Why Did Trump Target Transgender Youth?

On February 22rd, Pres. Donald Trump signed an executive order reversing Pres. Barack Obama’s earlier order protecting transgender youths under Title IX from so-called “bathroom” bills may be the most odious.  In short order, the Supreme Court ordered a pending case involving Gavin Grimm, a self-identified male student prohibited from using the boys’ bathrooms at his Gloucester Country, VA, high school, returned the local federal court.  Sadly, the outcome of looks bleak given Trump’s nomination of a strict conservative to the Court and his February 22rd executive order.

As of January 2017, the National Conference of State Legislatures reports that 14 states were considering bills to restrict access to multiuser restrooms, locker rooms and other sex-segregated facilities.  Bills introduced in these states — Alabama, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Minnesota, Missouri, New York, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Washington and Wyoming – seek to restrict bathroom access based on one’s gender assigned at birth or “biological sex”; similar bills were defeated in South Dakota and Virginia.

The troubling unasked – and unanswered — question in why Trump targeted transgender youth?

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Two knowledgeable specialists suggest very different — but complementary –answers to the question.

Jack Drescher, MD, is a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst in private practice as well as a clinical professor of psychiatry & behavioral sciences at New York Medical College and adjunct professor at New York University’s postdoctoral program in psychotherapy and psychoanalysis.  “The religious social conservatives having lost the gay marriage war,” he points out, “and have started to take it out on the transgender community, especially trans kids and bathroom bills.”  He notes that gay rights evolved slowly with time and now more and more heterosexuals accept gay people because they know gay people, whether family member, neighbors or coworkers.  “Awareness has led to acceptance and tolerance.”

The transgender population in the U.S. is but a tiny segment of the American public.  UCLA’s Williams Institute estimates that less than 1 percent (0.6% or about 1.5 million) of U.S. adults identify as transgender and only an estimated 350,000 youths aged 13 to 17 identify as transgender.  So, why has Trump singled-out transsexual young people as a target in his political agenda?

Howard Lavine, PhD, is professor of political science and psychology at the University of Minnesota, director of the Center for the Study of Political Psychology and editor-in-chief of the journal, Advances in Political Psychology.  He offers a more sanguine assessment.  “Trump is targeted low hanging fruit,” he says.  “I’m sure that Vice President Mike Pense, an anti-gay hardliner, probably told him he had to do it.  And he did it to appease hardliners in the party – and it was an easy way to gain support among Republicans.  I don’t think there’s anything psychological about his action.”

The modern culture wars were launched in 1972 by Phyllis Schafly, a lawyer and conservative activist, when she led a successful campaign to block the adoption of the proposed Equal Rights Amendment (ERA).  She and other Christian conservatives were infuriated by ‘60s political and cultural radicalism, of calls for Black Power, mounting anti-Vietnam War protests, a nascent feminist movement and a counterculture celebrating sex, drugs and rock-&-roll.

In 1973, Schafly and others, including many fundamentalist Protestants and the Roman Catholic Church, were infuriated when an all-male Supreme Court ruled in Roe v. Wade that a Texas woman had the right to an abortion.  They were further incensed when, that same year, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) reclassified homosexuality, dropping it as a mental disorder from the revised Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Psychiatric Disorders (DSM-3).

Drescher, who edited the Journal of Gay and Lesbian Mental Health and has edited and co-edited more than a score of books dealing with gender, sexuality and the health and mental health of LGBT communities, served on the APA’s DSM-5 Workgroup on Sexual and Gender Identity Disorders.  He explains that the term “transgender,” like “gay,” is a non-scientific concept but “a term used by a community of individuals whose gender expression may not match their birth sex to define itself.“  He adds, “no one know why people are trans, let alone why people are gay.”  The revised, DSM-5, published in 2013, includes a diagnosis of “gender dysphoria” which has been applied to some, but not all, transgender people who are very uncomfortable with the bodies they were born with.

The religious right’s war against homosexuals and, by extension, transsexual youth, runs deep – back to the Puritans and the nation’s founding.  More recently, in 2001, James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, claimed that the growing gay-rights movement was targeting schools.  Two years later, Louis Sheldon, head of the Traditional Values Coalition, argued that “homosexual militants are pushing for aggressive recruitment programs in public schools.”  This attitude seems to have contributed to a rise in bullying within American schools over the last two decades; it declined during Obama’s presidency.

Bullying has long been an endemic feature of the lives of school-age children. Sadly, the targeting of young people who do not adhere to strict conventions of gender identity often has terrible consequences.  Drescher links the current campaign against transgender youth to the bullying of gay kids in schools.  In a 2010 New York Times Letter-to-the-Editor, he wrote: “Avoiding discussions of homosexuality and gay families serves its own political agenda: maintaining an intolerant status quo where bullying can flourish and schools become unsafe for gay youth to come out.”

In 2008, the Suicide Prevention Resource Center reported that lesbian, gay and bisexual youth were “nearly one and a half to three times more likely to have reported suicidal ideation” and “nearly one and a half to seven times more likely than non-LGB youth to have reported attempting suicide.”  The following year, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network’s National School Climate Survey found over four-in-five (nearly 85%) of LGBT students reported harassment because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, and nearly one-in-five (20%) reported “being physically assaulted at school in the past year because of their sexual orientation.”

The issue of transgender youth came to a head in 2013 when the Colorado Civil Rights Division ruled that Cory Mathis, a 6-year-old transgender student, could use the girls’ bathroom at her elementary school.  The decision precipitated a panic among conservative religious politicians in states across the country.

In 2014, the Southern Baptist Convention — the largest Protestant group in the U.S. with 16 million members — approved a resolution, “On Transgender Identity,” claiming that “gender identity is determined by biological sex and not by one’s self-perception.”  It also dismissed transgender and intersex people as, respectively, “psychological” and “biological” manifestations of “human fallenness.”  It opposed all efforts at physical gender transition and rejected any governmental or cultural validations of transgender identities.

The following year, the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC), an organization representing conservative Christian counselors, hosted what it claimed was the “first-ever” evangelical conference on “transgenderism” in Louisville, KY; the event was co-sponsored the Council on Biblical Manhood & Womanhood.  One session was called, “Transgender Confusion and Transformational Christianity.”

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So, why did Trump target transsexual young people?

University of Minnesota’s political psychologist Howard Lavine argues that the answer is simple.  “It’s nothing but politics,” he says.  “It was very easy for Trump to do it.  He signs an order and it was done.”  Going further, he points out: “Any Republican president would have overturned [Obama’s] executive order.  There is no skin off his back.  It’s a clear win.”  Chuckling, he poses a more pointed question: “I would be shocked if he didn’t do it – and that would have been a real story.”  He adds, “It’s a clear win for him, politically.  He doesn’t lose anything by doing it.  He isn’t spending much political capital.”

“Remember, during the campaign homosexuality and transsexuals was not a major issue for him,” Lavine reflects.  “Trump seemed to care more about immigration and terrorism than this issue.”  He adds, “Trump said that Caitlyn Jenner could use any bathroom at Trump Tower.”  In reaction to Trump’s order, Jenner challenged the president in a video posted on Twitter:  “I have a message for the trans kids of America: You’re winning. I know it doesn’t feel like it today or every day, but you’re winning.”  Lavine laments, “This is a disaster, and you [Trump] can still fix it … protect the LGBTQ community.”

 

As a political scientist concerned with the issue of political power, Lavine said that Trump’s action was not an issue of the weak vs. strong, but how a group works as part of a political alignment.  “It’s a lot easier to pick on poor,” he notes.  “The poor are less active, don’t contribute money, not well represented when their interests collide with those with power.”

The New York Medical College psychiatrist, Jack Drescher, believes that Trump’s executive order “was a bad policy decision.”  He is concerned “how it might adversely affect the well-being and mental health of transgender kids.”  “Trans presentation is much rarer than gay presentation,” he points out.  “Most Americans have never met a trans person – or if they have, they likely don’t know it.  Most people’s images of a transgender person come from TV & movies or personal fantasies which makes people anxious, if not frightened, about trans people.”

Drescher opined, “I think everyone, regardless of political affiliation, should be concerned when those with the most power target the most vulnerable populations.”  Because there are fewer transgender people out in society, they are less known.  He notes, with a sense of irony, that for most Americans fear of transgender means fear of a man in women’s clothing entering a women’s bathroom.  “If bathroom bills were to be enforced, a common consternation will be trans be men with beards using the women’s bathroom and the trans women in the men’s room,” he jests.

There is yet another possible answer to the troubling question as to why Trump targeted trans youth and other marginal groups.  There’s a growing perception that Pres. Donald Trump is mentally “sick.”  Public figures have begun to question Trump’s sanity, including Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA) and Richard Friedman, MD, professor of clinical psychiatry and the director of the psychopharmacology clinic, Weill Cornell Medical College.  Paul Krugman went so far to declare, “An American first: a president who was obviously mentally ill the moment he took office.”  A Change.org petition claiming that Trump has “a serious mental illness” was endorsed by 20,000 people.

The most critical diagnostic assessment of Trump’s apparent psychological state was presented shortly after his 2016 electoral victory.  Three highly-respected academic psychiatrists — Judith Herman, MD, Harvard Medical School; Nanette Gartrell, MD, University of California, San Francisco (1988-2011); and Dee Mosbacher, MD, PhD, University of California, San Francisco (2005-2013) – published an open letter to Pres. Barack Obama in the Huffington Post.  They present, in scrupulous detail, a clinical, psychiatric evaluation of the president-elect, arguing that, in term of APA’s DSM-5, Trump suffers from a Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

Their diagnosis, along with those offered by others clinical professionals, may violate what is known as the APA’s Goldwater Rule.  The rule is part of the organization’s code of ethics and named after former Sen. (and presidential candidate) Barry Goldwater and in an uninformed and highly-critical diagnosis made of the candidate by a psychiatrist.  The rule states it is unethical for psychiatrists to give a professional opinion about a public figure they have not examined in person, and obtained consent from, to discuss their mental health.  In any case, one can only speculate as to Trump’s apparent mental health and the role it played – if any — in his targeting of trans kids.

From the perspective of many ordinary citizens, there seems to be something wrong, “sick” (in a non-clinical sense), about Trump, his closest associates and his misbegotten Cabinet.  Collectively, they seem irrationally mean-spirited, if not immoral or simply evil.  They all seem out for themselves, whether it’s in terms of furthering the business interests of the 1 percent or imposing their moral beliefs on all Americans.  Trump’s order revoking bathroom protections for transgender youths in public schools is among the most punitive of his still-early presidency.  One can expect it to only get worse.

Outrage From the Imperial Playbook

The disparity in coverage of violent outrages depending on who the victims are is one thing that never ever changes about the news media. Drone strikes are up 432% under Trump; his first military action, a special forces raid in Yemen, resulted in the deaths of 30 people including women and children in the vicinity in addition to the 15 Islamist militants and a US navy seal. Maybe he should have examined the intelligence reports. US-sponsored aerial bombing by Saudis has killed thousands of Yemenis over the last few years.

There are of course no sprawling headlines for them, for Yemenis are poor and brown, and are therefore expendable unpeople. This is not so much the case in the first World, where violent outrages meet with a chorus of righteous outrage from officialdom and the media — all of whom are complicit in the culture of terrorism that makes it possible to write off the deaths of thousands of people as collateral damage in the war for civilization.

It is well known to criminologists that lone wolf attacks are the most common form of violent outrage, and the hardest to combat. There are no communications between conspirators to be intercepted and no groups to be infiltrated. Lone wolf attacks are particularly disastrous given the fact that, in addition to the destruction of life they produce, they expose the shortcomings of deterrence policing — as do, ironically enough, coordinated acts of terrorism.

Definitions of terrorism are notoriously hard to pin down. Attorneys working for the US government tried to formulate a suitable working definition at one stage, and had to give up because, no matter which way they framed them, every definition they came up with applied to policies and actions of the US government. Perhaps this explains why the working definition of terrorism these days is ‘refuses to allow their country to be used as a colony for US corporations.’ Or perhaps this is the working definition of communist. They are much the same in practice; ask a Latin American. Ask one of those dead Yemenis.

In the case of the London attack, officialdom and the media decide the act is one of terrorism despite no apparent indication at all as to why it happened. Some speculate that it’s because 22 March is the first anniversary of the Brussels bombings. Perhaps it would have been a coordinated attack in that case. It’s also the anniversary of the Enabling Acts, Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative, the release of Ricky Martin’s Livin’ La Vida Loca (which went on to sell 8 million copies), and the awarding of a Golden Raspberry to ‘Freddy Got Fingered.’ Maybe the attacker felt Tom Green deserved more respect. How do you know otherwise without evidence?

Furthermore, the perpetrator managed not to die until he was shot by police. Towards the end of January, a deranged driver in Melbourne drove through the Bourke St Mall in the central business district, killing 4 and injuring scores. In that instance, the driver was Greek, and was neither shot dead even after killing and injuring a comparable number of people, not was the outrage adjudged a terrorist attack. In this instance, we still don’t even know the name of the suspect, but we are asked to believe he was ‘inspired by international terrorism’ (Business Insider).

Which international terrorism would that be then, theirs or ours? Many are inspired by our terrorism after all and we have exactly zero problem with that. We disavow the United Nations and international law to the point that most people no longer even bother to wonder if we shouldn’t defer to them in conducting relations between states, we construct a culture of lawlessness and terrorism based on victim blaming, playing of the victim and refusing to differentiate between being criticized and being attacked, and then act surprised when people adopt exactly the same principle we make the rule instead of law against us. The cognitive dissonance is unmistakable — much less to say the hypocrisy.

But then never let facts get in the way of a good story I always say. Cue the standard clichés about protecting our way of life and how we will not be cowed, make some defiant poses to the echo chamber that cost us nothing while we keep the terror alert at severe despite not having any information whatsoever so suggest that an attack is immanent. It does serve as a great way to keep people scared and to remind everyone — those who are alienated and thinking of doing something stupid to get their own back on this majestic neoliberal paradise that has left the vast majority of the world’s population behind — that we are a society that uses violence to solve our problems.

We are also one that shamelessly exploits tragedy each time to perpetuate the vicious cycle of blame and retribution endlessly as excuses to big note ourselves, ensuring a fresh batch of victims at some point in the future to be used by opportunists amongst the political class as excuses to grandstand, play the victim and reassert the legitimacy of a corporatist status quo from which they and the interests they represent benefit most, nay at all. Reading like a champion from the script in this sense, London Mayor Sadiq Khan insists that;

You will see Londoners returning to work whether it’s in Parliament, whether it’s in City Hall, whether it’s in hospitals or businesses across London, because that’s who we are. We are not going to allow these terrorists to cow us, we’re not going to allow them to change our way of life.

All the standard clichés narrowed down to two sentences; such is worthy of a gold medal at the Propaganda Olympics. For others of a more pompous and grandiose bent it often takes more; either way they’re still so very, very tired. ‘Our way of life’ always refers to those who benefit most from the counterterrorist narrative — that being the one that associates challenges to the right of global corporations to use second and third world countries as colonies for exploitation as they see fit with threats to freedom, as noted. So of course Londoners are those who work in Parliament, or City Hall, or businesses, they being the ones who benefit most from corporate globalism.

Londoners who work casually or part-time, on the other hand, maybe not so much. Londoners who are out of work, remember them? They don’t fit the standard narrative about our way of life, hence unpeople — paradoxically enough much like the forgotten victims of our terrorism which is also conveniently swept under the rug much like the many and increasingly terminal shortcomings of an increasingly dysfunctional political system which in the US has of late produced a true monstrosity. But such is the will to carry on with the standard counterterrorism narrative that the politicians who wax lyrical about our majestic virtues need reminding of Donald Trump.

I would just like to say I for for one can’t wait for the Internet Troll President to start sounding off about the glories of electoral democracy and western civilization.

An extra special effort in articulating completely predictable but false outrage (since it never inspires anyon who espouses it to address the root causes, cf. Chomsky’s comment about the best way to prevent terrorism being to stop participating in it) came from Australian PM and corporate sock puppet Malcolm Turnbull who announced that, ‘This is an assault on every democracy, every parliament, every free nation.’

In what pass for representative democracy in the west, the assaults on democracy are coming from a far different source — that source being neoliberalism — and have done so unrelentingly for some decades now. But again, never let the facts get in the way of a good story. The increasingly threadbare character of the counterterrorism narrative is absolutely no reason to stop using it as long as there are rubes willing to believe that their interests and those of the transnational oligarchy are one and the same. Of even more interest in Turnbull’s case is that what appears as a statement of solidarity is in fact a subtle form of convergence, part of what renowned sociologist Stuart Hall described as part of a ‘signification spiral’ of strategies designed to shift blame though the production of deviance and the construction of moral panics, ie.

a) The intensification of a particular issue;
b) The identification of a subversive minority’;
c) ‘Convergence’ or the linking by labeling of the specific issue to other problems;
d) The notion of ‘thresholds’ which, once crossed, can lead to further escalation of the problem’s ‘menace’ to society;
e) The element of explaining and prophesying, which often involves making analogous references to the United States – the paradigm example;
f) The call for firm steps (Hall et al; Policing the Crisis, 220).

There is nothing more paradigmic where counterterrorist narratives are concerned than the United States, though the idea that freedom and human rights there is under greater threat from anyone other than the Trump administration and the Deep State might perhaps serve to explain why President Anyone For Golf has to the time of writing been restrained from indulging his characteristic grandiosity. Even his handlers can see that Trump spouting that shit about the majestic values of democracy would have people rolling in the aisles.

The political class and the corporate media don’t hate terrorism, they love it. If the facts were otherwise, they would not turn themselves into the world’s biggest free public relations mouthpiece for terrorism there is. They love terrorism so much they need to make terrorism out of things that aren’t terrorism, and people who aren’t terrorists. Just ask the Newburgh Four. When someone decides that they want to take their problems out on other people and don’t feel like being classed as a common criminal, they can claim affiliation to Islamic State in the aftermath to pretend that their pure and simple lashing out was an expression of anything other than their incapacity for self-restraint, or to deal with their own problems constructively and without engaging in criminal violence. In this respect, the use of counterterrorism narratives to rationalize things like keeping terror alerts high in the face of zero evidence to actually justify doing so only serves to enable this kind of behavior.

It is no secret why the powers that be should be so attached to them. The refusal to make any distinction between the interests of the world as a whole and American interests — much less to say the class privilege of wealthy elites (‘American interests’ in counterterrorism narratives) and the common interests of everyone — has been and remains the tool that the political class in the west and the corporate interests they serve have used to rationalize invading other countries to steal their resources and prop up the value of the dollar and dismantle civil liberties at home in the name of national security. If we ever stopped for a moment to ask ourselves why we don’t reflect on our own shortcomings and why we can’t brook criticism, then we would know why terrorist atrocities and violent incidents never stop happening. But then there would be no culture of counterterrorism, or more honestly just terrorism, to use as an excuse to avoid ourselves.

Bernie Sanders’ Economic Advisor Shreds Trumponomics

Though Barack Obama presided over a recovery from the 2008 economic recession, the economic benefits disproportionately went to the wealthiest top 10 percent of Americans. Though Democrats point to the job creation and low unemployment rate Obama passed onto Trump as an indication that Obama’s economic policies, the status quo, needed no revisions, that “America is already great,” in reality the benefits of this economy and the experiences under it weren’t felt by large demographics of Americans in the working, middle and low income classes. These persistent economic anxieties, coupled with an anti-political climate incited by the establishment corrupting American politics through massive corporate lobbying and campaign donations, enabled the rise of Donald Trump.

All early signs of Trump’s Administration have made it clear, through filling his cabinet with billionaires and Wall Street bankers, that he has no intention to representing or improving the lives of working, middle class, or low income Americans. Promises to “drain the swamp” have been broken with filling of the swamp with even more wealthy and establishment elites. Even without enacting any policy or legislation to help those in economic need, the continued economic recovery may help Trump feign the appearance of helping these demographics, but as Bernie Sanders Former Chief Economic Advisor Stephanie Kelton, a Professor of Economics at University of Missouri-Kansas City, notes in a recent paper, there may be no more room for economic recovery given the economy has reached its true employment potential, or as Kelton puts it, ” output is near its full employment ceiling not because the economy rose to its potential but because we lowered the definition of what we believe our nation’s productive capacity to be. It’s a bit like giving up on the idea that your child is capable of achieving straight As, relaxing the goal to a 2.0 GPA, and then celebrating when he presents you with across-the-board Cs.”

Kelton compared the current output gap with the 2007 estimate of potential GDP, which indicates based on previous definitions of America’s productive capacity that the current GDP gap would be close to 14 percent and not closer to zero. She cites several economist who have noted that the U.S. labor market is still far from full employment, though its unclear if Trumponomics will squeeze out more growth from the economy because, “less than three months into the Trump presidency, there is no formal budget and no precise blueprint that describes the full range of policies and programs that the administration intends to pursue.” Despite this, an economic agenda is beginning to take shape, one that is likely to center around massive spending cuts to compensate for increases in defense spending.

Like Reagan, massive spending cuts and an economic agenda predicated on increasing the wealth and income of the top 1 percent resulted in economic growth, and helped Reagan get re-elected in a landslide. Trump’s Administration is shaping to be similar in its pro-business model that will provide gains to wealthy who have aligned with the Trump Administration and filled his cabinet. Already Trump has promised massive tax cuts for the rich, and the Obamacare repeal effort will provide even more tax cuts to the wealthy. Kelton added, “taken together, Trumponomics includes a hefty serving of Reagan-inspired trickledown economics along with a side of protectionism, a dash of military Keynesianism and a social agenda that is anti-worker and anti-immigrant.”

Trump’s promises to “Make America Great Again” come up far short in every simulation conducted by Goldman Sachs and Moody’s, Though an economic doomsday scenario may not result immediately from Trumponomics, with some initial growth possible, Trump’s economic policies will be a disaster for the sick, working, middle class, and low income Americans.

Volunteerism; Charisma; the Ivy League Stranglehold: a Very Brief Trilogy

“Where does volunteering stop and exploitation begin?”

—Martin Bright, The Spectator

Giving of one’s time and money is admirable, and the righteousness of organizations asking for volunteers or donations is not being questioned. But a problem, conceivably, is a government restricting funding where it has a moral obligation to fully subsidize, while appealing to citizen generosity. Citizens are encouraged to contribute to the Wounded Warrior Project , a nonprofit that employs poignant TV ads soliciting money to support, “honor and empower” wounded veterans and their families. A similar organization, Operation Homefront , supports military families in many ways including food assistance and “relief during a crisis”.

Veterans and their families should never have to worry about survival issues. But to the extent that citizens can be induced to take on what is a governmental responsibility by committing money and volunteering for fundraisers, the government (criticized for its level of disregard of veterans) can redirect resources.

Why should a citizen who campaigned against wars based on lies, and who understands General Wesley Clark’s revelation of U.S. plans to invade seven countries in five years, feel motivated to volunteer anything, particularly when the country is becoming ever more a vast military machine? In the long-range interest of there being fewer injured vets, might it make more sense to support anti-war groups such as Veterans for Peace or Code Pink?

Can appealing for volunteers or donations actually manipulate the unwary? Consider that the Cato Institute, a force for the privatization of everything, published in 1981 a strategy to privatize public parks by means of “… reform through volunteerism and privatization of services to the outright abolition of public ownership…” That concept can be applied throughout society.

AARP (no longer the American Association of Retired Persons, although it uses the initials) has been called by former U.S. Senator Alan Simpson “the biggest marketing operation in America and money-maker” and “the greatest abuse of American generosity I witnessed in my time in the U.S. Senate.” If you go to the AARP Foundation’s web page and click on “DONATE” and “VOLUNTEER”, reasons given for their need for cash and time are “to help struggling seniors to meet their basic needs ….. as they face issues with hunger, housing, income, and isolation.” Simultaneously, forces within Congress working to reduce Social Security benefits, or simply to privatize the system, continue to grow.

I have unanswered questions. I’m taxed to kingdom come while urged to volunteer and to pony up for services that are the province of government ….. while gouged for insurance industry-driven health care that is an insult to decency; even as Congress seeks to demolish Social Security (while Government lies about inflation rates); even as every aspect of life is suffocated so that ever more can be crammed into the maw of the military-industrial-congressional-intelligence security state already consuming more than half of America’s “discretionary” spending.

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“The election of Obama was one more triumph of illusion over substance … We mistook style and ethnicity … for progressive politics and genuine change.”

Chris Hedges, Death of the Liberal Class

The great lesson of the Obama experience may be its illustration of the degree to which a charismatic politician (advanced by an accommodating media) can get a nation — nay, a world —  to shelve its critical faculties. Right out of the gate, Obama appointed as attorney general Eric Holder from a law firm focused on protecting Wall Street, thus notifying bankers central to the financial crash of 2008 that they might continue as before. His legislation to establish an “anti-propaganda center” alarmed First Amendment defenders, as his retaliatory applications of the Espionage Act, aimed at whistleblowers exposing governmental crimes, was used more often than by all previous presidents combined.

Obama’s support of apartheid Israel  was capped by an astounding $38,000,000,000 gift, on top of everything else we give Israel (Note: Israelis enjoy full socialized health coverage). By any humane standard he is a war criminal. And yet, the bulk of the nation misses him. Trump would never get away doing much of what Obama did without fall_out. Trump airs plans to deport undocumented aliens, and streets fill with demonstrators. Obama deported two and a half million people, it all got reported, and the public appeared to have blinders. How come? What’s the difference?

It’s the magic of charisma. Obama’s youthful good looks, million-dollar smile and exceptional verbal ability, gifts and aptitudes of which he was very aware, he applied with skill. Consider this: If you had to debate Obama and had seen his rendition of Amazing Grace — the studied mien, the extended silent moment, and then, head bowed, the slow, warm introduction  — you’d realize your debate against such a master would be the rhetorical equivalent of your getting into the ring with Mike Tyson.

Bill Clinton had charisma too. He signed the Telecommunications Act,  NAFTA , 1994 Crime Bill, and he presided over the repeal of Glass-Steagall and sanctions that caused the deaths of thousands of Iraqi children, but he’s now regarded as an experienced elder statesman. Compare that with decidedly uncharismatic Richard Nixon who signed into law the Clean Air, Clean Water and Endangered Species Acts. How much of our opinions, political or otherwise, are based on emotional reactions to captivating — or unpleasing — personalities?

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“The willingness to go along to get along is as American as the Salem witch trials and apple pie.”

—Lewis Lapham, Gag Rule

Between 1989 and 2016, all four presidents had been students at either Harvard or Yale in some capacity (undergraduate, graduate, law). Economist Lawrence Summers, who advised President Clinton to deregulate Wall Street, was student, then professor, then president at Harvard. Harvard law professors Cass Sunstein and Adrian Vermeule argued for “cognitive infiltration” by undercover governmental agents to influence the thinking of citizen groups. Samantha Power, Sunstein’s wife and U.S. Ambassador to the UN, attended both Harvard and Yale. Every sitting member of the Supreme Court has had education at either Harvard or Yale, as did the late Antonin Scalia (Harvard). Many have have also attended Princeton or Columbia, both Ivy Leagues, or Oxford.

Good Lord!, it’s everywhere you look in the most important sectors of society. Government and the judiciary are jam-packed with a tiny subset that connects to a few socially prestigious “Ivy League” universities, notably Harvard and Yale. Likewise the media. Just consider the nation’s two foremost newspapers, the New York Times and the Washington Post. Herewith, ten (there could be more) individuals from each of those two papers, selected from editorial and columnist rosters:

New York Times

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Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, Jr. … Harvard

Paul Krugman … Yale

Nicholas Kristof … Harvard, Oxford

Ross Douthat …. Harvard

Roger Cohen … Oxford

Joseph Kahn … Harvard

Susan Chira … Harvard

Mark Thompson … Oxford

William Bardeen … Harvard

Kenneth Richieri … Yale

Washington Post

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E.J. Dionne … Harvard

David Ignatius … Harvard

Charles Krauthammer … Harvard, Oxford

Ruth Marcus … Yale, Harvard

Ruben Navarrette, Jr. …. Harvard

Eugene Robinson … Harvard

Robert J. Samuelson … Harvard

Fareed Zakaria … Yale, Harvard

Fred Hiatt …. Harvard

Dana Milbank….Yale

So what? you say. Well, there’s a certain way of thinking that pervades those Ivy League campuses of the northeast quadrant, and a former Yale professor, William Deresiewicz, in articles in The American Scholar and the New Republic, and in his book “Excellent Sheep”, critiques the Ivy League and its students so as to expose warts. Because Ivy League offspring enjoy such a level of control within society, it behooves one to consider their approach to life. Here are a few pertinent snippets from Deresiewicz’s pen:

“This system is exacerbating inequality, retarding social mobility, perpetrating privilege, and creating an elite that is isolated from the society that it’s supposed to lead ….. where the rich send their children to learn to walk, talk and think like the rich….. elite education manufactures young people…..with little intellectual curiosity and a stunted sense of purpose….. content to color within the lines that their education had marked out for them …..people to be pandered to instead of challenged ….. urged to think of yourself as a future leader of society….. played out within the same narrow conception of what constitutes a valid life: affluence, credentials, prestige.”

Deresiewicz depicts a system that indulges early bloomers who are to be pampered, to be trained into a “leadership” class and convinced that they are eligible to protect establishment rules. This instilled attitude they then carry forth as they form dense concentrations in government, law and media.

And here’s the problem: Where such a concentration of a particular, narrow world view exists, it yields the intellectual incest able to perpetuate a dogmatic philosophy generation after generation.

Essayist Lewis Lapham, in his little tome “Gag Rule”, commented on the current state of our Ivy League-dominated media with a searing wit:

“The media compose the pictures of a preferred reality, and their genius is that of the nervous careerist who serves, simultaneously, two masters — the demos, whom they astound with marvels and fairy tales, and the corporate nobility, whose interests they assiduously promote and defend”, and “[A]nybody who rises to prominence in their ranks — as editor, political columnist, publisher, anchorperson, theater critic — learns to think along the accommodating lines of an English butler bringing buttered scones to the Prince of Wales.”

Moral Failure at the UN

Photo by JasonParis | CC BY 2.0

Photo by JasonParis | CC BY 2.0

On 15 March 2017 the United Nations’ Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) published a report on Israeli practices and policies toward the Palestinians. Using international law as its comparative criterion, the report came to a “definitive conclusion” that “Israel is guilty of Apartheid practices.” The term Apartheid was not used in the report merely in a “pejorative” way. It was used as a descriptor of fact based on the evidence and the accepted legal meaning of the term.

Such was the immediate uproar from the United States and Israel that U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres, in a moment of moral failure, ordered the report’s withdrawal. The head of ESCWA, the Jordanian diplomat Rima Khalaf, decided that she could not, in good conscience, do so and so tendered her resigation.

Reportage

The initial New York Times coverage of the incident paid little attention to the accuracy of the report, an approach which, if pursued, would have at least educated the Times’ readers as to the real conditions of Palestinians under Israeli domination. Instead it called the report, and those involved in producing it, into question. For instance, the NYT told us that “the report provoked outrage from Israel and the United States.” The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki R. Haley, was quoted as declaring that, “when someone issues a false and defamatory report in the name of the U.N. it is appropriate that the person resign.” At no point in the NYT story was it noted that Ms Haley’s charge that the report was false, was itself false. Other coverage by the NYT improved only slightly.

The NYT did pay attention to the fact that, among the authors of the report, was former U.N. human rights investigator Richard Falk. Falk served six years as U.N. Spacial Rapporteur for the Occupied Territories. According to the NYT, his presence had to “gall[ed] many Israeli supporters who regard him as an anti-Semite.” There is something troubling about a newspaper that claims to represent the epitome of professional journalism reporting such slurs without properly evaluating them. Richard Falk, who is Jewish, has an impeccable record of both academic achievement and public service. His reputation for honesty and dedication to the cause of human rights exemplifies the best practice of Jewish values. Thus, he has every right to say that “I have been smeared in this effort to discredit the report” – a study which “tries its best to look at the evidence and analyze the applicable law in a professional manner.”

Israel’s Behavior

An objective consideration of Israel’s behavior makes it hard to escape the brutal reality of its officially condoned practices.

On 17 March 2017, at the same time as the forced withdrawal of the ESCWA report, the U.S. State Department released a report on “grave violations against Palestinian children living under Israeli military occupation.” This was part of the department’s annual “country reports on human rights practices.” Among the problems cited were Israel’s practice of unlawful detention, coerced confessions and excessive use of force, including torture and killings.

Usually these annual human rights reports are made public by the Secretary of State. This year Rex Tillerson, who presently holds the office, was nowhere in sight. And, of course, President Trump failed to issue any of his characteristic tweets in reference to the Israel’s barbaric behavior.

Earlier, on 8 February 2017, it was reported that “Israel has banned anesthesia gas from entering the Gaza Strip.” There is a current backlog of some 200 patients in Gaza requiring surgical care, and some will die due to Israel’s ban.

A week later, on 14 February 2017, it was reported that Israeli officials were blackmailing Palestinian patients seeking permission to enter Israel for necessary medical treatment. A 17-year-old Gazan boy who suffered from congenital heart disease and needed a heart valve replacement “was explicitly told that in order to [leave the Gaza Strip and] have his operation, he would have to cooperate with the security forces and spy for Israel.” He refused and subsequently died. This is not a new or unusual tactic for the Israelis.

Blackmail All Around

The moral failure at the U.N., represented by the withdrawal of the ESCWA report, is the result of Secretary General Guterres’s decision to acquiesce in a denial of reality – the reality of Israel’s practice of Apartheid.

On the other hand, it probably also stems from Guterres’s acceptance of the reality of U.S. financial leverage along with the apparent threat to bankrupt the United Nations. This is, of course, a form of blackmail. Significantly, U.S. use of its financial clout at the U.N. mimics the same practice by the Zionist lobby in the halls of Congress.

Obviously the United Nations, to say nothing of U.S. politicians, needs alternate sources of income. My wife Janet once suggested that the UN be awarded the right to exploit and profit from all undersea resources. Not a bad idea. Likewise, U.S. politicians should agree to, or be forced to rely upon, government-based campaign funding rather than be pressed into putting themselves up for sale.

However, such changes do not appear imminent. As it stands now, reality in Palestine is what the Americans and Israelis say it is because politicians and international leaders literally can’t afford to challenge their corrupted views.

World Bank Declares Itself Above the Law

The World Bank has for decades left a trail of human misery. Destruction of the environment, massive human rights abuses and mass displacement have been ignored in the name of “development” that works to intensify neoliberal inequality. In response to legal attempts to hold it to account, the World Bank has declared itself above the law.

At least one U.S. trial court has already agreed that the bank can’t be touched, and thus the latest lawsuit filed against it, attempting to obtain some measure of justice for displaced Honduran farmers, faces a steep challenge. Regardless of the ultimate outcome of legal proceedings, however, millions of people around the world have paid horrific prices for the relentless pursuit of profit.

A trail of evictions, displacements, gross human rights violations (including rape, murder and torture), widespread destruction of forests, financing of greenhouse-gas-belching fossil-fuel projects, and destruction of water and food sources has followed the World Bank.

The latest attempt at accountability is a lawsuit filed in the U.S. federal court in Washington by EarthRights International, a human rights and environmental non-governmental organization, charging that the World Bank has turned a blind eye to systematic abuses associated with palm-oil plantations in Honduras that it has financed. The lawsuit, Juana Doe v. International Finance Corporation, alleges that

“Since the mid-1990s, the International Finance Corporation [a division of the World Bank] has invested millions of dollars in Honduran palm-oil companies owned by the late Miguel Facussé. Those companies — which exist today as Dinant — have been at the center of a decades-long and bloody land-grabbing campaign in the Bajo Aguán region of Honduras.

For nearly two decades, farmer cooperatives have challenged Dinant’s claims to sixteen palm-oil plantations … that it has held in the Bajo Aguán region. On information and belief, Dinant’s former owner, Miguel Facussé, took that land from the farmer cooperatives through fraud, coercion, and actual or threatened violence. The farmer cooperatives have engaged in lawsuits, political advocacy, and peaceful protests to challenge Dinant’s control and use of the land. And Dinant has responded to such efforts with violence and aggression.”

Bank’s own staff cites failures

EarthRights International alleges that the World Bank has “repeatedly and consistently provided critical funding to Dinant, knowing that Dinant was waging a campaign of violence, terror, and dispossession against farmers, and that their money would be used to aid the commission of gross human rights abuses.” The lawsuit filing cites “U.S. government sources” to allege that more than 100 farmers have been killed since 2009.

The suit also says that the International Finance Corporation’s own ombudsman said the World Bank division “failed to spot or deliberately ignored the serious social, political and human rights context.” These failures arose “from staff incentives ‘to overlook, fail to articulate, or even conceal potential environmental, social and conflict risk’ and ‘to get money out the door.’ ” Despite this internal report, the suit says, the World Bank continued to provide financing and that the ombudsman has “no authority to remedy abuses.”

(World Bank representatives did not respond to a request for comment. Although not directly a party to the lawsuit, Dinant describes the allegations as “absurd.” In a statement on its web site, the company said “All allegations that Dinant is — or ever has been — engaged in systematic violence against members of the community are without foundation.”)

EarthRights International’s lawsuit faces an uphill challenge due to an earlier suit filed by it on behalf of Indian farmers and fisherpeople being thrown out by the same court when it ruled that the World Bank is immune from legal challenge. The bank provided $450 million for a power plant that the plaintiffs said degraded the environment and destroyed livelihoods. The court agreed with the World Bank’s contention that it has immunity under the International Organizations Immunities Act. (The dismissal has been appealed.)

The International Organizations Immunities Act provides that “International organizations, their property and their assets, wherever located, and by whomsoever held, shall enjoy the same immunity from suit and every form of judicial process as is enjoyed by foreign governments.” The World Bank has been declared the equivalent of a sovereign state, and in this context is placed above any law as if it possesses diplomatic immunity.

This law is applied selectively; lawsuits against Cuba are not only allowed but consistently won by plaintiffs. These are not necessarily the strongest of cases, such as participants in the Bay of Pigs invasion winning judgments and a woman who was married to a Cuban who went back to Cuba winning $27 million because the court found that her marriage made her a “victim of terrorism”!

More than 3 million people displaced

Despite its immunity, a passport may not be needed to enter a World Bank office, but can it be argued that the lending organization uses its immense power wisely? That would be a very difficult case to make.

A 2015 report by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists found that 3.4 million people were physically or economically displaced by projects funded by the World Bank. Land was taken, people were forced from their homes and their livelihoods damaged. Some of the other findings of the report, on which more than 50 journalists from 21 countries worked:

*From 2009 to 2013, the World Bank pumped $50 billion into projects graded the highest risk for “irreversible or unprecedented” social or environmental impacts — more than twice as much as the previous five-year span.

*The bank regularly fails to live up to its own policies that purport to protect people harmed by projects it finances.

*The World Bank and its International Finance Corporation lending arm have financed governments and companies accused of human rights violations such as rape, murder and torture. In some cases, they continued to bankroll these borrowers after evidence of abuses emerged.

*Ethiopian authorities diverted millions of dollars from a World Bank-supported project to fund a violent campaign of mass evictions, according to former officials who carried out the forced resettlement program.

One of the articles that is a part of this investigative report said the bank routinely ignores its own rules that require detailed resettlement plans and that employees face strong pressure to approve big infrastructure projects. The report says:

“The World Bank often neglects to properly review projects ahead of time to make sure communities are protected, and frequently has no idea what happens to people after they are removed. In many cases, it has continued to do business with governments that have abused their citizens, sending a signal that borrowers have little to fear if they violate the bank’s rules, according to current and former bank employees.

‘There was often no intent on the part of the governments to comply — and there was often no intent on the part of the bank’s management to enforce,’ said Navin Rai, a former World Bank official who oversaw the bank’s protections for indigenous peoples from 2000 to 2012. ‘That was how the game was played.’ …

Current and former bank employees say the work of enforcing these standards has often been undercut by internal pressures to win approval for big, splashy projects. Many bank managers, insiders say, define success by the number of deals they fund. They often push back against requirements that add complications and costs.”

Funding that facilitates global warming

Incredibly, one of the outcomes of the Paris Climate Summit was for leaders of the G7 countries to issue a communiqué that they would seek to raise funds “from private investors, development finance institutions and multilateral development banks.” These leaders propose the World Bank be used to fight global warming despite it being a major contributor to projects that increase greenhouse-gas emissions, including providing billions of dollars to finance new coal plants around the world. The bank even had the monumental hypocrisy to issue a report in 2012 that called for slowing global warming while ignoring its own role.

It is hoped you, dear reader, won’t fall off your chair in shock, but the World Bank’s role in facilitating global warming has since only increased.

Financing projects that facilitate global warming had already been on the rise. A study prepared by the Institute for Policy Studies and four other organizations found that World Bank lending for coal, oil and gas reached $3 billion in 2008 — a sixfold increase from 2004. In the same year, only $476 million went toward renewable energy sources. Oil Change International (citing somewhat lower dollar figures) estimates that World Bank funding for fossil fuels doubled from 2011 to 2015.

Destructive logging projects across the Global South funded by the World Bank accelerated in the 1990s. Despite a January 2000 internal report finding that its lending practices had not curbed deforestation or reduced poverty, Southeast Asia saw a continuation of illegal logging and land concessions, and untimely deaths of local people blowing the whistle, as has Africa.

Similar to its report on curbing global warming that ignores its own role, the World Bank shamelessly issued a 2012 report calling for international law enforcement measures against illegal logging. Perhaps what is illegal are only those operations not funded by the bank?

Loans to pay debt create more debt, repeat

Ideology plays a critical role here. International lending organizations, such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, consistently impose austerity. The IMF’s loans, earmarked for loans to governments to pay debts or stabilize currencies, always come with the same requirements to privatize public assets (which can be sold far below market value to multi-national corporations waiting to pounce); cut social safety nets; drastically reduce the scope of government services; eliminate regulations; and open economies wide to multi-national capital, even if that means the destruction of local industry and agriculture. This results in more debt, which then gives multi-national corporations and the IMF, which enforces those corporate interests, still more leverage to impose more control, including heightened ability to weaken environmental and labor laws.

The World Bank compliments this by funding massive infrastructure projects that tend to enormously profit deep-pocketed international investors but ignore the effects on local people and the environment.

The World Bank employs a large contingent of scientists and technicians, which give it a veneer of authority as it pursues a policy of relentless corporate plunder. Noting that the bank possesses “an enormous research and knowledge generation capacity,” The environmental and social-justice organization ASEED Europe reports:

“The World Bank is the institution with one of the largest research budgets globally and has no rival in the field of development economics. … A number of researchers and scholars have questioned the reliability of the World Bank-commissioned research. Alice Amsdem, a top scholar on East Asian economies, argues that since the World Bank continually fails to scientifically prove its conclusions, its policy justifications are ‘quintessentially political and ideological.’ Regarding the World Development Report (WDR) series, for example, Nicholas Stern, an Oxford professor in economics and former World Bank chief economist says that many of the numbers used by the Bank come from highly dubious sources, or have been constructed in ways which leaves one sceptical as to whether they can be helpfully applied.” (citations omitted)

Capitalist ideology rests on the concept of “markets” being so efficient that they should be allowed to work without human intervention. But what is a market? Under capitalism, it is nothing more than the aggregate interests of the most powerful and largest financiers and industrialists. No wonder that “markets” “decide” that neoliberal austerity must be ruthlessly imposed — it is those at the top of vast corporate institutions who benefit from the decisions that the World Bank, and similar institutions, consistently make.

Markets do not sit in the clouds, beyond human control, as some perfect mechanism. They impose the will of those with the most who can not ever have enough. Markets are not ordained by some higher power — everything of human creation can be undone by human hands. Our current world system is no exception.

Israel’s Human Rights Spies

 

A fascinating expose in Ha’aretz reveals how, in the mid-1970s – not long after the occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip, East Jerusalem, and Golan Heights – Israel used university faculty members to infiltrate Amnesty International.

The state thus actively intervened in order to shape human rights activism, just as the rights discourse was becoming one of the most popular forms of political struggle against injustice around the globe.

The Haaretz article discloses how Yoram Dinstein, a renowned scholar of international law and currently a professor emeritus at Hebrew University, served as an agent for the Israeli Foreign Ministry during his tenure as the chair of Amnesty International’s Israeli branch from 1974-76.

Working with the ministry’s Deputy Director Sinai Rome of the international organisations division, Dinstein acted as an informant while manipulating the rights group’s activities.

For instance, when an Arab women’s association in the United States requested information about Palestinian detainees and prisoners, Dinstein wrote to the ministry, telling them that his inclination was not to reply.

The ministry’s deputy director, however, insisted: “It seems to us that there is scope for answering the letter and writing that ‘there are no Palestinian prisoners of conscience in the prisons, but rather terrorists and others who have been tried for security offences.'”

He also instructed Dinstein to forward all correspondences to Israeli consulates in New York and Los Angeles.

In addition, Dinstein used his position as “chairman of the Israel national section of Amnesty” to criticise cause lawyers, such as Felicia Langer, who were struggling for the human rights of Palestinians in Israeli courts, thus, in effect, utilising the organisation’s reputation to undermine human rights.

An ideological and financial exchange

Dinstein’s colleague from Hebrew University, Edward Kaufman, who later became the chairman of the board of the Israeli rights group B’Tselem and continues to this day to be a well-known advocate of human rights, as well as an active member of the peace industry, is also mentioned as someone who was in contact with the foreign ministry’s staff.

While he is depicted as a less enthusiastic collaborator than Dinstein, in one of the letters the ministry’s deputy director thanks Kaufman for a report he prepared about an Amnesty conference on the subject of torture, which was held towards the end of 1973, following the October War.

The exchange was both ideological and financial. The expose reveals how Dinstein received governmental money for his expenses, disclosing that he was not the only Amnesty staffer to accept governmental remuneration.

These revelations suggest that already during the 1970s, when human rights were still considered by many as a radical weapon for enhancing emancipation and as a tool for the protection of individual freedoms against abusive states, Israel was relatively successful in marshalling the way the human rights discourse was mobilised by the local branch of the most prominent international rights organisation.

They further suggest that state domination and human rights advocacy are not always antithetical.

From covert operations to overt actions

Today, such covert operations are clearly augmented by overt actions. Israel now feels comfortable clamping down on human rights NGOs that denounce the systematic policies of state dispossession and subjugation of Palestinians, presenting them as a national security threat.

Simultaneously, university faculty members continue to take part in the attack against liberal human rights NGOs.

NGO Monitor, for example, analyses reports and press releases of local and international NGOs and investigates the international donors funding them.

Founded by professor Gerald Steinberg of Bar Ilan University, NGO Monitor was the first Israeli organisation to couch its criticism of liberal human rights organisations in security parlance.

His line of reasoning was articulated in an article entitled, NGOs Make War on Israel, and, in a different venue, also claimed that human rights are being exploited as a “weapon against Israel”.

Steinberg thus tapped into the post-9/11 conservative trend in the US, which began employing the term lawfare – commonly defined as the use of law for realising a military objective – in order to describe the endeavour of individuals and groups who appeal to courts against certain practices of state violations emanating from the so-called global war on terrorism – such as torture, extra-judicial executions, and the bombing of civilian urban infrastructure.

‘A lawfare campaign’

NGO Monitor’s Anne Herzberg explains that a lawfare campaign is being waged against Israel by “NGO superpowers” (such as Amnesty International andHuman Rights Watch), who in cooperation with liberal Palestinian and Israeli human rights groups resort to universal jurisdiction to pursue litigation in European, North American or Israel’s national court.

While these NGOs claim to be part of the fight for human rights, the evidence shows, in Herzberg’s opinion, “that the core motivation for this activity is to promote lawfare” in order to “punish Israel for carrying out anti-terror operations”.

Along similar lines, Elizabeth Samson, a lawyer specialising in international law from a right-wing think-tank also based at Bar Ilan University, contends that those who deploy lawfare “are not fighting an occupier or challenging a military incursion – they are fighting the forces of freedom, they are fighting the voice of reason, and they are attacking those who have the liberty to speak and act openly”.

The interests of these faculty members are completely aligned with the state. They are concerned about the fact that the evidence of systematic violations gathered by local human rights NGOs is exceeding the boundaries of the domestic debate.

They are threatened because the accusations of abuse are piling into an immense archive of state-orchestrated violence, an archive that can no longer be marshalled within the state’s legal, political, and symbolic space. Therefore, they are continuously attacking liberal human rights organisations.

While human rights spies are probably still out there, the difference between the 1970s and today is that they no longer need to be undercover.

Neve Gordon is a Leverhulme visiting fellow at SOAS, University of London. @nevegordon

Nicola Perugini is a lecturer at the School of Social and Political Science, University of Edinburgh. @PeruginiNic.

First Published in Al Jazeera.

From Paris to London: Another City, Another Attack

In the immediate aftermath of what police are describing as a terrorist incident in and around Parliament, at least three facts stand out suggesting that the attacks are similar to those carried out over the last two years by Isis supporters in Paris, Nice, Brussels and Berlin.

The similarities with the events today are in the targets of the attacks which in all cases were ordinary civilians, but the means of trying to cause mass casualties differs. In Nice, Berlin and London no fire arms were used by the attackers, while in Paris and Brussels there was a coordinated assault in which guns and explosives were employed.

In Nice on 14 July 2016 a truck killed 86 people and injured hundreds, driving at speed through crowds watching a firework display on the Promenade des Anglais until the driver was shot dead by police. Isis claimed that he was answering their “calls to target citizens of coalition nations that fight the Islamic State”. Britain is a member of the coalition with aircraft and special forces troops in action against Isis in Iraq and Syria.

Isis claimed responsibility for a lorry which drove into a Christmas market in 19 December 2016, killing 12 and injuring dozens. As with Nice, this appears to resemble what happened on Westminster Bridge, going by first reports.

The overall location of the attacks today may be significant and would fit in with the way that Isis normally operates when carrying out such atrocities. This is to act in the centre of capital cities or in large provincial ones in order to ensure 24/7 publicity and maximise the effectiveness of the incident as a demonstration of Isis’s continuing reach and ability to project fear far from its rapidly shrinking core areas in Syria and Iraq.

Isis is sophisticated enough to know that such attacks carried out in news hubs like London or Paris will serve their purposes best. In cases of attack with a knife or a vehicle then Isis would not need to provide more than motivation, though individuals seldom turn out to have acted alone. It may no longer have cells in Europe capable of obtaining fire arms or making bombs.

It could be that the attacks were carried out by another group, the most obvious candidate being one of the affiliates of al-Qaeda in Yemen. Syria or elsewhere. On 11 March 2017 Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, formerly Jabhat al-Nusra, the Syrian affiliate of al-Qaeda, carried out two bombing attacks in Damascus, killing 59 people, mostly Shia pilgrims from Iraq visiting holy sites. But the Syrian arm of al-Qaeda, while carrying out suicide bombings against targets in Syria, has previously avoided doing so abroad in order to make itself more diplomatically palatable than Isis.

Could the attacks on Westminster Bridge and in Parliament be linked to the siege of Mosul where Isis has lost the east of the city and half the west since an Iraqi army offensive started on 17 October? Isis has traditionally tried to offset defeats on the battlefield, by terrorist attacks aimed civilians that show they are still very much a force to be feared. The same logic led to the ritual decapitation, drowning and burning of foreign journalists and domestic opponents.

The most likely speculation at this early stage is that the attacks in London are inspired or directed by Isis, but there is too little evidence to make the connection with any certainty. Isis often holds off claiming such atrocities for several days to increase speculation and intensify terror.

Reason and Justice Address Realities

It is not just Donald Trump whose rhetoric is chronically bereft of reality. Politicians, reporters, commentators and academics are often similarly untethered to hard facts, albeit not for narcissistic enjoyment. There are many patterns of fact, relevant to a subject being discussed, that are off the table—either consciously or because they are deemed inconvenient. Rarely are there omissions due to the facts being hard to get or inaccessible.

That in mind, here are a few examples that warrant our scrutiny:

Consider the immense public attention to health insurance and health care and the recent struggles over Obamacare and now Ryancare. Conspicuously absent from the dialogues that pundits, politicians and reporters carry on is that the third leading cause of death in the U.S. is “medical error.” According to a Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine report last May, over 250,000 people lose their lives yearly in U.S. hospitals from “diagnostic errors, medical mistakes and the absence of safety nets” to stop hospital-induced infections, incompetent personnel, dangerous mixes of prescribed drugs and more. Yet in the debate surrounding the health care industry, this huge annual human casualty toll is unmentioned and, for many, intentionally “off the table.”

From a financial perspective, all the coverage of the costs of health insurance and health care excludes at least an estimated $340 billion (according to, among other sources, the leading expert, Professor Malcolm Sparrow of Harvard University) lost annually as a result of computerized billing fraud and abuses—expenses for which taxpayers and consumers must eventually pay. All of this is “off the table.”

Despite all the attention currently being paid to Trump’s proposed $54 billion increase to the military budget, media coverage nonetheless neglects to mention the immense waste, fraud and redundancies already embedded in the roughly $600 billion that account for the Pentagon’s direct annual budget.

A mass of Government Accountability Office (GAO) reports for the Congress, Pentagon audits, and reports by reliable citizen groups regularly document this immense waste. Specifically, the annual cost of the anti-ballistic missile defense program in the Pentagon is over $9 billion—about the same as the budget of the lifesaving Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that Trump wants to cut by almost a third.

The anti-missile defense technology taxpayers are paying Raytheon and other defense contractors to work on is unworkable. Who says anti-missile defense programs are ineffective? The American Physical Society—more than a few of whom consult with the Department of Defense—as well as the very knowledgeable MIT professor Theodore A. Postol in his Congressional testimony, and the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Along with numerous other infirmities of this boondoggle, it is too easy to decoy the ballistic missiles, not to mention alternative ways for adversaries to endanger our country without signaling a return address as ballistic missiles would. Yet year after year, starting with Ronald Reagan, the money is automatically doled out uncritically by the Congress, backed by its generous contractors’ lobby, deeply entrenched in a system of unaccountable corporate welfare. For the gigantic Pentagon budget is unauditable, according to the GAO.

The Israeli/Palestinian struggle, when hostilities burst forth, is reported routinely as being one started by Palestinian “terrorists” versus Israeli defenders and retaliators. Little emphasized is the reality that the Israeli government is the illegal occupier, colonizer, invader and resource exploiter of the remaining Palestinian lands. Almost never mentioned is that, since 2000, the overwhelming majority of fatalities and injuries in the conflict have been innocent Palestinian civilians, including many children, at the hands of the powerful Israeli military.

Of course, readers can come up with their own examples arising out of local, state, national and international issues. When constantly subjected to a media and political system driven by distraction, one can’t help but ask the question, “Why are they focusing on this instead of that?” One reliable answer is that the powers-that-be work overtime to exclude such embarrassing realities, to assure that, as with corporate crime waves, they’re often not even counted or measured.

If you want a continuing frenzy of reality-exclusion, look no further than the Republicans and their forked tongues. They’re always complaining about deficits, while cutting taxes for corporations and the wealthy, overlooking real problems they pay lip service to such as “government waste.”

But here is what takes the cake. For six years the Republican House of Representatives has been slicing off more and more of the Internal Revenue Service’s slim budget. With Republicans now controlling both houses of Congress, they want to drive it below $10 billion for next year. Apart from resulting in your waiting forever to get someone from the IRS on the phone to answer your questions, there is the modest result of over $400 billion in yearly uncollected taxes.

When you ration tax collectors, how can you fairly enforce the law, reduce the deficit or, heaven forbid, repair America’s streets, bridges, drinking water systems, public transit and schools?

John Adams said that, “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.” The verity of our second president’s words should serve as a call to action against the “alternative facts,” lies and myths, which have already come to define the current Trump administration and pose so grave a threat to our weakened democratic society and its level of freedom and justice.

‘Decolonizing the Mind’: Using Hollywood Celebrities to Validate Islam

When Terry Holdbrooks Jr., converted to Islam in 2003, he was inundated with death threats and labeled a ‘race traitor.’

If a religious conversion ever deserves to be admired, Holdbrooks’ conversion does, and not because Islam has ‘won’ yet another convert, but because the new convert was assigned the very rule of subjugating his Muslim prisoners.

Yes, Terry Holdbrooks was a US army employee entrusted with guarding Guantanamo detainees.

The Muslim prisoners in Guantanamo, held for years and tortured without due process and in violation of the most basic tenants of human rights and international law, mostly subsisted on faith.

I had the pleasure of meeting one of the freed prisoners in 2013 during a brief stay in Qatar. Torture had partially impaired his mental faculty, yet when he led a group of men in prayer, he recited verses from the Quran in impeccable language and melodic harmony.

The faith of these prisoners had awakened something in Holdbrooks, who has toured the country dressed in traditional Muslim garb, conveying to audiences the ‘truth about Gitmo.’

Of course, this is not about Islam as a religion, but the power of faith to cross fences, prison bars and unite people around ideas that are vastly more complex and meaningful than that of military domination.

Despite its profundity, the story of Holdbrooks’ conversion to the religion of his prisoners only received scant mention in the media and in Arabic media, in particular.

Lindsay Lohan’s interest in Islam, however, has been an obligatory media staple for months.

The actress of ‘The Mean Girls’, ‘Freaky Friday’ and a host of not-so-family-friendly movies is hailed by Arab and Muslim media and numerous social media users as if some kind of a cultural and religion savior.

Lohan’s interest and possible conversion to Islam has branched into all sorts of areas of discussion. Like Holdbrooks, she is also branded as if a ‘race traitor’, and has been, according to her own depiction, ‘racially profiled’ during a recent trip to the United States.

Conflating between race and religion is quite common in western, especially American, society. Let alone that one cannot change his race however hard he or she tries, Christianity itself was born in the Middle East region. But it seems that cultural appropriation has, at least in the minds of some, foolishly designated certain religions to be western and other religions to be ‘ethnic’, ‘colored’ and ‘foreign.’

While Lohan is still making up her mind about whether to join the Muslim faith or not, she recently announced that she will be launching a new fashion line.

The announcement on Instagram was accompanied by a photo in which the actress was covering her head and part of her face with a crystals-embellished scarf. Many, including some in the media, are deducing that the fashion line is that of the modest, Muslim variety.

Concurrently, a most recent death toll estimate of war-torn Syria has reached a new high (and a new moral low). According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights 321,000 people are confirmed dead as a result of the war, while a further 145,000 are still missing.

While outside powers are responsible for many of these deaths, much of the carnage has been meted out by Muslims against their fellow Muslims.

The sense of false pride generated by the probable conversion of a Hollywood actress is, perhaps, an escape from the grand shame of a bloodbath being perpetuated by Muslims against their own brethren.

But it is more complex than this.

The issue is far more telling than that of Lohan’s faith and is a repeat of previous such collective jubilation similar to the sense of euphoria and unmistakable sense of validation wrought by the marriage of Arab-British lawyer, Amal Alamuddin to one Hollywood celebrity, George Clooney.

Although Amal Clooney refused to investigate Israeli war crimes in Gaza – likely so as not to create an uncomfortable situation for her husband considering his strong Hollywood ties – Arabs continued to celebrate her as if her marriage to the famous actor is a badge of honor and a validation for a whole culture.

Sadly, the opposite is true. Such hype over inane occurrences is an indication of a greater ailment, the continuing western cultural hegemony over Muslim nations.

The issue is not that of religion. Far from being a vanishing religion, Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world, the only religion growing faster than the world’s population, and one which is slated to be the largest in the world by 2070.

These are some of the outcomes of a thorough demographic analysis conducted recently by the US-based Pew Research Center.

So, the enthusiasm over Lohan’s possible conversion – like the intrigue created by Angelina Jolie wearing a Muslim headscarf (hijab) during a visit to a refugee camp – should be entirely removed from the religious component of the discussion.

Thousands of such conversions are reported in Africa, South America and Asia annually; numbers that receive little cultural and media attention in Arab and Muslim countries.

Neither is it an issue of celebrity Muslims per se, for there are many famous black entertainers who are also Muslims, some even devout Muslims. They rarely register on Arab and Muslim media radars as earth-shattering events.

While racism might play a role, it is not the dominant factor.

The possible conversion of a western, Hollywood celebrity, white actress is a whole different story. For these aspects – cultural, status and race – are the most manifest representation of western, cultural hegemony. A conversion of this caliber is celebrated as if a symbolic defeat of the very system that has demonized Arab and Muslim culture for generations.

In other words, the conversion of Lindsay Lohan would be measured against the resentment Muslims hold against western tools of military subjugation, political domination and cultural hegemony.

Yet in the process of conjuring up this false sense of cultural triumph, Muslims, in fact, further feed into their own unfortunate sense of inferiority, one that is rooted in hundreds of years of slavery, colonization, neocolonialism and military occupation intervention.

If Lohan, or anyone else, truly wants to appreciate the Islamic faith, a religion that has appealed to the poor, the slaves and disenfranchised throughout history, and has withstood hundreds of years of colonization and oppression, she ought to study the relationship between faith and resistance in Gaza, between faith and hope among Syrian refugees, and between faith and liberation in Algeria.

Finding a common ground between true Islam and Hollywood is certainly doomed to fail, for they both represent values that stand at the extreme opposites of one another.

As for Muslims who are feeling validated by mere celebrity interest of their religion, they ought to ‘decolonize their minds’, first by refusing to define themselves and relationships to the world through the west and its ever-sinister tools of cultural hegemony.