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.

Descendants of Slaves, Forerunners of Justice

I had recently been asked to give a talk about “being an American Muslim in the United States.” Although wary of the uses and abuses of the term, I obliged.

Islam is a religion propelled by values, not race nor, theoretically, by blind tribal allegiances, I explained.

The ‘American Muslim’ identity which has been under constant investigation in US media, politics and society is completely different from what American Muslims associate themselves with.

The media’s ‘American Muslim’ is a suspect, a fifth column, potentially dangerous and more receptive to violence than every other collective identity in the US. While this contrasts sharply with real Islam, facts hardly matter in the age of American nationalism, predicated on cultural and religious identification and ‘alternative facts’.

Caught within this brutal, baseless logic, some American Muslims no longer define themselves around their own political priorities, nor do they mobilize themselves alongside their natural allies – those who come from historically oppressed communities. Instead, they have taken to apologizing for their ‘Muslim-ness’, rather than demand an apology, justice and equality.

Many Muslims find themselves, as a collective, being forced to demonstrate their humanity, defend their religion and distance themselves from every act of violence, even if only allegedly committed by a Muslim anywhere in the world.

Long before the Trump Administration’s ‘Muslim Ban’ – banning citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the US for 90 days – Muslims in the US have always, to varied degrees, been embattled, collectively demonized, racially profiled by government agencies and targeted in numerous hate-crimes by fellow Americans.

In reality, hatred of Muslims goes back even before 9/11, and the US war in Iraq in 1990-91 – a hatred based solely on media fear-mongering and Hollywood stereotyping.

There is also an odd ‘discovery’ by various liberal groups that American Muslims are mistreated in their own country.

In truth, the cause of the ‘defenseless Muslim’ is used as a political tool, with Democrats and others attempting to undermine the actions of their Republican rivals.

The administrations of Democratic presidents, Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, both had horrific legacies of violence and discrimination against Muslim countries.

In a landmark study released in March 2015, the Washington-based group, Physicians for Social Responsibly, showed that the US self-styled ‘war on terror’ had killed anywhere between 1.3 million to 2 million Muslims in the first ten years since the September 11 attacks.

Award-winning investigative journalist, Nafeez Ahmed, concluded that at least 4 million Muslims have been killed by the US since 1990.

This excludes killings that have taken place in the last two years, or the countless civilians who perished during the US-sanctions on Iraq, starting in 1991, which were enforced throughout the Clinton Administrations.

Yet, all this is meant to be ignored and seen merely as the issue of an obnoxious president and that the pinnacle of the American violence against Muslims can be reduced to a 90-day travel ban on selected countries.

Subscribing to this mischaracterization reflects both ignorance and also complete disregard for the millions of innocent lives that have been lost, in order for the US to preserve its vastly dwindling empire.

At the Democratic Party National Convention (DNC) last July, former President Bill Clinton took the stage to articulate a retort to the Republican party convention’s hate-fest of Muslims, Blacks, Latinos and everyone else who did not subscribe to their skewed view of the world.

But Clinton’s words were a mere liberal spin on the same chauvinistic, racist and exclusionist culture that often drives the political discourse of the Right.

“If you’re a Muslim and you love America and freedom and you hate terror, stay here and help us win and make a future together, we want you,” Clinton said before a large audience, which roared in applause.

For Muslims, feeling that their inclusion, citizenship and humanity are conditioned by a set of condescending rules, articulated by a White, Christian elite, is utterly dehumanizing.

What Clinton has wished to forget is that an estimated third of the slaves who built his country were, in fact, Muslims – shackled and dragged against their will to assemble the United States, field by field and brick by brick. It is the slaves that mainly brought Islam to America, and it is Islam that armed them with the virtue of patience and strength of character in order to survive one of the most ghastly genocides in human history.

Precisely for this reason, the identity of the American Muslim is, at its heart, a political one, concerned with human rights, justice and equality, with Black Muslims playing a tremendous role in confronting, challenging and clashing with the ruling White elitist order that controlled the US from the beginning.

It is the Martin-Luther King Jr.-Malcolm X-type movements – backed by millions of Black people throughout the country – that helped define the modern character of the Black American. They led the Civil Rights Movement, exacting basic human rights at a heavy price and against terrible odds.

It is important that American Muslim youth understand this well, and that their fight for equality and human rights in their country is not a manifestation of some Democratic Party’s political game.

Those aspiring to be the ‘good Muslim’, the Uncle Tom, the ‘not-all- Muslims- are- terrorists’ type, can only hope for a second-class status. But those who aspire for true equality and justice ought to remember the words of American revolutionary, Assata Shakur: “Nobody in the world, nobody in history, has ever gotten their freedom by appealing to the moral sense of people who were oppressing them.”

The oppressors constantly try to redefine the nature of the struggle of those whom they oppress. For Bill Clinton, the issue is solely Islamic terrorism, never the terror inflicted upon Muslim nations by his and other administrations through a series of unjust wars and sanctions, killing millions.

The colonizer, oppressor, invader is always blind to his crimes. He sees only the violent reaction – however minuscule – of the people whom he subjugates.

According to the New America Foundation, alleged ‘Jihadists’ killed 94 people in the US from 2005-2015, during which time the US also killed nearly 2 million Muslims in their own countries.

Yet, the government media-driven, fear-mongering, anti-Muslim and anti-Islam discourse (for which both liberals and conservatives are equally responsible) has made terrorism the leading fear among Americans, according to a major national survey in 2016.

In his book, Wretched of the Earth, one of the 20th century most powerful revolutionary voices, Frantz Fanon, wrote, “Each generation must discover its mission, fulfill it or betray it, in relative opacity.”

For this generation of American Muslims, this is their moment – to discover and fulfill their mission, to define and assert who they are as the descendants of slaves, immigrants and refugees – the three main building blocs of America.

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 Trump. 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.

Remarks by Donald Trump in Joint Address to Congress, by Donald Trump

Thank you very much. Mr. Speaker, Mr. Vice President, members of Congress, the First Lady of the United States — (applause) — and citizens of America: Tonight, as we mark the conclusion of our celebration of Black History Month, we are reminded of our nation's path towards civil rights and the work that still remains to be done. (Applause.) Recent threats targeting Jewish community centers and vandalism of Jewish cemeteries, as well as last week's shooting in Kansas City, remind us that (...)

Castigated by the Southern Poverty Law Center


The “public” that allegedly “protested” against this billboard in Ann Arbor, as reported by the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, were not the only folks watching DYR.

The SPLC has now included DYR on its Hate Map.

Dan McGowan responds:

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) recently criticized Deir Yassin Remembered (DYR) by including it on the so-called Hate Map, purportedly for the high crime of Holocaust denial.

Apparently if the SPLC disagrees with you, it will label you as a racist or a hatemonger. There is no discussion, no defense, and no chance of winning a defamation suit against it.

The SPLC is the cash cow of the civil rights movement. Last year it took in over $58 million, some of which was added to its bloated endowment of over $328 million held in questionable investments, some in off shore accounts.

Its two chief executives together received over $800,000. Of its nine top executives, none come from minorities.

The SPLC claims to reject hate, embrace diversity, and respect differences. But often the SPLC and the people who believe their fear mongering behave exactly the opposite. The SPLC campaigns to deny free speech and freedom of association to groups of Americans with whom they disagree, often doing so to pander to other groups for more contributions all in the name of promoting “tolerance.” For example, if the British historian David Irving plans a lecture in Syracuse, the SPLC will protest any venue he might select, leaflet cars at his hotel saying, “There is a Nazi staying here,” and photograph and shout at anyone who might try to attend.

SPLC slime is not reserved solely for skinheads and members of the KKK. Dr. Ben Carson got a dose for opposing same sex marriage. SPLC later apologized but the charge never completely goes away, leading Carson to say that fear of being on the SPLC’s list serves to shut people up.

The SPLC makes money out of fear mongering and promoting the idea that Americans are inundated with hateful people, particularly on the radical right. The favorite target is the KKK and white supremacists.

The Baltimore Sun characterizes SPLC operations this way: “Its business is fundraising, and its success at raking in the cash is based on its ability to sell gullible people on the idea that present-day America is awash in white racism and anti-Semitism, which it will fight tooth-and-nail as the public interest law firm it purports to be.”1

It is understandable that the SPLC will run out of rocks under which to look for old KKK members and skinheads, but why criticize Deir Yassin Remembered, a small not-for-profit organization of Jews and non-Jews working to build a memorial for Palestinians murdered in 1948 on the west side of Jerusalem? DYR is certainly not the radical right. DYR practices and preaches tolerance; it has agreed to the advice of none other than the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem that its memorial show the Christian tenet of forgiveness. Its advisory board boasts diversity; it is composed of half men, half women, half Jews, half non-Jews. It has worked continuously since 1994 for Palestinian human rights, including equal rights of citizenship, with no compensation for any executive and with less than $5,000 of reserves.

The answer lies in the writings of some of the DYR members who have questioned the use of the Holocaust as both the sword and shield of Israel. The Holocaust has been used to justify the need for a Jewish state and its expropriation of Palestinian land; the Holocaust is used to monopolize victimhood and defend Israel from criticism of its brutal and unending occupation.

But it is more than that. The Holocaust has morphed from a historical event to a religion, which must not be contradicted for fear of being branded an apostate or a hater or a denier or an anti-Semite. Religious faith is self-validating, impervious to reason, and regards proposals to scientifically validate its claims as profane in all senses of the word.

So, anyone who is skeptical about the number “six million,” about mass extermination in gas chambers, or about Nazi orders for extermination is to be named and shamed and hated. For this topic, there can be no diversity of opinion and no respect for inquiry or debate.

Don’t tell us that the United States government claimed Hitler murdered over 20 million people until the late 1970s when that number was officially revised downwards and carved in stone at 11 million. Don’t tell us that Jewish historians today claim the 5 million number of non-Jewish victims is overstated. Don’t remind us that the lampshade and the soap-from-human-fat stories were simple gruel propaganda and have no historical significance. Don’t remind us that Elie Wiesel took his violin to Auschwitz and that none of his family was gassed. Don’t remind us that Elie chose to retreat with the Nazis rather than be liberated from Auschwitz as was the father of Anne Frank.

Fear mongering and sliming little organizations like DYR is fake news. It is ridiculous disinformation to keep SPLC campaign money coming in. It foments hate and bigotry and intolerance by the very hypocrites who claim the opposite.

  1. The truth about ʻhate crimesʼ and the racial justice racket” by Ron Smith, Baltimore Sun, December 3, 2008.

Sleepwalking Into a Nuclear Arms Race with Russia

The Nuclear Question is becoming increasingly obfuscated by spin and lobbying as the West sleepwalks into Cold War II — a walk made all the more dangerous when the loose lips of the U.S. tweeter-in-chief announced that another nuclear arms race is a great idea (see link and link).  Two Cold War II issues are central and almost never addressed: What will be the Russians’ understanding of all the propaganda surrounding the Nuclear Question and the looming American defense spendup? And how might they act on this understanding?

Background

Barack Obama first outlined his vision for nuclear disarmament in a speech in Prague on 5 April 2009, less than three months after becoming President.  This speech became the basis for what eventually became the New Start nuclear arms limitation treaty.  But Mr. Obama also opened the door for the modernization of our nuclear forces with this pregnant statement:

“To put an end to Cold War thinking, we will reduce the role of nuclear weapons in our national security strategy, and urge others to do the same. Make no mistake: As long as these weapons exist, the United States will maintain a safe, secure and effective arsenal to deter any adversary, and guarantee that defense to our allies –- including the Czech Republic.”

Why call for nuclear disarmament while opening the door to nuclear rearmament?

Obama’s speech paved the way to his Nobel Peace Prize in October 2009, but he was also trying to manipulate the domestic politics of the Military – Industrial – Congressional Complex (MICC).  By 15 December 2009, 41 Senators sent a letter to President Obama saying that further reductions of the nuclear arsenal would be acceptable only if accompanied by “a significant program to modernize our nuclear deterrent.”

Viewed in retrospect, it is clear that the new President — either naively or cynically — acquiesced to that senatorial spending demand in order to keep the powerful nuclear laboratories and their allies in the defense industry and Congress from lobbying against his new arms limitation treaty.  In April 2009 Obama took the first steps that launched a huge spending plan to modernize U.S. nuclear forces across the board.  Eight years later, during his first call to President Putin on 28 January 2017, President Trump locked that program in place by denouncing Obama’s New START as a “bad deal,” saying it favored Russia.

A particularly dangerous component of the Obama nuclear spending plan is the acquisition of low-yield precision-guided nuclear bombs/warheads.  These weapons only make sense within a radical strategy for actually fighting a nuclear war — as opposed to the almost universally accepted idea that our nuclear arsenal exists only to deter any thought of using these weapons — since actual use is unthinkable, with profoundly unknowable consequences.  Last December, the prestigious Defense Science Board — an organization replete with members closely connected to the nuclear labs and their defense industry allies — added its imprimatur  to this radical strategy by resurrecting the old and discredited ideas of limited nuclear options (LNOs).  LNOs are based on the unproven — and unprovable — hypothesis that a president could actually detonate a few nukes to control a gradually escalating nuclear bombing campaign, or perhaps to implement a psychological tactic of encouraging deterrence with a few small “preventative” nuclear explosions.

Adding to Obama’s expansion of our nuclear posture is President Trump’s intention to fulfill his campaign promises to strengthen all nuclear offensive and defensive forces, with particular emphasis on spending a lot more for the ballistic missile defense (BMD) program — which implies expanding the current deployments of BMD weapons in eastern Europe within a few hundred miles of the Russian border.

Early cost estimates — really guesses — for Obama’s entire nuclear modernization program are for one trillion dollars over the next 30 years.  No missile defense costs are included in this estimate — nor are the costs of Trump’s promised expansions.

The components of the currently authorized program — e.g., a new bomber, a new ballistic missile carrying submarine, a new ICBM, a new air-launched cruise missile, a complete remanufacturing upgrade of the existing B-61 dial-a-yield tactical nuclear bomb that also adds a precision guidance kit, a new family of missile warheads, new nuclear warhead production facilities, and a massive array of new large-scale intelligence, surveillance, command and control systems to manage these forces — are all in the early stages of development.  Assuming business as usual continues in the Pentagon, the one-trillion dollar estimate is really a typical front-loaded or “buy-in” estimate intended to stick the camel’s nose in the acquisition tent by deliberately understating future costs while over-promising future benefits.

The money for all of these programs is just beginning to flow into hundreds of congressional districts.  As the torrent of money builds up over the next decade, the flood of sub-contracting money and jobs in hundreds of congressional districts guarantees the entire nuclear spend-up will acquire a political life of its own — and the taxpayer will be burdened with yet another unstoppable behemoth.

Readers who doubt this outcome need only look at how the problem-plagued F-35 Strike Fighter lives on, resisting reductions in money flows and even receiving congressional add-ons, despite mind-numbing effectiveness shortfalls, technical failures and unending schedule delays (e.g., see this recent 60 page report by the Pentagon’s Director of Operational Test and Evaluation).

Locking hundreds of congressmen and senators into this nuclear modernization program guarantees that the money flow and cost overruns will increase without interference for the next thirty to fifty years.  Our many years of observing and analyzing DoD’s largest politically-engineered acquisitions makes it obvious that the initial buy-in guess of a trillion dollar total will turn into at least a three trillion dollar price tag by the end of three decades.  In short, the Pentagon is planting the seed money for another F-35-like disaster, only this time on steroids.

But there is more.  Once this multi-trillion dollar, self-sustaining money gusher is sluicing steadily into the boiler rooms of the Military – Industrial – Congressional Complex (MICC), U.S. force deployments, alliances, treaties and threat assessments will be shaped even more heavily than now to support the domestic politics of ever-increasing spending for the MICC.  Despite this, our nation’s foreign policy mandarins seeking to steer the ship of state from their perch on Mount Olympus will remain oblivious to the fact that their “policy” steering wheel is not connected to the ship’s rudder.

As one perceptive Pentagon wag succinctly observed years ago, “In the real world, foreign policy stops at the water’s edge,” i.e., the domestic politics of the MICC always trump foreign policy.  President Eisenhower understood this, though he did nothing about it before leaving office.

As of now, no one in the MICC really gives a damn how the Russians (or the Chinese) might actually react to America’s looming nuclear (and non-nuclear) spending binge.  This is clearly seen in the cognitive dissonance of the Obama Defense Department: It was torn between insisting the Russians are not the target of the nuclear program but at the same time justifying the nuclear build up as a means to counter Russian conventional aggression.  Equally revealing, an 8 February editorial in the Pentagon’s favored house organ, Defense News, described President Trump’s upcoming Nuclear Posture Review without once mentioning the Russians or Chinese nor how they might react to the looming American spending spree.  On the other hand, the editorial took great pains to explain in detail how the forces of domestic political consensus will ensure steady funding for Obama’s nuclear spending plans throughout the Trump Administration years.

Do Actions Trigger Reactions (1)?

So, how might the Russians react to the threat of increased American defense budgets?

Let’s try to look at the nuclear modernization program — and the looming defense spendup — from the Russian leadership’s point of view.

The Russians, particularly those internal political and industrial factions that benefit from Russian defense spending, are very likely to characterize the American spending program as an aggressive sharpening of the U.S. nuclear sword and a strengthening of its nuclear shield, synchronized with a threatening buildup of America’s conventional force. And that will be used to argue that Russia is spending far too little on defense because it faces an existential threat due to increased American spending.

Don’t laugh, this is a mirror image of the argument used successfully by President Ronald Reagan in a televised address to the nation on 22 November 1982.  His subject was also nuclear strategy, as well as the need to increase America’s entire defense budget. Reagan said [excerpted from pp. 3-5],

You often hear that the United States and the Soviet Union are in an arms race. The truth is that while the Soviet Union has raced, we have not. As you can see from this blue US line in constant dollars our defense spending in the 1960s went up because of Vietnam and then it went downward through much of the 1970s. Now, follow the red line, which is Soviet spending. It has gone up and up and up. …

Chart 1 -Reagan Spending comparison

“The combination of the Soviets spending more and the United States spending proportionately less changed the military balance and weakened our deterrent. Today, in virtually every measure of military power, the Soviet Union enjoys a decided advantage” …

If my defense proposals are passed, it will still take five years before we come close to the Soviet level.

Mirror imaging Reagan’s argument, Russian defense advocates emphasizing the dangers of the U.S. spendup are likely to point out that the United States and its allies are already spending far more on their military forces than Russia is spending. Moreover, America certainly intends to rapidly increase the size of this spending advantage, because the large new American nuclear modernization program is only part of a yet-larger long term spending buildup.

After all, have not President Trump and Senator McCain proposed  huge increases to President Obama’s defense budget to rebuild what Messrs. Trump and McCain claim is a “depleted” military (see link 1 and link 2 respectively)?  Advocates of increased Russian defense budgets might also ask, are not Messrs. Trump and McCain declaring an emergency by calling on Congress to exempt defense spending from the spending restrictions imposed by the Budget Control Act of 2011?

Indeed, Russian politicians, echoing Mr. Reagan in 1981, might construct a graphic using the West’s own numbers to prove their points, beginning perhaps with something like this (Chart 2):

Chart 2 World Military Spending

Chart 2

A Russian defense advocate using the Janes’ metric in Chart 2 could argue that (1) Russia is now spending slightly less than Saudi Arabia, less than India, and less than the UK; (2) the size of Russia’s budget is only a quarter of China’s; and (3) the size of Russia’s defense budget is an astonishing one-twelfth of that of the United States!

Add to the U.S. defense budget the contributions of its allies and close friends and the spending balance in favor the U.S. and its allies to that of Russia alone becomes an astounding 21 to 1! Even if Russia could trust China to be a reliable ally — which it can’t — the current spending imbalance is over four to one in favor of the U.S. and its allies on the one hand and Russia and China on the other.

Advocates of increased Russian defense spending might even argue their comparison does not suffer from the gross distortions created by Reagan’s earlier chart because (1) the Ruble was not convertible into dollars in 1982 (whereas it is today), and Reagan’s comparison severely overstated Soviet spending levels using an artificial exchange rate; and (2) the dollar numbers in their Chart 2 comparison start from zero, unlike the deliberately truncated dollar scale (100 to 275) Reagan used in Chart 1 to exaggerate his point.

Do Actions Trigger Reactions (II)?

Of course, from a Russian leader’s point of view, the strategic threat goes well beyond the madness implied by the asymmetries in defense budgets.

They might see the Trumpian expansion of both nuclear offense and missile defense as evidence the U.S. is planning to dominate Russia by preparing to fight and win a nuclear war — a radical shift from America’s 50+ years of building nuclear forces only for deterrence (often referred to as Mutually Assured Destruction or MAD).

Faced with such a threat, militarist factions inside Russia are likely to insist on a rational application of the precautionary principle by the Russian nation.

That principle will dictate a response, presumably a massive Russian nuclear arms race with the United States.  The obvious fact that the politically engineered U.S. nuclear program cannot be reined in or terminated by politicians in the U.S. is almost certainly understood by the Russians.  But that appreciation would serve merely to magnify the sense of menace perceived by patriotic Russian leaders.

Bear in mind, the Russians are unlikely to view the emerging nuclear menace in isolation.  For one thing, there is the toxic question of NATO’s expansion and the mistrust it created.

The vast majority of Russians, including former President Gorbachev, President Putin, and Prime Minister Medvedev, believe strongly that the U.S. and the West violated their verbal promises not to expand NATO eastward in return for the Soviet Union’s acquiescence to the unification of Germany as a member of NATO.  Many leaders of the West have either denied any promises were made or downplayed the import of any such understandings.  But reporters from the German weekly Der Spiegel discovered documents in western archives that supported the Russian point of view, and on 26 November 2009 published an investigative report concluding …

“After speaking with many of those involved and examining previously classified British and German documents in detail, SPIEGEL has concluded that there was no doubt that the West did everything it could to give the Soviets the impression that NATO membership was out of the question for countries like Poland, Hungary or Czechoslovakia.”

One thing is beyond dispute: The impression or understanding or promise not to expand NATO was broken by President Clinton — largely for domestic political reasons — making a mockery of President Gorbachev’s hopeful vision of a greater European home.

Clinton announced support for NATO expansion in October of 1996, just before the November election, to garner conservative and hawk votes, the votes of Americans of Eastern European descent, and in response to an intense NATO expansion lobbying campaign mounted by the MICC — and to steal the issue from his conservative opponent Senator Robert Dole.

The expansion of NATO eastwards combined with President Bush’s unilateral withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in June 2002, followed by the deployment of ABM systems to Eastern Europe certainly increased the Russians’ sense of mistrust and menace regarding U.S. intentions. To this day, Putin’s speeches repeatedly refer to the broken American promises.

There is more to an appreciation of the Russian point of view.  In parallel with the NATO expansion, the European Union (EU) expanded eastward, precipitously like an expanding cancer, beginning in 1995 and continuing to 2013.  The EU’s exclusion of Russia from the “greater European home” further fueled an atmosphere of mistrust and menace.

From a Russian perspective, the NATO and EU expansions worked to deliberately isolate and impoverish Russia — and the potential (though to date frustrated) expansion by the West into Ukraine and Georgia intensified the sense that Russia had been hoodwinked by the West.

The perception of a deliberate U.S. and EU campaign to cripple Russia has a history dating back to the end of the First Cold War in 1991: Russian leaders, for example, are unlikely to forget how, during the Clinton Administration, U.S. NGOS combined with American pressure, supported the extraordinarily corrupt privatization of the former Soviet state enterprises in the 1990s (aka “Shock Therapy”).  In the words of the Nobel Prize winning economist, Joseph Stiglitz (16 June 2000):

“In the early 1990s, there was a debate among economists over shock therapy versus a gradualist strategy for Russia. But Larry Summers [Under Secretary of the Treasury for International Affairs, then Deputy Secretary of the Treasury, now Secretary] took control of the economic policy, and there was a lot of discontent with the way he was driving the policy.

The people in Russia who believed in shock therapy were Bolsheviks–a few people at the top that rammed it down everybody’s throat. They viewed the democratic process as a real impediment to reform.

The grand larceny that occurred in Russia, the corruption that resulted in nine or ten people getting enormous wealth through loans-for-shares, was condoned because it allowed the reelection of Yeltsin.”

And in a touch of irony, given the current hysteria over President Putin’s alleged meddling in the U.S. presidential election, it gets worse.  Russian leaders are also unlikely to forget American intervention on behalf of Boris Yeltsin in the Russian elections of 1996, including using American control of the International Monetary Fund to float a $10.2 billion loan in March to 1996 to help the corrupt and malleable Boris Yeltsin to win the election in June.

Yeltsin Time Cover

July 15, 1996

So, from a Russian perspective, the recent increasingly severe U.S. sanctions are not only hypocritical, they certainly reinforce the view that the U.S. led campaign to cripple the Russian economy is ongoing and perhaps endless.

Moreover, the rapid, opportunistic expansion of NATO and the EU created a kaleidoscope of internal frictions.  Now both institutions are in trouble, riven by contradictions and disharmonies.  Great Britain is leaving the EU but will remain in NATO. Northern Europe and the EU bankers are imposing draconian austerity measures on Southern Europe, particularly Greece. Turkey, long a key NATO ally, is turning to Russia while being rejected by the EU.  The destruction of Libya, Iraq and Syria, under U.S. leadership with European participation, has created an unprecedented flood of refugees into the EU, deeply threatening the EU’S organizing principle of open borders.  The increasing tide of European instability and chaos, accompanied by the looming specter of growing Fascist movements from Spain to Ukraine, inevitably add to the traditional Russian sense of being endangered and encircled.

That sense of endangerment is certainly heightened by a recent creepy piece of nuttiness coming out of Poland, perhaps the most Russophobic member of the EU and NATO.  The German daily DW says Jaroslaw Kaczynski, a very conservative former prime minister of Poland, chairman of the ruling nationalist-conservative Law and Justice party (PiS), has called for a massive EU nuclear force — trading on Polish fears that the United States will not sacrifice Chicago to save Warsaw.  That France and Britain already have nuclear weapons and are members of NATO is, of course, left unsaid in Kaczynski’s demagoguery.

Russian leaders cannot ignore the fact that Kaczynski called for a nuclear EU shortly after the U.S. 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team of the 4th Infantry Division (3,500 troops and 2,500 vehicles) deployed to Poland.  Even worse, the commanding officer promptly declared the brigade is “ready to fight,” though it is intended to “deter” any threat to Poland.  One brigade is a trip wire … or a kind of blank check that might be exploited for nutty reasons to trigger a shooting war — and as Kaczynski just demonstrated, nuttiness is afoot in that part of the world.

Now, if you were a Russian; and

(1) you remembered the West’s destruction to your homeland beginning in 1812, 1914, and 1941 together with the recent string of broken promises, economic exclusion, and destructive meddling in Russian internal affairs that made a mockery of the ideal of a post-Cold War common European home; and …

(2) you faced a country that excluded you from Europe, suborned your election and is intent on crippling your economy, a country already outspending you on defense by a factor of twelve to one while expressing an intent to increase that lopsided ratio in a major way; and …

(3) that country has already started a nuclear arms race with a hugely expensive across-the-board modernization program to buy atomic weapons some of which can be justified only in terms of fighting and winning nuclear wars;

What would you do?

To ask such a question is to answer it.  For patriotic Americans interested in increasing their real national security (rather than their national security budget), the nuclear issue boils down to a question of understanding the powerful impact of America’s spending decisions and actions on patriotic Russians.  In other words, it is a question of reasoned empathy and pragmatic self-interest.

Yet the mainstream media and the politicians of both parties in thrall to our MICC are working day and night to pump up anti-Russian hysteria and hype fear to ensure Americans remain completely oblivious to the powerful, dangerous impact of our senseless Obama-Trump nuclear spend-up on the Russians — or on anyone else, for that matter.

Chuck Spinney and Pierre Sprey, between them, have over 75 years of Pentagon and industry experience in engineering weapons as well as in analyzing military systems effectivness and defense budgets.  Sprey was one of the early whiz kids in the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) in the 1960s. He led the Air Force’s concept design team for the legendary A-10 attack aircraft and, together with colonels Boyd and Riccioni, fathered the enormously successful F-16 fighter. Working in OSD in the 1980s, Spinney’s critical analyses of the Pentagon’s defective planning and budgeting landed him on the March 1983 cover of Time.  Leaving the Pentagon in 2003, he did an in-depth interview on the military-industrial-congressional complex with Bill Moyers which resulted in a special Emmy Award winning edition of Bill Moyers’ Now that aired on 1 August 2003.  Sprey and Spinney have testified before Congress on many occasions and were founding members of the Military Reform Movement led by their close colleague, the renowned American fighter pilot and strategist, Colonel John Boyd.

Roaming Charges: Exxon’s End Game Theory

If there ever was the sound of a doomsday clock chiming midnight, the signal moment probably occurred last fall, though the alarm went almost unnoticed by the press. In October, major observatories across the world simultaneously recorded that atmospheric carbon levels globally breached what has long been considered the “redline” of 400 parts per million and are likely to keep rising inexorably for the foreseeable future. The 400 parts per million mark has long been considered, even by climate optimists, a fatal tipping point, beyond which there is little hope of return.

One person who probably did take note, however, was Exxon’s CEO Rex Tillerson. I don’t know if Tillerson cracked an evil grin at the time, but I’m sure he must have felt that this grim milestone validated his strategic thinking for the past ten years as mastermind of the world’s largest oil conglomerate.

Despite what you may have heard from the Sierra Club, Rex Tillerson is not a climate change denier. He is something far more dangerous. Tillerson knows climate change is taking place. He was in position to possibly do something about it, evaluated his options and coolly chose not to change course.

Rex Tillerson took over Exxon in 2006, at a fraught time for the oil giant. Its longtime CEO, Lee Raymond, had just stepped down, handing the keys to the kingdom to his protégé, a star player on what the company called the “upstream” team, scouting and securing new oil fields to plunder. During his 12-year term as head of Exxon, Raymond ran the company with a dictatorial and dogmatic hand. He was hostile towards environmentalists and unflinching in his dismissal of climate science. Raymond sluiced tens of millions in company money into anti-environmental front groups, pro-oil politicians and industry-friendly scientists. But by 2005, there was a mini-rebellion brewing inside Exxon’s corporate headquarters in Irving, Texas. Like the French Revolution, this revolt was led by lawyers. (See Steve Coll’s definitive Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power.)

The company’s attorneys feared that through Raymond’s belligerence Exxon was making itself vulnerable to a legal attack for covering up and distorting the threats posed by climate change. The concern here wasn’t from lawsuits by outside groups, such as Greenpeace, but from the company’s own shareholders and investors who might claim that Exxon had concealed a looming financial risk to the company’s bottom line.

One of the big problems confronting Tillerson the day he took over the reins was the fact that the very scientists at MIT and Stanford who had been cashing Exxon’s checks for decades to churn out white papers questioning whether fossil fuel emissions were a driving force beyond climate change, had begun to change their tune. In fact, in 2003 bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550-e1477943826411MIT’s Global System Model, largely underwritten by Exxon, forecast a 2.4-degree-centigrade rise in global temperatures over the next hundred years. By 2006, those same scientists had more than doubled that estimate. Exxon faced the prospect of being betrayed by their own bought science.

Organizationally, Exxon changes course about as quickly and adroitly as its Valdez tanker did while trying to navigate Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound.  But Tillerson is a pragmatist. A Texas boy, Tillerson idealized the Boy Scouts and when he became head of the Exxon behemoth he began handing out merit badges to company executives who met their production quotas. He set to work with an Eagle Scout’s pious determination to quietly recalibrate the company’s position on climate change. It was, in Tillerson’s mind, a concession to reality.

During the early days of the Iraq War, Exxon set up a special team to run war games on how the invasion would affect the oil industry in terms of pricing, supply and distribution networks. It sent the results of these scenarios to Dick Cheney through Cheney’s factotum Douglas Feith, and so war planning and oil development proceeded in harmony. Tillerson was familiar with the Iraq war gaming and decided to use a similar technique to help chart the company’s new climate change strategy.

Tillerson wanted his secret squad of climate change gamers to answer four questions: 1. Is climate change real? 2. Is the threat serious? 3. Are there any effective actions that can be taken to halt or reverse climate change or mitigate the damage? 4. Are the world’s leading carbon emitters likely to impose binding limits on emissions in time to prevent runaway climate change? The answer to the first two questions was “yes”. The answer to the third question was “maybe” and the fourth “no”.

The lesson Tillerson took from this assessment was that climate change is a serious threat and no government has the will or perhaps even the means to confront it. Thus, the only responsible thing to do for the shareholders of Exxon was to push forward aggressively with exploration and development of new oil fields and ventures, from Amazonia to Russia, before some other company captured the reserves. Internally, this became known as the “end game” scenario.

As CEO of Trump’s foreign policy enterprise, Tillerson seems likely to impose this cynical template on the world at large by forging new alliances with old rivals in kind of a Pax petroliana, where the body count of hot wars will be replaced by the hidden, slow deaths caused by an atmosphere gone lethal.

* * *

Roaming Charges

+ Rarely has a political drag queen come off as such a whiney bore as Milo Yiannopoulos. But Milo’s fleeting moments of fame melted faster than a Hollywood snowflake, losing his book deal, speaking slot at CPAC and editorial gig at Breitbart all in a few short hours. Then he suffered the added humiliation of having the equally boorish Bill Maher seize credit for his downfall, when it was, in fact, a case of manufactured suicide, as Milo hung himself on his own quest for the outrageous.

Give Milo a little credit, though, he finally showed us where Republicans draw a red line: Koran-burning, pussy-grabbing, school shootings, rallies by Swastika-wearing goose steppers, all just good old American fun. But they won’t tolerate jokes about the sexual molestation of 13-year olds. Finally, some clarity. Thus we say farewell to one of the most rancid media curiosities of our torpid times.

As a final salute to Milo, President Trump signed an Executive Order overturning Obama’s rule on transgendered bathrooms. No word on whether Trump adorned himself in a single strand of Melania’s pearls for the occasion.

+ Trump: “We’re getting really bad dudes out of this country … it’s a military operation.” Military Operation, eh? So much for Posse Comitatus Act, which Bill Clinton incinerated at Waco.

+ This just in from CPAC, during a speech by the American Conservative Union’s Dan Schneider who denounced “the alt-right is a hateful left-wing fascist group.” Chew on that, Muchachos.

+ For years, the Washington Post toiled in the service of John Podesta. Now the Post is returning the favor. Jeff Bezos’s rag has just hired Podesta as a columnist. Let’s hope he focuses on his two favorite topics: food and (space) aliens. I’m up for some new risotto recipes and perhaps Podesta will be able to link aliens to the abduction of those Pizzagate kids.

+ Nathaniel St. Clair and I spent a fascinating hour with Oliver Stone at his offices in Los Angeles this week. Our talk ranged from the deflating spectacle of the Left’s incessant Russia-bashing to the deplorable state of the mainstream media, particularly the daily treacle streaming from the New York Times. Stone reprimanded me for my “questionable taste in movies.” I took his punch like a big boy, staggered but not floored. Then I counterpunched by saying how much I admired a couple of his lesser known films, especially Heaven and Earth, a movie which tells the story of the Vietnam War from a Vietnamese point of view. Stone concurred, still somewhat aggrieved that American film-going audiences had little interest in hearing about the experience of the Vietnamese people themselves. Deténte was established between us.

Stone is a true American auteur. Most of his projects are his from conception through execution. Some films are more successful than others, but none fail to be intriguing on some level, largely because they are projections of a coherent sensibility. Stone comes at film primarily as a writer, but he rarely lets the words overwhelm the movie. Film is, after all, a visual medium. I watched Platoon again a couple of weeks ago and it remains the best American film on that merciless exercise in imperial brutality. If you watched Platoon and Kubrick’s Full-Metal Jacket, you’ll learn more about the real experience of Vietnam than you’ll get the 18 platitudinous hours that the insipid Ken Burns is about to inflict upon the unsuspecting viewers of PBS. (One can only hope that Trump cuts off funding for CPB by September to spare us from having to endure Burns’s banal boilerplate.) More and more, I’ve come to think that Nixon stands as Stone’s greatest achievement. Shorn of the high-octane conspiracies of JFK, Nixon moves at a deliberate pace over the course of three hours, a deep character study of an enigmatic and malevolent mind, as it sinks into darkness and dread.

Stone’s recent film, Snowden, is equally vital. Snowden is not only one of the year’s best films, it is also perhaps the most important, a film that should be mandatory viewing in every American high school, especially those under the supervision of Betsy DeVos. Stone said Snowden took three years to research, digging that was all the more demanding because of the computer science and math. Stone doesn’t do math. I sympathize fully.

It’s no surprise that Snowden was largely ignored by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. But Stone’s fellow writers appreciated how well he told that complex story of surveillance, government criminality and courageous resistance and tapped him for the Laurel Award for best screenplay. His acceptance speech is an unsparing critique of the savageness of American foreign policy.

+ Net immigration from Mexico ended years ago, now more people are returning to Mexico than entering the US. Is Trump’s wall really designed to keep people in?

+ To the tune of the “Gorka Waltz“…

If you’re unable
to tell if they’re unstable
as they’re blabbing away on cable
just look for that Nazi label
They praise it loudly
They wear it proudly
So look for their fascist tell–
Right there
on their
lapel…..

+ Speaking of Hitler, Trump’s new science advisor, William Happer, the Cyrus Fogg Brackett Professor of Physics at Princeton University, is a 77-year old climate change denier with a predilection for Teutonic metaphors. Happer claims that carbon has been “demonized” by Nazi-like greens, as if the harmless little molecules were “poor Jews under Hitler.” He sees himself as the Oskar Schindler of fossil fuels…

+ Three Texans go on a hunt near the Mexican border: a guide and his two clients. Paranoia sets in. The guide suspects that someone has hijacked his truck and is hightailing it to the Hill Country. He fires his gun. The people in the truck return fire. Two are wounded. Turns out they are his clients, who had, for some reason probably involving alcohol consumption, commandeered his ride.

A cover story is concocted.

When the sheriff arrives, the men claim they encountered a trio of Mexican interlopers, of the undocumented variety, who tried to hotwire their truck. These were some very bad hombres and a gun battle ensued resulting in minor casualties on both sides. In the end, the heroic Texans prevailed and the invaders scattered back toward the border having learned a harsh lesson about messing with our boys.

Lamentably, this tall tale soon unraveled and the truth emerged, followed by charges of the legal kind. But no doubt these three gallant specimens of Texas manhood will be deputized by ICE upon their release from prison….

+ Perhaps this was the “Swedish Incident” that got Trump so fired up?

+ Time spent on the golf course (25 hours and counting) is time not spent ordering ICE raids on grandmothers and toddlers…

+ Trump just appointed Lt. Gen. HR McMaster–a Russia-hating, Cold War-loving, neocon hawk–as his National Security advisor. Will the Prez get the endorsement of the MSDNC crowd now?

+ Thank Gaia for fake news, so we don’t have to fret about the fact that the crippled and not yet-perhaps never to be-fixed Fukushima nuclear plant is now more radioactive than at any point since the triple-core meltdown in 2011. Over to you, George Monbiot.

+ Bono the Banal met with Mike Pence, hailed him  as the “2nd busiest man on the planet.” Achtung Baby! 

+ Betsy DeVos’s brother Eric Prince, the mercenary entrepreneur,  is setting up two private army bases in China. Unarmed. Or so he claims. His track record in the veracity department is a little shaky.

+ No charges in Anaheim. I was down in Long Beach, Cal., sitting in a Mexican bar last night watching this unfold on Univision. Even though my Spanish is limited, I knew exactly what the police union rep and police chief were saying, the same thing they always say when they are covering up for an act of violent madness by one of their own.

And this from my old stomping grounds in Baltimore, a 16-year-old student, who was being threatened by a knife-wielding girl, was “rescued” by the cops in the following manner….

So, yeah, Fuck da Police, RAtM-style...

+ “You play with my world like it was your little toy….”

Sound Grammar

What I’m listening to this week…

Charles Lloyd and the Marvels: I Long to See You
Delbert McClinton: Prick of the Litter
Tift Merritt: Stitch of the World
Nicholas Payton: Afro-Caribbean Mixtape
Courtney Pine: House of Legends

Booked Up

What I’m reading this week…

Timothy B. Tyson: The Blood of Emmett Till
Michael Hudson: J is for Junk Economics
Ian Rankin: Rather be the Devil

Academy Awards

Sticking only to the narrow choices offered by the official nominations, here are my picks:

Best Film: Moonlight
Best Actor: Denzel Washington (Fences)
Best Actress: Isabelle Huppert (Elle)
Best Supporting Actor: Mahersala Ali (Moonlight)
Best Supporting Actress: Viola Davis (Fences)
Best Animated Feature: Kubo and the Two Strings
Best Cinematography: James Laxton (Moonlight)
Best Costume Design: Consolata Boyle (Florence Foster Jenkins)
Best Director: Barry Jenkins (Moonlight)
Best Documentary Feature: I am Not Your Negro (Raoul Peck)
Best Documentary Short: 4.1 Miles (Daphne Matziaraki)
Best Editing: Nat Sanders and Jai McMillan (Moonlight)
Best Foreign Language Film: The Salesman (Asghar Farhadi)
Best Screenplay (Adapted): August Wilson (Fences)
Best Screenplay (Original): Taylor Sheridan (Hell or High Water)

Consciousness of Guilt

Assata Shakur: “If you are deaf, dumb, and blind to what’s happening in the world, you’re under no obligation to do anything. But if you know what’s happening and you don’t do anything but sit on your ass, then you’re nothing but a punk.”

 

Did Obama Pave the Way for More Torture?

If we do not act we shall surely be dragged down the long, dark and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight.

— Martin Luther King, Jr. April 4, 1967

On Jan. 25, 26 and 27, the new president repeated falsely that “torture works.” Claiming to have spoken with high-level intelligence officers, Trump said they told him torture works “absolutely.”

This implausible story flies in the face of the 2014 Senate Intelligence Committee report which concluded that torture is not merely illegal but worthless. The 6,000+-page report found that torture produced “fabricated information, resulting in faulty intelligence.” This common knowledge has been settled law for so long that torture has been prohibited by international treaties and US statutes. Historian Michael Kwass reminds us that as early as 1764, Cesare Beccaria called for abolishing torture because it is immoral and doesn’t work. For good measure, the Senate again voted to ban torture in 2015.

On Feb. 17 last year at an event in Bluffton, S.C., Trump said, “Don’t tell me it doesn’t work — torture works,” and, “Half these guys [say], ‘Torture doesn’t work.’ Believe me, it works. … I would bring back waterboarding. And I would bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding.” At a big rally Nov. 23, 2015, he said, “Would I approve waterboarding? You bet your ass I would, in a heartbeat, in a heartbeat. And don’t kid yourself folks, it works, okay, it works. Only a stupid person would say it doesn’t work. It works.” At a Republican debate last March he said, “Waterboarding is fine, and if we want to go stronger I’d go stronger too. We should go for waterboarding and we should go tougher than waterboarding.” In a televised chat with South Carolina State Rep. Bill Herbkersman, Trump said that if elected he would “immediately” resume waterboarding and “much worse,” calling waterboarding a “minor form” of interrogation.

Asked about military personnel refusing such an unlawful order, Trump has said, “I’m a leader. If I say ‘Do it,’ they’re gonna do it.” Trump even threatened atrocities late last November at a rally in Columbus, Ohio, where he said, “If it doesn’t work they deserve it anyway, for what they’re doing,” indicating he would use torture for publicity or propaganda.

Door left wide open

When president Obama chose not to pursue criminal charges of torture against George Bush, Dick Cheney, Don Rumsfeld and other administration officials including Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, and the CIA’s Gina Haspel, the principle outcry was that Obama’s negligence left the door open to future torture programs. With Trump in the White House, it’s certain that Obama’s decision was an inexcusable blunder. If Trump keeps his promise to commit atrocities like those committed under Bush/Cheney/Haspel, President Obama will be partly to blame.

On Feb. 2, Trump appointed Ms. Haspel deputy director of the CIA, a move that telegraphs his intentions. Haspel personally oversaw the torture of two men at her secret CIA prison in Thailand. Haspel’s torture sessions were videotaped — as were many others — and when the tapes’ existence became known, the CIA destroyed them — in violation of court orders to preserve evidence. One name appearing on the order for destruction was Gina Haspel, Matthew Rosenberg reported in the New York Times.

By 2007, the CIA’s videotape destruction was a full-blown scandal, and even then-Senator Joe Biden publicly charged that the tapes’ destruction and the war crimes they documented called for a Special Prosecutor. Biden evidently dropped this thought as Obama’s VP.

Because Trump does not read books, and learns what he “knows” from television alone, his idea of torture may not go beyond the fictional TV torture promo called “24.” Of course the strategists whispering in Trump’s ear may remind him that torture “works,” not in the TV sense, but in the sense that when the public knows that its government tortures opponents, the opposition tends to cower and shrink. Torture works to terrify your own people.

Obama himself continued for years to allow the force-feeding of hunger strikers at Guantanamo Bay, an excruciating and sometimes bloody practice involving a plastic tube being painfully forced into the nose and down the throat of the prisoner. In 2013, at least 35 prisoners at Guantanamo were being force-fed, according to the Miami Herald. The UN Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights ruled in May 2013 that force feeding was “cruel, inhuman and degrading” and as such a “flagrant violation of international human rights law.” Prof. Steven Miles at the U. of Minn. told reporters that considering its long-term use and the military’s methods, Obama’s force-feeding “constitutes torture.”

Jenna Johnson, reporting in the Washington Post, noted last summer that “Trump’s call for waterboarding and more extreme measures is always met with warm applause and cheers at his rallies.” It is thanks to Trump’s chant “torture works,” thanks to TV’s fictionalized treatment of torture, and thanks to Obama’s euphemisms like “force-feeding” that in December 2016 the Red Cross could report that 46 percent of the US adults it surveyed said torture could be used to obtain information from enemy soldiers.

Today, unless the public confronts torture in all its permutations, the new administration may again drag the United States further “down the long, dark and shameful corridors.”

Malcolm X and Human Rights in the Time of Trumpism: Transcending the Master’s Tools

52 years-ago on February 21st, the world lost the great anti-colonial fighter, Malcolm X. Around the world, millions pause on this anniversary and take note of the life and contribution of Brother Malcolm. Two years ago, I keynoted a lecture on the legacy of Malcolm X at the American University in Beirut, Lebanon. While I had long been aware of the veneration that Malcolm inspired in various parts of the world, I was still struck by the love and appreciation that so many have for Malcolm beyond activists in the black world.

There are a number of reasons that might explain why 52 years later so many still pay homage to Malcolm.  For those of us who operate within context of the Black Radical Tradition, Malcolm’s political life and philosophy connected three streams of the Black Radical Tradition: nationalism, anti-colonialism and internationalism. For many, the way in which Malcolm approached those elements account for his appeal. Yet, I think there is something else. Something not reducible to the language of political struggle and opposition that I hear when I encounter people in the U.S. and in other parts of the world when they talk about Malcolm. I suspect it is his defiance, his dignity, his courage and his selflessness. For me, it is all of that, but it is also how those elements were reflected in his politics, in particular his approach to the concept of human rights.

The aspects of his thought and practice that distinguished the period of his work in that short year between his break with the Nation of Islam (NOI) in 1964 and his assassination in 1965 included not only his anti-racism and anti-colonialist stance but also his advocacy of a radical approach to the issue of human rights.

Human Rights as a De-Colonial Fighting Instrument

Malcolm – in the tradition of earlier black radical activists and intellectuals in the late 1940s –  understood the subversive potential of the concept of human rights when philosophically and practically disconnected from its liberal, legalistic, and state-centered genesis.

For Malcolm, internationalizing resistance to the system of racial oppression in the U.S. meant redefining the struggle for constitutional civil rights by transforming the struggle for full recognition of African American citizenship rights to a struggle for human rights.

This strategy for international advocacy was not new. African Americans led by W.E. B. Dubois were present at Versailles during the post-World War I negotiations to pressure for self-rule for various African nations, including independence from the racist apartheid regime in South Africa. At the end of the World War II during the creation of the United Nations, African American radicals forged the possibilities to use this structure as a strategic space to pressure for international support for ending colonization in Africa and fight against racial oppression in the United States.

Malcolm studied the process by which various African American organizations – the National Negro Congress (NNC), National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Civil Rights Congress (CRC), petitioned the UN through the Human Rights Commission on behalf of the human rights of African Americans. Therefore, in the very first months after his split with the NOI, he already envisioned idea that the struggle of Africans in the U.S. had to be internationalized as a human rights struggle.  He advised leaders of the civil rights movement to “expand their civil rights movement to a human rights movement, it would internationalize it.”

Taking a page from the examples of the NNC, NAACP and CRC, The Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU), one of the two organizations Malcolm formed after leaving the NOI, sought to bring the plight of African Americans to the United Nations to demand international sanctions against the U.S. for refusing to recognize the human rights of this oppressed nation.

However, there was something quite different with Malcolm’s approach to human rights that distinguished him from mainstream civil rights activists. By grounding himself in the radical human rights approach, Malcolm articulated a position on human rights struggle that did not contain itself to just advocacy. He understood that appealing to the same powers that were responsible for the structures of oppression was a dead end. Those kinds of unwise and potentially reactionary appeals would never result in substantial structural changes. Malcolm understood oppressed peoples must commit themselves to radical political struggle in order to advance a dignified approach to human rights.

“We have to make the world see that the problem that we’re confronted with is a problem for humanity. It’s not a Negro problem; it’s not an American problem. You and I have to make it a world problem, make the world aware that there’ll be no peace on this earth as long as our human rights are being violated in America.”

And if the U.S. and the international community does not address the human rights plight of the African American, Malcolm is clear on the course of action: “If we can’t be recognized and respected as a human being, we have to create a situation where no human being will enjoy life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Malcolm’s approach to the realization of human rights was one in which human agency is at the center. If oppressed individuals are not willing to fight for their human rights, Malcolm suggested that “you should be kept in the cotton patch where you’re not a human being.”

If you are not ready to pay the price required to experience full dignity as a person and as members of a self-determinant people, then you will be consigned to the “zone of non-being,” as Fanon refers to that place where the non-European is assigned. Malcolm referred to that zone as a place where one is a sub-human:

“You’re an animal that belongs in the cotton patch like a horse and a cow, or a chicken or a possum, if you’re not ready to pay the price that is necessary to be paid for recognition and respect as a human being.

And what is that price?

The price to make others respect your human rights is death. You have to be ready to die… it’s time for you and me now to let the world know how peaceful we are, how well-meaning we are, how law-abiding we wish to be. But at the same time, we have to let the same world know we’ll blow their world sky-high if we’re not respected and recognized and treated the same as other human beings are treated.”

People(s)-Centered Human Rights:

This approach to human rights struggle is the basis of what I call the People(s)-Centered approach to human rights struggle.

People(s)-Centered Human Rights (PCHR) are those non-oppressive rights that reflect the highest commitment to universal human dignity and social justice that individuals and collectives define and secure for themselves through social struggle.

This is the Black Radical Tradition’s approach to human rights.  It is an approach that views human rights as an arena of struggle that, when grounded and informed by the needs and aspirations of the oppressed, becomes part of a unified comprehensive strategy for de-colonization and radical social change.

The PCHR framework provides an alternative and a theoretical and practical break with the race and class-bound liberalism and mechanistic state-centered legalism that informs mainstream human rights.

The people-centered framework proceeds from the assumption that the genesis of the assaults on human dignity that are at the core of human rights violations is located in the relationships of oppression. The PCHR framework does not pretend to be non-political. It is a political project in the service of the oppressed. It names the enemies of freedom: the Western white supremacist, colonial/capitalist patriarchy.

Therefore, the realization of authentic freedom and human dignity can only come about as a result of the radical alteration of the structures and relationships that determine and often deny human dignity. In other words, it is only through social revolution that human rights can be realized.

The demands for clean water; safe and accessible food; free quality education; healthcare and healthiness for all; housing; public transportation; wages and a socially productive job that allow for a dignified life; ending of mass incarceration; universal free child care; opposition to war and the control and eventual elimination of the police; self-determination; and respect for democracy in all aspects of life are some of the people-centered human rights that can only be realized through a bottom-up mass movement for building popular power.

By shifting the center of human rights struggle away from advocacy to struggle, Malcolm laid the foundation for a more relevant form of human rights struggle for people still caught in the tentacles of Euro-American colonial dominance. The PCHR approach that creates human rights from the bottom-up views human rights as an arena of struggle. Human rights does not emanate from legalistic texts negotiated by states—it comes from the aspirations of the people. Unlike the liberal conception of human rights that elevates some mystical notions of natural law (which is really bourgeois law) as the foundation of rights, the “people” in formation are the ethical foundation and source of PCHRs.

Trumpism is the logical outcome of the decades long assault of racialized neoliberal capitalism. Malcolm showed us how to deal with Trumpism, and the PCHR movement that we must build will move us to that place where collective humanity must arrive if we are to survive and build a new world. And we will – “by any means necessary.”

McMaster Takes Charge: Trump Relinquishes Control of Foreign Policy 

The war party is back in power and the odds of normal relations with Russia have dropped to zero.

The appointment of Army Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster to the position of national security adviser indicates that Trump has done an about-face on his most critical foreign policy issue, normalizing relations with Russia. General Michael Flynn– who recently stepped down from the post following allegations of lying to Vice President Mike Pence –was the main proponent of easing tensions with Moscow which is a position that had been enthusiastically embraced by President Donald Trump. But McMaster does not support normalizing relations with Russia, in fact,  McMaster sees Russia as a “hostile revisionist power” that “annex(es) territory, intimidates our allies, develops nuclear weapons, and uses proxies under the cover of modernized conventional militaries.” So, what’s going on? Why has Trump put a Moscow-hating hawk like McMaster in a position where he’ll be able to intensify the pressure on Russia, increase the provocations and, very likely, trigger a conflagration between the two nuclear-armed superpowers?

The appointment of McMaster is an attempt by Trump to placate his enemies in the Intel agencies and foreign policy establishment. Trump is signaling to his adversaries that he will cooperate in carrying out their strategic agenda provided they allow him to finish his term. Trump doesn’t want to end up like Flynn nor does he want to do battle with the all-powerful deep state operatives who can launch one demeaning propaganda blitz after the other followed by years of excruciating investigations leading inevitably to a lengthy and humiliating impeachment that leaves Trump a broken, discredited shambles. That’s not how Trump wants to end his career in politics. He wants to end it on a high note, riding a wave of burgeoning affection and love.

That’s why he picked McMaster. The neocons love him, the liberal interventionists love him, the media loves him and the entire political establishment loves him.  Everyone loves him. He’s the “warrior-scholar” who ‘speaks truth to power’ and writes futuristic books on ‘generation warfare’, ‘information superiority’ and ‘predictive battlespace awareness’ all of which delight his devoted admirers. The downside of McMaster is that he is a hard-boiled militarist with a driving animus towards Russia. Judging by his writing on the topic, I would expect a broader and more lethal conflict to flare up in either Syria or Ukraine as soon as he gets settled in his new job.

Bottom line: The removal of Flynn has convinced Trump that powerful elements within the national security state have him in their crosshairs. As a result, Trump has relinquished control of foreign policy and handed the whole mess over to gladiator McMaster who will coordinate with Sec-Def General James Mattis on a new strategy to deploy US troops to East Syria and West Iraq to establish a permanent military presence in “occupied” Sunnistan. (The area will also be used for natural gas pipeline corridors connecting Qatar to the EU) The strategy in Ukraine will focus primarily on luring Russia into a long and resource-draining war that will further depress the ailing Russian economy precipitating political instability, social unrest and regime change. That is the hope at least, that Russia’s wars abroad will lead to the ousting of Vladimir Putin.

Here’s a few clips from a presentation McMaster gave at the Center for Strategic and International Studies on May 4, 2016. They help to clarify the man’s ominous world view:

“…what I’d really like to talk to you about is (the) period we’re in right now, a period of increasing risks…risks to our nation, to our allies, and really all of humanity……….

globally – the situation in connection with U.S. vital interests and security – .. is changing really in a direction that’s going to raise additional challenges to the U.S. and U.S. national security…. what we’re seeing is a shift in geopolitics in a way that imposes great dangers and has elevated the risk of a major international military crisis to the highest level in the last 70 years. A number of scholars are writing about this – Jakub Grygiel and Wess Mitchell in particular in their great recent book “Unquiet Frontier,” where they describe revisionist powers, Russia and China in particular on the Eurasian landmass, that are surrounded by weak states which are now becoming battlegrounds, areas of competition at the far reaches of American power.” (“Harbingers of Future War: Implications for the Army with Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster”, The Center for Strategic and International Studies)

We have discussed the “pivot to Asia” ad nauseam in this column. McMaster’s comments help to underscore the fact that the struggle to control the “Eurasian landmass”, the center of economic growth for the next century, is at the heart of the US imperial crusade which is now entering a new and more dangerous phase.

McMaster: “I also think Margaret MacMillan’s great essay written in 2014 making the analogy between 2014 and 1914, and really making the point that geopolitics is back; maybe our – what we might call our holiday from history in the post-Cold War period is over.”

So in McMaster’s mind, another global conflagration on a par with World War 1 is now in the making. Unlike most people, he sees this as a challenge rather than an apocalyptic event that should be avoided at all cost.

McMaster:  “I think what might have punctuated the end of the post-Cold War period is Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and annexation of Crimea. Now, this was – this was not really a new development in terms of Russian aggression. I think you can go back to the denial-of-service attacks on the Baltic states in 2007, certainly the invasion of Georgia in 2008.”

McMaster is extremely well read and follows the news closely. He knows that Georgia attacked South Ossetia and that Putin –who was at the Olympics at the time– merely responded. Why is McMaster deliberately misleading his audience about the details? And why doesn’t he explain how the elected government of Ukraine was toppled in a CIA-State Department coup? Those facts are readily available to anyone who has seriously researched the incident.

It seems obvious that McMaster is twisting the truth to make his case against Russia.

McMaster:

“…even though it may have been apparent at least since 2008 that Russia was changing its geostrategic behavior … what we’re seeing now is we’ve awakened to, obviously, this threat from Russia, who is waging limited war for limited objectives – annexing Crimea, invading Ukraine – at zero cost, consolidating gains over that territory, and portraying the reaction by us and allies and partners as escalatory.”

The “threat from Russia”? In other words, NATO is not responsible for its relentless push eastward expanding its grip on all the former Soviet satellites in east Europe, deploying its tanks, heavy artillery, troops and missile systems right onto Russia’s doorstep. No. Instead, Russia should be blamed for its fictitious invasion of Crimea.

McMaster is basing his argument on fake facts and a convoluted interpretation of events that doesn’t square with reality. Russia is the victim of US-NATO aggression not the perpetrator.

McMaster then offers a remedy for so called ‘Russian aggression’: “…what is required to deter a strong nation that is waging limited war for limited objectives on battlegrounds involving weaker states … is forward deterrence, to be able to ratchet up the cost at the frontier, and to take an approach to deterrence that is consistent with deterrence by denial, convincing your enemy that your enemy is unable to accomplish his objectives at a reasonable cost rather than sort of an offshore balancing approach and the threat of punitive action at long distance later, which we know obviously from – recent experience confirms that that is inadequate.”

“Forward deterrence”? This needs to be clarified.

What McMaster is saying, is that, instead of threatening to retaliate at some time in the future,  the US should use ‘deterrence by denial’, that is, make it as hard and as costly as possible for Russia to achieve its strategic objectives. By defeating ISIS in Eastern Syria and establishing permanent US military bases, McMaster intends to prevent Russia from restoring Syria’s sovereign borders which is one of the primary goals of the mission.  The “safe zones” that Trump has talked about recently, fit perfectly with this same strategy as they undermine Moscow’s efforts to reunify the state and bring the conflict to an end.

This appears to be the plan that McMaster will pursue as national security adviser.  Expect US ground troops to be deployed to Syria as soon as the details are worked out.

More from McMaster:

“… what Russia is employing…is a sophisticated strategy…that combines conventional forces as cover for unconventional action, but a much more sophisticated campaign involving the use of criminality and organized crime, and really operating effectively on this battleground of perception and information, and in particular part of a broader effort to sow doubt and conspiracy theories across our alliance. And this effort, I believe, is aimed really not at defensive objectives, but at offensive objectives – to collapse the post-World War II, certainly the post-Cold War, security, economic, and political order in Europe, and replace that order with something that is more sympathetic to Russian interests.”

The Russian strategy employs “criminality and organized crime” to effect “perception and information”?

This is just more demonization of Russia intended to make the case for war. Putin does not want a war with the US nor does he want to “collapse the post-World War II order… and replace that order with something that is more sympathetic to Russian interests.”

Putin is a firm believer in capitalism and still participates in the G-20 and WTO. What Putin objects to is the US using its extraordinary power to topple regimes it doesn’t like spreading death and instability across the planet. That’s what he opposes, the persistent meddling that undermines global security. Is that so unreasonable?

McMaster:

“So what do all these conflicts have in common is they’re about the control of territory, people and resources. ….what we need is that synergy between the joint force, where our forces have the capability and the capacity to deter conflict and, if that fails, to resolve conflict in our interest – to protect our security and our vital interests. And that may entail imposing outcomes without the cooperation of the enemy, and that has significant implications for the Army in particular.”

In other words, we are going to continue to fight for oil and markets (our “vital interests”), we’re going to go it alone if necessary,  and if somebody tries to stop us, we’re going to annihilate them.

Isn’t that what he’s saying?

You know it is. There’s not going to be normal relations between Russia and the US on McMaster’s watch. The man believes we are in a life or death struggle with an evil enemy that wants to do us harm. That’s not the basis for building peaceful relations. It’s a justification for war.