How President Trump Normalized Neoconservatism

Ilana Mercer writes for The Unz Review:

shutterstock_353116895It’s fact: Neoconservatives are pleased with President Trump’s foreign policy.

A couple of months back, Bloomberg’s Eli Lake let it know he was in neoconservative nirvana:

“… for Venezuela, [Donald Trump] came very close to calling for regime change. ‘The United States has taken important steps to hold the regime accountable,’ Trump said. ‘We are prepared to take further action if the government of Venezuela persists on its path to impose authoritarian rule on the Venezuelan people.’”

“For a moment,” swooned Lake, “I closed my eyes and thought I was listening to aWeekly Standard editorial meeting.”

Onward to Venezuela!

Mr. Lake, a neoconservative, was loving every moment. In error, he and his kind confuse an expansionist foreign policy with “American exceptionalism.”

It’s not.

As it happens, neocons are in luck. Most Americans know little of the ideas that animated their country’s founding. They’re more likely to hold ideas in opposition to the classical-liberal philosophy of the Founders, and, hence, wish to see the aggrandizement of the coercive, colossal, Warfare State.

That’s just the way things are.

READ MORE…

Advertisements

Mapping a World From Hell: 76 Countries Are Now Involved in Washington’s War on Terror

Tom Engelhardt writes for Tom Dispatch:

He left Air Force Two behind and, unannounced, “shrouded in secrecy,” flew on an unmarked C-17 transport plane into Bagram Air Base, the largest American garrison in Afghanistan. All news of his visit was embargoed until an hour before he was to depart the country.

More than 16 years after an American invasion “liberated” Afghanistan, he was there to offer some good news to a U.S. troop contingent once again on the rise. Before a 40-foot American flag, addressing 500 American troops, Vice President Mike Pence praised them as “the world’s greatest force for good,” boasted that American air strikes had recently been “dramatically increased,” swore that their country was “here to stay,” and insisted that “victory is closer than ever before.” As an observer noted, however, the response of his audience was “subdued.”  (“Several troops stood with their arms crossed or their hands folded behind their backs and listened, but did not applaud.”)

Think of this as but the latest episode in an upside down geopolitical fairy tale, a grim, rather than Grimm, story for our age that might begin: Once upon a time — in October 2001, to be exact — Washington launched its war on terror.  There was then just one country targeted, the very one where, a little more than a decade earlier, the U.S. had ended a long proxy waragainst the Soviet Union during which it had financed, armed, or backed an extreme set of Islamic fundamentalist groups, including a rich young Saudi by the name of Osama bin Laden.

READ MORE…

Peter Thiel Is Exploring The Creation Of A Conservative Cable News Network

Ryan Mac and Steven Perlberg report for BuzzFeed:

Peter Thiel addresses the final night of the 2016 Republican National Convention at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio.Billionaire venture capitalist Peter Thiel wants to create a new conservative cable news network and his representatives have engaged the powerful Mercer family to help with funding, according to two sources familiar with the situation.

Thiel, a Facebook board member who secretly funded lawsuits to bring down Gawker Media, had originally explored a plan to create the network along with Roger Ailes, the late founder of Fox News, according to a soon-to-be published book by journalist Michael Wolff. But BuzzFeed News has learned that Thiel has continued looking into fashioning a Fox News competitor even after the May 2017 death of Ailes, according to the two sources familiar with the matter.

Wolff writes that on May 12 of last year, Ailes was scheduled to fly from Palm Beach, Florida, to New York to meet with Thiel to discuss the launch of a new cable news network that would compete with Fox News, which Ailes nurtured into a conservative powerhouse before he was ousted in the summer of 2016 in a sexual harassment scandal. Both men, Wolff writes in Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House “worried that Trump could bring Trumpism down.”

READ MORE…

Strength of Iran Protests Uncertain After a Week of Unrest

The Associated Press reports:

The strength of protests shaking Iran was unclear on Thursday after a week of unrest that killed at least 21 people, with fewer reports of demonstrations as government supporters again took to the streets in several cities and towns.

It wasn’t immediately clear if the drop in reports of new demonstrations challenging Iran’s theocratic government meant the protests are subsiding or that the authorities’ blocking of social media apps has managed to stop protesters from offering new images of rallies.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration acknowledged the speed and breadth of the protests took both it and the Iranian government by surprise.

The past week’s protests have been the largest in Iran since the disputed 2009 presidential election, which ended in bloodshed. While many Iranians denounce the violence that has accompanied some demonstrations, they echo the protesters’ frustration over the weak economy and official corruption.

READ MORE…

Why There Won’t Be a Revolution in Iran

Pepe Escobar writes for Asia Times:

An Iranian woman raises her fist through the smoke of tear gas at the University of Tehran. Photo: AFP[…] There is a strong similarity to China, where the Communist Party is embedded in the very fabric of society.

Talking to young people in places such as Kashan or Mashhad showed me how solid the popular base was behind the Islamic Republic experiment. It was certainly more thought-provoking than listening to ayatollahs in Qom.

Still, what is happening now in Iran is that legitimate protests related to economic hardships have been hijacked by the usual suspects in a move to influence the minority. After all, Rouhani’s administration is comparatively liberal compared to the populist Ahmadinejad government.

So, what we have is a concerted attempt to turn legitimate protests into a “revolutionary” movement with the aim of bringing about a regime change. In all practical purposes, this would be civil war.

Well, it will simply not work. Anyone familiar with Iran knows the country’s civil society is far too sophisticated to fall into such a crude and obvious trap.

READ MORE…

How Western High-Tech Firms Are Secretly Helping Iranian Mullahs Spy On Iranian Activists

Richard Pollock reports for The Daily Caller:

Image result for Iranian MullahsThe Iranian government’s decision to shut down social media apps in the wake of countrywide protests is only the latest chapter in the Islamic regime’s use of internet technologies to secretly monitor and repress dissidents.

Since 2009, Iran’s mullahs have mastered the surveillance capabilities of the internet and smart phones, in large part due to critical help they’ve received from western telecom companies, according to a Daily Caller News Foundation investigation.

Their technical help permits Iranian authorities to read emails and text messages, track online activity as well as tap phone calls and monitor the movement of activists with their smart phones, according to Reporters Without Borders.

The sale of Western telecom technology to the Islamic state, which could be used to spy on its citizens, is the “West’s dirty little secret,” according to an Iranian dissident who once was attached to the U.S. Government’s Middle East Broadcasting Networks. Although he lives in the U.S., he asked for anonymity for fear of retaliation by the Iranian regime.

READ MORE…

The Iran Nuclear Deal Could Be Dead in 11 Days

Spencer Ackerman reports for The Daily Beast:

Protests throughout Iran are cresting right as a crisis point for the landmark nuclear deal approaches.

Starting on January 13, a week from Saturday, Trump will face a deadlineover reimposing economic sanctions that the U.S. agreed to lift under the 2015 nuclear deal. Despite the agreement, those sanctions have remained in place, technically; it’s just that president Obama and, thus far, Trump, periodically agree not to enforce them, keeping the deal alive.

In other words, as unrest in Iran spreads, Trump has an imminent opportunity to kill the Iran nuclear deal he despises, all by doing nothing.

And as of right now, there’s no wave of concerted allied diplomacy aimed at keeping him in, The Daily Beast has learned.

That’s in marked contrast to the last time Trump brought the U.S. to the precipice of withdrawing from the Iran deal was October, when he “decertified” Iranian compliance with the deal, even though the International Atomic Agency has consistently found Iran to live up to its obligations under what’s formally called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Before he did, the White House and the State Department endured a full-court press from the U.S.’ traditional European allies to save the deal.

READ MORE…

Trump Promises Support for Iran Protests ‘At the Appropriate Time’

Jason Ditz reports for Antiwar:

US officials have been denying reports that they are behind the growing protests in Iran, but that hasn’t stopped President Trump from repeatedly openly endorsing the protests, and promising “great support from the United States at the appropriate time.

Trump’s repeated expression of support for the protesters, and the fact that the US has repeatedly backed such movements in other nations to try to impose regime change, has Iranian officials taking the matter to the UN, accusing the US of “grotesque meddling” against them.

Trump provided no indication of what the US support/intervention would ultimately look like, and US Ambassador Nikki Haley called on the whole international community to stand with the protesters.

READ MORE…

C.I.A. Names the ‘Dark Prince’ to Run Iran Operations, Signaling a Tougher Stance

Matthew Rosenberg and Adam Goldman reported for The New York Times in June 2017:

He is known as the Dark Prince or Ayatollah Mike, nicknames he earned as the Central Intelligence Agency officer who oversaw the hunt for Osama bin Laden and the American drone strike campaign that killed thousands of Islamist militants and hundreds of civilians.

Now the official, Michael D’Andrea, has a new job. He is running the C.I.A.’s Iran operations, according to current and former intelligence officials, an appointment that is the first major sign that the Trump administration is invoking the hard line the president took against Iran during his campaign.

Mr. D’Andrea’s new role is one of a number of moves inside the spy agency that signal a more muscular approach to covert operations under the leadership of Mike Pompeo, the conservative Republican and former congressman, the officials said. The agency also recently named a new chief of counterterrorism, who has begun pushing for greater latitude to strike militants.

Iran has been one of the hardest targets for the C.I.A. The agency has extremely limited access to the country — no American embassy is open to provide diplomatic cover — and Iran’s intelligence services have spent nearly four decades trying to counter American espionage and covert operations.

The challenge to start carrying out President Trump’s views falls to Mr. D’Andrea, a chain-smoking convert to Islam, who comes with an outsize reputation and the track record to back it up: Perhaps no single C.I.A. official is more responsible for weakening Al Qaeda.

READ MORE…

How Donald Trump Learned to Love War in 2017

Micha Zenko writes for Foreign Policy:

President Donald Trump at Yokota Air Base at Fussa in Tokyo on November 5, 2017. (Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)Back in March, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson defended his proposed slashing of the Foreign Operations Budget by 31 percent on the grounds that, “As time goes by, there will be fewer military conflicts that the U.S. will be directly engaged in.” A few weeks ago, he made an even more expansive claim, saying that, “Bringing the budget numbers back down is reflective of an expectation that we’re going to have success in some of these conflict areas, getting these conflicts resolved.”

Needless to say, Tillerson’s aspirations — that the United States will be involved in fewer wars and deliver greater peace — have not been achieved. In reality, the Donald Trump administration has demonstrated no interest in reducing America’s military commitments and interventions, nor committed itself in any meaningful way to preventing conflicts or resolving them. Moreover, as 2017 wraps up, the trend lines are actually running in the opposite direction, with no indication that the Trump administration has the right membership or motivation to turn things around.

President Trump has maintained or expanded the wars that he inherited from his predecessor. As Jennifer Wilson and I pointed out in an appropriately titled column in August, “Donald Trump Is Dropping Bombs at Unprecedented Levels.”

READ MORE…

Donald Trump Didn’t Want to Be President

Michael Wolff reports for New York Magazine:

On the afternoon of November 8, 2016, Kellyanne Conway settled into her glass office at Trump Tower. Right up until the last weeks of the race, the campaign headquarters had remained a listless place. All that seemed to distinguish it from a corporate back office were a few posters with right-wing slogans.

Conway, the campaign’s manager, was in a remarkably buoyant mood, considering she was about to experience a resounding, if not cataclysmic, defeat. Donald Trumpwould lose the election — of this she was sure — but he would quite possibly hold the defeat to under six points. That was a substantial victory. As for the looming defeat itself, she shrugged it off: It was Reince Priebus’s fault, not hers.

She had spent a good part of the day calling friends and allies in the political world and blaming Priebus, the chairman of the Republican National Committee. Now she briefed some of the television producers and anchors whom she had been carefully courting since joining the Trump campaign — and with whom she had been actively interviewing in the last few weeks, hoping to land a permanent on-air job after the election.

Even though the numbers in a few key states had appeared to be changing to Trump’s advantage, neither Conway nor Trump himself nor his son-in-law, Jared Kushner — the effective head of the campaign — ­wavered in their certainty: Their unexpected adventure would soon be over. Not only would Trump not be president, almost everyone in the campaign agreed, he should probably not be. Conveniently, the former conviction meant nobody had to deal with the latter issue.

As the campaign came to an end, Trump himself was sanguine. His ultimate goal, after all, had never been to win. “I can be the most famous man in the world,” he had told his aide Sam Nunberg at the outset of the race. His longtime friend Roger Ailes, the former head of Fox News, liked to say that if you want a career in television, first run for president. Now Trump, encouraged by Ailes, was floating rumors about a Trump network. It was a great future. He would come out of this campaign, Trump assured Ailes, with a far more powerful brand and untold opportunities.

“This is bigger than I ever dreamed of,” he told Ailes a week before the election. “I don’t think about losing, because it isn’t losing. We’ve totally won.”

READ MORE…

Thomas Frank on Harvey Weinstein, the Democratic Party and the Power of the ‘Creative Class’

Paul Jay speaks with author and commentator Thomas Frank, author of a recent piece titled ‘What Harvey Weinstein tells us about the liberal world‘, who says in the world of the wealthy, liberalism is something you do to offset your rapacious behaviour in other spheres. (The Real News)

My Life as a New York Times Reporter in the Shadow of the War on Terror

James Risen writes for The Intercept:

Image result for My Life as a New York Times Reporter in the Shadow of the War on TerrorI was sitting in the nearly empty restaurant of the Westin Hotel in Alexandria, Virginia, getting ready for a showdown with the federal government that I had been trying to avoid for more than seven years. The Obama administration was demanding that I reveal the confidential sources I had relied on for a chapter about a botched CIA operation in my 2006 book, “State of War.” I had also written about the CIA operation for the New York Times, but the paper’s editors had suppressed the story at the government’s request. It wasn’t the only time they had done so.

Bundled against the freezing wind, my lawyers and I were about to reach the courthouse door when two news photographers launched into a perp-walk shoot. As a reporter, I had witnessed this classic scene dozens of times, watching in bemusement from the sidelines while frenetic photographers and TV crews did their business. I never thought I would be the perp, facing those whirring cameras.

As I walked past the photographers into the courthouse that morning in January 2015, I saw a group of reporters, some of whom I knew personally. They were here to cover my case, and now they were waiting and watching me. I felt isolated and alone.

My lawyers and I took over a cramped conference room just outside the courtroom of U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema, where we waited for her to begin the pretrial hearing that would determine my fate. My lawyers had been working with me on this case for so many years that they now felt more like friends. We often engaged in gallows humor about what it was going to be like for me once I went to jail. But they had used all their skills to make sure that didn’t happen and had even managed to keep me out of a courtroom and away from any questioning by federal prosecutors.

Until now.

READ MORE…

How the Russia Inquiry Began: A Campaign Aide, Drinks and Talk of Political Dirt

There’s still little evidence that Russia’s 2016 social media efforts did much of anything

Philip Bump writes for The Washington Post:

We’ve known for some time that the various investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 election were looking at whether people associated with the campaign of Donald Trump had helped guide the Russians’ digital efforts. Back in July we explored the idea that the Russian efforts to tamp down turnout for Hillary Clinton or boost support for Trump could have benefited from internal campaign data.

That idea was bolstered by a report from Yahoo News this week that investigators working with special counsel Robert S. Mueller III were talking to staffers for the Republican National Committee who worked with the Trump campaign on voter targeting efforts. “They are seeking to determine if the joint effort was related to the activities of Russian trolls and bots aimed at influencing the American electorate,” sources told Yahoo’s Michael Isikoff.

This plays into a popular sense of how the 2016 campaign unfolded. The Russians launched hundreds of Facebook ads, reaching millions of people in critical swing states. They unleashed thousands of fake Twitter accounts, which got retweeted hundreds of thousands of times. The targeting of users on Facebook in particular was described in various news reports as appearing to be “highly sophisticated” — naturally raising the question of whether the Russians had been aided in their efforts.

All of that, though, requires setting aside what we actually know about the Russian activity on Facebook and Twitter: It was often modest, heavily dissociated from the campaign itself and minute in the context of election social media efforts.

READ MORE…

The new cold war: How our focus on Russia obscures social media’s real threat

Ben Tarnoff writes for The Guardian:

Image result for The new cold war: How our focus on Russia obscures social media's real threatWashington used to worship Silicon Valley. Few things made politicians’ hearts beat faster than the bipartisan love for big tech. Silicon Valley was building the future. Government’s role was to offer compliments and get out of the way.

Recently, however, the mood has shifted. Both sides of the political divide seem to be awakening to the possibility that letting the tech industry do whatever it wants hasn’t produced the best of all possible worlds. “I have found a flaw,” Alan Greenspan famously said in 2008 of his free-market worldview, as the global financial system imploded. A similar discovery may be dawning on our political class when it comes to its hands-off approach to Silicon Valley.

But the new taste for techno-skepticism is unlikely to lead to meaningful reform, for several reasons. One is money. The five biggest tech firms spend twice as much as Wall Street on lobbying Washington. It seems reasonable to assume that this insulates them from anything too painful in a political system as corrupt as ours.

But beyond that obstacle lies another: Russia. Without Russia, Washington wouldn’t be talking tough on tech. But Russia is also the worst possible way to understand what’s wrong with the internet, and how we might begin to fix it.

READ MORE…

Floating Guantánamos: How the U.S. Coast Guard Uses Indefinite Detention to Wage ‘War on Drugs’ at Sea

A shocking new exposé reveals how the U.S. Coast Guard is detaining thousands of suspected drug smugglers they arrest in international waters and keeping them jailed at sea for up to several months before they are charged in a U.S. federal court. Many of the suspects are low-level smugglers from impoverished fishing towns in Latin America. During their imprisonment at sea they are shackled on deck, exposed to the elements and denied access to lawyers and their families. The increased detentions began when General John Kelly headed the Pentagon’s Southern Command from 2012 to 2016. Kelly is now President Trump’s White House chief of staff after briefly serving as Secretary of Homeland Security. We are joined by Seth Freed Wessler, the journalist who broke the story in The New York Times Magazine in a piece headlined, ‘The Coast Guard’s ‘Floating Guantánamos’. Wessler is a Puffin Fellow at the Investigative Fund at the Nation Institute. (Democracy Now!)

Pizzagate: Anatomy of a Fake News Scandal

Amanda Robb reports for Rolling Stone:

Carmen Kat'z Facebook post likely set Pizzagate in motion. The revelations overcame Edgar Maddison Welch like a hallucinatory fever. On December 1st, 2016, the father of two from Salisbury, North Carolina, a man whose pastimes included playing Pictionary with his family, tried to persuade two friends to join a rescue mission. Alex Jones, the Info-Wars host, was reporting that Hillary Clinton was sexually abusing children in satanic rituals a few hundred miles north, in the basement of a Washington, D.C., pizza restaurant. Welch told his friends the “raid” on a “pedo ring” might require them to “sacrifice the lives of a few for the lives of many.” A friend texted, “Sounds like we r freeing some oppressed pizza from the hands of an evil pizza joint.” Welch was undeterred. Three days later, armed with an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle, a .38 handgun and a folding knife, he strolled into the restaurant and headed toward the back, where children were playing ping-pong. As waitstaff went table to table, whispering to customers to get out, Welch maneuvered into the restaurant’s kitchen. He shot open a lock and found cooking supplies. He whipped open another door and found an employee bringing in fresh pizza dough. Welch did not find any captive children – Comet Ping Pong does not even have a basement – but he did prove, if there were any lingering doubts after the election, that fake news has real consequences.

Welch’s arrest was the culmination of an election cycle dominated by fake news – and by attacks on the legitimate press. Several media outlets quickly traced the contours of what became known as Pizzagate: The claim that Hillary Clintonwas a pedophile started in a Facebook post, spread to Twitter and then went viral with the help of far-right platforms like Breitbart and Info-Wars. But it was unclear whether Pizzagate was mass hysteria or the work of politicos with real resources and agendas. It took the better part of a year (and two teams of researchers) to sift through the digital trail. We found ordinary people, online activists, bots, foreign agents and domestic political operatives. Many of them were associates of the Trump campaign. Others had ties with Russia. Working together – though often unwittingly – they flourished in a new “post-truth” information ecosystem, a space where false claims are defended as absolute facts. What’s different about Pizzagate, says Samuel Woolley, a leading expert in computational propaganda, is it was “retweeted and picked up by some of the most powerful faces of American politics.”

READ MORE…

Liberals Retroactively Turn on Bill Clinton Amid #MeToo Movement

Alex Lockie reports for Business Insider:

Bill ClintonThe US reckoning on sexual-misconduct allegations against powerful men has turned to former President Bill Clinton, and his critics now include important liberal voices.

On Thursday, the same day that the TV and radio host Leeann Tweeden accused Democratic Sen. Al Franken of forcibly kissing and groping her in 2006, Kirsten Gillibrand, the Democratic senator who holds Hillary Clinton‘s former seat, said the former president should have resigned after his own sex scandal.

Asked whether Clinton should have resigned as president after his affair with a young intern, Gillibrand on Thursday replied, “Yes, I think that is the appropriate response,” The New York Times reported.

The Times suggested Gillibrand tried to clarify that she meant Clinton’s affair should have resulted in a resignation specifically when judged by today’s standards, but the condemnation was still notable given Gillibrand’s ties to the Clintons.

Just last year, when Gillibrand endorsed Hillary Clinton‘s 2016 presidential run, she wrote that she was returning the favor after being “truly honored that President Bill Clinton campaigned for me in my first run for Congress in 2006.”

Gillibrand’s strongest rebuke yet of Clinton followed other prominent voices in liberal politics, like Vox’s Matt Yglesias.

READ MORE…

Can We Still Trust Julian Assange and WikiLeaks?

Eric Ortiz writes for Truth Out:

Donald Trump Jr.’s private Twitter exchanges with WikiLeaks have added a new level of intrigue to the probe of the 2016 presidential election. On Monday, The Atlantic first reported secret correspondences between Trump Jr. and WikiLeaks during the campaign. Later that day, Trump Jr. released all of his correspondences on Twitter.

The news has raised questions about the credibility of WikiLeaks and its founder, Julian Assange. After WikiLeaks launched in 2006, the nonprofit organization gained a well-earned reputation as an unbiased platform where whistleblowers could publish secret information and classified media and maintain their anonymity. WikiLeaks lived up to its motto: “We open governments.” Assange prided himself and his organization on being nonpartisan—committed to uncovering wrongdoing, regardless of political affiliation.

But in 2016, after releasing thousands of emails related to the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton presidential campaign, WikiLeaks became a controversial part of the election story. The group’s many enemies questioned its motives. Assange denied he was working as a political operative, favoring the Donald Trump campaign. Now, can we be sure?

READ MORE…

New Study Shows Body Cams Have Little Influence on Police Brutality

Angela Helm reports for The Root:

Well, the results are in, and they don’t look promising for police bodycams being the end all be all in stopping police abuse and brutality. But I think we knew this. As many anti-brutality activists have maintained, it’s not about tactics (though they may help) but dismantling the system and culture.

A new study by the Lab @ DC found that there was not a “statistically significant effect of the body-worn cameras,” according to a researcher who took part in the report. Meaning, police abuse is about the same as it has always been, even with the body cameras being worn by officers.

The study, according to NPR, followed the police force in Washington, D.C., where 2,600 of its officers wear body cameras.

The study ran from June 2015 to December 2016 and worked with local police officials to ensure that cameras were assigned randomly. But alas, there were still lots of citizen complaints against officers.

READ MORE…

Yes, George W. Bush Was That Bad

Corey Robin writes for Jacobin:

Back in March 2016, I made a prediction:

If, God forbid, Trump is elected, some day, assuming we’re all still alive, we’ll be having a conversation in which we look back fondly, as we survey the even more desultory state of political play, on the impish character of Donald Trump. As Andrew March said to me on Facebook, we’ll say something like: What a jokester he was. Didn’t mean it at all. But, boy, could he cut a deal.

When I wrote that, I was thinking of all the ways in which George W. Bush, a man vilified by liberals for years, was being rehabilitated, particularly in the wake of Trump’s rise.

Thursday’s speech, in which Bush obliquely took on Trump, was merely the latest in a years-long campaign to restore his reputation and welcome him back into the fold of respectability.

Remember when Michelle Obama gave him a hug?

That was step two or three. This week’s speech was step four.

READ MORE…

This Is What Victory Over ISIS Looks Like

Megan Specia reports for The New York Times:

The declarations of victory played out across Iraq and Syria: The long campaigns to retake city after city from Islamic State militants had come to an end.

But the hard-won battles left vast destruction in their wake, and the celebrations from atop the rubble of once-grand buildings are ringing hollow for hundreds of thousands of displaced residents.

Iraqis and Syrians return to cities that are ghosts of their former glory, lacking the infrastructure for normal life to begin again. Now they must grapple with how to rebuild.

READ MORE…

Robert Mugabe’s WHO Appointment Condemned as ‘an Insult’

BBC News reports:

Zimbabwean doctors and nurses demonstrate in Harare (18 November 2008)The choice of Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe as a World Health Organization (WHO) goodwill ambassador has been criticised by several organisations including the British government.

It described his selection as “surprising and disappointing” given his country’s rights record, and warned it could overshadow the WHO’s work.

The opposition in Zimbabwe and campaign groups also criticised the move.

The WHO head said he was “rethinking his approach in light of WHO values”.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus had previously praised Zimbabwe for its commitment to public health.

He said it was a country that “places universal health coverage and health promotion at the centre of its policies to provide health care to all”.

Mr Mugabe’s appointment as a “goodwill ambassador” to help tackle non-communicable diseases has attracted a chorus of criticism.

READ MORE…

The Ken Burns Vietnam War Documentary Glosses Over Devastating Civilian Toll

Nick Turse, author of Kill Anything That Moves, writes for The Intercept:

U.S. Marine stands with Vietnamese children as they watch their house burn after an Allied patrol set it ablaze after finding communist AK-47 ammunition, Jan. 13, 1971. Patrol made up of U.S. Marines and South Vietnamese popular forces searched the village, 25 miles south of Da Nang. (AP Photo/HJ)“I think that when Americans talk about the Vietnam War … we tend to talk only about ourselves. But if we really want to understand it … or try to answer the fundamental question, ‘What happened?’ You’ve got to triangulate,” says filmmaker Ken Burns of his celebrated PBS documentary series “The Vietnam War.” “You’ve got to know what’s going on. And we have many battles in which you’ve got South Vietnamese soldiers and American advisors or … their counterparts and Vietcong or North Vietnamese. You have to get in there and understand what they’re thinking.”

Burns and his co-director Lynn Novick spent 10 years on “The Vietnam War,” assisted by their producer Sarah Botstein, writer Geoffrey Ward, 24 advisors, and others. They assembled 25,000 photographs, feature close to 80 interviews of Americans and Vietnamese, and spent $30 million on the project. The resulting 18-hour series is a marvel of storytelling, something in which Burns and Novick take obvious pride. “The Vietnam War” provides lots of great vintage film footage, stunning photos, a solid Age of Aquarius soundtrack, and plenty of striking soundbites. Maybe this is what Burns means by triangulation. The series seems expertly crafted to appeal to the widest possible American audience. But as far as telling us “what happened,” I don’t see much evidence of that.

Like Burns and Novick, I also spent a decade working on a Vietnam War epic, though carried out on a far more modest budget, a book titled “Kill Anything That Moves.” Like Burns and Novick, I spoke with military men and women, Americans and Vietnamese. Like Burns and Novick, I thought I could learn “what happened” from them. It took me years to realize that I was dead wrong. That might be why I find “The Vietnam War” and its seemingly endless parade of soldier and guerrilla talking heads so painful to watch.

READ MORE…

US Religion is Worth $1.2 trillion a Year, More Than America’s 10 Biggest Tech Companies, Combined

Cory Doctorow reports for Boing Boing:

The largely tax-free religion industry is one of the biggest in America, worth $1.2 trillion a year, a number that includes religious “healthcare facilities, schools, daycare and charities; media; businesses with faith backgrounds; the kosher and halal food markets; social and philanthropic programmes; and staff and overheads for congregations.”

The figure comes from The Socio-economic Contribution of Religion to American Society: An Empirical Analysis, co-authored by Georgetown’s Brian J Grim and Newseum’s Melissa E Grim, and published in the Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on Religion. The authors describe the estimate as “conservative” and note that while religion as a whole is declining in the US, spending on religious “social programs” has tripled since 2001, to $9T.

Grim and his co-author Melissa Grim of the Newseum Institute in Washington came up with three estimates of the worth of US religion. The lowest, at $378bn, took into account only the revenues of faith-based organisations. The middle estimate, $1.2tn, included an estimate of the market value of goods and services provided by religious organisations and the contributions of businesses with religious roots.

READ MORE…

How NBA Star Dennis Rodman Came to Stand Between the World and Nuclear War

Hunter Felt writes for The Guardian:

Related image2017 has become the year when absurd jokes appear to be coming true. When Dennis Rodman made his first trip to North Korea back in 2013, it was amusing to imagine the eccentric NBA legend acting as the United States’ de facto ambassador to the country. The idea was as preposterous as Donald Trumpsomehow being elected president.

It sounds surreal, but with tensions rising between the two countries thanks to North Korea’s growing nuclear weapons program, there’s a very real possibility that Rodman, a man who once married himself, ends up playing a key role in preventing armageddon. Rodman himself certainly believes he will. In an interview with Good Morning Britain, the five-time NBA champion offered to“straighten things out” between Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, emphasizing that he considers both men friends.

Rodman, along with a group of journalists from Vice, first visited North Korea in 2013 after an invitation from Kim. It turns out that the North Korean leader grew up a fan of Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls teams from the 1990s. Rodman, one of the best defensive players of the era, was a key figure on those teams, although ultimately he received far more attention for his (literally) colorful antics than his formidable basketball skills.

READ MORE…

America’s Slow-Motion Military Coup

Stephen Kinzer writes for The Boston Globe:

WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 28: (L-R) National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Vice President Mike Pence attend a joint news conference with U.S. President Donald Trump and Finnish President Sauli Niinisto in the East Room of the White House August 28, 2017 in Washington, DC. The two leaders discussed security in the Baltic Sea region, NATO and Russia during their meeting. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images) *** BESTPIX ***[…] Military officers, like all of us, are products of their background and environment. The three members of Trump’s junta have 119 years of uniformed service between them. They naturally see the world from a military perspective and conceive military solutions to its problems. That leads toward a distorted set of national priorities, with military “needs” always rated more important than domestic ones.

Trump has made clear that when he must make foreign policy choices, he will defer to “my generals.” Mattis, the new junta’s strongman, is the former head of Central Command, which directs American wars in the Middle East and Central Asia. Kelly is also an Iraq veteran. McMaster has commanded troops in Iraq and Afghanistan almost without interruption since he led a tank company in the 1991 Gulf War.

Military commanders are trained to fight wars, not to decide whether fighting makes strategic sense. They may be able to tell Trump how many troops are necessary to sustain our present mission in Afghanistan, for example, but they are not trained either to ask or answer the larger question of whether the mission serves America’s long-term interest. That is properly the job of diplomats. Unlike soldiers, whose job is to kill people and break things, diplomats are trained to negotiate, defuse conflicts, coolly assess national interest and design policies to advance it. Notwithstanding Mattis’s relative restraint on North Korea, all three members of Trump’s junta promote the confrontational approach that has brought protracted war in Afghanistan, Iraq and beyond, while fueling tension in Europe and East Asia.

READ MORE…

Trump May Not Finish His Term But the Assassination Complex Will Live On

Jeremy Scahill writes for The Intercept:

CREECH AIR FORCE BASE, NV - AUGUST 08:  A pilot's heads up display in a ground control station shows a truck from the view of a camera on an MQ-9 Reaper during a training mission August 8, 2007 at Creech Air Force Base in Indian Springs, Nevada. The Reaper is the Air Force's first "hunter-killer" unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) and is designed to engage time-sensitive targets on the battlefield as well as provide intelligence and surveillance. The jet-fighter sized Reapers are 36 feet long with 66-foot wingspans and can fly for as long as 14 hours fully loaded with laser-guided bombs and air-to-ground missiles. They can fly twice as fast and high as the smaller MQ-1 Predators reaching speeds of 300 mph at an altitude of up to 50,000 feet. The aircraft are flown by a pilot and a sensor operator from ground control stations. The Reapers are expected to be used in combat operations by the United States military in Afghanistan and Iraq within the next year.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)Donald Trump’s speech on Afghanistan will briefly turn the media spotlight onto America’s longest war. Much of the media analysis will undoubtedly be about how the speech impacts Trump politically. Given the events of the past week, it seems unlikely that Democratic pundits will repeat their inane praise of the State of the Union address, in which Trump apparently became presidential for the first time. But this speech should serve as a moment to seriously examine the trajectory of the U.S. war machine from 9/11 to the present.

Amid the deluge of scandal, incompetence, and bigotry emanating from the Trump White House, the relative calm of the Obama era seems like a far-off galaxy. The reality that Trump may not even finish a full term as president, either due to removal or resignation, means that the palace intrigue must be reported on thoroughly by the press. But a dangerous consequence of the overwhelming, obsessive focus on the daily Trump affairs is a virtual dearth of coverage on the permanent, unelected institutions of U.S. power, namely the military and the CIA.

Spend just a moment studying moves of the Pentagon and Langley during the Trump era, and you will find that very little has changed in their post-9/11 course. Covert operations continue unabated throughout the Arab world and, increasingly, in Somalia. The U.S. remains in Iraq and Afghanistan and is becoming entrenched more deeply in Syria. If anything, the military and CIA are less restrained and are in greater control of decisions — that arguably create policy rather than implement it — than they were under Obama. And civilians are being killed at a greater rate under Trump, particularly in Iraq and Syria. There are reports that Trump has delegated more unilateral authority to the commanders than his predecessor and has relaxed rules ostensibly put in place to minimize civilian deaths. He has surrounded himself with generals who have spent their lives studying and preparing for war and know how to marshal the resources needed for overt and covert campaigns. This — combined with Trump’s questionable sanity, his pathological addiction to television and Twitter, and his compulsive need to respond to random pundits and congressmen at all hours — removes a crucial component of civilian oversight of the world’s most lethal force.

READ MORE…

A Permanent Emergency: Trump Becomes Third President to Renew Extraordinary Post-9/11 Powers

Gregory Korte reports for USA Today:

AFP AFP_SB72R A AOT USA DCPresident Trump has become the third president to renew a post-9/11 emergency proclamation, stretching what was supposed to be a temporary state of national emergency after the 2001 terror attacks into its 17th year.

But the ongoing effects of that perpetual emergency aren’t immediately clear, because the executive branch has ignored a law requiring it to report to Congress every six months on how much the president has spent under those extraordinary powers, USA TODAY has found.

Exactly 16 years ago Thursday, President Bush signed Proclamation 7463, giving himself sweeping powers to mobilize the military in the days following terrorist attacks that crashed planes into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and a Pennsylvania field. It allowed him to call up National Guard and Reserve troops, hire and fire military officers, and bypass limits on the numbers of generals that could serve.

Presidents Bush and Obama renewed that emergency each year. And on Wednesday, Trump published a now-routine notice in the Federal Register extending the emergency for the 16th time, explaining simply that “the terrorist threat continues.”

But as Trump extends the emergency into a third presidential administration, legal experts say a review of those powers is long overdue.

READ MORE…