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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Michael Klare: The coming world of ‘peak oil demand,’ not ‘peak oil’

In a Greater Middle East in which one country after another has been plunged into chaos and possible failed statehood, two rival nations, Iran and Saudi Arabia, have been bedrock exceptions to the rule.  Iran, at the moment, remains so, but the Saudi royals, increasingly unnerved, have been steering their country erratically into the region’s chaos. The kingdom is now led by a decrepit 80-year-old monarch who, in commonplace meetings, has to be fed his lines by teleprompter.  Meanwhile, his 30-year-old son, Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has gained significant control over both the kingdom’s economic and military decision-making, launched a rash anti-Iranian war in Yemen, heavily dependent on air power.  It is not only Washington-backed but distinctly in the American mode of these last years: brutal yet ineffective, never-ending, a boon to the spread of terror groups, and seeded with potential blowback.

Meanwhile, in a cheap-oil, belt-tightening moment, in an increasingly edgy country, the royals are reining in budgets and undermining the good life they were previously financing for many of their citizens.  The one thing they continue to do is pump oil — their only form of wealth — as if there were no tomorrow, while threatening further price-depressing rises in oil production in the near future.  And that’s hardly been the end of their threats.  While taking on the Iranians (and the Russians), they have also been lashing out at the local opposition, executing a prominent dissident Shiite cleric among others and even baring their teeth at Washington.  They have reportedly threatened the Obama administration with the sell-off of hundreds of billions of dollars in American assets if a bill, now in Congress and aimed at opening the Saudis to American lawsuits over their supposed culpability for the 9/11 attacks, were to pass. (It would, however, be a sell-off that could hurt the Saudis more than anyone.)  Even at the pettiest of levels, on Barack Obama’s recent arrival in Saudi Arabia for a visit with King Salman, they essentially snubbed him, a first for a White House occupant. All in all, a previously sure-footed (if extreme) Sunni regime seems increasingly unsettled; in fact, it has something of the look these days of a person holding a gun to his own head and threatening to pull the trigger. In other words, in a region already aflame, the Saudis seem to be tossing… well, oil onto any fire in sight.

And in a way, it’s little wonder.  The very basis for the existence of the Saudi royals, their staggering oil reserves, is under attack — and not by the Iranians, the Russians, or the Americans, but as TomDispatch energy specialist Michael Klare explains, by something so much larger: the potential ending of the petroleum way of life.  Tom Engelhardt

Debacle at Doha
The collapse of the old oil order
By Michael T. Klare

Sunday, April 17th was the designated moment.  The world’s leading oil producers were expected to bring fresh discipline to the chaotic petroleum market and spark a return to high prices. Meeting in Doha, the glittering capital of petroleum-rich Qatar, the oil ministers of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), along with such key non-OPEC producers as Russia and Mexico, were scheduled to ratify a draft agreement obliging them to freeze their oil output at current levels. In anticipation of such a deal, oil prices had begun to creep inexorably upward, from $30 per barrel in mid-January to $43 on the eve of the gathering. But far from restoring the old oil order, the meeting ended in discord, driving prices down again and revealing deep cracks in the ranks of global energy producers.

It is hard to overstate the significance of the Doha debacle. At the very least, it will perpetuate the low oil prices that have plagued the industry for the past two years, forcing smaller firms into bankruptcy and erasing hundreds of billions of dollars of investments in new production capacity. It may also have obliterated any future prospects for cooperation between OPEC and non-OPEC producers in regulating the market. Most of all, however, it demonstrated that the petroleum-fueled world we’ve known these last decades — with oil demand always thrusting ahead of supply, ensuring steady profits for all major producers — is no more.  Replacing it is an anemic, possibly even declining, demand for oil that is likely to force suppliers to fight one another for ever-diminishing market shares.

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Rebecca Gordon: Exhibit one in any future American war crimes trial

Let’s take a moment to think about the ultimate strangeness of our American world.  In recent months, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz have offered a range of hair-raising suggestions: as president, one or the other of them might order the U.S. military and the CIA to commit acts that would include the waterboarding of terror suspects (or “a hell of a lot worse”), the killing of the relatives of terrorists, and the carpet bombing of parts of Syria.  All of these would, legally speaking, be war crimes.  This has caused shock among many Americans in quite established quarters who have decried the possibility of such a president, suggesting that the two of them are calling for outright illegal acts, actual “war crimes,” and that the U.S. military and others would be justified in rejecting such orders.  In this context, for instance, CIA Director John Brennan recently made it clear that no Agency operative under his command would ever waterboard a suspect in response to orders of such a nature from a future president.  (“I will not agree to carry out some of these tactics and techniques I’ve heard bandied about because this institution needs to endure.”)

These acts, in other words, are considered beyond the pale when Donald Trump suggests them, but here’s the strangeness of it all: what The Donald is only mouthing off about, a perfectly real American president (and vice president and secretary of defense, and so on) actually did.  Among other things, under the euphemistic term “enhanced interrogation techniques,” they ordered the CIA to use classic torture practices including waterboarding (which, in blunter times, had been known as “the water torture”).  They also let the U.S. military loose to torture and abuse prisoners in their custody.  They green-lighted the CIA to kidnap terror suspects (who sometimes turned out to be perfectly innocent people) off the streets of cities around the world, as well as from the backlands of the planet, and transported them to the prisons of some of the worst torture regimes or to secret detention centers (“black sites”) the CIA was allowed to set up in compliant countries.  In other words, a perfectly real administration ordered and oversaw perfectly real crimes.  (Its top officials even reportedly had torture techniques demonstrated to them in the White House.)

At the time, the CIA fulfilled its orders to a T and without complaint. A lone CIA officer spoke out publicly in opposition to such a program and was jailed for disclosing classified information to a journalist.  (He would be the only CIA official to go to jail for the Agency’s acts of torture.)  At places like Abu Ghraib, the military similarly carried out its orders without significant complaint or resistance.  The mainstream media generally adopted the euphemism “enhanced interrogation techniques” or “harsh techniques” in its reporting — no “torture” or “war crimes” for them then.  And back in the post-2001 years, John Brennan, then deputy executive director of the CIA, didn’t offer a peep of protest about what he surely knew was going on in his own agency. In 2014, in fact, as its director he actually defended such torture practices for producing “intelligence that helped thwart attack plans, capture terrorists, and save lives.”  In addition, none of those who ordered or oversaw torture and other criminal behavior (a number of whom would sell their memoirs for millions of dollars) suffered in the slightest for the acts that were performed on their watch and at their behest.

To sum up: when Donald Trump says such things it’s a future nightmare to be called by its rightful name and denounced, as well as rejected and resisted by military and intelligence officials.  When an American president and his top officials actually did such things, however, it was another story entirely. Today, TomDispatch regular Rebecca Gordon catches the nightmarish quality of those years, now largely buried, in the grim case of a single mistreated human being. It should make Americans shudder. She has also just published a new book, American Nuremberg: The U.S. Officials Who Should Stand Trial for Post-9/11 War Crimes, that couldn’t be more relevant.  It’s a must-read for a country conveniently without a memory. Tom Engelhardt

The Al-Qaeda leader who wasn’t
The shameful ordeal of Abu Zubaydah
By Rebecca Gordon

The allegations against the man were serious indeed.

* Donald Rumsfeld said he was “if not the number two, very close to the number two person” in al-Qaeda.

* The Central Intelligence Agency informed Assistant Attorney General Jay Bybee that he “served as Usama Bin Laden’s senior lieutenant. In that capacity, he has managed a network of training camps… He also acted as al-Qaeda’s coordinator of external contacts and foreign communications.”

* CIA Director Michael Hayden would tell the press in 2008 that 25% of all the information his agency had gathered about al-Qaeda from human sources “originated” with one other detainee and him.

* George W. Bush would use his case to justify the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation program,” claiming that “he had run a terrorist camp in Afghanistan where some of the 9/11 hijackers trained” and that “he helped smuggle al-Qaeda leaders out of Afghanistan” so they would not be captured by U.S. military forces.

None of it was true.

And even if it had been true, what the CIA did to Abu Zubaydah — with the knowledge and approval of the highest government officials — is a prime example of the kind of still-unpunished crimes that officials like Dick Cheney, George Bush, and Donald Rumsfeld committed in the so-called Global War on Terror.

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Pratap Chatterjee: Inside the devastation of America’s drone wars

In our part of the world, it’s not often that potential “collateral damage” speaks, but it happened last week.  A Pakistani tribal leader, Malik Jalal, flew to England to plead in a newspaper piece he wrote and in media interviews to be taken off the Obama White House’s “kill list.”  (“I am in England this week because I decided that if Westerners wanted to kill me without bothering to come to speak with me first, perhaps I should come to speak to them instead.”)  Jalal, who lives in Pakistan’s tribal borderlands, is a local leader and part of a peace committee sanctioned by the Pakistani government that is trying to tamp down the violence in the region.  He believes that he’s been targeted for assassination by Washington.  (Four drone missiles, he claims, have just missed him or his car.)  His family, he says, is traumatized by the drones.  “I don’t want to end up a ‘Bugsplat’ — the ugly word that is used for what remains of a human being after being blown up by a Hellfire missile fired from a Predator drone,” he writes. “More importantly, I don’t want my family to become victims, or even to live with the droning engines overhead, knowing that at any moment they could be vaporized.” 

Normally, what “they” do to us, or our European counterparts (think: Brussels, Paris, or San Bernardino), preoccupies us 24/7.  What we do to “them” — and them turns out to be far more than groups of terrorists — seldom touches our world at all.  As TomDispatch readers know, this website has paid careful attention to the almost 300 wedding celebrants killed by U.S. air power between late 2001 and the end of 2013 — eight wedding parties eviscerated in three countries (Iraq, Afghanistan, and Yemen).  These are deaths that, unlike the 14 Americans murdered in San Bernardino, the 32 Belgians and others killed in Brussels, and the 130 French and others slaughtered in Paris, have caused not even a ripple here (though imagine for a second the reaction if even a single wedding, no less eight of them and hundreds of revelers, had been wiped out by a terror attack in the U.S. in these years).

Any sense of sadness or regret for Washington’s actions, when it comes to the many killed, wounded, or traumatized in its never-ending, implacable, and remarkably unsuccessful war on terror, is notable mainly for its absence from our world.  So it’s an extraordinary moment when any Americans — no less a group that has been deeply involved in prosecuting the drone war on terror — publicly expresses empathy for the “collateral damage” inflicted in that ongoing conflict.  That’s why TomDispatch regular Pratap Chatterjee brings genuine news today from the heart of America’s drone wars, from those who should best be able to assess the grim reality of just what Washington has been doing in our name. Tom Engelhardt

Drone whistleblowers step out of the shadows
In Washington’s drone wars, collateral damage comes home
By Pratap Chatterjee

In a trio of recent action-packed movies, good guys watch terrorists mingling with innocent women and children via real-time video feeds from halfway across the world. A clock ticks and we, the audience, are let in on the secret that mayhem is going to break loose. After much agonized soul-searching about possible collateral damage, the good guys call in a missile strike from a U.S. drone to try to save the day by taking out a set of terrorists.

Such is the premise of Gavin Hood’s Eye in the Sky, Andrew Niccol’s Good Kill, and Rick Rosenthal’s Drones. In reality, in Washington’s drone wars neither the “good guys” nor the helpless, endangered villagers under those robotic aircraft actually survive the not-so secret drone war that the Obama administration has been waging relentlessly across the Greater Middle East — not, at least, without some kind of collateral damage.  In addition to those they kill, Washington’s drones turn out to wound (in ways both physical and psychological) their own operators and the populations who live under their constant surveillance. They leave behind very real victims with all-too-real damage, often in the form of post-traumatic stress disorder on opposite sides of the globe.

Sometimes I am so sad that my heart wants to explode,” an Afghan man says, speaking directly into the camera. “When your body is intact, your mind is different. You are content. But the moment you are wounded, your soul gets damaged. When your leg is torn off and your gait slows, it also burdens your spirit.” The speaker is an unnamed victim of a February 2010 drone strike in Uruzgan, Afghanistan, but he could just as easily be an Iraqi, a Pakistani, a Somali, or a Yemeni. He appears in National Bird, a haunting new documentary film by Sonia Kennebeck about the unexpected and largely unrecorded devastation Washington’s drone wars leave in their wake.  In it, the audience hears directly from both drone personnel and their victims.

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Karen Greenberg: No justice at Gitmo

With only nine months to go, in the fashion of modern presidents, Barack Obama is already planning his post-presidential library, museum, and foundation complex.  Such institutions only seem to grow more opulent and imperial as the years and administrations pass.  Obama’s will reportedly leave the $300 million raised for George W. Bush’s version of the same in the dust.  The aim is to create at least an $800 million and possibly billion-dollar institution.  With his post-Oval Office future already in view and his presidency nearly history, his “legacy” has clearly been on his mind of late. And when it comes to foreign policy, he definitely has some accomplishments to brag about.  The two most obvious are the Iran nuclear deal and the opening to Cuba.  In their own ways, both could prove game changers, breaking with venomous relations that lasted, in the case of Iran, for more than three and a half decades, and in the case of Cuba, for more than half a century.

You can already imagine the exhibits celebrating them at the Barack Obama Presidential Center to be built on the south side of Chicago.  But it’s hard not to wonder how that institution will handle the three major foreign policy promises the new president made in the distant days of 2008-2009.  After all, he was, in part, swept into the presidency on a blunt promise to end George W. Bush’s catastrophic war in Iraq.  (“So when I am Commander-in-Chief, I will set a new goal on Day One: I will end this war.”)  Nine years later, he’s once again taken this country into the Big Muddy of an Iraq War, either the third or fourth of them in the last five presidencies (depending on whether you count the Reagan administration support for Saddam Hussein’s war with Iran in the 1980s).  At this moment, having just dispatched B-52s, the classic Vietnam-era carpet-bombing plane of choice (Ted Cruz must be thrilled!) to Qatar as part of that war effort, and being on a mission-creep path ever deeper into what can only be called the Iraq quagmire, we’re likely to be talking about a future museum exhibit from hell.

But it won’t begin to match the special exhibit that will someday undoubtedly explore the president’s heartfelt promise to work to severely curtail the American and global nuclear arsenals and put the planet on a path to — a word that had never previously hovered anywhere near the Oval Office — nuclear abolition.  The president’s disarmament ambitions were, in fact, significantly responsible for his 2009 Nobel Prize, an honor that almost uniquely preceded any accomplishments.  Now, the same man is presiding over a planned three-decade, trillion-dollar renovation and modernization of that same arsenal, including the development of an initial generation of “smart” nukes, potentially first-use weapons.  It’s certainly been a unique path for our first outright anti-nuclear president to take and deserves a special place of (dis)honor at the future Obama center.

Barring surprising developments in the coming months, however, no exhibit is likely to be more striking or convoluted than the one that will have to be dedicated to the “closing” of Guantánamo, the notorious offshore, Bush-era prison camp.  After all, as TomDispatch regular Karen Greenberg, author of Rogue Justice: The Making of the Security State, a striking soon-to-be-published anatomy of post-9/11 national security state mania, points out today, the closing of Guantánamo within a year represented one of the president’s first promises on entering the Oval Office.  Unless somehow he succeeds in shutting Gitmo down over fierce Republican congressional opposition in these final months, it could prove the pièce de résistance of his future museum. Tom Engelhardt

Still in the Bush embrace
What really stands in the way of closing Guantánamo
By Karen J. Greenberg

Can you believe it?  We’re in the last year of the presidency of the man who, on his first day in the Oval Office, swore that he would close Guantánamo, and yet it and everything it represents remains part of our all-American world. So many years later, you can still read news reports on the ongoing nightmares of that grim prison, ranging from detention without charge to hunger strikes and force feeding. Its name still echoes through the halls of Congress in bitter debate over what should or shouldn’t be done with it. It remains a global symbol of the worst America has to offer.

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Rory Fanning: Talking to the young in a world that will never truly be ‘postwar’

The third time around, the Pentagon evidently wants to do it right — truly right — this time.  What other explanation could there be for dispatching 12 generals to Iraq (one for every 416 American troops estimated to be on the ground in that country, according to Nancy Youssef of the Daily Beast).  And keep in mind that those 12 don’t include the generals and admirals overseeing the air war, naval support, or other aspects of the campaign against the Islamic State from elsewhere in the Middle East or back in the U.S., nor do they include generals from allied forces like those of Australia and Great Britain also in Iraq.  Youssef offers a “conservative” count of 21 “flag officers,” including allies, now in that country to oversee the war there. Among other things, they are undoubtedly responsible for ensuring the success of the major goal proclaimed by both Washington and Baghdad for 2016: an offensive to retake the country’s second largest city, Mosul. Only weeks ago, it got off to a rousing start when the Iraqi army recaptured a few obscure villages on the road to that city.  Soon after, however, the offensive reportedly ground to a dispiriting halt when parts of the American-retrained and rearmed Iraqi Army (which had collapsed in June 2014 in the face of far smaller numbers of far more determined Islamic State militants) began to crumble again, amid mass desertions.

In the meantime, in both Iraq and Syria, U.S. operations seem to be on an inexorable mission-creep upward, with ever more new troops and special ops types heading for those countries in a generally under-the-radar manner, assumedly with the objective of someday justifying the number of generals awaiting them there. Somewhere in a top-heavy Pentagon, there surely must be an office of déjà vu all over again, mustn’t there?  (And talking about déjà vu, last week the U.S. launched yet another air strike in Somalia, supposedly knocking off yet another leader of al-Shabab, the indigenous terror movement. If you could win a war by repeatedly knocking off the leaders of such movements, the U.S. would by now be the greatest victor in the history of warfare.)

Meanwhile in Afghanistan… but do I really have to tell you about the ground taken by the resurgent Taliban in the last year, the arrival of ISIS in that country, the halting (yet again) of withdrawal plans for U.S. forces almost 15 years into the second American war there, or other tales from the crypt of this country’s never-ending wars?  I think not.  Even if you haven’t read the latest news, you can guess, can’t you?

And this, of course, is exactly the repetitive world of war (and failure) into which the young, especially in America’s poorest high schools, are being recruited, even if they don’t know it, via JROTC.  It’s a Pentagon-funded program that promises to pave the way for your future college education, give meaning to your life, and send you to exotic lands, while ensuring that the country’s all-volunteer military never lacks for new troops to dispatch to old (verging on ancient) conflicts. As Ann Jones has written, “It should be no secret that the United States has the biggest, most efficiently organized, most effective system for recruiting child soldiers in the world. With uncharacteristic modesty, however, the Pentagon doesn’t call it that. Its term is ‘youth development program.’” So let’s offer thanks for small favors when someone — in this case, ex-Army Ranger and TomDispatch regular Rory Fanning (author of Worth Fighting For: An Army Ranger’s Journey Out of the Military and Across America) — feels the urge to do something about that massive, militarized propaganda effort in our schools.  In my book, Fanning is the equivalent of any 12 of our generals and we need more like him both in those schools and in our country. Tom Engelhardt   

The wars in our schools
An ex-Army Ranger finds a new mission
By Rory Fanning

Early each New Year’s Day I head for Lake Michigan with a handful of friends. We look for a quiet stretch of what, only six months earlier, was warm Chicago beach. Then we trudge through knee-deep snow in bathing suits and boots, fighting wind gusts and hangovers. Sooner or later, we arrive where the snowpack meets the shore and boot through a thick crust of lake ice, yelling and swearing as we dive into near-freezing water.

It took me a while to begin to understand why I do this every year, or for that matter why for the last decade since I left the military I’ve continued to inflict other types of pain on myself with such unnerving regularity. Most days, for instance, I lift weights at the gym to the point of crippling exhaustion. On summer nights, I sometimes swim out alone as far as I can through mats of hairy algae into the black water of Lake Michigan in search of what I can only describe as a feeling of falling.

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Andrew Bacevich: Presidential wars

It was a large banner and its message was clear.  It read: “Mission Accomplished,” and no, I don’t mean the classic “mission accomplished” banner on the USS Abraham Lincoln under which, on May 1, 2003, President George W. Bush proudly proclaimed (to the derision of critics ever since) that “major combat operations in Iraq have ended.”  I’m actually referring to a September 1982 banner with those same two words (and an added “farewell” below them) displayed on a landing craft picking up the last Marines sent ashore in Beirut, Lebanon, to be, as President Ronald Reagan put it when they arrived the previous August, “what Marines have been for more than 200 years — peace-makers.”  Of course, when Bush co-piloted an S-3B Viking sub reconnaissance Naval jet onto the deck of the Abraham Lincoln and made his now-classic statement, major combat had barely begun in Iraq (and it has yet to end) — nor was it peace that came to Beirut in September 1982: infamously, the following year 241 Marines would die there in a single day, thanks to a suicide bomber.

“Not for the last time,” writes Andrew Bacevich in his monumental new work, America’s War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History, “the claim proved to be illusory.”  Indeed, one of the grim and eerie wonders of his book is the way in which just about every wrongheaded thing Washington did in that region in the 14-plus years since 9/11 had its surprising precursor in the two decades of American war there before the World Trade Center towers came down.  U.S. military trainers and advisers, for example, failed (as they later would in Iraq and Afghanistan) to successfully build armies, starting with the Lebanese one; Bush’s “preventive war” had its predecessor in a Reagan directive called (ominously enough given what was to come) “combating terrorism”; Washington’s obsessive belief of recent years that problems in the region could be solved by what Andrew Cockburn has called the “kingpin strategy” — the urge to dismantle terror organizations by taking out their leadership via drones or special operations raids — had its precursor in “decapitation” operations against Muammar Gaddafi, Saddam Hussein, and Somali warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid with similar resulting mayhem.  The belief that “an additional increment of combat power might turn around a failing endeavor” — call it a “surge,” if you will — had its Iraq and Afghan pretrial run in Somalia in 1993.  And above all, of course, there was Washington’s unquenchable post-1980 urge to intervene, military first, in a decisive way throughout the region, which, as Bacevich writes, only “produced conditions conducive to further violence and further disorder,” and if that isn’t the repetitive history of America’s failed post-2001 wars in a nutshell, what is?

As it happened, the effects of such actions from 1980 on were felt not just in the Greater Middle East and Africa, but in the United States, too.  There, as Bacevich writes today, war became a blank-check activity for a White House no longer either checked (in any sense) or balanced by Congress.  Think of it as another sad tale of a surge (or do I mean a decapitation?) that went wrong. Tom Engelhardt

Writing a blank check on war for the president
How the United States became a prisoner of war and Congress went MIA
By Andrew J. Bacevich

Let’s face it: in times of war, the Constitution tends to take a beating. With the safety or survival of the nation said to be at risk, the basic law of the land — otherwise considered sacrosanct — becomes nonbinding, subject to being waived at the whim of government authorities who are impatient, scared, panicky, or just plain pissed off.

The examples are legion.  During the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln arbitrarily suspended the writ of habeas corpus and ignored court orders that took issue with his authority to do so. After U.S. entry into World War I, the administration of Woodrow Wilson mounted a comprehensive effort to crush dissent, shutting down anti-war publications in complete disregard of the First Amendment. Amid the hysteria triggered by Pearl Harbor, Franklin Roosevelt issued an executive order consigning to concentration camps more than 100,000 Japanese-Americans, many of them native-born citizens. Asked in 1944 to review this gross violation of due process, the Supreme Court endorsed the government’s action by a 6-3 vote. 

More often than not, the passing of the emergency induces second thoughts and even remorse. The further into the past a particular war recedes, the more dubious the wartime arguments for violating the Constitution appear. Americans thereby take comfort in the “lessons learned” that will presumably prohibit any future recurrence of such folly.

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Dilip Hiro: Flashpoint for the planet

Once upon a time, if a war was going to destroy your world, it had to take place in your world. The soldiers had to land, the planes had to fly overhead, the ships had to be off the coast. No longer. Nuclear war changed that equation forever and not just because nuclear weapons could be delivered from a great distance by missile. To use a term that has become commonplace in our world when discussing commerce, the prospect of nuclear conflict has globalized war and it’s a nightmare of the first order.

In the post-Cold War world, Exhibit A in that process would certainly be the unnerving potential for a nuclear war to break out between India and Pakistan. As TomDispatch regular Dilip Hiro, author most recently of The Age of Aspiration: Money, Power, and Conflict in Globalizing India, makes clear today, there is no place on the planet where a nuclear war is more imaginable. After all, those two South Asian countries have been to war with each other or on the verge of it again and again since they were split apart in 1947.

Of course, a major nuclear war between them would result in an unimaginable catastrophe in South Asia itself, with casualties estimated at up to 20 million dead from bomb blasts, fire, and the effects of radiation on the human body. And that, unfortunately, would only be the beginning. As Alan Robock and Owen Brian Toon wrote in Scientific American back in 2009, when the Indian and Pakistani arsenals were significantly smaller than they are today, any major nuclear conflagration in the region could hardly be confined to South Asia. The smoke and particulates thrown into the atmosphere from those weapons would undoubtedly bring on some version of a global “nuclear winter,” whose effects could last for at least 10 years, causing crop shortfalls and failures across the planet. The cooling and diminished sunlight (along with a loss of rainfall) would shorten growing seasons in planetary breadbaskets and produce “killing frosts in summer,” triggering declines in crop yields across the planet. Robock and Toon estimate that “around one billion people worldwide who now live on marginal food supplies would be directly threatened with starvation by a nuclear war between India and Pakistan.”

To say the least, it’s a daunting prospect at the very moment when the Obama White House has just ended the president’s final Nuclear Security Summit with fears rising that Pakistan’s new generation of small, front-line tactical nuclear weapons are “highly vulnerable to theft or misuse.” Hiro, an expert on the South Asian region, suggests just why a nuclear war is all too conceivable there and would be a catastrophe for us all. Tom Engelhardt

The most dangerous place on Earth
A nuclear Armageddon in the making in South Asia
By Dilip Hiro

Undoubtedly, for nearly two decades, the most dangerous place on Earth has been the Indian-Pakistani border in Kashmir. It’s possible that a small spark from artillery and rocket exchanges across that border might — given the known military doctrines of the two nuclear-armed neighbors — lead inexorably to an all-out nuclear conflagration.  In that case the result would be catastrophic. Besides causing the deaths of millions of Indians and Pakistanis, such a war might bring on “nuclear winter” on a planetary scale, leading to levels of suffering and death that would be beyond our comprehension.

Alarmingly, the nuclear competition between India and Pakistan has now entered a spine-chilling phase. That danger stems from Islamabad’s decision to deploy low-yield tactical nuclear arms at its forward operating military bases along its entire frontier with India to deter possible aggression by tank-led invading forces. Most ominously, the decision to fire such a nuclear-armed missile with a range of 35 to 60 miles is to rest with local commanders. This is a perilous departure from the universal practice of investing such authority in the highest official of the nation. Such a situation has no parallel in the Washington-Moscow nuclear arms race of the Cold War era.

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Cantarow and Levy: Could nuclear disaster come to America?

On March 11, 2011, following a massive earthquake and a devastating tsunami, the cores of three of the reactors at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant melted down with horrific results.  Radioactive cesium, with a half-life of 30 years, contaminated almost 12,000 square miles of the country, an area about the size of the state of Connecticut. The government considered 12.5 square miles around the plant so poisoned that its population was evacuated and it was declared a permanent “exclusion” zone. (At Chernobyl in Ukraine, three decades after the other great nuclear disaster of our era, a 1,000 square mile exclusion zone is still in place.)  One hundred and twenty thousand evacuees, some from areas outside the exclusion zone, have still not gone home and some undoubtedly never will, despite a vast decontamination program run by the government.  (Sixteen to twenty-two million bags of contaminated soil and debris will someday be buried in a vast landfill near the plant, but it may take decades to get them there and that’s only the beginning of the problems to come.)  And let’s not forget that, according to a report from the French Institute for Radiological Protection and Nuclear Safety, the ocean waters around Fukushima received “the largest single contribution of radionuclides to the marine environment ever observed.”

To this day, five years later, eerie photos continue to emerge from now eternally deserted towns miles from the plant, thanks to what’s called “dark tourism.”  But bad as the Fukushima nuclear disaster was, it might have been so much worse.  Japan’s then-prime minister, Naoto Kan, has only recently admitted that he was so worried by the unraveling catastrophe and the swirl of misinformation around it that he almost ordered the evacuation of Tokyo, the capital, and all other areas within 160 miles of the plant.  The country, he said, “came within a ‘paper-thin margin’ of a nuclear disaster requiring the evacuation of 50 million people.”

Keep that in mind as you read today’s report from Alison Rose Levy and Ellen Cantarow, who has in recent years covered citizen resistance to the desires of Big Energy for TomDispatch.  Since the United States used nuclear weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945, nuclear power has always had a fearsome aspect.  In the 1950s, the administration of President Dwight Eisenhower began promoting “the peaceful atom” in an attempt to take some of the sting out of atomic power’s bad rep.  (As part of that project, Eisenhower helped then-ally the Shah of Iran set up a “peaceful” nuclear program, the starting point for Washington’s more modern nuclear conflicts with that country.)  Unfortunately, as we’ve been reminded, from Three Mile Island to Chernobyl to Fukushima, there is ultimately a side to nuclear power that couldn’t be less “peaceful,” even in a peacetime setting.  As you think about the Indian Point nuclear power plant, the subject of today’s post, and its long history of problems and crises that only seem to be compounding, keep in mind how close Tokyo came to utter catastrophe and then think about the vast New York metropolitan area and what any of us would be able to do other than shelter in place if disaster were someday to strike up the Hudson River. Tom Engelhardt

A Fukushima on the Hudson?
The growing dangers of Indian Point
By Ellen Cantarow and Alison Rose Levy

It was a beautiful spring day and, in the control room of the nuclear reactor, the workers decided to deactivate the security system for a systems test. As they started to do so, however, the floor of the reactor began to tremble. Suddenly, its 1,200-ton cover blasted flames into the air. Tons of radioactive radium and graphite shot 1,000 meters into the sky and began drifting to the ground for miles around the nuclear plant. The first firemen to the rescue brought tons of water that would prove useless when it came to dousing the fires. The workers wore no protective clothing and eight of them would die that night — dozens more in the months to follow.

It was April 26, 1986, and this was just the start of the meltdown at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine, the worst nuclear accident of its kind in history. Chernobyl is ranked as a “level 7 event,” the maximum danger classification on the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale.  It would spew out more radioactivity than 100 Hiroshima bombs. Of the 350,000 workers involved in cleanup operations, according to the World Health Organization, 240,000 would be exposed to the highest levels of radiation in a 30-mile zone around the plant. It is uncertain exactly how many cancer deaths have resulted since. The International Atomic Energy Agency’s estimate of the expected death toll from Chernobyl was 4,000. A 2006 Greenpeace report challenged that figure, suggesting that 16,000 people had already died due to the accident and predicting another 140,000 deaths in Ukraine and Belarus still to come. A significant increase in thyroid cancers in children, a very rare disease for them, has been charted in the region — nearly 7,000 cases by 2005 in Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine.

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Thomas Frank: The inequality sweepstakes

Reading Thomas Frank’s new book, Listen, Liberal, or What Ever Happened to the Party of the People?, I was reminded of the snapshot that Oxfam offered us early this year: 62 billionaires now have more wealth than the bottom 50% of the global population, while the richest 1% own more than the other 99% combined. And in case you’re wondering in which direction inequality is trending on Planet Earth, note that in 2010, it took 388 of the super-rich to equal the holdings of that bottom 50%. At this rate in the inequality sweepstakes, by 2030, just the top 10 billionaires might do the trick. Let me just add that, as Frank makes clear in his brilliant new work, Donald Trump doesn’t have to win the presidency for billionaires to stand triumphant on the American part of our planet. Hillary Clinton will do just fine, thank you.

Listen, Liberal is, in a sense, a history of how, from the Clintonesque 1990s on, the Democratic Party managed to ditch the working class (hello, Donald Trump!) and its New Deal tradition, throw its support behind a rising “professional” and technocratic class, and go gaga over Wall Street and those billionaires to come. In the process, its leaders fell in love with Goldman Sachs and every miserable trade pact that hit town, led the way in deregulating the financial system, and helped launch what Frank terms “the greatest wave of insider looting ever seen”; the party, that is, went Silicon Valley and left Flint, Michigan, to the Republicans.  Only a few years after Bill Clinton vacated the Oval Office the financial system he and his team had played such a role in deregulating had to be rescued, lock, stock, and barrel from ultimate collapse. Quite a record all in all. Put another way, as Frank makes clear, in these years the Democrats (with obvious exceptions) became a more or less traditional Republican party. And if the Democrats are now the party of inequality, then what in the world are the Republicans? Don’t even get me started on the cliff that crew walked off of.

In the following post, adapted from his new book, Frank does a typically brainy thing. Since we’ve all heard for years about how the Democrats have been stopped from truly pursuing their political program by Republican experts in political paralysis, he turns to a rare set of places where, in fact, the Republicans were incapable of getting in the way and… well, let him tell the story. Tom Engelhardt

The blue state model
How the Democrats created a “liberalism of the rich”
By Thomas Frank

[This piece has been adapted from Thomas Frank’s new book, Listen, Liberal, or What Ever Happened to the Party of the People? (Metropolitan Books).]

When you press Democrats on their uninspiring deeds — their lousy free trade deals, for example, or their flaccid response to Wall Street misbehavior — when you press them on any of these things, they automatically reply that this is the best anyone could have done. After all, they had to deal with those awful Republicans, and those awful Republicans wouldn’t let the really good stuff get through. They filibustered in the Senate. They gerrymandered the congressional districts. And besides, change takes a long time. Surely you don’t think the tepid-to-lukewarm things Bill Clinton and Barack Obama have done in Washington really represent the fiery Democratic soul.

So let’s go to a place that does. Let’s choose a locale where Democratic rule is virtually unopposed, a place where Republican obstruction and sabotage can’t taint the experiment.

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Tanya Golash-Boza: How many presidents does it take to deport 11 million people?

Donald Trump’s presidential campaign was never birthed; it was always birthered. The man who, as his wife told a Vanity Fair reporter back in 1990, had a book of Hitler’s speeches in a cabinet by his bedside, has an unerring eye for how to wield anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant sentiments for his own benefit. Back in 2011, while considering a presidential run, he birthed his first version of the birther controversy, the claim that Barack Obama was born not in Hawaii but Kenya and so was the ultimate Muslim outsider (and an illegitimate president). It was his equivalent of dipping a toe in the political waters and testing the temperature before diving in — and he still credits that ludicrous claim with burnishing his reputation. (“I don’t think I went overboard. Actually, I think it made me very popular… I do think I know what I’m doing,” he said in 2013.) This time around, if Donald Trump has proven anything, it’s that he knows exactly what he’s doing and just what impact the symbols he calls up — from that Obama birth certificate to Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio — are likely to have. It’s clear enough that he’s been a student of the trade of demagogue, that he has a natural flair for it, and that when he births a new symbol, it tends to be potent.

None more so than the Wall (which should by now be capitalized). You know just what wall I mean without my writing another word. There’s only been one wall on the planet since his campaign began and, classically enough for our moment, it arrived by escalator. It came full blown, wrapped in a Trumpian ribbon, all 2,000 miles of it strung along the Mexican border of his mind, complete from day one with “rapists,” and the news that “they” were taking our jobs in return for “drugs” and “crime.”

A package deal, that wall arrived full grown on June 16, 2015, when Donald Trump and his present wife, Melania, descended by escalator from the heavens of Trump Tower in New York to announce his presidential bid to the planet. And that wall — the idea, that is, of purifying our American world of “them” by keeping undocumented immigrants out and getting rid of those already here — was from that moment at the heart of everything he did. As he said that day, “I would build a great wall, and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me, and I’ll build them very inexpensively, I will build a great, great wall on our southern border. And I will have Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words.”

And they were worth marking. Anyone who has watched his rallies since knows that those words have become the call-and-response chorus at the heart of Trumpismo, our new nativist celebrity religion. That the wall (no less the idea that Mexico will cover the cost of building it) is a fantasy isn’t beside the point, it’s the point itself. What would you expect but a fantasy version of future American life from the presidential candidate nominated by The Apprentice, whose closest adviser is, by his own admission, himself. In such a world, the wish, however malign, is truly the father of reality and the world a fantasy object.

Unfortunately, such fantasies have real consequences, which is why TomDispatch asked Tanya Golash-Boza, author of Deported: Immigrant Policing, Disposable Labor, and Global Capitalism, to explore both the walling in and deportation dreams (or nightmares) of Trump and his rival Ted Cruz and what exactly to make of them. Tom Engelhardt

Day of the demagogue
Trumpian deportation fantasies and American realities
By Tanya Golash-Boza

In 2006, when I first began researching deportations, George W. Bush was president and quietly building a deportation machine in the Department of Homeland Security. Outside of small activist circles, few Americans knew that deportations had been rising since 1996 due to legislation signed by President Bill Clinton. Nor could anyone then have imagined that the next President would be a Democrat, the son of a Kenyan immigrant, and would make Bush look like a piker when it came to record-high deportations. Nor, for that matter, would anyone have dreamed that deportation would become a — possibly the — signature issue of the 2016 presidential campaign.

And yet, all of this and more has come to pass in a blistering season of demagoguery, nativism, and outright racism. As again would have been unimaginable a mere decade ago, Republican front-runners Donald Trump and Ted Cruz have both promised to deport every last one of the estimated 11 million undocumented migrants in the United States, the whole lot of them, while as a bonus banning Muslims from the country. Trump gave his particular proposals a special twist by labeling Mexicans coming across the border as “rapists,” and immigrants more generally as “snakes.”

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