Miller and Schivone: Bringing the battlefield to the border

Predator drones, tested out in this country’s distant war zones, have played an increasingly prominent role in the up-armoring of the U.S.-Mexican border. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) launched its first Predator in 2004, but only really ramped up drone use in March 2013.  There have been approximately 10,000 Predator flights along that border since. The agency had plans to expand its ten-Predator fleet — nine after a $12 million maritime drone crashed off the California coast, as those robotic planes are wont to do — to 24. It was going to dispatch some of them to the Canadian border as well. (You never know, after all, what dark forces might descend on us from the chilly north.) The CBP even got into the chummy habit of encouraging interagency drone-addiction by loaning its Predators out to the FBI, the Texas Department of Public Safety, and the U.S. Forest Service, among other places. You might say that the CBP was distinctly high on drones.

Only one problem: the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general recently audited the use of drones on the border and issued a scathing report, calling them “dubious achievers” and essentially declaring them an enormous waste of money, time, and personnel.  At $12,255 a flight hour (when not simply grounded), military-grade drones turned out to cost way more than the CBP estimated or reported, flew far less often, and helped find a mere 2% of the immigrants crossing the border without papers.  As Craig Whitlock of the Washington Post reported, “Less than one-tenth of 1 percent of border-crossing apprehensions were attributed to drone detection.”  The inspector general suggested that the CBP should, among other things, shelve its plans to expand its drone fleet (at the cost of a mere $443 million).

Based on such a report from the IG — the CBP is part of the Department of Homeland Security — you might assume that it would be curtains for the drone program.  But if you’re a betting kind of guy in twenty-first-century Washington, you’re not going to put your money on any self-respecting part of the national security state giving up, or even cutting back, on its high-tech toys.  Drones, after all, are sexy as hell and what self-respecting government official wouldn’t want a machine onto which you could attach even more seductively high-tech devices like Vader (think deep, breathy voice, though the acronym stands for “Vehicle and Dismount Exploitation Radar”), a set of sensors that can detect motion on the ground. So CBP has instead struck back, accusing the inspector general of cherry-picking his data and misconstruing more or less everything.

Meanwhile, the drones continue to fly and the CBP, as Todd Miller who covers the militarization of America’s borders for TomDispatch has long noted, remains gaga for high-tech border toys of just about any sort. Today, Miller and Gabriel Schivone suggest that, whatever waste and extravagance may be involved, our already heavily technologized borders and the increasingly robot-filled skies over them are just at the beginning of an era of border-closing high-tech extravaganzas.  When it comes to visions of how to shut down the world, it’s evidently time to call in the real experts, the Israelis, who live in a country without fully demarcated borders, and yet have had a remarkable amount of experience building high-tech wallsTom Engelhardt

Gaza in Arizona
How Israeli high-tech firms will up-armor the U.S.-Mexican border
By Todd Miller and Gabriel M. Schivone

It was October 2012. Roei Elkabetz, a brigadier general for the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), was explaining his country’s border policing strategies. In his PowerPoint presentation, a photo of the enclosure wall that isolates the Gaza Strip from Israel clicked onscreen. “We have learned lots from Gaza,” he told the audience. “It’s a great laboratory.”

Elkabetz was speaking at a border technology conference and fair surrounded by a dazzling display of technology — the components of his boundary-building lab. There were surveillance balloons with high-powered cameras floating over a desert-camouflaged armored vehicle made by Lockheed Martin. There were seismic sensor systems used to detect the movement of people and other wonders of the modern border-policing world. Around Elkabetz, you could see vivid examples of where the future of such policing was heading, as imagined not by a dystopian science fiction writer but by some of the top corporate techno-innovators on the planet.

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Nick Turse: A shadow war in 150 countries

From the point of view of the U.S. military and the national security state, the period from September 12, 2001, to late last night could be summed up in a single word: more.  What Washington funded with your tax dollars was a bacchanalia of expansion intended, as is endlessly reiterated, to keep America “safe.”  But here’s the odd thing: as the structure of what’s always called “security” is built out ever further into our world and our lives, that world only seems to become less secure.  Odder yet, that “more” is rarely a focus of media coverage, though its reality is glaringly obvious.  The details may get coverage but the larger reality — the thing being created in Washington — seems of remarkably little interest.

That’s why websites like TomDispatch matter.  They offer the larger picture of a world that’s being built right before our eyes but is somehow seldom actually seen — that is, taken in meaningfully.  America’s Special Operations forces are a striking example of this phenomenon.  The commando is, by now, a national culture hero, the guy who stands between Hell and us.  But what special ops forces really do all — and I mean all — over the planet, doesn’t seem of any particular interest to Americans in general or the mainstream media in particular.  The way those “elite” forces have parlayed their popularity into a staggering growth rate and just what that growth and the actions that go with it actually mean in terms of, say, blowback… well, that’s something you’re simply not going to read much about, other than at a website like this one.

In fact, we’ve focused on the spectacular growth of this country’s special forces outfits, what that has meant globally, and the ethos of the organization for years now.  Nick Turse, in particular, has in the past and again today done the kind of reporting on and assessment of special forces operations that should be the coin of the realm, but couldn’t be rarer in our world.  If you want to know, for instance, just how many countries special forces operatives have set foot in from 2011-2014 (150 on a planet with only 196 nations), this is the place to come, not the giant media outfits that straddle the consciousness of the planet. Tom Engelhardt

The golden age of black ops
Special ops missions already in 105 countries in 2015
By Nick Turse

In the dead of night, they swept in aboard V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft.  Landing in a remote region of one of the most volatile countries on the planet, they raided a village and soon found themselves in a life-or-death firefight.  It was the second time in two weeks that elite U.S. Navy SEALs had attempted to rescue American photojournalist Luke Somers.  And it was the second time they failed.

On December 6, 2014, approximately 36 of America’s top commandos, heavily armed, operating with intelligence from satellites, drones, and high-tech eavesdropping, outfitted with night vision goggles, and backed up by elite Yemeni troops, went toe-to-toe with about six militants from al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.  When it was over, Somers was dead, along with Pierre Korkie, a South African teacher due to be set free the next day.  Eight civilians were also killed by the commandos, according to local reports.  Most of the militants escaped.

That blood-soaked episode was, depending on your vantage point, an ignominious end to a year that saw U.S. Special Operations forces deployed at near record levels, or an inauspicious beginning to a new year already on track to reach similar heights, if not exceed them.

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Maya Schenwar: Prison by any other name

If they were moved all at once, they could almost replace the population of Jamaica (2.7 million) and they would leave Qatar, Namibia, Macedonia, or Latvia swimming in extra people.  I’m talking about the incarcerated in America — an estimated 2.4 million people at any moment in “1,719 state prisons, 102 federal prisons, 2,259 juvenile correctional facilities, 3,283 local jails, and 79 Indian Country jails as well as in military prisons, immigration detention facilities, civil commitment centers, and prisons in the U.S. territories.”   That’s just about one of every 100 Americans, more than 60% of whom are people of color.  Add in another almost five million on probation or in some way under the supervision of the criminal justice system and you’ve reached about seven million, the equivalent of the population of Serbia or Paraguay.  In other words, a reasonably sized nation of prisoners.

Not surprisingly, that’s also the largest prison population on Earth.  No other country comes close. Put another way, on any day of your choice, the United States, with 5% of the world’s population, has close to 25% of the people imprisoned on this planet.  That population, by the way, has risen by 700% since 1970, a tidal movement for incarceration that only in recent years has shown small signs of finally ebbing. In short, state by state or as a country, the U.S. leaves the rest of the world in the dust. (USA! USA!)

And that’s just to scratch the surface of what, if we were being honest, would have to be called the American Gulag, a vast carceral archipelago that no other country can match and into which millions of human beings are simply deep-sixed. The urge to reform such a system should be applauded, but as with so many “reforms” in our era, the latest “alternative” forms of confinement may, in the end, only be extending and expanding the prison system into other parts of American life.  It may, suggests Maya Schenwar, editor-in-chief of Truthout and author of the new book Locked Down, Locked Out: Why Prison Doesn’t Work and How We Can Do Better, ensure that new concepts of how to lock down America are coming to a neighborhood near you. Tom Engelhardt

Your home is your prison
How to lock down your neighborhood, your country, and you
By Maya Schenwar

On January 27th, domestic violence survivor Marissa Alexander will walk out of Florida’s Duval County jail — but she won’t be free.

Alexander, whose case has gained some notoriety, endured three years of jail time and a year of house arrest while fighting off a prison sentence that would have seen her incarcerated for the rest of her life — all for firing a warning shot that injured no one to fend off her abusive husband. Like many black women before her, Alexander was framed as a perpetrator in a clear case of self-defense. In November, as her trial date drew close, Alexander accepted a plea deal that will likely give her credit for time served, requiring her to spend “just” 65 more days in jail. Media coverage of the development suggested that Alexander would soon have her “freedom,” that she would be “coming home.”

Many accounts of the plea deal, however, missed what Alexander will be coming home to: she’ll return to “home detention” — house arrest — for two years.

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Rebecca Solnit: Everything’s coming together while everything falls apart

No one would call TomDispatch a traditional website.  Still, we do have our traditions.  Among them, none is more “traditional” — a full decade old at a website that just turned 13 this November — than having Rebecca Solnit end our year.  Sometimes as the year winds down, she’s dreaming of the future, sometimes thinking about the past, sometimes focused on the last few seconds, but always, as was true from her very first moment at this website, she offers some version of hope in the face of a reality that others find almost too grim and obdurate to consider.

As this year ends, Solnit, the author of the 2014 hit book Men Explain Things to Me and an even more recent collection of essays, The Encyclopedia of Trouble and Spaciousness, considers humanity’s latest breakthrough into the apocalyptic.  She takes on climate change in a clear-eyed way without losing her sense of hope and purpose.  As ever, it’s an impressive performance and a reminder to all of us that the future remains ours, if only we care to focus on what truly endangers us.  Someday, those who sent the most recent rounds of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere utterly wittingly, with profits on the brain — and I’m talking, of course, about the CEOs of Big Energy (and the various figures who run the energy operations we’ve given names like Saudi Arabia, Russia, and “Saudi America”) — will be remembered as the greatest criminals in history, the true terrorists (or as I’ve called them, “terrarists”) of our age.  It’s one of the jokes of our time that we Americans have literally plowed trillions of dollars into what’s called “national security” in the post-9/11 years without seriously facing climate change, a phenomenon that, if not brought under control, guarantees us a kind of insecurity we’ve never known.  Call it irony or call it idiocy, but call it something.

And let me end 2014, the year that revealed to all of us so much more about the hidden world of surveillance that is ours, with my own New Year’s wish: if I could be granted one relatively modest thing to end 2014, it would be the release from prison of former Army private Chelsea Manning and former CIA Agent John Kiriakou, and the release from exile of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.  For their genuine service, for letting us know what no one else would about the nature of the American world we inhabit, they deserve so unbearably much better from this country than they’ve gotten.  Someday, when those who jailed or exiled them are forgotten or scorned, they will, I’m convinced, be remembered as heroes of our moment.  In the meantime, a guy can hope, can’t he?  I take my hat off to all three of them as 2014 ends. Tom Engelhardt

Everything’s coming together while everything falls apart
The climate for 2015
By Rebecca Solnit

It was the most thrilling bureaucratic document I’ve ever seen for just one reason: it was dated the 21st day of the month of Thermidor in the Year Six. Written in sepia ink on heavy paper, it recorded an ordinary land auction in France in what we would call the late summer of 1798. But the extraordinary date signaled that it was created when the French Revolution was still the overarching reality of everyday life and such fundamentals as the distribution of power and the nature of government had been reborn in astonishing ways. The new calendar that renamed 1792 as Year One had, after all, been created to start society all over again.

In that little junk shop on a quiet street in San Francisco, I held a relic from one of the great upheavals of the last millennium. It made me think of a remarkable statement the great feminist fantasy writer Ursula K. Le Guin had made only a few weeks earlier. In the course of a speech she gave while accepting a book award she noted, “We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings.”

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Greg Grandin: How the Iraq War began in Panama

So many years and wars later, it’s easy to forget what a total television hit the first Gulf War of 1991 was.  Just in case you no longer remember — and why should you? — that was the war that was to bury America’s defeat in Vietnam forever and signal the arrival of the greatest Great Power the planet had ever known, the soon-to-be-Soviet-Union-less United States.  That first partial invasion of Iraq, with its million or more uniformed extras, its vast sets, and its six-month preproduction schedule filled with logistical miracles, was something to behold.  All through the winter of 1990, the production had its built-in “coming attractions,” the many variations on “showdown in the Gulf” with Saddam Hussein, the glowering guy with the black mustache who had, until more or less the previous night, been Washington’s man in Baghdad.

Those previews of the war-to-come teased American viewers with a possible January opening in domestic multiplexes nationwide.  And when it arrived, the production didn’t disappoint.  It had its dazzling Star Wars-style graphics, its own theme music and logos, and its stunningly prime-timed first moments (Disneyesque fireworks over Baghdad).  As a show, it was calibrated for controlled thrills, anxiety, and relief from its opening laser-guided, son et lumière spectacular to its final triumphant helicopter descent on the U.S. embassy in Kuwait (which was meant to replay in reverse indelible final images of helicopters fleeing Saigon).

And what a show that war was, a kind of program-length commercial similar to those pioneered by toy companies in the previous decade that had turned TV cartoons into animated toy catalogs.  It was as if the whole post-Vietnam era had been building toward nothing but that 43-day-long ad, intent on selling domestic and foreign markets on the renewal of American power as well as on the specific weapons systems that were renewing that power.  In this way, the Gulf War of 1991 hawked the leading-edge aspects of the country’s two foremost exports: arms and entertainment.

Almost a quarter of a century later, amid the rubble of a chaotic Greater Middle East, America’s third Iraq war drags on, as Washington officials insist that it has years still to go.  Meanwhile, Iraq itself, having experienced two American invasions, a prolonged occupation, and an era of “reconstruction” (which proved to be largely an era of deconstruction), as well as the birth of a jihadist oil-mini-state in its midst, now threatens to split into Shiite, Sunni, and Kurdish cantonments.  Given what’s happened in the 24 years since, who now remembers any of the triumphalist glories of that first conflict in the Gulf?  And here’s a guarantee: no matter how few still remember the highlight reels from that moment, even fewer remember the American war that, in a sense, began it all, the one that TomDispatch regular Greg Grandin, author of The Empire of Necessity: Slavery, Freedom, and Deception in the New World, recalls today: the invasion of Panama. Tom Engelhardt

The war to start all wars
The 25th anniversary of the forgotten invasion of Panama
By Greg Grandin

As we end another year of endless war in Washington, it might be the perfect time to reflect on the War That Started All Wars — or at least the war that started all of Washington’s post-Cold War wars: the invasion of Panama.

Twenty-five years ago this month, early on the morning of December 20, 1989, President George H.W. Bush launched Operation Just Cause, sending tens of thousands of troops and hundreds of aircraft into Panama to execute a warrant of arrest against its leader, Manuel Noriega, on charges of drug trafficking. Those troops quickly secured all important strategic installations, including the main airport in Panama City, various military bases, and ports. Noriega went into hiding before surrendering on January 3rd and was then officially extradited to the United States to stand trial. Soon after, most of the U.S. invaders withdrew from the country.

In and out. Fast and simple. An entrance plan and an exit strategy all wrapped in one. And it worked, making Operation Just Cause one of the most successful military actions in U.S. history. At least in tactical terms.

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Rebecca Gordon: The torture wars

It came from the top and that’s never been a secret.  The president authorized the building of those CIA “black sites” and the use of what came to be known as “enhanced interrogation techniques” and has spoken of this with a certain pride. The president’s top officials essentially put in an order at the Department of Justice for “legal” justifications that would, miraculously, transform those “techniques” into something other than torture.  Its lawyers then pulled out their dictionaries and gave new meaning to tortured definitions of torture that could have come directly from the fused pens of Franz Kafka and George Orwell.  In the process, they even managed to leave the definition of torture to the torturer.  It was a performance for the ages.

Last week, former Vice President Dick Cheney, who only days after 9/11 claimed that the Bush administration was going to “work the dark side,” once again championed those techniques and the CIA agents who used them.  It was a handy reminder of just what a would-be crew of tough-guy torture instigators he and his cohorts were. The legal veneer spread thinly over the program they set in motion was meant to provide only the faintest legal cover for the “gloves” they bragged about taking off, while obscuring the issue for the American public.  After all, few in the rest of the world were likely to accept the idea that interrogation methods like waterboarding, or “the water torture” as it had once been known, were anything but torture.  Even in this country, it had been accepted as just that.  The Bush administration was, of course, helped in those years by a media that, when not cheerleading for torture, or actually lending the CIA a helpful hand, essentially banished the word from its vocabulary, unless it referred to heinously similar acts committed by countries we disliked.

All in all, it was an exercise in what the “last superpower,” the world’s “policeman,” could get away with in the backrooms of its police stations being jerry-built around the world.  And some of the techniques used with a particular brutality were evidently first demonstrated to top officials in the White House itself.

Then, of course, the CIA went out and applied those “enhanced techniques” to actual human beings with abandon, as the newly released (and somewhat redacted) executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s “torture report” indicates.  This was done even more severely than ordered (not that Cheney & Co. cared), including to a surprising number of captives that the CIA later decided were innocent of anything having to do with terror or al-Qaeda.  All of this happened, despite a law this country signed onto prohibiting the use of torture abroad.

Although what I’ve just described is now generally considered The Torture Story here, it really was only part of it.  The other part, also a CIA operation authorized at the highest levels, was “rendition” or “extraordinary rendition” as it was sometimes known.  This was a global campaign of kidnappings, aided and abetted by 54 other countries, in which “terror suspects” (again often enough innocent people) were swept off the streets of major cities as well as the backlands of the planet and “rendered” to other countries, ranging from Libya and Syria to Egypt and Uzbekistan, places with their own handy torture chambers and interrogators already much practiced in “enhanced” techniques of one sort or another.

Moreover, those techniques migrated like a virus from the CIA and its “black sites” elsewhere in the U.S. imperium, most notoriously via Guantanamo to Abu Ghraib, the American-run prison in Iraq, where images of torture and abuse of a distinctly enhanced variety then migrated home as screensavers.  What was done couldn’t have been more criminal in nature, whether judged by U.S. or international law.  In its wake, its perpetrators, both the torturers and the kidnappers, were protected in a major way.  Except for a few low-level figures at Abu Ghraib and one non-torturing CIA whistleblower who went to prison for releasing to a journalist the name of someone involved in the torture program, no American figure, not even those responsible for deaths at the Agency’s black sites, would be brought to court.  And of course, the men (and woman) most responsible would leave the government to write their memoirs for millions of dollars and defend what they did to the death (of others).

It’s one for the history books and, though it’s a good thing to have the Senate report made public, it wasn’t needed to know that, in the years after 9/11, when the U.S. government created an offshore Bermuda Triangle of injustice, it also essentially became a criminal enterprise.  Recently, Republican hawks in Washington protested loudly against the release of that Senate report, suggesting that it should be suppressed lest it “inflame” our enemies.  The real question isn’t, however, about them at all, it’s about us. Why won’t the release of this report inflame Americans, given what their government has done in their names?

And in case you think it’s all over but for the shouting, think again, as Rebecca Gordon, TomDispatch regular and author of Mainstreaming Torture: Ethical Approaches in the Post-9/11 United States writes today. Tom Engelhardt

American torture — past, present, and… future?
Beyond the Senate torture report
By Rebecca Gordon

It’s the political story of the week in Washington. At long last, after the endless stalling and foot-shuffling, the arguments about redaction and CIA computer hacking, the claims that its release might stoke others out there in the Muslim world to violence and “throw the C.I.A. to the wolves,” the report — you know which one — is out.  Or at least, the redacted executive summary of it is available to be read and, as Senator Mark Udall said before its release, “When this report is declassified, people will abhor what they read. They’re gonna be disgusted. They’re gonna be appalled. They’re gonna be shocked at what we did.”

So now we can finally consider the partial release of the long-awaited report from the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence about the gruesome CIA interrogation methods used during the Bush administration’s “Global War on Terror.” But here’s one important thing to keep in mind: this report addresses only the past practices of a single agency. Its narrow focus encourages us to believe that, whatever the CIA may have once done, that whole sorry torture chapter is now behind us.

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James Carroll: The Pentagon as President Obama’s Great White Whale

There’s finally good news when it comes to the renewal of the Faith.  I’m talking, of course, about the nuclear faith.  In case you happen to have forgotten, that’s the Cold War belief that a U.S. arsenal big enough to destroy several Earth-sized planets and on a hair-trigger alert remains crucial to the preservation of the American way of life and, at a more mundane level, that an Air Force career as a “missileer” isn’t a dead-end path in a terrorism obsessed century.  For years, it’s seemed like sitting in a silo in the American West with your proverbial finger on the trigger might be the definition of military meaninglessness.  And it can’t have helped that, early in his first term, President Obama committed himself to banishing from the planet the very weapons the missileers were guarding and preparing to launch one of these days, or that there had even been discussions inside the Pentagon about shrinking the force.  Talk about corrosive or, as one deputy commander of operations and missileer put it, a “rot” in the ranks!  In religious terms, think of this as a loss of confidence among the military priesthood in what had once been the Only True Faith, and a fear that “thinking the unthinkable” — as it was called in the nuclear arsenal’s Cold War heyday — might someday actually become unthinkable.

As a spate of news articles in recent years has indicated, the “rot” has been all too real.  There was that widely reported “cheating” scandal when it came to nuclear “proficiency” exams resulting in the axing of nine Air Force commanders; there were those nuclear weapons flown across the U.S. by mistake, those missile silo blast doors left open while their guards slept soundly, and those suspensions of missileers for “incompetence,” drug problems, and sexual harassment, among other issues.  There was the firing of a general in charge of “three wings of nuclear-armed intercontinental ballistic missiles with 450 ICBMs” for “misconduct” while in Moscow, including gross and repeated drunkenness, “associating” with two women who might have been spies, offending his hosts, and so on.  There was even a distinctly Biblical “infestation” of rats in a force reputedly “rusting its way to disarmament.”

And last but hardly least, there was the loss of crucial funds for equipment highlighted by the single wrench “required to tighten bolts on the warhead end of the Minuteman 3 missile” that had to be FedExed between three ICBM bases in North Dakota, Wyoming, and Montana.  Of course, that problem could have been solved if, in line with the president’s stated thinking, two of those three bases had been closed and their missiles disarmed and destroyed.  But we’re talking about the renewal of a faith here, not anything as utopian as nuclear disarmament, so that wouldn’t do.  Instead, the U.S. nuclear force is to be “modernized,” which means refurbished to the tune of an estimated trillion dollars in the decades to come, and our disarming president has just nominated as his new secretary of defense a man long committed to such a course of action.

If there’s anyone to take the measure of this moment of nuclear “renewal,” it’s Boston Globe columnist James Carroll.  After all, dedicated to exploring the religious roots of violence, he experienced the American cult of violence up close and personal in his own youth.  His father was the founding director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, something he’s described in his memoir American Requiem: God, My Father, and the War That Came Between Us.  He’s written eloquently about the American cult of violence that we like to call the Pentagon in House of War, and about the more traditionally religious roots of violence in his bestseller Constantine’s Sword and in Jerusalem, Jerusalem. His newest book, Christ Actually: The Son of God for the Secular Age, focuses on the way in which Jesus has historically been used to justify the very violence he rejected. So Carroll’s look at Washington’s urge to renew America’s waning nuclear faith today couldn’t be more appropriate. Tom Engelhardt

The abolition of abolition
How the president who pledged to banish nuclear weapons is enabling their renewal
By James Carroll

Mark these days. A long-dreaded transformation from hope to doom is taking place as the United States of America ushers the world onto the no-turning-back road of nuclear perdition. Once, we could believe there was another way to go. Indeed, we were invited to take that path by the man who is, even today, overseeing the blocking of it, probably forever.

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Jen Marlowe: One family, two doors, nowhere to run

During the Israeli attacks on Gaza this past summer, U.S. officials were unusually vocal.  After shelling killed four young Palestinians on a beach, for example, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki called it “horrifying.”  “The tragic event makes clear that Israel must take every possible step to meet its standards for protecting civilians from being killed,” she said.  Asked whether Israel was doing enough on that count, Psaki replied: “We believe that certainly there’s more that can be done.”  White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest called it “totally unacceptable and totally indefensible” when Israeli shelling of a United Nations school in Gaza killed 16 civilians.  Israel, he said, “can and should do more to protect the lives of innocent civilians.”

“We feel profound anguish upon seeing the images of suffering from Gaza, including the deaths and injuries of innocent Palestinian civilians, including young children, and the displacement of thousands of people,” said Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power.  On July 22nd, she offered this running tally of the misery:

“In Gaza, the toll of the violence has been devastating. More than 600 Palestinians have been killed, the large majority civilians, including at least 59 women and more than 121 children. More than 3,700 more have been injured. Thousands of homes have been damaged, many totally destroyed. And more than 100,000 people have been displaced. As the destruction mounts, some 35,000 Palestinians who need food have not yet been reached. 1.2 million people have little or no access to water or sanitation. And behind every number is a real person, perhaps even a child. The suffering is immense.”

By the time of the late August ceasefire, six Israeli civilians and a Thai national had been killed by rocket and mortar attacks from Gaza, while 1,462 Palestinian civilians had died as a result of Israel’s war, according to the United Nations.

But while the administration and State Department were rebuking Israel (albeit mildly), and the president himself was expressing “serious concern” about the growing number of Palestinian civilian casualties in Gaza, the Pentagon was replenishing the Jewish state’s dwindling ammunition stockpile without the approval of either the White House or the State Department.  “We were blindsided,” one U.S. diplomat told the Wall Street Journal.

Since then, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey (who has recently seemed to ignore, if not defy, his commander-in-chief when it comes to Iraq War policy) has offered his own dissenting assessment of Israeli conduct during the most recent campaign in Gaza.  Instead of using terms like unacceptable, indefensible, or horrifying, Dempsey claimed that Israel had gone to “extraordinary lengths” to limit civilian casualties.  “I can say to you with confidence that I think that they acted responsibly,” he told the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs.  In fact, Dempsey suggested that the U.S. military could learn a thing or two from the Israelis, noting that the Pentagon dispatched a “lessons learned team” of senior commissioned and noncommissioned officers to study the methods the Israel Defense Forces employed in Gaza.

In her latest piece for TomDispatchfilmmaker Jen Marlowe suggests that Israel’s 2014 Gaza campaign, like the 2008-2009 campaign before it, might not be the optimal model for the U.S. (or any other) military.  In a striking piece of reportage, she offers a counter-narrative to the one advanced by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. Chronicling one family through a night of terror and more than five years of loss, she walked streets on which Dempsey has never set foot and surveyed the rubble he’ll never see to shed light on what life in Gaza is like for civilians caught in the path of war. Nick Turse 

No exit in Gaza
Broken homes and broken lives
By Jen Marlowe

Rubble. That’s been the one constant for the Awajah family for as long as I’ve known them.

Four months ago, their home was demolished by the Israeli military — and it wasn’t the first time that Kamal, Wafaa, and their children had been through this.  For the last six years, the family has found itself trapped in a cycle of destruction and reconstruction; their home either a tangle of shattered concrete and twisted rebar or about to become one.

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Rebecca Solnit: Casino capitalism, Nevada-style

One of the first indications of just how bad it would get was the slew of abandoned Ferraris and Porsches ditched in the Dubai Airport parking lot by foreigners fleeing the country — and the debts they’d incurred there — as the 2008 global economic crisis descended with full force. Within months, housing prices in this small Persian Gulf nation crashed. Overnight, developers halted the construction of half-finished luxury high-rises. The government even drafted a law to criminalize any reporting that would “damage the country’s reputation or economy.” The self-proclaimed “emerald city” quickly took on a new identity as a ghost town.

Before the crash, Dubai had been a unique place: a capitalist’s paradise rising out of the desert, complete with dust-kicking fast cars, privately owned islands, and a population sharply divided between wealthy expatriates and trafficked workers held in near slavery. It was a country shaped by staggering dreams (including a $14 billion plan to build a replica of the world on 300 man-made islands) that often failed just as staggeringly. And in the years after the crisis, Dubai grew only stranger as the fleeting nature of such wealth became obvious and, according to rumors, turning on the tap in certain luxury hotel rooms might yield only a flood of cockroaches.

Yet, despite Dubai’s uniqueness, if this corner of the world has any precedent on Earth, it is certainly Las Vegas.

As TomDispatch regular Rebecca Solnit explains in a haunting new piece, in the late 1990s, the bright-lit casinos of Las Vegas’s strip yielded pride of place to a new, far more breathtaking national gambling scheme. The bet would be on luxury housing developments, even though, as Solnit explains, the one thing those in Las Vegas should have known was “that the house always wins.”

When that particular house of cards collapsed, Las Vegas became ground zero for a spreading economic crisis, while its built-up desert suburbs turned into a graveyard of subdivisions, filled with half-built and abandoned luxury homes vividly on display in the exceptional aerial photos in Michael Light’s new book, Lake Las Vegas/Black Mountain (which includes Solnit’s essay and one by art critic Lucy Lippard). In many cases, no one ever lived in those sprawling houses dotting the outskirts of that city. But if their walls could talk, they would tell a tale of an American Dream far more unsettling than those that play out under the neon lights of the Strip, one built on stolen territories and slippery promises, where the only permanence is, as Solnit writes, in the land itself. Laura Gottesdiener

Anywhere but here
Las Vegas and the global casino we call Wall Street
By Rebecca Solnit

[The following Rebecca Solnit piece is slightly adapted from photographer Michael Light’s new book, Lake Las Vegas/Black Mountain, and appears at TomDispatch.com with special thanks to his publisher, Radius Books.]

“Oh my God, I’m in hell,” I cried out when the car that had rolled for hours through the luscious darkness of the Mojave night came to a jolting stop at a traffic light on Las Vegas Boulevard, right by the giant oscillating fuchsia flowers of the Tropicana. Back then, in the late 1980s, the Strip was the lasciviously long neon tongue a modest-sized city unfurled into the desert. Behind the casinos lining Las Vegas Boulevard was the desert itself — pale, flat, stony ground with creosote bushes here and there, a vast expanse of darkness, silence, and spaciousness pressing in on the riotousness from all directions.

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Nick Turse: When is a ‘base camp’ neither a base nor a camp?

Sometimes, to see the big picture you need to focus on the smallest part of it, as Nick Turse does in the latest of his dispatches on the U.S. military in Africa.  He takes a look at that military in Chad.  Yep, I said “in Chad.” At least 99% of Americans are undoubtedly unfamiliar with that landlocked African country and most of the remaining 1% have no idea that the U.S. military is already deeply involved in that (if you don’t happen to be Chadian) obscure land.

It’s easy enough to link the word “imperial” to the United States in a lazy fashion.  But if imperial has any meaning in the post-colonial twenty-first century, it certainly means that the (super)power in question has an active interest in attempting to control significant swathes of the planet.  In fact, there has never been a power, no matter how “great,” which has, in such a militarized way, tried to put its stamp of control on so much of Planet Earth.

It has, for instance, garrisoned the Greater Middle East from the Chinese border in Central Asia to the Balkans in an unprecedented fashion.  For decades, it considered the Pacific Ocean an “American lake” and garrisoned islands across it in a similarly unprecedented fashion.  Between 1945 and 1973, it fought two wars in Asia, at the cost of millions of lives, leading to a still-unresolved stalemate in Korea and a defeat in Vietnam; from 1980 to the present, it has fought a barely interrupted war in Afghanistan and since 1990, three wars in Iraq.  It has also conducted air strikes in countries ranging from Pakistan and Yemen to Syria and Somalia, intervened disastrously in Lebanon and Libya, among other places, and come to the edge of war (while launching a “cyberwar”) in Iran.  And that doesn’t even exhaust the list of conflicts.

In recent months, the U.S. has “pivoted” (the term of the moment) back to Iraq even as it has been quietly bolstering its already impressive military strength in a “pivot” to Asia.  At the same time, with a remarkable lack of publicity or media attention, it has begun pivoting into Africa.  Americans know next to nothing about this (unless they’ve been reading the last two years of reporting on the subject by Nick Turse at this site) and yet the U.S. military is now in one fashion or another involved with 49 of the 54 countries on that continent.

If you need evidence that Washington’s intentions are indeed imperial and that the White House and the Pentagon consider just about every patch of land on the planet to be the business of this country, and fertile soil for that military, then spend a little time “in” Chad today.  Once you’ve absorbed just how involved our military already is there, you can multiply those efforts across Africa, across the Middle East where they only intensify, and across Asia where they are also ramping up, and you’ll begin to take in a heavily garrisoned planet of war on which the U.S. remains (however haplessly) the unipolar power.  And tell me that, when you’ve considered the small picture and the big one, we’re not talking about imperial Washington. Tom Engelhardt 

The outpost that doesn’t exist in the country you can’t locate
A base camp, an authoritarian regime, and the future of U.S. blowback in Africa
By Nick Turse

Admit it. You don’t know where Chad is. You know it’s in Africa, of course. But beyond that? Maybe with a map of the continent and by some process of elimination you could come close. But you’d probably pick Sudan or maybe the Central African Republic. Here’s a tip. In the future, choose that vast, arid swath of land just below Libya.

Who does know where Chad is?  That answer is simpler: the U.S. military.  Recent contracting documents indicate that it’s building something there.  Not a huge facility, not a mini-American town, but a small camp.

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Michael Klare: The new Congress and planetary disaster

Looking for a little hope on climate change?  Believe it or not, it’s here and it’s real. And I’m not referring to the fact that, at least temporarily, oil prices have gone through the floor, making environmentally destructive “tough oil” projects like western oil-shale fracking and Canadian tar sands extraction look ever less profitable.  Nor do I mean the climate change deal that was just reached at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit and is being called “historic.” It’s true that President Obama made a positive move at that summit, another symbolic gesture in its wake, and is promising more of the same in the future.  These steps to check the worst future depredations of climate change have been hailed as perhaps more transformational than they are.  Nonetheless, in the face of a new Republican Congress in which anti-climate-change hawks may outnumber war hawks (no small feat), this is well worth noting.

I’m talking, of course, about the potentially carbon-reducing long-term deal between the planet’s two major greenhouse gas polluters, between, that is, Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping.  Both of them have been running “all of the above,” drill-baby-drill — or in China’s case dig-baby-dig and import-baby-import — energy programs to devastating effect. China, for instance, is slated to bring online the equivalent of a new coal-powered plant every 10 days for the next decade, even as it’s taken a leading position in developing solar power technology.

The steps agreed to in somewhat hazy language by the two presidents fall far short of what will be needed to keep this planet from overheating drastically, and yet they do at least pave the way for the first global climate change negotiations that might actually matter in a long while.  The genuinely good news, however, was none of the above.  It has to do instead with the thinking behind Obama’s Beijing decision.  The “architect” of the American negotiating position, months in the making, was presidential senior adviser John Podesta. And here’s what you need to know about him: he’s reportedly going to leave the Obama administration early in 2015 to run Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. This means that he’s essentially committed the leading Democratic candidate in 2016 to run her campaign on Obama’s gesture in China and whatever other climate change moves he plans to make in the coming year — on, that is, reducing carbon emissions.

As Coral Davenport of the New York Times explained recently, the thinking behind this is clear.  Despite the historically low-turnout 2014 midterm elections, Podesta — and the Democrats — are making a different kind of bet on 2016 based on polling figures showing that, among key presidential election year Democratic demographics (young voters, Hispanics, African Americans, and unmarried women), concern over climate change is rising in striking ways.  In other words, if you can tune out an election in which an aging 19% of the prospective electorate swept a whole crew of climate deniers into office and focus on deeper, longer-term calculations, something is happening, possibly generationally, that’s potentially big enough to change future elections.

It’s big enough, at least, to catch the attention of pragmatic political types in Washington, and may be the beginning of a tectonic transformation in this country.  Despite the power of Big Energy and the present hue and cry about “job destruction,” a “war on coal,” and all the rest, a rising climate movement could potentially transform our politics and our world.  No one who attended the enormous climate change rally in New York in late September could doubt that this was so, but that John Podesta has also been paying attention matters.  It tells us in a nitty-gritty way that sometimes the work of activists does pay off.

All those years in the (overheating) wilderness organizing and proselytizing, all those years when the mainstream media managed to look the other way, all those years when climate change activists in groups like 350.org had to struggle to avoid despair, may turn out to matter.  That’s the positive side of the picture.  Then there’s the other side, and it couldn’t be grimmer, as TomDispatch’s energy and climate-change expert Michael Klare, author of The Race for What’s Left, makes clear today. Tom Engelhardt

Fossil-fueled Republicanism
The Grand Oil Party takes Washington by storm
By Michael T. Klare

Pop the champagne corks in Washington!  It’s party time for Big Energy.  In the wake of the midterm elections, Republican energy hawks are ascendant, having taken the Senate and House by storm.  They are preparing to put pressure on a president already presiding over a largely drill-baby-drill administration to take the last constraints off the development of North American fossil fuel reserves.

The new Republican majority is certain to push their agenda on a variety of key issues, including tax reform and immigration.  None of their initiatives, however, will have as catastrophic an impact as their coming drive to ensure that fossil fuels will dominate the nation’s energy landscape into the distant future, long after climate change has wrecked the planet and ruined the lives of millions of Americans.

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Laura Gottesdiener: A tale of two cities, post-bankruptcy

It was July 1987 and I found myself in a cool, dark, completely packed movie theater, perched on the edge of my seat.  The crowd was raucous, the mood electric.  That night, I didn’t care about popcorn or soda or candy.  I was still in grammar school.  I had never seen an R-rated movie in the flesh. And this was the R-rated movie to beat all R-rated movies — ultra-violent, unbridled expletives, even fleeting partial nudity. It narrowly avoided an X rating by the Motion Picture Association of America, for god’s sake!

I had been desperate to see RoboCop since Orion Pictures began a relentless ad campaign weeks before it opened.  Part man.  Part machine.  All cop!  Only because the stars magically aligned was I not relegated to waiting the usual year to watch it through the squiggly lines, scrolling screens, and snowy interference that typified 1980s cable pay-channels that you hadn’t actually paid for.

All these years later, for good or ill, some scenes I viewed that sultry night — and again and again afterward through pay-channel snow — remain firmly lodged in my brain.  Like the one in which police officer Alex Murphy (Peter Weller) is literally shot to pieces by the gang of criminals who rule the city of Detroit in what was pictured as a not-so-distant dystopian future. (The crucifixion!)  Or the scene at the police station shooting range leading to the big reveal: Murphy has been transformed into a cyborg cop and is being sent back to clean up the urban warzone that cost him his human life. (The resurrection!)

What really stayed with me, however, were the subversive qualities of director Paul Verhoeven’s sci-fi satire, which poked fun at an imagined Reagan-era-on-steroids version of twenty-first-century America, complete with faux television commercials for a gas-guzzling luxury car that revels in its obscene size, a board game that trivializes nuclear terror, and a tasteless ad for an artificial heart clinic (in the days before real-world TV screens were overrun by ads for pharmaceuticals).  Then there were the news reports about U.S. troops fighting rebels in Mexico and a lethal malfunction of the Star Wars missile defense system.

What also stuck in my brain was Omni Consumer Products, or OCP, a malevolent mega-corporation — equal parts Lockheed, Halliburton, Cyberdyne Systems, and Soylent Industries — which plays an outsized role in the film.  A privatized prison profiteer and shameless peddler of military arms with plans to bulldoze the Motor City and construct a gleaming tomorrow-land in its place, OCP is making sky-high profits, while corporate president Dick Jones (Ronny Cox) stands to make even more by lording it over a criminal syndicate that will provide drugs, gambling, and prostitutes to the million men building the new “Delta City” on the ashes of “Old Detroit.”

OCP has also entered into a contract with the beleaguered city to run local law enforcement and Jones envisions replacing the cops with battle droids known as ED-209s.  “After a successful tour of duty in Old Detroit, we can expect 209 to become the hot military product for the next decade,” he says during a slick presentation in the corporate boardroom.  But when ED-209 proves tragically dysfunctional during a test run, a young OCP up-and-comer undercuts Jones with his RoboCop program.  And since OCP runs the cops, they can repurpose the remnants of poor Alex Murphy’s bullet-blasted body to make their electric dreams come true.

Now, I could accept the idea of a cyborg cop that lives on baby food and moves with all the subtlety and grace of a 1960s electric can opener. But a privatized Detroit police force? Come on! There’s a limit to the suspension of disbelief.

Of course, I lived to see the real Detroit fall into abject decay, go bankrupt, and have its police declare the city unsafe for visitors.  “The explosion in violent crime, the incredible spike in the number of homicides… for officers trying to work 12 hours in such deplorable, dangerous, and war-like conditions is simply untenable,” said Donato Iorio, an attorney for the Detroit Police Officers Association in 2012.  It sounded like a statement straight out of RoboCop — and in some ways, so does TomDispatch regular Laura Gottesdiener’s latest piece of striking reportage from America’s new urban wilderness.  Today, she takes us on a fantastic voyage through what Paul Verhoeven and my pre-teen self could only imagine — the real-life Old Detroit and Delta City: one being investigated by the United Nations for possible human rights violations, the other turned into a privatized, securitized, billionaire’s experiment in better living through dystopian surveillance.  Maybe she didn’t get to go on a ride-along with Robocop, but Gottesdiener’s arresting dispatch from the passenger seat of a private police force’s prowl car in the Motor City sure brings back memories of that future. Buckle up! Nick Turse 

Two Detroits, separate and unequal
A journey across a city divided
By Laura Gottesdiener

In late October, a few days after local news cameras swarmed Detroit’s courthouse to hear closing arguments in the city’s historic bankruptcy trial, “Commander” Dale Brown cruised through the stately Detroit neighborhood of Palmer Woods in a Hummer emblazoned with the silver, interlocking-crescent-moon logo of his private security company.

Brown rolled down the window to ask a middle-aged woman walking her dog whether everything was okay (it was), and whether she had seen anything out of the ordinary (she hadn’t). Satisfied, he continued on, guided by a futuristic tablet map of the neighborhood’s languid streets. These had become even more impenetrable last year when the bankrupt city paid for and constructed a series of traffic barriers on the community’s edges. On his right, he pointed out, was the Bishop’s Residence, a 30-room Tudor Revival castle originally commissioned by a family of fabulously wealthy automobile pioneers who later sold their company to General Motors.

“This is the part of Detroit that most people are not aware of,” Brown told filmmaker Messiah Rhodes and me. And indeed, the turreted neighborhood did look far more like something you would find in Detroit’s mostly white suburbs than deep inside the city itself.

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Shamsi and Harwood: An electronic archipelago of domestic surveillance

Let me tell you my modest post-9/11 dream.  One morning, I’ll wake up and see a newspaper article that begins something like this: “The FBI is attempting to persuade an obscure regulatory body in Washington to change its rules of engagement in order to curtail the agency’s significant powers to hack into and carry out surveillance of computers.” Now, wouldn’t that be amazing? Unfortunately, as you’ve undoubtedly already guessed, that day didn’t come last week. To create that sentence I had to fiddle with the odd word or two in the lead sentence of an article about the FBI’s attempt to gain “significant new powers to hack into and carry out surveillance of computers throughout the U.S. and around the world.”

When it comes to the expansion of our national security-cum-surveillance state, last week was just another humdrum seven days of news.  There were revelations about the widespread monitoring of the snail mail of Americans.  (“[T]he United States Postal Service reported that it approved nearly 50,000 requests last year from law enforcement agencies and its own internal inspection unit to secretly monitor the mail of Americans for use in criminal and national security investigations.”)  There was the news that a “sneak and peek” provision in the Patriot Act that “allows investigators to conduct searches without informing the target of the search” was now being used remarkably regularly.  Back in 2001, supporters of the Act had sworn that the provision would only be applied in rare cases involving terrorism.  Last week we learned that it is being used thousands of times a year as a common law enforcement tool in drug cases.  Oh, and on our list should go the FBI’s new push to get access to your encrypted iPhones!

And don’t forget the reports on the Bureau’s remarkably creative attempts to cross various previously forbidden search and surveillance lines.  Last week, for instance, we learned that FBI agents impersonated a media outfit, creating a fake Associated Press article in 2007 in order to implant malware on the computer of a 15-year-old suspected of making bomb threats.  (“The AP said the plan undermined the independence of the press. The story also compromised its credibility to gather news safely and effectively, especially in parts of the world where its credibility relies on its independence.”)  Similarly, news tumbled out about a recent investigation into illegal gambling in which the FBI turned off the Internet in three Las Vegas luxury “villas” that belonged to the Caesar’s Palace Hotel and Casino and then sent in its agents without warrants as “repairmen,” in the process secretly making videos that led to arrests.

Call it just another week of ho-hum news about American intelligence and law enforcement outfits running roughshod over American rights and the Constitution.  And then, of course, there are those ever-expanding watchlists meant to keep you safe from “terrorism.”  As Hina Shamsi and Matthew Harwood of the ACLU point out, the web of watchlists on which Americans might now find their names circulating is staggeringly, redundantly vast and still expanding.  It essentially adds up to a post-9/11 secret system of identification, they write, that once would have boggled the American imagination but is now just an accepted part of the American way of life. Tom Engelhardt

Uncle Sam’s databases of suspicion
A shadow form of national ID
By Hina Shamsi and Matthew Harwood

It began with an unexpected rapping on the front door.

When Wiley Gill opened up, no one was there. Suddenly, two police officers appeared, their guns drawn, yelling, “Chico Police Department.”

“I had tunnel vision,” Gill said, “The only thing I could see was their guns.”

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Rebecca Solnit: Feminism and men

In my experience, when it comes to women, young men lie to each other in grotesque ways and those lies are foundational to what, at least in my youth, was men’s culture. My own learning curve on this was uncomfortable indeed and I’ve never forgotten it. In the early 1960s, I went to Yale, an elite all-male college. It was still a time when, if you were walking along a street with a friend and your hands happened to touch, you jumped as if electricity had shot through you and reflexively began to make jokes about “fags.”

My particular problem in those years when it came to male culture, women, and of course the topic of the moment, sex, was that I was experience-impaired and quite shy about that fact. Two alternatives were then available, or so it seemed to me: lie through my teeth and be one of the boys or keep quiet. I chose the latter option, not out of any essential purity of spirit but out of embarrassment, out of a feeling that I wasn’t really your basic man’s man. The result proved curiously educational, and deeply unsettling. I regularly sat through spiraling bouts of intra-male bravado in which guys pumped themselves up while denigrating each other (and above all women) by lying outrageously, and I did so in silence. The unexpected twist was this: that silence was sometimes mistaken for knowledge, for a deeper understanding.

Here’s one vivid memory of just how this worked. Yale’s residential colleges had courtyards and one day from our third-floor window I heard a roommate, returning from spring vacation, yelling from that courtyard that he was no longer a virgin, that he had “screwed” his girlfriend. He bragged ceaselessly about this for the next 24 hours, upping the ante on what he had done, and just how spectacular it all was, while others pitched in with their own tales of sexual bravado. I said nothing. Finally, clearly because I hadn’t joined in, he pulled me aside and told me the actual story of a desperately failed encounter, a nightmare for him and undoubtedly even more so for his girlfriend. It was hair-raising. Among other things, at that age I didn’t want to know how bad it could be (and keep in mind that, back then, information about sex was in distinctly short supply in the society at large).

All of this represented a truly poisonous system that was everyday life for boys. Until I grew up, until feminism came along, I wasn’t going to be privy to just what that culture felt like from the other side of the aisle, just how grimly those lies and the “truths” that went with them often played out in women’s lives, but at least I knew in a modest sort of way just how badly it all played out in my life. When I think of the online male trolls of the present moment, I imagine a modernized version of that grim male culture of self-inflicted lies running riot in a new world of social media which is open, at least, to the rest of us to see. It’s so much clearer now just how poisonous it is when young (and not so young) men lie ceaselessly to each other and everyone else at the expense of women. Such a system is also far more open to puncturing, and so to change, and it’s that reality which TomDispatch regular Rebecca Solnit, author of the bestselling book Men Explain Things to Me (just out in a new hardcover edition with two extra essays added), considers today — and thank heaven! Tom Engelhardt

Feminism: The men arrive!
(Hooray! Uh-oh!)
By Rebecca Solnit

What do the prime minister of India, retired National Football League punter Chris Kluwe, and superstar comedian Aziz Ansari have in common? It’s not that they’ve all walked into a bar, though Ansari could probably figure out the punch line to that joke. They’ve all spoken up for feminism this year, part of an unprecedented wave of men actively engaging with what’s usually called “women’s issues,” though violence and discrimination against women are only women’s issues because they’re things done to women — mostly by men, so maybe they should always have been “men’s issues.”

The arrival of the guys signifies a sea change, part of an extraordinary year for feminism, in which the conversation has been transformed, as have some crucial laws, while new voices and constituencies joined in. There have always been men who agreed on the importance of those women’s issues, and some who spoke up, but never in such numbers or with such effect. And we need them. So consider this a watershed year for feminism.

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Ann Jones: The missing women of Afghanistan

From the beginning, it was to be “Russia’s Vietnam.”  First the administration of President Jimmy Carter, then that of President Ronald Reagan was determined to give the Soviet Union a taste of what the U.S. had gone through in its disastrous 14-year war in Southeast Asia.  As National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski would later put it, “On the day that the Soviets officially crossed the [Afghan] border [in 1979], I wrote to President Carter, saying, in essence: ‘We now have the opportunity of giving to the USSR its Vietnam War.'” And with that in mind, the CIA (aided by the Saudis and Pakistanis) would arm, train, and advise extreme Islamist factions in Pakistan and dispatch them across the border to give the Soviets a taste of what Washington considered their own medicine, Vietnam-style.

It worked in a major way. Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev would later call Afghanistan “the bleeding wound” and, in 1989, a decade after the Red Army had crossed that border, it would limp home to a fading empire on the edge of implosion.  It was a classic Cold War triumph for Washington, the last needed before the Soviet Union stepped off the edge of history and disappeared… oh, except for one small thing: those well-armed extremists didn’t conveniently go away.  It wasn’t mission accomplished.  Not by half.  A taste of Vietnam for the Russians turned out to be only the hors d’oeuvre for a main course still to come.  And the rest of the disastrous history of what Chalmers Johnson would term “blowback,” even before it fully blew back not just on devastated Afghanistan, but on New York City and Washington, is painfully well known and not yet over.  Not by half.

As a result, when the Bush administration launched America’s second Afghan war in October 2001, whether it knew it or not, it was prescribing for itself a taste of the medicine it had given the Soviets back in the 1980s.  Think of it as the worst possible version of do-it-yourself doctoring.  Now, another 13 years have passed.  We’re three and a half decades beyond Brzezinksi’s urge to Vietnamize the USSR in Afghanistan and that Central Asian country is a basket case.  The Taliban insurgency is back big time; the Afghan army and police are taking horrific casualties, and you can bet that, with one eye on the collapsed Iraqi army the U.S. trained and armed, there are plenty of anxious people in the Pentagon when it comes to those Afghan security forces into which the U.S. has sunk at least $60 billion.  In the meantime, the “democracy” that the U.S. promised to bring to the country has experienced a second deeply fraudulent presidential election, this time with a vote so contested and filled with questionable balloting practices that the final count couldn’t be released to the country.  A new government was instead cobbled together under Washington’s ministrations in a way that bears no relation to the country’s constitution.

In the meantime, Afghanistan is rife with corruption of every imaginable sort and, worst of all, its only real success story, its bumper crop, is once again the opium poppy.  In fact, last year the country raised a record opium crop, worth $3 billion, beating out the previous global record holder– Afghanistan — by 50%!  On America’s watch, it is the planet’s preeminent narco-state.  And keep in mind that, in line with the history of the last 13 years of the American occupation and garrisoning of the country (with a possible 10 more to go), the U.S. put $7.6 billion dollars into programs of every sort to eradicate poppy growing.  So, once again, mission accomplished!  Today, TomDispatch regular Ann Jones, author of They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return From America’s Wars — The Untold Story, looks back at what those 13 years of “America’s Afghanistan” meant to the women whom the Bush administration so proudly “liberated” on invading the country.  And given its success in poppy eradication, how do you think Washington did on that one? Tom Engelhardt

The missing women of Afghanistan
After 13 years of war, the rule of men, not law
By Ann Jones

On September 29th, power in Afghanistan changed hands for the first time in 13 years. At the Arg, the presidential palace in Kabul, Ashraf Ghani was sworn in as president, while the outgoing Hamid Karzai watched calmly from a front-row seat.  Washington, congratulating itself on this “peaceful transition,” quickly collected the new president’s autograph on a bilateral security agreement that assures the presence of American forces in Afghanistan for at least another decade. The big news of the day: the U.S. got what it wanted.  (Precisely why Americans should rejoice that our soldiers will stay in Afghanistan for another 10 years is never explained.)

The big news of the day for Afghans was quite different — not the long expected continuation of the American occupation but what the new president had to say in his inaugural speech about his wife, Rula Ghani. Gazing at her as she sat in the audience, he called her by name, praised her work with refugees, and announced that she would continue that work during his presidency.

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Studs Terkel on death and forgiveness in America

Studs Terkel, who put oral history on the American map with one spectacular book after another, was a small man who had a knack for making everyone around him feel larger than life. He taught me the first significant lesson I learned as a book editor — and he didn’t even know it. I stumbled into Pantheon Books in the summer of 1976, hired (on the basis of remarkably little) by André Schiffrin, who ran that pioneering publishing outfit. I had only the most minimal idea of what a book editor was or did, but on one thing I was clear: I was going to put new voices between covers. (I would later start calling them “voices from elsewhere, even when the elsewhere is here.”) I couldn’t have been less interested in well known or famous writers. I was, that is, something of a reverse snob.

Nonetheless, one day that first fall André came into my office with the manuscript of Stud Terkel’s memoir, Talking to Myself, which was to be published the following spring. He asked me to read it because Studs — he claimed — wanted my reaction. A longtime Chicago radio personality, who had even hosted an early, unscripted TV show, “Studs’ Place,” set in a fictional bar (the “Cheers” of its era), he was well known indeed. The first book he and André had done together, Division Street: America, had broken into bestsellerdom and neither of them had ever looked back.

Studs didn’t know me from a hole in the wall, so I didn’t take the request seriously until André returned a few days later to ask whether I had read the manuscript. I hadn’t. He said, “Please do. Studs is waiting anxiously.” Anxiously? That was hard to imagine, but when your boss insists… so I went home, read it, and two days later let him know what I thought. (What could you think, given that Studs was fantastic at what he did?) Soon after, he put me on the phone with Studs to tell him just how good it was and make a few modest, last-minute suggestions.

So many years later, I still remember that unforgettable voice (possibly the last on Earth out of which a cigar emerged) saying something like, “Do you really mean it, Tom?” What I’ll specifically never forget was the quaver in it, the shiver that seemed like a caricature of fear. After all, he was the best-known author I’d ever talked to and, as a young man with enough doubts of my own, it had never crossed my mind that a successful writer might feel vulnerable when it came to his latest work or give a damn about the opinion of a total nobody. In a way, that moment taught me everything I needed to know about the essential vulnerability of the writer and, thanks to Studs, I never looked back.

For years, André, who was his editor, would call me in to take a final look at his oral histories. (It was like sending in the second team.) Only after I left Pantheon did I became Studs’ primary editor. It was the experience of a lifetime. Just to give you a little taste of the man, I’m including excerpts from the only letter of his I still have, typed by hand, filled with X’d out words, and further hand-corrected in pen. It came with the first batch of rough interviews for the final book we worked on together, an oral history of political activism aptly titled Hope Dies Last. By that time, Studs was in his early nineties and still a human dynamo.  Maxwell Perkins, whom he mentions, was a famed editor who joined the venerable firm of Scribner’s wanting to publish vibrant young voices and ended up working with, among others, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and most famously the novelist Thomas Wolfe who simply couldn’t stop writing, which meant that his books involved marathon bouts of editing. Here, then, are the first two paragraphs of that letter in his telegraphese.

“Post-election day,” Studs began. “A hell of a time to write about hope… The ton of stuff — good and less than good. Since what you have is the raw stuff — I have already tossed aside about 20 [interviews] — I shall, of course, begin my cuts shortly after you receive this messy letter.

“You’ll be my Maxwell Perkins, though you don’t wear a hat, and I’m your Thomas Wolfe, though a foot and a half shorter than he was…”

And here’s how he ended: “I’m eagerly looking forward to your reactions when you get this bundle. Horrified [though] you may be by its bulk, remember you’re my Maxwell Perkins. If it works out, I’ll buy you a hat.”

What a guy (even if I never got that hat)! I always considered it appropriately Studsian that the book preceding Hope Dies Last was his oral history of death, Will the Circle Be Unbroken?: Reflections on Death, Rebirth, and Hunger for a Faith. Studs himself died in 2008. Circle has just been reissued in paperback with a new Jane Gross introduction by the New Press, the publishing house that André, who died last December, set up after he was forced out of Pantheon by Sy Newhouse, the right-wing owner of its parent company, Random House.

Given the grim panorama of death these days — from beheadings to pandemics — and the hysteria accompanying it all, I thought it might be both a relief and a change of pace at TomDispatch to turn back to Studs’ oral history of death, which as its editor I can testify is moving and uncannily uplifting. That, of course, is not as odd as it sounds from the man who was the troubadour for the extraordinary ordinary American. Thanks to the kindness of his publisher, the New Press, I’ve chosen two interviews from that book which stayed in my mind these last 13 years: the first focuses on an impulse that may be among the hardest to understand and yet most moving to encounter, forgiveness; and the second, from this country’s medical front lines, centers on a subject that, unfortunately, is still all too timely: the trauma deaths of young Americans from gunshot wounds. This is the only book I ever remember editing while, in some cases, crying. Tom Engelhardt

“You got into my heart violently, but you’re there”
Trauma, death, and forgiveness on the front lines of American life
By Studs Terkel

[The following is excerpted from the new paperback edition of Studs Terkel’s oral history of death, Will The Circle Be Unbroken?: Reflections on Death, Rebirth, and Hunger for a Faith, with special thanks to his publisher, the New Press.]

“The Other Son”
Maurine Young

In contrast to her husband’s introspective nature, she is outgoing, a large-boned woman, overflowing with gusto and ebullience. She frequently laughs out loud.

I’m a forty-six-year-old woman of Jewish-Gentile descent — my father’s a Jew, my mother’s a Gentile. My parents divorced when I was young, and I was raised by my stepfather — raised Catholic. He was a truck driver. My younger brother, Mark, became a truck driver. I went to public school. But I went to the Catholic catechism every Wednesday. I did the confirmation and all that kind of stuff. I got close to age twelve, thirteen, and I began to see what I was saved from. I was saved from Hell. But what Catholicism wasn’t teaching me was what I was saved to. They didn’t tell me how to live with God and experience a taste of Heaven on Earth, now. So I began to pull away from the Church. It just didn’t meet my needs.

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Rory Fanning: Why do we keep thanking the troops?

More than a few times I’ve found myself in a crowd of Vietnam veterans, and more than a few times at least one of them was wearing a curious blue or yellow t-shirt.  Once that shirt undoubtedly fit a lean physique of the late 1970s or early 1980s, but by the time I saw it modeled, in the 2000s, it was getting mighty snug.  Still, they refused to part with it.  On it was some variation of the outline of a map of Vietnam with bit of grim humor superimposed: “Participant, Southeast Asia War Games, 1961-1975: Second Place.”

I was always struck by it.  These men of the “Me Generation” had come home to the sneers and backhanded comments of the men of the “Greatest Generation,” their fathers’ era.  They had supposedly been the first Americans to lose a war.  However, instead of the defensive apparel donned by some vets (“We were winning when I left”), they wore their loss for all to see, pride mingling with a sardonic sense of humor.

Today’s military is made up of still another generation, the Millennials, representatives of the 80 million Americans born between 1980 and 2000.  In fact, with nearly 43% of the active duty force age 25 or younger and roughly 66% of it 30 or under, it’s one of the most Millennial-centric organizations around.

As a whole, the Millennials have been regularly pilloried in the press for being the “Participation Trophy Generation.”  Coddled, self-centered, with delusions of grandeur, they’re inveterate narcissists with outlandish expectations and a runaway sense of entitlement.  They demand everything, they’re addicted to social media, fast Wi-Fi, and phablets, they cry when criticized, they want praise on tap, and refuse to wear anything but their hoodies and “fuck you flip-flops” like the face of their generation, the Ur-millennial: Mark Zuckerberg!

At least that’s the knock on them. Then again, when didn’t prior generations knock the current one?

The National Institutes of Health did determine people in their 20s have Narcissistic Personality Disorder three times more often than those 65 or older and a recent survey by Reason and pollster Rupe did find that those 18-24 are indeed in favor of participation trophies unlike older Americans who overwhelmingly favor winners-only prizes.  Still, it’s a little early to pass blanket judgment on an entire generation of whom the youngest members are only on the cusp of high school.  The Millennials may yet surprise even the most cantankerous coots. Time will tell.

The Millennial military, however, isn’t doing the generation any favors.  Despite its dismal record when it comes to winning wars and a recent magnification of its repeated failures in Iraq, today’s military seems to crave and demand that its soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen be thanked and lauded at every turn.  As a result, the Pentagon is involved in stage-managing all manner of participation-trophy spectacles to make certain they are — from the ballpark to the NASCAR track to the Academy of Country Music’s “An All-Star Salute to the Troops” concert at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas earlier this year.

And like those great enablers of the Millennial trophy kids, so-called helicopter parents, the American public regularly provides cheap praise and empty valorization for veterans, writes Rory Fanning in TomDispatch debut.  A veteran of the war in Afghanistan — having served two tours with the 2nd Army Ranger Battalion before becoming a conscientious objector — Fanning explores America’s thank-you-for-your-service culture, what vets are actually being thanked for, and why Rihanna’s hollow patriotism left him depressed.  His moving new book, Worth Fighting For: An Army Ranger’s Journey Out of the Military and Across America, captures his 3,000-mile trek through and encounter with this country, an unforced march meant to honor Pat Tillman and question the nature of our recent wars.

I don’t get to hang out with Vietnam vets as much as I used to, but late one night a year or two ago I found myself with a few of them in an almost deserted bar.  Having ducked out of the annual meeting of a veterans’ group, we ordered some beers from a Millennial-age waiter.  He asked if my 60-something compatriots were attending the nearby conference and they mumbled that they indeed were.  The waiter seemed to momentarily straighten up.  “Thank you for your service,” he solemnly intoned before bounding off to get the beers.  One of veterans — a Marine who had seen his fair share of combat — commented on how much he hated that phrase.  “They do it reflexively.  That’s how they’ve been raised,” I replied.  “I hope they wise up,” said another of the vets.  Time — as with all things Millennial — will tell. Nick Turse

Thank you for your valor, thank you for your service, thank you, thank you, thank you…
Still on the thank-you tour-of-duty circuit, 13 years later
By Rory Fanning

Last week, in a quiet indie bookstore on the north side of Chicago, I saw the latest issue of Rolling Stone resting on a chrome-colored plastic table a few feet from a barista brewing a vanilla latte.  A cold October rain fell outside. A friend of mine grabbed the issue and began flipping through it. Knowing that I was a veteran, he said, “Hey, did you see this?” pointing to a news story that seemed more like an ad.  It read in part:

“This Veterans Day, Bruce Springsteen, Eminem, Rihanna, Dave Grohl, and Metallica will be among numerous artists who will head to the National Mall in Washington D.C. on November 11th for ‘The Concert For Valor,’ an all-star event that will pay tribute to armed services.”

“Concert For Valor? That sounds like something the North Korean government would organize,” I said as I typed Concertforvalor.com into my MacBook Pro looking for more information.

The sucking sound from the espresso maker was drowning out a 10-year-old Shins song. As I read, my heart sank, my shoulders slumped.

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Laura Gottesdiener: Adrift in oil country

Think of it as a Walrusgram written on the sand of a northwest Alaskan beach and sent to the planet.  The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Arctic marine mammal aerial survey noticed them first, those 35,000 walruses that had come ashore in unheard of numbers because their usual sea ice has simply melted away.  The photos are dramatic.  You couldn’t ask for a clearer message from a species that normally doesn’t write out its thoughts on the subject of our changing, warming planet.

For those who prefer their science not from the walrus’s mouth (so to speak), there has been equally relevant news on the same subject lately from another species.  Think of them as scientists clambering ashore from a wounded world.  Only weeks ago, it was reported that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere had reached record levels in 2013 and, perhaps even more unsettlingly, that oceans and terrestrial plant life, both major “carbon sinks,” were absorbing less CO2 than in the past.  Now, we have news that the oceans have actually been warming significantly faster than anyone previously imagined.  The latest figures indicate that “the upper 2,300 feet of the Southern Hemisphere’s oceans may have warmed twice as quickly after 1970 than had previously been thought… [and that] the upper levels of the planet’s oceans — those of the northern and southern hemispheres combined — had been warming during several decades prior to 2005 at rates that were 24 to 58 percent faster than had previously been realized.”

None of this is good news, of course, not if you have any sort of investment in future generations living on a planet anywhere near as hospitable as the one we’ve been on for so long.  But talk about dissociation.  While those walruses were climbing out of the water and the scientists were reporting their latest grim numbers, in the American heartland thousands of workers shaken loose from other worlds have been heading for boom times in North Dakota and elsewhere in our fracklands.  There, the exploitation of previously unrecoverable oil shale and natural gas deposits via hydro-fracking has pundits bragging about this country as “Saudi America” and the president aggressively planning to make “the oil weapon” a central feature in American foreign policy.

Between the two worlds, the one producing ever more fossil fuels amid a let-the-good-times-roll spirit of triumphalism and the one slowly melting down under the impact of what those fossil fuels release into the atmosphere, there sometimes seems no connection at all.  Clear as the link may be, each of these worlds often might as well be located on a different planet.

TomDispatch’s Laura Gottesdiener had the rare urge to land on that other planet, the one most of us never experience that produces fossil fuels with such exuberance, and see just what we’re all missing.  Here’s her vivid report from the front lines of American fossil-fuel extraction. Tom Engelhardt

A trip to Kuwait (on the prairie)
Life inside the boom
By Laura Gottesdiener

At 9 p.m. on that August night, when I arrived for my first shift as a cocktail waitress at Whispers, one of the two strip clubs in downtown Williston, I didn’t expect a 25-year-old man to get beaten to death outside the joint. Then again, I didn’t really expect most of the things I encountered reporting on the oil boom in western North Dakota this past summer.

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