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Trump’s Warmongering on Steroids: But who Supplied the Steroids

Sun, 23 Apr 2017 - 11:23pm

By Tom Engelhardt | ( Tomdispatch.com) | – –

MOAB sounds more like an incestuous, war-torn biblical kingdom than the GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast, aka “the mother of all bombs.”  Still, give Donald Trump credit.  Only the really, really big bombs, whether North Korean nukes or those 21,600 pounds of MOAB, truly get his attention.  He wasn’t even involved in the decision to drop the largest non-nuclear bomb in the U.S. arsenal for the first time in war, but his beloved generals — “we have the best military people on Earth” — already know the man they work for, and the bigger, flashier, more explosive, and winninger, the better.

It was undoubtedly the awesome look of that first MOAB going off in grainy black and white on Fox News, rather than in Afghanistan, that appealed to the president.  Just as he was visibly thrilled by all those picturesque Tomahawk cruise missiles, the equivalent of nearly three MOABS, whooshing from the decks of U.S. destroyers in the eastern Mediterranean and heading, like so many fabulous fireworks, toward a Syrian airfield — or was it actually an Iraqi one?  “We’ve just fired 59 missiles,” he said, “all of which hit, by the way, unbelievable, from, you know, hundreds of miles away, all of which hit, amazing… It’s so incredible.  It’s brilliant.  It’s genius.  Our technology, our equipment, is better than anybody by a factor of five.”

Call it thrilling. Call it a blast. Call it escalation. Or just call it the age of Trump. (“If you look at what’s happened over the last eight weeks and compare that really to what’s happened over the past eight years, you’ll see there’s a tremendous difference, tremendous difference,” he commented, adding about MOAB, “This was another very, very successful mission.”)

Anyway, here we are and, as so many of his critics have pointed out, the plaudits have been pouring in from all the usual media and political suspects for a president with big enough… well, hands, to make war impressively.  In our world, this is what now passes for “presidential.”  Consider that praise the media version of so many Tomahawk missiles pointing us toward what the escalation of America’s never-ending wars will mean to Trump’s presidency.

These days, from Syria to Afghanistan, the Koreas to Somalia, Yemen to Iraq, it’s easy enough to see Commander-in-Chief Donald Trump as something new under the sun. (It has a different ring to it when the commander in chief says, “You’re fired!”)  That missile strike in Syria was a first (Obama didn’t dare); the MOAB in Afghanistan was a breakthrough; the drone strikes in Yemen soon after he took office were an absolute record!  As for those regular Army troops heading for Somalia, that hasn’t happened in 24 years!  Civilian casualties in the region: rising impressively!

Call it mission creep on steroids. At the very least, it seems like evidence that the man who, as a presidential candidate, swore he’d “bomb the shit” out of ISIS and let the U.S. military win again is doing just that. (As he also said on the campaign trail with appropriately placed air punches, “You gotta knock the hell out of them! Boom! Boom! Boom!”)  

He’s appointed generals to crucial posts in his administration, lifted restraints on how his commanders in the field can act (hence those soaring civilian casualty figures), let them send more military personnel into Iraq, Syria, and the region generally, taken the constraints off the CIA’s drone assassination campaigns, and dispatched an aircraft carrier strike group somewhat indirectly to the waters off the Koreas (with a strike force of tweets and threats accompanying it).

And there’s obviously more to come: potentially many more troops, even an army of them, for Syria; a possible mini-surge of troops into Afghanistan (that MOAB strike may have been a canny signal from a U.S. commander “seeking to showcase Afghanistan’s myriad threats” to a president paying no attention); a heightened air campaign in Somalia; and that’s just to start what will surely be a far longer list in a presidency in which, whether or not infrastructure is ever successfully rebuilt in America, the infrastructure of the military-industrial complex will continue to expand.

Institutionalizing War and Its Generals

Above all, President Trump did one thing decisively.  He empowered a set of generals or retired generals — James “Mad Dog” Mattis as secretary of defense, H.R. McMaster as national security adviser, and John Kelly as secretary of homeland security — men already deeply implicated in America’s failing wars across the Greater Middle East. Not being a details guy himself, he’s then left them to do their damnedest. “What I do is I authorize my military,” he told reporters recently. “We have given them total authorization and that’s what they’re doing and, frankly, that’s why they’ve been so successful lately.”

As the 100-day mark of his presidency approaches, there’s been no serious reassessment of America’s endless wars or how to fight them (no less end them).  Instead, there’s been a recommitment to doing more of the familiar, more of what hasn’t worked over the last decade and a half.  No one should be surprised by this, given the cast of characters — men who held command posts in those unsuccessful wars and are clearly incapable of thinking about them in other terms than the ones that have been indelibly engrained in the brains of the U.S. military high command since soon after 9/11.

That new ruling reality of our American world should, in turn, offer a hint about the nature of Donald Trump’s presidency.  It should be a reminder that as strange… okay, bizarre… as his statements, tweets, and acts may have been, as chaotic as his all-in-the-family administration is proving to be, as little as he may resemble anyone we’ve ever seen in the White House before, he’s anything but an anomaly of history.  Quite the opposite.  Like those generals, he’s a logical endpoint to a grim process, whether you’re talking about the growth of inequality in America and the rise of plutocracy — without which a billionaire president and his billionaire cabinet would have been inconceivable — or the form that American war-making is taking under him.

When it comes to war and the U.S. military, none of what’s happened would have been conceivable without the two previous presidencies.  None of it would have been possible without Congress’s willingness to pump endless piles of money into the Pentagon and the military-industrial complex in the post-9/11 years; without the building up of the national security state and its 17 (yes, 17!) major intelligence outfits into an unofficial fourth branch of government; without the institutionalization of war as a permanent (yet strangely distant) feature of American life and of wars across the Greater Middle East and parts of Africa that evidently can’t be won or lost but only carried on into eternity. None of this would have been possible without the growing militarization of this country, including of police forces increasingly equipped with weaponry off America’s distant battlefields and filled with veterans of those same wars; without a media rife with retired generals and other former commanders narrating and commenting on the acts of their successors and protégés; and without a political class of Washington pundits and politicians taught to revere that military.

In other words, however original Donald Trump may look, he’s the curious culmination of old news and a changing country. Given his bravado and braggadocio, it’s easy to forget the kinds of militarized extremity that preceded him.

After all, it wasn’t Donald Trump who had the hubris, in the wake of 9/11, to declare a “Global War on Terror” against 60 countries (the “swamp” of that moment). It wasn’t Donald Trump who manufactured false intelligence on the weapons of mass destruction Iraq’s Saddam Hussein supposedly possessed or produced bogus claims about that autocrat’s connections to al-Qaeda, and then used both to lead the United States into a war on and occupation of that country. It wasn’t Donald Trump who invaded Iraq (whether he was for or against tht invasion at the time). It wasn’t Donald Trump who donned a flight suit and landed on an aircraft carrier off the coast of San Diego to personally declare that hostilities were at an end in Iraq just as they were truly beginning, and to do so under an inane “Mission Accomplished” banner prepared by the White House.

It wasn’t Donald Trump who ordered the CIA to kidnap terror suspects (including totally innocent individuals) off the streets of global cities as well as from the backlands of the planet and transport them to foreign prisons or CIA “black sites” where they could be tortured.  It wasn’t Donald Trump who caused one terror suspect to experience the sensation of drowning 83 times in a single month (even if he was inspired by such reports to claim that he would bring torture back as president).

It wasn’t Donald Trump who spent eight years in the Oval Office presiding over a global “kill list,” running “Terror Tuesday” meetings, and personally helping choose individuals around the world for the CIA to assassinate using what, in essence, was the president’s own private drone force, while being praised (or criticized) for his “caution.”

It wasn’t Donald Trump who presided over the creation of a secret military of 70,000 elite troops cossetted inside the larger military, special-ops personnel who, in recent years, have been dispatched on missions to a large majority of the countries on the planet without the knowledge, no less the consent, of the American people.  Nor was it Donald Trump who managed to lift the Pentagon budget to $600 billion and the overall national security budget to something like a trillion dollars or more, even as America’s civilian infrastructure aged and buckled

It wasn’t Donald Trump who lost an estimated $60 billion to fraud and waste in the American “reconstruction” of Iraq and Afghanistan, or who decided to build highways to nowhere and a gas station in the middle of nowhere in Afghanistan. It wasn’t Donald Trump who sent in the warrior corporations to squander more in that single country than was spent on the post-World War II Marshall Plan to put all of Western Europe back on its feet.  Nor did he instruct the U.S. military to dump at least $25 billion into rebuilding, retraining, and rearming an Iraqi army that would collapse in 2014 in the face of a relatively small number of ISIS militants, or at least $65 billion into an Afghan army that would turn out to be filled with ghost soldiers.

In its history, the United States has engaged in quite a remarkable range of wars and conflicts. Nonetheless, in the last 15 years, forever war has been institutionalized as a feature of everyday life in Washington, which, in turn, has been transformed into a permanent war capital. When Donald Trump won the presidency and inherited those wars and that capital, there was, in a sense, no one left in the remarkably bankrupt political universe of Washington but those generals.

As the chameleon he is, he promptly took on the coloration of the militarized world he had entered and appointed “his” three generals to key security posts.  Anything but the norm historically, such a decision may have seemed anomalous and out of the American tradition.  That, however, was only because, unlike Donald Trump, most of the rest of us hadn’t caught up with where that “tradition” had actually taken us.

The previous two presidents had played the warrior regularly, donning military outfits — in his presidential years, George W. Bush often looked like a G.I. Joe doll — and saluting the troops, while praising them to the skies, as the American people were also trained to do. In the Trump era, however, it’s the warriors (if you’ll excuse the pun) who are playing the president. 

It’s hardly news that Donald Trump is a man in love with what works.  Hence, Steve Bannon, his dream strategist while on the campaign trail, is now reportedly on the ropes as his White House counselor because nothing he’s done in the first nearly 100 days of the new presidency has worked (except promoting himself).

Think of Trump as a chameleon among presidents and much of this makes more sense.  A Republican who had been a Democrat for significant periods of his life, he conceivably could have run for president as a more nativist version of Bernie Sanders on the Democratic ticket had the political cards been dealt just a little differently.  He’s a man who has changed himself repeatedly to fit his circumstances and he’s doing so again in the Oval Office.

In the world of the media, it’s stylish to be shocked, shocked that the president who campaigned on one set of issues and came into office still championing them is now supporting quite a different set — from China to taxes, NATO to the Export-Import Bank. But this isn’t faintly strange. Donald Trump isn’t either a politician or a trendsetter.  If anything, he’s a trend-senser.  (In a similar fashion, he didn’t create reality TV, nor was he at its origins. He simply perfected a form that was already in development.)

If you want to know just where we are in an America that has been on the march toward a different sort of society and governing system for a long time now, look at him.  He’s the originator of nothing, but he tells you all you need to know. On war, too, think of him as a chameleon. Right now, war is working for him domestically, whatever it may be doing in the actual world, so he loves it.  For the moment, those generals are indeed “his” and their wars his to embrace.

Honeymoon of the Generals

Normally, on entering the Oval Office, presidents receive what the media calls a “honeymoon” period. Things go well. Praise is forthcoming. Approval ratings are heart-warming.

Donald Trump got none of this.  His approval ratings quickly headed for the honeymoon cellar or maybe the honeymoon fallout shelter; the media and he went to war; and one attempt after another to fulfill his promises — from executive orders on deportation to repealing Obamacare and building his wall — have come a cropper.  His administration seems to be in eternal chaos, the cast of characters changing by the week or tweet, and few key secondary posts being filled.

In only one area has Donald Trump experienced that promised honeymoon.  Think of it as the honeymoon of the generals.  He gave them that “total authorization,” and the missiles left the ships, the drones flew, and the giant bomb dropped.  Even when the results were disappointing, if not disastrous (as in a raid on Yemen in which a U.S. special operator was killed, children slaughtered, and nothing of value recovered), he still somehow stumbled into highly praised “presidential” moments.

So far, in other words, the generals are the only ones who have delivered for him, big-league. As a result, he’s given them yet more authority to do whatever they want, while hugging them tighter yet.

Here’s the problem, though: there’s a predictable element to all of this and it doesn’t work in Donald Trump’s favor. America’s forever wars have now been pursued by these generals and others like them for more than 15 years across a vast swath of the planet — from Pakistan to Libya (and ever deeper into Africa) — and the chaos of failing states, growing conflicts, and spreading terror movements has been the result. There’s no reason to believe that further military action will, a decade and a half later, produce more positive results.

What happens, then? What happens when the war honeymoon is over and the generals keep right on fighting their way?  The last two presidents put up with permanent failing war, making the best they could of it. That’s unlikely for Donald Trump.  When the praise begins to die down, the criticism starts to rise, and questions are asked, watch out.

What then? In a world of plutocrats and generals, what coloration will Donald Trump take on next? Who will be left, except Jared and Ivanka?

Tom Engelhardt is a co-founder of the American Empire Project and the author of The United States of Fear as well as a history of the Cold War, The End of Victory Culture. He is a fellow of the Nation Institute and runs TomDispatch.com. His latest book is Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, John Dower’s The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II, as well as John Feffer’s dystopian novel Splinterlands, Nick Turse’s Next Time They’ll Come to Count the Dead, and Tom Engelhardt’s Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.

Copyright 2017 Tom Engelhardt

Via Tomdispatch.com

As Scientists March, Will Trump give away US Science Lead to China?

Sun, 23 Apr 2017 - 1:22am

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The marches for science in the United States and around the world are an expression of alarm about the Trump administration’s budget proposals, which slash public funding for science, medical and technology research and seek to increase the Pentagon budget by $54 bn.

Federal funding for certain kinds of research is absolutely crucial. There are diseases, for instance, that private companies don’t see as a priority because they strike a small number of people or the cure for which is unlikely to produce big profits because most victims are poor and live in the global south.

If you live in Florida or other semi-tropical parts of the US, and your family is expecting a child, you may be alarmed at the rise of the Zika virus. It is the National Institute of Health that is funding the search for a vaccine. Perhaps you remember the deep public concern about the Ebola outbreak in West Africa in 2014. Who is working on a vaccine? The US government and Merck. In the US system, vaccine development is a government-private-public partnership: “Of the $1.4 billion that fund US vaccine research and development annually, 46% comes from vaccine sales, 36% from taxpayers, and 18% from risk capital.”

As for technology, entrepreneurs most often build on government-funding. Of a ten-mile journey toward innovation, 9 of the miles are often traversed by government-backed research, and the entrepreneurs come in for the last mile. Forbes admits, “the basic technologies that Apple AAPL -0.13% products are built on (and those of all tech firms), from the chips, to the Internet, to GPS, to the software protocols, were all supported or wholly developed by government programs.”

Trump’s cuts will not only make us sick and retard the technological advances that make our lives more convenient, he will harm us in precisely the area he imagines himself to champion– US competitiveness.

You don’t compete with the rest of the world by giving an extra $54 billion to the military and deeply cutting research and development (R&D) funding.

The National Science Foundation observes that China, South Korea and India are putting enormous government money into R&D, as well as investing in science education and the production of skilled science and engineering students. Trump, in contrast, gave away US education to Betsy DeVos, who ruined Michigan K-12 education and wants Americans brought up in fundamentalist charter schools. The NSF writes,

“Indicators 2016 makes it clear that while the United States continues to lead in a variety of metrics, it exists in an increasingly multi-polar world for S&E that revolves around the creation and use of knowledge and technology. According to Indicators 2016, China is now the second-largest performer of R&D, accounting for 20 percent of global R&D as compared to the United States, which accounts for 27 percent.

China is already increasing its annual outlay far more than the United States, growing R&D spending nearly 20 percent a year every year from 2003 to 2013. That rate of increase far outstripped that of the US in those years, and now Trump actually wants us to slash spending, while the Chinese go on investing in technological innovation.

The day when China outspends the US on research and development annually is just around the corner, and Trump’s budget would bring it even more quickly.

In some areas, China is nipping at our heels. The global share of the US in high-tech manufacturing? 29%.

The global share of China in high-tech manufacturing? 27%!

Almost half of all the bachelor’s degrees awarded very year in China are in Science and Engineering.

In the US it is only 1/3.

While China and South Korea massively ramp up government R&D investments, the Tea Party Congress in the US has been deeply cutting ours.

“In 2013, government funded R&D accounted for 27 percent of total U.S. R&D and was the largest supporter (47 percent) of all U.S. basic research”. . . “Indicators shows that Federal investment in both academic and business sector R&D has declined in recent years. . . Since the Great Recession, substantial, real R&D growth annually — ahead of the pace of U.S. GDP — has not returned. Inflation-adjusted growth in total U.S. R&D averaged only 0.8 percent annually over the 2008-13 period, behind the 1.2 percent annual average for U.S. GDP.

The world will not stand still while Trump undermines the nation’s science and technology capacity. And by the way, that won’t bring back jobs — it will send them away.

In fact, if Trump gets his way on the science budget, my advice to Americans is to start studying Chinese.

Ooops. Trump is cutting money for that, too.

—-
Related video added by Juan Cole:

The National: Global March for Science raises concern over Trump policies

How Trump put the Foxes in charge of the Hen House at Education, Health, Justice

Sat, 22 Apr 2017 - 11:52pm

By Steven Harper | ( BillMoyers.com | – –

“Lenin wanted to destroy the state, and that’s my goal too. I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.— Steve Bannon to historian Ron Radosh on Nov. 12, 2013 (according to Radosh)

Through key Cabinet appointments, Trump is gutting federal agencies that have improved citizens’ daily lives in ways that most Americans will no longer take for granted.

Beware of the enemy within. With respect to the US government, the ultimate inside job is well underway. Through key Cabinet appointments, Trump is gutting federal agencies that have improved citizens’ daily lives in ways that most Americans will no longer take for granted.

 
Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos

In her confirmation hearing, billionaire Betsy DeVos made the world painfully aware that she isn’t an educator or expert in curriculum. She’s not familiar with the decades-old Individuals with Disabilities Act, or the fraudulent for-profit colleges and graduate schools that exploit their students. She seems unconcerned about the funding crisis that confronts public education in America. But she has all of the credentials required to serve in the Trump administration: She’s a billionaire with a mission to destroy the federal department she now heads.

Keeping Trump controversies in the family, DeVos’ brother Erik Prince is the founder of the infamous Blackwater private security firm and was a $250,000 donor to the Trump campaign. In January, Prince met secretly in the Seychelles Islands with a Russian close to Putin. Russia’s goal in the meeting, according to The Washington Post, was to establish a back-channel line of communication with the Trump administration.

As a lobbyist through her organization — the nonprofit American Federation for Children — DeVos led the effort to privatize public education in Michigan. The result: widespread abuses, dismal performance and no accountability for taxpayer funds flowing into the coffers of for-profit charter schools and management companies. In Michigan, DeVos helped to create a system that “leads the nation in the number of schools operated for profit, while other states have moved to curb the expansion of for-profit charters, or banned them outright,” the Detroit Free Press observes. “[Michigan is] a laughingstock in national education circles, and a pariah among reputable charter school operators, who have not opened schools in Detroit because of the wild West nature of the educational landscape here.”

Likewise, the Obama administration put pressure on for-profit colleges that exploit students and leave them burdened with debt. Trump, on the other hand, promised to reduce government intrusions and allow schools like Trump University to thrive. After Nov. 8, the stock of for-profit schools soared. DeVos is now fulfilling Trump’s campaign promises.

[S]he has all of the credentials required to serve in the Trump administration: She’s a billionaire with a mission to destroy the federal department she now heads.

Among her advisers is Robert S. Eitel, a lawyer on unpaid leave of absence from his job at Bridgepoint Education, Inc. Bridgepoint, a for-profit college operator whose stock is up 40 percent since Nov. 9, faces multiple government investigations. One ended recently in a $30 million settlement with the federal Consumer Finance Protection Bureau over deceptive student lending.

Another DeVos adviser is Taylor Hansen, a former lobbyist for the for-profit sector’s trade association that fought Obama’s “gainful employment” rule, which imposes minimal accountability on for-profit colleges. On March 6, 2017, the Education Department delayed the gainful employment rule deadline. Ten days later, DeVos rescinded an Obama administration rule that prevented student guaranty agencies from charging exorbitant interest rates. Until Jan. 1, the largest such guaranty agency was United Student Aid Funds Inc. ,whose president and chief executive officer is William Hansen, Taylor’s father. In a letter to DeVos, Sen. Elizabeth Warren cited ProPublica’s report on Taylor’s conflicts. On March 17, he resigned.

On April 11, DeVos reversed Obama administration guidelines aimed at protecting student borrowers and penalizing abusive loan servicing companies. Meanwhile, DeVos’ agenda to clear the field for private education profiteers revealed itself in Trump’s proposed budget: It would reduce Department of Education funding by 14 percent. Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, lamented, “This budget takes a meat cleaver to public education.”

 
Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price

Tom Price is an orthopedic surgeon who seems to have forgotten his profession’s seminal creed, “First, do no harm.” As a Georgia congressman, Price was among the most prominent critics of Obamacare, which has provided more than 20 million citizens with health insurance that they otherwise would not have. As the Secretary of Health and Human Services, he is now working to dismantle the Affordable Care Act.

On March 7, Price wrote Congress to express support for the Republican repeal effort. By then, Trump’s campaign promise of “health insurance for all” had devolved into Rep. Paul Ryan’s notion of “universal access” in the form of subsidies that would cover only a fraction of the premium cost for those most in need. (But it did have a nice tax break for the wealthy.) The Congressional Budget Office estimated that under the Ryan/Trump/Price plan, 14 million Americans would lose coverage immediately; by 2026, the total would rise to 24 million.

Trump, Price and Ryan failed in their first assault on the Affordable Care Act, but they’ll be back. Watch for Price to issue rules and regulations that try to push Obamacare over a cliff. He’ll work at accomplishing administratively what Trump and Ryan could not achieve legislatively. Meanwhile, they and fellow Trump Party members push false narratives about “exploding premiums” when only 3 percent of Americans experience the individual rate increases they cite. They talk about Obamacare’s “implosion” due to insurers are leaving markets, but don’t mention that the Republicans — especially Sen. Marco Rubio — sabotaged the “risk corridor” program that reimbursed insurer losses for high-risk citizens. And they don’t acknowledge the latest studies showing that their “death spiral” rhetoric is simply a lie — unless Trump’s policies make it happen.

The Trump/Price impact on women’s health issues is becoming clear. On April 13, Trump signed a law aimed at eliminating federal funding for Planned Parenthood (after Vice President Mike Pence had cast the tie-breaking vote in the Senate). As for medical research, forget it. Trump’s proposed budget would cut HHS funding (and its National Institutes of Health) by almost 20 percent.

 
Attorney General Jeff Sessions

Jeff Sessions is just the person to send the federal agency charged with the pursuit of justice on a one-way ride back to a time of unspeakable injustice. In 1985 he led the prosecution of three African-American voter rights activists for voter fraud. As the US attorney for the southern district of Alabama, Sessions lost that case. Ruling that his theory was contrary to election law and the Constitution, the judge threw out many of the counts and a jury acquitted the defendants of everything else. A year later, even the Republican-controlled Senate considered Sessions too racist to become a federal judge after President Reagan nominated him.

In December 2016, a Trump transition team member told The New York Times that if Sessions had it to do over, he’d bring the 1985 voter rights case again. In his January 2017 confirmation hearing, he echoed that sentiment in response to Sen. Al Franken’s questions about Trump’s bogus voter fraud claims about millions of illegal votes for Hillary Clinton. Sessions equivocated, but the “voter fraud” mantra has now become an excuse for a new round of voter suppression efforts.

Once confirmed, Sessions went to work quickly on his mission to turn back the clock. On Feb. 22, his department coordinated with Devos’ to rescind the Obama administration’s restroom rule protecting transgender students. Shortly thereafter, the US Supreme Court reversed its earlier decision to hear a case on transgender rights and returned it to the lower courts in light of the Trump administration’s new guidance.

On Feb. 23, Sessions issued a memo reversing the Obama administration’s directive to phase out privately run prisons. Obama’s order had come after a scathing government audit highlighting safety and security problems in private prisons. Sessions’s move was good news for the corporations that run those institutions, which have been reliable Republican campaign donors.

On Feb. 27, the Department of Justice reversed the Obama administration’s six-year challenge to Texas’ voter-ID law. In 2016, a federal appeals court had ruled that the law discriminated against minority voters. But under Sessions, the Justice Department did a 180-degree about-face.

On March 17, the Justice Department filed a brief seeking to restructure the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which secured a $30 million settlement against for-profit college operator Bridgepoint (the same firm whose chief compliance officer is now on unpaid leave as a Betsy DeVos adviser). Trump now seeks unrestricted power to fire the CFPB director.

On March 31, Sessions ordered a review of all reform agreements with troubled police departments nationwide. The Justice Department’s former chief of special litigation, which oversaw investigations into 23 police departments including New Orleans, Cleveland, and Ferguson, Missouri, called Sessions’ announcement “terrifying” because it raised “the question of whether, under the current attorney general, the Department of Justice is going to walk away from its obligation to ensure that law enforcement across the country is following the Constitution.”

On April 11, Sessions declared the dawn of “the Trump era” in immigration. In addition his earlier threat to deprive sanctuary cities of federal funds, he has ordered the hiring of “border security coordinators” for all 94 US attorneys offices, emphasized deportation for non-violent offenses, and promised a surge in the appointment of immigration judges to accelerate the flow of immigrants out of the country. Never mind that fewer than 3 percent of the undocumented have committed felonies — less than the 6 percent for the overall population.

 

Steven Harper

Steven Harper blogs at The Belly of the Beast, is an adjunct professor at Northwestern University, and contributes regularly to The American Lawyer. He is the author of several books, including The Lawyer Bubble — A Profession in Crisis and Crossing Hoffa — A Teamster’s Story (a Chicago Tribune “Best Book of the Year”). Follow him on Twitter: @StevenJHarper1.

BillMoyers.com

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

Thom Hartmann: “How Is Trump’s Cabinet Screwing You This Week to Enrich Themselves?”

Taliban Attackers Kill at Least 140 Soldiers at Afghan Base: Officials

Sat, 22 Apr 2017 - 11:33pm

TeleSur | – –

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani visited the base on Saturday, and in a statement condemned the attack as “cowardly” and the work of “infidels.”

At least 140 Afghan soldiers were killed by Taliban attackers apparently disguised in military uniforms, officials said on Saturday, in what would be the deadliest attack ever on an Afghan military base.

One official in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif, where the attack occurred, said on Saturday at least 140 soldiers were killed and many others wounded. Other officials said the toll was likely to be even higher.

They spoke on the condition of anonymity because the government has yet to release exact casualty figures.

The defense ministry said more than 100 soldiers were killed or wounded.

The attack starkly highlighted the struggle by the Afghan government and its international backers to defeat a Taliban insurgency that has gripped Afghanistan for more than a decade.

As many as 10 Taliban fighters, dressed in Afghan army uniforms and driving military vehicles, made their way into the base and opened fire on mostly unarmed soldiers eating and leaving a mosque after Friday prayers, according to officials.

They used rocket-propelled grenades and rifles, and several detonated suicide vests packed with explosive, officials said.

Via TeleSur

——

Related video added by Juan Cole:

Al Jazeera: “Afghanistan mourns after deadly Taliban attack on base”

Is there such a thing as a ‘Muslim vote’ in France?

Sat, 22 Apr 2017 - 11:14pm

By Fatima Khemilat | (The Conversation) | – –

On April 8, the well-known French television show Salut les terriens turned sour when guests discussed the very sensitive topic of the so-called “French Muslim vote”.

One panelist, journalist Sonia Mabrouk, argued that Muslims in France are constantly used by opportunists, from politicians to intellectuals, as a constituency to serve their own purposes.

The incident recalled the final televised debate of France’s 2012 presidential election, when then-candidate François Hollande sparred with incumbent President Nicolas Sarkozy over the “Muslim vote”.

Hollande was in favour of extending the right to vote in local elections to non-EU citizens living in France, while Sarkozy argued against it. The president claimed that such a move would lead to “identity-based voting practices” and “divisive sectarian demands”.

Women, it’s worth remembering, were once suspected of voting with their sex.

France’s 2012 presidential debate emphasised the issue of the so-called ‘Muslim vote’

As the French go to the polls on April 23 and May 7 to elect their new president, the question reemerges: is it reasonable to assume that Muslims’ voting behaviour is based on their religion and on the Quran?

The impact of religion on votes

Some 93% of French Muslims cast their ballots for François Hollande in the second round of the 2012 presidential election, according to a poll by OpinionWay. That’s 41% above than the national average, since Hollande was ultimately elected with 52% of votes.

Several attempts have been made to explain why French Muslims voted almost unanimously for the left.

In their 2012 book Français comme les autres? (As French as everyone else?), political scientists Sylvain Brouard and Vincent Tiberj concluded that the impact of religion on the voting practices of believers should not be overestimated.

Catholics in France and in the United States, for example, vote in ways diametrically opposed to each other. In France, people who identify as Catholic are today markedly in favour of the conservative Républicains, particularly since the legalisation of same-sex marriage in 2013.

In the US, on the other hand, they tend to vote for the Democrats, a more socially progressive party.

How can this difference be explained? According to Brouard and Tiberj, Catholics in the US vote Democratic for precisely the same reasons that Muslims in France went for Hollande’s Socialist Party: they cast their ballots for candidates who support minority rights.

Both groups are often found among racial and religious minorities – American citizens of Latin American origin and people of Maghrebian or African background in France – who have faced economic and social marginalisation in their respective countries.

In France, on the other hand, Catholicism is the main religious faith. Hence the difference in voting orientations (though a bastion of left-wing Catholic voters has also historically existed in France).

In other words, religion is not the be-all, end-all of a believer’s political choices.

Identifying as Muslims

Though the impact of faith must be taken with a grain of salt, it is not entirely irrelevant in the context of elections. Qualitative research I conducted in 2012 and 2013 found that the vote of French Muslim citizens I interviewed was indeed influenced by their religious identity.

Being a Muslim did not predetermine their answer to the question, Who should I vote for? But it did lead people to ask, Who shouldn’t I vote for? The impact was negative, helping them eliminate candidates deemed Islamophobic, rather than positive ([I] choose a candidate who defends my values, including religious values).

French Muslims took into account laws banning the headscarf or niqab, a veil that covers the face, as well as public comments against Islam, for instance, when weighing different candidates and their platforms. Candidates’ positions on foreign policy were also considered, with military interventions in Muslim-majority countries particularly frowned upon.

This is similar to how French citizens who identify as Jewish tend to be especially sensitive to antisemitism and to the position of candidates regarding Israel.

According to my study, being a Muslim can have three different effects on a person’s vote: it can consolidate a choice previously made, based on factors unrelated to religion; it can help select among a few candidates on the basis of the Islamophobia criterion; and when a candidate’s attitude towards Muslims is negatively perceived, it can destabilise and change a person’s political orientation.

Take, for example, Youssouf, a self-made man who in 2007 voted for Nicolas Sarkozy, the Republican party candidate. But in 2012, after what he called “the unashamed Islamophobic discourses and public policies targeting Islam made by him and his governement”, Youssouf decided to vote for the left-wing François Hollande. Even though Youssouf didn’t at all like Hollande’s stance on economic and social issues.

Because of their lower socioeconomic status and the marginalisation they face, many French Muslims, especially those living in France’s banlieues (suburbs), might simply choose not to vote.

Some of them justify their abstention with religious explanations, claiming that “voting is not halal”, since France is not a Muslim country.

Calls for abstention in 2017

Generally, this position is only held by a minority of highly orthodox Tabligh or Salafist Muslims. But today, several public Muslim intellectuals, including leaders who are not necessarily from those sects are calling for an “active abstention” by Muslims of the 2017 presidential election. The intent is to escape the constant trap of voting for the “lesser of two evils”.

Nizarr Bourchada, leader of the Français et Musulmans (French and Muslim) party, advocates a similar approach. His is one of the first French political parties to claim a strong attachment to both Islamic and French Republican values.

This echoes French author Michel Houellebecq’s prescient 2015 novel Soumission (Submission). Set in 2022, the book imagines the rise to power in France of a Muslim political party that imposes polygamy and prohibits women from wearing clothes that make them “desirable”.

Within a few weeks of publication, Soumission had become a bestseller in France, Italy and Germany. It bolsters the idea that a collective vote of French Muslims, or at least their federation into a political party, would be a threat for French society.

The reality is quite different. But whatever the outcome of this election season, it seems that the fantasy of a “Muslim vote” will continue to haunt Europe’s imagination for years to come.

Fatima Khemilat, PhD Student, Sciences Po Aix

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

——-

Related video added by Juan Cole:

France 24: “‘Betrayed by the ruling class,’ French Muslims tempted not to vote”

What if Marine Le Pen won the French election? Graphic Novels imagine Fascist Dystopia

Sat, 22 Apr 2017 - 2:37am

Beatrice Mabilon-Bonfils | (The Conversation) | – –

The 2017 presidential campaign in France has been full of surprises, from François Hollande’s decision not to run for a second term to former prime minister Manuel Valls getting defeated in the Socialist Party primary; from the rise of insider-outsider Emmanuel Macron to the standout debate performance by far-left candidate Philippe Poutou; from François Fillon’s rise, fall, and rise to Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s last-minute surge.

All the twists and turns have increased the uncertainty of an election that was up in the air from the start.

One thing that’s nearly certain is the presence of extreme-right populist Marine Le Pen among the top vote-getters. Her party, the Front National (FN), has gone from a pariah in the 1980s to a major political force. While she and her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, have fallen short up to now, what would happen if she won in 2017?

The answer can perhaps be found in – of all places – a graphic-novel series. Created by writer François Durpaire and artist Farid Boudjellal, the first volume, “La Présidente”, was the hit of the 2015 rentrée (the beginning of the literary season). It was followed by the second volume, “Totalitaire” in 2016, and together they have sold more than 500,000 copies.

Now comes the third volume, titled “La Vague” (“The Wave”), with Durpaire and Boudjellal joined by Laurent Muller. Together the three books provide an enlightening view on the collective anxiety of French citizens as they face a 2017 presidential election whose outcome has never been less certain, and whose consequences for the country and Europe could be profound.

Durpaire, Muller and Boudjellal are well-versed in the mechanisms of power within the FN and have a superb knowledge of the media and political machinations in France. The originality of the series – a sort of retelling of the near future – is to apply a historical methodology and then to put the imagination into action.

An unprecedented explosion

In the first volume, the authors imagine that on May 7, 2017, Marine Le Pen is elected president of the French Republic. Boudjellal’s sharply realistic graphic treatment and Durpaire’s insightful text allow the potential consequences of this election to unfold step by step. What seemed politically unimaginable in the second round of the 2002 presidential election – when Jean-Marie Le Pen was soundly beaten by Jacques Chirac – is today only too possible. Every voter has to think about it and to do so, it’s essential to better understand what would happen if she were to win.

‘La Présidente’, volume 1.
Les Arènes

The narrative is not a caricature: it applies to the letter the proposed programme of the FN, with direct extracts from official communications. “La Présidente” describes the first hundred days of Marine Le Pen at the Elysée palace, mobilising the political machinery and methods that the FN has employed through its history. The fiction was nourished by the advice of a team of political and economic experts, who make it possible to realistically explore the possible consequences of the FN’s taking power.

The graphic novel also extrapolates security propositions and technical advances already in place. In November 2015, former president Nicolas Sarkozy proposed electronic bracelets and house arrest for “S file” suspects, suspected of radicalisation, and in April 2016, Francois Hollande authorised the use of facial-recognition software. France itself is still under an extended state of emergency after the November 2015 terrorist attacks – one that will last at least through the upcoming elections.

And so we see it all unfold in the graphic novels: France’s exit from the euro, mass deportations, legal preference for French citizens and widespread surveillance through new electronic and digital tools.

And if the Front National wins again?

‘La Présidente’, volume 2, ‘Totalitaire’.
Les Arènes

In volume 2, “Totalitaire,” we’re at the end of Marine Le Pen’s first term in office, in 2022. When the new campaign opens, a surprise candidate emerges from civil society around whom resistance begins to organise. The new candidate is polling higher than the current president, but is a fair election even a possibility? And what of Marion Maréchal–Le Pen, niece of Marine Le Pen and a political power in her own right?

By this point, technology offers an unprecedented capacity for monitoring and control – integrated chips in connected objects, robots, geolocation, and automated surveillance of all communications. We are far beyond Orwell’s “1984”, and the idea of France as a totalitarian country isn’t so far-fetched.

In a televised debate with former prime minister Manuel Valls in 2022, portrayed in the graphic novel, Marine Le Pen says: “You speak to me of responsibility, you who were in favour of passing laws. Me, I apply them.” The events then accelerate on a global scale, with a new US president and dizzying range of geopolitical consequences. In Paris, Berlin and Madrid, new alignments emerge, even as the French president oversees the education of “a new citizen”.

And when the time comes for the election, darkness wins again: the surprise candidate is imprisoned and Marion Maréchal–Le Pen is elected president after a single term by Marine Le Pen.

Dark thriller

‘La Présidente’, volume 3, ‘La Vague’.
Les Arènes

The third volume, “La Vague”, released at the end of March, unleashes a scenario worthy of the darkest thrillers. At this point, France will have struggled through two five-year terms under the FN. There is resistance, but also unquestioning support. With an alliance between Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin and Le Pen, is there any chance that democracy can make a comeback?

One way to read this science-fiction graphic novel is as an explicit criticism of the totalitarianism that could result were the FN to take power in May 2017 and the rise of nationalist politicians around the world. It also announces the end of a generation of leaders that has governed in a short-sighted way, as well as – and this is the reading I choose – the failure of a system where insiders reserve all the power and benefits for themselves, while leaving no place for the civility and mutual respect that are the very foundation of politics.

“La Vague”, “La Présidente” and “Totalitaire” are published by Les Arènes, Paris, France.

Beatrice Mabilon-Bonfils, Sociologue professeure d’université, Université de Cergy-Pontoise

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

—–

Related video added by Juan Cole:

Journeyman Pictures: “Will Marine Le Pen Triumph in the French Elections?”

Trump Puts WikiLeaks and Julian Assange in the Crosshairs

Sat, 22 Apr 2017 - 2:26am

TeleSur | – –

The U.S. has not formally laid charges against Assange, but many within the new administration are signaling a hostile approach.

United States Attorney general Jeff Session said the country was stepping up its efforts against leaks and that the arrest of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was now a “priority.” While U.S. policy toward Assange still has many guessing, reports are now circulating that the U.S. has already drawn up charges against the whistleblower.

“This is a matter that’s gone beyond anything I’m aware of,” Session said in a press conference on Thursday. “We have professionals that have been in the security business of the United States for many years that are shocked by the number of leaks and some of them are quite serious.”

“So yes, it is a priority. We’ve already begun to step up our efforts and whenever a case can be made, we will seek to put some people in jail,” the attorney general added.

According to CNN, the U.S. has prepared charges with the aim of arresting Assange and is trying to navigate the difficult legal territory around freedom of speech under the First Amendment.

Sources close to CNN said that under the Obama administration, former Attorney General Eric Holder and the Department of Justice deemed that bringing charges against the Australian national would be too difficult.

Assange’s lawyer Barry Pollack told CNN that the Department of Justice had not indicated to him that there were charges against Assange and were despite repeated ongoing requests were “unwilling to have any discussions at all.”

“There’s no reason why WikiLeaks should be treated differently from any other publisher,” Pollack said.

Session comments add to increasingly hostile rhetoric against WikiLeaks from the Trump administration. CIA director Mike Pompeo recently referred to the organization and its staff as “demons.”

“It’s time to call out WikiLeaks for what it really is: A non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia,” said Pompeo. “Julian Assange has no First Amendment freedoms. He’s sitting in an Embassy in London. He’s not a US citizen.”

Assange embarrassed Washington by leaking 500,000 secret military files related to U.S. war crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as revealing information about U.S. spy programs. He was also seen, though many say unfairly, as a factor that led to Hillary Clinton’s defeat to Trump in last year’s presidential election.

Weeks out from his shocking election win, Trump waved around a sheet of paper at a rally, boasting “this just came out, WikiLeaks! … I love WikiLeaks.” In 2010, however, Trump called Assange out for treason.

“I think it’s disgraceful, I think there should be like death penalty or something,” Trump said.

Assange has been holed up in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London since 2012 where he sought asylum in the fear that if he was extradited to Sweden over sexual assault charges — which he denies — he would then be extradited and charged in the U.S.

In February 2016, the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention said that since being arrested in December 2010 as part the sexual assault charges in Sweden, Assange has been arbitrarily detained by Sweden and the U.K., and has been subject to a “deprivation of liberty.”

If Assange was to be extradited to the U.S., his work with WikiLeaks could see prosecutors push for decades of jail time.

Via TeleSur

——–

Related video added by Juan Cole:

Democracy Now! “As US Preps Arrest Warrant for Assange, Greenwald Says Prosecuting WikiLeaks Threatens Press Freedom”

ISIL Terror-Trolls French Election, Supporting far Right; Will French Fall for It?

Sat, 22 Apr 2017 - 2:10am

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Thursday’s shooting at the Champs Elysee, left one policeman dead, another gravely injured, a third lightly wounded along with a German tourist shot in the heel. It was carried out by Karim Cheurfi, a French national aged 39, born at Livry-Gargan in Seine-Saint-Denis. He had opened fire with a Kalashnikov machine gun and was killed by police at the scene.

The site of the attack was politically symbolic in French terms, near the Arch of Triumph and the presidential palace. It clearly was intended to help elect the far-right candidate, Marine Le Pen. The question is whether the French electorate, which is pretty canny, will fall for this transparent terror-trolling.

Cheurfi had a record as a petty criminal, having been jailed four times in the past 10 years for theft, assault and attempted murder. While in prison he showed no interest in Muslim radicalism, and only began talking like that from last December, when he said he was angered by deaths of Syrians. (France joined the US coalition bombing Daesh (ISIL, ISIS) in Raqqa, Syria, from late summer of 2015, on learning of Daesh plots to hit France, which it did several times thereafter).

There are some twists on this story that raise question marks. Daesh very quickly announced on Thursday that they were behind this shooting. They made a significant mistake, however, in announcing that the terrorist’s name was Abou Youssouf Al-Beljiki. I.e. their operative was supposed to be Belgian. But Cheurfi is an ordinary Frenchman.

Le Monde reports that a piece of paper fell out of Cheurfi’s pocket that had the word “Daesh” on it. If this is true, it is even more suspicious, because while authorities and the press in the Arab world and France call ISIL ‘Daesh,’ the Arabic acronym, the group does not call itself that and resents the use of the acronym. They call themselves the “Islamic State” (which is a kind of terminological propaganda and terrorism, a way of trying to make journalists write that “today the Islamic State took over x city.”)

So ISIL did not know who Cheurfi was, and Cheurfi or his handler did not know to say “Islamic State” rather than Daesh.

Such incidents are murky, but I conclude that this attack was not a centrally directed Daesh operation. Cheurfi was until very recently just a petty criminal with no radical discourse, and he likely had never attended a meeting of the terrorist organization. He was happy to make his individual action look big and scary by attributing it to Daesh (without knowing enough to realize that this diction marked him as an outsider). Daesh itself was happy to claim responsibility unusually quickly.

Whatever is going on here, it seems obvious that the shooting was an attempt to intervene in the first round of the French presidential election.

In the first round, there are five major candidates. The two top vote-getters will then have a run-off.

The question if neo-Fascist Marine Le Pen will be one of the two. Whoever plotted out the Champs Elysees shooting was trying to throw the election to LePen. As a white supremacist, she has taken a hard line against Muslims and immigrants as well as against minorities like the Jews. The recruiter who ran Cheurfi knew that an act of terrorism near the election could well shore up her numbers and make her look more credible.

So you have the Republican Party candidate . Francois Fillon on the Gaullist, conventional right. He’s polling at 20 percent despite being implicated in a nepotism scandal.

Then you have left wing Socialist Emmanuel Macron, who is the front runner in the polls, just ahead of Le Pen.

And there is Jean-Luc Mélenchon at 19%, who is to the left of Macron and outpolling

the regular Socialist Party candidate – Benoît Hamon, who is polling well below 10%.

The race is fluid and dynamic, so any of the candidates could pull ahead. Obviously, if Mélenchon starts doing slightly better, LePen could slip to third place and be out of the race.

So I conclude Thursday’s shooting was intended to put Le Pen over the top and make sure she got into the run-off.

The French public has seen a lot of this kind of thing and they are much more sophisticated than an American public would be over the difference between the vast majority of Muslims and the small fringe of radicals.

The Daesh radicals want Le Pen to win because they know she will be mean to the French Muslims (5% of the population). They are hoping the French Muslims will be driven into the arms of Daesh.

So the question is whether the French public will fall for the Trap of Daesh.

—-

Related video:

France 24: “Paris Attack: Overview of Champs-Élysées shooting claimed by Islamic state group”

AG Jeff Sessions implies Asian-Americans in Hawaii not Real Americans

Fri, 21 Apr 2017 - 2:03am

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Attorney-General Jeff Sessions was caught on tape saying the following:

““We are confident that the President will prevail on appeal and particularly in the Supreme Court, if not the Ninth Circuit. So this is a huge matter. I really am amazed that a judge sitting on an island in the Pacific can issue an order that stops the President of the United States from what appears to be clearly his statutory and Constitutional power.”

Hawaii is the ultimate stumbling block for the white supremacist Trump administration. It is, along with California and New York, among the more ethnically diverse states in the country, with persons of Hawaiian islander, Japanese, Filipino, Chinese, and Latino heritage in the overwhelming majority. Persons of northern European heritage make up only about a quarter of the state’s 1.4 million people.

Sessions’ remark was un-American in several respects. He questioned, as Tricky Dick Nixon once did, the ability of the judiciary to overrule a president. And in the service of diminishing the judge in Honolulu who struck down Trump’s second Muslim ban, Sessions attempted to demote Hawaii from being a state to being a mere “island in the Pacific.” Is one reason Sessions wants to put down Hawaii that it has an Asian-American majority?

If people like Sessions didn’t want Hawaii as a state, all they had to do is not make an illegal coup against the sovereign royal family there in 1893.

Sessions spent his career in Alabama politics but left it decidedly less well off (despite how great Alabamans themselves are) than Hawaii. Let us just compare the two places a bit.

Median household income in Hawaii is $64,514, (12th of 50 states).

Median household income in Sessions’ Alabama? $44,509 (47th of 50 states)

Alabama has, at 75.4, the lowest life expectancy in the country, unfortunately.

“Hawaii life expectancy at birth in the year 2010 was 82.4 years, which is 3.7 years longer than the US national average, where the life expectancy is 78.7.”

Not only that, but for those persons over 65, Hawaii has the highest life expectancy in the United States!

In Alabama, 68 percent of his voters do not have a higher degree. Over-all, 44.88% of Alabamans have some higher education. Alabama has the 2nd-worst record in the Union in funding education, with the expenditures down 17% since 1945. Just to make sure that nobody there can read and write, Sessions and his ilk have cut higher education funding 36% just since 2008.

In contrast, as the Hawaii state government notes,
“Hawaii had more educated people than the national average. 62.6 percent of population aged 25 and over in Hawaii had at least some college education, 4.2 percent age points higher than the national average.”

People like Sessions have run Alabama into the ground, whereas Hawaii is among the best states in in the country on some measurements, and perhaps that is why Sessions is threatened by it.

——

Related video added by Juan Cole:

Newsy: “Jeff Sessions on Hawaii: ‘Island in the Pacific'”

Trump’s 1984: Peace is War, Environment is Pollution, Health is Sickness

Thu, 20 Apr 2017 - 11:23pm

By Steven Harper | (BillMoyers.com) | – –

“If you look at these Cabinet appointees, they were selected for a reason. And that is for the deconstruction [of the administrative state].”

At its best, government saves the environment from polluters, prevents companies from exploiting consumers, safeguards individuals against invidious discrimination and other forms of injustice, and lends a helping hand to those in need. None of those principles guides the Trump/Bannon government.

Two months into Trump’s presidency, historian Douglas Brinkley said it would be “the most failed 100 days of any president.” David Gergen, a seasoned adviser to Presidents Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Clinton, agreed. But they’re using a traditional scorecard. With the help of Trump Party senators and loyalists, Steve Bannon and his boss are remaking America. Future generations won’t judge kindly those who let it happen. Then again, if Trump’s trajectory continues, maybe there won’t be many more future generations anyway.

After losing his seat on the National Security Council, Bannon’s influence over US foreign policy may have waned. But regardless of his future, he has already had an indelible impact on the country. At CPAC, he declared that key members of Trump’s Cabinet were “selected for a reason.” In the first 100 days of Trump’s presidency, that reason has become clear. They have demonstrated a collective determination to deconstruct not only the administrative state, but also the essence of America itself. They hold views that are anathema to the missions of the federal agencies they now lead. They blend kleptocracy — government by leaders who seek chiefly status and personal gain at the expense of the governed — and kakistocracy — government by the worst people.

 

Bill Moyers Essay: Scott Pruitt Will Make America Great
Again — For Polluters

Anyone who lived through the 1960s — or observes China and India today — knows what happens when polluters get a pass. Bill Moyers’ Jan. 31, 2017 video essay previewed how Scott Pruitt was poised to return the nation to the darkest chapter in its environmental history: contaminated water unfit for drinking or swimming; smog-filled air unfit for breathing; a deteriorating planet careening toward a time when it will be unfit for human habitation. In 1970, President Richard Nixon created the EPA for a reason. Now it’s the victim of a hostile takeover.

After the election, Trump asked one of his billionaire friends, Carl Icahn, to screen candidates for the job of EPA administrator. As an unpaid adviser, Icahn wasn’t subject to the stringent ethics and conflict of interest reviews facing Cabinet appointees. During his interview of Pruitt, Icahn asked specifically about an ethanol rule that was costing one of Icahn’s oil refineries more than $200 million a year. Pruitt said he opposed the rule; Icahn then supported Pruitt for the EPA job.

Along with Icahn’s blessing, Pruitt had other uniquely Trump qualifications for the position. As Oklahoma’s attorney general, he sued the EPA 14 times; 13 of the lawsuits included co-parties that had contributed to Pruitt or Pruitt-affiliated campaign committees. He sided consistently with his state’s poultry farms, energy producers and other polluters. Explaining why for the first time in its 50-year history the Environmental Defense Fund opposed Pruitt’s nomination to head the EPA, the EDF’s president said, “[A]t some point when the nominee has spent his entire career attempting to dismantle environmental protections, it becomes unacceptable.”

On Feb. 16, 2017, an Oklahoma state court judge gave Pruitt five calendar days to release his email exchanges with the fossil fuels industry. But before another 24 hours passed, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and fellow Trump Party senators gave America the bum’s rush and confirmed Pruitt’s nomination to lead the EPA. A few days later, the release of 6,000 pages of Pruitt emails provided more proof of his cozy relationship with the industries he now regulates.

Once in office, Pruitt wasted no time. On March 9, 2017, he dismissed the impact of human activity on climate change: “I would not agree that it’s a primary contributor to the global warming that we see.” That put him at odds with the EPA’s findings and contrary to international scientific consensus. But he’s in line with Trump, who has called climate change a “hoax.”

Trump’s budget director, Mick Mulvaney, labeled climate science expenditures a “waste of money… I think the president was fairly straightforward: We’re not spending money on that anymore.” And they aren’t. Trump’s proposed budget would slash EPA funding by more than 30 percent — to its lowest level in more than 40 years. It would reduce by half the EPA’s Office of Research and Development. It would cut civil and criminal enforcement personnel by 60 percent. It would eliminate regional water cleanup programs from the Chesapeake Bay to the Gulf of Mexico, from San Francisco Bay to the Great Lakes and from Long Island Sound to South Florida. Superfund money for cleaning up contaminated sites would decline by 30 percent. Appropriations for vehicle emissions and certifications would all but disappear.

While endangering the planet, Trump and his minions stage photo ops to support an ongoing disinformation campaign about illusory benefits from their unprecedented environmental destruction. At the EPA on March 28, Pruitt, Vice President Pence and a group of coal miners surrounded Trump as he signed a sweeping executive order aimed at reversing President Obama’s signature initiatives. His actions, which included rolling back emissions standards and lifting the moratorium on mining federal lands, won’t bring back coal jobs that were lost to technology, cheaper sources of cleaner energy and competitive market forces. But the Trump/Pruitt agenda will provide short-term profit incentives that encourage American companies to cede leadership in the development of innovative solutions to China, which has been doubling down on clean energy research for the long-term.

 
Secretary of Energy Rick Perry

Rick Perry’s appointment to head the Department of Energy is a perfect complement to Scott Pruitt’s selection for the EPA. During a 2011 Republican presidential debate, Perry had such disdain for the Department of Energy that he vowed to eliminate as president. Now he heads it. In April, he replaced Steve Bannon on the National Security Council.

In Secretary Perry’s first address to his department, he said Trump had told him to “do with American energy what you did for Texas.” But an approach that might work for one state competing with others doesn’t work for the zero-sum game that is the country as a whole. Even worse, there was a dark side to Gov. Perry’s lower taxes, less regulation approach. Texas public schools are among the worst in the nation; rates of teen moms and uninsured kids are among the highest, as is its rate of uninsured citizens: 27 percent. Residents of the state’s two largest cities, Dallas and Houston, are the least health-insured of any major metropolitan area in the country.

Perry’s agenda is consistent with his oil industry connections. Until Dec. 31, 2016, Perry served as a board member of Energy Transfer Partners and Sunoco Logistics Partners, which jointly developed the Dakota Access Pipeline that the Army Corps of Engineers had stopped before Trump took office. Four days after the inauguration, Trump blew past protesters carrying “No DAPL” signs and issued an executive order approving it. After the temporary employment of construction labor to build the controversial pipeline ends, it will create approximately 40 permanent operating jobs.

Two months later, Perry stood nearby as Trump announced his approval of the Keystone Pipeline that President Obama had stopped in 2015. Obama had said approving the project “would have undercut” America’s global leadership on fighting climate change. Reversing Obama’s order, Trump called it “the first of many infrastructure projects” and “a great day for jobs.” The pipeline will produce 35 permanent jobs.

 
The next installment in this series looks at what the secretary of education, the secretary of health and human services and the Attorney General have done during Trump’s first 100 days.

Steven Harper blogs at The Belly of the Beast, is an adjunct professor at Northwestern University, and contributes regularly to The American Lawyer. He is the author of several books, including The Lawyer Bubble — A Profession in Crisis and Crossing Hoffa — A Teamster’s Story (a Chicago Tribune “Best Book of the Year”). Follow him on Twitter: @StevenJHarper1.

Via Bill Moyers

—-

Related video added by Juan Cole:

The Young Turks: “EPA: Everybody Pollute Anywhere”

Human-Caused Climate Change is Human-Caused Genocide

Thu, 20 Apr 2017 - 11:20pm

By Michael T. Klare | ( Tomdispatch.com) | – –

Not since World War II have more human beings been at risk from disease and starvation than at this very moment. On March 10th, Stephen O’Brien, under secretary-general of the United Nations for humanitarian affairs, informed the Security Council that 20 million people in three African countries — Nigeria, Somalia, and South Sudan — as well as in Yemen were likely to die if not provided with emergency food and medical aid. “We are at a critical point in history,” he declared. “Already at the beginning of the year we are facing the largest humanitarian crisis since the creation of the U.N.”  Without coordinated international action, he added, “people will simply starve to death [or] suffer and die from disease.”

Major famines have, of course, occurred before, but never in memory on such a scale in four places simultaneously. According to O’Brien, 7.3 million people are at risk in Yemen, 5.1 million in the Lake Chad area of northeastern Nigeria, 5 million in South Sudan, and 2.9 million in Somalia. In each of these countries, some lethal combination of war, persistent drought, and political instability is causing drastic cuts in essential food and water supplies. Of those 20 million people at risk of death, an estimated 1.4 million are young children.

Despite the potential severity of the crisis, U.N. officials remain confident that many of those at risk can be saved if sufficient food and medical assistance is provided in time and the warring parties allow humanitarian aid workers to reach those in the greatest need. “We have strategic, coordinated, and prioritized plans in every country,” O’Brien said. “With sufficient and timely financial support, humanitarians can still help to prevent the worst-case scenario.”

All in all, the cost of such an intervention is not great: an estimated $4.4 billion to implement that U.N. action plan and save most of those 20 million lives. 

The international response? Essentially, a giant shrug of indifference.

To have time to deliver sufficient supplies, U.N. officials indicated that the money would need to be in pocket by the end of March. It’s now April and international donors have given only a paltry $423 million — less than a tenth of what’s needed. While, for instance, President Donald Trump sought Congressional approval for a $54 billion increase in U.S. military spending (bringing total defense expenditures in the coming year to $603 billion) and launched $89 million worth of Tomahawk missiles against a single Syrian air base, the U.S. has offered precious little to allay the coming disaster in three countries in which it has taken military actions in recent years. As if to add insult to injury, on February 15th Trump told Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari that he was inclined to sell his country 12 Super-Tucano light-strike aircraft, potentially depleting Nigeria of $600 million it desperately needs for famine relief.    

Moreover, just as those U.N. officials were pleading fruitlessly for increased humanitarian funding and an end to the fierce and complex set of conflicts in South Sudan and Yemen (so that they could facilitate the safe delivery of emergency food supplies to those countries), the Trump administration was announcing plans to reduce American contributions to the United Nations by 40%.  It was also preparing to send additional weaponry to Saudi Arabia, the country most responsible for devastating air strikes on Yemen’s food and water infrastructure. This goes beyond indifference.  This is complicity in mass extermination.

Like many people around the world, President Trump was horrified by images of young children suffocating from the nerve gas used by Syrian government forces in an April 4th raid on the rebel-held village of Khan Sheikhoun. “That attack on children yesterday had a big impact on me — big impact,” he told reporters. “That was a horrible, horrible thing. And I’ve been watching it and seeing it, and it doesn’t get any worse than that.” In reaction to those images, he ordered a barrage of cruise missile strikes on a Syrian air base the following day. But Trump does not seem to have seen — or has ignored — equally heart-rending images of young children dying from the spreading famines in Africa and Yemen. Those children evidently don’t merit White House sympathy.

Who knows why not just Donald Trump but the world is proving so indifferent to the famines of 2017?  It could simply be donor fatigue or a media focused on the daily psychodrama that is now Washington, or growing fears about the unprecedented global refugee crisis and, of course, terrorism.  It’s a question worth a piece in itself, but I want to explore another one entirely.

Here’s the question I think we all should be asking: Is this what a world battered by climate change will be like — one in which tens of millions, even hundreds of millions of people perish from disease, starvation, and heat prostration while the rest of us, living in less exposed areas, essentially do nothing to prevent their annihilation?

Famine, Drought, and Climate Change

First, though, let’s consider whether the famines of 2017 are even a valid indicator of what a climate-changed planet might look like. After all, severe famines accompanied by widespread starvation have occurred throughout human history. In addition, the brutal armed conflicts now underway in Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, and Yemen are at least in part responsible for the spreading famines. In all four countries, there are forces — Boko Haram in Nigeria, al-Shabaab in Somalia, assorted militias and the government in South Sudan, and Saudi-backed forces in Yemen — interfering with the delivery of aid supplies. Nevertheless, there can be no doubt that pervasive water scarcity and prolonged drought (expected consequences of global warming) are contributing significantly to the disastrous conditions in most of them. The likelihood that droughts this severe would be occurring simultaneously in the absence of climate change is vanishingly small.

In fact, scientists generally agree that global warming will ensure diminished rainfall and ever more frequent droughts over much of Africa and the Middle East. This, in turn, will heighten conflicts of every sort and endanger basic survival in a myriad of ways. In their most recent 2014 assessment of global trends, the scientists of the prestigious Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concluded that “agriculture in Africa will face significant challenges in adapting to climate changes projected to occur by mid-century, as negative effects of high temperatures become increasingly prominent.” Even in 2014, as that report suggested, climate change was already contributing to water scarcity and persistent drought conditions in large parts of Africa and the Middle East. Scientific studies had, for instance, revealed an “overall expansion of desert and contraction of vegetated areas” on that continent.  With arable land in retreat and water supplies falling, crop yields were already in decline in many areas, while malnutrition rates were rising — precisely the conditions witnessed in more extreme forms in the famine-affected areas today.

It’s seldom possible to attribute any specific weather-induced event, including droughts or storms, to global warming with absolute certainty.  Such things happen with or without climate change.  Nonetheless, scientists are becoming even more confident that severe storms and droughts (especially when occurring in tandem or in several parts of the world at once) are best explained as climate-change related. If, for instance, a type of storm that might normally occur only once every hundred years occurs twice in one decade and four times in the next, you can be reasonably confident that you’re in a new climate era.

It will undoubtedly take more time for scientists to determine to what extent the current famines in Africa and Yemen are mainly climate-change-induced and to what extent they are the product of political and military mayhem and disarray. But doesn’t this already offer us a sense of just what kind of world we are now entering?

History and social science research indicate that, as environmental conditions deteriorate, people will naturally compete over access to vital materials and the opportunists in any society — warlords, militia leaders, demagogues, government officials, and the like — will exploit such clashes for their personal advantage.  “The data suggests a definite link between food insecurity and conflict,” points out Ertharin Cousin, head of the U.N.’s World Food Program.  “Climate is an added stress factor.” In this sense, the current famines in Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, and Yemen provide us with a perfect template for our future, one in which resource wars and climate mayhem team up as temperatures continue their steady rise.

The Selective Impact of Climate Change

In some popular accounts of the future depredations of climate change, there is a tendency to suggest that its effects will be felt more or less democratically around the globe — that we will all suffer to some degree, if not equally, from the bad things that happen as temperatures rise. And it’s certainly true that everyone on this planet will feel the effects of global warming in some fashion, but don’t for a second imagine that the harshest effects will be distributed anything but deeply inequitably.  It won’t even be a complicated equation.  As with so much else, those at the bottom rungs of society — the poor, the marginalized, and those in countries already at or near the edge — will suffer so much more (and so much earlier) than those at the top and in the most developed, wealthiest countries.

As a start, the geophysical dynamics of climate change dictate that, when it comes to soaring temperatures and reduced rainfall, the most severe effects are likely to be felt first and worst in the tropical and subtropical regions of Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and Latin America — home to hundreds of millions of people who depend on rain-fed agriculture to sustain themselves and their families. Research conducted by scientists in New Zealand, Switzerland, and Great Britain found that the rise in the number of extremely hot days is already more intense in tropical latitudes and disproportionately affects poor farmers.

Living at subsistence levels, such farmers and their communities are especially vulnerable to drought and desertification.  In a future in which climate-change disasters are commonplace, they will undoubtedly be forced to choose ever more frequently between the unpalatable alternatives of starvation or flight.  In other words, if you thought the global refugee crisis was bad today, just wait a few decades. 

Climate change is also intensifying the dangers faced by the poor and marginalized in another way.  As interior croplands turn to dust, ever more farmers are migrating to cities, especially coastal ones.  If you want a historical analogy, think of the great Dust Bowl migration of the “Okies” from the interior of the U.S. to the California coast in the 1930s. In today’s climate-change era, the only available housing such migrants are likely to find will be in vast and expanding shantytowns (or “informal settlements,” as they’re euphemistically called), often located in floodplains and low-lying coastal areas exposed to storm surges and sea-level rise. As global warming advances, the victims of water scarcity and desertification will be afflicted anew.  Those storm surges will destroy the most exposed parts of the coastal mega-cities in which they will be clustered. In other words, for the uprooted and desperate, there will be no escaping climate change.  As the latest IPCC report noted, “Poor people living in urban informal settlements, of which there are [already] about one billion worldwide, are particularly vulnerable to weather and climate effects.”

The scientific literature on climate change indicates that the lives of the poor, the marginalized, and the oppressed will be the first to be turned upside down by the effects of global warming. “The socially and economically disadvantaged and the marginalized are disproportionately affected by the impacts of climate change and extreme events,” the IPCC indicated in 2014. “Vulnerability is often high among indigenous peoples, women, children, the elderly, and disabled people who experience multiple deprivations that inhibit them from managing daily risks and shocks.” It should go without saying that these are also the people least responsible for the greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming in the first place (something no less true of the countries most of them live in).

Inaction Equals Annihilation

In this context, consider the moral consequences of inaction on climate change. Once it seemed that the process of global warming would occur slowly enough to allow societies to adapt to higher temperatures without excessive disruption, and that the entire human family would somehow make this transition more or less simultaneously. That now looks more and more like a fairy tale. Climate change is occurring far too swiftly for all human societies to adapt to it successfully.  Only the richest are likely to succeed in even the most tenuous way. Unless colossal efforts are undertaken now to halt the emission of greenhouse gases, those living in less affluent societies can expect to suffer from extremes of flooding, drought, starvation, disease, and death in potentially staggering numbers.

And you don’t need a Ph.D. in climatology to arrive at this conclusion either. The overwhelming majority of the world’s scientists agree that any increase in average world temperatures that exceeds 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above the pre-industrial era — some opt for a rise of no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius — will alter the global climate system drastically.  In such a situation, a number of societies will simply disintegrate in the fashion of South Sudan today, producing staggering chaos and misery. So far, the world has heated up by at least one of those two degrees, and unless we stop burning fossil fuels in quantity soon, the 1.5 degree level will probably be reached in the not-too-distant future.

Worse yet, on our present trajectory, it seems highly unlikely that the warming process will stop at 2 or even 3 degrees Celsius, meaning that later in this century many of the worst-case climate-change scenarios — the inundation of coastal cities, the desertification of vast interior regions, and the collapse of rain-fed agriculture in many areas — will become everyday reality.

In other words, think of the developments in those three African lands and Yemen as previews of what far larger parts of our world could look like in another quarter-century or so: a world in which hundreds of millions of people are at risk of annihilation from disease or starvation, or are on the march or at sea, crossing borders, heading for the shantytowns of major cities, looking for refugee camps or other places where survival appears even minimally possible.  If the world’s response to the current famine catastrophe and the escalating fears of refugees in wealthy countries are any indication, people will die in vast numbers without hope of help.

In other words, failing to halt the advance of climate change — to the extent that halting it, at this point, remains within our power — means complicity with mass human annihilation. We know, or at this point should know, that such scenarios are already on the horizon.  We still retain the power, if not to stop them, then to radically ameliorate what they will look like, so our failure to do all we can means that we become complicit in what — not to mince words — is clearly going to be a process of climate genocide. How can those of us in countries responsible for the majority of greenhouse gas emissions escape such a verdict?

And if such a conclusion is indeed inescapable, then each of us must do whatever we can to reduce our individual, community, and institutional contributions to global warming. Even if we are already doing a lot — as many of us are — more is needed.  Unfortunately, we Americans are living not only in a time of climate crisis, but in the era of President Trump, which means the federal government and its partners in the fossil fuel industry will be wielding their immense powers to obstruct all imaginable progress on limiting global warming. They will be the true perpetrators of climate genocide. As a result, the rest of us bear a moral responsibility not just to do what we can at the local level to slow the pace of climate change, but also to engage in political struggle to counteract or neutralize the acts of Trump and company. Only dramatic and concerted action on multiple fronts can prevent the human disasters now unfolding in Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, and Yemen from becoming the global norm.

Michael T. Klare, a TomDispatch regular, is a professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College and the author, most recently, of The Race for What’s Left. A documentary movie version of his book Blood and Oil is available from the Media Education Foundation. Follow him on Twitter at @mklare1.

[Note: On Saturday, April 29th, folks from all over the United States will participate in the People’s Climate March in Washington, D.C.  You can get information on the march by clicking here. Joining the march, or otherwise supporting its objectives, is a good way to begin the resistance to climate genocide. For those who wish to aid the victims of famine in Africa and Yemen, donations can be made to the U.N.’s World Food Program by clicking here.]

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, John Dower’s The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II, as well as John Feffer’s dystopian novel Splinterlands, Nick Turse’s Next Time They’ll Come to Count the Dead, and Tom Engelhardt’s Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.

Copyright 2017 Michael T. Klare

Via Tomdispatch.com

Does Climate change increase Threat of Terrorism?

Thu, 20 Apr 2017 - 11:18pm

By Manon Flausch | EURACTIV.fr | translated by Samuel White | – –

“Poverty and insecurity can be factors in radicalisation.” [Manon Flausch]

From South America to the Middle East, the effects of climate change appear to exacerbate the problems of organised crime and terrorism. The UN and German think tank Adelphi have raised the alarm. EURACTIV France reports.

Millions of people in the Lake Chad region are threatened by drought and famine. But on top of the impending humanitarian crisis, the UN is worried about the broader societal impact on a region that is already fertile recruiting ground for the terrorist group Boko Haram.

The correlation between extreme climate events and radicalisation was also raised in a report published on 20 April by Adelphi, which concluded that while climate change does not directly lead to the emergence of terrorist groups, it creates the conditions in which they can thrive.
Africa builds ‘Great Green Wall’ against extremism and misery

With food insecurity, terrorism and migration to Europe reaching unprecedented levels, Africa is hoping that a “wall of trees” can help protect its people and stop these threats becoming global crises. EURACTIV Germany reports.

In the most vulnerable areas, climate change makes farming and rearing livestock more difficult, increasing competition for resources such as water. This can lead to violence between rival populations, population displacement, water shortages and famine, all of which undermine the rule of law and the power of the state.

It is these secondary consequences of climate change that provide the ideal conditions for the rise of terrorist or criminal groups. People affected by hunger, drought and poverty are more likely to be receptive to their financial promises and violent, angry rhetoric.

What is more, terrorist or organised crime groups often try to fill the spaces where weak states cannot act, providing basic services and rooting themselves in society.

Control over resources is increasingly a source of funding for these groups. In Syria, terrorist groups IS and Al-Nusra deal in oil, weapons, drugs and antiquities. It is this kind of economic power that wins the acceptance of local populations.

Climate change is not just about the environment. It is also about people. France’s Minister for Development, in conversation with EURACTIV France, following this week’s UN Climate Summit in New York.

Organised crime

These strategies are not just used by terrorists but are also staples of organised crime. This is particularly true of Guatemala, for example, one of the countries worst affected by extreme weather events.

After 36 years of civil war and with large parts of the economy dependent on climate and pollution-sensitive agriculture, the Central American country faces constant threats to its food security.

This has pushed large, poverty-stricken sections of the population to move to the overcrowded cities in search of work, or to find employment in illicit trades like drugs trafficking. The situation is aggravated by inefficient, often corrupt police services and an abundant supply of weapons, left over from the years of conflict.

Climate finance: The Global North is failing on its $100 billion promise

A report by the OECD has found that efforts will need to be stepped up if developed countries plan to honour their promise of providing $100 billion per year to the Global South from 2020. Journal de l’Environnement reports.

Strengthening and harmonising

And there is no shortage of other examples, from human trafficking in Bangladesh to the opium trade in Afghanistan. But in light of the many challenges this problem throws up, what can be done to tackle it?

Adelphi identified several areas in which action could be taken to cut the risk from terrorism, beginning with the protection of the climate, support for development and the strengthening of local governments in vulnerable countries. Support for the rule of law and local institutions also strengthens the hand of governments in the fight against terrorists and organised criminals.

The think tank also called for a holistic approach to tackling climate change, development, the threat of terrorism and security, in order to avoid aggravating certain problems while attempting to solve others.

For Adelphi, cities and agriculture also have a major role to play. Investing in climate adaptation for the agricultural sector would mean fewer farmers would lose their livelihoods as a result of climate change. And the populations of cities with plans to cope with expanding populations and increasing pressure on resources will be less likely to fall prey to terrorist groups and criminal gangs.

Cities and regions against climate change

Ahead of COP21, EU cities and regions are seeking a bigger role and an expanded toolbox to implement any climate agreement reached in Paris.

Via EurActive.com

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

Big Think: “Climate Change Formula: Rising Sea Levels + Coastal Megacities = Forced Migration | Parag Khanna”

Top 5 Ways Bill O’Reilly gave us Trump and cheapened America

Thu, 20 Apr 2017 - 2:05am

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Bill O’Reilly is off the airwaves, but it doesn’t really matter. The despicable strategy of presslord Rupert Murdoch of orienting his Fox Cable “news” toward the nativist far right in the United States will continue. They’ll just find another O’Reilly. Worse, there is more or less an O’Reilly in the White House now, with the nuclear codes. Murdoch and O’Reilly in many ways gave us the Trump presidency, running the Republic into a brick wall.

1. Trump’s ridiculous and very expensive plan to build a wall between the United States and Mexico? That was an O’Reilly idea. I remember seeing O’Reilly trot it out in an interview with the late thriller writer Tom Clancy after 9/11:

O’REILLY: Now, I’ve been banging this drum for more than a year, and I did a “Talking Points” tonight on it, is that the borders are so chaotic and they’re not secured, and we’re very vulnerable from both Canada and Mexico for people who want to bring stuff in and come in here, and the INS can’t control it. Am I wrong there?

CLANCY: No, it’s one of the problems of, you know, one of the consequences of living in a free and open society. You know, the Statue of Liberty invites people in. She’s not holding a machine gun to keep people away.

Clancy wasn’t exactly left wing. But he tried to warn O’Reilly that crackpot plans like the Wall were a long step toward the US becoming a new Soviet Union. The latter, he said, had failed. Now we have a president with squirrels running around in his cranium, who saw O’Reilly push this nonsense and wants to charge us billions in taxes to build it.

It all comes out of a wounded white nationalism, buffeted by globalization, where African-Americans and immigrants are allegedly stealing jobs (they aren’t).

2. O’Reilly beat the drum nightly for George W. Bush’s invasion and occupation of Iraq. He repeatedly alleged that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was behind al-Qaeda, with the implication that Iraq blew up New York and Washington, D.C. He repeatedly alleged that Saddam Hussein had “weapons of mass destruction” and that he was training al-Qaeda operatives in chemical weapons use at Salman Pak. There is no evidence that that was the case. Iraq had nothing to do with al-Qaeda and was clearly afraid of it. There were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

O’Reilly had said that if there turned out to be no WMD in Iraq, he would become more skeptical of the Bush white house. But despite the collapse of the case against Iraq, O’Reilly went on cheerleading for Bush/ Cheney.

3. O’Reilly said on “The View” that “Muslims hit us” on 9/11. Joy Behar and Whoopi Goldberg walked off the set when O’Reilly doubled down on his hate speech and gross generalization. When Trump said last fall “Islam hates us,” he was just echoing O’Reilly.

David Pakman: “Bill O’Reilly Gets Whoopi Goldberg & Joy Behar to Walk Off The View”

4. O’Reilly has repeatedly said racist things, and his current troubles began when he said of senior Congresswoman Maxine Waters that he could not get past her “James Brown wig.” In a famous incident on his now-defunct radio show, O’Reilly had professed himself shocked, on eating at a restaurant owned by African-Americans, that the patrons seemed perfectly respectable. He had recently said that Trump won’t be able to help African-Americans because “ill-educated and have tattoos on their foreheads.”

Then there was all the other bigotry, as when he compared gay marriage to Goat Marriage.

5. O’Reilly’s denial that any practical measures need to be taken to limit CO2 emissions, because they would disadvantage American corporations. Climate denialism is the original fake news, and O’Reilly & Fox were one major source that Trump scans for news like this.

He’s a mean, mean man. And a bad historian, which yours truly holds against him, hard. He managed to cheapen my America and then he made millions writing “fake history.”

The O’Reilly Factor is dead. But Fox will just go on polluting the airwaves.

Why humans are so bad at thinking about climate change (If only poisonous CO2 were black)

Thu, 20 Apr 2017 - 12:45am

Vox/ UCLA | (Video News Clip) | – –

“The biggest problem for the climate change fight isn’t technology – it’s human psychology. This is the first episode of Climate Lab, a six-part series produced by the University of California in partnership with Vox. Hosted by Emmy-nominated conservation scientist Dr. M. Sanjayan, the videos explore the surprising elements of our lives that contribute to climate change and the groundbreaking work being done to fight back. Featuring conversations with experts, scientists, thought leaders and activists, the series takes what can seem like an overwhelming problem and breaks it down into manageable parts: from clean energy to food waste, religion to smartphones. . .”

Vox: “Why humans are so bad at thinking about climate change”

Is Trump Taking Us to War Everywhere?

Thu, 20 Apr 2017 - 12:40am

By Olivia Alperstein | (Otherwords.org) | – –

No one expected Trump to be a peace president, but he seems bent on taking us to the verge of World War III.

No one ever expected Donald Trump to be a peace-loving president. On the campaign trail, he endorsed torture, said he’d bomb the families of alleged terrorists, and spoke gleefully about the president’s power to launch nuclear weapons.

But threatening war with multiple countries over a few weeks goes beyond even that. Tough-guy, hit-them-before-they-hit-us foreign policy is back with a vengeance.

Under Trump’s orders, earlier in April the military dropped the largest non-nuclear bomb in its arsenal — known as MOAB, or the “Mother of All Bombs” — on Afghanistan. Outside of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, there’s simply no precedent for the use of such a large weapon, which carries grave risks of civilian casualties.

Shortly before that, Trump ordered a military strike on Syria, apparently without informing either Congress or the State Department. Meanwhile, the White House is rattling its saber at North Korea and pondering an expanded military role in both Somalia and Yemen.

In all of these situations, Congress has not only the right but the responsibility to carefully review any authorization of military strikes. Yet so far this president, like others before him, has taken pains to keep the people’s representatives completely out of the loop about his plans for the wars we’re already fighting, as well as for any new ones he might start.

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have each lasted upward of a decade and half or more. Like Vietnam before them, they’ve taught us the risks associated with intervening in a difficult region with no exit strategy.

Recklessly plunging into new wars not only impacts the world stage. It also takes a huge toll on our federal budget.

Trump’s budget proposal increases military spending by $54 billion, at the expense of vital anti-poverty programs like Meals on Wheels, diplomatic resources, food safety, and environmental protections. It “takes money from urgent social needs to feed the already-bloated Pentagon budget,” lamented a large group of leaders from diverse movements, from climate justice to immigrant rights.

These aren’t programs with extravagant budgets. They represent barely a drop in the ocean of our already ginormous ($600 billion-plus) military budget, not to mention the $21.6 billion appropriated to fund Trump’s border wall.

These cuts would only make sense if we were still fighting the Second World War, with every family rationing staple food items and planting victory gardens while scraping money together to buy war bonds to support the troops.

We are not — at least not yet — on the verge of World War III. But with recent acts of aggression and military strikes in several diplomatically precarious regions, Trump seems determined to take us close to the ledge.

From backtracking on calling NATO “obsolete” to deciding not to accuse China of currency manipulation, we’ve already seen Trump completely reverse his policy positions after (presumably) thinking things over a bit more thoroughly. It’s time for him to also rethink this more-military-conflicts-than-you-can-shake-a-big-stick-at foreign policy.

As our president, Donald Trump is responsible for our safety. He cannot risk launching us into still more endless wars; the cost is simply too high, and ordinary American families will pay the heavy price.

Olivia Alperstein is the Deputy Director of Communications and Policy at Progressive Congress. Distributed by OtherWords.org.

Via Otherwords.org

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

ARIRANG NEWS: “USS Carl Vinson sailed away from, not to, Korean Peninsula”

Palestinians decry Israeli Double Standard over NYT Op-ed

Thu, 20 Apr 2017 - 12:13am

Ma’an News Agency | – –

BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) — Activists and commentators have denounced the dishonesty of Israeli criticism of The New York Times for publishing an op-ed in defense of a mass hunger strike underway in Israeli prisons, in light of rampant impunity for Israeli officials who commit crimes or incite violence against Palestinians.

Ma’an. File.

In an article for the prominent US newspaper, imprisoned Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouthi wrote of “an unbelievable state of affairs” in Israeli prisons, noting that “over the past five decades, according to the human rights group Addameer, more than 800,000 Palestinians have been imprisoned or detained by Israel — equivalent to about 40 percent of the Palestinian territory’s male population. “Today, about 6,500 are still imprisoned, among them some who have the dismal distinction of holding world records for the longest periods in detention of political prisoners. There is hardly a single family in Palestine that has not endured the suffering caused by the imprisonment of one or several of its members,” he wrote. Barghouthi could face prosecution for writing the piece, and has since been placed in solitary confinement and barred from receiving visits from his lawyers. A number of Israeli officials slammed The New York Times for not referring to Barghouthi — who is one of the most popular political figures among Palestinians — as a “terrorist” and “murderer of Israeli civilians,” although the American newspaper later amended the article to include the charges of which Barghouthi was found guilty by Israel. “The paper recanted after we pointed it out to them,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu boasted, saying that referring to “archterrorist” Barghouthi as a “parliamentarian and leader” was “like calling Assad a ‘pediatrician'” — referring to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a former doctor who has been accused of overseeing war crimes and crimes against humanity against Syrian civilians. Deputy Minister for Diplomacy in the prime minister’s office Michael Oren went a step further, and suggested that The New York Times’ bureau in Jerusalem be closed.

Israeli peace activist group Gush Shalom was quick to point out the hypocrisy of labeling Palestinian resistance fighters as “murderers of terrorists,” while Israeli military and political figures who have historically committed mass atrocities against civilians are revered and respected in mainstream Israeli society. The group noted that, as Barghouthi was sentenced to five life terms in prison, by the same token Menachem Begin, Israel’s sixth prime minister, deserved to be sentenced to at least 91 consecutive life terms for his role commanding the militant Zionist Irgun movement, which notably carried out a 1949 bombing in Jerusalem that left 91 people dead. The group also noted the injustice in Israeli prison authorities allowing “cruel (Israeli) murderers and leaders of crime gangs” to use public telephones in criminal prison wings, while denying the right to so-called security prisoners, namely Palestinian political prisoners — one of the injustices the hunger strike led by Barghouthi seeks to address. “In themselves, most demands of the hunger-striking Palestinian prisoners are simple and elementary, and there is no reason to reject them,” Gush Shalom affirmed. Gush Shalom’s sentiment was echoed by columnist for Israeli daily Haaretz and Army Radio interviewer Ravit Hecht, who was skewered in Israeli media for comparing Barghouthi to fighters in Zionist militias. “You know the history of Israel and our existence. Did you know that all the underground freedom fighters were heinous murderers in the eyes of the other side? You don’t see any parallels here?” Hecht posited in an interview with Israeli Tourism Minister Yariv Levin. Furthermore, while The New York Times caved to pressure from Israeli leadership to amend the article, the opinion section of the American newspaper has, on multiple occasions, “provided a platform for several Israeli op-ed contributors who committed acts of terrorism or war crimes, without acknowledging that fact,” founder of the Tel Aviv-based news commentary site 972 Magazine Lisa Goldman noted. “It seems that The New York Times is willing to publish op-eds by Israeli Jews who advocate or have committed murder of Palestinians, without mentioning that fact in their bio blurbs. So the question, without taking a position on whether or not political violence is ever justified, is why the Times feels compelled to take a different stance when it comes to Palestinian contributors,” she wrote. Israel’s outright rejection of the term “political prisoner” in favor of labeling imprisoned Palestinians as violent terrorists contrasts with a more nuanced intellectual debate over the legitimacy of armed Palestinian resistance, which challenges equating state violence with an armed struggle against military occupation.

Via Ma’an News Agency

Now Iraqi Elections are infected by Facebook, Twitter Fake News

Wed, 19 Apr 2017 - 11:14pm

Mustafa Habib. | Baghdad | (Niqash.org) | – –

The latest trend in politics in Iraq involves the creation of seemingly innocuous Facebook pages, that are used to spread rumours and lies about the opposition. It’s a trend that will only get worse as elections near.

Over the past few months ordinary Iraqis have noticed a dramatic uptick in the number of Facebook pages inviting them to subscribe or “like” a site. Most of these new pages are political in nature, and they try to either persuade or change opinions about certain local politicians; Iraqis have likened the phenomenon to an “electronic army”.

One of the political websites using pictures of women to attract followers. Source: Facebook

Often these new pages mobilise thousands of new followers and likes in just a few days. They do this by posting clickbait – that is, topics that ordinary Iraqis are particularly interested in, such as about soldiers on the front line fighting the extremist group known as the Islamic State or news about the plight of the displaced and wounded. Some use cartoons, others post pictures of well-known Iraqi female artists, actors and media personalities.

The undercover methods used by the ever-increasing number of Facebook pages make it almost impossible to identify those behind the lies and rumours, no matter how dangerous they are.

At first, it can be hard to tell if a page has political ambitions. The names of the pages may well have nothing to do with politics. But it is clear there are professionals behind the social media outlets and following up on further posts can enlighten: The Facebook page owners will either defend or denigrate certain political and religious personalities, or parties.

For example, one Facebook page called Video Only with more than 150,000 followers and another called Politics And Opinion, with 48,000 followers, only criticizes the Iraqi Prime Minister and leading cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr and his political wing. They leave everyone else alone.

Another page named Thieves has over 100,000 followers and focuses on making nasty comments about former prime minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Only a few pages reveal their true intentions immediately. These include one Facebook page called Clear al-Abadi, which supports the prime minister and has more than 250,000 followers and the Fans of Muqtada al-Sadr page, with more than 370,000 followers. But most of them do their best to appear neutral.

But as soon as there is some contentious political debate, they show their true colours, publishing false news and rumours to tarnish the reputations of their opposition, whoever that may be. Additionally every new political stoush sees more Facebook pages created.

A Facebook page using cartoons to make political comments.

Of course, a Facebook page for propaganda is not necessarily unusual. The problem is that in Iraq, the Facebook pages will often publish rumours and even outright lies to achieve their aims. They may even fabricate whole stories and these may, depending on the number of followers, be widely publicized.

An example was the recent visit of Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to the US. The Facebook pages that don’t like al-Abadi posted updates saying that he had signed an agreement with US officials that would see the often-controversial Shiite Muslim militias abolished and the establishment of permanent US military bases inside the country.

When former prime minister Nouri al-Maliki released a statement on Iran’s support of Iraq in the fight against the Islamic State, the Facebook pages opposed to him published updates accusing al-Maliki of being an Iranian spy.

This problem is compounded because local media outlets then notice the Facebook updates and notes and spread them further. Sometimes this is because the news outlets themselves are partisan – many media outlets in Iraq are funded by particular political parties or religious organizations – and other times, it is because they simply believe the falsehoods and do not verify the information independently.

The undercover methods used by the ever-increasing number of Facebook pages make it almost impossible to identify those behind the lies and rumours, no matter how dangerous they are. Several Iraqi politicians have come out in interviews and accused their opponents of being behind what may best be described as the Iraqi version of online “troll factories”. Additionally Iraqi laws on this subject tend to be outdated, compared to current technologies, which makes it even more difficult to control the onslaught of fake news, rumours and lies.

And the problem of disinformation and mercenary, partisan “electronic armies” is only likely to worsen as the Iraqi federal elections draw nearer.

The Coming Muslim Century: Bad news for President Bannon

Wed, 19 Apr 2017 - 12:59am

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Demographically, the 21st century will be the Muslim Century, as the Pew Research Center on Religion in Public Life has shown. Muslims will go from 24% of the world’s population today to 31% by 2060. I.e. they will equal the Christian population of the world by that date. And then they will outstrip the Christians by 2100.

Pew writes:

“Between 2015 and 2060, the world’s population is expected to increase by 32%, to 9.6 billion. Over that same period, the number of Muslims – the major religious group with the youngest population and the highest fertility – is projected to increase by 70%. The number of Christians is projected to rise by 34%, slightly faster than the global population overall yet far more slowly than Muslims.”

h/t Pew Research Center.

Most of the increase will occur because of population growth where people live. Africans will be a larger proportion of the world’s population in 2060 they they are now. In fact, over the next century, the African population could quadruple, and 40% of the human population could be African by 2100. Muslims in Africa will form a larger proportion of the world Muslim population, while the Middle East will remain stable with about a fifth of the world’s Muslims. Nigeria could go to 900 million over the century, coming to dwarf the European Union and equaling a shrinking China by 2100.

Some countries will be deeply affected by these changes. The Russian Federation will go from 11% Muslim in 2010 to at least 33% Muslim in 2060. The future of Muslims in Europe depends in part on immigration policy (most of Western Europe is not reproducing itself, and so Europe will get old and less dynamic if it decides against immigration). The European Union could remain steady at about 500 million, but I suspect that projection takes immigration into account.

The publisher of Time magazine, Henry Luce, called the twentieth century “The American Century.” It was an apt description. The US had half the world’s GDP just after WW II and even in 1999 it had nearly a quarter. It was the main world center of technological innovation, and has an enormous military-industrial establishment probably costing $1 trillion a year, dwarfing that of all the other countries of the world.

It isn’t clear whether the Muslim world will have that kind of economic clout. China and Hindu-majority India will be the two largest countries and may well have the two largest economies. But China’s population may fall and age, which could be an economic challenge.

Prejudice against Muslims has grown by leaps and bounds in the United States, and hatred of Muslims played a role in Trump’s campaign and in the policies he tried to enact once elected. Not all Americans are bigoted toward Muslims, and most understand that you can’t blame 1.8 billion Muslims for the violence and extremism of a tiny fringe. The Neo-Nazis and their slightly less illiterate fellow travelers over at Breitbart froth at the mouth on this issue. I am sorry to say that Evangelical Christians are according to opinion polls pretty hateful in this regard, much moreso than the general population (they are also the most enthusiastic supporters of Trump, which makes me think a lot of them are dressing up white supremacy as Christianity). The Zionist right wing seems to think if only you can badmouth Muslims enough, no one will mind if you steal all the remaining land owned by Palestinians in the West Bank. And, a small sliver of the US left, exemplified by Bill Maher, hates Muslims almost as much as they hate Evangelicals and Republicans.

The world's most populous countries, 1950-2060. Watch #India overtake #China, and #Nigeria passing USA to become #3 pic.twitter.com/ZqlBG7yYHj

— Aron Strandberg (@aronstrandberg) August 2, 2016

Despite White House chief strategist Steve Bannon’s impractical dreams, there is no prospect that government policy or other measures can kickstart population growth among the “white” population, whatever that is. Middle class people tend to have smaller families. They want to enjoy some leisure, and be sure to be able to send their children to college.

The only proven antidote to shrinking populations is immigration. Countries like Japan that are allergic to letting a lot of immigrants in will simply shrink, that is all, and will have a very large number of old people. Countries that welcome immigrants, as France traditionally has, will grow and be economically vibrant.

So to sum up, Muslims will go from a fourth of humankind to a third just in the next 43 years. They will then likely go on up to 38% or 40% during the rest of the century. That is, a plurality of human beings in 2100 could well be Muslim. Since growing populations will be increasingly rare, countries will prize young, dynamic Muslim immigrants and will compete for them. Those countries that lose out and just can’t get Muslims to move there will get small and old and stagnant. Islamophobia may have a future. Islamophobes do not.

How Middle Eastern Immigrants Boost US Competitiveness

Tue, 18 Apr 2017 - 11:13pm

Sami Mahroum | ( Project Syndicate) | – –

DUBAI – In his 1961 science fiction novel Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert A. Heinlein chose a Muslim linguist, “Dr. Mahmoud,” to help the book’s Martian-raised protagonist make the transition to life in the United States. Stranger may be fiction, but Heinlein’s selection of a Muslim interpreter was rooted in reality. In fact, people from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) have been “translators” of innovation and discovery in the US for decades.

Recent research that I undertook, together with two colleagues at the Austrian Institute of Technology, Georg Zahradnik and Bernhard Dachs, relied on patent data filed in the US to shed light on the role that individuals of Arab, Kurdish, Persian, and Turkish ancestry play in the development of US technology. We began our research following US President Donald Trump’s executive order banning citizens from six predominantly Muslim countries from entering the US (the list originally included Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen; Iraq was later removed).

What we found came as no surprise to us. But those charged with ensuring that the US remains the world’s leader in bringing new ideas to market should be worried.

In 2013, there were approximately one million MENA immigrants residing in the US, representing 2.5% of the country’s 41.3 million immigrants. About 43% of MENA immigrants aged 25 and older had a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to 28% of all immigrants to the US, and 30% of native-born US adults. If the million or so people of Persian and Turkish origin were included, the figures for educational attainment would probably be even higher.

To approximate MENA immigrants’ contribution to US innovation, we cross-matched some 2,500 MENA-specific first names with patent documents filed with the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). We found that from 2009 to 2013, there were 13,180 patent applications filed by US organizations, or individuals residing in the US, in which at least one applicant had a MENA name. This represents 5.1% of all US patent applications to WIPO during the 2009-2013 period. And, because we selected MENA-specific names only, many MENA inventors who have names shared with other ethnicities, such as Biblical names, were left out. The actual figures are certainly higher.

To put these findings in perspective, over the five-year period that we measured, we found that MENA-linked individuals were involved in 220 US patent applications each month. The number of patent applications filed by US inventors with MENA backgrounds was double that in the European Union. With 1,780 patent applications, California accounted for 15% of all patents sought by MENA-linked inventors worldwide. Only Turkey had a larger number of inventors with a MENA background submitting applications.

Other US states with a notable number of MENA-linked patent applications were Texas and Massachusetts; Texas, for example, had only slightly fewer than Saudi Arabia during the 2009-2013 period.

On the face of it, the immigration measures taken by the Trump administration should not be a cause for great concern. There is very little investment in research and development flowing between the US and any of the targeted countries. But with more people of MENA origin subjected to so-called extreme vetting, fewer people from the region will be moving to the US. Such a decline would have a noticeable effect, as MENA inventors tend to be employed in technology fields that are at the core of US innovation.

Even citizens from visa-free countries who have Middle Eastern-sounding names are being asked to obtain a visa prior to traveling to the US. The measures have affected foreign visitors to the US of all stripes, from the Egyptian-born French historian Henry Rousso to African trade delegates from Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone, and South Africa. Not surprisingly, people from around the world are thinking twice about visiting the US, with the airfare prediction app Hopper registering a 17% decline in online searches for flights to the US in the weeks after Trump’s ban was first proposed.

The US is more vulnerable to the impact of immigration restrictions on innovation than any other country in the world. From 2000 to 2010, it had eight times more patents filed by an immigrant (194,600) than its closest competitor, Germany (25,300). Depending on the discipline, anywhere from 24% to 80% of scientists and engineers employed in the US are foreign-born.



In other words, immigration bans put the US – where 30% of the country’s Nobel laureates were born somewhere else – at risk of losing its attractiveness for foreign talent. University science departments, particularly in disciplines like engineering, depend heavily on foreign students. Without access to this talent pool, some departments would have no choice but to shut down. US firms, too, could find it necessary to relocate a greater share of their activities outside the US if restrictive immigration policies persist. Given the persistent visa and border-crossing hurdles, US companies may find it more advantageous to offshore their production and jobs.

In Stranger in a Strange Land, Dr. Mahmoud describes a “vulgar” American character who is “loud, probably ignorant, and almost certainly provincial.” For many MENA-linked inventors living and working in the US, and especially those seeking to relocate there, Mahmoud’s characterization will resonate today. For everyone else, no translation is needed.

Sami Mahroum is Director of the Innovation & Policy Initiative at INSEAD and a member of the WEF Regional Strategy Group for theMiddle East and North Africa. He is the author of Black Swan Start-ups: Understanding the Rise of Successful Technology Business in Unlikely Places.

Via Project Syndicate

Licensed from Project Syndicate

—–

Related video added by Juan Cole:

Journeyman Pictures: “Canada Welcomes Immigrants Forced Out By Trump”

Don’t want to lose the Next Mideast War? Don’t Fight One

Tue, 18 Apr 2017 - 11:13pm

Danny Sjursen | ( Tomdispatch.com ) | – –

Make no mistake: after 15 years of losing wars, spreading terror movements, and multiplying failed states across the Greater Middle East, America will fight the next versions of our ongoing wars. Not that we ever really stopped.  Sure, Washington traded in George W. Bush’s expansive, almost messianic attitude toward his Global War on Terror for Barack Obama’s more precise, deliberate, even cautious approach to an unnamed version of the same war for hegemony in the Greater Middle East.  Sure, in the process kitted-up 19 year-olds from Iowa became less ubiquitous features on Baghdad’s and Kabul’s busy boulevards, even if that distinction was lost on the real-life targets of America’s wars — and the bystanders (call them “collateral damage”) scurrying across digital drone display screens. 

It’s hardly a brilliant observation to point out that, more than 15 years later, the entire region is a remarkable mess.  So much worse off than Washington found it, even if all of that mess can’t simply be blamed on the United States — at least not directly.  It’s too late now, as the Trump administration is discovering, to retreat behind two oceans and cover our collective eyes.  And yet, acts that might still do some modest amount of good (resettling refugees, sending aid, brokering truces, anything within reason to limit suffering) don’t seem to be on any American agenda.

So, after 16 years of inconclusive or catastrophic regional campaigns, maybe it’s time to stop dreaming about how to make things better in the Greater Middle East and try instead to imagine how to make things worse (since that’s the path we often seem to take anyway). Here, then, is a little thought experiment for you: what if Washington actually wanted to lose? How might the U.S. government go about accomplishing that? Let me offer a quick (and inevitably incomplete) to-do list on the subject:

As a start, you would drop an enlarged, conventional army into Iraq and/or Syria. This would offer a giant red, white, and blue target for all those angry, young radicalized men just dying (pardon the pun) to extinguish some new “crusader” force.  It would serve as an effective religious-nationalist rallying cry (and target) throughout the region.

Then you would create a news-magnet of a ban (or at least the appearance of one) on immigrants and visitors of every sort from predominantly Muslim countries coming to the United States.  It’s hardly an accident that ISIS has taken to calling the president’s proposed executive order to do just that “the blessed ban” and praising Donald Trump as the “best caller to Islam.”  Such actions only confirm the extremist narrative: that Muslims are unwelcome in and incompatible with the West, that liberal plurality is a neo-imperial scam.

Finally, you would feed the common perception in the region that Washington’s support for Israel and assorted Arab autocrats is unconditional.  To do so, you would go out of your way to hold fawning public meetings with military strongmen like Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, and suggest that, when it came to Israel, you were considering changing American policy when it comes to a two-state solution and the illegal Israeli settlements in Palestine.  Such policies would feed another ISIS narrative: U.S. support for illiberal despots and the failure of the Arab Spring is proof that practicing Muslims and peaceful Islamists will never successfully gain power through the democratic process.

Key to such a losing strategy would be doing anything you could to reinforce ISIS’s twisted narrative of an end-of-days battle between Islam and Christendom, a virtuous East versus a depraved West, an authentic Caliphate against hypocritical democracies.  In what amounts to a war of ideas, pursuing such policies would all but hand victory to ISIS and other jihadi extremist groups.  And so you would have successfully created a strategy for losing eternally in the Greater Middle East.  And if that was the desired outcome in Washington, well, congratulations all around, but of course we all know that it wasn’t.

Let’s take these three points in such a losing strategy one by one. (Of course “losing” is itself a contested term, but for our purposes, consider the U.S. to have lost as long as its military spins its wheels in a never-ending quagmire, while gradually empowering various local “adversaries.”)

Just a Few Thousand More Troops Will Get It Done…

There are already thousands of American soldiers and Marines in Iraq and Syria, to say nothing of the even more numerous troops and sailors stationed on bases in Kuwait, Bahrain, Turkey, and other states ringing America’s Middle Eastern battlefields.  Still, if you want to mainline into the fastest way to lose the next phase of the war on terror, just blindly acquiesce in the inevitable requests of your commanders for yet more troops and planes needed to finish the job in Syria ( and Iraq, and Afghanistan, and Yemen, and so on).

Let’s play this out.  First, the worst (and most plausible) case: U.S. ground forces get sucked into an ever more complex, multi-faceted civil war — deeper and deeper still, until one day they wake up in a world that looks like Baghdad, 2007, all over again.

Or, lest we be accused of defeatism, consider the best case: those endlessly fortified and reinforced American forces wipe the floor with ISIS and just maybe manage to engineer the toppling of Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian regime as well.  It’s V-Day in the Middle East!  And then what?  What happens the day after? When and to whom do American troops turn over power? 

* The Kurds? That’s a nonstarter for Turkey, Iran, and Iraq, all countries with significant Kurdish minorities.

* The Saudis? Don’t count on it.  They’re busy bombing Houthi Shias in Yemen (with U.S.-supplied ordnance) and grappling with the diversification of their oil-based economy in a world in which fossil fuels are struggling.

* Russia? Fat chance. Bombing “terrorists”? Yes. Propping up an autocratic client to secure basing rights? Sure. Temporary transactional alliances of convenience in the region? Absolutely. But long-term nation-building in the heart of the Middle East? It’s just not the style of Vladimir Putin’s Russia, a country with its own shaky petro-economy.

* So maybe leave Assad in power and turn the country back over to what’s left of his minority, Alawite-dominated regime? That, undoubtedly, is the road to hell.  After all, it was his murderous, barrel-bombing, child-gassing acts that all but caused the civil war in the first place.  You can be sure that, sooner or later, Syria’s majority Sunni population and its separatist Kurds would simply rebel again, while (as the last 15 years should have taught us) an even uglier set of extremists rose to the surface.

Keep in mind as well that, when it comes to the U.S. military, the Iraqi and Afghan “surges” of 2007 and 2009 offered proof positive that more ground troops aren’t a cure-all in such situations.  They are a formula for expending prodigious amounts of money and significant amounts of blood, while only further alienating local populations.  Meanwhile, unleashing manned and drone aircraft strikes, which occasionally kill large numbers of civilians, only add to the ISIS narrative.

Every mass casualty civilian bombing or drone strike incident just detracts further from American regional credibility.  While both air strikes and artillery barrages may hasten the offensive progress of America’s Kurdish, Iraqi, and Syrian allies, that benefit needs to be weighed against the moral and propaganda costs of those dead women and children.  For proof, see the errant bombing strike on an apartment building in Mosul last month.  After all, those hundred-plus civilians are just as dead as Assad’s recent victims and just as many angry, grieving family members and friends have been left behind.

In other words, any of the familiar U.S. strategies, including focusing all efforts on ISIS or toppling Assad, or a bit of both, won’t add up to a real policy for the region.  No matter how the Syrian civil war shakes out, Washington will need a genuine “what next” plan.  Unfortunately, if the chosen course predictably relies heavily on the military lever to shape Syria’s shattered society, America’s presence and actions will only (as in the past) aggravate the crisis and help rejuvenate its many adversaries.

“The Blessed Ban”

The Trump administration’s proposed “travel ban” quickly became fodder for left-versus-right vitriol in the U.S.  Here’s a rundown on what it’s likely to mean when it comes to foreign policy and the “next” war.  First, soaring domestic fears over jihadi terror attacks in this country and the possible role of migrants and refugees in stoking them represent a potentially catastrophic over-reaction to a modest threat.  Annually, from 2005 to 2015, terrorists killed an average of just seven Americans on U.S. soil.  You are approximately 18,000 times more likely to die in some sort of accident than from such an attack.  In addition, according to a study by the conservative Cato Institute, from 1975 to 2015 citizens of the countries included in Trump’s first ban (including Iraq and Syria) killed precisely zero people in the United States.  Nor has any refugee conducted a fatal domestic attack here.  Finally, despite candidate and President Trump’s calls for “extreme vetting” of Muslim refugees, the government already has a complex, two-year vetting process for such refugees which is remarkably “extreme.” 

Those are the facts.  What truly matters, however, is the effect of such a ban on the war of ideas in the Middle East.  In short, it’s manna from heaven for ISIS’s storyline in which Americans are alleged to hate all Muslims. It tells you everything you need to know that, within days of the administration’s announcement of its first ban, ISIS had taken to labeling it “blessed,” just as al-Qaeda once extolled George W. Bush’s 2003 “blessed invasion” of Iraq. Even Senator John McCain, a well-known hawk, worried that Trump’s executive order would “probably give ISIS some more propaganda.” 

Remember, while ISIS loves to claim responsibility for every attack in the West perpetrated by lost, disenfranchised, identity-seeking extremist youths, that doesn’t mean the organization actually directs them. The vast majority of these killers are self-radicalized citizens, not refugees or immigrants. One of the most effective — and tragic — ways to lose this war is to prove the jihadis right. 

The Hypocrisy Trap

Another way to feed the ISIS narrative is to bolster perceptions of diplomatic insincerity. Americans tend to be some of the least self-aware citizens on the planet. (Is it a coincidence that ours is about the only population left still questioning the existence of climate change?) Among the rare things that Democrats and Republicans agree on, however, is that America is a perennial force for good, in fact the force for good on Earth. As it happens, the rest of the world begs to differ. In Gallup global polls, the United States has, in fact, been identified as the number one threat to world peace!  However uncomfortable that may be, it matters.

One reason many Middle Easterners, in particular, believe this to be so stems from Washington’s longstanding support for regional autocrats.  In fiscal year 2017, Egypt’s military dictator and Jordan’s king will receive $1.46 and $1 billion respectively in U.S. foreign aid — nearly 7% of its total assistance budget.  After leading a coup to overturn Egypt’s elected government, General Sisi was officially persona non grata in the White House (though President Obama reinstated $1.3 billion in military aid in 2015).  Sisi’s recent visit to the Trump White House changed all that as, in a joint press conference, the president swore that he was “very much behind” Egypt and that Sisi himself had “done a fantastic job.”  In another indicator of future policy, the State Department dropped existing human rights conditions for the multibillion-dollar sale of F-16s to Bahrain’s monarchy.  All of this might be of mild interest, if it weren’t for the way it bolstered ISIS claims that democracy is just an “idol,” and the democratic process a fraud that American presidents simply ignore.

Then there’s Israel, already the object of deep hatred in the region, and now clearly about to receive a blank check of support from the Trump administration.  The role that Israeli leaders already play in American domestic politics is certainly striking to Arab audiences. Consider how unprecedented it was in 2015 to see Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu criticize a sitting president before a joint session of Congress in an Israeli election year and receive multiple, bipartisan standing ovations.  Even so, none of this prevented the Obama administration, domestically labeled “weak on Israel,” from negotiating a record $38 billion military aid deal with that country. 

While violent Palestinian fighters are far from blameless, for 40 years Israel has increasingly created facts on the ground meant to preclude a viable Palestinian state.  Netanyahu and his predecessors increased illegal settlements in the Palestinian territories, built an exclusion wall, and further divided the West Bank by constructing a network of roads meant only for the Israeli military and Jewish settlers.

Although most world leaders, publics, and the United Nations see the Jewish settlements on the West Bank as a major impediment to peace, the current U.S. ambassador to Israel was once the president of a fundraising group supporting just such an Israeli settlement.  The notion that he could be an honest broker in peace talks borders on the farcical.

All of this, of course, matters when it comes to Washington’s unending wars in the region.  Even Secretary of Defense James Mattis, soon after leaving the helm of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), recognized that he “paid a military security price every day as a commander of CENTCOM because the Americans were seen as biased in support of Israel.”  So, you want to lose?  Keep feeding the ISIS narrative on democracy and Israel just as the Trump administration is doing, even as it sends more troops into the region and heightens bombing and drone raids from Syria to Yemen.

Send in the Cavalry…

If the next phase of the generational struggle for the Middle East is once again to be essentially a military one, while the Trump administration feeds every negative American stereotype in the region, then it’s hard to see a future of anything but defeat. A combination of widespread American ignorance and the intellectual solace of simplistic models lead many here to ascribe jihadist terrorism to some grand, ethereal hatred of “Christendom.” 

The reality is far more discomfiting. Consider, for instance, a document from “ancient” history: Osama bin Laden’s 1998 fatwa against the United States.  At that time, he described three tangible motives for jihad: U.S. occupation of Islam’s holiest lands in the Middle East, U.S. attacks on and sanctions against Iraq, and American support for Israel’s “occupation” of Jerusalem.  If ISIS and al-Qaeda’s center of gravity is not their fighting force but their ideology (as I believe it is), then the last thing Washington should want to do is substantiate any of these three visions of American motivation — unless, of course, the goal is to lose the war on terror across the Greater Middle East and parts of Africa. 

In that case, the solution is obvious: Washington should indeed insert more troops and set up yet more bases in the region, maintain unqualified support for right-wing Israeli governments and assorted Arab autocrats, and do its best to ban Muslim refugees from America.  That, after all, represents the royal road to affirming al-Qaeda’s, and now ISIS’s, overarching narratives. It’s a formula — already well used in the last 15 years — for playing directly into the enemy’s hands and adhering to its playbook, for creating yet more failed states and terror groups throughout the region.

When it comes to Syria in particular, there are some shockingly unexamined contradictions at the heart of Washington’s reactions to its war there.  President Trump, for instance, recently spoke emotionally about the “beautiful babies cruelly murdered” in Idlib, Syria.  Yet, the administration’s executive order on travel bans any Syrian refugees — including beautiful babies — from entering this country.  If few Americans recognize the incongruity or hypocrisy of this, you can bet that isn’t true in the Arab world.

For ISIS, today’s struggle in Syria, Iraq, and elsewhere is part of an unremitting, apocalyptic holy war between Islam and the West.  That narrative is demonstrably false.  The current generation of jihadis sprang from tangible grievances and perceived humiliations perpetrated by recent Western policies.  There was nothing “eternal” about it.  The first recorded suicide bombings in the Middle East didn’t erupt until the early 1980s.  So forget the thousand-year struggle or even, in Western terms, the “clash of civilizations.”  It took America’s military-first policies in the region to generate what has now become perpetual war with spreading terror insurgencies. 

Want a formula for forever war? Send in the cavalry… again.

Major Danny Sjursen, a TomDispatch regular, is a U.S. Army strategist and former history instructor at West Point. He served tours with reconnaissance units in Iraq and Afghanistan. He has written a memoir and critical analysis of the Iraq War, Ghost Riders of Baghdad: Soldiers, Civilians, and the Myth of the Surge. He lives with his wife and four sons near Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

[Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author, expressed in an unofficial capacity, and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.]

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, John Dower’s The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II, as well as John Feffer’s dystopian novel Splinterlands, Nick Turse’s Next Time They’ll Come to Count the Dead, and Tom Engelhardt’s Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.

Copyright 2017 Danny Sjursen

Via Tomdispatch.com