Will Trump and Bannon drag us into another big ground war?

It could happen sooner than we think

Our president wants to “knock the hell out of ISIS” and “take the oil”; his key adviser longs for World War III

Will Trump and Bannon drag us into another big ground war? It could happen sooner than we think
(Credit: Getty/ Chip Somodevilla/everlite/Salon)

On Wednesday NBC News released a poll reporting that 66 percent of Americans surveyed were worried that the United States will become involved in another war. One might think that’s surprising since President Donald Trump has famously been portrayed as an old-school isolationist, an image mostly based upon his lies about not supporting the Iraq War and his adoption of the pre-World War II isolationist slogan “America First.”

As I laid out for Salon a few weeks ago, that assumption is wrong. Trump is anything but an isolationist. He’s not much on alliances, preferring to strong-arm other nations into supporting the U.S. “for their own good.” But if they are willing to cough up some protection money, he might agree to fulfill our treaty obligations. His adoption of the phrase “America First” reflects his belief that the U.S. must be No. 1, not that it should withdraw from the world.

In other words, while Trump has no interest in perpetuating the global security system under which the world has lived since the dawn of the nuclear age, that’s not because he believes it hasn’t worked. He doesn’t know what it does, how it came to be or why it exists. He simply believes other countries are failing to pay proper respect and he is aiming to make sure they understand that America isn’t just great again; it’s the greatest.

This has nothing to do with American exceptionalism. Trump is happy to admit that American pretenses to moral leadership are hypocritical, and he’s openly contemptuous of anyone who believes that the U.S. should try harder to live up to its ideals. If you want to understand what Trump believes, “to the victor goes the spoils” pretty much covers it. He means it in terms of his family, which continues to merge the presidency into its company brand all over the world, and he means it in terms of the United States, believing that this is the richest and most powerful nation on Earth and we can take whatever we want.

One of his goals is to “defeat ISIS.” And when he says defeat, he means to do whatever it takes to ensure it does not exist anymore. That does seem like a nice idea. After all, ISIS is an antediluvian, authoritarian death cult and the world would be better off without it. The question, of course, has always been how to accomplish such a thing.

Thoughtful people rationally understand that “defeating” radical extremism of any kind isn’t a matter of killing all the people. Indeed, the more extremists you kill, the more extremists you tend to create. But while Trump simply sees the world by playground rules, his consigliere Steve Bannon sees the threat of ISIS as a preordained apocalyptic confrontation between Western countries and the Muslim world. In a notorious speech he gave at the Vatican in 2014, Bannon put it this way:

We’re at the very beginning stages of a very brutal and bloody conflict . . . to fight for our beliefs against this new barbarity that’s starting, that will completely eradicate everything that we’ve been bequeathed over the last 2,000, 2,500 years.

He has called Trump his “blunt instrument” to bring about this global conflagration. Bannon is now a member of the National Security Council and is said to be running a parallel national security agency called the Strategic Initiatives Group, which he has stacked with kooks who share his views. He is a powerful influence.

Trump has promised to take the gloves off, and I think we all know exactly what he meant by that. He said it many times during the campaign: He favors torture. And he reiterated it just last month in his interview with ABC’s David Muir saying, “When ISIS is doing things that nobody has ever heard of since medieval times, would I feel strongly about waterboarding? As far as I’m concerned, we have to fight fire with fire.”

And Trump went on to grudgingly promise that he would listen to the secretary of defense and hold back on torture if that was his recommendation. But Trump also claimed that he’s talked to people at the highest levels of the intelligence community who told him that torture works like a charm. So we will have to see if the president is really able to restrain himself. (His CIA chief, Mike Pompeo, has been all for it in the past. Maybe they’ll simply decide to leave Defense Secretary Jim Mattis out of the loop.)

But what about Trump’s promises to “bomb the shit out of ’em” and “take the oil?” What about Bannon’s desire to bring on WorldWar III? Will that really happen? It might, and sooner than we think.

The New York Times reported on Wednesday:

More American troops may be needed in Syria to speed the campaign against the Islamic State, the top United States commander for the Middle East said on Wednesday.

“I am very concerned about maintaining momentum,” Gen. Joseph L. Votel, the head of the United States Central Command, told reporters accompanying him on a trip to the region.

“It could be that we take on a larger burden ourselves,” he added. “That’s an option.”

Despite his unfounded reputation for isolationism, it’s obvious that Trump is itching for a war. Responding to a debate question about whether he would follow a military commander’s advice to put troops on the ground, Trump said, “We really have no choice; we have to knock out ISIS. We have to knock the hell out of them.” When asked how many troops he thought might be needed, he replied that the number he had heard was 20,000 to 30,000.

Nobody thought much of Trump’s bluster at the time. But now he’s in the White House with an apocalyptic crackpot whispering in his ear and generals on the ground talking about taking on “a larger burden.” Whether his administration’s military advisers, Defense Secretary Mattis and his newly installed national security adviser, Gen. H.R. McMaster, are as eager for this battle remains to be seen. But it appears that the two-thirds of Americans who are worried that we’ll be dragged into another war are anxious for good reason.

 

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.

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

S

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.

Will the Trumpian nightmare lead to a real “political revolution” after all?

Out of darkness, light:

Slavoj Žižek argued Trump would be better for the left than Clinton — and if we survive this, he might be right

Out of darkness, light: Will the Trumpian nightmare lead to a real "political revolution" after all?
(Credit: Getty/Win McNamee/Andrew Harrer)

Last November, the Marxist philosopher Slavoj Žižek turned a lot of heads when he announced shortly before the 2016 presidential election that if he were American, he would vote for Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton — not because he thought Trump was the lesser evil, but precisely because he was the greater evil.

The Slovenian intellectual’s hope was that the election of a vulgar, right-wing extremist like Trump would “be a kind of big awakening” that would trigger “new political processes” in America. In other words, with a reactionary demagogue as transparently abhorrent and dangerous as Trump in the White House, a popular movement on the left would emerge to challenge not only Trump’s reactionary populism, but the neoliberal status quo that had long prevailed in Washington. Clinton, argued Žižek, stood for an “absolute inertia” that would stifle a populist movement on the left, and while there was great danger in a Trump presidency, there was also great danger in electing Clinton — especially in the long run.

This was obviously a controversial — and very Žižekian — opinion that most on the left did not espouse. One of the most prominent leftist intellectuals of our time, Noam Chomsky, called it a “terrible point,” remarking that “it was the same point that people like him said about Hitler in the early ’30s.” Chomsky means the German Communists, who in the early 1930s were more critical of the reformist Social Democratic Party — which they preposterously labeled a “social fascist” party — than they were of the Nazis.

“The left could have been organized to keeping [Clinton’s] feet to the fire,” noted  Chomsky in an interview with Al Jazeera. “What it will be doing now is trying to protect rights … gains that have been achieved, from being destroyed. That’s completely regressive.”

While Chomsky is absolutely correct — the Trump administration’s assault on civil liberties, democracy and the Constitution has only just begun, and the left will be on the political defensive for the next four years — Žižek’s point was perhaps not quite as far off as as Chomsky believed.

Shortly before the election, many people wondered what would become of the far-right populist movement that had been energized under Trump after the election, which most assumed he would lose. It is doubtful that it would have just withered away, as many liberals no doubt hoped. With Clinton in the White House, the Democrats would have been at a clear disadvantage in both the 2018 midterm elections and the 2020 elections (think of the Obama backlash during the 2010 midterm elections, and then consider how much more well-liked Obama was than Clinton).

This is particularly important when you consider that 2020 is a census year, which means that the party that comes out on top will have greater control of redrawing district lines across the country. The GOP has been able to maintain control of the House since 2010 in large part because of the extreme gerrymandering that was implemented after the 2010 Obama backlash — and in four years the winning party will have similar power (currently, Republicans control state legislatures in 24 states, while Democrats only control five).

Of course, this is still some distance away, and a lot can happen in the interim. Though we are just one month into Trump’s term, his presidency has already surpassed all recent predecessors in scandal and controversy, and the dysfunction is palpable. At times it is hard to imagine how the United States can survive another 47 weeks of this unhinged and extremist administration. While many had hoped that Trump would curb his divisive rhetoric as president and take a more pragmatic approach to governing, the exact opposite has occurred, and it is now clear that fanatics like Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller are running the show (and that Trump’s erratic, impulsive and thin-skinned personality cannot be controlled).

Thus, Chomsky’s pessimism was well-founded when he said that the government is now in the hands of the “most dangerous organization in world history.”

At the same time, it appears that some of Žižek’s hopes are materializing as well. The clearest example of this was the massive Women’s March in Washington — along with hundreds of sister marches across the country — the day after Trump’s inauguration. According to various political scientists, it was the single largest day of protests in American history — and peaceful demonstrations have continued ever since.

Trump’s controversial executive orders and cabinet picks have led to a sustained grassroots resistance in the first month of his presidency, and it is unlikely to die down anytime soon. Moumita Ahmed, who founded the Facebook group “Millennials for Revolution” (originally “Millennials for Bernie”), recently told CNN that she believes this is “not just the beginning of the ‘tea party of the left’ but a larger movement for civil rights that could make history,” and that the protests will “continue and get bigger and bigger.”

As long as Trump is in the White House, the demonstrations are likely to grow. What remains unclear is whether this grassroots resistance will be as effective in shaping electoral politics as the Tea Party was back in 2010 — and whether the Democratic Party will be as welcoming to the populist left as the GOP was to the populist right.

The current tension between progressive activists protesting on the street and the Democratic establishment was displayed by an interesting exchange last week between House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and an NYU student at a CNN town hall. After pointing out that a majority of millennials no longer support the capitalist system, the young student asked Pelosi whether she felt that the Democratic Party could “move farther left to a more populist message, the way the alt-right has sort of captured this populist strain on the right wing,” and if the Democrats “could make a more stark contrast to right-wing economics?” The question — or, more explicitly, the statement that young people are rejecting capitalism — made Pelosi visibly uncomfortable, and the congresswoman felt it necessary to emphasize the Democratic Party’s loyalty: “I have to say, we’re capitalist ― and that’s just the way it is.”

This is understandable — after all, the Democratic Party does support capitalist party, and the House minority leader can’t be expected to make radical pronouncements. But Pelosi was so concerned with defending the sanctity of capitalism that she failed to answer whether the Democrats could or should espouse a more populist economic message, akin to the social-democratic platform that nearly carried Bernie Sanders to victory over Clinton.

That kind of Democratic resistance to economic populism is making many progressives question whether the party is ready to lead a viable resistance against right-wing populism. Some progressives are starting to join other left-wing organizations like the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA).

Of course, it is a truism in American politics that third parties are not viable alternatives if the goal is to succeed in electoral politics — and as long as there is a winner-takes-all system in place, this will obstinately remain true. The pragmatic approach for the populist left is to work to transform the Democratic Party itself, as groups like Brand New Congress and Justice Democrats have set out to do, while sustaining a popular movement on the ground.

Likewise, the pragmatic approach for the Democratic leadership is to embrace the growing grassroots left and combat Trump-style populism with their own anti-establishment message. With a historically low approval rating, Trump is already the most unpopular president in modern history, and his party is now the “establishment.” That means the Democrats will have the perfect opportunity to lead a popular and successful resistance in 2018 and 2020 if they can adopt a compelling populist message of their own.

With the many profound crises that currently face humanity, there are plenty of reasons to be pessimistic about the future. The worst-case scenario is that the Trump presidency could sound a “death knell for the human species,” as Chomsky put it last year. But if we are lucky enough to avoid World War III, this nightmare could also bring about the “big awakening” that Žižek imagines — and could trigger a popular movement to reverse the damage that has been done over the past 50 years.

Conor Lynch is a writer and journalist living in New York City. His work has appeared on Salon, AlterNet, Counterpunch and openDemocracy. Follow him on Twitter: @dilgentbureauct.

Let’s consider the evidence that Trump is a traitor

trump-cia-speechedited

None dare call it treason:

Has Trump’s entire team been compromised by Putin? If so, everyone who continues to support him is complicit 

On Monday evening, national security adviser Michael Flynn was forced to resign after supposedly losing the “trust” of President Donald Trump by failing to adequately and fully explain his phone conversations with Russian officials during the 2016 presidential election.

As The New York Times explained on Wednesday, FBI agents apparently concluded that Flynn had not been “entirely forthcoming” in describing a phone call he had with Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the United States. That set in motion “a chain of events that cost Mr. Flynn his job and thrust Mr. Trump’s fledgling administration into a fresh crisis.”

As the Times report elaborated, Trump “took his time” deciding what to do about Flynn’s dishonesty and was none too eager to fire him.

But other aides [such as other than press secretary Sean Spicer] privately said that Mr. Trump, while annoyed at Mr. Flynn, might not have pushed him out had the situation not attracted such attention from the news media. Instead, according to three people close to Mr. Trump, the president made the decision to cast aside Mr. Flynn in a flash, the catalyst being a news alert of a coming article about the matter.

“Yeah, it’s time,” Mr. Trump told one of his advisers.

Flynn is not alone. Other Trump operatives are also under investigation by the FBI for potentially illegal contact with senior Russian intelligence operatives.

This information is not new. The New York Times and other American news media outlets were aware of reports about Russian tampering in the 2016 election as well as an ongoing federal investigation of Trump, his advisers and other representatives. Instead of sharing this information with the American people during the election campaign, the Times and other publications chose to exercise “restraint” and “caution.” Decades of bullying by the right-wing media and movement conservatives would pay great dividends.

Afraid of showing any so-called liberal bias, the corporate news media demonstrated little restraint in its obsessive reporting about the nonstory that was Hillary Clinton’s emails. This, in conjunction with other factors, almost certainly cost her the election.

In all, the Republican Party and its voters have abandoned their Cold War bona fides and their (somewhat exaggerated) reputation as die-hard enemies of Russia and the former Soviet Union. To borrow from the language of spy craft, it would seem that they have been “flipped” by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Despite mounting evidence suggesting that Trump’s administration has been compromised by Russia, his public continues to back him. The Republican Party and its leadership have largely chosen to support Trump in a type of political suicide mission because they see him as an opportunity to force their agenda on the American people and reverse or undo by the social progress made by the New Deal, the civil rights movement, feminism, the LGBT movement and other forces of progressive change.

In the midst of these not so new “revelations” about Michael Flynn and other members of Trump’s inner circle, the news media is now fixated on the Nixonian question: “What did the president know and when did he know it?” This question ought to not be treated like a mystery. The answer should be readily apparent because it is a direct reflection of Trump’s political and personal values.

Trump has repeatedly shown that he is a fascist authoritarian who admires political strongmen and autocrats such as Putin. In keeping with that leadership style, Trump has surrounded himself with family members and other advisers so as to insulate himself from criticism — and also to neuter any political rivals. In violation of the emoluments clause of the Constitution, Trump is also using the office of the presidency to personally enrich himself, his family members and other members of his inner circle, such as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Donald Trump also has a longtime pattern of open admiration for gangsters and organized crime.

In sum, Trump’s presidency has many of the traits of a criminal enterprise and a financial shakedown operation, masquerading as a democratically elected government.

Flynn resigned because he got caught, not because of what he did. White House press secretary Sean Spicer confirmed this with his statement during Tuesday’s press briefing that Flynn did “nothing wrong or inappropriate.” In response to this most recent scandal, Trump and his surrogates are now trying to focus on “the leaks,” rather than the potential crimes that may have been committed. Like most political strongmen, Trump values secrecy and loyalty above all else. Those things must be maintained at all costs, even if that means that a given member of the ruling cabal might occasionally have to fall on his or her own sword.

Based on the increasing evidence of communication between his inner circle and Russian operatives, it appears plausible that Trump either actively knew about Flynn’s actions (and perhaps even directed them) or chose to look away while actively benefiting from them. Either choice should disqualify him from the presidency.

In an earlier essay for Salon, I argued that for a variety of reasons that Trump can be considered a traitor to the United States. By that standard, his voters and other supporters who do not denounce him are also traitors, and any Republican officials who continue to back Trump are traitors as well. Recent revelations about Flynn and the still unknown extent of contact between other Trump advisers and Russian agents serve to only reinforce the truth of my earlier claim.

Republicans and other conservatives behave as though they have a monopoly on patriotism and exclusive claims to being “real Americans.” Now is the time for them to test that commitment. Do Republicans and other conservatives love power more than their country? I fear I know the answer. I ask the question in the hope that I am wrong.

None dare call it treason: As the Flynn scandal widens, let’s consider the evidence that Trump is a traitor

Chauncey DeVega

Chauncey DeVega is a politics staff writer for Salon. His essays can also be found at Chaunceydevega.com. He also hosts a weekly podcast, The Chauncey DeVega Show. Chauncey can be followed on Twitter and Facebook.

How can we recognize our friends in the mixed-up world of Donald Trump?

Through the looking glass:

The enemies of our enemy are not our friends. It’s important to remember that during the next four years and beyond

Through the looking glass: How can we recognize our friends in the mixed-up world of Donald Trump?
Vladimir Putin; Donald Trump (Credit: Reuters/Maxim Shipenkov/Christopher Aluka Berry/Photo montage by Salon)
This piece originally appeared on TomDispatch.

You know you’re living in a looking-glass world when former Vice President Dick Cheney speaks out against one of Donald Trump’s executive orders. He’s a good example of how past adversaries of movements for peace and justice are lining up against our current adversary: the new president.

The United States, Cheney told radio host Hugh Hewitt, should not exclude people from our territory on the basis of religion. That was just a few days after Trump had signed an executive order entitled “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States.” Such a move, said Cheney, “goes against everything we stand for and believe in.”

In the same interview, Cheney revealed the origins of his personal affinity for Muslim refugees. His own ancestors, he said, arrived on this continent to escape religious persecution. “They were Puritans,” he explained. “There wasn’t anybody here then when they came.” No one? It was a sparkling display of the European-American solipsism that so deeply marked the Cheney years in power.

Refugees, he acknowledged, do represent “a serious problem.” To begin to solve it, however, “You gotta go back and look at why they’re here. They’re here because of what’s happening in the Middle East.”

The refugees Cheney refers to aren’t “here,” of course, or what would be the point of Trump’s entrance ban? Otherwise, I’d have to agree with the former vice president: You do need to look at “what’s happening” but also — something he didn’t mention — what happened in the Middle East to explain their need for refuge. Refugees from Iraq and Syria (among other places) have indeed lost their homes and homelands by the millions, in significant part because of the very invasions and occupations that Cheney and his president, George W. Bush, launched in the Greater Middle East, radically destabilizing that part of the world.

The enemy of my enemy?

What should it mean for those of us hoping to resist the grim presidency of Donald Trump to find Dick Cheney, even momentarily and on a single issue, on our side? One thing it certainly can’t mean is that Cheney stands for the same “everything” that moved thousands of people to rush to U.S. airports, demanding the release of visitors, immigrants and green card holders detained under Trump’s new order. Although in the Muslim refugees of today he may indeed recognize a reflection of his Puritan ancestors, Cheney’s disagreement with Trump does not, in fact, make him a friend of the cause of compassion, justice or the rule of law.

Few of us who spent eight years opposing Bush and Cheney or who remember their record of invasions, occupations, torture, black sites and so much more are likely to imagine that his opposition to the ban on refugees makes him our friend. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t take some satisfaction from where he’s landed on this issue.

It’s been harder, however, for many of us to find clarity when it comes to certain of the other war hawks who, for their own reasons, don’t trust Trump.

It’s a trap most of us avoided last summer when 50 members of the national security establishment, including former National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and one of George W. Bush’s CIA directors, Michael Hayden, wrote an open letter warning the world that Trump lacked “the character, values and experience to be president.” We recognized that the letter signers themselves lacked the “character, values and experience” to comment. After all, in the Middle East and elsewhere, this bunch had helped to pave the way for Trump’s rise.

In recent months, as the Russian hacking scandal hit and Trump’s feud with the CIA gained ever more media attention, that agency has proven another matter. Here is a real danger to avoid: In our efforts to delegitimize Trump, it’s important not to inadvertently legitimize an outfit that most of us have long opposed for its vicious campaigns around the world. Just because Trump all but called its operatives Nazis shouldn’t lead the rest of us to forget its long history of deceit or accept its pronouncements at face value because they happen to fit what we would like to believe.

When Barack Obama said that there was convincing evidence Russia had used its hacking efforts to throw the U.S. election to Trump, the president-elect not surprisingly labeled the claim “ridiculous.” But there’s also been a bit of sympathy for the CIA in some odd places. For example, long-time CIA critic and Hullabaloo founder Heather Digby Parton (generally known as “Digby”) wrote at Salon that the CIA “understandably” felt there was something “a tad unfair” about the Trump transition team calling the agency “the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.” After all, they were under a lot of pressure from the White House back then. As Digby wrote, “It’s now known that Vice President Dick Cheney went out to [CIA headquarters in] Langley [Virginia] in order to personally twist arms and ‘stovepipe’ the intelligence report on Iraq.”

That’s certainly true, but it’s also true that the CIA director of that moment, George Tenet, assured President Bush that there was a “slam-dunk case” that Saddam Hussein had such weaponry. The fact is that the CIA caved in to pressure from top administration officials for the intel they so desperately wanted for the invasion they already knew they were going to launch in Iraq. That is not exactly a ringing endorsement of the agency’s integrity or political independence. An “independent” CIA is bad enough, but the CIA’s vulnerability to political pressure from the White House is another reason we should be cautious about using agency pronouncements as an instrument against Trump. That’s the slippery terrain we find ourselves on now.

Digby is certainly no admirer of the CIA, and her article wasn’t primarily focused on the quality of its intelligence under Bush, but on a far more recent turf war between the agency and the FBI. She rightly calls out FBI director James Comey for his 11th hour intervention in the election, the way he alerted Congress to the (vanishingly tiny) possibility that the hard drive on the computer that Anthony Weiner shared with his wife, Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin, might have contained evidence of Clinton’s failure to protect State Department emails. Nevertheless, the reader is left to infer that — at least when it comes to intelligence rather than clandestine operations — the CIA’s pronouncements might prove a reliable instrument against Trump, an urge that was relatively commonplace among opponents of the new president.

For example, the Atlanticwhich has carried excellent reporting about CIA deceptions, published a piece by Kelly Magsamen, who served on the National Security Council (NSC) under both Bush and Obama, expressing alarm at Trump’s plan to exclude the CIA director from his version of the NSC. (In fact, the new president reversed himself on the matter almost immediately.) It’s not surprising that Magsamen would have this view. For those of us who would like to dismantle the entire national security edifice, however, it would be shortsighted indeed to attack Trump by shoring up the reputation of an agency — the CIA — that, as former counterintelligence officer John Kiriakou has suggested, the country and the world “do not need.” Kariakou, you may remember, was jailed for discussing the CIA’s torture program with a journalist.

Support for America’s spooks has continued to resound in odd places. For example, there’s been much outrage expressed at President Trump’s bizarre behavior on a visit to CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. In a performance that was indeed shocking, he used the occasion to complain about the way the media underestimated the size of the crowd at his inauguration, after which he asserted that God had stopped the rain during his inaugural address.

What many commentators found far more bizarre and disturbing, however, was that Trump gave his performance in front of a memorial wall commemorating CIA agents who had died on the job. Writing for the Huffington Post, Neil McCarthy claimed that the wall honors “un-named heroes who have died in our service.” In a New Yorker article headlined “Trump’s Vainglorious Affront to the CIA,” former Washington Post diplomatic correspondent Robin Wright chided the new president for his lack of respect for the agency’s martyrs. Trump, she suggested, should have followed the example of President Ronald Reagan, who on his first visit to the CIA told the assembled staff:

“The work you do each day is essential to the survival and to the spread of human freedom. You remain the eyes and ears of the free world. You are the ‘trip wire’ over which totalitarian rule must stumble in their quest for global domination.”

While I would never applaud anyone’s untimely, violent death, the fact that Trump (despite his denials) has been feuding with the CIA shouldn’t erase that agency’s history or just what those agents died defending. Trump’s annoyance shouldn’t magically transform an agency responsible for decades of violent and bloody coups against democratic governments in places like IranGuatemala, the Congo and Chile into an organization “essential to the survival and spread of human freedom.” Whatever pleasure we may take in Trump’s irritation, it doesn’t vindicate the murder of between 26,000 and 41,000 Vietnamese, many of them tortured to death, in the CIA’s notorious Phoenix program during the Vietnam War. It doesn’t erase the training in torture and repression its agents provided to dictatorships around the world. And it certainly doesn’t make the CIA’s use of terror and torture in its black sites as part of the Bush administration’s “war on terror” any less horrific or illegal.

Nor does the CIA’s future look much more promising than its past. When it comes to torture, its new head Mike Pompeo has clearly wanted to have it both ways. During his confirmation hearing, he proved unwilling to call waterboarding and other “enhanced interrogation” methods torture, but did acknowledge that they are illegal under a 2015 law, which limits interrogation techniques to those described in the U.S. Army Field Manual.

There are two problems with reliance on that law. The present Field Manual contains a classified annex, which permits among other things repeated 12-hour bouts of sensory deprivation and solitary confinement for up to 30 days at a time. Both of these are forms of the cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment prohibited by the U.N. Convention against Torture. In addition, the manual itself is up for revision in two years. A new version might provide very different guidance.

But it’s not clear that Pompeo is actually wedded to the manual anyway. As Human Rights Watch (HRW) points out, in his written testimony for his confirmation hearing he “indicated that he would consult with CIA staff to determine whether the application of the Army Field Manual was an ‘impediment’ to intelligence-gathering, and whether it needed to be rewritten.” Note as well that Gina Haspel, Pompeo’s newly appointed deputy director at the agency, is notorious for her involvement in its black sites and torture practices in the Bush years (as well as the destruction of video tapes of waterboarding sessions — evidence, that is, of those criminal activities).

Trump himself supports such torture practices. On Jan. 25 he told ABC News that he still clings to his belief that torture “works.” His evidence? The testimony of “people at the highest level of intelligence” who “as recently as 24 hours ago” told him that it works “absolutely.” It seems likely one of those “people” was Gina Haspel, who has a good reason to cling to that same belief.

In reporting ABC’s interview with Trump, CNN, like most mainstream media, allowed itself to be distracted by the question of whether or not torture is an effective way of getting information from someone. It isn’t, as the Senate Intelligence Committee concluded in its landmark 2014 report. However, the question really shouldn’t be whether torture “works.” The question should be: Is it either moral or legal? And Donald Trump notwithstanding, the answer in both cases is no.

Pompeo is also a big fan of NSA-style mass surveillance and has called for the reinstatement of the NSA’s massive secret collection of telephone, internet and social media metadata. The telephone data part of the program officially expired in November 2015 as a result of the USA Freedom Act, passed earlier that year. Under the new arrangement, metadata is held by the phone companies, rather than directly by the NSA, which now needs a FISA warrant to get access to those records. Internet and social media records are still directly available to the NSA, however.

But that’s not enough for Pompeo. Human Rights Watch points to a 2016 Wall Street Journal op-ed, in which Pompeo urged Congress to “‘pass a law re-establishing collection of all metadata’ — that is, records of communications, such as their dates, parties and durations — ‘and combining it with publicly available financial and lifestyle information into a comprehensive, searchable database.’”

HRW observes that, in spite of “repeated written and oral questions in the context of the hearing, Pompeo remained vague on what he meant by the potentially expansive and discriminatory term ‘lifestyle information.’” As one devoted to the lesbian “lifestyle,” I don’t find this particularly encouraging.

Fortunately for those of us who hope to see the national security state dismantled someday, as recent events have indicated, that edifice and its friends in both parties are not a seamless whole. There are runs and tears throughout its fabric, and part of our job is to help open those gaps wider — always keeping in mind that while politics may make strange bedfellows, there are some people you don’t ever want to sleep with. Even in the Trump era, the enemy of my enemy is not my friend, at least not when that enemy is the CIA.

Enemies of enemies of enemies

If the CIA is the enemy of my enemy, then Vladimir Putin’s government in Russia must be the enemy of the enemy of my enemy. Is it therefore my friend?

This is a complicated and delicate question. The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists has just set its doomsday clock forward to two-and-a-half minutes to midnight, 30 seconds closer to catastrophe.

In the shadow of nuclear war, who wouldn’t be eager to see tensions between Russia and the United States defused? At the same time, I become uncomfortable when some of my colleagues on the left appear to believe that any adversary of U.S. hegemony may represent a potential ally for us.

For example, the Nation’s Stephen Cohen, whose many years of writing on the Soviet Union served as an important corrective to the official narrative of the time, characterizes those who today are wary of Putin as “enemies of détente.” He points to a New York Times editorial whose descriptions “of Putin’s leadership over the years” were “so distorted they seemed more like ‘Saturday Night Live’’s ongoing parodies” and calls out Times columnist Paul Krugman’s “neo-McCarthyite baiting” of Trump for his admiration of Putin.

I can agree with Cohen that Krugman goes over the top when he refers to the present administration as the “Putin-Trump regime.” But it’s a mistake to equate legitimate suspicion of Russia and Putin with the efforts of Senator Joe McCarthy to discredit the U.S. left (and liberals) during the Cold War. The Russian Federation is not the Soviet Union, and distrust of Vladimir Putin is not McCarthyism.

Cohen is certainly correct that Putin has good reason to be wary of what he calls “NATO’s highly provocative buildup on Russia’s Western border.” But even if Russia quite rightly objects to the way NATO has moved east, it doesn’t prove that Putin’s government didn’t try to influence the U.S. election. Such things are hardly beyond the realm of possibility. After all, the United States has a long history of doing just that to countries around the world (as did the Soviet Union in its day).

That the Washington establishment opposes Russian challenges to the U.S. urge for global dominance doesn’t make Vladimir Putin any less an autocrat, or Russia under his rule any more a country to emulate. Indeed, on Jan. 27, the Russian parliament voted 380-3 to decriminalize domestic violence. A week later, Putin signed the bill into law. Which way, I wonder, would Donald Trump go if similar legislation were on the table here?

What about friends? 

When the thieves who run our government fall out, we should be glad — and find ways to drive the wedge deeper. When John McCain does something we approve of, like objecting to Trump’s executive order on immigration, we can agree with him, but notice as well that, in the next breath, he says he supports Trump’s “commitment to rebuilding our” (already vast and unprecedentedly powerful) military.

There’s a difference between people who find themselves sharing the same adversary and people who can be, to use an old-fashioned term, in solidarity with each other. Those of us who oppose U.S. military adventurism abroad and inequality, racism and sexism at home need to remember who our friends are. The next few years must be a time of building broad coalitions and tightening the bonds among organizations and people who believe that, even now, a better world is still possible.

In the mixed-up looking-glass universe that is Trumplandia, we are going to need our friends more than ever. This is true domestically, which means, for instance, that tenants’ rights groups will need to keep jumping into struggles for immigrant rights (as is already happening in many places), and veterans’ organizations will need to keep on supporting fights to preserve Native land and water rights as in the struggle over the Dakota Access pipeline. It’s true on the international level, as well. We will need to build strong ties with people in Europe fighting the rise of the far right there, and to continue our solidarity with the victims of U.S. military actions around the world.

But it’s also true at the level of our individual lives. Now especially we need contact with the people we love to keep us strong and hopeful. Now is a good time to remind your friends that you love them and that you will have their backs. It’s a time to march together, but also to eat together. To strategize and organize, but also to make each other laugh. It’s a time to remember who our adversaries are, but also to cherish our friends.

History shows Trump will face legal challenges to​ detaining immigrants

The long history of detention has an equally long history of legal challenges

History shows Trump will face legal challenges to detaining immigrants
FILE – This 1924 file photo shows the registry room at Ellis Island in New York harbor, a gateway to America for millions of immigrants. The American self-image is forever intertwined with the melting pot _ a nation that embraces the world’s wretched refuse, a nation built by immigrants. But America’s immigration history is complicated. ()(Credit: AP Photo/File)

This article was originally published on The Conversation.

President Donald Trump has followed through on his promise to ramp up immigrant detention as part of immigration enforcement. His executive order on border security and immigration describes a “new normal” that will include the detention of immigrants while they await removal hearings and removal.

Trump’s order expressly announces the end of “catch and release” of undocumented immigrants after their apprehension, which allowed them to post a bond and be released from detention while their removal proceedings moved forward.

Rather than doing something new, President Trump is simply expanding the use of immigrant detention. Immigrant detention has long been a tool in the arsenal of the U.S. government in immigration enforcement. It goes as far back as the detention of Chinese immigrants on Angel Island in the San Francisco Bay, which began processing immigrants in the late 1800s. Detention of immigrants as a method of immigration enforcement saw an upswing at the tail end of the 20th century. In the 1980s, President Reagan’s administration used detention to discourage Central Americans, thousands of whom were fleeing civil wars, from migrating to the United States.

Other groups have also been detained on a broad scale. Several U.S. presidents responded to mass migrations of Cubans in the 1980s, who came in the Mariel boatlift, and Haitians fleeing political violence, with detention.

The Obama administration still allowed for noncitizens to bond out of custody while their removal proceedings were pending. But it also employed immigrant detention liberally – including the mass detention of Central American families. Obama set records for the number of removals during his first term.

The long history of detention has an equally long history of legal challenges. These are likely to continue in the Trump administration, which has made detention a cornerstone of its immigration enforcement plan.

History of immigrant detention

Courts have regularly been asked to intervene to curb the excesses of immigrant detention.

In 1989, during the administrations of President Ronald Reagan and later George H.W. Bush, a class action lawsuit was brought against the U.S. government by asylum applicants from El Salvador and Guatemala in Orantes-Hernandez v. Thornburgh. In class actions, a group of similarly situated persons band together to challenge a policy or practice.

In this case, the asylum applicants challenged mass immigrant detention and various policies that violated their right to counsel. The court found that the U.S. government had been transferring Central American asylum seekers from major urban areas where they could readily secure counsel to remote locations where they could not. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a broad injunction barring the U.S. government from restricting access to counsel.

The Orantes-Hernandez decision was the culmination of a coordinated litigation strategy pursued by public interest lawyers to challenge the U.S. government’s treatment of Central American asylum seekers. Leading immigrant rights advocates, along with private law firms doing the legal work pro bono, planned the suits and divided up the work.

In a 1991 case, American Baptist Churches v. Thornburgh, the executive branch settled a suit brought by Salvadorans and Guatemalans. The plaintiffs claimed the U.S. government was biased against their asylum claims because the U.S. was allied with the governments in power in those countries. The settlement required the U.S. government to hear again the asylum claims of more than 100,000 Central Americans.

This line of litigation ultimately contributed to legislative reform.

In 1990, Congress passed legislation that created Temporary Protected Status for noncitizens who fled the violent conditions in El Salvador, and additional countries designated by the president. Temporary Protected Status has permitted thousands of noncitizens to remain in the United States until the violence has calmed.

Despite these successful challenges, the use of detention in immigration enforcement increased with the immigration reforms of 1996. Immigrant detention continues to be criticized – and litigated. For example, in response to an increase in women and children fleeing widespread violence in Central America, the Obama administration began detaining thousands of unaccompanied minors and entire families.

In Flores v. Lynch in 2016, the Ninth Circuit stated the detention of Central American minors was not required by law. However, the court did not protect parents from detention in the same way.

Class action for reform

U.S. immigration agencies have proved resistant to change. In an empirical study of immigration litigation in the 1980s, Professor Peter Schuck of Yale and attorney Theodore Wang concluded that the success of immigrants in class actions suggest the U.S. government’s immigration agencies are uncompromising. They are enforcement-oriented to a fault, they said.

Recent years have continued to see challenges to immigration detention. In Jennings v. Rodriguez, the Supreme Court currently has before it a class action raising the question of whether immigrants, like virtually all U.S. citizens placed in criminal detention, must be guaranteed a bond hearing and possible release from custody. This case challenges, on constitutional and statutory grounds, lengthy immigration detentions without any opportunity for release.

Detention appears as if will be an important part of Trump’s immigration enforcement plan. As historically has been the case, legal challenges will almost certainly follow.The Conversation

Kevin Johnson, Dean and Professor of Public Interest Law and Chicana/o Studies, University of California, Davis

http://www.salon.com/2017/02/09/history-shows-trump-will-face-legal-challenges-to%E2%80%8B-detaining-immigrants_partner/?source=newsletter

Why do conservatives want the government to defund the arts?

The cuts are largely driven by an ideology to shrink the federal government and decentralize power

Why do conservatives want the government to defund the arts?
Vinila Dasgupta retouches her art during India Art Fair in New Delhi, India, Thursday, Feb. 2, 2017. The four day art fair brings together a number of modern and contemporary artists to present their works. ((Credit: AP Photo/Tsering Topgyal))
This article was originally published on The Conversation.

Recent reports indicate that Trump administration officials have circulated plans to defund the National Endowment of the Arts (NEA), putting this agency on the chopping block – again.

Conservatives have sought to eliminate the NEA since the Reagan administration. In the past, arguments were limited to the content of specific state-sponsored works that were deemed offensive or immoral – an offshoot of the culture wars.

Now the cuts are largely driven by an ideology to shrink the federal government and decentralize power. The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, argues that government should not use its “coercive power of taxation” to fund arts and humanities programs that are neither “necessary nor prudent.” The federal government, in other words, has no business supporting culture. Period.

But there are two major flaws in conservatives’ latest attack on the NEA: The aim to decentralize the government could end up dealing local communities a major blow, and it ignores the economic contribution of this tiny line item expense.

The relationship between government and the arts

Historically, the relationship between the state and culture is as fundamental as the idea of the state itself. The West, in particular, has witnessed an evolution from royal and religious patronage of the arts to a diverse range of arts funding that includes sales, private donors, foundations, corporations, endowments and the government.

Prior to the formation of the NEA in 1965, the federal government strategically funded cultural projects of national interest. For example, the Commerce Department subsidized the film industry in the 1920s and helped Walt Disney skirt bankruptcy during World War II. The same could be said for the broad range of New Deal economic relief programs, like the Public Works of Art Project and the Works Progress Administration, which employed artists and cultural workers. The CIA even joined in, funding Abstract Expressionist artists as a cultural counterweight to Soviet Realism during the Cold War.

The NEA came about during the Cold War. In 1963, President John F. Kennedy asserted the political and ideological importance of artists as critical thinkers, provocateurs and powerful contributors to the strength of a democratic society. His attitude was part of a broader bipartisan movement to form a national entity to promote American arts and culture at home and abroad. By 1965, President Johnson took up Kennedy’s legacy, signing the National Arts and Cultural Development Act of 1964 – which established the National Council on the Arts – and the National Foundation on the Arts and Humanities Act of 1965, which established the NEA.

Since its inception, the NEA has weathered criticism from the left and right. The right generally argues state funding for culture shouldn’t be the government’s business, while some on the left have expressed concern about how the funding might come with constraints on creative freedoms. Despite complaints from both sides, the United States has never had a fully articulated, coherent national policy on culture, unless – as historian Michael Kammen suggests – deciding not to have one is, in fact, policy.

Flare-ups in the culture wars

Targeting of the NEA has had more to do with the kind of art the government funded than any discernible impact to the budget. The amount in question – roughly US$148 million – is a drop in the morass of a $3.9 trillion federal budget.

Instead, the arts were a focus of the culture wars that erupted in the 1980s, which often invoked legislative grandstanding for elimination of the NEA. Hot-button NEA-funded pieces included Andre Serrano’s “Immersion (Piss Christ)” (1987), Robert Mapplethorpe’s photo exhibit “The Perfect Moment” (1989) and the case of the “NEA Four,” which involved the rejection of NEA grant applicants by performance artists Karen Finley, Tim Miller, John Fleck and Holly Hughes.

In each case, conservative legislators isolated an artist’s work – connected to NEA funding – that was objectionable due to its sexual or controversial content, such as Serrano’s use of Christian iconography. These artists’ works, then, were used to stoke a public debate about normative values. Artists were the targets, but often museum staff and curators bore the brunt of these assaults. The NEA four were significant because the artists had grants unlawfully rejected based upon standards of decency that were eventually deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1998.

As recently as 2011, former Congressmen John Boehner and Eric Cantor targeted the inclusion of David Wojnarowicz’s “A Fire in My Belly, A Work in Progress” (1986-87) in a Smithsonian exhibition to renew calls to eliminate the NEA.

In all these cases, the NEA had funded artists who either brought attention to the AIDS crisis (Wojnarowicz), invoked religious freedoms (Serrano) or explored feminist and LGBTQ issues (Mapplethorpe and the four performance artists). Controversial artists push the boundaries of what art does, not just what art is; in these cases, the artists were able to powerfully communicate social and political issues that elicited the particular ire of conservatives.

A local impact

But today, it’s not about the art itself. It’s about limiting the scope and size of the federal government. And that ideological push presents real threats to our economy and our communities.

Organizations like the Heritage Foundation fail to take into account that eliminating the NEA actually causes the collapse of a vast network of regionally controlled, state-level arts agencies and local councils. In other words, they won’t simply be defunding a centralized bureaucracy that dictates elite culture from the sequestered halls of Washington, D.C. The NEA is required by law to distribute 40 percent of its budget to arts agencies in all 50 states and six U.S. jurisdictions.

Many communities – such as Princeton, New Jersey, which could lose funding to local cultural institutions like the McCarter Theatre – are anxious about how threats to the NEA will affect their community.

Therein lies the misguided logic of the argument for defunding: It targets the NEA but in effect threatens funding for programs like the Creede Repertory Theatre – which serves rural and underserved communities in states like Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Oklahoma and Arizona – and Appalshop, a community radio station and media center that creates public art installations and multimedia tours in Jenkins, Kentucky to celebrate Appalachian cultural identity.

While the present administration and the conservative movement claim they’re simply trying to save taxpayer dollars, they also ignore the significant economic impacts of the arts. The Bureau of Economic Analysis reported that the arts and culture industry generated $704.8 billion of economic activity in 2013 and employed nearly five million people. For every dollar of NEA funding, there are seven dollars of funding from other private and public funds. Elimination of the agency endangers this economic vitality.

Ultimately, the Trump administration needs to decide whether artistic and cultural work is important to a thriving economy and democracy.

The Conversation

Aaron D. Knochel, Assistant Professor of Art Education, Pennsylvania State University

http://www.salon.com/2017/02/08/why-do-conservatives-want-the-government-to-defund-the-arts_partner/?source=newsletter