Artificial intelligence system ‘too good’ to be released but drone development continues

Artificial intelligence will continue to be improved and will continue to be implemented in different ways, but a company backed by some of the world’s largest companies say they won’t release an artificial intelligence system they have developed because it is too good.

But this must just be a temporary pause. If they can do it others are likely to develop AI systems with similar power and implications.

CNN:  This AI is so good at writing that its creators won’t let you use it

A new artificial intelligence system is so good at composing text that the researchers behind it said they won’t release it for fear of how it could be misused.

Created by nonprofit AI research company OpenAI (whose backers include Tesla CEO Elon Musk and Microsoft), the text-generating system can write page-long responses to prompts, mimicking everything from fantasy prose to fake celebrity news stories and homework assignments. It builds on an earlier text-generating system the company released last year.

Researchers have used AI to generate text for decades with varying levels of success. In recent years, the technology has gotten particularly good. OpenAI’s initial goal was for the system to come up with the next word in a sentence by considering the words that came before it. To make this possible, it was trained on 8 million web pages.

A handful of resulting demos that OpenAI posted online last week show just how convincing (and, at times, creepy) computer-written text can be. In many ways, they sound like the written version of deepfakes, which are persuasive — but fake — video and audio files created with AI.

What’s worse, fake text and audio and images and video created by an AI system, or created deliberately by people?

Are we heading for a virtual world where it’s impossible to differentiate between fake and reality?

There are greater risks, especially where AI is used in military applications.

Stuff:  UK close to adding swarming attack drones to its military arsenal

Swarms of small attack drones that confuse and overwhelm anti-aircraft defences could soon become an important part of the modern military arsenal, Britain’s defence secretary said, something that would mark a major evolution in robot-enabled warfare.

Speaking at the London-based Royal United Services Institute think tank, British defence secretary Gavin Williamson said Britain will fund the development of “swarm squadrons of network enabled drones capable of confusing and overwhelming enemy air defences,” noting that such vehicles would complement the British fleet of F-35 Joint Strike Fighters.

He seemed to confirm what some military experts have said for years: The technology to enable synchronised drone swarms is here, and military leaders are starting to embrace the idea of building it into their operations.

Tech companies have demonstrated that they can organise drone swarms for complex light shows and other flashy endeavours. And some widely publicised systems tests in the United States have shown how the military can adapt that concept for its own use.

Express (UK):  Putin unveils KAMIKAZE Kalashnikov military drone able to ‘bypass ANY air defence system’

Moscow is continuing its unchecked military aggression against its neighbours and the West as Vladimir Putin’s military adds cutting-edge technology to its war machine, such as last week’s testing of “undetectable” nuclear weapons. Now Russia’s latest military machine has just been unveiled, a deadly kamikaze drone.

Russia’s Kalashnikov drone is about to be rolled-out across the military after “successfully completing” trials.

And military officials have boasted of how the latest precision weapon from arms giant Kalashnikov can “deliver explosives to any terrain, bypassing systems of air defence.”

AI, drones and nuclear weapons – what could go wrong with that? And people like Putin and Trump to that and it’s downright scary.

It doesn’t sound like an intelligent use of technology to me.

Iraq, Afghanistan ‘peacekeeping’ and the realities of international ‘leadership’

Jacinda Ardern has been promoted (or has promoted herself) as one of a radical new breed of young progressive wanting to lead the world in a new direction. But the realities for a small distant nation is that the leader largely has to follow along with allies, even in war situations.

So despite in Opposition promising to pull the troops out the Government has just announced an extension of New Zealand’s deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Greens remain opposed.

Official announcement: New Zealand to extend NZDF deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan and 3 peacekeeping missions

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters, and Defence Minister Ron Mark have announced an extension of the New Zealand Defence Force military training deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, and a renewal of three peacekeeping missions in the Middle East and Africa.

“The decision to deploy defence force personnel overseas is one of the hardest for any government to take, especially when these deployments are to challenging and dangerous environments,” Jacinda Ardern said.

“The Government has weighed a number of factors, including carefully considering the risks to our servicemen and women based on advice from the New Zealand Defence Force. The decisions themselves were taken following careful Cabinet deliberations.”

The Iraq deployment will be extended until June 2019, and the Afghanistan deployment will be extended until September 2019.  This allows New Zealand to fulfil its current commitment to both missions.

In the cases of Iraq and Afghanistan the Government will be using the coming year to consider all options for New Zealand’s future contributions.

The three peacekeeping missions are to the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), the United Nations Truce Supervision Organisation (UNTSO) in the Golan Heights and Lebanon and the Multinational Force and Observers (MFO) mission in the Sinai Peninsula, Egypt.

“The Government has decided to continue with our current commitments to three peacekeeping missions in the Middle East and Africa, where we have an established presence and proven track record,” Winston Peters said.

A quite length explanation of all the deployments and their histories then followed.

This would normally be seen as a pragmatic decision with New Zealand being seen to contributing to international peacekeeping obligations, which it is. But this is a reversal of Labour’s position. National found themselves in a similar position.

Labour press release (June 2016): Iraq mission extension case not made

The Prime Minister has not made the case for extending the Iraq deployment another 18 months nor the expansion of their mission, says Opposition Leader Andrew Little.

“Labour originally opposed the deployment because the Iraqi Army’s track record was poor, even after years of training by the American and other armies. Having visited Camp Taji, my view on this has not changed.

“It was always obvious that the Iraq deployment would not be complete within the two years originally set for the mission, and the Prime Minister has not been open with the public about the demands being made on our troops by Coalition allies.

“Today in his post cabinet briefing Key could not even confirm the troops would be home in 18 months. He has not been straight with New Zealanders, nor has he made the case for mission creep. He owes it New Zealanders to explain why we’re committing our forces to an ongoing volatile theatre of war.

The Government has announced an extension to the two-year deployment, keeping up to 143 personnel in Iraq for an extra 18 months.

John Key admits it’s a change from the initial promise, but said there’s still work to do. He said the other options are to “do nothing”, or do “something that in hindsight may be more dangerous”.

Labour leader Andrew Little…

“We can be a good global citizen by looking after the civilians who are displaced. What we don’t want to be is caught up in a conflict that goes way out of control.”

“The fact that he’s now completely indefinite about how long we might be there – we could be there for a long, long time. The real threat then is of civil war and who knows where that will go.”

Green co-leader James Shaw…

…said we shouldn’t have our military in Iraq at all

“This is mission creep, and it’s extremely dangerous. He’s broken a promise about how long we were going to be there in the first place, it could easily get extended again, both in terms of the length of time we’re over there and also in terms of the scope of the mission.’

“Our good global citizenship role would be much better deployed as part of the humanitarian effort, rather than part of the military effort. We’ve got a lot more skill in humanitarian aid.”

SBS News/Reuters (November 2017 just after Ardern became Prime Minister): NZ could pull out of Iraq deployment

Australia may lose New Zealand as a partner training Iraqi security forces to fight Islamic State militants next year.

Ms Ardern said her government will review NZ’s commitment of just under 150 military personnel in November next year.

“We will look again at the circumstances when that mandate comes up again,” she told reporters at Sydney airport before her departure.

“It’s a complex conflict and things could change dramatically between now and then.”

Former NZ Labour leader Andrew Little, who Ms Ardern replaced, has previously cast doubt on the benefits the country’s role in Iraq and had vowed to bring the troops home.

Incline (February 2018): Groundhog Day for New Zealand’s Iraq Deployment?

National’s decision might have been broadly predictable, but the same cannot be said for Jacinda Ardern’s Labour-led coalition. What the Prime Minister and her Cabinet colleagues choose to do on Iraq presents a series of challenges in the weighing of international and domestic expectations.

For New Zealand First, which holds both the Defence and Foreign Affairs portfolios, the shift in position is a slightly easier one. Ron Mark prides himself on his commitment to a Defence Force that is ready to undertake missions in difficult conflict zones. At a time when his portfolio is not among the government’s top spending priorities, he needs a win for his view of the Defence Force. That Mr. Mark has been in Iraq, and has reported that the New Zealanders are doing “vital tasks” in the national interest, says all we need to know about his position on the issue.

His New Zealand First boss also seems a very likely supporter of extension. As Foreign Minister, Peters will be keenly aware of Australia’s interest in seeing New Zealand commit to a further six months and more.

We can be certain that if Jacinda Ardern announces that New Zealand will extend its mission she will not use the “price of the club” argument which landed John Key in political hot water. Explaining New Zealand’s involvement as a consequence of its five eyes connections would be exactly the message that would fire up opposition from the Greens and the Labour left.

…the Iraq decision is a more difficult test. Unlike the TPP, where significant parts of New Zealand’s business community have been strong supporters, there is no comparable domestic constituency for the Iraq deployment.

This raises an obvious challenge for the government if it does choose to extend. How does it show this choice is consistent with an independent foreign policy? Labour may think it owns that concept by virtue of its nuclear free push in the 1980s. Will Ardern be tempted to repeat the Key-English argument that New Zealand has made its own (i.e. “independent”) choice to work with traditional partners in Iraq? That will hardly convince many of the people who brought her to office.

Newshub (yesterday): Jacinda Ardern’s U-turn on pulling troops out of Iraq

The Labour-led Government is extending New Zealand’s deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan despite promising in Opposition to pull troops out.

The Prime Minister is refusing to comment on whether New Zealand’s elite soldiers, the SAS, will or have joined them.

This is another example of Labour leaning towards NZ First preferences, with Greens opposed. The Green Party doesen’t seem to have put out an official statement, but…

In the context of the ‘War of Terror’ & ‘peace in the Mid East’, one thing we know is more foreign military presence is not working, has never worked, & has made things far worse. Bring on the sustainable, non-military led humanitarian, conservation, restoration focus.

Stop spending Mills$ joining failed military campaigns that only help weapons manufacturing nations/corporates. Instead invest in helping victims access medicine, rebuild schools, roads…And flex our diplomatic muscle to tell everyone we won’t stand for them profiting from war.

She has a point – Iraq and Aghanistan seem to be bottomless pits and graveyards when it comes to military involvement, and perhaps futile: Seventeen years after September 11, al-Qaeda may be stronger than ever

In the days after September 11, 2001, the United States set out to destroy al-Qaeda. US President George W Bush vowed to “starve terrorists of funding, turn them one against another, drive them from place to place, until there is no refuge or no rest.”

Seventeen years later, al-Qaeda may be stronger than ever. Far from vanquishing the extremist group and its associated “franchises,” critics say, US policies in the Middle East appear to have encouraged its spread.

New Zealand is now extending support of US policie.

What US officials didn’t grasp, said Rita Katz, director of the Site Intelligence Group, in a recent phone interview, is that al-Qaeda is more than a group of individuals. “It’s an idea, and an idea cannot be destroyed using sophisticated weapons and killing leaders and bombing training camps,” she said.

The group has amassed the largest fighting force in its existence.

It is a dilemma. Pacifism would also not have contained Al Qaeda nor ISIS. But a seventeen year military approach hasn’t solved Middle East problems either.

Ardern, Peters and their Government are doing their bit, but it’s very debatable whether that is going to help anything other than their standing in the US and it’s military industrial complex.

Resignations over Google involvement in analysing drone footage classifying images of people

Yesterdays post on Flaw with Foodstuffs facial recognition showed how face recognition is being used in supermarkets to try to identify shop lifters.

On a much different scale, concerns are being raised by Google’s involvement in a US project that is analysing drone footage of people and objects.

Gizmodo: Google Employees Resign in Protest Against Pentagon Contract

It’s been nearly three months since many Google employees—and the public—learned about the company’s decision to provide artificial intelligence to a controversial military pilot program known as Project Maven, which aims to speed up analysis of drone footage by automatically classifying images of objects and people.

Now, about a dozen Google employees are resigning in protest over the company’s continued involvement in Maven.

The resigning employees’ frustrations range from particular ethical concerns over the use of artificial intelligence in drone warfare to broader worries about Google’s political decisions—and the erosion of user trust that could result from these actions.

Google has already imaged the world, and some of that has been controversial – they now blank out some details like faces and car registration plates, but they still have that information.

Google also has a huge amount of data on people’s searching and browsing habits.

So getting involved in drone imaging and warfare justifiably raises concerns.

In the case of Maven, Google is helping the Defense Department implement machine learning to classify images gathered by drones. But some employees believe humans, not algorithms, should be responsible for this sensitive and potentially lethal work—and that Google shouldn’t be involved in military work at all.

There is no way of knowing how much Google is working with governments and military matters.

In addition to the resignations, nearly 4,000 Google employees have voiced their opposition to Project Maven in an internal petition that asks Google to immediately cancel the contract and institute a policy against taking on future military work.

However, the mounting pressure from employees seems to have done little to sway Google’s decision—the company has defended its work on Maven and is thought to be one of the lead contenders for another major Pentagon cloud computing contract, the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure, better known as JEDI, that is currently up for bids.

the resigning employees believe that Google’s work on Maven is fundamentally at odds with the company’s do-gooder principles. “It’s not like Google is this little machine-learning startup that’s trying to find clients in different industries,” a resigning employee said. “It just seems like it makes sense for Google and Google’s reputation to stay out of that.”

Many Google employees first learned the company was working on Maven when word of the controversial project began to spread internally in late February. At the time, a Google spokesperson told Gizmodo that the company was in the process of drafting “policies and safeguards” around its use of machine learning, but that policy document has yet to materialize, sources said.

One employee explained that Google staffers were promised an update on the ethics policy within a few weeks, but that progress appeared to be locked in a holding pattern. The ethical concerns “should have been addressed before we entered this contract,” the employee said.

In addition to the petition circulating inside Google, the Tech Workers Coalition launched a petition in April demanding that Google abandon its work on Maven and that other major tech companies, including IBM and Amazon, refuse to work with the U.S. Defense Department.

“We can no longer ignore our industry’s and our technologies’ harmful biases, large-scale breaches of trust, and lack of ethical safeguards,” the petition reads. “These are life and death stakes.”

More than 90 academics in artificial intelligence, ethics, and computer science released an open letter today that calls on Google to end its work on Project Maven and to support an international treaty prohibiting autonomous weapons systems.

This is a big deal, but most of the people will continue to feed the Google data machine oblivious to what Google is doing with the US military.

Not only is this collaboration a concern, it also poses risks. I presume Google has decent security on it’s data but what if they were hacked or data was handed over to another country?

Trump: ‘the calm before the storm’

Donald Trump talked big and tough during his campaigns, and he has talked big and tough as president. But so far (fortunately) it has been all bark.

Is this about to change? Trump was obviously trying to send some sort of message in a media stunt.

Reuters: In meeting with military, Trump talks of ‘calm before the storm’

After discussing Iran and North Korea with U.S. military leaders on Thursday, President Donald Trump posed for a photo with them before dinner and declared the moment “the calm before the storm.”

“You guys know what this represents?” Trump said after journalists gathered in the White House state dining room to photograph him and first lady Melania Trump with the uniformed military leaders and their spouses.

“Maybe it’s the calm before the storm,” he said.

What storm?

“You’ll find out,” Trump told questioning reporters.

Earlier in the evening, while seated with the top defense officials in the cabinet room, Trump talked about the threat from North Korea and preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.

“In North Korea, our goal is denuclearization,” he said. “We cannot allow this dictatorship to threaten our nation or our allies with unimaginable loss of life. We will do what we must do to prevent that from happening. And it will be done, if necessary, believe me.”

During his speech to the United Nations General Assembly last month, Trump said the United States would “totally destroy” North Korea if needed to defend itself or U.S. allies.

Meanwhile:

Trump brain fart on transgender troops

Donald Trump seems to have had a major brain fart (even by his standard of cerebral flatulence) in seeming to announce a total ban on transgender people serving “in any capacity” in the us military.

This seems to have blind sided the military, the Pentagon, Defense Secretary James Mattis who is on holiday, and the White House.

The tweets said:

After consultation with my Generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military.

Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail. Thank you.

The Hill:  Trump triggers storm with transgender ban

President Trump announced Wednesday that he would end service by transgender people in the military, opening up a culture battle that caught much of Washington by surprise.

Trump made the announcement after House conservatives pushed the White House to curb Pentagon funding for transition-related medical care and indicated they may not support the spending bill currently on the floor over the issue.

But Trump went much further, and decisionmakers on Capitol Hill, including the Armed Services committees, were out of the loop.

Trump’s announcement, made in three morning posts on Twitter, also left more questions than answers — including whether the 250 openly transgender troops and thousands more who remain private about their gender identity could face immediate discharge.

The announcement came while Defense Secretary James Mattis is on vacation for the week.

The Pentagon, in a three-sentence statement, referred all questions to the White House and said more guidance would be given in the “near future.”

The White House press briefing on Wednesday did little to clear up confusion.

“I really don’t have anything else to add on that topic,” press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in evident frustration.

Estimates on the number of transgender troops vary widely. On the high end, LGBT advocates put it at 15,000. On the low end, a 2016 Rand Corporation study estimated there were 2,450 in active duty and 1,510 in the reserves.

About 250 troops have officially come out as transgender since the ban was lifted.

Asked whether currently serving transgender troops, including those now deployed to war zones, would be discharged, Sanders could not answer.

“The implementation policy is going to be something that the White House and the Department of Defense have to work together to lawfully determine, and I would imagine the Department of Defense will be the lead on that and keep you posted as that takes place,” she said.

Asked why such a decision was not made before announcing the new policy, Sanders said Trump did not feel the need to wait after making up his mind. Trump made the decision Tuesday, she said, and informed Mattis that day.

“I think sometimes you have to make decisions, and once he made a decision, he didn’t feel it was necessary to hold that decision and they’re going to work together with the Department of Defense to lawfully implement it,” she said.

There has been widespread surprise and astonishment.

This looks like a spur of the moment brain fart by Trump, with no thought of the implications or implementation.

Once he has purged the military of transgender people who next? Clinton supporters? Fake soldiers?

This is likely to encounter significant opposition.

Bizarre Qatar situation

Turkey has sided with Qatar in the Middle East split:

Bloomberg:  Turkey Lines Up Behind Qatar as Gulf Crisis Fault Lines Deepen

Turkey criticized Saudi-led efforts to isolate ally Qatar, deepening the fault lines in a crisis that has engulfed one of the world’s most strategically important regions.

In defending Qatar, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan joined a growing list of Middle East nations resisting Saudi Arabia’s push for a united regional front against the gas-rich emirate, whose maverick policies have vexed the kingdom for years. On Wednesday, the head of NATO’s second-largest army offered to try to mend the rift, which has created havoc at airports and seaports, and added new tinder to the already combustible Middle East by challenging the authority of Qatar’s ruler, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani.

“I’d like to say that we don’t find sanctions against Qatar right,” Erdogan said at a gathering in the Turkish capital, Ankara, late Tuesday. “The most appropriate way for the Gulf Cooperation Council countries to solve their internal issues is through dialogue.”

“We are ready to do everything to resolve other countries’ problems with Qatar,” he added.

Turkey and Qatar have close ties, and Erdogan has sided with the emirate against Saudi Arabia in supporting the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip. Qatar is a major investor in Turkey’s $857 billion economy, with interests in media, financial and defense companies, and Turkey is building a base in the emirate.

Surprise surprise, money is involved.

Interesting that Turkey is building a base in Qatar. The US already has a large base there.

Saudi Arabia and three other U.S. allies in the region — the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain — escalated tensions that followed President Donald Trump’s Iran-bashing visit to the kingdom last month by severing ties with Qatar on Monday.

Trump gave the Saudis crucial backing on Tuesday, calling the squeeze on Qatar just punishment for the country’s financial support for Islamic extremists.

“During my recent trip to the Middle East I stated there can no longer be funding of Radical Ideology,” Trump said on Twitter. “Leaders pointed to Qatar – look!” In two additional tweets he said the action proved that his meeting with Persian Gulf Arab leaders last month was “already paying off.”

But the US is supposed to be selling $21.1 billion (US) worth of F-15s to Qatar.

Fox News:  Qatar’s $21B deal to buy F-15s moving forward amid diplomatic battle

A plan to sell $21.1 billion worth of Boeing (BA)-made F-15 fighter jets to Qatar appears to be moving forward, despite several countries cutting diplomatic ties with the Middle Eastern nation this week.

A State Department official said the diplomatic battle and President Donald Trump’s criticism of Qatar, which is under fire for allegedly supporting terrorist groups, has not affected the pending deal to deliver 72 F-15QA multirole fighters, according to Fox News.

In a statement, Boeing said it’s “closely following recent developments.”

“We have been working closely with the U.S. and Qatari governments on this proposed sale. We continue to expect that an agreement will be signed,” Boeing added.

What a convoluted mess it is.

I think it’s likely that Trump has no idea how complex things are there. It seems as long as there’s business in it he will back it, but the military complications are bizarre.

Does New Zealand need a military?

Differing views on whether New Zealand needs a military from Reddit:

Strictly speaking, does NZ even need a military?

Instead of just having a coast guard just like Iceland, and have external defence come under the responsibility of Australia, which is sort of also the defence policy of Ireland, when you really think about it.

As for peacekeeping operations Australia can just take over those with the NZ government footing some small part of the bill. Or allow the Americans to maintain naval and air bases in South island in return for them assuming the role of external defence with Australia, with the money saved on the military going into subsidizing social housing.

It’s hard to know why the US would want naval and air bases in the South Island, about as far as you could get from problem areas in the world.

A response:

The answer you are looking for is yes! There’s no two ways about it.

The 3 armed services play a major role in Disaster relief some examples from the last few year being the Christchurch quakes, the 2 cyclones that blew through the pacific 2 years in a row destroying villages in Vanuatu and Fiji , the Kaikora earthquake, and the large fires that happened on the port hills this year.

Not to mention our P3 Orions are deployed every second week to locate and supply stricken vessels at sea inside our Search and rescue zone (which is absolutely massive). and our NH90’s and A190s perform SAR missions in the rugged terrain of NZ.

The Navy patrols our oceans from illegal fishing and conduct SAR operations at sea, it’s also the Navy’s transport ship that carriers hundreds of soldiers, helicopters, and vehicles that perform those much needed relief missions into the pacific.

If your here to suggest that we don’t need a Defence Force because you believe we are a peaceful nation just remember only 2 of the Navy’s 11 ships are made for combat, the air force has no strike wing, and the army has no tanks so by international standards we are already very demilitarised.

A lot of these roles would not be able to be conducted by a coast guard and if you think Australia is going to deploy a ship, aircraft, or battalion every time we need a hand you are dreaming.

Could we save money by getting the Aussies to do a bit of our defence? They seem to treat Kiwis in Australia as second class citizens so they may not give us much priority.

The Government is proposing a $20 billion upgrade to our military over the next 15 years but Labour leader Andrew Little is refusing to commit to that level expenditure.

RNZ: Defence Force upgrade in question under Labour govt

Last year the government unveiled the multi-billion dollar plan to equip the Defence Force with new aircraft, combat vessels and weaponry, as well as a major upgrade to its land and property.

It would cost $20bn over the next 15 years, and the procurement process for the some of the new equipment is already under way.

Labour leader Andrew Little has refused to commit to following through on the 15-year modernisation plan if he became prime minister, saying spending on housing and education would always take priority.

“But I have to tell you when it comes down to a choice between doing stuff that’s going to give people a chance to either get a roof over their head, get the kids set up for opportunities for the future, then that’s got to come first,” Mr Little said.

The Greens tend to also be against military spending but their policies propose strengthening peace keeping capabilities which is mostly what our military does apart from search and surveillance.

Trump gives military ‘total authorization’

At a presidential nomination campaign rally in Iowa in 2015 Donald Trump said: I would bomb the s— out of’ ISIS

“ISIS is making a tremendous amount of money because they have certain oil camps, certain areas of oil that they took away”.

“They have some in Syria, some in Iraq. I would bomb the s— out of ’em. I would just bomb those suckers. That’s right. I’d blow up the pipes. … I’d blow up every single inch. There would be nothing left. And you know what, you’ll get Exxon to come in there and in two months, you ever see these guys, how good they are, the great oil companies? They will rebuild that sucker, brand new, it will be beautiful.”

But Trump also said:

“I would love not to be over there. That’s not our fight, that’s other people’s fights.”

Now Trump is escalating US involvement in the fight.

Military Times: Trump: I’m giving the military ‘total authorization’

President Trump on Thursday called the recent high-profile military actions overseas proof that he’s fulfilling his promise to let defense leaders act decisively without interference from politicians.

“What I do is I authorize my military,” in response to a press question about the use of a massive bomb in an assault on Islamic State group positions in Afghanistan. “We have the greatest military in the world, and they’ve done the job, as usual. We have given them total authorization, and that’s what they’re doing.

“Frankly, that’s why they’ve been so successful lately. If you look at what’s happened over the last eight weeks and compare that really to what has happened over the last eight years, you’ll see there is a tremendous difference.”

The escalation so far:

The Afghanistan airstrike — the first battlefield use of the military’s Massive Ordnance Air Blast weapon — on Thursday was the latest in a series of large scale, sometimes controversial military actions by the Defense Department in Trump’s first three months in office.

Earlier this month, the military fired nearly 60 Tomahawk missiles at a Syrian airfield in response to chemical weapons use by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Al Assad. In January, U.S. special operations forces conducted a raid against an al-Qaida compound in Yemen that resulted in the death of a Navy SEAL and several civilians.

White House officials said Trump was heavily involved in authorizing the Yemen raid and Syria strike, but Trump appeared to indicate he was not the final authority on the use of the MOAB against terrorist positions this week.

Some will like this, especially the industrial military complex who get to test out some of their newer weapons in action and will get more business out of the Trump government – the military is one part of Government that Trump wants to grow, substantially.

But if the US bombs the shit out of Afghanistan, and Syria, and Korea, what will they gain?

Trump concedes miscues and complexities

Reality may be starting to make an impression on Donald Trump. He admits “communications miscues” and admits he had not been aware of the complexities of health care policy-making – but miscues on that.

Fox News: Trump previews joint address to Congress, takes blame for communication issues

Trump, in an interview with “Fox & Friends,” specifically cited his immigration policy, and said that perhaps the rollout of his plan to keep out and remove criminal illegals hadn’t been communicated effectively.

“And maybe that’s my fault,” Trump said.

He later awarded himself a grade of a “C” or “C-plus” on communicating, straightforwardly saying, “My messaging isn’t good.” He clarified that he would give himself an “A” for achievement and “A-plus” for effort.

Admitting  faults is something Trump has tended not to do before.

Trump also ramped up his war with the press, questioning whether many journalists are simply making up the stories he’s infamously derided as “fake news.”

“I believe that sometimes they don’t have sources,” Trump said. “I believe that a lot of the sources are made up. I believe a lot of the sources are pure fiction. They just pull it out of thin air.”

But then he blames the media again. They are far from perfect but I call bullshit on his claims here – he is pulling this fiction out of thin air. A common ‘Breitbart’ tactic is to transference of blame to others for one’s own actions.

Though he pledged to give the U.S. “the greatest military we’ve ever had by the time I finish,” Trump spoke somberly about the Jan. 29 special operations mission in Yemen that resulted in the death of a Navy SEAL. Sen. John McCain – a frequent Trump foil – had criticized the daring raid, saying he would “not describe any operation that results in the loss of American life as a success.” Trump said McCain’s remarks were “inappropriate.”

“I feel badly when a young man dies and John McCain says, ‘That was a failed mission,’” he said.

It’s good to see that he recognises consequences of making military decisions.

As the president plans to boost the military, Trump’s proposed $54 billion increase in defense spending is coming largely from cuts to the State Department and Environmental Protection Agency. He suggested Tuesday that foreign aid would be a target of the cuts.

“We’re going to do things having to do with other countries because we’re treated very, very unfairly,” Trump said. “…We’re taking care of their military and we’re not being reimbursed. They’re wealthy countries.”

Trump pledged to use his “Art of the Deal” expertise to drive down costs, as well.

“I am going to get involved in negotiating,” Trump said. “We have many planes and boats and ships … we’re spending too much money individually on.” He said the U.S. would “get a lot more product for our buck.”

Having the president getting involved in contract negotiations will raise a few eyebrows for various reasons. As does his escalation of military spending at the expense of overseas aid and diplomacy, things that experts have warned are at least as important as military might.

NY Times: Trump Concedes Health Law Overhaul Is ‘Unbelievably Complex’

President Trump, meeting with the nation’s governors, conceded Monday that he had not been aware of the complexities of health care policy-making: “I have to tell you, it’s an unbelievably complex subject. Nobody knew that health care could be so complicated.”

I’m sure many people knew how complex it was.

The president also suggested that the struggle to replace the Affordable Care Act was creating a legislative logjam that could delay other parts of his political agenda.

Many policy makers had anticipated the intricacies of changing the health care law, and Mr. Trump’s demands in the opening days of his administration to simultaneously repeal and replace President Barack Obama’s signature domestic achievement made the political calculations far more complicated.

Running a government and a country the size of the US is very complex. Simple healthcare decisions can affect the lives of many people.

Perhaps Trump is starting to realise that being President involves more than waving a rhetorical wand.

And Trump’s first budget is a major test for him and the White House.

Fox News: Not fake news: Trump’s budget cuts are first big test of his presidency

In the last few days, President Trump has made news by excoriating the “fake news” media as the “enemy of the people,” attacking the use of anonymous sources, and blowing off the White House Correspondents Dinner.

Trump also declared the election of Tom Perez as DNC chair to be “rigged” and tweeted this: “Russia talk is FAKE NEWS put out by the Dems, and played up by the media, in order to make the big election defeat and the illegal leaks!”

These are all ways of stirring the pot, and the self-absorbed media relish reporting on the president attacking them and then firing back, creating a seemingly endless loop.

But with the president delivering his first speech to Congress tonight, he faces a very different challenge—shaping a budget and pushing through his priorities—that will do more to determine his success than all the skirmishing with the press.

I was on a press call with a senior OMB official—a couple of reporters complained that the White House was putting out an “anonymous source”—who described the magnitude of what he dubbed a “security budget.”

The sort of anonymous sources he has criticised media for useing.

In pushing for a $54-billion boost in defense spending, Trump will demand offsetting cuts in the rest of the budget. That is huge, and reminiscent of what Ronald Reagan did in 1981.

And like Reagan, Trump also plans to push through a major tax cut that would undoubtedly drain revenue from the Treasury.

Plus, as he told me during the campaign and recently reemphasized, the president doesn’t plan to touch the big-ticket entitlement programs, Medicare and Social Security—despite the adamant stance of House conservatives that without reform they are headed toward bankruptcy.

So that raises real questions about whether the Trumpian budget will blow a big hole in the deficit. Trump’s never been a major balanced-budget guy, and the issue hasn’t resonated in American politics since Ross Perot, but it does add to borrowing costs and impact the economy.

But what will become a massive story in media and politics is the attempt to slice more than $50 billion from what budget wonks call non-defense discretionary spending. That means the money will come from schools, housing, health, agriculture, environment—just about everything else the government does. And also foreign aid, according to the OMB official.

Every program is in that budget because it has a constituency, creates jobs in certain communities, and lobbyists who are prepared to defend it.

There will be a flood of stories about people who would lose their benefits, about the impact on food stamp recipients and farmers, clean air or clean water.

Some of the people affected by budget cuts will be people who voted for Trump, hoping for something better.

These are the realities of governing – it’s impossible to please all of the people all of the time. It’s hard enough pleasing half of the people half of the time.

It will take much more than eliminating communications miscues (that he is still making) to reform Washington and fix the country and the world.

One of the first things he could do to improve communications is to cut his contradictions on ‘fake news’, or gradually more and more people will wake up and become disillusioned, especially if he cuts their jobs.

Even Rasmussen doesn’t have him ahead on job approval now:

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http://www.realclearpolitics.com/epolls/other/president_trump_job_approval-6179.html

President Trump will address a joint session of Congress Tuesday 9:10 pm Eastern Time – that should be 3:10 PM Wednesday New Zealand time and will be on all the major US networks.

Coup attempt in Turkey

More turmoil in the Islamic world with reports of an apparent coup attempt in Turkey.

Stuff: Turkish military in attempted coup, prime minister says

A group within Turkey’s military has engaged in what appeared to be an attempted coup, the prime minister says, with military jets flying over the capital and reports of vehicles blocking two major bridges in Istanbul.

Turkey’s military said on Friday it had seized power, but prime minister Binali Yildirim said the attempted coup would be put down.

If successful, the overthrow of President Tayyip Erdogan, who has ruled Turkey since 2003, would amount to one of the biggest shifts in power in the Middle East in years.

The armed forces had taken power in the country to protect the democratic order and to maintain human rights, the military said in a statement sent by email and reported on Turkish TV channels. All of Turkey’s existing foreign relations would be maintained and the rule of law would remain the priority, it said.

BBC: Turkey army group announces takeover on TV

An army group in Turkey says it has taken control of the country, with bridges closed in Istanbul and aircraft flying low over Ankara.

PM Binali Yildirim earlier denounced an “illegal action” by a military “group”, stressing it was not a coup. He said that the government remained in charge.

Traffic has been stopped from crossing both the Bosphorus and Fatih Sultan Mehmet bridges in Istanbul.

There are reports of gunshots in the capital Ankara.

Other reports said soldiers were inside buildings of the Turkish state broadcaster in Ankara.

Gunfire was also heard outside Istanbul police HQ and tanks are said to be stationed outside Istanbul airport. All flights are cancelled, reports say.

CNN Turk reported that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was “safe” but did not elaborate.

A statement from the military group read out on NTV television said: “The power in the country has been seized in its entirety.” Who represents the group remains uncertain.

Regardless of the outcome more instability is one of ther last things the Middle East needs. Turkey is closely involved with the civil war in Syria and has had serious tensions with Russia recently.

Jim Waterson Retweeted Laura Pitel

Nothing says “I’m in control” like addressing the nation over Skype on a mobile phone.

Turkish TV broadcasts a message from Erdogan claiming he’s in control and will punish the coup leaders:

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Erdogan: I urge the Turkish people to convene at public squares and airports. There is no power higher than the power of the people.

A certain grim irony in Erdogan who shut down free media and tried to shut down social media now having to make his statement via facetime.

NBC reporting US military source claiming Erdogan denied landing rights in Istanbul and seeking asylum in Germany.

Turkish military says in statement: to restore constitutional order, human rights, rule of law and democracy we have taken control.

France 24: Chief of Staff of the Turkish army is dead (unconfirmed)

BREAKING VIDEO: Military Helicopter Opens Fire On Turkish Intelligence Agency HQ
http://breaking911.com/gunfire-heard-in-turkish-capital-helicopters-military-jets-overhead/