Ann Jones: Donald Trump’s open carry

Recently, the New York Times produced a veritable thesaurus of Trumpian twittery — every insulting tweet of The Donald’s that their researchers could find since he declared his candidacy.  It’s quite a collection in which he goes after 282 people, places, and things in his uniquely abusive fashion. (Don’t even get me started on his tweets about Hillary Clinton; you’d be reading until tomorrow.) Here, instead, is a relatively limited list of his, a tiny entry of classic nastiness aimed at a peripheral character in this year’s election campaign, Senator Elizabeth Warren:

“Pocahontas” “bombed last night!” “Sad to watch” “Pocahontas” “Pocahontas” “wanted V.P. slot so badly but wasn’t chosen because she has done nothing in the Senate” “Goofy” “a very weak Senator” “Goofy” “Pocahontas” “Goofy” “the least productive Senator in the U.S. Senate” “one of the least productive senators” “goofy” “Goofy” “Very racist!” “Goofy” “one of the least productive U.S. Senators” “has a nasty mouth” “All talk, no action!” “Total hypocrite!” “Goofy” “lowlife!” “If it were up to goofy Elizabeth Warren, we’d have no jobs in America” “she doesn’t have a clue” “failed Senator” “goofy” “gets nothing done” “lied” “Our Native American Senator”“goofy couldn’t care less about the American worker” “does nothing to help!” “using the woman’s card” “Goofy” “didn’t have the guts to run for POTUS” “phony Native American heritage” “Goofy” “didn’t have the guts to run for POTUS” “phony Native American heritage” “Goofy” “one of the least effective Senators in the entire U.S. Senate” “has done nothing!” “Goofy” “weak and ineffective” “Does nothing” “All talk, no action — maybe her Native American name?” “Goofy” “phony Native American heritage” “Goofy” “Hillary Clinton’s flunky” “has a career that is totally based on a lie” “goofy” “a fraud!” “goofy”

Of course, Warren falls into a category that is commendable indeed. She doesn’t take this sort of crud from anyone — and certainly not any man. And throughout election 2016, she’s responded blisteringly to Trump’s abuse. The most recent moment of this: after The Donald so infamously leaned into his mic in the third presidential debate and half-whispered the phrase “such a nasty woman,” while his opponent was speaking about social security. (“My Social Security payroll contribution will go up, as will Donald’s, assuming he can’t figure out how to get out of it.”)  Warren later rose at a Clinton rally in New Hampshire and offered a classic riposte, the sort of thing that hasn’t been part of the Trumpian playbook when it comes to the women he goes after. “Get this, Donald,” she said. “Nasty women are tough. Nasty women are smart. And nasty women vote. And, on November 8th, we nasty women are going to march our nasty feet to cast our nasty votes to get you out of our lives forever.”

If there’s another “nasty woman” around who got The Donald deep in his abusive soul, it’s been TomDispatch regular Ann Jones. Back in June, before it was the subject of real attention, she pointed out the blazingly obvious (to her, but not to the massed mass media of election 2016): that many women recognized The Donald, saw right through him because “every woman who has ever had to deal with a Trump-style tyrant in her own home or at her job already has Trump’s number. We recognize him as a bloated specimen of the common garden variety Controlling Man, a familiar type of Household Hitler. In fact, Donald J. Trump perfectly fits the profile of an ordinary wife abuser.” Once again, today, she’s a step ahead of the rest of the media crowd when it comes to the essence of The Donald in this end-game moment. Tom Engelhardt

Nasty women
Donald Trump, the greatest victim in the history of the world
By Ann Jones

Donald Trump grabbed a new lifeline. Speaking at a rally in Charlotte, North Carolina, on October 15th, he raised a hand as if to take an oath and declared: “I am a victim!” The great business tycoon, the one and only man who could fix America and make the place great again (trust me, folks), was laying claim to martyrdom — and spinning another news cycle. “I am a victim,” he declared, “of one of the great political smear campaigns in the history of our country. They are coming after me to try and destroy what is considered by even them the greatest movement in the history of our country.”

“I am a victim.”  That pathetic line echoed in my head, which is why I’m writing this.  In my long life, I had seen a large white man stand up in a public arena and proclaim those words — the shrill, self-pitying complaint of the remorseless perpetrator — only once before.  That was in a courtroom in lower Manhattan in 1988. The man was Joel Steinberg, a New York lawyer who, over a 12-year period, had brainwashed and beaten into oblivion a woman named Hedda Nussbaum, once a successful young editor of children’s books.  In the early years of their relationship, she had run away several times, seeking help, and every time a doctor or friend had called Steinberg to come and get her. At that point — time and again — Steinberg would administer “punishment,” breaking her bones and her spirit. She took on what police would later describe as “a zombie-like quality.”

[Read more…]

Facebooktwittermail

Gary Younge: America’s deserving and undeserving dead children

It’s rare to hear an author say, “Researching and writing this book has made me want to scream.”  But perhaps it’s not surprising, given the topic of Gary Younge’s Another Day in the Death of America: A Chronicle of Ten Short Lives — the daily, weekly, monthly, yearly death-by-gun of startling numbers of kids in this country — and the time he spent tracking down the stories of the young Americans who died on a single day in November 2013 in separate incidents nationwide.

After all, these days, the U.S. is a haven and a heaven for guns.  It’s hard to find another nation on the planet — except in places like Syria or Afghanistan where whole populations have been thrown into desperate internecine conflicts — in which guns are so readily available. Between 1968 and 2015, the number of guns in the U.S. essentially doubled to 300 million. Between 2010 and 2013 alone, American arms manufacturers doubled their production of weapons to almost 11 million a year.  And those guns have gotten more deadly as well.  Military-style assault rifles and semi-automatic handguns are now the weapons of choice for mass killers and “lone wolf” terrorists in this country.  In almost all cases those killers got their guns and ammo (often high-capacity magazines capable of holding 15 to 100 rounds) in perfectly legal fashion. And it’s getting easier to carry concealed weapons all the time. Missouri, for instance, recently passed a law that allows the carrying of such a weapon without either a permit or training of any sort.

Under the circumstances, no one should be surprised that kids die in remarkable numbers from guns for all kinds of reasons. Believe me, though, that makes it no less shocking when you read Younge’s unsettling and moving book. Long a journalist, columnist, and editor for the British Guardian stationed here in the U.S., today he offers us a look at the death toll from guns among our young and the way we Americans generally like to explain that toll to ourselves (or rather how we like to explain it away). Tom Engelhardt

An all-American slaughter
The youthful carnage of America’s gun culture
By Gary Younge

Every day, on average, seven kids and teens are shot dead in America. Election 2016 will undoubtedly prove consequential in many ways, but lowering that death count won’t be one of them. To grapple with fatalities on that scale — 2,500 dead children annually — a candidate would need a thoroughgoing plan for dealing with America’s gun culture that goes well beyond background checks. In addition, he or she would need to engage with the inequality, segregation, poverty, and lack of mental health resources that add up to the environment in which this level of violence becomes possible.  Think of it as the huge pile of dry tinder for which the easy availability of firearms is the combustible spark. In America in 2016, to advocate for anything like the kind of policies that might engage with such issues would instantly render a candidacy implausible, if not inconceivable — not least with the wealthy folks who now fund elections.

So the kids keep dying and, in the absence of any serious political or legislative attempt to tackle the causes of their deaths, the media and the political class move on to excuses. From claims of bad parenting to lack of personal responsibility, they regularly shift the blame from the societal to the individual level. Only one organized group at present takes the blame for such deaths.  The problem, it is suggested, isn’t American culture, but gang culture.

Researching my new book, Another Day in the Death of America, about all the children and teens shot dead on a single random Saturday in 2013, it became clear how often the presence of gangs in neighborhoods where so many of these kids die is used as a way to dismiss serious thinking about why this is happening. If a shooting can be described as “gang related,” then it can also be discounted as part of the “pathology” of urban life, particularly for people of color. In reality, the main cause, pathologically speaking, is a legislative system that refuses to control the distribution of firearms, making America the only country in the world in which such a book would have been possible.

[Read more…]

Facebooktwittermail

Rebecca Gordon: Arresting our way to ‘justice’

The figures boggle the mind.  Approximately 11 million Americans cycle through our jails and prisons each year (including a vast “pre-trial population” of those arrested and not convicted and those who simply can’t make bail).  At any moment, according to the Prison Policy Initiative, there are more than 2.3 million people in our “1,719 state prisons, 102 federal prisons, 942 juvenile correctional facilities, 3,283 local jails, and 79 Indian Country jails as well as in military prisons, immigration detention facilities, civil commitment centers, and prisons in the U.S. territories.”  In some parts of the country, there are more people in jail than at college.

If you want a partial explanation for this, keep in mind that there are cities in this country that register more arrests for minor infractions each year than inhabitants. Take Ferguson, Missouri, now mainly known as the home of Michael Brown, the unarmed black teenager shot and killed in 2014 by a town policeman.  The Harvard Law Review reported that, in 2013, Ferguson had a population of 22,000.  That same year “its municipal court issued 32,975 arrest warrants for nonviolent offenses,” or almost one-and-a-half arrests per inhabitant.

And then there are the conditions in which all those recordbreaking numbers of people live in our jails and prisons. At any given time, 80,000 to 100,000 inmates in state and federal prisons are held in “restrictive housing” (aka solitary confinement).  And those numbers don’t even include county jails, deportation centers, and juvenile justice institutions.  Rikers Island, New York City’s infamous jail complex in its East River, has 990 solitary cells. And keep in mind that solitary confinement — being stuck in a six-by-nine or eight-by-10-foot cell for 23 or 24 hours a day — is widely recognized as a form of psychosis-inducing torture.

And that, of course, is just to begin to explore America’s vast and ever-expanding prison universe.  The fact is that it’s hard to fathom even the basics of the American urge to lock people away in vast numbers, which is why today TomDispatch regular Rebecca Gordon focuses instead on what it might mean for justice in this country if we started to consider alternatives to prison. Tom Engelhardt

There oughta be a law…
Should prison really be the American way?
By Rebecca Gordon

You’ve heard of distracted driving? It causes quite a few auto accidents and it’s illegal in a majority of states.

Well, this year, a brave New Jersey state senator, a Democrat, took on the pernicious problem of distracted walking. Faced with the fact that some people can’t tear themselves away from their smartphones long enough to get across a street in safety, Pamela Lampitt of Camden, New Jersey, proposed a law making it a crime to cross a street while texting. Violators would face a fine, and repeat violators up to 15 days in jail. Similar measures, says the Washington Post, have been proposed (though not passed) in Arkansas, Nevada, and New York. This May, a bill on the subject made it out of committee in Hawaii.

That’s right. In several states around the country, one response to people being struck by cars in intersections is to consider preemptively sending some of those prospective accident victims to jail. This would be funny, if it weren’t emblematic of something larger. We are living in a country where the solution to just about any social problem is to create a law against it, and then punish those who break it.

[Read more…]

Facebooktwittermail

Chip Ward: Peace pipes, not oil pipes

In our new political world, the phrase “follow the money” has real meaning.  Consider the $1,530,000 that, according to OpenSecrets.org, billionaire Kelcy Warren has personally given away in the 2016 election cycle to influence your vote (or someone’s vote anyway).  One hundred percent of his dollars, just in case you were curious, have gone to “conservative” candidates, including key congressional Republicans.  Warren is a Texas oil pipeline magnate who’s wildly rich.  According to the Wall Street Journal, “his 23,000-square-foot Dallas mansion, bought for $30 million in 2009, includes a bowling alley and a baseball diamond that features a scoreboard with ‘Warren’ as one of the teams.”  As Sue Sturgis of the Institute for Southern Studies wrote recently, “With business partner Ray Davis, co-owner of the Texas Rangers baseball team, Warren built Energy Transfer Equity into one of the nation’s largest pipeline companies, which now owns about 71,000 miles of pipelines carrying natural gas, natural gas liquids, refined products, and crude oil. The company’s holdings include Sunoco, Southern Union, and Regency Energy Partners.”

And as Dr. Seuss used to say, that is not all, oh no, that is not all!  Don’t forget Energy Transfer Partners, part of the Energy Transfer Equity empire.  It’s building the embattled Dakota Access Pipeline, which is supposed to bring fracked oil from North Dakota to the Gulf Coast.  Through a PAC, it has given at least $288,000 to a bevy of Republican House and Senate candidates.  In other words, election 2016 will, among other things, be an oil spill of an election.  And should Donald Trump, a man who gives “conflict of interest” new meaning, take the Oval Office by storm and so ride to the rescue of the oil and coal magnates of America with his drill-baby-drill environmental policies, that “investment” will matter even more.

In the meantime, Warren’s latest project — that pipeline across the Dakotas — has run smack into resistance of an unexpected kind as it approached the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation.  Faced with the prospect of fracked oil in their drinking water, the tribe rallied other tribes (including tribes of environmentalists) and, as of this moment, has miraculously stopped the pipeline dead in its tracks.  Think of what’s been going on as an Indian version of Occupy Wall Street.  As environmentalist and TomDispatch regular Chip Ward points out today, Native Americans, long ago discarded as the dispossessed and forgotten losers of American culture, have returned with a vengeance to protect not just the last wild places on our continent but the rest of us as well.  It’s one hell of a story and on an overheating planet that, as is increasingly said, needs to “keep it in the ground,” it’s not just a heartwarming tale, but a matter of life or death. Tom Engelhardt

Indians and cowboys
The 2016 version of an old story on a new planet
By Chip Ward

Cowboys and Indians are at it again. 

Americans who don’t live in the West may think that the historic clash of Native Americans and pioneering settlers is long past because the Indians were, after all, defeated and now drive cars, watch television, and shop at Walmart.  Not so.  That classic American narrative is back big time, only the Indians are now the good guys and the cowboys — well, their rightwing representatives, anyway — are on the warpath, trying to grab 640 million acres of public lands that they can plunder as if it were yesteryear.  Meanwhile, in the Dakotas, America’s Manifest Destiny, that historic push across the Great Plains to the Pacific (murdering and pillaging along the way), seems to be making a return trip to Sioux country in a form that could have planetary consequences.

Energy Transfer Partners is now building the Dakota Access Pipeline, a $3.7 billion oil slick of a project.  It’s slated to go from the Bakken gas and oil fracking fields in northern North Dakota across 1,100 miles of the rest of the Dakotas and Iowa to a pipeline hub in Illinois. From there, the oil will head for refineries on the Gulf Coast and ultimately, as the emissions from fossil fuels, into the atmosphere to help create future summers so hot no one will forget them.  Keep in mind that, according to global warming’s terrible new math, there’s enough carbon in those Bakken fields to roast the planet — if, that is, the Sioux and tribes allied with them don’t stop the pipeline. 

This time, in other words, if the cavalry does ride to the rescue, the heroes on horseback will be speaking Lakota.

[Read more…]

Facebooktwittermail

Michael Klare: The rise of the right and climate catastrophe

The man who might be president insists that climate change is an elaborate, “very expensive hoax,” even possibly a “Chinese” one meant to undermine the American economy. It’s “bullshit” and “pseudoscience” (on which, it seems, he’s an expert). He’s said this sort of thing numerous times, always mockingly, always dismissively. Only recently in his Phoenix speech on immigration, on his love of Mexicans, and on what suckers they’ll be when it comes to paying for his future wall, he put it this way: “Only the out-of-touch media elites think the biggest problems facing America… it’s not nuclear, and it’s not ISIS, it’s not Russia, it’s not China, it’s global warming.” Those fools! They know nothing. They don’t even know that there’s a crucial footnote, a lone exception, to The Donald’s climate change position: golf.

Though the heating of the planet via fossil fuels couldn’t be more of a fantasy, while saving the coal industry, building pipelines, and reversing anything Barack Obama did in the White House to promote alternative energy systems will be the order of the day, it turns out that climate change does threaten one thing. And it’s something crucial to human life as we know it: playing 18 holes on a coastal golf course. For that, protection is obviously in order.  This is undoubtedly why the man with no fears about drowning coastal communities has, through his company Trump International Golf Links & Hotel Ireland, applied for permission to build “a coastal protection works to prevent erosion at his seaside golf resort in County Clare,” based on… yep… the danger of rising sea levels. We’re talking about “200,000 tons of rock distributed along two miles of beach.” And if permission is finally granted, the result will surely be a “great wall,” a “beautiful wall” that will not let a drop of sea water emigrate onto Irish soil.

One small hint for Mr. Trump, should he become president. From the Oval Office, he might consider granting similar wall-building exemptions to key parts of coastal Florida already experiencing a serious rise in what’s called “sunny-day flooding.” Such walls would protect crucial coastal properties like Mar-a-Lago, his top-of-the-line private club in Palm Beach, which could otherwise find itself “under at least a foot of water for 210 days a year because of tidal flooding” within three decades. It’s that or develop a sport called aquatic golf.

As for the rest of us for whom such walls assumedly won’t be built, there’s always flight inland where we might become… gulp… climate refugees. (In that case, you know what Trump is likely to say about the necessity for our extreme vetting). And while you’re waiting for the floodwaters, I suggest that you consider what TomDispatch’s invaluable energy expert Michael Klare has to say about the rise of versions of The Donald globally and what that means for the health of our planet. Tom Engelhardt

Will Trumpism, Brexit, and geopolitical exceptionalism sink the planet?
The mounting threat to climate progress
By Michael T. Klare

In a year of record-setting heat on a blistered globe, with fast-warming oceans, fast-melting ice caps, and fast-rising sea levels, ratification of the December 2015 Paris climate summit agreement — already endorsed by most nations — should be a complete no-brainer.  That it isn’t tells you a great deal about our world.  Global geopolitics and the possible rightward lurch of many countries (including a potential deal-breaking election in the United States that could put a climate denier in the White House) spell bad news for the fate of the Earth. It’s worth exploring how this might come to be.

The delegates to that 2015 climate summit were in general accord about the science of climate change and the need to cap global warming at 1.5 to 2.0 degrees Celsius (or 2.6 to 3.5 degrees Fahrenheit) before a planetary catastrophe ensues.  They disagreed, however, about much else. Some key countries were in outright conflict with other states (Russia with Ukraine, for example) or deeply hostile to each other (as with India and Pakistan or the U.S. and Iran). In recognition of such tensions and schisms, the assembled countries crafted a final document that replaced legally binding commitments with the obligation of each signatory state to adopt its own unique plan, or “nationally determined contribution” (NDC), for curbing climate-altering greenhouse gas emissions.

As a result, the fate of the planet rests on the questionable willingness of each of those countries to abide by that obligation, however sour or bellicose its relations with other signatories may be.  As it happens, that part of the agreement has already been buffeted by geopolitical headwinds and is likely to face increasing turbulence in the years to come.

[Read more…]

Facebooktwittermail

Bill Moyers: Money and power in America

Hope: it’s in short supply in America this year. I was reminded of that recently when I spoke at a kick-off event for the school year hosted by the Dole Institute of Politics at the University of Kansas. The Institute’s namesake is, of course, Bob Dole, the war hero turned Republican congressman, senator, minority and then majority leader, and finally presidential nominee in 1996. On a beautiful summer evening, on the front lawn of the Institute, my host, a KU senior named Cody, and I discussed — what else is there to talk about this year? — The Donald, Hillary, and Bernie. Then we plunged into the perilous topic of the media and its curious future and the life of a journalist (me) covering the gravity-defying spectacle commonly known as election 2016. More than 100 students showed up — nothing to do, I’m sure, with the free burgers and soda — and when it came time for the Q-and-A portion of the event, I couldn’t help but be struck by the acuity and thoughtfulness of their questions.

Afterward, I met a smaller group of them at a nearby basement bar. During my five years as an undergraduate, I can’t recall having a conversation as substantive as that evening’s. Kansas’s state government, led by its governor, Sam Brownback, has plunged into a radical experiment in “conservative” governing, and it was on their minds. We talked about a variety of depressing topics, including the devastating effects of the legislature’s repeated budget cuts to higher education and another grim signature legislative issue: the open carry of guns on campus. “No gun” signs were ubiquitous there, but everyone wondered: For how long? The students spoke eloquently and knowledgeably. More than that, they spoke with passion and in detail about how such problems might be dealt with and even fixed, and they did so with the Dole Institute’s bipartisan ethos in mind. Some of it may have been the youthful idealism of the undergraduate but, believe me, it was refreshing.

I say all this because, as a journalist in this crazy year of our lord 2016, on a good day the temptation is to tilt toward cynicism. It’s our job to rake the muck and expose the trolls, to cast light on the wrongdoing and the failings in our society, but it’s up to others to set them right. Today, at this site, Bill Moyers writes about the greatest failing, the true disaster, of our time: the scourge of growing inequality, economic and political. He describes it as “a despicable blot on American politics,” as the very wealthy convert their financial might into political power to guard that wealth while exacerbating inequality further. The statistics Moyers deploys are chilling. Consume enough of them and you’re liable to feel a bit gloomy. But like those undergraduates, Moyers (very distinctly a post-graduate of our difficult political world) holds onto the hope, as today’s piece suggests, that Americans can still fix our world, make it a better place. 

Those students I met gave me hope and Moyers does the same — hope for a more equitable future brought on by the hard work of Americans, whether as journalists, legislators, or activists, as lawyers, doctors, engineers, or teachers. These are strange, often grim, times, and such bursts of hope are what keep us going. Andy Kroll

We, the Plutocrats vs. We, the People
Saving the soul of democracy
By Bill Moyers

Sixty-six years ago this summer, on my 16th birthday, I went to work for the daily newspaper in the small East Texas town of Marshall where I grew up. It was a good place to be a cub reporter — small enough to navigate but big enough to keep me busy and learning something every day.  I soon had a stroke of luck.  Some of the paper’s old hands were on vacation or out sick and I was assigned to help cover what came to be known across the country as “the housewives’ rebellion.”

Fifteen women in my hometown decided not to pay the social security withholding tax for their domestic workers.  Those housewives were white, their housekeepers black. Almost half of all employed black women in the country then were in domestic service.  Because they tended to earn lower wages, accumulate less savings, and be stuck in those jobs all their lives, social security was their only insurance against poverty in old age. Yet their plight did not move their employers.

The housewives argued that social security was unconstitutional and imposing it was taxation without representation. They even equated it with slavery.  They also claimed that “requiring us to collect [the tax] is no different from requiring us to collect the garbage.”  So they hired a high-powered lawyer — a notorious former congressman from Texas who had once chaired the House Un-American Activities Committee — and took their case to court. They lost, and eventually wound up holding their noses and paying the tax, but not before their rebellion had become national news.

The stories I helped report for the local paper were picked up and carried across the country by the Associated Press. One day, the managing editor called me over and pointed to the AP Teletype machine beside his desk. Moving across the wire was a notice citing our paper and its reporters for our coverage of the housewives’ rebellion.

I was hooked, and in one way or another I’ve continued to engage the issues of money and power, equality and democracy over a lifetime spent at the intersection between politics and journalism. It took me awhile to put the housewives’ rebellion into perspective.  Race played a role, of course.  Marshall was a segregated, antebellum town of 20,000, half of whom were white, the other half black.  White ruled, but more than race was at work. Those 15 housewives were respectable townsfolk, good neighbors, regulars at church (some of them at my church).  Their children were my friends; many of them were active in community affairs; and their husbands were pillars of the town’s business and professional class. 

[Read more…]

Facebooktwittermail

Nick Turse: What the U.S. military doesn’t know (and neither do you)

It hardly matters where you look. There are the nearly million-and-a-half weapons that the Pentagon shipped to war-torn Iraq and Afghanistan. As a recent study shows, it evidently lost complete track of hundreds of thousands of them, many of which seem to have simply gone on the open market in countries where buyers are unlikely to be the crew of our dreams. Or there’s the $6.5 trillion (that is not a misprint) that the accountants for a single service, the U.S. Army, seem to have lost track of in 2015. Or there’s the simple fact that the Pentagon is utterly incapable of conducting a successful audit of itself or, on a minor note, that its officials can’t even keep track of which of their underlings go to strip clubs, “adult entertainment establishments,” and casinos on the taxpayer dollar. You could say that, though it swallows up at least $600 billion-plus a year of our money, it’s an organization that seems remarkably comfortable knowing remarkably little about itself (which means of course that you know next to nothing about it).

This should, of course, be unacceptable in a democracy. But coverage of the Pentagon and its stupendously wasteful ways, not to speak of oversight of its financial dealings, is in remarkably short supply in our world. That should be surprising, given this country’s 800 military bases around the world, the planet it largely arms, and the fact that its special operations forces have been active in up to 135 countries a year. What it does, and where and how it does it, given its reach and its power, plays a not-insignificant role in determining what transpires on this conflicted planet of ours. 

This is why I regularly find it amazing, even unnerving, that, in a world of monster media organizations, covering what the U.S. military does in Africa — and it does more and more there — has largely been left to Nick Turse of TomDispatch. He’s been reporting on that military’s “pivot” to Africa for years now and, with the rarest of exceptions, he’s done so in a remarkably lonely fashion. How can this be? It obviously matters what our military is doing — especially in a world where, it seems, the more it enters a region, the more terror outfits spread and flourish in that same region. Call it happenstance if you wish, but as for me, I would prefer that Americans knew regularly and in some detail what exactly was being done in our name in the world.  Tom Engelhardt

Mission impossible
Keeping track of U.S. Special Ops in Africa
By Nick Turse

Sometimes the real news is in the details — or even in the discrepancies. Take, for instance, missions by America’s most elite troops in Africa. 

It was September 2014. The sky was bright and clear and ice blue as the camouflage-clad men walked to the open door and tumbled out into nothing. One moment members of the U.S. 19th Special Forces Group and Moroccan paratroopers were flying high above North Africa in a rumbling C-130 aircraft; the next, they were silhouetted against the cloudless sky, translucent green parachutes filling with air, as they began to drift back to earth.

Those soldiers were taking part in a Joint Combined Exchange Training, or JCET mission, conducted under the auspices of Special Operations Command Forward-West Africa out of Camp Ram Ram, Morocco. It was the first time in several years that American and Moroccan troops had engaged in airborne training together, but just one of many JCET missions in 2014 that allowed America’s best-equipped, best-trained forces to hone their skills while forging ties with African allies.

[Read more…]

Facebooktwittermail

Todd Miller: The great Mexican wall deception

These days, we’re in what seems like an election campaign of one. It’s Trump vs. Trump. Does Hillary even exist? There’s conflicting evidence on that. If Trump loses, I suspect we’ll all be able to say that never has a candidate trounced himself quite so efficiently. All his opponent evidently has to do is not give press conferences, stay out of the spotlight, and wait for Trump to tromp Trump.

At the moment, his polling figures are looking increasingly dismal and he’s shaken up his campaign team (yet again!) — the Ukrainians having lost out to Breitbart News and American “nationalism.”  Still, The Donald rumbles on.  He’s a figure the usual journalistic crew is essentially incapable of covering.  For that, you need a coterie of cartoonists and, of course, New Yorker satirist Andy Borowitz.

Only recently, for instance, The Donald gave a speech in which he suggested that a new Cold-War-style “ideological screening test” for immigrants be developed to keep… well, you know whom out.  He’s referred to the process he imagines putting in place as “extreme vetting.”  The goal, he says, is to ban those “who support bigotry and hatred” (of whom he perhaps feels we already have our fill without the aid of immigrants) and, above all, those “who believe that Sharia law should supplant American law.”  He hasn’t yet suggested just what that screening test might be like, but TomDispatch has a few obvious suggestions.

The first question for any prospective immigrant would surely have to be: “Do you belong to ISIS?”  The answer to that one will obviously eliminate many of the most dangerous potential infiltrators.  You’d then follow up with the surefire extreme-vetting question: “Do you believe that Sharia law should be imposed on the United States?”  And if that doesn’t eliminate the rest of the potential Islamic terrorists, you’d finish off the process with a trick question.  Best suggestion at present: “Death to America: Yea or Nay?”

Those who pass will obviously be ready to receive their visas and, as The Donald so movingly puts it, “embrace a tolerant American society.”

Let me just add that Trump supporters shouldn’t feel complete despair if, in the course of this election campaign, The Donald goes down in electoral flames.  As TomDispatch regular Todd Miller suggests in his latest report from the U.S.-Mexican border, when Hillary Clinton emerges from the shadows to take the oath of office, she will find herself presiding over far more Trumpian American borderlands than many of us might assume.  And for that we’ll have to offer thanks not only to the inspiration of Trump but to the actions of two other figures on the American political landscape: Bill and Hillary Clinton. Tom Engelhardt

No need to build The Donald’s wall, it’s built
Trump’s America already exists on the border
By Todd Miller

At the federal courthouse, Ignacio Sarabia asks the magistrate judge, Jacqueline Rateau, if he can explain why he crossed the international boundary between the two countries without authorization. He has already pleaded guilty to the federal misdemeanor commonly known as “illegal entry” and is about to receive a prison sentence. On either side of him are eight men in the same predicament, all still sunburned, all in the same ripped, soiled clothes they were wearing when arrested in the Arizona desert by agents of the U.S. Border Patrol.

Once again, the zero tolerance border enforcement program known as Operation Streamline has unfolded just as it always does here in Tucson, Arizona. Close to 60 people have already approached the judge in groups of seven or eight, their heads bowed submissively, their bodies weighed down by shackles and chains around wrists, waists, and ankles. The judge has handed out the requisite prison sentences in quick succession — 180 days, 60 days, 90 days, 30 days.

On and on it goes, day-in, day-out. Like so many meals served in fast-food restaurants, 750,000 prison sentences of this sort have been handed down since Operation Streamline was launched in 2005. This mass prosecution of undocumented border crossers has become so much the norm that one report concluded it is now a “driving force in mass incarceration” in the United States. Yet it is but a single program among many overseen by the massive U.S. border enforcement and incarceration regime that has developed during the last two decades, particularly in the post-9/11 era.

Sarabia takes a half-step forward. “My infant is four months old,” he tells the judge in Spanish. The baby was, he assures her, born with a heart condition and is a U.S. citizen. They have no option but to operate. This is the reason, he says, that “I’m here before you.” He pauses.

[Read more…]

Facebooktwittermail

Nomi Prins: Trump wins (even if he loses)

Give the guy credit.  Donald Trump makes perspective — on him at least — almost inconceivable, and that’s no small accomplishment.  Is he heading up or down?  Polling well or poorly?  Going to win or lose?  Who knows?  Take Nate Silver whose FiveThirtyEight website recently launched its poll of polls with The Donald having only a 19% chance of taking the presidency.  Silver was remarkably on target in election years 2008 and 2012, but he’s been off when it comes to Trump (and he’s hardly alone), so who really has a clue what that 19% may really mean on November 8th?

For months and months, Trump has performed a masterful version of media jiu-jitsu, leveraging the interest in him from what seems like every journalist, newspaper, website, and cable news network on Earth into more free publicity and coverage than any individual may ever have gotten.  It’s been impossible to escape the man. There probably wasn’t a day in months without a Donald Trump story (or often multiple ones) and he’s regularly dominated the news cycle with his latest outrageous statement or provocation, no matter what else is going on.  There is no Brexit without Donald Brexit; no ISIS without Donald ISIS, no Hillary without Donald Hillary.  He hires, fires, invites, rejects, embraces, insults, tweets, challenges, denies, refuses, ingratiates, blackballs — and whatever he does, it’s news.  By definition.  And don’t forget the endless scribblers and talking heads, faced with his all-invasive version of reality, who cough up reams of “analysis” about him, which only furthers the way he Trumps the world, no matter what they write or say.

You can almost hear the echoing voice from some ninth rate horror film echoing down the corridors: I tell you, you can run, but you can’t hide, ha, ha, ha, ha…

In Donald Trump’s world, as far as I can tell, there is only one reality that matters and it can be summed up in two words that begin with D and T.  Were he to become president, he would give Louis XIV’s famed phrase — whether or not the French king actually said it — “L’état, c’est moi” (“I am the state”), new meaning.  

During these past many months of Trumpery, Nomi Prins has been sorting out the nature of the money game in American politics (onshore and off) for TomDispatch.  Now, she turns to the billionaire who has taken possession of us all.  Her focus: his frenetic version of “You’re fired!” this election season and how that’s played out with the Republican establishment, without whom (and without whose money) she doubts he can make it to the Oval Office. Tom Engelhardt

Donald Trump’s anti-establishment scam
The insider posing as an outsider trying to get back on the inside
By Nomi Prins with Craig Wilson

“Establishment: A group in a society exercising power and influence over matters of policy, opinion, or taste, and seen as resisting change.” — Oxford Dictionary

Early on in his presidential bid, Donald Trump began touting his anti-establishment credentials. When it worked, he ran with it. It was a posture that proved pure gold in the Republican primaries, and was even, in one sense, true. After all, he’d never been part of the political establishment nor held public office, nor had any of his family members or wives.

His actual relationship to the establishment is, however, complex in an opportunistic way. He’s regularly tweeted his disdain for it. (“I wish good luck to all of the Republican candidates that traveled to California to beg for money etc. from the Koch Brothers. Puppets?”) And yet, he clearly considered himself part of it and has, at times, yearned for it. As he said early on in his run for the presidency, “I want the establishment — look, I was part of the establishment.  Let me explain. I was the establishment two months ago. I was like the fair-haired boy. I was a giver, a big giver. Once I decided to run, all of a sudden I’m sort of semi-anti-establishment.”

An outsider looking to shake up the government status quo? An insider looking to leverage that establishment for his own benefit?   What was he?  He may not himself have known.

[Read more…]

Facebooktwittermail

Thomas Frank: Worshipping money in D.C.

I’m no stranger to shakedowns. I’ve experienced them, in one form or another, from Asia to Africa.

Sometimes the corruption is subtle. Sometimes it’s naked. Sometimes you press folded currency into someone’s palm. Sometimes there’s a more official procedure. Sometimes a payment is demanded outright. (A weapon might even be involved.) Other times, it’s up to you to suggest that we somehow work things out privately.

Luckily, I live in the United States, and if the 2016 presidential campaign has reminded me of anything, it’s that America is, by definition (and unlike so many of the other countries on the planet), a corruption-free zone. Mind you, no one would claim that the race for the Oval Office is free of unethical behavior. It’s just that the actions and efforts involved aren’t considered “corrupt” here.

Take an Associated Press (AP) exposé last week. It revealed that the campaign of presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump had “plowed about $6 million” — roughly 10% of his expenditures — “back into Trump corporate products and services.” The campaign paid, for instance, about $520,000 in rent and utilities for its headquarters at Manhattan’s Trump Tower and an astounding $4.6 million to TAG Air, the holding company for the billionaire candidate’s airplanes.

The AP investigation found that the Trump campaign was “unafraid to co-mingle political and business endeavors in an unprecedented way,” while noting that there is, in fact, “nothing illegal about it.” In other words, while it may seem shady, feel fraudulent, and — to steal a Trumpism — sound crooked, it’s all on the up and up according to our unique American system.

Today, Thomas Frank, author most recently of Listen, Liberal: Or, What Ever Happened to the Party of the People?, takes us on a tour of another dimly lit corner of corruption-free America, a completely legal and remarkably unethical world that comes with its own guidebook: a newsletter chronicling daily dalliances involving money, alcohol, and political influence. Though it may seem like a foreign world to those of us outside the Beltway bubble, it influences our daily lives in myriad ways.  Think of it as a circuit of cocktail hours and cocktail parties linked by a well-greased set of revolving doors; an endless series of social events attended by the influential, the influencers, and those looking — for the right price — to be influenced. If it seems like I’m using that word — influence — a little too much, it isn’t by chance. Let the influential Thomas Frank explain how influence and Influence have warped Washington and the rest of our world. Nick Turse

The life of the parties
The influence of influence in Washington
By Thomas Frank

Although it’s difficult to remember those days eight years ago when Democrats seemed to represent something idealistic and hopeful and brave, let’s take a moment and try to recall the stand Barack Obama once took against lobbyists. Those were the days when the nation was learning that George W. Bush’s Washington was, essentially, just a big playground for those lobbyists and that every government operation had been opened to the power of money. Righteous disgust filled the air. “Special interests” were much denounced. And a certain inspiring senator from Illinois promised that, should he be elected president, his administration would contain no lobbyists at all. The revolving door between government and K Street, he assured us, would turn no more.

Instead, the nation got a lesson in all the other ways that “special interests” can get what they want — like simple class solidarity between the Ivy Leaguers who advise the president and the Ivy Leaguers who sell derivative securities to unsuspecting foreigners. As that inspiring young president filled his administration with Wall Street personnel, we learned that the revolving door still works, even if the people passing through it aren’t registered lobbyists.

But whatever became of lobbying itself, which once seemed to exemplify everything wrong with Washington, D.C.? Perhaps it won’t surprise you to learn that lobbying remains one of the nation’s persistently prosperous industries, and that, since 2011, it has been the focus of Influence, one of the daily email newsletters published by Politico, that great chronicler of the Obama years. Influence was to be, as its very first edition declared, “the must-read crib sheet for Washington’s influence class,” with news of developments on K Street done up in tones of sycophantic smugness. For my money, it is one of the quintessential journalistic artifacts of our time: the constantly unfolding tale of power-for-hire, told always with a discreet sympathy for the man on top.

[Read more…]

Facebooktwittermail

John Feffer: Donald Trump and America B

Circus, carnival, comedy hour, joke: it’s been a festival of insults, charges, racist slams, bizarre proposals, and raging narcissism. I’m talking, of course, about the season of Trump in American politics. When no one gave him a second thought or a chance in hell, he soared and a Trump presidency came into view.  As he reached the heights, like an Icarus flying too close to the media sun, his ultimate creation — himself as a presidential provocateur — began to melt before our eyes.  His campaign manager was axed; his ads went missing; his paid staff remained “skeletal”; his funds were short; his fundraising pathetic; his “unfavorables” headed for the stratosphere (so high that even Hillary Clinton, a candidate with an unfavorable problem of her own, began looking like everybody’s best friend); the key members of his party loathed him and that party’s popularity was, in any case, sinking fast; corporations were pulling out of his future convention en masse, Republican governors heading for the hills, hundreds of convention delegates threatening revolt (while its chairman promised not to rein them in); a mass shooting/terror incident that Trump should have turned into political gold managed to do less than nothing for him; and that, of course, was just the beginning, not the end, of whatever process is now at work.

It was always obvious that the man with the bouffant hairdo was, in his own way, the most fragile of creatures, and that the illusion of a campaign he had so singlehandedly created might dissolve at any moment.

And The Donald has another problem he hasn’t even begun to deal with. In the campaign for the Oval Office, he’s facing off against a woman. If the Republican nomination taught us one thing, it was that a bullying man bullying men might carry the day in America, but a bullying man bullying a woman was a problematic spectacle. Hence, his attempt to turn Carly Fiorina’s face into an insult backfired radically and gave her lagging campaign brief new life. He now has four months to take on “crooked Hillary” and, sexist as it might be, the Trumpian manner and the mannerisms that go with it are unlikely to serve him well in a nomination-style contest with her.

Under the circumstances, were his pumped up self-creation of a campaign to deflate radically, understand one thing that TomDispatch regular and author of the future Dispatch Book Splinterlands makes brilliantly clear today: no one should take what Donald Trump stands for in this election year less seriously because of that. He may not be the ultimate messenger; he may not even be a serious human being or candidate; but those he’s rallied to his side couldn’t be more human, serious, or needy. The messenger might not last; the message is another story entirely. Tom Engelhardt

The most important election of your life
(Is not this year)
By John Feffer

The voters vowed to take their revenge at the polls. They’d missed out on the country’s vaunted prosperity. They were disgusted with the liberal direction of the previous administration. They were anti-abortion and pro-religion. They were suspicious of immigrants, haughty intellectuals, and intrusive international institutions. And they very much wanted to make their nation great again.

They’d lost a lot of elections. But this time, they won.

In Poland, that is.

In two elections last year, the conservative Law and Justice Party (PiS) won the Polish presidency and then, by a more convincing margin, a parliamentary majority.

And this wasn’t just a victory for PiS. It was a victory for Poland B.

[Read more…]

Facebooktwittermail

Andrew Cockburn: Victory assured on the military’s main battlefield — Washington

When it comes to Pentagon weapons systems, have you ever heard of cost “underruns”? I think not. Cost overruns? They turn out to be the unbreachable norm, as they seem to have been from time immemorial. In 1982, for example, the Pentagon announced that the cumulative cost of its 44 major weapons programs had experienced a “record” increase of $114.5 billion. Three decades later, in the spring of 2014, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported that the military’s major programs to develop new weapons systems — by then 80 of them — were a cumulative half-trillion dollars over their initial estimated price tags and on average more than two years delayed. A year after, the GAO found that 47 of those programs had again increased in cost (to the cumulative tune of $27 billion) while the average time for delivering them had suffered another month’s delay (although the Pentagon itself swore otherwise).

And little seems to have changed since then — not exactly a surprise given that this has long been standard operating procedure for a Pentagon that has proven adamantly incapable not just of passing an audit but even of doing one. What we’re talking about here is, in fact, more like a way of life. As TomDispatch regular William Hartung has written, the Pentagon regularly takes “active measures to disguise how it is spending the hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars it receives every year — from using the separate ‘war budget’ as a slush fund to pay for pet projects that have nothing to do with fighting wars to keeping the cost of its new nuclear bomber a secret.”

When it comes to those cost overruns, Exhibit A is incontestably the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, a plane whose total acquisition costs were pegged at $233 billion back in 2001. That price now: an estimated $1.4 trillion for far fewer planes. (Even the F-35 pilot’s helmet costs $400,000 apiece.) In other words, though in test flights it has failed to outperform the F-16, a plane it is supposed to replace, it will be, hands down (or flaps up), the most expensive weapons system in history — at least until the next Pentagon doozy comes along.

Today, Andrew Cockburn, whose recent book, Kill Chain: The Rise of the High-Tech Assassins (just out in paperback), is a devastating account of how U.S. drone warfare really works, suggests that this is anything but a matter of Pentagon bungling. Quite the opposite, it’s strategy of the first order. Tom Engelhardt

The Pentagon’s real $trategy
Keeping the money flowing
By Andrew Cockburn

These days, lamenting the apparently aimless character of Washington’s military operations in the Greater Middle East has become conventional wisdom among administration critics of every sort. Senator John McCain thunders that “this president has no strategy to successfully reverse the tide of slaughter and mayhem” in that region. Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies bemoans the “lack of a viable and public strategy.” Andrew Bacevich suggests that “there is no strategy. None. Zilch.”

After 15 years of grinding war with no obvious end in sight, U.S. military operations certainly deserve such obloquy. But the pundit outrage may be misplaced. Focusing on Washington rather than on distant war zones, it becomes clear that the military establishment does indeed have a strategy, a highly successful one, which is to protect and enhance its own prosperity.

[Read more…]

Facebooktwittermail