Trump is forcing Americans to participate in an orgy of unnecessary cruelty

Robert Reich:

Trump’s actions violate every ideal this nation has ever cherished — and we have a moral responsibility to stop it

Robert Reich: Trump is forcing Americans to participate in an orgy of unnecessary cruelty
(Credit: Reuters/Jonathan Drake)
This originally appeared on Robert Reich’s blog.

The theme that unites all of President Donald Trump’s initiatives so far is their unnecessary cruelty.

1. His new budget comes down especially hard on the poor by imposing unprecedented cuts in low-income housing, job training, food assistance, legal services, help to distressed rural communities, nutrition for new mothers and their infants, funds to keep poor families warm and even Meals on Wheels.

These cuts come at a time when more American families are in poverty than ever before, including one in five children.

Why is Trump doing this? To pay for the biggest hike in military spending since the 1980s. Yet the United States already spends more on its military than the next seven biggest military budgets combined.

2. His plan to repeal and “replace” the Affordable Care Act will cause 14 million Americans to lose their health insurance next year, and 24 million to lose it by 2026.

Why is Trump doing this? To bestow $600 billion in tax breaks over the decade to wealthy Americans. This windfall comes at a time when the rich have accumulated more wealth than at any time in the nation’s history.

The plan reduces the federal budget deficit by only $337 billion over the next ten years — a small fraction of the national debt, in exchange for an enormous amount of human hardship.

3. His ban on Syrian refugees and reduction by half in the total number of refugees admitted to the United States comes just when the world is experiencing the worst refugee crisis since World War II.

Why is Trump doing this? The ban does little or nothing to protect Americans from terrorism. No terrorist act in the United States has been perpetrated by a Syrian or by anyone from the six nations whose citizens are now banned from traveling to the United States. You have higher odds of being struck by lightening than dying from an immigrant terrorist attack.

4. His dragnet roundup of undocumented immigrants is helter skelter and includes people who have been productive members of our society for decades, as well as young people who have been here since they were toddlers.

Why is Trump doing this? He has no compelling justification. Unemployment is down, crime is down, and we have fewer undocumented workers in the United States today than we did five years ago.

Trump is embarking on an orgy of cruelty for absolutely no reason. This is morally repugnant. It violates every ideal this nation has ever cherished. We have a moral responsibility to stop it.

Robert Reich, one of the nation’s leading experts on work and the economy, is Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley. He has served in three national administrations, most recently as secretary of labor under President Bill Clinton. Time Magazine has named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the last century. He has written 13 books, including his latest best-seller, “Aftershock: The Next Economy and America’s Future;” “The Work of Nations,” which has been translated into 22 languages; and his newest, an e-book, “Beyond Outrage.” His syndicated columns, television appearances, and public radio commentaries reach millions of people each week. He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine, and Chairman of the citizen’s group Common Cause. His new movie “Inequality for All” is in Theaters. His widely-read blog can be found at www.robertreich.org.

Trump’s strategic vision of chaos: Inventing a nonexistent crisis so he can “solve” it

The president depicts a failing America that’s more like 2009 than 2017 — so he can take credit for doing nothing

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Trump's strategic vision of chaos: Inventing a nonexistent crisis so he can "solve" it

(Credit: Reuters/Jonathan Drake)

As you know, our administration inherited many problems across government and across the economy. To be honest, I inherited a mess. It’s a mess. At home and abroad, a mess. Jobs are pouring out of the country; you see what’s going on with all of the companies leaving our country, going to Mexico and other places, low pay, low wages, mass instability overseas, no matter where you look. The Middle East is a disaster. North Korea — we’ll take care of it, folks; we’re going to take care of it all. I just want to let you know, I inherited a mess.
Donald Trump, Feb. 17

These words of the president are not quite as evocative as his doomsday inaugural “American carnage” address, but it may be more effective in the long run. Donald Trump is ignorant in most ways a president should be smart, but he does have an unerring instinct for hype.

One of his favorite tall tales is the miraculous “comeback” story. You’ve heard him endlessly recount the tedious details of his Great Campaign in which nobody said he could get the nomination and yet he defied the odds and vanquished 16 men, Carly Fiorina and one crooked Hillary, ultimately winning a historic landslide of epic proportions. No, it wasn’t historic and it wasn’t epic and it wasn’t a landslide, but that’s part of the myth Trump has created for himself: He only wins big.

The point is that he’s making himself out to be a hero who can defy tremendous odds to fight back and win. That’s why he insists that he inherited a terrible mess that will take a heroic effort to turn around, and he’s the only guy who can do it.

The country he describes is very familiar: Its economy is terrible, millions of people are going bankrupt and losing their jobs, their homes and their health care. People who have saved money for decades have seen their retirement funds shrink to nothing in the stock market crash, while Wall Street masters of the universe collect millions and tell everyone financial institutions are simply “too big to fail.” Major industries are on the verge of collapse. Banks are closing all over the country.

Tens of thousands of troops are still stationed overseas in a war that seems to never end. Terrorist bombings are happening all over the world and nobody knows when the next one is going to hit close to home. Even the natural disasters are catastrophic, taking out whole American cities and seeming to portend more of the same as the climate changes and nobody knows what to do about it. The future seems bleak indeed.

We all know that country. It was America in 2009.  It was the mess our last president inherited, not this one. (If you need a little refresher course on how bad the employment situation was during the Great Recession, you can read all about it in a recap from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.) It was the worst economic recession in the lifetime of anyone younger than age 70 and it came on the heels of a period of tremendous fear and anxiety after 9/11 and the debacle of the Iraq war.

Now that was a real mess.

To be sure, the recovery has been a long, uneven slog and many people are still reeling. There are long-term economic trends that have hit some communities very hard for decades and the Great Recession exacerbated their suffering. And much of the gains have gone to the upper 1 percent.

But millions more people have jobs, homes and health care today than they did eight years ago. That is just a fact. The idea that Donald Trump is facing an emergency of that magnitude, even among many of the white working-class folks who remain underemployed and financially insecure is ridiculous. We were on the verge of another global Great Depression. Now we’re not.

As I pointed out before the election in September, whoever won was going to have the economic wind at his or her back, which is a lucky thing for any president. I quoted economist Jared Bernstein who wrote in The Washington Post that “poverty fell sharply, middle-class incomes rose steeply, and more people had health coverage” in 2015, which meant that many of those who had been left behind by the recovery were starting to see the benefits. But there is often an emotional hangover after a deep economic crisis that takes some time to dissipate; even when things have improved,  people still feel anxious for some time afterwards.

One suspects Trump understood from the beginning that the economy was rebounding. But in order to take advantage of his reputation as a wealthy businessman, he needed to pump up those feelings of anxiety so that he could take credit for the upturn once in office. The dystopian hellscape that he describes today will quickly give way to “Morning in America” for his followers. And he doesn’t have to do anything.

This is lucky for him since Trump doesn’t have a clue about what a president has to do in a real crisis and doesn’t have the temperament or skills to do it anyway. As Jonathan Cohn wrote in this piece for The Huffington Post on Tuesday, as much as Trump and his minions insist that his first month in office has been historically successful, it’s been nothing more than endless gaffes, scandals and flashy edicts that are far less substantial than the sweeping and complicated legislation that President Barack Obama ushered through Congress in the corresponding period.

Cohn related Trump’s attitude toward the hard work of creating policy:

During the presidential campaign, Trump mocked Hillary Clinton for her wonkishness: “She’s got people that sit in cubicles writing policy all day,” he said during one interview. “It’s just a waste of paper.” At one point, Trump’s own policy advisers quit because nobody was paying them or taking them seriously.

That’s appalling. But unless Trump’s GOP colleagues in the Congress muck up things badly by repealing the Affordable Care Act or making such drastic cuts that employment falters, he doesn’t really have to do much. He can just tweet about saving some manufacturing jobs that CEOs are happy to pretend he personally negotiated, and his followers will be happy to give him credit for “saving” an economy that was already on the upswing.

There is one problem with his cunning plan, however. If a healthy economic environment requires the confidence of people that their future looks bright, then this growth may just come to a screeching halt. The “carnage” he likes to describe may not exist today. But millions of people are frightened to death that the nightmare of Donald Trump may make it very real in the days to come.

Heather Digby Parton

Heather Digby Parton, also known as “Digby,” is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

The dismal U.S. military record: Killing people, breaking things and America’s winless wars

“We have not shown an ability to achieve our stated political aims in a conclusive way at an acceptable cost”

Killing people, breaking things and America's winless wars: Details of the dismal U.S. military record
Nellis Air Force Base military police block the road at the intersection of North Las Vegas Boulevard and North Hollywood Boulevard after an aircraft crash near the area on Thursday, Aug. 18, 2016, in Las Vegas. An official says a veteran pilot had just completed an exercise with a military weapons school at an Air Force base near Las Vegas when he ejected as the plane went down. (Erik Verduzco/Las Vegas Review-Journal via AP)(Credit: AP)

This piece originally appeared on TomDispatch.

Winning: it’s written into the DNA of the U.S.A. After all, what’s more American than football legend Vince Lombardi’s famous (if purloinedmaxim: “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing”?

Americans expect to be number one. First Lady Michelle Obama recently called the United States the “greatest country on Earth.” (Take that, world public opinion, and your choice of Germany!) Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton went even further, touting America as “the greatest country that has ever been created.” Her rival, Donald Trump, who for political gain badmouths the country that made him rich and famous, does so in the hope of returning America to supposedly halcyon days of unparalleled greatness. He’s predicted that his presidency might lead to an actual winning overload. “We’re going to win so much,” he told supporters. “You’re going to get tired of winning. You’re going to say, ‘Please, Mr. President … don’t win so much’ … And I’m going to say, ‘No, we have to make America great again … We’re gonna keep winning.’”

As Trump well knows, Americans take winning very seriously. Look no further than the U.S. gold medal count at the recent Rio Olympics: 46. The next highest total? Great Britain’s 27, almost 20 fewer than those of the country whose upstart rebels bested them in the eighteenth century, the nation’s ur-victory. The young United States then beat back the Brits in the early 1800s, and twice bailed them out in victorious world wars during the twentieth century.

In the intervening years, the United States built up a gaudy military record — slaughtering native tribes, punishing Mexico, pummeling Spain — but the best was yet to come. “Our troops are the finest fighting force in the history of the world,”boasted President Barack Obama in this year’s State of the Union address. In this he echoed his predecessor, George W. Bush, who, in May 2001, declared that “America today has the finest [military] the world has ever seen.”

In the years between those two moments of high-flown rhetoric, the U.S. military fought in nine conflicts, according to a 2015 briefing produced by U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM), the umbrella organization for America’s most elite forces including Navy SEALs and Army Green Berets. The record of the greatest fighting force in the history of the world, according to SOCOM: zero wins, two losses and seven ties.

This dismal record is catalogued in a briefing slide produced by SOCOM’s Intelligence Directorate last September and obtained by TomDispatch via the Freedom of Information Act. “A Century of War and Gray Zone Challenges” — a timeline of conflicts ranked as wins, losses and ties — examines the last 100 years of America’s wars and interventions.

“Gray zone” is an increasingly popular term of the trade for operations conducted somewhere on the continuum between war and peace. “Traditional war is the paradigm,” the briefing slide asserts. “Gray zone conflict is the norm.”

While he finds a great deal to fault in SOCOM’s analysis, retired Army colonel Andrew Bacevich, a professor of history and international relations at Boston University, believes its assessment of post-9/11 conflicts “is quite accurate.” Although American politicians like Hillary Clinton regularly insist that the United States possesses “the greatest military” on the planet, they avoid addressing the question of what the country’s armed interventions have actually accomplished when it comes to policy goals — the true measure of success in war. “We have not shown an ability to achieve our stated political aims in a conclusive way at an acceptable cost,” Bacevich says. “That’s simply a fact.”

The greatest journeyman military in history?

Twelve wins and nine losses. In baseball, it’s the annual record of a journeyman pitcher like Bill Caudill of the Seattle Mariners in 1982, Dave LaPoint of the Saint Louis Cardinals in 1983, or Norm Charlton of the Cincinnati Reds in 1990, to mention just three examples. It’s certainly not the record of an ace.

Likewise, 12 victories and nine losses is a far-from-dazzling stat when it comes to warfare, especially for a nation that prides itself on its martial prowess. But that was the SOCOM Intelligence Directorate’s assessment of the last century of American war: 12 and nine with a mind-boggling 43 “ties.”

Among those 64 conflicts, the command counts just five full-fledged wars in which the United States has come up with three wins (World War I, World War II and Desert Storm), one loss (Vietnam) and one tie (Korea). In the gray zone — what SOCOM calls “the norm” when it comes to conflict — the record is far bleaker, the barest of winning percentages at nine victories, eight losses and 42 draws.

“If you accept the terms of analysis, that things can be reduced to win, loss and tie, then this record is not very good,” Bacevich says. “While there aren’t many losses — according to how they code — there’s a hell of a lot of ties, which would beg the question of why, based on these criteria, U.S. policy has seemingly been so ineffective.”

The assessments of, and in some instances the very inclusion of, numerous operations, missions and interventions by SOCOM are dubious. Bacevich, for example, questions its decision to include pre-World War II U.S. military missions in China (a draw according to the command). “I don’t know on what basis one would say ‘China, 1912 to 1941’ qualifies as a tie,” he adds, noting on the other hand that a good case could be made for classifying two of SOCOM’S gray zone “ties” — in Haiti and Nicaragua — during the same era as wins instead of draws based on the achievement of policy aims alone.

It’s even harder to imagine why, for example, limited assistance to Chad in its conflict with Libya and indigenous rebels in 1983 or military assistance in evacuating U.S. personnel from Albania in 1997 should make the list. Meanwhile, America’s so-calledlongest war, in Afghanistan, inexplicably ends in 2014 on SOCOM’S timeline. (That was, of course, the year that the Obama administration formally ended the “combat mission” in that country, but it would assuredly be news to the 8,400 troops, including special operators, still conducting missions there today.) Beyond that, for reasons unexplained, SOCOM doesn’t even classify Afghanistan as a “war.” Instead, it’s considered one of 59 gray-zone challenges, on a par with the 1948-1949 Berlin Airlift or small-scale deployments to the restive Congo in the 1960s. No less bizarre, the command categorizes America’s 2003-2011 occupation of Iraq in a similar fashion. “It deserves to be in the same category as Korea and Vietnam,” says Bacevich, the author of “America’s War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History.”

Killing people and breaking things

Can the post-9/11 U.S. military simultaneously be the finest fighting force in history and unable to win wars or quasi-wars? It may depend on our understanding of what exactly the Department of Defense and its military services are meant to do.

While the 1789 act that established its precursor, the Department of War, is sparse on details about its raison d’être, the very name suggests its purpose — presumably preparing for, fighting and winning wars. The 1947 legislation creating its successor, the “National Military Establishment” was similarly light on specifics concerning the ultimate aims of the organization, as were the amendments of 1949 that recast it as the Department of Defense (DoD).

During a Republican primary debate earlier this year, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee offered his own definition. He asserted that the “purpose of the military is to kill people and break things.” Some in the armed forces took umbrage at that, though the military has, in fact, done both to great effect in a great many places for a very long time. For its part, the DoD sees its purpose quite differently: “The mission of the Department of Defense is to provide the military forces needed to deter war and to protect the security of our country.”

If, in SOCOM’s accounting, the United States has engaged in relatively few actual wars, don’t credit “deterrence.” Instead, the command has done its best to simply redefine war out of existence, as in Iraq and Afghanistan, in favor of those “gray zone challenges.” If one accepts that quasi-wars are actually war, then the Defense Department has done little to deter conflict. The United States has, in fact, been involved in some kind of military action — by SOCOM’s definition — in every year since 1980.

Beyond its single sentence mission statement, a DoD directive delineating the “functions of the Department of Defense and its major components” provides slightly more details. The DoD, it states, “shall maintain and use armed forces to:

a. Support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.
b. Ensure, by timely and effective military action, the security of the United States, its possessions and areas vital to its interest.
c. Uphold and advance the national policies and interests of the United States.”

Since the Department of Defense came into existence, the United States has — as the SOCOM briefing slide notes  — carried out deployments, interventions and other undertakings in Lebanon (1958), Congo (1964 and 1967), the Dominican Republic (1965), Cambodia (1975), Iran (1980), El Salvador (1980-1992), Grenada (1983), Chad (1983), Libya (1986), the Persian Gulf (1987-1988), Honduras (1988), Panama (1989), Somalia (1992-1995), Haiti (1994-1995) and Albania (1997), among other countries.

You may have no memory of some (perhaps many) of these interventions, no less a sense of why they occurred or their results — and that might be the most salient take-away from SOCOM’s list. So many of these conflicts have, by now, disappeared into the gray zone of American memory.

Were these operations targeting enemies which actually posed a threat to the U.S. Constitution? Did ceaseless operations across the globe actually ensure the safety and security of the United States? Did they truly advance U.S. policy interests and if so, how?

From the above list, according to SOCOM, only El Salvador, Grenada, Libya and Panama were “wins,” but what, exactly, did America win? Did any of these quasi-wars fully meet the Defense Department’s own criteria? What about the Korean War (tie), the Bay of Pigs (loss), the Vietnam War (loss) or the not-so-secret “secret war” in Laos (loss)? And have any of SOCOM’s eight losses or ties in the post-9/11 era accomplished the Defense Department’s stated mission?

“I have killed people and broken things in war, but, as a military officer, that was never the end. There was a purpose, a reason, a goal,” wrote Major Matt Cavanaugh, a U.S. Army strategist, in response to Huckabee’s comment. He then drew attention to the fact that “Joint Publication 1: Doctrine for the Armed Forces of the United States” asserts that “military power is integrated with other instruments of national power to advance and defend U.S. values, interests and objectives.”

Did the wars in Vietnam or Laos defend those same values? What about the war waged in Iraq by the “finest fighting force” in world history?

In March 2003, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld laid out U.S aims for that conflict. “Our goal is to defend the American people, and to eliminate Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, and to liberate the Iraqi people,” he said, before offering even more specific objectives, such as having U.S. troops “search for, capture [and] drive out terrorists who have found safe harbor in Iraq.” Of course, the invasion and occupation of Iraq would turn that country into a terrorist magnet, leading to theultimate safe harbor; a terror caliphate extending over swaths of that country and neighboring Syria. The elimination of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction would prove impossible for obvious reasons. The “liberation” of its people would lead to the deaths of hundreds of thousands; the forced displacement of millions; and a country divided along sectarian lines, where up to 50 percent of its 33 million inhabitants may suffer from the effects of trauma brought on by the last few decades of war. And what about the defense of the American people? They certainly don’t feel defended. According to recent polling, more Americans fear terrorism today than just after 9/11. And the particular threat Americans fear most? The terror group born and bredin America’s Iraqi prison camps: ISIS.

This record seems to matter little to the presidential candidate who, as a senator, voted for the invasion of Iraq. Regarding that war and other military missions, Hillary Clinton, as Bacevich notes, continues to avoid asking the most obvious question: “Is the use of the American military conclusively, and at reasonable costs, achieving our political objectives?”

Trump’s perspective seems to better fit SOCOM’s assessment when it comes to America’s warfighting prowess in these years. “We don’t win. We can’t beat ISIS. Can you imagine General Douglas MacArthur or General Patton? Can [you] imagine they are spinning in their grave right now when they see the way we fight,” he recentlytold FOX News’s Bill O’Reilly, invoking the names of those military luminaries who both served in a “draw” in Mexico in the 1910s and U.S. victories in World Wars I and II, and in the case of MacArthur a stalemate in Korea as well.

Neither the Clinton nor Trump campaigns responded to TomDispatch’s requests for comment. SOCOM similarly failed to respond before publication to questions about the conclusions to be drawn from its timeline, but its figures alone — especially regarding post-9/11 conflicts — speak volumes.

“In order to evaluate our recent military history and the gap between the rhetoric and the results,” says Bacevich, “the angle of analysis must be one that acknowledges our capacity to break things and kill people, indeed that acknowledges that U.S. forces have performed brilliantly at breaking things and killing people, whether it be breaking a building — by putting a precision missile through the window — or breaking countries by invading them and producing chaos as a consequence.”

SOCOM’s briefing slide seems to recognize this fact. The United States has carried out a century of conflict, killing people from Nicaragua and Haiti to Germany and Japan; battering countries from the Koreas and Vietnams to Iraq and Afghanistan; fighting on a constant basis since 1980. All that death and devastation, however, led to few victories. Worse yet for the armed forces, the win-loss record of this highly professionalized, technologically sophisticated and exceptionally well-funded military has, since assuming the mantle of the finest fighting force in the history of the world, plummeted precipitously, as SOCOM’s Intelligence Directorate points out.

An American century of carnage and combat has yielded many lessons learned, but not, it seems, the most important one when it comes to military conflict. “We can kill people, we can break things,” Bacevich observes, “but we don’t accomplish our political goals.”

Nick Turse is the managing editor of TomDispatch.com and a fellow at the Nation Institute.  An award-winning journalist, his work has appeared in the Los Angeles Timesthe Nation, and regularly at TomDispatch. He is the author/editor of several books, including the newly published “Next Time They’ll Come to Count the Dead, War and Survival in South Sudan.”

Donald Trump’s Convention Speech Rings Terrifying Historical Alarm Bells

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Trump had just one message for Americans on Thursday night: Be afraid. (Photo: AP)

Donald Trump’s speech accepting the Republican nomination for president will probably go down as one of the most frightening pieces of political rhetoric in U.S. history.

Even for people who believe the danger of genuine authoritarianism on the U.S. right is often exaggerated, it’s impossible not to hear in Trump’s speech echoes of the words and strategies of the world’s worst leaders.

Trump had just one message for Americans: Be afraid. You are under terrible threats from forces inside and outside your country, and he’s the only person who can save us.

The scariest part is how Trump subtly but clearly has begun melding together violence against U.S. police and terrorism: “The attacks on our police, and the terrorism in our cities,” he said, “threaten our very way of life.”

This is the favorite and most dangerous message of demagogues across all space and time. After all, if we know our external enemies are deeply evil, and our internal enemies are somehow their allies, we can feel justified in doing anything at all to our internal enemies. That’s just logic.

And if anything, Trump’s speech is actually more terrific, fabulous and huge than those of previous fanatics, since he promises he’s going to fix everything overnight. “The crime and violence that today afflicts our nation will soon — and I mean very soon — come to an end,” Trump says. “Beginning on January 20th of 2017, safety will be restored.”

This use of fear to destroy democracy is so old that it’s described exactly in Plato’s Republic, written in Ancient Greece around 380 B.C.

Tyranny, says Socrates in The Republic, is actually “an outgrowth of democracy.” And would-be tyrants always in every instance claim to be shielding regular people from terrible danger: “This and no other is the root from which a tyrant springs; when he first appears above ground he is a protector.”

Trump said that he is going to “protect” Americans or some aspect of American life 13 times tonight.

That makes sense, since as he portrayed the world, we desperately need protecting…

Read the full article at The Intercept.

Before joining First Look, Jon Schwarz worked for Michael Moore’s Dog Eat Dog Films and was Research Producer for Moore’s Capitalism: A Love Story. He’s contributed to many publications, including The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Atlantic, The Wall Street Journal, Mother Jones and Slate, as well as NPR and “Saturday Night Live.”

FBI, Parents of Orlando Shooter: He’s Not A Terrorist, Just An American Homophobe

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The horrifying massacre in Orlando last night was clearly a hate crime, not an Islamic terrorist attack. Let’s dispel the right-wing narrative being pushed to promote Trump’s xenophobic agenda right now.

The shooter’s parents said it was a hate crime, and “nothing to do with religion.” One of the shooter’s former co-workers – an ex-cop – said he wasn’t surprised the unhinged homophobe committed mass murder. The shooter’s imam in Florida asserted that claiming allegiance to Daesh (IS/ISIS/ISIL) was nothing but a PR ploy by the mass murderer.

Daesh didn’t say a thing about the shootings until after American media reported a terror link, which is unusual for their planned attacks (twin bombings in Damascus that killed 20 earlier today were claimed immediately) and right now, they are taking pains not to claim prior assistance, because there just was no actual prior link.

The shooter’s “allegiance” call, made to 911 as the attack was underway, was nothing but the shooter’s self-serving but effective attempt to elevate his horrific hate crime into martyrdom. With a single phone call and nothing else, the mainstream media bought it hook line and sinker.

Daesh itself isn’t showing evidence of involvement, only celebrating the “lone wolf” in Orlando, not claiming any complicity other than actively cheerleading the misfortune of Americans.

Police and mainstream media immediately and wrongly pounced on the shooter’s declaration of allegiance to Daesh to brand the heinous attack on the LTBTQ community as terrorism, because it furthers the narrative that feeds their bottom line: fear of terrorists. ISIS couldn’t ask for a better public relations department than the FBI and the ratings jackals at CNN to transform and elevate the wife beating, gay-hating murderer Omar Mateen into a fundamentalist terrorist.

The FBI started calling the shooting of over 100 people at 2am this morning inside the “Pulse” nightclub an act of terror early in the morning, without offering any evidence. Then CNN got busy, running full screen “Terror in Orlando” graphics, too busy fearmongering to notice that Reuters is reporting that there are no links between the monstrous shooter and the Islamic State except the madman’s very own words, in one phone call made just prior to the shooting. Reuters reports this evening that:

The FBI official cautioned, however, that proving the suspected link to radical Islamism required further investigation. Three U.S. officials familiar with the investigation into the massacre said that no evidence had yet been found showing a direct link with Islamic State or any other militant group. There is “no evidence yet that this was directed or connected to ISIS. So far as we know at this time, his first direct contact was a pledge of bayat (loyalty) he made during the massacre,” said a U.S. counter-terrorism official, referring to a 911 call the suspect made on Sunday. The official spoke on condition of anonymity.

That’s right, Daesh didn’t claim the Orlando shooting at all until American media reported a 911 call from the shooter. Arabic language reporters indicate that ISIS propaganda calls the Orlando shooter a lone wolf. Even the ISIS official propaganda outlet used an unusual qualifier, that of a “source to Amaq Agency” – the source obviously being American media reports. In fact, over 18 hours after the incident, ISIS hasn’t offered any evidence of prior knowledge of the Orlando shooting.

The mass murderer was a Florida licensed security guard who held a statewide gun permit and had no criminal record, but as has happened in so many other fatal shootings he had only acquired the murder weapon – a Bushmaster AR-15 semi-automatic rifle – just last week. Sadly, the shooter’s former work colleagues said that they weren’t surprised to hear that Mateen was a mass murderer. Former-Ft. Pierce cop Daniel Gilroy called the hate-filled mass murderer homophobic, unhinged and toxic to the local media. Gilroy quit after the shooter sent him numerous harassing text messages and phone messages.

View image on Twitter

The Orlando shooter worshipped at the Islamic Center of Ft. Pierce whose imam said:

“There is nothing outside the door that says you can’t come in and worship God and be here and pray if you are gay,” he said. As for the statements Mateen made about ISIS, Rahman thinks that he may have done that for publicity. He says the mosque has no ties to the terrorist organization and speaks out against them at every gathering.

Without a doubt, the Orlando shooter intentionally targeted a gay club, because LGBTQ people would be there. When NBC interviewed the shooter’s stunned parents, they did not hesitate. The shooter’s parents immediately pointed to an incident in Miami where he saw two men kissing.

View image on Twitter

But now, this cowardly homophobe, a wife-beating, unhinged and toxic security guard has been transformed – while Donald Trump is busy doing a happy dance and tweeting about himself – from a hate-crime committing murderer, into a dangerous terrorist on a holy mission. Ignoring the hate crime, and pumping up the terrorist angle neatly fits the most familiar and mutually beneficial narrative for corporate news networks to drive viewership.  Simultaneously, the news giants’ wall to wall terror coverage pleases the alphabet soup of federal law enforcement agencies like DHS and the FBI who need to justify their fat budgets. Using the FBI’s virtually unlimited budget and expansive mandate and the old Patriot Act too, federal terrorism investigators cleared the shooter’s distant terror links. They found nothing in both 2013 and 2014.

Let’s cut though the nonsense and call this horrifying attack what it really is: the worst hate crime in American history.

FBI, Parents of Orlando Shooter: He’s Not A Terrorist, Just An American Homophobe

ISIS is no threat to our existence whatsoever

America has grown cowardly: 

ISIL is no joke, but its potential for destruction pales in comparison to the danger once posed by the Soviet Union

America has grown cowardly: ISIS is no threat to our existence whatsoever

(Credit: Reuters)

This piece originally appeared on TomDispatch.

It’s time to panic!

As 2015 ended, this country was certifiably terror-stricken. It had the Islamic State (IS) on the brain. Hoax terror threats or terror imbroglios shut down school systems from Los Angeles to New Hampshire, Indiana to a rural county in Virginia. The Dallas Symphony Orchestra, citing terror attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, cancelled a prospective tour of Europe thanks to terror fears, issuing a statement that “orchestra management believes there is an elevated risk to the safety of musicians and their families, guest artists, DSO personnel, and travelling patrons.” By year’s end, the Justice Department had charged an ”unprecedented” 60 people with terrorism-related crimes (often linked to social media exchanges).

While just north of the border Canada’s new government and its citizens were embracing the first of 25,000 Syrian refugees in an atmosphere of near celebration, citizens and government officials in the lower 48 were squabbling and panicking about the few who had made it here. (“Sid Miller, the Texas agriculture commissioner, compared Syrian refugees to rattlesnakes, posting on Facebook images of snakes and refugees and asking, ‘Can you tell me which of these rattlers won’t bite you?’”)

In the two presidential debates that ended the year, focusing in whole or part on “national security,” the only global subject worthy of discussion was — you guessed it — the Islamic State and secondarily immigration and related issues. Media panelists didn’t ask a single question in either debate about China or Russia (other than on the IS-related issue of whomight shoot down Russian planes over Syria) or about the relative success of the French right-wing, anti-Islamist National Front Party and its presidential candidate, Marine Le Pen (even though her American analog, Donald Trump, was on stage in one debate and a significant subject of the other). And that just begins a long list of national security issues that no one felt it worth bringing up, including the fact that in Paris 195 countries had agreed on a potentially path-breaking climate change deal.

As the Dallas Symphony Orchestra signaled, “Paris” now means only one thing in this country: the bloody terror attack on the Eagles of Death Metal concert at the Bataclan theater and related assaults. In fact, if you were following the “news” here as 2015 ended, you might be forgiven for thinking that we Americans lived in a land beset by, and under siege from, Islamic terror and the Islamic State. The latest polls indicate that striking numbers of Americans now view the threat of terrorism as the country’s number one danger, see it as a (if not the) critical issue facing us, believethat it and national security should be the government’s top priorities, and are convinced that the terrorists are at present “winning.”

You would never know that, if you left out what might be called self-inflicted pain like death by vehicle (more than 33,000 deaths annually), suicide by gun (more than 21,000 annually) or total gun deaths (30,000annually), and fatal drug overdoses (more than 47,000 annually), this is undoubtedly one of the safest countries on the planet. Over these years, the American dead from Islamic terror outfits or the “lone wolves” they inspire have added up to the most modest of figures, even if you include that single great day of horror, September 11, 2001. Include deaths from non-Islamic right-wing acts of terror (including, for instance, Dylann Roof’s murdersin a black church in Charleston), a slightly more impressive figure in recent years, and you still have next to nothing. Even if you add in relatively commonplace mass shootings, from school campuses to malls to workplaces, that are not defined as “terror,” and accept the broadest possible definition of such shootings (a minimum offour killed or injured), you would still have the sort of danger that couldn’t be more modest compared to death by vehicle, suicide, or drugs — phenomena that obsess few Americans.

The Islamic State in Perspective

Still, as 2016 begins, terror remains the 800-pound gorilla (in reality, a marmoset) in the American room and just about the only national security issue that truly matters. So why shouldn’t I join the crowd? Who wants to be left in the lurch?  But first, I think it makes sense to put the Islamic State in perspective.

Yes, it’s a brutal, extreme religious-cum-political outfit, the sort of movement that probably could only arise on a shattered landscape in a shattered region filled with desperate souls looking for any explanation for, or solution to, nightmarish lives. There can be no question that it’s had remarkable success. Its self-proclaimed “caliphate” now controls territory the size of (to choose a common comparison) Great Britain with a population of perhaps a few million people. Since there are seldom reporters on the scene (for obvious reasons of health and well-being), we have no idea whether IS has 20,000, 30,000, 40,000, or 50,000 fighters and potential suicide bombers under arms. We do know that those arms (despite a couple ofcaptured tanks) are generally light and the bombs largely of the homemade variety.

The Islamic State has shown quite a knack for generating a stream of revenue from black market oil sales, ransoms from kidnappings, the ransacking of the region’s archeological heritage, and wealthy Sunnis elsewhere in the region. In addition, it’s been skilled at promoting its “brand” in other parts of the Greater Middle East and Africa, from Afghanistanto Libya, Yemen to Nigeria, where local populations are also facing shattered landscapes, failed states, oppressive governments, and desperation. Finally, thanks to the talents of its social media militants, it’s shown a facility for attracting disaffected (and sometimes whacked-out) young Muslims from Europe and even the United States, as well as for inspiring “lone wolves” to acts meant to unnerve its enemies in Europe, the U.S., and elsewhere.

So give credit where it’s due. Compared to a few training camps in Afghanistan — the al-Qaeda model before 2001 (and again recently) — this is no small thing. But the Islamic State should also be put in some perspective.  It’s not Nazi Germany. It’s not the Soviet Union. It’s not an existential threat to the United States.  It’s a distinctly self-limited movement, probably only capable of expanding its reach if even more of the region is laid to waste (as is, for instance, happening in Yemen right now, thanks in large part to a U.S.-backed Saudi war on the Iranian-inclined Houthi rebels).

IS is so deeply sectarian that it can never gain the support of a single Shia, Christian, Alawite, or Yazidi.  Its practices, religious and political, are too extreme for many of the Sunnis it might want to appeal to.  It is also an embattled movement.  It has already lost some of the lands it captured to U.S.-backed Kurds in both Syria and Iraq and to the U.S.-backed, U.S.-equipped, and U.S.-trained Iraqi Army as well as Shiite militias.  Its extremity has clearly alienated some of the Sunnis under its control.  It’s unlikely to take seven decades, as in the case of the Soviet Union, to implode and disappear.

On the other hand, if the Islamic State, at least in its present form, is crushed or driven into some corner and the region is “liberated,” one thing is guaranteed — as images of the rubble and landscapes of skeletal buildings left behind at the “victorious” battle sites of Kobane, Sinjar, Homs, and Ramadi will tell you.  Combine the massively bomb-laden, booby-trapped urban areas under Islamic State control,American air power (or, in parts of Syria, the barrel-bombing air force of the government of Bashar al-Assad and now the firepower of Russia), and fierce urban combat, and what may be left in the moment of “victory” could be a region in utter ruins.  One expert suggests that it may take decades and cost $200 billion — three times Syria’s prewar gross domestic product — to rebuild that country, bringing to mind the famed line from Tacitus: “They make a desert and call it peace.”

And just remind me, who’s going to help with the reconstruction of that shattered land?  Donald Trump?  Don’t count on it.  And don’t for a second believe that from such devastated worlds nothing worse than the Islamic State can arise.

While we may be talking about a terror machine, IS represents a far more modest and embattled one than its social media propaganda would indicate.  Its ability to threaten the U.S. bears little relation to the bogeyman version of it that at present occupies the American imagination.  The sole advantage the Islamic State has when it comes to this country is that it turns out to be so easy to spook us.

“A Republic of Insects and Grass”

Still, don’t for a second think that terror isn’t on the American agenda.  You really want terror?  Let me tell you about terror.  And I’m not talking about 14 dead (San Bernardino) or 130 dead (Paris).  What about up to 140,000 dead?  (The toll from Hiroshima.)  What about 285 million dead?  (The official estimate of the dead, had the U.S. military’s Single Integrated Operational Plan, or SIOP, of 1960 been carried outvia more than 3,200 nuclear weapons delivered to 1,060 targets in the Communist world, including at least 130 cities — and that didn’t include casualty figures from whatever the Soviet Union might have been able to launch in response.)

Or what about — to move from past slaughters and projected slaughters to future ones — a billion dead?  Despite the recent surprise visit of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to his Pakistani counterpart, that remains a perfectly “reasonable” possibility, were a nuclear war ever to develop in South Asia.  India and Pakistan, after all, face each other across a heavily armed and fortified 1,800 mile border, having fought three major wars since 1947.  Small armed incidents arecommonplace.  Imagine that — to take just one possible scenario — extreme elements in the Pakistani military (or other extremist elements) got their hands on some part of that country’s ever-expanding nuclear arsenal, now believed to be at about 130weapons, and loosed one or more of them on India, starting a nuclear exchange over issues that no one else on Earth gives a damn about.

Imagine that, in the course of the war that followed, each side released “only” 50 Hiroshima-sized weapons on the other’s cities and industrial areas (“0.4% of the world’s more than 25,000 warheads”).  One study suggests that, along with the 20 million or so inhabitants of South Asia who would die in such an exchange, this “modest” local nuclear conflagration would send enough smoke and particulates into the stratosphere to cause a planetary “nuclear winter” lasting perhaps a decade.  The ensuing failure of agricultural systems globally could, according to experts, lead abillion or more people to starve to death.  (And once you’re talking about a crisis of that magnitude, one humanity has never experienced, god knows what other systems might fail at the same time.)

I hope by now you’re feeling a little shudder of fear or at least anxiety.  Perhaps not, though, since we’re remarkably well protected from thinking about the deeper terrors of our planet.  And mind you, if you’re talking terror, that South Asian war is penny ante compared to the sort of event that would be associated with the thousands of nuclear weapons in the arsenalsof the United States and Russia.  Since the Cold War ended, they have more or less been hidden in plain sight.  Call it an irony of sorts, then, that nuclear weapons have loomed large on the American landscape in these years, just not the ones that could truly harm us.  Instead, Americans have largely focused in the usual semi-hysterical fashion on a nuclear weapon — the Iranian bomb — that never existed, while Russian and American arsenals undoubtedly capable of destroying more than one Earth-sized planet have remained in place, heavily funded and largely unnoted.

When you look at what might be posssible under unknown future conditions, there is no reason to stop with mere millions or even a billion dead human beings.  A major nuclear exchange, it is believed, could lead to the shredding of the planetary environment and a literal liquidation of humanity: the wiping out, that is, of ourselves and the turning of this country into, in the phrase of Jonathan Schell, “a republic of insects and grass.”  As he explained so famously in his international bestseller of 1982, The Fate of the Earth, this became a genuine possibility in the post-Hiroshima decades and it remains so today, though given scant attention in a world in which tensions between the U.S. and Russia have been on the rise.

Apocalypses, Fast or Slow-Mo

It’s not that we don’t live on an increasingly terrifying planet.  We do.  It’s that terror fears, at least in our American world, are regularly displaced onto relatively minor threats.

If you want to be scared, consider this unlikelihood: in the course of just a few centuries, humanity has stumbled upon two uniquely different ways of unleashing energy — the burning of fossil fuels and the splitting of the atom — that have made the sort of apocalypse that was once the property of the gods into a human possession.  The splitting of the atom and its application to war was, of course, a conscious scientific discovery.  Its apocalyptic possibilities were grasped almost immediately by some of its own creators, including physicist Robert Oppenheimer who played a key role in the Manhattan Project that produced the atomic bomb during World War II.  As he witnessed its awesome power in its initial test in the New Mexican desert, this line from the Bhagavad Gita came to his mind: “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.”

The destroyer of worlds indeed — or at least, potentially, of the one world that matters to humanity.

The other method of wrecking the planet was developed without the intent to destroy: the discovery that coal, oil, and later natural gas could motor economies.  It was not known until the final decades of the last century that the release of greenhouse gases from the burning of such forms of energy could heat the planet in startling ways and undermine the very processes that promoted life as we had always experienced it.  It’s worth adding, however, that the executives of the giant oil companies knew a great deal about the dangers their products posed to Earth way before most of the rest of us did, suppressed that information for a surprisingly long time, and then investedprodigioussums in promoting the public denial of those very dangers.  (In the process, they left the Republican Party wrapped in a straightjacket of climate change denial unique on the planet.)  Someday, this will undoubtedly be seen as one of the great crimes of history, unless of course there are no historians left to write about it.

In other words, if enough fossil fuels continue to be burned in the many decades to come, another kind of potential extinction event can be imagined, a slow-motion apocalypse of extreme weather — melting, burning, flooding, sea-level rise, storming, and who knows what else.

And if humanity has already managed to discover two such paths of utter destruction, what else, at present unimagined, might someday come into focus?

In this context, think of the Islamic State as the minor leagues of terror, though at the moment you wouldn’t know it.  If we are all now the children of the holocaust — of, that is, our own possible extinction — and if this is the inheritance we are to leave to our own children and grandchildren, perhaps it’s understandable that it feels better to fear the Islamic State.  Its evil is so specific, so “other,” so utterly alien and strangely distant.  It’s almost comforting to focus on its depredations, ignoring, of course, the grotesquelylarge hand our country had in its creation and in the moregeneral spread of terror movements across the Greater Middle East.

It’s so much more comfortable to fear extreme Islamist movements than to take in two apocalyptic terrors that are clearly part of our own patrimony — and, to make matters harder, one of which is likely to unfold over a time period that’s hard to grasp, and the other under as yet difficult to imagine political circumstances.

It’s clear that neither of these true terrors of our planet and our age has to happen (or at least, in the case of climate change, come to full fruition).  To ensure that, however, we and our children and grandchildren would have to decide that the fate of our Earth was indeed at stake and act accordingly.  We would have to change the world.

 

http://www.salon.com/2016/01/10/in_the_shadow_of_the_iron_curtain_why_isis_is_the_minor_leagues_of_terror_partner/?source=newsletter

 

45 Million Americans Live in Poverty, but the issue is ignored by our corporate media

ELECTION 2016

politifact-photos-Whole_Cleveland_debate_field

One of the most pressing issues facing America is ignored by our corporate media.

By Adam Johnson / AlterNet

January 5, 2016

Of the five Republican debates and of the three Democratic debates, not one moderator has asked a question involving the words “poverty” or “poor.” While the subject has been touched upon by some of the Democratic candidates, namely Bernie Sanders and briefly Jim Webb, the topic has been entirely unmentioned by the moderators during the three Democratic debates. In the GOP debates, the candidates only bring up the topic as a way to swipe President Obama, which is fair enough but is not a discussion of poverty much less a good-faith attempt to mitigate it. By comparison, the Democratic debate moderators brought up “ISIS” or “Terrorism” 21 times total in all three debates.

A recent study in The Intercept found poverty’s non-status on television isn’t just limited to the debates. Cable news was over 20 times more likely to mention ISIS or terrorism than poverty during the heart of primary season in late 2014.

Bernie Sanders has brought up poverty in the debates about half a dozen times, calling childhood poverty “a national disgrace.” Hillary Clinton has not brought up the issue in the debates, though she frequently tweets about it. This is partly not the candidates’ fault: if they’re not asked the question they can’t really discuss the topic. To the extent discussions of poverty are jammed into a response it’s part of a much broader answer about the economic problems America is facing.

According to the 2014 census, 14.5% of Americans, or over 45 million people, live in poverty, up from 11.3% in 2000; a rate not seen since the early ’90s.

Despite some economic progress since the recession of 2008-’09, the poverty rate remains stubbornly immovable. To exacerbate the problem, an increasingly cruel GOP Congress has slashed billions from the government food stamp program and ended unemployment benefits. Poverty is particularly bad for single mothers. One-third of families led by single mothers lived below the poverty line in 2013—or 15.6 million Americans.

One recent study linked poverty to diminished IQ in children. It impacts childhood education, crime and even future economic gains. A 2011 study attributed 133,000 deaths a year to poverty-related illnesses.

Islamic terrorism, by contrast, has less of a chance of killing someone than bee stings or furniture. Only 45 Americans have been killed since 9/11 as a result of al-Qaeda or ISIL-inspired attacks.

It’s not as if the candidates don’t mention poverty on their websites and in speeches. Both Clinton and Sanders bring up the topic. Sanders’ website leads with the issue at the time of publication, albeit with the superfluous “who works 40 hours a week” qualifier:

So why has not a single debate moderator mentioned poverty? Those working for votes like Sanders, and to a lesser extent Clinton, have proposals for it, but not one of the hundreds of debate questions has been on the issue of poverty.

Aside from the fact that the class interests of those who run our media and work in it are overwhelmingly wealthy, if not overtly anti-poor, the topic has no doubt been bumped even lower on the priority list due to recent ISIS fears. As The Intercept notes, in the wake of the Paris attacks, terrorism and ISIS are 2,344% more likely to get mentioned on CNN than poverty.

Bringing up the issue of poverty to the debates’ sizable audience isn’t superficial: a 2012 study by Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting found that cable news mentions of key topics like inequality were inextricably linked to their coverage of Occupy Wall Street. The national conversation follows political dialogue and priority is given to those issues highlighted by our political class.

It took over a year of sustained protest and direction action by Black Lives Matter to get major candidates to discuss racism and criminal justice reform. Without a similar effort to draw attention to poverty, it’s unlikely poverty will ever register a blip on the corporate media’s radar, much less be of primary concern. While candidates like Sanders do their best to bring the topic up, without a clear question to all the candidates, there’s very little poor Americans can take away from the exchange beyond platitudes.

When it comes to the economy, candidates often talk in abstractions like “job creators,” “growth” and the nebulous “middle class,” but poverty is a clear and quantifiable metric for a civilized society. Poverty is objective, measurable and its rates among Americans, specifically American children, is a manifest clear-as-day national scourge. One would think if debate moderators have time to ask about fantasy football and who a candidate’s favorite “enemy” is, they could squeeze in just one question specifically addressing the needs of those living below the poverty line and how the candidates plan on ameliorating the suffering of 45 million people.

Adam Johnson is an associate editor at AlterNet. Follow him on Twitter at@adamjohnsonnyc.

 

http://www.alternet.org/election-2016/45-million-americans-live-poverty-you-wouldnt-know-it-watching-2016-coverage?akid=13860.265072.Yx5o9r&rd=1&src=newsletter1048604&t=4