Subhankar Banerjee: Fire at world’s end

Normally, Americans love breaking records. (“We’re number one! We’re number one!”) But the latest records to come out of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration should make anyone’s heart sink. Here’s how the World Meteorological Society put the news in a recent press release: “The globally averaged temperature over land and ocean surfaces for January to June 2015, as well as for the month of June, was the hottest such period on record.” June itself was a global record-setter for warmth, as had been May and March in this thermometer-busting year, and February might also have squeaked into the number-one spot in recorded history. If so, four of the six months of this year were uniquely, grimly warm. And batten down the hatches since this is now officially an El Niño year in which surface water temperatures in the tropical Pacific Ocean are heating up significantly, possibly to historic levels, and global weather and storm patterns could be affected in major ways.

Where’s that (discredited) “pause” in global warming now that we need it? In the American West, still gripped by a devastating drought, wildfires are raging from California to Western Canada to Alaska. Hundreds of those Canadian wildfires have been burning away and, as desperate people leave the fire areas, a new phrase has entered our language: “wildfire refugees.” Here are two more words that may become more commonplace in the future: “fleeing” (as in “from hotels and campgrounds”) and — in one of our great national parks, Glacier in Montana, part of which is now ablaze — “evacuation.”

TomDispatch regular and award-winning photographer Subhankar Banerjee lives on the Olympic Peninsula in the state of Washington and has recently found himself on the frontlines of the present wildfire season and of climate change. In his latest piece, he takes us into perhaps the single place least likely to be ablaze in America and oh yes, if you haven’t already guessed, it’s on fire. Welcome to — if you’ll excuse my appropriation of a classic phrase from our past — the new world Tom Engelhardt

Paradise burning
Why we all need to learn the word “anthropogenic”
By Subhankar Banerjee

The wettest rainforest in the continental United States had gone up in flames and the smoke was so thick, so blanketing, that you could see it miles away. Deep in Washington’s Olympic National Park, the aptly named Paradise Fire, undaunted by the dampness of it all, was eating the forest alive and destroying an ecological Eden. In this season of drought across the West, there have been far bigger blazes but none quite so symbolic or offering quite such grim news. It isn’t the size of the fire (though it is the largest in the park’s history), nor its intensity. It’s something else entirely — the fact that it shouldn’t have been burning at all. When fire can eat a rainforest in a relatively cool climate, you know the Earth is beginning to burn.

And here’s the thing: the Olympic Peninsula is my home. Its destruction is my personal nightmare and I couldn’t stay away.

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Eduardo Galeano: The previous sole superpower

Recently, Susan Bergholz, the devoted literary agent of the late Uruguayan writer and planetary great Eduardo Galeano, sent me this brief email: “A friend of Eduardo’s and mine called yesterday to tell me, ‘Now we know where Eduardo went: he became pope!’” Somehow, that thought raised my spirits immeasurably. I was about to turn 71 and feeling my age as the dog days of summer approached. After all, when I flip through my address book — and yes, I’m old enough to have a “dumb” one filled out with that ancient potion, ink — it often reads like a book of the dead. I miss friends and authors I worked with like Chalmers Johnson and Jonathan Schell whose ways of thinking helped me make sense of our world. Eduardo has now entered that realm. I was once his English-language book editor and couldn’t be more proud of it. He remains one of my heroes.

When I’m in such moods, TomDispatch offers me an advantage few have. I can resuscitate the dead — and so, with Pope Francis’s excoriating words about our deteriorating planet in mind, I thought I might bring back from the grave the “pope” of my life. History had a strange way of spilling its secrets to Eduardo Galeano, who died in April, and in his late-in-life masterpiece, Mirrors, a history of humanity in 366 episodes, he took us from our first myths to late last night. He could blend the distant past and yesterday (or even tomorrow) in a fashion that took your breath away. Here, for instance, is a passage he wrote early in Mirrors on the “origin of writing” that captures the essence of those first scratches on clay tablets and of the 2003 invasion of Iraq:

“When Iraq was not yet Iraq, it was the birthplace of the first written words.

The words look like bird tracks. Masterful hands drew them in clay with sharpened canes.

Fire annihilates and rescues, kills and gives life, as do the gods, as do we. Fire hardened the clay and preserved the words. Thanks to fire, the clay tablets still tell what they told thousands of years ago in that land of two rivers.

In our days, George W. Bush, perhaps believing that writing was invented in Texas, launched with joyful impunity a war to exterminate Iraq. There were thousands upon thousands of victims, and not all of them were flesh and blood. A great deal of memory was murdered too.

Living history in the form of numerous clay tablets were stolen or destroyed by bombs.

One of the tablets said:

We are dust and nothing
All that we do is no more than wind.”

If George W. Bush did a remarkable impersonation of the (whirl)wind across the Greater Middle East, with results that grow more horrific by the day, here is a set of passages from Mirrors on the planet’s previous superpower, a small island nation that caused its own kind of devastation. This little history of Great Britain from the Opium Wars to Darwin’s finches ends on a typically spectacular Galeano riff on the nature of humanity. My thanks go to his publisher, Nation Books, for allowing me to bring Eduardo alive again at TomDispatch. I hope his spirit continues to inhabit this planet for a long time to come. Tom Engelhardt

God’s masterpiece or the devil’s bad joke?
Barbarians and apes — from the Opium Wars to the Origin of the Species
By Eduardo Galeano

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

Origin of Freedom of Oppression

Opium was outlawed in China.

British merchants smuggled it in from India. Their diligent efforts led to a surge in the number of Chinese dependent on the mother of heroin and morphine, who charmed them with false happiness and ruined their lives.

The smugglers were fed up with the hindrances they faced at the hands of Chinese authorities. Developing the market required free trade, and free trade demanded war.

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Max Blumenthal: The next Gaza war

We’ve just passed the first “anniversary” — if such a word can even be used with such a catastrophe — of Operation Protective Edge, Israel’s third invasion of the Gaza Strip in recent years. That small bit of land has now suffered more devastation than just about any place on the planet. In the wake of the third war since 2008, more than 100,000 displaced Gazans remain homeless or crowded in with relatives. Whole neighborhoods, destroyed in the conflict, have yet to be rebuilt. A year later, there is still next to no electricity, the area’s sole power plant having been taken out by Israeli air strikes, and the situation when it comes to sewage and potable water, is disastrous. Blockaded and devastated by repeated wars, Gaza’s manufacturing sector has almost disappeared, while its economy is “on the verge of collapse,” according to the World Bank. In short, by any standard, Gaza is not a livable place and yet 1.8 million people (more than half of them under 18 years old, 43% under 15) are crammed into it with nowhere to go and in most cases nothing to do. After all, Gaza now has what may be the highest unemployment rate on the planet at 44%, with youth unemployment reaching 60%.

The great Israeli reporter Amira Hass, author of the classic book Drinking the Sea at Gaza: Days and Nights in a Land Under Siege, recently put the matter this way: “In practice, Gaza has become a huge, let me be blunt, concentration camp… This is not a novelty… This did not start, unlike what many people think, with the rise of Hamas… This policy of sealing off Gaza, of making Gazans into… defacto prisoners, started [in 1991]… So if I want to sum up the reality of Gaza: it is a huge prison… It is an Israel-meditated, pre-meditated, pre-planned, and planned project to separate Gaza from the West Bank.”

Max Blumenthal’s new book, The 51 Day War: Ruin and Resistance in Gaza, catches the nightmare of the third war in this tiny piece of land in the last six-and-a-half years in a uniquely gripping way. In its pages, you follow him directly into the devastation of the Israeli invasion. (He entered Gaza during the first extended truce of the war.) I doubt there could be a more vivid account of what it felt like, as a Palestinian civilian, to endure those weeks of horror, massive destruction, and killing. Today at TomDispatch, he looks back on that experience and forward to what he doesn’t doubt will be the fourth war of its kind. If he’s right, then sadly, in the years to come, some reporter will be writing yet another book on a Gaza war. Tom Engelhardt

The fire next time
Before homes are even rebuilt in the ruins of the Gaza Strip, another war looms
By Max Blumenthal

“A fourth operation in the Gaza Strip is inevitable, just as a third Lebanon war is inevitable,” declared Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman in February. His ominous comments came just days after an anti-tank missile fired by the Lebanon-based guerrilla group Hezbollah killed two soldiers in an Israeli army convoy. It, in turn, was a response to an Israeli air strike that resulted in the assassination of several high-ranking Hezbollah figures.

Lieberman offered his prediction only four months after his government concluded Operation Protective Edge, the third war between Israel and the armed factions of the Gaza Strip, which had managed to reduce about 20% of besieged Gaza to an apocalyptic moonscape. Even before the assault was launched, Gaza was a warehouse for surplus humanity — a 360-square-kilometer ghetto of Palestinian refugees expelled by and excluded from the self-proclaimed Jewish state. For this population, whose members are mostly under the age of 18, the violence has become a life ritual that repeats every year or two. As the first anniversary of Protective Edge passes, Lieberman’s unsettling prophecy appears increasingly likely to come true. Indeed, odds are that the months of relative “quiet” that followed his statement will prove nothing more than an interregnum between Israel’s ever more devastating military escalations.

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Pratap Chatterjee: No lone rangers in drone warfare

Since November 2002, when a CIA drone strike destroyed the SUV of “al-Qaeda’s chief operative in Yemen,” Qaed Salim Sinan al-Harethi (“U.S. kills al-Qaeda suspects in Yemen”), it’s been almost 13 years of unending repeat headlines. Here are a few recent ones: “U.S. drone strike kills a senior Islamic State militant in Syria,” “Drone kills ISIL operative linked to Benghazi,” “Drone kills four Qaeda suspects in Yemen,” “U.S. drone strike kills Yemen al-Qaida leader Nasir al-Wuhayshi,” “U.S. drone strikes target Islamic State fighters along Afghanistan-Pakistan border.” Those last strikes in Eastern Afghanistan reportedly killed 49 “militants.”  (Sometimes they are called “terror suspects.”) And there’s no question that, from Somalia to Pakistan, Libya to Syria, Yemen to Iraq, various al-Qaeda or Islamic State leaders and “lieutenants” have bitten the dust along with significant numbers of terror grunts and hundreds of the collaterally damaged, including women and children.

These repetitive headlines should signal the kind of victory that Washington would celebrate for years to come. A muscular American technology is knocking off the enemy in significant numbers without a single casualty to us. Think of it as a real-life version of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s heroic machine in certain of the Terminator movies. If the programs that have launched hundreds of drone strikes in the backlands of the planet over these years remain “covert,” they have nonetheless been a point of pride for a White House that regularly uses a “kill list” to send robot assassins into the field. From Washington’s point of view, its drone wars remain, as a former CIA director once bragged, “the only game in town” when it comes to al-Qaeda (and its affiliates, wannabes, and competitors).

As it happens, almost 13 years later, there are just one or two little problems with this scenario of American techno-wizardry pummeling terrorism into the dust of history. One is that, despite the many individuals bumped off, the dust cloud of terrorism keeps on growing. Across much of the Greater Middle East and northern Africa, the drone assassination program continues to act like a recruitment poster for a bevy of terror outfits. In every country (with the possible exception of Somalia) where U.S. drone strikes have been repeatedly employed, the situation is far worse today than in 2001.  In the two countries where it all began, Afghanistan and Yemen, it’s significantly — in the case of Yemen, infinitely — worse.

Even the idea of war without casualties (for us, that is) hasn’t quite panned out as planned, not if, as TomDispatch regular Pratap Chatterjee reports today, you count the spread of post-traumatic stress disorder among the drone operators.  In fact, given how humdrum headlines about the droning of terror leaders have become in our world, and the visible futility and failure that goes with them, you might think that someone in Washington would reconsider the efficacy of drones — of, that is, an assassination machine that has proven anything but a victory weapon. In any world but ours, it might even seem logical to ground our terminators for a while and reconsider their use. In Washington, there’s not a chance in hell of that, not unless, as Chatterjee suggests, both resistance and casualties in the drone program grow to such a degree that a grounding comes from the bottom, not the top. It turns out that — remember your Terminator films here — if a future John Connor is to stop Washington’s robotic killing operations, he or she is likely to be found within the drone program itself. Tom Engelhardt

Killing by committee in the global Wild West
The perpetrators become the victims of drone warfare
By Pratap Chatterjee

The myth of the lone drone warrior is now well established and threatens to become as enduring as that of the lone lawman with a white horse and a silver bullet who rode out into the Wild West to find the bad guys. In a similar fashion, the unsung hero of Washington’s modern War on Terror in the wild backlands of the planet is sometimes portrayed as a mysterious Central Intelligence Agency officer.  Via modern technology, he prowls Central Asian or Middle Eastern skies with his unmanned Predator drone, dispatching carefully placed Hellfire missiles to kill top al-Qaeda terrorists in their remote hideouts.

So much for the myth. In reality, there’s nothing “lone” about drone warfare. Think of the structure for carrying out Washington’s drone killing program as a multidimensional pyramid populated with hundreds of personnel and so complex that just about no one involved really grasps the full picture. Cian Westmoreland, a U.S. Air Force veteran who helped set up the drone data communications system over southeastern Afghanistan back in 2009, puts the matter bluntly: “There are so many people in the chain of actions that it has become increasingly difficult to understand the true impact of what we do. The diffusion of responsibility distances people from the moral weight of their decisions.”

In addition, it’s a program under pressure, killing continually, and losing its own personnel at a startling and possibly unsustainable rate due to “wounds” that no one ever imagined as part of this war. There are, in fact, two groups feeling the greatest impact from Washington’s ongoing air campaigns: lowly drone intelligence “analysts,” often fresh out of high school, and women and children living in poverty on the other side of the world.

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Ellen Cantarow: Paradise lost — or found?

In September 2014, there was a massive climate change march, estimated at 400,000 people, in New York City and I was there with my family.  It was so jam-packed that, as I wrote at the time, it took my crew an hour and a half just to begin walking and three and a half hours to reach the official starting line for the march.  Todd Gitlin, former president of the 1960s group Students for a Democratic Society, is a man who knows a thing or two about movements and how to recognize them.  After marching in that October rally to save the planet, he wrote a TomDispatch piece in which he anointed what he saw “a genuine global climate movement.” (“Call me a convert, but it’s here; it’s big; it’s real; it matters.”)

And nothing that’s happened since — from a spreading movement to promote divestment from fossil fuel stocks to Pope Francis’s encyclical on a declining planet or the big-tent way he enlisted well-known climate-change activist and author Naomi Klein in his cause — indicates that Gitlin was anything but right. You don’t, however, have to look to God’s vicar or famous activists or masses of demonstrators marching in one big city under every slogan imaginable to convince yourself that something’s happening. On a planet that has already had the hottest five months in recorded history this year, something is happening (even if you don’t quite know what it is, Mr. Jones). If you want proof that this is so and isn’t just a matter of high-profile, big-headline types, you could follow 350.org founder Bill McKibben into deepest Vermont to explore ways in which everyday Americans are retrofitting their homes for a new energy future. Or you could tag along with TomDispatch’s Ellen Cantarow into the American countryside to see how ordinary citizens are fighting courageously — and with ingenious tactics — against Big Energy companies trying to turn this country into “Saudi America” in a drill-baby-drill world.

In the Finger Lakes, an area of New York State you may never have heard of, Cantarow offers a glimpse of the small-scale, local ways in which Americans are standing up to Big Energy corporations. She describes how they are doing their inventive best to seize the day and ensure that our children and grandchildren remain on a planet capable of supporting them. Tom Engelhardt

Dirty energy vs. clean power
The past battles the future at Seneca Lake
By Ellen Cantarow

Let’s amend the famous line from Joni Mitchell’s “Yellow Taxi” to fit this moment in the Finger Lakes region of New York State. There, Big Energy seems determined to turn paradise, if not into a parking lot, then into a massive storage area for fracked natural gas. But there’s one way in which that song doesn’t quite match reality. Mitchell famously wrote, “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.” As part of a growing global struggle between Big Energy and a movement focused on creating a fossil-fuel-free future, however, the residents of the Finger Lakes seem to know just what they’ve got and they’re determined not to let it go. As a result, a local struggle against a corporation determined to bring in those fracked fuels catches a changing mood not just in the United States but across the world when it comes to protecting the planet, one place at a time, if necessary.

It’s difficult to imagine a more picturesque landscape, a more tranquil locale, a more bucolic garden spot than the Finger Lakes region. Each year, it draws tens of thousands of tourists to gaze at the waterfalls in Watkins Glen, to kayak and canoe in its deep waters, to dine in its farm-to-table restaurants and enjoy the homespun hospitality of its bed and breakfasts. Lush vineyards rustle on tree-studded hillsides. Wine Enthusiast magazine gave it top honors last year, calling it “one of the most vibrant and promising wine regions of the world.” There are fruit and vegetable farms and sugar maples, too. In 2013, the state’s maple syrup production ranked second only to Vermont’s.

The eleven Finger Lakes are among the wonders of the natural world. At 38 miles in length, Seneca Lake is the second longest of them, its 4.2 trillion gallons of water provide drinking water for 100,000 people. Its shallows are home to warm-water fish like smallmouth bass and yellow perch. Its deep waters play host to lake trout and Atlantic salmon and have created a unique microclimate in the surrounding region, neither too cold in winter nor too warm in summer, allowing agriculture to flourish.

Perhaps inspired by the ecological marvel that is their home, many of the Finger Lakes vineyards and vegetable farms rely on sustainable production methods. At the same time, wineries, hundreds of businesses, and individual families have begun converting from the use of fossil fuels to alternative energies. Tompkins County, adjacent to Seneca Lake, has even developed a solar energy program that has inspired similar efforts in counties across the state. A regional wind farm is scheduled to start operating in 2016. Clean and green seems to be the ethos of the region, but all that could change fast — and soon.

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Greg Grandin: How endless war helps Old Dixie stay new

“They finally shot the nigger!” the sparrow-slight soldier whooped. Nicknamed “Georgia” for the obvious reason, that’s what he apparently ran around shouting once word of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination wound its way out into the electric-green paddy fields of South Vietnam. I was told the story more than once by a member of his unit and often imagined what it must have been like, especially for his black brothers-in-arms, to be smacked with that news and that epithet all at once. Yet, on some level, it wasn’t the least bit shocking. Labeled a “total racist” by a fellow member of his unit, Georgia was one of many white soldiers hailing from the former Confederate States of America whose bigotry was on full display during the Vietnam War.

As “soul brothers” and “bloods” across South Vietnam embraced emerging ideas about black consciousness, black pride, and black power, racist white troops responded by donning Ku Klux Klan robes, burning crosses, and embracing other symbols of white supremacy. Reflecting on his decision to join the militant Black Panthers after returning from Vietnam, Reginald Edwards, who served as a rifleman with the Marines, recalled: “We had already fought for the white man in Vietnam. It was clearly his war. If it wasn’t, you wouldn’t have seen as many Confederate flags as you saw.” Dwyte Brown, who served in the Navy, told journalist Wallace Terry that, in the barracks at the U.S. base in Cam Ranh Bay, “there would be nothing but Confederate flags all over the place.”

In the midst of the recent Confederate flag fallout following the massacre in Charleston, TomDispatch regular Greg Grandin revisits this much-neglected history and so much else that came before and after. Tracing the sordid story of the Old South’s battle flag, that symbol of bitter-end racism, from its raising by Marines on Okinawa during the Second World War to more recent appearances in Iraq and Afghanistan, Grandin shines a light on a larger and more troubling military embrace of the Confederacy — something the Pentagon would, no doubt, rather keep hidden from view.

Georgia, the soldier who cheered King’s 1968 murder, seemingly conformed to all the stereotypes you might imagine. “He had a little tape player. And all he had was one tape of every Hank Williams song there ever was and he played them constantly whenever we were in base camp,” I was told. But what he did out in the field — where the stifling heat of the day gave way to dank nights in cool, clammy foxholes — shocked me. “Georgia was this little white racist and Mitchell was this great big black guy, and when it would rain and get cold, they’d get in and sleep together to stay warm,” a fellow unit member told me. Perhaps racists are like atheists and can’t be found in foxholes. Or perhaps Georgia’s and Mitchell’s bunker brotherhood is a reminder that there’s always reason for hope.

The Pentagon now stands where South Carolina did just weeks ago. With a groundswell of grassroots activism, the U.S. military’s long-cherished symbols of racism and Confederacy-veneration might also be brought to the brink of welcome exile, if not banishment to history’s dustbin. If that ever comes to pass, one person we’ll have to thank is Greg Grandin, author of the much-anticipated Kissinger’s Shadow: The Long Reach of America’s Most Controversial Statesman. Nick Turse

The Confederate flag at war
(But not the Civil War)
By Greg Grandin

The Pentagon just can’t let go. In the wake of the Charleston Massacre, Amazon and Walmart have announced that they will no longer sell Confederate flag merchandise. Ebay says it will stop offering Confederate items for electronic auction. The Republican governor of Mississippi calls his state flag, which includes the Stars and Bars in the top left corner, “a point of offense that needs to be removed.” Even Kentucky’s Mitch McConnell, the majority leader of the U.S. Senate, agrees that a statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis in his state’s capitol building belongs in a museum.

Yet the Department of Defense says it isn’t even “reviewing” the possibility of a ban on the flag, deciding instead to leave any such move to the various service branches, while military bases named after Confederate officers will remain so. One factor in this decision: the South provides more than 40% of all military recruits, many of them white; only 15% are from the Northeast.

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Nomi Prins: Jeb! The money! Dynasty!

Money, they say, makes the world go round. So how’s $10 billion for you? That’s a top-end estimate for the record-breaking spending in this 1% presidential election campaign season. But is “season” even the right word, now that such campaigns are essentially four-year events that seem always to be underway? In a political world stuffed with money, it’s little wonder that the campaign season floats on a sea of donations. In the case of Jeb Bush, he and his advisers have so far had a laser-focus on the electorate they felt mattered most: big donors. They held off the announcement of his candidacy until last week (though he clearly long knew he was running) so that they could blast out of the gates, dollars-wise, leaving the competition in their financial dust, before the exceedingly modest limits to non-super PAC campaign fundraising kicked in.

And give Jeb credit — or rather consider him a credit to his father (the 41st president) and his brother (the 43rd), who had Iraq eternally on their minds. It wasn’t just that Jeb flubbed the Iraq Question when a reporter asked him recently (yes, he would do it all over again; no, he wouldn’t… well, hmmm…), but that Iraq is deeply embedded in the minds of his campaign team, too. His advisers dubbed the pre-announcement campaign they were going to launch to pull in the dollars a “shock-and-awe” operation in the spirit of the invasion of Iraq. Now, having sent in the ground troops, they clearly consider themselves at war. As the New York Times reported recently, the group’s top strategist told donors that his super PAC “hopes to ‘weaponize’ its fund-raising total for the first six months of the year.”

The money being talked about$80-$100 million raised in the first quarter of 2015 and $500 million by June. If reached, these figures would indeed represent shock-and-awe fundraising in the Republican presidential race. As of now, there’s no way of knowing whether they’re fantasy figures or not, but here’s a clue to Jeb’s money-raising powers: according to the Washington Post, his advisers have been asking donors not to give more than a million dollars now; they are, that is, trying to cap donations for the moment. (As the Post’s Chris Cillizza wrote,“The move reflects concerns among Bush advisers that accepting massive sums from a handful of uber-rich supporters could fuel a perception that the former governor is in their debt.”) And having spent just about every pre-announcement day for months doing fundraisers and scouring the country for money, while preserving the fiction that he might not be interested in the presidency, Jeb, according to the New York Times, bragged to a group of donors that “he believed his political action committee had raised more money in 100 days than any other modern Republican political operation.”

Let’s not forget, of course, that we’re not talking about anyone; we’re talking about a Bush. We’re talking about the possibility of becoming number three (or rather Bush 45) in the Oval Office. We’re talking about what is, by now, a fabled money-shaking, money-making, money-raising machine of a family. We’re talking dynasty and when it comes to money and the Bushes (as with money and that other potential dynasty of our moment), no one knows more on the subject than Nomi Prins, former Wall Street exec and author of All the Presidents’ Bankers: The Hidden Alliances That Drive American Power. In her now ongoing TomDispatch series on the political dynasties of our moment, fundraising, and the Big Banks, think of her latest post as an essential backgrounder on the election you have less and less to do with, in which Wall Street, the Koch brothers, Sheldon Adelson, and the rest of the crew do most of the essential voting with their wallets. Tom Engelhardt

All in
The Bush family goes for number three (with the help of its bankers)
By Nomi Prins

[This piece has been adapted and updated by Nomi Prins from her book All the Presidents’ Bankers: The Hidden Alliances That Drive American Powerrecently out in paperback (Nation Books).] 

It’s happening. As expected, dynastic politics is prevailing in campaign 2016. After a tease about as long as Hillary’s, Jeb Bush (aka Jeb!) officially announced his presidential bid last week. Ultimately, the two of them will fight it out for the White House, while the nation’s wealthiest influencers will back their ludicrously expensive gambit.

And here’s a hint: don’t bet on Jeb not to make it through the Republican gauntlet of 12 candidates (so far). After all, the really big money’s behind him. Last December, even though out of public office since 2007, he had captured the support of 73% of the Wall Street Journal’s “richest CEOs.” Though some have as yet sidestepped declarations of fealty, count on one thing: the big guns will fall into line. They know that, given his family connections, Jeb is their best path to the White House and they’re not going to blow that by propping up some Republican lightweight whose father and brother weren’t president, not when Hillary, with all her connections and dynastic power, will be the opponent. That said, in the Bush-Clinton battle to come, no matter who wins, the bankers and billionaires will emerge victorious.

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Naomi Oreskes: Why climate deniers are their own worst nightmares

When I go out with my not quite three-year-old grandson, his idea of a good time is hide-and-seek. This means suddenly darting behind a bush too small to fully obscure him or into a doorway where he remains in plain sight, while I wander around wondering aloud where in the world he could possibly be. In this, there’s a kind of magical thinking and denial of reality that has great charm. When similar acts of denial are committed by adults, when they refuse to see what’s right before their eyes — the melting sidewalks and roads of India, the emptying reservoirs of parched California, the extreme rain and flooding in parts of Texas and Oklahoma, the news that last year was a global heat record for the planet and this year is already threatening to be another, or that Alaska just experienced its hottest May ever, or that 13 of the 14 hottest years since temperatures began to be recorded took place in this century, or that a supposed post-1998 “pause” in the planetary warming process was a fantasy — the charm fades fast. When you discover that behind this denial of reality lies at least $125 million in dark money, it fades even faster. In just three years, unidentified conservative sources have poured that eye-popping figure into a web of think tanks and activist outfits dedicated to promoting climate denial (and not even included in that amount are the vast sums that Big Energy continues to contribute to the promotion of denialism, as it has done since the 1980s). In other words, some of the most powerful and profitable interests on the planet are determined to deny reality with a ferocity meant to confuse the public and put a damper on any moves or movement to save a planetary environment that has long nurtured humanity. It’s a charmless spectacle.

The well-funded climate deniers and the politicians who support them (and are, in turn, supported by the same set of funders) repeatedly yell “hoax.” In truth, they are the hoax and by now, were we looking, we would see that they are standing in a nearby doorway stark naked and in clear sight. And yet, backed by all that money, they essentially control the Republican Party and the Republican Congress. (Seventy-two percent of the Republican Senate caucus, for instance, now qualify as climate deniers.) This means that, for the party’s increasing horde of presidential candidates, the phrase “I’m not a scientist, but…” followed by doubts about or the rejection of climate science will be a commonplace of election year 2016. It couldn’t be a grimmer vista, even though in the decades to come achieving a relatively speedy changeover to non-greenhouse-gas-releasing fuels seems ever more possible.

This means, of course, that taking on the climate deniers directly couldn’t be more important. That’s why TomDispatch is lucky to have historian of science Naomi Oreskes return — having only recently given testimony before a Republican-controlled congressional committee dotted with climate deniers — to take on their false claims, fantasies, and lies. She co-authored with Erik Conway the now-classic book Merchants of Doubt on how the fossil fuel companies, like the tobacco companies before them, created a public sense of uncertainty about the dangers of their products when a scientific one didn’t exist. More recently, again with Conway, she wrote The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View from the Future, a look back at the effects of global warming and climate denialism from the point of view of a historian of 2393. Tom Engelhardt

The hoax of climate denial
Why “politically motivated” science is good science
By Naomi Oreskes

Recently, the Washington Post reported new data showing something most of us already sense: that increased polarization on Capitol Hill is due to the way the Republican Party has lurched to the right. The authors of the study use Senator John McCain to illustrate the point. McCain’s political odyssey is, in some dismaying sense, close to my own heart, since it highlights the Republican turn against science.

As unlikely as it might seem today, in the first half of the twentieth century the Republicans were the party that most strongly supported scientific work, as they recognized the diverse ways in which it could undergird economic activity and national security. The Democrats were more dubious, tending to see science as elitist and worrying that new federal agencies like the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health would concentrate resources in elite East Coast universities.

In recent decades, of course, the Republicans have lurched rightward on many topics and now regularly attack scientific findings that threaten their political platforms. In the 1980s, they generally questioned evidence of acid rain; in the 1990s, they went after ozone science; and in this century, they have launched fierce attacks not just on climate science, but in the most personal fashion imaginable on climate scientists.

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David Vine: The forgotten costs of war in the Middle East

I’m sure that you’ve heard about the three bare-bones “staging outposts” or, in the lingo of the trade, “cooperative security locations” that the U.S. Marines have established in Senegal, Ghana, and Gabon. We’re talking about personnel from Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Crisis Response-Africa, a unit at present garrisoned at Morón, Spain.  It would, however, like to have some bases — though that’s not a word in use at U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), which oversees all such expansion — ready to receive them in a future in which anything might happen in an Africa exploding with new or expanding terror outfits.

Really? You haven’t noticed anything on the subject? Admittedly, the story wasn’t on the nightly news, nor did it make the front page of your local paper, or undoubtedly its inside pages either, but honestly it was right there in plain sight in Military Times! Of course, three largely unoccupied cooperative security locations in countries that aren’t exactly on the tip of the American tongue would be easy enough to miss under the best of circumstances, but what about the other eight “staging facilities” that AFRICOM now admits to having established across Africa. The command had previously denied that it had any “bases” on the continent other than the ever-expanding one it established in the tiny nation of Djibouti in the horn of Africa and into which it has already sunk three-quarters of a billion dollars with at least $1.2 billion in upgrades still to go. However, AFRICOM’S commander, General David Rodriguez, now proudly insists that the 11 bare-bones outposts will leave U.S. forces “within four hours of all the high-risk, high-threat [diplomatic] posts” on the continent.

Really, you didn’t hear a peep about those bases either, even though Stars and Stripes had the story front and center?

Hmmm, that might be truly strange if anyone in this country (outside the Pentagon) paid the slightest attention to the issue of U.S. global garrisons. Of course they don’t.  They never have, which should qualify as one of the great mysteries of American life and yet somehow doesn’t. U.S. bases abroad are just about never in the news. Few are the journalists who write stories about them, though they often spend time on them. Pundits rarely discuss them. Candidates don’t debate them. Editorialists don’t write about them. These days, who even remembers the 505 (!) bases, ranging from tiny combat outposts to small American towns (with most of the amenities of home), that the U.S. built, maintained, and then abandoned in Iraq between 2003 and 2011 to the tune of tens of billions of dollars — before, that is, American trainers and other personnel were sent back to a few of them in 2014-2015 for Iraq War 3.0? Almost no one, including a Congress generally eager to cut funds on just about anything, discusses the costs of preserving the hundreds and hundreds of bases of every size and shape that the Pentagon maintains globally in a fashion that is historically unprecedented.  Back in 2012, TomDispatch regular David Vine estimated that those costs ran to about $170 billion a year, conservatively speaking, and since 9/11 had added up to a total of perhaps a couple of trillion dollars.

If you don’t get the way this country has garrisoned the planet, if you never notice its empire of bases, there is no way to grasp its imperial nature, which perhaps is the point. And of course, if you haven’t taken any of this in, as is likely if you’re a red-blooded American, then you probably have no idea that this country has sunk billions of dollars into a single base on a single island, Diego Garcia, lost in the far reaches of the Indian Ocean but crucial to America’s Middle Eastern conflicts. This also means you don’t know that the Pentagon, in an act of cruelty of the first order, demanded that a whole people be exiled from their country, their lives, everything that mattered to them, everything that rootedness means in this world, so that the base could be built, staffed, and used in America’s endless wars in the Greater Middle East without any onlookers whatsoever.

It’s a grim tale you probably won’t have heard (even if you read Military Times or Stars and Stripes). David Vine is that rarest of Americans who has found himself riveted by what Chalmers Johnson once called America’s Baseworld. He’s written about it vividly in Base Nation: How U.S. Military Bases Abroad Harm America and the World, a book Andrew Bacevich has termed “a devastating critique” and that’s due out this August. No one knows more about Diego Garcia and the fate of its people than Vine does. (He wrote a previous book on the subject, Island of Shame.) So take a moment to cast your eyes to the distant edge of America’s empire of bases and briefly consider some of the other costs of this country’s mania for garrisoning the world. Tom Engelhardt

The truth about Diego Garcia
And 50 years of fiction about an American military base
By David Vine

First, they tried to shoot the dogs. Next, they tried to poison them with strychnine. When both failed as efficient killing methods, British government agents and U.S. Navy personnel used raw meat to lure the pets into a sealed shed. Locking them inside, they gassed the howling animals with exhaust piped in from U.S. military vehicles. Then, setting coconut husks ablaze, they burned the dogs’ carcasses as their owners were left to watch and ponder their own fate.

The truth about the U.S. military base on the British-controlled Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia is often hard to believe. It would be easy enough to confuse the real story with fictional accounts of the island found in the Transformers movies, on the television series 24, and in Internet conspiracy theories about the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370.

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Jen Marlowe: ‘They demolish and we rebuild”

There’s an ugliness to war beyond the ugly things war does. There are scars beyond the rough, imperfectly mended flesh of the gunshot wound, beyond the flashback, the startle reflex, the nightmare. War finds peculiar and heinous ways to distort lives, and when children are involved, it can mean a lifetime spent trying to recapture what was, to rebuild what never can be.

I’ve met these former child victims again and again. I think of the man whose features seemed to be perpetually sliding off his face because a grotesque incendiary weapon landed near him when he was just a boy. I think of the woman who, as a pre-teen, watched as her grandmother and neighbor were gunned down right in front of her. I think of the little boy who, after fleeing from a town in the midst of a rebel assault, hadn’t seen his father in over a year. I think of the tiny girl who sang a song about orphans for me just months after her mother, father, and brother were killed by an old artillery shell. The boys who, on the cusp of their teens, had assault rifles thrust into their hands and were sent off to battle. 

Those whom I met in adulthood were still suffering the after-effects, decades later, of adult wars that intruded on their young lives. Those I met as children were already thoroughly marked and, I have no doubt, will join the ranks of this enormous legion of the damaged. And they in turn will find company among the countless child victims in present-day Iraq and Syria, Yemen and Libya, Nigeria, Afghanistan, and Ukraine, not to mention Palestine.

After last summer’s 50-day war between Israel and Gaza’s Hamas government, hopes were high for the reconstruction of battered Gaza City. Instead, all these months later, rubble remains ubiquitous, the economy is in shambles, and living standards are deteriorating as the enclave struggles to stay afloat. “A lot of factors pile on top of each other: unemployment remains [at] 40 percent, youth unemployment is more than 60 percent,” says Robert Turner, the director of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees. 

The Gaza War and its aftermath have scarred yet another generation of Palestinian children, but Gaza has no monopoly on hardship. Suffering can be found even in the smallest of villages on the West Bank, too. In her latest report from the front lines of trauma, TomDispatch regular Jen Marlowe focuses on one family of war victims: a father scarred in his youth by war and occupation whose young son seems about to follow in his footsteps — to follow, that is, a path to displacement and despair so common to so many Palestinians.

What does it mean for a family to be made refugees again and again, generation after generation?  What does it mean for the children of yesterday, today, and tomorrow to be made homeless in a way that transcends the loss of a house? What does it mean for them to have lost their place, quite literally, in the world? Just what does that pain do to children?  Where does it take them as adults? Let Jen Marlowe lead the way in answering these questions. Nick Turse

Expelled for life
A Palestinian family’s struggle to stay on their land
By Jen Marlowe

Nasser Nawaj’ah held Laith’s hand as, beside me, they walked down the dirt and pebble path of Old Susya. Nasser is 33 years old, his son six. Nasser’s jaw was set and every few moments he glanced over his shoulder to see if anyone was approaching. Until Laith piped up with his question, the only sounds were our footsteps and the wind, against which Nasser was wearing a wool hat and a pleated brown jacket.

“Why did they take our home?” the little boy asked.

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Gottesdiener and Garcia: How to dismantle this country

They say that imperial wars come home in all sorts of ways. Think of the Michigan that TomDispatch regular Laura Gottesdiener describes today as one curious example of that dictum. If you remember, in the spring of 2003, George W. Bush ordered the invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of that country’s autocratic ruler, Saddam Hussein. The invasion was launched with a “shock-and-awe” air show that was meant to both literally and figuratively “decapitate” the country’s leadership, from Saddam on down. At that time, there was another more anodyne term for the process that was also much in use, even if it has now faded from our vocabularies: “regime change.” And you remember how that all worked out, don’t you? A lot of Iraqi civilians — but no Iraqi leaders — were killed in shock-and-awe fashion that first night of the invasion and, as most Americans recall now that we’re in Iraq War 3.0, it didn’t get much better when the Bush administration’s proconsul in Baghdad, L. Paul Bremer III, disbanded the Iraqi military and Saddam’s Baathist Party (a brilliant formula for launching an instant insurgency), appointed his own chosen rulers in Baghdad, and gave the Americans every sort of special privilege imaginable by curiously autocratic decree in the name of spreading democracy in the Middle East.

It now seems that a version of regime change, Iraqi-style, has come home to roost in parts of Michigan — but with a curious twist. Think of Michigan’s governor, Rick Snyder, as the L. Paul Bremer of that state. He’s essentially given himself regime-change-style powers, impermeable to a statewide recall vote, and begun dismissing — or, if you will, decapitating — the local governments of cities and school districts, appointing managers in their place. In other words, his homegrown version of regime change involves getting rid of local democracy and putting individual autocrats in power instead. What, you might ask yourself, could possibly go wrong, especially since the governor himself is going national to limn the glories of his version of austerity and autocratic politics?

As it happens, TomDispatch dispatched our ace reporter, Laura Gottesdiener, who has been traveling the underside of American life for this site, to check out what regime change in Michigan really looks like. As with all her reports, this time with photographer Eduardo García, she offers a grim but startling vision of where this country may be headed. Tom Engelhardt

A magical mystery tour of American austerity politics
One state’s attempt to destroy democracy and the environment
By Eduardo García

Something is rotten in the state of Michigan.

One city neglected to inform its residents that its water supply was laced with cancerous chemicals. Another dissolved its public school district and replaced it with a charter school system, only to witness the for-profit management company it hired flee the scene after determining it couldn’t turn a profit. Numerous cities and school districts in the state are now run by single, state-appointed technocrats, as permitted under an emergency financial manager law pushed through by Rick Snyder, Michigan’s austerity-promoting governor. This legislation not only strips residents of their local voting rights, but gives Snyder’s appointee the power to do just about anything, including dissolving the city itself — all (no matter how disastrous) in the name of “fiscal responsibility.”

If you’re thinking, “Who cares?” since what happens in Michigan stays in Michigan, think again. The state’s aggressive balance-the-books style of governance has already spread beyond its borders. In January, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie appointed bankruptcy lawyer and former Detroit emergency manager Kevyn Orr to be a “legal adviser” to Atlantic City. The Detroit Free Press described the move as “a state takeover similar to Gov. Rick Snyder’s state intervention in the Motor City.”

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Alfred McCoy: Washington’s Great Game and why it’s failing

It might have been the most influential single sentence of that era: “In these circumstances it is clear that the main element of any United States policy toward the Soviet Union must be that of long-term, patient but firm and vigilant containment of Russian expansive tendencies.” And it originated in an 8,000 word telegram — yes, in those days, unbelievably enough, there was no email, no Internet, no Snapchat, no Facebook — sent back to Washington in February 1946 by George F. Kennan, the U.S. chargé d’affaires in Moscow, at a moment when the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union was just gaining traction.

The next year, a reworked version of Kennan’s “Long Telegram” with that sentence would be published as “The Sources of Soviet Conduct” in the prestigious magazine Foreign Affairs under the pseudonym “Mr. X” (though it was common knowledge in Washington who had written it).  From that moment on, “containment” of what, until the Sino-Soviet split, was called the Soviet bloc, would be Washington’s signature foreign and military policy of the era. The idea was to ring the Soviet Union and China with bases and then militarily, economically, and diplomatically hem in a gaggle of communist states from Hungary and Czechoslovakia in Eastern Europe to North Korea on the Pacific and from Siberia south to the Central Asian SSRs of the Soviet Union. In other words, much of the Eurasian land mass.

And then, when the Berlin Wall came down in 1989 and the Soviet Union collapsed and disappeared from the face of the Earth in 1991, that was that. Along with the former Communist world, containment as policy was dispatched to the dustbin of history — or was it? Strangely enough, as historian and TomDispatch regular Alfred McCoy points out today, if you look at Washington’s military bases (which, if anything, were expanded in the post-Soviet era), its conflicts, and the focus of its foreign policy, American attempts to “contain” the heartlands of Eurasia, especially Russia and China, have never ended. Given the passage of almost a quarter of a century since the Cold War era, the map of those garrisons and the conflicts that go with them still looks eerily familiar.

And here’s an even stranger thing, as McCoy again makes clear: the U.S. was not the first imperial power to put its energy into “containing” Eurasia. In 1945, when World War II ended with Great Britain and its empire hollowed out and in a state of exhaustion, the U.S. inherited a no-name version of “containment” policy from the British before Kennan even thought to use the term. It’s odd to realize that “containment” as imperial policy has a history that is now, in a sense, more than two centuries old. It’s strange enough, in fact, that McCoy turns his attention to the subject to help make sense of the edgy U.S.-China relationship for the rest of this century. Tom Engelhardt

The geopolitics of American global decline
Washington versus China in the twenty-first century
By Alfred W. McCoy

For even the greatest of empires, geography is often destiny. You wouldn’t know it in Washington, though. America’s political, national security, and foreign policy elites continue to ignore the basics of geopolitics that have shaped the fate of world empires for the past 500 years. Consequently, they have missed the significance of the rapid global changes in Eurasia that are in the process of undermining the grand strategy for world dominion that Washington has pursued these past seven decades.

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Nick Turse: My very own Veteran’s Day

It’s been an incredibly quiet show. In recent years, the U.S. military has moved onto the African continent in a big way — and essentially, with the exception of Nick Turse (and Craig Whitlock of the Washington Post), just about no one has noticed. In a sense, it’s a reporter’s dream story. Something major is happening right before our eyes that could change our world in complex ways and no one’s even paying attention. Of course, in the West, developments in Africa have been “seen” that way for centuries: that is, little if at all. Think of it as the invisible continent. There can be no place that has, generally speaking, been less in American, or even in Western, consciousness until recently. This is, of course, changing fast in Europe as a wave of desperate immigrants from fragmenting Africa, dying in startling numbers in their attempts to cross the Mediterranean in every rickety kind of craft, has made a distinct impression.

The African continent has, in recent years, been aboil, a phenomenon to which the American military has only been adding as it pursues its unsettling “war on terror” in its usual disruptive ways — and Turse has been Johnny-on-the-spot. His reporting for TomDispatch and his new book, Tomorrow’s Battlefield: U.S. Proxy Wars and Secret Ops in Africa, have done much to give a higher profile to just what U.S. Africa Command has been doing across that continent. In his most recent report for TomDispatch from civil-war-torn South Sudan, he focused in for the first time on the phenomenon of child soldiers and how the Obama administration, which has denounced their use in countries that are not its allies, repeatedly looked the other way while a South Sudanese military it had built used them. It wasn’t a pretty tale. Today, he turns from U.S. and South Sudanese policy matters to the saddest story of all — those child warriors themselves and what makes them tick, drawing on his interviews with South Sudan’s youngest soldiers. Tom Engelhardt

The child veterans of South Sudan want to know
Will Americans support them?
By Nick Turse

PIBOR, South Sudan — “I’ve never been a soldier,” I say to the wide-eyed, lanky-limbed veteran sitting across from me. “Tell me about military life. What’s it like?” He looks up as if the answer can be found in the blazing blue sky above, shoots me a sheepish grin, and then fixes his gaze on his feet. I let the silence wash over us and wait. He looks embarrassed. Perhaps it’s for me.

Interviews sometimes devolve into such awkward, hushed moments. I’ve talked to hundreds of veterans over the years. Many have been reluctant to discuss their tours of duty for one reason or another. It’s typical. But this wasn’t the typical veteran — at least not for me.

Osman put in three years of military service, some of it during wartime. He saw battle and knows the dull drudgery of a soldier’s life. He had left the army just a month before I met him.

Osman is 15 years old.

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Barbara Myers: The unknown whistleblower

Rambo! In my Reagan-era youth, the name was synonymous with the Vietnam War — at least the Vietnam War reimagined, the celluloid fantasy version of it in which a tanned, glistening, muscle-bound commando busted the handcuffs of defeat and redeemed America’s honor in the jungles of Southeast Asia. Untold millions including the Gipper himself, an inveterate Vietnam revisionist, were enraptured.

Many years later, studying war crimes in Vietnam, I would come across a real Rambo — or maybe you’d call him an anti-Rambo. To the best of my knowledge, this Rambo didn’t fire a machine gun one-handed or use explosive-tipped arrows. But his work was a powder keg with a short fuse and his conscience a bright flame. While conducting research for a Pentagon-funded project on refugees, A. Terry Rambo turned up evidence that South Korean troops, functionally serving as America’s mercenaries in Vietnam, had massacred a large number of civilians. That Rambo “presented the findings” to, he said, “a whole slew of colonels — 10 or 12” of them. He thought the American brass would take action. Instead, a U.S. officer instructed him to leave that information out of his report. “I told [the officer] as a civilian I didn’t feel myself bound by [U.S. military] orders and that I was going to submit a report on it.” Rambo eventually went public with the story.

He was far from alone.

The criminality, the madness of the Vietnam War seemed to compel many to act in similar ways even when it put them at great peril, threatened to upend their lives, sink their careers, and leave them at odds with their families. Many took to the streets; many who knew secrets spilled them; and the phenomenon spread. It became a golden age of whistleblowing: veterans exposing U.S. atrocities, civilians exposing FBI dirty tricks and domestic surveillance, governmentofficials exposing White House crimes and NSA spying. Truth-telling seemed to be in the air. And, of course, a former Pentagon analyst and employee of the military-funded RAND Corporation, Daniel Ellsberg, rocked the world with his exposure of the U.S. military’s secret history of the Vietnam War — known as the Pentagon Papers — laying bare decades of lies foisted upon Congress and the American people. Today, in another great age of whistleblowers, only Ellsberg’s name remains.

The real Rambo, Ron Ridenhour, Jamie Henry, Perry Fellwock, Peter Buxtun, and so many others are known only to a tiny minority. In 1970, A. Terry Rambo told the New York Times that he had heard about a RAND study that also found evidence of South Korean atrocities. A RAND spokesman said they had turned up “rumors about Korean troop behavior… but since they did not involve RAND research, we can only regard them as hearsay.” Decades later — no thanks to RAND — it’s well-documented that South Korean forces slaughtered large numbers of Vietnamese civilians. It might never have been so if the real Rambo hadn’t had the courage to come forward.

Without whistleblowers, citizens are at the mercy of massaged truths and fine-crafted fictions spun by officials who prefer shadows to sunlight. If you can imagine a world in which the Pentagon Papers were never leaked, in which the burglary of Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office by President Nixon’s “Plumbers” was never uncovered, in which decades of blood-soaked lies were kept secret from the American people, then you can imagine a world in which the late Anthony Russo, another former RAND analyst and whistleblower in danger of evaporating into history’s mists, never had a crisis of conscience.

Today, Russo has been reduced to a footnote and his shining accomplishment assumed to be, as he put it, as a “Xerox aide” to Ellsberg, a man who did little more than help physically copy documents. As Barbara Myers writes in her inaugural (and epic) TomDispatch piece, Russo was far more instrumental in the leaking of the Pentagon Papers than most know — and that may have been only his second most important act of whistleblowing. With news of a final Rambofilm starring Stallone on the horizon, the time seems ripe to remember the real Rambos and Russos who took great risks to tell hard truths, exposing misery, malfeasance, and murder that the powerful would rather have kept hidden. Nick Turse

The other conspirator
The secret origins of the CIA’s torture program and the forgotten man who tried to expose it
By Barbara Myers

The witness reported men being hung by the feet or the thumbs, waterboarded, given electric shocks to the genitals, and suffering from extended solitary confinement in what he said were indescribably inhumane conditions. It’s the sort of description that might have come right out of the executive summary of the Senate torture report released last December. In this case, however, the testimony was not about a “black site” somewhere in the Greater Middle East, nor was it a description from Abu Ghraib, nor in fact from this century at all.

The testimony came from Vietnam; the year was 1968; the witness was Anthony J. Russo, one of the first Americans to report on the systematic torture of enemy combatants by CIA operatives and other U.S. agents in that long-gone war. The acts Russo described became commonplace in the news post-9/11 and he would prove to be an early example of what also became commonplace in our century: a whistleblower who found himself on the wrong side of the law and so was prosecuted for releasing the secret truth about the acts of our government.

Determined to shine a light on what he called “the truth held prisoner,” Russo blew the whistle on American torture policy in Vietnam and on an intelligence debacle at the center of Vietnam decision-making that helped turn that war into the nightmare it was. Neither of his revelations saw the light of day in his own time or ours and while Daniel Ellsberg, his compatriot and companion in revelation, remains a major figure for his role in releasing the Pentagon Papers, Russo is a forgotten man.

That’s too bad. He shouldn’t be forgotten. His is, unfortunately, a story of our times as well as his.

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Dahr Jamail: The Navy’s great Alaskan ‘war’

It isn’t the best of times for the American Arctic and let me explain why.

The world is in the midst of an oil glut.  In the last year, oil prices bottomed out before rising modestly.  A NASA study just offered the news that a massive ice shelf in Antarctica, half the size of Rhode Island, will disintegrate by 2020, and not so long ago Science magazine reported that the melting of that region’s ice sheets is proceeding far faster than expected.  SayonaraMiami Beach!  All of this, of course, is happening thanks to the burning of fossil fuels.  In March, the Obama administration responded to such a world by preparing the way for a rather familiar future.  It lifted a ban on drilling for oil and gas off the U.S. southern Atlantic coast, opening those waters and their untapped four billion barrels of oil and 37 trillion cubic feet of gas to future drilling.  Then, less than two weeks ago, the Interior Department green-lighted Shell Oil, a company with a memorably bleak record of exploration and disaster in the Arctic, to launch this country into a drill-baby-drill future in northern waters. 

If Shell gets all its other permits in place, it will begin drilling this summer in the Chukchi Sea off the Alaskan coast.  This will happen under what might be some of the worst weather conditions on the planet in an area “prone to hurricane-force storms, 20-foot swells, pervasive sea ice, [and] frigid temperatures.”  We’re talking, of course, about another four billion barrels of potentially exploitable oil just in that region, which is also a sanctuary for whales, polar bears, and other species that have no vote in this matter.  Subhankar Banerjee put the environmental problem in a nutshell (or perhaps an ice cube) at this site back in March in a piece aptly titled “Arctic Nightmares.” Of the dangers of letting Shell loose in those waters, he wrote, “Just think of the way the blowout of one drilling platform, BP’s Deepwater Horizon, devastated the Gulf of Mexico.  Now, imagine the same thing happening without any clean-up help in sight.”  Keep in mind that this sort of far north drilling can only go on because the past drilling and burning of fossil fuels has helped melt Arctic sea ice and open up its potentially vast energy reserves to exploitation.  It’s a little like watching the proverbial snake eat its tail.

So, thanks to our environmental president, things look bad off Alaska. And as TomDispatch regular Dahr Jamail reports, in June they’re about to get significantly worse.  The U.S. Navy is arriving in the Gulf of Alaska big time — and we’re not talking about the cavalry riding to the rescue here.  In waters that are starting to seem like Grand Central Station, that service is planning to launch massive war games with a new set of potentially deleterious effects on those seas and what lives in them.  But let Jamail explain.  Note that this is a joint project of TomDispatch and Truthout, the invaluable website where he now works.  Tom Engelhardt    

Destroying what remains
How the U.S. Navy plans to war game the Arctic
By Dahr Jamail

[This essay is a joint TomDispatch/Truthout report.] 

I lived in Anchorage for 10 years and spent much of that time climbing in and on the spine of the state, the Alaska Range. Three times I stood atop the mountain the Athabaskans call Denali, “the great one.” During that decade, I mountaineered for more than half a year on that magnificent state’s highest peaks.  It was there that I took in my own insignificance while living amid rock and ice, sleeping atop glaciers that creaked and moaned as they slowly ground their way toward lower elevations.

Alaska contains the largest coastal mountain range in the world and the highest peak in North America. It has more coastline than the entire contiguous 48 states combined and is big enough to hold the state of Texas two and a half times over. It has the largest population of bald eagles in the country. It has 430 kinds of birds along with the brown bear, the largest carnivorous land mammal in the world, and other species ranging from the pygmy shrew that weighs less than a penny to gray whales that come in at 45 tons. Species that are classified as “endangered” in other places are often found in abundance in Alaska.

Now, a dozen years after I left my home state and landed in Baghdad to begin life as a journalist and nine years after definitively abandoning Alaska, I find myself back. I wish it was to climb another mountain, but this time, unfortunately, it’s because I seem increasingly incapable of escaping the long and destructive reach of the U.S. military.

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Nick Turse: One boy, one rifle, and one morning in Malakal

President Obama couldn’t have been more eloquent.  Addressing the Clinton Global Initiative, for instance, he said: “When a little boy is kidnapped, turned into a child soldier, forced to kill or be killed — that’s slavery.”  Denouncing Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army, or LRA, and offering aid to Uganda and its neighbors in tracking Kony down, he said, “It’s part of our regional strategy to end the scourge that is the LRA and help realize a future where no African child is stolen from their family, and no girl is raped, and no boy is turned into a child soldier.”  In support of Burma’s Aung San Suu Kyi, whom he has lauded as “not only a great champion of democracy but a fierce advocate against the use of forced labor and child soldiers,” he’skept her country on a list of nations the U.S. sanctions for using child soldiers in its military.  And his ambassador to the U.N., Samantha Power, has spoken movingly in condemnation of the use of child soldiers, which she’s termed a “scourge,” from Syria and the Central African Republic to South Sudan. 

Only one small problem, as Nick Turse, author of Tomorrow’s Battlefield: U.S. Proxy Wars and Secret Ops in Africa, points out in his latest reportage: the young, desperately divided nation of South Sudan is something of an American-sponsored creation, its military heavily supported by Washington, and so its child soldiers — and it has plenty of them — turn out not to be quite the same sort of scourge they are in Burma, Syria, or elsewhere.  Somehow, they’ve proved to be in the American “national interest” and so, shockingly enough, as Turse reveals today, were the subjects of a presidential “waiver” that sets aside Congress’s 2008 Child Soldiers Protection Act.  The willingness of a president to sideline a subject he’s otherwise denounced in no uncertain terms is worthy of a riddle that might go something like: when is slavery not slavery?  And the answer would be, when it gets in the way of U.S. policy.  With that in mind, let Turse take you deep into South Sudan, where children tote AK-47s and the sky is not cloudy all day.  Tom Engelhardt

The kids aren’t all right
Presidential waivers, child soldiers, and an American-made army in Africa
By Nick Turse

MALAKAL, South Sudan — I didn’t really think he was going to shoot me.  There was no anger in his eyes.  His finger may not have been anywhere near the trigger.  He didn’t draw a bead on me.  Still, he was a boy and he was holding an AK-47 and it was pointed in my direction. 

It was unnerving.

I don’t know how old he was.  I’d say 16, though maybe he was 18 or 19.  But there were a few soldiers nearby who looked even younger — no more than 15.

When I was their age, I wasn’t trusted to drive, vote, drink, get married, gamble in a casino, serve on a jury, rent a car, or buy a ticket to an R-rated movie.  It was mandatory for me to be in school.  The law decreed just how many hours I could work and prohibited my employment in jobs deemed too dangerous for kids — like operating mixing machines in bakeries or repairing elevators.  No one, I can say with some certainty, would have thought it a good idea to put an automatic weapon in my hands.  But someone thought it was acceptable for them.  A lot of someones actually.  Their government — the government of South Sudan — apparently thought so.  And so did mine, the government of the United States. 

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Ann Jones: Citizen’s revolt in Afghanistan

Soon after 9/11, Ann Jones went to Afghanistan to help in whatever way she could, “embedding” with civilians who had been battered by the rigors of that war-torn land.  Out of that experience, especially dealing with the crises of women, she wrote a powerful and moving book, Kabul in Winter. In 2010, she borrowed a flak jacket, put on her combat boots, and settled into a U.S. military outpost in eastern Afghanistan near the Pakistani border to see what life was like for American soldiers.  (“Being outside the wire had filled me with sorrow as I watched earnest, heavily armed and armored boys try to win over white-bearded Afghans — men of extraordinary dignity — who have seen all this before and know the outcome.”) 

The following year, she returned again to Afghanistan, this time focused not on the “collateral damage” to Afghans from our endless war there, but on the true costs of such a war to Americans.  In a country that has never stopped talking about its “wounded warriors,” she alone, and not some young, hot-shot reporter from a major media outlet, followed American war wounded off the grim battlefields of that never-ending war all the way home.  She started at the trauma hospital at Bagram Air Base, then travelled with often desperately wounded Americans via C-17 to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, and afterward on to Walter Reed Army Medical Center.  Finally, she visited traumatized and wounded veterans back in their homes.  The book she wrote from this, They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return From America’s Wars — The Untold Story, is a one-of-a-kind odyssey on the up-close-and-personal costs of our global war on terror.  (“As I followed the sad trail of damaged veterans to write my new book, I came to see how much they and their families have suffered, like Afghans, from the delusions of this nation’s leaders — many running counter to international law — and of other influential Americans, in and out of the military, more powerful and less accountable than themselves.”)

On her latest trip to Afghanistan, she re-embedded with those who have born the brunt of and bear the deepest scars from the American war there: civilians, especially women, in a society that, after 35 years of Cold War combat, brutal civil war, and Washington’s war on terror, all involving religious and political extremism that should chill the soul, couldn’t be under more pressure.  The U.S. has, of course, sunk many billions of dollars into the promised “reconstruction” of the country, a process of failed nation-building that turned out to also be deeply corrupt.  Many more billions went into the kind of military-building that, across the Greater Middle East, has proven just as unsuccessful. 

With U.S. (and NATO) forces being reduced there, the American-built Afghan security forces are already suffering unsustainable casualties and may one day go the way of the American-built Iraqi Army in 2014.  With the war in Afghanistan going badly, the much-vaunted American “withdrawal” from the country has recently turned into a kind of dance in place, while a constitutionally challenged government in Kabul struggles seven months after coming into office to take control. More than 13 years after the U.S. “liberated” Afghanistan, that country’s main claim to fame may be that it’s become the narco capital of the globe.

Back in the streets of the Afghan capital, Jones now reports that its civilians, facing the nightmarish murder of a young woman, may be taking things heroically into their own hands.  She describes the stirrings of what might someday be thought of as an “Afghan Spring.” Of course, given the disastrous pushback against the various Arab Springs, that in itself is a daunting thought.  Still, hope has been in short supply in twenty-first-century Afghanistan, so consider this a potentially remarkable development. Tom Engelhardt

“Farkhunda is our sister”
A “martyr,” a murder, and the making of a new Afghanistan?
By Ann Jones

I went to Kabul, Afghanistan, in March to see old friends.  By chance, I arrived the day after a woman had been beaten to death and burned by a mob of young men.  The world would soon come to know her name: Farkhunda.  The name means “auspicious” or “jubilant.”  She was killed in the very heart of the Afghan capital, at a popular shrine, the burial place of an unnamed ghazi, a warrior martyred for Islam. Years ago, I worked only a few doors away.  I knew the neighborhood well as a crossroads for travelers and traders, a market street beside the Kabul River, busy with peddlers, beggars, drug addicts, thieves, and pigeons.  It was always a dodgy neighborhood. Now, it had become a crime scene.

In April, at the end of the traditional 40-day period of mourning for the dead woman, that crime scene became the stage for a reenactment of the murder by a group of citizens calling themselves the Committee for Justice for Farkhunda, which was pressing the government to arrest and punish the killers.  Shortly after the performance, the office of the attorney general announced formal chargesagainst 49 men: 30 suspected participants in the woman’s murder and 19 police officers accused of failing to try to stop it.  On May 2nd, a trial began at the Primary Court, carried live on Afghan television. Farkhunda is now dead and buried, but her story has had staying power.  It seems to mark the rise of something not seen in Afghanistan for a very long time: the power of people to renounce violence and peacefully reclaim themselves.  This makes it worth recalling just how events unfolded and what messages they might hold for Americans, in particular, who have been fighting so fruitlessly in Afghanistan for 13-plus years.

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Nomi Prins: Hillary, Bill, and the big six banks

She eats at Chipotle. (Order: chicken burrito bowl.) She travels by van. (Model: A Chevy Express Explorer Limited SE nicknamed the “Scooby” van.) She barely figures in her own presidential campaign announcement video. (Entrance timing: A minute and a half into the two-minute clip.) Her campaign staff is so cheap they don’t have business cards, they commute by Bolt Bus, and they aren’t even equipped with real phones.

This is the “new” Hillary Clinton in the early days of her 2016 presidential bid. Absent — for now — are the swagger, the grand pronouncements, the packed gymnasiums and auditoriums, and the claques of well-paid consultants falling over each other to advise and guide her that we saw in Clinton’s last presidential bid. This time around, Clinton is casting herself in a new role: as the humble and understated people’s candidate. She cares about “everyday Iowans” and “everyday Granite Staters.” She really does! Her carefully staged events with those “everyday” Americans at small-town coffee shops and local businesses give her the chance to “share ideas to tackle today’s problems and demonstrate her commitment to earning their votes.”

This effort to recast Clinton as a folksy, down-to-earth, woman of we-the-people is, however, about to collide with the reality of American politics in the money-crazed, post-Citizens United era. Winning the White House in 2016 will cost somewhere between $1 billion and $3 billion — money raised by the candidate’s own campaign and outside groups like super PACs and dark-money nonprofits. And this in an election where it’s already estimated that the overall money may hit $10 billion. Jeb Bush, arguably the most formidable candidate in the GOP field, is on his way to raising $100 million in just the first few months of 2015, a year and a half before the actual election. The prospect of being drastically outgunned by Bush has prodded Clinton to speed up her fundraising schedule and hit the donor circles in New York City and Washington in settings that couldn’t be more removed from the local Chipotle. “I need to get out there earlier,” Politico quoted her telling one of her aides.

In the coming months, whatever hours Clinton spends introducing herself to voters in small-town America, she will spend hundreds more raising money in four-star hotels and multimillion-dollar homes in Hollywood and San Francisco, New York and Boston, Washington and Miami. She will court wealthy liberals across the land and urge them to collectively give tens of millions of dollars to her campaign. The question underlying this inevitable mad dash for cash isn’t “Can Hillary Clinton raise the funds?” The Clintons are practiced buckrakers.

The question is: “Can Clinton claim to stand for ‘everyday Americans,’ while hauling in huge sums of cash from the very wealthiest of us?”

This much cannot be disputed: Clinton’s connections to the financiers and bankers of this country — and this country’s campaigns — run deep, as Nomi Prins, former Wall Street exec and author of All the Presidents’ Bankers: The Hidden Alliances that Drive American Power (just out in paperback), writes in today’s dispatch. As she documents in her book, the Clintons have longstanding ties to the mightiest banks on Wall Street. Those alliances will prove vital as Hillary tries to keep up in the “money primary” of the 2016 campaign. But as she tries to appeal to working and middle class people, you can expect her opponents to use Clinton’s Wall Street connections against her. And it’s reasonable to ask: Who counts more to such a candidate, the person you met over that chicken burrito bowl or the Citigroup partner you met over crudités and caviar? Andy Kroll

The Clintons and their banker friends
The Wall Street connection (1992 to 2016)
By Nomi Prins

[This piece has been adapted and updated by Nomi Prins from chapters 18 and 19 of her book All the Presidents’ Bankers: The Hidden Alliances that Drive American Powerjust out in paperback (Nation Books).]

The past, especially the political past, doesn’t just provide clues to the present. In the realm of the presidency and Wall Street, it provides an ongoing pathway for political-financial relationships and policies that remain a threat to the American economy going forward.

When Hillary Clinton video-announced her bid for the Oval Office, she claimed she wanted to be a “champion” for the American people. Since then, she has attempted to recast herself as a populist and distance herself from some of the policies of her husband. But Bill Clinton did not become president without sharing the friendships, associations, and ideologies of the elite banking sect, nor will Hillary Clinton.  Such relationships run too deep and are too longstanding.

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