with the regime change campaign in Libya, a key architect of this operation was Hillary Clinton. Obama's upgraded proxy war in Syria proved to be "one of the costliest covert action programs in the history of the C.I.A.," the New York Times reported in 2017. Documents leaked by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed a budget of nearly $1 billion per year, or around $1 of every $15 in CIA spending. The CIA armed and trained nearly 10,000 insurgents, spending "roughly $100,000 per year for every anti-Assad rebel who has gone through the program," U.S. officials told the Washington Post in 2015. Two years later, one U.S. official estimated that CIA-funded militias "may have killed or wounded 100,000 Syrian soldiers and their allies over the past four years." But these militias were not just killing pro-Syrian government forces. As the New York Times reported in April 2017, US-backed insurgents carried out "sectarian mass murder." One such act of mass murder came in August 2013, when the U.S.-backed Free Syrian Army joined an al-Nusra and ISIS offensive on Alawite areas of Latakia. A Human Rights Investigation found that the insurgents engaged in "the systematic killing of entire families," slaughtering a documented 190 civilians, including 57 women, 18 children, and 14 elderly men. In a video from the field, former Syrian army general Salim Idriss, head of the U.S.-backed Supreme Military Council (SMC), bragged that "we are cooperating to a great extent in this operation." The Latakia massacres came four months after the U.S. ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, hailed Idriss and his fighters as "the moderate and responsible elements of the armed opposition." The role of Idriss's forces in the slaughter did not cancel the administration's endorsement. In October, the Washington Post revealed that the "CIA is expanding a clandestine effort … aimed at shoring up the fighting power of units aligned with the Supreme Military Council, an umbrella organization led by [Idriss] that is the main recipient of U.S. support." Officially, the upgraded CIA program barred direct support to al-Nusra or its allies in Syria. But once U.S. weapons arrived in Syria, the Obama administration recognized that it had no way of controlling their use – an apparent motive for waging the program covertly. "We needed plausible deniability in case the arms got into the hands of al-Nusra," a former senior administration official told the New York Times in 2013. One area where U.S. arms got into al-Nusra's hands was the northwestern Syrian province of Idlib. Al Qaeda leaders would ultimately control and – though the group disputes it – provide ISIS leaders sanctuary there.   'Al-Qaeda's Largest Safe Haven Since 9/11' Al-Nusra helped capture the Syrian province of Idlib in 2015 with de facto U.S. support. Al-Nusra Front social media account via AP, File In May 2015, an array of insurgent groups, dubbed the Jaish al-Fatah ("Army of Conquest") coalition, captured Idlib province from the Syrian government. The fight was led by al-Nusra, and showcased what Charles Lister, the D.C.-based analyst with contacts to insurgents in Syria, dubbed "a far improved level of coordination" between rival militants, including the U.S.-backed FSA and multiple "jihadist factions." For Lister, the conquest of Idlib also revealed that the U.S. and its allies "changed their tune regarding coordination with Islamists." Citing multiple battlefield commanders, Lister reported that "the U.S.-led operations room in southern Turkey," which coordinated support to U.S.-backed insurgent groups, "was instrumental in facilitating their involvement in the operation" led by al-Nusra. While the insurgents' U.S.-led command had previously opposed "any direct coordination" with jihadist groups, the Idlib offensive "demonstrated something different," Lister concluded: To capture the province, U.S. officials "specifically encouraged a closer cooperation with Islamists commanding frontline operations." The U.S.-approved battlefield cooperation in Idlib allowed al-Nusra fighters to directly benefit from U.S. weapons. Despite occasional flare-ups between them, al-Nusra was able to use U.S.-backed insurgent groups "as force multipliers," the Institute for the Study of War, a prominent D.C. think tank, observed when the battle began. Insurgent military gains, Foreign Policy reported in April 2015, were achieved "thanks in large part to suicide bombers and American anti-tank TOW missiles." The jihadist-led victory in Idlib quickly subjected its residents to sectarian terror. In June 2015, al-Nusra fighters massacred at least 20 members of the Druze faith. Hundreds of villagers spared in the attack were forced to convert to Sunni Islam. Facing the same threats, nearly all of Idlib's remaining 1,200 Christians fled the province, leaving a Christian population that reportedly totals just three people today. In a 2017 post-mortem on the Obama administration's covert war in Syria, the New York Times described the insurgents' conquest of Idlib as among the CIA program's "periods of success." This was certainly the case for Al Qaeda. "Idlib Province," Brett McGurk, the anti-ISIS envoy under Obama and Trump, and now Biden's top White House official for the Middle East, said in 2017, "is the largest Al Qaeda safe haven since 9/11." U.S. Allows ISIS Takeover ISIS got a backdoor assist from Washington in the takeover of its first Syrian stronghold in Raqqa. AP Photo/Militant Website Al Qaeda is not the only sectarian death squad that managed to establish a safe haven in the chaos of the Syria proxy war. Starting in 2013, al-Nusra's sister-turned-rival group, ISIS, seized considerable territory of its own. As with Al Qaeda, ISIS' land-grab in Syria received a significant backdoor assist from Washington. Before Al Qaeda captured Idlib, the first ISIS stronghold in Syria, Raqqa, grew out of a similar alliance between U.S.-backed "moderate rebels" and jihadis. After this coalition seized the city from the Syrian government in March 2013, ISIS took full control in November. When ISIS declared its caliphate in parts of Syria and Iraq in June 2014, the U.S. launched an air campaign against the group's strongholds. But the Obama administration's anti-ISIS offensive contained a significant exception. In key areas where ISIS’s advance could threaten the Assad regime, the U.S. watched it happen. In April 2015, just as al-Nusra was conquering Idlib, ISIS seized major parts of the Yarmouk refugee camp on the outskirts of Damascus, marking what the New York Times called the group's "greatest inroads yet" into the Syrian capital. In the ancient city of Palmyra, the U.S. allowed an outright ISIS takeover. "[A]s Islamic State closed in on Palmyra, the U.S.-led aerial coalition that has been pummeling Islamic State in Syria for the past 18 months took no action to prevent the extremists’ advance toward the historic town – which, until then, had remained in the hands of the sorely overstretched Syrian security forces," the Los Angeles Times reported in March 2016. In a leaked conversation with Syrian opposition activists months later, then-Secretary of State John Kerry explained the U.S. rationale for letting ISIS advance. "Daesh [ISIS] was threatening the possibility of going to Damascus and so forth," Kerry explained. "And we know that this was growing. We were watching. We saw that Daesh was growing in strength, and we thought Assad was threatened. We thought, however, we could probably manage, that Assad would then negotiate" his way out of power. In short, the U.S. was leveraging ISIS's growth to impose regime change on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The U.S. strategy of "watching" ISIS's advance in Syria, Kerry also admitted, directly caused Russia's 2015 entry into the conflict. The threat of an ISIS takeover, Kerry said, is "why Russia went in. Because they didn’t want a Daesh government." Russia's military intervention in Syria prevented the ISIS government in Damascus that Kerry and fellow Obama administration principals had been willing to risk. Pulverizing Russian airstrikes also dealt a fatal blow to the Al Qaeda-dominated insurgency that the Obama team had spent billions of dollars to support. From U.S. Enemy to 'Asset' in Syria With U.S.-backed fighters vanquished and one of their main champions, Hillary Clinton, defeated in the November 2016 election, the CIA operation in Syria met what the New York Times called a "sudden death." After criticizing the proxy war in Syria on the campaign trail, President Trump shut down the Timber Sycamore program for good in July 2017. "It turns out it’s – a lot of al-Qaeda we’re giving these weapons to," Trump told the Wall Street Journal that month. With the exit of the Obama-Biden team, the U.S. was no longer fighting on Al Qaeda's side. But that did not mean that the U.S. was prepared to confront the enemy that it had helped install in Idlib. While Trump put an end to the CIA proxy war, his efforts to further extricate the U.S. from Syria by withdrawing troops were thwarted by senior officials who shared the preceding administration's regime change goals. "When President Trump said 'I want everybody out of Syria,' the top brass at Pentagon and State had aneurysms," Christopher Miller, the Acting Secretary of Defense during Trump's last months in office, recalls. Jim Jeffrey, Trump's envoy for Syria, admitted to deceiving the president in order to keep in place "a lot more than" the 200 U.S. troops that Trump had reluctantly agreed to. "We were always playing shell games to not make clear to our leadership how many troops we had there," Jeffrey told Defense One. Those "shell games" have put U.S. soldiers in harm's way, including four servicemembers recently wounded in a rocket attack on their base in northeastern Syria. While thwarting a full U.S. troop withdrawal, Jeffrey and other senior officials have also preserved the U.S. government's tacit alliance with Idlib's Al-Qaeda rulers. Officially, al-Nusra remains on the U.S. terrorism list. Despite several name changes, the State Department has dismissed its rebranding efforts as a "vehicle to advance its position in the Syrian uprising and to further its own goals as an al-Qa’ida affiliate." But in practice, as Jeffrey explained last year, the U.S. has treated Al-Nusra as "an asset" to U.S. strategy in Syria. "They are the least bad option of the various options on Idlib, and Idlib is one of the most important places in Syria, which is one of the most important places right now in the Middle East," he said. Jeffrey also revealed that he had communicated with al-Nusra leader Mohammed al-Jolani via "indirect channels." Jeffrey's comments underscore a profound shift in the U.S. government's Middle East strategy as a result of the Syria proxy war: The Syrian branch of Al Qaeda, the terror group that attacked the U.S. on 9/11, and which then became the target of a global war on terror aimed at destroying it, is no longer seen by powerful officials in Washington as an enemy, but an "asset." Since retaking office under Biden, the Obama veterans who targeted Syria with one of the most expensive covert wars in history have deprioritized the war-torn nation. While pledging to maintain crippling sanctions and keep U.S. troops at multiple bases, as well as announcing sporadic airstrikes, the White House has otherwise said little publicly about its Syria policy. The U.S. military raid that ended ISIS leader al-Qurayshi’s life in February prompted the only Syria-focused speech of Biden's presidency. While Biden trumpeted the lethal operation, the fact that it occurred in Idlib underscores a contradiction that his administration has yet to address. By taking out an ISIS leader in Al Qaeda's Syria stronghold, the president and his top officials are now confronting threats from a terror safe haven that they helped create. Tyler Durden Thu, 04/21/2022 - 21:40.....»»

Category: blogSource: zerohedgeApr 21st, 2022

58 years, 2 navies, one war: A short history of one of the world"s longest-serving aircraft carriers

For 58 years, HMS Hermes and later INS Viraat sailed all over the world in the service of two navies A Sea Harrier takes off of Indian aircraft carrier INS Viraat during an exercise off of Goa, September 29, 2005.SEBASTIAN D'SOUZA/AFP via Getty Images Aircraft carriers have been a dominant naval asset for nearly a century. Their high cost and sturdy construction means those flattops often serve for decades. One of the longest-serving was HMS Hermes, which spent a total of 58 years in two navies. Since World War II, aircraft carriers have been one of the most important weapons in a military's arsenal.A nation with flattops can influence affairs far from its shores, and the more of them it can deploy, the farther it can project force around the world.The financial and technological requirements to build and deploy carriers means only a few countries can develop and maintain them. That barrier to entry means only few countries can field even one carrier.The US can deploy 11 nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, reflecting its superpower status. China is building or testing three flattops, and the UK has two new carriers. Several other countries, including France, Russia, and India, have at least one.But carriers, once built, can serve for a long time. One of the longest-serving was HMS Hermes, which spent a total of 58 years in the British and Indian navies.HMS HermesBritish aircraft carrier HMS Hermes sails to London in 1950.Pictorial Parade/Archive Photos/Getty ImagesHMS Hermes was a conventionally powered Centaur-class flattop that was laid down in 1944. Construction was paused for several years and the carrier wasn't launched until 1953. It entered service with the Royal Navy in 1959.The flattop began its career as a CATOBAR aircraft carrier and could carry up to five fixed- and rotary-wing squadrons.Catapult Assisted Take-Off Barrier Arrested Recovery, or CATOBAR, carriers use catapults to launch aircraft and arresting wires to recover them, allowing planes to take off and land on a deck that's only a few hundred feet long instead of a mile or longer.But in the early 1970s, the Royal Navy decided to convert Hermes to support operations by Royal Marine Commandos — like the amphibious assault ships of the US Navy. Berthing space for 800 troops was added, and helicopters became Hermes' primary aircraft.Hermes was refit again in the early 1980s, when the threat from Soviet submarines prompted the Royal Navy to repurpose the ship for anti-submarine warfare. This modification also converted Hermes into a Short Take-Off, Barrier Arrested Recovery, or STOBAR, carrier.A ski jump was added to Hermes' bow and it once more hosted fighter jets, namely the Sea Harrier, which was designed for short and vertical takeoffs and landings.Royal Navy crewmen relax aboard HMS Hermes as they sail toward the Falkland Islands, 1982.Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty ImagesDuring the Falklands War in 1982, the HMS Hermes was the flagship of the British armada, leading more than 100 ships to the South Atlantic to reclaim the islands from the Argentines.Hermes' sister ship and fellow STOBAR carrier, HMS Invincible, were crucial to the UK's success. Sea Harrier fighter jets operating from the two flattops gave the British air dominance and ensured that ground troops could land on and retake the Falklands.The Argentines recognized the importance of the British aircraft carriers and tried to sink them multiple times with daring air attacks. They sunk several escort ships and claimed to have hit Invincible, but the flattops emerged from the conflict unscathed. (The British armada included two improvised carriers, one of which was sunk.)Hermes' post-Falklands life was brief. After a refit and an exercise, the carrier was decommissioned in 1984, but that wasn't the end of its career.The British had previously tried to offload Hermes — including a mid-1960s offer to Australia that fell through because of the high cost to man and operate the carrier — and in 1983, they again offered to sell it to Australia, which once more turned them down.Indian sailors man the rails of INS Viraat during a fleet review in Mumbai, December 20, 2011.Mahendra Parikh/Hindustan Times via Getty ImagesThe carrier was sold to India in 1986. After undergoing a refit, the carrier was commissioned into the Indian navy as INS Viraat in a ceremony held in the UK in May 1987.It became the flagship of the Indian Navy and participated in a number of operations, including in the Indian peacekeeping mission in Sri Lanka in 1989 and in the Indian blockade of Pakistani ports during the Kargil War in 1999. Viraat als took part in exercise Malabar, an annual exercise involving the US, India, and other navies.After almost six decades in service, the Hermes was finally decommissioned by the Indian Navy in 2017. In 2019, the Indian government decided to scrap the carrier.After years of attempts by state governments and private actors to preserve the carrier as a museum, including a last-minute legal effort to prevent it from being totally dismantled, the carrier was broken up in 2021.Stavros Atlamazoglou is a defense journalist specializing in special operations, a Hellenic Army veteran (national service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Army HQ), and a Johns Hopkins University graduate.Read the original article on Business Insider.....»»

Category: personnelSource: nytApr 17th, 2022

Planet Earth’s Future Now Rests in the Hands of Big Business

On a brisk Monday in Houston in early March, dozens of protesters gathered across the street from the giant Hilton hotel hosting CERAWeek, the energy industry’s hallmark annual conference. Their signs accused the corporate executives inside of betraying humanity in pursuit of financial return. STOP EXTRACTING OUR FUTURE, read one. PEOPLE OVER PROFIT, read another.… On a brisk Monday in Houston in early March, dozens of protesters gathered across the street from the giant Hilton hotel hosting CERAWeek, the energy industry’s hallmark annual conference. Their signs accused the corporate executives inside of betraying humanity in pursuit of financial return. STOP EXTRACTING OUR FUTURE, read one. PEOPLE OVER PROFIT, read another. Two days later, inside a standing-room-only hotel ballroom, Jennifer Granholm, the U.S. secretary of energy, offered a different message to the executives: the Biden Administration needs your help to tackle climate change. The scene encapsulated this moment in the fight to address global warming: some of the most ardent activists say that companies can’t be trusted; governments are saying they must play a role. [time-brightcove not-tgx=”true”] They already are. The U.S. Department of Energy has partnered with private companies to bolster the clean energy supply chain, expand electric-vehicle charging, and commercialize new green technologies, among a range of other initiatives. In total, the agency is gearing up to spend tens of billions of dollars on public-private partnerships to speed up the energy transition. “I’m here to extend a hand of partnership,” Granholm told the crowd. “We want you to power this country for the next 100 years with zero-carbon technologies.” Across the Biden Administration, and around the world, government officials have increasingly focused their attention on the private sector—treating companies not just as entities to regulate but also as core partners. We “need to accelerate our transition” off fossil fuels, says Brian Deese, director of President Biden’s National Economic Council. “And that is a process that will only happen if the American private sector, including the incumbent energy producers in the United States, utilities and otherwise, are an inextricable part of that process—that’s defined our approach from the get go.” Photo illustration by C.J. Burton for TIME For some, the emergence of the private sector as a key collaborator in efforts to tackle climate change is an indication of the power of capitalism to tackle societal challenges; for others it’s a sign of capitalism’s corruption of public institutions. In the three decades since the climate crisis became part of the global agenda, scientists, activists, and politicians have largely assumed that government would need to dictate the terms of the transition. But around the world, legislative attempts to tackle climate change have repeatedly failed. Meanwhile, investors and corporate executives have become more aware of the threat climate change poses to their business and open to working to address its causes. Those developments have laid the foundation for a new approach to climate action: government and nonprofits partnering with the private sector to do more—a new structure that carries both enormous opportunity and enormous risk. Read More: This Mining Executive Is Fighting Her Own Industry to Protect the Environment Just 100 global companies were responsible for 71% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions over the past three decades, according to data from CDP, a nonprofit that tracks climate disclosure, and pushing the private sector to step up is already showing dividends. Last fall, more than 1,000 companies collectively worth some $23 trillion set emissions-reduction goals that line up with the Paris Agreement. “We are in the early stages of a sustainability revolution that has the magnitude and scale of the Industrial Revolution,” says Al Gore, the former U.S. Vice President who won the Nobel Peace Prize for his work on climate change. “In every sector of the economy, companies are competing vigorously to eliminate unnecessary waste to become radically more energy efficient, and focus on the sharp reduction of their emissions.” Despite that momentum, risks abound. Companies have an incentive to make big commitments, but they need a credible system to set the rules of the road and ensure that those pledges can be scrutinized. Even then, corporate progress is unlikely to add up to enough without clear policy that incentivizes good behavior and/or punishes bad behavior. “To catalyze business, we need governments to lead and set strong policies,” says Lisa Jackson, vice president of environment, policy and social initiatives at Apple and a former head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. “That’s just what the science says.” Nor are companies built to address the array of social challenges—millions displaced, millions more with livelihoods destroyed, the escalating health ailments—that will arise from climate change and the transition needed to address it. “The private sector has been surprisingly aggressive on climate in the last 12 months,” says Michael Greenstone, former chief economist in Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers. “But that is a very misshapen approach: there’s no real substitute for a coherent climate policy.” It’s increasingly hard to imagine how we find such a policy in time. In February, the IPCC, the U.N.’s climate science body, warned of a “rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a livable and sustainable future.” Emissions need to peak by 2025 in order to have a decent chance of limiting warming to 1.5°C. In a landmark report outlining the possible levers to cut global emissions, the IPCC found that private sector initiatives, if followed through, could make a “significant” contribution to that goal. The group assessed the impact of 10 private sector initiatives, and found they could result in a total of 26 gigatonnes in reduced or avoided emissions by 2030—equivalent to more than five years of U.S. carbon pollution. How this partnership between government and industry plays out will shape not just the trajectory of emissions over the coming years and decades but also the future of democratic governance and how society will manage the now inevitable social disruption that will result from climate change. To understand how we got here, it’s helpful to look back to a remarkable coincidence of history. Climate change entered public consciousness at the same time that, in the U.S., the zeitgeist turned against government’s playing a robust role in society. In 1988, when then NASA scientist James Hansen offered his now famous warning that the planet was already warming as a result of human activity, and TIME soon after named the “Endangered Earth” as “Planet of the Year,” American voters had spent eight years hearing President Ronald Reagan tell them that government lay at the root of society’s problems. So it’s perhaps no wonder that in the decades that followed, government attempts to tackle a new problem, unprecedented in scope and scale, encountered roadblocks. That effort began in earnest in 1992 as heads of government from around the world gathered in Rio de Janeiro to inaugurate a new U.N. framework to address climate change. Every year since, with the pandemic-related exception of 2020, countries have met to hash out solutions to the problem. But, in the first two decades of talks, a comprehensive solution failed to break through. In the U.S., the lagging climate policy can in large part be attributed to the then pervasive free-market ideology, which dictated that businesses exist to make a profit. From the 1990s, and into the new century, fossil-fuel companies as well as heavy industry spent millions denying the existence of the problem and funding organizations that opposed climate rules. Other firms remained on the sidelines of an issue that seemed unrelated to their core business. The results in the political arena were clear. President Bill Clinton tried to pass an energy tax in Congress, but a concerted lobbying effort from manufacturers and the energy industry doomed the plan. George W. Bush publicly questioned the science of climate change and appointed executives from the oil and gas industry into senior positions in his Administration. Barack Obama pursued comprehensive climate legislation that would have capped companies’ emissions in 2009; the legislation failed to make it to the floor of the Senate after a prominent group of businesses condemned it. Christophe Archambault—Pool/ReutersThe launch of a key climate coalition for businesses in 2017 with Bill Gates, Michael Bloomberg, and others But around that time, many business leaders began to feel pressure to do something on climate for the first time. Prioritizing environmental, social, and corporate governance concerns in investing, or ESG for short, had risen from a niche idea in the early 1990s to a mainstream approach to investment two decades later. At that point, a growing flow of reports from financial institutions warned of the economic consequences of inaction. And key voices in the business community—from Michael Bloomberg to Bill Gates—took the message on the road, telling CEOs to take climate change seriously. From 2012 to 2014, the value of investment in the U.S. earmarked for sustainable funds that took into account ESG issues close to doubled, to nearly $7 trillion, according to data from the U.S. SIF Foundation, a nonprofit that advocates for sustainable investment strategies. To foster this momentum, government leaders sought to bring business into the policymaking conversation. Their goal was to create what is often referred to as a virtuous cycle: if they could get commitments from the private sector on climate issues, they argued, it would, theoretically, push government to do more, which in turn would push companies to double down. In 2015, that approach was put into practice as a group of business leaders showed up in Paris to talk with government officials. The result: CEOs declared their commitment to reducing emissions, and the final text of the Paris Agreement created a formalized framework for involving private companies in the official U.N. process. Just a year later, the U.S. elected Donald Trump as President and began to unravel the country’s environmental rules. Five months into office, he announced that he would take the U.S. out of the Paris Agreement. Within hours, 20 Fortune 500 companies declared that they were “still in” the global climate deal and would cut their emissions in hopes of keeping the U.S. on track. By the time Trump left office, more than 2,300 American companies had joined the coalition. For many pushing climate action, working with the private sector became the best path forward. “More and more power is distributed in societies,” Antonio Guterres, the U.N. Secretary-General, told me in 2019, explaining his extensive outreach to the business community on climate. “If you want to achieve results, you need to mobilize those that have an influence in the way decisions are made.” The most important private-sector push came from the institutional investors at the center of the global economy, who control trillions of dollars in assets and are invested in every sector and essentially every publicly traded firm. When you own a little bit of everything, the scenarios portending climate-driven economic decline are terrifying. “We’re too big to just take all of our hundreds of billions, and try to find a nice safe place for that money,” Anne Simpson, then-director of board governance and sustainability at CalPERS, California’s $500 billion state pension fund, told me in 2019. “We’re exposed to these systemic risks, so we have to fix things.” With the U.S. government on the sidelines, these investors joined together to send a signal. When French President Emmanuel Macron hosted a climate summit in Paris in December 2017, he brought together a group of investors controlling $68 trillion in assets to launch Climate Action 100+. In the beginning, this consortium used their status as high-profile investors to push emissions reductions in 100 publicly traded companies through one-on-one engagements with high-level executives. “All of this made for a reorganization of the politics of climate,” says Laurence Tubiana, a key framer of the Paris Agreement who now heads the European Climate Foundation. “It has now crystallized into something new: a strong coalition between business, financial institutions, investors, and governments.” All these threads came to a head last year in Glasgow at the U.N. climate conference. Walking around the Scottish Events Center last November, it would have been easy to forget that the conference was ostensibly for government officials. An attendee could easily spot, among the 40,000 attendees, high-profile business leaders mingling in the hallway. And by many accounts, the most significant news involved the private sector. Six major automakers joined with national governments to declare that they would produce 100% zero-emissions passenger vehicles no later than 2035. A group of financial institutions representing $130 trillion in assets committed to aligning its investments and operations with the Paris Agreement. What sort of emissions reduction does this all add up to? The truth is no one really knows. An analysis of more than 300 member companies of the Science Based Targets initiative, a leading voluntary program for corporations to set emissions reduction targets in line with the Paris Agreement, found that, on average, each company succeeded in reducing their direct emissions annually by more than 6% between 2015 and 2019. But the global framework for emissions reduction centers on country-level commitments, and in its most recent report, the IPCC noted the ability to track corporate progress separate from national-level commitments remains “limited.” The multilateral system for addressing climate change inaugurated in Rio, created by government for government, has evolved into something else. And, in the assessment of many activists, the result has left out concerns about justice in the transition. In Glasgow, activists and civil-society groups complained about being excluded from negotiating rooms while business leaders were ushered onstage. “It now looks more like a trade summit, rather than a climate convention,” says Asad Rehman, who organized for the COP26 Coalition, a climate-justice group. These activists worry about what the resulting government decisions look like when they’re made hand in hand with businesses. “The very people who created this crisis are now positioning themselves as the people who will solve it,” says Rehman. “The decisions being made seem very much to be locking us into a particular approach to solve the crisis—and, of course, that approach is not necessarily in the best interest of the people.” Last December, just a few weeks after returning to the U.S. from Glasgow, I caught a flight from Chicago to Washington, D.C., on what United Airlines billed as the first flight operated with an engine running on only a lower-carbon alternative to jet fuel. As we approached Reagan Airport, Scott Kirby, the airline’s CEO, told me about the coalition—including companies like Deloitte, HP, and Microsoft—he has formed to help bring the fuel to market. “This is not just about United Airlines; this is about building a new industry,” Kirby told me. “To do that, we’ve got to have a lot of airlines participate, we’ve got to have partners participate… and we’ve got to have government participate.” Kirby had chosen Washington as the destination for this flight for a reason: to truly deploy the technology would require some help from the U.S. government. The Biden Administration has been eager to serve as a partner, proposing a tax credit for sustainable aviation fuel and using the bully pulpit to tout United’s work—and aviation is just the tip of the iceberg. The administration has sought to partner on climate with companies across the country and across industries. It almost goes without saying that Biden has been the most aggressive U.S. president yet on the climate issue. His administration has introduced or tightened more than 100 environmental regulations; worked with activists to address the inequalities worsened by climate change; and put climate at the center of “Build Back Better,” its signature $2 trillion spending package that failed to pass Congress last year. He has worked with activists to address the inequalities worsened by climate change. But engagement with the private sector offers a different avenue to push for emissions reduction, and, administration officials say, it has been a key part of his climate strategy. “That’s him availing every tool he’s got,” says Ali Zaidi, Biden’s Deputy National Climate Advisor, of Biden’s private sector engagement. “One of those superpowers that he has is the ability to meet people where they are and bring them along.” Jeff J Mitchell—Getty ImagesGreenpeace activists protest corporate involvement at the COP26 U.N. climate talks, in November 2021 That approach is also based in a sense of realism: the technologies we need to cut emissions over the next decade exist today and any reasonable consideration of how the world can cut carbon emissions means deploying those technologies as quickly as possible—largely by getting companies to adopt them. We need “to take the technology that DOE has spent so many years working on and actually get it in the hands of consumers,” says Jigar Shah, who runs the department’s Loan Program Office. I met Shah, who previously ran a clean energy investment fund, in a small conference room in Houston where he had been taking meetings with a range of companies to convince them to do business with his agency—and more broadly the federal government. Shah has $40 billion at his disposal to invest in promising companies and projects. The idea, he says, is if business and government work together, they can move quickly to build a low-carbon economy by restoring the country’s ability to do big things. “We actually haven’t done these big things for 30 years,” he says. “America truly has sort of lost this general understanding of, like, how does an airport add a runway? How does a road get widened? Who makes the decision on upgrading our wastewater treatment plant?” The business-oriented approach to climate change permeates the Biden Administration. Last September, I watched in the back of the room in Geneva as John Kerry, Biden’s Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, pitched the Administration’s approach to CEOs of some of the world’s biggest companies, presenting more than 30 slides detailing a new government program to catalyze production of clean technologies, in sectors ranging from air travel to steel manufacturing. Instead of government mandates, Kerry proposed that companies themselves take the lead by making deals to purchase clean technology. “Because we’re behind, we have got to find ways to step up,” he told the gathered CEOs. Read More: Biden Wants an American Solar Industry. But It Could Come at an Emissions Cost Kerry’s approach echoes the realism of the Biden Administration’s. The truth is that in 2022 Big Business has the power to influence—and halt—much of what the government does. “I’m convinced, unless the private sector buys into this, there won’t be a sufficient public-sector path created, because the private sector has the power to prevent that,” Kerry told me in September. “The private sector has enormous power. And our tax code reflects that in this country. And what we need is our environmental policy to reflect the reality.” It makes sense then that from the outset the Biden Administration’s climate-spending plan has focused primarily on carrots rather than sticks. That is, it included a laundry list of rewards for companies doing positive things—namely tax credits for clean energy and subsidies for technologies like electric vehicles. Meanwhile, the two key policies that would have penalized businesses for their emissions—a fee for methane emissions and a tax when power companies failed to meet emissions-reductions targets—were abandoned after industry pushback. Despite those concessions, the most influential trade groups that lobby in Washington on behalf of big businesses still refused to back the overall legislation—because it required an increase in corporate taxes. It’s a reality that climate advocates readily decry as hypocrisy, and an indicator that business isn’t serious about climate change. In the coming weeks, as negotiations for a revamped climate-spending bill accelerate, businesses will have another chance to show they are serious about climate policy. It brings to mind a key moment in a panel I moderated in April last year with Granholm, and a handful of top corporate executives’ work to reduce their companies’ emissions. “You are visionaries and you are leading, and there’s so many thousands of other businesses that can learn from your example, and there are a lot of members of Congress that could learn from your words. And it’s not to get political, but sometimes folks just need to hear,” she told them. “To the extent you can, we’d be really grateful because we feel like our hair is on fire.” They can still help, but the clock is ticking. Even before Joe Biden took office, the American auto industry had begun to adopt the President-elect’s ambition of a rapid transition to electric vehicles. Within weeks of the election, GM dropped a lawsuit that sought to block more stringent fuel-economy standards. Two months later, it said it would go all electric by 2035. Meanwhile, Biden committed to a federal-government purchase of hundreds of thousands of electric vehicles. Since then, the U.S. auto industry has become an electric-vehicle arms race, with companies left and right announcing new capital expenditures to advance the national electric-vehicle fleet. GM says it will spend $35 billion in the effort over the next few years. Ford says it’s spending $50 billion. “The biggest thing that’s happening here is there’s a realization, on the part of both labor and business now, that this is the future,” Joe Biden said as he stood with auto industry executives, union leaders and administration officials on the White House lawn last August. Last year, I traveled to Ohio and Tennessee to see firsthand how the pressing questions about this transformation were playing out on the ground in the cities and towns that have relied on the auto industry for decades. In conversations with workers and local officials, I could sense excitement, but also consternation. Building an electric vehicle requires less labor than does its old-fashioned counterpart, and there’s no guarantee that new jobs created will be covered with a union. “There’s just going to be a lot less people building cars,” Dave Green, a GM assembly worker who previously led a local UAW branch in Ohio, told me at the time. The green transition will also displace oil, gas, and coal workers. Entire cities in flood and fire zones will be dislocated. Diseases will spread more quickly. How will society manage such problems, accounting for a diverse array of interests, without a comprehensive, government-led approach to the transition? Not well, if past transitions are any indicator. Inequality soared during the Industrial Revolution, and the U.S. is still dealing with the economic fallout of globalization in the 2000s, when many blue collar jobs were outsourced. To make up for the slow pace of government policy to guarantee an equitable transition, many activists have set their sights on influencing corporations directly. In 2019, for example, hundreds of Amazon employees walked out of work, insisting that the company do more to address climate change. Across a range of industries, corporate leaders now say that climate change is a top concern for recruits. Consumers, too, have begun to push companies to change, largely through the power of their dollars, by refusing to buy from companies with poor labor and environmental practices. “It’s not perfect,” says Michael Vandenbergh, a law professor at Vanderbilt University Law School who served as chief of staff at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under Clinton. But “it will buy us time until the public demands that government actually overcome some of the democracy deficits that we face.” As challenging as it may be in these polarizing times, overcoming that democracy deficit is necessary, not just to accelerate the transition away from fossil fuels but also to protect those most vulnerable to the effects of climate change and to the necessary changes ahead. It’s for that reason that the upswing in climate-activist movements—from the youth’s marching for a Green New Deal to the union members’ joining with climate activists to push for a just transition—matters beyond any policy platform. Climate change will reshape the lives of people everywhere. A truly just transition will require people to engage in the fight to fix it. —With reporting by Nik Popli and Julia Zorthian......»»

Category: topSource: timeApr 14th, 2022

Ferguson: The Fates Of Ukraine And Putin Turn On 7 Forces Of History

Ferguson: The Fates Of Ukraine And Putin Turn On 7 Forces Of History Authored by Niall Ferguson, op-ed via Bloomberg.com, Does Russia grind out victory? Can sanctions stop that? Might Putin go nuclear? Is China for war or peace? The past offers clues, but no certain answers. What makes history so hard to predict - the reason there is no neat “cycle” of history enabling us to prophesy the future - is that most disasters come out of left field. Unlike hurricanes and auto accidents, to which we can at least attach probabilities, the biggest disasters (pandemics and wars) follow power-law or random distributions. They belong in the realm of uncertainty, or what Nassim Nicholas Taleb, in his book “The Black Swan,” calls  “Extremistan.” They are like tsunamis, not tides. What’s more, as I argued in my book “Doom,” disasters don’t come in any predictable sequence. The most I can say is that we tend not to get the same disaster twice in succession. This time we’ve gone from plague to war. In 1918, it was from war to plague. The Hundred Years’ War began eight years before the Black Death struck England. Not everything in history is random, of course. The Russian invasion of Ukraine was not difficult to foresee at the beginning of this year. You just had to take Russian President Vladimir Putin both literally and seriously when he asserted that the Russian and Ukrainian peoples were one and that the possibility of Ukraine becoming a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization or the European Union was a red line; and to realize that Western threats of economic sanctions would not deter him. Now that the war is well into its second week, however, there are much more difficult predictions to make. It seems there are seven distinct historical processes at work and it’s not clear which is going fastest. All I can do is to apply history, as there is no model from political science or economics that can really help us here. 1. Do the Russians manage to take Kyiv in a matter of two, three, four weeks or never? I heard it argued the other day that the Russian invasion of Ukraine could become a “frozen conflict.” I think it looks a lot more like the opening hot conflict of Cold War II, and one that will be decided quite swiftly. There’s reason to think this is turning into Putin’s version of Stalin’s Winter War against Finland in November 1939, when the Red Army ran into much stiffer resistance than it had expected from the Finns. (It was the Finns who invented the Molotov Cocktail, named after Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov.) The difference is that Stalin was able to order in a second, larger wave of Soviet troops in February 1940, forcing the Finns to accept his punitive terms, including the cession of 9% of Finland’s prewar territory. Putin does not have as much manpower and hardware at his disposal. At least one military analyst I respect said late last week that the Russian invasion force has around two weeks left before serious logistical and supply problems force Putin seriously to the negotiating table. I hope that is true. The now famous 40-mile-long stalled convoy between Prybisk and Kyiv is Exhibit A that the war has not proved to be the Blitzkrieg that Putin apparently expected. On the other hand, Western media seem over-eager to cover news of Russian reverses, and insufficiently attentive to the harsh fact that the invaders continue to advance on more than one front. Nor is there sufficient recognition that the Russian generals quickly realized their Plan A had failed, switching to a Plan B of massive bombardment of key cities, a playbook familiar from earlier Russian wars in Chechnya and Syria. A week may be a long time in politics, as British Prime Minister Harold Wilson said. It is a short time in war. A better analogy than the Winter War with Finland may be the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan that began in December 1979. The reason that developed into such a protracted disaster for the Red Army was that the Afghan mujahideen were so well supplied with American arms. Today, too, the Ukrainians are receiving significant amounts of hardware (Stinger anti-aircraft missiles, Javelin antitank weapons, Turkish TB2 drones), much of it now coming across the border from Poland. Ukraine is also receiving vital private-sector assistance, notably the delivery of Starlink internet terminals, which are helping maintain communications despite Russian attacks on television towers (not to mention morale-boosting support from Starlink Inc. founder Elon Musk himself). What I cannot tell is whether or not these weapons and other equipment will suffice to sustain Ukrainian resistance over the coming weeks. Clearly, the Ukrainians are doing real damage to Russian infantry and armor and shooting down an impressive number of low-flying helicopters and planes. They will certainly be able to make any Russian advance into central Kyiv very costly to the invaders. But the Ukrainians have no real answers to higher-altitude bombardment and missile attacks. The fate of an independent Ukraine will be decided in the coming weeks or days. If cities continue to fall to the Russians, as Kherson has and Mariupol may, we may look back and say that Western arms shipments to President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s government were too little, too late. 2. Do the sanctions precipitate such a severe economic contraction in Russia that Putin cannot achieve victory? I have heard it said that the breadth and depth of the sanctions imposed on Russia make them unprecedented. I disagree. The way in which the U.S. and the European Union have severed financial ties with Russia, even seizing those parts of the reserves of the Russian central bank that are held abroad, recalls but does not quite match the sanctions that Britain and its allies imposed on Germany at the outbreak of World War I. We should remember that those measures did not defeat Germany, however, because — like Russia today — it had the resources to be self-sufficient, though the sanctions may have made a German victory less likely by increasing the hardships of the war at home. Then, as now, it was possible for an increasingly authoritarian government to impose economic controls and divert resources away from civilian consumption to the war effort, while blaming the resulting deprivation on the enemy. The Allied “hunger blockade” was a potent theme for German wartime propaganda. Economic warfare between 1914 and 1918 was not a substitute for sending British armies to fight on the European continent, just as it had not been in the Napoleonic Wars against France. It is especially hard to wage purely economic warfare on a vast and resource-rich country such as Russia. After 1928, Stalin imposed autarky on the Soviet Union. Putin has had it imposed on him by the West. But no one should forget that self-sufficiency is possible for Russia, albeit at the price of severe austerity, whether it is a choice or a consequence of war. It seems clear that Western sanctions will get tougher with every passing week of destruction of Ukrainian cities and killing of Ukrainian civilians. We are already heading for sanctions on Russian energy exports, beginning with a ban on importing Russian oil by the U.S. and U.K. (the Europeans are hesitating). On the other hand, China is able to help Russia in ways that could mitigate the economic shock, just as for years it has helped Iran to circumvent U.S. sanctions by buying its oil. To my eyes, the most striking feature of the sanctions against Russia is the way that Western corporations have gone well beyond the letter of government requirements. No one ordered the big U.S. technology companies to turn off or restrict most of their services in Russia, but they did so. Unlike Soviet citizens, who were accustomed to a state monopoly on communications, today’s Russians have come to rely as much as we do on Big Tech. Being cut off from the metaverse may prove a more psychologically painful deprivation than shortages of imported foods. Russia’s economy now faces as severe a blow as it suffered in the early 1990s, when the Soviet Union fell apart and the planned economy collapsed. It is teetering on the brink of a financial crisis that will see bank runs, soaring inflation and default on at least some sovereign debt. But even a 35% quarterly decline in gross domestic product does not condemn a country to military defeat if its planes can still fly and its tanks still fire rounds. 3. Does the combination of military and economic crisis precipitate a palace coup against Putin? Modern Russia has seen three popular revolutions (1905, 1917 and 1991). There have been assassinations — for example, Tsar Alexander II in 1881 and Lenin, whose life was shortened by an attempt in 1918 — and palace coups, such as the ones that put Nikita Khrushchev in power in 1953 and removed him in 1964. But most Russian rulers die of natural causes — even Stalin, though there was no great rush to get him medical assistance when he suffered a cerebral hemorrhage. President Boris Yeltsin surprised everyone by resigning on New Year’s Eve, 1999, without duress. Could Putin fall from power, a victim of his own hubris in underestimating Ukrainian courage and Western economic might? It is possible. But I would not bet the fate of Ukraine on Russian internal politics. For one thing, the repressive apparatus of Russian state security seems to be in full working order. Those in Russia who courageously protest the war are being arrested and harassed in the usual fashion. For another, I can imagine few riskier actions for a member of the Russian economic elite than to intimate to one of his peers even the faintest interest in overthrowing Putin. On the other hand, it was obvious even during the somewhat farcical broadcast of the Russian Security Council meeting two weeks ago that not everyone inside the Kremlin was wholly comfortable with Putin’s invasion plan. More plausible than a popular revolt or an oligarchs’ mutiny is a palace coup led by one or more of Russia’s security service chiefs. The people with the power to arrest Putin are the people he counts on to execute his arrest orders: Nikolai Patrushev, the head of the Security Council and, like Putin, a long-serving KGB officer; Sergei Naryshkin, the head of foreign intelligence; and Alexander Bortnikov, who heads the Federal Security Service, the successor to the KGB. 4. Does the risk of downfall lead Putin to desperate measures (carrying out his nuclear threat)?  The most dangerous aspect of the war in Ukraine is obvious: Russia, though in many ways diminished, is still the heir of the Soviet Union as a nuclear-armed power — unlike Ukraine, which gave up its Soviet nukes in return for a security guarantee (the Budapest Memorandum of 1994) that proved worthless. Putin has understood from the outset that his ace is to threaten to use nuclear weapons. Even before launching his invasion, he warned that “anyone who tries to interfere with us … must know that Russia’s response will be immediate and will lead you to such consequences as you have never before experienced in your history.” Russia, he added, remains “one of the most powerful nuclear powers” with “certain advantages in a number of the latest types of weapons” and that “no one should have any doubt that a direct attack on Russia will lead to defeat and dire consequences for a potential aggressor.” After the war was underway, he put Russian nuclear forces on a “special regime of combat duty” — in other words, high alert. If Putin’s goal was to deter members of NATO from offering direct military assistance to Ukraine, it seemed to have some effect. An idea for Poland and others to lend fighter jets to Kyiv was briefly floated by the EU’s high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, Josep Borrell, and then melted away, although U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is trying to revive it, and the Poles appear to think they are swapping their Soviet-era MiG-29 jets for U.S. planes, presumably so the MiGs can go to Ukraine. There has also been media discussion of a NATO “no-fly zone” over Ukraine, which the Ukrainian government keeps asking for, but which would surely be seized on by Putin as an act of war. Fortunately, no one in a position of responsibility has endorsed the idea. Yet it cannot be right that a threat to use nuclear weapons goes unanswered. In the Cold War, both sides used nuclear alerts to intimidate one another. The reason no nuclear war occurred — though it came close on more than one occasion, notably in the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 and the Able Archer false alarm of 1983 — was that each side believed the other capable of going nuclear and no one could be sure that a limited nuclear war, of the sort envisaged by Henry Kissinger in 1957, would not escalate into Armageddon. At 11:41 p.m. on October 24, 1973, at the height of the Yom Kippur War, Kissinger and the other key members of President Richard Nixon’s national security team agreed to raise the U.S. alert level to Defcon 3 — the highest level of peacetime readiness for war — to ensure that the Soviet Union did not send troops to support the Arab states that had attacked Israel but were now losing badly. At the same time, they ordered major movements of U.S. military assets, to ensure the Soviets got the message. The Soviet documents reveal a Politburo wrong-footed, just as Kissinger had intended. None of the Soviet leaders, not even the drug-addled Leonid Brezhnev — who, like Nixon, was asleep during the hours of maximum danger — was ready to blow up the world to save Egypt and Syria from defeat. As the future Soviet leader (then KGB chief) Yuri Andropov put it: “We shall not unleash the Third World War.” Today, however, the boot is on the other foot. Not only is Putin intimidating NATO; he may have achieved something more, namely a tacit admission by the Biden administration that it would not necessarily retaliate with nuclear weapons if Russia used them. The failure of the administration to signal that it would retaliate is of a piece with last year’s reports that Biden’s national security team was considering ruling out first use of nuclear weapons in its new national military strategy. Nuclear missiles cease to be a deterrent if one side is unwilling to use them. Putin is probably bluffing. What would he strike with a tactical nuclear weapon? If it’s a Ukrainian city, particularly Kyiv, he surely destroys his own spurious claim that he is fighting to preserve the historic unity of the Russian and Ukrainian peoples. Russian casualties are being caused by Ukrainians using arms supplied by multiple NATO countries, including the U.S. and Turkey, but they are mostly crossing into Ukraine from Poland. Might Putin therefore strike a target in eastern Poland — Lublin, say, or Przemysl? It cannot be completely ruled out. And he is surely more likely to do so if believes the U.S. would not immediately retaliate in kind against a Russian target. A key lesson of this entire crisis has been that indications of weakness on the U.S. side, which I discussed here last week, have emboldened Putin. 5. Do the Chinese keep Putin afloat but on the condition that he agrees to a compromise peace that they offer to broker? Let no one have any illusions. Putin’s war would not have gone ahead without a green light from the Chinese leader, Xi Jinping, who was able to specify that the Russians wait until the Beijing Winter Olympics were over. The Chinese now have the option to assist Russia economically. The question is whether this leverage would give Xi the role of intermediary played by Theodore Roosevelt in 1905, when it was Japan that Russia was fighting. We know from a number of reports that Chinese peace-making is a possibility. On Tuesday it was reported that China, France and Germany were “coordinating to end the conflict.” We can assume that the messiness of the war is not pleasing the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party, who have their hands full with Covid (remember that?), a slowing economy and their upcoming Party Congress, and wanted a quiet world in 2022. On the other hand, we should not underestimate the closeness of the Xi-Putin relationship and the extent to which Xi’s preference must be for a Russian victory, given his own ambitions to bring Taiwan under Beijing’s control. My guess is that the Chinese make no serious diplomatic move until they are convinced Putin’s invasion is thoroughly bogged down in Ukraine’s spring mud. 6. Does the West’s attention deficit disorder kick in before any of this? All over the democratic world, people are learning the words “Slava Ukraini!” — Glory to Ukraine! — donning blue-and-yellow garments, participating in pro-Ukrainian demonstrations. True, the U.S. public generally has about three weeks of attention for any overseas calamity (see the temporary wave of outrage that followed the abandonment of Afghanistan last year). Yet the response to the invasion of Ukraine seems bigger and more likely to endure. Remarkably, one U.S. legislator told me last week that he “couldn’t recall an issue more obsessively followed and more unifying among” his constituents. We may speculate as to why this is, but a significant part of the explanation is surely the skillful way in which Zelenskiy has used television and social media to win the world’s sympathies. Most Americans also recognize a war of independence when they see one. I am reminded of the way the British public in the 19th century would periodically embrace an ethnic group fighting for its freedom. The Greeks in the 1820s, the Poles in the 1830s, the Germans and Italians in the 1840s, the Bulgarians in the 1870s — all these causes aroused passionate support in Britain, and equally passionate condemnation of the despotic empires of the Ottomans, Romanovs and Habsburgs.   However, spasms of moral outrage tend to contribute very little of practical use to those intent on building nation-states. That was Prussian Prime Minister Otto von Bismarck’s point in 1862, when he declared: “Not through speeches and majority decisions will the great questions of the day be decided … but by iron and blood.” The only real significance of Western public outrage at Putin’s actions is the political pressure it exerts on Biden and other leaders to take a tougher line with Russia. 7. What is the collateral damage? The problem for Biden — and it will soon be a problem for his European counterparts, too — is the economic damage this war will cause. Inflation expectations had already shifted upward sharply as a result of the excessive fiscal and monetary stimulus administered early last year in the form of the American Rescue Plan and the Federal Reserve’s continued asset purchases. History shows that wars (much more than pandemics) are the most common cause of jumps in inflation. The best-known recent illustration is the way wars in 1973 (Yom Kippur) and 1979 (Iran-Iraq) contributed to the great inflation of the Seventies, but there are many other examples. True, the price of oil is a much smaller component of economic activity and consumer inflation indices today than 50 years ago. But it would be naive to imagine that, with inflation already at its highest level since 1982, the additional shock of war and rapidly escalating sanctions won’t pour kerosene on the barbecue. Even if the Russians fail to scupper the scramble to resuscitate the Iran nuclear agreement, the return of Iranian oil to the world market is unlikely to offset the shock of Western sanctions on Russia. What’s more, these price spikes are not confined to oil and gas but involve a host of other commodities. The prospect of this year’s Ukrainian grain harvest being disrupted means a significant surge in food prices, with all kinds of consequences, especially in developing countries. Nor can we ignore the risks that may be lurking within the international financial system. A great many institutions blithely ignored the approach of war and have been left holding large quantities of Russian assets that have plunged in value. Losses on this scale — and with more to come if the Russian state defaults on some of its debt — almost always have repercussions. The Russian default on local-currency bonds in 1998 was an important element in the Long-Term Capital Management blowup that year. Add these seven imponderables together and you see how profoundly important the next few weeks will be. This is the first big crisis of Cold War II, which is in many ways like a mirror image of Cold War I, with China the senior partner, Russia the junior, and a hot war in Eastern Europe rather than East Asia (it was Korea’s turn in 1950). I do not know how the crisis will turn out, but I do know it will have profound consequences for the course of the superpower contest. If the invasion of Ukraine ends in disaster for the heroic defenders of Kyiv and their comrades, another disaster may well follow — and it could occur as far away as Taiwan. Conversely, if there is justice in the world and the disaster befalls the architect of this war, that too will give birth to some fresh and unforeseeable event. For any victory for democracy in Ukraine is likely to prove ephemeral if its consequence is a new Time of Troubles in Russia, echoing the 17th-century fight over the tsar’s crown. A tsunami of war has struck Ukraine. Whether the Russian tide flows or ebbs in the coming weeks will do much to determine the course of world history for the rest of our lives. Tyler Durden Fri, 03/11/2022 - 16:20.....»»

Category: worldSource: nytMar 11th, 2022

Sunday Collum: 2021 Year In Review, Part 3 - From "Insurrection" To Authoritarianism

Sunday Collum: 2021 Year In Review, Part 3 - From 'Insurrection' To Authoritarianism Authored by David B. Collum, Betty R. Miller Professor of Chemistry and Chemical Biology - Cornell University (Email: dbc6@cornell.edu, Twitter: @DavidBCollum), I have a foreboding of an America in my children’s or grandchildren’s time when the United States is a service and information economy; when nearly all the manufacturing industries have slipped away to other countries; when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues; when the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgeably question those in authority; when, clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what’s true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstition and darkness. The dumbing down of America is most evident in the slow decay of substantive content in the enormously influential media, the 30 second sound bites (now down to 10 seconds or less), lowest common denominator programming, credulous presentations on pseudoscience and superstition, but especially a kind of celebration of ignorance. ~  Carl Sagan, 1995, apparently having invented a time machine Every year, David Collum writes a detailed “Year in Review” synopsis full of keen perspective and plenty of wit. This year’s is no exception. Read Part 1 - Crisis Of Authority & The Age Of Narratives here... Read Part 2 - Heart Of Darkness & The Rise Of Centralized Healthcare here... So, here we are at the third and final part of the 2021 Year in Review and it’s no longer 2021. Sorry about that pfuck-up. Think of it as not in 2021 but from 2021. You may have noticed that the first 200 pages (parts 1 and 2) were laced with a recurring catchphrase, “WTF is happening?” It was a literary device for noting that the events ceased to make sense within a conventional worldview, suggesting it is time to torch the old model and start anew. Our response to a disease that was killing a very small slice of the population was to sequester and vaccinate the entire population with an experimental drug of real but unquantified fatality rate. The apparent scientific illiteracy was not some mass psychosis. Y’all just got suckered by America’s Most Trusted Psychopathic Mass Murderer assisted by an epic media blitz sponsored by the pharmaceutical industry that had a distinct authoritarian quality. Unthinking respect for authority is the greatest enemy of truth. ~ Albert Einstein During the brief period after uploading part 2 while grinding on this last portion, the Supreme Court took on the vaccine mandate issue, ruling that the only people forfeiting control of their own healthcare are the healthcare workersref 2 The court also illustrated their profound ignorance of the pandemic and what they were even charged to assess—the Constitutionality of mandates, not the efficacy.ref 3 The CEO of a major insurer reported a 40% spike in fatalities within the 18–65 age bracket that was not from Covid.ref 4 He said 10% would be a 3-sigma, once-every-200-year event: 40% is unheard of. Although he refrained from identifying a cause—deaths of despair, neglected healthcare, or a toxic vaccine—he knows precisely what did them in. They have been studying this stuff for centuries. I suspect his real message was that the insurance industry is about to contribute to inflation with rising premiums. Meanwhile, the pathological liars running the covid grift decided after two years the masks you’ve been wearing served no medical purpose and that the vaccines don’t work either. Wait: who said the masks and vaccines don’t work? We have known for many months that COVID-19 is airborne and therefore, a simple cloth mask is not going to cut it…Cloth masks are little more than facial decorations. ~ Leana Wen, MD, CNN medical expert with no admitted ties to the CCPref 5 Two doses of the vaccine offers very limited protection, if any. Three doses with a booster offer reasonable protection against hospitalization and deaths. Less protection against infection. ~ Albert Bourla, Pfizer CEOref 6 Here is my most heartfelt response to them: You psychopathic lying sacks of shit. You had us wear rags across our faces and put rags across the kids’ faces when clinical studies that could be read by people with half your IQs showed they were worthless. Suicide rates and other deaths of despair soared while you petty tyrants played your little games and generated billions of dollars of profits while destroying the middle class. You have maimed or killed an unknown number of gullible victims with your lockdowns, vaccines, remdesivir, and oppression of Ivermectin. You jammed a vaccine that bypassed animal trials into the fetuses of pregnant women, assuring them it was safe. If we spoke up, we got muzzled. If we refused the vaccine, we got fired. You should all hang from your necks until dead. I will piss on your graves. I feel better already. Very refreshing. Meanwhile, many of my friends and colleagues look at the same data and say, “Oh. I guess I better get the booster and a KN95 mask.” You have got to unfuck yourselves. You’ve been duped. It will get worse. The tactics used to oppress us would have made Stalin smirk. Australia was a beta test for what is to come in the rest of the west if we don’t wake up soon. They are gonna keep coming for one simple reason: we accepted it. We got bent over and squealed like pigs. What normalization does is transform the morally extraordinary into the ordinary. It makes us able to tolerate what was once intolerable by making it seem as if this is the way things have always been. ~ Jason Stanley, How Fascism Works A person is considered ‘ordinary’ or ‘normal’ by the community simply because he accepts most of its social standards and behavioral patterns; which means, in fact, that he is susceptible to suggestion and has been persuaded to go with the majority on most ordinary or extraordinary occasions. ~ William Sargant, in Battle of the Mind Meanwhile, the financial world became even more dominated by central bankers who haven’t the slightest understanding of free-market capitalism. These twits or criminals—maybe both—have blown the most colossal bubble in history if you account for both price and breadth across the spectrum of asset classes. For the layperson, that means they have set us up for a colossal failure. Go back and re-read Valuations if you cannot picture the epic financial carnage lying dead ahead. The gap between the Fed funds rate and headline inflation has never been this large. These pinheads believe that if the markets do not coincide with their world views, the markets must be wrong. I am not an economist, but it appears that none of them are either. The notion that a dozen nitwits should set the most important price of them all—the price of capital—rather than letting the markets set it through price discovery is financial authoritarianism or what some call State Capitalism. I am angry in case it doesn’t show. Meanwhile, in 2020–21 the Fed contributed to destroying upwards of a half-million mom ’n’ pop businesses—they gutted the middle class—while giving BlackRock credit at 0.15% interest rates to buy up all their houses. Here is my advice to those day trading criminals: look both ways as you enter crosswalks. What I believe the response of society to a severe downturn given the current political climate will be epic. Big downturns come after euphorias. We have never entered a downturn with society at large this grumpy. We are in the early stages of The Fourth Turning.ref 7 The deterioration of every government begins with the decay of the principles on which it was founded. ~ Charles-Louis De Secondat When a State has mortgaged all of its future revenues the State, by necessity, lapses into tranquility, langor, and impotence. ~ David Hume, 1752 So, WTF is going on here? In this final part, I address geopolitics. It begins with a relatively benign analysis of Biden’s first year in office, culminating with what I think Afghanistan is really about. The second section addresses my view of what may prove to be the most important day in US History—January 6, 2021. Although it is my best shot—Dave’s Narrative—I will not attempt to nor will I inadvertently spread the love to both sides of the political spectrum. It is a right-wing view that most right-wing politicians and pundits are too cowardly to state in polite company. The final section addresses the Rise of Global Authoritarianism. For a topic covered by thousands of treatises to call my knowledge skeletal is a reach. I have merely created an intellectual foundation—a chalk outline—to ponder why authoritarianism is here and what could stop it. (Plot spoiler: I do not believe it can be stopped.) They know where we are, they know our names, they know from our iPhones if we’re on our way to the grocery store or not. But they haven’t acted on that to put people in camps yet. They could do it. We could be East Germany in weeks, in a month. Huge concentration camps and so forth. ~ Daniel Ellsberg (@DanielEllsberg), author of The Pentagon Papers and Secrets Before moving on, let me give a plug for a book.ref 8 I have not even finished it yet, but it will change your worldview. Look at those ratings! I can guarantee none of those readers enjoyed it. Kennedy will curdle your bone marrow describing 35 years of atrocities commited by America’s Most Trusted Madman. It is emblematic of a much larger problem. Evil is powerless if good men are unafraid – Americans don’t realize what they have to lose. ~ Ronald Reagan The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary. ~ H. L. Mencken Biden – Freshman Year Scorecard Let’s go, Brandon! ~ Cheers across America Most presidents begin their reign with a calling. Reagan raised our national self-esteem after a period of economic and political malaise. Bush Sr. took on the Gulf War, for better or worse. Clinton oversaw the economic boom and bank deregulation, again for better or worse. Bush Jr. was handed 9/11 and, in my opinion, boned it badly. Obama had to wrestle with the Great Financial Crisis. Trump was charged with disturbing the peace—drain the swamp if you will. Biden undeniably needed to begin healing the social discord that, regardless of its source, left the country wounded and divided. Maybe that was not Biden’s calling, but I wanted to see him become the president of all the people. This is not revisionist history of my failing memory: Biden’s the last of the Old Guard, which is probably why he was slipped into the office by the DNC old guard. I am guessing there will be no Supreme Court stacking; that was just rhetoric (I hope). There will be wars just like every president (except Trump, who brought troops home.) Congress is more balanced again and, at the time of this writing, the Senate is still in Republican hands. Hopefully, the gridlock will usher in some garden-variety dysfunction. I have subtle concerns about a Harris presidency. Admittedly, my opinion is based on precious few facts, but Harris displays a concerning shallowness of character, a lack of a moral compass, and the potential to slide to the left of Bernie. (I sometimes reflect on what it must have been like raising the teenaged Kamala.) I am trying to reserve judgment because first impressions scavenged from the digital world are sketchy if not worthless. ~ 2020 Year in Review By this description, Biden tanked his GPA. He ushered in a Crusade to erase the Trump era and its supporters. The weaponizing of social media and censorship against one’s opponents was probably unavoidable, but the downside will be revealed when the wind changes. Team Biden took banishing of political opponents on social media to new levels by, as noted by Jen Psaki, flagging “problematic posts” and the “spread of disinformation” for censorship. NY Timeslapdog Kevin Roose called for a “reality Czar,” not noticing the Russian metaphor problem. The War on Domestic Terror may prove to be a turning point in American history, one that risks extinguishing the flame of the Great American Experiment. Significant erosions of Constitutionally granted civil liberties discussed throughout the rest of this document may not have been Biden’s fault, but they occurred on his watch. If you see an injustice and remain silent, you own it. I can’t remain silent. Biden is the epitome of the empty, amoral creature produced by our system of legalized bribery. His long political career in Congress was defined by representing the interests of big business, especially the credit card companies based in Delaware. He was nicknamed Senator Credit Card. He has always glibly told the public what it wants to hear and then sold them out. ~ Chris Hedges, right-wing hatchet man Team Biden. Books have been written about Trump’s fumbles in the first months (or four years) of his presidency. See Josh Rogin’s Chaos Under Heaven in Books or Michael Lewis’ less balanced The Fifth Risk reviewed in last year’s YIR. The Cracker Jack team assembled for Joe reveals a glob of feisty alt-left activists and omnipresent neocons. According to Rickards, two dozen players on Biden’s roster were recruited from the consulting firm WestExec Advisors (including Psaki and Blinken.)ref 1 That’s power and groupthink. David Axelrod: You must ask yourself, ‘Why are we allowing him to roll around in the hallways doing impromptu interviews?’ Jen Psaki: That is not something we recommend. In fact, a lot of times we say ‘don’t take questions.’ Young black entrepreneurs are just as capable of succeeding given the chance as white entrepreneurs are, but they don’t have lawyers; they don’t have accountants. ~ Joe Biden Joe Biden, President – Joe is the Big Guy. In an odd sense, he is immunized from criticism because he is visibly losing his marbles. His cognitive decline is on full display; this 52 seconds of gibberish about inflation is emblematic.ref 2 He’s 80 years old, for Cripes sake. I read a book this year entitled, When the Air Hits Your Brain, which derives from a neurosurgical aphorism that finishes with “you ain’t never the same.” Wanna guess who had two brain aneurysms (one rupturing) years ago leading to a miraculous recovery?ref 3 You’re the most famous African-American baseball player. ~ Joe Biden to the Pope, context unknown (possibly even a deep fake)ref 4 I am neither reveling in Joe’s problems nor do I believe he is calling the shots. Claims that the puppet master is Harris are, no offense, on the low side of clueless. Obama seems like a better guess but Barrack was a front man too. Having an impaired leader of a superpower, however, is disquieting and potentially destabilizing, especially with Taiwan in play. Biden’s energy policy that clamped down on fossil fuel production only to ask OPEC to open the spigots is one for the ages. The covid policies bridging both administrations were catastrophic, but throwing workers out of jobs into the teeth of unprecedented labor shortages makes zero sense. The nouveau inflation—Bidenflation—may stick to him like it stuck to Jimmy Carter, but that is unfair to both presidents. Look to the Fed in both cases for blame. Troubles at the southern border and the Afghanistan pullout are a couple of serious logs for a raging inferno that represents Biden’s first year in office. As discussed in a later section, demonizing “white supremacists”—not just political opponents but opponents labeled by their race—will not be viewed well by historians unless history is at a serious fork and Joe is ultimately protrayed as the founder of some new Fatherland. Kamala Harris, Vice President – Whenever situations heat up, Harris is off like a prom dress. During the crisis at the border that she was charged with overseeing, she took off to Europe, cackling about never even visiting the border. Kamala endorsed and claimed credit for the Kabul evacuation.ref 5,6 Realizing she had pulled yet another boner she pulled out before they renamed it Kamalabad. (Hey: At least I had the decency to pass on the Kamalatoe joke.) In a moment of surreal comedy, Harris hosted a public chat with Bill Clinton on “empowering women.”ref 7 She can even serve up semi-reasonable ideas with dollops of cringe. If the Democrats nominate her in 2024, may God have mercy on their souls—she is unelectable—or maybe on our souls—I could be wrong. Jen Psaki, Press Secretary – The role of any press secretary is to calm the press down with nuggets of insight—to feed the birds. When that fails, lie your ass off, all with a cold, calculating sociopathy. I would say she did the best job imaginable given the hand she was dealt. Disagree? I’ll just have to circle back with you on that. Ron Klain, Whitehouse Chief of Staff – This guy might be the rainmaker, but I haven’t quite figured him out. He has the durability of Andrei Gromyko, maintaining a central role through three democratic administrations. Keep an eye on him. Janet Yellen, Secretary of the Treasury – We have yet to find out Yellen’s role because she has not been pressed into service by a crisis. To resolve the minor “meme stock” bruhaha, which did not call for a resolution, she needed an ethics waiver owing to the soft corruption of her bank-sponsored million-dollar speaking tour. My expectations of her are quite low, and I imagine she will meet them. Antony Blinken, Secretary of State – He has a good resume. Like Psaki, he is forced to play a weak hand. He lacks Psaki’s skills. Jennifer Mulhern Granholm, US Energy Secretary – In a press conference she was asked how many barrels of oil a day the US consumes and said, “I do not have those numbers in front of me.” ‘Nuff said. Get her out of there. Merrick Garland, Attorney General – The press will tear anybody a new one so snippets with bad optics are always dangerous. I would say, however, ordering the FBI to investigate parents who get irate at school boards—even those who seem rather threatening—is over the top. Leave that to the local and state police. His role in the January 6th event and push into domestic terrorism is potentially sinister and moves him onto my shitlist. Saule Omarova, nominee for Comptroller of the Currency – This one blows my circuits. She is what in the vernacular is called “a commie” straight from Kazakhstan with a thesis on Marxism—a devout believer that the State should run the show. She also hails from Cornell Law School. (Yeah. I know. STFU.) Matthew Continetti of the National Review noted she is, “an activist intellectual who is—and I say this in the kindest way possible—a nut.”ref 8 There will be no more private bank deposit accounts and all of the deposit accounts will be held directly at the Fed. ~ Saule Omarova, Cornell Law Professor   We want them to go bankrupt if we want to tackle climate change. ~ Saule Omarova, on oil and gas companies For those who have seen the horror movie The Ring, Cornell tried to exorcise the demon by sending “the VHS tape” to Washington, D.C., but it came back stamped “Return to Sender.” She withdrew. Hey Team Biden: you could want to snatch up MIT’s Venezuelan-derived president who is already on the board of the World Economic Forum and was instrumental in pushing Aaron Swartz to off himself.ref 9 John Kerry, Climate Czar – Don’t we have enough Czars? John is charged with flying around the world in his private jet, setting the stage for a 30-year $150 trillion push to make many bank accounts much My disdain for the climate movement catches Kerry in the splash zone. Pete Buttegieg, Transportation Secretary – I must confess to liking Mayor Pete and would have been happier if he had gotten the crash course in the oval office rather than Joe. The one criticism I would make is that taking two months of paternity leave during the nation’s greatest transportation crisis seemed odd. I think when you are in such an important position you find a way. Get a nanny. Bring the twins to your office. Leave them with your spouse. For Pete’s sake (sorry), stay at your post. For the record, after my youngest son was born my wife had health problems. I used to bring him to work and lecture with him in a Snugly and changed a shitload of diapers. You could have done it too, Pete. Samantha Power, Head of the US Agency for International Development (USAID) – Sam is a garden-variety neocon, having served as ambassador to the UN and on the National Security Council, both under Obama. She was central to the planning behind destabilizing Libya,ref 10 which sure looks like a bad idea unless destabilizing the Middle East is our foreign policy. Please just don’t fuck up too much. Cass Sunstein, Homeland Security employee. This is not really an appointment, per se. Cass is the Harvard-employed husband of neocon Samantha Powers. In his 2008 book, Conspiracy Theories, Cass declared “the existence of both domestic and foreign conspiracy theories” to be our greatest threat, outlining five possible solutions, and I quote, “(1) Government might ban conspiracy theorizing. (2) Government might impose some kind of tax, financial or otherwise, on those who disseminate such theories. (3) Government might engage in counter-speech, marshaling arguments to discredit conspiracy theories. (4) Government might formally hire credible private parties to engage in counter-speech. (5) Government might engage in informal communication with such parties, encouraging them to help.” Guys like Cass who come out of Harvard’s CIA training camps are menaces to society. Marvelous hire, Joe. Victoria Nuland, Undersecretary for Political Affairs – She is famous for her hot mic “Fuck the EU” comment and for engineering the coup in Ukraine—a Wonder Bread neocon. William J. Burns, Head of the CIA – I’ve got nothing on Bill, not even a fingerprint. It would be difficult for me to grade him poorly on a curve with the likes of John Brennan, William Casey, and Alan Dulles. (I once had dinner with a former CIA head John Deutch. What a dick.) Christopher Wray, Head of the FBI – As the FBI increasingly looks like the Praetorian Guard for the power elite (both in and out of public office), Wray has followed in the footsteps of his predecessors like J. Edgar Hoover and James Comie to be both top cop and dubious scoundrel. Wray’s fate might be dictated by the ongoing Durham investigation, but I have not seen any heads roll inside the Beltway since Watergate a half-century ago. Tony Fauci, Director of NIAID – That bipartisan, power-hungry authoritarian—The Most Trusted Madman in America—is a recurring theme. He doesn’t know any science. He is a political hack—a chameleon—who survived 35 years multiple administrations by being able slither out of anybody’s claws and regrow his tail. Rochelle Walensky, Director of the CDC – She got serious attention in part 2. I am horrified by her sociopathy. I think she is evil. Amy Gutmann, Ambassador to Germany – Guttman was given the job after giving the Big Guy more than $900,000 in speaking fees and an honorary degree from UPenn when she was the University’s president. I am sure every ambassador pays market rates for the job.  Cathy Russell, Biden’s Director of Presidential Personnel–She is married to Tom Donlin, Chairman of the gargantuan multinational investment firm, BlackRock. Their daughter made it into the Whitehouse National Security Council. A talented family enjoying the political respect accorded to billionaires. Asmeret Asefaw Berhe, Head of the Office of Science – Despite scientific chops as a climate-change-supporting agronomist, she has no administrative experience and is inexperienced in the scientific programs that she is overseeing. Of course, everything is now about the $150 trillion climate grift, so she’s our girl. Jared Bernstein, Whitehouse Economic Advisor – He is highly educated, with a bachelor’s degree in music, master’s degrees in social work and philosophy, and a Ph.D. in social welfare. His greatest strength may be his complete lack of training in economics. Shalanda Baker, Deputy Director for Energy Justice in the Office of Economic Impact and Diversity at the Department of Energy – Is that a salaried position? ‘Nuff said. General Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff – Mark transitioned from the Trump administration. It caused a stir when he went more “woke” than Chelsea Manning. We will no longer defeat our enemy but assign them pronouns and include them. This was followed by a scandal outlined in Bob Woodward’s book in which he instructed military leaders in a secret meeting to bypass Trump on important military decisions.ref 11 He then unilaterally told his peer in the Chinese military that he would drop a dime if there was an impending military conflict. He tried to hang it on the Secretary of Defense, but the Secretary spit the bit fast.ref 12 My theory is that the sudden wokeness was to commandeer allies on the far left knowing that scandal was coming. It worked. He looks like he is right out of Dr. Strangelove without the lip gloss and eye shadow. Xavier Becerra, Secretary of Health and Human Services. He refuses to acknowledge the merits of natural Covid-19 immunity. That puts him near the top of my shitlist. Becerra has no medical or scientific training. He’s a lawyer, but at least he is from an underrepresented group. Rachel Levine, Assistant Secretary of Health and Human Services – I know little about her. She might be the most qualified candidate, certainly more so than her boss Becerra. Call me skeptical of a purely merit-based appointment. Hunter Biden. I was going to place Hunter in the bullets and call him Head of the DEA and National Association of the Arts, but I had reservations. There are sad, heartwarming, and troubling roles played by Hunter Biden. His addiction is a highly personal problem that is difficult for the first family to deal with, especially given other tragedies in their lives. Joe Rogan succinctly explained Hunter’s remarkably odd behavior: “he is a crackhead.” They are part and parcel of being dopesick. Leaked emails from the laptop show Dad to be a compassionate and loving father struggling to save his son. Ironically, old footage surfaced of Joe ranting about how we have to deal with crackheads severely no matter whom they know.ref 13 It did not age well. It is clear that Hunter Biden was selling access and influence. It appears that Joe Biden was aware of that effort. That is very serious. If these emails are false, this is a major story. If they are true, this is a major scandal. ~ Jonathan Turley Before you start blubbering, however, recall that Hunter’s laptop revealed that he was playing critical roles in Russian and Chinese dealings for the Biden family. The Kleenex gets tossed and the gloves now come off. Hunter’s business partner stepped forward admitting nefarious deals were made with Joe involved. Joe denied knowing the clown, but a then photo of the two surfaced.ref 14 This year Hunter also began selling his artwork for up to $500,000 a pop behind a “Chinese Wall”—a veil that ensures we cannot find out who bought the art.ref 15,16,17 The money might literally be from behind a Chinese wall. That buys a lot of crack even after the Big Guy’s 10% cut. Figure 1 shows two paintings, one by a Hunter and the other by two elephants. (No joke, elephants have been painting brilliant pictures free-trunk for decades.) Figure 1. Biden art (left) brought $500,000. The elephant painting (shown being painted) brought $39,000. We are a democracy…there are things you can’t do by executive order unless you are a dictator. ~ Joe Biden, several years ago Executive Orders. Before the first week of his presidency was over, Biden had signed 37 of those beauties. Some, such as the order extending rent moratoria, were overtly unconstitutional. Some merely unwound Trump’s orders that had unwound Obama’s orders. This is dodge ball. While Yale was battling a civil rights case for discriminatory admissions practices, the Biden DOJ dismissed it without comment.ref 18 Yale is said to have promptly destroyed the evidence, which shows they have good lawyers. Transgender athletes were reinstated in women’s sports, ensuring that longstanding records will be shattered.ref 19 It got surreal when UPenn’s transgender swimmer was beaten by Yale’s transgender swimmer.ref 19a An executive order giving the IRS direct access to our bank accounts seems both sinister and inevitable…death and taxes as they say.ref 20 There are a lot of Republicans out there giving speeches about how outraged they are about the situation at the border. Not many who are putting forward solutions. ~ Jen Psaki, forgetting about the wall idea Crisis at the Border. The mainstream press covered this one exhaustively. There are parallels here with the North Africans crossing into Europe several years back. It looks intentional, but why? Don’t tell me about building a democratic base. That is too far in the future and too simplistic. It is far easier to control the elections at the server level. Baffling details include the administration’s suggestion that border agents should be empowered to authorize the immigration of “climate migrants.”ref 21 That could boost a few agents salaries. Rumors of US military planes transporting illegals into the US suggests somebody could punk the elite: load up a boat and drop a couple hundred on Martha’s Vineyard. On further thought, rather than offering Vineyardians more gardeners, drop off some Afghans.ref 22Whoever is calling the shots, this is neither about civil rights nor climate change. Attorney General Merrick Garland clarified the immigration challenge: Today marks a step forward in our effort to make the asylum process fairer and more expeditious. This rule will both reduce the caseload in our immigration courts and protect the rights of those fleeing persecution and violence. If you do that, that will set off a mass migration that’s like nothing that we have ever seen in this country because the entire world will then come on through to get their asylum, essentially legalizing illegal immigration, in a very clever way. ~ Attorney General Merrick Garland WTF did Garland just say? Both his meaning and intent are unclear. The immigrants, of course, were all unvaccinated, which would have been OK by me had the administration not gone Third Reich to vaccinate US citizens. The administration also wanted to offer $450,000 to every immigrant family separated from their loved ones: why?ref 23They seemed to walk that third-trimester idea back and then walked it forward again. A half-billion-dollar, no-bid contract to manage the immigrants went to friends of the administration.ref 24 Your tax dollars at work. At least we are back to business as usual. By the way, where is Border Czar Kamala Harris while all this is going on? Making creepy videos.ref 25,26 People who like quotes love meaningless generalizations. ~ Graham Greene Miscellaneous issues surfaced that either went away or are still festering quietly. On the positive side, stacking the Supreme Court—increasing the number of justices to get a left-leaning majority—seems to have been only a political football. Granting Washington DC statehood, while to a plebe like me doesn’t seem nuts, has the trappings of a massive powershift to the left in national elections. Joe invaded the legal process by declaring Chauvin guilty and Kyle Rittenhouse a white supremacist. Would Obama have done this? I don’t think so. Rittenhouse may get his “10% for the Young Guy” in defamation suits against Joe and every media outlet on the planet. Joe checking his watch five times at the funeral of dead marines didn’t play well,ref 27 but if you put a camera on me I wouldn’t make it to lunchtime without serving up Jim Acosta fresh meat. The main drama of Biden’s first year, however, played out in a distant land.   Afghanistan—where empires go to die. ~ Mike Malloy Afghanistan. I’ve been groping for nomenclature — Afghazi, Afghazistan, Benghanistan, Benghazistan, Saigonistan, Clusterfuckistan, and Bidenistan—to describe this odd moment in history. That 20-year skirmish cost an estimated $2.3 trillion.ref 28 The idea that it was only a few thousand troops with no fatalities in the last year or two makes me question my wisdom, but I can’t start revising history. Whether for right or wrong, I was glad we were getting out. The ensuing Crisis in Kabul looked like the graveyard of a presidency—a combination of the Bay of Pigs and the Iran Hostage Crisis that would dog us for years. They are chanting “Death to America”, but they seemed friendly at the same time. ~ CNN reporter wearing a burka looking for a husband Even before the evacuation started we were hearing about huge caches of weapons that would be abandoned.ref 29 In an eat-and-dash that would make an IHOP waiter wince, we bugged out at 2:00 AM without telling anybody.ref 30Jalalabad Joe had assured us repeatedly the 300,000-strong Afghan army would hang tough. They were defeated in time to chow down on some goat stew for dinner. Images of desperate Afghan’s clinging to transport planes brought up images of the Saigon Embassy rooftop. We left service dogs in cages.ref 31 Marines would never do that. Stranded Americans and Afghan collaborators were begging for help to get to the airport and even to get into the airport.ref 32The administration used a drone to strike on some kids and their dads loading water into a truck to change the news cycle briefly.ref 33 The Afghan who is credited with saving Joe Biden and John Kerry in a disastrous excursion to Afghanistan years earlier got left behind pleading for help:ref 34 Hello Mr. President: Save me and my family. Don’t forget me here. Mercenaries like Blackwater’s Erik Prince tried to prevent Americans from taking The Final Exit,ref 35 only to get stonewalled by the Whitehouse. Meanwhile, the top commander and four-star Wokie, Mark Milley, was too mired in scandal.ref 36 Retired generals were calling for the active-duty generals to resign.ref 37 The withdrawal could not be botched worse if you tried. The populace are now facing a winter of profound famine.ref 38 Rural Afghanistan has been rocked by climate change. The past three decades have brought floods and drought that have destroyed crops and left people hungry. And the Taliban — likely without knowing climate change was the cause — has taken advantage of that pain. ~ CBS News, sticking it like a Russian gymnast This vexing story was from the Theater of the Absurd. Starting with the caches of military equipment left behind, I have two simple solutions that a group of teenagers could have concocted: Announce Blow Shit Up Friday (BSUF). Provide the military personnel with some grenade launchers and a few kegs of beer, grill up some goat burgers, and start blowing shit up. That would be a blast. If that is too unprofessional, you gather all armaments and anything of else of value into an open space. Once the wheels go up on the last troop transport, drop a MOAB—Mother of All Bombs.ref 39 Tough luck for those who were trying to hotwire the stuff when the MOAB arrives. It will take a year to get them out…If you use those billions of dollars of weapons behind I promise they’ll be using them against your grandchildren and mine someday. ~ Joe Biden, Presidential Candidate, 2007ref 40 The collapse of the Afghan Army also couldn’t have come as a surprise. The military and CIA certainly knew that those troops wouldn’t withstand a West Side Story-level brawl.ref 41 The soldiers were paid by the US for their service COD, and there was no C left. Shockingly, most of the payroll booty had long-since been snarfed up by the politicians and top military brass from the only swamp in Afghanistan.ref 42 Whocouldanode? Taliban can murder as many people as they want. But if they keep trolling Biden like this they’re gonna get kicked off of social media. ~ Jesse Kelley, noting the Taliban has an active Twitter feed Here is a script playing out in my noggin. The Crisis in Kabul was an arms deal—Fast and Furious 2.0. One of our top diplomats called the Taliban and said, “We are pulling out in a month. We’ll leave the keys in the ignition and pallets of $100 billsref 43 to help pay for upkeep. If you guys let us sneak out unmolested, you can party like it’s 999—an authentic Taliban-themed fraternity party. We will leave you guns, money, nice facilities, and even a few wives. If you fuck this up, however, we will be right back here.” The Whitehouse also lent a legitimizing tone to the regime when speaking about “working with the Taliban” as part of the deal. In return, the State Department called on the Taliban to form an “inclusive and representative government,”ref 44 so there’s that bit of risible nonsense. Neville Chamberlain couldn’t have done any better. The bottom line: 90% of Americans who wanted to leave Afghanistan were able to leave Afghanistan. ~ Jalalabad Joe Biden That might be a great poll number or inflated final exam grade at a college Joe erroneously claimed to attend, but I am not sure “90%” is impressive in this context. The actual evacuation was ineptly executed from the get-go. Mr. Rogers, with the help of his viewing audience of toddlers, could have Kabuled together a better plan based on the simple precept, “pull out the civilians then the military.” Baffling claims the Whitehouse was obstructing evacuations of charter flights containing Americans was not right-wing propaganda: Where are they going to land? A number of these planes have a handful of Americans, but they may have several hundred individuals who do not have proper documentation of identity….we don’t have manifests for them, we don’t know what the security protocols are for them, we don’t know what their documentation is…hard choices you face in government. ~ Jen Psaki, press conference WTF actually happened? When nothing makes sense your model is wrong. Glenn Greenwald got the scent that withdrawal was intentionally mishandled, suggesting this is “fully within the character of the deep-state operatives.”ref 45We also forgot to destroy our sophisticated FBI-derived software and a complete database containing the biometrics of Friends of the USA,ref 46,47,48 enabling the Taliban to find potential detractors for an attitude correction. Think of it as Afghanistan’s high-tech War on Domestic Terror. The stonewalling of help from other countries also makes no sense using a conventional model.ref 49 Biden’s CIA Director met with Taliban leadership covertly—so covertly we all knew about it—to concoct a “deal”, but what kind of deal?ref 50 During the evacuation, we gave the Taliban names of American citizens, green card holders, and Afghan allies supposedly to let them pass through the militant-controlled perimeter of the city’s airport.ref 51 They would never abuse this list, right? A large number of Afghan refugees—possibly as many as 100,000 according to Tucker Carlson—entering the US are consistent with our open border policy along the Mexican border, but what is that all about? Afghans, by the way, are reputed to be always recalcitrant to assimilate in Europe just in case you’re thinking of renting out your basement as an Airbnb.ref 52 What happened in Afghanistan is not incompetence. We are not that incompetent. ~ General George Flynn The goal is to use Afghanistan to wash money out of the tax bases of the US and Europe through Afghanistan and back into the hands of a transnational security elite. The goal is an endless war, not a successful war. ~ Julian Assange, 2011ref y I have no doubt that blood was shed after we left. More than a few US sympathizers surely lost their heads. As to the stranded Americans, why were they still there? China had evacuated their citizens months earlier.ref 53(Hmmm…Chinese citizens were there?) Two dozen students from the Cajon Valley Union School District and 16 parents there for an enriching summer trip were stranded.ref 54 How did they get visas? That field trip will generate a few college essays that will beat any written about dead grandparents, although Kabul State College may be their only option. This is now on-track, Peter, to be the largest airlift in U.S. history. I would not say that is anything but a success. ~ Jen Psaki to Peter Doucy The media can create, steer, or smother narratives at will. I have a question: Where are all the dead Americans—thousands of them—said to be left behind? Horror stories should be surfacing daily, but they’re not. We shit a mudbrick when One Dead Kashoggi (ODK) got fed to the camels in Saudi Arabia. Three thousand fatalities on 9/11 got us into Afghanistan in the first place. We supposedly left behind “thousands of Americans” but without generating a single headline? So much for that Bay of Pigs­–Iran Hostage Crisis analogy. So here are my next questions and I am deadly serious: Did we get duped? Was the whole thing more sham than farce? There is no such thing as a true account of anything. ~ Gore Vidal Here is Dave’s Narrative. We installed the Taliban as the rulers of Afghanistan as the best of many bad options. The winners are the Taliban and China. The two are inking deals for mineral rights as I type. The chaos was intentional. But why accept such a profound humiliation and dashed hopes of future alliances in global hotspots? I think that the Taliban winning the war in Afghanistan, and then the way our exit happened, has absolutely inspired jihadists all over the world. The Taliban is saying, we just didn’t defeat the United States, we defeated NATO. We defeated the world’s greatest military power, ever. I think, not only will the jihadists be inspired, but a lot of them are going to come to Afghanistan to be part of the celebration, to be part of jihadist central. We are more at risk, without a doubt. ~ Michael Morell, former CIA Director under Obama Maybe China has way more than just Hunter’s laptop to blackmail us and is about to take possession of Taiwan soon. While we await the next Kyle Rittenhouse trial to preoccupy ourselves, take a peek at this video. Skip over the election stuff since we all have rock-hard opinions on that and go to minute 55:30. Xi Jinping’s right-hand man, Di Dongsheng, publicly explained the extent Beijing controls US politics:ref 55 There is nothing in the world that money can’t fix, right? If one wad of cash can’t handle it, then I’ll have two wads. (laughter) Of course this is how I do things. In fact, to be a bit blunt, in the past 30 years or past 40 years, we manipulated the core power circle in the United States, right? I mentioned earlier that Wall Street started to have a very strong influence on U.S. domestic and foreign affairs in the 1970s. So we figured out our path and those we could be dependent on. But the problem is that Wall Street’s status has declined after 2008. More importantly, starting in 2016 Wall Street has no influence on Trump. Why? It is awkward. Trump had a soft breach of contract on Wall Street once, so the two sides had conflicts. They tried to help during the Sino-US trade war. As far as I know, friends from the U.S. told me that they tried to help, but they were too weak. But now we see that Biden has come to power. (crowd laughs) The traditional elites, political elites, and the establishment have a very close relationship with Wall Street. You all see it: Trump talked about Biden’s son, “You have investment funds around the world.” Who helped him build the funds? You understand? There are transactions involved. (laughter) So at this point in time, we use an appropriate way to express a certain kind of goodwill. (applause) ~Di Dongsheng, Vice Director and Secretary of the Center for Foreign Strategic Studies of Chinaref 55 January 6th Capitol Insurrection Alec Baldwin killed more people in 2021 than did the January 6th insurrectionists. Anybody reading this far knows that the January 6th riots stemmed from the right-wing voters who doubted the veracity of the 2020 election. Twitter polls show that view is not as partisan or as rare as the media would lead you to believe. I happen to doubt U.S. election integrity but have for quite a few election cycles. ref 1 Hacked Stratfor emails show the democrats rigged the vote in ’08 ref 2 and Republicans rigged it in ’04.ref 3 It is bipartisan Capture the Flag with red and blue pinnies.ref 4 In any event, Trump’s Green Goblin strategy was to beckon the MAGA faithful to the Capitol to protest the Electoral College signing off on the results. It was not so different than the mobs outside the courthouses trying to subvert the Rittenhouse and Chauvin trials, but the scale of January 6th was much larger and the optics were Biblical. It got out of hand and, at times, even a little Helter Skelter. Mob psychology elicits dramatic changes in brain chemistry and has been the topic of many laboratory studies.”ref 5 Temporary insanity is not a crazy defense. My Tweet got some hysterically hateful responses from the Right who missed the sarcasm and the Left who did not. I think I squandered more of my valuable time left on this planet burrowing through the January 6th story than on the Covid-Vaccine combo platter. I should preface this section by noting that I was praised by a thoughtful long-time reader for being “balanced and measured and carefully worded, even on edgy topics.” I may be on the cusp of disappointing him. It’s impossible to peer at the The Great Insurrection through a non-partisan lens. Both sides may find common ground in the belief that January 6th is a profound fork in the road of the American Experiment. The sock-starching Left will celebrate it as a national holiday every year while the bed-wetting Right will try to ignore it. Both are wrong. Look at that photo and pause to ponder its implications. Put a funny caption to it. Let’s hear from some Republicans first: We must also know what happened every minute of that day in the White House — every phone call, every conversation, every meeting leading up to, during, and after the attack. ~ Liz Cheney I think Lizard nailed it. We’re on the same page. Let’s keep going… January 6 was worse than 9/11, because it’s continued to rip our country apart and get permission for people to pursue autocratic means, and so I think we’re in a much worse place than we’ve been. I think we’re in the most perilous point in time since 1861 in the advent of the Civil War. ~ Michael Dowd, former Bush strategist I would like to see January 6th burned into the American mind as firmly as 9/11 because it was that scale of a shock to the system. ~ George Will, syndicated columnist Mike and George are as unhinged as I am but on different hinges. I think they are delusional and offensive. Edging forward… The 1/6 attack for the future of the country was a profoundly more dangerous event than the 9/11 attacks. And in the end, the 1/6 attacks are likely to kill a lot more Americans than were killed in the 9/11 attacks, which will include the casualties of the wars that lasted 20 years following. ~ Steve Smith, Lincoln Project co-founder Now I’m getting the heebie-jeebies if for no other reason than the Lincoln Project is filled with Democratic operatives (or at least neocons) pretending to be Republicans—as authentic as the Indians at the Boston Tea Party or stepmoms on PornHub. We have seen growing evidence that the dangers to our country can come not only across borders but from violence that gathers within…There is little cultural overlap between violent extremists abroad and violent extremists at home… But in their disdain for pluralism, in their disregard for human life, in their determination to defile national symbols, they are children of the same foul spirit. ~ George W. Bush, a thinly veiled allusion to January 6 George got some serious guff from more than a few of the 80 million Fox-watching extremists including the Grand Wizard: So interesting to watch former President Bush, who is responsible for getting us into the quicksand of the Middle East (and then not winning!), as he lectures us that terrorists on the ‘right’ are a bigger problem than those from foreign countries that hate America. ~ Donald Trump He nailed it. I have stated previously that Bush committed war crimes. Of course, the National Security Machine chimed in… The No. 1 national security threat I’ve ever seen in my life to this country’s democracy is the party that I’m in — the Republican Party. It is the No. 1 national security threat to the United States of America. ~ Miles Taylor, a former Department of Homeland Security (DHS) official Dude! You just tarred about 80 million asses with that brushstroke. Let’s move further left to find some middle ground: They swooned for him on 9/11 because he gave them what they most crave: the view that Al Qaeda is comparable to those who protested at the Capitol on 1/6. ~ Glenn Greenwald, on George Bush’s comments Glenn is part of a growing cadre of liberals including Matt Taibbi, Tim Pool, Bill Maher, The Weinstein Brothers, and Joe Rogan who are unafraid to extend olive branches across The Great Partisan Divide at risk of being labled white supremacists and Nazis, but they are hardly emblematic of the Left. From the elite Left… I think we also had very real security concerns. We still don’t yet feel safe around other members of Congress.  ~ AOC AOC’s comment prompted one pundit to tell her to “get a therapist”, which seems correct given her moment of maximum drama was when a security guard was screaming outside her door, “Are you OK, Ma’am?” #AlexandriaOcasioSmollett began trending on social media when it was disclosed that she was not even in the building when Ragnar and his buddies showed up.ref 6 They will have to decide if Donald J. Trump incited the erection…the insurrection. ~ Chuck Schumerref 7 What ya thinking about Chuckie? We are facing the most significant test of our democracy since the Civil War. That’s not hyperbole. Since the Civil War. The Confederates back then never breached the Capitol as insurrectionists did on Jan. 6. ~ Joe Biden Joe may be on the A-Team, but he hasn’t found his way out of the locker room. The blue-check-marked liberals did not mince words… The 9/11 terrorists and Osama bin Laden never threatened the heart of the American experiment. The 1/6 terrorists and Donald Trump absolutely did exactly that. Trump continues that effort today. ~ S.V. Dáte, Huffington Post’s senior White House correspondent The only effective way for the government to respond to an act of war by domestic terrorists is to be prepared to meet them with machine guns and flamethrowers and mow them down. Not one of those terrorists who broke through police lines should have escaped alive. ~ a Washington Post commenter Moving as far left as you can by tuning into the most cunning commie who can outfox any Western leader… Do you know that 450 individuals were arrested after entering the Congress? They came there with political demands. ~ Vladimir Putin The Cast of this Drama. This Kafkaesque narrative will be scrutinized by historians and democratic operatives for years to come. The Left will cast this event as a truly unique moment in US history, but it was precedented. I see parallels with the 1920’s Bonus Army in which World War I veterans were pissed off about unpaid post-war benefits.ref 8 In the saddest of ironies, many were killed by Army regulars. Some authorities, including a young Dwight Eisenhower, thought it was a benign protest while others thought it was an assault on America. Grumpy crowds appear at the Capitol only on days of the week that end in “y.” Recently, f.....»»

Category: blogSource: zerohedgeFeb 6th, 2022

44 sentimental gifts that"ll make anyone feel loved, from a zodiac necklace to a custom painting

Unique mementos are a way to show someone they're valued and loved. Here are 44 of the best sentimental gifts to make them feel extra special. Prices are accurate at the time of publication.When you buy through our links, Insider may earn an affiliate commission. Learn more.Birthdate co. For those feeling extra softhearted this year, we put together a list of sentimental gift ideas. From personalized gifts to meaningful flowers, you're sure to find inspiration for anyone. Still looking for a gift? Check out our list of the All-Time Best products we've ever tested. If you always give generic gifts, select something off a wishlist, or just send a gift card, you're not alone. It can be difficult to think beyond the practical to pick items that will delight and surprise your recipient. Whether you're on the search for a sweet long-distance gift or looking to truly impress your loved ones, you'll want to choose gifts that are custom, unique, and thoughtful. You can convey just how much you care by referencing fun memories, inside jokes, and hidden interests.We've compiled 44 sentimental gifts, which include a flower subscription, a personalized photo book, and custom socks. Each of these heartfelt gifts are sure to make your giftee feel special and remind them of loving memories and events. If you're looking for more gift ideas, be sure to check out all of our gift guides here.Below are 44 sentimental gift ideas:A book holder for their nightstandCOLwoodCraft/Etsy ColWood Night Stand Book Holder, available at Etsy, $27Your book lover can get rid of their paper bookmark and replace it with this wooden book holder. They can place their book on the stand and pick up where they left off later. You can choose from six different wood color options.A cartoon book illustrating you and your giftee's relationshipLoveBookPersonalized Birthday LoveBook, $54.95LoveBook has customizable cartoon books for you to create your own nonfiction story of you and your giftee. Whether it's a birthday gift for a friend or an anniversary gift for your significant other, LoveBook offers over 10 occasions for you to choose from. A personalized gift boxGreetablPersonalized Gift Box, available at Greetabl, from $19Let them know you're thinking of them with a cute custom gift box from Greetabl. Choose to a mini gift like caramels or chocolates, a gift card, and add a note and photos to be delivered to their door. A monogrammed vegan leather passport coverMark and GrahamFillmore Vegan Leather Passport Case, available at Mark and Graham, $39 ($12.50 monogram fee)For the giftee who loves to travel, a passport cover is a great gift. You can have their initials monogrammed onto the cover to add a thoughtful and special touch to the gift. A name bracelet with handwritten letteringEtsyHandwriting Bracelet, available at Etsy, $27.75A custom piece of jewelry is already a thoughtful gift but this handwritten bracelet from Etsy goes the extra mile. Surprise your gift recipient with a gold, sterling silver, or rose gold bracelet with words on it written in yours or a loved-ones' handwriting. A family cookbook to pass downUncommon GoodsMy Family Cookbook, available at Uncommon Goods, $30The My Family Cookbook is a sweet gift that will keep on giving. After having various family members add recipes, the book can become an heirloom gift that gets passed down to generations. A mug with handwritten wordsLittle Gem Girl/EtsyLoved Ones Handwriting Coffee Mug, available at Etsy, $23.49A mug with a meaningful message is a tender gift for people who may have lost a loved one or who live far away. You can customize this mug with any words you want, printed in your handwriting or someone else's.A floral paint-by-numbers kitUncommon GoodsBirth Month Flower Paint-by-Number Kit, available at Uncommon Goods, $30Inspired by the birth month of your gift recipient, this paint-by-numbers kit is a gift and a fun activity rolled into the one. The kit lets them create a painting of the flowers for their respective birth month, along with an explanation of the characteristics of each month and flower. For example, October is a marigold that represents optimism and positive energy.A monogrammed notebookPapierScallop Spine Notebook, available at Papier, $24.29Whether they love making lists or jotting down new ideas, every writer needs a durable, trusted notebook to store their notes and stories. These unique notebooks can be customized with a monogram and lined, dotted, or plain pages. The notebooks come in solid colors and several fun designs, including the brands The Pahari, Constellation, and Colourblock styles.A fresh flower subscriptionFresh SendsThe Send Bouquet, available at Fresh Sends, from $60Instead of gifting flowers solely during holidays and special occasions, send them beautiful arrangements on a more consistent basis with a subscription from Fresh Sends. Choose from three delivery frequencies and two size options for a unique bouquet every time.A calendar full of cherished personal photosArtifact UprisingPersonalized Walnut Desktop Photo Calendar, available at Artifact Uprising, from $35Photos of loved ones are an instant source of joy. Structuring your daily life around them with a calendar is a great way to fill each day with more gratitude and happiness. Artifact Uprising's desktop calendar is sustainably made from reclaimed wood and fully customizable. You can also choose the calendar's starting month, so you don't have to wait for a new year to create one.A book for your favorite astrology loverBirthdate Co.The Birthdate Book, available at Birthdate Co., $95If they know their sun, moon, and rising sign, this made-to-order astrology book will make the perfect gift. Provide their birthday and time of birth, and the company will create a 70-page book with information and insights customized from their birth chart.One Insider Reviews writer said the book felt extremely personalized, and no two books are the same.A cube of conversation-starting prompt cardsUncommon GoodsTable Topics cards, available at Uncommon Goods, $25Never experience another boring dinner again with these cards from Table Topics. Each cube comes with 135 thought-provoking topic cards to help keep your meals and relationships interesting.With six themed options ranging from card sets for families, couples, and friends, you'll give them the chance to get to know everyone in their life a little better.A customized puzzleEtsyCustomizable photo puzzle, available at Etsy, $34.99Help them stay entertained by gifting them a customized puzzle of their favorite picture. This puzzle also comes with a customized box, making this gift even more special. Choose from any image to commemorate a special event, remember a great vacation, or show love to their favorite pet.A video montage of and from their loved onesMontageA video montage of their loved ones, available at Montage, from $29Ask their friends and family to record and upload videos to be automatically compiled, scored, and delivered for a thoughtful present that's sure to bring on happy tears.An astrology necklaceMejuriA necklace with their zodiac symbol, available at Mejuri, from $90If they're into astrology, get them their zodiac sign in gold. Mejuri offers all signs in its Zodiac Collection in gold vermeil, sterling silver, and 14k yellow gold.A set of socks with their pet's face printed on themTribe SocksCustom Socks with Your Pet's Face, available at Tribe Socks, $24For dog- or cat-lovers, a pair of custom socks with their pet printed on them is a lighthearted but thoughtful gift. For more inspiration for pet-themed gifts, take a look at our guide to the best gifts for dog owners.A custom night sky star map to commemorate a birth, anniversary, or any other dayStarry MapsCustom star map print, available at Starry Maps, from $55Commemorate any special night of their (or your) life by getting it printed on museum-quality 200gsm Matte paper or on canvas.An e-gift card to GoldbellyGoldbellyAn e-gift card, available at Goldbelly, from $25Whether you spend most of your time together trying out different recipes — or they're often treating you to a delicious meal — you may want to turn your gift into a thoughtful, shared experience. Wherever they are in this big old world, they can call in any comforting favorite they please from Goldbelly.A bottle of bourbon as unique as they areReservebarJefferson's Ocean: Aged At Sea Bourbon, available at Reservebar, $79If they're bourbon drinkers, nautical lovers, or both, they might just cherish this forever.An Airbnb gift cardYou could take a coffee masterclass with a national judge in Mexico via Airbnb Online Experiences.AirbnbAn Airbnb Gift Card toward the experience of their dreams, available at Airbnb, from $50Travel might not be an option right now, but Airbnb is currently offering Online Experiences held by instructors from around the world. Treat them to a coffee master class, history lesson, or even a dance class. And in the meantime, they can daydream about their next far-flung adventure or cozy staycation. A custom map posterGrafomapCustom map poster, available at Grafomap, from $49Grafomap is a website that lets you design posters with maps of any place in the world — including their hometown, college town, or favorite travel destination. A personalized photo bookSnapfish/Business InsiderPersonalized Snapfish photo book, available at Snapfish, from $12.99Convert their pile of photos and favorite mementos into one glossy book they can showcase around the home for a cohesive, beautiful keepsake. Expertly framed memoriesFramebridgeFramed photo, available at Framebridge, from $25Framebridge gift card, available at Framebridge, from $25Framebridge makes custom framing for not-custom-framing prices. You can print or paint something on your own and have it framed, or have them print and frame it. You can take advantage of a team of designers to help decide what frame to get.An engraved timepieceUncommon GoodsPersonalized watch, available at Timex, from $75If you're looking for subtle and impactful, engraving a watch is a classic for a reason. They can keep it forever, wear it every day, and know how much personal significance it has without always answering questions from onlookers. It's functional, thoughtful, and timeless.A custom-made comic book telling your shared storyEtsyCustom comic book, available at Etsy, from $549.92If you have the means, few comic book nerds would turn down owning a detailed, beautifully designed comic book featuring them as the lead character or superhero or a comic book version of the story of how they met their partner.Purchase the comic, email the makers telling them the story, and send photos of the characters and event setting to make sure everything looks right. You'll see a rough draft, send back any edits you have, and they'll complete the final copy. Opt for a digital print (emailed) or get it sent to you as a canvas print.A personalized letter necklaceAUrateMini Letter Charm Pendant with White Diamonds, available at AUrate, $560AUrate offers engravings and personalized jewelry, like this necklace with a mini letter charm. Pick a letter and select from 14-karat or 18-karat white, yellow, or rose gold. Learn more about online startups making sustainable, relatively affordable fine jewelry here.A framed quoteMintedPersonalized custom quotes, available at Minted, from $38Frame one of their favorite quotes, lyrics, or sayings and customize everything from font color to matting to make it theirs.A family portrait that includes petsHappyMomentsArts/Etsy/Business InsiderCustom family portrait, available at Etsy, from $15A perfect gift for a couple or a family, you can get a digital download of a custom family portrait that includes their furry roommates.A custom pet portraitCanvasPopCustom pet portrait, available at CanvasPop, from $89If they love their pet more than pretty much anything in the world, a Pet Portrait immortalizing them is a uniquely thoughtful gesture — and decor they're unlikely to have already. You can also get them a custom painting (from $250) if that's more their style or a framed print (from $35.55) of them with their pet.A cute set of mugsUncommon GoodsPersonalized family mugs, available at Uncommon Goods, from $30Turn your family or friends or a newly engaged couple into characters that actually look like them. One side features the artists' depiction of them (personalized through your choices of skin tone, hair, and clothing color) and the mug owner's first name, while the other displays your family name and year established — for friends, this could be the year you met. Turn meaningful audio into artEtsySoundwave art print, available at Etsy, from $70Send in a song and artist or email an audio file of you or a loved one speaking, and this Etsy shop will turn it into personalized sound-wave art. This gift is particularly thoughtful for long-distance relationships or for commemorating a loved one.Long-distance touch lampsUncommon GoodsSet of two Filimin Long-Distance Touch Lamps, available at Uncommon Goods, from $99Everyone is busy these days, and it's not as easy to keep up with loved ones as we all wish. A set of paired lamps, one of which lights up when the other is touched, lets them know you're still thinking of them even when you don't have time to talk. One Insider Reviews editor uses them to keep in touch with her parents.Brightly embroidered pillows of their favorite stateUncommon GoodsHand Embroidered State Pillows, available at Uncommon Goods, $225Bring their favorite state to them with detailed and brightly embroidered pillows that pay homage to each state's cities and cultural touchpoints. A photo print of an important life momentUncommon GoodsIntersection of Love Frame, available at Uncommon Goods, from $75Commemorate the moment their paths first crossed in a sophisticated, unique design.Personalized wine labelsTopBananaPrints/Etsy/Business InsiderCustom wine labels, available at Etsy, from $4.48Celebrate a loved one's birthday, achievements, or new life stages such as a marriage with a bottle of wine and a thoughtful, personalized label they'll want to keep. The blueprint of a beloved ski resortUncommon GoodsSki resort blueprints, available at Uncommon Goods, from $75Whether they grew up on the slopes or drag friends and family along as adults, skiers can take their favorite slopes home with them with this blueprint-inspired art. Featuring iconic ski resorts such as Park City, Vail, and Breckenridge, each officially licensed print is created with a vintage, distressed finish and contains detailed historical and statistical facts about the area.A bound book of love letters, curated from A-ZUncommon GoodsHow Do I Love Thee From A-Z, available at Uncommon Goods, $20Follow 26 prompts laid out in old-school typewriter font to leave your loved one with a bound book of love letters they can keep forever. It's the perfect spot for recording your favorite romantic moments, memories, inside jokes, and all the tiny and enormous reasons why you love them. A poster of you and a loved one styled as your favorite drinksoflifeandlemons/Etsy/Business InsiderPersonalized drinks print, available at Etsy, $23.27Whether you're turning a best friend or a lifelong partner into a cocktail avatar, the quirky Personalized Drinks Print is a sweet and fun approach to sentimental gifting. A portable printerTargetPolaroid Hi-Print Printer, available at Target, $99.99Polaroid's Wireless Mini Printer prints mini photos from your phone or tablet using a WiFi connection. It's small enough to stow in a purse for travel, and there are customizable features like stickers, filters, and borders to edit photos within the Polaroid app. A reel viewer filled with snapshots of old memoriesUncommon Goods/Business InsiderCreate your own reel viewer, available at Uncommon Goods, from $14.95As a kid, flipping through a reel viewer was one of life's greatest joys. Just because they're all grown up doesn't mean they won't like playing with the gadget. Fill the reel with snapshots of their most cherished memories (use the redemption code included with your viewer) for a gift that'll flood them with all sorts of nostalgia.A custom watercolor of their wedding venueJustArtinAround/EtsyCustom watercolor wedding venue illustration, available at Etsy, from $35.99For a deeply thoughtful gift for newlyweds, commission a custom watercolor of their wedding venue or location. All you'll have to do is send the artist a photo of the location, the couple's first and last names, and the wedding date. A candle that smells like homeUncommon GoodsHomesick Candles, available at Uncommon Goods, from $34It's hard to put a finger on just what makes home smell like home, but a whiff of a Homesick candle will transport them there with its nostalgia-inducing scents. Uniquely specific scents are made to capture the ethos of states and cities or memories like road trips, backyard BBQs, and cooking in Grandma's kitchen.If they're far from home, this affordable candle is a small but meaningful gesture that can bring them just a little closer. A cutting board that memorializes a meaningful recipeUncommon GoodsFamily Recipe Cutting Board, available at Uncommon Goods, $100There's something about family recipes that make them taste even better. This cutting board offers a unique way to preserve those special favorites. Ingredients and directions are engraved on solid cherry wood and can even be etched in the recipe writer's handwriting. Read the original article on Business Insider.....»»

Category: topSource: businessinsiderJan 21st, 2022

A Culture War in Four Acts: Loudoun County, Virginia. Part Two, "The Incident”

A Culture War in Four Acts: Loudoun County, Virginia. Part Two, "The Incident” By Matt Taibbi, via Substack An Underground Railroad simulation at an elementary school brings a long-simmering political dispute out into the open, triggering a bizarre series of unfortunate events February 5th, 2019. An educational consultant named Dr. Linda Deans walked to the lectern at a meeting of the Loudoun County School Board. Addressing issues like black student underrepresentation in the gifted programs and overrepresentation in disciplinary cases, she asked the board to remedy matters through more funding of diversity and inclusion positions. Loudoun had a diversity officer, but Deans stumped for a department. “To be real about equity and inclusion, contracting out the work might be a good idea because insiders may be — hmm — influenced by politics,” she said, pausing to apply a dollop of contemptuous stank on the hmm. She went on: “I highly recommend that LCPS offer this serious work to a reputable organization, such as the Loudoun Freedom Center.” The Center, where Deans worked, is a nonprofit founded by charismatic local pastor and new NAACP chapter president Michelle Thomas. The meaning was clear: Loudoun had race problems, and if the board wanted to be credited with taking those seriously, it had to make a financial commitment, and to the right destination. Deans was followed by the Education Chair for the local NAACP chapter, Robin Burke. Burke and husband Steven had recently met with Loudoun’s Director of Teaching and Learning, and weren’t happy. “On Wednesday, January 16th, 2019,” she says, “my husband and I attended a meeting facilitated by Mr. James Dallas to discuss our concerns regarding our son… being denied admission to the Academies of Loudoun.” She paused. “We are convinced that the admission process is disjointed, unfair and represents a clear example of historical institutional racism. Therefore, we expect now more than ever that our straight A-student [son] be unconditionally admitted to the Academies of Loudoun.” The Board was silent for a moment, some members confused. They only set policy and had no power to intervene in an individual gifted admissions question. Also, the admissions process was blind: reviewers had no access to names or racial identities, seeing only test scores, grades, courses taken, etc. To some members, this was an obvious reply to any charge of “historical institutional racism.” To Burke, the blind nature of the testing was the racism. The fact that Loudoun had race-neutral admissions was “true, therefore problematic,” she told me by email. “By removing personal identifiable information,” she added, “it is impossible to assess an applicant’s unique experiences alongside traditional measures of academic achievement such as grades and test scores.” Burke had reached out to several officials about her son. After correspondence didn’t result in changes, she went public with complaints. Asked about this, she replied, “As the Chair of Education for the NAACP, I represent all students of color,” adding that, “These claims were brought to the attention of the School Board and the Superintendent,” whose “inaction led to the NAACP contacting the AGs office.” Loudoun has a gruesome history on race and schools. In 1956, the county infamously voted to defund schools rather than follow the Supreme Court’s historic Brown v. Board of Education desegregation order. Not until 1962 did the first black student attend a “white” school. Segregation was essentially pried from the cold dead fingers of this county’s grandfathers and great-grandfathers, and suspicions in the black community naturally linger. However, the current controversies aren’t a clear continuation of civil rights-era battles. Some aspects may be similar, but the legal context at least is reversed: in place of a decades-long effort on the part of groups like the NAACP to expunge racial considerations from the law, the new thinking is that progress is impossible without them. Whether or not that’s a warranted belief is a separate issue, but it’s how the new debate is framed. Heading into the winter of 2018-2019, a dispute between county officials and the NAACP had been escalating. This disagreement would eventually be memorialized in the aforementioned formal complaint to the Virginia Attorney General’s Office, called NAACP Loudoun Branch vs. Loudoun County Public Schools. Loudoun’s NAACP leadership increasingly felt statistical inequities in areas like gifted admissions or discipline were explained by racism, and policy proposals often mere cover for perpetuation of an inherently discriminatory system. For a long time, they clashed in this with an old guard of county officials trying to cling to do-gooder liberalism’s once-standard position that a variety of addressable factors, including racism but also economics and other issues, were the cause of discrepancies. The latter group’s idea for addressing gifted admissions once involved things like Loudoun’s adoption of EDGE (“Experiences Designed for Growth and Excellence”). The plan was to provide “intensive, engaging support” early in elementary school to talented-but-disadvantaged students to help them compete in the difficult admissions processes ahead. The school system had long been pushing back against more drastic action, like eliminating standardized testing, that might heighten complaints about a lack of rigor in Loudoun’s once-celebrated school system. The county had already eliminated final and midterm requirements in 2015, leading some parents to complain of their kids being left unprepared for college. NAACP officials were more and more uninterested in those concerns, demanding direct intervention to square ugly numbers. In 2017, after data was released showing 88% of Loudoun teachers were white compared with only 48% of students, then-NAACP chapter head Philip Thompson threatened to file a federal civil rights complaint. “We believe we will only see an increase in the number of minority teachers when LCPS puts requirements on the people hiring the teachers,” Thompson said. Rhetorically, this was walking a fine line, since Supreme Court cases like the 1977 Regents of the University of California v. Bakke had deemed explicit racial quotas in public education illegal. According to the Loudoun Times-Mirror, Thompson hastened to add he wasn’t “suggesting the school division adopt racial hiring quotas,” merely applying pressure to meet “targets.” However, putting “requirements on the people hiring” seemed to have a clear meaning. By 2019, the NAACP seemed out of patience, moving toward the Ibram Kendi conception of equity, which holds that “there is no such thing as a nonracist or race-neutral policy.” As Kendi puts it, “racial discrimination is not inherently racist. The defining question is whether the discrimination is creating equity or inequity.” Loudoun in this view fell under the latter category, even if the admissions inequity, for instance, overwhelmingly redounded to the county’s Asian minority. (Ironically, Asians were also massively underrepresented in school hiring in 2017, making up 3% of teachers despite being 20% of the student body, though this fact didn’t make it into the NAACP complaint). When asked about the legality of quotas, which she would later publicly support, Burke’s response was that the legal system itself was part of the problem and therefore not relevant. “As you are aware, the legal system has protected and in some cases perpetuated systemic racism. It was LEGAL to own people,” she said. She added: “LCPS needs to make of amends for the wrong they have done, by helping those who have been wronged, African American students and families. Reperations [sic].” Late in the fall of 2018, a group of fourth-grade teachers at Madison’s Trust elementary school in Brambleton, Virginia got together to plan the curriculum for Black History Month in February 2019. At the time, principal David Stewart was following in the footsteps of Superintendent Eric Williams, described on school websites as a devotee of an educational theorist named Philip Schlechty, by pushing a program called Project-Based Learning. Schlechty scoffed at the idea that a teacher was a mere “facilitator” of “personal development,” seeing the educator as a more muscular figure who helped ensure the “functioning of a democratic society” by “transmitting the collective wisdom of the group” through “authentically engaging activities.” Loudoun’s schools touted “Project Based Learning” as such an “engaging” approach that fused the “3 Rs” (a Relevant, Rigorous, and Responsive curriculum) and the “4 Cs” (utilizing Critical thinking, Communication, Collaboration, and Creativity). What did those seven letters mean, at a school like Madison’s Trust? In practice, that classroom instruction might be bolstered by cross-pollinating lessons with a gym class. The 4th grade team that fall was working on a “PBL” on “Notable African Americans.” One of the school’s three PE teachers volunteered that he’d been to a conference years before, where he’d heard about a plan that sounded to him like a potential complement to any lesson about Harriet Tubman. Ian Prior of the Loudoun parent group Fight for Schools later brought details forward in a story for The Federalist, and noted in a longer private report that this teacher had attended the 2011 meeting of the Virginia Association For Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance (VAPHERD) at the Hyatt Regency in Reston. There, a program was presented called “Underground Railroad” In “Underground Railroad,” kids in a PE class are led through an obstacle course simulating the path of slaves to safety along Tubman’s famous road to freedom. Along the way, they stop at various stations, where they might be introduced to a “drinking gourd” to learn that slaves used the Big Dipper constellation to help find the north star, or help each other move through hula hoops, or watch a video about Tubman, etc. Such simulations have been going on for at least thirty years, if not longer. One educator I spoke with who’d used a version of the program, Geoffrey Bishop of “Nature’s Classroom” in Mukwonago, Wisconsin, said he thought he first came across the idea at a conference in New Hampshire 35 years ago. The most famous “UGRR” simulation is the Kambui Education Initiative, a re-enactment founded by Kamau Kambui, a former devotee to a Malcolm X-inspired secessionist group called the Republic of New Afrika. The Initiative takes place in a thousand-acre slice of Minnesota’s Wilder Forest, dates back to the late eighties at least, and is part living museum, part outdoors adventure. Anthony Galloway, a pastor and equity coach who does use the term “critical race theory” in describing what his “Dare 2 Be Real” program teaches, cites experience with the Kambau Initiative as part of his credentials. However, both he and the current head of the Initiative, Chris Crutchfield, vehemently deny that he or Galloway had anything to do with any public school programs. “It’s abhorrent to me that people might think that,” Crutchfield says. “If it’s not done in the right way, it can be problematic.” In the end, the origin story doesn’t really matter. As the New Yorker wrote last year, “UGRR” simulations became a craze beginning in the nineties, long ago reaching into public school classes from coast to coast. Writer Julian Lucas described it as part of a movement to replace the old Schoolhouse Rock heroes with progressive updates: The runaway has emerged as the emblematic figure of a renovated national mythology, hero of a land that increasingly sees its Founding Fathers as settler-colonist génocidaires. In their stead rises a patriotism centered on slavery and abolition, and a campaign to set the country’s age-old freedom cult on a newly progressive footing. No matter who came up with the Madison’s Trust lesson plan, the idea clearly grew out of this same nest of ideas, with the aim of valorizing Harriet Tubman, Henry “Box” Brown, and other Railroad figures. Until there were complaints, there were plenty of progressive educators in Virginia who seemed to think these simulations were a good idea. A story in the Virginia Pilot from 2006 showed teachers boasting of how lifelike they’d made theirs. In that case, a pair of PE teachers in Chesapeake “transformed their gym into an eerie obstacle course” and “allowed the school’s 800 students to experience a little of what the slaves encountered during their nighttime runs.” Parents volunteered to play roles as slave-catchers and “patrolled the gym to the recorded sounds of barking dogs and galloping horses,” and teachers added heavy doses of verisimilitude: Students who made unnecessary noise or skipped obstacles found themselves caught and wearing gray construction paper manacles. There were no second chances. The slaves never got any, the teachers explained. “Some first- and second-graders cried,” the Pilot noted, in a deeply buried lede. A version of this was even officially approved for use in Loudoun County at one point, only to be discontinued years before the 2019 incident. Though the Loudoun County Schools declined to speak on the record for this story, it’s safe to say there’s disagreement about who signed off on what at Madison’s Trust, whose much watered-down version incidentally didn’t involve dogs or manacles. The Physical Education teachers are adamant that principal Stewart, as well as the Dean, Robert Rauch, visited the simulation in its first days — all of this took place between a Monday and a Wednesday on February 4th, 5th, and 6th, of 2019 — and gave it a thumbs-up. Other teachers and even Stewart tweeted about it in approval, claiming the students were “100% engaged.” Those messages have since been deleted. An amazing part of this story is how close it came to never happening. “We would have been fine not going cross-curricular,” one of the three Physical Education teachers told me. “We’d have been just fine doing our normal stuff.” Much later, what happened in the district would be portrayed as a white backlash against teaching the “truth” about America’s past. Buzzfeed for instance would eventually describe the Loudoun controversy as an effort by “right-wing activists” to “ban lessons and conversations around race, racism, and slavery.” A Washington Post article described local citizens as being against “efforts to promote racial justice,” and blamed Donald Trump and his followers for seeing “hateful lies” in “teaching about slavery and racism.” Yet the triggering incident in Loudoun clearly involved an overenthusiastic attempt to teach students about the Underground Railroad. Any progressive’s knee-jerk response to this story would involve aching to go back in time, Terminator-style, to quash thoughts of sticking “conversations about slavery” in a period normally reserved for volleyball and sack races. The issue wasn’t teachers trying to sabotage an antiracist lesson plan, but rather trying too hard to teach one. Even if you saw it as problematic, it was surely the opposite of not wanting to “teach about slavery and racism.” What happened next followed the pattern after simulations in Carrolton, Ohio, in 1997 (“Living-History Lessons Resurrect Old Wounds”), or Atlanta in 2013 (“Parent Says Slavery Experiment at Camp Went Too Far”) or Chicago in 2018 (“Illinois School Made Black Students Pretend to Be Slaves”) or countless other places: things went wrong. The typical complaint involved a black student coming home with a tale about having been asked to role-play a slave in school, followed by said child’s parent going somewhat understandably ballistic (“That’s when the blood vessel kind of broke,” is how one Atlanta parent described hearing his daughter’s story). The parents of one black child complained about the Brambleton simulation, and what followed was a perfect metaphor for so much of what’s wrong with modern American politics. Continue reading over at Matt's substack Tyler Durden Fri, 12/17/2021 - 19:20.....»»

Category: blogSource: zerohedgeDec 17th, 2021

44 sentimental gifts that"ll make anyone feel loved, from a family cookbook heirloom to an astrological birth chart

Thoughtful mementos are a way to show someone they're valued and loved. Here are 44 sentimental gifts to make them feel extra special. Prices are accurate at the time of publication.When you buy through our links, Insider may earn an affiliate commission. Learn more.Birthdate co. For those feeling extra softhearted this year, we put together a list of sentimental gift ideas. From personalized gifts to meaningful flowers, you're sure to find inspiration for anyone. Still looking for a gift? Check out our list of the All-Time Best products we've ever tested. If you always give generic gifts, select something off a wishlist, or just send a gift card, you're not alone. It can be difficult to think beyond the practical to select items that will delight and surprise your giftee. If you're looking to truly impress your loved ones, you'll want to choose gifts that are custom, unique, and thoughtful. You can convey just how much you care by referencing fun memories, inside jokes, and hidden interests.We've compiled 44 sentimental gifts, which include a flower subscription, a customized puzzle, a personalized photo book, and more. Each of these gifts are sure to make your giftee feel special and remind them of loving memories and events. If you're looking for more gift ideas, be sure to check out all of our gift guides here.Below are 44 sentimental gift ideas:A personalized gift boxGreetablPersonalized Gift Box, available at Greetabl, from $19Let them know you're thinking of them with a cute custom gift box from Greetabl. Choose to a mini gift like caramels or chocolates, a gift card, and add a note and photos to be delivered to their door. A monogrammed vegan leather passport coverMark and GrahamFillmore Vegan Leather Passport Case, available at Mark and Graham, $39 ($12.50 monogram fee)For the giftee who loves to travel, a passport cover is a great gift. You can have their initials monogrammed onto the cover to add a thoughtful and special touch to the gift. A name bracelet with handwritten letteringEtsyHandwriting Bracelet, available at Etsy, $37A custom piece of jewelry is already a thoughtful gift but this handwritten bracelet from Etsy goes the extra mile. Surprise your gift recipient with a gold, sterling silver, or rose gold bracelet with words on it written in yours or a loved-ones' handwriting. A family cookbook to pass downUncommon GoodsMy Family Cookbook, available at Uncommon Goods, $30The My Family Cookbook is a sweet gift that will keep on giving. After having various family members add recipes, the book can become an heirloom gift that gets passed down to generations. A personalized children's bookAmazonGoodnight Little Me Personalized Book, available at Amazon, $39.99The Goodnight Little Me book is a sweet gift for new parents or your favorite kids. This custom bedtime book can be personalized with any child's name and includes gorgeous illustrations from the designer of the Harry Potter series' US covers. Check out our guide to the best gifts for new parents for more gift-giving ideas. A mug with handwritten wordsLittle Gem Girl/EtsyLoved Ones Handwriting Coffee Mug, available at Etsy, $29A mug with a meaningful message is a tender gift for people who may have lost a loved one or who live far away. You can customize this mug with any words you want, printed in your handwriting or someone else's.A floral paint-by-numbers kitUncommon GoodsBirth Month Flower Paint-by-Number Kit, available at Uncommon Goods, $30Inspired by the birth month of your gift recipient, this paint-by-numbers kit is a gift and a fun activity rolled into the one. The kit lets them create a painting of the flowers for their respective birth month, along with an explanation of the characteristics of each month and flower. For example, October is a marigold that represents optimism and positive energy.A monogrammed notebookPapierScallop Spine Notebook, available at Papier, $26.99Whether they love making lists or jotting down new ideas, every writer needs a durable, trusted notebook to store their notes and stories. These unique notebooks can be customized with a monogram and lined, dotted, or plain pages. The notebooks come in solid colors and several fun designs, including the brands The Pahari, Constellation, and Colourblock styles.A set of low-maintenance plantsThe SillPlant Parent Set, available at The Sill, from $48Add some greenery into their space with this set of easy-to-care-for plants from The Sill. Choose from sets of three to seven plants that change seasonally.A fresh flower subscriptionFresh SendsThe Send Bouquet, available at Fresh Sends, from $55Instead of gifting flowers solely during holidays and special occasions, send them beautiful arrangements on a more consistent basis with a subscription from Fresh Sends. Choose from three delivery frequencies and two size options for a unique bouquet every time.A calendar full of cherished personal photosArtifact UprisingPersonalized Walnut Desktop Photo Calendar, available at Artifact Uprising, from $35Photos of loved ones are an instant source of joy. Structuring your daily life around them with a calendar is a great way to fill each day with more gratitude and happiness. Artifact Uprising's desktop calendar is sustainably made from reclaimed wood and fully customizable. You can also choose the calendar's starting month, so you don't have to wait for a new year to create one.A book for your favorite astrology loverBirthdate Co.The Birthdate Book, available at Birthdate Co., $115If they know their sun, moon, and rising sign, this made-to-order astrology book will make the perfect gift. Provide their birthday and time of birth, and the company will create a 70-page book with information and insights customized from their birth chart.One Insider Reviews writer said the book felt extremely personalized, and no two books are the same.A cube of conversation-starting prompt cardsUncommon GoodsTable Topics cards, available at Uncommon Goods, $25Never experience another boring dinner again with these cards from Table Topics. Each cube comes with 135 thought-provoking topic cards to help keep your meals and relationships interesting.With six themed options ranging from card sets for families, couples, and friends, you'll give them the chance to get to know everyone in their life a little better.A customized puzzleEtsyCustomizable photo puzzle, available at Etsy, $31.49Help them stay entertained by gifting them a customized puzzle of their favorite picture. This puzzle also comes with a customized box, making this gift even more special. Choose from any image to commemorate a special event, remember a great vacation, or show love to their favorite pet.A video montage of and from their loved onesMontageA video montage of their loved ones, available at Montage, from $29Ask their friends and family to record and upload videos to be automatically compiled, scored, and delivered for a thoughtful present that's sure to bring on happy tears.An astrology necklaceMejuriA necklace with their zodiac symbol, available at Mejuri, from $75If they're into astrology, get them their zodiac sign in gold. Mejuri offers all signs in its Zodiac Collection in gold vermeil, sterling silver, and 14k yellow gold.A set of socks with their pet's face printed on themTribe SocksCustom Socks with Your Pet's Face, available at Tribe Socks, $24For dog- or cat-lovers, a pair of custom socks with their pet printed on them is a lighthearted but thoughtful gift. For more inspiration for pet-themed gifts, take a look at our guide to the best gifts for dog owners.A custom night sky star map to commemorate a birth, anniversary, or any other dayStarry MapsCustom star map print, available at Starry Maps, from $55Commemorate any special night of their (or your) life by getting it printed on museum-quality 200gsm Matte paper or on canvas.An e-gift card to GoldbellyGoldbellyAn e-gift card, available at Goldbelly, from $25Whether you spend most of your time together trying out different recipes — or they're often treating you to a delicious meal — you may want to turn your gift into a thoughtful, shared experience. Wherever they are in this big old world, they can call in any comforting favorite they please from Goldbelly.A bottle of bourbon as unique as they areReservebarJefferson's Ocean: Aged At Sea Bourbon, available at Reservebar, $79If they're bourbon drinkers, nautical lovers, or both, they might just cherish this forever.An Airbnb gift cardYou could take a coffee masterclass with a national judge in Mexico via Airbnb Online Experiences.AirbnbAn Airbnb Gift Card toward the experience of their dreams, available at Airbnb, from $50Travel might not be an option right now, but Airbnb is currently offering Online Experiences held by instructors from around the world. Treat them to a coffee master class, history lesson, or even a dance class. And in the meantime, they can daydream about their next far-flung adventure or cozy staycation. A custom map posterGrafomapCustom map poster, available at Grafomap, from $49Grafomap is a website that lets you design posters with maps of any place in the world — including their hometown, college town, or favorite travel destination. A personalized photo bookSnapfish/Business InsiderPersonalized Snapfish photo book, available at Snapfish, from $12.99Convert their pile of photos and favorite mementos into one glossy book they can showcase around the home for a cohesive, beautiful keepsake. Expertly framed memoriesFramebridgeFramed photo, available at Framebridge, from $25Framebridge gift card, available at Framebridge, from $25Framebridge makes custom framing for not-custom-framing prices. You can print or paint something on your own and have it framed, or have them print and frame it. You can take advantage of a team of designers to help decide what frame to get.An engraved timepieceUncommon GoodsPersonalized watch, available at Timex, from $75If you're looking for subtle and impactful, engraving a watch is a classic for a reason. They can keep it forever, wear it every day, and know how much personal significance it has without always answering questions from onlookers. It's functional, thoughtful, and timeless.A custom-made comic book telling your shared storyEtsyCustom comic book, available at Etsy, from $433.88If you have the means, few comic book nerds would turn down owning a detailed, beautifully designed comic book featuring them as the lead character or superhero or a comic book version of the story of how they met their partner.Purchase the comic, email the makers telling them the story, and send photos of the characters and event setting to make sure everything looks right. You'll see a rough draft, send back any edits you have, and they'll complete the final copy. Opt for a digital print (emailed) or get it sent to you as a canvas print.A personalized letter necklaceAUrateMini Letter Charm Pendant with White Diamonds, available at AUrate, $560AUrate offers engravings and personalized jewelry, like this necklace with a mini letter charm. Pick a letter and select from 14-karat or 18-karat white, yellow, or rose gold. Learn more about online startups making sustainable, relatively affordable fine jewelry here.A framed quoteMintedPersonalized custom quotes, available at Minted, from $38Frame one of their favorite quotes, lyrics, or sayings and customize everything from font color to matting to make it theirs.A family portrait that includes petsHappyMomentsArts/Etsy/Business InsiderCustom family portrait, available at Etsy, from $15A perfect gift for a couple or a family, you can get a digital download of a custom family portrait that includes their furry roommates.A custom pet portraitCanvasPopCustom pet portrait, available at CanvasPop, from $89If they love their pet more than pretty much anything in the world, a Pet Portrait immortalizing them is a uniquely thoughtful gesture — and decor they're unlikely to have already. You can also get them a custom painting (from $250) if that's more their style or a framed print (from $35.55) of them with their pet.A cute set of mugsUncommon GoodsPersonalized family mugs, available at Uncommon Goods, from $30Turn your family or friends or a newly engaged couple into characters that actually look like them. One side features the artists' depiction of them (personalized through your choices of skin tone, hair, and clothing color) and the mug owner's first name, while the other displays your family name and year established — for friends, this could be the year you met. Turn meaningful audio into artEtsySoundwave art print, available at Etsy, from $70Send in a song and artist or email an audio file of you or a loved one speaking, and this Etsy shop will turn it into personalized sound-wave art. This gift is particularly thoughtful for long-distance relationships or for commemorating a loved one.Long-distance touch lampsUncommon GoodsSet of two Filimin Long-Distance Touch Lamps, available at Uncommon Goods, from $85Everyone is busy these days, and it's not as easy to keep up with loved ones as we all wish. A set of paired lamps, one of which lights up when the other is touched, lets them know you're still thinking of them even when you don't have time to talk. One Insider Reviews editor uses them to keep in touch with her parents.Brightly embroidered pillows of their favorite stateUncommon GoodsHand Embroidered State Pillows, available at Uncommon Goods, $225Bring their favorite state to them with detailed and brightly embroidered pillows that pay homage to each state's cities and cultural touchpoints. A photo print of an important life momentUncommon GoodsIntersection of Love Frame, available at Uncommon Goods, from $75Commemorate the moment their paths first crossed in a sophisticated, unique design.Personalized wine labelsTopBananaPrints/Etsy/Business InsiderCustom wine labels, available at Etsy, from $4.47Celebrate a loved one's birthday, achievements, or new life stages such as a marriage with a bottle of wine and a thoughtful, personalized label they'll want to keep. The blueprint of a beloved ski resortUncommon GoodsSki resort blueprints, available at Uncommon Goods, from $75Whether they grew up on the slopes or drag friends and family along as adults, skiers can take their favorite slopes home with them with this blueprint-inspired art. Featuring iconic ski resorts such as Park City, Vail, and Breckenridge, each officially licensed print is created with a vintage, distressed finish and contains detailed historical and statistical facts about the area.A bound book of love letters, curated from A-ZUncommon GoodsHow Do I Love Thee From A-Z, available at Uncommon Goods, $20Follow 26 prompts laid out in old-school typewriter font to leave your loved one with a bound book of love letters they can keep forever. It's the perfect spot for recording your favorite romantic moments, memories, inside jokes, and all the tiny and enormous reasons why you love them. A poster of you and a loved one styled as your favorite drinksoflifeandlemons/Etsy/Business InsiderPersonalized drinks print, available at Etsy, $22.95Whether you're turning a best friend or a lifelong partner into a cocktail avatar, the quirky Personalized Drinks Print is a sweet and fun approach to sentimental gifting. A portable printerTargetPolaroid Hi-Print Printer, available at Target, $99.99Polaroid's Wireless Mini Printer prints mini photos from your phone or tablet using a WiFi connection. It's small enough to stow in a purse for travel, and there are customizable features like stickers, filters, and borders to edit photos within the Polaroid app. A reel viewer filled with snapshots of old memoriesUncommon Goods/Business InsiderCreate your own reel viewer, available at Uncommon Goods, from $14.95As a kid, flipping through a reel viewer was one of life's greatest joys. Just because they're all grown up doesn't mean they won't like playing with the gadget. Fill the reel with snapshots of their most cherished memories (use the redemption code included with your viewer) for a gift that'll flood them with all sorts of nostalgia.A custom watercolor of their wedding venueJustArtinAround/EtsyCustom watercolor wedding venue illustration, available at Etsy, from $35.99For a deeply thoughtful gift for newlyweds, commission a custom watercolor of their wedding venue or location. All you'll have to do is send the artist a photo of the location, the couple's first and last names, and the wedding date. A candle that smells like homeUncommon GoodsHomesick Candles, available at Uncommon Goods, from $34It's hard to put a finger on just what makes home smell like home, but a whiff of a Homesick candle will transport them there with its nostalgia-inducing scents. Uniquely specific scents are made to capture the ethos of states and cities or memories like road trips, backyard BBQs, and cooking in Grandma's kitchen.If they're far from home, this affordable candle is a small but meaningful gesture that can bring them just a little closer. A cutting board that memorializes a meaningful recipeUncommon GoodsFamily Recipe Cutting Board, available at Uncommon Goods, $100There's something about family recipes that make them taste even better. This cutting board offers a unique way to preserve those special favorites. Ingredients and directions are engraved on solid cherry wood and can even be etched in the recipe writer's handwriting. Read the original article on Business Insider.....»»

Category: dealsSource: nytDec 3rd, 2021

I went to "the shuttlecock of the Confederacy" to hear what people there thought about critical race theory. I heard about equity instead.

School-board meetings are now academic battlegrounds, but in Winchester, Virginia, a reporter found a town trying hard to teach about racial equity. A Confederate monument in Winchester, Virginia.Photo by Nicole Gaudiano/ Insider Protesters have fought school boards over masks, books, and "critical race theory." But equity was the dominant theme at a school-board meeting in Winchester, Virginia. And no one showed up to protest. School-board meetings across the US have grabbed headlines for turning into battlegrounds over face-mask policies, controversial books, and critical race theory. The internet is awash with photos of parents and children at meetings hoisting signs in protest, demanding an end to teachings on race and diversity in schools.But none of that happened at a school-board meeting I attended Monday in Winchester, Virginia, a city rich with Civil War history in the Shenandoah Valley.It would seem this independent city in Frederick County, about 65 miles from Washington, DC, could have the potential for flare-ups on race education. After all, the quaint historic downtown area has a statue of a Confederate soldier in the center of the restaurant and shopping area, just in front of a Civil War museum. And Winchester earned the nickname "the shuttlecock of the Confederacy" because it was the most contested town during the Civil War.By contrast, the dominant theme at the meeting at John Kerr Elementary School was equity. No one there argued that schools were "indoctrinating" children. No citizens signed up to speak during the public-comment period. School-board members spent opening remarks thanking one another and the community and wishing everyone a Happy Thanksgiving.The meeting was so sedate, I had time to order a couple of Christmas presents on Amazon while there."I don't take a ton of phone calls," said Winchester Public Schools' superintendent, Jason Van Heukelum, who agreed to sit down with me after I assured him I wasn't pursuing a gotcha agenda. "When we had to decide on the masks...well, then we got some public comment." When the state issued its more-inclusive transgender policy, Van Heukelum said, the public comments from Winchester were both for and against it.What about critical race theory? Van Heukelum said it wasn't until the most recent election in Virginia when he heard about critical race theory, a college-level study of racial bias in US laws. Republicans have been fueling controversy over it, even though educators say it isn't taught in K-12 schools. A pledge by Virginia's Republican governor-elect, Glenn Youngkin, to "ban" critical race theory was an applause line during his campaign.Once Van Heukelum learned what it meant, he said, he "adamantly" explained to anyone who asked that it's not part of the formal curriculum or the way the district taught students.Winchester Public Schools' superintendent, Jason Van Heukelum, at a school-board meeting on Monday.Photo by Nicole Gaudiano/ InsiderA far cry from the heated culture wars elsewhereThe reaction to the topic in Winchester, which is about 140 miles north of Virginia's state capital, Richmond, was a far cry from the heated culture-war protests around the US, including in nearby Loudoun County. No parents spoke about critical race theory publicly at school-board meetings, but they called and emailed a few times, Van Heukelum said."Some are genuinely curious, like: 'I heard this in the news. What's this all about?'" Van Heukelum added. "Others seem to have bought into this belief that there's a hidden curriculum or a hidden agenda in the public schools, which there is not, and are very either upset or angry or, you know, trying to put forward a mentality of, this should not be in our public schools."In 2020, protesters gathered at the Confederate statue in Winchester after the murder of the Black man George Floyd by a white police officer during an arrest in Minneapolis. A petition to remove the statue gathered more than 5,000 signatures. Another petition had nearly 900 signatures to keep it. But the statue hasn't been an issue for the school system, Van Heukelum said."It's certainly an opportunity for our teachers to navigate the current national narrative around statues and naming, etc., as a current-events piece," Van Heukelum said.Local history is becoming increasingly important, he said, and another example of that is the remodeling and expansion of the historic Douglas School, where Black students were educated before schools were integrated, and an oral-history project with alumni.The vision is to make the stories and visits to the building part of the curriculum for fourth graders so they can learn about the history and accomplishments of Winchester's Black community. High schoolers enrolled in a new African American history class will serve as guides, Van Heukelum said. "We're trying to make it relevant and real to our community," he said.John Kerr Elementary School in Winchester, where the school board held a meeting on Monday.Photo by Nicole Gaudiano/ InsiderWinchester was hotly contested during the Civil War and changed hands more than 70 times. These days, the city is represented in Congress by a Democrat — Rep. Jennifer Wexton — but Youngkin only narrowly lost to the Democrat Terry McAuliffe there, 50.54% to 48.69%.The student body is diverse, and the school system appears to be responding to that diversity with an "equity policy" requiring annual reports on its progress.In August, Rep. Andy Harris, a Maryland Republican, warned about critical-race-theory "code words" like "equity" at a school-board meeting in Dorchester, Maryland, some 180 miles away from Winchester. "I don't even know what that means," Harris said.But in Winchester, the school board's policy says the word equity "refers to fostering a barrier-free environment" where all students can benefit from high standards, support, and effective learning environments and resources.I visited a local Walmart and asked Taryn Roberts, a mother from Winchester, what she wanted her three children to learn about race and equity. "I want them to be understanding that there's different people, and they're going to look different than you, so you shouldn't treat them different," she said. I wanted to hear more, but we were just inside the front doors, and a store employee told me, "We can't have you doing this on Walmart property."Fair enough.At a nearby Target, another mother who lives in West Virginia but works in Winchester said she'd heard some people were "offended," perhaps because of outreach to Hispanic students. "When it comes to our country, they should know our language, too, and not pick and choose over our children's way of, you know, doing things and how they speak," Mary Hicks said.The Winchester school system's Hispanic population is growing, and children are "on fire" learning both Spanish and English in the dual-language program, Van Heukelum said. He said he could count on one hand the phone calls from families who had said, "I don't like that, I'm out."During the school-board meeting I attended, teachers gave a presentation on the benefits of the dual-language program at the middle school. The equity and family-empowerment coordinator delivered an equity report.The data on "culturally responsive instruction" for Winchester Public Schools showed that an average of 50% of sixth-through-12th graders felt they saw representations of themselves reflected in the curriculum and instruction, but only 46% of Black students felt that way."We're putting that on the table transparently to say, 'Hey, we're not going to hide from this, we're not going to sweep it on the rug,'" Van Heukelum said. "'We're going to look at it, analyze it and ask critical questions to say, why might that be? What might we do differently as an organization to make sure that all of our kids feel included?'"Read the original article on Business Insider.....»»

Category: topSource: businessinsiderNov 25th, 2021

Five Trump-Russia "Collusion" Corrections We Need From The Media Now

Five Trump-Russia 'Collusion' Corrections We Need From The Media Now Authored by Aaron Maté via RealClearInvestigations.com, Five years after the Hillary Clinton campaign-funded collection of Trump-Russia conspiracy theories known as the Steele dossier was published by BuzzFeed, news outlets that amplified its false allegations have suffered major losses of credibility. The recent indictment of the dossier's main source, Igor Danchenko, for allegedly lying to the FBI, has catalyzed a new reckoning. In response to what the news site Axios has called "one of the most egregious journalistic errors in modern history," the Washington Post has re-edited at least a dozen stories related to Steele. For two of those, the Post removed entire sections, changed headlines, and added lengthy editor's notes. Rosalind Helderman: Bylined reporter on two of the Post's most corrected stories. Twitter/@PostRoz Tom Hamburger: Other bylined reporter on two of the Post's most corrected stories. Twitter/@thamburger But the Post's response also exhibits the limits of the media's Steele-induced self-examination. First, the reporters bylined on those two articles, Rosalind S. Helderman and Tom Hamburger, and their editors have declined to explain how and why they were so egregiously misled. Nor have they revealed the names of the anonymous sources responsible for deceiving them and the public over months and years. Perhaps more important, the Post, like other publications, has so far limited its Russiagate reckoning to work directly involving Steele – and only after a federal indictment forced its hand. But the Steele dossier has been widely discredited since at least April 2019, when Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller and his team of prosecutors and FBI agents were unable to find evidence in support of any of its claims. The dossier was also only one aspect of the Trump-Russia misinformation fed to the public. Even when not advancing Steele's most lurid allegations, the nation's most prominent news outlets nonetheless furthered his underlying narrative of a Trump-Russia conspiracy and a Kremlin-compromised White House. Along the way, some journalists won their profession's highest distinction for this flawed coverage. While co-bylining stories that the Post has all but retracted, Helderman and Hamburger also share a now increasingly awkward honor along with more than a dozen other colleagues at the Post and New York Times: a Pulitzer Prize. In 2018, the Pulitzer awards committee honored the two papers for 20 articles it described as "deeply sourced, relentlessly reported coverage in the public interest that dramatically furthered the nation's understanding of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and its connections to the Trump campaign, the President-elect's transition team and his eventual administration." Above, Washingon Post and New York Times reporters whose 2018 Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting on the Trump-Russia affair is tainted by evidence in the public record that significant reporting was erroneous or misleading -- reporting that still has not been corrected by their publications, even though the Post recently made numerous corrections regarding the long-discredited Steele dossier. Journalist identifications are here. (Credit: YouTube/The Pulitzer Prizes) Although neither newspaper has given any indication that it is returning the Pulitzer, the public record has long made clear that many of those stories – most of which had nothing to do with Steele – include falsehoods and distortions requiring significant corrections. Far from showing "deeply sourced, relentlessly reported coverage," the Post's and the Times' reporting has the same problem as the Steele document that these same outlets are now distancing themselves from: a reliance on anonymous, deceptive, and almost certainly partisan sources for claims that proved to be false. Many other prestigious outlets published a barrage of similarly flawed articles. These include the report by Peter Stone and Greg Gordon of McClatchy that the Mueller team obtained evidence that Trump lawyer Michael Cohen had visited Prague in 2016; Jane Mayer's fawning March 2018 profile of Steele in the New Yorker; the report by Jason Leopold and Anthony Cormier of BuzzFeed that President Trump instructed Cohen to lie to Congress -- explicitly denied by Mueller at the time; and Luke Harding of The Guardian's bizarre and evidence-free allegation that Julian Assange and Paul Manafort met in London's Ecuadorian embassy. McClatchy and BuzzFeed have added editors' notes to their stories but have not retracted them.  In this article, RealClearInvestigations has collected five instances of stories containing false or misleading claims, and thereby due for retraction or correction, that were either among the Post and Times' Pulitzer-winning entries, or other work of reporters who shared that prize. Significantly, this analysis is not based on newly discovered information, but documents and other material long in the public domain. Remarkably, some of the material that should spark corrections has instead been held up by the Post and Times as vindication of their work. RCI sent detailed queries about these stories to the Post, the Times, and the journalists involved. The Post's response has been incorporated into the relevant portion of this article. The Times did not respond to RCI's queries by the time of publication. Falsehood No. 1: Michael Flynn Discussed Sanctions With Russia and Lied About It Flynn faces the press in his only White House Briefing Room remarks as national security adviser. YouTube/C-SPAN Officials say Flynn discussed sanctions By Greg Miller, Adam Entous and Ellen NakashimaWashington Post, February 9, 2017 Less than a month after BuzzFeed published the Steele dossier, the Washington Post significantly advanced the then-growing narrative that the Trump White House was beholden to Russia. A Feb. 9, 2017, Post article claimed that National Security Adviser Michael Flynn "privately discussed U.S. sanctions against Russia" with Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak "during the month before President Trump took office, contrary to public assertions by Trump officials." The Post sourced its reporting to nine "current and former officials" who occupied "senior positions at multiple agencies at the time of the calls" between Flynn and Kislyak following the Nov. 8, 2016 election. The Post's sources – who were revealing classified information, presumably from taps on Kislyak's phone – left no room for doubt: "All of those officials said Flynn's references to the election-related sanctions were explicit." They also added their own spin to the meaning of the conversations: Flynn's calls with Kislyak "were interpreted by some senior U.S. officials as an inappropriate and potentially illegal signal to the Kremlin that it could expect a reprieve from sanctions that were being imposed by the Obama administration in late December to punish Russia for its alleged interference in the 2016 election." Adding some mind-reading to the narrative, a former official told the Post that Kislyak "was left with the impression that the sanctions would be revisited at a later time." The Post and its sources fueled innuendo that Flynn had floated a payback for Russia's alleged 2016 election help and lied to cover it up. Facing a barrage of anonymous officials contradicting him, Flynn walked back an initial denial and told the Post that "while he had no recollection of discussing sanctions, he couldn't be certain that the topic never came up." Four days later, he was forced to resign. The following December, Special Counsel Mueller seemingly vindicated the Post's narrative when Flynn pleaded guilty to making false statements to the FBI, including about his discussion of sanctions with the Russian ambassador. Flynn would later backtrack and reverse that guilty plea, sparking a multi-year legal saga. When the transcripts of his calls with Kislyak were finally released in May 2020, they showed that Flynn had grounds to fight: It wasn't Flynn who made a false statement about discussing sanctions with Kislyak; it was all nine of the Post's sources — and, later, the Mueller team — who had misled the public. Sergei Kislyak: Transcripts of Flynn's calls with the Russian Ambassador do not square with the Washington Post's reporting. AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File In all of Flynn's multiple conversations with Kislyak in December 2016 and January 2017, the issue of sanctions only gets one fleeting mention – by Kislyak. The Russian ambassador tells Flynn that he is concerned that sanctions will hurt U.S.-Russia cooperation on fighting jihadist insurgents in Syria. The sum total of Flynn's response on the matter: "Yeah, yeah." The pair did have a longer discussion about a separate action Obama had ordered at the time: the expulsion of 35 Russian officials living in the United States. The expulsions, which were carried out by the State Department, were a distinct action from the sanctions, which targeted nine Russian entities and individuals under a presidential executive order. In discussing the expulsions, Flynn never addressed what Trump might do; his only request was that the Kremlin's response be "reciprocal" and "even-keeled" so that "cool heads" can "prevail." "[D]on't go any further than you have to," Flynn told Kislyak. "Because I don't want us to get into something that has to escalate, on a, you know, on a tit for tat." In its rendering of the call, the Mueller team cited these comments from Flynn – but inaccurately claimed that he had made them about sanctions. The Special Counsel's Office appeared to be following the lead of the Post's sources, who had claimed, falsely, that Flynn's references to sanctions were "explicit." Both the Post and the special counsel used Flynn's explicit comments about expulsions to erroneously assert that he had discussed sanctions. Yet the release of the transcripts did not prompt the Post to come clean. Instead, both the Post and the New York Times doubled down on the deception. The Post's May 29, 2020, story about the transcripts' release was headlined "Transcripts of calls between Flynn, Russian diplomat show they discussed sanctions." The Times claimed that same day that "Flynn Discussed Sanctions at Length With Russian Diplomat, Transcripts Show." In reality, the transcripts showed the exact opposite. In response to RCI, the Post acknowledged that the Feb. 9, 2017 story had conflated "sanctions" with "expulsions." "We appropriately used the word 'sanctions' in reference to the punitive measures announced by President Obama, including Treasury penalties on Russian individuals, expulsions of Russian diplomats/spies and the seizure of two Russia-owned properties," Shani George, the Post's Vice President for Communications, wrote. In other articles, however -- including a Dec. 29, 2016 article linked in the Feb. 9 story's second paragraph – the Post made a clear distinction between the two. Asked about dropping the distinction between sanctions and expulsions for the article discussed here, the Post did not respond by the time of publication.  Falsehood No. 2: Repeated Contacts With Russian Intelligence Left to right, Carter Page, Paul Manafort, Roger Stone: Repeated contacts with Russian spies? Doubtful. FNC/AP Trump Campaign Aides Had Repeated Contacts With Russian Intelligence By Michael S. Schmidt, Mark Mazzetti and Matt ApuzzoNew York Times, February 14, 2017 On Feb. 14, 2017 – just one day after Flynn resigned – the New York Times fanned the flames of the growing Trump-Russia inferno. "Phone records and intercepted calls show that members of Donald J. Trump's 2016 presidential campaign and other Trump associates had repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials in the year before the election, according to four current and former American officials," the Times reported. The story, written by three members of the paper's Pulitzer Prize-winning team, Michael S. Schmidt, Mark Mazzetti and Matt Apuzzo, also suggested that these suspicious "repeated contacts" were the basis for the FBI's investigation of the Trump campaign's potential conspiracy with Russia: "American law enforcement and intelligence agencies intercepted the communications around the same time they were discovering evidence that Russia was trying to disrupt the presidential election by hacking into the Democratic National Committee, three of the officials said. The intelligence agencies then sought to learn whether the Trump campaign was colluding with the Russians on the hacking or other efforts to influence the election." The article even threw in a plug for Christopher Steele, who, the Times said, is believed by senior FBI officials to have "a credible track record." The story helped build momentum for the appointment of Special Counsel Mueller, and then quickly unraveled. Four months after the Times' report – and just weeks after Mueller's hiring – FBI Director James Comey testified to Congress about the story, saying that "in the main, it was not true." When the Mueller report was released in April 2019, it contained no evidence of any contacts between Trump associates and Russian intelligence officials, senior or otherwise. And in July 2020, declassified documents showed that Peter Strzok, the top FBI counterintelligence agent who opened the Trump-Russia probe, had privately dismissed the article. The Times reporting, Strzok wrote upon its publication, was "misleading and inaccurate … we are unaware of ANY Trump advisers engaging in conversations with Russian intelligence officials." Comey on Times story: "In the main, it was not true." It's still uncorrected. To date, the Times has appended two minor corrections. The most recent one reads: "An earlier version of a photo caption with this article gave an incorrect middle initial for Paul Manafort. It is J., not D." Rather than address its glaring errors, the Times left the story otherwise intact. When the Strzok notes disputing its claims emerged, the Times responded: "We stand by our reporting." Earlier this year, the Times even claimed vindication. The occasion was an April 15, 2021, press release from the Treasury Department. The Treasury statement alleged that Konstantin Kilimnik, a former aide to Trump's one-time campaign manager, Paul Manafort, is a "known Russian Intelligence Services agent" who "provided the Russian Intelligence Services with sensitive information on polling and campaign strategy" during the 2016 election. Writing that same day, Times reporters Mark Mazzetti and Michael S. Schmidt declared that Treasury's evidence-free press release — coupled with an evidence-free Senate Intelligence claim in August 2020 that Kilimnik is a "Russian intelligence officer" — now "confirm" the Times' report from February 2017. The Treasury announcement did not explain how the department, which conducted no official Russiagate investigation, was prompted to lodge an explosive allegation that a multi-year FBI/Mueller investigation found no evidence for. It also does not name the position Kilimnik allegedly held in Russian intelligence – much less say whether he was a senior official. It also failed to address ample countervailing evidence: that Kilimnik had shared this same, publicly available polling data with Americans; that the FBI still does not deem him a Russian intelligence officer, instead claiming that he has unspecified "ties"; that he had long been a valued State Department source; that he traveled to the U.S. on a civilian Russian passport, not the suspicious diplomatic one Mueller alleged without producing it; and that even the Senate Intelligence Committee was "unable to obtain direct evidence of what Kilimnik did with the polling data and whether that data was shared further."  Wanted in the U.S., Kilimnik shared his civilian (not diplomatic) passport with RCI. Konstantin Kilimnik via RealClearInvestigations In addition, no U.S. government or congressional investigator ever contacted him for questioning, Kilimnik told RCI in an April 2021 interview when he produced images of the civilian passport. To declare victory, Mazzetti and Schmidt not only relied on one sentence of a press release but distorted the claims of their original story. Even if Kilimnik somehow proved to be a Russian intelligence officer, the Times' 2017 story had reported that the Trump campaign had engaged in "intercepted calls" with multiple "senior Russian intelligence officials" – not just one person, and at a "senior" level. To elide that, Mazzetti and Schmidt abandoned the plural Russian "intelligence officials" to spin the Treasury press release as proof that "there had been numerous interactions between the Trump campaign and Russian intelligence during the year before the election." It then returned to the use of the plural to further claim that Treasury's statement is "the strongest evidence to date that Russian spies had penetrated the inner workings of the Trump campaign." RCI sent Mazzetti and Schmidt detailed questions about their February 2017 article and their claim, four years later, that a Senate report and a Treasury press release confirm it. They did not respond. Falsehood No. 3: George Papadopoulos's 'Night of Heavy Drinking' With the Australian Envoy The Times mischaracterized George Papadopoulos's supposed Russiagate-launching barroom chat. AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin Unlikely Source Propelled Russian Meddling Inquiry By Sharon LaFraniere, Mark Mazzetti and Matt ApuzzoNew York Times, December 30, 2017 By late 2017, the Russiagate saga was engulfing the Trump presidency. The indictments of several figures connected to Trump fueled a media-driven narrative that Mueller was closing in on a Trump-Russia conspiracy. But a roadblock emerged in late October. After a year of evasions, the Hillary Clinton campaign and its law firm Perkins Coie admitted that they had funded the Steele dossier and that a lawyer for the firm, Marc Elias, had commissioned it. The disclosure was forced by House Republicans, led by Rep. Devin Nunes, who had subpoenaed the bank records of Fusion GPS in a bid to identify its secret funder. (Fusion GPS was the opposition-research firm hired by Perkins Coie that in turn hired Steele.) For those wedded to the Trump-Russia collusion narrative, the admission was problematic: After months of anonymous media claims that Steele's dossier was "credible" and even "bearing out," the heralded document was exposed as a paid partisan hit job from Trump's political opponents. If the FBI was found to have relied on the dossier, the Clinton campaign's key role could discredit the entire investigation. Just before the 2017 year-end deadline for 2018 Pulitzer eligibility, the New York Times produced a new origin story for the probe that would temper these concerns and help the newspaper win the prize. The FBI's decision to open the Trump-Russia probe had nothing to do with Steele, the Times claimed. Instead, the instigator was George Papadopoulos, a low-level campaign volunteer indicted by Mueller two months prior. "During a night of heavy drinking at an upscale London bar in May 2016," the Times' piece began, Papadopoulos told an Australian diplomat named Alexander Downer that Russia had "political dirt on Hillary Clinton," including "thousands of emails." Papadopoulos, the Times said, had learned of the Russian scheme the previous month from Joseph Mifsud, a Maltese academic who claimed to be in touch with "high-level Russian officials." Mifsud's claim signaled inside knowledge of Russia's alleged hack of the Democratic National Committee, the Times said, because at that point the "information was not yet public." Alexander Downer: The Australian diplomat's account of his conversation with George Papadopoulos conflicts with the Times' reporting. Twitter/@AlexanderDowner When Downer, via the Australian government, relayed this information to the U.S. in July, the FBI decided to open its Trump-Russia probe, codenamed Crossfire Hurricane, the Times reported. "The [DNC] hacking and the revelation that a member of the Trump campaign may have had inside information about it were driving factors that led the F.B.I. to open an investigation in July 2016 into Russia's attempts to disrupt the election and whether any of President Trump's associates conspired," the Times claimed. The article pointedly asserted that the Steele dossier "was not part of the justification to start a counterintelligence inquiry, American officials said." (In a possible contradiction, it also claims, without specifics, "that the investigation was also propelled by intelligence from other friendly governments, including the British.") Several key aspects of the article have been challenged by the principals involved — leaving aside a key question the Times appears never to have asked: Why would the FBI launch a counterintelligence probe of a presidential campaign based on a barroom conversation involving a volunteer? Moreover, the Times or its sources mischaracterized the barroom conversation, according to both of its participants. Speaking to a Sydney-based newspaper a few months later about the fateful London exchange, Downer said Papadopoulos had never mentioned "dirt" or "thousands of emails" — which the FBI would have linked to the DNC hack. Instead, Downer told The Australian, Papadopoulos "mentioned the Russians might use material that they have on Hillary Clinton in the lead-up to the election, which may be damaging." Contrary to the specificity of the Times' rendering, Downer recalled that Papadopoulos "didn't say what it was." He also said Papadopoulos made no mention of Mifsud, a mysterious figure with rumored ties to Western intelligence who vanished after a cursory FBI interview. A declassified FBI document would later confirm Downer's account of a vague conversation. In May 2020, the Justice Department released the July 31, 2016, FBI electronic communication (EC) that officially opened its Russia investigation. The EC states that Downer had told the U.S. government that Papadopoulos had "suggested the Trump team had received some kind of suggestion from Russia that it could assist" the Trump campaign by anonymously releasing damaging information about Clinton and President Obama. The EC made no mention of any "dirt," "thousands of emails," or Mifsud. It also acknowledged that the nature of the "suggestion" was "unclear" and that the possible Russian help could entail "material acquired publicly," as opposed to hacked emails by the thousands. Another declassified document, the December 2017 testimony from Andrew McCabe — the former FBI deputy director who helped launch and oversee the Russia probe — also undermined the Times' premise. Asked why the FBI never sought a surveillance warrant on the Trump volunteer who supposedly sparked the investigation, McCabe replied that "Papadopoulos' comment didn't particularly indicate that he was the person … that was interacting with the Russians." Despite the countervailing claims of Downer, McCabe, and the FBI document that opened the investigation (not to mention the recollections of both Papadopoulos and Downer that they only had one drink, belying the Times claim of "a night of heavy drinking"), the Times has never run a single update or correction. Falsehood No. 4: Russia Launched a Sweeping Interference Campaign That Posed a ‘National Security Threat' Social media posts from Russia's effort to "assault American democracy," as the Times put it. HPSCI Minority Doubting the intelligence, Trump pursues Putin and leaves a Russian threat unchecked By Greg Miller, Greg Jaffe and Philip RuckerWashington Post, December 14, 2017 To Sway Vote, Russia Used Army of Fake Americans By Scott ShaneNew York Times, September 8, 2017 As the Pulitzer-winning media outlets relied on anonymous intelligence officials to fuel innuendo about Trump-Russia collusion, they turned to these same sources to imply that a compromised president was unwilling to confront the existential threat of "Russian interference." "Nearly a year into his presidency," a Pulitzer-winning December 2017 Washington Post story declared, "Trump continues to reject the evidence that Russia waged an assault on a pillar of American democracy and supported his run for the White House." As a result, Trump has "impaired the government's response to a national security threat." The Post's article was sourced to "more than 50 current and former U.S. officials" including former CIA Director Michael Hayden, who "described the Russian interference as the political equivalent of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks." Another Pulitzer-winning story, written by Scott Shane of the New York Times two months earlier, offered a revealing window into the merits of the Russian interference allegations, and the appropriateness of equating them to attacks like 9/11. "To Sway Vote, Russia Used Army of Fake Americans," the Times' headline blared. Aside from the Pulitzer board, Shane's article also impressed the New York Times' editors, who proclaimed in a follow-up editorial that their colleague's "startling investigation" had revealed "further evidence of what amounted to unprecedented foreign invasion of American democracy." But from the details in Shane's article, it is difficult to see why anonymous U.S. intelligence officials, Pulitzer judges, and Times editors saw the alleged Russian "cyberarmy" as such a seismic danger. Melvin Redick, suspected Russian operator. The proof? Articles "reflecting a pro-Russian worldview," the Times reported. New York Times Shane's piece opened by describing a June 2016 Facebook post by an account user named Melvin Redick, who promoted the website DC Leaks, alleged by the U.S. to be a Russian intelligence cutout. Redick's posts, Shane writes, were "among the first public signs" of Russia's "cyberarmy of counterfeit Facebook and Twitter accounts" that turned the platforms into "engines of deception and propaganda." To Clint Watts, a former FBI agent turned MSNBC commentator, Russia's infiltration of Facebook and Twitter was so dangerous that social media, he said, is now afflicted by a "bot cancer." But these explosive conclusions, Shane's own piece later acknowledged, were undermined by a lack of evidence. The online users who manipulated social media, Shane quietly notes near the bottom, were in fact only "suspected Russian operators" [emphasis added]. Shane's uncertainty extends to Melvin Redick, the alleged Russian bot who begins the story. Redick is one of several identified accounts that "appeared to be Russian creations," Shane concedes. The only proof tying Redick to Russia? "His posts were never personal, just news articles reflecting a pro-Russian worldview." Robert Mueller's final report two years later also tried to raise alarm about what he called a "sweeping and systematic" Russian interference campaign. But as with the Pulitzer-winning outlets before him, the contents of his report failed to support the headline assertion. The Russian troll farm blamed for a sweeping social media campaign to install Trump spent about $46,000 on pre-election posts that were juvenile, barely about the election, and mostly appeared during the primaries. After suggesting that the troll farm was tied to the Kremlin, the Mueller team was forced to walk back that innuendo in court, and later dropped the case altogether. The other main claim regarding Russian interference – that the GRU (Russia's foreign intelligence agency) hacked the DNC's email servers and gave the material to Wikileaks – was quietly undermined by Mueller's qualified language and key evidentiary gaps, as RCI reported in 2019. The Russian hacking claim suffered an additional setback in May 2020, when testimony from the CEO of CrowdStrike — the Clinton-contracted firm that was the first to publicly accuse Russia of infiltrating the DNC — was declassified. Speaking to the House Intelligence Committee in December 2017, CrowdStrike's Shawn Henry disclosed that his company "did not have concrete evidence" that alleged Russian hackers had stolen any data from the servers. Despite its once exhaustive and alarmist interest in the operations of Russia's cyber army, neither the Times nor the Post has ever reported Henry's explosive admission. This includes Pulitzer-winning Post national security reporter Ellen Nakashima, who effectively kicked off the Russiagate saga by breaking the news on CrowdStrike's Russian hacking allegation in June 2016. Other than Henry, Nakashima's main source was Michael Sussmann – the Clinton campaign attorney recently indicted for lying to the FBI. Falsehood No. 5: The Justice Department Pulled Its Punches on Trump Ex-Justice official Rod Rosenstein was blamed for handcuffing Mueller -- a charge much doubted. AP Photo/Evan Vucci Justice Dept. Never Fully Examined Trump's Ties to Russia, Ex-Officials Say By Michael S. SchmidtNew York Times, Aug. 30, 2020 (Updated June 9, 2021) When Mueller ended his investigation in 2019 without charging Trump or any other associate for conspiring with Russia, a collusion-obsessed media formulated more conspiracy theories to explain away this unwelcome ending. First came the belief that Attorney General William Barr had forced Mueller to shut down, misrepresented his final report, and hid the smoking-gun evidence behind redactions. When Mueller failed to support any of these allegations in his July 2019 congressional testimony, a new culprit was needed. One year later, the New York Times found its fall guy: Mueller's overseer, former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, had handcuffed the special counsel. "The Justice Department secretly took steps in 2017 to narrow the investigation into Russian election interference and any links to the Trump campaign, according to former law enforcement officials, keeping investigators from completing an examination of President Trump's decades-long personal and business ties to Russia," Michael Schmidt reported on Aug. 30, 2020. Rosenstein, Schmidt said, "curtailed the investigation without telling the bureau, all but ensuring it would go nowhere" and preventing the FBI from "completing an inquiry into whether the president's personal and financial links to Russia posed a national security threat." To buttress his case, Schmidt cited the Democrats' leading collusion advocate, Rep. Adam Schiff, who feared that "that the F.B.I. Counterintelligence Division has not investigated counterintelligence risks arising from President Trump's foreign financial ties." But as Schmidt's article tacitly acknowledged, that outcome did not come from Rosenstein but the Mueller team itself. After Rosenstein appointed Mueller, Schmidt reported, members of the special counsel's team "held early discussions led by the agent Peter Strzok about a counterintelligence investigation of the president." But these "efforts fizzled," Schmidt added, when Strzok "was removed from the inquiry three months later for sending text messages disparaging Mr. Trump." If Rosenstein had indeed "curtailed" a counterintelligence investigation by Mueller's team, why did the special counsel staffers discuss it, and why did it only "fizzle" upon Strzok's exit three months later? Strzok himself disputed the premise of Schmidt's article. "I didn't feel such a limitation," Strzok told the Atlantic. "When I discussed this with Mueller and others, it was agreed that FBI personnel attached to the Special Counsel's Office would do the counterintelligence work, which necessarily included the president." The only problem, Strzok added, was that by "the time I left the team, we hadn't solved this problem of who and how to conduct all of the counterintelligence work." Strzok's "worry," he added, was that the counterintelligence angle "wasn't ever effectively done" – not that it was ever curtailed. Another key Mueller team member, lead prosecutor Andrew Weissmann, also rejected Schmidt's claim. NYT story today is wrong re alleged secret DOJ order prohibiting a counterintelligence investigation by Mueller, “without telling the bureau.” Dozens of FBI agents/analysts were embedded in Special Counsel's Office and we were never told to keep anything from them. 1 of 2 — Andrew Weissmann (@AWeissmann_) August 31, 2020 Also erroneous is NYT claim "Rosenstein concluded the F.B.I. lacked sufficient reason to conduct an investigation into the president’s links to a foreign adversary.” See DOJ Special Counsel Appointment Order, para. (b)(i). 2 of 2 — Andrew Weissmann (@AWeissmann_) August 31, 2020 Rosenstein's May 2017 scope memo, which established the parameters of Mueller's investigation, indeed contained no such limitations. It broadly tasked Mueller to examine "any links and/or co-ordination" between the Russian government and anyone associated with the Trump campaign, as well as – even more expansively – "any matters that arose or may arise directly from that investigation." In his July 2019 congressional appearance, Mueller had multiple opportunities to reveal that his probe had been impeded or narrowed. Asked by Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.) whether "at any time in the investigation, your investigation was curtailed or stopped or hindered," Mueller replied "No." When Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.) tried to lead Mueller into agreeing that he "of course … did not obtain the president's tax returns, which could otherwise show foreign financial sources," Mueller did not oblige. "I'm not going to speak to that," Mueller replied. With no curtailing or interference in the probe, perhaps Mueller never turned up any Russia-tied counterintelligence or financial concerns about Trump because there was simply none to find. For a media establishment that had spent years promoting a Trump-Russia collusion narrative and sidelining countervailing facts, that was indeed a tough outcome to fathom. But it's no time for excuses or false claims of vindication: The tepid accounting spurred by the Steele dossier's collapse should be just the start of a far more exhaustive reckoning. Broadly misleading journalism that plunged an American presidency into turmoil demands much more than piecemeal corrections. Tyler Durden Wed, 11/24/2021 - 17:40.....»»

Category: smallbizSource: nytNov 24th, 2021

American Defense Policy After Twenty Years Of War

American Defense Policy After Twenty Years Of War Authored by Jim Webb via NationalInterest.org, America has always been a place where the abrasion of continuous debate eventually produces creative solutions. Let’s agree on those solutions, and make the next twenty years a time of clear purpose and affirmative global leadership. The American scorecard for foreign policy achievements over the past twenty years is, frankly, pretty dismal. And without talking our way all around the globe, it’s clear that the most dismal score goes to the stupidest mistakes. We fought one war that we never should have fought and another war whose objectives grew so out of control that no amount of battlefield proficiency could overcome the naïve mission creep of the political and military leadership at the top that was defining what our troops were supposed to do. So, let me start with a couple of quotes from two pieces I wrote, one at the beginning of this twenty-year period and the other at the end.   On September 4, 2002, five months before the Bush administration ordered the invasion of Iraq, I wrote the following as part of a larger editorial for the Washington Post, warning that an invasion would be a strategic blunder: Nations such as China can only view the prospect of an American military consumed for the next generation by the turmoil of the Middle East as a glorious windfall. Indeed, if one gives the Chinese credit for having a long-term strategy — and those who love to quote Sun Tzu might consider his nationality — it lends credence to their insistent cultivation of the Muslim world. An “American war” with the Muslims, occupying the very seat of their civilization, would allow the Chinese to isolate the United States diplomatically as they furthered their own ambitions in South and Southeast Asia. Almost exactly nineteen years later as the military planners serving the Biden Administration executed a shamefully incompetent final withdrawal from Afghanistan, I wrote the following for The National Interest, excerpted in the Wall Street Journal, in a piece entitled “Requiem for an Avoidable Disaster:”  …the war that we began was not the same war that we are finally bringing to an end. When we went into Afghanistan in 2001 our national concern was to eliminate terrorist entities who desired to attack us. The common understanding at the time was that we would operate with maneuver elements capable of attacking and neutralizing terrorist entities. It was never to occupy territory with permanent bases or to attempt to change the societal and governmental structure of the Afghan people. This “mission creep” began after a few years of successful operations and was obvious in 2004 when I was in the country as an embed journalist. The change in mission eventually increased our troop presence tenfold and sent our forces on an impossible political journey that no amount of military success could overcome. Why did all this happen? And how can we rectify the damage that has been done to the institutions that were involved, and to our international credibility? There’s an old saying that “success has a thousand fathers but failure is an orphan.” In this case, there were two entirely different categories of orphans, some of whom were not touched personally or even professionally, and some who gave up lives, limbs, and emotional health. For the policymakers in Washington, these were wars to be remotely managed inside the guide rails of theoretical national strategy and uncontrolled financial planning. As with so many other drawn-out military commitments with vaguely defined and often changing objectives, America’s diplomatic credibility steadily decreased while the price tag rose through the roof, into trillions of dollars and thousands of combat deaths. There is no way around the reality that these hand-selected policymakers, military and civilian alike, failed the country, even as many of them were being lionized in the media and offered lucrative post-retirement positions in the private sector. Their immediate strategic goals, vague as they were from the outset, were not accomplished. The larger necessity of meeting global challenges, and particularly China’s determined expansion, was put on the back burner as our operational and diplomatic capabilities were diverted into a constantly quarreling region with the deserved reputation of being the “Graveyard of Empires.” In the context of history, the human cost on the battlefield as viewed by those at the top was manageably small, and carried out by an all-volunteer military. Indeed, despite the length of twenty years of war and many ferocious engagements, the overall casualty numbers were historically low. DOD reports the total number of American military deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan combined over twenty years as 7,074, of which 5,474 were killed in action. This twenty-year number was about the same as six months of American casualties during any one of the peak years of fighting in Vietnam. Emotionally, although there was much sympathy and respect for our soldiers we were not really a nation in a fully engaged war. As the wars continued, life in America went on without disruption. A very small percentage of the country was at human or even family risk. The wars did not interfere on a national scale with the lives of those who chose not to serve. The economy was largely good. In places like my home state of Virginia it absolutely boomed with tens of billions of dollars going to Virginia-based programs in the departments of Defense and Homeland Security. This societal disconnect gave the policymakers great latitude in the manner in which they ran the wars. It also resulted in very little congressional oversight, either in operational concepts or in much-need scrutiny of DOD and State Department management and budgets. Powerpoint presentations replaced vigorous discussion. Serious introspection by Pentagon staff members gave way to bland reports from Beltway Bandit consultants hired to provide answers to questions asked during committee hearings. An “Overseas Contingency Fund” with billions of unlabeled dollars allowed military leaders to fund programs that were never directly authorized or specifically appropriated by Congress. To be blunt, the Pentagon and the Joint commands were basically making their own rules, and to hell with everybody else. This was not the Congress in which I had worked as a full committee counsel during the Carter Administration. Nor was it the Pentagon in which I had served as an assistant secretary of defense and Secretary of the Navy under Ronald Reagan. At the other end of the pipeline, it was different. For those who did serve, and especially for those who served in ground combat units and in special operations, being thrown into the middle of a region where violence and bitter retribution is the norm was often a life-altering experience. Repetitive combat tours pulled them away from home, from family, and from the normal routines of their peers again and again, creating burnout from unresolved personal issues of stress and readjustment to civilian life. So-called “stop loss” programs kept many soldiers on active duty after their initial terms of service were supposed to end, a policy that brought the not-unreal slogan that stop-loss was, in reality, nothing more than a back-door version of the draft: We have you. And we are going to keep you until we no longer need you. The traditional policy of allowing troops a two-to-one ratio of “dwell time” at home between deployments was repeatedly shortened until, for the Army, the ratio was less than one-to-one, requiring soldiers to return to combat for fifteen months with only twelve months at home to recuperate, refurbish, and retrain. Those who left the military after one enlistment rather than choosing a career were largely ignored by commands that provided little post-military guidance and sent battle-weary young soldiers home without much more than a goodbye. But along the way, as with those who have served our country in uniform in every other war, our young military did the job that they were sent to do, no matter the overall wisdom of the mission itself. With respect to these capable and dedicated young Americans who stepped forward to serve, I feel fortunate to have been able to play a part in making sure that the public was aware of the contributions they made, and to put into place policies that recognized and properly rewarded their service. And as a writer, journalist and later a Senator I was able to use whatever pulpit was available in order to emphasize that our greatest strategic challenges were not in the places where our elites had decided to invest our people and our national treasure, and to call for the country’s leadership to cease its unfortunate obsession with a region that has never needed a permanent American ground presence as a means of mediating, much less resolving, its centuries-old conflicts. You don’t take out a hornet’s nest by sitting on top of it. We’re smarter than that, and also more capable.   In addition to working on strongly felt issues such as economic fairness and criminal justice reform, once I was elected to the Senate I took a two-pronged approach to resolving the mess that had been made in our misadventures in Iraq and Afghanistan. The first involved our larger strategic interests. I immediately gained a seat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and two years later was named Chairman of the Subcommittee on East Asian and Pacific Affairs. From our immediate office, I designed a staff—and a legislative approach—that would energetically re-emphasize our commitment to relations in East Asia, and recruited good people to carry out that approach. My mission to my staff was that we were going to work to invigorate American relations in East Asia, particularly in South Korea, Japan, Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore, and the Philippines, and we were going to open up Burma to the outside world. We did more than talk about this, averaging three intense trips every year where I was able to meet with top leaders in those countries as well as almost every other country in ASEAN. Barack Obama later announced a similar policy after he was elected two years later, calling it the “Pivot to Asia.” Unfortunately, his administration’s approach skirted the largest issue in the region by avoiding any major confrontations with China. The pivot was largely abandoned at a crucial period in 2012 after China claimed sovereignty over a two million square kilometer area of the South China Sea, and began militarizing numerous contested islands claimed by several other countries. The Obama administration declined to criticize China’s actions, saying that the United States would not take a position on sovereignty issues. Quite obviously, not taking a position in this matter was defaulting to China’s aggressive acts. I responded by introducing a Senate resolution condemning any use of military force in the resolution of sovereignty issues in the South China Sea, which passed with a unanimous vote. The second involved the day-to-day manner in which our wars were being fought, and the way that our younger military people were being treated by those at the top. I participated in numerous hearings on all aspects from my seats on the Armed Services and Foreign Relations committees, becoming even more concerned about the lack of serious congressional oversight. During one Foreign Relations Committee hearing on post-invasion reconstruction efforts, an assistant secretary of state testified that the United States had spent 32 billion dollars on different smaller-scale projects.  I asked him to provide me and the committee a complete list of every project, as well as the cost. That was in 2007. I’m still waiting for his answer. This was clearly not the way things worked when I was a counsel in the House, where such requests were often answered within a day or two, from information that had already been compiled. In fact, the lack of an answer, despite follow-up calls from my staff, followed a broader pattern that had evolved after 9/11 when vague answers and delayed responses had become the norm, a deliberate and increasingly routine snub of the Congress by higher-level members of the executive branch. Take your choice. This was either incompetent leadership or deliberate obstruction. If the congressional liaisons from DOD were able to provide specific, complicated data within a day or two in 1977, certainly the computers of 2007 were capable of doing so after thirty years of technological progress. I responded by co-authoring legislation along with Senator Claire McCaskill that created the Wartime Contracts Commission, modeled after the Truman Commission of World War Two. After three years of investigations, the commission’s final report estimated that due to major failures in our contracting system the United States had squandered up to 60 billion dollars through contract waste and fraud in Iraq and Afghanistan. Unfortunately, the commission lacked subpoena power or criminal jurisdiction over actions taken in the past, but it certainly got the attention of would-be fraudsters, led to better record-keeping, improved the oversight process, and put a marker down for contracts from that point forward.   Having grown up in the military, and serving as an infantry Marine in Vietnam, and with a son who had left college to enlist in the Marine Corps infantry and fought in Ramadi, Iraq during one of the worst periods in that war, I seized the opportunity – and undertook the obligation – to properly reward the contributions of those who had stepped forward to serve. Immediately after I won the election to the Senate, and two months before actually being sworn in, I sat down with the Senate legislative counsel and drafted the Post-9/11 GI Bill. Having spent four years as a full committee counsel on the House Veterans Affairs Committee, my legislative model was the GI Bill that had been given to our World War Two veterans, the most generous GI Bill in history up to that time: pay for the veteran’s tuition and fees, buy the books, and provide a monthly living stipend. For every tax dollar that was spent on the World War Two GI bill, our treasury received eight dollars in tax remunerations from veterans who had gone on to successful lives. By contrast, the Vietnam Era GI Bill had provided only a monthly payment that in almost every case was far less than the costs of higher education, beginning in 1966 at a paltry rate of 50 dollars a month and ending in the early 1970s at $340 a month. I introduced the Post-9/11 GI Bill on my first day as a Senator. I put together a bipartisan leadership team—two Republicans, John Warner and Chuck Hagel; two Democrats, Frank Lautenberg and myself; two of them World War Two veterans, and two of them Vietnam veterans. Sixteen months later in a modern-day Congressional miracle, the bill became law, ironically over the strong opposition of the Bush Administration to the very end. The White House and the Pentagon claimed that such a generous bill would affect retention, causing too many people to leave the military. The obvious but implicit message was, Don’t treat them too good; they’ll leave. This position was taken by general officers who were going to receive a couple of hundred thousand dollars every year in military retirement when they themselves decided to leave. Having spent five years in the Pentagon and being intimately familiar with manpower issues, I held a completely different belief, that the generosity of the new GI Bill would enhance enlistments and help broaden the base of our overall military. In a back-handed compliment, at least in my view, I was not invited to the White House for the ceremony when the President signed the bill. But to date, millions of post-9/11 veterans have used this Bill, which is beyond cavil the most generous GI Bill in history. It has created opportunities and empowered the careers of people who are now making their way into positions of leadership and influence throughout the country. Shortly after I introduced the GI Bill, I introduced legislation to mandate a proper ratio for dwell time between overseas deployments. The legislation would have required that military members not be returned to combat unless they had been home for at least the amount of time that they had previously been gone. This was not unreasonable. A two-to-one ratio was a simple formula that reflected traditional rotation cycles. With the continuous deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan it had fallen to less than one-to-one, which meant that for years our soldiers would be gone longer than they were at home, and when they were at home they would be spending much of their time getting ready to go back. This reality was clearly affecting not only morale but also the potential for long-term emotional difficulties such as post-traumatic stress. Predictably, the White House and the Pentagon opposed the legislation. Some claimed that I had designed it with a hidden agenda to slow down the war in Iraq. Others, led by Senator Lindsey Graham, claimed that the legislation was unconstitutional, that Congress could not intervene in the operational tempo of the military since the President was the Commander in Chief. But a precedent was already set. During the Korean War, Congress had ceased the deployment of soldiers who were being sent to the war zone without proper training by mandating that no military members could be deployed overseas unless they had spent 120 days on active duty. If the military leaders weren’t going to take care of their people, it was only right that Congress should set proper boundaries. The Republicans filibustered the legislation, which then required sixty votes for passage. Although the bill twice received a fifty-six vote majority, with several Republican votes for passage, we did not break the filibuster.  But we did put the issue of dwell time firmly before Congress and the public, and the two-to-one deployment cycle eventually became the express goal inside the Department of Defense. All of that is history. I put it before you as something of a template to show the patterns that evolved and have continued over the past twenty years, as well as evidence that strong and informed leadership in Congress can turn things around. In many ways, this dislocation is between those who make policy—including military leaders—and those who carry it out. It continues due to the group mentality of a foreign policy aristocracy seeking common agreement rather than original thought. And it has exacerbated this ever-growing dislocation by freezing out those who are not, basically, in the club because their thinking does not fit the usual mantra and their ideas threaten the prevailing orthodoxy. We need these other voices. There are lessons to be learned and unavoidable questions that need to be answered at every level. Some involve the articulation of our national security objectives and how we define national strategy. Some involve when and how we should use the military for operational missions in harm’s way. And some involve the actual makeup of these military missions, from their remote or covert or overt nature, and if deployed in large numbers how large that footprint should be, and what portion should consist of military contractors along the lines of the past twenty years. And for those who want to repair the damage, it challenges us to find clear ways where we can move forward. Who do we hold accountable for the random and often changing strategic mistakes that have damaged our strength and our reputation? How do we move forward in the way we articulate and implement our national strategy here at home? How do we regain our respect in the international community, both among our friends who need us, and from potential adversaries who pray every day that America will lose its willpower, that we would be so overcome by military failures abroad and turbulence at home that the nation itself will atrophy and descend into the ranks of an also-ran, second-rate power?   We should begin with a vigorous and open discussion about the makeup, power, and influence of America’s massive defense establishment. And here I’m talking about the highest levels of our uniformed military, the civilian government officials, the powerful defense corporations, the numerous think tanks funded heavily by the defense industry, the hugely influential lobbying organizations, and—if not at the bottom, certainly in the bullseye of the efforts of all of these entities—the authorizing and appropriating committees in the Senate and House of Representatives. Couple that with the media of all sorts, particularly the huge growth of the internet and social media, and one can see how complicated the debate over any controversial issue can become. We were warned about this, sixty years ago, by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in his well-remembered speech about the “military / industrial complex.” The speech was the president’s carefully placed farewell message to the American people, made just three days before he left office. His words resonate, symbolic in their timing as his final shot across the bow, and coming as they did from this former five-star general who knew the military with a completeness that no other American president could ever match. After commenting that in the aftermath of World War Two the “conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience,” Eisenhower expressed his concern about the “total influence – economic, political, even spiritual” of this new reality “in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications.”   The outgoing, immensely popular President then bluntly called out the members of his own professional culture—the military itself—and the bond its top leaders were increasingly forming with America’s defense corporations. “In the councils of government we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military / industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.” Looking at the decades following his speech and particularly the past twenty years, I believe President Eisenhower would be amazed at how massively this military-industrial complex has grown, how entangled the relationships between the military and the industrial complex have become, and how much it has affected the career paths of civilian “experts,” as well as the positions taken by many senior flag officers facing retirement. Lucrative civilian careers have been made through the “revolving doors” of serving for a few years in appointed posts in the Departments of Defense and State, or by working on committee staffs in the Congress, then rotating over the space of many years in and out of government into the defense-oriented industry and in the ever more influential think tanks, some of them heavily funded by corporations with major financial interests in defense contracts. The number of people involved in such revolving doors and the amount of money flowing back and forth would have stunned the understanding of people in Eisenhower’s era. Likewise, many military officers have made similar career moves, taking advantage of skills and relationships that were developed while on active duty. Those in uniform and others who work in the area of national defense regularly comment about the potential for conflicts of interest among the most senior flag officers as they carry out their final active duty positions before retiring and prepare for their next career in the civilian world. Critical issues ranging from the procurement of weapons systems to carrying out politically sensitive military operations often comprise the way in which potential civilian employers decide on the next chapter in their lives. A hand played well can bring large financial benefits. A hand played poorly can result in media stigma or even being relieved of their duties, and a beach house in Tarpon Springs. As with other areas of public service, it would be useful for Congress to examine the firewalls in place in order to maintain the vitally important separation of the military, on the one side, and the industrial complex on the other, just as President Dwight Eisenhower so prophetically pointed out sixty years ago. Dwight Eisenhower would have liked General Robert Barrow, the twenty-seventh commandant of the Marine Corps. His leadership example personally inspired me, both during and after my service in the Corps. We had many personal discussions over the years, until he passed away in 2008. He was a great combat leader. He mastered guerrilla warfare while fighting Japanese units alongside Chinese soldiers in World War Two. In the Korean War, he received the Navy Cross, our country’s second-highest award, for extraordinary heroism as a company commander during the historic breakout from the Chosin Reservoir. And in Vietnam, he was known as one of the war’s finest regimental commanders. He knew war, he knew loyalty, and he knew his Marines. General Barrow was fond of emphasizing that moral courage was often harder, and more exemplary, than physical courage. On matters of principle, he would not bend. During one difficult period when he was dealing with serious issues in the political process, the four-star Commandant calmly pointed out to me that his obligation was to run the Marine Corps “the same way a good company commander runs his rifle company: I’ll do the best job I know how to do, and if you don’t like what I’m doing, then fire me.” It is rare these days to see such leaders wearing the stars of a general or an admiral. And thinking of President Eisenhower’s prescient warnings about what he termed the “the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals,” I have no doubt that he and General Barrow shared the same concerns. General Barrow held another firm belief. Having served as Commandant of the Marine Corps, he believed it would soil the dignity of that office by trading on its credibility for financial gain through banging on doors in Washington as a lobbyist or serving as a board member giving a defense-related corporation his prized insider’s advice on how to sell their product. The Japanese have a saying that “life is a generation, but reputation is forever.” And General Barrow’s pristine motivation will forever preserve his honor. I grew up in the military. I know the price that families must pay when their fathers or now even their mothers are continuously deployed, because I lived it as a very young boy. My father, a pilot who flew B-17s and B-29s in World War Two and cargo planes in the Berlin Airlift, was continually deployed either overseas or on bases with no family housing, at one point for more than three years. I know the demands and yet the honor of leading infantry Marines in combat and then spending years in and out of the hospital after being wounded. I know what it is like to be a father with a son deployed in a very bad place as an enlisted infantry Marine. And most of all I know the pride that comes from being able to say for the rest of my life that when my country called, I was there, and I took care of my people. My other major point today is that our top leaders in all sectors of national defense need to get going and develop a clearly articulated foreign policy. We have lost twenty years, unfortunately fulfilling the prediction that I made in the Washington Post five months before the invasion of Iraq that “Nations such as China can only view the prospect of an American military consumed for the next generation by the turmoil of the Middle East as a glorious windfall.” And for China, indeed it was. It’s ironic that we are now hearing frantic warnings from our uniformed leaders about China’s determined expansionism, both military and economic, and particularly about how recent reports of Chinese technological leaps might be something of a new “Sputnik” moment where America has been caught off-guard and now must rush to catch up. Too bad they weren’t following this as these policies and technological improvements were developed by the Chinese over at least the past two decades, while our focus remained intently on the never-ending and never-resolved brawls in the Middle East. The very people who now are wringing their hands and calling for a full-fledged effort to counter such threats are the same people who should have been warning the nation of their possibility ten or even twenty years ago. So, ask yourself: If things go wrong, who then shall we blame? Much of the world is now uneasy with China’s unremitting aggression on its home turf in Asia. Over the past decade, China has been calling its own shots, rejecting international law and public opinion while flexing its muscle to signal its view that it will soon replace the United States as the region’s dominant military, diplomatic and economic power. Beijing has taken down Hong Kong’s democracy movement; started military spats with India; disrupted life for tens of millions by damming the headwaters of the Mekong River; conducted what our government now deems a campaign of genocide against Muslim Uighurs; escalated tensions with Japan over the Senkaku Islands; consolidated its illegal occupation and militarization of islands in the South China Sea; and made repeated bellicose gestures designed to test the international community’s resistance to “unifying” the “renegade province” of Taiwan. China’s military is expanding and modernizing and its Navy is becoming not only technological but global. While we expended a huge portion of our human capital, emotional energy, and national treasure on two wars, China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has had a major economic impact in Asia, Africa, and Latin America and with individual governments on other continents. In Africa, whose population has quadrupled since 1970 and which counts only one of the world’s top thirty countries in Gross National Product, more than forty countries have signed on to China’s BRI. Let’s get going. We have alliances to enhance, and extensive national security interests to protect. We need to address these issues immediately and with clarity. America has always been a place where the abrasion of continuous debate eventually produces creative solutions. Eventually is now. Let’s agree on those solutions, and make the next twenty years a time of clear purpose and affirmative global leadership. Tyler Durden Tue, 11/09/2021 - 00:00.....»»

Category: blogSource: zerohedgeNov 9th, 2021

North and South Korea are both showing off new weapons, but they"re trying to send very different messages

The timing of the two Koreas' weapons tests has raised concerns about a new arms race on the peninsula. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un aboard a submarine in an undated photo released on June 16, 2014. REUTERS/KCNA North Korea said it successfully tested a new, smaller submarine-launched ballistic missile on Tuesday. South Korea has also been busy showing off its military prowess recently, but its defense ambitions are driven by several complex factors. North Korea has announced that it successfully tested a new, smaller submarine-launched ballistic missile, or SLBM, on Tuesday.State media claimed the missile - launched from the same submarine from which Pyongyang tested its first Pukguksong-1 SLBM in August 2016 - has "advanced control guidance technologies, including flank mobility and gliding skip mobility," designed to make it harder to track and intercept.The name of the submarine used for the launch-the "8.24 Yongung"-also seems noteworthy, as a reflection of the importance Pyongyang puts on this vessel: It means "hero" and apparently signifies the August 24 date of the 2016 SLBM launch.The test is another sign that Pyongyang is trying to secure a second-strike capability - the ability to respond to a nuclear attack with its own nuclear weapons. The aim would be to protect the regime and perhaps even cause Washington to hesitate in defending Seoul in the event of an attack, for fear of possible North Korean SLBM strikes.The launch came on the heels of an extravagant display of force the previous week. Pyongyang showed off some of its new weapons and military hardware on October 11, to mark the 76th anniversary of its ruling Workers' Party the day before.It's a common ritual in the insular one-party state, but this year, the format was different. For the first time, new additions to the country's arsenal were on display at a museum-style exhibition rather than a military parade or other major celebration. A new submarine-launched ballistic missile during a test in undated photos released by North Korea on October 19, 2021. KCNA via REUTERS It appears Pyongyang is trying to instill a greater sense of national pride and patriotism in North Koreans about their country's military might, while portraying itself to the world as a modern, normal state.Clad in a Western-style suit, the young dictator Kim Jong Un explained in his commemoration speech that the "grand-scale exhibition, a crystallization of our Party's revolutionary defense policy and its robust viability, is an epoch-making demonstration of our national strength no less significant than a large-scale military parade," according to state media.Billed as the "Defense Development Exhibition 'Self-Defense 2021,'" the event boasted new weaponry that North Korean officials insist are meant for self-defense - to serve as a deterrent against the "hostile policy" of the United States.On display were an intercontinental ballistic missile; a new hypersonic glide vehicle, a rail-mobile short-range ballistic missile and a long-range cruise missile, all of which Pyongyang claimed to have successfully tested last month; and a submarine-launched ballistic missile - presumably the one it tested this week - among an array of other military hardware. These weapon systems, if deployed, could directly threaten South Korea, Japan and even the United States.Clearly, the regime has been checking off Kim's wish list that he disclosed at the 8th Party Congress in January, which included many of the weapon systems that were on display last week. Even if these weapons have not yet been perfected, the disclosure of their existence, not to mention the regime's propaganda, provide ample indication of its intent.It is only a matter of time until North Korea acquires the capability to reliably put these advanced weapons to practical use, even if that may seem like a fantasy for now. Kim Jong Un meets fighter pilots at a defense development exhibition on October 11, 2021. Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP Of course, such technological perfection may not even be necessary for the time being. The ability to arm even a rudimentary hypersonic or ballistic missile with a nuclear warhead would still threaten South Korea and Japan. Even the perception of having that capability would provide Pyongyang with political leverage in future negotiations with Washington, as well as a measure of legitimacy and loyalty at home.With the Biden administration continuing its overtures for dialogue, a defense expo achieves the same effect of a show of force without being seen as overtly provocative in the eyes of the international community. There may also be an element of trying to portray itself as a modern and prosperous nation despite North Korea's economic difficulties amid its self-isolation during the coronavirus pandemic and continued effects of international sanctions for its nuclear weapons development.Moreover, calling the event "Self-Defense 2021" suggests there may be more shows to come in future years. Perhaps Pyongyang even envisions inviting foreign buyers and defense industry insiders to its expos in the distant future.Ultimately, goose-stepping military parades are reminiscent of backward totalitarian regimes, particularly in the eyes of developed countries in the West, while defense exhibitions depict modern, wealthy states that are also militarily strong.For example, South Korea grew out of its own military parades in the process of becoming a democracy, downsizing or canceling them in the 1990s and eventually replacing them with defense exhibitions and air shows. Seoul's own biennial defense exhibition kicked off this week.Seoul, for its part, has also been busy showing off its military prowess in recent months, testing its first submarine-launched ballistic missile, rolling out plans for high-tech weapons development and increasing its military spending. The timing of the two Koreas' weapons tests has raised concerns about a new arms race on the peninsula. South Korea's first underwater-launched ballistic missile is test-fired from a submarine in South Korean waters, September 15, 2021. South Korea Defense Ministry via AP However, the reality is that Seoul's defense ambitions are driven by several complex factors and are not necessarily intended for escalating tensions with the North. Most of its weapons development plans were in place long before President Moon Jae-in took office, though Moon's government seems to have accelerated a few of them, particularly Seoul's naval capabilities.More broadly, Moon's political objective is to meet the necessary conditions to transfer wartime operational control, or OPCON, to South Korea from the United States and persuade US President Joe Biden to actively support Moon's vision for inter-Korean peace by showing maximum flexibility in its approach to the North.Seoul believes that developing more advanced weapons and boosting its military spending would demonstrate its seriousness about deterrence in the face of North Korean nuclear and missile threats, thereby meeting OPCON requirements.One way to indicate high military spending, South Korean government insiders tell me, has been to shorten the time period necessary for some defense acquisition projects in the military's budget proposals, which in effect increases yearly spending.A successful OPCON transfer would also help Moon achieve his motto of "military sovereignty," which is in line with South Korean progressives' ideology of ridding the country of US influence and its reliance on Washington for national security.Another underlying motivation for Seoul is to create an environment that enables Moon to leave behind a "Korean peace" legacy before his term ends next March. In remarks at the UN Generally Assembly last month, Moon reinvigorated his push for a declaration to formally end the Korean War, for which hostilities ceased in 1953 with an armistice, not a peace treaty.To this end, Seoul has been aiming for a summit among the leaders of the four main parties to the conflict - the two Koreas, the US and China - on the sidelines of the Winter Olympics in Beijing next February. However, North Korea has rejected Seoul's proposal as purely symbolic, and Washington rightfully remains wary of signing a war-ending declaration with a state that continues to build up its nuclear weapons in contravention of numerous United Nations Security Council resolutions. President Moon Jae-in in front of a prototype of South Korea's first homegrown fighter jet, KF-21, at its rollout ceremony, April 9, 2021. Yonhap via REUTERS Still, South Korea remains hopeful, even as North Korea threatens further missile tests and nuclear weapons development. Employing parallel tactics of scorn and flattery, Pyongyang has also taken advantage of Moon's desperation to secure his legacy by restoring an inter-Korean communication line and dangling hopes for a war-ending declaration and another inter-Korean summit - provided that Seoul works harder to satisfy the Kim regime and break with Washington.Moon has met Kim in person three times during his presidency. One last inter-Korean summit would provide Moon with the justification needed to ratify the 2018 inter-Korean summit agreement in the National Assembly, where his ruling Democratic Party holds a supermajority. That would legally bind the next South Korean administration to Moon's policy of maximum engagement without conditions with the North, which many conservative critics say could jeopardize South Korea's national security.A victory for Moon's party in the presidential election next March, which Pyongyang is apparently trying to influence with its latest flattery, would also be a win for North Korea. This is because conservative South Korean governments tend to impose higher bars for inter-Korean engagement and denuclearization and are more closely aligned with the United States.Against the backdrop of these security and political dynamics on the Korean Peninsula, the fundamental challenge for the Biden administration is to persuade the Kim regime to come back to the negotiating table and curb North Korea's nuclear weapons development.However, Kim has so far rejected the Biden team's overtures, and the chances to resume diplomacy are further complicated by the coronavirus pandemic. Pyongyang's refusal to return to direct talks any time soon and its unwillingness to even receive international humanitarian assistance are apparently due to fears of importing the virus.The traditional method of sanctions enforcement against the North, aimed at halting the flow of funds that finance North Korea's nuclear weapons program, has also become difficult to maintain due to the country's self-isolation during the pandemic. Kim and Moon at the border village of Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone, April 27, 2018. Korea Summit Press Pool via AP Still, waiting patiently is not an option, as North Korea's nuclear weapons program continues "full steam ahead," as the International Atomic Energy Agency announced last month. In the near term, countries that are in contact with Pyongyang could help persuade the regime that there are safe methods to receive vaccines and humanitarian aid, as well as to conduct official discussions with US counterparts.The Biden administration should continue with its overtures and consistent messages about meeting without preconditions and harboring no hostile intentions toward North Korea. Meanwhile, Washington and the international community should tighten sanctions against Pyongyang's cybercrimes and punish third-party entities involved in trade and illicit financial activities with the regime. The exorbitant earnings from such activities have become a lucrative source of financing for North Korea's nuclear weapons program.At the same time, Washington should prepare a strategy for when the pandemic subsides or when North Korea appears ready to engage once more. Challenges still loom because Pyongyang continues to maintain that its preconditions for dialogue include the removal of international sanctions, as well as an end to US-South Korean military drills and criticisms of Pyongyang's human-rights violations - all of which remain nonstarters for the Biden administration.Even if diplomacy resumes in earnest, the road ahead will be dotted with landmines. Yet inaction and the absence of bold initiatives toward denuclearization and peace will yield even bigger problems.Duyeon Kim is an adjunct senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security and a columnist for the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, based in Seoul. She specializes in the Korean Peninsula, East Asian relations, nuclear nonproliferation, arms control and security regimes.Read the original article on Business Insider.....»»

Category: topSource: businessinsiderOct 22nd, 2021

41 sentimental gifts that"ll make anyone feel loved

Thoughtful mementos are especially impactful right now. Here are 41 sentimental gifts that'll make your loved ones feel valued and appreciated. When you buy through our links, Insider may earn an affiliate commission. Learn more. Birthdate co. For those feeling extra softhearted this year, we put together a list of sentimental gift ideas. From customized gifts to meaningful flowers, you're sure to find inspiration for anyone. Still looking for a gift? Check out our list of the All-Time Best products we've ever tested. If you always give generic gifts, select something off a wishlist, or just send a gift card, you're not alone. It can be difficult to think beyond the practical to select items that will delight and surprise your giftee. If you're looking to truly impress your loved ones, you'll want to choose gifts that are custom, unique, and thoughtful. You can convey just how much you care by referencing fun memories, inside jokes, and hidden interests.We've compiled 41 sentimental gifts, which include a flower subscription, a customized puzzle, a personalized photo book, and more. Each of these gifts are sure to make your giftee feel special and remind them of loving memories and events. If you're looking for more gift ideas, be sure to check out all of our gift guides here.Below are 41 sentimental gift ideas: A set of socks with their pet's face printed on them Tribe Socks Custom Socks with Your Pet's Face, available at Tribe Socks, $24For dog- or cat-lovers, a pair of custom socks with their pet printed on them is a lighthearted but thoughtful gift. For more inspiration for pet-themed gifts, take a look at our guide to the best gifts for dog owners. A personalized children's book Amazon Goodnight Little Me Personalized Book, available at Amazon, $39.99The Goodnight Little Me book is a sweet gift for new parents or your favorite kids. This custom bedtime book can be personalized with any child's name and includes gorgeous illustrations from the designer of the Harry Potter series' US covers. Check out our guide to the best gifts for new parents for more gift-giving ideas.  A mug with handwritten words Little Gem Girl/Etsy Loved Ones Handwriting Coffee Mug, available at Etsy, $22.40A mug with a meaningful message is a tender gift for people who may have lost a loved one or who live far away. You can customize this mug with any words you want, printed in your handwriting or someone else's. A floral paint-by-numbers kit Uncommon Goods Birth Month Flower Paint-by-Number Kit, available at Uncommon Goods, $30Inspired by the birth month of your gift recipient, this paint-by-numbers kit is a gift and a fun activity rolled into the one. The kit lets them create a painting of the flowers for their respective birth month, along with an explanation of the characteristics of each month and flower. For example, October is a marigold that represents optimism and positive energy. A monogrammed notebook Papier Scallop Spine Notebook, available at Papier, $26.99Whether they love making lists or jotting down new ideas, every writer needs a durable, trusted notebook to store their notes and stories. These unique notebooks can be customized with a monogram and lined, dotted, or plain pages. The notebooks come in solid colors and several fun designs, including the brands The Pahari, Constellation, and Colourblock styles. A set of low-maintenance plants The Sill Plant Parent Set, available at The Sill, from $48Add some greenery into their space with this set of easy-to-care-for plants from The Sill. Choose from sets of three to seven plants that change seasonally. A fresh flower subscription Fresh Sends The Send Bouquet, available at Fresh Sends, from $55Instead of gifting flowers solely during holidays and special occasions, send them beautiful arrangements on a more consistent basis with a subscription from Fresh Sends. Choose from three delivery frequencies and two size options for a unique bouquet every time. A calendar full of cherished personal photos Artifact Uprising Personalized Walnut Desktop Photo Calendar, available at Artifact Uprising, from $35Photos of loved ones are an instant source of joy. Structuring your daily life around them with a calendar is a great way to fill each day with more gratitude and happiness. Artifact Uprising's desktop calendar is sustainably made from reclaimed wood and fully customizable. You can also choose the calendar's starting month, so you don't have to wait for a new year to create one. A book for your favorite astrology lover Birthdate Co. The Birthdate Book, available at Birthdate Co., $95If they know their sun, moon, and rising sign, this made-to-order astrology book will make the perfect gift. Provide their birthday and time of birth, and the company will create a 70-page book with information and insights customized from their birth chart. One Insider Reviews writer said the book felt extremely personalized, and no two books are the same. A cube of conversation-starting prompt cards Uncommon Goods Table Topics cards, available at Uncommon Goods, $25Never experience another boring dinner again with these cards from Table Topics. Each cube comes with 135 thought-provoking topic cards to help keep your meals and relationships interesting.With six themed options ranging from card sets for families, couples, and friends, you'll give them the chance to get to know everyone in their life a little better. A customized puzzle Etsy Customizable photo puzzle, available at Etsy, $34.99Help them stay entertained by gifting them a customized puzzle of their favorite picture. This puzzle also comes with a customized box, making this gift even more special. Choose from any image to commemorate a special event, remember a great vacation, or show love to their favorite pet. A video montage of and from their loved ones Montage A video montage of their loved ones, available at Montage, from $29Ask their friends and family to record and upload videos to be automatically compiled, scored, and delivered for a thoughtful present that's sure to bring on happy tears. An astrology necklace Mejuri A necklace with their zodiac symbol, available at Mejuri, from $90If they're into astrology, get them their zodiac sign in gold. Mejuri offers all signs in its Zodiac Collection in gold vermeil, sterling silver, and 14k yellow gold. A custom night sky star map to commemorate a birth, anniversary, or any other day Starry Maps Custom star map print, available at Starry Maps, from $49Commemorate any special night of their (or your) life by getting it printed on museum-quality 200gsm Matte paper or on canvas. An e-gift card to Goldbelly Goldbelly An e-gift card, available at Goldbelly, from $25Whether you spend most of your time together trying out different recipes — or they're often treating you to a delicious meal — you may want to turn your gift into a thoughtful, shared experience. Wherever they are in this big old world, they can call in any comforting favorite they please from Goldbelly. A bottle of bourbon as unique as they are Reservebar Jefferson's Ocean: Aged At Sea Bourbon, available at Reservebar, $79 (custom engraving included)If they're bourbon drinkers, nautical lovers, or both, they might just cherish this forever. An Airbnb gift card You could take a coffee masterclass with a national judge in Mexico via Airbnb Online Experiences. Airbnb An Airbnb Gift Card toward the experience of their dreams, available at Airbnb, from $25 Travel might not be an option right now, but Airbnb is currently offering Online Experiences held by instructors from around the world. Treat them to a coffee master class, history lesson, or even a dance class. And in the meantime, they can daydream about their next far-flung adventure or cozy staycation.  A custom map poster Grafomap Custom map poster, available at Grafomap, $49Grafomap is a website that lets you design posters with maps of any place in the world — including their hometown, college town, or favorite travel destination.  A personalized photo book Snapfish/Business Insider Personalized Snapfish photo book, available at Snapfish, from $13Convert their pile of photos and favorite mementos into one glossy book they can showcase around the home for a cohesive, beautiful keepsake.  Expertly framed memories Framebridge Framed photo, available at Framebridge, from $25Framebridge gift card, available at Framebridge, from $25Framebridge makes custom framing for not-custom-framing prices. You can print or paint something on your own and have it framed, or have them print and frame it. You can take advantage of a team of designers to help decide what frame to get. An engraved timepiece Uncommon Goods Personalized watch, available at Timex, from $75If you're looking for subtle and impactful, engraving a watch is a classic for a reason. They can keep it forever, wear it every day, and know how much personal significance it has without always answering questions from onlookers. It's functional, thoughtful, and timeless. A custom-made comic book telling your shared story Etsy Custom comic book, available at Etsy, from $443.12If you have the means, few comic book nerds would turn down owning a detailed, beautifully designed comic book featuring them as the lead character or superhero or a comic book version of the story of how they met their partner.Purchase the comic, email the makers telling them the story, and send photos of the characters and event setting to make sure everything looks right. You'll see a rough draft, send back any edits you have, and they'll complete the final copy. Opt for a digital print (emailed) or get it sent to you as a canvas print. A personalized letter necklace AUrate Mini Letter Charm Pendant with White Diamonds, available at AUrate, $560AUrate offers engravings and personalized jewelry, like this necklace with a mini letter charm. Pick a letter and select from 14-karat or 18-karat white, yellow, or rose gold. Learn more about online startups making sustainable, relatively affordable fine jewelry here. A framed quote Minted Personalized custom quotes, available at Minted, from $38Frame one of their favorite quotes, lyrics, or sayings and customize everything from font color to matting to make it theirs. A family portrait that includes pets HappyMomentsArts/Etsy/Business Insider Custom family portrait, available at Etsy, from $15A perfect gift for a couple or a family, you can get a digital download of a custom family portrait that includes their furry roommates. A custom pet portrait CanvasPop Custom pet portrait, available at CanvasPop, from $79If they love their pet more than pretty much anything in the world, a Pet Portrait immortalizing them is a uniquely thoughtful gesture — and decor they're unlikely to have already. You can also get them a custom painting (from $250) if that's more their style or a framed print (from $35.55) of them with their pet. A cute set of mugs Uncommon Goods Personalized family mugs, available at Uncommon Goods, from $30Turn your family or friends or a newly engaged couple into characters that actually look like them. One side features the artists' depiction of them (personalized through your choices of skin tone, hair, and clothing color) and the mug owner's first name, while the other displays your family name and year established — for friends, this could be the year you met.  Turn meaningful audio into art Etsy Soundwave art print, available at Etsy, from $70Send in a song and artist or email an audio file of you or a loved one speaking, and this Etsy shop will turn it into personalized sound-wave art. This gift is particularly thoughtful for long-distance relationships or for commemorating a loved one. Long-distance touch lamps Uncommon Goods Set of two Filimin Long-Distance Touch Lamps, available at Uncommon Goods, $85-$170Everyone is busy these days, and it's not as easy to keep up with loved ones as we all wish. A set of paired lamps, one of which lights up when the other is touched, lets them know you're still thinking of them even when you don't have time to talk. One Insider Reviews editor uses them to keep in touch with her parents. 90 tiny messages in a bottle Amazon/Business Insider Infmetry 90 Pcs Capsule "Message in a Bottle" Letters, available at Amazon, $12.99Write 90 tiny personal messages to a loved one and stuff them inside these cute capsules for easy, daily reminders of love — none of which you have to remember to send every morning. Brightly embroidered pillows of their favorite state Uncommon Goods Hand Embroidered State Pillows, available at Uncommon Goods, $225Bring their favorite state to them with detailed and brightly embroidered pillows that pay homage to each state's cities and cultural touchpoints.  A photo print of an important life moment Uncommon Goods Intersection of Love Frame, available at Uncommon Goods, from $75Commemorate the moment their paths first crossed in a sophisticated, unique design. Personalized wine labels TopBananaPrints/Etsy/Business Insider Custom wine labels, available at Etsy, from $4.56Celebrate a loved one's birthday, achievements, or new life stages such as a marriage with a bottle of wine and a thoughtful, personalized label they'll want to keep.  The blueprint of a beloved ski resort Uncommon Goods Ski resort blueprints, available at Uncommon Goods, from $75Whether they grew up on the slopes or drag friends and family along as adults, skiers can take their favorite slopes home with them with this blueprint-inspired art. Featuring iconic ski resorts such as Park City, Vail, and Breckenridge, each officially licensed print is created with a vintage, distressed finish and contains detailed historical and statistical facts about the area. A bound book of love letters, curated from A-Z Uncommon Goods How Do I Love Thee From A-Z, available at Uncommon Goods, $20Follow 26 prompts laid out in old-school typewriter font to leave your loved one with a bound book of love letters they can keep forever. It's the perfect spot for recording your favorite romantic moments, memories, inside jokes, and all the tiny and enormous reasons why you love them.  A poster of you and a loved one styled as your favorite drinks oflifeandlemons/Etsy/Business Insider Personalized drinks print, available at Etsy, $23.43Whether you're turning a best friend or a lifelong partner into a cocktail avatar, the quirky Personalized Drinks Print is a sweet and fun approach to sentimental gifting.  A portable printer Target Polaroid Hi-Print Printer, available at Target, $99.99Polaroid's Wireless Mini Printer prints mini photos from your phone or tablet using a WiFi connection. It's small enough to stow in a purse for travel, and there are customizable features like stickers, filters, and borders to edit photos within the Polaroid app.  A reel viewer filled with snapshots of old memories Uncommon Goods/Business Insider Create your own reel viewer, available at Uncommon Goods, from $14.95As a kid, flipping through a reel viewer was one of life's greatest joys. Just because they're all grown up doesn't mean they won't like playing with the gadget. Fill the reel with snapshots of their most cherished memories (use the redemption code included with your viewer) for a gift that'll flood them with all sorts of nostalgia. A custom watercolor of their wedding venue JustArtinAround/Etsy Custom watercolor wedding venue illustration, available at Etsy, from $35.99For a deeply thoughtful gift for newlyweds, commission a custom watercolor of their wedding venue or location. All you'll have to do is send the artist a photo of the location, the couple's first and last names, and the wedding date.  A candle that smells like home Uncommon Goods Homesick Candles, available at Uncommon Goods, from $34It's hard to put a finger on just what makes home smell like home, but a whiff of a Homesick candle will transport them there with its nostalgia-inducing scents. Uniquely specific scents are made to capture the ethos of states and cities or memories like road trips, backyard BBQs, and cooking in Grandma's kitchen.If they're far from home, this affordable candle is a small but meaningful gesture that can bring them just a little closer.  A cutting board that memorializes a meaningful recipe Uncommon Goods Family Recipe Cutting Board, available at Uncommon Goods, $100There's something about family recipes that make them taste even better. This cutting board offers a unique way to preserve those special favorites. Ingredients and directions are engraved on solid cherry wood and can even be etched in the recipe writer's handwriting.  Read the original article on Business Insider.....»»

Category: topSource: businessinsiderOct 19th, 2021