Tom Engelhardt: The great concentration or the great fragmentation?

Power drain: Mysteries of the twenty-first century in a helter-skelter world
By Tom Engelhardt

It’s possible I’ve lived most of my life on the wrong planet — and if that sounds like the first sentence of a sci-fi novel maybe, in its own way, it is. I thought I knew where I was, of course, but looking back from our helter-skelter world of 2014, I wonder. 

For most of the last several hundred years, the story in view might be called the Great Concentration and it focused on an imperial struggle for power on planet Earth. That rivalry took place among a kaleidoscopic succession of European “great powers,” one global empire (Great Britain), Russia, a single Asian state (Japan), and the United States. After two world wars that devastated the Eurasian continent, there emerged only two “superpowers,” the U.S. and the Soviet Union. They were so stunningly mighty and over-armed — great inland empires — that, unlike previous powers, they could not even imagine how to wage war directly upon each other, not without obliterating much of civilization. The full planet nonetheless became their battlefield in what was known as the Cold War only because hot ones were banished to “the peripheries” and the conflict took place, in part, in “the shadows” (a situation novelist John le Carré caught with particular incisiveness).

Those two superpowers divided much of the planet into mighty blocs, as the “free world” faced off against the “communist” one. What was left, often called the Third World, became a game board and sometimes battlefield for influence and dominance. From Havana to Saigon, Berlin to Jakarta, whatever happened, however local, always seemed to have a superpower tinge to it. 

This was the world as it was presented to me in the years of my youth and for decades thereafter.  And then, unexpectedly, there was only one superpower. In 1991, something like the ultimate step in the concentration of power seemed to occur. The weaker and less wealthy of the two rivals, its economy grown sclerotic even as its nuclear arsenal bulged, its vaunted military bogged down in an unwinnable war with Islamic fundamentalists in Afghanistan (backed by the United States, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan), suddenly vanished from the planet.  It left behind a dismantled wall in Berlin, a unified Germany, a liberated Eastern Europe, a series of former SSRs in Central Asia fending for themselves, and its bloc partner (and sometimes-rival-cum-enemy) China, still run by a “communist” party, gunning the automobile of state onto the capitalist highway under slogans like “to get rich is glorious.”   

Full Spectrum Dominance on a Unipolar Planet

As with the famous cheese of children’s rhyme, the United States now stood alone.  Never before had a single power of such stature, wealth, and military clout been left so triumphantly solitary, without the hint of a serious challenger anywhere. Economically, the only other system imaginable for a century had been banished to the history books. There was just one power and one economic system left in a moment of triumph the likes of which even the leaders of that winning state had neither imagined nor predicted. 

Initially, Washington was stunned. It took the powers-that-be almost a decade to fully absorb and react to what had happened. After all, as one observer then so famously put it, “the end of history” had been reached — and there, amid the rubble of other systems and powers, lay an imperial version of liberal democracy and a capitalist system freed of even the thought of global competitors and constraints. Or so it seemed.

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Bautista, Crisp-Sauray, and McKibben: A future to march for

[Next Sunday’s event in New York City is already being pre-billed as “the largest climate change demonstration in history.” (It doesn’t actually have that much competition.) My hope is that anyone who can get here will help make it impressively so, if for no other reason -- and there are plenty -- than because it feels good once in a while to know that you’re not alone. You’ll find all the information you need about the timing and logistics of the march by clicking here. So, if you can, turn out and join the 1,100 groups that have already endorsed the march and the 20 marching bands slated to be on hand. See you there! Tom Engelhardt]

It was June 12, 1982. My daughter was still in her stroller, my son as yet unborn, when my wife and I, six friends, and another child in a stroller joined an estimated million people in New York City at the largest antinuclear protest in history. All of the adults in our party had grown up in a world unsettled in a unique way: Armageddon had, for the first time, potentially become a secular event. End times were no longer God’s choice for us, but ours for ourselves. It seemed no mistake that, three decades into the Cold War, the nuclear readiness of the two superpowers was referred to as “mutual assured destruction,” about as graphic a phrase as you could find for the end of civilization; and, of course, it had its own acronym which, to us at least, seemed less like an abbreviation than sardonic commentary: MAD.

In 1979, a near-catastrophe at the Three Mile Island nuclear plant in Pennsylvania helped launch a new iteration of the antinuclear movement. Initially, it was focused on “peaceful” nuclear power, and then, amid a renewed superpower arms race, on the potential destruction of the planet in a MAD conflagration; in the atmosphere of that moment, that is, we found ourselves living with a renewed sense that the world might not be ours or anyone else’s for long.

The first nuclear weapon had been detonated at the White Sands Proving Ground in New Mexico on July 16, 1945, just four days before I turned one, which meant world-ending fears and dreams would be woven into my life. So, with a child of my own, it felt right to be in that giant crowd of protestors, marching near a contingent of hibakusha, or survivors, from the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic blasts that had, thanks to America’s “victory weapon,” ushered in the nuclear age.

In 1991, only nine years later, the Soviet Union, that other superpower, would disappear. If you had told me then, with the Berlin Wall down and not an enemy in sight, that almost a quarter of a century later — with two of our 1982 marchers dead — most of the rest of us would be planning to meet and march again, lest our children’s children have no world worth living in, I would have been surprised indeed. And I would have been no less surprised to learn that the U.S. and Russia still preserve, update, and upgrade monstrous nuclear arsenals that contain enough weapons to destroy a number of Earth-sized planets, or that those weapons continue to proliferate globally, or that, as we now know (given the “nuclear winter” phenomenon), even a “modest” regional nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan could result in an event of unimaginable horror for humanity. Told all this, I would undoubtedly have wondered where the then-much-talked-about post-Cold War “peace dividend” had gone.

Had you also told me that, on September 21, 2014, I would be planning to be out with my wife, my old friends, my son, my daughter, my son-in-law, and my grandson marching in New York City, but this time against a second human-produced potential apocalypse, and that it was already happening in something like slow motion, I would have been stunned.

And yet so it is, and there I will be at the People’s Climate March, and I wouldn’t be anywhere else that day. At some future moment, wouldn’t it be sad to say that humanity’s greatest achievement was to exploit to the fullest two energy sources — the atom and fossil fuels — capable of destroying the basis for our lives on this planet, and potentially much other life as well? What a strange possible epitaph for humanity: what we burned burned us.

At 70, this world won’t be mine for that much longer, so it’s not a matter of my life or my planet, but I only have to look at my grandson to know what’s at stake, to know that this is not the world he or his peers deserve. To make global warming his inheritance could represent the greatest crime in history, which means that those who run the giant energy companies (and the oil states that go with them) and who know better will be the ultimate criminals.

No single march, of course, will alter the tide — or perhaps I mean the greenhouse gases — of history, but you have to begin somewhere (and then not stop). And to do so, you have to believe that the human ability to destroy isn’t the best we have to offer and to remind yourself of our ability to protest, to hope, to dream, to act, and to say no to the criminals of history and yes to the children to come. Tom Engelhardt

Why we march
Stepping forth for a planet in peril
By Eddie Bautista, La Tonya Crisp-Sauray, and Bill McKibben

On Sunday, September 21st, a huge crowd will march through the middle of Manhattan. It will almost certainly be the largest rally about climate change in human history, and one of the largest political protests in many years in New York. More than 1,000 groups are coordinating the march — environmental justice groups, faith groups, labor groups — which means there’s no one policy ask. Instead, it’s designed to serve as a loud and pointed reminder to our leaders, gathering that week at the United Nations to discuss global warming, that the next great movement of the planet’s citizens centers on our survival and their pathetic inaction.

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Steve Fraser: The return of the titans

Think of this as the year that democracy of, by, and for the billionaires shall not perish from the Earth — not when we’re on a new electoral playing field in a political world in which distinctions are no longer made between unlimited money and unlimited speech.  In other words, these days, if you have billions of dollars, you can shout from the skies and the rest of us have to listen.  If, as Steve Fraser points out today, we’ve been witnessing the return of “family capitalism on steroids,” nowhere has it been bigger than in American politics, aided and abetted by that ultimate family institution, the Supremes (and I’m not, of course, talking about the classic Motown group).

We’re still almost two months from the midterm elections in which the Republicans already have the House of Representatives essentially wrapped up and ads for Senate races are zipping onto TV screens in “battleground states” at a dizzying pace.  To fund those ads and other campaign initiatives, dollars by the millions are pouring into the coffers of “dark money” outfits in a way guaranteed to leave the record for spending on midterm elections in a ditch at the side of the road.  We now have our first estimates of what election 2014 is going to look like as a billionaire’s playground; and count on it, you’re going to hear the words “record,” “billionaire,” and “ads” a lot more until November.

“Outside groups” have already spent $120 million on TV ads alone, more than half that sum coming from those dark-money groups that don’t have to let anyone know who their contributors are.  At the top of that shadowy list are six outfits linked to David and Charles Koch, the billionaire brothers from Wichita. Together, those groups have already sent a mind-spinning 44,000 ads into the politico-sphere in those battleground states, and the Kochs’ Americans for Prosperity (AFP) leads the pack with 27,000 of them. In the end, AFP alone is expected to put $125 million into this year’s midterm elections, a figure that should take your breath away and yet that’s only a start.

Sheldon Adelson, of casino fame, may, for example, put $100 million of his $31.6 billion fortune into this campaign season, shuttling much of it through dark-money outfits, including AFP. On the liberal side of the spectrum, environmentalist and billionaire Tom Steyer has pledged to sink $50 million into campaigns to promote candidates ready to act on global warming (though there is little question that, in the billionaire sweepstakes, the right-wing ones are going to outspend the liberal ones, and Republicans outspend Democrats).

In all of this, you can see the urge of America’s new crop of billionaires to “play god” at our expense and with our lives — to decide for us, ad by ad, dark-money outfit by dark-money outfit, how we should organize ourselves politically. Historian Steve Fraser, TomDispatch regular, author of Wall Street: America’s Dream Palace, and co-founder (with me) of the American Empire Project, has rubbed elbows with many a billionaire — on the page, if not in life. From this country’s earliest tycoons to the latest batch of family capitalists, he finds one overwhelming, unifying trait: a deep-seated belief, in a country that worships self- or family-made money, that the more billions you have, the more you should be listened to. In his upcoming book, The Age of Acquiescence: The Life and Death of American Resistance to Organized Wealth and Power, he explores how, in our second (even more) gilded age, others with little money also came to believe that, rather than resist it. Tom Engelhardt

Playing God
The rebirth of family capitalism or how the Koch Brothers, Sheldon Adelson, Sam Walton, Bill Gates, and other billionaires are undermining America
By Steve Fraser

George Baer was a railroad and coal mining magnate at the turn of the twentieth century.  Amid a violent and protracted strike that shut down much of the country’s anthracite coal industry, Baer defied President Teddy Roosevelt’s appeal to arbitrate the issues at stake, saying, “The rights and interests of the laboring man will be protected and cared for… not by the labor agitators, but by the Christian men of property to whom God has given control of the property rights of the country.”  To the Anthracite Coal Commission investigating the uproar, Baer insisted, “These men don’t suffer. Why hell, half of them don’t even speak English.”

We might call that adopting the imperial position.  Titans of industry and finance back then often assumed that they had the right to supersede the law and tutor the rest of America on how best to order its affairs.  They liked to play God.  It’s a habit that’s returned with a vengeance in our own time.

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Noam Chomsky: The fate of the Gaza ceasefire

Is there nowhere on the face of the Earth where opinion polls aren’t taken? In the wake of the 50-day Israeli assault on Gaza, parts of that tiny strip of land now look, according to photographs, like a moonscape of destruction. At least 10,000 homes were obliterated and thousands more damaged; at least 175 major factories were pummeled into the dust. Its only power plant was destroyed, damaging electricity, water, and sewage systems. Large apartment houses, as well as the ministry of education, schools, and other sites, were hit and sometimes reduced to so much rubble. It was all part of a massive Israeli assault on Hamas, several of whose senior leaders were assassinated, but also on the Palestinian population, involving what looked like collective punishment for its support of that organization or simply living in proximity to it. And indeed, with almost no hope of rebuilding much of their world any time soon, you might think that Palestinians would hold the Hamas leadership at least somewhat responsible for the destruction that has rained down, as assumedly the Israelis wanted them to. But a recent poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PSR), begun in the last day before the ceasefire took hold, and carried out, in part, amid the rubble that is now Gaza, suggests otherwise.

It finds that Palestinian opinion couldn’t be clearer.  Support hasn’t been this high for Hamas since 2006, when it won a fair and square democratic election. If a presidential vote were held today, the pollsters of PSR discovered, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh would beat Fatah’s Mahmoud Abbas hands down. Here are just a few of the findings: “79% [of Palestinians] believe that Hamas has won the Gaza War; 3% believe Israel came out the winner; and 17% believe the two sides were losers… If new presidential elections are held today and only two [candidates] were nominated, Haniyeh, for the first time since we have started asking about his popularity about eight years ago, would receive a majority of 61% and Abbas would receive 32%. [The] vote for Haniyeh stands at 53% in the Gaza Strip and 66% in the West Bank. Abbas receives 43% in the Gaza Strip and 25% in the West Bank… A majority of 53% believe that armed confrontation is the most effective means to establish a Palestinian state next to the state of Israel. Only 22% believe negotiation is the best means to establish a Palestinian state and 20% believe that popular non-violent resistance is the most effective route to statehood.”

As historically has often been the case, massive bombings and other assaults do not destroy the support of populations for movements or governments, but tend to solidify it. In other words, Israeli policy is reducing civilized life for Palestinians in a major way and yet increasing the urge both to fight on and the desire for revenge. It’s an ugly pattern and, as TomDispatch regular Noam Chomsky (whose latest book, Masters of Mankind, is due out this week) indicates today, it’s been going on in this same fashion for a remarkably long time, as Israel continues to gobble up Palestinian lands on the West Bank, while working to hem Palestinians in yet further in the Gaza Strip. Tom Engelhardt

Ceasefires in which violations never cease
What’s next for Israel, Hamas, and Gaza?
By Noam Chomsky

On August 26th, Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) both accepted a ceasefire agreement after a 50-day Israeli assault on Gaza that left 2,100 Palestinians dead and vast landscapes of destruction behind. The agreement calls for an end to military action by both Israel and Hamas, as well as an easing of the Israeli siege that has strangled Gaza for many years.

This is, however, just the most recent of a series of ceasefire agreements reached after each of Israel’s periodic escalations of its unremitting assault on Gaza. Throughout this period, the terms of these agreements remain essentially the same.  The regular pattern is for Israel, then, to disregard whatever agreement is in place, while Hamas observes it — as Israel has officially recognized — until a sharp increase in Israeli violence elicits a Hamas response, followed by even fiercer brutality. These escalations, which amount to shooting fish in a pond, are called “mowing the lawn” in Israeli parlance. The most recent was more accurately described as “removing the topsoil” by a senior U.S. military officer, appalled by the practices of the self-described “most moral army in the world.”

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Nick Turse: American monuments to failure in Africa?

In light of recent history, perhaps it’s time to update that classic U.S. Army recruitment campaign slogan from “be all that you can be” to “build all that you can build.”  Consider it an irony that, in an era when Congress struggles to raise enough money to give America’s potholed, overcrowded highways a helping hand, building new roads in Afghanistan proved no problem at all (even when they led nowhere).  In fact, the U.S. military spent billions of taxpayer dollars in both Afghanistan and Iraq on nation-building infrastructural efforts of all sorts, and the Pentagon’s Inspector General (IG) repeatedly reported on the failures, disasters, and boondoggles that resulted.  In 2012, for instance, the IG found that of the $10.6 billion in Afghan funding it examined, $7 billion was “potentially wasted.”  And this has never ended.  In 2014, the IG typically reported that “some 285 buildings, including barracks, medical clinics, and even fire stations built by the Army [in Afghanistan] are lined with substandard spray insulation so prone to ignition that they don’t meet international building codes.”

As of this year, more U.S. and NATO money had been “squandered” on the “reconstruction” of Afghanistan than was spent on the full post-World War-II Marshall Plan to put a devastated Europe back on its feet.  And how has all that spending turned out?  One thing is certain: those torrents of money helped create a devastating economy of corruption.  As for reconstruction, the Inspector General found mainly “poor planning, shoddy construction, mechanical failures, and inadequate oversight.”  

As TomDispatch’s Nick Turse, author of the award-winning book Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam, reminds us today, thanks to the counterinsurgency strategy that the U.S. military has pursued in these years, most of this spending came under the heading of “winning hearts and minds” in the countries the U.S. invaded.  Any American batallion-level commander in an Afghan village could essentially reach into his pocket and pull out the funds to build a schoolhouse.  And yet, in the United States, much of our educational infrastructure, built after World War II for the Baby Boomer generation, is in need of reconstruction funds that are no longer in any pockets.  The same holds true for American airports (none having been built in almost 20 years), bridges (almost half of them needing “major structural investments” in the next 15 years and 11% now considered “structurally deficient”), highways, dams, levees, sewage and water systems, and the like.  In 2013, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the country’s infrastructure a grade of D+ and estimated that, to keep the U.S. a fully functioning first-world country, some $3.6 trillion dollars would have to be invested in infrastructural work by 2020. 

Fat chance.  Though no one ever comments on it, the constant spending of money to win hearts and minds in distant lands should be considered passing strange when hearts and minds are at stake in Rhode Island, Arkansas, and Oregon.  Stranger yet, the group designated to do that hearts-and-minds construction is also dedicated to destroying infrastructure in times of conflict.  It shouldn’t be surprising that nation-building, school by school, road by road, might not be its strong point.

Worse yet, as Nick Turse reports, continuing his remarkable ongoing investigation into the U.S. military’s “pivot” to Africa, even after the disasters of Afghanistan and Iraq, it seems that there are hearts and minds still to win out there and all of Africa to build in. Tom Engelhardt

How not to win hearts and minds in Africa
Hushed Pentagon investigation slaps U.S. Africa Command’s humanitarian activities
By Nick Turse

[This story was reported in partnership with the Investigative Fund at the Nation Institute. Additional funding was provided through the generosity of Adelaide Gomer.]

DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania — Movie night in Mouloud, Djibouti.  Skype lessons in Ethiopia.  Veterinary training assistance in Garissa, Kenya.  And in this country on the east coast of Africa, work on both primary and secondary schools and a cistern to provide clean water.  These are all-American good works, but who is doing them — and why?  

As I sit in a room filled with scores of high-ranking military officers resplendent in their dress uniforms — Kenyans in their khakis, Burundians and Ugandans clad in olive, Tanzanians in deep forest green sporting like-colored berets and red epaulets with crossed rifles on their shoulders — chances are that the U.S. military is carrying out some mission somewhere on this vast continent.  It might be a kidnapping raid or a training exercise.  It could be an airstrike or the construction of a drone base.  Or, as I wait for the next speaker to approach the lectern at the “Land Forces East Africa” conference in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, it could be a humanitarian operation run not by civilians in the aid business, but by military troops with ulterior motives — part of a near-continent-wide campaign utilizing the core tenets of counterinsurgency strategy.

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Michael Klare: Oil rush in America

Whatever you may imagine, “peak oil” has not been discredited as a concept, a statement no less true for “peak fossil fuels.”  Think of them instead as postponed.  We are, after all, on a finite planet that, by definition, holds a finite amount of oil, natural gas, and coal.  Sooner or later, as such deposits get used up (no matter the new techniques that might be invented to extract more of the ever tougher stuff from the earth), we will reach a “peak” of production from which it will be all downhill.

That’s a simple fact to which, as it happens, there’s a catch.  Here, according to the New York Times, is the key finding from the latest leaked 127-page draft report of the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which manages to use the word “risk” 351 times, “vulnerable” or “vulnerability” 61 times, and “irreversible” 48 times: “The report found that companies and governments had identified reserves of these [fossil] fuels at least four times larger than could safely be burned if global warming is to be kept to a tolerable level.”

In other words, while “peak oil” may be a perfectly on-target concept, “peak existence” turns out to precede it by decades and from that far more consequential “peak” we are, unlike “peak oil,” already on the downhill slide.  The scientists who produced the IPCC’s draft report expect the average global temperature to increase by 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit by mid-century and at least 6.7 degrees by its end, which will leave humanity on a staggeringly less habitable planet.

The damage, including the melting of the Greenland ice shield, which alone could raise global sea levels by an average of 23 feet, will be irreversible (at least on a historical — that is, human — timescale).  Faced with this relatively straightforward reality, as TomDispatch regular Michael Klare, the author of The Race for What’s Left, reports today, oil companies are using remarkable ingenuity and spending billions of dollars to reach ever deeper, ever more difficult to extract, and ever more environmentally treacherous deposits of fossil fuels.  No less strikingly, the Obama administration has been working energetically to pave the way for them to do so — to, that is, make real headway in removing those deposits four times larger than will be even faintly comfortable for our future.  Not only is it doing so in a thoroughly drill-baby-drill spirit of cooperation with the globe’s largest and most avaricious energy outfits, but it’s bragging about it, too. 

In my childhood, I remember ads that fascinated me.  I’m not sure what they were selling or promoting, but they showed scenes of multiple error, including, if I remember rightly, five-legged cows floating through clouds.  They were always tagged with some question like: What’s wrong with this picture?  Today, as in those ads, Klare offers us a picture filled with the energy exploitation and global-warming equivalent of those five-legged cows in the clouds and asks the same question. Tom Engelhardt

Oil is back!
A global warming president presides over a drill-baby-drill America
By Michael T. Klare

Considering all the talk about global warming, peak oil, carbon divestment, and renewable energy, you’d think that oil consumption in the United States would be on a downward path.  By now, we should certainly be witnessing real progress toward a post-petroleum economy.  As it happens, the opposite is occurring.  U.S. oil consumption is on an upward trajectory, climbing by 400,000 barrels per day in 2013 alone — and, if current trends persist, it should rise again both this year and next.

In other words, oil is back.  Big time.  Signs of its resurgence abound.  Despite what you may think, Americans, on average, are driving more miles every day, not fewer, filling ever more fuel tanks with ever more gasoline, and evidently feeling ever less bad about it.  The stigma of buying new gas-guzzling SUVs, for instance, seems to have vanished; according to CNN Money, nearly one out of three vehicles sold today is an SUV.  As a result of all this, America’s demand for oil grew more than China’s in 2013, the first time that’s happened since 1999.

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Anya Schiffrin: Who knew we were living in the golden age of investigative journalism?

Almost a decade ago, I spent more than a year freelancing for a major metropolitan newspaper — one of the biggest in the country. I would, on an intermittent basis, work out of a newsroom that appeared to be in a state of constant churn. Whoever wasn’t being downsized seemed to be jumping ship or madly searching for a life raft. It looked as if bean counters were beating reporters and editors into submission or sending them out of the business and into journalism schools where they would train a new generation of young reporters. For just what wasn’t clear. Jobs that would no longer exist? 

Before the special series I was working on was complete, my co-writer — the paper’s Washington investigative editor — had left for the friendlier confines of academia and the editor who greenlit the series had resigned in the face of management’s demands for steep cuts to newsroom staff. It seemed as if the only remaining person associated with the series was a gifted photographer (who left for greener pastures within a year).

I thought I was witnessing the end of an era, the death of an institution. 

At the same time, I was also working for a small but growing online publication that managed to produce three original articles each week — a mix of commentary, news analysis, and original investigative reporting.  More than a decade into that gig, the Nation Institute’s TomDispatch.com is still going strong, still publishing three original articles per week, and syndicating that content out to dozens and dozens of online publications, reaching hundreds of thousands of potential readers.

Over that time, online outlets have come and gone, venerable newspapers have closed up shop, predictions of doom — of the death of print publications, the demise of investigative reporting (maybe even of journalism itself) — have been aired repeatedly. And it’s true that in this new era it hasn’t been easy to make a living as a journalist or keep a media outlet afloat.  Yet, as a reader, I notice something else: I can’t even hope to read every eye-catching article that flashes by on my Twitter feed or piles up in my inbox from one listserve or another. I end up with 25 open windows in my taskbar — top-quality journalism from legacy media outlets and new digital magazines that I hope I might be able to skim later that day or the next or sometime before my laptop slows to a crawl under the weight of so much groundbreaking reporting.

It turned out that, 10 years ago, I actually was witnessing the end of an era while living through the formative stages of another.  It’s been a moment in which stories published on a relatively tiny website like TomDispatch circle the globe in a flash and a writer like me, who never went to journalism school, can see his articles almost instantly translated into Spanish, Japanese, Italian, and languages I don’t even recognize, and then reposted on websites from South America to Africa to Asia. In other words, they sometimes reach the sort of global audience that once might have been a stretch even for a reporter at a prestigious mainstream media outlet. 

Over these years, I’ve also watched others who have passed through the Nation Institute wade into a scary media market and find great success. TomDispatch’s own former intern Andy Kroll, for example, has gone on to break one important story after another at Mother Jones, a print publication that now thrives online, while former Nation Institute program associate Liliana Segura has taken a top post at First Look Media, one of the most dynamic and talked-about new media ventures in years. And they are hardly anomalies.

In her new book, Global Muckraking: 100 Years of Investigative Journalism from Around the World, Anya Schiffrin, the director of the media and communications program at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, chronicles the brave new world of global journalism in the age of the Internet (and how the stage was set for the new golden age of the reader we’re living in). In her inaugural article for TomDispatch, the longtime foreign correspondent reveals the investigative exposés by today’s top global muckrakers that you missed and explains why investigative journalism is on the rise, not the decline, worldwide. 

From Asia to Central America, a new generation of Nellie Blys and Ida Tarbells, Seymour Hershes and Rachel Carsons, is breaking one big story after another with equal parts old-fashioned shoe leather and twenty-first-century knowhow. “The fact that journalists have been calling attention to some of the same problems for more than a hundred years might make one despondent, but it shouldn’t…” Schiffrin writes in her book. “That the battles are still going on should remind us that new abuses, new forms of corruption, are always emerging, providing new opportunities and new responsibilities for the media.” Luckily, there is a new generation of reporters around the world, she points out, rising to the challenge. Nick Turse

The fall and rise of investigative journalism
From Asia to Africa to Latin America, muckrakers have corrupt officials and corporate cronies on the run
By Anya Schiffrin

In our world, the news about the news is often grim. Newspapers are shrinking, folding up, or being cut loose by their parent companies. Layoffs are up and staffs are down. That investigative reporter who covered the state capitol — she’s not there anymore. Newspapers like the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, and the Chicago Tribune have suffered from multiple rounds of layoffs over the years. You know the story and it would be easy enough to imagine that it was the world’s story as well. But despite a long run of journalistic tough times, the loss of advertising dollars, and the challenge of the Internet, there’s been a blossoming of investigative journalism across the globe from Honduras to Myanmar, New Zealand to Indonesia.

Woodward and Bernstein may be a fading memory in this country, but journalists with names largely unknown in the U.S. like Khadija Ismayilova, Rafael Marques, and Gianina Segnina are breaking one blockbuster story after another, exposing corrupt government officials and their crony corporate pals in Azerbaijan, Angola, and Costa Rica. As I travel the world, I’m energized by the journalists I meet who are taking great risks to shine much needed light on shadowy wrongdoing.

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Aviva Chomsky: What’s at stake in the border debate

The militarization of the police has been underway since 9/11, but only in the aftermath of the six-shot killing of an unarmed teenager in Ferguson, Missouri, with photos of streets in a St. Louis suburb that looked like occupied Iraq or Afghanistan, has the fact of it, the shock of it, seemed to hit home widely.  Congressional representatives are now proposing bills to stop the Pentagon from giving the latest in war equipment to local police forces.  The president even interrupted his golfing vacation on Martha’s Vineyard to return to Washington, in part for “briefings” on the ongoing crisis in Ferguson.  So militarization is finally a major story.

And that’s no small thing.  On the other hand, the news from Ferguson can’t begin to catch the full process of militarization this society has been undergoing or the way America’s distant wars are coming home. We have, at least, a fine book by Radley Balko on how the police have been militarized.  Unfortunately, on the subject of the militarization of the country, there is none.  And yet from armed soldiers in railway stations to the mass surveillance of Americans, from the endless celebration of our “warriors” to the domestic use of drones, this country has been undergoing a significant process of militarization (and, if there were such a word, national securitization).

Perhaps nowhere has this been truer than on America’s borders and on the subject of immigration.  It’s no longer “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”  The U.S. is in the process of becoming a citadel nation with up-armored, locked-down borders and a Border Patrol operating in a “Constitution-free zone” deep into the country.  The news is regularly filled with discussions of the need to “bolster border security” in ways that would have been unimaginable to previous generations.  In the meantime, the Border Patrol is producing its own set of Ferguson-style killings as, like SWAT teams around the U.S., it adopts an ever more militarized mindset and the weaponry to go with it.  As James Tomsheck, the former head of internal affairs for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, put it recently, “It has been suggested by Border Patrol leadership that they are the Marine Corps of the U.S. law enforcement community.  The Border Patrol has a self-identity of a paramilitary border security force and not that of a law enforcement organization.”

It’s in this context that the emotional flare-up over undocumented Central American children crossing the southern border by the thousands took place.  In fact, without the process of militarization, that “debate” — with its discussion of “invasions,” “surges,” “terrorists,” and “tip of the spear” solutions — makes no sense.  Its language was far more appropriate to the invasion and occupation of Iraq than the arrival in this country of desperate kids, fleeing hellish conditions, and often looking for their parents.

Aviva Chomsky is the author of a new history of just how the words “immigration” and “illegal” became wedded — it wasn’t talked about that way not so many decades ago — and how immigrants became demonized in ways that are familiar in American history.  The Los Angeles Times has hailed Undocumented: How Immigration Became Illegal for adding “smart, new, and provocative scholarship to the immigration debate.” As in her book, so today at TomDispatch, Chomsky puts the most recent version of the immigration “debate” into a larger context, revealing just what we prefer not to see in our increasingly up-armored nation. Tom Engelhardt

America’s continuing border crisis
The real story behind the “invasion” of the children
By Aviva Chomsky

Call it irony or call it a nightmare, but the “crisis” of Central American children crossing the U.S.-Mexican border, which lasted for months amid fervent and angry debate, is now fading from the news.  The media stories have been legion, the words expended many.  And yet, as the “crisis” leaves town, as the sound and fury die down and attention shifts elsewhere (even though the children continue to arrive), the real factors that would have made sense of what’s been happening remain essentially untouched and largely unmentioned.  It couldn’t be stranger — or sadder.

Since late June 2014, the “surge” of those thousands of desperate children entering this country has been in the news.  Sensational stories were followed by fervent demonstrations and counter-demonstrations with emotions running high.  And it’s not a debate that stayed near the southern border either.  In my home state, Massachusetts, Governor Deval Patrick tearfully offered to detain some of the children — and that was somehow turned into a humanitarian gesture that liberals applauded and anti-immigrant activists decried.  Meanwhile the mayor of Lynn, a city north of Boston, echoed nativists on the border, announcing that her town didn’t want any more immigrants.  The months of this sort of emotion, partisanship, and one-upmanship have, however, diverted attention from the real issues.  As so often is the case, there is so much more to the story than what we’ve been hearing in the news.

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Eduardo Galeano: A lost and found history of lives and dreams (some broken)

Who isn’t a fan of something — or someone? So consider this my fan’s note. To my mind, Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano is among the greats of our time. His writing has “it” — that indefinable quality you can’t describe but know as soon as you read it. He’s created a style that combines the best of journalism, history, and fiction and a form for his books that, as far as I know, has no name but involves short bursts of almost lyrical reportage, often about events long past. As it turns out, he also carries “it” with him. I was his English-language book editor years ago and can testify to that, even though on meeting him you might not initially think so.  He has nothing of the showboat about him. In person, he’s almost self-effacing and yet somehow he brings out in others the urge to tell stories as they’ve never told them before.

Call it charisma if you want (though I still remember a professor of mine pointing out, in reference to Chinese leader Mao Zedong, that what’s charisma to one is zilch to another).  Explain it as you will, from Memory of Fire, his three-volume history of the Americas, to his recent Children of the Days, a kind of prayer book for our time, he’s never stopped telling us our own stories in ways we haven’t heard them before.

At some point in Galeano’s life as a collector of stories, history decided to trust him and spilled its secrets to him. In 2009, he returned the favor by writing one of the great books of this century, Mirrors, a history of humanity in 366 episodes, from our first myths to late last night. Thanks to his publisher, Nation Books, and his devoted literary agent, Susan Bergholz, I’ve chosen 12 of my own favorites from that work for your summer pleasure. Think of this post as a Galeano-esque mini-history of our last century of turmoil through a kaleidoscope of “characters,” human and inanimate — and then get your hands on Mirrors and read the whole thing for yourself. Tom Engelhardt

Century of disaster
Riddles, lies, and lives — from Fidel Castro and Muhammad Ali to Albert Einstein and Barbie
By Eduardo Galeano

[The following passages are excerpted from Eduardo Galeano’s history of humanity, Mirrors (Nation Books).]

Stalin

He learned to write in the language of Georgia, his homeland, but in the seminary the monks made him speak Russian.

Years later in Moscow, his south Caucasus accent still gave him away.

So he decided to become more Russian than the Russians. Was not Napoleon, who hailed from Corsica, more French than the French? And was not Catherine the Great, who was German, more Russian than the Russians?

The Georgian, Iosif Dzhugashvili, chose a Russian name. He called himself Stalin, which means “steel.”

The man of steel expected his son to be made of steel too: from childhood, Stalin’s son Yakov was tempered in fire and ice and shaped by hammer blows.

It did not work. He was his mother’s child. At the age of 19, Yakov wanted no more of it, could bear no more.

He pulled the trigger.

The gunshot did not kill him.

He awoke in the hospital. At the foot of the bed, his father commented:

“You can’t even get that right.”

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Matthew Harwood: One nation under SWAT

Think of it as a different kind of blowback.  Even when you fight wars in countries thousands of miles distant, they still have an eerie way of making the long trip home.

Take the latest news from Bergen County, New Jersey, one of the richest counties in the country.  Its sheriff’s department is getting two mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles, or MRAPs — 15 tons of protective equipment — for a song from the Pentagon.  And there’s nothing special in that.  The Pentagon has handed out 600 of them for nothing since 2013, with plenty more to come.  They’re surplus equipment, mostly from our recent wars, and perhaps they will indeed prove handy for a sheriff fretting about insurgent IEDs (roadside bombs) in New Jersey or elsewhere in the country.  When it comes to the up-armoring and militarization of America’s police forces, this is completely run-of-the-mill stuff.

The only thing newsworthy in the Bergen story is that someone complained.  To be exact, Bergen County Executive Kathleen Donovan spoke up in opposition to the transfer of the equipment.  “I think,” she said, “we have lost our way if you start talking about military vehicles on the streets of Bergen County.”  And she bluntly criticized the decision to accept the MRAPs as the “absolute wrong thing to do in Bergen County to try to militarize our county.”  Her chief of staff offered a similar comment: “They are combat vehicles. Why do we need a combat vehicle on the streets of Bergen County?”

Sheriff Michael Saudino, on the other hand, insists that the MRAPs aren’t “combat vehicles” at all.  Forget the fact that they were developed for and used in combat situations.  He suggests instead that one good reason for having them — other than the fact that they are free (except for postage, gas, and upkeep) — is essentially to keep up with the Joneses.  As he pointed out, the Bergen County police already have two MRAPs, and his department has none and, hey, self-respect matters!  (“Should our SWAT guys be any less protected than the county guys?” he asked in a debate with Donovan.)

striking recent report from the American Civil Liberties Union indicates that, as in Bergen County, policing is being militarized nationwide in all sorts of unsettling ways.  It is, more precisely, being SWATified (a word that doesn’t yet exist, but certainly should).  Matthew Harwood, senior writer and editor for the ACLU, as well as TomDispatch regular, offers a graphic look at just where policing in America is heading. Welcome to Kabul, USA. Tom Engelhardt

To terrify and occupy
How the excessive militarization of the police is turning cops into counterinsurgents
By Matthew Harwood

Jason Westcott was afraid.

One night last fall, he discovered via Facebook that a friend of a friend was planning with some co-conspirators to break in to his home. They were intent on stealing Wescott’s handgun and a couple of TV sets. According to the Facebook message, the suspect was planning on “burning” Westcott, who promptly called the Tampa Bay police and reported the plot.

According to the Tampa Bay Times, the investigating officers responding to Westcott’s call had a simple message for him: “If anyone breaks into this house, grab your gun and shoot to kill.”

Around 7:30 pm on May 27th, the intruders arrived. Westcott followed the officers’ advice, grabbed his gun to defend his home, and died pointing it at the intruders.  They used a semiautomatic shotgun and handgun to shoot down the 29-year-old motorcycle mechanic.  He was hit three times, once in the arm and twice in his side, and pronounced dead upon arrival at the hospital.

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Sandy Tolan: Going wild in the Gaza war

The carnage in the Gaza Strip has been horrendous: more than 1,900 dead, mainly civilians; its sole power plant destroyed (and so electricity and water denied and a sewage disaster looming); 30,000 to 40,000 homes and buildings damaged or destroyed; hundreds of thousands of residents put to flight with nowhere to go; and numerous U.N. schools or facilities housing some of those refugees hit by Israeli firepower. And then there was the evident targeting by the Israelis of the Gazan economy itself: 175 major factories taken out, according to the New York Times, in a place that already had an estimated unemployment rate of 47%.

The last weeks represent the latest episode in a grim, unbalanced tale of the destructive urges of both the Israeli government and Hamas, in a situation in which the most fundamental thing has been the desire to punish civilians.  Worse yet, indiscriminate assaults on civilian populations create the basis for more of the same — fiercer support in Israel for governments committed to ever worse actions and ever more recruits for Hamas or successor organizations potentially far worse and more fundamentalist), and of course more children traumatized and primed for future acts of terror and revenge.

Think of it as the Middle Eastern equivalent of a self-fulfilling prophecy, which means it hardly even qualifies as a prediction to say that Israel’s violent and punishing acts against the civilian population of Gaza will settle nothing whatsoever. In fact, for the Israelis, as Sandy Tolan suggests today, the Gazan War of 2014 may prove a defeat, both in the arena of global opinion (U.S. polls show that young Americans are ever more sympathetic to the Palestinians and disapproving of Israeli actions) and in relation to Hamas itself. History indicates that air strikes and other attacks meant to break the “will” of a populace, and so of a movement’s hold on it, generally only create more support.

These have been the days of the whirlwind in Gaza and in Israel, but don’t stop there. If you want a hair-raising experience, put these events in a larger regional context.

Following 9/11, the Bush administration and its neocon supporters dubbed the area that stretched from North Africa to Central Asia “the Greater Middle East” and referred to that vast expanse as “the arc of instability.” At the time, despite their largely Muslim populations, the nations of that sprawling region had relatively little in common; nor, on the whole, was it particularly unstable, even if the roiling Israeli-Palestinian situation already sat at its heart.

Ruled largely by strongmen and autocrats, those nations remained in a grim post-Cold War state of stasis. Three American interventions — in Afghanistan (2001), Iraq (2003), and Libya (2011) — blew holes through the region, sparking bitter inter-ethnic and religious conflict, as well as an Arab Spring (largely suppressed by now), while transforming most of the Greater Middle East into a genuine arc of instability. Today, what’s happening there qualifies as the perfect maelstrom, as yet more states and groups, insurgent, extremist, or otherwise, are drawn into its maw of destruction.

To start on the eastern reaches of the Greater Middle East, Pakistan is now a destabilized democracy with a fierce set of fundamentalist insurgencies operating within and from its territory; Afghanistan is an almost 13-year nation-building disaster where the Taliban is resurgent and, in the latest “insider attack” at its top military academy, an Afghan soldier considered an American “ally” managed to kill a U.S. major general sent to the country to help “stand up” its security forces. Iraq is a tripartite disaster area in which another American-trained and -equipped army stood down rather than up and in which an extreme al-Qaeda offshoot, the Islamic State (IS) is at the moment ascendant. It has routed Iraqi and Syrian forces, and most recently, the supposedly fierce Kurdish pesh merga militia in northern Iraq, while endangering the Kurdish capital and possibly seizing the country’s largest dam. Turkish and Syrian Kurdish insurgents are being drawn into the fight in Iraq, as once again is the U.S.

Syria itself is no longer a country at all, but a warring set of extremist outfits facing what’s left of the patrimony (and military) of the al-Assad family.  In Lebanon last week, regular army units found themselves battling IS extremists and their captured American tanks for the control of a border town. In Egypt, the military is back in power atop a disintegrating economy.  In Libya, the chaos following the U.S./NATO intervention that led to the fall of autocrat Muammar Gaddafi never ended.  Recently, factional militias fighting in Tripoli, the capital, managed to destroy its international airport, while diplomatic missions, including the U.S. one, were withdrawn in haste, and now the Egyptians are threatening an intervention of their own.  Meanwhile, reverberations from the chaos in Libya have been spreading across North Africa and heading south.  Only Iran (eternally under threat from the U.S. and Israel), Saudi Arabia (which helped bankroll the rise of the IS), and the Gulf States seem to have remained — thus far — relatively aloof from the chaos.

In sum, the vast region the Bush people so blithely called the arc of instability seems to be heading for utter chaos or a mega-conflict, while the predicted “cakewalk” of American forces into Iraq managed, in barely a moment in historical time, to essentially obliterate the regional borders set up by the European colonial powers after World War I. In other words, a world is being unified in turmoil and extremism, as thousands die and millions are uprooted from their homes, and all of this now surrounds the volatile, still destabilizing center that is the Palestinian/Israeli nightmare. There, as Sandy Tolan, a TomDispatch regular and the author of The Lemon Tree: An Arab, a Jew, and the Heart of the Middle East, points out, both Tel Aviv and Washington have, in recent years, ignored every chance to take a less violent path and so encouraged the arrival of the maelstrom. Tom Engelhardt

Blown chances in Gaza
Israel and the U.S. miss many chances to avoid war
By Sandy Tolan

Alongside the toll of death and broken lives, perhaps the saddest reality of the latest Gaza war, like the Gaza wars before it, is how easy it would have been to avoid. For the last eight years, Israel and the U.S. had repeated opportunities to opt for a diplomatic solution in Gaza. Each time, they have chosen war, with devastating consequences for the families of Gaza.

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Nick Turse: Christmas in July and the collapse of America’s great African experiment

On return from his recent reporting trip to Africa, Nick Turse told me the following tale, which catches something of the nature of our battered world.  At a hotel bar in Juba, the capital of South Sudan, he attended an informal briefing with a representative of a major nongovernmental organization (NGO).  At one point, the briefer commented that just one more crisis might sink the whole aid operation.  He thought she was referring to South Sudan, whose bottomless set of problems include unending civil war, no good prospects for peace, impending famine, poor governance, and a lack of the sort of infrastructure that could make a dent in such a famine.  Nick responded accordingly, only to be corrected.  She didn’t just mean South Sudan, she said, but the entire global NGO system.  Given the chaos of the present moment across the Greater Middle East and elsewhere, global aid operations were, she insisted, on the brink. They were all, she told him, just one catastrophe away from the entire system collapsing.

I have to admit that as I watch the civilian carnage in Gaza; catastrophically devolving Iraq; the nightmare of Syria; the chaotic situation in Libya where, thanks to militia fighting, the capital’s international airport is now in ruins; the grim events surrounding Ukraine, which seem to be leading to an eerie, almost inconceivable revival of the Cold War ethos; not to speak of the situation in Afghanistan, where bad only becomes worse in the midst of an election from hell and the revival of the Taliban, I have a similar eerie feeling: just one more thing might tip this planet into… well, what?

And then, of course, I read Nick Turse’s second report from Africa, up-close-and-personal from South Sudan.  It’s another place the U.S. chose as one of its special (un-)nation building projects and has seen it go to hell in a hand basket on a continent parts of which seem to be destabilizing as we watch.  Now, I find myself wondering whether just one more disaster, one political or military catastrophe, might push us all over the edge of… well, who knows what?  Tom Engelhardt

As a man-made famine looms, Christmas comes early to South Sudan
The limits of America’s African experiment in nation building
By Nick Turse

[This story was reported in partnership with the Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute. Additional funding was provided through the generosity of Adelaide Gomer.]

Juba, South Sudan — The soft glow of the dancing white lights is a dead giveaway.  It’s Christmas in July at the U.S. Embassy compound.  Behind high walls topped with fierce-looking metal impediments meant to discourage climbers, there’s a party under way.

Close your eyes and you could be at a stateside summer barbeque or an office holiday party.  Even with them open, the local realities of dirt roads and dirty water, civil war, mass graves, and nightly shoot-to-kill curfews seem foreign. These walls, it turns out, are even higher than they look.

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Noam Chomsky: Why national security has nothing to do with security

Think of it as the true end of the beginning.  Last week, Theodore “Dutch” Van Kirk, the final member of the 12-man crew of the Enola Gay, the plane (named after its pilot’s supportive mother) that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, died at age 93.   When that first A-bomb left its bomb bay at 8:15 on the morning of August 6, 1945, and began its descent toward its target, the Aioli (“Live Together”) Bridge, it was inscribed with a series of American messages, some obscene, including “Greetings to the Emperor from the men of the Indianapolis.” (That ship had delivered to the Pacific island of Tinian parts of the very bomb that would turn Hiroshima into an inferno of smoke and fire — “that awful cloud,” Paul Tibbetts, Jr., the Enola Gay’s pilot, would call it — and afterward was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine with the loss of hundreds of sailors.)

The bomb, dubbed Little Boy, that had gestated in the belly of the Enola Gay represented not only the near endpoint of a bitter global war of almost unimaginable destruction, but the birthing of something new.  The way for its use had been paved by an evolution in warfare: the increasing targeting of civilian populations from the air (something that can be seen again today in the carnage of Gaza).  The history of that grim development extends from German airship bombings of London (1915) by way of Guernica (1937), Shanghai (1937), and Coventry (1940), to the fire bombings of Dresden (1945) and Tokyo (1945) in the last year of World War II.  It even had an evolutionary history in the human imagination, where for decades writers (among others) had dreamed of the unparalleled release of previously unknown forms of energy for military purposes.

On August 7, 1945, a previous age was ending and a new one was dawning.  In the nuclear era, city-busting weapons would be a dime a dozen and would spread from the superpowers to many other countries, including Great Britain, China, India, Pakistan, North Korea, and Israel.  Targeted by the planet’s major nuclear arsenals would be the civilian inhabitants not just of single cities but of scores and scores of cities, even of the planet itself.  On August 6th, 70 years ago, the possibility of the apocalypse passed out of the hands of God or the gods and into human hands, which meant a new kind of history had begun whose endpoint is unknowable, though we do know that even a “modest” exchange of nuclear weapons between India and Pakistan would not only devastate South Asia, but thanks to the phenomenon of nuclear winter also cause widespread famine on a planetary scale.

In other words, 70 years later, the apocalypse is us.  Yet in the United States, the only nuclear bomb you’re likely to read about is Iran’s (even though that country possesses no such weapon).  For a serious discussion of the U.S. nuclear arsenal, those more than 4,800 increasingly ill-kept weapons that could incinerate several Earth-sized planets, you need to look not to the country’s major newspapers or news programs but to comic John Oliver — or TomDispatch regular Noam Chomsky. Tom Engelhardt

How many minutes to midnight?
Hiroshima Day 2014
By Noam Chomsky

If some extraterrestrial species were compiling a history of Homo sapiens, they might well break their calendar into two eras: BNW (before nuclear weapons) and NWE (the nuclear weapons era).  The latter era, of course, opened on August 6, 1945, the first day of the countdown to what may be the inglorious end of this strange species, which attained the intelligence to discover the effective means to destroy itself, but — so the evidence suggests — not the moral and intellectual capacity to control its worst instincts.

Day one of the NWE was marked by the “success” of Little Boy, a simple atomic bomb.  On day four, Nagasaki experienced the technological triumph of Fat Man, a more sophisticated design.  Five days later came what the official Air Force history calls the “grand finale,” a 1,000-plane raid — no mean logistical achievement — attacking Japan’s cities and killing many thousands of people, with leaflets falling among the bombs reading “Japan has surrendered.” Truman announced that surrender before the last B-29 returned to its base.

Those were the auspicious opening days of the NWE.  As we now enter its 70th year, we should be contemplating with wonder that we have survived.  We can only guess how many years remain.

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Tom Engelhardt: Who rules Washington?

The rise to power of the national security state
By Tom Engelhardt

As every schoolchild knows, there are three check-and-balance branches of the U.S. government: the executive, Congress, and the judiciary. That’s bedrock Americanism and the most basic high school civics material. Only one problem: it’s just not so.

During the Cold War years and far more strikingly in the twenty-first century, the U.S. government has evolved.  It sprouted a fourth branch: the national security state, whose main characteristic may be an unquenchable urge to expand its power and reach.  Admittedly, it still lacks certain formal prerogatives of governmental power.  Nonetheless, at a time when Congress and the presidency are in a check-and-balance ballet of inactivity that would have been unimaginable to Americans of earlier eras, the Fourth Branch is an ever more unchecked and unbalanced power center in Washington.  Curtained off from accountability by a penumbra of secrecy, its leaders increasingly are making nitty-gritty policy decisions and largely doing what they want, a situation illuminated by a recent controversy over the possible release of a Senate report on CIA rendition and torture practices.

All of this is or should be obvious, but remains surprisingly unacknowledged in our American world. The rise of the Fourth Branch began at a moment of mobilization for a global conflict, World War II.  It gained heft and staying power in the Cold War of the second half of the twentieth century, when that other superpower, the Soviet Union, provided the excuse for expansion of every sort. 

Its officials bided their time in the years after the fall of the Soviet Union, when “terrorism” had yet to claim the landscape and enemies were in short supply.  In the post-9/11 era, in a phony “wartime” atmosphere, fed by trillions of taxpayer dollars, and under the banner of American “safety,” it has grown to unparalleled size and power.  So much so that it sparked a building boom in and around the national capital (as well as elsewhere in the country).  In their 2010 Washington Post series “Top Secret America,” Dana Priest and William Arkin offered this thumbnail summary of the extent of that boom for the U.S. Intelligence Community: “In Washington and the surrounding area,” they wrote, “33 building complexes for top-secret intelligence work are under construction or have been built since September 2001. Together they occupy the equivalent of almost three Pentagons or 22 U.S. Capitol buildings — about 17 million square feet of space.”  And in 2014, the expansion is ongoing.

In this century, a full-scale second “Defense Department,” the Department of Homeland Security, was created.  Around it has grown up a mini-version of the military-industrial complex, with the usual set of consultants, K Street lobbyists, political contributions, and power relations: just the sort of edifice that President Eisenhower warned Americans about in his famed farewell address  in 1961.  In the meantime, the original military-industrial complex has only gained strength and influence.

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Nick Turse: An East-West showdown in the heart of Africa?

For the last two years, TomDispatch Managing Editor Nick Turse has been following the Pentagon and the latest U.S. global command, AFRICOM, as they oversaw the expanding operations of the American military across that continent: drones, a special ops surge, interventions, training missions, bases (even if not called bases), proxy wars.  Short of a major conflict, you name it and it’s probably happening.  Washington’s move into Africa seems connected as well to the destabilization of parts of that continent and the rise of various terror groups across it, another subject Nick has been following.  With rare exceptions, only recently have aspects of the Obama administration’s largely below-the-radar-screen “pivot” to Africa made it into the mainstream media.  Even more recently, global chaos from Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria to Ukraine has driven it out again.  As a result, most Americans have no sense of how their future and Africa’s are being entwined in possibly explosive ways. 

With this in mind, and with the support of the Nation Institute’s Investigative Fund (as well as the generosity of Adelaide Gomer), Nick has gone to Tanzania and South Sudan to explore the situation further himself.  Today, as the first fruits of that trip, TomDispatch has a major story on a development that has, until now, remained distinctly below the radar screen: the Africa-wide contest between the globe’s “sole superpower,” the U.S., and its preeminent rising economic power, China, over which will benefit most from the exploitation of that continent. 

Over the next several months, there will be more pieces from Nick on America’s growing stake in and effect on Africa.  The next will address a looming crisis in the world’s youngest nation.  He offers a preview: “My aid agency contacts say that, in September, the United Nations will officially declare a famine in large swaths of South Sudan.  As one humanitarian worker here put it to me, add famine to war and you have a powder keg.  ‘It’s going to get worse,’ says another, ‘before it gets better.’”  Tom Engelhardt

China, America, and a new Cold War in Africa?
Is the conflict in South Sudan the opening salvo in the battle for a continent?
By Nick Turse

[This story was reported in partnership with the Investigative Fund at the Nation Institute. Additional funding was provided through the generosity of Adelaide Gomer.]

Juba, South Sudan — Is this country the first hot battlefield in a new cold war?  Is the conflict tearing this new nation apart actually a proxy fight between the world’s two top economic and military powers?  That’s the way South Sudan’s Information Minister Michael Makuei Lueth tells it.  After “midwifing” South Sudan into existence with billions of dollars in assistance, aid, infrastructure projects, and military support, the U.S. has watched China emerge as the major beneficiary of South Sudan’s oil reserves.  As a result, Makuei claims, the U.S. and other Western powers have backed former vice president Riek Machar and his rebel forces in an effort to overthrow the country’s president, Salva Kiir.  China, for its part, has played a conspicuous double game.  Beijing has lined up behind Kiir, even as it publicly pushes both sides to find a diplomatic solution to a simmering civil war.  It is sending peacekeepers as part of the U.N. mission even as it also arms Kiir’s forces with tens of millions of dollars worth of new weapons.

While experts dismiss Makuei’s scenario — “farfetched” is how one analyst puts it — there are average South Sudanese who also believe that Washington supports the rebels.  The U.S. certainly did press Kiir’s government to make concessions, as his supporters are quick to remind anyone willing to listen, pushing it to release senior political figures detained as coup plotters shortly after fighting broke out in late 2013.  America, they say, cared more about a handful of elites sitting in jail than all the South Sudanese suffering in a civil war that has now claimed more than 10,000 lives, resulted in mass rapes, displaced more than 1.5 million people (around half of them children), and pushed the country to the very brink of famine. Opponents of Kiir are, however, quick to mention the significant quantities of Chinese weaponry flooding into the country. They ask why the United States hasn’t put pressure on a president they no longer see as legitimate.

While few outside South Sudan would ascribe to Makuei’s notion of a direct East-West proxy war here, his conspiracy theory should, at least, serve as a reminder that U.S. and Chinese interests are at play in this war-torn nation and across Africa as a whole — and that Africans are taking note.  Almost anywhere you look on the continent, you can now find evidence of both the American and the Chinese presence, although they take quite different forms.  The Chinese are pursuing a ruthlessly pragmatic economic power-projection strategy with an emphasis on targeted multilateral interventions in African conflicts.  U.S. policy, in contrast, appears both more muddled and more military-centric, with a heavy focus on counterterrorism efforts meant to bolster amorphous strategic interests. 

For the last decade, China has used “soft power” — aid, trade, and infrastructure projects — to make major inroads on the continent.  In the process, it has set itself up as the dominant foreign player here.  The U.S., on the other hand, increasingly confronts Africa as a “battlefield” or “battleground” or “war” in the words of the men running its operations. In recent years, there has been a substantial surge in U.S. military activities of every sort, including the setting up of military outposts and both direct and proxy interventions. These two approaches have produced starkly contrasting results for the powers involved and the rising nations of the continent.  Which one triumphs may have profound implications for all parties in the years ahead. The differences are, perhaps, nowhere as stark as in the world’s newest nation, South Sudan. 

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Chip Ward: Leave it to beaver(s)

If you want to be unnerved, just pay a visit to the U.S. Drought Monitor and check out its map of the American West with almost all of California stained the deep, distressing shades of red that indicate either “extreme” or “exceptional” drought.  In other words, it could hardly be worse.  California is now in its third year of drought, with no end in sight; state agricultural losses are estimated at $2.2 billion for 2014 alone; most of its reservoirs are less than half full; the Colorado River basin, which supplies water to “about 40 million people and 4 million acres of farmland in seven states,” including California, is compromised; and California’s first six months of 2014 have been the “hottest ever… nearly five degrees warmer than the twentieth century average.” The drought’s arms extend north through Oregon (“severe”) into Washington, where it’s already been the fire season from hell — and it’s just beginning.  They also reach east through Nevada as far as Utah and straight across the Southwest in various shades of yellow, orange, and deep red.

TomDispatch’s western contingent, environmentalists Chip Ward and William deBuys, have had the stresses of climate change, rising heat, drought, wildfires, desertification, and someday the possible abandonment of parts of the Southwest on their minds (and so on the minds of TD readers) for years now.  These days, the chickens are coming home to roost — but not, it seems, the beavers.  Ward, a Utah environmentalist and the former assistant director of the Salt Lake City Public Library System, has long focused not just on how our American world is being ravaged, but on how to protect and restore it.  In today’s post, he offers a reminder that sometimes such restoration can come in small packages and that even the most modest of natural geo-engineering can disturb vested interests. Tom Engelhardt

The original geo-engineers
Or how to save the iconic West from the cow
By Chip Ward

The great novelist Wallace Stegner sorted the conflicting impulses in his beloved American West into two camps. There were the “boomers” who saw the frontier as an opportunity to get rich quick and move on: the conquistadors, the gold miners, the buffalo hunters, the land scalpers, and the dam-building good ol’ boys. They are still with us, trying to drill and frack their way to Easy Street across our public lands. Then there were those Stegner called the “nesters” or “stickers” who came to stay and struggled to understand the land and its needs. Their quest was to become native.

That division between boomers and nesters is, of course, too simple.  All of us have the urge to consume and move on, as well as the urge to nest, so our choices are rarely clear or final. Today, that old struggle in the American West is intensifying as heat-parched, beetle-gnawed forests ignite in annual epic firestorms, reservoirs dry up, and Rocky Mountain snow is ever more stained with blowing desert dust. 

The modern version of nesters are the conservationists who try to partner with the ecosystems where they live. Wounded landscapes, for example, can often be restored by unleashing nature’s own self-healing powers. The new nesters understand that you cannot steer and control an ecosystem but you might be able to dance with one.  Sage Sorensen dances with beavers.

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Naomi Oreskes: A ‘green’ bridge to hell

Call it the energy or global warming news of recent weeks.  No, I’m not referring to the fact this was globally the hottest June on record ever (as May had been before it), or that NASA launched the first space vehicle “dedicated to studying atmospheric carbon dioxide.” Nor do I mean the new report released by a “bipartisan group,” including former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and three former secretaries of the treasury, suggesting that, by 2100, $238 billion to $507 billion worth of American property will be “below sea level”; nor that Virginia’s coastline is already being eaten away by rising seas and storm-surge destruction in such a striking manner that state Democrats and Republicans are leaving global warming denialists in the lurch and forming a climate change task force to figure out what in the world to do.

No, I was referring to the news that the Obama administration has just reopened the eastern seaboard to offshore oil and gas exploration. To the extent that this has been covered, the articles have generally focused on the economic positives — for jobs and national wealth — of finding new deposits of oil and gas in those waters, and the unhappiness of the environmental community over the effect of the sonic booms used in underwater seismic exploration on whales and other sea creatures. Not emphasized has been the way, from the Arctic to the Gulf of Mexico, not to speak of the shale-gas fracking fields of this country, the Obama administration has had an all-of-the-above policy on fossil fuels.  Our “global warming” president has consistently championed reforms (of a modest sort) to combat climate change.  These, however, fit uncomfortably with his administration’s anything-goes menu of oil and gas exploration and exploitation that is distinctly in the drill-baby-drill mode. Unlike that drill-baby-drill proponent Sarah Palin, however, the president knows what he’s doing and what the long-term effects of such policies are likely to be.

Part of the way he and his officials seem to have squared the circle is by championing their moves to throttle coal use and bring natural gas, touted as the “clean” fossil fuel, to market in a big way.  As it happens, historian of science Naomi Oreskes, an expert on the subject, has news for the president and his advisors: when looked at in a clear-eyed way, natural gas isn’t going to turn out to be the fossil-fuel equivalent of a wonder drug that will cure the latest climate disease.  Quite the opposite: its exploitation will actually increase the global use of fossil fuels and pump more greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere, while possibly suppressing the development of actual renewable alternatives.  In a magisterial piece today, she explores every aspect of the crucial question of why natural gas is anything but a panacea for our climate change problems.

This couldn’t be more important.  Science historians Oreskes and Erik Conway have already written a classic book, Merchants of Doubt, on how Big Energy and a tiny group of scientists associated with it sold us a false bill of goods on the nature and impact of its products (as the tobacco industry and essentially the same set of scientists had before it).  Together, they have now produced a little gem of a book on climate change: The Collapse of Western Civilization: a View From the Future.  Written, so the claim goes, in 2393 by a “senior scholar of the Second People’s Republic of China,” it traces the events that led to the Great Collapse of 2090.  You haven’t heard of that grim event yet?  Well, you will as soon as you pick up Oreskes’s and Conway’s “thought-provoking” and gripping work of “science-based fiction” on what our future may have in store for us — if we don’t act to change our world. Tom Engelhardt

Wishful thinking about natural gas
Why fossil fuels can’t solve the problems created by fossil fuels
By Naomi Oreskes

Albert Einstein is rumored to have said that one cannot solve a problem with the same thinking that led to it. Yet this is precisely what we are now trying to do with climate change policy.  The Obama administration, the Environmental Protection Agency, many environmental groups, and the oil and gas industry all tell us that the way to solve the problem created by fossil fuels is with more fossils fuels.  We can do this, they claim, by using more natural gas, which is touted as a “clean” fuel — even a “greenfuel.

Like most misleading arguments, this one starts from a kernel of truth.

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Peter Van Buren: Undue process in Washington

What a world we’re in. Thanks to smartphones, iPads, and the like, everyone is now a photographer, but it turns out that, in the public landscape, there’s ever less to photograph. So here are a few tips for living more comfortably in a photographically redacted version of our post-9/11 world.

Even if you’re a professional photographer, don’t try to take a picture of Korita Kent’s “Rainbow Swash.”  It’s “one of the largest copyrighted pieces of art in the world,” painted atop a 140-foot-high liquefied natural gas tower in Dorchester, Massachusetts.  James Prigoff, a former senior vice president of the Sara Lee Corporation and a known photographer, tried to do so and was confronted by two security guards who stopped him.  Later, though he left no information about himself and was in a rented car, he was tracked down by the FBI.  Evidently he had been dumped into the government’s Suspicious Activity Reporting program run by the Bureau and the Department of Homeland Security.  (And when you end up on a list like that, we know that it’s always a living hell to get off it again.)  He sums up his situation this way: “So, consider this: A professional photographer taking a photo of a well-known Boston landmark is now considered to be engaged in suspicious terrorist activity?”

And while you’re at it, don’t photograph the water tower in Farmer’s Branch, Texas (as professional photographer Allison Smith found out), or planes taxiing to takeoff at the Denver airport (if you have a Middle Eastern look to you), or that dangerous “Welcome to Texas City” sign (as Austin photographer Lance Rosenfield discovered when stopped by BP security guards and only let off after “a stern lecture about terrorists and folks wandering around snapping photos”), or even the police handcuffing someone on the street from your own front lawn (as Rochester, New York, neighborhood activist Emily Good was doing when the police cuffed and arrested her for the criminal misdemeanor of “obstructing governmental administration”).

The ACLU has just launched a suit challenging that Suspicious Activity Reporting database, claiming quite correctly — as Linda Lye, one of their lawyers, puts it — that the “problem with the suspicious-activity reporting program is that it sweeps up innocent Americans who have done nothing more than engage in innocent, everyday activity, like buying laptops or playing video games. It encourages racial and religious profiling, and targets constitutionally protected activity like photography.”

You know the old phrase, “it’s a free world?”  Well, don’t overdo it any more, thank you very much.  Your safety, your security, and the well-being of an ever-expanding, ever more aggressive national (and local) security state and its various up-arming and up-armoring policing outfits increasingly trump that freedom.  And let’s face it, when it comes to your safety not from most of the real dangers of our American lives but from “terrorism,” freedom itself really has been oversold.  Remember the famous phrase from the height of the Cold War era, “better dead than red”?  It seems to have been updated without the commies.  Now, it’s something like: “better surveilled than sorry.”  And based on that, all behavior is fast becoming potentially suspicious behavior.

Since 2013, State Department whistleblower Peter Van Buren has been covering our new world of constricting freedoms in what he’s termed “Post-Constitutional America” for TomDispatch.  With this look at the government’s newfound “right” to kill an American citizen without due process, he completes a three-part series on the shredding of the Bill of Rights, the previous two parts having focused on the First Amendment and the Fourth AmendmentTom Engelhardt 

Dead is dead
Drone-killing the Fifth Amendment
By Peter Van Buren

You can’t get more serious about protecting the people from their government than the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution, specifically in its most critical clause: “No person shall be… deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” In 2011, the White House ordered the drone-killing of American citizen Anwar al-Awlaki without trial. It claimed this was a legal act it is prepared to repeat as necessary. Given the Fifth Amendment, how exactly was this justified? Thanks to a much contested, recently released but significantly redacted — about one-third of the text is missing — Justice Department white paper providing the basis for that extrajudicial killing, we finally know: the president in Post-Constitutional America is now officially judge, jury, and executioner.

Due Process in Constitutional America

Looking back on the violations of justice that characterized British rule in pre-Constitutional America, it is easy to see the Founders’ intent in creating the Fifth Amendment. A government’s ability to inflict harm on its people, whether by taking their lives, imprisoning them, or confiscating their property, was to be checked by due process.

Due process is the only requirement of government that is stated twice in the Constitution, signaling its importance. The Fifth Amendment imposed the due process requirement on the federal government, while the Fourteenth Amendment did the same for the states. Both offer a crucial promise to the people that fair procedures will remain available to challenge government actions. The broader concept of due process goes all the way back to the thirteenth-century Magna Carta.

Due process, as refined over the years by the Supreme Court, came to take two forms in Constitutional America. The first was procedural due process: people threatened by government actions that might potentially take away life, liberty, or possessions would have the right to defend themselves from a power that sought, whether for good reasons or bad, to deprive them of something important. American citizens were guaranteed their proverbial “day in court.”

The second type, substantive due process, was codified in 1938 to protect those rights so fundamental that they are implicit in liberty itself, even when not spelled out explicitly in the Constitution. Had the concept been in place at the time, a ready example would have been slavery. Though not specifically prohibited by the Constitution, it was on its face an affront to democracy. No court process could possibly have made slavery fair. The same held, for instance, for the “right” to an education, to have children, and so forth. Substantive due process is often invoked by supporters of same-sex unions, who assert that there is a fundamental right to marry. The meaning is crystal clear: there is an inherent, moral sense of “due process” applicable to government actions against any citizen and it cannot be done away with legally. Any law that attempts to interfere with such rights is inherently unconstitutional.

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