Trump’s fascistic diatribe

On the road to World War III


21 January 2017

The speech delivered by Donald Trump Friday at his inauguration as president has no parallel in American history. It was a violent, nationalistic tirade, with distinctly fascistic overtones. Trump proclaimed his program to be “America First,” threatening the rest of the world with dire consequences if they did not submit to his demands, both economic and political.

The speech was anything but an “inaugural address” in the sense of outlining at the beginning of an administration the general ideals to which it will be devoted and attempting to give these some universal significance, however hollow, clumsy or hypocritical the effort might be.

In a few cases, most famously Abraham Lincoln’s, the inaugural address has endured and become a political landmark. In the modern era, Franklin Roosevelt declared, in the midst of the Great Depression, that the American people had “nothing to fear but fear itself.”

Trump’s message was just the opposite: “We fear the world, but the whole world must be made to fear us.”

Any conception that once he actually assumed office a “presidential” Trump would emerge was quickly dispelled by the tenor of his remarks. He glared, he ranted. He had only one tone of voice: an angry shout. The speech gave a jolt, signaling to the world that the new American president is an out-of-control megalomaniac.

Unlike American presidents for the past century who have postured as leaders of the “free world” or suggested that the United States had a stake in global development, Trump treated all foreign countries as economic enemies and blamed them for the crisis of American capitalism. “We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies and destroying our jobs,” he said.

Trump won the election in economically ravaged industrial states such as Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin by cynically exploiting the social devastation in factory towns and rural areas, offering an entirely reactionary and bogus solution to the crisis, based on economic nationalism.

This was the main theme of his inaugural address, as he claimed, “[W]e’ve enriched foreign industry at the expense of American industry… and spent trillions and trillions of dollars overseas while America’s infrastructure has fallen into disrepair and decay. We’ve made other countries rich, while the wealth, strength and confidence of our country has dissipated over the horizon.”

Trump summed up his chauvinistic perspective with the sentence: “The wealth of our middle class has been ripped from their homes and then redistributed all across the world.” Not true! The wealth produced by working people has indeed been stolen and “redistributed,” but not to foreigners. It has been seized by American capitalists—the tiny elite of financial aristocrats like Trump himself and much of his cabinet, the billionaires and multi-millionaires.

Hitler’s “big lie” was to blame the Jews, not the capitalists, for the devastating consequences of the crisis of the profit system that produced the Great Depression of the 1930s. Trump’s “big lie” offers a different scapegoat to divert popular anger over the economic crisis that erupted in 2008, but it is just as false and reactionary.

As in Germany in the 1930s, the perspective of restoring national greatness through economic autarchy and military expansion leads inevitably to war. Trump’s speech is a direct substantiation of the perspective advanced by the Socialist Equality Party: the growth of American militarism over the past quarter century stems from the effort of the US ruling elite to find a violent solution to the long-term economic decay of the United States.

Trump’s speech was shot through and through with language drawn from the vocabulary of fascism, with the assistance, no doubt, of his top political aide, Stephen K. Bannon, former chief of Breitbart News, a haven for “white nationalists,” i.e., white supremacists, anti-Semites and neo-Nazis.

The new president declared, “We share one heart, one home, and one glorious destiny.” He demanded “a total allegiance to the United States of America,” hailed “the great men and women of our military and law enforcement,” called for “a new national pride,” and concluded that “we all bleed the same red blood of patriots.”

His blood-curdling pledge to destroy “radical Islamic terrorism, which we will eradicate from the face of the Earth” will be taken as a threat, legitimately, by the broad masses of the Middle East and the entire Muslim world, some 1.6 billion people. Trump has already declared that they are to be banned from entering the United States.

There is no question that Trump’s speech will be read as a declaration of war, not only in Beijing, Moscow and Tehran, but also in Berlin, Paris, London and Tokyo. When he said that “it is the right of all nations to put their own interests first,” he was announcing the onset of a dog-eat-dog struggle among the major imperialist powers for markets, sources of raw material and cheap labor, and key strategic positions. The inexorable logic of this struggle leads to world war.

Trump’s policy of military expansion and extreme nationalism has the most ominous implications for the democratic rights of the American people. He speaks for a ruthless financial oligarchy that will brook no opposition, foreign or domestic. His call for a Fortress America, mobilized against every country in the world, means the suppression of all domestic dissent.

It is notable that Trump’s speech discarded the democratic rhetoric that is traditional for inaugurations. There was no paying tribute to the electoral process, no appealing to the tens of millions who did not vote for him, no reassurance to those opposed to him that their rights will be respected, no pledging to be a president of “all the people.” There was not even an acknowledgement that he had received only 44 percent of the vote, trailing his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton by nearly three million votes.

On the contrary, Trump denounced “a small group in our nation’s capital,” identified as “politicians” and “the establishment,” in other words, everyone seated around him on the western face of the Capitol building—congressmen, senators, former presidents. He declared that they would be deprived of all power because “we are transferring power from Washington, DC and giving it back to you, the people”—with Trump himself, of course, acting as the stand-in for “the people.”

There is only one politically serious conclusion that can be drawn from this inauguration: Trump is seeking to develop an American fascistic movement, offering a false enemy to be held responsible for the crimes and failures of capitalism, demonizing anyone opposed to his policies as disloyal, and presenting himself as the personification of the popular will and the only one who can deliver a solution to the crisis.

Trump has assembled a cabinet of billionaires, right-wing ideologues and former generals. The Trump administration will go much further than anyone imagines in pursuing a program of war, attacks on democratic rights and the destruction of jobs and living standards for working people.

The Democratic Party will do nothing to oppose Trump. The Democratic Party leadership, from Obama on down, sat through Trump’s militaristic and anti-democratic diatribe as though listening to a “normal” political address. Obama has spent the transition period spreading complacency about the incoming administration, while the congressional Democrats pledge to work with Trump and embrace his toxic and reactionary economic nationalism.

Working people are in for great shocks. Whatever the initial confusion, whether they voted for Clinton, for Trump, or refused to choose between them, they will learn quickly that this government is their enemy. American capitalism has embarked on the road to disaster and nothing can stop it but a revolutionary movement of the working class.

Patrick Martin

The Obama administration and the legitimization of torture


By Tom Carter
7 January 2017

On December 28, US District Judge Royce Lamberth ordered a complete copy of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s 2014 report on the Central Intelligence Agency’s torture program during the Bush administration to be delivered to a federal courthouse, where it is to be preserved in a safe by a judicial security officer. Lawyers for torture victim Abd al-Rahim Al-Nashiri requested this extraordinary measure on the grounds that efforts were underway within the other branches of the US government to destroy and erase every copy of the full report.

The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report, titled “Committee Study of the Central Intelligence Agency’s Detention and Interrogation Program,” was finalized in December 2014 after protracted efforts by the Obama administration and the CIA to obstruct and delay the investigation. At that time, a heavily redacted 525 page “executive summary” was released to the public. The full report, which apparently numbers some 6,700 pages, has been kept secret.

The redacted copy of the executive summary establishes unequivocally that CIA personnel perpetrated war crimes, including torture and murder. Among the more depraved and sadistic torture methods exposed by the report was the practice of so-called “rectal feeding,” which involved forcibly pumping puréed food into the victim’s rectum “without evidence of medical necessity,” in the dry language of the report. These war crimes were carried out systematically with the knowledge of senior figures in the Bush administration from 2001 to 2006, and were followed by an extensive high-level cover-up. (See What is in the Senate Intelligence Committee Report on CIA torture .)

Republican Senator Richard Burr, a vocal Trump supporter, who replaced Democrat Diane Feinstein as Senate Intelligence Committee chairperson following the 2014 midterm elections, has demanded the return of every copy of the report from the Obama administration. The CIA’s copies of the report were “inadvertently” and “accidentally” destroyed by the CIA inspector general’s office in the summer of 2015.

Virtually no one has been allowed to read the full report, and a concerted effort is underway to make sure that nobody is able to read it in the future. No one has been criminally prosecuted for gross violations of international law, American statutes and the US Constitution, and the moves to make the report disappear are aimed at, in addition to censoring history, making sure that none of the criminals involved in the program are ever brought to justice.

It would be hard to find more damning evidence of the utterly rotten state of American democracy than the fate of this report.

The fact that neither the CIA nor the Bush officials who sanctioned the torture program have suffered any negative consequences, despite the presentation by the United States Senate of detailed evidence of war crimes, points to the degree to which authoritarian tendencies have asserted and entrenched themselves in the American state. The only CIA employee who has suffered negative consequences in connection with torture is analyst John Kiriakou, who was prosecuted by the Obama Justice Department and sentenced to 30 months in prison for the “crime” of revealing to the public the CIA’s use of waterboarding.

In America, certain democratic rituals continue to be observed, but the reality is that the military, the intelligence agencies, and the largest business and financial institutions dictate policy to what would once have been called the “civilian” branches of government, including both official political parties.

In order to shield the CIA from accountability for its crimes, President Obama has refused to declassify the report, which he has the power to order unilaterally. He has also refused to incorporate the report into the records of federal agencies, as requested by several lawmakers, a procedural maneuver that would facilitate its preservation and future declassification. In a token measure, he has ordered a copy retained in his official presidential records. This might save a single copy from destruction for the moment, but it would delay its release to the public until at least 2028.

The case of Al-Nashiri was the subject of particular scrutiny in the Senate investigation. Before being transferred to the Guantanamo Bay torture camp, Al-Nashiri was abducted and “rendered” to a series of secret CIA “black sites” in Afghanistan, Thailand, Poland, Morocco and Romania. He was waterboarded, shackled naked and hooded, and threatened with guns and power drills, among other abuses. To prevent evidence of war crimes from coming to light, the CIA destroyed the tapes of Al-Nashiri’s waterboarding in 2005.

Al-Nashiri, a Saudi citizen and alleged Al Qaeda leader, is the subject of ongoing proceedings before a US military commission, in which the Obama administration is seeking the death penalty. Underscoring the absurd character of these supposedly “legal” proceedings, Al-Nashiri will not be released even if he is found to be not guilty.

In July 2014, the European Court of Human Rights found Poland to be in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights for its complicity in the detention and torture of Al-Nashiri, ordering Poland to pay him €100,000 in damages.

The story of the CIA “enhanced interrogation” program is one of crimes compounded by crimes, lies told upon lies, implicating higher and higher levels of the state, eventually metastasizing into a full-blown constitutional crisis. A full recitation of the scandal’s long development would require several books.

During the Senate Intelligence Committee investigation, CIA Director John Brennan ordered agents to break into Senate staffers’ computers in an effort to delete incriminating information. Then the CIA provocatively demanded that the staffers be prosecuted for stealing confidential information, which prompted reciprocal demands for the CIA burglars themselves to be prosecuted, as well as an extraordinary speech on the Senate floor by Feinstein in March 2014. (See Senate Intelligence head accuses CIA of undermining US “constitutional framework” ) During the Senate investigation, the CIA took the position that it could keep information secret from the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is charged with overseeing the CIA.

The Obama administration purported to resolve the crisis with the announcement that nobody on either side would be prosecuted. At the end of 2014, the administration colluded with congressional Republicans in an effort to block the release of the report until the Republicans could obtain control of both houses. As part of these efforts, Secretary of State John Kerry placed a call to Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein to urge her to “consider” further delaying the release of the report.

After the report’s release, the Obama administration continued to do everything it could to block and suppress the report. While Obama made “transparency” a plank of his election platform, his administration vigorously opposed efforts to secure the release of the report under the Freedom of Information Act, as in the case of ACLU v. CIA .

The administration’s efforts to cover up torture and shield torturers from accountability have been a significant factor in the legitimization of torture in the US, paving the way for an escalation of the practice under Trump.

A particularly menacing article appeared in the Wall Street Journal last month titled, “Sorry, Mad Dog, Waterboarding Works.” The author, James E. Mitchell, boasts of having been “authorized” to conduct “enhanced interrogation” by the CIA. He proudly describes having “personally waterboarded” three men while working as a CIA contractor.

The Senate report identifies Mitchell as one of the chief architects of the torture program. In at least one lawsuit, he has been charged with engaging in a “joint criminal enterprise” with the US government that involved “torture; cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment; non-consensual human experimentation; and war crimes.”

In the article, Mitchell lashes out at the Senate report, calling it “partisan,” and he denounces retired Marine Corps General James “Mad Dog” Mathis, Trump’s appointee for secretary of defense, for his pragmatic statements that torture does not work. Mitchell argues that “harsh” interrogation methods are justified in a “ticking-time-bomb scenario.” However, underscoring the fraud of that oft-cited argument, Mitchell does not allege that any time bombs were ticking when he tortured his victims.

Mitchell is a war criminal and he should have been arrested and prosecuted a long time ago. The fact that he can openly boast of his conduct in the press is the product of the Obama administration’s dogged efforts to cover up torture and shield perpetrators such as Mitchell from accountability. If all of the Bush-era torturers had been sentenced to lengthy jail terms—together with those who authorized the program, lied about it, and tried to cover it up—it goes without saying that conditions would not be as favorable for such an article to appear in the Wall Street Journal, or for Trump to shout about how he will “bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding.”

The fact that the Senate report on CIA torture is now in danger of being destroyed or locked away for more than a decade is a fitting symbol of the legacy of the Obama administration. Obama was elected based on popular illusions that he would reverse the hated policies of the Bush administration. Instead, by any objective standard, the Obama administration was among the most reactionary in American history. Over a period of eight years, Obama oversaw a broad assault on basic democratic rights, the strengthening of the apparatus of a police state, and a massive transfer of wealth to the super-rich. These policies helped lay the foundations for the rise of an authoritarian populist like Trump.

Without presenting a complete list, the Obama administration’s legacy as it pertains to democratic rights includes carrying out and justifying assassinations of US citizens, codifying military commissions and indefinite detention without judicial due process, persecuting whistleblowers and journalists, further expanding the illegal regime of domestic spying, blocking efforts at transparency, deporting immigrants en masse, cracking down on protests and prosecuting political activists on the basis of anti-terror laws, abetting the epidemic of police brutality, further militarizing local police, and asserting immunity on behalf of killer cops in proceedings before the Supreme Court.

When Obama first took office, he made it a priority to shield Bush-era criminals. Bush administration officials, war criminals who carried out torture, and Wall Street financial criminals who crashed the economy all got a free pass under Obama, who pledged to “look forward, not backward.” While he was elected on promises to close the infamous Guantanamo Bay facility, Obama ends his eight years in office with the torture camp still in operation.

Trump, for his part, has declared that “torture works,” and has promised to keep Guantanamo open. “I watched President Obama talking about Gitmo, right, Guantanamo Bay, which by the way, which by the way, we are keeping open,” Trump declared in November. “Which we are keeping open … and we’re gonna load it up with some bad dudes, believe me, we’re gonna load it up.”

Given the boundless sadism and depravity of the CIA torture that has already been exposed, the mind boggles at Trump’s proposal to implement practices that are “a hell of a lot worse.” Trump has also declared that American citizens who are accused of “terrorism” can be transferred to Guantanamo Bay.


The Dark Side of Obama’s Legacy


There is a dark side to President Barack Obama’s legacy on national and international security matters that will enable President-elect Donald Trump to damage America’s political institutions as well as its standing in the global community.  President Obama, a Harvard-trained lawyer and an expert in constitutional law, was insufficiently scrupulous in protecting our moral obligations, creating an ironic and unfortunate page in U.S. history.  Instead of making the “world safe for democracy,” the clarion call of President Woodrow Wilson one hundred years ago, President Obama contributed to the furtherance of a national security state and a culture of secrecy.

The administrations of Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama tilted too far in the direction of the military, which already plays far too large a role in the policy process and the intelligence cycle.  Strategic intelligence has suffered from the Pentagon’s domination of a process that is now geared primarily to support the warfighter in an era of permanent war.  The strategic intelligence failures during the Obama administration include the absence of warning regarding events in Crimea and the Ukraine; the “Arab Spring;” the emergence of the Islamic State; and Russian recklessness in Syria.

The militarization of intelligence presumably will worsen in the Trump administration, which will be dominated by retired general officers and West Point graduates at almost all of the key departments and agencies in the foreign policy community. The CIA has become a para-military organization in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, with too much attention given to covert action.

President Obama campaigned on the basis of transparency and openness, but ignored accountability for the CIA’s transgressions and fundamentally weakened the role of oversight throughout the national security community.  A statutory Inspector General was created at the CIA in 1989 due to the crimes of Iran-Contra, but President Obama made sure there was no IG in place at CIA during most of his eight-year presidency and acquiesced in the destruction of the Office of the Inspector General at CIA.

The Senate intelligence committee’s authoritative report on the CIA’s illegal use of torture and abuse could not have been prepared without the work of the Office of the Inspector General, but President Obama tolerated the CIA director’s interference with the committee’s staff and ignored calls for the release of the full report.  As a result, it will be easier for a Trump administration to reinstate the use of torture that violates constitutional and international law, let alone common sense and decency.  With regard to the now-banned practice of waterboarding, Donald Trump stated that “only a stupid person would say it doesn’t work,”

The Obama administration also conducted a campaign against journalists and whistle-blowers that was unprecedented, using the one-hundred-year-old Espionage Act more often than all of his predecessors combined.  In fact, he misused the act, which was designed to prosecute government officials who talked to journalists and not to intimidate legitimate whistleblowers who report crimes and improprieties.  Leonard Downie, a former executive editor of the Washington Post, called Obama’s control of information “the most aggressive I’ve seen since the Nixon administration.”

President Obama, in his high-minded rhetoric, denounced torture and abuse that “ran counter to the rule of law;” warned that our use of drones will “define the type of nation that we leave to our children;” and that “leak investigations may chill investigative journalism that holds government accountable.”  Nevertheless, he sought no accountability for those who broke laws in conducting torture and abuse; expanded the use of drone warfare; and, according to the executive director of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, “laid all the groundwork Trump needs for an unprecedented crackdown on the press.”

As long as Congress defers to the president on the conduct of national security; the courts intervene to prevent any challenge to the power of the president in national security policy making; and the media defer to official and authorized sources, the nation will have to rely on whistleblowers for essential information on national and international security.  Their role will be particularly essential in a Trump administration in view of the president-elect’s reckless statements on nuclear forces, nuclear proliferation, the use of force, and U.S. relations with key allies.  The fact that Trump remains hostile to intelligence briefings and that his first three appointments to the National Security Council are conspiracy theorists creates a horrifying scenario for furthering the dark side of the Obama legacy.

Melvin A. Goodman is a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy and a professor of government at Johns Hopkins University.  A former CIA analyst, Goodman is the author of “Failure of Intelligence: The Decline and Fall of the CIA,” “National Insecurity: The Cost of American Militarism,” and the forthcoming “The Path to Dissent: A Whistleblower at CIA” (City Lights Publishers, 2015).  Goodman is the national security columnist for

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No “Peace on Earth” in 2016


24 December 2016

“Peace on Earth, and goodwill to men”—so goes the line of an oft-sung Christmas carol. The end-of-the-year holidays are a season in which such sentiments are generally expressed, genuinely by broad sections of the population, with utmost cynicism and hypocrisy by various figures in the political establishment.

The actual trajectory of world politics, however, was perhaps best reflected in a tweet from the soon-to-be president of the United States. “The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability,” Trump declared on Thursday. This was followed by a statement from MSNBC host Mika Brzezinki on Friday: “Let it be an arms race. We will outmatch them at every pass and outlast them all.”

The statements from Trump, part of an exchange with Russian President Vladimir Putin, in which both men boasted of the nuclear arsenals of their respective countries, seems like a fitting close to a year of bloodshed.

In 2016, large portions of the globe were engulfed in military conflict. And those states that were nominally at peace spent their time preparing for war and mistreating refugees from armed conflict.

Although definitive figures have not yet been released, at least 150,000 people have been killed in armed conflicts throughout the world in 2016. There were three “major wars,” with a 2016 death toll of over 100,000:

 The Syrian civil war, in which 46,442 people were reportedly killed this year. Since the US began backing the Islamist insurgency in 2011, up to 470,000 people have died. The war has forced 4.9 million people to flee abroad and displaced 6.6 million people within Syria itself.

 The Iraq war, in which 23,584 people were killed this year. Since the United States invaded the country in 2003, more than a million people have died. As of November, 3.1 million people were internally displaced in the country, and millions more had fled abroad.

 The war in Afghanistan, in which 21,932 people were killed this year. Since the United States began providing arms to the Mujahedeen, the predecessor of Al Qaeda, in 1978, more than two million people have been killed in that country, which was torn apart by the 2001 invasion and occupation.

These three conflicts accounted for two-thirds of global deaths in military conflicts. They have also led to a refugee crisis unparalleled in scale since World War II. According to the United Nations, there were 65.3 million displaced people at the end of 2015, up by 5 million since 2014, and by nearly 25 million since 2011.

The surge in refugees, together with their increasingly cruel treatment by destination countries, has led to the highest number of refugee deaths ever recorded by the International Organization for Migration.

Some 7,100 refugees died last year, up from 5,740 in 2015. Half of the fatalities took place as refugees sought to enter Europe across the Mediterranean Sea from war and devastation in the Middle East and North Africa.

This year, Europe shut its doors to refugees. The EU agreed to pay Turkey to serve as the gatekeeper of Europe and block refugees from entering, as it militarized its border patrol and deployed the navies of its member countries to stop “people smuggling.”

This change is best exemplified by Germany, the region’s most powerful state, which is rapidly militarizing as it asserts itself as the dominant European power. While Chancellor Angela Merkel hypocritically proclaimed a “welcoming culture” toward refugees in 2015, this month she adopted large sections of the program of the fascistic Alternative for Germany, calling for a ban on the full-face veil and demanding a further crackdown on refugees.

Beyond the “hot wars” of Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan, the drive of the US to militarily encircle China has poured fuel on the world’s regional flashpoints. This year, nearly 300 people died in raids and shelling over the border between India and Pakistan, both nuclear-armed powers. Meanwhile military tensions between North and South Korea, which also threaten escalation into nuclear war, have dramatically intensified.

A quarter century of unending and expanding war is reaching a new and even more explosive stage. Beginning with the first Gulf War of 1991, which directly preceded the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the United States has sought, through a succession of adventures abroad, to reverse its long-term economic decline.

Obama will leave office as the first US president to serve two full terms under continuous war. He will go down in history as the man who proclaimed the right of the president to assassinate US citizens without due process, and who personally authorized drone “hits” that led to the deaths of thousands of people.

These unending wars, however, have failed to achieve their desired end. Over the past fifteen years, China has tripled its share of the world export market, while America’s share of exports has declined. US military operations, from Iraq to Afghanistan to Libya, have turned into quagmires and debacles. The defeat of the CIA’s Islamist proxies in Syria this month has hammered home the failure of the United States to impose its will upon the Middle East and the world.

But only a fool would believe that these failures will turn America’s warmongering ruling elite into pacifists. Rather, they have led the American ruling class to focus ever more directly on its larger competitors.

The inauguration of Donald Trump will mark a new phase in global conflict. Trump’s provocations against China and his declaration that he welcomes a new arms race with Russia are only the initial indications of the lengths to which his administration is prepared to go to preserve the interests of the American oligarchy.

The year 2017, the centenary of the Russian revolution of 1917, will once again place the struggle against war as the highest and most urgent political task facing mankind.

Andre Damon


Security theater at Trump Tower in New York City

By Mark Witkowski and Philip Guelpa
14 December 2016

The militarized police apparatus of the New York Police Department (NYPD) is making its presence felt in no uncertain terms on New York’s Fifth Avenue at Trump Tower, where Donald Trump, the billionaire mogul, is holding court as he prepares to assume the presidency in January.

Increased security at the Trump Tower

Police wearing body armor and toting high-powered, military-grade rifles stand at the entrance to Trump Tower and on nearby side streets. Dozens of uniformed and plainclothes officers are nearby. Dump trucks loaded with sand act as movable barriers to bar motor vehicles from accessing East 56th Street, which is where the service and private entrances to Trump Tower are located. Access to the entire East 56th Street block between Fifth and Madison Avenues has been effectively shut down, causing economic hardship for businesses and restaurants, with police turning away all but a few who attempt to enter.

Trump’s private residence is located in one of the most densely populated areas of the largest city in the United States. Trump Tower lies in close proximity to the private residences of some of the wealthiest individuals in the US, including those on so called “billionaires row,” a cluster of extremely tall residential towers located on West 57th Street just south of Central Park. The area is also home to the headquarters of a number of banks, investment firms and national media. In addition, it ranks among the world’s most expensive shopping districts, home to upscale retailers including Bergdorf-Goodman, Cartier and Tiffany and Co.

A member of the City Council, Dan Garodnick, recently wrote a letter to the police commissioner complaining about the impact of the hyper-security. He told the Daily News, “It looks like a war zone out there and is completely uninviting. The small businesses are getting pummeled.”

During recent protests, police helicopters, presumably using high-powered surveillance equipment to photograph protesters and give direction to officers on the ground, hovered above the skyscrapers in the vicinity.

Militarized SWAT and other heavily armed police tactical units have become a common sight on the streets of New York in recent years, particularly around major transportation hubs and in the busy theater district, and often appear at random locations. Their presence is clearly meant to be intimidating and many city residents feel it is.

One can imagine the devastating consequences were their military-grade weaponry to be used in such a crowded and confined urban arena as the streets and public spaces of Midtown Manhattan. Trump Tower became the target of protests following the election, and is likely to remain so as the impact of the Trump presidency on the working class unfolds, making clashes with police increasingly probable.

The unprecedented mobilization of security forces has come at a great expense to the city. CNN Money has reported the cost to NYC taxpayers for policing Trump Tower in the aftermath of the election at “more than $1 million a day.”

Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio has requested that the city be reimbursed by the federal government for a total of $35 million, representing the extra expenses it has incurred in providing security for Trump between his election and the inauguration on 20 January. The stopgap spending bill just passed by Congress reportedly includes some money to reimburse the city. Last week, House Republicans approved only $7 million, but the amount included in the final version passed by the Senate has not yet been revealed.

In a city where over 60,000 people, a large portion of them children, spend each night in decrepit homeless shelters, and many thousands live on the streets, this huge outlay of public funds stands in sharp contrast to the grossly inadequate support given to city services such as education, public housing and transportation, for which there is supposedly never enough money.

It is likely that the provision of security and the incumbent expenses will continue following the inauguration. Trump’s wife Melania and son Barron reportedly plan to continue to live at Trump Tower, at least for the rest of the school year. Beyond that, Trump is unlikely to abandon his $90 million penthouse triplex pied-a-terre in the city.

The New York Post reports that the Secret Service, the federal agency responsible for providing presidential security, is negotiating to lease two floors of Trump Tower to house a security headquarters staffed with 250 agents and police.

Since Trump owns the building, in effect the federal government would be paying rent, estimated to be at least $3 million per year, to the president–yet one more example of conflict of interest between Trump’s business interests and his role as president. This payment would be a welcome infusion of cash for a building where rent and sale prices for residential units have fallen 40 percent in the past year, as wealthy residents flee the commotion caused by Trump’s presence.

Despite the tremendous burden on the city’s budget, the Democratic mayor has demonstrated his willingness to accommodate Trump. In a statement to the press, de Blasio said, “The number one imperative here is safety and security. We owe that to the president-elect, his family, and his team.” De Blasio, along with other Democrats, has expressed his intent to work with the Trump administration. He has stated, “…my job is to be respectful and seek dialogue,” referring to a phone conversation he had with Trump.

The many New York residents turning out to protest apparently do not share the mayor’s magnanimous feelings. One Verizon worker the WSWS spoke to who lives in the Castle Hill section of the Bronx expressed frustration at being stuck for a long period of time on a bus on Madison Avenue while heading home after work. Police had herded protesters away from Trump Tower onto the Avenue, making it impassable.

Fifth Avenue is used by a number of express and local bus routes which transport working New Yorkers to their jobs in the city’s core. Since the heighted security began around the tower immeasurable hours have been added to the commute time of thousands of people.

In addition to the overblown security measures around Trump Tower, there is a general stepped up police deployment in Manhattan. Some city residents have said the police presence feels like an occupying force. In one recent incident, at the height of rush hour, tens of thousands of bus and automobile commuters were delayed at the Lincoln Tunnel to allow Trump’s vehicle to pass through en route to New Jersey, severely exacerbating the already intolerably long wait.

The fact that militarized police units are routinely seen on the streets of New York speaks volumes regarding class relations in one of the most socially and economically unequal cities in the world. The spectacle around Trump Tower underscores in dramatic, if not absurd, fashion the sharpening class antagonisms under capitalism. It expresses, on the one hand, the utter arrogance and sense of entitlement of the American ruling class, and, on the other, their awareness of the extreme danger to their interests generated by ever-growing social and economic inequality.

Saving art from looting and destruction — especially in the Middle East — is a military matter

A few good Monuments Men:

The British Army is recruiting experts who fancy themselves George Clooney 2.0 to preserve global cultural treasure

A few good Monuments Men: Saving art from looting and destruction — especially in the Middle East — is a military matter

(Credit: Columbia Pictures)

The British Army recently announced that it would be recruiting 15 to 20 new officers with specializations in art, archaeology and antiquities who will be deployed in the field, just behind the front lines, to help identify, protect and track art and antiquities that are in danger of being damaged, looted or destroyed.

This is, of course, particularly relevant to Middle Eastern conflicts, where groups like ISIS have shown a giddy eagerness to destroy ancient monuments, on the scale of whole cities like Palmyra and Nimrud, as well as individual pre-Islamic statuary that are deemed heretical. Of course, the flip side to this is that these groups are also happy to profit off the very objects they condemn, and they are funding their activities through illicit trade in antiquities.

These works of great artistry and historical importance — which cannot exactly be blamed for not being Islamic artworks, if they were created a millennium before the Prophet Muhammad was born — can be saved from the mallet if they are destined for the auctioneer’s hammer.

Not long ago, scholars like me (I’m a specialist in the history of art crime) had to work hard to convince not just the general public but also authorities, police and politicians that art crime, particularly illicit trade in antiquities, funded organized crime and terrorism. No longer. This stance has been vindicated, unfortunately, in scores of destructive ways, most obviously through ISIS videos of iconoclasm. The only remaining questions concern the scale of the earnings from looted antiquities and what to do to stem the flow.

The most direct way to curb the looting is to discourage First World buyers from purchasing anything that is not 100 percent clearly not from recent excavations in Middle Eastern conflict zones. But while those in the art trade talk a good game, there’s profit to be had, from major galleries and online auction sites (where it is easy for a seller to hide his or her identity, difficult to be sure of an object’s provenance, and where some objects have been advertised as being still covered in desert sand, as if this were a selling point). The documentary “Blood Antiques” chillingly shows how certain Brussels art dealers, for instance, collude with actors posing as people with looted antiquities to sell, even as some still have desert sand on them.

So the need is clear to help protect surviving monuments from iconoclasts and do what we can to limit the funds for fundamentalist groups. Curbing art crime is one way to do that. The U.K. and France are among the governments that have recently dedicated tens of millions to protecting cultural heritage. The National Endowment for the Humanities in the United States recently launched a new grant for projects with that same goal. So it stands to reason that the military would reinstate officers who might be described as modern-day Monuments Men.


It is fitting that the Monuments Men 2.0 should be spearheaded by the British because they were the masterminds behind the original incarnation. The highest-profile among the officers were Americans, promoted by recent books like “Monuments Men,” which focused on George Stout (whose fictional avatar was played by Clooney in his film of the same name) and my own “Stealing the Mystic Lamb,” which focused on Monuments Men Robert Posey and Lincoln Kirstein. (Fictionalized versions of the latter were played by Bill Murray and Bob Balaban in the “Monuments Men”  film.

But the core of the program was British, led by Sir Leonard Woolley, a rumpled, opinionated archaeologist, a buddy of Agatha Christie and someone in desperate need of a rollicking biography, preferably penned by the master of World War II intrigue romps, Ben MacIntyre. Woolley’s project has its origins in January 1943, when archaeologists Mortimer Wheeler and John Ward-Perkins visited archaeological sites like Leptis Magna in North Africa.

A team of Italian archaeologists had recently excavated the site, but the excavated objects were just left there unprotected. British soldiers were inadvertently damaging ruins without realizing that the stones were of cultural or historical importance. The two prepared homemade “out of bounds” signs to show people where to avoid treading.

Thus began a movement to educate soldiers in the field, for with knowledge of the treasures they might encounter came consideration to protect them. What Wheeler conceived was later enacted by Woolley, as part of the British War Office. But Woolley envisioned this as an advisory role not one that would actually send officers into war zones. That would be the American contribution.

Meanwhile, in the United States at the outset of World War II, a group of American museum leaders, including Paul Sachs of Harvard’s Fogg Museum and Alfred Barr of the Museum of Modern Art, drew up a list of cultural heritage objects that might be in danger in the course of the fighting on continental Europe. This list was linked to maps that were distributed to officers, along with General Dwight Eisenhower’s important directive to avoid damaging cultural sites whenever possible. There is no record of a previous general making such a statement.

Noah Charney is a Salon arts columnist and professor specializing in art crime, and author of “The Art of Forgery” (Phaidon).