Chip Ward: Peace pipes, not oil pipes

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

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

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

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

Cowboys and Indians are at it again. 

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

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

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

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Michael Klare: The rise of the right and climate catastrophe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Bill Moyers: Money and power in America

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Todd Miller: The great Mexican wall deception

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Nomi Prins: Trump wins (even if he loses)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Thomas Frank: Worshipping money in D.C.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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John Feffer: Donald Trump and America B

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Poland, that is.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Rebecca Gordon: Justice for torturers?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Michael Klare: The oil world in chaos

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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