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1  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Donald Trump on: Today at 02:08:22 PM
A) Very funny GM;

B) We need to be able to handle these.  Good response PP;

C) Just caught his press conference announcing his pledge to support the Rep nominee and take questions.  I must say I thought it a very strong performance.

2  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stock Market outperformed Donald Trump on: Today at 12:29:15 PM
3  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: US Economics, the stock market , and other investment/savings strategies on: Today at 12:20:31 PM
The ISM Non-Manufacturing Index Declined to 59.0 in August To view this article, Click Here
Brian S. Wesbury, Chief Economist
Robert Stein, Deputy Chief Economist
Date: 9/3/2015

The ISM non-manufacturing index declined to 59.0 in August from 60.3, coming in above the consensus expected 58.2. (Levels above 50 signal expansion; levels below 50 signal contraction.)
The major measures of activity were all lower in August, but most remain well above 50, signaling expansion. The employment index fell to 56.0 from 59.6 while the business activity index declined to 63.9 from 64.9. The supplier deliveries activity index moved lower to 52.5 from 53.0, and the new orders index slipped to 63.4 from 63.8.
The prices paid index declined to 50.8 in August from 53.7 in July.

Implications: This morning’s ISM services report for August could be reported as a slowdown from July, or, it could be reported as the second highest reading for the index going back to 2005. These indices are hard to read because we believe sentiment plays a role in the answers to survey questions, but it is clear that the services sector, which is much larger than the manufacturing sector, continues to show strength. Through the first eight months of the year, service sector activity is stronger than it was in the same period a year ago, while August’s reading also represents a 67th consecutive month of expansion. Of the eighteen industries reporting, fifteen showed growth in August, while only one, mining (which includes oil and gas extraction), reported contraction - two industries reported no change. The business activity index, which has a stronger correlation with economic growth than the overall index, fell to a still robust 63.9, while the new orders index, the most forward looking measure of service sector activity moved lower to 63.4. Expect activity to remain strong over the coming months as companies move to fill the steady flow of new orders coming in. Both the business activity and new orders indexes showed acceleration from the first quarter to the second (coming off the bitter winter and West Coast port strikes), and the growth trend has continued through the first two months of Q3. The employment index fell in August to a still respectable 56.0, as declines led by mining more than offset rising employment in the majority of the reporting industries. On the inflation front, the prices paid index dipped in August to 50.8, led lower by (you guessed it) mining. As a whole, today’s report suggests continued growth in the months ahead and an uptick in activity for the second half of 2015.
4  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stratfor: Israel and Turkey reconnecting? on: Today at 12:12:36 PM
 Turkey, Israel: A Slow, Steady Strengthening of Ties
Geopolitical Diary
September 3, 2015 | 01:01 GMT
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On June 26, Stratfor published an article predicting that regional developments were bringing Israeli and Turkish interests into greater alignment. The leading indicator behind that forecast was a secret meeting between the director general of the Israeli Foreign Ministry, Dore Gold, and the undersecretary in the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Feridun Sinirlioglu. In the past week, additional signs have indicated that the rapprochement is continuing apace.

It has long been thought that Turkey and Israel could cooperate in the energy sector. Though Israel's efforts to develop the relatively large Leviathan natural gas field have stalled as a result of domestic politics, and despite the Aug. 30 announcement of the discovery of a natural gas field even larger than Leviathan in Egyptian waters, both sides still have a great deal of political will to eventually export Israeli natural gas to Turkey. Multiple Turkish natural gas company executives, such as Nusret Comert and Batu Aksoy, have said in interviews recently that Turkey remains interested in developing and importing Israeli natural gas. Turkey wants to be the chief transit state to Europe for Eastern Mediterranean natural gas, and as a result of its fear of being excluded by Israeli, Egyptian and Cypriot understandings, it is eager to work with Israel.

What is a Geopolitical Diary?

For its part, Israel wants to use economic connections to repair and maintain strategic relationships in the region; its intention was to use Leviathan to do so with Jordan and Egypt. However, Egypt's natural gas discovery may actually prompt Israel to take a closer look at Turkey, assuming the Israeli parliament can agree on what to do with Leviathan's natural gas.

It also has become clear that there is an understanding between Feridun Sinirlioglu, who has been appointed foreign minister, and Gold. On his appointment, Gold sent a letter of congratulations to Sinirlioglu, and speaking to reporters in Jerusalem on Sept. 1, Gold extolled Sinirlioglu's personal qualities, calling him a "first-class diplomat" and saying Turkey was lucky to have him.

Most interesting, however, is the arrival of a Turkish business delegation in the Palestinian territories and Israel. The delegation, led by Prof. Guven Sak, the managing director of The Economic Policy Research Foundation in Turkey, is the first Turkish delegation to visit Israel since the Mavi Marmara debacle five years ago. The delegation visited Gaza on Aug. 30 and spoke of the potential for establishing an industrial zone in the Gaza Strip. The delegation met with Deputy Leader of Hamas and former Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh to discuss developing Gaza's economy. The delegation also met with Palestinian Labor Minister Mamoun Abu Shahla, who said after his meeting that Turkey had donated 20 million euros (about $22.5 million) to the Palestinian working fund.

The following day, the delegation headed to Israel, where it met with Israeli Deputy Minister of Regional Cooperation Ayoub Kara. Reportedly, Sak and his fellow Turkish business leaders are interested in developing an industrial zone in the West Bank as well, near the city of Jenin. According to Daily Sabah, the Turkish delegation communicated a desire to invest $100 million into the potential industrial zone. Palestinians have already purchased the 1,300 acres for the initialization of the project at a cost of $10 million, and the project has the support of Israel, the United States and the European Union. Kara highlighted the project's potential to help in rebuilding the fractured relationship between Ankara and Jerusalem.

The development of industrial zones in the Palestinian territories is not new. In 1974, Israel built the Erez industrial zone in the Gaza Strip. Before it fell into disuse after Israeli disengagement from the Gaza Strip in 2005, the zone held more than 180 different businesses that employed about 5,000 Gazans. The decision to have Israeli businesses withdraw from the Erez zone was announced in June 2004 by then-Israeli Minister of Industry and Trade and Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who would go on to serve as prime minister.

Ever since Israel withdrew from the industrial zone, Turkey has sought to resuscitate the project. At the time, Turkey was seeking to burnish its regional leadership credentials by owning the Gaza issue and being concerned for Gaza's plight. Then-Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul traveled to Israel and the Palestinian territories in January 2006, at the time hoping to sign agreements that would lead to the creation of 10,000 jobs for Palestinians. In 2007, reports surfaced about then-head of Turkish Chambers of Commerce and Bourses Rifat Hisarciklioglu meeting with then-Israeli Vice Premier Shimon Peres and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in January 2007 to discuss reviving the Erez industrial zone.

Despite these commitments, the restoration of Erez by Turkish-Israeli-Palestinian partnership was never realized. Talk of developing a new industrial zone outside of Jenin in the West Bank, which the visiting Turkish delegation seems to be most serious about, or of recovering Erez must then be taken with a grain of salt when evaluating whether the project itself will come to fruition. That multiple stakeholders are on board for the creation of the zone outside Jenin is a start, but many hurdles remain.

Still, there is a sense of deja vu surrounding these proceedings. Many of the same players who previously tried to rebuild Erez or use the industrial zone model are still around; Sak, though not leading delegations back in 2006, has always been a vocal supporter of such plans. It also harkens back to a time before the Mavi Marmara incident, when relations between Turkey and Israel were strong. Trade has continued between the two countries. Defense exports resumed as early as 2013, in part because of U.S. pressure, and the business and security establishments in both countries have continued to cooperate as much as possible while lamenting the current frayed state of national ties.

Where once Turkey's interests were in distancing itself from Israel, the countries' interests are now converging. Israel is upset with the United States about the Iran deal, and Turkey, while it is more welcoming of Iran than Israel is, still views Iran as a competitor. Furthermore, U.S. pressure on Turkey to participate in its campaign against the Islamic State has increased, as has U.S. frustration with Turkey's using the pretense of attacking the Islamic State to strike at its Kurdish problem in the southeast and its rather blunt hostility toward one of Washington's best allies against the Islamic State thus far: Syrian Kurds. The United States often has urged Turkey and Israel to make up, and reconciling means scoring an easy victory with Washington while making public cooperation that has never truly stopped behind the scenes. Turkey wants the removal of Bashar al Assad from Damascus; Israel at this point just wants an assurance that stability will reign on its northern border. Moreover, developing an understanding with Turkey as it asserts itself more in Syria will become important for an Israeli government that has become more wary of activities in Syria and on its northern border in general in recent weeks.

Turkey's and Israel's broader strategic interests are continuing to align, and smaller indicators — such as the Turkish delegation's visit concerning industrial zones, a degree of cordiality between Turkish and Israeli diplomatic officials absent in recent years and statements from business elites — all point to the relationship's continuing regeneration. Gold has been hesitant to declare an open reconciliation yet, and such a prediction would be premature, but that is ultimately less important than the reality that the two countries' underlying partnership appears to be strengthening.
5  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / How the Modern Swede was created on: Today at 11:32:33 AM

Haven't had a chance to read this yet but it looks interesting.
6  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Bernard-Henri Levy: Islamic State will be defeated on: Today at 11:25:15 AM

Bernard-Henri Lévy
Sept. 2, 2015 6:46 p.m. ET

I spent last week with the Kurdish Peshmerga as they battled Islamic State. With a film crew, I traveled a long segment of the 600-mile front along which the Kurds of Iraq are taking on the decapitators.

And I tell you, those decapitators, the barbarians with the black flag who, for the time being, have carved out a quasi-state straddling Iraq and Syria, will be defeated. They will be defeated because although they are very adept terrorists they are not good soldiers.

They will be defeated because they act tough for the camera while slitting the throats of defenseless hostages, but they scattered like rabbits when, on Aug. 26 around Albu Najem, a Kurdish people’s army moved in and reoccupied 77 square miles.

They will be defeated because, on that same day in the village of Tal Bassal, local journalists and observers recorded them being routed after inflicting a relatively small number of casualties among the Peshmerga (11, to my knowledge), mostly by planting explosives in the houses and mosques that they abandoned, in jerrycans, or under roadside rocks.

They will be defeated because, contrary to what one hears constantly repeated, they are not as brave as they seem: They love death less than the Kurds love life.

They will be defeated because fewer of them than many think are able to say convincingly why they fight, whereas the Kurds are defending their land and an idea, the dream of a country of their own and a model of society that is unique in the region.

They will be defeated because they are facing an increasingly professional army composed, exceptionally, of men and women of all ages and circumstances, many of whom left behind successful civilian lives, an army whose infantry comprises foot soldiers age 20, 30, 50 and older. I even encountered, in oven-like heat on the highest outcropping of Mount Zartak, an octogenarian serving shoulder to shoulder with his younger comrades. He had been keeping watch the night before, when an Islamic State column crept up the slope hoping to take the Kurdish encampment from behind.

They will be defeated because their leaders lie low and send their brainless zealots to the slaughter, whereas the Kurdish generals whom I have met are right there on the front line, respectable and respected: concrete bunkers for the troops but, for Maj. Gen. Maghdid Harki, the position most exposed to snipers firing from the village of Bartila.

They will be defeated because the black flags that can be seen through binoculars a few hundred yards away in the Kirkuk sector are planted in areas full of civilians—and one never wins by making civilians into human shields.

They will be defeated because the destroyed granaries, the blown-up agricultural facilities, the ruined roads, the collapsed bridge over an irrigation canal overgrown with reeds, the smoldering ruins—in short, the scenes of desolation in the zones that they have briefly controlled and been forced to abandon by the army of liberation—attest that they know no other policy than that of scorched earth. And with that policy one does not prevail for long.

They will be defeated because the Kurds, while loving life, are also capable, when necessary, of risking death to perform deeds of startling bravery, as suggested by the meaning of Peshmerga: one who confronts death. That is the story of one Jamal Mohammed Salih, who, seeing a suicide truck hurtling toward his position, reflected only a split second before putting his tank in its path to save his 80 comrades. He survived. He was gravely wounded, but he survived, and we were able to record his moving account.

They will be defeated because Islamic State has traitors in its ranks who inform the Peshmerga of its movements, allowing the Kurdish fighters to surprise the enemy.

They will be defeated because when, near Gwair, we fell on their radio frequency, it was not hard to imagine that, like the Khmer Rouge, they will end up killing each other in confusion.

They will be defeated because in the past year the Peshmerga, having quickly overcome their surprise of a year ago, have hardened their positions around the Mosul Dam, carved out trails in the scree above Qaraqosh, built a fort at the most strategically located site in the Kirkuk sector, fortified the rocky outcroppings in the Zartak zone, and, on the plains, dug trenches up to 10 yards wide to stop kamikaze trucks.

Finally, they will be defeated because a strong international coalition, led by the United States, is fighting alongside the Kurds. I visited its command center at an old air base from which Saddam Hussein’s chemical-weapons attacks were carried out. And I am convinced that the coalition will end up delivering the final blow to Islamic State.

Mr. Lévy’s books include “Left in Dark Times: A Stand Against the New Barbarism” (Random House, 2008). This op-ed was translated from the French by Steven B. Kennedy.
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JOSEPH HAMBRICK 5 minutes ago

The hundreds of thousands of war refugees risking (and thousands losing) their lives fleeing this god-forsaken region appear not as optimistic as Mr. Levy.
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Alan Lowenthal
Alan Lowenthal 5 minutes ago

Hard to imagine a people more deserving of a state than the Kurds.  Our government needs to lead this effort forward.  This should be done simultaneously with facilitating peace talks with the Turks.
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Lt Col David McCarthy
Lt Col David McCarthy 32 minutes ago

Having served as a U.S. Marine alongside the Peshmerga in 2002-2004 I can state unequivocally that my personal observation is that they are wonderful people and true warriors. If we - the West - would just give them the tools they need they would wipe out the fundamentalist muslim terrorists. It is also my feeling that the Kurdish people deserve their own country.  Since I am neither a statesman nor a politician I will not opine as to how well the rest of the region (i.e. the Turks) would stand a free Kurdish Nation.
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7  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Alan Reynolds on Hillary's capital gains tax proposal on: Today at 11:22:51 AM

Alan Reynolds
Sept. 2, 2015 7:07 p.m. ET

Hillary Clinton’s most memorable economic proposal, debuted this summer, is her plan to impose a punishing 43.4% top tax rate on capital gains that are cashed in within a two-year holding period. The rate would drift down to 23.8%, but only for investors that sat on investments for six years.

This is known as a “tapered” capital-gains tax, and it isn’t new. Mrs. Clinton is borrowing a page from Franklin D. Roosevelt, who trotted out this policy during the severe 1937-38 economic downturn, dubbed the Roosevelt Recession. She’d be wise to consider how it played out.

President Herbert Hoover raised taxes in 1932 and expanded the number of brackets to 30 from 23. The top rate skyrocketed to 63% from 25%. But the highest capital-gains rate remained 12.5% until Congress enacted the tapered tax in 1934. Here’s how it worked: 20% of an individual’s capital gains were excluded from taxes after one year, 40% after two years, 60% after five and 70% after 10. This initially resulted in a maximum tax of 40% on capital gains for assets sold after two years.

But things took another left turn in 1936, when the top income-tax rate was bumped up to 79% from 63%. This didn’t smack only top earners. All 15 of the highest rates increased: Those previously in a 40% tax bracket were pushed into a 43% bracket, the 49% bracket became 55%, the 59% bracket turned into 70%, and the top 63% rate increased to 79%.

A separate 1936 bill allowed dividends to be treated as taxable income in all 31 tax brackets. This was a first. Most taxpayers were exempt from dividend taxes before 1936; nobody paid more than a 55% rate.

Yet since the capital-gains tax rate grew in tandem with income-tax rates, the top income-tax bracket increased to 79% in 1936, while the capital-gains tax rate jumped to 63% for assets held one year, 47% after two years, 32% after five and 24% after 10. Even worse, the 1936 law added a surtax on “undistributed profits”—those not paid out as dividends but kept to finance business investment.

It didn’t take long for economic consequences to bubble up: In the 12 months between February 1937 and 1938, the Dow Jones Industrial stock average fell 41%—to 111 from 188.4. That crash presaged one of the nation’s worst recessions, from May 1937 to June 1938, with GDP falling 10% and industrial production 32%. Unemployment swelled to 19% from 14%.

Harvard economist Joseph Schumpeter, in his 1939 opus “Business Cycles,” noted that “the so-called capital gains tax has been held responsible for having accentuated, if not caused, the slump.” The steep tax on short-term gains, he argued, made it hard for small or new firms to issue stock. And the surtax on undistributed profits, Schumpeter wrote, “may well have had a paralyzing influence on enterprise and investment in general.”

More recent research confirms these insights. A 2011 study from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis reported that monetary policy tightening, contrary to received wisdom, can’t explain the 1937-38 recession. “The 1936 tax rate increases,” they concluded, “seem more likely culprits in causing the recession.” Higher taxes on investors tended to fall on the more affluent individuals that supply capital to new firms.

A 2012 study in the Quarterly Journal of Economics attributes much of the 26% decline in business investment in the 1937-38 recession to higher taxes on capital. “Especially important,” University of Minnesota economist Ellen McGrattan wrote, “are the sharp rise in tax rates on individual incomes.” And “although few households paid income taxes,” Ms. McGrattan added, “those who did earned almost all of the income distributed by corporations and unincorporated businesses.” Again, more signs of depressed business investment. After 1936 tax rates on undistributed profits “led to another dramatic decline in investment,” the study notes.

The prospect of steep tax rates from cashing in on investments no doubt reduced wealth and investment, as did higher taxes on dividends and profits. The capital-gains taper’s severe penalties on selling assets before five or 10 years also reduced the liquidity of corporate shares, making it far more hazardous to provide equity financing to new firms.

Relief finally arrived in May 1938, when public ire about the recession prompted Congress to overturn FDR. Legislators shortened the taper to two years from 10 and cut the highest capital-gains tax to 15% from 47%. The surtax on undistributed profits was greatly reduced in that year as well, and abolished in 1939.

The 1938 congressional tax revolt, championed by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Pat Harrison, a Mississippi Democrat, intended to turn a recession into a recovery. Roosevelt allowed the bill to become law without his signature, an unusual way of expressing his disapproval. But Harrison’s plan worked. Stocks lifted immediately—the Dow reached 152.3 in November from 111 in April. The recession ended the next month, and the economy grew 8% in 1939 and 8.8% in 1940.

It is ironic, then, that Hillary Clinton’s fix for an economy suffering under 2% growth is resuscitating a tax scheme with a history of ushering in recessions. The economy would be better off if the idea remained buried.

Mr. Reynolds is a senior fellow with the Cato Institute.
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Jack Janzen
Jack Janzen 9 minutes ago

So what does Hillary really think?  She is just saying what she thinks will win the necessary votes.

Her time in the Senate and as Secretary of State offer few clues as she did little of any substance in those positions. 

Does Hillarycare count?    Does here college paper on Saul Alinsky count?  Who knows?
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Jeff Guse
Jeff Guse 24 minutes ago

Wasting time talking about taxes when the problem is SPENDING.
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EARL LANGLEY 26 minutes ago

And the GOP parties like 1933 with its Der Trumpster and his xenophobic base.

Actually the capital gains tax is low and a huge part of economic inequality .
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Ted Terry
Ted Terry 22 minutes ago

@EARL LANGLEY It's only income inequality because someone else has it and you don't.  That's the definition of inequality some person having more assets than someone else. Only liberals see a fault in this. Conservatives feel "good on ya" you made some money that you paid income tax on and then you invested the capital that resulted and you generated more wealth from those investments. Now to a liberal that's terrible you're supposed to spend all after tax income and when you run short you get some more funding from the government because you "need" it.
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Jack Janzen
Jack Janzen 15 minutes ago


You talk about income inequality as if it were a bad thing.

Correctly viewed if you feel you are on the short end it should be an incentive to do better.  This country offers innumerable ways to get ahead.  I live a few blocks from recent immigrants who arrived with nothing and are now driving new Cadillacs.
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peter strzalkowski
peter strzalkowski just now

@EARL LANGLEY you should think about this Earl, you tax something you get less of it because the transaction becomes more tobacco taxes ring a bell? minimum wage? you tax cap gains at a higher rate, people will stop trading and the revenue from does declines, now my 7 yr old understands this so this is a challenge for you bud.
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8  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / China to cut 300,000 from military? on: Today at 11:12:34 AM

b)  Stratfor


China's already formidable military may be about to get an overhaul. With Chinese President Xi Jinping reportedly set to unveil what the media is calling the most sweeping set of military reforms since the mid-1980s, one of the most powerful forces in the world may get a reshuffling that makes it more flexible and effective. The reforms will be officially announced in the wake of a Sept. 3 military parade to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. One potential plan leaked to the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post offers some insight into Beijing's intentions. Though the final reforms will likely be more conservative, the leaked proposal suggests China is generally aiming to centralize command, increase cooperation between services and look beyond hard geographic boundaries. In the end, China may be successful at improving its military effectiveness, but its reforms will fall short of loosening the Communist Party's tight grip over the country's armed forces.

According to the South China Morning Post, it was several "reform-minded officers" who leaked a version of the reform plan to the media. The leaked proposal includes large personnel cuts and several structural changes. First, the seven existing military regions would be consolidated into four, each of which would be open to command by officers from other services. A new national guard, responsible solely to the Central Military Commission, would replace the People's Armed Police. And three of the People's Liberation Army's four general departments would merge into one — the General Staff Department. The Ministry of Defense, now a figurehead, would be empowered to conduct mobilization and recruitment activities.

The plan is probably one of the more radical options on the table, and Beijing is certainly weighing more conservative approaches. The high level of detail in the report, however, suggests that the leaked proposal survived to a late stage in the deliberation process, meaning parts of it may actually make it into the final plan — especially the long-discussed consolidation of military regions and the promotion of joint commands.

The leaked details of the reforms largely conform with those Stratfor outlined in January 2014, soon after plans were announced. At the time, China was making moves to cut its military regions down to five as well as open up positions of military leadership — previously an option for only ground force officers — to officers in the navy, air force and possibly even Second Artillery Corps. The change to a four-region structure likely came late in the discussion; as recently as April, a U.S. Department of Defense report to Congress on Chinese military and security developments still predicted five regions. But if Beijing has in fact pared it down to four, they will likely consist of a Northeast Command, charged with protecting Beijing and the border with Russia and Korea; a Southeast Command, responsible for operations in the Pacific and Indian oceans; a Northwestern Command to stabilize Xinjiang and protect Gansu and Qinghai; and a Southwestern Command to secure Sichuan and Tibet. Even with the slight change in details, Stratfor's projections for the overall reform trends still hold: increasing centralization, increased cooperation between services and the erosion of hard geographic boundaries.

The People's Liberation Army's current operational structure is centered on land-based warfare to be conducted within the framework of seven military regions. This is an artifact of the military's primary Cold War mission: to conduct a "people's war" against an invader, most likely the Soviet Union, by mobilizing the entire population to draw enemy forces into the interior and wear them down. However, the times — and the strategic situation in East Asia — have changed a great deal. Beijing now needs to build capabilities that will allow it to carry out missions along the Chinese periphery in areas that include the East China Sea, South China Sea and Taiwan. This will mean moving beyond a model centered on ground forces. Missions in distant waters are also growing in importance. These could include counterpiracy operations in the Gulf of Aden, evacuations of Chinese citizens in the Middle East and Africa as well as joint air and naval exercises beyond the first island chain. The projected reforms would free the military from its territorial focus and help to integrate other branches of the services more closely.

China's leaders have understood for decades that the existing military structure is inadequate to meet the nation's changing needs. But Beijing is just now overcoming the structural constraints that have barred reform. These included limitations in terms of capability, such as poorly trained personnel, outdated equipment, and primitive command and control. More important, however, were the political obstacles: military corruption as well as powerful entrenched interests in both top brass and the retired officer pool. The Chinese government has worked for years to overcome these limitations, not only making broad investments in modern equipment and weaponry research and development but also raising education requirements for new recruits, trimming redundant personnel and stepping up joint as well as transregional exercises. Military exercises in particular have laid the groundwork for the smooth and frequent cooperation between branches of the military.

Of course, the upcoming reforms will almost certainly reduce high-level staff positions and eliminate some patronage networks, prompting opposition among government and military officials — and especially among the People's Liberation Army ground forces. It was to overcome this resistance that President Xi Jinping in 2013 launched a far-reaching and ongoing military anticorruption probe, which has helped purge over 30 generals this year alone. It also brought down two retired vice chairmen of the Central Military Commission, Xu Caihou and Guo Boxiong, who had been the highest-ranking generals in the People's Liberation Army under Hu Jintao. Yet in spite of progress, resistance will persist or even worsen as reforms continue. Surveillance over military officers and intense anticorruption investigations are likely to intensify, as are moves to bar retired officers from influencing policy, which is part of an overall trend in all parts of the Communist Party.

The Chinese military will certainly become more professional as a result of these reforms, but only in a very specific sense of the word. The People's Liberation Army will develop the organization and skills necessary to prevail in modern warfare. This, however, will in no way loosen the Communist Party's hold over China's armed forces. The interests of the Party will continue to dominate the military. And though the leaked plan would elevate the role of the Ministry of Defense — a government and not a Party organ — Beijing will most likely opt to reject that and other elements that reduce the influence of the Communist Party. Indeed, Chinese state media have continued to caution against calls to nationalize or depoliticize the People's Liberation Army. Wary that reforms empowering the military could also erode Party control, the Party will be quick to slow and even reverse reforms if the careful balance between Party control and military effectiveness tips too far away from the Party. Whatever impact the reforms may have on the military's capabilities, the People's Liberation Army will remain the Party's gun.
9  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / The noose tightens a bit more , , , 2.0 on: Today at 11:10:04 AM


Hillary’s Classified Falsehoods
Is anything she has said about her private emails true?

Hillary Clinton has tried to confuse the public about the definition of “classified,” but some in the press corps are cutting though the fog. We’re learning, in particular, that Mrs. Clinton’s self-serving decision to use a private email server for official communications may have resulted in far greater mishandling of classified information.

The Washington Post reported Wednesday that Mrs. Clinton wrote and sent on her private server at least six emails that contained classified information. This destroys Mrs. Clinton’s statement that she never sent any classified information. It also blows up her campaign’s diversionary argument that nothing she sent or received was “marked” as classified.

Mrs. Clinton was Secretary of State, with greater knowledge than anyone in her operation about national security secrets, and with a duty to protect such information. Whether the classified material she was sending or receiving was marked as such makes no difference to an official’s obligation. Mrs. Clinton knew this.

Meanwhile, Fox News reports that State Department lawyers have been hiding the extent to which Mrs. Clinton handled classified material on her server. According to the Fox account, career State employees initially marked four Clinton emails as classified. State Department lawyers then stepped in to recategorize the emails as “deliberative.” This meant they couldn’t be viewed by investigators from Congress.

Fox reports that State Department sources told intelligence officials that they believe this was done to hide the extent to which Mrs. Clinton was sending and receiving classified material. The Fox dispatch also says that one of the State Department lawyers involved in the email review was Catherine Duval, who once worked in the same law firm as Mrs. Clinton’s lawyer, David Kendall. The State Department told Fox there was no conflict and that its lawyers “perform to the highest professional and ethical standards.”

This week’s batch of Clinton emails—released by State on a timetable imposed by a federal judge fed up with delays—also includes hundreds of exchanges with legendary political hit man Sidney Blumenthal. Mrs. Clinton has previously said she didn’t solicit emails from Mr. Blumenthal, who was being paid by the Clinton Foundation. But in one email Mrs. Clinton tells the specialist in political smears to “keep ’em coming” and that “Bill”—presumably her husband—had dubbed them “brilliant!” Is anything Mrs. Clinton has said about her emails true?

Keep in mind that the Obama Administration barred Mr. Blumenthal from serving as a Clinton aide at State. But it’s clear from the emails that he served as an unofficial Clinton adviser throughout her tenure as America’s top diplomat. If she makes it back to the White House, nothing can stop her from bringing him into a position of real power.

Mrs. Clinton and her defenders say the email story is a sideshow, but the reason it’s important is because it is revealing so much about how she would govern.
10  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Obama on Trump on: Today at 10:50:48 AM
11  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Prediction: FOX news will increase its coverage of Dr. Ben on: September 02, 2015, 07:01:57 PM
12  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Donald Trump on: September 02, 2015, 06:51:58 PM
"Clintons sold influence.  Trump bought influence."

13  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Chinese Navy off Alaska on: September 02, 2015, 03:15:11 PM
Five Chinese Navy Ships Are Operating in Bering Sea Off Alaska Coast
Chinese naval presence off Alaskan coast appears to be a first
Chinese navy warships arrive in Sudan in August as part of military cooperation between the two countries. On Wednesday, the Pentagon said five Chinese navy ships have been seen off the coast of Alaska. ENLARGE

Chinese navy warships arrive in Sudan in August as part of military cooperation between the two countries. On Wednesday, the Pentagon said five Chinese navy ships have been seen off the coast of Alaska. Photo: Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah/Reuters

By Jeremy Page in Beijing and Gordon Lubold in Washington
Updated Sept. 2, 2015 1:51 p.m. ET

Five Chinese navy ships are currently operating in the Bering Sea, off the coast of Alaska, the first time the U.S. military has seen such activity in the area, Pentagon officials said Wednesday.

The officials said they have been aware in recent days that three Chinese combat ships, a replenishment vessel and an amphibious ship were in the vicinity after observing them moving toward the Aleutian Islands, which are split between U.S. and Russian control.

They said the Chinese ships were still in the area, but declined to specify when the vessels were first spotted or how far they were from the coast of Alaska, where President Barack Obama is winding up a three-day visit.

“This would be a first in the vicinity of the Aleutian Islands,” one defense official said of the Chinese ships. “I don’t think we’d characterize anything they’re doing as threatening.” The Pentagon official confirmed that the five ships were operating in international waters.

Pentagon officials also said there was no information suggesting the Chinese ships had gone through the Bering Strait, a narrow waterway north of the sea that abuts Alaska.

China’s defense ministry couldn’t be reached to comment.

The presence of the Chinese ships so close to U.S. shores is the latest demonstration of how China’s military is rapidly expanding its operations far from its own coast to protect the nation’s growing global interests.

The Chinese naval activity comes as Mr. Obama visits Alaska and the Arctic region to highlight climate change. The naval operation also comes just before Chinese President Xi Jinping presides over a World War II Victory Day parade on Thursday that the U.S. and its allies fear is being used to showcase China’s new military strength and ambition.

Mr. Xi is heading to the U.S. in late September for a state visit, which has already been overshadowed by tensions over Chinese military activity, including alleged cyberattacks on the U.S. and island-building in the South China Sea.

China says its military activities aren’t designed to threaten any other nation but are expanding in tandem with its economic power, as well as its interests and responsibilities around the world.

The Pentagon official said there were a “variety of opinions” on how to interpret the Chinese ships’ deployment.

“It’s difficult to tell exactly, but it indicates some interest in the Arctic region,” the official said. “It’s different.”

China has shown growing interest in using the so-called Northern Sea Route to transport goods between Asia and the West via the Arctic in recent years as melting polar ice has eased access for shipping. The route can take several days less than the journey via the Suez Canal.

The first Chinese vessel to sail the entire Northern Sea Route was an icebreaker called the Snow Dragon in 2012 and some Chinese commercial ships have used the route since, according to state media.

Beijing also has shown growing interest in exploiting energy resources in the Arctic region and in 2013 became a permanent observer to the Arctic Council, whose members are Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the U.S.

A search of Chinese state media and military statements online revealed no record of any previous naval deployment to the Bering Sea.

China and Russia held joint naval exercises off the Russian Pacific coast—about 2,000 miles west of the Bering Sea—between August 20 and 28, according to the official Xinhua News Agency.

Seven Chinese ships took part, including two destroyers, two frigates, two landing ships and one supply ship, Xinhua said but it gave no details about where the vessels went afterward.

China’s navy confined itself to patrolling the nation’s coast for the first five decades after the Communist takeover in 1949. But in the past few years, it has ventured deep in the Pacific and Indian Oceans and even the Mediterranean Sea.

The Chinese navy has taken part in antipiracy patrols in the Gulf of Aden since 2008 and held joint naval drills with Russia in the Mediterranean in May. Last year, Chinese navy ships made their debut at U.S.-led Rim of the Pacific, or Rimpac, joint naval drills in Hawaii.

U.S. officials said an uninvited Chinese spy ship observed the Rimpac drills from international waters just off Hawaii. China’s defense ministry said at the time its ship operations complied with international law.
14  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: The No-Growth Campaign on: September 02, 2015, 02:29:53 PM

The No-Growth Campaign
Clinton and Trump are offering nothing to improve the economy.

Stocks took another tumble on Tuesday on a weak manufacturing report out of China, and investor shivers about Japan, the oil patch and the U.S. are increasing. The shaky markets and underlying economy seem relevant to the presidential debate—yet the front-runners of both parties have next to no pro-growth ideas to contribute.

Hillary Clinton favors higher taxation, heavier regulation, more political shackling of business, and centralizing more economic control inside the White House. So does Donald Trump—at least as far as we can tell.

Mrs. Clinton is promising Obamanomics Plus: continue the agenda of the last eight years, with bonus corrections toward the left as necessary. She’s proposed to nearly double the top tax rate on some capital gains to 43.4% from 23.8%, for example, up from 15% as recently as 2012.

On energy, one of the few U.S. growth areas of the Obama era, she is even further to the left. The green elites used to tolerate support for the U.S. oil and natural gas boom if gas could be levered as a transition fuel toward a post-carbon future. Now they favor massive subsidies for wind and solar today and no fossil-fuel drilling, and Mrs. Clinton is moving their way.

About the only growth component of Mrs. Clinton’s agenda is immigration, and there she beats Mr. Trump in a romp. A larger workforce adds to GDP, and economists of all political persuasions agree that increasing human capital drives prosperity and offsets an otherwise aging population.

Mr. Trump’s candidacy is more attitude than substance, and his quicksilver positions change day to day, even minute to minute in the same interview. But he has been consistent about rounding up illegal immigrants and deporting them to their home countries—if they have one, in the case of kids born on U.S. soil. He supports “a pause” in legal immigration too.

The real-estate tycoon is also running as the most antitrade candidate since Herbert Hoover. He has assailed the trade agreement with Canada and Mexico and the pending Pacific Rim pact as “disasters” that are “killing us.” Mr. Trump promises to reopen these agreements and do better, though without saying how, apart from his alpha-male negotiating skills. He’s proposing tariffs as high as 30% on imports, and he has already promised to punish Ford and Nabisco for expanding production south of the border.

On taxes, Mr. Trump promises to release a “comprehensive” reform plan soon. So far, though, his only specifics have been some kind of tax relief for the middle class coupled with class warfare. He said in a recent interview that “I would take carried interest out, and I would let people making hundreds of millions of dollars a year pay some tax, because right now they are paying very little tax and I think it’s outrageous.”

Carried interest is the accounting term for a share of profits from investments in general partnerships—private equity, hedge funds, (ahem) real-estate outfits. Congress taxes this at-risk capital at a lower rate than ordinary wages because it only pays out if a fund invests wisely, but this treatment should be reconsidered as part a larger tax reform.

Mr. Trump doesn’t engage these facts, much less anything else that might help the real economy. Carried interest is a sideshow. Much like Mrs. Clinton and President Obama, he’s trying to stoke resentment of the rich, or the merely affluent, or foreigners, people dumber than he is, whoever.

This makes it all the passing stranger that some conservatives are embracing Mr. Trump as a truth-teller speaking to the anxieties of middle-American voters. On this view, he’s a hero for challenging the GOP policy consensus of low marginal tax rates, free trade, less regulation and entitlement reform.

Thus instead of modernizing the tax code for the 21st century, offer tax relief that does nothing to reduce complexity and distortion or to improve the incentives to work and invest. Rather than fixing a broken immigration system to attract the hard-working and ambitious, distract low-wage American workers by scapegoating illegal workers. Instead of making the U.S. economy more competitive, attack foreigners and adopt a divisive platform and rhetorical style designed to polarize a justifiably frustrated electorate.

But following Mr. Trump down these cul de sacs—a Canadian border wall?—is a formula to lose and deserve to. After seven years of slow growth and stagnant incomes, the GOP is well positioned to make the case against liberal economic policies while stumping for an optimistic agenda that offers disaffected voters the opportunities that faster growth and tight labor markets create.

But in the anti-reality of the current campaign, the GOP field is attacking each other and giving Hillary a pass. The candidates who break out will invoke something more inspiring than the no-growth future that the front-runners are offering.
15  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Trump continues to mess with FOX on: September 02, 2015, 02:08:44 PM
16  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Wshington on religion and morality on: September 02, 2015, 02:06:03 PM
"Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, Religion and morality are indispensible supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of Patriotism who should labor to subvert these great Pillars of human happiness — these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. ... Let it simply be asked where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths..." —President George Washington (1796)
17  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Morris: China's crash is not over on: September 02, 2015, 02:03:31 PM
Is there nothing on which Dick Morris is not an expert?
18  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: IRS update on: September 02, 2015, 01:59:22 PM
by James Taranto
Sept. 2, 2015 1:30 p.m. ET

Hillary Clinton is not the only official of the Obama administration to have engaged in email shenanigans. While we were away last week, as the Washington Times reported, a court filing from the Internal Revenue Service revealed that “Lois Lerner had yet another personal email account used to conduct some IRS business”:

    The admission came in an open-records lawsuit filed by Judicial Watch, a conservative public interest law firm that has sued to get a look at emails Ms. Lerner sent during the targeting [of political dissenters for IRS harassment].

    IRS lawyer Geoffrey J. Klimas told the court that as the agency was putting together a set of documents to turn over to Judicial Watch, it realized Ms. Lerner had used yet another email account, in addition to her official one and another personal one already known to the agency.

    “In addition to emails to or from an email account denominated ‘Lois G. Lerner‘ or ‘Lois Home,’ some emails responsive to Judicial Watch’s request may have been sent to or received from a personal email account denominated ‘Toby Miles,’ ” Mr. Klimas told Judge Emmet G. Sullivan, who is hearing the case.

At first we wondered why Lerner would use a masculine pseudonym. Then we realized Toby is an epicene name and we’d been thinking of Toby Flenderson, the officious bureaucrat from NBC’s “The Office.” At any rate, Fox News appears to have come up with the explanation: “Two sources told Fox News that Toby Miles is the name of Lerner’s dog.”

Confusingly, Lerner’s canine shares a surname with her husband, and Fox adds that “Lerner’s husband Michael Miles also reportedly may have been linked to the account.” Which goes to prove the old saying: On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.

This week, as blogger William Jacobson reports, yet another fake Lerner email came to light:

    In . . . an August 31, 2015 Status Report, the IRS revealed that Lerner also used “a second personal email account” that, unlike the Toby Miles account, “does not appear to be associated with a denomination; only the email address itself appears.” The IRS refuses to disclose the email address for either the Toby Miles or the newly discovered account.

“Denomination,” in this context, is a fancy name for “name,” not a reference to money or religion. In its filing, the IRS reported that the emails in the denominationless account “all were either non-responsive [to the Freedom of Information Act request] or were duplicates of material previously released to Judicial Watch.”

Why Lerner needed so many email addresses is something of a mystery, but she’s not alone among Obama administration officials. The Daily Signal’s Sharyl Attkisson noted in March:

    Former Obama EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson used private email accounts, as well as a secret EPA email address under the pseudonym “Richard Windsor,” to conduct official business. That included communicating with a climate lobbyist.

    In Justice Department emails turned over in a federal Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, [then-Attorney General Eric] Holder’s email name is redacted with no explanation. It’s unknown whether the redactions conceal use of an email address that does not belong to an official government account.

The Washington Times reports on yet another thwarted IRS attempt to evade public scrutiny:

    A federal judge Friday ordered the IRS to turn over the records of any requests from the White House seeking taxpayers’ private information from the tax agency, delivering a victory to a group that for two years has been trying to pry the data loose.

    It’s not clear that there were any such requests—but Judge Amy Berman Jackson said the IRS cannot just refuse to say so by citing taxpayer confidentiality laws, known as section 6103 of the tax code.

Richard Pollock, then of the Washington Examiner, explained the background in a 2013 piece:

    Treasury Department investigators completed but never released a 2011 law enforcement probe of White House economic advisor Austan Goolsbee, The Washington Examiner has learned.

    The investigation by the Treasury Department Inspector-General for Tax Administration was sparked by Goolsbee’s remarks during an Aug. 27, 2010, White House news briefing in which he appeared to possess confidential tax information on Koch Industries, the private conglomerate controlled by the Koch brothers, Charles and David.

    “So in this country we have partnerships, we have S corps, we have LLCs, we have a series of entities that do not pay corporate income tax. Some of which are really giant firms, you know Koch Industries is a multi-billion dollar business,” Goolsbee said.

    It is illegal for government officials to make public confidential tax information. Goolsbee was chief White House economist at the time.

Six senators requested an investigation of Goolsbee’s remark under Section 6103 of the Internal Revenue Code, which protects taxpayers’ privacy. The IRS conducted the probe, then refused to reveal its findings, including to the senators and the Kochs—because, it said, they included taxpayer information that was confidential under Section 6103.

A group called Cause of Action filed the FOIA lawsuit seeking, among other things, “any communications by or from anyone in the Executive Office of the President constituting requests for taxpayer or ‘return information’ ” protected by Section 6103. Again, the IRS balked, saying such requests were private under Section 6103. That was the claim Judge Jackson rejected:

    Congress amended section 6103 in 1976 “in the wake of Watergate and White House efforts to harass those on its ‘enemies list,’ ” in order to “restrict[] government officers and employees from revealing ‘any return’ or ‘return information,’” and its “core purpose” is to “protect[] taxpayer privacy.”

    So, this Court questions whether section 6103 should or would shield records that indicate that confidential taxpayer information was misused, or that government officials made an improper attempt to access that information.

    The IRS argues that “section 6103’s definition of ‘return information’ . . . makes no distinction based on the purpose for which a person might seek disclosure of the documents.” But accepting this argument would require a finding that even requests for return information that could involve a violation of section 6103 constitute “return information” that is exempt from disclosure under FOIA Exemption 3 [which incorporates other statutes’ nondisclosure provisions] and section 6103.

    The Court is unwilling to stretch the statute so far, and it cannot conclude that section 6103 may be used to shield the very misconduct it was enacted to prohibit.

Whether the IRS is concealing misconduct is unknown; it’s possible, for instance, that the Goolsbee report found nothing amiss and its suppression was a product of mere bureaucratic monomania. Similarly, it’s possible Mrs. Clinton actually did turn over printouts of all her work-related emails to the State Department, but we may never know. In any case, it’s unreasonable for government officials to expect us to trust their assurances when they take such pains to prevent their verification.

On a happier note, it’s worth mentioning that the judges in both these cases were Democratic appointees. Emmet Sullivan was nominated by Bill Clinton in 1994 and Amy Jackson by Barack Obama in 2011. Independence and integrity are not dead, at least in the judicial branch.
19  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: 2016 Presidential on: September 02, 2015, 11:58:36 AM
Interesting read.
20  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Hillbillary Clintons long, sordid, and often criminal history on: September 02, 2015, 11:56:36 AM
I am more hopeful than that.  FWIW my sense of things is that the legal process, e.g. serious FBI teams, are on this.  They DO have the IQ to understand what is going on here.  FWIW I think it more likely than not that this is going to bring her down.
21  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Donald Trump on: September 01, 2015, 11:32:13 PM
Uhhh , , , careful there please.  That could be taken amiss , , ,
22  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Hillbillary Clintons long, sordid, and often criminal history on: September 01, 2015, 10:56:35 PM

 By John Solomon - The Washington Times - Updated: 9:55 p.m. on Tuesday, September 1, 2015

One of the most serious potential breaches of national security identified so far by the intelligence community inside Hillary Rodham Clinton’s private emails involves the relaying of classified information concerning the movement of North Korean nuclear assets, which was obtained from spy satellites.

Multiple intelligence sources who spoke to The Washington Times, solely on the condition of anonymity, said concerns about the movement of the North Korean information through Mrs. Clinton’s unsecured server are twofold.

First, spy satellite information is frequently classified at the top-secret level and handled within a special compartment called Talent-Keyhole. This means it is one of the most sensitive forms of intelligence gathered by the U.S.

SEE ALSO: Emails show Clinton Foundation shaped policy

Second, the North Koreans have assembled a massive cyberhacking army under an elite military spy program known as Bureau 121, which is increasingly aggressive in targeting systems for hacking, especially vulnerable private systems. The North Koreans, for instance, have been blamed by the U.S. for the hack of Sony movie studios.

Allowing sensitive U.S. intelligence about North Korea to seep into a more insecure private email server has upset the intelligence community because it threatens to expose its methods and assets for gathering intelligence on the secretive communist nation.

“While everyone talks about the U.S. being aware of the high threat of hacking and foreign spying, there was a certain nonchalance at Mrs. Clinton’s State Department in protecting sensitive data that alarms the intel community,” one source familiar with the email review told The Times. “We’re supposed to be making it harder, not easier, for our enemies to intercept us.”

SEE ALSO: Obama administration overwhelmed by courts forcing transparency on Clinton emails

State Department spokesman Mark C. Toner told The Times on Tuesday evening he couldn’t discuss the email because of ongoing probes by the FBI and the inspector general community. “There are reviews and investigations under way on these matters generally so it would not be appropriate to comment at this time,” he said.

The email in question was initially flagged by the inspector general of the intelligence community in July as potentially containing information derived from highly classified satellite and mapping system of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. That email was later confirmed to contain classified information by Freedom of Information Act officials within the intelligence community.

The revelation, still under review by the FBI and intelligence analysts, has created the most heartburn to date about a lax email system inside the State Department that allowed official business and — in at least 188 emails reviewed so far — classified secrets to flow to Mrs. Clinton via an unsecured private email server hosted at her home in Chappaqua, New York.

The email does not appear to have been copied directly from the classified email system and crossed what is known as the “air gap” to nonclassified computers, the sources said.

Rather, the intelligence community believes a State Department employee received the information through classified channels and then summarized it when that employee got to a nonclassified State Department computer. The email chain went through Mrs. Clinton’s most senior aides and eventually to Mrs. Clinton’s personal email, the sources said.

The compromised information did not include maps or images, but rather information that could have been derived only from spy satellite intelligence.

It was not marked as classified, but whoever viewed the original source reports would have readily seen the markings and it should have been recognized clearly by a trained employee who received the information subsequently as sensitive, nonpublic information. Intelligence community professionals are trained to carry forward these markings and, if needed, request that the information be sanitized before being transmitted via non-secure means.

The discovery could affect the FBI investigation of Mrs. Clinton’s email, putting the originator of the email chain into legal jeopardy and allowing agents to pressure the employee to cooperate as they try to determine how classified information flowed so freely into Mrs. Clinton’s account and what senior officials knew about the lax system that allowed such transmissions.

As the investigation has advanced, the intelligence community has debunked many of Mrs. Clinton’s and the State Department’s original claims about the private email system.

Story Continues →

For instance, the department initially claimed that it had no idea Mrs. Clinton was conducting government business on an insecure private email account.

But the intelligence community uncovered evidence early on that her private email account was used to coordinate sensitive overseas calls through the department’s operations center, which arranges communication on weekends and after hours on weekdays.

The coordination of secure communications on an insecure break with protocol would give foreign intelligence agencies an opportunity to learn about a call early, then target and intercept the call, U.S. officials told The Times.

The concern is in full display in emails that Mrs. Clinton originated and that the department has already released under the Freedom of Information Act.

“As soon as I’m off call now. Tell ops to set it up now,” Mrs. Clinton wrote from her personal email account on Oct. 3, 2009, to top State Department aide Huma Abedin on Oct. 3, 2009, seeking the department’s operations center to set up a high-level Saturday morning call with two assistant secretaries of state and a foreign ambassador.

The email thread even indicated where Mrs. Clinton wanted to receive the call, at her home, giving a potential intercept target.

Similarly, the very next day, Mrs. Clinton and Ms. Abedin coordinated another call over insecure email with her ambassador to Afghanistan, former Army Gen. Karl Eikenberry. The two clearly understood the potential sensitive nature of the Sunday morning call even as they discussed its coordination on an unprotected email system.

“OK. Does Eikenberry need to be secure?” Mrs. Clinton asked, referring to the need for a secure phone line to receive the call. State officials said Mrs. Clinton had a secure phone line installed at her home to facilitate such calls, which is common for Cabinet-level officials.

Mr. Toner, the State Department spokesman, told the daily press briefing on Tuesday he did not know who approved Mrs. Clinton having a private email server to conduct official business but that it was obvious from the emails now released that many people knew inside State, including some in high places.

“People understood that she had a private server,” he told reporters. “…You’ve seen from the emails. You have an understanding of people who were communicating with her, at what level they were communicating at.”

23  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: 2016 Presidential on: September 01, 2015, 08:39:07 PM
Sorry, but IMHO Jeb is done for more than one reason.
24  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Iran Lobby buying Senatorial support for nuke deal on: September 01, 2015, 08:37:57 PM
25  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Donald Trump on: September 01, 2015, 08:15:51 PM
I can believe it Pat.  She's pretty spectacular.
26  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Black Cop denounces BLM and calls on Obama to do the same on: September 01, 2015, 08:11:37 PM

27  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / And more yet! That Orange Pant Suit is waiting , , , on: September 01, 2015, 08:09:36 PM
28  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Trump and Al Sharpton on: September 01, 2015, 08:07:17 PM
A bit of a human interest story , , ,
29  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Donald Trump on: September 01, 2015, 07:40:41 PM
No argument there!

Question:  Was their marriage an anchor for her to get into the US?  cheesy
30  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Islam, theocratic politics, & political freedom on: September 01, 2015, 07:38:58 PM
Thank you Obj.
31  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: 2016 Presidential on: September 01, 2015, 07:38:00 PM
FWIW I can imagine the current flame war between Trump and Jeb damaging both and leaving people fed up , , , and very receptive to Carson, from whom I hope for a strong performance at the next debate.

I could be wrong, but FWIW concern may seem soft, but IMHO he has a will of steel.
32  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Housing/Mortgage/Real Estate on: September 01, 2015, 07:32:05 PM
Very good post Pat.  Thank you.
33  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Donald Trump on: September 01, 2015, 12:40:14 PM
Heh heh.  I have had similar phone calls too.

Perhaps the biggest flaw in Trump in my eyes is his failure to rule out a third party run which would be almost a guarantee that the Dems win.  He thinks more of himself than America.
34  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: US Economics, the stock market , and other investment/savings strategies on: September 01, 2015, 12:38:24 PM
The ISM Manufacturing Index Declined to 51.1 in August To view this article, Click Here
Brian S. Wesbury, Chief Economist
Robert Stein, Deputy Chief Economist
Date: 9/1/2015

The ISM manufacturing index declined to 51.1 in August, coming in below the consensus expected level of 52.5. (Levels higher than 50 signal expansion; levels below 50 signal contraction.)
The major measures of activity were mostly lower in August, but all stand above 50. The new orders index fell to 51.7 from 56.5, while the production index moved lower to 53.6 from 56.0. The employment index slipped to 51.2 from 52.7. The supplier deliveries index rose to 50.7 from 48.9.
The prices paid index declined to 39.0 in August from 44.0 in July.

Implications: First things first. Yes, today’s report from the ISM showed the lowest reading for the headline index going back to 2013, but it is important to remember that the index measures the pace of expansion and contraction. Levels above 50 represent expansion, so while August’s reading of 51.1 is lower than July’s reading of 52.7, that does not mean that activity has declined, but that it continues to expand at a slightly slower pace than in recent months. It’s hard to draw many conclusions from the report, other than that the economy continues to grow at a moderate pace. The overall index has now remained above 50 (levels higher than 50 signal expansion) for 32 consecutive months. In addition, each of the major measures of activity showed expansion in August. The new orders index, the most forward looking measure, declined to 51.7 in August from 56.5 in July. This measure accelerated for each of the previous four months, and a temporary slowdown in the pace of growth is nothing to worry about. The production index followed new orders lower, declining to 53.6 from 56.0. In other words, the two key areas of the report focused on actual production took a breather in August, but still show signs of continued growth. With new orders continuing to expand, expect sustained strength in production in the months ahead. While the overall index remains below the peak of 58.1 seen in August 2014, we don’t believe this is anything to worry about. Remember that the economy was unusually strong in the summer of last year as it recovered from bad weather in the first quarter of 2014. The employment index fell in August to 51.2, representing continued growth in hiring, but at a slower pace than in recent months. Combined with recent data on initial and continuing claims, we estimate that jobs expanded by 196,000 in August. On the inflation front, the prices paid index declined to 39.0 in August from 44.0 in July, as falling prices for crude oil and raw metals helped push prices lower for fourteen of the eighteen industries reporting. The prices paid index has now shown contraction in prices for ten consecutive months. Taken as a whole, this month’s ISM report, with modest expansion across the major measures of activity, signals continued plow-horse growth in the months ahead. In other news this morning, construction increased 0.7% in July, while construction was also revised up substantially for June. The gain in July was led by private single family home construction as well as manufacturing facilities.
35  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Wait! There's more! on: September 01, 2015, 12:28:43 PM
I'm not so sure about that , , ,
36  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Koran older than Mohammed?!? on: September 01, 2015, 12:26:00 PM

Apparently the Daily Mail is not considered a fully reliable source, so let's look for confirmation.
37  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Indictment to follow no doubt on: September 01, 2015, 12:19:43 PM

by Joel Gehrke September 1, 2015 11:05 AM @Joelmentum Then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton appears to have instructed a United States envoy to send information obtained from foreign government officials, which is “born classified” under government rules, to her personal e-mail account.

The messages, which undermine Clinton’s claims that she did not knowingly receive classified information on the private, unsecured e-mail account she used to conduct all of her government business, were released by the State Department on Tuesday. “Here’s my personal e-mail,” Clinton writes in the subject of a July 25, 2010 message to former Senator George Mitchell, the special envoy for Middle East Peace. “Pls use this for reply.”

In the ensuing messages, Mitchell describes conversations that he had with “Moratinos” and “Frattini,” apparent references to then-Spanish foreign minister Miguel Ángel Moratinos and then-Italian foreign minister Franco Frattini. Sections of both messages are redacted and marked classified. The classification markings signify that the messages contain “foreign government information” and information about “foreign relations and confidential human sources,” according to a State Department classification guide issued in January of 2005.

State Department officials insist that all classified information released in the latest batch of e-mails was classified retroactively, but the nature of these messages challenges that claim. “It’s born classified,” J. William Leonard, a former director of the U.S. Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO) told Reuters last month. “If a foreign minister just told the secretary of state something in confidence, by U.S. rules that is classified at the moment it’s in U.S. channels and U.S. possession.”

Independent government watchdogs investigating Clinton’s use of the e-mail server have disputed previous State Department claims that various e-mails were classified only retroactively. “These e-mails contained classified information when they were generated and, according to [intelligence community] classification officials, the information remains classified today,” State Department inspector general Steve Linick and Intelligence Community inspector general I. Charles McCullough said in a joint statement on July 24.

Read more at:
38  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Donald Trump on: September 01, 2015, 12:14:25 PM

Thank you for the thoughtful reply.  I am on my way out the door for several hours of training and do not have the time for a thoughtful reply on this point.

That said, there are MANY other points on which Trump has said and done things that normally we would find utterly disqualifying.   We may like much of what the man says now, but will he still say it tomorrow?

39  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / The Iranian Lobby on: September 01, 2015, 11:47:23 AM
40  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / ISIS goes on the gold standard on: September 01, 2015, 10:36:42 AM
41  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / The Rise of Middle Class Serfdom on: September 01, 2015, 10:32:17 AM
second post
42  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Will Russia Intervene in Syria? on: September 01, 2015, 10:19:57 AM
 Will Russia Intervene in Syria?
August 31, 2015 | 19:38 GMT
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Editor's Note: Stratfor closely monitors conflict zones from a geopolitical perspective. What is perhaps the most volatile conflict today can be found in the territories of Iraq and Syria that are controlled by the Islamic State. Though these areas are cartographically distinct, they are functionally linked: Sunni tribal structures, rebel operations, Kurdish interests, external influences and the suzerainty of the Islamic State bind them together as a single, coherent theater.

The Islamic State capitalized on the chaos of the Syrian civil war and the inadequacy of Iraqi security forces to take over a large swath of the Middle East. After making some impressive gains, including the taking of the Iraqi city of Mosul, the Islamic State now finds itself in an increasingly difficult position, against which a wide array of opponents are aligned. Nonetheless, the group is uniquely resilient and, as such, remains extremely dangerous and unpredictable.

In addition to examining the combatants inside the Syria-Iraq battlespace, Stratfor also tracks the political machinations, negotiations and goals of outside the battlespace, including Iran, Russia, the Gulf monarchies and the United States. For the first time, in one place, Stratfor is providing routine updates covering the gains, losses and extent of the Islamic State's so-called caliphate.
Key Analyses

    Obama's Strategy Meets Reality in Iraq and Syria
    The Islamic State's Gains Mask Its Weakness
    The Islamic State's Growth Has Limits
    Arab Militaries' Weaknesses are the Islamic State's Strengths
    Why Sunni Unity Is a Myth
    Why Shiite Expansion Will Be Short-Lived
    The Geopolitics of the Syrian Civil War
    A Risky U.S. Proxy Battle Against Islamic State

Aug. 31

Russia could be in the process of greatly expanding its involvement in the Syrian conflict, according to sources from Israeli news source Ynet. An Aug. 31 report suggests that a Russian expeditionary force has already arrived in Syria, setting up camp in a loyalist air base near Damascus. If the reporting is accurate, it could be an early indication that Russia will throw its heft behind the Syrian air campaign against the Islamic State and the rebel-aligned factions in the country. According to Ynet, thousands of Russian military personnel are expected to arrive in Syria in the coming weeks, including military advisers and instructors as well as logistics and technical personnel. Additionally, members of the aerial protection division are expected, alongside pilots who will fly an unknown number of fighter aircraft and attack helicopters.

It is Stratfor's assessment that Russia is steadily increasing its support for Damascus. This assistance ranges from the provision of extra materiel, weaponry and equipment to the greater sharing of intelligence on rebel positions and dispositions. Russian pilots and aircraft mechanics also have a long history of serving in foreign air forces in conflict zones, either at the behest of the government or as private contractors. Evidence that Russia is taking a more combative role is already emerging. Stratfor identified Russian-language speakers in recent combat footage obtained from Syria, further corroborating the likelihood that either Russian military personnel or Russian-speaking private military contractors are now actively involved in the conflict.

Nevertheless, Stratfor has yet to see concrete evidence of expanded Russian participation in the Syrian conflict on the scale suggested by Ynet. In fact, cases of false reporting are common, especially where direct Russian support is concerned. Previous reports of MiG-31 interceptor transfers to Syria were never proved, leading to subsequent Russian denials.

When it comes to providing decisive support to Syria, Russia is torn. Moscow is trying to position itself as a credible power that can negotiate a political solution to the Syrian conflict, yet the Kremlin is also keen to bolster the forces of Syrian President Bashar al Assad. If it hopes to reach a favorable settlement, Russia must ensure that loyalist forces do not suffer devastating losses: A weak Damascus would make it harder for Russia to reach an understanding with the rebels and their backers that would safeguard its overall interests in Syria and the region. Thus, it makes sense for Moscow to bolster Syria's defenses, but a full military commitment is unlikely. Such an intervention in the conflict would undermine Russia's position as a strong mediator, calling into question Moscow's overall objectivity. Regardless, given the inherent volatility of the Syrian conflict, Stratfor will closely watch for any further signs of increased Russian involvement in the conflict.

Elsewhere in Syria, Islamic State fighters battling Syrian rebels moved closer than ever to central Damascus. Street battles reportedly raged in the Asali neighborhood of the capital's southern Qadam district over the weekend, killing at least 15 fighters as Islamic State militants seized at least two streets. The district had been relatively quiet since rebels and government forces reached a localized truce a year ago. Stratfor sources indicate that Moscow may finally have been able to get Damascus and the mainstream rebel opposition to broadly agree on elements of a political transition of power in Syria.
Aug. 29
Russia long supplied Syrian President Bashar al Assad's forces with the vast majority of their weaponry. Though Iran has since replaced Russia as the primary weapons-provider to the Syrian government, the Russians have continued to ship substantial volumes of small arms, ammunition, spare parts and refurbished material to pro-Damascus forces over the course of the Syrian civil war. This aid, along with support from Iran and other allies, has been vital in maintaining the loyalist armies. And over the last week, there have been indications that the Russians are increasing their support for the al Assad government.
On Aug. 20, the Alligator-class landing ship Nikolay Filchenkov from the Russian Black Sea Fleet was spotted in the Bosporus. On the deck of the amphibious warship, and within the cargo hold as well, were numerous army vehicles and armored personnel carriers, almost certainly headed for the Syrian coast. The same week, videos emerged of BTR-82A armored personnel carriers in action alongside the Syrian Republican Guard and National Defense Forces in the Latakia Mountains. Bearing markings unusual for Syrian equipment, the vehicles are likely recent deliveries from Russia. Recent photos show more Russian equipment recently arrived in Syria, including GAZ Tigr all-terrain mobility vehicles and UR-77 mine-clearing vehicles. Furthermore, on top of a recent rise in Russian military cargo flights into the two Syrian coastal provinces of Tartus and Latakia, reports from sources close to the Syrian government indicate Russia is enhancing its intelligence-sharing program with the Syrians, including the provision of satellite pictures of the battlefield.
The increase in Russian aid is a clear reminder that the Russians are not abandoning the Syrian government. Rather, even as Moscow attempts to mediate a negotiated solution to the Syrian crisis that will safeguard its interests in the region, it will continue to exert considerable effort to make sure the Syrian government can hold its own on the battlefield. It is unlikely that this aid alone will reverse the outcome of the conflict to favor al Assad's forces, because, although generous, it neither fulfills all the Syrian loyalists' weapons requirements nor solves their manpower problems. Still, additional equipment from Russia will bolster the forces as they seek to prevent further rebel gains into their core territories.
However, the origins of the funds being used for these weapons are a mystery. Russia may be providing the increased support without direct financial compensation or the Iranians may have financed the latest Russian shipments. Iran is widely suspected to be behind past aid to Syrian loyalists. It is clear, though, that the money is not coming from Syria itself. Al Assad's government is in dire economic straits and is likely unable to purchase more weapons on its own.
Aug. 19

Stratfor receives insight from many sources around the world, along with reports not available for public consumption. It is important to caveat that many reports are unconfirmed or speculative in nature, though they provide valuable context. Interpreting information and compiling multiple data points to build a picture is part of intelligence analysis. Any and all reporting is carefully filtered before being disseminated by Stratfor, yet some insight is worth sharing on its own merits, such as this account from Syria, below.

Russia is heavily invested in the Syrian conflict and has a significant stake in shaping any enduring peace. Stratfor sources indicate that Moscow may have finally been able to get Damascus and the mainstream rebel opposition to broadly agree on elements of a political transition of power in Syria. Russia has long insisted that present Syrian President Bashar al Assad must remain in power during any transition. This is a sticking point for many of the rebel groups, but Moscow appears to have been able to negotiate a middle ground. As Stratfor previously noted Aug. 7:

    A flurry of meetings is taking place as stakeholders in the Syrian conflict attempt to work out a power-sharing agreement to replace the government of Syrian President Bashar al Assad. Russia has been driving the negotiation, while Oman acts as a neutral mediator relaying messages to and from Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Russia and the United States. Though the diplomatic activity is picking up, it is still an outside effort divorced from the reality of the battlefield, where Syrian rebels are fighting the al Assad government on their own terms.

According to reports received by Stratfor, al Assad will remain in power during a transition, then cede his political responsibilities to Farouk al-Shara, who will assume the role of Syria's prime minister during the changeover period. In exchange for remaining as a politically neutered figurehead, al Assad will have to let go Syrian National Security Bureau chief Gen. Ali Mamlouk. The opposition will then choose a replacement for Mamlouk — a person that is acceptable to al Assad. The role of army chief of staff would be awarded to an unspecified Alawite and, in addition, the minister of defense portfolio would go to a former brigade commander from the Syrian Republican Guard, Manaf Tlass, who defected to the West in 2012. Stratfor had earlier received word from sources that Tlass, a Sunni, whose family has a long-standing alliance with the al Assad clan, was preparing to re-enter the political scene after spending much of the civil war in Paris.

    After a highly publicized defection in 2012, Tlass has been in Paris, keeping a low profile and waiting for the right time to insert himself into negotiations. The Tlass family has a long history with the al Assad family: Manaf's father, Mustafa Tlass, helped rally strong military and Sunni support for al Assad when he took power in 2000. In 2012, we noted that the two families were likely to strike a deal to enable the Tlass family to leave Syria, and we forecast that Manaf Tlass would eventually return to play a role in a power-sharing arrangement. Given that Tlass is a Sunni with a military background who has also maintained close links with the al Assad administration, it is little wonder that he is now allegedly being proffered as a suitable candidate for defense minister in a new Syrian government.

Though Stratfor is unable to confirm the specificity of this insight, there is nothing that is particularly implausible. Farouk al-Shara is one of the more acceptable candidates for the opposition: He is Sunni Muslim, a known nationalist, and publically sought a negotiated solution to the crisis rather than a military one. He also has strong family ties to the rebel-dominated Daraa province. On the other hand, he is staunchly loyal to the al Assad government and is deeply embedded in the Baath Party. Tlass meets the criteria of being a Sunni, but it will be difficult for him to win the trust of the broader Sunni rebellion, which perceives him as being too close to the al Assads. He will also be regarded as out of touch with reality on the ground after spending years in Europe instead of joining the fight.

As Stratfor previously noted, any agreement between Moscow and the Syrian National Coalition is largely irrelevant if it does not have tacit support from fractious rebel groups. The Syrian National Coalition does not speak for the majority of rebel factions, many of which are achieving limited tactical success against Damascus and the Islamic State. This may influence the rebel's willingness to accommodate a political transition, or not. Stratfor closely monitors the behavior of all components of the Syrian conflict and is alert for any change in the political dynamic that could lead to a negotiated solution to the crisis.

Muhammad Haji Mahmud, secretary general of the Kurdistan Socialist Democratic Party, said that U.S., U.N., and British representatives have asked Kurdish parties to allow Kurdistan Regional Government President Massoud Barzani to remain in office past the expiration of his term on Aug. 20 and to postpone political reform for two years. According to Mahmud, foreign officials are worried that the Kurds will not be able to undergo political transformation while also effectively fighting the Islamic State and dealing with other regional issues.
Aug. 17

A previously arranged cease-fire between Syrian rebels and loyalist forces, including Hezbollah elements, collapsed over the weekend. Originally scheduled to end Aug. 16, the cease-fire was in part mediated by Iran and Turkey four days earlier. Centering on the towns of Zabadani, Fuaa and Kafriyeh, the temporary cessation of hostilities showed promise when it was extended beyond the agreed-upon 48-hour duration. Ongoing negotiations seek an end to the conflict in Syria, and localized cease-fires provide important foundations on which to build. However, the collapse of the cease-fire amid entrenched disagreements and mistrust only serves to emphasize the deep divides that exist in Syria. Such divisions will make any comprehensive negotiated solution to the crisis extremely difficult to achieve.

Farther north, the Islamic State showed its determination to hold onto territory in Aleppo province, despite the overarching threat from U.S. and Turkish airstrikes. By continuing its attacks against rebel groups in the area, the Islamic States hopes to undermine a key component of the Turkish-American plan: to train and support certain rebel factions that can then be employed as proxy forces on the ground in Syria. The Islamic State made gains around the key town of Mare, undoubtedly assisted by the withdrawal of Jabhat al-Nusra forces from front-line positions against the Islamic State in Aleppo province.

Damascus recently launched its own offensive in Aleppo province, directed toward Kweiris Air Base, currently besieged by the Islamic State. The latest indications from the ground are that the offensive has already been halted, with little headway made against the extremist group. The loyalist forces simply could not muster enough combat power for a successful push against Kweiris, highlighting the precarious position the air base defenders find themselves in after years of being under siege.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced the cancelation of four ministries and the merging of four others on Aug. 17. Overall, according to a statement from al-Abadi, the Council of Ministers will be reduced from 33 members to 22, plus the prime minister. The cuts include three deputy prime minister posts, as well as the ministries of state for women’s affairs and provincial affairs. Kurdistan Regional Government President Massoud Barzani warned al-Abadi not to dismiss Finance Minister Hoshyar Zebari, a Kurd, Iraqi Arabic Sky Press reported. Entrenched sectarian interests in Iraq may prevent al-Abadi's reforms from being implemented or even plunge Iraq into deeper sectarian conflict.

Also in Baghdad, the Iraqi parliament referred to the judiciary a report calling for former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and numerous other Iraqi officials to face trial for their roles in the fall of Mosul to the Islamic State. The report alleges that al-Maliki had an inaccurate picture of the threat to the northern city and that he chose and failed to hold to account corrupt commanders. Also implicated in the report were the governor of Mosul, a former defense minister, a former army chief and a lieutenant general in charge of Nineveh province, among others.

Al-Maliki arrived in Tehran on Aug. 16 for talks on bilateral ties and the regional fight against terrorism. It is unlikely that he will simply go along with al-Abadi's reform agenda without attempting to secure his own power. He also has outside support, namely from Iran: Tehran threatened to withdraw its support for Iraq’s fight against the Islamic State and turn its militias against the government in Baghdad if al-Maliki is put on trial for his role in the fall of Mosul. The office of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei reportedly has been in contact with al-Abadi, as well as other senior Iraqi leaders, in an effort to preserve al-Maliki’s immunity.
Aug. 16

Jabhat al-Nusra, al Qaeda's affiliate in Syria, released seven members of the U.S.-backed rebel group Division 30 that were abducted last month. The group also said it hopes Jabhat al-Nusra will release its commander. Following the abduction, Jabhat al-Nusra attacked the Division 30 command in northern Syria, leading to the near-collapse of the group. Jabhat al-Nusra, which withdrew from its positions in northern Aleppo ahead of a U.S.-Turkish operation, said it abducted the rebels because the United States trained them.

Elsewhere, string of Syrian government airstrikes on a marketplace in Douma, a rebel-held town near Damascus, killed at least 58 people. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that at least 200 people were injured in attack. The airstrikes follow fresh loyalist offensives against the Islamic State in Aleppo province.

An Iraqi parliamentary panel found at least 30 security and political officials, including former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, responsible for the fall of the city of Mosul to the Islamic State. In the panel's report, the committee also placed responsibility for the June 2014 defeat with former Mosul Gov. Atheel al-Nujaifi, former Defense Minister Sadoun al-Dulaimi and Nineveh police commander Khalid al-Hamdani.
Aug. 15

A representative of rebel group Ahrar al-Sham said that a cease-fire had ended with the government and Hezbollah in the towns of Zabadani, Fuaa and Kafriyeh. Neither Hezbollah nor the government of President Bashar al Assad have yet commented. The rebel group said that fighting resumed after negotiations brokered by Iran and Turkey broke down over rebel demands for prisoner releases. Ahrar al-Sham had been leading the rebel side of the talks, playing a key role in bringing about the cease-fire that began Aug. 12. Ahrar al-Sham is in the midst of an offensive east against the Islamic State in the buffer zone established by the United States and Turkey.

A spate of bombings across Baghdad left 24 people dead. The blasts went off in Taji to the north, Jisr Diyala, Madaen, Iskan and other areas. The deadliest of these was carried out in the Shiite district of Habibiya and killed 15, wounding 35 others. Earlier, an Islamic State truck bombing in Sadr City killed 70 people Aug. 13.
Aug. 14

Forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al Assad have launched an offensive in rural Aleppo province aimed at reaching the government-held Kweiris air base, which is currently under siege by the Islamic State. With the disastrous August 2014 loss of Tabqa air base fresh in their minds, the Syrian government is keenly aware that an Islamic State massacre of the Kweiris defenders could trigger another wave of popular discontent among the loyalist population. Indeed, over the last few days, there have been a few demonstrations in the government stronghold of Tartus calling on Damascus to break the siege and to get its soldiers out of Kweiris air base.

The air base is around 20 kilometers (12 miles) from the nearest loyalist lines. The government push to break the siege is a risky endeavor because it is being launched with hastily gathered forces at a time when the loyalists are under significant pressure across the country. The forces will have to contend with potential Islamic State attacks on both flanks and the possibility that the relief force might itself become cut off from assistance. For the defenders of the Kweiris air base, however, the relief force may be their last chance: They have been under siege now for years and are suffering from steady attrition.

To the north of Kweiris air base, also in Aleppo province, Ahrar al-Sham is leading an offensive into Islamic State territory inside the buffer zone that United States and Turkey are trying to establish with airstrikes and allied rebel forces on the ground. The Ahrar al-Sham offensive has made considerable initial progress, seizing two border villages and a natural gas plant, although a successful Islamic State counterattack has complicated their advance. It is still too early to make a call on the outcome. One explanation for Ahrar al-Sham's push is that the group is trying position itself as a vital rebel force to occupy the buffer zone in a coalition operation against the Islamic State. However, Ahrar al-Sham is carrying out its most recent offensive alongside other rebel factions that maintain very close ties with Turkey, including the Nour al-Din al-Zenki battalions, meaning the group is more likely to be coordinating its efforts with Ankara.

Ahrar al-Sham is one of the most powerful rebel factions in Syria and has deftly maneuvered to increase its influence and position within the country. The group has especially benefitted from the increased flow of aid reaching the rebels in Syria. Ahrar al-Sham, alongside other key rebel factions such as Jaish al-Islam, has also sought to promote an image of pragmatism and willingness to cooperate with regional and international efforts. Ahrar al-Sham's leadership has aggressively pursued this public relations effort, even publishing op-eds in Western media including in the Washington Post. This is in spite of opposition from fellow Islamist group and ally Jabhat al-Nusra. Because of Ahrar al-Sham's strong links with Jabhat al-Nusra and its goals for a future Syria, the United States is still hesitant to engage with the group.

Islamist groups such as Ahrar al-Sham and Jaish al-Islam, however, simply must be part of any search for a solution to the Syrian conflict. The successful establishment of a cease-fire in the towns of Zabadani, Fuaa, and Kafriyeh illustrated the value of working with Islamist organizations, given Iran and Turkey mediated the agreement with the involvement of Ahrar al-Sham and Hezbollah. Involving such groups is especially important in northern Syria, where powerful Islamist factions overshadow groups that the United States favors. The United States will have to contend with this reality as it works with Turkey to push the Islamic State out of Aleppo province.
Aug. 10

Jabhat al-Nusra, the al Qaeda affiliate in Syria, will leave many of its major positions along the front line with the Islamic State. Over the weekend, the militant group declared that it would neither oppose nor aid the upcoming Turkish- and coalition-led effort against the Islamic State in Aleppo province. Jabhat al-Nusra understands that it risks heavy damage if it fights against the Turkish-U.S. operation and would rather see its Islamic State enemies be the full target of any upcoming operation.

A retreat by Jabhat al-Nusra from its positions in northern Aleppo, even if it loses territory directly under its control, is advantageous for the group in a number of ways. According to Stratfor sources, the United States has agreed to halt its attacks on Jabhat al-Nusra in exchange for the pullback, a major gain since persistent U.S. attacks over the past months have damaged the group's operational leadership. Furthermore, Jabhat al-Nusra can consolidate its forces on other fronts as Turkey, the United States and other rebel forces effectively secure its flanks from attacks by the Islamic State.

It is important to note that Jabhat al-Nusra has already made its mark with successful attacks on the first batch of the New Syrian Force. Having delayed and damaged the program, Jabhat al-Nusra has created more space and time to retreat from the Aleppo border with Turkey. Nevertheless, the Jabhat al-Nusra retreat does not herald an end to its conflict with the West or determine its future position in Syria. As part of al Qaeda and an enemy of the West, the United States will have to address Jabhat al-Nusra eventually, even if the Islamic State is now the priority.
Aug. 8
As Iran, Syria, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Russia and the United States discuss issues related to the ongoing conflict, including the shape Syria might take following the exit of President Bashar al Assad, there were a number of developments on the battlefield in Syria. These are important to monitor — credible rebel factions have yet to come to the table to discuss a power-sharing agreement. On Aug. 8, the Syrian government carried out airstrikes in the countryside near the capital of al-Hasaka province as well as across Idlib and in northern Latakia province, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported. Unconfirmed reports also indicate that U.S.-led coalition aircraft have carried out strikes near Raqqa that killed two Islamic State fighters.
Clashes between loyalist troops and rebel Islamist forces have been reported ongoing around Tabliseh, Homs province. Government troops also managed to rebuff an Islamic State attempt to take control of the area around Jazal oil field in Homs province. In Rif Dimashq province, government troops bolstered by Hezbollah also fought Islamist rebels in the area of Daraya and Zabdani. Fighting began once again in the Jobar neighborhood of Damascus. Aleppo province also saw engagements between government forces and Islamist rebels in the al-Rashdin, al-Sakhour and Jam'ia al-Zahraa neighborhoods. Islamic State clashed with other rebels near Om Hosh village as well.
Aug. 7

A flurry of meetings is taking place as stakeholders in the Syrian conflict attempt to work out a power-sharing agreement to replace the government of Syrian President Bashar al Assad. Russia has been driving the negotiation, while Oman acts as a neutral mediator relaying messages to and from Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Russia and the United States. Though the diplomatic activity is picking up, it is still an outside effort divorced from the reality of the battlefield, where Syrian rebels are fighting the al Assad government on their own terms.
Following a trip to Tehran, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem, who has been leading the negotiations on behalf of the al Assad government, traveled to Muscat, where he met with his counterpart, Yusuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah. Though Saudi Arabia has preferred to keep these negotiations more private, the Syrian government is eager to telegraph its involvement in such meetings to boost its legitimacy after years of diplomatic isolation.
The discussion between al-Moallem and bin Alawi allegedly centered on an exit strategy for al Assad. The Syrian government knows that proposing elections in which al Assad runs is a non-starter for negotiations with the Sunni powers, but al Assad is still angling for a graceful exit. Negotiating amnesty for al Assad will be a challenge, however. It is still unclear just how flexible the United States will be on the subject, especially with charges against al Assad pending over his government's use of chemical weapons and other war crimes. Syria has signed but not ratified the International Criminal Court's Rome statute, the founding document for the International Criminal Court, which means the country falls outside its jurisdiction. Unless a future Syrian government ratified the Rome statute or somehow accepted the court's authority, the only way the ICC could bring suit against Syria would be if the United Nations Security Council referred the case to it. However, this is unlikely as long as Russia retains its veto power, which will come in handy during amnesty negotiations. The possibility of a subsequent government charging al Assad in the ICC will also complicate where he can take refuge as part of any deal.
Moreover, Stratfor has received word that Russia invited defected Syrian Brig. Gen. Manaf Tlass, a Sunni, to Moscow later this month. After a highly publicized defection in 2012, Tlass has been in Paris, keeping a low profile and waiting for the right time to insert himself into negotiations. The Tlass family has a long history with the al Assad family: Manaf's father, Mustafa Tlass, helped rally strong military and Sunni support for al Assad when he took power in 2000. In 2012, we noted that the two families were likely to strike a deal to enable the Tlass family to leave Syria, and we forecast that Manaf Tlass would eventually return to play a role in a power-sharing arrangement. Given that Tlass is a Sunni with a military background who has also maintained close links with the al Assad administration, it is little wonder that he is now allegedly being proffered as a suitable candidate for defense minister in a new Syrian government.
Meanwhile, the dialogue over the political transition continues. Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif will head to Turkey on Aug. 11 and then to Moscow later in the month. Russia will also host another round of talks with the highly fragmented Syrian National Council opposition coalition. Multiple factors have been speeding up negotiations: loyalist forces in Syria are suffering setbacks, the United States is trying to avoid a power vacuum in Damascus, and Russia is trying to strike a diplomatic win over Syria. Our assessment remains, however, that these negotiations are largely disconnected from the reality on the battlefield. Sunni rebel forces have the momentum in the fight and are unlikely to agree to a deal at this stage, much less cede power to controversial Sunni figures such as Tlass who have lived comfortably in Paris while others continued the fight in Syria. For this negotiation to yield an effective outcome, it will be vital that Syrian rebel factions get involved.
Aug. 6

Two ongoing offensives in Syria, staged by Jaish al-Fatah and the Islamic State, are problematic for Damascus as it scrambles to contain multiple threats. Loyalist forces are spread thin across many fronts but still doggedly attempting to defend their positions and mount counterattacks.

Having largely secured Idlib province, Jaish al-Fatah is now channeling its efforts into pushing down through the strategic Sahl al-Ghab plain corridor in northwest Hama province. Securing the plain would improve rebel access to Latakia province while positioning them for a combined assault on the rest of Hama province alongside other rebels positioned close to the town of Morek.

Against considerable loyalist forces massed on the Sahl al-Ghab plain, supported by large numbers of artillery and armored units, fighting has devolved into fluid battles comprising numerous attacks and counterattacks. The overall advantage lies with the rebels, who are adept at using the heights around the plain to their advantage, relying heavily on anti-tank guided missiles to neutralize the government's superiority in armor. Over the last 48 hours, the rebels succeeded in taking the village of Bahsa, approximately 5 kilometers (3 miles) from Joureen. If they can maintain their progress and take Joureen itself, the rebels would be able to largely isolate the remaining loyalist forces, essentially securing control over the plain.

Meanwhile, the Islamic State capitalized on its inherent mobility and staged a successful surprise offensive, seizing the crossroads town of al-Qaryatayn, not far from Homs. The Islamic State is attempting to hold off a loyalist offensive to take back the ancient city of Palmyra. The militant group's offensive on al-Qaryatayn fundamentally undermines the loyalist advance toward Palmyra by hitting the outer lines of Damascus' forces on the flank and threatening essential supply lines feeding the loyalist advance. With al-Qaryatayn taken, currently the loyalists only have access to one road to reinforce their vital T4 Airbase and support the push on Palmyra.

The recent gains against loyalist positions by the rebels and the Islamic State are, however, far from assured. The inevitable backlash from Damascus may restore its lost positions. But the dual offensives from the north and the east threaten key defended areas, highlighting the increasingly precarious situation of the Syrian government, which is trying to protect its core territories in Hama and Homs provinces.

In Aleppo province to the north, reports indicate that Jabhat al-Nusra is pulling back from some of its positions and handing them over to its allies. Stratfor sources suggest this may be a potential accord mediated by Turkey, whereby Jabhat al-Nusra would vacate northern Aleppo province in return for the cessation of airstrikes on its forces by the United States. Stratfor is watching carefully for any change in U.S. air activity to confirm this possibility.
Diplomatic Maneuvers

On the political front, diplomatic efforts to secure a solution to the Syrian crisis proceed. Multiple meetings, visits and proposals are underway, involving all the main countries with a stake in the crisis. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met for the third time this week. And the officials are making some headway. For example, the Russians have agreed to support a draft United Nations resolution to identify the perpetrators of chemical weapons attacks in Syria. With this agreement, Moscow could be setting itself up as a credible mediator by offering a way to secure more concessions from Damascus pending the outcome of the U.N. investigation, which will very likely identify loyalist forces as being the main offenders in the use of chemical weapons.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem continues to engage in shuttle diplomacy with a trip to Oman, which marks his first visit to a Gulf country since the beginning of the Syrian conflict. Because of its more neutral stance, Oman is best positioned among the Gulf nations as a forum for al-Moallem to convey Damascus' position to the Gulf Cooperation Council countries. Iran has also announced it is about to present a peace plan for Syria to the United Nations, without going into further detail. But despite the considerable effort underway to mediate a solution to the Syrian conflict, it will be very difficult to reach a successful outcome given the widely disparate positions of the key actors.
Aug. 5
Turkey, Syria, United States

The United States launched its first airstrike in Syria from the Incirlik Air Base in southern Turkey. On July 23, leaks emerged that Turkey had agreed to allow the United States to use the air base to intervene in neighboring Syria. The U.S. mission in Syria against the Islamic State is complicated by the plethora of armed actors, each with their own intricate web of alliances and interests. U.S. aircraft and drones have been steadily arriving in Turkish air bases for a comprehensive battle against Islamic State militants, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said. The plans involve cutting off the Islamic State’s access to the Turkish border to cut off cross-border flows of weapons and militants, unnamed diplomats familiar with the negotiations said. Satellite images showing armored vehicles in defensive positions reveal Ankara's concern about retaliation following its recent intervention in Syria. Qatar has also given its full support for the ongoing Turkish campaign of airstrikes in northern Iraq, breaking ranks with the rest of the Arab League, according to a Qatari Foreign Ministry statement.

    Analysis: Satellite images taken at the Turkey-Syria border corroborate what Stratfor predicted weeks ago: that Turkey, now partnered with the United States, will strike at Islamic State-controlled territory adjacent to the Turkish border. The Turks reportedly began to reinforce their southern border with troops and equipment as early as July 3. But according to these images, which were taken July 26, we now know that that equipment includes Turkish-made main battle tanks and support units poised in a defensive position on the Turkish side of the border.

    The areas shown in the images are located near the Turkish town of Elbeyli, on the border with Syria. On July 23, just three days before the images were captured, Islamic State militants fired across the border from the Syrian village of al-Raaee and traded fire with Turkish forces, resulting in the death of a Turkish soldier and a Syrian militant. The next day, Turkish fighter aircraft bombed Islamic State positions in Syria. Soon after, Washington and Ankara came to an official agreement allowing the United States to use Incirlik Air Base to strike against Islamic State positions. Read the full analysis here: Bringing Turkey's Border Strategy Into Focus.

Aug. 4

The al Qaeda-linked Jabhat al-Nusra militant group captured five more U.S.-trained rebels in Syria. The fighters were captured during overnight raids in the village of Qah, near the Turkish border. On July 30, at least eight rebels from the same unit, known as the New Syrian Force, were also abducted by the jihadist group. Meanwhile, the United States confirmed Aug. 4 that it is providing air cover for the New Syrian Force, with the first airstrike carried out on July 31.

    Analysis: The U.S. struggle to set up a viable Syrian rebel force on the ground were put in stark relief by recent clashes between the Western-backed New Syrian Force and the al Qaeda-linked Jabhat al-Nusra. Over the past weekend, the New Syrian Force was forced to withdraw from its headquarters in rebel-held northern Aleppo province to Afrin canton, controlled by the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or YPG.

    The plethora of armed actors in Syria, each with their own intricate web of alliances and interests, makes a unified effort against the Islamic State very difficult. This divergence is equally as strong, if not as hostile, at the Syrian combatant and the state levels, as reflected by the differences of opinion between the United States and Turkey regarding which factions to back. Though the Islamic State's presence in northern Aleppo is increasingly vulnerable, and though it almost certainly will be driven from the area, infighting among its various opponents will delay this eventuality. Read the full analysis here: In Syria, Jabhat al-Nusra Complicates U.S. Strategy.

Iraq, United Kingdom

The United Kingdom is extending its participation in U.S.-led airstrikes in Iraq against the Islamic State by another year to March 2017, British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon said. The extension is the second for the squadron of Tornado GR4 fighter bombers based in Cyprus. The United Kingdom is not taking part in the air operations in Syria, but British Prime Minister David Cameron is planning to ask lawmakers next month to vote on whether to join.
Aug. 3

Russian President Vladimir Putin may give up on Syrian President Bashar al Assad and withdraw the Kremlin’s wholehearted support for him in the future, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Aug. 3. Putin’s attitude toward Syria has become more encouraging, Erdogan said, and he no longer believes that Russia will support al Assad to the end. Erdogan was citing his impressions from his meeting with Putin in Baku on June 13. Russia has been facilitating a dialogue between the Syrian regime and Saudi Arabia.

The United States will allow airstrikes to back the rebel groups it is supporting against any attackers, including those loyal to Syrian President Bashar al Assad. Washington says the mission's goal is still to combat the Islamic State but that the U.S. airstrikes would be used against anyone inhibiting the U.S.-backed rebels from achieving their purpose. Russia criticized the decision, saying it would hinder Damascus from effectively fighting the Islamic State. The United States is hoping to advance the Syrian civil war to a position whereby a negotiated settlement could remove President Bashar al Assad from power.
July 31

Fighter jets, thought to be part of the U.S.-led alliance, targeted the al Qaeda-linked group Jabhat al-Nusra near the town of Azaz, north of Aleppo. Meanwhile, the United States denied reports July 30 that rebels it had trained were kidnapped by the jihadist group, Naharnet reported. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights had said earlier that Jabhat al-Nusra kidnapped at least eight members of a U.S.-trained rebel unit. According to the Pentagon, none of 54 graduates of the U.S. training program, known as the New Syrian Force, have been kidnapped.

    Analysis: The past three years have been heady times for Syria's Kurds. Since forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al Assad withdrew from the northeast in July 2012, the Kurds have enjoyed more autonomy than at any other time in recent history. Presiding over this autonomous region is the Democratic Union Party (PYD), a Kurdish political party founded in the wake of 2004 riots in the majority Kurdish city of Qamishli. The PYD's primary objective is to attain Kurdish autonomy within the context of a democratic Syria and its armed wing, the People's Protection Units (YPG), has proved capable on the battlefield. YPG fighters have managed not only to fend off Arab attacks on Kurdish territory but have also scored victories against Islamic State targets with U.S. support, even entering alliances with some of the Free Syrian Army militias fighting the Islamic State.

    But Turkey's recent decision to also target the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in northern Iraq and southeastern Turkey as part of its direct intervention against the Islamic State does not bode well for the Kurds preserving their gains in Syria. There are few if any parties interested in propping up Kurdish autonomy. It will be difficult for the Kurds to maintain the autonomy they have seized, and Turkey's forays into the Syrian conflict directly challenge the relative autonomy the PYD has been able to establish in northeastern Syria. Read the full analysis here: The Fragile Gains of Syria's Kurds.

July 30
United States, Turkey, Syria

A U.S.-backed rebel group known as Division 30 released a statement claiming that its leader, Col. Nadim al-Hassan, was kidnapped by al Qaeda-affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra. Al-Hassan was on a mission to establish connections with other rebel groups near Aleppo when he was captured, along with a number of his colleagues. Most of the 54 graduates from the U.S.-sponsored train and equip program in Turkey came from Division 30.

This is a major setback during the first week of formalized cooperation between Turkey and the United States. After years of political impasse, the countries have finally agreed to work together to fight the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. The United States and Turkey hope that cooperation will advance the Syrian civil war to a position whereby a negotiated settlement could remove President Bashar al Assad from power.

Though Ankara and Washington are actively working together, there is no agreement on which Syrian rebel groups with whom to partner. Turkey is more pragmatic than the United States about who to include and would like to accommodate groups such as Jabhat al-Nusra, which is already an effective fighting force. But Washington is extremely wary of associating with an organization directly linked to al Qaeda.

Jabhat al-Nusra most likely staged the kidnapping to make a point; which is to highlight their relevancy and ensure the group is not left out of U.S.-Turkish discussions over which group to support. Meaningful resources are scarce in Syria, so backing from major countries like the United States or Turkey is extremely desirable. Whether al-Hassan and his cohort are released will indicate how cooperative Jabhat al-Nusra is likely to be in the future.

Overall U.S.-Turkish cooperation is predicated on the idea that Ankara will be able to get Syrian rebel groups to cooperate with each other. This is key to achieving any kind of success on the ground. Washington and Ankara provide aid and air support to select rebel groups, but neither Turkey nor the United States is willing to commit ground forces in significant numbers. If Ankara is unable or unwilling to facilitate a solution to the rebel-partnering issue, or selects unpalatable allies, Washington could well back away from Turkey, withdrawing U.S. forces from Incirlik air base and reinvigorating its relationship with the Kurds.
July 29
Iraq, Turkey

Saboteurs attacked a pipeline transporting crude oil between the Iraqi city of Kirkuk and the Turkish Mediterranean port of Ceyhan, halting the flow of oil, Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yildiz said. The attack, which took place near the Iraqi border in Turkey’s Sirnak province, comes a day after militants attacked a natural gas pipeline in Agri province, near the Iranian border. The Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq relies on part of the Kirkuk-Ceyhan pipeline for its own exports. The pipeline has been carrying around 300,000 barrels of oil per day, down from its maximum operational capacity of 400,000 barrels daily, because of other recent attacks, according to Iraqi government figures.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said that his council of ministers views the ongoing Turkish campaign of airstrikes in northern Iraq as a dangerous escalation that violates Iraqi sovereignty. The prime minister said via Twitter that the council is committed not to allow any attack on Turkey from Iraqi territory and called on Ankara to respect good relations between the two countries. An Iraqi Kurdish official also condemned Turkey’s recent attacks against militant Kurdish targets in Iraq, Syria and inside Turkey itself, calling for Kurdish locals in Dohuk province to protest against Turkish military bases in the region. The official, Patriotic Union of Kurdistan Central Council chief Adil Murad, said Turkey’s long-established military presence in Dohuk amounts to a foreign occupation.

Israeli aircraft struck a car in a rural part of Quneitra in the Syrian Golan Heights, killing three people. A report by the Hezbollah-linked Al-Manar said the strike was carried out by an Israeli drone, and that the two deceased were members of a militia that supports Syrian President Bashar al Assad. The Israeli military would not comment on the report. Israel will continue to prove integral to U.S. aims in Syria by also preventing Turkey from being able to claim the region as its own personal sphere of influence.

Syria’s territorial integrity must be preserved, the Egyptian foreign ministry said in an apparent expression of disapproval of Turkey’s military operations in the country. Cairo supports efforts to combat terrorist groups in Syria, but such efforts must occur within the context of preserving the unity and integrity of Syrian territories, in accordance with international legal norms and decisions. The statement did not mention Turkey by name.
United States, Turkey

Ankara formally signed a deal with the United States over the use of Turkey’s Incirlik air base in the U.S.-led coalition’s campaign against the Islamic State, the Turkish Foreign Ministry said. The agreement covers only the fight against the Islamic State and does not include air support for allied Kurdish fighters in northern Syria, a spokesman for the ministry said. Strategically, Turkey has no interest in an independent Kurdish state appearing on its border with Syria, which would set the stage for Kurds with similar aspirations in Turkey and beyond.
July 28

Syrian rebels launched an offensive on government-held northwestern Syria in a bid to eventually take over the coastal mountains that are the heart of Syrian President Bashar al Assad's power base. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the insurgents, including Jabhat al-Nusra, took over government-held positions in Jisr al-Shughour and pushed into the northern edge of the Sahl al-Ghab plain. Meanwhile, Syrian Kurds and the Syrian army pushed the Islamic State from al-Hasaka.
Iraq, Turkey

Turkish fighter jets continued to attack militant targets both inside Turkey and across the border in northern Iraq. After taking off from an air base in Turkey’s southeastern Diyarbakir province, two F-16s hit six targets in Iraq, an unnamed official said, Reuters reported. Airstrikes also hit anti-aircraft and mortar positions of the militant Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in Turkey’s southeastern Sirnak province, near the Iraqi border. The Turkish General Staff said the anti-PKK action was taken following an attack on Turkish gendarmerie forces in the region by suspected PKK militants.
Turkey, NATO

NATO stands in strong solidarity with Turkey against the acts of terror and instability the country is facing along its southern border with Syria and Iraq, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said at the opening of an emergency meeting requested by Ankara of all 28 member states, AFP reported. Stoltenberg did not comment specifically on Turkey's recently launched campaign of airstrikes targeting Islamic State and Kurdish militant targets in Iraq and Syria. On July 26, the secretary-general said self-defense has to "proportional." On both the domestic and the strategic levels, Turkey's interests have finally brought Ankara into the fight.

    Geopolitical Diary: Turkey's decision to take a more active role in the Syrian conflict will be welcomed by many, including the United States. But, for fighters from the Kurdish People's Protection Units (or YPG) in the small northern Syrian town of Zur Maghar, the intervention is decidedly less welcome. Citing Kurdish sources, Hurriyet newspaper reported July 27 that Turkish tanks fired on U.S.-backed YPG elements in Zur Maghar. The Turkish Foreign Ministry was quick to deny the report, insisting that the target set for Turkish forces was limited to Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) militants in northern Iraq and Islamic State positions in Syria.

    This raises speculation that the attack was either an accident resulting from misidentification or that Turkish forces exploited an opportunity to target YPG militants with plausible deniability. A co-chairman of YPG's political parent group — the Kurdish Democratic Union Party — told Al Hayat newspaper that the Kurdish militia might be willing to join Syrian government forces, presumably in response to the developing tension between Turkey and the Syrian Kurds. Read the full Geopolitical Diary here: An Invigorated Turkey Lashes Out.

July 27
Turkey, Iraq, Syria, United States

The Turkish military attacked Kurdish insurgent camps for the second consecutive night. The strikes occurred shortly after the Turkish government blamed the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) for a July 25 attack that killed two Turkish soldiers wounded another four, when a car bomb and roadside explosives hit a passing military vehicle near the Diyarbakir air base. Gunmen also opened fire on a nearby police station; no casualties were reported. The July 27 airstrikes targeted PKK positions near the northern Iraqi border town of Harkuk. Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said that the operations have changed the regional game, and he called for a meeting of NATO states on July 28 to discuss the campaign in Syria and Iraq.

Turkey and the United States agreed to the shared goal of establishing an "Islamic State-free zone" along Turkey’s border with Syria. The agreement involves a roughly 110-kilometer-long (68-mile) area west of the Euphrates River and into Syria’s Aleppo province. This zone would eventually come under control of the Syrian opposition. Several issues, such as the composition of moderate Syrian opposition ground forces that would be used to hold the protected area, are still under discussion, sources said. Washington is reportedly adamant that any joint efforts will not include a formal military-enforced no-fly zone, though Ankara still envisions air cover and protection for the opposition fighters. Ankara's decision to cooperate with the United States and actively battle the Islamic State will have repercussions throughout the Syrian-Iraqi battlespace and within Turkey itself.

Esewhere, Syrian Kurdish forces known as the YPG, or People’s Protection Units, say their positions were hit in cross-border shelling by the Turkish army. The attack occurred on the outskirts of the Islamic State-held town of Jarablus, where the YPG has been fighting the jihadist group. In response, the Turkish military said it has not been targeting Syrian Kurdish forces in northern Syria who say they were hit by cross-border shelling earlier on July 27. A military official said the ministry was investigating claims that Turkish elements engaged positions held by forces other than the Islamic State in Syria or the militant Kurdistan Workers’ Party in Iraq. Earlier, the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or YPG, which has been fighting the Islamic State, said Turkish tanks hit its positions and those of allied Arab rebels in the Aleppo province border town of Zur Maghar and another nearby village. Activists with the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also reported the Turkish fire. In a provocative statement, the co-chairman of the Kurdish group the Democratic Union Party, Salih Muslim, said that under the right conditions the YPG could join the Syrian army. According to Muslim, if the Syrian army abandoned the Baathist stance, the group would consider joining it.

Finally, The YPG also captured the town of Sarrin from the Islamic State. The success comes after a monthlong offensive intended to cut the jihadist group’s supply lines. Islamic State fighters had used the town as a launchpad for raids on the Kurdish-held town of Kobani further north. Airstrikes from the U.S.-led coalition supported the assault.
July 26

More Syrians need to join the army for the military to win the country's civil war against rebel forces, Syrian President Bashar al Assad said in an address July 26. Al Assad, speaking a day after he issued an amnesty for deserters, said that while more people have been joining the army, the number of soldiers was not enough to win a conflict fought on multiple fronts. He also said that his appeal does not mean the military is collapsing.
July 25
Turkey, Syria, Iraq
Turkish ground forces and fighter jets targeted Islamic State militant positions in northern Syria as well as Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) camps in Iraq on July 25. In a press conference that same day, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said that Turkey's more direct involvement would continue and as long as the threat to Turkey remains. Ankara's stepped up involvement in Iraq and Syria followed a July 20 Islamic State suicide bombing of a cultural center in Suruc near the Syrian border. Davutoglu added that the goal was to create a "safe zone" in northern Syria by clearing the area of Islamic State militants. Turkish police also began a push to detain people across the country suspected of being Islamist or Kurdish militant group members, arresting almost 600 by July 25. The PKK responded to the airstrikes and arrests with an official statement saying that the group's truce with Ankara had "no meaning anymore."
July 23
Turkey, United States

Ankara is expected to allow the U.S.-led coalition fighting the Islamic State to station aircraft at a NATO base in southern Turkey, according to a July 23 White House statement. U.S. President Barack Obama and his Turkish counterpart, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, reportedly finalized an agreement on use of the Incirlik Air Base in Adana during a telephone call July 22. The two sides initially agreed in principle on use of the base during talks July 7-8. Turkey also announced July 23 that it plans to fly airships and build a two-fenced border system with a moat along its border with Syria. On July 22, Turkey's deputy prime minister said that Turkish authorities had arrested at least 102 Islamic State suspects over the past six months. The United States is coaxing Turkey into playing a more active role in the conflict in Syria.

    Geopolitical Diary: Multiple leaks in U.S. and Turkish media on Thursday claimed that the United States and Turkey have reached a deal for U.S.-led coalition forces to use Turkey's Incirlik base for operations against the Islamic State following a phone call late Wednesday between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and U.S. President Barack Obama. Our team has been closely tracking a number of events over the past month, including a Turkish military buildup at the Syrian border, an intensification of anti-Islamic State security operations in Turkey, a recent visit to Ankara by a high-level U.S. delegation and the recent Islamic State suicide attack in Suruc near the Syrian border. Though it was clear to us that some kind of understanding was developing between Washington and Ankara that would inevitably deepen Turkey's military footprint, the scope and details of that understanding were foggy until now. Read the full Geopolitical Diary here: Hints and Leaks Converge on a Turkish Air Base.

Turkey, Syria

Shots fired from the Syrian side of the Turkish border killed one Turkish soldier and wounded at least one more July 23. According to Turkish outlet Dogan News Agency, the shots came from an area controlled by the Islamic State. So far, Ankara has been reluctant to send troops into Syria to confront Islamic State militants directly, instead cracking down on the Islamic State network within Turkey.
Iraq, United States

U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter made a surprise visit to Baghdad July 23 to assess the success of the campaign against the Islamic State. This is Carter's first trip to Iraq since becoming defense secretary in February. He will meet with U.S. commanders and Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi. Meanwhile, Iraqi forces are reporting that the first stages of the operation to liberate Anbar were successful.

Iraqi Federal Police forces attacked Islamic State sites in al-Madyaq and al-Sadiqah, east of Ramadi, killing 25 militants and destroying six vehicles. The same day, troops trained and equipped by a U.S.-led coalition also joined Iraqi operations for the first time to retake Anbar province, Al Arabiya News reported. The United States has over 3,000 troops in the country to train and advise the Iraqi military.
July 22

Muhsin al-Fadhli, allegedly the leader of a group of senior al Qaeda members known as the Khorasan Group, was killed in a U.S.-led coalition airstrike July 8, a Pentagon spokesman said July 22. Al-Fadhli was traveling in a vehicle near the northwestern Syrian town of Sarmada. The Kuwaiti-born jihadist was reportedly a member of Osama bin Laden’s inner circle and had advance knowledge of the 9/11 attacks. Airstrikes in Syria will weaken, but not destroy militant groups.

An alleged member of the Islamic State was shot and killed late July 22 in Istanbul by a member of a militant group allied with an outlawed Kurdish party. According to a statement released by the Patriotic Revolutionary Youth Movement, a wing of the banned Kurdistan Workers' Party (known commonly as the PKK), the man had come to Istanbul seven months ago to receive treatment for wounds sustained while fighting with the Islamic State in the Syrian town of Kobani. The group said it had been tracking his movements for three months and that he was planning attacks in the city. Such assassination operations would continue, the group said. Amid four intersecting crises, Ankara's strategy is to be consistently ambiguous.
July 20

At least 27 were killed and 100 more wounded July 20 by an explosion in the Turkish town of Suruc, near the Syrian border. The town is located around 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) from the Syrian town of Kobani, which has been a center of conflict. The blast reportedly targeted a cultural center that housed at least 300 members of a youth organization working to rebuild Kobani. The Islamic State is suspected to be responsible for the attack; Turkey has been considering playing a more active role against the group in Syria.

    Analysis: The bombing was carried out in the vicinity of an event at the cultural center, against a soft target and among large crowds. The event drew many volunteers from Istanbul who were on their way to perform relief work in the Syrian city of Kobani. The Islamic State's extensive reach throughout Turkey means it has the capacity to carry out similar attacks in the future. This is particularly true in the region near the Syrian border, where the Islamic State has built up a vast network of safe-houses and agents who facilitate the transfer of recruits and supplies into Syria.

    Turkey's decision to crack down on the Islamic State's network in the country left the group with two options: First, it could respond by retaliating against Turkey with terrorist attacks and cross-border raids launched from Syria. Second, the Islamic State could choose not to retaliate to avoid a broader Turkish offensive that could potentially include attacks against Islamic State targets within Syria. Of the two courses of action, the second was always rather unlikely given the Islamic State's previous behavior and its propensity to respond to any pressure with force. Read the full analysis here: The Islamic State Retaliates Against Turkey.


Kurdish forces are in near full control of al-Hasaka city, following an attack by the Islamic State in the area last month. Control of al-Hasaka had been split between government forces and Kurdish militias. If Kurdish militias backed by the United States gain full control of the city, it would be a major blow to Damascus. The Kurds have accused Damascus of being unable to protect the city from Islamic militants.
July 19

The Syrian army stepped up airstrikes and retook villages in a new offensive on Islamist rebels in the northeastern coastal Latakia province, army sources said July 19. The army also said it bombarded rebel supply lines and wrested back five villages and hilltops. Islamist rebels, including Jabhat al-Nusra, control many villages in the borderlands north of the government-held port city of Latakia. Governm
43  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / REality Check Gents on: September 01, 2015, 10:04:44 AM
Does it matter to Trump fans that their man was a pretty big cheerleader for the stimulus, bailouts, and limiting executive pay? Here he is back in February 2009:
Larry King: Is Obama right or wrong to go after these executives with salary caps?

Donald Trump: Well, I think he’s absolutely right. Billions of dollars is being given to banks and others. You know, once you start using taxpayer money, it’s a whole new game. So I absolutely think he’s right.

King: What about the whole concept of bailouts?

Trump: Well, it’s a little bit different. A lot of people are not in favor of bailouts. You know, we talked about all the different things going on in this country. Let’s face it, Larry, we are in a depression. If they didn’t do the bailout, you would be in depression No. 2 and maybe just as big as depression No. 1, so they really had to do something. The problem is they’re giving millions and billions of dollars to banks and the banks aren’t loaning it . . .

King: If you were in the Senate, would you vote for the stimulus plan?

Trump: Well, I’d vote for a stimulus plan. I’m not sure that all of the things in there are appropriate. Some of the little toys that they have are not really appropriate, and they’re a little surprising that they seem to want it, because the publicity on it has been terrible.

And then he said to Greta Van Susteren, after the president made the pitch for his plan, “This is a strong guy, knows what he wants, and this is what we need.”
He sounded pretty amenable to the final package when talking to Neil Cavuto . . .

CAVUTO: Are you for this Obama stimulus that was signed into law today?

TRUMP: Well, something had to be done. And whether it’s perfect or not, nothing is perfect. And it’s a whole trial-and-error thing, Neil.

Talking to Wolf Blitzer, Trump contended it was too small.

BLITZER: What about the president of the United States? How is he doing?

TRUMP: Well, he’s having a little bit of a tough time. I have great respect for him. And I love the way he ran the campaign. He’s having a few stumbles now and then. But I think he’s going to be really terrific. I certainly hope he’s going to be great. And I think he will be.

BLITZER: And you like this economic stimulus package? The banking package? The home foreclosure package? God knows, there’s so many economic issues out there.
TRUMP: Wolf, it’s a step. And it’s a big step. But relatively speaking, it’s not very much money when you look at the overall economy. But it is something he inherited, a total mess from Bush. And you know, we have to remember, he didn’t cause this problem. He’s trying to fix the problem. It’s not going to be easy. It’s very deep seeded, and it’s even beyond this country.

Do we not care about this stuff anymore? How does the guy who allegedly represents fury with business and economic elites get to endorse TARP? Why do the other guys’ deviations from conservative orthodoxy disqualify them, but Trump gets a pass?
44  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Generational Changes are bigger than any presidential candidate on: September 01, 2015, 10:01:44 AM
Generational Economic Changes Are Bigger than Any Presidential Candidate

These are the sort of thoughts that come to mind when a bunch of conservative bloggers get together and start arguing about Donald Trump . . .

Americans came to think of the economic conditions of the postwar boom -- low unemployment, easy entry into the workplace, job stability, considerable purchasing power and lots of consumer goods, high exports, good pensions, etc. as “normal.” What no one wanted to really acknowledge was how rare our advantage of that era was: We were an intact first-world economy on a planet where almost every other country was rebuilding from being blasted to hell during World War II.

Decade by decade, the rest of the world caught up and offered economic competition, primarily in the form of cheaper labor. The debate between trade and protectionism was largely one among elites. Non-wonk Americans lamented the decline of manufacturing jobs while buying Japanese (and then Chinese, Korean, and Taiwanese) electronics, German and Japanese cars, etc. Free trade is terrific for consumers but not so great when somebody overseas can do your job for less money. From where I sit, it’s on the whole advantageous but horrible if it’s your job being “outsourced” overseas.

The public’s interest would briefly stir for NAFTA or Most Favored Nation status for China, but by and large, Americans either applauded globalization, loved its benefits but lamented its costs without ever connecting the two, or just ignored it.

For a while, Americans were told that the graduate-high-school-and-go-to-the-widget-factory-assembly-line life model was disappearing, but was being replaced with a better one: graduate-from-college-and-go-to-the-white-collar-job. In fact, it was so much better, it was worth taking on tens of thousands or even $150,000 in debt, because you would make more money over the course of your lifetime.

And then, sometime around the Great Recession, that deal changed, too. Companies realized they didn’t need that many entry-level positions (or they could shift it to unpaid labor in the form of internships). Undoubtedly, some colleges let their standards slide, and too many young people focused on basket-weaving, gender studies, or humanities majors and found themselves with a degree that didn’t translate well to the needs of the job market. A dramatic expansion of unskilled labor in the form of illegal immigration put the squeeze on another corner of the workforce; automation did even more. For many, that path to the good life seems steeper, rockier, and less clear than their parents ever faced.

Some folks at the top of the economic pyramid were or are quite comfortable with the new arrangement, offering perspectives like, “If the transformation of the world economy lifts four people in China and India out of poverty and into the middle class, and meanwhile means one American drops out of the middle class, that’s not such a bad trade,” and, “We demand a higher paycheck than the rest of the world. So if you’re going to demand 10 times the paycheck, you need to deliver 10 times the value. It sounds harsh, but maybe people in the middle class need to decide to take a pay cut.” An American company may not self-identify as all that American anymore, and certainly doesn’t feel much obligation to put a national interest ahead of the bottom line.

These are giant, sweeping problems that are best measured on generational time-frames and go well beyond one law or one president or lawmaker. This change is tied to our nation’s long, slow, painful slide from a system of public schools where kids were likely to get at least a “good enough” education to prepare them for the workforce to one where public schools range from excellent to abysmal. It’s tied to the U.S. going from a nation of 14 million immigrants in 1980 (both legal and illegal, 6.2 percent of the population) to 40 million immigrants in 2010 (12.9 percent). It’s tied to changing from a world with one primary, stable, relatively predictable antagonist (the Soviet Union) to an asymmetric, multinational, amorphous, adaptive slate of demonic foes like ISIS and al Qaeda. And it’s tied up in going from a relative monoculture influenced by Judeo-Christian values and identities to a cultural Balkanization where the counterculture became the dominant culture, then shattered itself.

Ultimately, electing a better president is one step on the road -- an important one, but only one. A lot of this comes down to what Americans expect of themselves. Do we want to compete in the global economy, and if not, are we willing to live with the consequences of closing ourselves off from the rest of the world? Are we willing to study hard to be qualified for good jobs and work hard once we get them? Are our companies willing to see themselves as national institutions instead of global ones? Are employers willing to show greater loyalty to their employees, and are their employees willing to reciprocate?

It would be spectacular if we could shake the country out of its fascination with caudillo-like figures. You would hope people would have learned from the experience of electing Barack Obama the Lightworker, the Munificent Sun God, the first man to step down into the presidency. But no, for far too many people, the lesson is not that we shouldn’t look to a president to be our savior, it’s that we chose the wrong one -- but Hillary, or Donald Trump, or Bernie Sanders will be the right savior.
45  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / POTH: Obama begins to react? on: September 01, 2015, 09:52:13 AM
ANCHORAGE — President Obama on Tuesday will propose speeding the acquisition and building of new Coast Guard icebreakers that can operate year-round in the nation’s polar regions, part of an effort to close the gap between the United States and other nations, especially Russia, in a global competition to gain a foothold in the rapidly changing Arctic.

On the second day of a three-day trip to Alaska to highlight the challenge of climate change and call for a worldwide effort to address its root causes, Mr. Obama’s proposals will touch on one of its most profound effects. The retreat of Arctic sea ice has created opportunities for shipping, tourism, mineral exploration and fishing — and with it, a rush of marine traffic that is bringing new difficulties.

    The number of ships passing through the Bering Strait into the once-frozen expanse of the Arctic Ocean has doubled in just the last seven years, evidence of how the warming climate has transformed a region once largely bound by ice. Related Article

    U.S. Is Playing Catch-Up With Russia in Scramble for the ArcticAUG. 29, 2015

“Arctic ecosystems are among the most pristine and understudied in the world, meaning increased commercial activity comes with significant risks to the environment,” the White House said in a fact sheet issued in advance of an announcement by Mr. Obama in Seward, where he planned to hike to Exit Glacier on Tuesday and tour Kenai Fjords National Park by boat.

“The growth of human activity in the Arctic region will require highly engaged stewardship to maintain the open seas necessary for global commerce and scientific research, allow for search and rescue activities, and provide for regional peace and stability,” the statement said.

The aging Coast Guard fleet is not keeping pace with the challenge, the administration acknowledged, noting that the service has the equivalent of just two “fully functional” heavy icebreakers at its disposal, down from seven during World War II. Russia, by contrast, has 41 of the vessels, with plans for 11 more. China unveiled a refurbished icebreaker in 2012 and is building another.

Mr. Obama will propose speeding up the acquisition of a replacement icebreaker that had been planned for 2022, setting a new date of 2020, the White House said. He will also propose that planning begin on the construction of new ones, asking Congress to provide “sufficient resources” to fund them.

In addition, Mr. Obama will announce an initiative by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Coast Guard to map and chart the newly open Bering, Chukchi and Beaufort Seas. The agency will also install new equipment in the Arctic in the “near future” to monitor climate-change effects and enhance marine safety, including stations to monitor sea-level rise and “a sea-ice thickness satellite product,” the White House said.

Some lawmakers, analysts and even government officials say the United States is lagging other nations in preparing for the new environmental, economic and geopolitical realities in the Arctic.

Gov. Bill Walker of Alaska, who traveled to Anchorage with Mr. Obama on Air Force One on Monday, said he was concerned that the United States military was drawing down in Alaska just as Russia was flexing its muscles.

“It’s the biggest buildup of the Russian military since the Cold War,” Mr. Walker said, noting Alaska’s proximity to Russia. “They’re reopening 10 bases and building four more, and they’re all in the Arctic, so here we are in the middle of the pond, feeling a little bit uncomfortable.”

On Tuesday, Mr. Obama plans to trek through the Alaskan wilderness in an effort to call attention to the urgency of addressing climate change, and to build public support for doing so. At a conference sponsored by the State Department on Monday, he issued a call to action on the issue, exhorting foreign leaders at the gathering to get out and see a glacier to remind themselves of the need to preserve such places for future generations.

“I’ll be sharing my experiences with you along the way, because I want to make sure you see what I’m seeing,” the president wrote about his travels on Monday in a post on Medium, the blogging platform. “And when you do, I want you to think about the fact that this is the only planet that we’ve got — and we’ve got to do everything we can to protect it.”

At the Kenai Fjords park on Tuesday, the president will also announce that he is sending Congress draft legislation to upgrade and promote access to national park facilities in time for the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service.

The bill would support the administration’s efforts “to ensure that our parks and historic sites fully represent our nation’s ethnically and culturally diverse communities, and that all Americans, regardless of their background or where they live, are able to access and enjoy these remarkable places,” the White House said.
46  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Wikileaks a Russian intel operation? on: September 01, 2015, 09:38:57 AM
Moving BBG's post to here:

I'm quite conflicted about Snowden et al. On the one hand the material Snowden released confirmed many of my surveillance state fears and certainly demonstrated those fears are far from unfounded. On the other, various friends with counterintelligence pedigrees are quite convinced Snowden was run by the Russians. This piece supports that suspicion, albeit by inference rather than hard fact.

What petard gave hoist to whom seems pretty clear; who lit the fuse, however, appears to veer deep into spook territory.
47  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Clinton associate puts the squeeze on? on: September 01, 2015, 09:35:24 AM
48  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Donald Trump on: August 31, 2015, 09:17:25 PM
49  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: 2016 Presidential on: August 31, 2015, 08:54:10 PM
For a bit of fun, predictions on the first five candidates to drop out?
50  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Dr. Ben Carson on: August 31, 2015, 08:53:00 PM

On the panel on Bret Baier's Special Report tonight they spent some time talking about this, including the remarkable datum that 81% of voters like him, what how his skills are rapidly evolving, etc.  Smells like they are beginning to take him more seriously.
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