As Millions March for Climate, Stab in Back by EPA & NYT

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

An estimated 200,000 climate protesters rallied in Washington, D.C., on Saturday, braving record temperatures in the 90s, well above the average temperature for April 29 in the national capital. They were allowed to surround the White House from a distance. The protesters were pushing back against the pro-Warming policies of President Donald J. Trump, which favor burning massively increased amounts of coal, gas and oil, putting extra billions of metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere over time.

At the same time that protests were mounted in cities across the US and the world, the Trump Environmental Protection Agency under denialist, shyster lawyer, and generally miserable human being Scott Pruitt removed its Climate Change web page.. When the fox is in charge of the hen house, the first thing he does is to oil the hinges so the hens can’t here him coming through the gate. So the climate marchers got stabbed in the back, predictably, by the very government agency that should be protecting their children from the ravages of pollutants like carbon dioxide.

State legislators, bought and paid for by Big Carbon, are plotting to try to stop the march to solar power and other renewables.

CO2 is a deadly greenhouse gas, which is responsible for having turned Venus into a scorching Gehenna where lead melts on the surface. Human beings evolved during the past 200,000 years, when carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have been low, roughly 270 parts per million. Since 1750 and the advent of the Industrial Revolution, human beings have increased CO2 in the atmosphere to 410 parts per million. This is the fastest accumulation of so many billions of tons of CO2 ever in the earth’s history. CO2 has fluctuated in the distant past, but over millions of years. A level of 410 ppm is consistent with massive warming and seas that are dozens of meters higher than now, which would submerge Florida, Louisiana, the Egyptian Delta, and most of Bangladesh, among other catastrophes. This warming and those disasters will happen over time rather than immediately, since the seas, for instance are cold and slow-moving and will take time to warm up consistent with the current greenhouse effect.

In order to muddy the waters and help Exxon-Mobil and the Koch Brothers, the New York Times sold out and hired climate denialist Brett Stephens, who abruptly tossed a set of old bromides about the uncertainty of climate change onto the editorial page.

Make no mistake about it. Brett Stephens is shamelessly purveying a falsehood. His like deliberately and skillfully deploy the techniques the cigarette companies used to deflect the science on lung cancer. It is known that liberals are open-minded, willing to concede the other person’s point of view, willing to entertain self-doubt. Denialists, like a criminal who profiles the victim before striking, have been trained to play on these traits.

But let’s get this straight. There is no more doubt in the scientific community about the reality of human-caused climate change than there is about the law of gravity. Perhaps Mr. Stephens and his ilk should step off their balconies every once in a while to test whether the arrogant Mr. Newton and his seventeenth century mathematics could not reasonably be debated on the certainty that they will fall to their deaths every time.

On climate change, there are no reasonable grounds for doubt about either the reality or the costs. A eighth-grade science experiment can prove that CO2 is a greenhouse gas. Does Mr. Stephens think Venus is so hot because of the nitrogen in its atmosphere? Or could it be the massive amounts of CO2? Are there really grounds for a debate here?

I’m a historian, and have taught history and climate change. And, actually history is highly relevant here. Scientists have gathered ice cores and have developed proxies that allow them to estimate CO2 levels in past ages. And we can correlate those carbon dioxide levels with sea level, stationary massive storms and droughts, and other kinds of events that accompanied climate change in the past. Somebody tried to troll me that if CO2 levels fluctuated in the past naturally, how do we know that humans are causing today’s changes. That’s easy. Past fluctuations were mostly driven by volcanic activity– lots of it, over millions of years. There hasn’t been anything like that going on since 1750 (you would have noticed), and nor could volcanic activity change the levels so rapidly (they never have, ever before). Current volcanic activity is putting less that 1% as much CO2 into the atmosphere as human burning of coal, gas and oil.

Brett Stephens at the NYT is the essence of fake news.

The New York Times gave us the Iraq War with phony stories about aluminum tubes and Iraqi nuclear bomb projects, and biological weapons on bumpy Winnebagos on Iraq’s potholed roads. The paper has a lot of great and honest reporters, but a little bit of arsenic can ruin an otherwise fine meal.

What I can’t understand is why people don’t protest in front of coal plants and embarrass the utilities running them. They are the dirtiest, most dangerous things on the planet and all of them need to be closed down yesterday if we are to get a handle on climate change. Trump can’t promote coal mining if there aren’t any plants burning the noxious stuff (it is laced with mercury, a notorious nerve poison, quite apart from destroying the planet with CO2).

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

CGTN: “Thousands gather in protest at People’s Climate March”

On Day of Climate March, Remember advance of Solar globally

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The US public may have to march today for our government to recognize the dangers of climate change. But in the rest of the world many governments are placing a large wager on clean solar energy.

The largest concentrated solar plant in the world is not in the United States, which once upon a time was at the vanguard of new science and technology. It is in Morocco, a coming green energy giant in Africa.

And it is out on the edge of the Sahara Desert at a largely Amazigh town called Ouarzazate. Ouarzazate retains some of its medieval architecture and is a favorite in Hollywood. It is where Khaleesi (Emilia Clarke) of The Game of Thrones has been hanging out lately.

But if old city walls and a fortress attract the interest of High Fantasy directors, the city has now become world famous as a generator of solar power. It only took 2 1/2 years for the first big solar farm to come on line.

World_Largest_Concentrated_Solar_Plant_Morocco_1

Morocco is planning to get 2 gigawatts of electricity from solar by 2020, and its total goal is 6 new gigawatts from green sources (another two from wind and two from new hydro). It hopes to get to 40% of its electricity generated by renewables in only 3 years! It is among the more ambitious projects in the world, but Morocco is pulling it off like clockwork. The country has almost no hyrdocarbons so that the alternative to free fuel from the sun and wind is to import expensive coal or natural gas at high prices.

Japan has dragged its feet on solar and wind, in part because of the fascination of its power elite with nuclear power and imported hydrocarbons like natural gas. But even there, Pacifico is building a 257 megawatt solar facility, and has more such plans elsewhere in Japan. New solar can increasingly be had for prices lower than coal, making it the environmental alternative energy.

But the really big solar projects are in China and India. India could see as much as 10 gigawatts of new solar in 2017 alone. That is a 130% increase!

China’s solar electricity generation capacity doubled in 2016. I don’t think it can be overestimated how huge that is. And it is only the beginning.

World Bank: “Young, Innovative, and Going Solar in Morocco”

Climate March: How many more atomic bombs is Trump setting off in our Atmosphere?

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The People’s Climate March on Saturday will protest the Trump administration’s pro-Climate Change policies of increasing US carbon dioxide and methane emissions.

Just how bad will it be?

The US committed at Paris to reducing its emissions by 1/4 of 2005 levels by 2025. So far it has reduced its emissions by only about 8 percent, a third of what it needs to do.

The US put out 5.17 billion metric tons of CO2 in 2016, down a mere 1.7% from the previous year. Much of the slight reduction in greenhouse gas emissions the US has achieved has been through the closing of dirty coal plants (coal is the worst). If we could close all remaining 600 or so coal plants and turn instead to wind or solar for the electricity, that would have a major impact on emissions.

But guess who wants to try to float the otherwise failing coal industry?

Donald J. Trump.

David Bailey and David Bookbinder estimate that Obama could have gotten emissions down by 17% with his policies staying in place– about half what the US pledged at Paris.

If Trump follows through with his current plans and doesn’t add to them, the US emissions might still get to 10% below 2005 levels by 2025. Even Trump probably can’t stop Iowa and Texas from producing ever more wind energy, and he probably can’t stop a raft of coal plant closures already planned.

The problem is that he can do plenty of damage.

Climate scientist James Hansen estimated that our rate of emissions in 2013 was like setting off 400,000 small atomic bombs in the atmosphere every day of the year.

The United States, with 5% of the world’s population is responsible for about 15% of global emissions, or 60,000 atomic bombs a day worth of increased heat in the atmosphere.

Under Trump, we’ll still be setting off 54,000 atomic bombs a day in 2025.

Some estimates are that Trump will put out a billion more mt tons a year of this deadly poison gas than would have otherwise been the case.

Remember that emissions are cumulative. So if you warm up the atmosphere by that much this year, and then again next, you are doubling the effect.

Sometimes pundits talk about emissions being “flat” if they are the same as last year. No, no, no! That’s not “flat.” If you were trying to lose weight and put on 25 pounds this year instead, that would be bad. But if you put on another 25 pounds on top of that next year, that wouldn’t be flat at all, and neither would you.

We’re putting up that 5.17 bn metric tons of gas every year in this country. That’s a mountain of greenhouse gases. It isn’t ‘flat.”

And under Trump the emissions will rise, and so will the damage to future generations.

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Related video:

VOA: “Trump Orders Review of Obama Climate Rule”

Planet Ravagers: How Trump & GOP are like Aliens in “Independence Day”

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

“They’re like locusts. They’re moving from planet to planet, their entire civilization. Once they consume every natural resource, they move on.”
— President Thomas Whitmore, “Independence Day”

You expect the Republican Party, when it wins a national election, to pass some laws benefiting the business classes. The GOP mainly stands for the interests of the 0.1% who are typically involved in business. It manages to get working people and the middle class to vote for it every other year, too, mainly by race-baiting, hypocritical Bible-thumping, and fear-mongering.

But the Trump administration isn’t even representing the interests of the business classes, which presumably include staying alive and having their money be worth something.

Trump and his cohort are Planet Ravagers. (This is a common Hollywood trope, but they are the real thing). They just want to suck the earth dry, and apparently they don’t in the slightest care what happens to people or even businesses after they go out of office. Their quest is for short term megaprofits.

So Trump said that he is going to cut corporate taxes to 15% from 35%. The US has a big problem with increasing economic inequality, and Reagan and subsequent tax policy is in large part to blame. Trump’s tax cuts will throw even more of the nation’s wealth to the super-rich. Think about tax policy as a snow blower that you angle so that all of the snow it spews out goes in one pile. After a while you have a little snow mountain in your yard, but your driveway has no snow at all. That’s what Trump is planning to do with our money.

Tax cuts do not create economic growth. That is a myth that Republicans keep pushing in the face of all the studies by economists. They actually advocated tax cuts in the 1930s to address the Great Depression, which their policies had created. It is just snake oil. Reagan cut taxes, and all it did was balloon out the government budget deficit.

The seriousness of the US debt should not be exaggerated. Spending a bit over budget often helps the economy grow, and governments are not like households that they go bankrupt. But the fact is that US debt is unhealthily high, basically equal to gross domestic product, and Trump’s tax cut will cause it to skyrocket. The world carries the US in the face of this weakness, but at some point they are going to prefer not to have an unstable reserve currency.

How can it be good for US business to have the US credit rating fall and have the dollar lose its reputation? I don’t understand.

Then Trump announced a study toward lifting the ban on drilling for hydrocarbons on Federal land.

It might be nice for some oil firms, but it risks blighting the landscape for the rest of us.

Then there is the gutting of environmental law. They increase the risk of algae blooms in places like Lake Erie, which can be deadly to human beings if they affect drinking water. He doesn’t care.

But really? Who profits from algal blooms?

They’re being self destructive in this White House, just as W. Bush was. And when the next economic crash comes, it won’t be the CEOs who most feel the pain.

Planet ravagers.

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Related video:

. Independence Day (3/5) Movie CLIP – Nuke ‘Em (1996) HD

Trump Sanctuary Threat Quashed by Court – Is anything he does Constitutional?

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

US district judge William Orrick responded to a lawsuit by the county of San Francisco and by Santa Clara county against a Trump Executive Order conveyed to them by the Department of Justice, threatening to deny Federal funding to self-proclaimed sanctuary cities by striking down the DoJ. This is the third time a Trump policy connected to immigration has been struck down by lower courts on the grounds that it is unconstitutional, raising questions as to whether this administration has a grasp on the constitution.

The Trump administration acted with fury and called Orrick an “unelected judge.” Yes, but federal judges are appointed by the Federal government, which is . . . elected. And besides, the constitution doesn’t change with each election.

The Trump administration argued that the Executive Order only reaffirms existing law. There are three Federal grants in the Department of Justice and Homeland Security that already have a rider requiring county compliance with immigration law. Only Santa Clara has one of these grants, to the tune of a million dollars a year.

Judge Orrick, however, did not accept the Trump administration’s claim that the plaintiffs lack standing or that all the Executive Order did was to reinforce those three existing laws. He pointed out that the EO claimed to be able to block all Federal funds to the affected counties.

Not only did the EO say that, Orrick pointed out, but Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions both publicly made such claims:

“And if there was doubt about the scope of the Order, the President and Attorney General have erased it with their public comments. The President has called it “a weapon” to use against jurisdictions that disagree with his preferred policies of immigration enforcement, and his press secretary has reiterated that the President intends to ensure that “counties and other institutions that remain sanctuary cites don’t get federal government funding in compliance with the executive order.” The Attorney General has warned that jurisdictions that do not comply with Section 1373 would suffer “withholding grants, termination of grants, and disbarment or ineligibility for future grants,” and the “claw back” of any funds previously awarded. Section 9(a) is not reasonably susceptible to the new, narrow interpretation offered at the hearing. ”

In other words, if Trump wants to keep trying to push unconstitutional executive orders, he has to at least pretend in public that they are constitutional. Orrick flatly dismissed the government’s new interpretation of the order [as narrow] “not legally plausible.” But he noted that the government attorneys had more or less admitted that Trump’s overly broad interpretation of his own EO would be unconstitutional.

Orrick points out that Congress decides on funding issues, not the executive, so that the president can’t just wake up in the morning and put restrictions on Congressionally mandated funding.

In addition, “Further, the Tenth Amendment requires that conditions on federal funds be unambiguous and timely made; that they bear some relation to the funds at issue; and that the total financial incentive not be coercive. Federal funding that bears no meaningful relationship to immigration enforcement cannot be threatened merely because a jurisdiction chooses an immigration enforcement strategy of which the President disapproves.”

Trump’s lawyers also argued that the counties did not have standing to sue, since nothing had actually yet been done to them.

Judge Orrick pointed out that the EO had caused budgetary uncertainty, since it threatened to deprive them of hundreds of millions of Federal dollars. Moreover, he said, the Trump EO caused them ongoing constitutional injuries. It violates the separation of powers doctrine and deprives them of their Fifth and Tenth Amendment rights.

He went even further and rejected the whole legal logic of Trump’s demand that local jurisdictions that arrest undocumented persons hold them in jail so that ICE can come by and deport them.

He wrote, “Several courts have held that it is a violation of the Fourth Amendment for local jurisdictions to hold suspected or actual removable aliens subject to civil detainer requests because civil detainer requests are often not supported by an individualized determination of probable cause that a crime has been committed.”

Moreover, ICE does not reimburse local jurisdictions for the cost of keeping a Federal suspect locked up for a long time.

So the takeaway is that Trump attempted through his EO to make a coup. He tried to take spending decisions away from Congress, violating the separation of powers clause of the constitution. He also tried to throw out the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee of due process. And, he tried unilaterally to abrogate the Tenth Amendment, which says “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.”

Trump was attempting to hijack local government for Federal purposes, in the absence of even the slightest statutory guidance from the states.

It is frightening that this administration (it isn’t just Trump) is perfectly OK with pissing all over the constitution to get what it wants.

For the moment, the courts are holding the line.

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CBS in LA: “Courts Hand Trump Another Setback In Dealing With ‘Sanctuary Cities'”

The Last time there was this much CO2 in the air, Florida was under Water

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii has reported that in April, for the first time in human history the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has exceeded 410 parts per million (ppm). Carbon dioxide (CO2) is a powerful greenhouse gas that prevents the sun’s heat from radiating back out into space once it strikes the surface. It is because Venus’s atmosphere is mainly CO2 that the planet is a torrid hell-hole where metals melt on the surface.

New scientific estimates are that the last time there was this much carbon dioxide in the earth’s atmosphere may have been the Pliocene, some 4.5 million years ago. Some earlier estimates suggested that it had been 24 million years since we had this much CO2. In past eras, carbon dioxide levels tended to go up mainly because of volcanic eruptions. The CO2 gradually gets scrubbed back out of the atmosphere by going into the ocean or by binding with igneous rock, over hundreds of thousands or millions of years. In the meantime, more CO2 means more heat.

Although the Pliocene was cooler than the preceding era, the middle Pliocene was still substantially hotter than the earth is today.

There were dire wolves and camelops and giant armadillos.

Sea levels 4.5 million years ago were as much as 131 feet feet [40 meters] higher than today.

Here are the coastal communities in the US at risk just from a four feet ocean level rise:

h/t Climate Central

It will be much more.

As the video below makes clear, our climate models are likely overly conservative. 410 ppm of carbon dioxide had a much bigger effect on the Pliocene than we would have thought, according to new analyses of ocean temperatures. It got hot, and ocean temperatures were unaccountably torrid. That dried out East Africa and may have affected the evolution of early hominids there.

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Related video:

UCLTV: “Climate models questioned by Pliocene ocean temperatures”

For First Time, a US President backs a Fascist France

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

While she is highly unlikely to win the run-off presidential election on May 7 against the Bill Clinton of France, Emmanuel Macron, Marine Le Pen managed to come in second in the first round on Sunday. She came ahead of the leaders of both major French political parties, the Socialists and the Gaullists. It is a sad day for France, and for the world, that such a hateful person– a neo-Fascist— is in the running to be president.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt hated fascism and was determined to defeat it, even if it meant allying with Joe Stalin of the Soviet Union.

During World War II, Germany occupied northern France and installed a right wing puppet government in the south of the country at Vichy, led by Marshal Henri-Philippe Petain, the victor at Verdun in WW I.

Roosevelt despised the Vichy, and ultimately his troops defeated it. [Roosevelt was the one who pressed for an invasion of Vichy-held North Africa. US troops took heavy fire during Operation Torch in Algeria e.g. Some “82,600 of the invasion force was U.S. Army personnel. Ninety-six percent of the 1,469 casualties were American.” It was the remnants and children of people like those Vichy soldiers who fired on and killed American GIs who formed the National Front of Le Pen.]

Today we are presented with the spectacle of the American president, Donald J. Trump, praising the Neo-Fascist National Front candidate, Marine LePen. It would be like FDR cozying up to Marshal Petain.

Trump said, “Le Pen is “strongest on borders, and she’s the strongest on what’s been going on in France.”

We are living in an alternate universe not so different from Philip K. Dick’s “Man in a High Castle.” The Nazis won after all.

Le Pen’s platform includes denying French Jews the right to hold dual French-Israeli citizenship. The National Front has moderated the anti-Semitic rhetoric of its founder, but let’s face it, they don’t like Jews very much, and French Jews are alarmed by the outcome of the election. Le Pen recently denied the responsibility of France for the round-up of Jews in the 1940s, even though there is plenty of historical documentation for it.

Le Pen’s wounded national pride, the seed of her platform, drives her to seek negotiations with the EU over a referendum on membership. In any case, she says, France will “recover” four areas of “sovereignty”: monetary, legislative, territorial, economic.

Here’s her security platform:

Massive build-up of the police, disarming the slums. Building 40,000 new prison cells. Restore borders, keep out all but 10,000 immigrants a year. Breaking Muslim fundamentalist networks in order to eradicate terrorism.

She also has a re-industrialization plan that will depend, she says, on “Smart protectionism” and “Economic patriotism”.

She wants to leave the NATO command. Her war department budget will grow to 2% of GDP and 3% by the end of five years.

Hatred of the 5 million French Muslims is central to her program, even thought the majority of French Muslims are not religious.

It is like she plagiarized from Trump. Or maybe it is the other way around and Steve Bannon, Trump’s Brain, has been studying far right European neo-Fascists as a blueprint for America.

It is a sad day when all those millions of American veterans who served in the European theater during WW II have their memory besmirched by the reemergence of fascism, in the White House and in French politics. How many Americans died to prevent a fascist take-over here and to end the Vichy in France itself.

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Related video:

Vox: “Marine Le Pen: France’s Trump is on the rise”

Trump’s Warmongering on Steroids: But who Supplied the Steroids

By Tom Engelhardt | ( Tomdispatch.com) | – –

MOAB sounds more like an incestuous, war-torn biblical kingdom than the GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast, aka “the mother of all bombs.”  Still, give Donald Trump credit.  Only the really, really big bombs, whether North Korean nukes or those 21,600 pounds of MOAB, truly get his attention.  He wasn’t even involved in the decision to drop the largest non-nuclear bomb in the U.S. arsenal for the first time in war, but his beloved generals — “we have the best military people on Earth” — already know the man they work for, and the bigger, flashier, more explosive, and winninger, the better.

It was undoubtedly the awesome look of that first MOAB going off in grainy black and white on Fox News, rather than in Afghanistan, that appealed to the president.  Just as he was visibly thrilled by all those picturesque Tomahawk cruise missiles, the equivalent of nearly three MOABS, whooshing from the decks of U.S. destroyers in the eastern Mediterranean and heading, like so many fabulous fireworks, toward a Syrian airfield — or was it actually an Iraqi one?  “We’ve just fired 59 missiles,” he said, “all of which hit, by the way, unbelievable, from, you know, hundreds of miles away, all of which hit, amazing… It’s so incredible.  It’s brilliant.  It’s genius.  Our technology, our equipment, is better than anybody by a factor of five.”

Call it thrilling. Call it a blast. Call it escalation. Or just call it the age of Trump. (“If you look at what’s happened over the last eight weeks and compare that really to what’s happened over the past eight years, you’ll see there’s a tremendous difference, tremendous difference,” he commented, adding about MOAB, “This was another very, very successful mission.”)

Anyway, here we are and, as so many of his critics have pointed out, the plaudits have been pouring in from all the usual media and political suspects for a president with big enough… well, hands, to make war impressively.  In our world, this is what now passes for “presidential.”  Consider that praise the media version of so many Tomahawk missiles pointing us toward what the escalation of America’s never-ending wars will mean to Trump’s presidency.

These days, from Syria to Afghanistan, the Koreas to Somalia, Yemen to Iraq, it’s easy enough to see Commander-in-Chief Donald Trump as something new under the sun. (It has a different ring to it when the commander in chief says, “You’re fired!”)  That missile strike in Syria was a first (Obama didn’t dare); the MOAB in Afghanistan was a breakthrough; the drone strikes in Yemen soon after he took office were an absolute record!  As for those regular Army troops heading for Somalia, that hasn’t happened in 24 years!  Civilian casualties in the region: rising impressively!

Call it mission creep on steroids. At the very least, it seems like evidence that the man who, as a presidential candidate, swore he’d “bomb the shit” out of ISIS and let the U.S. military win again is doing just that. (As he also said on the campaign trail with appropriately placed air punches, “You gotta knock the hell out of them! Boom! Boom! Boom!”)  

He’s appointed generals to crucial posts in his administration, lifted restraints on how his commanders in the field can act (hence those soaring civilian casualty figures), let them send more military personnel into Iraq, Syria, and the region generally, taken the constraints off the CIA’s drone assassination campaigns, and dispatched an aircraft carrier strike group somewhat indirectly to the waters off the Koreas (with a strike force of tweets and threats accompanying it).

And there’s obviously more to come: potentially many more troops, even an army of them, for Syria; a possible mini-surge of troops into Afghanistan (that MOAB strike may have been a canny signal from a U.S. commander “seeking to showcase Afghanistan’s myriad threats” to a president paying no attention); a heightened air campaign in Somalia; and that’s just to start what will surely be a far longer list in a presidency in which, whether or not infrastructure is ever successfully rebuilt in America, the infrastructure of the military-industrial complex will continue to expand.

Institutionalizing War and Its Generals

Above all, President Trump did one thing decisively.  He empowered a set of generals or retired generals — James “Mad Dog” Mattis as secretary of defense, H.R. McMaster as national security adviser, and John Kelly as secretary of homeland security — men already deeply implicated in America’s failing wars across the Greater Middle East. Not being a details guy himself, he’s then left them to do their damnedest. “What I do is I authorize my military,” he told reporters recently. “We have given them total authorization and that’s what they’re doing and, frankly, that’s why they’ve been so successful lately.”

As the 100-day mark of his presidency approaches, there’s been no serious reassessment of America’s endless wars or how to fight them (no less end them).  Instead, there’s been a recommitment to doing more of the familiar, more of what hasn’t worked over the last decade and a half.  No one should be surprised by this, given the cast of characters — men who held command posts in those unsuccessful wars and are clearly incapable of thinking about them in other terms than the ones that have been indelibly engrained in the brains of the U.S. military high command since soon after 9/11.

That new ruling reality of our American world should, in turn, offer a hint about the nature of Donald Trump’s presidency.  It should be a reminder that as strange… okay, bizarre… as his statements, tweets, and acts may have been, as chaotic as his all-in-the-family administration is proving to be, as little as he may resemble anyone we’ve ever seen in the White House before, he’s anything but an anomaly of history.  Quite the opposite.  Like those generals, he’s a logical endpoint to a grim process, whether you’re talking about the growth of inequality in America and the rise of plutocracy — without which a billionaire president and his billionaire cabinet would have been inconceivable — or the form that American war-making is taking under him.

When it comes to war and the U.S. military, none of what’s happened would have been conceivable without the two previous presidencies.  None of it would have been possible without Congress’s willingness to pump endless piles of money into the Pentagon and the military-industrial complex in the post-9/11 years; without the building up of the national security state and its 17 (yes, 17!) major intelligence outfits into an unofficial fourth branch of government; without the institutionalization of war as a permanent (yet strangely distant) feature of American life and of wars across the Greater Middle East and parts of Africa that evidently can’t be won or lost but only carried on into eternity. None of this would have been possible without the growing militarization of this country, including of police forces increasingly equipped with weaponry off America’s distant battlefields and filled with veterans of those same wars; without a media rife with retired generals and other former commanders narrating and commenting on the acts of their successors and protégés; and without a political class of Washington pundits and politicians taught to revere that military.

In other words, however original Donald Trump may look, he’s the curious culmination of old news and a changing country. Given his bravado and braggadocio, it’s easy to forget the kinds of militarized extremity that preceded him.

After all, it wasn’t Donald Trump who had the hubris, in the wake of 9/11, to declare a “Global War on Terror” against 60 countries (the “swamp” of that moment). It wasn’t Donald Trump who manufactured false intelligence on the weapons of mass destruction Iraq’s Saddam Hussein supposedly possessed or produced bogus claims about that autocrat’s connections to al-Qaeda, and then used both to lead the United States into a war on and occupation of that country. It wasn’t Donald Trump who invaded Iraq (whether he was for or against tht invasion at the time). It wasn’t Donald Trump who donned a flight suit and landed on an aircraft carrier off the coast of San Diego to personally declare that hostilities were at an end in Iraq just as they were truly beginning, and to do so under an inane “Mission Accomplished” banner prepared by the White House.

It wasn’t Donald Trump who ordered the CIA to kidnap terror suspects (including totally innocent individuals) off the streets of global cities as well as from the backlands of the planet and transport them to foreign prisons or CIA “black sites” where they could be tortured.  It wasn’t Donald Trump who caused one terror suspect to experience the sensation of drowning 83 times in a single month (even if he was inspired by such reports to claim that he would bring torture back as president).

It wasn’t Donald Trump who spent eight years in the Oval Office presiding over a global “kill list,” running “Terror Tuesday” meetings, and personally helping choose individuals around the world for the CIA to assassinate using what, in essence, was the president’s own private drone force, while being praised (or criticized) for his “caution.”

It wasn’t Donald Trump who presided over the creation of a secret military of 70,000 elite troops cossetted inside the larger military, special-ops personnel who, in recent years, have been dispatched on missions to a large majority of the countries on the planet without the knowledge, no less the consent, of the American people.  Nor was it Donald Trump who managed to lift the Pentagon budget to $600 billion and the overall national security budget to something like a trillion dollars or more, even as America’s civilian infrastructure aged and buckled

It wasn’t Donald Trump who lost an estimated $60 billion to fraud and waste in the American “reconstruction” of Iraq and Afghanistan, or who decided to build highways to nowhere and a gas station in the middle of nowhere in Afghanistan. It wasn’t Donald Trump who sent in the warrior corporations to squander more in that single country than was spent on the post-World War II Marshall Plan to put all of Western Europe back on its feet.  Nor did he instruct the U.S. military to dump at least $25 billion into rebuilding, retraining, and rearming an Iraqi army that would collapse in 2014 in the face of a relatively small number of ISIS militants, or at least $65 billion into an Afghan army that would turn out to be filled with ghost soldiers.

In its history, the United States has engaged in quite a remarkable range of wars and conflicts. Nonetheless, in the last 15 years, forever war has been institutionalized as a feature of everyday life in Washington, which, in turn, has been transformed into a permanent war capital. When Donald Trump won the presidency and inherited those wars and that capital, there was, in a sense, no one left in the remarkably bankrupt political universe of Washington but those generals.

As the chameleon he is, he promptly took on the coloration of the militarized world he had entered and appointed “his” three generals to key security posts.  Anything but the norm historically, such a decision may have seemed anomalous and out of the American tradition.  That, however, was only because, unlike Donald Trump, most of the rest of us hadn’t caught up with where that “tradition” had actually taken us.

The previous two presidents had played the warrior regularly, donning military outfits — in his presidential years, George W. Bush often looked like a G.I. Joe doll — and saluting the troops, while praising them to the skies, as the American people were also trained to do. In the Trump era, however, it’s the warriors (if you’ll excuse the pun) who are playing the president. 

It’s hardly news that Donald Trump is a man in love with what works.  Hence, Steve Bannon, his dream strategist while on the campaign trail, is now reportedly on the ropes as his White House counselor because nothing he’s done in the first nearly 100 days of the new presidency has worked (except promoting himself).

Think of Trump as a chameleon among presidents and much of this makes more sense.  A Republican who had been a Democrat for significant periods of his life, he conceivably could have run for president as a more nativist version of Bernie Sanders on the Democratic ticket had the political cards been dealt just a little differently.  He’s a man who has changed himself repeatedly to fit his circumstances and he’s doing so again in the Oval Office.

In the world of the media, it’s stylish to be shocked, shocked that the president who campaigned on one set of issues and came into office still championing them is now supporting quite a different set — from China to taxes, NATO to the Export-Import Bank. But this isn’t faintly strange. Donald Trump isn’t either a politician or a trendsetter.  If anything, he’s a trend-senser.  (In a similar fashion, he didn’t create reality TV, nor was he at its origins. He simply perfected a form that was already in development.)

If you want to know just where we are in an America that has been on the march toward a different sort of society and governing system for a long time now, look at him.  He’s the originator of nothing, but he tells you all you need to know. On war, too, think of him as a chameleon. Right now, war is working for him domestically, whatever it may be doing in the actual world, so he loves it.  For the moment, those generals are indeed “his” and their wars his to embrace.

Honeymoon of the Generals

Normally, on entering the Oval Office, presidents receive what the media calls a “honeymoon” period. Things go well. Praise is forthcoming. Approval ratings are heart-warming.

Donald Trump got none of this.  His approval ratings quickly headed for the honeymoon cellar or maybe the honeymoon fallout shelter; the media and he went to war; and one attempt after another to fulfill his promises — from executive orders on deportation to repealing Obamacare and building his wall — have come a cropper.  His administration seems to be in eternal chaos, the cast of characters changing by the week or tweet, and few key secondary posts being filled.

In only one area has Donald Trump experienced that promised honeymoon.  Think of it as the honeymoon of the generals.  He gave them that “total authorization,” and the missiles left the ships, the drones flew, and the giant bomb dropped.  Even when the results were disappointing, if not disastrous (as in a raid on Yemen in which a U.S. special operator was killed, children slaughtered, and nothing of value recovered), he still somehow stumbled into highly praised “presidential” moments.

So far, in other words, the generals are the only ones who have delivered for him, big-league. As a result, he’s given them yet more authority to do whatever they want, while hugging them tighter yet.

Here’s the problem, though: there’s a predictable element to all of this and it doesn’t work in Donald Trump’s favor. America’s forever wars have now been pursued by these generals and others like them for more than 15 years across a vast swath of the planet — from Pakistan to Libya (and ever deeper into Africa) — and the chaos of failing states, growing conflicts, and spreading terror movements has been the result. There’s no reason to believe that further military action will, a decade and a half later, produce more positive results.

What happens, then? What happens when the war honeymoon is over and the generals keep right on fighting their way?  The last two presidents put up with permanent failing war, making the best they could of it. That’s unlikely for Donald Trump.  When the praise begins to die down, the criticism starts to rise, and questions are asked, watch out.

What then? In a world of plutocrats and generals, what coloration will Donald Trump take on next? Who will be left, except Jared and Ivanka?

Tom Engelhardt is a co-founder of the American Empire Project and the author of The United States of Fear as well as a history of the Cold War, The End of Victory Culture. He is a fellow of the Nation Institute and runs TomDispatch.com. His latest book is Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, John Dower’s The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II, as well as John Feffer’s dystopian novel Splinterlands, Nick Turse’s Next Time They’ll Come to Count the Dead, and Tom Engelhardt’s Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.

Copyright 2017 Tom Engelhardt

Via Tomdispatch.com

Posted in Donald Trump,War | 2 Responses | Print |

As Scientists March, Will Trump give away US Science Lead to China?

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The marches for science in the United States and around the world are an expression of alarm about the Trump administration’s budget proposals, which slash public funding for science, medical and technology research and seek to increase the Pentagon budget by $54 bn.

Federal funding for certain kinds of research is absolutely crucial. There are diseases, for instance, that private companies don’t see as a priority because they strike a small number of people or the cure for which is unlikely to produce big profits because most victims are poor and live in the global south.

If you live in Florida or other semi-tropical parts of the US, and your family is expecting a child, you may be alarmed at the rise of the Zika virus. It is the National Institute of Health that is funding the search for a vaccine. Perhaps you remember the deep public concern about the Ebola outbreak in West Africa in 2014. Who is working on a vaccine? The US government and Merck. In the US system, vaccine development is a government-private-public partnership: “Of the $1.4 billion that fund US vaccine research and development annually, 46% comes from vaccine sales, 36% from taxpayers, and 18% from risk capital.”

As for technology, entrepreneurs most often build on government-funding. Of a ten-mile journey toward innovation, 9 of the miles are often traversed by government-backed research, and the entrepreneurs come in for the last mile. Forbes admits, “the basic technologies that Apple AAPL -0.13% products are built on (and those of all tech firms), from the chips, to the Internet, to GPS, to the software protocols, were all supported or wholly developed by government programs.”

Trump’s cuts will not only make us sick and retard the technological advances that make our lives more convenient, he will harm us in precisely the area he imagines himself to champion– US competitiveness.

You don’t compete with the rest of the world by giving an extra $54 billion to the military and deeply cutting research and development (R&D) funding.

The National Science Foundation observes that China, South Korea and India are putting enormous government money into R&D, as well as investing in science education and the production of skilled science and engineering students. Trump, in contrast, gave away US education to Betsy DeVos, who ruined Michigan K-12 education and wants Americans brought up in fundamentalist charter schools. The NSF writes,

“Indicators 2016 makes it clear that while the United States continues to lead in a variety of metrics, it exists in an increasingly multi-polar world for S&E that revolves around the creation and use of knowledge and technology. According to Indicators 2016, China is now the second-largest performer of R&D, accounting for 20 percent of global R&D as compared to the United States, which accounts for 27 percent.

China is already increasing its annual outlay far more than the United States, growing R&D spending nearly 20 percent a year every year from 2003 to 2013. That rate of increase far outstripped that of the US in those years, and now Trump actually wants us to slash spending, while the Chinese go on investing in technological innovation.

The day when China outspends the US on research and development annually is just around the corner, and Trump’s budget would bring it even more quickly.

In some areas, China is nipping at our heels. The global share of the US in high-tech manufacturing? 29%.

The global share of China in high-tech manufacturing? 27%!

Almost half of all the bachelor’s degrees awarded very year in China are in Science and Engineering.

In the US it is only 1/3.

While China and South Korea massively ramp up government R&D investments, the Tea Party Congress in the US has been deeply cutting ours.

“In 2013, government funded R&D accounted for 27 percent of total U.S. R&D and was the largest supporter (47 percent) of all U.S. basic research”. . . “Indicators shows that Federal investment in both academic and business sector R&D has declined in recent years. . . Since the Great Recession, substantial, real R&D growth annually — ahead of the pace of U.S. GDP — has not returned. Inflation-adjusted growth in total U.S. R&D averaged only 0.8 percent annually over the 2008-13 period, behind the 1.2 percent annual average for U.S. GDP.

The world will not stand still while Trump undermines the nation’s science and technology capacity. And by the way, that won’t bring back jobs — it will send them away.

In fact, if Trump gets his way on the science budget, my advice to Americans is to start studying Chinese.

Ooops. Trump is cutting money for that, too.

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

The National: Global March for Science raises concern over Trump policies

ISIL Terror-Trolls French Election, Supporting far Right; Will French Fall for It?

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Thursday’s shooting at the Champs Elysee, left one policeman dead, another gravely injured, a third lightly wounded along with a German tourist shot in the heel. It was carried out by Karim Cheurfi, a French national aged 39, born at Livry-Gargan in Seine-Saint-Denis. He had opened fire with a Kalashnikov machine gun and was killed by police at the scene.

The site of the attack was politically symbolic in French terms, near the Arch of Triumph and the presidential palace. It clearly was intended to help elect the far-right candidate, Marine Le Pen. The question is whether the French electorate, which is pretty canny, will fall for this transparent terror-trolling.

Cheurfi had a record as a petty criminal, having been jailed four times in the past 10 years for theft, assault and attempted murder. While in prison he showed no interest in Muslim radicalism, and only began talking like that from last December, when he said he was angered by deaths of Syrians. (France joined the US coalition bombing Daesh (ISIL, ISIS) in Raqqa, Syria, from late summer of 2015, on learning of Daesh plots to hit France, which it did several times thereafter).

There are some twists on this story that raise question marks. Daesh very quickly announced on Thursday that they were behind this shooting. They made a significant mistake, however, in announcing that the terrorist’s name was Abou Youssouf Al-Beljiki. I.e. their operative was supposed to be Belgian. But Cheurfi is an ordinary Frenchman.

Le Monde reports that a piece of paper fell out of Cheurfi’s pocket that had the word “Daesh” on it. If this is true, it is even more suspicious, because while authorities and the press in the Arab world and France call ISIL ‘Daesh,’ the Arabic acronym, the group does not call itself that and resents the use of the acronym. They call themselves the “Islamic State” (which is a kind of terminological propaganda and terrorism, a way of trying to make journalists write that “today the Islamic State took over x city.”)

So ISIL did not know who Cheurfi was, and Cheurfi or his handler did not know to say “Islamic State” rather than Daesh.

Such incidents are murky, but I conclude that this attack was not a centrally directed Daesh operation. Cheurfi was until very recently just a petty criminal with no radical discourse, and he likely had never attended a meeting of the terrorist organization. He was happy to make his individual action look big and scary by attributing it to Daesh (without knowing enough to realize that this diction marked him as an outsider). Daesh itself was happy to claim responsibility unusually quickly.

Whatever is going on here, it seems obvious that the shooting was an attempt to intervene in the first round of the French presidential election.

In the first round, there are five major candidates. The two top vote-getters will then have a run-off.

The question if neo-Fascist Marine Le Pen will be one of the two. Whoever plotted out the Champs Elysees shooting was trying to throw the election to LePen. As a white supremacist, she has taken a hard line against Muslims and immigrants as well as against minorities like the Jews. The recruiter who ran Cheurfi knew that an act of terrorism near the election could well shore up her numbers and make her look more credible.

So you have the Republican Party candidate . Francois Fillon on the Gaullist, conventional right. He’s polling at 20 percent despite being implicated in a nepotism scandal.

Then you have left wing Socialist Emmanuel Macron, who is the front runner in the polls, just ahead of Le Pen.

And there is Jean-Luc Mélenchon at 19%, who is to the left of Macron and outpolling

the regular Socialist Party candidate – Benoît Hamon, who is polling well below 10%.

The race is fluid and dynamic, so any of the candidates could pull ahead. Obviously, if Mélenchon starts doing slightly better, LePen could slip to third place and be out of the race.

So I conclude Thursday’s shooting was intended to put Le Pen over the top and make sure she got into the run-off.

The French public has seen a lot of this kind of thing and they are much more sophisticated than an American public would be over the difference between the vast majority of Muslims and the small fringe of radicals.

The Daesh radicals want Le Pen to win because they know she will be mean to the French Muslims (5% of the population). They are hoping the French Muslims will be driven into the arms of Daesh.

So the question is whether the French public will fall for the Trap of Daesh.

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Related video:

France 24: “Paris Attack: Overview of Champs-Élysées shooting claimed by Islamic state group”