Category Archives: Economy and Meltdown

How The Military Became The Largest Employer of Transgender Americans

By Priceonomics

Why did Lily Kidd join the Marines?

Ask her about it now and she offers a variety of answers. She needed to escape an unaccepting family. She wanted to experience life outside of Alabama. She was eager for a physical challenge (“I don’t go half in on anything,” she says).

But she also joined the United States Marine Corps because, as a twenty-year-old living in the Deep South with a fiancé, Lily Kidd was still presenting herself to the world as a man.

“When you’re growing up as a boy, feminine traits are pushed away,” explains Kidd, a transgender woman who is now 28 and lives in San Diego. “The Marine Corps—that’s the ultimate way to say, ‘hey, you know what, I’ve got nothing to do with that stuff.’” 

Last June, the Department of Defense announced that transgender men and women could no longer be discharged from the military on the basis of their gender identity. While the reform arrived too late for Kidd, who was kicked out of the Marines in 2014 after coming out as trans in her seventh year of service, the shift in policy has brought new public attention to the singular challenges (and for many, the very existence) of transgender service members.

But Kidd’s experience is not unique, nor even particularly rare. While media coverage of high profile trans service members like Chelsea Manning and Kristin Beck often presents the stories of transgender troops as novel—a singular juxtaposition of gender nonconformity within institutions that prize conformity above all else—they are anything but.

In fact, the available evidence suggests that transgender Americans serve at rates well above the national average. Though the data is sparse, studies estimate that trans men and women are anywhere from two- to five-times more likely to join the military as their cisgender (nontrans) counterparts. For all its perceived conservatism and raging heteronormativity, the United States Armed Forces is almost certainly the largest employer of transgender people in this country. 

Trans service members and veterans offer a variety of explanations for this disparity. For some, the military uniform functions as gender camouflage—a way to forestall uncomfortable questions from friends, family, or spouses. For others, joining the armed forces offers financial security and community to a group that is disproportionately denied both. For Lily Kidd, both aspects motivated her decision to serve.

As both a hiding place and a safety net, the military has become an unlikely refuge for thousands of transgender Americans.

Rough Estimates 

You can tell a lot about a society based on the data it collects.

No branch of the United States military gathers statistics about its transgender service members because, up until June of this year, they did not officially exist.

Likewise, estimates of the American transgender population are notoriously unreliable. The U.S. Census Bureau doesn’t ask about transgender identity, though as Mona Chalabi writes at FiveThirtyEight, the results probably wouldn’t be reliable if they did. “Transgender” has no universally agreed upon definition, and many respondents might be reluctant to honestly answer a question about it from a federal agency. The surveys that do exist tend to focus on particular geographic areas or only target the LGBT population.

Still, what rough estimates there are suggest that transgender people are overrepresented in the military. Perhaps dramatically so.

The most prominent of these estimates comes from the Williams Institute, an LGBT-focused think tank based out of UCLA. In a report from 2014, authors Gary Gates and Jody Herman estimate that approximately 15,500 transgender men and women are serving and that an additional 134,300 trans Americans are veterans. Given a national population of 700,000 (another rough estimate), this suggests that over 1-in-5 (or 21.4%) of all openly transgender Americans are in the military or have served at one point.

Compare this to the average adult American service rate of 10.4%. Transgender Americans, in other words, are estimated to be twice as likely to join the military.

“Assigned Male at Birth” refers to trans women along with all gender nonconforming people whose
assigned gender at birth was male. Data source: Williams Institute. Chart: Priceonomics

According to the Gates and Herman, the disparity is true of both transgender men and women. Trans people assigned female at birth were estimated to be nearly three times as likely to serve as the average adult woman, while trans people assigned male at birth were 1.6 times as likely to serve as the average man.

The Williams report estimates have been criticized on methodological grounds, so the figures should be taken with a grain of salt. But it does provide one piece of evidence about a larger trend. And there are others.

In 2013, a team of epidemiologists at the Veterans Health Administration published a study on the prevalence of “gender identity disorder” (a classification since abandoned by the American Psychiatric Association) among the millions of veterans within the VHA system.

After poring over hundreds of thousands of health records from between 2000 and 2011, the researchers found that roughly 23 out of every 100,000 patients in the VHA were diagnosed with GID. That is over five times higher than the total population rate of 4.3 per 100,000.

John Blosnich, the lead author on the paper, acknowledges that using GID diagnosis codes is a “very flawed way” to identify transgender vets.

“If you can imagine, a trans person comes into the V.A. or any sort of medical center with a broken arm, there would be a [record] for a broken arm, but there wouldn’t be an ID code for Gender Identity Disorder,” he explains. “So it’s probably an underestimate, if anything.”

Like the estimates provided in the the Williams Institute, the VHA report provides an imprecise statistic. But taken together, they point to the same broader conclusion.

“I think it’s pretty apparent that, yes, trans people are more likely to serve,” says Jake Eleazer, a doctoral student at the University of Louisville who is writing his counseling psychology dissertation on the experience of transgender service members. Eleazer is also a captain in the Kentucky Army National Guard, a board member with the LGBT service member advocacy group, SPART*A, and a transgender man.

“But then it does lead to the question,” says Eleazer. “Why are trans people more likely to serve?”

A Flight to What?

In 1988, George R. Brown, a psychiatrist in the Air Force, published an article in Archives of Sexual Behavior, in which he described his evaluation of eleven “male gender dysphorics” (transgender women) who were then serving, or had recently served, in the military. After reviewing each case, Brown proposed a unifying theory for why trans women might be disproportionately drawn to the armed forces.

A young transgender woman who is trying to deny her gender identity, he wrote, may join the military as a way of “purging his feminine self [sic].”

Or, as the VHA’s John Blosnich paraphrases the argument: “If you’re doubting how ‘manly’ you are, what’s manlier than driving a tank and blowing stuff up?”

In the intervening years, Brown’s “flight to hypermasculinity” theory has become one of the most common explanations for why transgender people might be overrepresented in the military. Extended to both men and women, the simple version goes something like this: transgender women join the military to suppress who they really are, while transgender men do so to express who they really are.

But according to Jake Eleazer, the 31-year-old National Guard captain, that explanation does not square with his experience.

“I think it’s a little bit more nuanced than ‘people are working through their issues,’” he says.

A recruiting advertisement from 1917. Gender has always been “a common theme in the way
that we work on bringing folks into the service,” says Jake Eleazer.

Since joining the Guard a decade ago, Eleazer says he kept serving despite his gender identity, not because of it. Over the last ten years, he says he has led a “double life” which, not surprisingly, has made things more difficult, not easier.

The constant need for evasion and the ever present threat of discovery was exhausting, he says. Because he could not talk about his personal life, it was difficult to make or maintain close relationships. When his voice started to drop once he started hormone replacement therapy, he had to chalk it up to a persistent cough until he switched units.

Sometimes his fellow soldiers would use “he,” “his,” and “sir,” befitting his gender identity, while others would say “she,” “her,” and “ma’am,” consistent with his designation within the Army. Eleazer was never quite sure when a correction was in order.

The ambiguity surrounding Eleazer’s gender became a running joke of sorts between him and his fellow drill instructors—although nobody would ever acknowledge the underlying premise of the humor. Whenever a new class of soldiers arrived on base, one would invariably refer to Eleazer as “sir,” at which point the other instructors would swoop in “like you’ve seen in Full Metal Jacket” and give the poor soldier hell for using the “wrong” pronoun.

For all the anxiety and awkwardness, why has Eleazer stuck with the National Guard for a decade? The question takes on new significance for him now as he writes his dissertation asking the same thing of other service members.

Personally, Eleazer says he was drawn to the Guard for the simple reason that he enjoys physical work that gets him outside.

“Maybe you could say that that’s a masculine thing,” he says. “[But] I know plenty of cisgender female soldiers who would roll their eyes at [the] assertion that their military service somehow made them more masculine or more manly.” 

Eleazer is finding that, contrary to Brown’s flight to hypermasculinity theory, trans service members join the military for the same reasons that many Americans do. These reasons include financial and health benefits, assistance going to college, and a sense of kinship. 

“We see a lot of people who come into the military because they don’t feel like they have a lot of other stable options,” says Eleazer. “[In the military] you know you’re going to have a roof over your head and food in your belly.”

According to the Center for American Progress, anywhere from one- to two-thirds of homeless youth are gay or transgender. A survey from 2009 found that transgender people faced unemployment rates twice the national average. Trans people also report much higher rates of physical and sexual assault and are believed to be ten-times more likely to attempt suicide. 

Given all that, says Eleazer, “the idea of joining a community like the military might be very appealing.”

Whether the institution is perceived as “hypermasculine” or not may be beside the point.  

An Intolerant Meritocracy

But it wasn’t just material benefits that attracted Staff Sergeant Cathrine Joy Schmid to the army when she was 20 years old.

For Schmid, who is now 32, the military was one of a long list of possible “solutions” that she hoped would rid her of the unshakable, lifelong conviction that she was a woman.

“This is why I got married almost right out of high school, why I tried to go to Bible college, and also why I joined the Army,” she says in an email exchange. Schmid grew up in a deeply religious household where transgender identity was equated with homosexuality and homosexuality with evil.

As George R. Brown wrote in 1988, “the military places a high premium on virility, stoicism, machismo, assertiveness, and all that is, by definition, hypermasculine.” Schmid was drawn to all of this.

“I thought that dedicating myself to God, Country, and good old-fashioned heterosexual romance would make me into the man I was trying so hard to convince myself I was,” she says.

But like religious instruction and marriage, joining the Army failed to have the desired effect. And when it did, she began to consider more dire remedies.

For years afterward, Schmid says she experienced a series of suicidal episodes. The first came  in 2008, three years after joining, when Schmid was stationed in Germany with her wife and the first of the two daughters they would have together. (“I thought fatherhood would cure me too,” she says.) After her wife discovered a duffel bag of women’s clothing and makeup that Schmid had secretly stashed away, Schmid says she fell into a deep depression.

“When I found myself staring at my pistol at the firing range, seriously considering pointing it at myself, I realized how bad things really were,” she says.

Things carried on in this way until 2014, when, after returning home from Iraq, Schmid came very close to jumping off a bridge and was hospitalized for three weeks. A month later, she wrote a memo to her commanding officers. 

“I have been diagnosed with Gender Dysphoria,” she wrote. “I fully understand the consequences of this diagnosis, that is, that it could be grounds for separation from military service. Again this is not my desire, as fulfilling my military duties and responsibilities are of paramount importance.”

Fortunately for Schmid, her commander agreed. Commanders are often given discretion over which “causes for rejection” are worth acting upon, and Schmid was a capable intelligence analyst.

“The good thing about the Army is that while it may be conservative, intolerant, and restrictive, it’s also the closest thing to a functioning meritocracy that I’ve ever seen,” she says. “And transgender people can do the job.”

Schmid has since transferred to a new unit where her fellow soldiers treat and address her as a woman. In the meantime, she and her wife divorced, though Schmid says she maintains a good relationship with her kids.

And despite joining the “hypermasculine” military as an act of self-deception—one that inevitably failed—she remains loyal to the institution.

“They Don’t Hunt Trans People”

But for many service members, the choice to join the military is not exclusively about denying one’s gender identity or solely motivated by the offer of material and social support.

Both certainly played a role in Lily Kidd’s decision to join the Marine Corps. But the main appeal of serving was that it provided structure and an identity to latch onto until she was in a better position to provide both for herself.

“It wasn’t a conscious thought for me, like ‘oh, I need to get rid of this trans thing,’” she says. “It was like, ‘hey, you know, I could do this for four to eight years, [go to] college, [and] get my life in order.”

Despite the Marine Corps’ inherent conservatism, it also felt like a reasonably safe place to be a confused twenty-year-old. “They don’t hunt trans people,” she says. “Once you’re through the initial bootcamp questioning and stuff like that, they don’t ever ask you again.”

This was often more than could be said of civilian life.

Carla Lewis, a 45 year old trans woman living in Nashville, was also drawn to service for an array of complex reasons that do not fit tidily into one theory or another. 

Carla Lewis now works as a software developer in Nashville.

From as early as eight years old, Lewis says she was certain of two things: she wanted to be an astronaut, and she was a woman. Casting her lot with the nerd crowd as a teenager allowed her to pursue the first realization while avoiding the second. Her fondest childhood memory was the weekend she spent at the Marshall Space Flight Center. In high school, she joined the civil air patrol—something akin to the boy scouts for the aeronautically inclined. 

At the same time, she says she always felt more comfortable wearing women’s clothing and makeup.

“The only [trans people] that I had ever seen was like on Jerry Springer and Sally Jessy Raphael,” she says. “And I didn’t necessarily think that applied to me.”

Ever the bookworm, Lewis scoured the libraries at her school, in her town, at the local law school. But evidently, there were no books on transgender identity to be found in rural Arkansas in the 1980s.

“For all intents and purposes, I thought that I was the only person like me,” says Lewis.

After struggling in her first year of college, Lewis decided that the U.S. Air Force might be a good place for a misfit with a penchant for rockets. 

Like Kidd, Carla Lewis was drawn to the military because it was far easier to call herself an “airman” or a “Marine” than a woman. The service provided an opportunity to postpone a reckoning.

“Condition Not a Disability” 

For Lily Kidd, that reckoning came after seven years of distinguished service.

After serving over two years overseas, being promoted to sergeant, and receiving an award for excellence in the field of information and communication technology, Lily Kidd decided to come out as transgender.

She realized that she had to make a change while sitting on a base in Afghanistan.

As she watched fellow Marines lose friends, family members, and spouses to infidelity and the emotional wear and tear of prolonged absence, she was overcome with the sense that life was passing her by.

“I thought, what do I have that I’m holding back?”

Upon returning to Camp Pendleton in southern California, she told her commanding officer that she was trans and asked permission to pursue transition.

As in the case of Cathrine Schmid, Kidd’s commanding officer seemed content to ignore Kidd’s gender as long as her “condition” did not affect her performance. Kidd started hormone replacement therapy. A year and a half passed. But as she began to change physically, Kidd says she lost friends. Other Marines began posting mocking and harassing posts on social media.

“I would go to somewhere on base and everybody was staring at me and taking pictures,” she recalls.

When word finally reached the Sergeant Major of her unit, he gave Kidd the choice to “stop doing this thing” or leave. According to Kidd, this was no choice. The following month, she received a discharge for a “Condition Not a Disability,” a classification that lists “Sexual Gender and Identity Disorders” alongside drug dependence and bedwetting as justifiable reasons for dismissal.

Carla Lewis’ military career was much shorter.

After completing basic training and excelling in technical school, Lewis was shipped off to the White Sand Missile Range in New Mexico. She says she opted for the facility because of its proximity to Roswell, of UFO-sighting lore.

Unfortunately for Lewis, the White Sands placement also required an extensive background check in order to obtain the necessary security clearance. While in training school, Lewis had met with a counselor and discussed her gender identity. Worried that this discussion would come up in the background check, she refused to sign her security clearance application.

Carla Lewis with her father. Prior to coming out, Lewis went by Justin.

Thus ended what Lewis refers to as her “illustrious 16 month career.”

The years that followed their respective discharges were not easy for either Kidd or Lewis.

For months afterward, Kidd says she struggled to get out of bed in the morning. She also struggled to make ends meet or to pay for her hormone doses. She took odd jobs until finally she found work at a satellite communications company. When Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced the change in policy last June, Kidd says she responded with a mix of emotions.

“I’m happy that nobody else has to go through what I went through,” she says. In her former Marine Corps company of nearly 200, Kidd says she can think of five who have since come out as trans. She had not been alone after all.

“But [the policy change] doesn’t do anything for me,” she says. “It’s not going to give me my career back.”

Carla Lewis took much longer to find her place in the world after her discharge.

Though she had to explain the reason for her abrupt departure from the Air Force to her family, (“my father surprised me and said, ‘I wish I had known this, we could have taken you to Las Vegas and you could have become a showgirl,’” says Lewis), she kept her gender identity a secret from everyone else for nearly another decade. In 1999, Lewis’ wife left with the children, and Lewis attempted suicide. 

But now, back in school and working as a software developer for a medical technology company in Nashville, Lewis says she has it better than most transgender women in America.

And for all the trauma she experienced as a result of Air Force policy, she says she does not hold a grudge against the institution. When the Department of Defense announced its policy change last June, she says that she was thrilled that so many others could now serve.

“I already knew that there were trans people serving in the closet who were extremely talented, yet they couldn’t be who they really were,” she says. “When you spend your time being told that honesty is a virtue, yet you’re required to lie about something so deeply personal, I feel like you rob the people around you of the gifts that you have to give.”

“Truthfully, if I weren’t too old,” she says, “I would join again.”

Winning: U.S. Crushes All Other Countries In Latest Obesity Study

When President Trump promised last fall that under a Trump administration America would “would win so much you’ll get tired of winning,” we suspect this is not what he had in mind.  According to the latest international obesity study from the Organization For Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), America is by far the fattest nation in the world with just over 38% of the adult population considered ‘obese.’

 

Here are some stats from the OECD’s latest study courtesy of the Washington Examiner:

–  In 2015, an estimated 603.7 million adults and 107.7 million children worldwide were obese. That represents about 12 percent of all adults and 5 percent of all children.

 

–  The prevalence of obesity doubled in 73 countries between 1980 and 2015 and continuously increased in most of the other countries.

 

–  China and India had the highest number of obese children. China and the U.S. had the highest number of obese adults.

 

–  Excess body weight accounted for about 4 million deaths — or 7.1 percent of all deaths — in 2015.

 

–  Almost 70 percent of deaths related to a high BMI were due to cardiovascular disease.

 

–  The study finds evidence that having a high BMI causes leukemia and several types of cancer, including cancers of the esophagus, liver, breast, uterus, ovary, kidney and thyroid.

 

–  In rich and poor countries, obesity rates increased, indicating “the problem is not simply a function of income or wealth. Changes in the food environment and food systems are probably major drivers. Increased availability, accessibility, and affordability of energy-dense foods, along with intense marketing of such foods, could explain excess energy intake and weight gain among different populations. The reduced opportunities for physical activity that have followed urbanization and other changes in the built environment have also been considered as potential drivers; however, these changes generally preceded the global increase in obesity and are less likely to be major contributors.”

Of course, obesity in the “fast food nation” is hardly a new epidemic though the rate of change is fairly staggering.

 

Meanwhile, Michelle Obama’s crusade against childhood obesity didn’t seem to work all that well…

 

But that “Turn-ip for what?” video was so clever…shocking it was ineffective.

 

Finally, for all of you who will undoubtedly sign up for a brand new gym membership as part of your New Years resolution to shed the extra pounds in 2018…you might as well just give up now because the OECD predicts we’re all just going to get much fatter over the next 15 years.

OECD projections show a steady increase in obesity rates until at least 2030 (Figure 5). Obesity levels are expected to be particularly high in the United States, Mexico and England, where 47%, 39% and 35% of the population respectively are projected to be obese in 2030. On the contrary, the increase is expected to be weaker in Italy and Korea, with obesity rates projected to be 13% and 9% in 2030, respectively. The level of obesity in France is projected to nearly match that of Spain, at 21% in 2030. Obesity rates are projected to increase at a faster pace in Korea and Switzerland where rates have been historically low.

Bitcoin Is Like The Internet In 1995

InternationalMan’s Nick Giamburno is a strong advocate of international diversification – such as holding multiple passports and offshore assets. It frees you from absolute dependence on any one country. In short, international diversification minimizes the State’s power to coerce you. Bitcoin is an important part of this strategy. It’s an inherently international asset.

Bitcoin has incredible value as an international transfer mechanism. You can take any amount in and out of any country. You don’t need permission from any government.

 

You can send it across any border—or any number of borders—as often as you want. And there’s nothing anyone can do about it.

 

I’ve seen this firsthand in Latin America, where bitcoin helps people get around capital controls. (Governments use capital controls to trap money within their borders so they have more to steal.)

 

Bitcoin helps people bypass these restrictions. That’s because governments can’t freeze, seize, or block the transactions.

 

This is why bitcoin is such a disruptive and exciting technology, and why bitcoin should be a critical tool in your international diversification toolkit.

 

Bitcoin’s use is set to explode… and it could make you a fortune.

 

All the details are below in this must-read article from my friend and colleague Greg Wilson. I think you’ll enjoy it.

 

Greg is a true expert on all things bitcoin. He stays on top of all the breaking bitcoin news more than anyone else that I know of.

This Event Could Be Bitcoin’s “Mainstream Moment”

On August 9, 1995, the internet had its “mainstream” moment.

That’s when Netscape held its initial public offering (IPO) and released its web browser, Netscape Navigator, to the world.

At that point, the internet had already been around for 15 years.

Yet despite being one of the greatest inventions in history, the world was slow to adopt. In 1995, only 0.3% of the world’s population used the internet.

The internet needed a catalyst. And looking back, it was Netscape.

The numbers back it up.

In 1995, there were 16 million internet users. Then Netscape Navigator came along. By the end of 1996, the number of internet users had more than doubled to 36 million.

And five years later, we reached over a half-billion users. That’s growth of over 100% annually.

The success of the IPO inspired the term “Netscape moment.” Today, we use the term to describe an event that signals the dawn of a new industry.

I believe we’ve already had our Netscape moment for another technology: bitcoin.

Now, it’s incredibly difficult to make predictions, especially without the benefit of hindsight. And I might be wrong.

Nevertheless, today I’ll tell you which key event over the past two years was bitcoin’s Netscape moment.

Bitcoin Is Like the Internet in 1995

Today, there’s an estimated 15 million–35 million bitcoin users. We’ll split it in the middle and call it 25 million.

That’s 0.3% of the population… similar to the number of internet users before its Netscape moment.

Like the internet in 1995, bitcoin continues to gain popularity.

The chart below highlights the key events of the last two years.

To me, one event stands out as bitcoin’s Netscape moment. That’s when Japan legalized bitcoin.

Bitcoin’s Moment

Since bitcoin was legalized, here’s what has happened in Japan…

  • More than 260,000 stores in Japan are rolling out bitcoin as a payment method.

  • Stores at famed electronics marketplace Akihabara have started accepting bitcoin.

  • Japan is setting up a bitcoin “testing hub” for fintech companies.

  • Leading Japanese bitcoin exchanges have unveiled plans to accelerate adoption.

It’s all leading to increased usage of bitcoin in Japan.

Volume on LocalBitcoins has accelerated since the law went into effect. And it had its highest volume week of the year the last week of June, topping 4.7 million yen (about $42,000).

Tokyo’s Sushi-Bar Numazuko Ginza 1st is an example of the growing popularity of bitcoin in Japan. The restaurant was one of the first to accept bitcoin payments.

The restaurant’s manager said there were only a few bitcoin payments per month two years ago. By March 2017, that number increased to about 70.

This quote from the restaurant manager sums it up best: “Japanese customers are using bitcoin more than we expected.”

How to Profit From the “Bitcoin Moment”

I think we’ll look back at Japan’s legalization of bitcoin as its Netscape moment.

Every day, millions of people are working on bitcoin to make it better. And its acceptance will only rise from here.

And just recently, South Korea announced it will regulate and legalize bitcoin. The trend that started in Japan continues unabated.

The best way to profit from this trend is simply to buy bitcoin.

Birkenstock CEO Accuses Amazon Of “Modern Day Piracy”

President Donald Trump might’ve been on to something when he accused the Washington Post of being a “lobbyist weapon For Amazon.”

In a rambling five-page email published by WaPo, the CEO of Birkenstock USA threatened to cut off authorized retailers who sell even a “single pair” of its shoes to Amazon.com Inc., a continuation of his crusade against the online retailer, which began about a year ago when he demanded that the e-commerce powerhouse do more to ferret out fakes being sold on its platform. In the missive, CEO David Kahan blasted Amazon for soliciting Birkenstock retailers, offering to buy the company’s shoes from them for full price. Birkenstock stopped selling its shoes on Amazon earlier this year, citing a rise in counterfeit products and unauthorized sellers.

Though the paper disclosed its conflict of interest, the story was obviously intended to embarrass a business rival of WaPo owner and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, despite the paper’s smoothly neutral tone.

“In the email, Kahan called the entreaty a “desperate act” and a “PERSONAL AFFRONT.”

 

“Birkenstock does NOT sell [to] Amazon,” he wrote in the email to retail partners. “And it is clear that they are seeking back-channel means by which to obtain our brand.”

 

He emphasized that the German shoemaker prohibits shop owners from selling, distributing or shipping its products to resellers.

 

“I will state clearly, any authorized retailer who may do this for even a single pair will be closed FOREVER,” Kahan wrote. “I repeat, FOREVER.”

Kahan added that he is considering legal action against Amazon.com for ‘knowingly encouraging a breach of our policy.’”

Birkenstock doesn’t allow unauthorized resellers like Amazon to sell its classic cork-and-leather sandals, believing that losing control of it products risks tarnishing its brand and reputation. Kahan also noted that, by cooperating with Amazon, the company risks losing control of how and where its products are sold.

Later in the lengthy missive, Kahan claimed that Amazon’s inability to weed out fakes is tantamount to encouraging piracy.

“’This is modern-day piracy on the high seas,” Kahan said in an interview. “This is a middle finger to all brands, not just Birkenstock.”

At least one Birkenstock retailer interviewed by WaPo said he supports Kahan’s decision to cut off Amazon, saying sales of the company’s shoes have risen about 20% over the past year.

“At Martin’s Family Shoes in Gettysburg, Pa., owner John Fidler says sales of Birkenstocks are up about 20 percent this year, which he attributes at least partly to the company’s split with Amazon. He was encouraged, he said, to receive Kahan’s “ticked off” email last week.

 

‘It was great that somebody finally put Amazon in its place,” he said. “I don’t see any reason to sell there.’”

Even though Amazon declined to comment about Kahan’s email specifically, it’s clear why the firm might consider his anti-counterfeit campaign a threat to its ambitions to keep expanding. As WaPo noted, Kahan’s decision to stop cooperating with Amazon could inspire other retailers to withhold their product from the platform, as brick-and-mortar retailers struggle to survive as consumers increasingly prefer to shop online.

Amazon is fighting battles on multiple fronts as it struggles to expand: Wal-Mart recently warned trucking firms that it would drop its business if it found out they were also moving goods for Amazon. Meanwhile, its deal to purchase Whole Foods Market is in danger of being scuttled by Congressional Democrats, who are falling for the FTC to investigate the company for possible antitrust violations.

Read the letter in its entirety below:

Amazon Retailer Letter 7.20.17 by zerohedge on Scribd

 

Who Is Michael Vickers? The CIA’s Afghan Jihad Architect Declares War On Trump

Regime change advocates are in continued meltdown mode.

Last week’s announcement of Trump’s shutting down the CIA’s covert weapons and aid program to anti-government insurgents in Syria – a move now widely interpreted as marking the end of the years long US push for overthrowing Assad – has deep state hawks and their media allies throwing repeat public fits and tantrums in all the usual op-ed pages and cable news panels (though it appears the Pentagon is still ramping up its presence in Syria, ostensibly to fight ISIS). Even John McCain found time, a day after announcing his diagnosis with brain cancer, to compose a statement which said: “If these reports are true, the administration is playing right into the hands of Vladimir Putin.”

On Monday night Trump gave confirmation of the closure of the program while taking issue with The Washington Post’s reporting:

The Amazon Washington Post fabricated the facts on my ending massive, dangerous, and wasteful payments to Syrian rebels fighting Assad…..

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 25, 2017

Utilizing zero evidence, the Post described the president’s decision as “a move sought by Moscow” in yet another cheap attempt at playing the Russia card. Appeasement of Moscow in Syria is now a central talking point of the pro regime change enthusiasts now attacking Trump. But in the midst of such unsightly neocon weeping, wailing gnashing of teeth (actually a welcome spectacle) we can glean more information of things only previously discussed in the classified halls of Langley or the Pentagon.

For example, David Ignatius penned an unhinged column immediately after the news broke last week (he laments the US didn’t give jihadist “rebels” anti-aircraft missiles!) which reveals new information based on a quote from a defense official with knowledge of the CIA program:

Run from secret operations centers in Turkey and Jordan, the program pumped many hundreds of millions of dollars to many dozens of militia groups. One knowledgeable official estimates that the CIA-backed fighters may have killed or wounded 100,000 Syrian soldiers and their allies over the past four years.

“Massive, dangerous, and wasteful”

Whether this estimate of Syrian troop death toll is low or high, it offers a rare confirmation that the CIA program was the prime driving force which fueled and escalated the war and its massive bloodshed since nearly the beginning. It is important to remember that the prevailing wisdom coming out of the DC echo chamber had perpetually cast the US as “on the sidelines” of a fundamentally internal Syrian drama. Though Obama ordered the covert program which “killed or wounded 100,000 Syrian soldiers” (and who knows how many civilians?) his legacy has been continually framed as the reluctant humanitarian warrior who didn’t do enough.

The New York Times, among many others, constantly promoted the lie that the CIA program was minuscule and inconsequential, and near daily reporting on Syria over the past years conveniently glossed over the massively budgeted program altogether. But Trump’s tweet further provides rare highest level confirmation that the program was “massive” (according to Snowden documents given to the Washington Post, “one the agency’s largest covert operations, with a budget approaching $1 billion a year”).

Importantly, Trump’s tweet also called it “wasteful”. As a recent report in the Financial Times reminds us, the CIA not only ran a US weapons pipeline into Syria, but actually payed salaries of “rebel commanders” and others. That’s right… your tax dollars at work funding jihad in Syria!:

One rebel commander who asked not to be named said US support had been waning for months but noted that the rebels had been given their salaries as normal last month. Still, he believed the decision was final. “The CIA’s role is done,” the rebel commander said.

As for Trump calling the program “dangerous”, this is probably the most immediately self-evident part of his description. He had campaigned on the promise to disentangle the US from Syria on the basic common sense idea that getting in bed with Syria’s so-called “moderate rebels” was tantamount to supporting al-Qaeda. In June 2016 he controversially tweeted the following:

An: Media fell all over themselves criticizing what DonaldTrump “may have insinuated about @POTUS.” But he’s right: https://t.co/bIIdYtvZYw

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 15, 2016

The Hill commented on the tweet at the time:

The story, from the conservative Breitbart website, says the State Department received a memo from an intelligence agent who claimed al Qaeda in Iraq, a group that splintered off to form ISIS, was one of the “major forces driving the insurgency in Syria.”

 

Based on the memo, the article claims that the Obama administration backed ISIS by setting up a program to train Syrian rebels fighting against President Bashar Assad.

That ISIS was fueled and strengthened through the US, Saudis, Turks and allies flooding the Syrian battlefield and its jihadists with cash and weaponry is now beyond dispute, confirmed by many of the very people with direct knowledge of the program: from the US ambassador to Syria to former DIA chief Michael Flynn to then Vice President Biden to General Martin Dempsey to members of Congress and many others. Here is Gen. Michael Flynn, long before he had any association with the Trump campaign, speaking to Al Jazeera about the 2012 Pentagon secret memo Trump tweeted about:

Confront the Russians! CIA’s Afghan Jihad 2.0

Meanwhile, we’ve recently pointed to the obvious comparison (and have been doing so for years) between the CIA’s Syria operation, called Timber Sycamore, and ‘Operation Cyclone’ – the 1980’s CIA program to arm Afghan and Arab mujahideen fighters against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. Whereas recent covert action in Syria fueled the rise of ISIS, covert action of the 1980’s produced the original Frankenstein of global jihad, including al-Qaeda and the Taliban, and spawned an entire generation of veteran terrorists. And now we can behold the spectacle of angry national security state insiders rant about the end of their beloved Syrian jihad, which like the 1980’s, had Russia as a prime target.

Who can forget the chilling words of former deputy and acting director the CIA, Michael Morell, issued in a Charlie Rose interview nearly a year ago?:

Morell: We need to make the Iranians pay the price in Syria; we need to make the Russians pay the price.

 

Rose: We make them pay the price by killing Russians and killing Iranians?

 

MorellYes. Covertly. You don’t tell the world about it. You don’t stand at the Pentagon and say we did this. But you make sure they know it in Moscow and Tehran. I want to go after those things that Assad sees as his personal power base. I want to scare Assad. I want to go after his presidential car. I want to bomb his offices in the middle of the night. I want to destroy his presidential aircraft. I want to destroy his presidential helicopters. I want to make him think we are coming after him.

Ironically, Michael Morell joined the CIA in 1980, just as Operation Cyclone was getting started in central Asia – and even after personally witnessing the progression of how the US backed Afghan jihad became an international terror scourge by the 90’s and early 2000’s, Morell remains an apologist for arming mujahideen, but this time in Syria. As Tucker Carlson recently commented while citing Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, “people would rather provide support to Al Qaeda than give up their idea of regime change in Syria.”

Concerning the original Afghan jihad, it’s a little known fact that CIA support for the mujahideen did not completely dry up until well into the 1990’s. According a report in The Guardian from the end of that decade:

American officials estimate that, from 1985 to 1992, 12,500 foreigners were trained in bomb-making, sabotage and urban guerrilla warfare in Afghan camps the CIA helped to set up.

 

Since the fall of the Soviet puppet government in 1992, another 2,500 are believed to have passed through the camps. They are now run by an assortment of Islamic extremists, including Osama bin Laden, the world’s most wanted terrorist.

The US government understood in real time that it had set up camps for training terrorists. In what was probably the first ever US government classified report to identify Osama Bin Laden as a terrorist threat, a 1993 paper (now declassified) called “The Wandering Mujahidin: Armed and Dangerous,” admitted the increasingly global “jihadist movement” was spawned from “US support of the mujahidin.” The report produced by the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research noted that the “support network that funneled money, supplies, and manpower to supplement the Afghan mujahidin” in the war against the Soviets, “is now contributing experienced fighters to militant Islamic groups worldwide,” and concluded the following:

The alleged involvement of veterans of the Afghan war in the World Trade Center bombing [February 1993] and the plots against New York targets are a bold example of what tactics some former mujahidin are willing to use in their ongoing jihad. US support of the mujahidin during the Afghan war will not necessarily protect US interests from attack.

The late Congressman Charlie Wilson with CIA-supported Jalaluddin Haqani. After 9/11 Haqani was sought by the US military as a close associate of Osama Bin Laden and terror network leader. Image: Charliewilsonswar.com

The intelligence officials who run such programs (far away from scrutiny of the public) understand quite well the consequences their actions will produce, yet they willingly proceed anyway. Morell, who has lately been a constant critic of Trump’s refusal to go to war with Russia inside Syria, is a prime example of such arrogance and is representative of the deep state’s long running war against Trump. But another Michael (and close confidant of Morell’s), who has a deeper connection to the CIA’s original Afghan jihad, has this week stepped out of the shadows to confront Trump over pulling the plug in Syria.

Who is Michael G. Vickers? 

Mike Vickers recently added his voice to the chorus of frustrated pundits raging against Trump’s closure of the CIA’s Syria program. He wrote this week in the Washington Post:

Abandoning the goal of removing Assad from power will place the United States on the side of not only the barbaric Syrian regime, which has American blood on its hands dating to the early 1980s, but also Iran, Hezbollah and Russia. This is strategic folly.

Even with his impressive sounding bio as former assistant secretary of defense for special operations, low-intensity conflict and interdependent capabilities and undersecretary of defense for intelligence during the Bush and Obama administrations, Vickers will not be recognizable to most. He is the quintessential man behind the scenes – hugely influential and powerful in the national security bureaucracy and shaping military action abroad over the past four decades, yet largely out of the public eye.


Michael G. Vickers is a key US strategist who funded Afghan jihadists in the 1980’s and jihadists in Syria after 2011.

But he might be more recognizable as portrayed in the 2007 movie, Charlie Wilson’s War, (based on George Crile’s 2003 investigative book by the same name) which depicts Congressmen Charlie Wilson’s role in organizing US support for the Afghan jihad:

CIA’s Afghan Jihad Mastermind

Vickers was considered the CIA’s top strategic mastermind tasked with choosing weapons systems and implementing guerrilla warfare strategies for the various mujahideen groups fighting the Soviets in the 1980’s war. This of course included supplying mass quantities of Raytheon’s Stinger heat-seeking anti aircraft missiles to Afghan commanders like Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and others now considered notorious terrorists by the West. Hekmatyar was a close ally of Bin Laden and had a reputation of throwing acid in women’s faces should they be caught participating in public life. After 9/11 Charlie Wilson admitted that he “lived in terror” that one of the hundreds of Stinger missiles which were never recovered (and whereabouts still unknown) would be used to take down a civilian airliner.

According to Crile’s exhaustively researched book, Vickers was the CIA’s chief strategist that made it all happen, even expanding the weapons program beyond all historical precedent in the mid-80’s:

He [Vickers] was confident that the Stinger would add a lethal new dimension to the anti-aircraft mix that was already beginning to pay off. He had gone to great lengths to make sure the Afghans would be properly trained. In the past, U.S. trainers had taught the Pakistanis how to use the new weapons, and the Pakistanis had then instructed the mujahideen. This time Vickers proposed that the American specialists go into the camps dressed like mujahideen to personally supervise the training.

 

…Now that the anti-aircraft strategy was in place, Vickers insisted that his master plan, spelling out precise how the CIA should support the Afghans for the next three years was complete.

And like with the more recent Syria covert program, the massive Afghan jihad program had to be carefully shielded from public view:

And so all of Vickers’s calculations had to take into account maneuvers with Swiss bank accounts, shadowy purchasing agents, safe houses, phony corporations, contracts, lawyers, disguised boats, fleets of trucks, trains, camels, donkeys, mules, warehouses, disguised satellite-targeting studies, and secret payments to the families of the fighters.

 

By the beginning of 1986 Vickers realized he was calling the shots on 57 percent of the Directorate of Operations’ total budget. He had by then grown accustomed to running the biggest CIA paramilitary campaign in history.

We all know how this ended up: an unprecedented rise in international Islamic terrorism as a permanent fixture on the world stage, horrific mass casualties of civilians in sophisticated terror bombings, the installation of the radical Taliban government in Afghanistan, the rise of al-Qaeda, and the 9/11 attacks. According to Crile the CIA was well aware of the nasty jihadist nature of the Afghan rebels it was dealing with at the time, and like with Syria of more recent years, it was warned of what would come and proceeded anyway.

Vickers: From Afghan to Syrian Jihad

With not a hint of shame, bashfulness, or recognition of the twisted irony of it all, Vickers actually invoked his prior experience overseeing the Afghan jihad in his recent Washington Post op-ed

President Ronald Reagan understood the potential of covert proxy wars to alter global power balances. Through stepped-up support for the Afghan mujahideen and other anti-Communist movements, and other, complementary strategic policies, he won the Cold War. It took the Carter and Reagan administrations more than five years to come up with a war-winning strategy (work that I helped to lead as a CIA officer) against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. The same could be done in Syria today.

At the very least, this might serve to educate the public of how the intelligence and national security deep state works: these guys never go away, criminality is rewarded (Vickers was literally praised as thinking “like a gangster” for his ability to implement nasty guerrilla tactics on shifting battlefield environments in a 2007 Washington Post profile), and it’s often the same guys running the show behind the scenes of ugly covert interventions which only serve to make the world less safe for Americans.

Vickers himself, as Defense Under Secretary for Intelligence until 2015, oversaw aspects of US covert action in Syria. The man has literally gone from overseeing the CIA’s covert support of Afghan mujahideen to overseeing US support for jihadists in Syria to now declaring war on Trump. The deep state has gone full circle here. But it’s our sincere hope that America finally defeats all the jihadists and their enablers both at home and abroad.