The war machine springs to life over Syria

Update: Three hours after the initial posting of this report, the US, the UK and France conducted a missile air strike against Syria

The events of the past few days involving Syria, the US and Russia are highly concerning.

Currently, the US is busy readying to drop just dropped ~120 missiles on Syria to punish it for an alleged poison gas attack on its civilians. I say "alleged" because no on-the-ground investigation has been conducted.

At this point, we don't really know with confidence what was done by whom. But America's war machine is straining hard against it's chain, eager to strike. And this poison gas atrocity may just be the excuse the West needs to unleash it.

Whodunit?

We do know that Syria at one time indeed had stockpiles of chemical weapons. But they handed them over to international inspectors some years back. Could they have kept some stocks hidden? Sure.

But we also know that the rebel jihadists in Syria have been caught making and using chemical weapons many times in the recent past. Russia has repeatedly brought forth evidence of chemical manufacturing sites (very crude basement laboratories, really), located in areas recently recaptured from Syrian jihadists and mercenaries. So it easily could have been the jihadists that conducted the gas attack.

Are these so-called “moderate rebels" morally capable of using poison gas on civilians, children especially? You bet they are. These are proven head-choppers, supported by the US, who have publicly posted numerous videos of themselves beheading children. Morals are not part of their framework or this war.

Plus, the gas war crime certainly serves their interest more than it does Assad's at this time.

Between the two suspects, it's far more likely that the increasingly desperate jihadists, who are clearly losing the fight at this point, would use any and every method at their employ to their advantage.

The West's response right now feels like a bad detective movie. Imagine the lead investigator of a grisly murder choosing to focuses first on the neighbor down the hall, while ignoring the spouse with a past history of domestic abuse and who recently took out a very large life insurance policy on the victim. The current "Blame Assad!" narrative seems a poorly written script where you have to overlook a lot of gaping plot holes to get through the movie.

So there hasn't been an independent investigation to clarify with confidence who is the guilty party here. But that hasn't stopped a swift verdict from circulating throughout the western press: "Assad's government did it, and must be punished."

Keep in mind that US-made cluster bombs are busy killing children in Yemen. And nearly 130 Yemen children die every day from starvation thanks to the combined actions of Saudi and US forces blockading that nation's access to world markets.

Suddenly, children in Syria matter a lot to the West, while Yemen's child victims are rarely ever mentioned. Suddenly there's an urgent moral issue being rushed through the court of public opinion.

This has all the hallmarks of the prior propaganda campaigns we've seen before. Scant evidence, immediate assignment of blame, and a quick rush to military action before anybody can really properly question the train of events.

The Rising Risk Of War

Which leads us to where we are now: the US and several NATO countries may attack just attacked Syria very soon with cruise missiles launched from ships (highest likelihood) and possibly airplanes.

Any such attack, it needs repeating, would be illegal under world laws if it happens without prior UN Security Council approval. Receiving such approval will be highly unlikely, because Russia sits on that council and has veto vote power. So any attack will, by definition be illegal, and not a sanctioned affair.

However, the US and its allies have been operating illegally in Syria for many years. They haven't shown much concern to-date for securing international approval of their actions. It's unlikely to expect that to change anytime soon.

But the US isn't the only one on the schoolyard who can throw a punch. Russia, which has been supporting the Bashir al-Assad regime in Syria, is now taking a much harder line.

After years of being increasingly painted as the West's favorite villain (the latest campaign instantly blaming Putin for the poisoning of ex-spy Skripal was particularly hamfisted), Russia has made it clear: they are done being provoked. They won't backpedal any farther. If/when the US launches missiles at Syria, Russia has promised to shoot them down and fire a counter-strike at the launchers.

This is serious folks:

Russia will shoot down all US missiles and sources of fire, Russian Ambassador says

Russian Ambassador to Lebanon Alexander Zasypkin said in an interview with the Lebanese TV channel Al-Manar that Russia would shoot down all missiles in case of US military aggression against Syria, RIA Novosti reports.

Russian air defence systems will be used to destroy both the weapons and the sources of fire.

Earlier, The New York Times reported that US presidential aides recommended the head of the White House to inflict a series of fierce attacks on several targets in Syria in response to the alleged chemical attack in the city of Douma, even though the fact of the chemical attack itself was never proved.

If Russia shoots back at the “sources of fire", that means the US ships and planes used to launch the cruise missiles

I'd personally be worried sick if someone I loved was on the USS Donald Cook right now. This is the “source of fire" most likely to be employed.

Oddly, it's all alone there in the Mediterranean. Other US ships appear to be days away. Perhaps it's "odd" in the same way as when the best ships in the seventh fleet were conveniently out of harm's way when Pearl Harbor was attacked, leaving only older less seaworthy ships to be sunk, and giving President Roosevelt the casus belli he needed to get America into WW2.

Will the USS Donald Cook be the neo-cons' sacrifice as they endeavor to get their war with Russia kicked into a higher gear?

The US, for its part, is apparently busy communicating with the Russians, communicating it will seek to avoid killing any Russians if at all possible should it strike Syria. This will limit the range of targets, but the risks are still very, very high:

A strike against Syria will likely come in the form of missiles, as was the case last year.

The United States would not want to risk putting manned aircraft over Syrian air defenses — a shoot-down would send the conflict spiraling in unforeseeable new directions.

The USS Donald Cook, an Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer, is within easy striking range of Syria, as is a French frigate with its own cruise missiles.

These two ships, possibly aided by a US submarine, are likely to play a role in a strike.

What are the risks?

The reaction from Assad backer Moscow is unpredictable and Russia has threatened retaliatory action against the United States if missiles are fired at Syria.

The Russian army on Wednesday accused the White Helmets civil defense organization of staging a chemical weapons attack in Douma, where observers say more than 40 people died in a gas attack.

NBC News reported Tuesday that Russia has learned how to use GPS jammers to limit the capabilities of US drones operating over Syria.

“The US has to be very careful not to accidentally strike Russian targets or kill Russian advisors," Ben Connable, a senior political scientist at the RAND Corporation, told AFP.

“That significantly limits the number of options available to the United States, because the Russians are embedded in many cases with the Syrians."

Connable warned that if the US accidentally or purposefully kills uniformed Russian soldiers, there would potentially be a dangerous escalation between the two nuclear powers.

(Source)

The plan here is for Trump get to appear tough, garnering the praise of the war party in the US (which is solidly bi-partisan) and the war press (the entire MSM), while not killing any Russians and, frankly, not doing too much actual damage to Syria.

This is pretty much from the same playbook as last year's false-flag gas attack in Syria, when we fired 59 Tomahawk missiles.

But this time, Russia has made it clear that any repeat of last year's missile attack will have consequences. It has moved its key naval assets out of port and into strike positions:

APRIL 12, 2018: RUSSIA STARTS EXERCISES OFF SYRIAN COAST, VOWS RESPONSE TO US STRIKES

The Russian Navy has launched live-fire exercises off the Syrian coast as the US is still preparing for a possible military action against the country's government.

The Russian exercises will be held from April 11 to April 26, the period when, according to some experts, the US strike will be most likely if the administration of US President Donald Trump decides to attack Syria.

On April 10, Russia's envoy to Lebanon Alexander Zasypkin once again confirming that Russian forces are ready to shoot down missiles and target the launchers in case of an escalation in the war-torn country.

Ali Akbar Velayati, the top adviser to Iran's supreme leader Ali Khamenei, vowed to support the Damascus government against any attack of the US and its allies.

So now we have Russian ships in the Mediterranean on live-fire exercises, bumping around a smallish sea with US naval assets, with everybody on pins and needles as NATO-Russia relations break down and tensions rise.

What could possibly go wrong?

Again, sane people ought to be asking why we are even in this position in the first place. Exactly what US interests are at risk in Syria? Whatever they may be, is defending them worth risking a hot confrontation with a nuclear power over? So far, I've seen zero compelling explanations on this front.

A Dangerous Advertising Campaign?

Looked at from a different angle, here's an interesting article from a Russian newspaper (translated by Google so please read past the choppy writing…) which posits that the attack will be proven a useful test of Russia's latest anti-missile systems.

If successful, Russia may well get to sell lots of them in the future. Great news comrades! We're getting the chance to showcase our products!

The S-400 and "Pantsiri" are preparing for a grandiose exam in Syria

"Russian air defense systems in Syria have an opportunity to show everything they are capable of," a source close to the Russian Defense Ministry noted in a comment to the newspaper VZGLYAD. Such a check is worth a lot, the interlocutor notes.

"For the military all over the world, this will be an extremely important lesson - the analysis of this blow and its reflection will long be handled by the headquarters of all the leading military powers of the world," the general believes. The subject of analysis will also be how the electronic warfare complexes (EW) will work when reflecting missile strikes.

The number of downed enemy missiles is not an end in itself, Lieutenant-General Alexander Gorkov, head of the air defense missile forces in 2000-2008, remarked in conversation with the newspaper VZGLYAD. He stressed: "The air defense forces are designed to completely conserve the object. Therefore, if only one of the 100 rockets is shot down, but the one that flew exactly to the target, and because of this the object survived, this is considered a success. "

But there are objective criteria for anti-aircraft gunners.

This indicator means the probability of a target being hit by one missile. The number of intercepted targets is divided by the total number of missiles fired. For example, less than 0.7 means low efficiency; 0.8 and above - good, 0.9 - excellent, explained earlier to the portal " Economy Today " Lieutenant General Aitech Bizhev, former deputy commander-in-chief of the Russian Air Force on the CIS Joint Air Defense System.

"If we are talking about cruise missiles going at extremely low altitudes, then the efficiency should be at least 0.85-0.90,

As an example, Bezhev cited the result of the Syrian air defense forces, which recently repulsed the attack of Israeli aircraft. F-15 planes fired eight missiles, the Syrians intercepted five of them. Thus, the coefficient was 0.6, that is 60% of the shot down missiles. This result is not very pleasing, Bezhev complained.

However, the expert of the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies (ACT) Vasily Kashin believes that the destruction of 50-60% of US missiles would be a huge success for Russian weapons. In fact, he added, even the destruction of 30% can be considered a great success, if we bear in mind both Russian and Syrian air defense forces.

It should be taken into account that the Syrians used old complexes, notes Bizhev. And the newest S-400 air defense systems are located at Russian facilities - the Khmeimim base and in Tartus. According to the Lieutenant-General, the efficiency of the S-400 for unobtrusive speed targets is 0.9, that is "magnificent", 90%.

In turn, Kashin recalls: in addition to our ground-based air defense in Syria will be two Russian frigates with the complex "Shtil-1", which stand off the coast of Syria. "Each of them has a vertical launch for 24 anti-aircraft missiles," the expert reminded VZGLYAD.

Potential buyers of weapons following the outcome of this conflict will draw conclusions about which weapon systems are more effective - American cruise missiles or Russian air defense systems. For a correct assessment, it is important to consider how many missiles are fired at the covered targets. "If the enemy will use a huge number of missiles, for example, more than 200, then you do not know exactly how many missiles will be on the target. Miracles do not happen, "Kashin said. He adds that it is impossible to completely repulse such a blow.

"For example, there are 100 air targets, for each we spend two anti-missiles. With this amount you need to have a very high ammunition. Is there such a number of missiles in the ammunition of the grouping deployed in Syria? "Asks General Alexander Gorkov.

"The combat component of the S-300 division is 32 missiles (if there are eight launchers) or 48 missiles, if 12 units are available," the interlocutor points out. "If two rockets are used for each shooting, the ammunition will be enough for 16 or 24 launches, respectively." If the coefficient of 0.9 is shown in these shootings, this will be evaluated as a success, including potential buyers of Russian weapons.

Even if that was a little long and technical for you, just know I find it possibly comforting. If Russia is looking for a 'grandiose exam' of its war matériel, and the US is going to attack mainly to satisfy internal politics (and Russia knows this), then that may contain any military exchange to a relatively small skirmish (for now).

But if not, and Russia is truly backed into a corner, tired of the West's vilification and NATO's encroachment, it will show it claws. History has long shown that the Middle East is a powder keg where conflicts can easily escalate quickly. Where escalation might lead in this case is very worrisome indeed.

Time To Prepare For War

There remains, as yet, no evidence proving Assad's government was behind the alleged gas attack in Douma.

All that's been presented to the world are video clips showing what appear to be stricken people. However, we have long learned that such videos prove to be fraudulent. The same White Helmets who released these clips have been caught many times before using crisis actors and staging events that look just like the videos released -- shaking cameras that sweep and lurch in tights shots over closely spaced bodies, poor lighting, etc.

Moreover, the US and NATO blamed Assad and Russia within hours of these release of these videos, well before any actual evidence could have been collected and confirmed. As of course, they've similarly done time and again over the past years. Clearly, there's an eagerness on the West's side to find a reason to take harder action against Russia.

Will this one be it?

While the prospect of a kinetic (shooting) conflict between the West and Russia is obviously of greatest concern, the war could happen in one or several of many other forms (cyber, financial, trade, etc.) which I've written about extensively in the past.

We need to prepare ourselves for the prospect of war, even if this situation merely turns out to be an S-400 marketing blitz. Because at the current trajectory, even if this event turns out not to be the flashpoint that ignites a larger confrontation, the odds of one that does happening soon is just too damn high.

It's very clear that the US has embedded neocons that want a unipolar world where the US is top dog and gets to boss around China and Russia. That makes war “highly likely" in our future.

China and Russia quite rightly believe that they deserve to be treated on more equal footing and have their own national pride and internal political realities with which to contend, meaning they cannot appear to be pushed around by the US. Saving face is important.

In Part 2: What To Prepare For we assess the most likely paths the current standoff may take, the probability of each, and what the ramifications of each would be. Knowing tomorrow's likeliest outcomes will help you best prepare today.

An escalating conflict between the US and Russia, even if limited to a proxy war in Syria, will result in tremendous casualites -- of life, of geopolicital relations, and of markets. Protect yourself, those you love, and your wealth from becoming part of the collateral damage.

Click here to read Part 2 of this report (free executive summary, enrollment required for full access)

As the nation soaks in the victory of the recent passing of the historic First Step Act, there are Congressmen who haven't stopped working to solve additional problems with the criminal justice system. Because while the Act was impactful, leading to the well-deserved early release of many incarcerated individuals, it didn't go far enough. That's why four Congressmen have joined forces to reintroduce the Justice Safety Valve Act—legislation that would grant judges judicial discretion when determining appropriate sentencing.

There's a real need for this legislation since it's no secret that lawmakers don't always get it right. They may pass laws with good intentions, but unintended consequences often prevail. For example, there was a time when the nation believed the best way to penalize lawbreakers was to be tough on crime, leading to sweeping mandatory minimum sentencing laws implemented both nationally and statewide.

RELATED: If Trump can support criminal justice reform, so can everyone else

Only in recent years have governments learned that these sentences aren't good policy for the defendant or even the public. Mandatory minimum sentences are often overly harsh, don't act as a public deterrent for crime, and are extremely costly to taxpayers. These laws tie judges' hands, preventing them from using their knowledge and understanding of the law to make case relevant decisions.

Because legislation surrounding criminal law is often very touchy and difficult to change (especially on the federal level, where bills can take multiple years to pass) mandatory minimum sentences are far from being done away with—despite the data-driven discoveries of their downfalls. But in order to solve the problems inherent within all of the different laws imposing sentencing lengths, Congress needs to pass the Justice Safety Valve Act now. Ensuring its passing would allow judges to use discretion while sentencing, rather than forcing them to continue issuing indiscriminate sentences no matter the unique facts of the case.

Rather than take years to go back and try to fix every single mandatory minimum law that has been federally passed, moving this single piece of legislation forward is the best way to ensure judges can apply their judgment in every appropriate case.

When someone is facing numerous charges from a single incident, mandatory minimum sentencing laws stack atop one another, resulting in an extremely lengthy sentence that may not be just. Such high sentences may even be violations of an individual's eighth amendment rights, what with the imposition of cruel and unusual punishment. It's exactly what happened with Weldon Angelos.

In Salt Lake City in 2002, Weldon sold half a pound of marijuana to federal agents on two separate occasions. Unbeknownst to Weldon, the police had targeted him because they suspected he was a part of a gang and trafficking operation. They were oh-so-wrong. Weldon had never sold marijuana before and only did this time because he was pressured by the agents to find marijuana for them. He figured a couple lowkey sales could help out his family's financial situation. But Weldon was caught and sentenced to a mandatory 55 years in prison. This massive sentence is clearly unjust for a first time, non-violent crime, and even the Judge, Paul Cassell, agreed. Judge Cassell did everything he could to reduce the sentence, but, due to federal law, it wasn't much.

The nation is facing an over-criminalization problem that costs taxpayers millions and amounts to the foolish eradication of individual liberties.

In cases like Weldon's, a safety valve for discretionary power is much needed. Judges need the ability to issue sentences below the mandatory minimums, depending on mitigating factors such as mental health, provocation, or physical illness. That's what this new bill would allow for. Critics may argue that this gives judges too much power, but under the bill, judges must first make a finding on why it's necessary to sentence below the mandatory minimum. Then, they must write a clear statement explaining their decision.

Judges are unlikely to risk their careers to allow dangerous criminals an early release. If something happens after an offender is released early, the political pressure is back on the judge who issued the shorter sentence—and no one wants that kind of negative attention. In order to avoid risky situations like this, they'd use their discretion very cautiously, upholding the oath they took to promote justice in every case.

The nation is facing an overcriminalization problem that costs taxpayers millions and amounts to the foolish eradication of individual liberties. Mandatory minimums have exacerbated this problem, and it's time for that to stop. Congresswomen and men have the opportunity to help solve this looming problem by passing the Justice Safety Valve Act to untie the hands of judges and restore justice in individual sentences.

Molly Davis is a policy analyst at Libertas Institute, a free market think tank in Utah. She's a writer for Young Voices, and her work has previously appeared in The Hill, TownHall.com, and The Washington Examiner.

New gadget for couples in 'the mood' lets a button do the talking

Photo by Matt Nelson on Unsplash

Just in time for Valentine's Day, there's a new romantic gadget for couples that is sure to make sparks fly. For those with their minds in the gutter, I'm not talking about those kinds of gadgets. I'm talking about a brilliant new device for the home called "LoveSync."

This is real — it's a simple pair of buttons for busy, modern couples who have plenty of time for social media and Netflix, but can't quite squeeze in time to talk about their... uh... special relationship.

Here's how it works. Each partner has their own individual LoveSync button. Whenever the mood strikes one partner, all they have to do is press their own button. That sets their button aglow for a certain period of time. If, during that time window, their partner also presses their own button, then both buttons light up in a swirling green pattern to signal that love has "synced"...and it's go time.

According to the makers of LoveSync, this device will "Take the Luck out of Getting Lucky." It brings a whole new meaning to "pushing each other's buttons." It's an ideal gift to tell your significant other "I care," without actually having to care, or talk about icky things like feelings.

If you find your significant other is already on the couch binge-watching The Bachelor, no problem! You can conveniently slink back to your button and hold it in for four seconds to cancel the desire. No harm, no foul! Live to fight another day.

Have fun explaining those buttons to inquiring children.

No word yet on whether LoveSync can also order wine, light candles or play Barry White. Maybe that's in the works for LoveSync 2.0.

Of course, LoveSync does have some pitfalls. Cats and toddlers love a good button. That'll be a fun conversation — "Honey, who keeps canceling my mood submissions?" And have fun explaining those buttons to inquiring children. "Yeah, kids, that button just controls the lawn sprinklers. No big deal."

If you've been dialing it in for years on Valentine's Day with flowers and those crappy boxes of chocolate, now you can literally dial it in. With a button.

Good luck with that.

The social power of 'Reddit' is helping teens of anti-vaxxers get vaccinated

Noam Galai/Getty Images for TechCrunch

Reddit certainly earns its motto as "the front page of the internet," with roughly 540 million visitors monthly, the third most-visited website in the U.S., sixth worldwide. Unlike Twitter and Facebook, Reddit is a largely anonymous platform. People's faces are masked, their names are disguised. Which makes their hidden humanity all the more impactful.

On Reddit, both news and serious information are threaded in among gifs of cats and posts about Call of Duty, but that doesn't make it any less important. For many people, Reddit signifies the town hall where news is passed along or stomped into obscurity.

It gives you a healthy read of our society as a whole.

RELATED: Forget Rabies, 'Woke' Hipsters in Brooklyn Skipping Vaccines to Prevent 'Dogtism'

A recent Pew Poll found that Reddit leans left politically at a rate higher than the general public. Most users are young men, whose extensive internet use gives them a gatekeeping authority over what information should be considered important. From there, it spreads through the rest of the internet and helps shape public opinion.

So, it makes a lot of sense that Reddit has become a sort of makeshift safe place for children who grew up with parents who refused to give them vaccinations. Of course, Reddit also vehemently mocks the anti-vaccination folks, for better or for worse, often the latter, but that's a subject for another day.

The Daily Dot recently published an article on this strange intersection of ideology and nerd culture. "Desperate teens of anti-vaxxers are turning to Reddit for vaccination advice."

The article follows Ethan, whose parents are staunchly against vaccinations:

But Ethan is not his parents. When he turned 18, he decided to take matters into his own hands. He wasn't sure where else to begin, so he turned to Reddit.

Where do I go to get vaccinated? Can I get vaccinated at my age?" Ethan asked his fellow redditors in December. Ethan's post flooded with over 1,000 comments from users offering their encouragement and support, along with practical advice. "Good on you for getting your vaccinations," one user responded. "It's never too late and you're not only protecting yourself but those around you who truly can't get vaccinated.

Ethan told the Daily Dot that some redditors even offered to give him money via GoFundMe or PayPal if insurance didn't cover the shots. "People were really supportive, and that was really cool," he said. "I had the blessing of Reddit. They were supporting me on a decision my mom freaked out about." Ethan is not alone. "More and more teens are turning to places like Reddit to seek out information on where and how to get vaccinated, and if it's too late."

Whatever your opinion on vaccinations, there's a positive message to all of this. A human message. Hopeful. Proof that, in an increasingly caustic world, people can turn to one another in times of need.

Whatever your opinion on vaccinations, there's a positive message to all of this. A human message. Hopeful.

Now more than ever, that is crucial.

Given the social power of Reddit, it is often characterized as a tool for politicians or political movements. Throughout the forum, various political ideologies gather and organize like factions in some ideological war. A political thread on Reddit is like a Facebook comment section at its most hostile, arrogant or confident, but with no identities attached to the attacks, rants or opinions. When you find yourself riled into a debate, it's easy to wonder who's behind the replies, especially the more vicious ones.

People often characterize it as a hive-mind message board full of circlejerk memes and jokes about SpongeBob. This description isn't entirely wrong, but it is shallow and incomplete. At its core, Reddit is humane. Its users, for the most part, are compassionate. If it were an experiment on human nature, the results would be gratifying.