Iraqi Army Makes Big Gains in Battle for Mosul

Iraqi military forces are advancing towards the main complex of government buildings in the centre of west Mosul, indicating that Isis is losing control of its last big urban stronghold in Iraq.

“The provincial council and the governorate building are within the firing range of the rapid response forces,” said an officer with the elite interior ministry units.

The Iraqi government offensive is evidently making ground faster than had been expected against some 4,000 Isis fighters, besieged along with 750,000 civilians in the half of Mosul city to the west of the Tigris river. The aim of the multiple attack against this enclave is to keep Isis under pressure on all fronts so it will not have enough men to hold back the Iraqi security forces that far outnumber it. Isis is making very effective use of a mix of snipers, suicide bombers, mortars, bombs, booby traps and drones.

Iraqi forces say they have seized both ends of one of the five bridges spanning the Tigris, which have all been broken by US air strikes and Isis demolition teams, but could be made passable again by using pontoon bridging equipment supplied by the US.

People inside the city are running out of food, and there are reports that the old Sarj-Khana market has been burned by Isis. Militants are setting fire to private houses in order to create a smoke screen that will hide its fighters from the US-led air strikes which are clearing the way for ground troops.

The UN humanitarian aid office said on Tuesday that 8,000 people have fled to government-controlled areas south of Mosul since the latest Iraq military offensive began on 19 February and they “are often exhausted and dehydrated”.

The main weight of the attack so far is coming from the south and has captured the airport along with several districts of Mosul. Isis is likely to make its main stand in the close-packed residential housing and narrow alleys of the old part of Mosul. It took Iraqi security forces three months from 17 October last year to capture east Mosul during which they lost 500 dead and 3,000 wounded according to General Joseph Votel of the US Central Command.

Many of the most effective Iraqi units reportedly suffered over 30 per cent losses, though the Iraqi government in Baghdad refuses to disclose military and civilian casualties.

The recapture of Mosul by the Iraqi armed forces, which lost the city to a much smaller number of Isis fighters in June 2014, will be a crushing blow to the Caliphate that was declared at that time and at its height controlled territory the size of Great Britain. Its astonishing victories against superior forces in Iraq and Syria two-an-a-half years ago were portrayed by Isis as proof that it had divine assistance. Its string of defeats and shrinking territory since 2015 have had the contrary effect of persuading many Sunni Arab tribes and communities that the self-declared Caliphate is coming to an end.

The real situation in front line positions in and around west Mosul is unclear because the Iraqi government reports only successes and never mentions setbacks or defeats. They sometimes announce the capture of districts and towns long before government troops have reached them. The blog Musings on Iraq , which has published a detailed daily account of the 132-day campaign to take Mosul, complains that “the Iraqi forces’ (ISF) statements either by officers or even official ones have become so unreliable that they cannot be trusted unless pictures are posted on social media or a western reporter confirms them”.

Nevertheless, Iraqi forces do appear to have improved their tactics since the grinding street-to-street fighting in east Mosul, which they had expected to seize much more quickly. One significant development is that US soldiers advising and calling in air strikes are now positioned closer to the front line than they were last year. Aside from closer involvement of US troops in the fighting, the Trump administration has so far changed very little in operations against Isis initiated under President Obama.

General Stephen Townsend, the commander of the Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve, says that since August 2014 the US-led Coalition “has conducted more than 10,000 air strikes against Isis targets in Iraq and trained and equipped more than 70,000 Iraqi forces to support Iraqi operations”.

Isis is under pressure on all fronts, including Syria, where it has lost the town of al-Bab to Turkish forces and Arab auxiliaries under their control. Isis commanders must also prepare for an assault on its de facto Syrian capital of Raqqa by the Syrian Democratic Forces, whose main fighting force is drawn from the Syrian Kurds operating in cooperation with the US air force and US special forces on the ground. Isis is beset on every side but is likely to fight to the end, which may be a long time coming.

Breakfast With Chairman Bobby: Local Panther History Revisited

The once controversial, much criminally prosecuted, and often violently repressed Black Panther Party for Self-Defense has achieved belated respectability fifty-one years after its birth in Oakland, CA.

New books, films, and commemorative conferences have provided its founding generation with a 21st century platform for cross-generational exchanges and burnishing of personal and political legacies (some much contested).

Nobody has been more active on the Panther nostalgia circuit than Bobby Seale, the author of two books about the Party and a popular collection of barbecue recipes. The avuncular 81-year old African-American community elder returned to Richmond, CA, for two Black History Month events, more than five decades after assisting young people in this East Bay city as part of President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty. Gone was the black leather jacket and Panther beret of Seale’s militant youth; instead, our garrulous guest sported the brown corduroy jacket, blue oxford shirt, and neatly-knotted tie of a retired college lecturer.

Seale (aka “Chairman Bobby”) co-founded the BPP in 1966, along with his Merritt College classmate Huey P. Newton. The U.S. air force veteran and former aerospace worker became a Sixties’ icon in his own right and one of the era’s most famous political prisoners.

While enduring a four-year jail term for contempt of court, imposed by the infamous Judge Julius Hoffman during the 1969 trial of anti-war protestors known as “the Chicago Eight,” Seale also faced federal prosecution for alleged complicity in the murder of a New Haven, CT. Panther member suspected of being a police informant.

The jury deadlocked in that case and charges against Seale were eventually dropped. Two years after his release from jail, the Panther leader  embraced electoral politics. As chronicled in Stanley Nelson’s 2015 documentary, The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution, Seale ran a surprisingly strongly race against the incumbent mayor of Oakland, finishing second in a field of nine candidates.

In 1974, Seale left the BPP, after falling-out with the increasingly dictatorial and unhinged Huey Newton. The party was, by then, a shadow of its former self due to state repression, police infiltration, internal factionalism, and a deeply destructive leadership cult. Its explosive growth in the late Sixties, from a handful of Bay Area members to 5,000 in nearly fifty chapters around the country, became an increasingly distant memory. By Seale’s count, in 1969 alone, 28 Panther supporters died and 69 were wounded in police raids and ambushes. He estimates that 12 police officers died during these same confrontations.

Richmond Roots

Chairman Bobby’s Richmond homecoming had a carefully staged symmetry, a bit redolent with historical irony. His first audience of the day was residents of the Pullman Point Apartments, where a Chevron-funded philanthropy called For Richmond, has organized a modern-day children’s breakfast program and other much needed services As mothers, grandmothers, and children (young and older) gathered for an early morning repast, Seale tried to set the record straight about himself and the Panthers.

“A lot of people think I was just some guy out on the street with guns,” he said, recalling a long list of enemies, like California Governor Ronald Reagan and FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, who denounced him as a thug, hooligan, or national security threat. Rebutting those characterizations, Seale described the Party’s focus on “realistic, practical programs” that fed children before school, provided free medical care, and sought police accountability. Panther organizing in East Bay communities was designed, he said, “to unite the people and get them registered to vote.”

The Party registered hundreds of new voters to insure that African-Americans could sign petitions, vote on ballot measures, and serve on what were then often all-white juries. In four cities—Richmond, Oakland, San Francisco, and Berkeley—the BPP gathered signatures to trigger a citywide vote on “community control of the police.” The Party newspaper also proposed that predominantly black North Richmond become an independent city so its residents could “control their own school system, and have the power to tax businesses in the area, like Standard Oil,” the city’s largest employer (known today as Chevron).

Under the Panthers’ plan for civilian oversight, elected police review boards would investigate officer-involved shootings, reports of unnecessary force, and other allegations of official misconduct. Then and now, such probes tend to be handled by internal affairs units or local prosecutors with close police department ties. Only in Berkeley did this cutting edge scheme make it onto the ballot.

In Richmond, it took another forty-seven years for the city to refashion its under-resourced Police Commission into a more pro-active Citizens Police Review Commission. This appointed body is now required to investigate every officer-involved civilian fatality or serious injury (that results in hospitalization for more than three days), even without a triggering complaint.  It’s currently in the process of hiring a professional investigator, who can subpoena officers and question them under oath. As part of on-going RPD reform, internal affairs probes are now conducted by a civilian-led Office of Professional Accountability. It’s located within city hall rather than the department, a rare arrangement in America today.

Open Carry, Sixties-Style

As Seale recalled last week, the BPP’s first local organizing in Richmond involved policing complaints. Denzil Dowell, a twenty-two-year-old North Richmond construction worker, was fatally shot by a deputy sheriff who believed he was a burglary suspect. In a sequence of events still familiar in major US cities half a century later, Dowell’s death was soon found to be “justifiable homicide.”

Seale knew the victim’s family, from his prior work in the neighborhood. “I believe the police murdered my son,” his mother told him. Seizing the time, the Panthers organized a protest rally attended by four hundred North Richmond residents and signed up many as new members. Fifteen BPP activists stood guard in their signature black berets and leather jackets. They were armed with twelve-gauge shotguns, M1 rifles, and assorted hand guns.

This dramatic display of what today would be called “open carry” got the attention of state legislators in Sacramento. A bill to restrict public

gun-toting (still legal at the time) was hurriedly introduced. During a now-famous lobbying visit to the State Capitol in May, 1967, the Panthers were packing again when they protested this new form of gun control. Seale and his comrades were arrested but made national headlines with the dramatic form of political theater first premiered in the East Bay.

In its Richmond heyday, the BPP fed twenty-five to forty-five kids a day in a lower-budget breakfast program not funded by Big Oil.  Panther volunteers did testing, door-to-door, for sickle cell anemia and hypertension. They gave away hundreds of free shoes to people in need an also started a “liberation school” that held classes on Saturdays, because, as Panther archivist Bill Jennings recalls, “African American history was just not taught in Contra Costa County public schools. Although it emphasized black empowerment, Seale described the BPP as a “populist movement” committed to “crossing all racial, religious, and ethnic lines.”

As a multi-racial progressive movement has gained city hall influence in Richmond, Panther history has won official recognition. In 2009, our visitor noted, the city council expressed its gratitude to “Mr. Seale, his organization, and all the Black Panthers who…emerged from Richmond to activate, unite, organize, educate, mobilize, rally and increase awareness and hope for a better future for all the residents of our city.”

That local appreciation was expressed again in person by the crowd of 350, which gave Seale a standing ovation after his hour-long speech at a second Black History Month event sponsored by For Richmond. Chairman Bobby opened his talk with the observation that it’s “time once again to struggle and stand up for what you believe in.” He concluded, as expected, with the famous Panther salute, “Power to the People!” But, in between, he reminded his listeners that “the methodology of grassroots community organizing” remains the key to gaining political power in Richmond or any other place else where it hasn’t been well shared in the past.

Sessions, Pot and the Democratic Party on Drugs

Why does the political Right hate marijuana? There are two main reasons for the hate and loathing of pot on the Right. First, its use was associated with bohemians, jazz musicians, and rockers. The Beat Generation of writers and poets and their followers were the antithesis of the staid decade of the 1950s and the Republicans would like to put us all squarely back in the 50s. And then there was the issue of race. When jazz, art, and literature flourished during the Harlem Renaissance, the Right had yet another target (“Marijuana Prohibition Was Racist From The Start. Not Much Has Changed,” The Huffington Post, January, 25, 2014).

In the 1960s, Left political movements burst onto the scene and transformed the U.S. in ways in which the political Right is still trying to roll back. Slander and libel against the political Left continue into the present with the threatened attack on recreational pot by the Trump administration (“Spicer: Trump Supports States’ Right to Discriminate Against Trans Kids but Not to Legalize Pot,” Slate, February 23, 2017).

The most famous example of a draconian jail sentence for giving away a small amount of marijuana was highlighted during The Who’s performance at Woodstock in 1969. The late political activist Abbie Hoffman was chased off of the stage when Hoffman seized the microphone from the rock group and launched into an abruptly truncated monologue about John Sinclair’s 10-year sentence for giving two joints to an undercover narcotics agent. Prison sentences in some cases for pot possession and pot distribution were much, much higher with draconian sentencing laws that sent nonviolent drug offenders to prison.

Attorney General Jeffrey Sessions’ famous statement about the Ku Klux Klan may give many pause who believed that the federal government was moving in the right direction in regard to recreational pot use. Sessions said, according to a lawyer who knew Sessions, that he thought that the KKK was “OK until I found out they smoked pot.”  In an April 2016 Senate hearing, then Senator Sessions said that the government needed to send a message that “good people don’t smoke marijuana.” (“Jeff Sessions, Donald Trump’s new attorney general, said the Ku Klux Klan ‘was OK until I found out they smoke pot,’” The Independent, November 18, 2016).

The great train derailment that is the Democratic Party took place on February 25, 2017, in Atlanta, Georgia. Perhaps the Democratic National Committee was either on pot, or needed to be. In a direct rebuke of the entire election cycle of 2016, the Democrats elected establishment figure Thomas Perez as their chairman, while rejecting Representative Keith Ellison of Minnesota, the favorite of the insurgent Democrats (“Democrats Elect Thomas Perez, Establishment Favorite, as Party Chairman,” New York Times, February 25, 2017).

Once again, the Democrats have proven that they cannot get out of their own way. Soon after the defeat of the insurgency within the party, the spinoff group of the Sanders’ 2016 campaign, Our Revolution, sent out an email to its members, the thrust of which was that the battle within the Democratic Party would never be easy and that we need to keep on working for change… please send along a contribution.

The next day, Sunday, on MSNBC, Bernie Sanders made it clear that his former campaign would not be handing over its email list of donors as quickly as the Democratic National Committee may have wanted. The neoliberal legacy of both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama has had its effect. The disaffected among the general electorate voted to move the government so far to the right that it is unrecognizable as anything close to a republican form of democracy. Staying in the streets may be the only thing separating us from the fanatic extremism of the far Right, and the streets are not a guarantee against complete tyranny.

Trump’s Barnburner

“I’ll happily vote for someone else.  There’s a lot I hate about Trump.  But our lives are basically destroyed, and he was the first person to talk about fixing that.”

— Anonymous Trump supporter

Donald Trump’s speech before a joint session of Congress on Tuesday was a triumph for the president and his supporters. Not only did Trump effect the manner of a strong and reasonable leader, he also fixed in the minds of the American people, that he is the president of the United States. These are the goals that he hoped to achieve and he achieved them.

He looked and sounded presidential and eschewed the off-the-cuff remarks and other outbursts for which he’s become famous. He was formal, serious and dignified throughout.  Also, he laid out a vision for the country which hews closely to his own uber-nationalistic world view. I don’t support his vision, but I think he promoted it in a way that made the ideas seem less controversial than they really are.

A presidential address is more than the sum of its parts,  more than just ideas and policies. It’s about the man who holds the highest office in the country. How does he conduct himself, how does he express himself, what does he believe? Trump’s presentation helped to answer all of these questions. This was not “campaign Trump” or “showboat Trump” or “celebrity Trump” or the thin-skinned, impulsive silver-spoon billionaire real estate mogul who lashes out at Alec Baldwin, Arnold Schwarzenegger or Rosie O’ Donnell. This was President Trump– reserved, focused and determined. It was an astonishing transformation that no one expected and that left his critics thoroughly gob-smacked.

What the media has failed to grasp about the speech is –not the impact the speech is going to have on liberals on both coasts that have already decided that Trump is a fascist. (The speech will change nothing for these people.) But for the people who occupy that vast 2,000 mile expanse in the center of the country– Red State America– the speech is bound to strengthen their opinion of Trump and convince them that their vote was well spent. It will also further convince them that the media has been unfair towards the president and that his criticism of them as “fake news”  is justified.

This is from an article by CNN:

“President Donald Trump’s first address to Congress received largely positive reviews from viewers, with 57% who tuned in saying they had a very positive reaction to the speech, according to a new CNN/ORC poll of speech-watchers.

Nearly 7-in-10 who watched said the President’s proposed policies would move the country in the right direction and almost two-thirds said the president has the right priorities for the country. Overall, about 7-in-10 said the speech made them feel more optimistic about the direction of the country….

On specific issues, Trump scored the highest marks for his proposed policies on the economy, with 72% saying those went in the right direction. Almost as many, 70%, said the same about his terrorism proposals. Slightly fewer, but still a majority, felt his policies on taxes (64%), immigration (62%) or health care (61%) were heading in the right direction.

Ideologically, about two-thirds saw Trump’s speech as about right, while roughly on-quarter (26%) pegged it as too conservative. Just 8% said it wasn’t conservative enough.”

(“7-in-10 speech-watchers say Trump boosted optimism“, CNN)

The numbers in the CNN report are similar to other surveys taken following the speech. A clear majority of Americans set aside the controversies surrounding Trump’s early days in office, and applauded what they heard on Tuesday. Here’s more from CBS:

“A CBS News/YouGov poll found 82% of respondents said Trump came across as very ‘presidential.’

Of those who watched the speech and responded to the poll, 61%  had a ‘very positive’ response.

The President gained support for his policy plans among viewers: Interviewed before and after the address, they came away from it more positive on his ideas for the economy, immigration, terrorism, crime and Obamacare….

Reacting to the president’s description of the economy as he took office, Republicans and independents think he did inherit a bad economy, while three in four Democrats think the president took over an economy that was already improving.” (“President Trump gets high approval ratings for speech to Congress”, News 3)

The speech is a major setback for the “Not My President” crowd who will have to adapt to the changing political landscape. My own feeling from the beginning has been that liberals must abandon the incendiary rhetoric and attack Trump on the issues alone.  The focus needs to be on organization and policy rather than character assassination.

The Democrats’ response to Trump’s speech was predictably pathetic. Lacking any vision for the future, the Dems used the time to defend their vastly unpopular HMO-welfare program, Obamacare, while reiterating their unverified claims that Trump is in bed with Moscow. The calculatingly “folksy” address was delivered by former Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear who gave a convincing performance from a small-town diner surrounded by a mixed race, mixed gender crowd underscoring the Democrats belief that they don’t need to change their platform, just the optics and the messaging.

Beshear’s boilerplate spiel is just more proof that the Democratic party is no longer a viable political institution. It’s a crumbling anachronism that’s become completely irrelevant.

Trump’s support comes from people in mainly distressed parts of the country where trade agreements have had a negative impact on jobs and where standards of living have steadily eroded during Obama’s term in office. These people are not bigots or xenophobes. They voted for Trump because the Democrats gave them no other choice.  Hillary represented another eight years of excruciating economic stagnation, a process that Obama blandly referred to as a “recovery”.  The American people rejected the status quo and voted for Trump.  Journalist Sam Altman interviewed some of these “ordinary blue collar people” in an article titled “What I Heard from Trump Supporters”. Here are just three of the comments:

Comment 1– “I am tired of feeling silenced and demonized.  We have mostly the same goals, and different opinions about how to get there.  Maybe I’m wrong, maybe you’re wrong.  But enough with calling all of us the devil for wanting to try Trump.  I hate Hillary and think she wants to destroy the country of us but I don’t demonize her supporters.” …

Comment 2– “I’d like to also add that the demonization of Trump by calling him and his supporters: Nazis, KKK, white supremacists, fascists, etc. works very well in entrenching Trump supporters on his side.  These attacks are counter-factual and in my opinion very helpful to Trump.”

Comment 3– “I’ll happily vote for someone else.  There’s a lot I hate about Trump.  But our lives are basically destroyed, and he was the first person to talk about fixing that.”

Trump was not buoyed into the White House on a wave of ignorance and racism. That’s a fallacy. He won the election because he addressed the issues that working people care about, mainly the economy and jobs. Unscrupulous Hillary never did that. She promised more of the same, and she lost.

Tuesday’s speech is going to widen Trump’s base of support and boost his credibility. It’s going to make resistance a helluva lot harder.

Breaking Through Power: It’s Easier Than We Think

Back in Congress following February recess’s raucous town meetings, Republicans are shuddering. Instead of nearly empty auditoriums, where legislators’ staff often outnumber voters in attendance, meetings were packed with citizens determined to block the “take away” agenda of the Trump Republicans.

It takes provocation for people to show up for face-to-face confrontations with their Senators or Representatives. So when out of touch politicians in safe electoral districts are seen attempting to take away people’s health insurance, social security benefits or other protections—watch out! As the New York Times reported: “In the reddest of districts and the smallest of towns, a movement without name has hurtled ahead of expectations.”

Among these smug Republicans, who escaped because they had not scheduled any town meetings, the response is dismissive, alleging the protestors were professional, paid disrupters. This charge only made the people—many of whom were attending their first political town meeting—angrier. In western New York, Susan and Tom Meara, both in their sixties, held a sign up for Republican Congressman Tom Reed to see. It read: “I am not being paid to be here, but you are, Mr. Reed.”

Once again history repeats itself. As I describe in my recent book, Breaking Through Power: It’s Easier Than We Think, it takes one percent or less of the people to be politically conscious and engaged to change conditions or policies, so long as they represent a majority opinion. My estimate is that, apart from the huge demonstrations on January 21, 2017—the day after Donald Trump’s Inauguration—less than 200,000 people, showing up at Congressional town meetings or demonstrations, have changed the political atmosphere among 535 members of your Congress. It just took one week of a few riled up voters expressing the “enough is enough” fury of many more voters who for now are still a part of the “silent majority”.

Listen to the easily re-elected Republican Senator from Iowa, Charles E. Grassley. After one spirited town-hall-style meeting, he said: “There’s more of a consensus among Republicans now that you got to be more cautious what you’re going to do.” You betcha!

Already the braggadocio about repealing Obamacare is turning to worried caution in the GOP, including President breakingpowernaderTrump. Too many people are coming forward as witnesses to being saved by insurance for health care they could not otherwise have received or afforded. With all its limitations, its deductibles, co-pays, exclusions, big corporate premium hikes and the maddening narrow networks, there are still millions of Americans not ready to give it up.

After passing bills to repeal Obamacare over sixty times in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives during President Obama’s two terms in office, here is Republican Congressman Mo Brooks of Alabama telling a local radio station, “I don’t know if we’re going to be able to repeal Obamacare, because these folks who support Obamacare are very active. They’re putting pressure on congressmen…”

Every action prompts a reaction. Members of Congress, who do not like to face real people in real auditoriums, between elections, are responding by refusing to meet with those they represent or insisting on telephone “town meetings”. Well, the response by the voters should be to announce their own town meetings with their own demands and reforms, at a publically convenient location. This can be done formally with a Summons by the people presented directly to their Senators and Representatives to appear, listen and respond to instructions from their sovereign constituents.

A formal Summons is included in my new book, Breaking Through Power. Voters can fill in the blanks with their own deeply-felt issues and keep adding signatures day after day.

Of course, this resurgence is just at the beginning of its realizable impacts. There are two more Congressional recesses – before the full month of August recess. Citizens need to expand and refine what they want from Congress, keep the focus very personally on each Senator or Representative, and strive to build a left/right alliance on as many contemporary redirections as possible. (See my book Unstoppable: The Emerging Left/Right Alliance to Dismantle the Corporate State, that lists 24 areas of convergence.)

To better inform those politicians sent to Washington, citizens should tap the expertise of blue-collar and white-collar professionals alike in their communities. Remember, there is a vast reservoir of “we the people” who could join the efforts to press for a government of, by and for the people.

We are a country that has far more problems than it deserves and far more solutions than it applies. This is due heavily to the control of the many by the few, which creates a democracy gap filled by a plutocracy.

With President Trump displaying a revealing ignorance toward the role of governing, now is the time for the people to stand up and shape the future of their families and communities. We must demonstrate stamina and hold accountable those in power until they faithfully serve the interests of the people, and not a handful of corporate paymasters.

They must tell our lawmakers they are not going away, and that they will keep coming back with more and more of our fellow citizens, ever more informed and determined to achieve the good life with justice, peace, health and opportunities. It’s in our hands.

Behind the Liberal Embrace of Trump

I can’t say I’m surprised by the liberal turn on Trump. I said a couple of weeks ago that Trump and the establishment media were like George and Martha in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” What I meant was that they are a deranged, destructive couple who argue like mad, but ultimately collude to destroy others. So, anger and hate give way to insidious bond and admiration in how they each fulfill their roles in the larger manipulative project.

So, Van Jones is admiring of Trump now really “becoming the President” because of Trump’s emotional manipulation in the person of Carryn Owens. Jones did this because he’s a triangulator himself and because he is very much part of the continuing imperial project.

Some of this rather reminds me of how the media used Jessica Lynch to pretended she was in danger to continue selling the invasion of Iraq at a critical moment in 2003. The actual scandals are pushed aside: The criminal invasion of Iraq then; the US-backed Saudi destruction of Yemen now.

Disinformation and emotional manipulation for the privileged “race” of USians is the order of the day. Feminism and femininity are weaponized as all emotion is focused on one person to the exclusion of the suffering of others. I imagine it’s how The Passion Plays were used to fuel hatred of Jews; it’s how Israel uses the Nazi Holocaust to excuse all its criminality.

The other major such manipulation last night was highlighting African American “victims” of public schools and “illegal immigrants”. This allows Trump to ridiculously pose as an anti-racist xenophobe. As Martin Luther King warned in his final days: “We’re integrating into a burning house.”

Trump’s Military Industrial Complex

“This budget will be a public safety and national security budget.”

-President Donald J. Trump, Feb 27, 2017

Humming along the road of American empire to its state of noisy exception, US President Donald J. Trump has promised more money and fuel for a military industrial complex he considers starved and depleted. (As it is, the entire complex remains unbecomingly bloated and far from accountable.) Before the National Governor’s Association on Monday, he suggested that US military spending increase by some 10 per cent, amounting to some $54 billion.

The themes of the promised budget are old and tried: when in doubt, scare the American people into apoplexy; when feeling that patriotism is waning before sagacious voices, encourage more dramatic assessments of threats. White House press secretary Sean Spicer has suggested that Trump will persuade Congress to focus on the theme of “renewal of the American spirit.”

Much of this reeks of Ronald Reagan administration’s efforts to use money and obesely inflated budgets as a cudgel to advance agendas. The difference then was that the threat seemed, at least superficially, more tangible: the apparent satanic evil of the Soviet imperium, getting away under the protective umbrella of Détente. “We were right,” said an oft misguided Vice President Dan Quayle, “to increase our defence budget.”2

“This budget,” claimed Trump, “follows through on my promise to keep Americans safe. It will include an historic increase in defence spending to rebuild the depleted military of the United States.” Display, power, project, all words deemed necessary in Making America Great Again.

There is, unsurprisingly, nothing refined in this. The object is winning, and engaging in wars that the US can win. In recent times, the US military machine has been specialising in the atrophy of counter-insurgency, open-ended conflicts where exit strategies are rebranded draw-downs, where defeat is simply rebranded as continued engagement of another sort. When a war enterprise has failed, use air strikes and send in advisors. The circle continues being re-invented.

“We have to start winning wars again – when I was young, in high school and college, people used to say we never lost a war,” intoned President. “We need to win or don’t fight it at all. It’s a mess like you have never seen before.”

Few would disagree that the Middle Eastern conflagration, characterised by botched interventions and failed visions, has been a calamity of immeasurable proportion, though this, it would seem, would require a clipping of the US military establishment. Trump, as he only knows how, wants to reward it.

This obsession is going to be funded, at least in part, by cuts to the State Department, possibly by up to 30 per cent (a war on experts, perhaps?) of their budget, and the Environmental Protection Agency, ever the enemy of Trumpland. The pointy-heads, it would seem, are being given the heave-ho in favour of the boys and girls with murderous toys. As are those in favour of the softer side of US brutishness: the humanitarian aid budget.

The central feature of such spending is a darkly humorous fiction: to prevent war, it is best to prepare for it with all the resources you have – and more besides. “We must ensure that our courageous servicemen and women have the tools they need to deter war and when called upon to fight in our name, only do one thing: win.”

The merry schizophrenic show continues to cause despair and consternation in the corridors of power. The true enemy of Trumpism remains collective alliances and arrangements that supposedly weigh down on the muscular assertion of US power. The wise counsel of friends is being mocked in favour of the belligerent counsel of the inner circle. Some European states are making a hurried dash to the party, promising an increased military budget in turn.

While Trump has amused and shocked hawks with suggestions that NATO is obsolete, passing into rickety oblivion, while also insisting that allies need to beef up their part of the security bargain, he is happy to keep the empire on its own track, resolutely distant from the fray. Where this fits in the alliance system is the befuddling feature of the enterprise.

The other aspect of the Trump military increase will also foster another delusion: that government can be “lean and accountable to the people,” while doing “much more with the money we spend” even as it seeks to aggrandise and expand the focus of the US defence complex. Many a pig has attempted to fly on this point, and failed (vide the Cold War).

The times are riddled with perverse reflections. President George W. Bush, a president hardly known for his sophisticated awareness of liberties and the US constitution, has hitched his colours to the mast of press freedom.

Hawks are becoming confusingly dovish – or at the very least hypocritically so. The aggressive shake-up from Trump continues, and will re-enact the follies of old: embracing the values of the military at the expense of the Republic.

The War on Marijuana is Ending. Disarm Jeff Sessions.

Jeff Sessions doesn’t “think America is going to be a better place when more people of all ages and particularly young people start smoking pot.” He’s worried about the possibility of “marijuana being sold at every corner grocery store.” Because, you see, “good people don’t smoke marijuana.”

America disagrees.

A majority of US states (28) have modified their laws to recognize the medical benefits of cannabis over the last two decades. More recently voters in eight of those states, representing 25% of the population of the United States, have chosen to substantially legalize recreational use as well, and a solid majority of voters in the other states support the idea of doing likewise.

The writing is on the wall: The war on marijuana is ending, and freedom won. Sessions can’t undo that any more than the Ku Klux Klan was able to undo Appomattox.

Unfortunately, as the newly confirmed Attorney General of the United States, he does enjoy a great deal of Klan-like power to continue terrorizing the millions victimized by his side during its 80-year war on a benign and useful plant.

It’s time for Congress to take away that power.

In an ideal world, doing so would entail the repeal of all federal narcotics laws and the elimination of the Drug Enforcement Agency and Office of National Drug Control Policy.

Realistically those developments are probably decades away, but there’s a bare minimum baseline of acceptable congressional response to the will of the people and the prerogatives of the states:

First, Congress must remove marijuana from the DEA’s “scheduling” of drugs under the Controlled Substance Act.

Secondly, Congress must use its power of the purse to de-fund, prohibit, and if necessary punish, any future DEA/ONDCP enforcement or propaganda activity relating to marijuana.

And there’s no time like the president: The new president claimed on the campaign trail to respect the states’ decisions on the matter, and he’s also calling for cuts of “waste, fraud and abuse” from federal discretionary spending. The war on marijuana clearly answers to all three descriptions.

Four US Representatives — Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), Don Young (R-AK), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Jared Polis (D-CO) launched a “Cannabis Caucus” in mid-February to begin the urgent task of winding down the failed federal war on marijuana. That’s four out of 435. If your alleged representative hasn’t joined the caucus yet, maybe you should call his or her district office and ask why.

The Reality Show Comes to Congress

Let us tear through these Trumpland evocations, the business pitches of this show and publicity act that was the first address by the President to a joint sitting of the US Congress. There were the common themes; there were the contradictory messages; and there was plain, traditional nonsense.  In the undergrowth were olive branches being offered (“The time for trivial fights is behind us”), platitudes, and a few incontestable points.

While he swayed between themes like a confused, erratic metronome, a few could be gathered from Donald J. Trump’s speech.  For one, he kept insisting that he was placing the US people at the centre of his policies, the idea “that America must put its own citizens first, because only then can we truly make America great again.”

There were the populist markers and scratchings.  He was intent, for instance, on draining “the swamp of government corruption by imposing a 5-year ban on lobbying by executive branch officials and a lifetime ban on becoming lobbyists for a foreign government.”  (What of friendlies?)  This aspiration has been neutered somewhat by his own assumption of power in the White House, but his base hardly cared.

Juicier than ever, immigration was repeatedly harked upon.  Pleas “for immigration enforcement,” he claimed, had been heard.  (So loudly, in fact, that traditional, nondescript Anglos like the Australian children’s writer Mem Fox are being bailed up in sobbing horror at US airports.)

Dovetailing themes such as immigration and border enforcement, Trump sounded much like a recent line of Australian politicians who see both as problematic twins.  On the one hand, as far as immigrants were concerned, he was happy to consider legalisation of undocumented labourers within the US through Congressional fiat.

On the other, bans and restrictions were necessary.  “According to data provided by the Department of Justice, the vast majority of individuals convicted of terrorism and terrorism-related offences since 9/11 came here from outside our country.”

This, however, was quickly subsumed over more vigorous assertions about machismo.  “We cannot allow a beachhead of terrorism to form inside of America” is compacted in the same mix as the immigration points system used by other states.

“Nations around the world like Canada, Australia and many others have merit based immigration systems.” Switching to such a system would have “benefits”, reaping a bountiful reward.  “We must restore integrity and the rule of law at our borders.  For that reason, we will soon begin the construction of a great, great wall along our southern border.”

Indeed, the world of fighting immigrants is shady and dangerous, entailing violence, the incursion of crime, the unruliness of the uncontrollable from the terrible outside.  “I have ordered the Department of Homeland Security to create an office to serve victims.”

Heavy with political symbolism, it will be termed VOICE – victims of immigration crime engagement.  “We are providing a voice to those who have been ignored by our media, and silenced by special interests.”  Populist fever will also be fanned by regular publications by Immigration and Customs Enforcement on what crimes “aliens” inflict on noble America.

As per the usual Trump mode of delivery, a few points of sensibility creep through.  The US, having expended 6 trillion in the Middle East, did so “while our infrastructure crumbles.”  As well as it is: the great curse of an empire in decline lies in enervating foreign engagements, the lure of power, and an escape from local problems.

But Trump remains an erratic businessman in continuity, his nose sniffing for the deal. Having previously rubbished the F-35 fighter, he gave himself a generous slap on the back for “bringing down the price of fantastic – and it is a fantastic – new, F-35 jet fighter”.  A promised increase in defence spending, and greater profits for the Pentagon, is hardly a promise for sound civilian infrastructure and fewer potholes.

Health care was always going to figure.  Repeal Obamacare, he promises, with “better health care”, a sloganeering, pro-market effort that suggests alternative simplicity to Obama complexity.  Stand and clap, Republicans, for here, the Social Darwinian can stand tall in his sinecure even as the weak perish.

On that point, a stomach turning event ensued, with Trump referring to Pompe sufferer Megan Crowley, a true token of convenient celebration on this “Rare Disease Day”. For, in the president’s words, “True love for our people requires us to find common ground, to advance common good, and to cooperate on behalf of every American child who deserves a brighter future.”

Then came the whizzing sidewinders and calls for ambush for his opponents.  “I am calling upon members of both parties to pass an educational bill that funds school choice for disadvantaged youth, including millions of Africa-American and Latino children.”

This is a worn but tried method: no one, and surely not the Democrats, could disagree with such a policy?  Ditto the remark that, “Every American child should be able to grow in a safe community, to attend a great school, and to have access to a high-paying job.”

In substance, such a stance entails exploiting the vulnerable, but claiming to target conditions that produce vulnerability; embracing the market in its rapacious spirit while still believing in a community soul that shelters you from its effects.

Some sitting members looked terrified, a set of scrunched faces potted by pain, rueful disdain, and fear for the future.  Democrats sat with bottoms super glued to the seats in initial disbelief and reproach; Republicans roared and cheered on the acid rush, the Trump wave filling their veins.

This was an America disunited, one cannibalising itself in full view.  This was reality television made flesh, the grandest show, Congress turned into more than a mere Will Rogers comedy set.  It was a show topped by the grieving widow Carryn Owens, wife of Chief Petty Officer William (Ryan) Owens, a Navy SEAL who fell in Trump’s authorised raid in Yemen.  “Ryan died as he lived, a warrior and a hero, battling against terrorism and securing our nation.”  Mythology, and the Military Industrial Complex, as one; illusions, united.

Trump’s Speech to Congress

After struggling mightily with whether or not to tune in, I was able to overcome my fears and convince myself to sit down in the privacy of my den and watch President Trump present his first address to the U.S. Congress.  What fears?  Well, maybe not quite the same fears that motivated early Christians to outlaw dancing as the “work of the Devil,” but in that general ballpark.

As it turned out, my trepidation was unfounded.  Trump’s “Devil Dance” was both spectacularly tame and, simultaneously, spectacularly ambitious (but not in a good way). Even acknowledging that presidents are allowed to inspirationally bullshit us during their inaugural addresses and speeches to a joint Congress, Trump clearly abused that privilege.  Basically, the man went off the deep end and promised us Utopia.

Unless I missed something, Trump not only pledged to cut taxes on everybody and everything—corporations, the rich, the superrich, the middle-class, the poor—he vowed to get rid of those pesky regulations that hamper businesses.  Accordingly, the following morning’s stock market was up a couple hundred points.

And despite what has to be a staggering loss of tax revenue, President Trump also promised to launch a massive government-sponsored program to repair our infrastructure (our roads, bridges, dams, aqueducts, hydro-electric plants, nuclear reactors, airports, seaports, all of it).

He even went so far as to assure us that “all of the problems” that plague us can be solved.  He actually said that.  All of our problems.  In short, he promised that everything wrong with this country can be fixed.

Presumably, this included drug addiction, inadequate health care, crime, spousal abuse, homelessness, malnutrition, substandard education, low-paying jobs, and the shabby treatment of veterans.  He did fail to mention the rising cost of cable TV, but let’s assume he meant that as well.

Earlier in the week, to placate the saber-rattlers and flag-wavers, he had announced that he wanted to increase the military budget by some $34 billion.   Of course, for all this money Trump is talking about spending–money we clearly don’t have—Congress (even a docile, Republican-dominated Congress) is going to have to approve it, and that may not be easy.

Let’s not forget that there is no shortage of “deficit hawks” in Congress—Republicans mainly, but Democrats also—who can’t bear to see the government continue to accrue debt.  These are people who are already pissed off at the amount of money being wastefully spent on office supplies.  As appropriate as it would be, does anyone honestly expect them to approve of a massive, New Deal-style infrastructure program?

The simple truth is that you can’t have both.  You can’t have national health care and a massive infrastructure rebuild, and at the same time be increasing an already bloated defense budget.  And you can’t do it by pretending that corporations and wealthy people shouldn’t have to pay their fair share of taxes.  But putting all that aside, it was a stunningly “optimistic” speech, one for the ages.  Alas, it meant absolutely nothing.