Category Archives: Humanity

The Dance of Death

Chris Hedges writes for Truthdig:

The ruling corporate elites no longer seek to build. They seek to destroy. They are agents of death. They crave the unimpeded power to cannibalize the country and pollute and degrade the ecosystem to feed an insatiable lust for wealth, power and hedonism. Wars and military “virtues” are celebrated. Intelligence, empathy and the common good are banished. Culture is degraded to patriotic kitsch. Education is designed only to instill technical proficiency to serve the poisonous engine of corporate capitalism. Historical amnesia shuts us off from the past, the present and the future. Those branded as unproductive or redundant are discarded and left to struggle in poverty or locked away in cages. State repression is indiscriminant and brutal. And, presiding over the tawdry Grand Guignol is a deranged ringmaster tweeting absurdities from the White House.

The graveyard of world empires—Sumerian, Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Mayan, Khmer, Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian—followed the same trajectory of moral and physical collapse. Those who rule at the end of empire are psychopaths, imbeciles, narcissists and deviants, the equivalents of the depraved Roman emperors Caligula, Nero, Tiberius and Commodus. The ecosystem that sustains the empire is degraded and exhausted. Economic growth, concentrated in the hands of corrupt elites, is dependent on a crippling debt peonage imposed on the population. The bloated ruling class of oligarchs, priests, courtiers, mandarins, eunuchs, professional warriors, financial speculators and corporate managers sucks the marrow out of society.

The elites’ myopic response to the looming collapse of the natural world and the civilization is to make subservient populations work harder for less, squander capital in grandiose projects such as pyramids, palaces, border walls and fracking, and wage war. President Trump’s decision to increase military spending by $54 billion and take the needed funds out of the flesh of domestic programs typifies the behavior of terminally ill civilizations. When the Roman Empire fell, it was trying to sustain an army of half a million soldiers that had become a parasitic drain on state resources.

The complex bureaucratic mechanisms that are created by all civilizations ultimately doom them. The difference now, as Joseph Tainter points out in “The Collapse of Complex Societies,” is that “collapse, if and when it comes again, will this time be global. No longer can any individual nation collapse. World civilization will disintegrate as a whole.”

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The New Authoritarians: Today’s Dictators Speak for the Complainer, Not the Idealist

Holly Case, associate professor of history at Brown University and the author of Between States, writes for Aeon:

Image result for The new authoritariansWe might take the demonstrative demise of strongmen such as Nicolae Ceaușescu in Romania, Saddam Hussein in Iraq, and – more recently and unobtrusively – Fidel Castro in Cuba to indicate that the day of the dictator has largely passed. Alas, authoritarianism is staging a comeback. Yet it is clear to poets and political scientists alike that the new authoritarians – Vladimir Putin in Russia, Recep Tayyıp Erdoğan in Turkey, Viktor Orbán in Hungary – are not like the old ones. In his recent poem ‘Some Advice for the New Government’, the poet Adam Zagajewski gave Poland’s newly elected cabinet some mock advice on how to be a new authoritarian:

All professors of constitutional law should be interned for life.
Poets can be left alone. No one reads them anyway.
You’ll need isolation camps, but gentle ones that won’t annoy the United Nations.
Most journalists should be sent to Madagascar.

These new strongmen seem milder, less openly brutal than the likes of Stalin or Hitler. In the words of the Austrian publicist and historian Hans Rauscher: ‘Brutal, naked mass violence against subjects is, at least in Europe and around Europe, no longer declared, insofar as Putins, Erdoğans, and Orbáns govern with the consent of a becalmed people, “freed” from all critical voices.’

But the difference goes well beyond their choice of whom to oppress and how. The autocrat of the mid-20th century was a strict and demanding father out to shape you into an ideal. He wanted you to modernise, learn self-discipline and, above all, self-sacrifice. When Mustafa Kemal Atatürk addressed soldiers during the Entente attack on Ottoman-held Gallipoli in 1915, he told them: ‘I am not ordering you to fight. I am ordering you to die.’ ‘In the Soviet army,’ said Stalin, ‘it takes more courage to retreat than to advance.’

Tough love was thus the signature attribute of the 20th-century dictator. Even when he wasn’t demanding the ultimate sacrifice, he wanted you to lose a few pounds, mothball your fez, lay some more bricks, join a state-run youth organisation (or five), learn a new alphabet (or even a new language) and call it your own, memorise some poems, songs or passages penned by the supreme leader and call them ‘history’. Even democratic heads of state once had higher expectations of their citizenry. That line from John F Kennedy’s 1961 inaugural speech – ‘Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country’ – now sounds like an admonition from an earlier, distant century.

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How Education Level is the Biggest Predictor of Support for Geert Wilders

Billy Ehrenberg-Shannon and Aleksandra Wisniewska report for the Financial Times:

Image result for How education level is the biggest predictor of support for Geert WildersEducation, rather than exposure to immigrants, is emerging as the clearest nationwide indicator of the likelihood of Dutch voters supporting Geert Wilders’ anti-immigration Party for Freedom, according to an extensive Financial Times survey of demographic and voting data from the most recent general election.

Mr Wilders’ Party for Freedom (PVV) looks on course to win the most seats in the upcoming election on March 15, but is likely to be blocked from power after most parties indicated that they would refuse to join it in a coalition.

The PVV’s resurgence is part of a wave of populism that has swept Europe, capitalising on fears over immigration, growing Euroscepticism and anti-establishment sentiment.

The blond-haired populist paints an idyllic picture of his supporters, labelling them Henk and Ingrid.

In Mr Wilders’ words, they are the “backbone” of Dutch society: “Mr and Mrs Average with their own houses, one nice holiday a year and an active social life.”

In the eyes of Frits Bolkestein, a former mentor turned critic of Mr Wilders, they are something else: “People with a grudge. They’re unemployed, their daughter’s on drugs and their son has run away.” The reality is more complicated.

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The Dark Side of Liberation: Rape by American Soldiers in World War II France

Jennifer Schuessler wrote for The New York Times in 2013:

Image result for What Soldiers Do: Sex and the American G.I. in World War II FranceThe soldiers who landed in Normandy on D-Day were greeted as liberators, but by the time American G.I.’s were headed back home in late 1945, many French citizens viewed them in a very different light.

In the port city of Le Havre, the mayor was bombarded with letters from angry residents complaining about drunkenness, jeep accidents, sexual assault — “a regime of terror,” as one put it, “imposed by bandits in uniform.”

This isn’t the “greatest generation” as it has come to be depicted in popular histories. But in “What Soldiers Do: Sex and the American G.I. in World War II France,” the historian Mary Louise Roberts draws on French archives, American military records, wartime propaganda and other sources to advance a provocative argument: The liberation of France was “sold” to soldiers not as a battle for freedom but as an erotic adventure among oversexed Frenchwomen, stirring up a “tsunami of male lust” that a battered and mistrustful population often saw as a second assault on its sovereignty and dignity.

“I could not believe what I was reading,” Ms. Roberts, a professor of French history at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, recalled of the moment she came across the citizen complaints in an obscure archive in Le Havre. “I took out my little camera and began photographing the pages. I did not go to the bathroom for eight hours.”

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Donald Trump Plans to Bypass the Courts to Deport as Many People as Possible

Ryan Devereaux reports for The Intercept:

On Tuesday, the Department of Homeland Security released a pair of memos laying out how the agency intends to implement President Donald Trump’s executive orders on domestic immigration enforcement. In addition to calling for a massive increase in the number of immigration agents and the deputizing of local and state law enforcement across the country — described in the documents as a “force multiplier”— the memos dramatically expand the range of people who can be deported without seeing a judge.

“I see now what the plan is,” Greg Siskind, a Tennessee-based immigration attorney and member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association board of governors, told The Intercept. “Their plan is basically to have everybody thrown out of the country without ever going to court.” Additional immigration attorneys and legal experts who spoke to The Intercept shared Siskind’s concerns, describing various elements of the DHS directives and the executive orders they reflect as “horrifying,” “stunning,” and “inhumane.”

“This is the broadest, most widespread change I have seen in doing this work for more than two decades,” Lee Gelernt, a veteran immigration attorney and deputy director of the ACLU’s national Immigrants’ Rights Project, told The Intercept. “After 9/11 we saw some extreme policies, but they were largely confined to particular areas around the relationship between immigration and national security. Here what we’re seeing are those types of policies but also much broader policies just dealing with immigration generally.”

“I expected bad based on Donald Trump’s campaign rhetoric,” added David Leopold, a Cleveland-based immigration attorney and past president of AILA. “Then when I read the executive order, I expected really bad … but I’m absolutely shocked at the mean-spiritedness of this.”

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White House Defers to ‘States Rights’ on Transgender Protections — But Not on Legalizing Marijuana

Zaid Jilani reports for The Intercept:

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer cited “states’ rights” on Tuesday in defending the Trump administration’s decision to end the Obama administration’s federal protections for transgender students.

“The president has maintained for a long time that this is a states’ rights issue and not one for the federal government,” he said. “All you have to do is look at what the president’s view has been for a long time that this is not something that the federal government should be involved in. This is a states’ rights issue.”

But on Thursday, asked about federal marijuana enforcement, it was like the states had no rights at all. Arkansas-based reporter Roby Brock asked Spicer about the administration’s posture towards Arkansas’s new medical marijuana law.

Spicer suggested that the Trump administration would respect state laws related to medical marijuana — but not offer the same respect for recreational marijuana.

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Why Facts Don’t Change Our Minds

Elizabeth Kolbert writes for The New Yorker:

The vaunted human capacity for reason may have more to do with winning arguments than with thinking straight.

1975, researchers at Stanford invited a group of undergraduates to take part in a study about suicide. They were presented with pairs of suicide notes. In each pair, one note had been composed by a random individual, the other by a person who had subsequently taken his own life. The students were then asked to distinguish between the genuine notes and the fake ones.

Some students discovered that they had a genius for the task. Out of twenty-five pairs of notes, they correctly identified the real one twenty-four times. Others discovered that they were hopeless. They identified the real note in only ten instances.

As is often the case with psychological studies, the whole setup was a put-on. Though half the notes were indeed genuine—they’d been obtained from the Los Angeles County coroner’s office—the scores were fictitious. The students who’d been told they were almost always right were, on average, no more discerning than those who had been told they were mostly wrong.

In the second phase of the study, the deception was revealed. The students were told that the real point of the experiment was to gauge their responses to thinking they were right or wrong. (This, it turned out, was also a deception.) Finally, the students were asked to estimate how many suicide notes they had actually categorized correctly, and how many they thought an average student would get right. At this point, something curious happened. The students in the high-score group said that they thought they had, in fact, done quite well—significantly better than the average student—even though, as they’d just been told, they had zero grounds for believing this. Conversely, those who’d been assigned to the low-score group said that they thought they had done significantly worse than the average student—a conclusion that was equally unfounded.

“Once formed,” the researchers observed dryly, “impressions are remarkably perseverant.”

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What We’ll Tolerate, and What We Won’t

Nathan J. Robinson writes for Current Affairs:

What We’ll Tolerate, And What We Won’tIt wasn’t that he told a woman there was something wrong with her for wearing a hijab in America. It wasn’t that he encouraged people to “Purge the Illegals” and gave out ICE’s hotline number at a presentation. It wasn’t that he mocked a transgender college student in front of a crowd, saying he’d still almost bang her because she looked like a man. Instead, it was his discussion of the complexities of his sexual experiences with adults as a gay teenager that caused Milo Yiannopoulos to lose his $250,000 book deal with Simon and Schuster.

The swift recent reversal of Yiannopoulos’s fortunes is in many ways illuminating. The [now former] Breitbart editor had spent the last year building a public profile by going around American college campuses giving “lectures” with titles like “Why Do Lesbians Fake So Many Hate Crimes?” and “Why Ugly People Hate Me.” At these events, he would tell people why “feminism is cancer,” refer to various people as “cunts” and “retards,” and make jokes about how Muslims were probably terrorists. When appalled students tried to have the talks canceled, he would insist that the PC left was simply afraid to deal with arguments, facts, and statistics. (The more obvious explanation is that the PC left doesn’t think a person whose idea of elevated political discourse is “100% of fat people are fucking gross”—and who gigglingly posts pictures of the overweight people at his gym—is sincere about wanting to improve political dialogue on campus.)

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The Meaning of Milo

Ross Douthat writes for The New York Times:

[…] From Dubya’s evangelical conservatism to Milo’s Rimbaudian new right, from “marriage is between a man and a woman” to “well, we draw the line at ephebophilia” is a rather dizzying trajectory. But if you understand what’s happened to cultural conservatism over the last decade, the strange career of Yiannopoulos makes a striking sort of sense.

First, post-1960s social conservatism — the bigger-than-the-religious-right tent that once included a lot of moderately religious fellow travelers — has collapsed back to its zealous core. On practically every issue save abortion, liberals won the culture war decisively, and religious conservatives awoke to find themselves strangers in their own country, dismissed as bigots from liberalism’s pulpits and stuck on the wrong side of 40-60 or 30-70 public-opinion splits.

But social liberalism’s sweeping victory produced new forms of backlash — less traditionalist and more populist, less religious and more rowdy, not sacred but profane. These forms of resistance take aim at liberalism’s own forms of social-justice sanctimony, which have smothered academic life and permeated notionally apolitical arenas from late-night comedy to sportswriting. The resisters don’t exactly have a program. Instead, they’ve got a posture — a “whaddya got?” rebellion against any rules that the new liberal order sets.

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On the Milo Bus With the Lost Boys of America’s New Right

Laurie Penny writes for Pacific Standard:

Have you heard the one about the boy who cried Fake News?

This is a story about truth and consequences. It’s a story about who gets to be young and dumb, and who gets held accountable. It’s also a story about how the new right exploits young men — how it preys not on their bodies, but on their emotions, on their hurts and hopes and anger and anxiety, their desperate need to be part of a big ugly boys’ own adventure.

It’s a story about how so many of us have suffered the consequences of that exploitation. And it’s a story about how consequences finally came for Milo Yiannopoulos too — the worst kind of consequences for a professional troll. Consequences that nobody finds funny. Consequences that cannot be mined for fame and profit.

As I write, Yiannopoulos, the fame-hungry right-wing provocateur and self-styled “most dangerous supervillain on the Internet,” is fighting off accusations of having once endorsed pedophilia. Former friends and supporters who long tolerated his outrage-mongering as childish fun are now dropping him like a red-hot turd.

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The Rise and Fall of Milo Yiannopoulos: How a Shallow Actor Played the Bad Guy for Money

Dorian Lynskey writes for The Guardian:

Related imageSo there is, after all, a line that you cannot cross and still be hailed by conservatives as a champion of free speech. That line isn’t Islamophobia, misogyny, transphobia or harassment. Milo Yiannopoulos, the journalist that Out magazine dubbed an “internet supervillain”, built his brand on those activities. Until Monday, he was flying high: a hefty book deal with Simon & Schuster, an invitation to speak at the American Conservative Union’s CPac conference and a recent appearance on Real Time with Bill Maher. But then a recording emerged of Yiannopoulos cheerfully defending relationships between older men and younger boys, and finally it turned out that free speech had limits. The book deal and CPac offer swiftly evaporated. The next day, he resigned his post as an editor at Breitbart, the far-right website where he was recruited by Donald Trump’s consigliere Steve Bannon, and where several staffers reportedly threatened to quit unless he was fired.

In the incriminating clip, Yiannopoulos prefaces his remarks with a coy, “This is a controversial point of view, I accept”, this being his default shtick. Maher absurdly described him as “a young, gay, alive Christopher Hitchens” – a contrarian fly in the ointment, rattling smug liberal certainties – but Hitchens had wit, intellect and principle, while Yiannopoulos has only chutzpah and ruthless opportunism. Understanding Yiannopoulos requires a version of Occam’s Razor: the most obvious answer is the correct one. What does he actually believe in? Nothing except his own brand and the monetisable notoriety that fuels it. That’s Milo’s Razor. Understanding how he got this far is more unnerving.

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Margaret Atwood: The Handmaid’s Tale sales boosted by fear of Trump

Reuters reports:

Margaret Atwood has said worries about women’s issues after the US election have made her book The Handmaid’s Tale the latest dystopian novel to shoot back up bestseller lists.

The book, about a theocratic dictatorship in the US where women are forced to bear children for the ruling class, topped Amazon’s bestseller list earlier this week, and still ranks in the top 10.

In an interview during Cuba’s international book fair, Atwood said sales of The Handmaid’s Tale were also boosted by a trailer during the Super Bowl for its new televised adaptation by video streaming site Hulu.

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Inside Donald Trump’s Selective Islamophobic Fear Machine

Jordan Charlton reports for Mediate:

Screen Shot 2017-02-12 at 12.24.43 PMOf the many dumbfounding things I observed on the campaign trail in 2016, one of the top head-scratchers was Republican voters’ selective fear and outrage toward what they call “Islamic terrorists.”

After I would follow up and ask if they’re equally concerned about the epidemic of disturbed, white Americans shooting up schools, movie theaters, malls, or spree-shooting while driving an Uber, I’d get a blank stare and an inability to speak coherent words.

This selective fear machine is what President Trump is preying on now: the fear that the “other” is a threat to our families, culture, and very existence.

Make no mistake: there is and will most likely always be a threat of foreign terrorists actively plotting to inflict maximum damage on the U.S. The president is not wrong to want to find ways to improve our border, cyber, and airport security within the bounds of the law, rights to privacy, and human rights.

But this is where he and the chorus line of neocons trying to manipulate him into another war are exposed as simple-minded bigots: in reality, Trump’s travel ban measure and “extreme vetting” philosophy aren’t aimed at keeping the country safe.

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Total recall: The people who never forget

Linda Rodriguez McRobbie reports for The Guardian:

Related image[…] She had always had a talent for remembering. She had also always dreaded change. Knowing that after they left New Jersey, nothing could ever be the same, Price tried to commit to memory the world she was being ripped away from. She made lists, took pictures, kept every artefact, every passed note and ticket stub. If this was a conscious effort to train her memory, it worked, perhaps better than she ever imagined.

Jill Price was the first person ever to be diagnosed with what is now known as highly superior autobiographical memory, or HSAM, a condition she shares with around 60 other known people. She can remember most of the days of her life as clearly as the rest of us remember the recent past, with a mixture of broad strokes and sharp detail. Now 51, Price remembers the day of the week for every date since 1980; she remembers what she was doing, who she was with, where she was on each of these days. She can actively recall a memory of 20 years ago as easily as a memory of two days ago, but her memories are also triggered involuntarily.

It is, she says, like living with a split screen: on the left side is the present, on the right is a constantly rolling reel of memories, each one sparked by the appearance of present-day stimuli. With so many memories always at the ready, Price says, it can be maddening: virtually anything she sees or hears can be a potential trigger.

Before Price, HSAM was a completely unknown condition. So what about the day she sent an email to a Dr James McGaugh at University of California, Irvine? That was 8 June 2000, a Thursday. Price was 34 years and five months old.

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Lean Out: The deafening post-November silence of Sheryl Sandberg

Sarah Lacy writes for Pando:

[…] The press didn’t make Sandberg into a feminist tech hero, she did. There was no pressure or precedent for female tech leaders to identify so heavily with women’s issues. And that’s why she struck such a chord with so many women. Finally a woman in power was saying all the things we all felt. It was particularly meaningful to me that she openly talked about motherhood– the joys, the challenges, and the strength of it.

This matters because Sandberg is easily the most senior woman in tech, and the most respected despite not being a founder or a CEO. According to First Round’s 2016 State of Startups, Sandberg was the most cited female answer to what tech leader people admire most. She got 1% of overall responses, compared to 6% for Mark Zuckerberg and 5% for Steve Jobs. She got 5% of the write-ins from female respondents. No other female leader came close.

Is that brand, that admiration solely because she is the COO of the only major super unicorn of the social networking era, and one of a few companies bucking to be the first $1 trillion market cap super duper unicorn? Maybe. But my hunch is her positioning as the flawed and vulnerable and yet commanding and respected woman a top that company, a woman who helps lift up other women, has played a massive role in people’s esteem for her.

So having voluntarily taken on this cause– and let’s face it, benefitted from that it in many ways– Sandberg must be well positioned to be a leader in this precise moment of feminist consciousness, right?

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The man who declared the ‘end of history’ fears for democracy’s future

Ishaan Tharoor reports for The Washington Post:

Francis Fukuyama, an acclaimed American political philosopher, entered the global imagination at the end of the Cold War when he prophesied the “end of history” — a belief that, after the fall of communism, free-market liberal democracy had won out and would become the world’s “final form of human government.” Now, at a moment when liberal democracy seems to be in crisis across the West, Fukuyama, too, wonders about its future.

“Twenty five years ago, I didn’t have a sense or a theory about how democracies can go backward,” said Fukuyama in a phone interview. “And I think they clearly can.”

Fukuyama’s initial argument (which I’ve greatly over-simplified) framed the international zeitgeist for the past two decades. Globalization was the vehicle by which liberalism would spread across the globe. The rule of law and institutions would supplant power politics and tribal divisions. Supranational bodies like the European Union seemed to embody those ideals.

But if the havoc of the Great Recession and the growing clout of authoritarian states like China and Russia hadn’t already upset the story, Brexit and the election of President Trump last year certainly did.

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Betsy DeVos Confirmed as Education Secretary as VP Pence Breaks Tie

Yamiche Alcindor and Emmarie Huetteman report for The New York Times:

Image result for Betsy DeVosThe Senate confirmed Betsy DeVos on Tuesday as education secretary, approving the embattled nominee only with the help of a historic tiebreaking vote from Vice President Mike Pence.

The 51-to-50 vote elevates Ms. DeVos — a wealthy donor from Michigan who has devoted much of her life to expanding educational choice through charter schools and vouchers, but has limited experience with the public school system — to be steward of the nation’s schools.

Two Republicans voted against Ms. DeVos’s confirmation, a sign that some members of President Trump’s party are willing to go against him, possibly foreshadowing difficulty on some of the president’s more contentious legislative priorities.

It was the first time that a vice president has been summoned to the Capitol to break a tie on a cabinet nomination, according to the Senate historian. Taking the gavel as the vote deadlocked at 50-50, Mr. Pence, a former member of the House, declared his vote for Ms. DeVos before announcing that Mr. Trump’s nominee for education secretary had been confirmed.

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The Dark History of the White House Aides Who Crafted Trump’s ‘Muslim Ban’

Josh Harkinson reports for Mother Jones:

The Trump administration has insisted since Sunday that the president’s executive order banning travel to the United States from seven predominately Islamic countries “is not a Muslim ban.” But as Mother Jones first reported in a series of investigations starting last summer, the two top Trump advisers who reportedly crafted the immigration crackdown—Stephen Bannon and Stephen Miller—have a long history of promoting Islamophobia, courting anti-Muslim extremists, and boosting white nationalists.

For nearly a year before stepping down as the CEO of Breitbart News to lead the Trump campaign, Bannon hosted a SiriusXM radio show, Breitbart News Daily, where he conducted dozens of interviews with leading anti-Muslim extremists. Steeped in unfounded claims and conspiracy theories, the interviews paint a dark and paranoid picture of America’s 3.3 million Muslims and the world’s second-largest faith. Bannon often bookended the exchanges with full-throated praise for his guests, describing them as “top experts” and urging his listeners to click on their websites and support them.

One of Bannon’s guests on the show, Trump surrogate Roger Stone, warned of a future America “where hordes of Islamic madmen are raping, killing, pillaging, defecating in public fountains, harassing private citizens, elderly people—that’s what’s coming.”

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President Bannon? Racist, Islamophobic Breitbart Leader Consolidates Power in Trump White House

Amy Goodman speaks to Josh Harkinson, senior reporter at Mother Jones, on Steve Bannon emerging as one of the most powerful figures in the Trump White House. Harkinson’s recent article is headlined ‘The Dark History of the White House Aides Who Crafted Trump’s ‘Muslim Ban‘. (Democracy Now!)

Trump’s ‘Muslim Ban’ Will Only Make Terrorist Attacks More Likely

Patrick Cockburn reports for The Independent:

muslim-ban-protest.jpgDonald Trump’s travel ban on refugees and visitors from seven Muslim countries entering the US makes a terrorist attack on Americans at home or abroad more rather than less likely. It does so because one of the main purposes of al-Qaeda and Isis in carrying out atrocities is to provoke an overreaction directed against Muslim communities and states. Such communal punishments vastly increase sympathy for Salafi-jihadi movements among the 1.6 billion Muslims who make up a quarter of the world’s population.

The Trump administration justifies its action by claiming that it is only following lessons learned from 9/11 and the destruction of the Twin Towers. But it has learned exactly the wrong lesson: the great success of Mohammed Atta and his eighteen hijackers was not on the day that they and 3,000 others died, but when President George W Bush responded by leading the US into wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that are still going on.

Al-Qaeda and its clones had been a small organisation with perhaps as few as a thousand militants in south east Afghanistan and north west Pakistan. But thanks to Bush’s calamitous decisions after 9/11, it now has tens of thousands of fighters, billions of dollars in funds and cells in dozens of countries. Few wars have failed so demonstrably or so badly as “the war on terror”. Isis and al-Qaeda activists are often supposed to be inspired simply by a demonic variant of Islam – and this is certainly how Trump has described their motivation – but in practice it was the excesses of the counter-terrorism apparatus such as torture and rendition, Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib which acted as the recruiting sergeant for the Salafi-jihadi movements.

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Six Other Times the U.S. Has Banned Immigrants

Al Jazeera reports:

On Friday, Donald Trump barred citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries – Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen – from entering the United States for at least the next 90 days.

He also suspended the US refugee programme for 120 days, specifically banning Syrian refugees until further notice, reduced the number of refugees who would be admitted this year to 50,000 and specified that refugees who were from a religious minority and fleeing religious persecution should be prioritised.

A federal judge has blocked part of Trump’s executive order, ruling that travellers who have already landed in the US with valid visas should not be sent back to their home countries, and protests in response to passport holders from some Arab countries, including US green card holders, being blocked from passing through customs or prevented from boarding US-bound planes, have taken place at airports across the country.

But this is not the first time that the US has banned immigrants from its shores. Over the past 200 years, successive American presidents have placed restrictions on the immigration of certain groups.

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Government Scientists at U.S. Climate Conference Terrified to Speak with the Press

Sharon Lerner reports for The Intercept:

While Donald Trump was reviving both the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines, muzzling federal employees, freezing EPA contracts, and first telling the EPA to remove mentions of climate change from its website — and then reversing course — many of the scientists who work on climate change in federal agencies were meeting just a few miles from the White House to present and discuss their work.

The mood was understandably gloomy at the National Conference and Global Forum on Science, Policy, and the Environment. “I don’t know what’s going to happen. No one knows what’s going to happen,” one EPA staffer who works on climate issues told me on Tuesday, as she ate her lunch. She had spent much of her time in recent weeks trying to preserve and document the methane-related projects she’s been working on for years. But the prevailing sense was that, Trump’s claims about being an environmentalist notwithstanding, the president is moving forward with his plan to eviscerate environmental protections, particularly those related to climate change, and the EPA itself.

“It’s strange,” the woman said. “People keep walking up to me and giving me hugs.” Like several others I spoke to for this story, she declined to tell me her name out of fear that she might suffer retaliation, including being fired. She was not being paranoid. Already, agency higher ups had warned the EPA staff against talking to the press, or even updating blogs or issuing news releases. “Only send out critical messages, as messages can be shared broadly and end up in the press,” said one EPA missive that was shared broadly and ended up in the press. And while the staffer was at the meeting, the EPA’s new brass issued another memo to staff requiring all regional offices to submit a list of external meetings and presentations, noting which might be controversial and why.

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Texas Is Leading the Right-Wing Crusade Against Planned Parenthood

Jordan Smith reports for The Intercept:

At the end of a three-day hearing, a federal district court judge in Austin, Texas, on January 19 issued a temporary injunction blocking state officials from excising Planned Parenthood from the state’s Medicaid program — a move that would deny more than 11,000 of the state’s poorest residents from accessing preventive care from their provider of choice, and would annually strip Texas Planned Parenthood clinics of several million dollars.

The current court action is just the latest in a long string of attempts by the state of Texas to defund local affiliates of the nation’s largest provider of women’s health and reproductive care. And it is part of a larger movement by conservative state and federal lawmakers to cut off Planned Parenthood from all government funding.

If anti-choice lawmakers in D.C. have their way, it may be easier for Texas, and other states, to get their way.

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Trump’s Crony Cabinet May Look Strong, But They Are Scared

Naomi Klein writes for The Nation:

Protest Crane at the White House[…] This is the backdrop for Trump’s rise to power—our movements were starting to win. I’m not saying that they were strong enough. They weren’t. I’m not saying we were united enough. We weren’t. But something was most definitely shifting. And rather than risk the possibility of further progress, this gang of fossil-fuel mouthpieces, junk-food peddlers, and predatory lenders have come together to take over the government and protect their ill-gotten wealth.

Let us be clear: This is not a peaceful transition of power. It’s a corporate takeover. The interests that have long-since paid off both major parties to do their bidding have decided they are tired of playing the game. Apparently, all that wining and dining of politicians, all that cajoling and legalized bribery, insulted their sense of divine entitlement.

So now they are cutting out the middleman and doing what every top dog does when they want something done right—they are doing it themselves. Exxon for secretary of state. Hardee’s for secretary of labor. General Dynamics for secretary of defense. And the Goldman guys for pretty much everything that’s left. After decades of privatizing the state in bits and pieces, they decided to just go for the government itself. Neoliberalism’s final frontier. That’s why Trump and his appointees are laughing at the feeble objections over conflicts of interest—the whole thing is a conflict of interest, that’s the whole point.

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‘The Media is the Opposition Party’: Sarah Posner on Trump Adviser Steve Bannon Telling the Press to ‘Keep Its Mouth Shut’

Amy Goodman speaks to journalist Sarah Posner the rare interview Trump’s Chief Strategist Steve Bannon gave to the New York Times in which he said: “The media should be embarrassed and humiliated and keep its mouth shut and just listen for a while. I want you to quote this. The media here is the opposition party. They don’t understand this country. They still do not understand why Donald Trump is the president of the United States.” Posner wrote an article for Mother Jones in August titled: ‘How Donald Trump’s New Campaign Chief Created an Online Haven for White Nationalists‘. Her latest piece for Rolling Stone is titled: ‘Trump Makes Good on His Nativist Campaign Promises‘. (Democracy Now!)

Thanks to Trump, the Doomsday Clock Advances Toward Midnight

David Titley and Lawrence M. Krauss write for The New York Times:

[…] This is the closest to midnight that the clock has been since 1953, when it was moved to two minutes to midnight after United States and the Soviet Union tested their first thermonuclear weapons within six months of one another.

We understand that Mr. Trump has been in office only days, that many of his cabinet nominees are awaiting confirmation and that he has had little time to take official action.

But Mr. Trump’s statements and actions have been unsettling. He has made ill-considered comments about expanding and even deploying the American nuclear arsenal. He has expressed disbelief in the scientific consensus on global warming. He has shown a troubling propensity to discount or reject expert advice related to international security. And his nominees to head the Energy Department, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Office of Management and the Budget have disputed or questioned climate change.

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‘Women Will Die Because of This’: Trump Signs Anti-Abortion Global Gag Rule Surrounded by Men

Amy Goodman speaks to Dawn Laguens of Planned Parenthood reinstated the controversial “global gag rule,” which women’s rights advocates fear will increase unsafe abortions around the world. The policy originated in the Reagan era and bans U.S. funding for any international healthcare organizations that perform abortions or advocate for the legalization of abortion or even mention it, even if those activities are funded by non-U.S. money. Trump signed the order surrounded by seven other men just two days after millions of people poured into the streets of Washington, D.C., and cities around the world for the historic Women’s March. (Democracy Now!)

Hannah Arendt Explains How Propaganda Uses Lies to Erode All Truth and Morality

Open Culture writes:

At least when I was in grade school, we learned the very basics of how the Third Reich came to power in the early 1930s. Paramilitary gangs terrorizing the opposition, the incompetence and opportunism of German conservatives, the Reichstag Fire. And we learned about the critical importance of propaganda, the deliberate misinforming of the public in order to sway opinions en masse and achieve popular support (or at least the appearance of it). While Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels purged Jewish and leftist artists and writers, he built a massive media infrastructure that played, writes PBS, “probably the most important role in creating an atmosphere in Germany that made it possible for the Nazis to commit terrible atrocities against Jews, homosexuals, and other minorities.”

How did the minority party of Hitler and Goebbels take over and break the will of the German people so thoroughly that they would allow and participate in mass murder? Post-war scholars of totalitarianism like Theodor Adorno and Hannah Arendt asked that question over and over, for several decades afterward. Their earliest studies on the subject looked at two sides of the equation. Adorno contributed to a massive volume of social psychology called The Authoritarian Personality, which studied individuals predisposed to the appeals of totalitarianism. He invented what he called the F-Scale (“F” for “fascism”), one of several measures he used to theorize the Authoritarian Personality Type.

Arendt, on the other hand, looked closely at the regimes of Hitler and Stalin and their functionaries, at the ideology of scientific racism, and at the mechanism of propaganda in fostering “a curiously varying mixture of gullibility and cynicism with which each member… is expected to react to the changing lying statements of the leaders.” So she wrote in her 1951 Origins of Totalitarianism, going on to elaborate that this “mixture of gullibility and cynicism… is prevalent in all ranks of totalitarian movements”

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Nobody Speak: New Documentary Probes Billionaire Peter Thiel’s Destruction of News Outlet Gawker

Amy Goodman speaks to Brian Knappenberger, the director of the new documetary Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press, which is premiering at the Sundance Film Festival. Last year, the digital media outlet Gawker declared bankruptcy and put itself up for sale after it was ordered to pay $140 million in a lawsuit for publishing the sex tape of wrestler Hulk Hogan. Hogan’s lawsuit was financially backed by Silicon Valley billionaire and Trump supporter Peter Thiel, who was outed as gay by a now-defunct Gawker blog. Knappenberger previously directed The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz and We Are Legion: The Story of the Hacktivists, about the hacker collective Anonymous. (Democracy Now!)

Doomsday Prep for the Super-Rich

Evan Osnos reports for The New Yorker:

An armed guard stands at the entrance of the Survival Condo Project, a former missile silo north of Wichita, Kansas, that has been converted into luxury apartments for people worried about the crackup of civilization.[…] Survivalism, the practice of preparing for a crackup of civilization, tends to evoke a certain picture: the woodsman in the tinfoil hat, the hysteric with the hoard of beans, the religious doomsayer. But in recent years survivalism has expanded to more affluent quarters, taking root in Silicon Valley and New York City, among technology executives, hedge-fund managers, and others in their economic cohort.

Last spring, as the Presidential campaign exposed increasingly toxic divisions in America, Antonio García Martínez, a forty-year-old former Facebook product manager living in San Francisco, bought five wooded acres on an island in the Pacific Northwest and brought in generators, solar panels, and thousands of rounds of ammunition. “When society loses a healthy founding myth, it descends into chaos,” he told me. The author of “Chaos Monkeys,” an acerbic Silicon Valley memoir, García Martínez wanted a refuge that would be far from cities but not entirely isolated. “All these dudes think that one guy alone could somehow withstand the roving mob,” he said. “No, you’re going to need to form a local militia. You just need so many things to actually ride out the apocalypse.” Once he started telling peers in the Bay Area about his “little island project,” they came “out of the woodwork” to describe their own preparations, he said. “I think people who are particularly attuned to the levers by which society actually works understand that we are skating on really thin cultural ice right now.”

In private Facebook groups, wealthy survivalists swap tips on gas masks, bunkers, and locations safe from the effects of climate change. One member, the head of an investment firm, told me, “I keep a helicopter gassed up all the time, and I have an underground bunker with an air-filtration system.” He said that his preparations probably put him at the “extreme” end among his peers. But he added, “A lot of my friends do the guns and the motorcycles and the gold coins. That’s not too rare anymore.”

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