Daily Archives: June 12, 2014

World Cup Brazil: Jennifer Lopez, Pitbull Perform at Opening Ceremony

Jennifer Lopez sambaed on the stage of the opening ceremony of the 2014 World Cup in Sao Paulo, Brazil Thursday afternoon (June 12), accompanying Pitbull and Brazilian singer Claudia Leitte during a performance of the official song “We Are One.” Leitte, a star in Brazil, appeared first to warm up the crowd before Pitbull and Lopez rose up from the ground onto the small flower-shaped platform.

The three artists seemed hesitant, standing in a circle and waving their arms throughout the short performance. The song was generally met with a tepid response from the crowd, although a roar could be heard when Lopez, in a bust-revealing beaded leotard, sang her solo and showed off some samba steps. Pitbull’s usual outsize persona was muted as he stood in a Brazil shirt and tight cropped white pants; his vocals were drowned out by the Brazilian percussion troupe that provided live accompaniment to the track. Cheers from the crowd in Sao Paulo could be heard as the song ended.

Leitte, in a modest long-sleeved leotard in blue, the color of the Brazilian team’s shorts, acted as a buffer for the crowd in Brazil, where the song has been widely panned, playing cheerleader and rousing the crowd as leading Lopez and Pitbull off the stage to walk near the stands.

With days to go before the opening, FIFA announced the Lopez would not be present for performance because of “production” problems. Lopez later reversed that decision.

Since “We Are One”s debut earlier this year, social media has exploded with complaints that the song was neither “Brazilian enough” nor good enough to be worthy of the World Cup.

The song has been viewed over 75 million times on YouTube, and sold 91,000 downloads, according to Nielsen SoundScan.

The opening ceremony, which began about two hours before the inaugural game between Brazil and Croatia, was a simple theatrical spectacle. Pointedly devoid of the sequins and exposed skin stereotypically associated with Brazil, and it was not the kind of big budget extravaganza likely to inflame the wrath of the country’s World Cup protestors. It included a tribute to music of Brazil from different regions, accompanied by dancers in regional costumes and capoeira performers.

Rather than the typical girls in Carnival outfits and drum beats, the 25-minute show opened with stilt walkers dressed as trees and dancers dressed as flowers representing the Amazon, accompanied by rainforest sounds and choral music. In the center of the stadium a “living” LED crystal ball changed colors and images according along with the live action.

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Iran Deploys Forces to Fight Militants in Iraq

The commander of Iran's Quds Force, Maj. Gen. Qasem Solaimani, went to Baghdad this week. Shahaboddin Vajedi

The commander of Iran‘s Quds Force, Maj. Gen. Qasem Solaimani, went to Baghdad this week. Shahaboddin Vajedi

BEIRUT—The threat of Sunni extremists eclipsing the power of its Shiite-dominated Arab ally presents Iran with the biggest security and strategic challenge it has faced since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

With the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, an offshoot of al Qaeda, rapidly gaining territory, Iran deployed Revolutionary Guards units to Iraq, according to Iranian security officials.

Iran has invested considerable financial, political and military resources over the past decade to ensure Iraq emerged from U.S. war as a strategic partner for the Islamic Republic and a strong Shiite-led state. The so-called Shiite crescent—stretching from Iran to Iraq, Lebanon and Syria—was forged largely as a result of this effort.

Two Guards’ units, dispatched from Iran’s western border provinces on Wednesday, were tasked with protecting Baghdad and the holy Shiite cities of Karbala and Najaf, these security sources said.

The involvement of Iran would pose yet another security challenge for the White House, and raises the prospect of the U.S. and Iran fighting on the same side. The U.S. opposes Iran’s support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, but with Tehran is jointly supporting Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

State Department officials on Thursday refused to outline what steps the Obama administration would take if Iranian forces entered Iraq.

Spokeswoman Jen Psaki said American diplomats who met with Iranian officials in Geneva this week to discuss Tehran’s nuclear program didn’t raise the issue of the Iraqi crisis.

“We’ve encouraged them to play a constructive role in Iraq,” Ms. Psaki said about the Iranians.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, reached by phone in London, said of the report that Iran’s Revolutionary Guards were entering the fight: “Frankly I have no idea about that. I am in London now.”

Syria’s conflict has turned Iraq into an important operational base for Iran to aid another ally, the Assad regime, which is dominated by an offshoot of Shiite Islam. Shiite militia trained by Iran, weapons and cash have flowed from Iran to Syria via Iraq.

“Iraq is viewed as a vital priority in Iran’s foreign policy in the region and they go to any length to protect this interest,” said Roozbeh Miribrahimi, an independent Iran expert based in New York.

House Speaker John Boehner ripped the President for not doing more in recent days to prevent Sunni jihadist militants from taking control of key Iraqi cities, including Mosul and Tikrit. Insurgents have been advancing through Iraq’s heartland with their eyes set on Baghdad, the country’s capital.

“They are 100 miles from Baghdad,” said Boehner Thursday. “And what’s the president do? Taking a nap.”

“It’s not like we haven’t seen this problem coming for over a year,” he added.

Boehner believes the U.S. should provide “the equipment and technical assistance that the Iraqis have been asking for.” The U.S. has rebuffed requests by the Iraqi government to order airstrikes in extremist areas, according to The New York Times. The Obama Administration has been reluctant to engage the recent extremist uprising as the American public largely endorsed withdrawing the last of its troops from Iraq in 2011.

Boehner said he did not know “enough of the details” to comment on whether or not the U.S. should engage in airstrikes.

Some of Boehner’s Republican colleagues in the Senate were also critical of the Obama Administration on Thursday, none more so than Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). McCain told reporters that Obama’s entire national security team, including the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, should be replaced.

Kurdish military units known as peshmerga deployed armor at the provincial capital of Kirkuk on Thursday as Iraq edged closer to full-scale sectarian conflict following lightning strikes on major cities

Kurdish military units known as peshmerga deployed armor at the provincial capital of Kirkuk on Thursday as Iraq edged closer to full-scale sectarian conflict following lightning strikes on major cities

That coarsely worded threat further vindicated Iran’s view that the fight unfolding in Iraq is an existential sectarian battle between the two rival sects of Islam-Sunni and Shiite—and by default a proxy battle between their patrons Saudi Arabia and Iran.

“Until now we haven’t received any requests for help from Iraq. Iraq’s army is certainly capable in handling this,” Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afgham said Wednesday.

Iranian President Hasan Rouhani cut short a religious celebration on Thursday and said he had to attend an emergency meeting of the country’s National Security Council about events in Iraq.

“We, as the Islamic Republic of Iran, won’t tolerate this violence and terrorism…. We will fight and battle violence and extremism and terrorism in the region and the world,” he said in a speech.

ISIS’s rapid territorial gains in the past few days appeared to have caught Iranian officials by surprise and opened a debate within the regime over whether Iran should publicly enter the battle.

Iran’s chief of police, Esmail Ahmadi-Moghaddam said the National Security Council would consider intervening in Iraq to “protect Shiite shrines and cities,” according to Iranian media.

In the short-term, analysts said the outcome of the crisis in Iraq will only strengthen and increase the influence of Iran and the Revolutionary Guards.

Boehner : Obama ‘Taking A Nap’ as Violence Tearing Iraq Apart

John A. Boehner

John A. Boehner

House Speaker John Boehner ripped the President for not doing more in recent days to prevent Sunni jihadist militants from taking control of key Iraqi cities, including Mosul and Tikrit. Insurgents have been advancing through Iraq’s heartland with their eyes set on Baghdad, the country’s capital.

“They are 100 miles from Baghdad,” said Boehner Thursday. “And what’s the president do? Taking a nap.”

“It’s not like we haven’t seen this problem coming for over a year,” he added.

Boehner believes the U.S. should provide “the equipment and technical assistance that the Iraqis have been asking for.” The U.S. has rebuffed requests by the Iraqi government to order airstrikes in extremist areas, according to The New York Times. The Obama Administration has been reluctant to engage the recent extremist uprising as the American public largely endorsed withdrawing the last of its troops from Iraq in 2011.

Boehner said he did not know “enough of the details” to comment on whether or not the U.S. should engage in airstrikes.

Some of Boehner’s Republican colleagues in the Senate were also critical of the Obama Administration on Thursday, none more so than Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). McCain told reporters that Obama’s entire national security team, including the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, should be replaced.

President Obama said Thursday that his team is looking to identify how the U.S. can provide greater assistance to the Iraqis.

“Over the last year we have been providing them with additional assistance to try to address the problems that they have in Anbar, the northwest portions of the country, as well as the Iraqi and Syrian border,” said Obama. “That includes in some cases military equipment, it includes intelligence assistance, includes a whole host of issues.”

“What we’ve seen over the last couple of days indicates the degree to which Iraq’s going to need more help,” he said. “It’s going to need more help from us, and it’s going to need more help from the international community…So my team is working around the clock to identify how we can provide the most effective assistance to them. I don’t rule out anything, because we do have a stake in making sure these jihadists are not getting a permanent foothold in either Iraq or Syria.”

Lavrov : Iraq developments show total failure of American-British ‘adventure’

The events in Iraq are a result of the actions carried out by the US and the UK, and the situation has spiraled out of control, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told journalists.

“It has been reported that the UK foreign minister declared that the events in Iraq are, according to him, an illustration that terrorism is rampant in the region due to the absence of reconciliation in Syria,” Lavrov said.

“We’ve known that our English colleagues have a unique ability to twist everything. But I didn’t expect such cynicism, because the events that are taking place in Iraq are an illustration of a complete failure of the venture started by the US and the UK that allowed it to spiral out of control completely.”

“We express our solidarity with the Iraqi authorities, the Iraqi people who should restore peace and security in their country, but the actions of our Western partners raise a lot of questions,” Lavrov marked.

Kurdish Iraqi Peshmerga forces deploy their troops and armoured vehicles on the outskirts of the multi-ethnic city of Kirkuk, only 1 kilometre away from areas controlled by Sunni Muslim Jihadists from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in northern Iraq on June 12, 2014.

Lavrov noted that 11 years ago the US president announced the victory of democracy in Iraq, and that “the situation has deteriorated in geometrical progression.”

“The unity of Iraq has been called into question. The rampant terrorism is taking place due to the fact that the occupation troops didn’t pay any attention to the interior political processes, didn’t help the national dialogue, and only pursued their own interests,” Lavrov said.

On Monday night, the terrorists seized control of the town Mosul – the administrative center of the northern province of Nineveh. On Wednesday, the authorities informed the population about the fall of Tikrit, the hometown of former leader Saddam Hussein and just 150km from Baghdad.

Sergey Lavrov has also touched on the developments in Ukraine. He said Moscow demands an immediate investigation into the reports of the use of banned weapons in Ukraine.

A local resident stands in front of the blown out windows and walls of a residential building after it was hit by mortar shells during clashes in the eastern Ukrainian city of Slavyansk, on June 11, 2014.

“We emphasize concern over the reports about the use by the Ukrainian military of fire bombs and other indiscriminate weapons. Those reports must be urgently checked,” Lavrov stressed.

He said the Russian Ambassador to the UN Vitaly Churkin “will be calling the OSCE mission which has observers in Ukraine, to establish facts [of using indiscriminate weapons], as well as will strive for the investigation into the tragedies in Odessa on May 2, in Mariupol on May 9, the ongoing actions in Kramatorsk and Slavyansk, and the snipers’ case on Maidan in February – all those probes should be brought to a close.”

“We know that the European Council is ready to be involved in the probe which the Ukrainian authorities carry out. We are convinced that this should be done,” Lavrov stressed.

Russia is also submitting to the UN the draft resolution on Ukraine calling to follow the roadmap the OSCE previously proposed.

“We’ve asked our UN envoy to submit to the UN Security Council the project on the resolution on the Ukrainian situation because the lack of progress on the halt of the violence and military actions since the start of the punitive operation causes concern,” Lavrov said.

At the moment there is no talk about bringing peacemakers to Ukraine, Lavrov said.

“We don’t think that the situation has reached that point yet. There is still hope for a declaration by [Ukrainian President Petro] Poroshenko that the violence will be stopped and the negotiations will begin,” he added.

Pentagon preparing for mass civil breakdown

The Pentagon is funding social science research to model risks of “social contagions” that could damage US strategic interests

The Pentagon is funding social science research to model risks of “social contagions” that could damage US strategic interests

Social science is being militarised to develop ‘operational tools’ to target peaceful activists and protest movements

A US Department of Defense (DoD) research programme is funding universities to model the dynamics, risks and tipping points for large-scale civil unrest across the world, under the supervision of various US military agencies. The multi-million dollar programme is designed to develop immediate and long-term “warfighter-relevant insights” for senior officials and decision makers in “the defense policy community,” and to inform policy implemented by “combatant commands.”

Launched in 2008 – the year of the global banking crisis – the DoD ‘Minerva Research Initiative’ partners with universities “to improve DoD’s basic understanding of the social, cultural, behavioral, and political forces that shape regions of the world of strategic importance to the US.”

Among the projects awarded for the period 2014-2017 is a Cornell University-led study managed by the US Air Force Office of Scientific Research which aims to develop an empirical model “of the dynamics of social movement mobilisation and contagions.” The project will determine “the critical mass (tipping point)” of social contagians by studying their “digital traces” in the cases of “the 2011 Egyptian revolution, the 2011 Russian Duma elections, the 2012 Nigerian fuel subsidy crisis and the 2013 Gazi park protests in Turkey.”

Twitter posts and conversations will be examined “to identify individuals mobilised in a social contagion and when they become mobilised.”

Another project awarded this year to the University of Washington “seeks to uncover the conditions under which political movements aimed at large-scale political and economic change originate,” along with their “characteristics and consequences.” The project, managed by the US Army Research Office, focuses on “large-scale movements involving more than 1,000 participants in enduring activity,” and will cover 58 countries in total.

Last year, the DoD’s Minerva Initiative funded a project to determine ‘Who Does Not Become a Terrorist, and Why?’ which, however, conflates peaceful activists with “supporters of political violence” who are different from terrorists only in that they do not embark on “armed militancy” themselves. The project explicitly sets out to study non-violent activists:

“In every context we find many individuals who share the demographic, family, cultural, and/or socioeconomic background of those who decided to engage in terrorism, and yet refrained themselves from taking up armed militancy, even though they were sympathetic to the end goals of armed groups. The field of terrorism studies has not, until recently, attempted to look at this control group. This project is not about terrorists, but about supporters of political violence.”

The project’s 14 case studies each “involve extensive interviews with ten or more activists and militants in parties and NGOs who, though sympathetic to radical causes, have chosen a path of non-violence.”

I contacted the project’s principal investigator, Prof Maria Rasmussen of the US Naval Postgraduate School, asking why non-violent activists working for NGOs should be equated to supporters of political violence – and which “parties and NGOs” were being investigated – but received no response.

Similarly, Minerva programme staff refused to answer a series of similar questions I put to them, including asking how “radical causes” promoted by peaceful NGOs constituted a potential national security threat of interest to the DoD.

Among my questions, I asked:

“Does the US Department of Defense see protest movements and social activism in different parts of the world as a threat to US national security? If so, why? Does the US Department of Defense consider political movements aiming for large scale political and economic change as a national security matter? If so, why? Activism, protest, ‘political movements’ and of course NGOs are a vital element of a healthy civil society and democracy – why is it that the DoD is funding research to investigate such issues?”

Minerva’s programme director Dr Erin Fitzgerald said “I appreciate your concerns and am glad that you reached out to give us the opportunity to clarify” before promising a more detailed response. Instead, I received the following bland statement from the DoD’s press office:

“The Department of Defense takes seriously its role in the security of the United States, its citizens, and US allies and partners. While every security challenge does not cause conflict, and every conflict does not involve the US military, Minerva helps fund basic social science research that helps increase the Department of Defense’s understanding of what causes instability and insecurity around the world. By better understanding these conflicts and their causes beforehand, the Department of Defense can better prepare for the dynamic future security environment.”

In 2013, Minerva funded a University of Maryland project in collaboration with the US Department of Energy‘s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory to gauge the risk of civil unrest due to climate change. The three-year $1.9 million project is developing models to anticipate what could happen to societies under a range of potential climate change scenarios.

From the outset, the Minerva programme was slated to provide over $75 million over five years for social and behavioural science research. This year alone it has been allocated a total budget of $17.8 million by US Congress.

An internal Minerva staff email communication referenced in a 2012 Masters dissertation reveals that the programme is geared toward producing quick results that are directly applicable to field operations. The dissertation was part of a Minerva-funded project on “counter-radical Muslim discourse” at Arizona State University.

The internal email from Prof Steve Corman, a principal investigator for the project, describes a meeting hosted by the DoD’s Human Social Cultural and Behavioural Modeling (HSCB) programme in which senior Pentagon officials said their priority was “to develop capabilities that are deliverable quickly” in the form of “models and tools that can be integrated with operations.”

Although Office of Naval Research supervisor Dr Harold Hawkins had assured the university researchers at the outset that the project was merely “a basic research effort, so we shouldn’t be concerned about doing applied stuff”, the meeting in fact showed that DoD is looking to “feed results” into “applications,” Corman said in the email. He advised his researchers to “think about shaping results, reports, etc., so they [DoD] can clearly see their application for tools that can be taken to the field.”

Many independent scholars are critical of what they see as the US government’s efforts to militarise social science in the service of war. In May 2008, the American Anthropological Association (AAA) wrote to the US government noting that the Pentagon lacks “the kind of infrastructure for evaluating anthropological [and other social science] research” in a way that involves “rigorous, balanced and objective peer review”, calling for such research to be managed instead by civilian agencies like the National Science Foundation (NSF).

The following month, the DoD signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the NSF to cooperate on the management of Minerva. In response, the AAA cautioned that although research proposals would now be evaluated by NSF’s merit-review panels. “Pentagon officials will have decision-making power in deciding who sits on the panels”:

“… there remain concerns within the discipline that research will only be funded when it supports the Pentagon’s agenda. Other critics of the programme, including the Network of Concerned Anthropologists, have raised concerns that the programme would discourage research in other important areas and undermine the role of the university as a place for independent discussion and critique of the military.”

According to Prof David Price, a cultural anthropologist at St Martin’s University in Washington DC and author of Weaponizing Anthropology: Social Science in Service of the Militarized State, “when you looked at the individual bits of many of these projects they sort of looked like normal social science, textual analysis, historical research, and so on, but when you added these bits up they all shared themes of legibility with all the distortions of over-simplification. Minerva is farming out the piece-work of empire in ways that can allow individuals to disassociate their individual contributions from the larger project.”

Prof Price has previously exposed how the Pentagon’s Human Terrain Systems (HTS) programme – designed to embed social scientists in military field operations – routinely conducted training scenarios set in regions “within the United States.”

Citing a summary critique of the programme sent to HTS directors by a former employee, Price reported that the HTS training scenarios “adapted COIN [counterinsurgency] for Afghanistan/Iraq” to domestic situations “in the USA where the local population was seen from the military perspective as threatening the established balance of power and influence, and challenging law and order.”

One war-game, said Price, involved environmental activists protesting pollution from a coal-fired plant near Missouri, some of whom were members of the well-known environmental NGO Sierra Club. Participants were tasked to “identify those who were ‘problem-solvers’ and those who were ‘problem-causers,’ and the rest of the population whom would be the target of the information operations to move their Center of Gravity toward that set of viewpoints and values which was the ‘desired end-state’ of the military’s strategy.”

Such war-games are consistent with a raft of Pentagon planning documents which suggest that National Security Agency (NSA) mass surveillance is partially motivated to prepare for the destabilising impact of coming environmental, energy and economic shocks.

James Petras, Bartle Professor of Sociology at Binghamton University in New York, concurs with Price’s concerns. Minerva-funded social scientists tied to Pentagon counterinsurgency operations are involved in the “study of emotions in stoking or quelling ideologically driven movements,” he said, including how “to counteract grassroots movements.”

Minerva is a prime example of the deeply narrow-minded and self-defeating nature of military ideology. Worse still, the unwillingness of DoD officials to answer the most basic questions is symptomatic of a simple fact – in their unswerving mission to defend an increasingly unpopular global system serving the interests of a tiny minority, security agencies have no qualms about painting the rest of us as potential terrorists.

Dr. Nafeez Ahmed is an international security journalist and academic. He is the author of A User’s Guide to the Crisis of Civilization: And How to Save It, and the forthcoming science fiction thriller, ZERO POINT.

Russian nuclear-capable bombers Fly Within 50 Miles of California Coast

FILE photo. A Russian TU-95 bomber

FILE photo. A Russian TU-95 bomber

A spokesperson for the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) confirmed this week that a fleet of Russian bombers set off alarms in the United States after coming within 50 miles of California’s Pacific coast.

Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a spokesman for NORAD, told Washington Free Beacon reporter Bill Gertz that a pair of Tu-95 Bear H aircraft maintained by Russia came close to US airspace during practice bombing while four of the planes were conducting bombing runs near Alaska. According to Nuclear Threat Initiative nonprofit organization, Russia has 29 Tu-95 MS6 Bear H6s and 30 Tu-95 MS16 Bear H16s, which are equipped to fire both traditional and nuclear payloads at targets from the air.

David told the Beacon that this week’s incident occurred on Monday afternoon and was caught quickly by radar systems that monitored American air defense zones. The radar spotted all four Russian aircraft, he said, and two F-22 fighter jets used by the US Air Force were then mobilized to intercept the bombers.

“After tracking the bombers as they flew eastward, two of the four Bears turned around and headed west toward the Russian Far East,” Gertz wrote. “The remaining two nuclear-capable bombers then flew southeast and around 9:30 P.M. entered the US northern air defense zone off the coast of Northern California.

Those two aircraft, he added, made it within 50 miles of the coast before turning around. The pilots, Davis told the Beacon, appeared to have “acted professionally” and that their behavior was on par with activity that’s “not unusual” for long-range aviation training missions typically conducted by Russia during the summer months. Indeed, in recent weeks other Russian-owned Tu-95 bombers skirted UK airspace and have come close to US property in both Guam and California, The Aviationist reported last month. In March, Russia’s daily Nezavisimaya Gazeta, said the nation’s Strategic Missile Forces began a three-day drill to make sure there was sufficient readiness to conduct a nuclear offensive.

“We assess this was part of training,” David added of this week’s incident, “And they did not enter territorial airspace.”

In spite of its age, David Cenciotti wrote for The Aviationist, the Tu-94 “still represents a significant strategic weapon in Putin’s arsenal.”

Earlier this week, Russian drills intensified when the nation’s military began exercises in the Baltic that the Defense Ministry said was a response to recent exercises in eastern Europe conducted by NATO forces. Allied nations currently maintain a presence there, much to the chagrin of Moscow, as tensions along Ukraine’s border with Russia remain high.

The US State Dept. reported last year that Russia may have an arsenal that contains as many as 1,400 operationally deployed strategic nuclear warheads and 894 deployed and non-deployed launchers