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Follow the Money: The Complex Case of the Government’s “Missing” Trillions

Micah Hanks
March 21, 2019

For the last several years, the U.S. federal budget has generally been between about $3.6 and $3.8 trillion, comprising close to 21 percent of the total economy in terms of GDP. All federal spending falls into one of three groups, which include mandatory and discretionary spending (more than 90% of all federal spending falls into these two categories) as well as interest on debt the country owes, according to the National Priorities Project website.

Naturally, a large portion of government spending is put toward defense budgets every year, with the DOD budget totaling around 15% of the total federal budget in recent years (and it’s expected to be higher this year, with a proposed $681.1 billion proposed by Donald Trump for the fiscal year 2019). 

What this money is used for is, of course, an entirely different story. However, in recent years there have been questions raised as to not just how the money is used, but also whether large amounts are effectively being “hidden” by the U.S. government. 

The question goes all the way back to 2001, when then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld shared details about a curious predicament during a Congressional hearing. “According to some estimates,” Rumsfeld said, “we cannot track $2.3 trillion in transactions. We cannot share information from floor to floor in this building because it’s stored on dozens of technological systems that are inaccessible or incompatible.” 

In essence, Rumsfeld seemed to be saying that the Department of Defense had effectively “lost” $2.3 trillion in transactions. The timing of the statement–one day prior to the September 11 terror attacks–made it particularly notable among conspiracy theorists, an unfortunate stigma that has not helped in bringing credible attention to an otherwise appalling accounting “discrepancy,” if that’s even an appropriate way to refer to a government agency being unable to account for $2.3 trillion. 

Due in part to this and other problems, “As a result, DoD has developed a credibility problem with Congress, OMB, the General Accounting Office (GAO) and itself, when it comes to financial information,” one 2001 report stated.

Rumsfeld’s admission before Congress wasn’t a one-time affair, either. Over the ensuing years, several similar instances involving apparent transactional discrepancies have occurred, totaling as much as $21 trillion by some estimates. In a recent article appearing in Forbes, Boston University professor of economics Laurence Kotlikoff and Mark Skidmore, a Professor of Economics at Michigan State University, argue that the ongoing problem, while having been acknowledged by the various government branches, remains to be satisfactorily accounted for. 

Kotlikoff and Skidmore write: 

The DOD’s (Department of Defense) as well as HUD’s (Department of Housing and Urban Development) Offices of Inspector General (OIG) reference these transactions as “unsupported journal voucher adjustments.” This is polite accounting language for lost, hidden or stolen money. If such “adjustments” were small, it would be one thing. But they totaled some $21 trillion between 1998 and 2015!

The article, the second in a two-part series that looks at this problem, is based on a report co-authored by Skidmore and Catherine Austin Fitts, president of Solari, Inc., publisher of the Solari Report, and managing member of Solari Investment Advisory Services, LLC. It is worth noting that Fitts has a very interesting background beyond her financial consulting, which includes having written about past experiences that involved a military think tank inviting her to work on a project aimed at effectively “disclosing” to the general public that an extraterrestrial presence exists on Earth. Fitts has also appeared in recent years as a guest on the popular late night radio program Coast to Coast AM, as well as Alex Jones’ InfoWars. Prior to any of this, she had been an Assistant Secretary of that the Department of Housing and Urban Development under George H. W. Bush, and later the lead financial advisor to the Federal Housing Administration, at which time she first became aware of such accounting discrepancies. 

Kotlikoff, Skidmore, and Fitts aren’t the only ones aware of this problem; in fact, it was addressed by David Norquist, Comptroller for the Department of Defense, last January during a Congressional hearing on the process of the Pentagon’s congressionally-mandated first internal, consolidated financial audit, overseen by Bernie Sanders and several other members of Senate. At that time, Norquist referred again to the “unsupported adjustments,” citing them as the underlying source of the confusion. Skidmore and Kotlikoff noted in their Forbes piece, “Though it is not entirely clear from his testimony, it seems Mr. Norquist is suggesting that changes in the valuation of property and equipment due to depreciation, base closures, equipment becoming obsolete, etc. are leading to enormous undocumentable adjustments.” 

However, Norquist’s explanation fell a few marks short of being satisfactory for Kotlikoff and Skidmore. “To our knowledge,” they wrote, “there are no public reports with detailed explanations or additional data. Furthermore, the DOD’s OIG’s failure to respond to reasonable inquiries and Mr. Norquist’s clearly inadequate explanation suggests our government accountants can’t figure out what’s going on when it comes to trillions in ‘unsupported’ outlays/transactions.” 

It might be fair to say that the official explanations that have been offered allow for more than a little “wiggle room.”  However, there have been questions raised about the Kotlikoff and Skidmore’s interpretation too, namely by Mick West over at, who correctly notes that it would be tricky for trillions to go missing from an annual budget that receives only several billions of dollars in the first place. 

As West points out: 

[T]he Pentagon’s budget is around $600 billion. A measurable percentage of the Pentagon’s budget is not $6.5 Trillion. That’s ten times the amount of money that went into the Pentagon that year, and they still had to run the military. Clearly it’s impossible to both spend most of the money you’ve been given, and also lose ten times that amount.

West doesn’t dispute that some problems do probably exist with the Pentagon’s budget. “Nobody is saying that the defense department does not waste money,” West wrote. “It very obviously does. Hundreds of millions, possibly even billions of dollars are wasted through inefficiencies, incompetence, and corruption. It is probably a measurable percentage of the Pentagon’s budget.”

West further argues that one of the biggest issues with the idea that tens of trillions of dollars are being “hidden” is the way the information appears to be used to justify other unsubstantiated claims, or as West says, “to legitimize implausible conspiracy theories like 9/11 controlled demolitions or even chemtrails.” 

There doesn’t appear to be any indication that Kotlikoff or Skidmore are among those who endorse 9/11 conspiracies. However, Fitts has been a proponent of such ideas, having once served on the board of, and writing articles (like this one) which questioned the official 9/11 narrative. 

That said, even if Kotlikoff and Skidmore were completely wrong in their assessment, this doesn’t remove the fact that there are remaining credibility issues pertaining to the DoD and its treatment of publicly disclosed data that should raise questions. For instance, a recent document referenced by the authors in their Forbes article, which provided a summary of unsupported adjustments for the fiscal year of 2017 appeared in redacted form, obscuring the actual amounts. “That is, all the relevant information was blacked out,” Kotlikoff notes. “We believe the redactions are the direct results of our exposing this issue. That exposure was significant.” In previous years, there had never been similar redactions of this information. 

If the budgetary questions being addressed here are purely the result of a misunderstanding, it is unclear why the DoD would have been so hesitant to address queries the likes of those made by Kotlikoff and Skidmore. This is further complicated by the fact that the recent fiscal summaries they reference featured redactions, unlike past reports. Even if the idea of several trillions of dollars being hidden by our government stands on shaky ground, there is still plenty to justify calls for greater transparency… something we only seem to be getting less of over time.

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Funds to deter Russia, build base schools in Europe could go to US-Mexico border wall

March 20, 2019 Jason Dehart

John Vandiver
Stars and Stripes

The U.S. military’s buildup along NATO’s eastern flank, stretching from the Baltics and Poland down to Romania and Bulgaria, could be curtailed if the Trump administration elects to delay or cancel scores of planned construction projects to fund a border wall.

The Pentagon on Monday released a list of $12.9 billion worth of projects that could be defunded in some combination to divert $3.6 billion for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. The 21-page list highlights military projects worldwide that had not been awarded contracts as of Dec. 31.

More than $600 million in projects focused on deterring Russian aggression in Europe are potential targets identified by the Pentagon, including ammunition depots, fuel storage sites and rail network improvements centered on speeding the U.S. military’s ability to respond to a crisis.

Retired Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, the former head of U.S. Army Europe, said cutting such projects would be a blow to efforts in countering Russia.

“These projects were selected based on a professional assessment of what was most needed in order to ensure effective deterrence by U.S. forces as part of NATO,” Hodges said Tuesday, referring to how the projects were originally chosen for funding. “They represent tangible manifestations of America’s commitment to Europe and to the alliance, which has unfortunately been called into question over the last couple of years.”

In Europe, several school construction projects could be in jeopardy, including plans for a new $79 million Spangdahlem Elementary School, a $56 million Clay Kaserne Elementary School in Wiesbaden and a $46.6 million new Robinson Elementary in Stuttgart.

Other long-planned efforts, such as the $43.9 million expansion of the Marine Corps’ headquarters in Stuttgart and a $31 million mission training complex in Grafenwoehr – the Army’s main training area in Europe – also are potentially on the chopping block.

A Defense Department fact sheet said no decisions have yet been made and that if the Pentagon’s 2020 budget request is enacted on time, no military construction projects would be delayed or canceled.

In Europe, the largest number of projects is related to the military’s ongoing efforts to deter Russian aggression through the European Deterrence Initiative, or EDI. While much of that military campaign has focused on funding operations, such as rotating armored brigades from the U.S. to serve as reinforcements in Europe, another dimension centers on logistics. Since Russia’s 2014 forced annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, the United States and allies have spent billions trying to improve infrastructure that would be needed to move forces in response to a conflict.

“I cannot stress enough that U.S. (European Command’s) ongoing and future success in implementing and executing these strategies (to deter Russia) is only possible with Congress’ support, especially the sustained funding of the European Deterrence Initiative,” EUCOM commander Gen. Curtis M. Scaparrotti told lawmakers earlier this month.

Hodges said beefing up logistics networks is one of the ways the U.S. compensates for a smaller Army presence, which stands at roughly 32,000 soldiers on the Continent.

“We could only fill half of a football stadium with the number of troops we have here (in Europe),” Hodges said of the Army’s presence. “Our deterrence contributions rely on presence in Europe and on prepositioned equipment and logistical infrastructure that will enable rapid reinforcement.”

A focal point has been the setup of large ammunition depots scattered at strategic locations in Europe, improvements at ports where weaponry would be offloaded and at various railroad points where gear would likely be hauled. And there are scores of initiatives that have been funded, but for which contracts are yet to be rewarded. Some of the biggest plans are in Poland, where about $145 million is to be spent on ammunition and fuel storage sites, staging areas and rail extensions.

The Pentagon list also touches projects in central and Eastern European countries: Hungary, Slovakia, Romania and Bulgaria. Areas of focus include military airfield upgrades and munition storage areas.

In addition to logistics efforts, a plan to build a $15 million special operations training center in Estonia is on the list. In southern Europe, $21 million to improve port facilities at the U.S. Navy’s hub at Rota, Spain, and $47.8 million to improve Navy logistics and mobility centers in Souda Bay, Greece, also are at risk.


©2019 the Stars and Stripes

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Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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Think On It🧐 The Truth In Plain Sight

#christchurch #shooter #massacre #islam #catholic

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United States policy on energy


Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who was a leader of Sentry International, a manufacturer of equipment for the oil industry, has asked his former colleagues to cooperate with the implementation of the new US energy policy. His request comes at a time when the United States seems to have become, in 11 years, the world's leading producer of hydrocarbons, ahead of Saudi Arabia and Russia, thanks to oil and gas shale.

Speaking at the CERAWeek, held in Houston (Texas) on March 12, 2019, [1] Mike Pompeo recalled:
that the United States has imposed sanctions against Iran to prevent Iran from exporting its hydrocarbons;
that it has also imposed sanctions against Venezuela, which should temporarily exclude that country from the world hydrocarbon market;
and that the United States has decided to maintain its military presence in eastern Syria to prevent that country from exploiting its own resources.

In this context, the Department of State expects US hydrocarbon production to replace purchases from the European Union to Russia and those from Asian countries to Iran. For this purpose, it has created an Energy Resources Bureau.

The United States is now pressing the European Union to abandon the Nord Stream 2 project [2]. And it is also pressing OPEC + to stop the reduction of its production, which would favor the importing countries.

Simultaneously, the United States is encouraging the oil-consuming countries to renounce the oil and gas pipelines that would guarantee them the supply of Russian hydrocarbons and to equip themselves with new ports capable of receiving the large US ships that would supply them with oil and gas. United States

These policies would be combined with a series of efforts aimed at reducing the domestic demand for hydrocarbons in the United States.

For its part, OPEC + (that is, the member countries of OPEC and 10 other countries with significant hydrocarbon production) has just met at the ministerial level in Baku (Azerbaijan) on March 17. The participants noted the current difficulty in anticipating the evolution of the market due to the upcoming expiration of the temporary authorizations for the purchase of Iranian crude and the fact that the sanctions against Venezuela will come into effect in April.

OPEC +, formed in 2016 when the price of a barrel of crude oil was 40 dollars maintains its intention to channel the market upwards (the current price of the barrel is around 70 dollars). This group of countries could cancel their meeting in April and wait until June to take decisions.
[1] "Mike Pompeo Address at CERAWeek", by Mike Pompeo, Voltaire Network, March 12, 2019.

[2] "Le" parti américain "dans les institutions de l'Union européenne", by Manlio Dinucci, Il Manifesto (Italy), Voltaire Network, March 19, 2019.

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Beira: The Mozambican city barred, beaten, battered by Cyclone Idai

Abdur Rahman Alfa Shaban Mar 19, 2019

Three southern African countries are in the path of a rampaging tropical storm. Cyclone Idai has since late last week ravaged parts of Mozambique, eastern Zimbabwe and Malawi.

The effect of the Cyclone has aptly been captured as having left a trail of death and destruction, both by governments and by international humanitarian agencies working to help ease the pressure on the three countries.

The focus of this article is on Beira – the city most affected by Cyclone Idai. A city that was effectively cut off from the rest of the world and the country when the Cyclone arrived.

Beira is in the media spotlight, it is the epicenter of the disaster that has unfolded in the last few days. It is simply: A port city in eastern Mozambique on the Mozambique Channel. The Channel in question is an arm of the Indian Ocean between Madagascar and southeastern Africa.

Here are 10 key points about the barred, beaten and battered Beira:

1 – It is Mozambique’s fourth largest city coming behind Matola, Maputo City and Nampula.
2 – It is capital of the Sofala Province with an estimated population of 533,800 (2017 census).
3 – It is home to Port of Beira – a gateway for trade into the country as well as for land-locked Zambia, Zimbabwe and Malawi.
4 – The city is situated at a point of convergence of the Buzi and Pungwe Rivers – two major water bodies of Mozambique.
5 – According to international Red Cross, 90% of Beira was destroyed by Cyclone Idai.
6 – The city was established in 1890 by the Portuguese. Its was originally called Chiveve – named after a local river.
7 – The name Beira was after the Portuguese Crown Prince Dom Luis Filipe who carried the title Prince of Beira. The renaming happened after the prince became the first royal to visit Mozambique in 1907.
8 – The city was one of the worst-hit during the civil war of 1977 – 1992, at a point a famous hotel housed an estimated 1,000 locals.
9 – The last major natural disaster that hit Beira was in 2000. Floods in and around the city left millions homeless.
10 – Some of its tourists hotspots include the following: Old Portuguese residencies, the Cathedral, Lighthouse, Macuti Beach, the port, small Venice and the Savanna Beach.

Others are: Natural habitats the Forest in Inhangau, Praia Nova, Mira mar, the mangrove forests and walkways, the ruins of hotels, such as the Grande Hotel da Beira, Estoril, Don Carlos, among others.

The local economy is also boosted by way of restaurants, cafes, bars or hotels and resorts that serve tourists who visit the area.

Cyclone Idai and the trail of death and destruction
Malawi suffered massive displacements arising from floods, scores were also killed before Cyclone Idai hit Mozambique and Zimbabwe. The cumulative death toll is in the region of 200 as at Tuesday 19 March.

But Mozambican president Filipe Nyusi told state media that the deaths in the country alone could exceed 1,000. The International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, IFRC, said that the death toll of less than 100 could significantly shoot up.

The scale of damage caused by Cyclone Idai that hit Beira was described by the IFRC as massive and horrifying. The city was cut off from due to the effect of strong winds and rains that continued across the week according to reports.

Most communities were submerged with all communication lines cut off. Deaths have been reported along with massive human displacement and destruction of buildings.

Jamie LeSueur who led the IFRC team on an aerial assessment said: “The situation is terrible. The scale of devastation is enormous. It seems that 90 per cent of the area is completely destroyed.

“Almost everything is destroyed. Communication lines have been completely cut and roads have been destroyed. Some affected communities are not accessible.

“Beira has been severely battered. But we are also hearing that the situation outside the city could be even worse. Yesterday, a large dam burst and cut off the last road to the city,” he stressed.

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The US military has written a book on the Iraq war - but it's too late

Ibrahim Al-Marashi

Published date: 20 March 2019 12:02 UTC
Last update: 2 hours 44 min ago

The army’s critical review of its occupation of Iraq serves as a painful reminder of past mistakes

As Iraqis mark 16 years since the US invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq on 20 March, the US Army has recently made public a long-awaited Iraq war study. 

The study, though ready for release in 2016, had been delayed due to concerns over airing "dirty laundry" about decisions made by some of its leaders during the conflict.

The 1,300-page, two-volume history, which includes hundreds of declassified documents, highlights both the mistakes and successes of the US involvement in Iraq, from the 2003 invasion to the rise of the Islamic State (IS). It is a detailed testimony of the impact of the Iraq war on that nation and the entire Middle East. 

As someone with Iraqi origins, reading the entire two-volume history was an emotional journey - a painful testimony to the vicissitudes that have ravaged Iraq since 2003. Reading it as a historian, on the other hand, was gratifying, as it vindicates the value of the discipline of history.

The value of history
The study was commissioned by former army chief of staff General Ray Odierno in 2013 as an operational history of the US Army’s experience during the Iraq war, to provide lessons for the US military for future wars. The authors, Colonels Joel Rayburn and Frank Sobchak, wrote the volumes as a narrative history, based on archived military records and oral interviews, including with retired Iraqi generals Najim Jabouri and Aziz Swaidy.

Of course, historians have ethical quandaries about history being instrumentalised in the employment of future warfare. Nonetheless, the US Army has become a de facto defender of the humanities, as history departments, particularly at US universities, struggle to maintain enrollments. 

What the US Army reminds both the American and international public is the value of the discipline in terms of understanding the Middle East. It also demonstrates that history is crucial for any organisation, in the public or private sector, to show how it has evolved from the past and where it is heading in the future.  

The study admits that planning for the Iraq war on the US side failed to involve enough troops to secure the country after the toppling of Saddam Hussein, but also acknowledges that the military knew very little about Iraqi history, politics, society and government, leading to subsequent mistakes. 

What this history also provides is documentation of the roots and genesis of IS as of 2004, a decade before the group seized Iraq’s second-largest city, Mosul, in 2014. 

The rise of IS
By early 2004, Iraqi Defence Minister Ali Allawi argued that the Salafi jihadist organisation led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was working with elements of Saddam-era military and intelligence officers. The jihadists employed religious rhetoric and fervour, and suicide bombers, while the career officers provided “structure, organization, and discipline”. 

Much emphasis was put on this relationship in the wake of the events of 2014, with analysts arguing it was instrumental to IS’s lightning advances, when it appears to have been forged back in 2004. 

Not only did Allawi warn of this danger back in 2004, but he offered a plan to prevent its threat - basically a precursor to the much-vaunted troop surge of 2007. US military and political leaders failed to act on his plan in 2004 to disastrous effect, and it was not until midway through Iraq’s 2006-2008 civil war that the US finally acted. 

The US Army’s history also reminds us that while the IS invasion of Mosul in 2014 took the world by surprise, its precursor had seized the city back in November 2004. The 2014 invasion basically followed the 2004 blueprint; Iraq’s security forces had collapsed back then, as they would do again in 2014. 

This chronicle of the Iraq war thus emphasises the importance of history in two separate instances. Firstly, prior to the 2003 invasion, the US government and military were unaware of Iraq’s rich and complicated history, and consequently made political blunders after the invasion.

Secondly, on the eve of 2014, both US and Iraqi policymakers failed to appreciate the decade-long history of IS, and the terrorist group's ability to implement tactics that worked in 2004 to successfully create an “Islamic State” 10 years later. 

Iran and Syria
The US Army study made headlines in the media due to its conclusion that “Iran was the only winner” of the Iraq war.

Actually, the study focuses on two of Iraq’s neighbours, Syria and Iran. Well before the US began to strike Syria due to its chemical weapons use during the Trump administration, the Bush administration had contemplated striking the international airport in Damascus due to the Syrian government allowing foreign fighters to land there and make their way to Iraq to join the insurgency. 

One of the US failings was that at no point during the Iraq war did it have enough forces to simultaneously combat Sunni insurgents coming through Syria to fight alongside Iraqi Sunni insurgents, and the Iranian-backed Shia militias.

This failure is one of the reasons Iran emerged as the victor of the Iraq war.

While the insurgents that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad let in would eventually come back to Syria and ravage the country after 2011, Iran was able to leverage its Shia militia proxies to secure a preponderant influence over the Iraqi state - securing the Islamic Republic’s influence not only in that nation, but in the wider region. 

The real bombshell
Despite including classified documents, there are no “bombshell” revelations in this history of the Iraq war. What is significant is the expanse and scope of the project. It is a comprehensive and definitive encyclopedia of not just the military events, but the political events that unfolded in both Washington and Baghdad.

The real bombshell is that political considerations unfortunately prevented these two volumes from being released to the public back in 2016, during the height of IS’s power, as this history would have provided valuable context for both US and Middle Eastern policymakers, journalists and academics to understand the terrorist group that still poses a threat in the present. 

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Ibrahim Al-Marashi
Ibrahim Al-Marashi is associate professor of Middle East History at California State University San Marcos. His publications include Iraq’s Armed Forces: An Analytical History (2008), The Modern History of Iraq (2017), and A Concise History of the Middle East (forthcoming).
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