Posts Tagged ‘Russia’

France, Germany ‘jumping the gun’ on EU army: Dutch PM

November 16, 2018

France and Germany are jumping the gun with calls for a European army, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said Friday, asserting that the continent’s safety could be guaranteed only through NATO.

“The idea of a European army is going way too far for the Netherlands,” Rutte said at his weekly post-cabinet press conference.

“France and Germany are really jumping the gun. As far as the Netherlands is concerned, NATO remains the cornerstone of our defence policy,” he told journalists.

© Ritzau Scanpix/AFP/File | Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, pictured October 2018, says the concept of a European army is “going way too far” for the Netherlands, and insists that NATO remain the primary guardian of Europe’s safety

French President Emmanuel Macron sparked controversy last week with his proposal for a “European army” to “protect ourselves with respect to China, Russia and even the United States”.

He said he wanted to reduce Europe’s dependence on the US and US weapons for its own security.

Macron’s call reflected a desire among several European countries to more autonomously handle their own collective defence, after US President Donald Trump’s criticised Europe for what he sees as inadequate contributions to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation defence alliance.

Trump called Macron’s idea “very insulting”, tweeting that Europe should “first pay its fair share of NATO, which the US subsidises greatly”.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has seconded Macron’s proposal.

During a European parliament session, she emphasised the need for Europe to bolster its self-defence capabilities, and said that a European army could run parallel to NATO.

“Europe must take our fate into our own hands if we want to protect our community,” she said.

But Rutte insisted NATO remained the primary guardian of Europe’s safety.

“As far as I am concerned, it is an illusion to think that the European Union without NATO can guarantee her safety,” Rutte said.

“NATO, and the United States within the organsation, remains a crucial partner for peace and security in Europe and we will continue to point that out to our partners in our discussions,” he said.

AFP

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Russia stifled mobile network during protests — Russia’s Federal Security Service involved in surveillance of online communications, illegal arrests

November 16, 2018

Russian authorities ordered two mobile operators to cut most access to mobile data services in the region of Ingushetia as protesters were massing outside government offices there, according to a document from the state telecoms regulator.

The Ingushetia case, the first time such an order has been documented in Russia, indicates Russia is restricting access to social media platforms such as Facebook or Twitter so they cannot be used to organize anti-government protests.

Image result for Ingushetia, map

The same techniques have been deployed in the Middle East where, faced with popular uprisings, governments have limited access to mobile data services, according to activists and mobile operators.

The document seen by Reuters, from the Ingushetia office of the Roskomnadzor regulator, states that 3G and 4G mobile Internet services were turned off in Ingushetia from Oct. 4 to Oct. 17 “on the basis of the justified decision of the law enforcement authorities”.

The document did not mention the protests or say on what basis the law enforcement authorities took their decision.

The Federal Security Service and the Interior Ministry did not respond to requests by Reuters for comments. A spokesman for Roskomnadzor, in response to questions, did not say why the services were switched off in Ingushetia.

A protest rally in Moscow against a court decision to block the Telegram messenger service because it violated Russian regulations, on Monday. Photograph: Tatyana Makeyeva/Reuters

A protest rally in Moscow against a court decision to block the Telegram messenger service because it violated Russian regulations, on Monday. Photograph: Tatyana Makeyeva/Reuters

Protests broke out in Ingushetia, a mainly Muslim region in southern Russia, on Oct. 4 after a deal was agreed delineating Ingushetia’s border with the neighboring Russian region of Chechnya.

The protesters said the deal conceded too much land to Chechnya, and thousands of them gathered in the region’s administrative capital, Magas, to demand it be rejected. At one point, security forces fired into the air to try to disperse the protests.

From Oct. 4, phone users across Ingushetia complained about a lack of mobile internet services, according to lawyer Khusen Daurbekov. He said he was representing some of the complainants pro bono because he wanted to force the authorities to say why they restricted the mobile network.

Daurbekov filed a complaint to the local office of Roskomnadzor against two mobile operators, Megafon and Vimpelcom. The reply, from the head of the office, Aslan Koloyev, exonerated the operators and said the switch-off was requested by law enforcement.

Reuters
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Kremlin steps up surveillance of online communications

https://www.irishtimes.com/news/world/europe/moscow-letter-kremlin-steps-up-surveillance-of-online-communications-1.3480573

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Russia’s Federal Security Service Illegally Held Alexei Navalny

Europe’s top human rights court has found that the repeated detention of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was politically motivated.

Mr Navalny filed a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg and was there to hear the ruling on Thursday.

Russian police officers detain Alexei Navalny (right) outside a detention centre in Moscow. Photo: 24 September 2018

Alexei Navalny has been frequently arrested by Russian authorities. BBC photo from video

The court found that his seven arrests between 2012 and 2014 had been aimed at “suppressing political pluralism”.

Since then, police have arrested him several times again under protest laws.

“We’ve won,” he tweeted after the verdict. “Completely. The government has been thrashed. They recognised Article 18 [of the European Convention on Human Rights]. Hurray!”

Under Article 18, citizens’ rights and freedoms may not be restricted for political purposes.

Mr Navalny arrived in Strasbourg after initially being refused permission to leave Russia over a court fine.

Since leading mass protests in Moscow in 2011-12, he has campaigned against corruption under President Vladimir Putin and has embraced political causes such as opposition to the raising of the retirement age.

He has been barred from standing for political office because of a conviction for embezzlement, which he says was trumped up.

What does the ruling mean?

The court found that Mr Navalny’s allegation that he had become a “particular target” “appeared “coherent in the context of a general move to bring the opposition under control”.

Alexei Navalny poses for a selfie with a student in Strasbourg, 15 November 2018Image copyright EPA
Mr Navalny posed for selfies with Russian students in Strasbourg

Russia was ordered to pay him damages and costs of €63,678 (£55,409; $71,950).

“It is a very clear judgment,” Mr Navalny was quoted as saying by AFP news agency after the ruling.

“The European court recognises that it was a politically motivated arrest and persecution. It was very important not just for me but for other people all over Russia who are arrested every day.”

Will Russia heed the court?

The ECHR’s role is to rule on alleged violations of the European Convention on Human Rights, which Russia ratified in 1998 when it joined the Council of Europe, an organisation which upholds the rule of law in Europe.

After Mr Navalny was convicted of embezzlement involving a state-run timber company, Kirovles, in 2013 and given a suspended prison sentence of five years, the ECHR found the Russian verdict had been based on “arbitrary interpretation of the law”. Mr Navalny insisted the case had been fabricated in order to keep him out of politics.

As a result the case was retried in Russia last year but Mr Navalny was again convicted and given the same suspended sentence.

Russia has taken issue with previous ECHR verdicts such as one in 2014 which ordered Moscow to pay compensation to shareholders in the defunct Russian oil firm Yukos.

In 2015, the Russian parliament passed a law allowing the country’s Constitutional Court to overrule ECHR judgements.

How often has Navalny been arrested?

He has spent a total of 172 days in jail, an unnamed spokeswoman was quoted as saying by AFP news agency. Usually he is held for a few weeks or made to pay a fine.

In addition to the seven arrests detailed by the ECHR, Mr Navalny was detained at least four times this year:

As a result of the Kirovles case, he was placed under house arrest for a period of time.

The court fine he had to pay this week, which amounted to 2.165m roubles (£24,600; $32,000), related to the Kirovles case. He said the fine had been deliberately enforced to stop him leaving Russia.

Have European Leaders Lost The Will To Defend Western Civilization?

November 16, 2018

Image result for emmanuel macron, world war I centennial, photos, podium

The Western world would have succumbed over 1,000 years ago had its leaders and citizens not made a brave stand in the face of foreign invasion.

Today, no less dangerous invaders than those from the past have succeeded where their forebears could not, and without the force of arms.

The history of Western civilization has been interspersed with episodes of military conflict on such a monumental scale that any defeat would have reversed the course of history forever.

Consider the Battle of Tours. Beginning in 711 AD, a Muslim army under the Umayyad caliphate conquered a large swath of what is known today as Spain and Portugal, or the Iberian Peninsula. The tide began to recede only in 732 when the Germanic statesman and military leader, Charles Martel, with a force of some 20,000 men, emerged victorious against Muslim forces on a battlefield in southwestern France in what is known as the Battle of Tours.

Military historian Victor Davis Hanson emphasized the importance of the conflict when he wrote that“most of the 18th and 19th century historians, like [Edward] Gibbon, saw (Tours), as a landmark battle that marked the high tide of the Muslim advance into Europe.”

Martel’s victory represented the first chapter in a protracted effort – known as the Reconquista – a 780-year campaign on the part of the Christian kingdoms to uproot the Moors from the Iberian Peninsula. And it wasn’t until 1492, the year Columbus set sail to discover the New World, that the peninsula was fully controlled by Christian rulers.

It makes for a compelling thought experiment to consider how a powerful historic figure, like Charles Martel, one of the founding figures of the European Middle Ages, would be received by today’s mainstream media, which has a acquired a very particular way of reporting on those modern European leaders – like Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban – who are simply motivated by the desire to strengthen Europe’s borders from illegal aliens. For an answer, one need only consider the breathtakingly biased BBC interview where Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjártó was told that his government was guided by “xenophobia” in its decision to prevent illegal migrants from entering the country.

Judging by its blood-stained history, however, Hungary has good reason for being concerned about foreign invasion. That’s because the threat of foreign invasion against the European continent did not end in 1492. In fact, overlapping the defeat of the Muslim invaders in Western Europe, a concomitant development was occurring in Eastern Europe with the rise of the Ottoman Empire, which defeated the Byzantine Empire in 1453.

By 1541, the Ottoman Turks had conquered Hungary and at this time were on their way to creating one of the largest empires of all time. After declaring Hungary a vassal state, the Ottoman army marched up the Danube towards the famed ‘Gates of Vienna.’ It was here the Ottomans would meet their match, thanks to the timely intervention of King John Sobieski of Poland.

Upon reaching Vienna on September 12, 1683, with the Ottoman army about to breach the city walls, Sobieski ordered his roughly 75,000 troops to charge at the very heart of the enemy force, which numbered some 350,000. Sobieski’s plan worked and he successfully routed the Ottomans, a momentous event that began the liberation of Eastern Europe from the Turkish yoke.

To understand the significance of the victory, the Pope hailed Sobieski as the “Savior of Vienna and Western European civilization.”

Once again, we must ask: how would the Western media today treat such a historic figure, who led Europe and Western civilization to ultimate triumph against a foreign invader? After all, Sobieski didn’t merely construct a barbed-wire fence against an invading horde as Hungary’s Orban did, and too much outcry and even retribution from his European peers. Sobieski went so far as to put an intruder to the sword.

In a letter to his wife, Queen Marie-Louise, Sobieski described the sheer mayhem and bloodshed that accompanied the battle:

“Our Lord and God, Blessed of all ages, has brought unheard victory and glory to our nation. All the guns, the whole camp, untold spoils have fallen into our hands…They left behind a mass of innocent Austrian people, particularly women; but they butchered as many as they could…”

Now of course some will argue that we are talking about apples and oranges here. A marauding army simply cannot be compared to an influx of desperate migrants looking to better their lot in life.However, I would argue that the two groups, while employing radically different methods, nonetheless produce roughly the same results: both groups have a massive impact upon the native population in terms of problems with assimilation, as well as the expenses involved in playing ‘host’ to people from radically different cultures, religions and backgrounds.Most importantly, however, is that in both cases the native population suffers the risk of being completely displaced by the influx of foreigners, especially if the latter is more prolific when it comes to reproducing its numbers.

There is yet another point to consider. As the Hungarian foreign minister emphasized in his interview, much of the migrants who entered Europe arrived by ‘invitation’ of sorts in that they knew the larger European countries, namely Germany, England and France, in tandem with non-profit organizations like George Soros’ Open Society, would provide them with a relatively respectable stipend once they breach the borders of some European country(it should be no surprise that Germany is viewed as the ‘Holy Land’ as far as these economic migrants are concerned). In a report detailing the outlays provided to migrants arriving in Germany, it was reported that “a single adult receives € 408/month on average for everything but rent and health insurance, which the state pays for.” Now if that doesn’t set the conditions for a full-blown exodus into Europe I really don’t know what will. And it has. To date, millions of undocumented migrants have spread out to the four corners of Europe, the consequences of which nobody can predict.

One thing can be said with certainty, however. The great sacrifices of great European men, like John Sobieski and Charles Martel, seem to have been utterly wasted by modern leaders who simply do not have the best interest of their state, not to mention Western civilization, at heart.The site of German Chancellor Angela Merkel snatching the German flag from one of her colleagues during a political assembly, or French President Emmanuel Macron insisting that there is “no such thing as French culture” tells us everything we need to know about these so-called ‘leaders,’ who have betrayed the spirit of European fortitude that allowed Europe to survive and flourish in the first place. Europe should be thankful there are leaders like Hungary’s Viktor Orban or Sebastian Kurz, 31, the new Austrian chancellor who soared to victory by campaigning on stricter border controls in Europe.

Why is common sense in such short supply these days in the Western world?

It cannot be denied that much of Europe’s problems with the migration crisis are the result of it hitching its wagon to the falling star of US foreign policy. However, that does not serve as a reasonable argument for Europe to open its doors to a migrant invasion.  If Europe, as well as some of the more notorious NGOs, really want to help migrants from the Middle East, they could start by demanding their governments stop supporting military operations abroad. This is exactly what our modern ‘social justice warriors’ should be demanding, yet they are absolutely silent on the war front. And if they insist on paying these war victims, who are certainly deserving of sympathy, then better to send the humanitarian assistance to those war-torn places instead of inviting hordes to European shores.

As things stand, or fall, Europe’s ultimate survival will come down to brave and courageous men, the Martels and Sobieskis of our times, to thwart any new foreign invasions being delivered to Europe’s doorstep inside the Trojan Horse of ‘good intentions,’ which we all know where ultimately leads.

https://www.zerohedge.com/news/2018-11-14/have-european-leaders-lost-will-defend-western-civilization

Doubling Down on Mueller

November 16, 2018

What will Democrats (and Jeff Flake) do if the probe finds no collusion evidence?

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By Kimberly Strassel
The Wall Street Journal
November 15, 2018

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With the midterms over, Washington returns to its regular programming: Russia. Trump critics should consider the risk of betting their political fortunes on special counsel Robert Mueller.

The Mueller probe has lost its political potency, as Democrats acknowledged on the midterm trail. They didn’t win House seats by warning of Russian collusion. They didn’t even talk about it. Most voters don’t care, or don’t care to hear about it. A CNN exit poll found 54% of respondents think the Russia probe is “politically motivated”; a 46% plurality disapprove of Mr. Mueller’s handling of it.

That hasn’t stopped Democrats from fixating on it since the election, in particular when President Trump fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions and named Matthew Whitaker as a temporary replacement. The left now insists the appointment is unconstitutional or that because Mr. Whitaker once voiced skepticism on the Russia-collusion narrative, he is unfit to oversee the Mueller investigation and must recuse himself.

The joke here is that neither Mr. Whitaker nor anybody else is likely to exercise any authority over Mr. Mueller—and more’s the pity. The probe has meandered along for 18 months, notching records for leaks and derivative prosecutions, though all indications are it has accomplished little by way of its initial mandate.

As a practical matter, Mr. Mueller should have been brought to heel some time ago. As a political matter, that won’t happen. The administration has always understood that such a move would provoke bipartisan political blowback, ignite a new “coverup” scandal, and maybe trigger impeachment. It’s even more unlikely officials would risk those consequences now, as Mr. Mueller is said to be wrapping up.

Democrats know this, as does the grandstanding Sen. Jeff Flake. Yet they demand a Whitaker recusal and are again pushing legislation to “protect” the special counsel’s probe. Senate Republicans rightly blocked that bill this week, partly on grounds that it is likely unconstitutional. They also made the obvious point that if Mr. Trump intended to fire Mr. Mueller, he’d have done so months ago and wouldn’t need to ax Mr. Sessions to do it. And while the president tweets ceaseless criticism of the probe, he has never threatened to end it.

Democrats are nonetheless doubling down on the probe for political advantage. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer declared members of his caucus will demand that language making it more difficult to fire Mr. Mueller be included in a spending bill that needs to pass before the end of the current legislative session. Mr. Flake is offering an assist, saying that he will block any judicial nominees in committee until a Mueller protection bill gets a Senate floor vote. Over in the House, incoming Democratic committee chairmen, led by soon-to-be Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, are vowing an investigation blitz focused on collusion with Russia.

Mr. Schumer’s last shutdown—a year ago—was a bust even though it was waged over the emotionally compelling issue of Dreamers, illegal aliens brought to the U.S. as children. He now proposes shutting down the government over a probe few people outside of Washington care about. Mitch McConnell should be so lucky.

Mr. Flake, should he run for president, will struggle to explain to conservative voters his obstruction of Trump judicial nominees, who’ll be confirmed in 2019 anyway when the Republicans expand their Senate majority.

Democrats’ other problem is that this strategy hinges in large degree on an expectation that Mr. Mueller ultimately finds something. There’s no reason to believe he has turned up any evidence of Trump-Russia collusion.

Sure, he’s secured convictions against longtime Beltway bandits for long-ago lobbying. He’s squeezed the ole standby lying-to-investigators plea out of a few targets. He’s indicted a squad of Russian trolls, who will never be brought to trial and who even Mr. Mueller’s office admits had nothing to do with the Trump team. And while it seems likely his report to the Justice Department will criticize Mr. Trump, it’s improbable it will contain proof of collusion.

And then? The president will have a field day. He will claim vindication and mercilessly drive home that the investigation was a waste and a witch hunt. And he will have a point. Two years of Democratic hyperbole will be undercut by the special counsel they’ve held out as the ultimate sleuth. They’ll have to decide whether to deride Mr. Mueller’s findings as insufficient to justify continuing their own probes.

Maybe Mr. Mueller has something. We’ll see. But if the reporting is correct that he’s wound up high and dry, Democrats will end up there with him.

Write to kim@wsj.com.

https://www.wsj.com/articles/doubling-down-on-mueller-1542326829

Photo at the top: Credit EPA

Trump: Mueller investigation a ‘total mess,’ ‘screaming and shouting,’ ‘threatening’ witnesses

November 15, 2018

President Trump on Thursday accused special counsel Robert Mueller and his team of “screaming and shouting” at people and “threatening” them in an effort to find evidence that Trump colluded with Russia.

Trump, who had been silent about Mueller on Twitter for the last few weeks and was thought to be preparing written answers to his team, said investigation is now a “total mess.”

By Katelyn Caralle

Washington Examiner

“The inner workings of the Mueller investigation are a total mess,” Trump said Twitter. “They have found no collusion and have gone absolutely nuts. They are screaming and shouting at people, horribly threatening them to come up with the answers they want. They are a disgrace to our Nation and don’t care how many lives the ruin.”

Trump said the people running the investigation completely ignore the crimes of Democrats and are only interested in the “witch hunt” against the Trump administration.

“These are Angry People, including the highly conflicted Bob Mueller, who worked for Obama for 8 years. They won’t even look at all of the bad acts and crimes on the other side,” Trump continued in a second tweet. “A TOTAL WITCH HUNT LIKE NO OTHER IN AMERICAN HISTORY!”

Facebook vied to conceal Russia meddling: NYT

November 15, 2018

Facebook misled the public about its knowledge of Russian hackers’ use of the powerful platform to meddle in the 2016 US presidential election, a New York Times investigation reported Thursday.

It also said Facebook has at times smeared critics as anti-Semitic or tried to link activists to billionaire investor George Soros, and tried to shift public anger away toward rival tech companies.

In a lengthy investigative piece that is likely to trigger political repercussions in Washington, the Times argued that Facebook’s way of dealing with crisis was to “delay, deny and deflect.”

It said its article was based on interviews with more than 50 people, including current and ex-Facebook executives and other employees, lawmakers and government officials, lobbyists and congressional staff members.

Image result for Zuckerberg and Sandberg, photos
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, and chief operating officer Cheryl Sandberg

Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, and chief operating officer Cheryl Sandberg, were both so bent on growing the company that they “ignored warning signs and then sought to conceal them from public view,” the report said.

On Russia, Zuckerberg declared in the fall of 2016 that it was “crazy” to think Facebook had been used to help Donald Trump win the US presidency, but the report said in-house experts knew this not to be the case.

In fact, the Times said, for over a year Facebook had amassed evidence of Russian activity through an investigation led by its former security chief, Alex Stamos.

This involved Russians looking at the Facebook accounts of people involved in US presidential election campaigns and, later, Russian-controlled accounts offering reporters information from hacked emails from senior Democratic Party officials.

But it was only belatedly that the company’s board was informed of the full extent of the meddling, the Times said.

– Going on the attack –

When criticism of its belated Russia admission grew, Facebook mounted a lobbying campaign led by Sandberg.

The company used a PR firm to push negative stories about its political critics and make rival companies like Google and Apple look bad, the Times said.

In July of this year, as a Facebook executive testified before a congressional committee, anti-Facebook demonstrators barged into the room and held up a sign depicting Zuckerberg and Sandberg — who are both Jewish — as the twin heads of an octopus with its tentacles around the world.

Facebook responded by lobbying a Jewish civil rights group — the Anti-Defamation League — to publicly label that criticism as anti-Semitic, the Times said.

Facebook was also said to have employed a Republican firm specializing in opposition research to discredit activists, partly by linking them to the liberal Soros, who has become a favoured target of Trump supporters and far-right conspiracy groups.

Before and since this month’s midterm elections, Facebook has shut down dozens of accounts on its own platform and on Instagram which it said were aimed at influencing the vote, and that it was exploring a possible link to Russia.

In the elections, the Democrats retook control of the House of Representatives, and the Times report is likely to add to political pressure on the company.

The world’s most popular social media platform has been on the back foot for months, including over the allegation that data from millions of Facebook users was abused by the consultancy Cambridge Analytica to help drive Trump to the White House.

AFP

Related:

READ MORE:
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Facebook used opposition-research firm to link critics to George Soros, report says

https://www.marketwatch.com/story/facebook-used-opposition-research-firm-to-link-critics-to-george-soros-report-says-2018-11-14

and

NYT:https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/14/technology/facebook-data-russia-election-racism.html?action=click&module=Top%20Stories&pgtype=Homepage

Congressional commission cites ‘crisis of national security,’ concludes task of rebuilding US military far from complete

November 15, 2018

After two years of full funding for the Pentagon, President Trump has essentially declared victory, and is ready to reverse the trend of ever-rising defense budgets. Last month Trump gave the Pentagon a surprise order to slash upcoming defense spending from $733 billion to $700 billion. From the president’s point of view, the last two defense budget hikes have largely solved the military’s woes, which included aircraft unfit to fly, units unprepared to deploy and stressed troops. “We’re rebuilding our military. We just had approved $716 billion. The year before that, we had $700 billion. So, we’re almost completely rebuilding our military with the latest and the greatest,” Trump said while in France over the weekend.

Image result for F-35, photos

NOT SO FAST: The first shot in the looming battle over next year’s defense budget was fired yesterday by Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. Jim Inhofe, who suggested that he will oppose Trump’s order to cut planned spending by tens of billions of dollars. The Oklahoma Republican insisted that top line for the Pentagon, overseas wars, and the nuclear arsenal should be at least $733 billion in 2019. That “should be considered a floor, not a ceiling, for funding our troops,” said Inhofe, who will return in January as Senate Armed Services chairman after Republicans held the chamber. Once inflation is factored, that would keep Pentagon funding at current levels with no new growth.

COMMISSION’S ‘CRISIS’ REPORT: Lawmakers now have new ammunition in the fight for a bigger budget. Inhofe was responding to a newly released report, “Providing for the Common Defense,” ordered up by Congress, which paints a grim picture of the Pentagon in crisis. “The U.S. military could suffer unacceptably high casualties and loss of major capital assets in its next conflict. It might struggle to win, or perhaps lose, a war against China or Russia,” the National Defense Strategy Commission writes in one of its key findings.

The commission, co-chaired by Ambassador Eric Edelman and retired Adm. Gary Roughead, was created by Congress in 2017, and mainly tasked with reviewing Trump’s National Defense Strategy. “We are concerned that the NDS too often rests on questionable assumptions and weak analysis, and it leaves unanswered critical questions regarding how the United States will meet the challenges of a more dangerous world,” the report said. It’s the latest in a series of recent reviews covering U.S. defense strategy over the past eight years, all of them bleak.

“In the 2010 report, we concluded that budget cuts and an increasingly complex international environment were leading to a potential train wreck. In 2014, the aftermath of the Budget Control Act, we said that the BCA was a strategic misstep that was disabling the U.S. because it was facing greater challenges around the world. In this report, I think, what we had to wrestle with was the consequences of all those warnings having been ignored,” Edelman said during a podcast this week with Michael Morell, former acting CIA director and a member of the commission.

Rep. Mac Thornberry, who was a leading force behind the past two years of defense budget hikes as House Armed Services chairman, said the commission’s report makes clear that Congress should not let BCA spending caps dictate U.S. strategy. “It also echoes some of my own concerns; that we are falling behind on key capabilities, that Congress is not reliably providing appropriate resources, and that we face difficult choices if we are going to provide the country with the defense it deserves,” the Texas Republican said in a statement.

IS MONEY REALLY THE ANSWER? Both Edelman and Roughead are set to testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee later this month about their findings, which are likely to set the tone of the debate for now. But not everybody is taking them at face value. “Obviously if we’re vastly outspending Russia and China and we’re losing our competitive edge, our problem is not spending,” said Dan Grazier, a fellow at the Project on Government Oversight.

The findings may be used to justify a third year of defense hikes, but the Pentagon should instead complete its ongoing and first-ever full financial audit to see how its money is being spent, argues Grazier. “This report is in the grand tradition of Washington buck-passing. Whenever elected political officials do not want to have to take responsibility for what they anticipate being unpopular political positions, you assign a blue-ribbon task force to do a study and then the blue-ribbon task force comes back with the unpopular policy discussions,” he said.

BULLET POINTS: The Commission report is replete with nightmare scenarios and dire warnings that America’s military advantage has been eroded by years of budget cuts at home and “authoritarian competitors” abroad — especially China and Russia — who are pursuing determined military buildups aimed at neutralizing U.S. strengths. Here are some key conclusions:

  • Due to political dysfunction and decisions made by both major political parties — and particularly due to the effects of the Budget Control Act (BCA) of 2011 along with years of failing to enact timely appropriations — America has significantly weakened its own defense.
  • The convergence of these trends has created a crisis of national security for the United States — what some leading voices in the U.S. national security community have termed an emergency.
  • These trends are undermining deterrence of U.S. adversaries and the confidence of American allies, thus increasing the likelihood of military conflict.
  • The U.S. military could suffer unacceptably high casualties and loss of major capital assets in its next conflict. It might struggle to win, or perhaps lose, a war against China or Russia.
  • If the United States had to fight Russia in a Baltic contingency or China in a war over Taiwan, Americans could face a decisive military defeat. These two nations possess precision-strike capabilities, integrated air defenses, cruise and ballistic missiles, advanced cyber warfare and anti-satellite capabilities, significant air, and naval forces, and nuclear weapons — a suite of advanced capabilities heretofore possessed only by the United States.
  • The United States is particularly at risk of being overwhelmed should its military be forced to fight on two or more fronts simultaneously.

https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/congressional-commission-cites-crisis-of-national-security-concludes-task-of-rebuilding-us-military-far-from-complete

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Report: To quiet critics, Facebook hired GOP firm that tied protesters to Soros

November 15, 2018

Social media company sought to temper anger over Russian meddling by making the billionaire philanthropist its boogeyman, according to NY Times

George Soros speaking in Berlin, September 10, 2012. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images via JTA)

George Soros speaking in Berlin, September 10, 2012. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images via JTA)

WASHINGTON — Amid widespread anger over its failure to thwart Russian-linked accounts from using its platform to meddle in the 2016 election, Facebook hired a GOP opposition research firm to discredit the activists leading the charge against it, the New York Times reported Wednesday.

That firm then went and said there was one man, in particular who was behind protest movement against the social media giant: The billionaire Jewish philanthropist George Soros.

Image result for facebook,pictures

According to the report, Facebook undertook some crisis management in 2017 by recruiting Definers Public Affairs, a Washington area-based consultancy, to help it recover from the public’s outrage over the presidential election. Definers is comprised of former Republican operatives who use political tactics and apply them to private corporations.

During the 2016 election, the Kremlin spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on fake accounts that were used to damage the Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, and boost her Republican counterpart, Donald Trump.

Using the social media platform — which has connected more than 2.2 billion people globally — to influence the American electorate was a key part of Russia’s strategy to help elect Trump. Critics claim that Facebook engineers saw warning signs about this early on and did nothing about it.

As fury over that was surmounting — and Congressional probes were initiated — Facebook hired Definers in October 2017 to handle crisis management and help alleviate the controversy. The firm tried to invalidate criticism against Facebook by linking its critics to Soros.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg arrives to testify before a House Energy and Commerce hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington on April 11, 2018, about the use of Facebook data to target American voters in the 2016 election and data privacy. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

“Facebook … used Definers to take on bigger opponents, such as Mr. Soros, a longtime boogeyman to mainstream conservatives and the target of intense anti-Semitic smears on the far right,” the New York Times said in its report. “A research document circulated by Definers to reporters this summer … cast Mr. Soros as the unacknowledged force behind what appeared to be a broad anti-Facebook movement.”

Soros, a Hungarian-born Holocaust survivor, has often been falsely depicted as a puppet-master behind protest campaigns. Most recently, US President Donald Trump suggested he was behind those who descended on Capitol Hill to demonstrate against the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

He has also been accused by far-right extremists of being behind 2017’s deadly “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.

The Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish civil rights watchdog, has said that conspiracy theories about Soros are one of the most consistent expressions of anti-Semitism online.

George Soros speaks onstage at Lincoln Center on April 18, 2017, in New York City. (Andrew Toth/Getty Images for Physicians for Human Rights/AFP)

Yet Soros has often been a fierce critic of Facebook. The Times described him as a “natural target” for the social media company founded by Mark Zuckerberg, who is Jewish.

In a speech at the World Economic Forum in January, he had attacked Facebook and Google, describing them as a monopolist ‘menace’ with ‘neither the will nor the inclination to protect society against the consequences of their actions,’” according to The Times.

Soros, who is estimated to be worth roughly $8 billion, is a deeply active in liberal causes. He is one of the biggest funders of Democratic candidates and donates generously to left-wing advocacy groups like J Street

The New York Times said it was fairly common for large hedge fund managers to hire firms like Definers, but it’s more rare for large tech companies.

A former spokesman for Republican presidential hopeful Jeb Bush, Tim Miller, who then went to work for Definers told Recode in June 2017 that the firm’s goal when working with tech companies should be to “have positive content pushed out about your company and negative content that’s being pushed out about your competitor.”

https://www.timesofisrael.com/to-quiet-critics-facebook-hired-gop-research-firm-that-tied-protesters-to-soros/

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Abe willing to talk WWII peace treaty with Putin

November 14, 2018

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said he was willing to discuss a peace treaty with Russia — two countries still technically at war with each other — during a meeting with Vladimir Putin on Wednesday.

The two leaders met face-to-face on the sidelines of the regional Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in Singapore.

Both countries are seeking to try to end a thorny territorial row that has dogged relations since the end of World War II.

© SPUTNIK/AFP | Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (L) told Russian President Vladimir Putin he was willing to discuss a peace treaty between the two countries, which are still technically at war

The dispute between Russia and Japan centres on four islands in the strategically-located Kuril chain which the Soviet Union occupied at the end of the war in 1945 but are claimed by Japan.

It has kept the two countries from signing a peace accord that would formally end their wartime hostilities.

“We hope to discuss not only bilateral cooperation, including our economies… but also the issue of the peace treaty,” Abe told Putin, according to a Russian translation of his words at the start of the meeting.

“I am ready to give enough time to this, the peace treaty,” he added.

Putin first suggested the two countries sign a peace treaty “without any preconditions” in September.

The proposal was initially received coolly in Japan, where a government spokesman said the two countries should first resolve the dispute before signing a peace deal.

But in recent months, diplomatic efforts to resolve the issue appear to have accelerated, at least to the point where Japan is willing to discuss what a treaty might look like.

In his response to Abe on Wednesday Putin said: “I am delighted to be able to discuss with you all the angles of our cooperation, including those that you personally consider to be priorities.”

Historically, Japan insists the islands, which were once inhabited by the Ainu indigenous people, have never belonged to anyone else.

Russia considers them spoils of war as agreed between then US president Franklin Roosevelt and Soviet leader Joseph Stalin in 1945.

Strategically, control of the islands gives Russia year-round access to the Pacific Ocean for its Pacific fleet of warships and submarines based in Vladivostok, as the surrounding water does not freeze in winter.

AFP

Libya’s PM Sarraj meets eastern commander Haftar in Palermo

November 14, 2018

Italy’s premier on Tuesday hosted a meeting of Libya’s rival leaders on the sidelines of a conference aimed at helping its former colony crack down on extremists and human trafficking.

Photos of the encounter showed Premier Giuseppe Conte presiding over a handshake between the Tripoli-based UN-backed prime minister, Fayez Al-Sarraj, and rival Gen. Khalifa Haftar, commander of the self-styled Libyan National Army that is based in Libya’s east.

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte (C) posing with head of the UN-backed unity government in Tripoli, Prime Minister Fayez Al-Sarraj (L) and Libya Chief of Staff,Khalifa Haftar in Palermo. (AFP)

Later, UN Libyan envoy Ghassan Salame said Haftar, had committed himself to a UN action plan and to holding a national conference early next year prior to elections.

“Haftar is committed to the political process,” Salame told reporters at the end of a reconciliation conference in Italy. “His representatives said that.”

The exclusion of Turkey from the mini-summit prompted the Turks to pull out early, adding drama to the two-day conference at a resort on the picturesque Sicilian seaside.

Other leaders attending the Palermo conference, including French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, and Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. The office of Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, who backs Haftar, confirmed he joined the “mini-summit” Tuesday with Conte and other leaders.

Alistair Burt

@AlistairBurtUK

Welcome today’s conference for in Palermo. Underlined international support for UN Envoy’s Action Plan, including his plans for an inclusive Libyan National Conference which we hope will help create conditions for elections in the course of next year.

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Italy’s populist government organized the two-day conference in hopes of making progress on ending Libya’s lawlessness and promoting a UN framework for eventual elections.

But expectations were limited, with Haftar’s camp making clear that he wasn’t participating in the conference itself but rather meeting with leaders of neighboring countries on the sidelines. Neither Haftar nor El-Sisi posed for the final conference group photo.

And Turkish Vice-President Fuat Oktay pulled out before it ended, citing his exclusion from the morning mini-summit.

“The informal meeting, held this (morning) with a number of players and having them presented as the prominent protagonists of the Mediterranean, is a very misleading and damaging approach which we vehemently oppose,” he told reporters.

“Turkey is leaving the meeting with deep disappointment,” he said.

An Italian diplomatic official, briefing reporters in Palermo, said the atmosphere of the mini-meeting was cordial and collaborative and that Haftar told Sarraj to stay in charge until the elections.

A statement on social media Tuesday by a spokesman for Haftar’s army, Ahmed Al-Mesmari, suggested that Haftar was snubbing the broader conference because he accuses representatives from the Tripoli side of working with militias he considers illegitimate, as well as extremists backed by Qatar.

In an interview provided by his media office, Haftar said he wanted to meet with African leaders in particular to discuss migration.

“We are still at war, and the country needs to secure its borders,” Haftar said.

Libya plunged into chaos after the 2011 uprising that ousted and killed longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi, and it is now governed by rival administrations in the east and west with both relying on the support of militias.

It has also become a haven for Islamic militants and armed groups, including several from neighboring countries, which survive on looting and human trafficking, particularly in the remote south of the country.

Italy’s anti-migrant government is keen in particular to stem the Libyan-based migrant smuggling networks that have sent hundreds of thousands of would-be refugees to Europe via Italy in recent years.

Associated Press

http://www.arabnews.com/node/1404086/middle-east