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5
Pretty technical, and damn important

The Democrats’ Tax Plan Would Sink Real Estate
We’ve seen it before. The 1986 reform led to the savings-and-loan crisis and the 1990-91 recession.
By Dan Palmer and David Williams
Oct. 25, 2021 1:45 pm ET

The most lasting effects of government policies are often the unintended consequences. Americans learned this lesson the hard way in the aftermath of the 1986 Tax Reform Act. The tax proposals in the Democrats’ $3.5 trillion budget-reconciliation bill have the potential to kick off economy-crippling events similar to the savings-and-loan crisis of the late 1980s.

The landmark 1986 Tax Reform Act reduced the top personal income-tax rate from 50% to 28%. The politically divided Congress paid for these cuts, in part, by raising the rate on capital gains from 20% to 28% and limiting the deductibility of real estate losses for passive investors. The unintended consequences were many and profound.


As the new rules were phased in, investment capital dried up and asset values collapsed. Rents rose as landlords refused to pay their mortgage interest with nondeductible cash. Many other landlords “mailed back the keys” to the S&L associations holding their mortgages. The lack of investment capital, sharply lower valuations, and the resulting flood of foreclosures and “deeds in lieu” took down the S&L industry.

Before the 1986 act, the S&Ls were the primary source of loan capital for local property owners, developers and builders. After 1986, 747 institutions with assets of more than $394 billion (about $1 trillion in today’s dollars) collapsed into the federal Resolution Trust Corp. When the S&Ls failed, community-based lending and much of the local home-building industry vanished. The fallout was ultimately felt up and down Main Street during the recession of 1990-91.

Even before the 1990-91 recession, Congress knew it had blundered, and reinstated real-estate tax benefits for genuine professionals only. Those benefits still don’t apply to a casual investor who buys a small apartment block or enters a real-estate partnership. The lesson? The capital-gains tax rate has a larger effect on real-estate investment than limiting deductions does, but increasing rates and limiting deductions at the same time is deadly.


Wall Street was the big winner, filling the void left by the S&Ls with commercial mortgage-backed securities, or CMBS. Today, most commercial and multifamily real-estate funding is done by CMBS loans. All major financial institutions—including banks, insurance companies and pension funds—participate heavily in CMBS markets. Consequently, we are all in this together. When the CMBS market collapsed in 2008, it plunged the global economy into the Great Recession. Taxpayers funded huge bailouts.

Real estate is a long-term, risky and labor-intensive investment compared with stocks and bonds. Without tax incentives, real estate can’t compete with other investments for essential capital. Currently, real-estate professionals get depreciation deductions against taxable income, and long-term capital-gains rates when they sell. When an owner dies, his heirs get a free step-up in tax basis—that is, they don’t pay taxes on appreciation during the decedent’s lifetime.

Under the House bill, taxation of real-estate operating profit would soar from 29.6% (37% less 20% business deduction) to nearly 46.4% (39.6% basic maximum plus 3.8% investment tax plus 3% surtax for some, with no business deduction), and real estate capital gains would spike from 20% to 31.8% (25% basic capital gains maximum plus 3.8% investment tax plus 3% surtax for some). For a successful investor, that’s an extra 16.8% tax on operations and an extra 11.8% tax on capital gains. At the same time, new limitations are phasing in to reduce mortgage-interest deductions and depreciation. Increasing rates while limiting deductible losses is the same deadly recipe as in 1986.

Adding to the toxic brew, President Biden proposes a radical change to the way real-estate assets are treated when an owner dies. He proposes to tax the step-up in basis on death that has been a tax-code constant for a century. It is a foundational reason why families make multigenerational, long-term property investments. Taking away the free step-up in basis creates a disincentive to invest for the long term and ensures even less capital flowing to real estate.

Whether a generational property transfer is taxed at death at the proposed 31.8% capital-gains rate or the higher proposed ordinary-income rate of 46.4%, it may also face a proposed 45% death tax. And that is before state taxes. The huge aggregate tax bill on death will force estates to sell properties to cover what they owe. As 1986 and 2008 proved, forced selling in real-property markets creates havoc in financial markets.


What Congress did in 1986 to real-estate tax shelters was deliberate. What it did to S&Ls, community lending, investors, capital markets and Main Street was unintended. This time, it’s much the same, but the effect will be broader. Everyone is directly or indirectly exposed to the CMBS market, and sharply declining real-estate values are highly disruptive. Total CMBS loans today are approaching $4 trillion.

If passed, the Democrats’ real-estate tax proposals will tank property values. This sudden, broad decline will be recessionary. Recessions hit all Americans, not the few that Congress and the president are targeting with this legislation. Washington is at serious risk of replaying a historic economic blunder.

Mr. Palmer is a Republican strategist, activist and fundraiser and founder of Palmer Investments Inc., a real-estate investment firm. Mr. Williams is a tax attorney, certified public accountant, real-estate manager and investor.

6
Politics & Religion / Israel vs. Iran in Syria
« on: Today at 03:15:01 PM »
Israel's Shadow War Dented Iran's Takeover of Syria, But Only Temporarily
by Yaakov Lappin
IPT News
October 25, 2021

https://www.investigativeproject.org/9046/israel-shadow-war-dented-iran-takeover-of-syria

7
Have started reading it. 

9
I'm watching for this one to play out. 

10
Politics & Religion / Re: Michael Yon
« on: Today at 02:53:52 PM »
In the meantime, give Michael Yon money.  Set up an ongoing monthly donation so he can budget efficiently.

https://michaelyon.locals.com/upost/1211180/fight-the-beast

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How China became the single point of failure

China now accounts for the largest share of manufacturing output.

The trend began in 1980 and accelerated beginning in the early 1990's. This was a synergistic process with several benefits to Western companies who offshored to China.

During the period of turmoil following the death of Mao in 1976, political titan Deng Xiaoping survived a series of palace schemes by Mao loyalists and other powerful interests.

The concern was that Deng would undermine the Cultural Revolution and press for reform.

After consolidating power at the Third Plenary Session of the CCP in 1978, Deng did exactly that.

He instituted a series of initiatives designed to gradually elevate China to a position of power in the world, centered on four domains:

Agriculture
Economy
Science
Defense

The reforms began a period of phenomenal growth, and stands as one of the more remarkable economic revolutions in human history.

Note well, this is not intended to valorize Deng, as he was behind a great many terrible human rights abuses and violations of decency.

In 1980, Deng began to rapidly force modernization of the manufacturing and economic base of China, with the key goals of: moving from light to heavy industrial manufacturing, controlling many key raw materials, and creating a consumeristic society with larger spending power.

Essential to this approach was hybridizing Mao's hardline Communism with capitalism and global trade.

Private ownership (technically) of companies, farmland, and productive assets increased, so long as the CCP/PLA retained primary benefit.

The combination of an aggressive subsidy model, cheap labor, export-focused manufacturing base, and expanding containerized shipping industry was too much for Western companies to resist.

Offshoring exploded in the 1990's as the preferred business model of MBA's everywhere.

Fueled by China's importance as the ascendant manufacturing hub of the world - from steel to electronics to consumer goods - the ocean shipping industry began realigning global routes.

Further, China established its own shipping companies and shipbuilding capacity.

Now, one thing to understand about containerized ocean freight is that it follows a hub-and-spoke model.

Super busy deepwater ocean ports see the largest vessels and throughput of containers, with cargo going to smaller-volume ports on smaller ships via the mega-ports.

This process is called "transshipment".

Larger containerships are more efficient per TEU (twenty foot container-equivalent, the standard unit of measure for the industry), but are limited by how deep they travel in the water ("draft").

Transshipping means efficiency

As of 2016, 7 of the 10 busiest ports in the world by throughput of containers were Chinese thank to its massive exports and transshipment activity.

South Korea, once the heavy shipbuilding leader, was overtaken by China in 2012, with the gap widening again in 2017.
Part of Deng's plan, set down all the way back in 1978-1980, was to establish control of both manufacturing AND transport.
With the world's economy incrementally more and more reliant on Chinese labor, Chinese subsidies, and Chinese ports, the die was cast.

By 2013, China was ready to enact the next phase of this program, and announced the Belt and Road Initiative.
Thanks to the consolidation of the ocean shipping industry since the 1990's, fewer and fewer carriers are operating ships, crews, and infrastructure such as port terminals.

Most of these carriers are state-owned, or at least heavily subsidized by govt's and banks.

With China dominating such a large percentage of global port capacity via its domestic capacity, BRI, or carriers relying on Chinese ports to streamline operations, any economic contagion that affects China will have myriad knock-on effects for the global economy.

Companies worldwide rely on Chinese manufacturing - 94% of F1000 corps have significant exposure to disruptions there.
All ocean carriers depend on higher-margin freight from China to help offset losses in every other country, and build huge alliances around Chinese demand.

Further, with the COVID-19 outbreak coming during Lunar New Year when Chinese ex-pats return home, a number of workers may or may not be returning to their foreign jobs or schooling.

Freight forwarders are feeling the sting, as most of these middlemen rely on China freight.

As COVID-19 spreads from Wuhan, the China's major coastal cities - manufacturing and logistics hubs all - have slowed to a crawl.

Major ocean carriers have begun skipping port calls, which means less capacity for US and Euro exporters
Cargo airlines, also dependent on the transshipment model via major air routes and hubs, are in as much of a pickle.

Draymen (container trucking), customs brokers, warehousemen, and delivery companies are struggling with less freight in circulation.

Logistics and transportation - globally a $4 trillion industry - has been completely upended by the sudden and dramatic slowdown of China.

The companies who rely on their Chinese factories, labor, and shipping services - from Amazon to tiny mom and pop firms - are crippled.

While the trade war has had a significant impact on manufacturing, retail sales, and logistics between China and the West, COVID-19's impact seems to be likely to have a more sustained and durable effect.

Uncertainty is the capital killer.

NO ONE really knows for sure what will happen next.

Sourcing and manufacturing that relocated from China during the trade war can't hide from a bioweapon.
Port and logistics providers can only reorient so fast.

What is our next and possibly only move begins with
Reshoring


13
Politics & Religion / Re: Michael Yon
« on: Today at 06:07:19 AM »
I am quite proud of the work that our merry band here has been doing for YEARS to fight the lies.  We fight for the Consitutional Republic our Founding Fathers gave us!

14
Politics & Religion / WSJ: Crupto shenanigans?
« on: Today at 06:04:33 AM »

Crypto Is Shedding Its Tether
John Law issued bank notes willy-nilly. Are stablecoin issuers doing the same?

By Andy Kessler
Oct. 24, 2021 6:12 pm ET
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PHOTO: ANDRE M. CHANG/ZUMA PRESS

The launch of the first bitcoin-focused exchange-traded fund last week proves crypto bulls need to meet John Law. The Scottish gambler, economist and financier is likely why why so few top French banks have Banque in their name. Instead, there is Crédit Agricole, Société Générale and Crédit Mutuel. Law’s Banque Générale, later renamed Banque Royale, issued bank notes out of thin air, then royally blew up in 1720 and destroyed the French economy. The reputation of French banks has never fully recovered.

Law’s connections gave him exclusive rights to trade between France and its Louisiana Territory. The Mississippi Co. was funded by selling new shares of Banque Générale that could be paid for with bank notes issued by—wait for it—Banque Générale. Shares took off, rising from 500 livres to 10,000 livres from January to December 1719. Soldiers had to be sent in to keep order in the frenzied financial district.

Law’s flaw was issuing bank notes willy-nilly, without real backing for their value, to keep the stock price rising. The French government eventually made the huge mistake of making these bank notes legal tender, doubling the French money supply. Inflation raged, hitting a 23% monthly rate in January 1720. By September 1721, shares dropped back to 500, and the French economy imploded.

Fast-forward 300 years. Crypto had a big October, with bitcoin rising from almost $44,000 to a $66,000 peak in anticipation of the ProShares Bitcoin Strategy ETF, which actually doesn’t buy bitcoin—it buys bitcoin futures. Meanwhile the stablecoin issuer Tether Ltd. paid a $41 million penalty after the Commodity Futures Trading Commission found the company had falsely claimed it had adequate dollars in reserve to back its tokens.


The New York attorney general’s office ran a similar investigation over Tether’s claim of 1-to-1 backing with U.S. dollars. It ended, unsatisfactorily if you ask me, with an $18.5 million settlement paid in February and an agreement to produce reports on reserves for tether. Why not dig further? Tether neither admitted nor denied the attorney general’s findings.

I wanted to know more, so I submitted a Freedom of Information Law request with the New York attorney general’s office requesting reserve statements, ledgers and bank records from Tether. It was denied, citing disclosure that would “constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy” and “interfere with law-enforcement investigations or judicial proceedings.” Thanks for nothing.


Tether released vague pie charts of its $42 billion in “reserves” in May. Only 5% was in cash or Treasurys, and around half of the backing of Tether was unnamed commercial paper. Is it AAA-rated paper from JPMorgan Chase or an IOU backed by Dogecoin? They don’t say. When Coindesk filed a FOIL request for documents detailing Tether’s reserves, Tether attempted to block it, arguing: “The competitive advantages Tether gains from its investment strategy would be wiped away if competitors had full visibility into Tether’s investments.”

The attorney general’s office did release details of a fascinating cat-and-mouse game in its settlement agreement after stating that “Bitfinex and Tether deceived clients and market by overstating reserves.” Until Sept. 15, 2017, an account at the Bank of Montreal held most of Tether’s cash, some $61.5 million backing the 442 million tethers then in circulation. Not 1 to 1. Sister company Bitfinex held $382 million in a “comingled [sic] account” that Tether called a “receivable.” Tether was claiming money on another company’s balance sheet as its own reserves.

Here’s where it gets funny. Tether engaged Friedman LLP for “consulting services” “to analyze our bank balances” on Sept. 15, 2017. That morning, Tether opened an account at the Puerto Rico-based Noble Bank, and later that day Bitfinex transferred more than $382 million into Tether’s account. Friedman verified Tether’s assets that evening.

According to the settlement agreement, in October 2018 Bitfinex and Tether dropped Noble Bank and opened an account at Deltec Bank & Trust Ltd. in the Bahamas. On Nov. 1, 2018, Tether produced a letter on Deltec letterhead saying that as of Oct. 31 the portfolio cash value of its account was over $1.8 billion. On Nov. 2, the attorney general’s office notes, Tether started transferring a total of $475 million to Bitfinex accounts at Deltec, clearly a game of pass the assets.

Can we trust Tether, which has grown from 21 billion to 69 billion tethers in circulation this year? Doesn’t it sound a bit like John Law’s Banque Royale issuing bank notes? And what is Tether buying? It isn’t clear. The most recent disclosure from an independent accountant in the Cayman Islands—not an audit—for Tether reserves shows a lot of commercial paper and certificates of deposit and secured loans. Only about a third of its reserves are cash and Treasurys.


How about a real audit? Recently, the Biden administration announced it is considering regulating stablecoin issuers as banks. Mandating transparency for crypto would go a long way. But it could get ugly for crypto investors. In June the stablecoin IRON, supposedly “soft pegged” to the dollar, dropped from $1 to under 70 cents after TITAN, its collateral token, fell from about $64 to nearly zero in a few hours of frenzied selling that caused $2 billion in losses.

Like Law, are stablecoins being issued willy-nilly and increasing volatility in bitcoin and other crypto? How much leverage is there in crypto world? Bahamas-based crypto exchange FTX allowed 100 times leverage for margin trading, though in July the company trimmed it to a still insane 20 times. According to Bloomberg, part of Tether reserves includes a $1 billion loan to Celsius, a crypto-lending startup. If cryptocurrencies are to become the backbone of a modern financial system, let’s open them up for scrutiny before a Banque Royale-esque bubble bursts into the real world.

Write to kessler@wsj.com.

15
Politics & Religion / WT: Dems mad about Rep redistricting
« on: Today at 05:46:30 AM »
NORTH CAROLINA

Republican-drawn redistricting maps spark ire among Democrats

BY BRYAN ANDERSON AND NICHOLAS RICCARDI ASSOCIATED PRESS RALEIGH, N.C. | A decade ago, North Carolina Republicans redrew their legislative districts to help their party in a way that a federal court ruled illegally hurt Black voters. A state court later struck down Republican- drawn maps as based on pure partisanship.

So, as the GOP-controlled legislature embarks this year on its latest round of redistricting, it has pledged not to use race or partisan data to draw the political lines. Still, the maps Republicans are proposing would tilt heavily toward their party. Several publicly released congressional maps dilute Democratic votes by splitting the state’s biggest city, Charlotte — also its largest Black population center — into three or four House districts and giving the GOP at least a 10-4 advantage in a state that then-President Donald Trump narrowly won last year.

As the once-a-decade redistricting process kicks into high gear, North Carolina is one of at least three states where Republicans say they are drawing maps without looking at racial and party data. But those maps still strongly favor the GOP.

Democrats and liberal groups are incredulous, noting that veteran lawmakers don’t need a spreadsheet to know where voters of various races and different parties live in their state. Plus, under certain scenarios, the Voting Rights Act requires the drawing of districts where the majority of voters are people of color.

“This is the first redistricting round I’ve ever heard of this,” said Thomas Saenz, president of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which is suing Texas Republicans over maps that the GOP said it drew without looking at racial data. “I suspect they’re trying to set up a defense for litigation. Because they know the race data — they know where the Black community lives. They know where the Latino community lives.”

The drawing of legislative lines is often a partisan fight because whichever party controls the process can craft districts to maximize its voters’ clout — often by concentrating opposing voters so they will be a majority in fewer districts.

In 2019, the Supreme Court ruled that federal courts cannot overturn unfair maps on the basis of partisanship. But state courts still can void maps for being too partisan and race remains a legal tripwire in redistricting.

If mapmakers explicitly try to weaken voters’ power based on race, they may violate the. Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection under the law. But the Voting Rights Act requires them to consider race if the state has “racially polarized” voting, in which White people consistently vote against candidates backed by people of color. The mapmakers must then create a district in which a community of color comprises a plurality or majority of voters so they can elect their preferred candidates.

Republicans complain they cannot win no matter what they do.

“It’s truly a conundrum and has been for the last decade for the GOP, because when we look at race, we were told we shouldn’t have, and those maps were struck down,” said North Carolina state Sen. Paul Newton, who co-chairs that state’s redistricting committee. “Now that we’re not looking at race, the Democrat Party is telling us, ‘Oh, you should be looking at race.’” North Carolina’s redistricting legal fight is part of why the new race-blind approach caught on.

The Republican-controlled legislature has complete control of redistricting; its maps cannot be vetoed by its Democratic governor. A federal court in 2016 found North Carolina Republicans improperly crammed Black voters into two congressional districts to dilute their votes elsewhere and ordered the map redrawn. That updated map was the basis of the 2019 Supreme Court case.

In August, the legislature formally adopted a rule that it wouldn’t consider race or partisanship in its latest line-drawing that would begin after the Census Bureau released data on population changes over the past decade.

Lawmakers noted that, during the epic litigation of the prior decade, a federal court had found the state didn’t have racially polarized voting and didn’t require special attention to racial data.

Other GOP-controlled states have followed North Carolina’s example. For the past five decades, Texas has been found to have violated federal law or the Constitution in redistricting, including by shortchanging Black and Hispanic voters. This time, Republicans who control the state Legislature said they wouldn’t consider racial data and their lawyers said that was OK.

“I’ve stated it, and I’ll state it again — we drew these maps race blind,” state Sen. Joan Huffman, a Republican who drew that state’s maps, said in one Senate hearing.

Although almost all of Texas’ population growth has come from Hispanic people, Black people and Asian people, the maps do not create any new majority-minority districts. That latter omission is at the heart of suits by Hispanic civil rights groups last week as Texas approved its maps.

“The only time that communities of color can get justice is going to the courthouse,” said Democratic state Rep. Rafael Anchia, chair of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus

16
Politics & Religion / WT: FB has plans to go much bigger
« on: Today at 05:35:15 AM »
With social media business under siege, Facebook maps out ‘metaverse’ empire

BY RYAN LOVELACE THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Facebook is not happy with this world and believes it can build a new reality.

Amid a crush of bad publicity, governmental scrutiny and growing competition for its social media business, the company is hiring workers and making products to create the “metaverse.”

On the company’s blog, Facebook Vice Presidents Nick Clegg and Javier Olivan describe the metaverse as a new computing platform and “a new phase of interconnected virtual experiences using technologies like virtual and augmented reality.”

The expansion would position the social media giant to compete with Google and Apple, which host Facebook apps.

Facebook’s new products are designed to remove barriers between the physical and digital worlds. Facebook said in March that it was building a neural wristband to allow people to type without using a keyboard. The company insisted the product would not involve “mind reading.”

Last month, Facebook debuted Ray-Ban Stories. These glasses allow wearers to take pictures, watch videos, listen to music and make phone calls.

Facebook intends to hire 10,000 more workers in Europe over the next five years to build its augmented reality business. It has started rolling out products and acquiring companies to make it happen.

The shift is dramatic for the massive social media company, which said in July that it averaged 2.9 billion monthly active users. Business and marketing analysts say the changes at Facebook are necessary because shareholders and potential investors feel threats of government regulation and pressure from public criticism after former employees accused the company of knowingly harming children and fomenting political manipulation.

Instead of letting U.S. lawmakers amplify claims that the tech giant has affected elections, has increased childhood suicides and is tantamount to Big Tobacco, Facebook aims “to rewrite history,” said University of Louisville marketing assistant professor Aaron Barnes.

“They’re not playing the 12month game,” Mr. Barnes said. “A smaller company can change their name at the drop of a hat. … They’re hoping to affect how they’re remembered decades from now.”

Facebook has acquired companies and recruited teams of workers to expand its metaverse business despite antitrust scrutiny worldwide from its acquisitions of Instagram and WhatsApp.

Facebook recently acquired AI.Reverie, which built virtual worlds and environments for people to train artificial intelligence products. Some of the company’s early funding came from U.S. taxpayers through the Air Force innovation arm AFWERX and In-Q-Tel , the strategic investor for the intelligence community.

Asked about the Facebook acquisition, AI.Reverie co-founder Paul Walborsky declined to answer questions and referred The Washington Times to Facebook.

Facebook confirmed that it had acquired AI.Reverie, but it gave no details about what the acquisition would provide. A Facebook spokesperson said the AI.Reverie team would “accelerate our synthetic data capabilities” and “unlock improved user experiences in a range of use cases,” including in the metaverse.

Downpour Interactive and BigBox VR are among the other companies Facebook has bought this year. Oculus, Facebook’s virtual reality hardware company, announced the additions. Downpour Interactive and BigBox VR are responsible for virtual reality games.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told The Verge in July that his company would “effectively transition from people seeing us as primarily being a social media company to being a metaverse company.”

Rumors are spreading that Facebook is considering a new name to oversee its various products. Business and technology analysts pointed to Alphabet, the parent company of Google and the companies it acquired, such as YouTube, as a potential road map for Facebook.

Facebook declined to comment on the speculated “rebrand,” which The Verge said could involve the name “Horizon,” given the word’s usage in various Facebook projects.

Facebook is holding a conference Thursday about its augmented and virtual reality business, and the rumored name change promises to attract more attention to the company’s new direction.

Tim Derdenger, Carnegie Mellon University associate professor of marketing and strategy, said Facebook is attempting to distance itself from the negative perception of social media companies because of the pressure on shareholders.

He said the company also appears to be considering how new entrants will compete in the social media industry with different approaches to content moderation. An example is former President Donald Trump’s Truth Social app, which is scheduled to launch next year.

“It’s a delicate space if that’s the space they’re going to want to go down,” Mr. Derdenger said. He said one misstep could unravel Facebook’s work if it damages the cycle of people using its platform and connecting with others.

Facebook still faces federal antitrust action, but its new business model could change the perception of the company on Capitol Hill and head off a crackdown, said Neil Chilson, a former acting chief technologist at the Federal Trade Commission.

Mr. Chilson, the author of a new book on leadership, “Getting Out of Control,” said Facebook’s ability to create a metaverse is far from guaranteed.

Unlike interaction through webpages and social profiles, Mr. Chilson said, the metaverse may allow users to take their profiles with them in the physical world all the time, everywhere they go.

“We’re talking about establishing physics, essentially, of a new world and in a current environment where consensus is hard to get,” Mr. Chilson said.

20
Politics & Religion / Stratfor: The West vs. Ransomware Gangs
« on: October 24, 2021, 02:50:55 AM »
The West Goes on the Offensive Against Ransomware Gangs
6 MIN READOct 22, 2021 | 20:05 GMT





A file photo taken on Aug. 4, 2020, shows a man monitoring global cyberattacks on his computer.
A file photo taken on Aug. 4, 2020, shows a man monitoring global cyberattacks on his computer.

(NICOLAS ASFOURI/AFP via Getty Images)

The United States and its partners are going on the offensive against ransomware groups, but there are limitations in replicating the success they’ve apparently had against the Russian-led gang REvil. And while this “whack-a-mole” approach may present some challenges to Russian authorities, it will ultimately risk playing into the Kremlin’s hands by distracting the West from other Russian cyber activities. An unnamed U.S. foreign partner successfully hacked into Russian-led ransomware group REvil’s systems, forcing the closure of several of its websites on Oct. 17, Reuters reported Oct. 22. The multi-country operation, which reportedly had been in the works since earlier this year, accelerated after REvil’s high-profile and sophisticated July Kaseya ransomware attack.

In the Kaseya attack, REvil demanded $70 million from the U.S. software company after its attack subsequently disrupted the cyber networks of more than 1,000 other global companies that rely on Kaseya’s services.

After the Kaseya attack, REvil took down its sites on July 13 for still unclear reasons. But the Oct. 22 Reuters report said that the United States and its partners’ intelligence and law enforcement agencies penetrated the group’s network beforehand, gaining control of some of its servers. Thus, when REvil restored its website from backups in September, it had already been compromised in an operation that remains ongoing.

The United States, like-minded countries and at least some private companies appear poised to go on a more aggressive campaign against ransomware groups, which is now a top U.S. priority in the wake of the May Colonial Pipeline hack.  In June, the U.S. Justice Department raised ransomware’s priority to a level equal to terrorism. The elevation granted the department and other agencies the legal basis to work more closely with U.S. intelligence agencies and the Department of Defense on ransomware. Last week, President Joe Biden also hosted 30 governments for a Counter-Ransomware Initiative to align a global push against such cyber threats. And in what may be a sign of more cyber operations against cybercriminals in the future, U.S. information security company Zerodium announced Oct. 19 that it is looking for zero-day exploits for the Windows versions of ExpressVPN, NordVPN and Surfshark, which are virtual private network (VPN) tools that can help hide users’ IP addresses and bypass government restrictions.

Zerodium is a U.S.-based company that pays cybersecurity researchers who discover zero-day exploits, which are vulnerabilities that have not been made public and thus can be exploited, instead of turning them over to the developers of the compromised product. Zerodium then turns around and sells them to mainly government agencies.

All three VPN products Zerodium mentioned are consumer VPNs often used by cybercriminals to hide their online activity and carry out operations. This highlights the United States and its partners’ growing interest in identifying vulnerabilities that could be used for offensive, not just defensive, purposes — making it entirely possible that Western intelligence agencies want to use any exploits as a part of operations against ransomware gangs and other cybercriminals.

Western governments can probably disrupt individual ransomware groups, but they may face difficulty in undermining the entire ransomware ecosystem. It will take significant resources to individually go after the dozens of different ransomware groups. Moreover, many of the ransomware groups’ key developers are believed to be based in Russia — meaning that arrests are likely to be extremely rare, given that Russian authorities are loath to take aggressive action against those conducting financially motivated cyber-attacks that are key to the Kremlin’s overall asymmetric campaign against the West. But even with these constraints, degrading or merely slowing down the growth of ransomware can be beneficial, particularly when combined with other non-offensive policy measures, such as increasing cybersecurity defenses and policies and diplomatic pressure.

Operations against REvil and other individual groups will probably disrupt their activities for weeks or months at a time, only for their members to rebrand as another cybercriminal group. Even though the approach will not end the ransomware threat, it can increase the costs for high-profile disruptive attacks, as groups behind high-profile attacks like the Kaseya and Colonial Pipeline hacks are more likely to be targeted, thus disincentivizing the most disruptive ransomware attacks.

Aggressive Western actions can also slow down the pace of operations by ransomware groups. Even when groups rebrand, they often use much of the same infrastructure, such as command and control servers, or in the recent case of REvil online payment infrastructure. If those systems are compromised and ransomware groups know it, they will need to take the time to develop alternatives.
Greater action against cyber gangs will also increase internal fissures and intra-group conflicts as different members are worried that they and/or other members may have had their own identities uncovered or personal computers hacked. In rarer cases, some members may also be suspicious that their colleagues are working with law enforcement.

More aggressive operations against ransomware groups can divert Western resources away from other counter-Russian activities, potentially giving the Kremlin other benefits even as ransomware activity is disrupted. If the United States and its allies divert more of their offensive and other cyber resources towards combating Russian cybercriminals, they may lose some capacity to stop Russia’s state-sponsored cyber campaign, which centers more on intelligence gathering and disinformation.

The back-to-back-back high-profile ransomware attacks against Colonial Pipeline, meat processing company JBS and Kaseya diverted media attention away from the Russia-backed SolarWinds hack uncovered last December, which was arguably the largest cyber-espionage operation uncovered.

Moreover, Western pressure against cybercriminals may give the Kremlin greater ability to co-opt and have leverage over Russia-based cyber gangs by promising to protect them from Western law enforcement and intelligence agencies in exchange for a promise that some of their future attacks also achieve the Kremlin’s other cyber strategic goals; this could include handing over valuable data stolen in ransomware attacks to the Kremlin.

Still, greater Western pressure will cause significant challenges for the Kremlin and some of the West’s actions against cybercrime infrastructure may also harm Russia’s state-sponsored cyber activity. The continued threat of ransomware is only increasing the possibility that the West holds Russia directly accountable for the attacks to the point where sanctions or other aggressive actions against the Russian state itself, not just the criminals, are possible. Moreover, the threat is also increasing the resources the West is pouring into cybersecurity, including awareness programs, data breach reporting requirements and public-private cooperation.

Stronger Western cybersecurity practices will improve cyber defenses against all forms of cyberattacks, forcing Russia’s state-sponsored cyber activities to rely on more sophisticated operations, which cost both more money and more time to carry out.

Finally, many Russian cybercriminals often work directly with Russia’s own intelligence agencies to help carry out state-sponsored attacks. This means that in some cases, there is an overlap between the infrastructure used in state-sponsored attacks and cybercriminals’ financially motivated attacks. If groups that are doing double-duty are compromised, it could disrupt both kinds of Russian cyberattacks.

23
Politics & Religion / Re: Political Rants & interesting thought pieces
« on: October 23, 2021, 05:28:22 PM »
Do We Have Freedom of Speech, Really?
By ANDREW C. MCCARTHY
October 23, 2021 6:30 AM

Attorney General Merrick Garland departs after speaking during an event at the Justice Department in Washington, D.C., June 15, 2021. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Garland’s memo serves a pernicious progressive crusade to render these rights little more than a parchment promise.


The Soviet constitution of 1936, Joseph Stalin’s constitution, explicitly guaranteed freedom of speech to all citizens of the USSR — in Article 125, which also vouchsafed the closely related freedoms of the press, of assembly, of mass meetings, and of street demonstrations. When Moscow revised the constitution in 1977, pains were again taken (in Article 50) to ensure — at least on paper — that “citizens of the U.S.S.R. are guaranteed freedom of speech, of the press, and of assembly, meetings, street processions and demonstrations.”

Were they in a position to do so, the tens of millions of men, women, and children immiserated, imprisoned, enslaved, and killed by the same totalitarian communist regime would have begged to differ.

“Rights” are not rights by virtue of being written down. They are not self-enforcing. Written “rights” are, instead, a reflection of what a body politic perceives to be fundamental. They are not an assurance that this perception will be actualized. Whether freedom of speech truly exists is a cultural question, not a legal one. It hinges on the society’s commitment to liberty as something that is lived, not merely spoken of.

To rely on the legal system to enforce a “right” that the culture, when it gets down to brass tacks, does not support, is to not have a vibrant guarantee. It is to have a parchment promise that is effectively worthless.

Increasingly, the latter is the state of play in the United States, and there are two reasons for this.

First, progressives, who call the tune in the bipartisan political establishment, do not believe in free speech. They may, like the Bolsheviks, nod to it as the tribute stealthy vice must pay to public virtue. But to the limited extent they are ideologically principled rather than just power-hungry, progressives believe that the good is arrived at through scientific study, by experts who, of course, are rigorously apolitical. In this way of thinking, it is not enough to dismiss robust discourse as folly; progressives see free speech as antithetical to human flourishing, an appeal to the passions and prejudices of the masses who are too benighted to sort matters out on their own. With due respect to Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. there is no marketplace of ideas; there are the progressive establishment’s ideas, versus the remaining dangerous ideas.


Second, progressives do believe, deeply, in process. While we are in the midst of a period of radicalism, progressive strategy is generally (and in its most effective form) Fabian. Process is the way ascendant progressives advance their own ideas while eroding those of the bourgeois culture. It is the way dominant progressives strangle any emerging competition in the cradle.

The rule of law is a cultural phenomenon. Law enforcement, by contrast, is a process — one that can, perversely, abrade the rule of law it purports to undergird.

Case in point: Biden’s attorney general Merrick Garland’s memo directing federal investigations against dissenters — in the main, parents — who object to progressive indoctrination by school administrators.


As a short-term political objective, the Garland memo cynically paints these recalcitrant parents with the same brush that tars conservatives as “domestic terrorists,” on the rationale that Trump supporters who rioted at the Capitol self-identify as the patriotic political right and profess to share some conservative ideas. (Of course the rioters — whether they realized it or not — were undermining the very constitutional system that is essential to the conservative conception of liberty and thus were anti-conservative, but that is a story for another day.)

As for the long term, Garland’s memo serves the progressive crusade against free speech.

You may read our Constitution as a guarantee of free expression and open political debate. But it cannot be such a guarantee unless the government, which is privileged to use force to maintain order, regards order as necessarily including free expression and open political debate. Government’s incumbent ruling class will always prize stability over conflict. Consequently, for free speech to be meaningful, the dominant culture must be committed to free speech – even speech it finds repellent, as long as it does not intentionally incite violence — and the government must truly be accountable to that dominant culture. Otherwise, our written First Amendment assurance of free speech is nearly as worthless as was the Soviet guarantee.

Put more concretely, the Justice Department may acknowledge, as Garland’s memo grudgingly does, that the Constitution protects debate and dissent. But if the DOJ simultaneously warns, as Garland’s memo indignantly does, that the FBI is going to be investigating those who engage in debate and dissent against the progressive government’s favored class — school administrators who are executing the indoctrination mission — then in what authentic sense do we have free speech?

Sure, the outcome of the FBI’s investigative process is likely to be that no federal charges are filed. After all, if the Justice Department were foolish enough to go to the extreme of actually indicting dissenters, it would expose the fatal flaws that a) the First Amendment prevents courts from allowing speech to be the subject of a criminal conviction and b) the federal government lacks statutory jurisdiction to bring an incitement case unless the resulting violent acts would violate federal law (which is rare — threats of violence, when they occur, are overwhelmingly concerns of state and local law).

But it will never come to actual in-court prosecution. The abuse will be confined to the investigative process. Coupled with Garland’s saber-rattling, that is more than enough to suppress dissent. The citizen is warned that he is being scrutinized by the federal government in all its comparative might. For exercising his supposed right to protest, the citizen will be harmed in a hundred different ways by the fact of an FBI probe — the anxiety of potential prosecution, the often prohibitive expense of retaining counsel, the loss of business opportunities because of the specter of prosecution, the loss of social ties as friends and associates abandon the citizen lest Leviathan sees them as fellow conspirators.

If a putative safeguard were actually a right, one would need neither endure an investigative process nor go to court to vindicate the right. These processes are punitive; a right worthy of the name would protect us from them just as it protects us from criminal conviction. If the culture loses the will to compel an accountable government to presume the right — to respect it a priori — then there is no right.

What there is tends to be rationalization. The Soviet constitution said that free speech was guaranteed “in order to strengthen the socialist system.” While it paid lip service to freedom, the tyrannical regime implicitly empowered itself to suppress any speech it decided could weaken the socialist system.

Today’s progressives say you have free speech . . . as long as it is not incitement. But then they redefine incitement to entail not just violence the speaker intends but violence to which hypersensitive progressives are “triggered,” even if violence was the last thing the speaker wanted. They reduce “free speech” to a protection only against criminal conviction, not against the intimidating law-enforcement process. And as they marginalize dissent, they excuse, even lionize, the mob.

Free speech is still inscribed in America’s Constitution. That does not mean it is still quintessentially American. We need it to be.


ANDREW C. MCCARTHY is a senior fellow at National Review Institute, an NR contributing editor, and author of BALL OF COLLUSION: THE PLOT TO RIG AN ELECTION AND DESTROY A PRESIDENCY. @andrewcmccarthy
MORE IN POLITICS &

24
https://amgreatness.com/2021/10/21/congress-needs-to-provide-guardrails-for-the-cryptocurrency-revolution/
GREATNESS AGENDA
Congress Needs To Provide Guardrails for the Cryptocurrency Revolution
Congress urgently needs to step in and either force the SEC to provide actual, meaningful "regulatory clarity" for the entirety of the cryptocurrency industry, or to draft legislation.
By Josh Hammer

October 21, 2021
The Chinese Communist Party poses the most comprehensive 21st century threat to the American nation, the American people and the American way of life. The first half of this century will be defined by how the United States meets the Chinese challenge across the full spectrum of economic, national security, geopolitical, and cultural issues. And an easily neglected aspect of our new great-power competition with our Far East archfoe now cries out for diligent and prompt attention: safeguarding the fruits of the nascent, but ascendant, cryptocurrency revolution.

Last month, China effectively banned all cryptocurrency trading and mining, which the Communist Party increasingly views as a threat to its planned “digital yuan” sovereign digital currency, which may be released as early as 2022. The People’s Bank of China, the Chinese central bank and Federal Reserve equivalent, barred international exchanges from providing cryptocurrency services to Chinese investors and speculators. It also banned financial institutions and digital exchanges from facilitating domestic crypto transactions.

China’s moves have further exacerbated already high volatility in the crypto markets, leading to intensified calls for the Securities and Exchange Commission to provide “regulatory clarity.” For instance, Senator Pat Toomey, (R-Pa.), an orthodox free marketeer, noted last month that in some recent crypto-related enforcement actions, “the SEC did not identify the securities involved or the rationale for their status as securities, which would have provided much-needed public regulatory clarity.”

The issue with extant SEC enforcement in the crypto space, as Toomey indicated, is its wildly inconsistent—and oftentimes outright punitive—nature to date. Crypto proponents contend that the only clear guidance from the SEC has been found through various one-off lawsuits. They point to the SEC’s ongoing case against Ripple Labs, a blockchain software company that uses the XRP cryptocurrency in cross-border payment settlements for banks. Ripple sought SEC guidance for years while billions of XRP tokens circulated, but never received any. In December 2020, the SEC then filed a $1.3 billion enforcement action alleging that every XRP sale since 2013 constituted an unregistered securities trade. That is not how due process of law is supposed to work in a well-functioning republic.

As the United States locks horns in a generation-defining struggle with China, and as the recent Chinese crackdown on cryptocurrencies opens the door for the United States to regain the global mantle on crypto innovation, it would be a mistake to simply continue on in the same way with the SEC’s peculiar brand of “regulatory clarity.”

The United States should support emerging technologies with the potential to add value to the economy, so long as those technologies are not detrimental to the national interest and the common good. The way to do that is not via inconsistent and incoherent regulatory enforcement based on whether a specific type of cryptocurrency is found to constitute an “investment contract” (i.e., security) under the Securities Act of 1933, according to the Supreme Court’s Howey Test from over 70 years ago.

SEC Chairman Gary Gensler has thus far unhelpfully stated that most cryptocurrencies are likely securities. That is insufficient guidance. Joe Biden is said to be weighing an executive order to direct agencies to craft clearer crypto regulations, but it is impossible to have any faith in doddering Uncle Joe’s ability to unilaterally help matters in such a novel area of the economy. An entirely new approach is needed.



One need not think very hard about where that new set of coherent legal guardrails ought to come from. “In republican government,” James Madison wrote in Federalist 51, “the legislative authority necessarily predominates.” And so it ought to be for crypto regulation in the year 2021, as well.

Congress urgently needs to step in and either force the SEC to provide actual, meaningful “regulatory clarity” for the entirety of the cryptocurrency industry, or to draft legislation. Such legislation would be a modern-day Securities Act update and would provide extremely clear guidance as to which forms of cryptocurrency—Bitcoin, Ether and so forth—constitute securities/”investment contracts” under the Securities Act of 1933 and which do not. The former category of securities would require SEC registration, whereas the latter category of commodities would fall under the Commodity Futures Trading Commission’s regulatory ambit.

Massive, economic paradigm-shifting industries require the most rudimentary of guidelines and categorical sorting to best channel their comprehensive societal value-add. This is simply not a partisan issue either. Just as the Securities Act of 1933 was needed in its day, so is a Securities Act of 2021 needed now. It’s time for Congress to get moving.

27
Politics & Religion / Re: Nuclear War, Germ War, Chem War, WMD
« on: October 23, 2021, 04:46:06 PM »
U.S. Warns of Efforts by China to Collect Genetic Data
The National Counterintelligence and Security Center said American companies needed to better secure critical technologies as Beijing seeks to dominate the so-called bioeconomy.



Chinese gene firm BGI Group building in Beijing, in March. It developed a neonatal genetic test with the Chinese military that had enabled it to collect information from millions of people around the world.
Chinese gene firm BGI Group building in Beijing, in March. It developed a neonatal genetic test with the Chinese military that had enabled it to collect information from millions of people around the world.Credit...Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters
Julian E. Barnes
By Julian E. Barnes
Oct. 22, 2021
BETHESDA, Md. — Chinese firms are collecting genetic data from around the world, part of an effort by the Chinese government and companies to develop the world’s largest bio-database, American intelligence officials reported on Friday.

The National Counterintelligence and Security Center said in a new paper that the United States needed to better secure critical technologies including artificial intelligence, quantum computing, semiconductors and other technologies related to the so-called bioeconomy.

China and other countries are trying to dominate these technologies, and are using both legal and illegal means to acquire American know how, said Michael Orlando, the acting director of the counterintelligence center, an arm of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

The American private sector has long been in the cross hairs of China and other countries trying to steal American technology and intellectual property. Other countries like Russia also remain a threat, but the economic might of China makes it the biggest threat, officials said.

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China believes dominating these areas will give it an economic edge, and American companies are also investing heavily. Artificial intelligence and machine learning hold the promise to revolutionize many aspects of life, including military operations. Quantum computing will allow countries to break the toughest encryption that exists today, and semiconductors are vital not just for computers but many consumer products.

But officials are now also stressing the intersection of technology and genetic and biological research as an area of competition and espionage. Edward You, who is the national counterintelligence officer for emerging and disruptive technologies, said the Chinese government was collecting medical, health and genetic data around the world. The country that builds the best database of information will have an edge on developing cures for future pandemics, and China already has an advantage, he said.

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Beijing has a track record of misusing genetic data, the counterintelligence center said, citing a 2019 New York Times report on how China uses genetic tests to track members of the Uyghurs, a predominantly Muslim minority group.

Citing a Reuters report, Mr. You said a Chinese company, BGI, had developed a neonatal genetic test with the Chinese military that had enabled it to collect information from millions of people around the world. The firm gained a foothold in the United States in 2013, when it purchased an American genomics firm.

BGI now has contracts and partnerships with health institutions across the United States, intelligence officials said. The company provides cheap genomic sequencing and gets access to genomic data. Last year, the Commerce Department penalized some of the company’s subsidiaries for providing genetic analysis that was used in Beijing’s campaign against the Uyghurs.

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Mr. You said as a result the genetic data of some Americans could be “transferred to the Chinese government.”

The counterintelligence center also highlighted investments by WuXi, which bought a Pfizer manufacturing plant in China, announced a production facility in Massachusetts and made an investment in 2015 in 23andMe, the consumer genetics company.

“They are developing the world’s largest bio database,” Mr. You said of the Chinese government efforts. “Once they have access to your genetic data, it’s not something you can change like a pin code.”


Image
People purchasing DNA kits at the 23andMe booth at the RootsTech annual genealogical event in Salt Lake City in 2019.
People purchasing DNA kits at the 23andMe booth at the RootsTech annual genealogical event in Salt Lake City in 2019.Credit...George Frey/Reuters
But 23andMe said that fears of China stealing its data were misplaced.

WuXi has a less than 1 percent investment in 23andMe and has never received any customer data, Jacquie Cooke Haggarty, the company’s deputy general counsel, said in a statement. No data has ever been shared with a Chinese-owned company and no investor has access to the data, she said.

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“All of our testing is performed and has always been performed in U.S.-based laboratories,” she said.

The company also said it stored information about names and contact information separate from its genetic data. The company follows the highest encryption standards and tests its defenses daily, she said.

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Mr. Orlando said he was not arguing for decoupling the Chinese and American economies, but said the center was trying to warn companies of the risks of working with Chinese firms under the strict control of the government in Beijing.

“We aren’t telling people to decouple, but if you are going to do business in China, be smart about it,” Mr. Orlando said.

Though China is seeking a broad array of commercial data, the biggest threat is to the high-tech industries Beijing has said it wants to dominate in the decades to come.

American and European officials have long said China steals intellectual property, makes cheaper versions of products, puts western competitors out of business, and then dominates the market. That is a pattern China has followed in solar panels, for example.

“These technologies are critical and we cannot let what happened to other industries happen here,” Mr. Orlando said.

In recent years, the F.B.I. and the counterintelligence center have stepped up broad warnings to businesses and universities about Chinese attempts to steal American technology. Some of those overtures have been greeted skeptically, particularly at universities that believe the U.S. government may be trying to limit the number of Chinese students that study at American universities.

While the U.S. government can review many acquisitions of American companies by Chinese ones, other Chinese investments are harder to regulate. Mr. Orlando said an American company partnering with a Chinese one should take steps to protect its data.

“It’s all about the data,” Mr. You said. “There are national security implications we have to understand.”

Julian E. Barnes is a national security reporter based in Washington, covering the intelligence agencies. Before joining The Times in 2018, he wrote about security matters for The Wall Street Journal. @julianbarnes • Facebook

A version of this article appears in print on Oct. 23, 2021, Section A, Page 9 of the New York edition with the headline: U.S. Warns of Plan by the Chinese to Collect Genetic Data From Around the World. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe

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32
Yet another reader of this forum?

33
Politics & Religion / Re: Syria
« on: October 22, 2021, 05:35:57 PM »
The question is fairly posed, but I would submit the two fields of battle are quite distinct in their characteristics.

40
Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Environmental issues
« on: October 22, 2021, 03:42:50 AM »
I'm glad something is being done about PFAS.

42
Politics & Religion / Re: Rules of the Road/Fire Hydrant/Self Intro
« on: October 21, 2021, 08:09:06 PM »
FAR OUT!!!

THE ADVENTURE CONTINUES!!!

43
Politics & Religion / Re: Syria
« on: October 21, 2021, 08:05:10 PM »
Trump said "We're destroying the Caliphate and then we are leaving."

The generals hornswoggled him and left some behind.  What purpose do they serve now other than to be a target and as such, a  trip wire?


48
Politics & Religion / Re: Natural Catastrophes
« on: October 21, 2021, 03:37:39 PM »
So THAT is what Michael Yon was talking about!

49
Politics & Religion / Re: Michael Yon
« on: October 21, 2021, 03:32:18 PM »
FUSA?

50
Politics & Religion / D1: So, Trump was right?
« on: October 21, 2021, 03:31:49 PM »
U.S. troops attacked in Syria. A few rockets allegedly hit a base in southern Syria that houses American troops on Wednesday, AP's Lita Baldor reported. None of the Americans were injured, but it's unclear if the Syrian forces at al-Tanf were hurt.
Reminder: The U.S. outpost remains in place ostensibly to fight ISIS, though it's location also location also presents a target for Syrian and Iranian-linked troops in the region.
Says one critic: "The longer U.S. forces remain in Syria on an open-ended and ill-defined mission, the more likely an American will be pointlessly killed or seriously injured by a rocket or drone attack," said Daniel DePetris of the Defense Priorities think tank in Washington. "The only responsible course is a full withdrawal, saving U.S. troops from needless risk."

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