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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Ann Jones: Donald Trump has the traits of a wife abuser and women know it

What is it with casinos and the presidency these days? I’m thinking, of course, about the version of casino capitalism being played out in American politics at the moment by two men who made fortunes in the casino business. One is running for president on the Republican ticket as the Billionaire Populist, while the other, a fervent supporter of Israel, in a typical twenty-first-century move of the ultra-wealthy recently added his hometown newspaper to his holdings. He’s evidently planning to support his fellow billionaire’s presidential campaign with an investment — and such things always are investments — that may exceed $100 million. I hardly need mention that their names are Donald Trump and Sheldon Adelson.

And mind you, that may be the least bizarre thing about billionaires and this election. How about, for instance, the Koch brothers, those dark money champs, whom every Republican candidate — except the one who took the nomination — seemed to pay homage to in person last year? Now, they find themselves on the sidelines in frustration, their presidential investments having come up as empty as a hole in a doughnut. (What if you could return to the Supreme Court of 2010 and argue before the justices that their future Citizens United decision would not only send a tidal wave of 1% money into American politics but, within half a decade, help loose the strangest, least filtered billionaire on Earth into the ring?)

I’m still only scratching the loony surface of big-money politics in this country. I mean, here we are in our second gilded age, an era so ripe for the 1% (or maybe the .001%) that even the billionaires underestimated their potential power and appeal. Until The Donald came along, they assumed that, like so many puppeteers, they would have to manage things from backstage. Now, we know that, in our unique historical moment, a billionaire can be both puppeteer and puppet, that he no longer needs to take a backseat to anyone.  Of course, it took a particular shape-shifting billionaire, whose fortune — $10 billion? $4.5 billion? $3.72 billion? None of the above? — has a spectral quality to it, and who for years had turned Americans into abused apprentices, to make that point. Add in this irony, if such a word even applies: the man who made out like a bandit in this era is now leading a movement of white guys who think they lost out to the billionaires, the rest of the 1%, and the political system in those same years (as indeed they did).

When thinking about the future, keep in mind that the 2016 election would be even more of a billionaires’ derby had Michael Bloomberg run for president, possibly on a third-party ticket, as at one point he threatened to do. On the other hand, consider what TomDispatch regular Ann Jones has to say about why the only billionaire in the running may not, in fact, make it to the White House. It’s something so basic that the media have ignored it, so essential that even Sheldon Adelson’s fortune is unlikely to make a dent in it.  Some people out there already know just who Donald Trump is and what kind of a deal he’s offering Americans, and they’re likely to enter the voting booths in surprising numbers in November with payback on their minds. Tom Engelhardt

The tyranny of Trump
Millions of women see through him, even if the media don’t
By Ann Jones

Last fall, when presidential wannabe Donald Trump famously boasted on CNN that he would “be the best thing that ever happened to women,” some may have fallen for it. Millions of women, however, reacted with laughter, irritation, disgust, and no little nausea.  For while the media generate a daily fog of Trumpisms, speculating upon the meaning and implications of the man’s every incoherent utterance, a great many women, schooled by experience, can see right through the petty tyrant and his nasty bag of tricks.

By March, the often hard-earned wisdom of such women was reflected in a raft of public opinion polls in which an extraordinary number of female voters registered an “unfavorable” or “negative” impression of the Republican Party’s presumptive nominee.  Reporting on Trump’s “rock-bottom ratings” with prospective women voters, Politico termed the unfavorable poll numbers — 67% (Fox News), 67% (Quinnipiac University), 70% (NBC/Wall Street Journal), 73% (ABC/Washington Post) — “staggering.” In April, the Daily Wire labeled similar results in a Bloomberg poll of married women likely to vote in the general election “amazing.” Seventy percent of them stated that they would not vote for Trump.

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Rebecca Gordon: Justice for torturers?

If you happen to be a potential American war criminal, you’ve had a few banner weeks.  On May 9th, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter presented former Secretary of State and National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger with the Department of Defense Distinguished Public Service Award, that institution’s highest honorary award for private citizens.”  In bestowing it on the 92-year-old who is evidently still consulting for the Pentagon, he offered this praise: “While his contributions are far from complete, we are now beginning to appreciate what his service has provided our country, how it has changed the way we think about strategy, and how he has helped provide greater security for our citizens and people around the world.”

Certainly people “around the world” will remember the “greater security” offered by the man who, relaying an order from President Richard Nixon for a “massive” secret bombing campaign in Cambodia, used a line that may almost be the definition of a war crime: “Anything that flies on anything that moves.”  The result: half a million tons of bombs dropped on that country between 1969 and 1973 and at least 100,000 dead civilians.  And that’s just to start down the well-cratered road to the millions of dead he undoubtedly has some responsibility for.  Public service indeed.

Meanwhile, speaking of American crimes in the Vietnam era, former Nebraska Senator Bob Kerrey, who ran for president of the U.S. and then became the president of the New School in New York City, was just appointed to “lead” Fulbright University Vietnam, the first private American-backed school there.  Its opening was announced by President Obama on his recent visit to that country.  Only one small problem: we already know of some children who won’t be able to apply for admission.  I’m thinking of the progeny-who-never-were of the 13 children killed by a team of U.S. SEALs under Kerrey’s command and on his orders in South Vietnam in 1969 (along with a pregnant woman, and an elderly couple whose three grandchildren were stabbed to death by the raiders) — all of whom were reported at the time as dead Vietcong guerillas.

It seems that if you are a distinguished citizen of the most exceptional country on the planet, even war crimes have their rewards.  Consider, for instance, the millions of dollars that were paid for memoirs by top Bush administration officials responsible for creating an American offshore torture regime at CIA “black sites” around the world.  Must-reads all!  With that in mind, turn to TomDispatch regular Rebecca Gordon, author most recently of American Nuremberg: The U.S. Officials Who Should Stand Trial for Post-9/11 War Crimes, to consider what “justice” for such figures might look like in a different and better world. Tom Engelhardt 

Crimes of the War on Terror
Should George Bush, Dick Cheney, and others be jailed?
By Rebecca Gordon

“The cold was terrible but the screams were worse,” Sara Mendez told the BBC. “The screams of those who were being tortured were the first thing you heard and they made you shiver. That’s why there was a radio blasting day and night.”

In the 1970s, Mendez was a young Uruguayan teacher with leftist leanings. In 1973, when the military seized power in her country (a few months before General Augusto Pinochet’s more famous coup in Chile), Mendez fled to Argentina. She lived there in safety until that country suffered its own coup in 1976. That July, a joint Uruguayan-Argentine military commando group kidnapped her in Buenos Aires and deposited her at Automotores Orletti, a former auto repair shop that would become infamous as a torture site and paramilitary command center. There she was indeed tortured, and there, too, her torturers stole her 20-day-old baby, Simón, giving him to a policeman’s family to raise.

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Michael Klare: The oil world in chaos

One small aspect of a trip I took to El Paso, Texas, back in the 1970s remains in my mind: the weather.  No, not the weather in El Paso, which is more or less the same much of the year, but the weather on the local television news.  I remember watching a weatherman begin his report in — of all places at the time — the Persian Gulf and sweep swiftly and dramatically across the globe (and its various weather perturbations) before finally reaching El Paso where things were, of course, predictably hot and dull.  It might have been my earliest introduction to the charms of the weather to television news, which could be summed up this way: plenty of drama — storms, floods, droughts, fires, wrecked homes, weeping survivors, shipwrecked people — and no politics to muck things up.  Just Ma Nature, just The Weather!

What was then a strange phenomenon on one city’s news has since become the definition of all TV news.  At this point who hasn’t watched countless weather reporters struggling against the slashing winds and driving rain of some oncoming hurricane while shouting out commentary or heading into the waters of what had only recently been a town or city in the hip waders that are now requisite gear for flood coverage?

Only one problem: climate change threatens to screw up the formula.  That phenomenon has complicated weather coverage by inserting human (that is, fossil fuel) politics where only the periodically awesome destructive power of nature and raw human emotion once were.  All too often, bad weather may now be traced back, at least in part, to our endless burning of fossil fuels.  On the whole, however, onscreen news coverage continues to ignore that reality even as it features the weather ever more prominently.  In a sense, the news has been coopting climate change.  A small sign of this is the way the tag “extreme weather” has become commonplace as reports of floods ravaging the Southwest, fires the West, and tornadoes the South and the Great Plains proliferate.  Extreme weather, in other words, has gained its place in our consciousness largely shorn of the crucial factor in that extremity: the increasing amounts of greenhouse gases humanity has been dumping into the atmosphere.

Case in point: the staggering fire that continues to ravage the tar sands regions of Alberta, Canada, after an uncomfortably hot and dry winter and early spring that left local forests little more than kindling (in a world in which fire seasons are extending and intensifying globally).  With the industry that extracts those carbon-heavy tar-sands deposits endangered — their work camps incinerated, the city of Fort McMurray, which supports their operations, devastated, and tens of thousands of climate refugees created — you would think that some sense of irony, if nothing else, might have led the onscreen news to focus on climate change this one time.

But no such luck (at least as far as I could tell), even if the extremity of that fire was indeed big news.  There were, of course, mainstream exceptions to this — in print.  Among others, perhaps our finest environmental journalist, Elizabeth Kolbert of the New Yorker, weighed in early, as did Justin Gillis of the New York Times with a similarly themed front-page story. Otherwise, to this day, extreme weather remains the great-grandchild of the TV weather reporting I first saw in El Paso four decades ago.

Fortunately, at TomDispatch, Michael Klare continues to follow the world of oil exploitation and the extremity that accompanies it with a keen eye. For the petro-states of our planet, the “weather,” it seems, has been undergoing a distinct change for the worse.  For them, extremity of an unsettling sort is becoming a way of life. Tom Engelhardt

The desperate plight of petro-states
With a busted business model, oil economies head for the unknown
By Michael T. Klare

Pity the poor petro-states. Once so wealthy from oil sales that they could finance wars, mega-projects, and domestic social peace simultaneously, some of them are now beset by internal strife or are on the brink of collapse as oil prices remain at ruinously low levels. Unlike other countries, which largely finance their governments through taxation, petro-states rely on their oil and natural gas revenues. Russia, for example, obtains about 50% of government income that way; Nigeria, 60%; and Saudi Arabia, a whopping 90%. When oil was selling at $100 per barrel or above, as was the case until 2014, these countries could finance lavish government projects and social welfare operations, ensuring widespread popular support.  Now, with oil below $50 and likely to persist at that level, they find themselves curbing public spending and fending off rising domestic discontent or even incipient revolt.

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William Hartung: How to disappear money, Pentagon-style

Colonel Mark Cheadle, a spokesman for U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), recently made a startling disclosure to Voice of America (VOA)AFRICOM, he said, is currently mulling over 11 possible locations for its second base on the continent.  If, however, there was a frontrunner among them Cheadle wasn’t about to disclose it.  All he would say was that Nigeria isn’t one of the countries in contention.

Writing for VOA, Carla Babb filled in the rest of the picture in terms of U.S. military activities in Africa.  “The United States currently has one military base in the east African nation of Djibouti,” she observed. “U.S. forces are also on the ground in Somalia to assist the regional fight against al-Shabab and in Cameroon to help with the multinational effort against Nigeria-based Boko Haram.”  

A day later, Babb’s story disappeared.  Instead, there was a new article in which she noted that “Cheadle had initially said the U.S. was looking at 11 locations for a second base, but later told VOA he misunderstood the question.”  Babb reiterated that the U.S. had only the lone military base in Djibouti and stated that “[o]ne of the possible new cooperative security locations is in Cameroon, but Cheadle did not identify other locations due to ‘host nation sensitivities.’”

U.S. troops have, indeed, been based at Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti since 2002.  In that time, the base has grown from 88 acres to about 600 acres and has seen more than $600 million in construction and upgrades already awarded or allocated.  It’s also true that U.S. troops, as Babb notes, are operating in Somalia — from at least two bases — and the U.S. has indeed set up a base in Cameroon.  As such, the “second” U.S. base in Africa, wherever it’s eventually located, will actually be more like the fifth U.S. base on the continent.  That is, of course, if you don’t count Chabelley Airfield, a hush-hush drone base the U.S. operates elsewhere in Djibouti, or the U.S. staging areas, cooperative security locations, forward operating locations, and other outposts in Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Chad, Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Mali, Niger, Senegal, the Seychelles, Somalia, South Sudan, and Uganda, among other locales.  When I counted late last year, in fact, I came up with 60 such sites in 34 countries.  And just recently, Missy Ryan of the Washington Post added to that number when she disclosed that “American Special Operations troops have been stationed at two outposts in eastern and western Libya since late 2015.”

To be fair, the U.S. doesn’t call any of these bases “bases” — except when officials forget to keep up the fiction.  For example, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2016 included a $50 million request for the construction of an “airfield and base camp at Agadez, Niger.”  But give Cheadle credit for pushing a fiction that persists despite ample evidence to the contrary.

It isn’t hard, of course, to understand why U.S. Africa Command has set up a sprawling network of off-the-books bases or why it peddles misinformation about its gigantic “small” footprint in Africa.  It’s undoubtedly for the same reason that they stonewall me on even basic information about their operations.  The Department of Defense, from tooth to tail, likes to operate in the dark. 

Today, TomDispatch regular Bill Hartung reveals another kind of Pentagon effort to obscure and obfuscate involving another kind of highly creative accounting: think slush funds, secret programs, dodgy bookkeeping, and the type of financial malfeasance that could only be carried out by an institution that is, by its very nature, too big to fail (inside the Beltway if not on the battlefield).

Rejecting both accurate accounting and actual accountability — from the halls of the Pentagon to austere camps in Africa — the Defense Department has demonstrated a longstanding commitment to keeping Americans in the dark about the activities being carried out with their dollars and in their name.  Luckily, Hartung is willing to shine a bright light on the Pentagon’s shady practices. Nick Turse

The Pentagon’s war on accountability
Slush funds, smoke and mirrors, and funny money equal weapons systems galore
By William D. Hartung

Now you see it, now you don’t. Think of it as the Department of Defense’s version of the street con game, three-card monte, or maybe simply as the Pentagon shuffle.  In any case, the Pentagon’s budget is as close to a work of art as you’re likely to find in the U.S. government — if, that is, by work of art you mean scam.  

The United States is on track to spend more than $600 billion on the military this year — more, that is, than was spent at the height of President Ronald Reagan’s Cold War military buildup, and more than the military budgets of at least the next seven nations in the world combined.  And keep in mind that that’s just a partial total.  As an analysis by the Straus Military Reform Project has shown, if we count related activities like homeland security, veterans’ affairs, nuclear warhead production at the Department of Energy, military aid to other countries, and interest on the military-related national debt, that figure reaches a cool $1 trillion.

The more that’s spent on “defense,” however, the less the Pentagon wants us to know about how those mountains of money are actually being used.  As the only major federal agency that can’t pass an audit, the Department of Defense (DoD) is the poster child for irresponsible budgeting. 

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Harwood and Stanley: Policing the dystopia

For 15 years, Americans have been living in a constant state of “wartime” without any of the obvious signs of war. There is no draft. The public has in no way been mobilized. The fighting has all taken place in battle zones thousands of miles from the United States. Despite a rising homegrown fear of Islamic terrorism, an American in the continental U.S. faces greater danger from a toddler wielding a loaded gun. And yet, in ways often hard to chart, America’s endless wars — Barack Obama is now slated to preside over the longest war presidency in our history — have quietly come home. You can see them reflected in the strengthening powers and prominence of the national security state, in those Pentagon spy drones now flying patrols over “the homeland,” and, among other things, in the militarization of police departments nationwide.

Perhaps nowhere in these years, in fact, have America’s wars come home more fiercely or embedded themselves more deeply than in those police forces. It’s not just the multiplying SWAT teams — the police equivalent of Special Operations forces, often filled with ex-special ops types and other veterans from this country’s Iraqi and Afghan battlefields — or the weaponry fed by the Pentagon to police departments, also from the battlefields of the Greater Middle East, including mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles, automatic and semi-automatic rifles, and even grenade launchers. It’s also, as Jay Stanley and TomDispatch regular Matthew Harwood, both of the American Civil Liberties Union, suggest today, intrusive new forms of technology, developed by or in conjunction with the Pentagon for battlefield use, that are coming to your neighborhood.  So welcome to the war zone, America. Tom Engelhardt

Power loves the dark
Police nationwide are secretly exploiting intrusive technologies with the feds’ complicity
By Matthew Harwood and Jay Stanley

Can’t you see the writing on the touchscreen? A techno-utopia is upon us. We’ve gone from smartphones at the turn of the twenty-first century to smart fridges and smart cars. The revolutionary changes to our everyday life will no doubt keep barreling along. By 2018, so predicts Gartner, an information technology research and advisory company, more than three million employees will work for “robo-bosses” and soon enough we — or at least the wealthiest among us — will be shopping in fully automated supermarkets and sleeping in robotic hotels.

With all this techno-triumphalism permeating our digitally saturated world, it’s hardly surprising that law enforcement would look to technology — “smart policing,” anyone? — to help reestablish public trust after the 2014 death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and the long list of other unarmed black men killed by cops in Anytown, USA. The idea that technology has a decisive role to play in improving policing was, in fact, a central plank of President Obama’s policing reform task force.

In its report, released last May, the Task Force on 21st Century Policing emphasized the crucial role of technology in promoting better law enforcement, highlighting the use of police body cameras in creating greater openness. “Implementing new technologies,” it claimed, “can give police departments an opportunity to fully engage and educate communities in a dialogue about their expectations for transparency, accountability, and privacy.”

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William deBuys: No more wide open spaces?

One summer 43 years ago, I headed west with a photographer friend, interviewing Americans at minor league baseball parks, fairgrounds, tourist spots, campgrounds, wherever the moment and our Volkswagen van took us.  Grandiosely enough, our goal was “to tap the mood of the nation,” which led to my first book, Beyond Our Control: America in the Mid Seventies.  Looking back, I now realize that, in 1973, three decades ahead of schedule, we met the precursors to the Tea Party movement, angry and unnerved white Americans of a certain age, camped out in their RVs and distinctly dyspeptic about where this country was going.  This was a crowd, as I wrote at the time, that when it came to the lifestyles they had known and enjoyed could already “feel the tremors under their feet” and I predicted that one of these days they would be the ones to suffer.  “You can bet,” I observed, that “America’s corporate pushers won’t be going through the same sort of withdrawal pains as their victims.”  And I added, “What makes it so frightening is this: When these people find themselves desperate, they may panic and grab for the first help in sight, and I’m afraid to think what that will be.”  All these decades later, we may finally have a better idea of what that, in fact, is.

As it happened, for this born and bred New York City boy for whom Central Park was the wilderness, there was another unforgettable aspect of that journey from coast to coast.  I saw up close and personal something of the West, of lands that seemed to stretch out toward eternity, that could take your breath away, and that, as TomDispatch regular William deBuys points out today, still — though for how long we don’t know — belong to all of us.  Of our visit to Yellowstone Park (where the warnings about grizzlies in the campgrounds touched off the panic button in this urbanite), I wrote:

“Early this afternoon, we rested by a lake and watched a Swainson’s hawk hover and hunt, all its energy focused on a few yards of field. Suddenly, it plummeted out of sight, rose with a field mouse in its claws and was gone.  Yellowstone’s been like that, just the opposite of our expectations.  Gigantic, wild-looking, beautiful. The roads don’t even dent it, at least in the eastern part where we’ve come in. Strangest of all, it’s not crawling with people.  We didn’t see anybody until we pulled into the parking lot of the Hamilton General Store.”

And here’s a small miracle: in this era of privatization — even the military now goes into its war zones with a set of corporate warriors in tow — those awesome American lands are still ours, still public.  My children can still spend time in them and appreciate a world they would otherwise have no access to.  But my grandson when he grows up?  Who knows?  As deBuys makes clear today, behind the latest wing-nuts of the American West lie corporate interests that, in this age of growing inequality, might someday take part in one of the great land grabs of modern times.  Fortunately, there are still writers like deBuys to remind us of just what’s at stake. Tom Engelhardt

Privatizing America’s public land
How the raid on Malheur screened a future raid on real estate
By William deBuys

It goes without saying that in a democracy everyone is entitled to his or her own opinions. The trouble starts when people think they are also entitled to their own facts.

Away out West, on the hundreds of millions of acres of public lands that most Americans take for granted (if they are aware of them at all), the trouble is deep, widespread, and won’t soon go away. Last winter’s armed take-over and 41-day occupation of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in southeastern Oregon is a case in point. It was carried out by people who, if they hadn’t been white and dressed as cowboys, might have been called “terrorists” and treated as such. Their interpretation of the history of western lands and of the judicial basis for federal land ownership — or at least that of their leaders, since they weren’t exactly a band of intellectuals — was only loosely linked to reality.

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Nick Turse: It can’t happen here, can it?

Every now and then, I teach a class to young would-be journalists and one of the first things I talk about is why I consider writing an act of generosity. As they are usually just beginning to stretch their writerly wings, their task, as I see it, is to enter the world we’re already in (it’s generally the only place they can afford to go) and somehow decode it for us, make us see it in a new way. And who can deny that doing so is indeed an act of generosity? But for the foreign correspondent, especially in war zones, the generosity lies in the very act of entering a world filled with dangers, a world that the rest of us might not be capable of entering, or for that matter brave enough to enter, and somehow bringing us along with them.

I thought about this recently when I had in my hands the first copy of Nick Turse’s new Dispatch Book, Next Time They’ll Come to Count the Dead: War and Survival in South Sudan, and flipped it open to its memorable initial paragraph, one I already new well, and began to read it all over again:

“Their voices, sharp and angry, shook me from my slumber. I didn’t know the language but I instantly knew the translation. So I groped for the opening in the mosquito net, shuffled from my downy white bed to the window, threw back the stained tan curtain, and squinted into the light of a new day breaking in South Sudan. Below, in front of my guest house, one man was getting his ass kicked by another. A flurry of blows connected with his face and suddenly he was on the ground. Three or four men were watching.”

Nick, TomDispatch’s managing editor and a superb historian as well as reporter, spent years in a war-crimes zone of the past to produce his award-winning book, Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam. It was a harrowing historical journey for which he traveled to small villages on the back roads of Vietnam to talk to those who had experienced horrific crimes decades earlier. In 2015, however, on his second trip to South Sudan, a country the U.S. helped bring into existence, he found himself in an almost unimaginable place where the same kinds of war crimes were being committed right then and there in a commonplace way, where violence was the coin of the realm, and horrors of various sorts were almost guaranteed to be around the next corner. In his new book, he brings us with him into such a world in a way that is deeply memorable. Ann Jones, author of They Were Soldiers, calls him “the wandering scribe of war crimes.” And she adds, “Reading Turse will turn your view of war upside down… There’s no glory here in Turse’s pages, but the clear voices of people caught up in this fruitless cruelty, speaking for themselves.”

Next Time They’ll Come to Count the Dead is, I think, the definition of an act of generosity. Nick has just returned from his latest trip to South Sudan and today’s post gives you a sense of the ongoing brutalities and incongruities of life there (and here as well). Tom Engelhardt

Donald Trump in South Sudan
What trumps the horrors of a hellscape? The Donald!
By Nick Turse

LEER, South Sudan — I’m sitting in the dark, sweating. The blinding white sun has long since set, but it’s still in the high 90s, which is a relief since it was above 110 earlier. Slumped in a blue plastic chair, I’m thinking back on the day, trying to process everything I saw, the people I spoke with: the woman whose home was burned down, the woman whose teenage daughter was shot and killed, the woman with 10 mouths to feed and no money, the glassy-eyed soldier with the AK-47.

Then there were the scorched ruins: the wrecked houses, the traditional wattle-and-daub tukuls without roofs, the spectral footprints of homes set aflame by armed raiders who swept through in successive waves, the remnants of a town that has ceased to exist.

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