08 December 2019

Authorizations for Madness; The Effects and Consequences of Congress’ Endless Permissions for War

by MATTHEW HOH Counterpunch, 6 December 2019
[Reposted with permission of the editor]

Photograph Source: The U.S. Army – CC BY 2.0
I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can…Its brutality, its futility, its stupidity.
– Dwight Eisenhower.
For the first time in decades, passage of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) has been delayed due to disagreements between Democrats and Republicans. The disagreements at the center of the delay in Congress are, as usual, partisan in nature: funding for the President’s border wall with Mexico, a Space Force the Pentagon doesn’t want, the impeachment hearings, and other domestic political issues. This delay in passage of a reconciled NDAA between the two houses of Congress, however offers an opportunity, because buried within the NDAA are possibilities to repeal the pieces of legislation that have brought mass human, financial and moral consequences to the US, have wrecked entire nations and societies abroad, and have made the United States less safe.
The Best Authorizations the Military-Industrial Complex Can Buy
In both 2001 and 2002, via large majorities, the Congress passed authorizations for war. While not declarations of war, these mandates, each titled an Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) provided the legal framework in 2001 for attacks against al-Qaeda and in 2002 for the invasion of Iraq. Since 2001, the first AUMF has far exceeded its original purpose and has been used to justify military strikes and operations in close to twenty countries in the Middle East, Africa and Asia, often against nations, organizations, and individuals who had nothing to do with 9/11. It was even cited by President Obama, and then President Trump, as the authority to extra-constitutionally execute an American citizen and his teenage children, without trial, by drones and commandos. President Trump, as the 2001 is still operative, can seemingly do what he pleases with the military overseas. With regards to the 2002 AUMF, I think most Americans would find it a shock to know it is still in effect, that the congressional blessing given to the Bush Administration to launch the Iraq War, based on the lies of Iraq’s non-existent weapons of mass destruction and ties to al-Qaeda, has never been revoked.
Within the NDAA, presented as amendments, are calls for the 2001 and 2002 AUMFs to be repealed. The oft stated arguments offered against repeal by politicians and pundits in the service of the war machine refer to the world-wide presence of terror groups like al-Qaeda and the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq (ISIS); appeal to the sunk cost of US lives and treasure in the post-9/11 wars; or point to the requirement for the Pentagon’s leadership abroad, somehow claiming that US military, and CIA, presence and activity over the last two decades has brought about stability and peace. It doesn’t take very much to belie such excuses and reasons, simply having paid attention to the news of endless war for the last couple of decades or by speaking to a war veteran will guide most people to an understanding that these wars have not just been failures, but never-ending catastrophes of counter-production and suffering, proving with clear certainty both the old adages of war as hell and as a breeding ground for unintended consequences.
The list of reasons to not repeal these AUMFs are heard in varying degrees from congressional leaders and members on both sides. These reasons are at best specious and are most commonly political myths and tropes that fluctuate around American exceptionalism and the benevolence of war making. The antidote to such falsehoods of war is hard experience and undeniable fact. The listing of all such experience and fact is too great to provide, however, I believe simply outlining the costs and consequences of the actual results of the wars enabled by the AUMFs is enough to cause democrats, republican and independent voters, – men and women who are not on the dole of the weapons industry, unlike nearly all members of Congress – to want to see a repeal of both AUMFs.
What Have the AUMFs Accomplished?
Based on FBI and journalist investigations, al Qaeda’s strength was between 200 and 400 members world-wide in September of 2001. Al Qaeda now has affiliates in every corner of the world, their forces measure in the tens of thousands of fighters, and they control territory in Yemen, Syria and Africa. Per Brett McGurk, the former US envoy for combatting al Qaeda and ISIS, Idlib Province in Syria is the largest single location of al Qaeda fighters ever assembled in the world. In Afghanistan, the Taliban are stronger than at any point since 2001, and, with regards to international terrorism, where there was one international terror group in Afghanistan in 2001, now the Pentagon reports twenty groups, the largest gathering of such groups in the world.
It is important to remember ISIS is the former al Qaeda in Iraq, an organization that came into being due to the invasion and occupation of Iraq by the United States. While apologists for the United States’ wars and militarized foreign policy will argue this was an unforeseeable and regrettable accident, it seems beyond dispute, as understood through leaked US intelligence documents, comments by American and foreign officials, and multiple journalist and academic reports, that ISIS’ success in Syria and Iraq in the first half of this decade was due to the direct and indirect military, logistic and financial support to ISIS by the US and it allies. This same support occurred for al Qaeda and their associated forces in Syria. At times the US found itself providing air cover for al Qaeda forces in Syria and even air strikes in support of ISIS. Such use of US warplanes resulted in accusations that the US was serving as al Qaeda and ISIS’ Air Forcein Syria. In response US active duty soldiers protested via social media, angered at being on the same side as the people they saw as responsible for 9/11.
While much of the counter-productive results of the AUMFs are correctly described as blowback, the outcome of incompetent and nefariousness US meddling overseas, whether it be through Reagan-era support for Islamic militants in Afghanistan or Obama’s use of “smart power” in Libya, I certainly do not want to take away from the agency of those people who have spent decades fighting against the US Empire and its allies. The 9/11 hijackers, the murderers who give reason for these AUMFs, offered the following three motives for their attack:
  1. the US sanctions and bombings of Iraq through the 1990s,
  2. the US support for Israel against the Palestinians,
  3. the stationing of the US military in Saudi Arabia.
The 9/11 hijackers did not murder thousands of Americans because they hated our freedoms, but because they saw the US as engaging in an ongoing war against Muslim people and lands. Not forgetting the terrible and criminal nature of 9/11, I don’t think it extreme to say the hijackers’ grievances were legitimate, regardless of whether you agree with them.
Rather than executing a response to that act of terror which would directly pursue the perpetrators while ameliorating the conditions that gave rise to the attacks, the US chose a path that inflamed anti-US sentiments and assisted terrorist recruiting by opening wars against Muslims across the world, including in the US. The result should not be surprising: US military,intelligence agencies, journalists and other international organizations continually report the reasons people join such groups is not out of ideology or religious devotion, but out of resistance to invasion and occupation, and in response to the death of family, friends and neighbors by foreign and corrupt government forces. Anywhere from 70-90% of the people who are fighting our soldiers in Africa, Asia and across the Greater Middle East are doing so simply because our soldiers are occupying them or are backing predatory and kleptocratic local government forces.
Often, when I ask those in the US who possess the loudest desire for overseas intervention, occupation and war what they would do if their own home towns and cities were occupied by a foreign army I usually receive a quiet non-reply or an answer so intellectually and morally dissonant that I have to catch my breath. Yet, it is such silence and dissonance that allows for these wars to continue and disallows any consideration that without the 2001 and 2002 AUMFs we may not today have a world-wide network of al Qaeda fighters and, most certainly, we would not have ISIS. The AUMFs, and the wars they have enabled, have worsened terrorism, not defeated it.
What Have the AUMFs Cost?
More than 7,000 US service members have been killed and more than 50,000 wounded in the wars since 9/11. Of the 2.5 million troops deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan it is estimated as many as 20% are afflicted with PTSD, while 20% more may have traumatic brain injury. Based on US Veterans Administration (VA) data, Afghan and Iraq veterans have rates of suicide 4-10 times higher than their civilian peers, adjusted for age and sex. This translates to almost two Afghan and Iraq veterans dying by suicide each day. Do the math and it is clear more Afghan and Iraq veterans are being lost to suicide than to combat. The cost to the people overseas to whom we have brought these wars is hard to realize. Between one and four million people have been killed, directly and indirectly, while tens of millions have been wounded or psychologically traumatized, and tens of millions more made homeless – the cause of our planet’s worst refugee crisis since World War Two.
Financially, the cost of these wars is immense: more than $6 trillion dollars. The cost of these wars is just one element of the $1.2 trillion the US government spends annually on wars and war making. Half of each dollar paid in federal income tax goes towards some form or consequence of war. While the results of such spending are not hard to foresee or understand: a cyclical and dependent relationship between the Pentagon, weapons industry and Congress, the creation of a whole new class of worker and wealth distribution is not so understood or noticed, but exists and is especially malignant.
Where the manufacturing, oil, financial and tech centers of the US were once the most affluent regions of the country, for more than a decade now Washington, DC’s counties have composedthe wealthiest section of the United States. In 2016, 4 of the wealthiest 6 counties in the US were Washington, DC suburbs. As discretionary federal spending, aside from that going to defense, intelligence and homeland security agencies, has remained flat or fallen in the last two decades, in relation to inflation and GDP, that household wealth amassed in and around Washington, DC has come primarily from year after year of trillion dollar aggregate spending in support of war making (with the exception of President Obama’s 2009 bank bailout). The sustainment of thiswar wealth class in and around Washington, DC, seems set for permanence as predicted by future congressional spending priorities, while non-war making classes of Americans, such as scientists, educators and environmentalists, will continue to see reduced support from the federal government.
This is a ghastly redistribution of wealth, perhaps unlike any known in modern human history, certainly not in American history. As taxpayers send trillions to Washington. DC, that money flows to the men and women that remotely oversee, manage and staff the wars that kill and destroy millions of lives overseas and at home. Hundreds of thousands of federal employees and civilian contractors servicing the wars take home six figure annual salaries allowing them second homes, luxury cars and plastic surgery, while veterans put guns in their mouths, refugees die in capsized boats and as many as four million nameless souls scream silently in death.
The only additional statistic I have the space to provide, of a vast many which compose that incomprehensible cost of more than $6 trillion spent solely for these wars, is that nearly $1 trillion of the $6 trillion dollars is simply just interest and debt payments. For politicians, whether or not they claim some form of fiscal conservatism as a political principal, these interest and debt payments alone should cause them to reconsider these wars. It should also make all Americans flinch when they are told, by leaders of both parties and the media, that reform or expansion of domestic public policy programs is too expensive.
All That We Have To Do…
In 2004 Osama bin Laden said:
All that we have to do is to send two mujahidin to the furthest point east to raise a piece of cloth on which is written al-Qaida, in order to make the generals race there to cause America to suffer human, economic, and political losses without their achieving for it anything of note other than some benefits for their private companies.
It is not hard to imagine bin Laden smiling at his accomplishments from his oceanic grave.
These AUMFs and the wars have provided tens of thousands of recruits to international terror groups; mass profits to the weapons industry and those that service it; promotions to generals and admirals, with corporate board seats upon retirement; and a perpetual and endless supply of bloody shirts for politicians to wave via an unquestioning and obsequious corporate media to stoke compliant anger and malleable fear. What is hard to imagine, impossible even, is anyone else who has benefited from these wars.
Brutality, Stupidity, Futility
The wars since 9/11 have been brutal, stupid and futile. The majority of Americans, including Afghan and Iraq war veterans, believe the wars to have not been worth fighting. Cravenly, with some notable exceptions by progressives and libertarians, there has not been a concerted effort within Congress to put an end to these wars, gain some control over the American war machine and cripple its ability to deliver mass suffering and death.
With the NDAA stalled in conference committee an opportunity now exists for members of Congress to hear from their constituents that the wars must come to an end. While revoking the AUMFs would by no means wave a magic wand that would end the bloodshed, it would be a crucial first step in forcing the Trump administration, and subsequent administrations, to return to Congress for approval to start another war or to even continue with those wars that are now well into their second decade.
Please call your members of Congress and tell them to ensure their party leadership keeps the amendments to repeal the 2001 and 2002 AUMFs in the final version of the NDAA. These authorizations for madness must come to an end.
More articles by:MATTHEW HOH
Matthew Hoh is a member of the advisory boards of Expose Facts, Veterans For Peace and World Beyond War. In 2009 he resigned his position with the State Department in Afghanistan in protest of the escalation of the Afghan War by the Obama Administration. He previously had been in Iraq with a State Department team and with the U.S. Marines. He is a Senior Fellow with the Center for International Policy.

23 May 2019

PODCAST: Classifying John Boyd with Chuck Spinney

BY DAN GRAZIER, Center for Defense Information, Project On Government Oversight, MAY 23, 2019

Military scholars and practitioners continue to debate the significance and merit of John Boyd’s ideas more than 20 years after his death. 
Dan Grazier interviews Chuck Spinney, May 2019. (Photo: Dan Grazier)
Colonel Boyd is the legendary Air Force fighter pilot who, in addition to revolutionizing aerial combat tactics and aircraft design, also changed the way Americans think about conflict and warfare. He profoundly influenced the Marine Corps’ maneuver warfare doctrine and helped shape the ground campaign that led to the rapid defeat of the Iraqi Army during the 1991 Gulf War.
In recent years, some have attempted to classify Boyd’s ideas as airpower theory, which at its core is the basic idea that an air force, when commanded by airmen bombing targets selected by airmen, can influence the outcome of a conflict at the strategic level, independent of ground or naval forces.
Chuck Spinney, one of Boyd’s closest collaborators, explains how Boyd pointedly disagreed with airpower theory and how his ideas encompass conflict in all forms.
The Pentagon Labyrinth, a podcast by POGO's Center for Defense Information, discusses key issues and current challenges for military and Pentagon reform.
Show Notes:
Destruction and Creation” – John Boyd
Genghis John” – Franklin C. Spinney

The Center for Defense Information at POGO aims to secure far more effective and ethical military forces at significantly lower cost.

12 May 2019

The Psychology of Russiagate

Even if you do not agree with the analysis presented in the attached video, it is well worth watching and thinking about.
America in denial: Gabor Maté on the psychology of Russiagate 
Physician, mental health expert, and best-selling author Dr. Gabor Maté sits down with The Grayzone’s Aaron Maté to analyze how Russiagate was able to take hold of U.S. society following Donald Trump’s election.
By Aaron Maté, The Grayzone, 7 May 2009
(Interview transcript)
AARON MATÉ: It’s The Grayzone, coming to you from The People’s Forum in New York City. I’m Aaron Maté, here with another Maté – his name is Gabor. He is a physician, an expert on childhood trauma, mental health, chronic illness, and the author of several best-selling books. He’s also my father. And I wanted to bring him today to discuss Russiagate, which is now in a new chapter. Many people are now grappling with the fact that Robert Mueller has just returned a verdict on the issue of a Trump-Russia conspiracy – which so many people were led to believe in – and Mueller has rejected it. [continued]

08 May 2019

Will the Mueller report put the Russia-Trump collusion narrative to rest?

Attached herewith is ace investigative reporter Gareth Porter’s insightful explanation of why the Mueller report is likely to prolong the increasingly dangerous distraction created by the baseless Trump-Russia collusion allegations. 
Porter’s assessment is well worth careful reading.
Chuck Spinney
Mueller Stoked Trump-Russia Alarmism, Despite Finding No Collusion
Gareth Porter, Truthout, May 5, 2019
Reposted with permission of the author
Gareth Porter is an independent investigative journalist and historian writing on US national security policy. His latest book, Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare, was published in February of 2014. Follow him on Twitter: @GarethPorter

Ann Mueller and Special Counsel Robert Mueller walk on March 24, 2019, in Washington, D.C. 
Tasos Katopodis / Getty Images

The Mueller report did not find evidence that contacts between Trump campaign advisers and staff and Russians during the 2016 election campaign constitute “collusion” or “conspiracy” with a Russian effort to elect Donald Trump.
Nevertheless, Mueller’s report is bound to prolong the U.S. political obsession with the Trump-Russia collusion narrative, because it keeps alive the idea that Trump campaign contacts with Russians were a threat to U.S. national security.
That view will encourage Democrats in Congress and the corporate media figures still committed to the Trump-Russia narrative to push the issue for many months to come. That means that Congress and the media will be diverted from the real domestic threats to democracy that stem both from the Trump administration’s anti-democratic policies and from the dysfunctional U.S. political system.
The continued focus on the collusion narrative also plays into the hands of the national security state and powerful arms contractors, which have stoked the new Cold War with Russia. For senior officials in the national security state, the threat to American interests in 2016 was not only Russian “meddling” in the election but also Trump’s perceived interest in improving relations with Moscow, which would mean relaxing sanctions. They viewed Trump as a threat after he declared in his first major foreign policy address as a candidate on April 26, 2016, “We desire to live peacefully and in friendship with Russia and China” and said, “This horrible cycle of hostility must end and ideally will end soon.”
Just before stepping down as CIA director in January 2017, John O. Brennan issued an extraordinary warning to Trump in an interview with Fox News not to stray from the established hardline policy toward Russia. “I think Mr. Trump has to understand,” Brennan declared, “that absolving Russia of various actions that it’s taken in the past number of years is a road, that he, I think, needs to be very, very careful about moving down.”
The national security bureaucracy has an overriding interest in keeping heavy pressure on Russia and the Putin government and on mobilizing public support and resources for a more aggressive policy toward Russia, including a military buildup for potential war and more emphasis on offensive-use cyber war capabilities.
Mueller, a former FBI director who was deeply involved in justifying the Bush administration’s aggressive war in Iraq, clearly shares the same political perspective and interests. Although the report makes no direct judgment about the motive behind the contacts with Russians, it is based on the implicit assumption that contacts between a presidential campaign and Russian officials or intermediaries are contrary to the national interest. That idea is extended even further, moreover, to include contacts with anyone who had ever been a Russian official or was alleged to be “linked” in some way to the Russians – an idea that has been adopted in media coverage of the Mueller investigation.
The Trump Tower Meeting and the Moscow Trump Tower Negotiations
Mueller’s accounts of two episodes that have been the subject of intensive media and Congressional suggestions of collusion — the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between campaign officials and Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya and Trump’s negotiations with a Russian real estate company on a Trump Tower in Moscow – show clearly that they were nothing of the sort.
The Mueller report feeds into the growing power of militarist interests in maintaining high tensions with Russia and scoring record military budgets.
The Trump Tower meeting has been depicted as clear evidence of the Trump campaign responding with alacrity to an offer of dirt on Hillary Clinton by a lawyer linked to the Kremlin. But Mueller’s account makes it clear that it was merely about an offer of the kind of opposition research material that is commonly used in campaigns – and far less sensational than what was gathered in the now-discredited Steele Dossier.
Although publicist Rob Goldstone had told the Trump campaign that Veselnitskaya was offering information that represented the Russian government’s assistance to Trump’s campaign, she was actually a former Russian prosecutor who had been an independent lawyer since 2001. Her client was the son of Russian businessman Peter Katsyv, whose company was a defendant in a civil forfeiture action in the United States related to the Magnitsky act.
Veselnitskaya had no connection to the Clinton emails. She was merely offering a document alleging that two U.S.-based businessmen, Dirk and Daniel Ziff, had engaged in tax evasion and money laundering in Russia and had used some of their ill-gotten gains to contribute to the Democratic National Committee (DNC). But when Donald Trump, Jr. asked if any of the illegally obtained money could be traced to Clinton, she admitted that it was doubtful, and the Trump campaign figures lost interest.
The Mueller account of Trump’s negotiations over a possible Trump Tower in Moscow in 2015-16 included the previously published story about Russian-American real estate developer and racketeer Felix Sater that had generated sensational headlines. Sater was representing the Russian company with which Trump signed a nonbinding Letter of Intent in late October 2015 to build a Moscow Trump Tower.
A few days after the signing Sater boasted in an email to Michael Cohen, executive vice president of the Trump Organization, “I will get Putin on the program, and we will get Donald Trump elected.” And later in the day, he referred to getting Putin to endorse Trump’s negotiating prowess in a press conference.
That boast generated stories suggesting possible collusion. But far from being a Putin agent, Sater been an informant for the FBI ever since he signed a 1998 cooperation agreement to avoid punishment on a racketeering charge to which he pleaded guilty. According to a 2011 Justice Department court filing, he had “provided the United States intelligence community with highly sensitive information concerning various terrorists and rogue states.”
Sater told The Intercept that his talk of getting Putin on board and getting Trump elected was simply “marketing”. And he added, “If I knew of even the slightest instance of anybody in the United States colluding with Russia, I’d be in the offices of the FBI in about three minutes.”
Mueller’s report shows that Cohen didn’t take Sater’s boast seriously. In fact, Cohen concluded that Sater didn’t have the clout to get Russian government approval for a deal and began to make his own contacts for that purpose. There were continuing exchanges in subsequent months about a visit to Moscow to view possible sites, but one week after Trump’s June 7 primary victories clinched the nomination, Cohen informed Sater that neither he nor Trump would be visiting, effectively ending the consideration of a deal with Sater.
Papadopoulos and Mifsud
Mueller’s account shows that the 28-year old George Papadopoulos – pressed into service as foreign policy adviser despite his lack of experience — had sought out Josef Mifsud, the director of the “London Academy of Diplomacy,” because he hoped he could help reach a Moscow contact with whom he could discuss a possible trip to Moscow by the campaign personnel to discuss future U.S.-Russian relations. Papadopoulos did have a series of conversations via Skype and email with Ivan Timofeev, who was in touch with the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs about a potential meeting, but it never took place.
The Mueller report diverts attention from real threats to democracy from Trump’s domestic agenda, including its attack on voting rights.
In a meeting on April 26, 2016, however, Mifsud told Papadopoulos that he had been told in Moscow that the Russians had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton in the form of thousands of her emails. Mifsud denied that claim to the FBI, but Papadopoulos confirmed it in his FBI interview, and Australia’s top diplomat in London, Alexander Downer, reported to the Australian government that Papadopoulos had told him the same thing.
The Mueller report does not recount Papadopoulos’s reaction to that sudden revelation. But he recalls in his own book, Deep State Target, that Mifsud provided no further explanation, causing him to wonder what that could mean and whether Mifsud was a credible source on such a serious matter – especially since Mifsud had misled him by introducing a young Russian woman to him as Putin’s niece.
Papadopoulos says he recognized that he could have nothing to do with any such subject and immediately changed the subject. Mueller’s report confirms his apparent resolve to do nothing about the remark. It found no evidence that he had passed on Mifsud’s remark or that it was discussed internally by the campaign staff. If Mifsud was testing the Trump campaign’s interest in a Russian hack, he found none.
The Manafort-Kilimnik Connection
No aspect of the Trump-Russia issue has generated more heat than the fact that former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort provided polling results in 2016 to Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian-born associate in Manafort’s previous work in Ukraine, which also supports the Trump-Russia narrative. Manafort told Kilimnik to pass on the information to Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska to whom Manafort owed as much as $25 million related to a failed investment fund.
Mueller found no basis for collusion in the episode, but many will exploit the report’s sensational claim, which was included in a Mueller court filing, that Kilimnik is a Russian agent. The court document in question says, “The FBI … has assessed that Kilimnik has ties to Russian intelligence.” But as U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson noted in a February 13, 2019, hearing, “I have not been provided with the evidence that I would need to decide” on the truth of the accusation.
Citing such an undocumented “assessment” as evidence is a highly political decision. It represents nothing more than the judgment of a single FBI official: Peter Strzok, who had been head of the Bureau’s counterespionage section until the Mueller investigation brought him in to be its primary Russian expert in May 2017. Strzok had both a personal career interest in promoting the Russian subversion scare and a strong animus toward Trump – as revealed by his now-famous email exchanges with Lisa Page. He was a key player in the small group of senior FBI officials who discussed a plan in April 2017 to investigate Trump as a witting or unwitting tool of Russian policy.
The charge that Kilimnik had “ties to Russian intelligence” is so vague as to be virtually meaningless. And as press accounts have confirmed, it was based on nothing more than a “smattering of circumstantial evidence”, based on little more than the fact that he had attended a military language school in the dying days of the Soviet Union.
That fact has been the basis for suspicions on the part of some that he could have gone on to be a KGB operative. The Mueller report cites one former colleague in the International Republican Institute as claiming he was fired because of suspicions of being Russian intelligence, but another former co-worker contradicted that claim. And the U.S. Embassy in Kiev did not regard Kilimnik as having had any such hostile intelligence ties and used Kilimnik as a valid source for information on Ukrainian oligarchs.
Did the Russians Really Threaten U.S. Democracy?
The Mueller report is based on the generally agreed premise that Russian political efforts to influence the 2016 election through the Internet Research Agency “troll farm” obviously represented electoral interference that is unprecedented in U.S.-Russian relations. But that position ignores the fact of American interference in Russia’s pivotal presidential election in 1996. A team of American specialists on election strategy with close ties to President Bill Clinton was dispatched to Moscow to assist the U.S.-backed candidate, Boris Yeltsin, by providing political advice and technical assistance to his campaign. It is well established that the U.S. assistance, which remained covert, was crucial to Yeltsin’s victory over the Communist Party candidate.
The report reaffirms the generally accepted view that the Internet Research Agency (IRA), the private St. Petersburg company owned by a businessman close to Putin, had a deep impact on pubic opinion through large-scale social media campaigns using false American personae. It repeats an estimate from Facebook that posts from IRA “trolls” may have reached as many as 126 million Americans – a figure The New York Times trumpeted as evidence of a Russian political coup in influencing the 2016 election by comparing it with the number of people who voted (139 million).
But that claim is a grotesque exaggeration of the IRA’s actual influence on the election. The original source of that Facebook statistic, Facebook General Counsel Colin Stretch, explained in his testimony that the figure was a calculation of how many people could potentially have gotten at least one IRA post in their Facebook feed over more than two years. Stretch further testified that the average Facebook user in the United States is served roughly 220 stories in News Feed each day. Facebook calculated that over the two-year period from 2015 to 2017, the Facebook posts from the IRA represented “about four-thousandths of one percent” of the content in News Feed, or approximately 1 out of 23,000 pieces of content” for those who did get some IRA feeds.
In fact, the troll farm’s influence was minute and its output was very crude and unsophisticated compared with that of the campaign of highly targeted social media ads carried out by the Trump campaign’s digital operation, “Project Alamo”. That unprecedented social media campaign was able to target individuals with ads based on information about their values and interest gleaned from a vast array of data sources. And Trump’s staff used the targeting to ensure that voting for Clinton among young liberal white voters and Blacks would be reduced.
That massive, data-driven campaign was complemented, moreover, by a huge new right-wing media system, led by Breitbart, that drove media coverage and mobilized tens of millions of pro-Trump voters with hyper-partisan stories – often “fake news – that helped consolidate Trump’s base.
Thus, Facebook users who were getting IRA content in their newsfeeds were overwhelmingly influenced by “Project Alamo” and the Breitbart-led media system – not by the Russian troll farm.
Mueller treats the WikiLeaks publication of the purloined DNC emails as an assault on the Democratic system – as though it were a continuation of Soviet Cold War “active measures.” But it is a false parallel, because the revelation of the Democratic Party leadership’s covert interventions to deny Bernie Sanders’s candidacy a fair chance to win some early primaries were not only true but sorely needed to force reform of the Democratic Party’s leadership.

The Mueller report doesn’t show the Trump campaign collusion the public had been led by media coverage to expect. But it is a siren song for a continued focus on the supposed threat to U.S. democracy from Russian “meddling”. It is aimed at maintaining public support for a focus on the threat from Russia, which diverts the attention of the media and Congress from real threats to democracy from Trump’s domestic agenda, including its attack on voting rights. And it feeds into the growing power of militarist interests in maintaining high tensions with Russia and scoring record military budgets.

25 April 2019

Why is Boeing Imploding? Part III

by Chuck Spinney
Attached below is a very important investigative report in the New York Times describing the shoddy manufacturing and quality control practices for the Boeing 787 Dreamliner production line at Boeing’s Charleston, SC assembly plant.  While I have highlighted parts that struck me as important, I urge you to read the entire report.  It is quite detailed, well sourced, and informative.
Coming on top of the still evolving Boeing 737 Max scandal, the NYT report begs the question: What is going on at Boeing -- a company that has been widely acknowledged as America’s premier commercial aircraft manufacturer? 
The NYT report while excellent in describing the dangerous practices at Boeing’s Charleston factory, sheds no light on this deeper question.  
This is a question with deep roots in some of the most important political-economic problems now facing our nation, and in the case of Boeing, it has been building up for at least twenty years.  
I believe this larger context makes Boeing’s implosion is quite understandable and, dare I say, predictable.  
The problems with Boeing are deeply connected to the larger story of American deindustrialization enhanced in Boeing’s case by the pathological political-economic practices of the Military-Industrial-Congressional Complex (MICC) and how those practices spill over into the larger manufacturing sector of our economy.   The late professor Seymour Melman began warning about deindustrialization and the nexus of its causal factors (i.e., managerialism, financialization, and the spillover of the MICC’s cost-plus political-economic practices) in the 1970s (see Profits Without Production (1983) for his synthesis of these ideas).  
Boeing’s ongoing implosion derives from a dangerous combination of effects from (1) the neo-liberal de-industrializing political-economic practices championed by Democrats and Republicans alike since the mid 1970s (particularly deregulation, conglomeratization via mega mergers, financialization, union busting, outsourcing, managerialism and its obsession with short-term profit maximization at the expense of long term investment, and government-industry crony capitalism, particularly “regulatory capture”), and (2)  the disintegration of Boeing’s traditional iron wall between its quasi-market-based airliner production and its typical cost-plus, corner-cutting crony business practices of its defense sector (as is hinted at by the virtual take over of Boeing’s senior management by people with backgrounds in the defense business), and (3) by the natural sclerotic effects of giantism created by Boeing’s Pentagon-subsidized megamerger with McDonnell-Douglas promoted and paid for by the Clinton Administration (which resulted in a far greater defense concentration as well as the movement of its Boeing’s Headquarters from its commercial production hub in Seattle to a non-production hub in Chicago in 2001 together with the establishment of one of the largest crony-capitalist lobbying operations in Washington DC.)
The attached five links address these larger issues in the context of Boeing, note that they all predate the NYT report by at least six years.  
2. Why is Boeing Imploding? Part I (08 February 2011)
4. America’s Defense Dependency, Franklin Spinney, Counterpunch, 16 November 2012
5. Hart-Smith Report: Boeing Paper #MDC 00K0096, February 2001 CS note: this a devastating critique of outsourcing to maximize profits and reduce labor costs.  It is an internal Boeing paper written by a brilliant Industrial Engineer employed by Boeing.  Originally uncovered and publicized by the Seattle Times in February 2011. Note how the recommendations at the end of the report, if properly implemented, might have prevented many of the problems identified in the attached NYT report. 
Chuck Spinney

Claims of Shoddy Production Draw Scrutiny to a Second Boeing Jet
Workers at a 787 Dreamliner plant in South Carolina have complained of defective manufacturing, debris left on planes and pressure to not report violations.
By Natalie Kitroeff and David Gelles, New York Times, April 20, 2019
NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. — When Boeing broke ground on its new factory near Charleston in 2009, the plant was trumpeted as a state-of-the-art manufacturing hub, building one of the most advanced aircraft in the world. But in the decade since, the factory, which makes the 787 Dreamliner, has been plagued by shoddy production and weak oversight that have threatened to compromise safety.
A New York Times review of hundreds of pages of internal emails, corporate documents and federal records, as well as interviews with more than a dozen current and former employees, reveals a culture that often valued production speed over quality. Facing long manufacturing delays, Boeing pushed its work force to quickly turn out Dreamliners, at times ignoring issues raised by employees.
Complaints about the frenzied pace echo broader concerns about the company in the wake of two deadly crashes involving another jet, the 737 Max. Boeing is now facing questions about whether the race to get the Max done, and catch up to its rival Airbus, led it to miss safety risks in the design, like an anti-stall system that played a role in both crashes.
Safety lapses at the North Charleston plant have drawn the scrutiny of airlines and regulators. Qatar Airways stopped accepting planes from the factory after manufacturing mishaps damaged jets and delayed deliveries. Workers have filed nearly a dozen whistle-blower claims and safety complaints with federal regulators, describing issues like defective manufacturing, debris left on planes and pressure to not report violations. Others have sued Boeing, saying they were retaliated against for flagging manufacturing mistakes.
Joseph Clayton, a technician at the North Charleston plant, one of two facilities where the Dreamliner is built, said he routinely found debris dangerously close to wiring beneath cockpits.
“I’ve told my wife that I never plan to fly on it,” he said. “It’s just a safety issue.”
In an industry where safety is paramount, the collective concerns involving two crucial Boeing planes — the company’s workhorse, the 737 Max, and another crown jewel, the 787 Dreamliner — point to potentially systemic problems. Regulators and lawmakers are taking a deeper look at Boeing’s priorities, and whether profits sometimes trumped safety. The leadership of Boeing, one of the country’s largest exporters, now finds itself in the unfamiliar position of having to defend its practices and motivations.
“Boeing South Carolina teammates are producing the highest levels of quality in our history,” Kevin McAllister, Boeing’s head of commercial airplanes, said in a statement. “I am proud of our teams’ exceptional commitment to quality and stand behind the work they do each and every day.”
All factories deal with manufacturing errors, and there is no evidence that the problems in South Carolina have led to any major safety incidents. The Dreamliner has never crashed, although the fleet was briefly grounded after a battery fire. Airlines, too, have confidence in the Dreamliner.
But workers sometimes made dangerous mistakes, according to the current and former Boeing employees, some of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity because they feared retaliation.
  • Faulty parts have been installed in planes. 
  • Tools and metal shavings have routinely been left inside jets, often near electrical systems. 
  • Aircraft have taken test flights with debris in an engine and a tail, risking failure.
On several planes, John Barnett, a former quality manager who worked at Boeing for nearly three decades and retired in 2017, discovered clusters of metal slivers hanging over the wiring that commands the flight controls. If the sharp metal pieces — produced when fasteners were fitted into nuts — penetrate the wires, he said, it could be “catastrophic.”
Mr. Barnett, who filed a whistle-blower complaint with regulators, said he had repeatedly urged his bosses to remove the shavings. But they refused and moved him to another part of the plant.
A spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration, Lynn Lunsford, said the agency had inspected several planes certified by Boeing as free of such debris and found those same metal slivers. In certain circumstances, he said, the problem can lead to electrical shorts and cause fires.
Officials believe the shavings may have damaged an in-service airplane on one occasion in 2012, according to two people with knowledge of the matter.
The F.A.A. issued a directive in 2017 requiring that Dreamliners be cleared of shavings before they are delivered. Boeing said it was complying and was working with the supplier to improve the design of the nut. But it has determined that the issue does not present a flight safety issue.
“As a quality manager at Boeing, you’re the last line of defense before a defect makes it out to the flying public,” Mr. Barnett said. “And I haven’t seen a plane out of Charleston yet that I’d put my name on saying it’s safe and airworthy.”
‘It Could Have Locked Up the Gears’
Less than a month after the crash of the second 737 Max jet, Boeing called North Charleston employees to an urgent meeting. The company had a problem: Customers were finding random objects in new planes.
A senior manager implored workers to check more carefully, invoking the crashes. “The company is going through a very difficult time right now,” he said, according to two employees who were present and spoke on the condition of anonymity.
So-called foreign object debris is a common issue in aviation. Employees are supposed to clean the bowels of the aircraft as they work, often with a vacuum, so they don’t accidentally contaminate the planes with shavings, tools, parts or other items.
But debris has remained a persistent problem in South Carolina. In an email this month, Brad Zaback, the head of the 787 program, reminded the North Charleston staff that stray objects left inside planes “can potentially have serious safety consequences when left unchecked.”
The issue has cost Boeing at other plants. In March, the Air Force halted deliveries of the KC-46 tanker, built in Everett, Wash., after finding a wrench, bolts and trash inside new planes
“To say it bluntly, this is unacceptable,” Will Roper, an assistant secretary of the Air Force, told a congressional subcommittee in March. “Our flight lines are spotless. Our depots are spotless, because debris translates into a safety issue.”
Boeing said it was working to address the issue with the Air Force, which resumed deliveries this month.
At the North Charleston plant, the current and former workers describe a losing battle with debris.
  • “I’ve found tubes of sealant, nuts, stuff from the build process,” said Rich Mester, a former technician who reviewed planes before delivery. Mr. Mester was fired, and a claim was filed on his behalf with the National Labor Relations Board over his termination. “They’re supposed to have been inspected for this stuff, and it still makes it out to us.”
  • Employees have found a ladder and a string of lights left inside the tails of planes, near the gears of the horizontal stabilizer. “It could have locked up the gears,” Mr. Mester said.
  • Dan Ormson, who worked for American Airlines until retiring this year, regularly found debris while inspecting Dreamliners in North Charleston, according to three people with knowledge of the situation.
  • Mr. Ormson discovered loose objects touching electrical wiring and rags near the landing gear. He often collected bits and pieces in zip-lock bags to show one of the plant’s top executives, Dave Carbon.
The debris can create hazardous situations. One of the people said Mr. Ormson had once found a piece of Bubble Wrap near the pedal the co-pilot uses to control the plane’s direction, which could have jammed midflight.
On a Dreamliner that Boeing had already given a test flight, Mr. Ormson saw that a bolt was loose inside one of the engines. The small piece of metal could have caused the engine to malfunction.
American Airlines said it conducted rigorous inspections of new planes before putting them into service. “We have confidence in the 787s we have in our fleet,” said Ross Feinstein, a spokesman for the airline.
A Pool of Nonunion Workers
When it was unveiled in 2007, the 787 Dreamliner was Boeing’s most important new plane in a generation. The wide-body jet, with a lightweight carbon fiber fuselage and advanced technology, was a hit with carriers craving fuel savings.
Airlines ordered hundreds of the planes, which cost upward of $200 million each. Spurred by high demand, Boeing set up a new factory.
North Charleston was ideal in many ways. South Carolina has the lowest percentage of union representation in the nation, giving Boeing a potentially less expensive work force.
South Carolina doled out nearly $1 billion in tax incentives, including $33 million to train local workers. Boeing pledged to create 3,800 jobs.
While Boeing has nurtured generations of aerospace professionals in the Seattle area, there was no comparable work force in South Carolina. Instead, managers had to recruit from technical colleges in Tulsa, Okla., and Atlanta.
Managers were also urged to not hire unionized employees from the Boeing factory in Everett, where the Dreamliner is also made, according to two former employees.
  • “They didn’t want us bringing union employees out to a nonunion area,” said David Kitson, a former quality manager, who oversaw a team responsible for ensuring that planes are safe to fly.
  • “We struggled with that,” said Mr. Kitson, who retired in 2015. “There wasn’t the qualified labor pool locally.” Another former manager, Michael Storey, confirmed his account.
  • The 787 was already running years behind schedule because of manufacturing hiccups and supplier delays. The labor shortages in North Charleston only made it worse.
The initial excitement when the first Dreamliners entered service in late 2011 was short lived. A little more than a year later, the entire fleet was grounded after a battery fire on a Japan Airlines plane.
Boeing was forced to compensate carriers, hurting profit. All the while, the production delays mounted, and Airbus was close behind with a rival plane, the A350.
In North Charleston, the time crunch had consequences. 
  • Hundreds of tools began disappearing, according to complaints filed in 2014 with the F.A.A. by two former managers, Jennifer Jacobsen and David McClaughlin. Some were “found lying around the aircraft,” Ms. Jacobsen said in her complaint.
  • The two managers also said they had been pushed to cover up delays. Managers told employees to install equipment out of order to make it “appear to Boeing executives in Chicago, the aircraft purchasers and Boeing’s shareholders that the work is being performed on schedule, where in fact the aircraft is far behind schedule,” according to their complaints.
  • The F.A.A. investigated the complaints and didn’t find violations on its visit to the plant in early 2014. But the agency said it had previously found “improper tool control” and the “presence of foreign object debris.”
  • Both managers left after they were accused of inaccurately approving the time sheets of employees who did not report to them. They both claim they were retaliated against for flagging violations. Through their lawyer, Rob Turkewitz, they declined to comment.
Gordon Johndroe, a spokesman for Boeing, said, “We prioritize safety and quality over speed, but all three can be accomplished while still producing one of the safest airplanes flying today.”
Planes were also damaged during manufacturing. 
  • A Dreamliner built for American Airlines suffered a flood in the cabin so severe that seats, ceiling panels, carpeting and electronics had to be replaced in a weekslong process.
  • While inspecting a plane being prepared for delivery, Mr. Clayton, the technician currently at the plant, recently found chewing gum holding together part of a door’s trim. “It was not a safety issue, but it’s not what you want to present to a customer,” he said.
  • An employee filed a complaint about the gum with the F.A.A. The agency is investigating, an F.A.A. official said.
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  • The disarray frustrated one major carrier. In 2014, factory employees were told to watch a video from the chief executive of Qatar Airways.
  • He chastised the North Charleston workers, saying he was upset that Boeing wasn’t being transparent about the length or cause of delays. In several instances, workers had damaged the exterior of planes made for the airline, requiring Boeing to push back delivery to fix the jets.
Ever since, Qatar has bought only Dreamliners built in Everett.
In a statement, Qatar Airways said it “continues to be a long-term supporter of Boeing and has full confidence in all its aircraft and manufacturing facilities.”
Defective Parts Disappear
A spokesman for Boeing, Gordon Johndroe, said, “We prioritize safety and quality over speed, but all three can be accomplished while still producing one of the safest airplanes flying today.”
  • In the interest of meeting deadlines, managers sometimes played down or ignored problems, according to current and former workers.
  • Mr. Barnett, the former quality manager, who goes by Swampy in a nod to his Louisiana roots, learned in 2016 that a senior manager had pulled a dented hydraulic tube from a scrap bin, he said. He said the tube, part of the central system controlling the plane’s movement, was installed on a Dreamliner.  Mr. Barnett said the senior manager had told him, “Don’t worry about it.” He filed a complaint with human resources, company documents show.
  • He also reported to management that defective parts had gone missing, raising the prospect that they had been installed in planes. His bosses, he said, told him to finish the paperwork on the missing parts without figuring out where they had gone.
  • The F.A.A. investigated and found that Boeing had lost some damaged parts. Boeing said that as a precautionary matter, it had sent notices to airlines about the issue. The company said it had also investigated the flawed hydraulic tube and hadn’t substantiated Mr. Barnett’s claims.
“Safety issues are immediately investigated, and changes are made wherever necessary,” said the Boeing spokesman, Mr. Johndroe.
But several former employees said high-level managers pushed internal quality inspectors to stop recording defects.
  • Cynthia Kitchens, a former quality manager, said her superiors penalized her in performance reviews and berated her on the factory floor after she flagged wire bundles rife with metal shavings and defective metal parts that had been installed on planes.
  • “It was intimidation,” she said. “Every time I started finding stuff, I was harassed.”
  • Ms. Kitchens left in 2016 and sued Boeing for age and sex discrimination. The case was dismissed.
  • Some employees said they had been punished or fired when they voiced concerns.
  • Mr. Barnett was reprimanded in 2014 for documenting errors. In a performance review seen by The Times, a senior manager downgraded him for “using email to express process violations,” instead of engaging “F2F,” or face to face.
  • He took that to mean he shouldn’t put problems in writing. The manager said Mr. Barnett needed to get better at “working in the gray areas and help find a way while maintaining compliance.”
  • Liam Wallis, a former quality manager, said in a wrongful-termination lawsuit that Boeing had fired him after he discovered that planes were being manufactured using obsolete engineering specifications. Mr. Wallis also said in the suit, filed in March, that an employee who didn’t exist had signed off on the repairs of an aircraft.
  • His boss had criticized him in the past for writing up violations, according to the lawsuit and emails reviewed by The Times. Boeing said it had fired Mr. Wallis for falsifying documents.
Through his lawyers, Mr. Wallis declined to comment for this article. Boeing has denied his claims and moved to dismiss the case.
In North Charleston, the pace of production has quickened. Starting this year, Boeing is producing 14 Dreamliners a month, split between North Charleston and Everett, up from the previous 12. At the same time, Boeing said it was eliminating about a hundred quality control positions in North Charleston.
“They’re trying to shorten the time of manufacturing,” said Mr. Mester, the former mechanic. “But are you willing to sacrifice the safety of our product to maximize profit?”
[The reporters on this article can be reached at Natalie.Kitroeff@nytimes.com and David.Gelles@nytimes.com.]
Sheelagh McNeill contributed research.

A version of this article appears in print on April 21, 2019, on Page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: Safety Concerns Plague Boeing Dreamliner Plant