Puppet MastersS

Snakes in Suits

Microsoft signs 3-year, $617 million deal with the DoD

Deal will bring Windows 8 to 75% of the Department of Defense employees.

I'm sure you've been hearing that sales of Windows 8 have been slow and/or disappointing since its release in late October. Some blame it on the hardware, while others are saying that sales was actually meeting, admittedly lowered, expectations. After scoring gigantic win on Friday, though, I'm pretty sure Microsoft will have put any of those fears to rest.

The Defense Department has awarded a three-year, $617 million joint enterprise license agreement for Microsoft products, it was announced Friday.

The net new contract was awarded to Insight Public Sector, a division of Insight Enterprises, one of the largest global Microsoft Large Account Resellers, Microsoft wrote on its blog, and the deal will cover nearly 75% of all Department of Defense personnel. Microsoft called it "the most comprehensive licensing agreement" it has ever established with the DoD.

As part of the deal, the U.S. Army, U.S. Air Force and Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) will be given access to the most recent versions of Microsoft products, including Microsoft Office 2013, SharePoint 2013 Enterprise and Windows 8.

The new SharePoint 2013 Enterprise, Microsoft says, "will unlock new levels of cross-agency information sharing through improved enterprise search and social communications features while powering advanced business intelligence and reporting capabilities," while the Department of Defense will use Windows 8 "to empower productivity from any location, and any supported device, while taking advantage of enhanced security."


U.S. drone attacks 'counter-productive', former Obama security adviser claims

© Photograph: ReutersThe aftermath of a US drone strike in Yemen in September. The US claimed the attack killed six Islamist militants but the Yemeni government said the target was missed and 13 civilians were killed.
US reliance on drones to target terrorists undermines rule of law, is ineffective and has strategic drawbacks, argues Michael Boyle.

The United States' use of drones is counter-productive, less effective than the White House claims, and is "encouraging a new arms race that will empower current and future rivals and lay the foundations for an international system that is increasingly violent", according to a study by one of President Obama's former security advisers.

Michael Boyle, who was on Obama's counter-terrorism group in the run-up to his election in 2008, said the US administration's growing reliance on drone technology was having "adverse strategic effects that have not been properly weighed against the tactical gains associated with killing terrorists".

Civilian casualties were likely to be far higher than had been acknowledged, he said.

In an article for the Chatham House journal International Affairs, Boyle said the conventional wisdom over the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) needed to be challenged.

He said there was an urgent need for greater transparency because most Americans remained "unaware of the scale of the drone programme ... and the destruction it has caused in their name".


Prison reform controversy: China may close notorious labor camps

© AFP PhotoPicture dated 12 June 1986, shows the "Re-education through labor" camp of Tuanhe near Beijing
Beijing has announced it will halt China's widely criticized labor camp practices, state media reported, quoting China's chief of security. However, the announcement was removed shortly after it was made and was followed by a report promising reform.

The ruling Communist Party will "stop the use" of the "reform through labor" system, and will pass new regulations in March, state TV network CCTV quoted Meng Jianzhu, Secretary of Central Politics and Law Commission, as saying.

The announcement was removed shortly after it appeared, and was followed by a contradictory report by official state news agency Xinhua, which said the system will undergo unspecified changes.

China's labor camp system, which began in the 1950s, allows police to imprison petty criminals into labor camps for up to four years without trial. The camps operate outside these Chinese legal system, giving police unchecked power to issue and set sentences.

The four-year prison terms for labor camp prisoners are often longer than many formal criminal sentences, China Daily reported.


Bolivia slams U.S. over 'irrefutable evidence' of meddling

© AFP Photo / Lluis GeneBolivia's President Evo Morales
Bolivia has "concrete evidence" that the US is plotting to destabilize the Latin American nation, Minister Juan Ramon Quintana said. Proof of US "harassment" of the Bolivian government will be handed over to President Obama, he added.

The Bolivian government is "scrupulously following" US activity in Bolivia, Minister for the Bolivian Presidency Quintana said in a press conference.

"There is so much evidence to hand over to the President of the USA to say to him: Stop harassing the Bolivian government, stop politically cornering and ambushing us!" Quintana stressed. He added that investigations into drug-trafficking and human rights abuses would reveal a "permanent battle" waged by the US to impede progress in Bolivia.

"In the offensive against the government there are no visible subjects... What we're seeing are the political machinations of the US Embassy," which seeks to damage the image of the Bolivian government, Quintana said.

The country's US ambassador was ejected in 2008 after being accused of plotting against the Bolivian government by President Evo Morales. The US quickly followed suit, removing its Bolivian ambassador.

A charge d'affaires now heads the American Embassy in La Paz; both nations signed a deal in 2011 that would pave the way for the reinstatement of the ambassadors. However, diplomatic relations between the two countries have yet to be normalized.

Cowboy Hat

Counterterror adviser to be named chief of C.I.A.

© Charles Dharapak/Associated PressJohn O. Brennan in October 2010.
President Obama will announce on Monday that John O. Brennan, his counterterrorism adviser and a career Central Intelligence Agency officer, is his choice to head the agency, two months after David H. Petraeus stepped down after admitting an extramarital affair, a spokesman for the National Security Council said.

Mr. Brennan's nomination will be announced at 1 p.m. along with that of Chuck Hagel, the former maverick Republican senator from Nebraska, whom the president has chosen for secretary of defense, said the spokesman, Thomas Vietor.

In Mr. Obama's first term, Mr. Brennan, 57, has played a central role in the oversight of Mr. Obama's use of targeted killing of suspected terrorists using drones in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. He has become one of the president's most trusted advisers, and administration officials had said that the C.I.A. job was his for the asking.

The president had considered naming Mr. Brennan to head the C.I.A. when he took office in 2009. But some human rights advocates protested, claiming that as a top agency official under President George W. Bush, Mr. Brennan had supported, or at least had failed to stop, the use of interrogation techniques like waterboarding that are widely considered to be torture.

Cowboy Hat

Obama to nominate Chuck Hagel for defense secretary

© Dave Kaup / Reuters
President Obama plans to nominate former senator Chuck Hagel, a Nebraska Republican and Vietnam veteran, to be secretary of defense on Monday, according to a person close to the process and a senior administration official.

The White House informed the Hagel camp over the weekend that Obama intends to announce the nomination at the White House on Monday.

The two people with knowledge of the process, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak about the nomination before Obama does, said key members of Congress were being being notified Sunday afternoon about the decision.

Hagel would add a well-known Republican to the president's second-term Cabinet at a time when Obama, after a bitter presidential campaign, is looking to better bridge the partisan divide.


Ecuadorian president warns of possible 'CIA attack' before elections

© Reuters / StringerEcuadorean President Rafael Correa
Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa has said the CIA may try to kill him prior to upcoming elections. Citing reports of a plot to "destabilize the region," Correa said the threats were "credible," given the history of US involvement in Latin America.

Correa alluded to reports by Chilean journalist Patricio Mery Bell, who allegedly passed on information to the Ecuadorian government that President Correa's life was "under threat" by a CIA plot.

"There are many cases of [the CIA] interfering" in Latin American affairs, Correa said during a campaign tour in the coastal province of Guayas. "These are credible [reports] because this has happened before in Latin America."

The head of the US diplomatic mission in Quito, Adam Nann, responded to Bell's claims by saying that Washington "would never get involved" in Ecuador's electoral process.

Comment: That's a ludicrous comment to make, considering the U.S. government "get involved", in one way or the other, in nearly every election around the world.

Although Correa conceded that he believed the statements of the US ambassador, he warned that agencies such as the CIA often follow their own agenda and maintain links with organizations representing the extreme right in the countries in which they operate.


Secret and lies of the bailout

Victor Juhasz
© Victor Juhasz
The federal rescue of Wall Street didn't fix the economy - it created a permanent bailout state based on a Ponzi-like confidence scheme. And the worst may be yet to come by:

It has been four long winters since the federal government, in the hulking, shaven-skulled, Alien Nation-esque form of then-Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, committed $700 billion in taxpayer money to rescue Wall Street from its own chicanery and greed. To listen to the bankers and their allies in Washington tell it, you'd think the bailout was the best thing to hit the American economy since the invention of the assembly line. Not only did it prevent another Great Depression, we've been told, but the money has all been paid back, and the government even made a profit. No harm, no foul - right?


It was all a lie - one of the biggest and most elaborate falsehoods ever sold to the American people. We were told that the taxpayer was stepping in - only temporarily, mind you - to prop up the economy and save the world from financial catastrophe. What we actually ended up doing was the exact opposite: committing American taxpayers to permanent, blind support of an ungovernable, unregulatable, hyperconcentrated new financial system that exacerbates the greed and inequality that caused the crash, and forces Wall Street banks like Goldman Sachs and Citigroup to increase risk rather than reduce it. The result is one of those deals where one wrong decision early on blossoms into a lush nightmare of unintended consequences. We thought we were just letting a friend crash at the house for a few days; we ended up with a family of hillbillies who moved in forever, sleeping nine to a bed and building a meth lab on the front lawn.

Che Guevara

After years in solitary, an austere life as Uruguay's president

© Matilde Campodonico for The New York TimesJosé Mujica preparing a mate, the herbal drink offered in a hollowed calabash gourd, in his kitchen.
Some world leaders live in palaces. Some enjoy perks like having a discreet butler, a fleet of yachts or a wine cellar with vintage Champagnes. Then there is José Mujica, the former guerrilla who is Uruguay's president. He lives in a run-down house on Montevideo's outskirts with no servants at all. His security detail: two plainclothes officers parked on a dirt road.

In a deliberate statement to this cattle-exporting nation of 3.3 million people, Mr. Mujica, 77, shunned the opulent Suárez y Reyes presidential mansion, with its staff of 42, remaining instead in the home where he and his wife have lived for years, on a plot of land where they grow chrysanthemums for sale in local markets.

Visitors reach Mr. Mujica's austere dwelling after driving down O'Higgins Road, past groves of lemon trees. His net worth upon taking office in 2010 amounted to about $1,800 - the value of the 1987 Volkswagen Beetle parked in his garage. He never wears a tie and donates about 90 percent of his salary, largely to a program for expanding housing for the poor.

His current brand of low-key radicalism - a marked shift from his days wielding weapons in an effort to overthrow the government - exemplifies Uruguay's emergence as arguably Latin America's most socially liberal country.


U.S. debt crisis - how high will it go?

trillion dollars
© Economic Reason
The implications of the US debt crisis are not well understood in most circles, and it is not widely spoken about in the media and during important political debates. The irony is that the US debt is so significant that it plays a monumental role in finance and modern political strategy. The debt poses great risks moving forward, and yet it is referred to in only the vaguest of terms.

Here is why the US debt must grow every year and why it is mathematically impossible for it to continue forever.

Before we can understand why the debt must grow every year, here is is a visual representation, to scale, of how much the current debt is standing at. Each tall uniform column in the background of the picture below refers to a pile of $100 bills stacked one on top of another. Each "tower of debt" consists of 10 x 10 fork-lift palettes that reach out into the sky and are higher than the old World Trade Center buildings. These towers of debt represent $US 16.394 trillion. However, by the time you wake up to read this, it will be larger than that. Demon Ocracy does great work on visual representation of the US debt levels.