Neocons Panic As Trump-Putin Meeting Could Mark Close Of Syrian Proxy War

When multiple op-ed pieces appear in the pages of the New York TimesWashington Post, and the CFR-owned Foreign Affairs authored by neocons simultaneously pleading with Trump Don’t Get Out of Syria(!) all within the same week, this is typically an indicator that the president is about to do something good. 

Trump is set to meet with Putin one-on-one this coming Monday in Helsinki after a contentious NATO summit and a sufficiently awkward visit with Theresa May, and mainstream pundits’ heads are exploding. 

The Post’s Josh Rogin warns, Trump and Putin may be about to make a terrible deal on Syria, and Susan Rice suddenly emerges from obscurity and irrelevance to say in the Times that Trump Must Not Capitulate to Putin while urging the administration not to “prematurely withdraw United States forces [from Syria], thus thus ceding total victory to Russia, Mr. Assad and Iran.” From North Korea to Afghanistan to Syria to Ukraine, Rice advises the typical regime change script of “harsh additional sanctions” anywhere the dictates of Washington are not strictly adhered to. 

Similarly, Eli Lake links together the main regime change wars begun under Obama while lamenting their potential winding down as a result of Putin and Trump meeting as indicative of living in “some alternate universe”. “The price of Russian cooperation in Syria cannot be U.S. capitulation on Crimea,” Lake writes, and further calls such a possibility “the most dangerous possible outcome.”

The Kagan-led neocon think tank ISW, meanwhile, is outraged(!) the administration appears to lack “the will to use” America’s military might to counter Assad, Iran, and Russia, saying “the United States should invest now in building leverage for future decisive action.” 

And then there’s Senator Lindsey Graham’s meltdown on Twitter this week in reaction to both the Syrian Army victoriously raising the national flag over Daraa and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu telling President Vladimir Putin during a summit that Israel has no problem with Assad staying, so long as Israel can preserve “freedom of action” if attacked. 

In a significant change of posture toward Damascus, Netanyahu told reporters in Moscow, “We haven’t had a problem with the Assad regime, for 40 years not a single bullet was fired on the Golan Heights.” 

This was enough to send Graham’s head spinning: “Radical Sunni groups will say – correctly – that Assad is a proxy of Iran and the Ayatollah. It means the Syrian war never ends and ISIS comes back,” he said in a strange twist of logic that gives credence to the arguments of terror groups. 

Israel’s Haaretz newspaper featured Sen. Graham’s reaction:

‘Without Assad’s blessing, the flags of Hezbollah and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard would not be on Israel’s front door,’ Graham tweets in response to Netanyahu claiming Israel has no problem with Assad.

As Trump readies for Putin summit, saying “He’s not my enemy,” interventionistas are raging

In the past months there’s been widespread reporting on a “secret” deal brokered between Russia, Israel, and Syria, which reportedly involves the Syrian Army agreeing to keep Iranian forces away from the ongoing successful campaign along the Israeli and Jordanian borders, especially the contested Golan Heights.

Netanyahu now says, fresh off his Moscow visit, that Putin agreed to restrain Iran in Syria, but that ultimately Assad will take back all of SyriaThe New York Times reports this hugely significant acknowledgement and surprising change of tune from the Israeli PM:

Israel, he said, did not object to President Bashar al-Assad’s regaining control over all of Syria, a vital Russian objective, and Russia had pushed Iranian and allied Shiite forces “tens of kilometers” away from the Israeli border.

The NYT continues

But a commitment to keep Iranian forces tens of kilometers from Israel was a far cry from ejecting them completely from Syria, which Mr. Netanyahu has been lobbying Mr. Putin to do. And even that commitment was not confirmed by Russian officials.

So a willingness to accept Mr. Assad’s resumption of control over all of Syria is no small concession, said Amos Yadlin, a former chief of Israeli military intelligence who now heads the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv.

“Nobody can these days destabilize the Assad regime,” he said. “The only one who can do it is Israel. And the Russians know that very well. So to get a commitment from Israel not to destabilize Syria is something that Russia will value very much.”

The neocon pundits’ last hope for military intervention in Syria has remained Netanyahu, and to see him fold must feel like a swift unexpected punch in the stomach, but more crucially the Syrian diplomatic cards have fallen in place just days before Monday’s Trump-Putin meeting. 

President Assad has long vowed to liberate “every inch” of sovereign Syrian territory, something which but two years ago appeared impossible, yet which now looks increasingly inevitable. Should the Trump-Putin summit result in a green light that ensures Moscow and Damascus remain in the driver’s seat and set the terms for Syria’s stabilization, we could be witnessing the final diplomatic chapter in this dark seven-year long proxy war. 

However, Trump continues to be urged from various corners of the beltway foreign policy establishment to salvage and preserve what he can of the open-ended US troop presence in eastern Syria: the US must “preserve its interests in the conflict, namely… constraining Iranian influence in the country” as one Foreign Policy essay argues

For months now, Trump has talked of US military withdrawal from the country — which the Pentagon in public statements has put at over some 2000 troops — a proposal which hawks within his administration have pushed back against every time. 

And then there’s the clearly observable pattern that seems to repeat whenever the administration announces it is poised to pull out of Syria. Indeed it seems to occur every time the Syrian Army is on a trajectory of overwhelming victory: an ill-timed and strategically nonsensical mass chemical attack on civilians supposedly ordered by Assad — inevitably giving the West an open door for military intervention, new rounds of crippling sanctions, and yet more international media condemnation heaped on Damascus. 

Precisely this scenario occurred just days after President Trump declared in the last week of March of this year that he wanted a complete US military pullout from Syria. What then immediately followed was the April 7 “chemical attack” provocation in Douma  just the thing that brought Trump’s planned pullout to a grinding halt, instead resulting tomahawk missiles unleashed on Damascus. 

Should Trump and Putin ultimately come to a lasting settlement on the Syria issue which results in US troop withdrawal from Syria, will the international proxy war come to a close?

Or will we witness yet another last minute “mass casualty event” or other other provocation that pulls the US, Israel, and Russia into yet deeper direct military confrontation?

The Exorbitant Cost Of Getting Ahead In Life

Authored by Michael Scott via SafeHaven.com,

Some 84 percent of Americans claim that a higher education is a very or extremely important factor for getting ahead in life, according to the National Center for public policy and Higher Education.

So, it’s worth the exorbitant cost, but not everyone can pay, and outsized costs in the U.S. are giving much of the rest of the developed world the higher education advantage.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), people with a Bachelor’s Degree earn around 64 percent more per week than those with a high school diploma, and around 40 percent more than those with an Associate’s Degree. In turn, those with an Associate’s degree earn around 17 percent more than those with a high school diploma.

The Federal Reserve Bank of New York says that college graduates overall earn 80 percent more than those without a degree.

There’s also job security to consider.

Individuals with college degrees have a lower average unemployment rates than those with only high school educations. Among people aged 25 and over, the lowest unemployment rates occur in those with the highest degrees.

From this perspective, it’s no surprise that students are willing to bite the bullet and take on a ton of debt to finance education.

About three-fourths of students who attend four-year colleges graduate with loan debt. And this number is up from about half of students three decades ago.

The average student loan debt for Class of 2017 graduates was $39,400, up 6 percent from the previous year. Over 44 million Americans now hold over $1.5 trillion in student loan debt, according to Student Loan Hero.

According to College Board, the average cost of tuition and fees for the 2017–2018 school year was $34,740 at private colleges, $9,970 for state residents at public colleges, and $25,620 for out-of-state residents attending public universities.

The U.S. is one of the most expensive places to go obtain a higher education, but there are pricier venues, too.

If you want a free higher education, try Europe—specifically Germany and Sweden. Denmark, too, doles out an allowance of about $900 a month to students to cover their living expenses. But don’t try to study in the UK on the cheap. The UK is the most expensive country in Europe, with college tuition coming in at an average of $12,414.

In Australia, graduates don’t pay anything on their loans until they earn about $40,000 a year, and then they only pay between 4 percent and 8 percent of their income, which is automatically deducted from their bank accounts, reducing the chances of default.

For Japan—a country that sees more than half of its population go to college—the highly respected University of Tokyo only costs about $4,700 a year for undergraduates, thanks to government subsidies. The Japanese government spends almost $8,750 a year per student because it sees the massive value in having a highly educated citizenry.

For Americans, while student loans may still be a good investment overall, the idea of taking a lifetime to pay off the debt may become increasingly unattractive. And it’s only going to get worse, according to JPMorgan, which predicts that by 2035 the cost of attending a four-year private college will top $487,000.

“Dealers Are Taking Control” – Baltimore Murder Rate Soars As Police Ease Up On Stops

When Attorney General Jeff Sessions said at a gathering of police officials back in May that “if you want crime to go up, let the ACLU run the police department,” he may have had a point. While opponents of “aggressive” police tactics like stop and frisk and other “broken windows”-type policing have complain about the injustice faced by minorities who they say are disproportionately and unfairly targeted by police, the city of Baltimore is demonstrating what happens when police dial back stops for minor violations like street-level drug dealing and other “everyday violations.”

According to USA Today, since the death of Freddie Gray and the arrest of several officers who were charged with murder for allegedly playing a role in his death (he died handcuffed in the back of a police van after reportedly breaking his neck) police in Baltimore have “stopped noticing” small crimes and minor violations. The officers who were charged were acquitted, but the incident ended their careers, and the Baltimore Police Department faced a 2016 Department of Justice investigation that found the city’s police routinely violated the constitutional rights of the city’s residents. More than 150 people have been killed in the city already this year, compared with 342 last year, which was the city’s deadliest on record.

Unsurprisingly, shootings soared…

USAToday

…Leading to a spike in murders that has transformed Baltimore into America’s deadliest city.

Just before a wave of violence turned Baltimore into the nation’s deadliest big city, a curious thing happened to its police force: officers suddenly seemed to stop noticing crime.

Police officers reported seeing fewer drug dealers on street corners. They encountered fewer people who had open arrest warrants.

Police questioned fewer people on the street. They stopped fewer cars.

In the space of just a few days in spring 2015 – as Baltimore faced a wave of rioting after Freddie Gray, a black man, died from injuries he suffered in the back of a police van – officers in nearly every part of the city appeared to turn a blind eye to everyday violations. They still answered calls for help. But the number of potential violations they reported seeing themselves dropped by nearly half. It has largely stayed that way ever since.

“What officers are doing is they’re just driving looking forward. They’ve got horse blinders on,” says Kevin Forrester, a retired Baltimore detective.

The surge of shootings and killings that followed has left Baltimore easily the deadliest large city in the United States. Its murder rate reached an all-time high last year; 342 people were killed. The number of shootings in some neighborhoods has more than tripled. One man was shot to death steps from a police station. Another was killed driving in a funeral procession.

Police records show officers respond to calls as fast as ever, if not more quickly. The only drop has been in what police call “on-views” – when an officer witnesses a potential violation and stops the perpetrator (like when somebody is stopped for speeding). Between 2014 and 2017, the number of suspected narcotics offense stops dropped by 30%, and the number of people reported with outstanding warrants dropped by 50%. But Baltimore Police Commissioner Gary Tuggle, who took command in May, also blamed a shortage of patrol officers

Police officials acknowledge the change. “In all candor, officers are not as aggressive as they once were, pre-2015. It’s just that fact,” says acting Police Commissioner Gary Tuggle, who took command of Baltimore’s police force in May.

Tuggle blames a shortage of patrol officers and the fallout from a blistering 2016 Justice Department investigation that found the city’s police regularly violated residents’ constitutional rights and prompted new limits on how officers there carry out what had once been routine parts of their job. At the same time, he says, police have focused more of their energy on gun crime and less on smaller infractions.

“We don’t want officers going out, grabbing people out of corners, beating them up and putting them in jail,” Tuggle says. “We want officers engaging folks at every level. And if somebody needs to be arrested, arrest them. But we also want officers to be smart about how they do that.”

The change has left a perception among some police officers that people in the city are free to do as they please. And among criminals, says Mahogany Gaines, whose brother, Dontais, was found shot to death inside his apartment in October.

 “These people don’t realize that you’re leaving people fatherless and motherless,” Gaines says. “I feel like they think they’re untouchable.”

A pastor in West Baltimore spoke with USA Today about the rise in violence. He described a city where residents are becoming afraid to leave their homes. Criminals have taken over, and crews are setting up drug-dealing operations on corners across the city.

Baltimore

At least 41 people have been shot near his church. He described how a new drug corner recently set up shop on the corner across the street, and nearly got into a gun battle with another crew working nearby.

On a sticky morning in May, the Rev. Rodney Hudson slips on a black “Sermonator” T-shirt and walks down the street from his west Baltimore church, a gray stone edifice two blocks from where police arrested Gray. A few days earlier, a drug crew from another neighborhood set up camp on the corner across the street. Hudson says  the dealers nearly got into a gunfight with the crew that usually works across from the elementary school down the block.

Since Gray’s death, at least 41 people have been shot within a short walk of Hudson’s church.

“Drug dealers are taking control of the corners and the police’s hands are tied,” Hudson says. “We have a community that is afraid.”

Two blocks away, Mayor Catherine Pugh and a knot of city officials are under a tent on an empty lot to break ground for a group of new townhouses. Police officers linger on the streets, and a helicopter swirls overhead. But three blocks down Pennsylvania Avenue, drug crews still appear to be at work. Shouts of “hard body” – one of the drug cocktails on offer – ring clearly. Another man shouts a warning as Hudson and a reporter approach.

Drug dealers have worked Baltimore’s street corners for decades. But Hudson says it has been years since he has seen so many young men selling so brazenly in so many places. Dealers, he says, “are taking advantage” of a newly timid police force.

At least 150 people have been killed in Baltimore this year.

To be sure, the investigation did expose some legitimate corruption, including incidences of officers planting drugs and other evidence. Police Commission Darryl De Sousa resigned in May after federal prosecutors charged him with failing to pay his income taxes.

This year, eight officers in an elite anti-gun unit were convicted in a corruption scandal that included robbing drug dealers and carrying out illegal stops and searches. One officer testified that a supervisor told them to carry replica guns they could plant on suspects. Another officer was indicted in January after footage from his body camera showed him acting out finding drugs in an alley. The city’s new police commissioner, Darryl De Sousa, resigned in May after federal prosecutors charged him with failing to pay his income taxes.

But with the wave of protest and anti-police threats, officers absorbed the message that they shouldn’t take unnecessary risks when making stops. And that affect isn’t limited to Baltimore. Nearly three-quarters of the officers who responded to a Pew Research Center survey incidents like the Gray killing had left them less willing to stop and question people who seem suspicious. Others said the incidents had made stopping people harder. Meanwhile, civil rights advocates have accusing police of laying back on enforcement as a means of retaliating.

“What it says is that if you complain about the way the police do our job, maybe we’ll just lay back and not do it as hard,” says Jeffery Robinson, a deputy legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union, which had advocated for an overhaul of police agencies in Baltimore and elsewhere. “If it’s true, if that’s what officers are doing, they should be fired.”

Another criminologist pointed out that police are largely doing as the public asked: They’re lessening the racial disparity in the number of people they stop and the number of police-involved shootings and complaints.

“The cops are being less proactive at the same time violence is going up,” says Peter Moskos, a John Jay College of Criminal Justice professor and former Baltimore officer who reviewed USA TODAY’s data and analysis. “Cops are doing as requested: lessening racial disparity, lessening complaints, lessening police-involved shootings. All those numbers are just great right now, and if those are your metrics of success, we’re winning. The message has clearly gotten out to not commit unnecessary policing.”

[…]

Anthony Barksdale, a retired Baltimore police commander, says the message to officers was unmistakable.

“These guys have family members who tell them ‘Don’t go to work and chase people for a city that doesn’t care about you,'” he says. “If I’m riding down the street and I see an incident, I see it, but you know what? It’s not worth it. That’s what these cops are thinking.”

Of course, this information probably won’t stop the millions of leftists who insist that all police departments are purveyors of “systemic racism” and that “broken windows”-style policing policies – where police in America’s cities are empowered to make more stops, not fewer – inevitably lead to racially motivated stops. Maybe the murder rate will need to move a little higher for them to understand how these policies have been a major contributor to the massive drop in America’s rate of violent crime over the past 25 years. Or maybe, because many of them live in rich, all-white enclaves, the problem of urban crime will never truly register. 

The Media’s Brazen Dishonesty About North Korean Nuclear Violations

Authored by Gareth Porter via The American Conservative,

Press irresponsibly relies on single-source report to accuse Kim of breaking an agreement he never made…

In late June and early July, NBC News, CNN, and The Wall Street Journal published stories that appeared at first glance to shed a lurid light on Donald Trump’s flirtation with Kim Jong-un. They contained satellite imagery showing that North Korea was making rapid upgrades to its nuclear weapons complex at Yongbyon and expanding its missile production program just as Trump and Kim were getting chummy at their Singapore summit.

In fact, those media outlets were selling journalistic snake oil. By misrepresenting the diplomatic context of the images they were hyping, the press launched a false narrative around the Trump-Kim summit and the negotiations therein.

The headline of the June 27 NBC News story revealed the network’s political agenda on the Trump-Kim negotiations. “If North Korea is denuclearizing,” it asked, “why is it expanding a nuclear research center?” The piece warned that North Korea “continues to make improvements to a major nuclear facility, raising questions about President Donald Trump’s claim that Kim Jong Un has agreed to disarm, independent experts tell NBC News.”

CNN’s coverage of the same story was even more sensationalist, declaring that there were “troubling signs” that North Korea was making “improvements” to its nuclear facilities, some of which it said had been carried out after the Trump-Kim summit. It pointed to a facility that had produced plutonium in the past and recently undergone an upgrade, despite Kim’s alleged promise to Trump to draw down his nuclear arsenal. CNN commentator Max Boot cleverly spelled out the supposed implication: “If you were about to demolish your house, would you be remodeling the kitchen?”

But in their determination to push hardline opposition to the negotiations, these stories either ignored or sought to discredit the careful caveat accompanying the original source on which they were based – the analysis of satellite images published on the website 38 North on June 21.

The three analysts who had written that the satellite images “indicated that improvements to the infrastructure at North Korea’s Yongbyon Nuclear Research Center are continuing at a rapid pace” also cautioned that this work “should not be seen as having any relationship to North Korea’s pledge to denuclearize.”

If the authors’ point was not clear enough, Joel Wit, the founder of 38 North, who helped negotiate the 1994 Agreed Framework with North Korea and then worked on its implementation for several years, explained to NBC News: 

“What you have is a commitment to denuclearize—we don’t have the deal yet, we just have a general commitment.”

Wit added that he didn’t “find it surprising at all” that work at Yongbyon was continuing.

In a briefing for journalists by telephone on Monday, Wit was even more vigorous in denouncing the stories that had hyped the article on 38 North.

“I really disagree with the media narrative,” Wit said.

“The Singapore summit declaration didn’t mean North Korea would stop its activities in the nuclear and missile area right away.”

He recalled the fact that, during negotiations between the U.S. and the Soviets over arms control, “both sides continued to build weapons until the agreement was completed.”

Determined to salvage its political line on the Trump-Kim talks, NBC News turned to Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, who has insisted all along that North Korea won’t give up its nuclear weapons.

“We have never had a deal,” Lewis said. “The North Koreans never offered to give up their nuclear weapons. Never. Not once.”

Lewis had apparently forgotten that the October 2005 Six Party joint statement included language that the DPRK had “committed to abandoning all nuclear weapons….”

Another witness NBC found to support its view was James Acton, co-director of the Nuclear Policy Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, who declared, “If [the North Koreans] were serious about unilaterally disarming, of course they would have stopped work at Yongbyon.” That was true but misleading, because North Korea has always been unambiguously clear that its offer of denuclearization is conditional on reciprocal steps by the United States.

On July 1, a few days after those stories appeared, the Wall Street Journal headlined, “New satellite imagery indicates Pyongyang is pushing ahead with weapons programs even as it pursues dialogue with Washington.” The lead paragraph called it a “major expansion of a key missile-manufacturing plant.”

But the shock effect of the story itself was hardly seismic. It turns out that the images of a North Korean solid-fuel missile manufacturing facility at Hamhung showed that new buildings had been added beginning in the early spring, after Kim Jong-un had called for more production of solid-fuel rocket engines and warhead tips last August. The construction of the exterior of some buildings was completed “around the time” of the Trump-Kim summit meeting, according to the analysts at the James Martin Center of the Middlebury Institute of International Studies.

So the most Pyongyang could be accused of was going ahead with a previously planned expansion while it was just beginning to hold talks with the United States.

The satellite images were analyzed by Jeffrey Lewis, the director whom had just been quoted by NBC in support of its viewpoint that North Korea had no intention of giving up its nuclear weapons. So it is no surprise that the Martin Center’s David Schmerler, who also participated in the analysis of the images, told the Journal, “The expansion of production infrastructure for North Korea’s solid missile infrastructure probably suggests that Kim Jong Un does not intend to abandon his nuclear and missile programs.”

But when this writer spoke with Schmerler last week, he admitted that the evidence of Kim’s intentions regarding nuclear and missile programs is much less clear. I asked him if he was sure that North Korea would refuse to give up its ICBM program as part of a broader agreement with the Trump administration. “I’m not sure,” Schmerler responded, adding, “They haven’t really said they’re willing to give up ICBM program.” That is true, but they haven’t rejected that possibility either—presumably because the answer will depend on what commitments Trump is willing to make to the DPRK.

These stories of supposed North Korean betrayal by NBC, CNN, and the Wall Street Journal are egregious cases of distorting news by pushing a predetermined policy line. But those news outlets, far from being outliers, are merely reflecting the norms of the entire corporate news system.

The stories of how North Korea is now violating an imaginary pledge by Kim to Trump in Singapore are even more outrageous, because big media had previously peddled the opposite line: that Kim at the Singapore Summit made no firm commitment to give up his nuclear weapons and that the “agreement” in Singapore was the weakest of any thus far.

That claim, which blithely ignored the fundamental distinction between a brief summit meeting statement and past formal agreements with North Korea that took months to reach, was a media maneuver of unparalleled brazenness. And big media have since topped that feat of journalistic legerdemain by claiming that North Korea has demonstrated bad faith by failing to halt all nuclear and missile-related activities.

A media complex so determined to discredit negotiations with North Korea and so unfettered by political-diplomatic reality seriously threatens the ability of the United States to deliver on any agreement with Pyongyang. That means alternative media must make more aggressive efforts to challenge the corporate press’s coverage.

WeWork Bans Meat To ‘Help’ Employees “Reduce Their Personal Environmental Impact”

Meat-loving employees of co-working giant WeWork are going to have to stick to veggies and sushi after the company notified its global staff of 6,000 that they will no longer reimburse meals that include meat – and it won’t pay for any red meat, poultry or pork at WeWork events.

Co-founder Miguel McKelvy detailed the new policy in an email to employees this week, noting that the firm’s upcoming “Summer Camp” employee retreat would offer no meat options for attendees. 

In his email, McKelvey advised employees that the meat-free move would affect the company’s travel and expense policy, as well as WeWork’s “Honesty Market,” a self-serve food and drink kiosk system present in some of its 400 co-working buildings. –Bloomberg

We’re sure there will be ample soy-based options to fuel WeWork employees’ need for protein, while it is unclear if fish will be an option since it’s not specifically mentioned in the memo.

The company says they’re introducing the new policy for environmental reasons. “New research indicates that avoiding meat is one of the biggest things an individual can do to reduce their personal environmental impact,” said McKelvey in the memo, “even more than switching to a hybrid car.”

According to a 2013 study published by the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences– livestock production (including meat, milk and eggs) contribute 40% of agricultural GDP, while a 2006 report from the Food and Agriculture Organization found that livestock is responsible for 18% of human-related greenhouse gases. 

what’s clear is that American levels of meat consumption can’t be sustainably adopted by the rest of the world, even if livestock management becomes more efficient globally. –Time

That said, WeWork employees who require “medical or religious” allowances are discussing options with the company’s policy team. If they’re granted exemptions, however, we assume they will be met with disapproving looks from jealous co-workers as they sink their teeth into their meat of choice.