Hong Kong looks freer than the US: Press Freedom is Under Threat in the Land of its Birth

By Dave Lindorff

            Hong Kong — Here in this ultra-modern city on the coast of southern China, I read in the morning paper that 11 consulates representing most of the nations of Europe, have lodged protests with the city’s chief executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor over a controversial new extradition bill that if passed would allow Hong Kong to extradite suspects to nations with which Hong Kong does not have an extradition deal. read more

How About a Peace Race Instead of an Arms Race?

In late April, the highly-respected Stockholm International Peace Research Institute reported that, in 2018, world military expenditures rose to a record $1.82 trillion.  The biggest military spender by far was the United States, which increased its military budget by nearly 5 percent to $649 billion (36 percent of the global total).  But most other nations also joined the race for bigger and better ways to destroy one another through war.

This situation represents a double tragedy.  read more

U.S. Army: 0 — Internet: 1

The U.S. Army tweeted a harmless rah-rah tweet and got hit with a burst of reality never encountered on corporate-controlled media. Score one for the internet.

The Army asked: “How has serving impacted you?”

Here’s a tiny sample of the responses:

5 hours ago
Replying to
I lost my virginity by being raped in front of my peers at 19. Got married to a nice guy who was part of my unit. He was in the invasion of Iraq. Came home a changed man who beat the shit out of me. He’s convinced y’all are stalking him and he’s homeless so great job there!

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Tomgram: Andrew Bacevich, What Illinois Bikers Know That Washington Doesn’t

This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

Today, TomDispatch regular Andrew Bacevich, author of America’s War for the Greater Middle East, focuses on the sole memorial in this country to those who have fought in our now almost 18-year-old war on terror — never actually a coherent “war” but a spreading set of conflicts, upheavals, and chaos of every sort. As Bacevich points out, the memorial to American soldiers who were sent into that chaos and died is essentially hidden away in a small Midwestern town, which tells you what you need to know about the value Americans actually place on those wars.

Of course, there is one other shrine in this country, New York City’s 9/11 Memorial and Museum, dedicated to the nearly 3,000 civilians who died in al-Qaeda’s initial attacks. Ever since, civilians have suffered massively without any kind of commemoration whatsoever — and yet, in a sense, you might say that there are indeed another set of “memorials” to the dead of the post-9/11 war on terror. You just have to put that word in quotation marks. I’m thinking about the rubblized cities of the Middle East. Of, for instance, Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, significant parts of which were, in 2017, reduced to ruins by American air power and artillery (which delivered an estimated 29,000 munitions) and ISIS suicide bombs and other explosives.  It still largely remains so. I’m thinking of the Syrian provincial city of Raqqa, on which the U.S. and allied air forces reportedly rained more than 20,000 bombs and which also remains in rubble. Other Iraqi cities like Ramadi and Fallujah had similar experiences.

Think of those cities (or former cities) as the very opposite of America’s memorial walls to the dead. Think of them as the wall-less cities of the dead (and the desperately living) in a region that, in response to the brutal killings of those victims in the towers in New York, continues to be rubblized with another war now possibly in sight. Tom
The “Forever Wars” Enshrined
Visiting mar-SAYLZ
By Andrew J. Bacevich

Earlier this month, I spent a day visiting Marseilles to videotape a documentary about recent American military history, specifically the ongoing wars that most of us prefer not to think about.

Lest there be any confusion, let me be more specific. I am not referring to Marseilles (mar-SAY), France, that nation’s largest port and second largest city with a population approaching 900,000. No, my destination was Marseilles (mar-SAYLZ), Illinois, a small prairie town with a population hovering around 5,000.

Our own lesser Marseilles nestles alongside the Illinois River, more or less equidistant between Chicago and Peoria, smack dab in the middle of flyover country. I have some personal familiarity with this part of America. More than half a century ago, the school I attended in nearby Peru used to play the Panthers of Marseilles High. Unfortunately, their school closed three decades ago.

Back then, the town had achieved minor distinction for manufacturing corrugated boxes for Nabisco. But that factory was shuttered in 2002 and only the abandoned building remains, its eight-story hulk still looming above Main Street.

Today, downtown Marseilles, running a few short blocks toward the river, consists of tired-looking commercial structures dating from early in the previous century. Many of the storefronts are empty. By all appearances, the rest may suffer a similar fate in the not-too-distant future. Although the U.S. economy has bounced back from the Great Recession, recovery bypassed Marseilles. Here, the good times ended long ago and never came back. The feel of the place is weary and forlorn. Hedge-fund managers keen to turn a quick profit should look elsewhere.

Perhaps not too surprisingly, this is Trump country. Marseilles is located in LaSalle County, which in 2016 voted for Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton by a hefty 14% margin. It’s easy to imagine residents of Marseilles, which is more than 96% white, taking umbrage at Clinton’s disparaging reference to The Donald’s supporters as so many “deplorables.” They had reason to do so.

A Midwestern Memorial to America’s Wars in the Greater Middle East

Today, Marseilles retains one modest claim to fame. It’s the site of the Middle East Conflicts Wall Memorial, dedicated in June 2004 and situated on an open plot of ground between the river and the old Nabisco plant. The memorial, created and supported by a conglomeration of civic-minded Illinois bikers, many of them Vietnam veterans, is the only one in the nation that commemorates those who have died during the course of the various campaigns, skirmishes, protracted wars, and nasty mishaps that have involved U.S. forces in various quarters of the Greater Middle East over the past several decades.

Think about it: Any American wanting to pay personal tribute to those who fought and died for our country in World War II or Korea or Vietnam knows where to go — to the Mall in Washington D.C., that long stretch of lawn and reflecting pools connecting the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial. Any American wanting to honor the sacrifice of those who fought and died in a series of more recent conflicts that have lasted longer than World War II, Korea, and Vietnam combined must travel to a place where the nearest public transportation is a Greyhound bus station down the road in Ottawa and the top restaurant is Bobaluk’s Beef and Pizza. Nowhere else in this vast nation of ours has anyone invested the money and the effort to remember more than a generation’s worth of less-than-triumphant American war making. Marseilles has a lock on the franchise.

Critics might quibble with the aesthetics of the memorial, dismissing it as an unpretentious knock-off of the far more famous Vietnam Wall. Yet if the design doesn’t qualify as cutting edge, it is palpably honest and heartfelt. It consists chiefly of a series of polished granite panels listing the names of those killed during the various phases of this country’s “forever wars” going all the way back to the sailors gunned down in the June 1967 Israeli attack on the USS Liberty.

Those panels now contain more than 8,000 names. Each June, in conjunction with the annual “Illinois Motorcycle Freedom Run,” which ends at the memorial, more are added. Along with flags and plaques, there is also text affirming that all those commemorated there are heroes who died for freedom and will never be forgotten.

On that point, allow me to register my own quibble. Although my son’s name is halfway down near the left margin of Panel 5B, I find myself uneasy with any reference to American soldiers having died for freedom in the Greater Middle East. Our pronounced penchant for using that term in connection with virtually any American military action strikes me as a dodge. It serves as an excuse for not thinking too deeply about the commitments, policies, and decisions that led to all those names being etched in stone, with more to come next month and probably for many years thereafter.

In Ernest Hemingway’s famed novel about World War I, A Farewell to Arms, his protagonist is “embarrassed by the words sacred, glorious, and sacrifice and the expression in vain.” I feel something similar when it comes to the use of freedom in this context. Well, not embarrassed exactly, but deeply uncomfortable. Freedom, used in this fashion, conceals truth behind a veil of patriotic sentiment.

Those whose names are engraved on the wall in Marseilles died in service to their country. Of that there is no doubt. Whether they died to advance the cause of freedom or even the wellbeing of the United States is another matter entirely. Terms that might more accurately convey why these wars began and why they have persisted for so long include oil, dominion, hubris, a continuing and stubborn refusal among policymakers to own up to their own stupendous folly, and the collective negligence of citizens who have become oblivious to where American troops happen to be fighting at any given moment and why. Some might add to the above list an inability to distinguish between our own interests and those of putative allies like Saudi Arabia and Israel.

Candidates at the Wall

During the several hours I spent there, virtually no one else visited the Middle East Conflicts Wall Memorial. A single elderly couple stopped by briefly and that was that. If this was understandable, it was also telling. After all, Marseilles, Illinois, is an out-of-the-way, isolated little burg. Touristy it’s not. There’s no buzz and no vibe and it’s a long way from the places that set the tone in present-day America. To compare Marseilles with New York, Washington, Hollywood, Las Vegas, or Silicon Valley is like comparing a Dollar General with Saks Fifth Avenue. Marseilles has the former. The closest Saks outlet is about a two-hour drive to Chicago’s Loop.

On the other hand, when you think about it, Marseilles is exactly the right place to situate the nation’s only existing memorial to its Middle Eastern wars. Where better, after all, to commemorate conflicts that Americans would like to ignore or forget than in a hollowing-out Midwestern town they never knew existed in the first place?

So, with the campaign for the 2020 presidential election now heating up, allow me to offer a modest proposal of my own — one that might, briefly at least, make Marseilles a destination of sorts.

Just as there are all-but-mandatory venues in Iowa and New Hampshire where candidates are expected to appear, why not make Marseilles, Illinois, one as well. Let all of the candidates competing to oust Donald Trump from the White House (their ranks now approaching two dozen) schedule at least one campaign stop at the Middle East Conflicts Wall, press entourage suitably in tow.

Let them take a page from presidents John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan at the Berlin Wall and use the site as a backdrop to reflect on the historical significance of this particular place. They should explain in concrete terms what the conflicts memorialized there signify; describe their relationship to the post-Cold War narrative of America as the planet’s “indispensable nation” or “sole superpower”; assess the disastrous costs and consequences of those never-ending wars; fix accountability; lay out to the American people how to avoid repeating the mistakes made by previous administrations, including the present one that seems to be itching for yet another conflict in the Middle East; and help us understand how, under the guise of promoting liberty and democracy, Washington has sown chaos through much of the region.

And, just to make it interesting, bonus points for anyone who can get through their remarks without referring to “freedom” or “supreme sacrifice,” citing the Gospel of John, chapter 15, verse 13 (“Greater love hath no man than this…”), or offering some fatuous reference to GIs as agents of the Lord called upon to smite evildoers. On the other hand, apt comparisons to Vietnam are not just permitted but encouraged.

I’m betting that the good bikers of Illinois who long ago served in Vietnam will happily provide a mic and a podium. If they won’t, I will.

Andrew Bacevich is a

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Fools’ Errands

Albion Winegar Tourgée may be best known now, though not in his lifetime, as the lead attorney in the Plessy v. Ferguson case, which was a set-up, a staged incident, with the cooperation even of the railroad company, to get a man arrested for sitting in the wrong car, take the matter to court, and end segregation on trains — except that it backfired horribly and legalized apartheid for over 50 years.

Tourgée’s work was not one incident alone, and his positive influence hasn’t ceased. His was one of the most influential white voices for equal rights for blacks in the decades following the U.S. Civil War. I want to quote and consider a short section found in one of his novels, A Fools Errand. The book was a runaway bestseller in 1879, published anonymously “by one of the fools.”

The book semi-autobiographically recounted the author’s endeavor to relocate himself and his family from the North to Greensboro, North Carolina, following the war, in order to assist in reconstruction. The book recounts the horrors of Ku Klux Klan terrorism against blacks and against whites advocating for rights for blacks. While the passage I’m about to quote generalizes, the book does not. It provides the perspectives of whites and blacks from the South and the North, including Southern Unionists and racist Northerners.

The generalization is worth paying attention to — and all the more so, because it describes the years immediately after the Civil War, which in a top-down simplified history found in text books, was the period of positive change when blacks voted and were elected, and which preceded the backlash of heightened racism and lynchings. In Tourgée’s account, the racism that followed was, at least in the South, already there, along with the lynchings, and change would only come through education. Tourgée pauses in the narrative of his book to explain the failure of the North and South to even understand each other:

“ANTE BELLUM

“Northern Idea of Slavery.

“Slavery is wrong morally, politically, and economically. It is tolerated only for the sake of peace and quiet. The negro is a man, and has equal inherent rights with the white race.”

“Southern Idea of Slavery.

“The negro is fit only for slavery. It is sanctioned by the Bible, and it must be right; or, if not exactly right, is unavoidable, now that the race is among us. We can not live with them in any other condition.”

“Northern Idea of the Southern Idea.

“Those Southern fellows know that slavery is wrong, and incompatible with the theory of our government; but it is a good thing for them. They grow fat and rich, and have a good time, on account of it; and no one can blame them for not wanting to give it up.”

“Southern Idea of the Northern Idea.

“Those Yankees are jealous because we make slavery profitable, raising cotton and tobacco, and want to deprive us of our slaves from envy. They don’t believe a word of what they say about its being wrong, except a few fanatics. The rest are all hypocrites.”

“POST BELLUM

“The Northern Idea of the Situation.

“The negroes are free now, and must have a fair chance to make themselves something. What is claimed about their inferiority may be true. It is not likely to approve itself; but, true or false, they have a right to equality before the law. That is what the war meant, and this must be secured to them. The rest they must get as they can, or do without, as they choose.”

“The Southern Idea of the Situation.

“We have lost our slaves, our bank stock, every thing, by the war. We have been beaten, and have honestly surrendered: slavery is gone, of course. The slave is now free, but he is not white. We have no ill will towards the colored man as such and in his place; but he is not our equal, can not be made our equal, and we will not be ruled by him, or admit him as a co-ordinate with the white race in power. We have no objection to his voting, so long as he votes as his old master, or the man for whom he labors, advises him; but, when he chooses to vote differently, he must take the consequences.”

“The Northern Idea of the Southern Idea.

“Now that the negro is a voter, the Southern people will have to treat him well, because they will need his vote. The negro will remain true to the government and party which gave him liberty, and in order to secure its preservation. Enough of the Southern whites will go with them, for the sake of office and power, to enable them to retain permanent control of those states for an indefinite period. The negroes will go to work, and things will gradually adjust themselves. The South has no right to complain. They would have the negroes as slaves, kept the country in constant turmoil for the sake of them, brought on the war because we would not catch their runaways, killed a million men; and now they can not complain if the very weapon by which they held power is turned against them, and is made the means of righting the wrongs which they have themselves created. It may be hard; but they will learn to do better hereafter.”

“The Southern Idea of the Northern Idea.

“The negro is made a voter simply to degrade and disgrace the white people of the South. The North cares nothing about the negro as a man, but only enfranchises him in order to humiliate and enfeeble us. Of course, it makes no difference to the people of the North whether he is a voter or not. There are so few colored men there, that there is no fear of one of them being elected to office, going to the Legislature, or sitting on the bench. The whole purpose of the measure is to insult and degrade. But only wait until the States are restored and the “Blue Coats” are out of the way, and we will show them their mistake.”

Now, it may seem obvious to us that this is a conversation between white men about black men, as if women do not exist — as well as that not all white men held exactly the same viewpoints. But the point is that it’s not a conversation at all. Neither side can hear the other. Each takes the other to be lying, because actually believing what is claimed can simply not be imagined. A takes B to view the world more or less as A does, not bothering to attempt to see the world as B claims to.

Tourgée was well aware that not all thought is conscious, that people can be self-deceived. But, whether beliefs are convenient or not, they can in fact be believed in. He was suggesting that we take seriously what other people believe. This is something we might do a bit more of today. If someone says that they believe racism in the United States is largely generated by Russian posts on social media, they may or may not know anything about U.S. history, they may or may not be a big supporter of Hillary Clinton, they may or may not know anything about Hillary Clinton’s history; the point is that they may truly believe what they say they do. The same goes for someone who says they’re terrified of ISIS taking over their local government in Kansas, but professes no fear or even anxiety about nuclear weapons or environmental destruction. Or someone who tells you that billionaires are on the side of poor people against the elites. A solution to such beliefs will not be found by dismissing them as unreal or theorizing that they will be worn away by democratic or market forces.

Imagining that others think what they say they think could be a huge boost to U.S. foreign policy. For example:

The U.S. Idea

If North Korea would stop building weapons and threatening, and bow to our will, then we would be able to bestow upon it all the benefits of our civilization, putting an end to the hunger and suffering created by their backward, ignorant, and stubborn ways.

The North Korean Idea

If the U.S. would stop building weapons and threatening, and treat us as an equal, then we could stop building weapons too and invest in human needs instead. If the U.S. would halt its horrific sanctions, we wouldn’t have the hunger and suffering that the U.S. creates and blames us for.

The U.S. Idea of the North Korean Idea

This arrogance is based in madness. A tiny rogue nation must meet the basic standards of all other nations except the Global Policeman, whose job it is to compel them to do so. Criminals always blame their aggression on the police, but they know better and are simply making a case to delude their people.

The North Korean Idea of the U.S. Idea

We have stopped building weapons and threatening, whenever the United States has done the same. The reason we cannot do so unilaterally is that the United States once absolutely destroyed our nation, leveled it, bombed it flat, killing millions. We cannot be asked to risk that again, and the U.S. would not be asking us to risk that again if it didn’t want to do it again.

Or, there’s this:

The U.S. Idea

Iran refuses to work with us. Israel and Saudi Arabia say it must be bombed. It clearly cannot be reasoned with. The lunatics took our people captive in an embassy for no reason. They’re building nuclear energy facilities for no reason. We have tried everything short of war to give the Iranian people a better government, and they’ve refused.

The Iranian Idea

The U.S. embassy overthrew our government in 1953. Who’s ever heard of having a revolution without clamping down on the U.S. embassy? We’re not suicidal — which is also why we’ve not threatened or started any wars in centuries. But the U.S. sends us sanctions and assassins and saboteurs, lies and inspectors — and threats from the neighboring countries which the U.S. has already destroyed. We agree to absurd agreements, and then the U.S. backs out of them; are we Native Americans? Is that why they keep promising to obliterate us?

The U.S. Idea of the Iranian Idea

What is with this irrational obsession with ancient history that backward people exhibit? The United States gave Iran a benevolent and progressive leader. His son is ready and waiting. The people of Iran are not as ungrateful as the fanatical regime ruling over them. We’ll be welcomed as liberators within hours when we finally find the nerve to bomb them.

The Iranian Idea of the U.S. Idea

We’re building nuclear energy for nuclear energy, at least we’re pretty sure we are, at least for now. Not everyone is a genocidal maniac! The United States is actively spreading nuclear energy to places like Saudi Arabia, just as it pushed it on us 50 years ago. Perhaps we should warn Saudi Arabia about the future.

##

Tomgram: Engelhardt, American Election Exceptionalism

This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

Election-Meddling Follies, 1945-2019
Living in a Nation of Political Narcissists
By Tom Engelhardt

In this country, reactions to the Mueller report have been all-American beyond belief. Let’s face it, when it comes to election meddling, it’s been me, me, me, 24/7 here. Yes, in some fashion some set of Russians meddled in the last election campaign, whether it was, as Jared Kushner improbably claimed, “a couple of Facebook ads” or, as the Mueller report described it, “the Russian government interfer[ing]… in sweeping and systematic fashion.”

But let me mention just a few of the things that we didn’t learn from the Mueller report. We didn’t learn that Russian agents appeared at Republican Party headquarters in 2016 with millions of dollars in donations to influence the coming election. (Oops, my mistake!  That was CIA agents in the Italian election of 1948!) We didn’t learn that a Russian intelligence agency in combination with Chinese intelligence, aided by a major Chinese oil company, overthrew an elected U.S. president and installed Donald Trump in the White House as their autocrat of choice. (Oops, my mistake again! That was the CIA, dispatched by an American president, and British intelligence, with the help of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, later BP. In 1953, they overthrew Mohammad Mossadegh, the elected prime minister of Iran, and installed the young Shah as an autocratic ruler, the very first — but hardly the last — time the CIA successfully ousted a foreign government.) We didn’t learn that key advisers to Russian President Vladimir Putin were in close touch with rogue elements of the U.S. military preparing to stage a coup d’état in Washington, kill President Barack Obama in a direct assault on the White House, and put the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in office. (Sorry, again my slip-up and full apologies! That was President Richard Nixon’s adviser Henry Kissinger in contact with Chilean military officers who, on September 11, 1973 — the first 9/11 — staged an armed uprising during which Salvador Allende, the democratically elected socialist president of that country, died and army commander-in-chief Augusto Pinochet took power.) We didn’t learn that, at the behest of Vladimir Putin, Russian secret service agents engaged in a series of plots to poison or in some other fashion assassinate Barack Obama during his presidency and, in the end, had at least a modest hand in encouraging those who did kill him after he left office. (Oh, wait, I was confused on that one, too. I was actually thinking about the plots, as the 1960s began, to do in Congolese Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba.) Nor, for that matter, did we learn that the Russian military launched a regime-change-style invasion of this country to unseat an American president and get rid of our weapons of mass destruction and then occupied the country for years after installing Donald Trump in power. (Sorry one more time! What I actually had in mind before I got so muddled up was the decision of the top officials of President George W. Bush’s administration, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, to launch a “regime-change” invasion of Iraq in 2003, based on fraudulent claims that Iraqi despot Saddam Hussein was developing weapons of mass destruction, and install a government of their choice in Baghdad.)

No, none of that happened here. Still, even though most Americans might find it hard to believe, we weren’t exactly the first country to have an election meddled with by an intrusive foreign power with an agenda all its own! And really, my examples above just begin an endless list of events the Mueller report didn’t mention, ones that most Americans no longer know anything about or we wouldn’t have acted as if the Russian election intervention of 2016 stood essentially alone in history.

I don’t, however, want that to sound like blame. After all, if you lived in the United States in these years and didn’t already know the secret history of American intervention and regime change across the globe from the end of World War II to the collapse of the Soviet Union, you could be forgiven for thinking that never had anyone done anything quite so dastardly as did the Putin regime in attempting to hack and alter the results of an American election. In the media, that Russian intervention has (with the rarest of exceptions) been covered as if it were an event unique in history. Admittedly, whatever the Russians did do in 2016 to lend a hand to Donald Trump, they didn’t plan a coup d’état; it wasn’t an assassination attempt; and it wasn’t, in the normal sense, what has come to be known as “regime change.”

A World of Chaos Without End

Let’s start with one thing that should have been (but wasn’t) obvious since the first reports on Russian meddling in the election campaign of 2016 began to appear. Historically speaking, such a plan fits well with a classic Russian tradition. As scholar Dov Levin discovered in studying “partisan election interventions” from 1946 to 2000, the Russians — the Soviet Union until 1991 — engaged in a staggering 36 of them globally.

If, however, you jumped to the conclusion that such an impressive cumulative figure gave the Russians the world’s record for election meddling, think again. In fact, it left them languishing in a distant second place when it came to interfering in other countries’ elections over more than four decades. The United States took the crown with, by Levin’s count, a distinctly imperial 81 interventions! (USA! USA!)

Put another way, the two Cold War superpowers together meddled in approximately “one of every nine competitive elections” in that era in at least 60 countries covering every part of the planet but Oceania. Moreover, only seven of them were in the same election in the same country at the same time.

And elections are but one part of a story of meddling on a scale that has been historically remarkable. In her book Covert Regime Change, Lindsey O’Rourke notes that between 1947 and 1989, a span of nine Cold War-era American administrations, the least number of “U.S.-backed regime-change attempts” per president was three (Gerald Ford’s administration), the most 30 (Dwight D. Eisenhower’s). Harry Truman’s administration came in second with 21, Lyndon Johnson’s third with 19, Ronald Reagan’s fourth with 16, John F. Kennedy’s fifth with 15, and Richard Nixon’s sixth with 10.

And keep in mind that, while such numbers remain unprecedented, despite a number of short-term successes from Iran to Guatemala, this was not generally a notable record of success in remaking the world in the image Washington desired. Many of those regime-change attempts, especially against countries in the Soviet bloc, failed dismally. Others created chaos or regimes that not only did their citizens little good but didn’t end up doing much for Washington either. Still, that didn’t stop one administration after another from trying, which is why the numbers remain mind-boggling.

And then the Soviet Union imploded and there was but a “sole” superpower left on Planet Earth. Its leaders had no doubt that its ultimate moment had come and it was to be no less than “the end of history”! The planet was obviously Washington’s for the taking. No more need for subterfuge, subtle election meddling, secret support for dissidents, or even covert regime change, not when the only opposition to an American planet was a few weak “rogue states” (think: the “axis of evil,” also known as Iran, Iraq, and North Korea), a desperately weakened and impoverished but still nuclear-armed Russia, and a modestly rising future power in Asia.

And then, of course, came 9/11, that staggering act of blowback — in part from one of the great “successes” of CIA covert action in the Cold War, the decisive defeat of the Red Army in Afghanistan thanks to the funding and arming of a set of extremist Islamist militants, a war in which a young Saudi named Osama bin Laden gained a certain modest reputation. On that day in 2001, the last superpower, the one exceptional nation, became the planet’s greatest victim and all hell was let loose (just as bin Laden hoped it would be).

In response, in a world without other superpowers, the country with, as one president proudly put it, “the finest fighting force that the world has ever known” no longer needed to meddle secretly (or at least in a fashion that allowed for “plausible deniability”). With the invasion of Afghanistan that October, open regime change became the order of the day. Iraq would come in 2003, Libya in 2011. The U.S. Air Force and the CIA’s drones would bomb and missile at least seven countries across the Greater Middle East and North Africa repeatedly in the years to come, helping reduce great cities to rubble, uprooting and displacing massive numbers of people, creating failed states galore, and setting in motion forces that, from Pakistan to Syria, Yemen to Niger, would in turn unsettle a significant part of the planet.

And, of course, it would all prove to be a militarized failure of the first order. And yet, with a potential new conflict ramping up in Iran and the U.S. still fighting in Afghanistan almost 18 years later, America’s wars show little sign of winding down. Only recently, for instance, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff assured a group of senators that the American military would “need to maintain a counterterrorism presence as long as an insurgency continues in Afghanistan,” which should be considered the very definition of a forever war. Think of it as a world of chaos without end and now consider again that Russian meddling in an American election.

Exceptional Meddling

By the way, whatever the Russians did in 2016 (or may do in the future to American or other elections) is deplorable and should be denounced, no matter how slapdash it might have been. After all, as Dov Levin discovered, it doesn’t necessarily take much to affect the result of an election in another country. Here’s his conclusion for election meddling in the Cold War era:

“I find that an electoral intervention in favor of one of the sides contesting [an] election has a statistically significant effect, increasing its vote share by about 3%. Such an effect can have major ‘real life’ implications. For example, such a swing in the vote share from the winner to the loser in the 14 U.S. presidential elections occurring since 1960 would have been sufficient to change the identity of the winner in seven of these elections.”

As we all know, a 3% shift in the 2016 election in several states would have made a staggering difference. After all, as the Washington Post reported, in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton by “0.2, 0.7, and 0.8 percentage points, respectively — and by 10,704, 46,765, and 22,177 votes. Those three wins gave him 46 electoral votes; if Clinton had done one point better in each state, she’d have won the electoral vote, too.”

So the issue isn’t faintly whether Russian electoral meddling was despicable or not. The issue is that it’s been covered here, like so much else has in this century, as yet another case of American exceptionalism (but never narcissism). As on 9/11 — forget that first 9/11 in Chile — we eternally stand alone in our experiences because, by definition, we are the special ones, the ones who matter.

In the case of election meddling, however, this country just joined a moiling crowd of the interfered with — and largely by us. It was a classic case of getting a taste of one’s own medicine and not liking it one bit. It should have taught us a lesson about our own global behavior since World War II. Instead, it’s simply continued us on a path of exceptional meddling that will prove someday to have been one of the great follies in history.

Tom Engelhardt is a co-founder of the American Empire Project and the author of a history of the Cold War, The End of Victory Culture. He runs TomDispatch.com and is a fellow of the Type Media Center. His sixth and latest book is A Nation Unmade by War (Dispatch Books).

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Talk Nation Radio: Danny Haiphong on American Exceptionalism and Innocence

Danny Haiphong is an activist, journalist, and scholar. For the last five years, Haiphong has been a weekly contributor to Black Agenda Report. His articles have also appeared in The American Herald Tribune, MintPressNews, and CounterPunch. His work was featured in former Congresswoman and Green Party presidential candidate Cynthia McKinney’s latest book How the U.S. Creates Sh*thole Countries (2018). Haiphong recently co-authored the book American Exceptionalism and American Innocence: A People’s History of Fake News-from the Revolutionary War to the War on Terror.

Total run time: 29:00
Host: David Swanson.
Producer: David Swanson.
Music by Duke Ellington.

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Speaking Truth to Empire

“Speaking Truth to Empire” on KFCF 88.1 FM independently owned and locally operated in Fresno since 1975, Dan Yaseen interviews Regis Tremblay, an independent filmmaker and a blogger, interested in activism and the environment. He lives in Woolwich, Maine. Topic of discussion will be deteriorating US – Russia relations that is moving us toward nuclear annihilation. His website is: www.registremblay.com

Tomgram: Hashem and Allen, Lobbying for War

This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

As William Hartung and Mandy Smithberger reported at TomDispatch recently, the national security budget has reached $1.25 trillion annually without evidently peaking, while the U.S. military fights wars without end across a significant swath of the planet (and yet another war or two loom on the horizon). One thing seems clear, as today’s authors report: there are some remarkably deep pockets in Washington pouring money into ensuring that your tax dollars will never stop flowing into that budget and into the wars and the weaponry that keep it ever on the rise. Someday, it may be seen for the scam it largely is, as basic American infrastructure declines without investment of just about any sort. (Too bad Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, and crew don’t build roads, dams, and public schools and that the Saudis aren’t at war with American infrastructure. Then some real money might go into them all!)

Anyway, maybe the greatest scam in Washington — and that says a lot in the age of Donald Trump — sports a distinctly anodyne name: “lobbying.” Whether you’re a major weapons maker or a war-making Middle Eastern ally of the U.S., it goes without saying that you have to hire one or more lobbying firms to make sure that your needs, desires, and views on what matters are front and center in political Washington. Too bad the rest of us can’t hire lobbying groups to make our own cases for what should matter most, which, when it comes to yours truly and so many other Americans, certainly isn’t the royals of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates or Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, and the rest of the “industrial” part of the military-industrial complex. Unfortunately, as Mashal Hashem and James Allen report in their first TomDispatch post, at least two lobbying outfits have given the term “double-dipping” new meaning in Washington when it comes to American backing for and the sale of American weaponry to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in their seemingly never-ending war in Yemen, one of the genuine horrors of our age. Tom
How to Lobby Washington to Death
A Business Model From Hell and the War in Yemen
By Mashal Hashem and James Allen

A springtime wedding in Northern Yemen’s Al-Raqah village took place in April 2018, a moment of reprieve from the turmoil and devastation of that war-torn country, a moment to celebrate life, love, and the birth of a new family. From the tents constructed for the event, music flooded into the village and, as at any good wedding, exuberant dancing was a central part of the festivities.

Unbeknownst to the guests, the music masked the buzzing of a warplane overhead. Suddenly, in a horrific turn of events, Saudi-led forces launched a deadly airstrike and 20-year-old groom Yahya Ja’afar’s wedding was transformed into a scene of carnage. Deafened by the explosion, guests fearfully searched for loved ones in a sea of confusion and body parts. In a telling photo, the flowery wreaths worn by celebrants lie atop a landscape of rubble. At least 20 wedding-goers lost their lives to the Saudi-led coalition’s now four-year-old brutal campaign in that country.

Shortly thereafter, media reports identified the bomb as American-made — a GBU-12 Paveway II linked to Raytheon, one of the Pentagon’s largest defense contractors. Tragedies like this, however, didn’t stop President Trump from exercising his veto power on April 16th to reject a resolution passed by Congress to end American involvement in the Yemeni conflict. Nor did they sway most Republicans in Congress to use their override power to kill the veto on May 2nd. After all, for many of Washington’s actors, such tragedies, while devastating, are part of a remarkably lucrative business model.

Obviously, this is the case for the American defense companies that have been supplying weapons and equipment of all sorts to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in their ongoing war. But it’s no less so for the little-publicized lobbying groups that represent them. In 2018, more than a dozen such firms were working on behalf of the Saudis or the Emiratis, while also providing their services to defense contractors whose weapons are being used in the conflict.

Two prominent examples of lobbying firms with significant stakes in the Yemen War are the McKeon Group and American Defense International (ADI). Both firms have cleverly managed to represent both the most powerful U.S. arms manufacturers and Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. This lobbying model, which allows them to satisfy multiple clients at the same time — contractors eager to secure arms deals and foreign powers that depend on American political and military support — has played a significant role in keeping the United States rooted in the Yemen conflict.

A Lobbying Model for Profiting from Yemen

Yahya Ja’afar’s wedding illustrates a disturbing pattern. Reports indicate that, at the sites of many Saudi-UAE coalition airstrikes in Yemen, evidence of munitions produced by the big four American defense contractors — Lockheed Martin, Boeing, General Dynamics, and Raytheon — can be found. These four companies represent the largest suppliers of weapons to the Saudi and UAE coalition and have spent millions of dollars on lobbying efforts to retain political support in Washington. Their arsenal of lobbyists works tenaciously on the Hill, securing meetings with top officials on key congressional committees to advocate and push for increased arms sales.

In 2018, according to the Lobbying Disclosure Act website, which provides information on such firms and their domestic clients, Boeing spent $15 million on lobbyists, Lockheed Martin $13.2 million, General Dynamics $11.9 million, and Raytheon $4.4 million. While this may seem like an exorbitant amount of money, such expenses have yielded an extraordinary return on investment via arms sales to the Saudis and Emiratis. A report published by the Center for International Policy last year documented that such companies and others like them sold $4.5 billion worth of weapons to Saudi Arabia and $1.2 billion to the United Arab Emirates in 2018 alone. And at the heart of this web of money are firms like ADI and the McKeon Group that make their profits off both the weapon-makers and the war makers.

Led by former Republican congressman and chairman of the House Armed Services Committee Howard “Buck” McKeon, the McKeon Group has double-dipped in this “forgotten war” for three years now. After all, the firm represents many of the top sellers of arms and munitions, including Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Orbital ATK, MBDA, and L3 Technologies, as well as Saudi Arabia. In other words, the McKeon Group lobbies Washington’s political machine for both the sellers and the buyer.

From his earliest days in the House, Buck McKeon has had ties to the U.S. defense industry. His trajectory into and out of Congress offers, in fact, a perfect example of what Washington’s military-industrial “revolving door” looks like. From 1991 to 2014, years when he held California’s 25th Congressional district seat, McKeon received campaign contributions totaling $192,900 from Lockheed Martin and $190,200 from Northrop Grumman. Those two companies were then his top campaign contributors and are now his current clients. In return, he advanced their interests inside Congress, especially as the powerful chairman of the Armed Services Committee, and now does the same from the outside as a major lobbyist. His firm receives an annual retainer of $190,000 from Lockheed Martin and $110,000 from Northrop Grumman for its efforts on the Hill. In 2018 alone, in fact, the firm took in a whopping $1,697,000 from 10 of the largest defense contractors to, among other objectives, continue the flow of arms to Saudi Arabia.

At the same time, McKeon and his firm also work directly for Saudi Arabia, which just happens to be one of the biggest foreign buyers of Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman weaponry. The records of the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) reveal that, last year, the McKeon Group was paid $920,148.21 by the Kingdom and engaged in aggressive political lobbying in Congress against bills that would have adversely affected the U.S. arms trade with the Saudis. Above all, there was S.J. 54, the Yemen Resolution jointly sponsored by Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Senator Mike Lee (R-UT), meant to end American involvement in that war. FARA filings indicate that the firm made numerous phone calls and sent multiple emails to members of the Senate and House as key votes approached. Most notably, on November 14, 2018, exactly two weeks before a vote on the resolution was to take place, the McKeon Group contacted Oklahoma Republican Senator Jim Inhofe, the current chairman of the Armed Services Committee, on behalf of the Saudis. Inhofe’s congressional office was called in “regards to the KSA [Kingdom of Saudi Arabia]” and again on November 29th, the day after the vote, “regarding S.J. Res. 54.” On the 14th, the firm also gave a $1,000 donation to the Senator. Ultimately, Inhofe voted in favor of continuing military support for the Saudis, undeterred by the thousands of civilian deaths the war has caused.

When the McKeon Group succeeds in advancing the agenda of the Saudis and the giant weapons makers in Washington, it proves its value and receives significant compensation. And nothing, including the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul or continued reports on the country’s brutal war and blockade in Yemen, which has left significant numbers of Yemenis dead of, or at the edge of, starvation, has stopped Buck McKeon and his firm from continuing to ramp up their lobbying activities.

As for American Defense International, it has similarly double-dipped in the Yemen war. It, too, represents an impressive list of defense contractors, including Raytheon, General Dynamics, Northrop Grumman, L3 Technologies, and General Atomics — and also the United Arab Emirates, the Saudi-war coalition member that often slides under the media radar.

At a moment filled with harrowing reports of death, starvation, and devastation in Yemen, ADI’s lobbyists spent their days aggressively advancing the interests of their Emirati and defense contractor clients. For instance, FARA reports reveal that, in September 2018, ADI called the office of New Mexico Democratic Senator Martin Heinrich, a member of the Armed Services Committee, on behalf of the UAE embassy in Washington. The discussion, according to FARA, focused on the “situation in Yemen” and the “Paveway sale to the UAE” — in other words, on the sale of the very kind of Raytheon bomb that turned Yahya Ja’afar’s wedding into the scene of a deadly airstrike. FARA filings also indicate, for example, that during the same month, ADI met with the policy adviser for Louisiana Republican Congressman Steve Scalise to lobby against the congressional resolution on Yemen. For these and similar efforts, the UAE continued to pump $45,000 a month into ADI. At the same time, such lobbying efforts clearly benefited another client of the firm: Raytheon. The manufacturer of Paveway bombs paid ADI $120,000 in 2018.

For firms like American Defense International and the McKeon Group, war is a matter of profits and clients and little else.

The Uncertain Future of Yemen

President Trump’s veto of the resolution to end American support for the Saudi-UAE coalition in Yemen and Congress’s inability to override it (against the wishes of much of the American public) have, for the moment, left lobbying outfits like the McKeon Group and ADI in the driver’s seat. That veto, after all, made it clear that, for Donald Trump and many congressional Republicans, the well-being of the Saudi royals and of defense contractors matters more than a bus carrying school children destroyed by a laser-guided MK-82 bomb made by Lockheed Martin; that the wellbeing of Raytheon is of far greater importance than a family traveling in their car hit by a GBU-12 laser-guided bomb made by that very company; that the profits of such defense contractors are so much more important than the lives of the men, women, and children who were in a marketplace in Yemen on a quiet afternoon in March 2016, when another MK-82 bomb took the lives of at least 80 of them.

In addition to being used repeatedly in air strikes that have killed civilians, American munitions have also evidently made it into the hands of terrorist organizations in Yemen. Reports indicate that the very weapons that companies like Lockheed Martin and Raytheon are selling to the Saudis and Emiratis have, in some instances, been stolen or even sold to organizations linked to al-Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula, arms that could someday even be used against U.S. military personnel.

Today, with the President’s veto and Congress’s failure to override it, the Saudi-UAE coalition, U.S. defense contractors, and their American lobbyists have, in essence, been given a green light to proceed with a business model that counts innocent Yemenis’ deaths as the cost of doing business. Still, though yet another battle has been lost in that war at home, opposition to it may not yet be relegated to the dustbin of history. Certain members of Congress are still looking for new ways of tackling the issue, including the possibility of defunding American involvement in the war and the human rights violations that go with it.

Clearly, there are still opportunities to send a message that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates can no longer simply write checks to lobbying firms like the McKeon Group and ADI to purchase influence and ensure that American politicians look the other way. Someday perhaps the United States will no longer allow itself to be implicated in tragedies like Yahya Ja’afar’s wedding that end with a landscape of rubble and the remnants of an American bomb.

Mashal Hashem and James Allen are research associates with the Foreign Influence Transparency Initiative at the

Center
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Charlottesville to Vote 6/3 to Divest from Weapons, Fossil Fuels

A coalition organized as DivestCville.org is asking the City of Charlottesville, Va., to divest all public money from weapons companies, major war profiteers, and fossil fuel companies.

At its Monday, May 6, 2019, meeting, and through subsequent discussions, Charlottesville City Council decided that it would vote on a resolution on June 3rd to divest its general operating fund from weapons and fossil fuels. It also sketched out a plan to establish new policies for its retirement fund over the coming summer and into the fall — policies that will include divestment from weapons and fossil fuels and also possibly commitments to more ethical investing aimed at positive social impacts.

What YOU Can Do Now to Help:

1) Ask more people to sign the petition.
2) Plan to be there at the City Council meeting at 6:30 p.m. on June 3. We want to encourage unanimous passage of a strong resolution on the operating fund and a strong commitment to swift action on the retirement fund. Then we want to thank City Council and celebrate.
3) Make sure you are able to speak at the June 3rd meeting. Here’s how. First, beginning May 21st, sign up for a chance to be given a slot to speak. You’ll be emailed on June 3rd and told either that you won the draw and have one of the 8 speaking slots or that you’re on the “waiting list.” Rarely if ever has anyone from the “waiting list” spoken at a meeting. Second, if you did not win out, be one of the first 8 people to the meeting and sign up for one of the other 8 speaking slots; to do this you will need to arrive earlier than most people, probably by 5:30, possibly by 5:00.
4) As soon as the City Council passes its resolution, if it does, check this page for a message that you can send to media outlets and to other cities, which can be asked to do the same.

DivestCville is sponsored by: Charlottesville Center for Peace and Justice, and World BEYOND War.

Also endorsed by: Indivisible Charlottesville, Casa Alma Catholic Worker, RootsAction, Code Pink, Charlottesville Coalition For Gun Violence Prevention, John Cruickshank of the Sierra Club, Michael Payne (candidate for City Council), Charlottesville Amnesty International, Dave Norris (former Charlottesville Mayor), Lloyd Snook (candidate for City Council), Sunrise Charlottesville, Together Cville, Sena Magill (candidate for City Council), Paul Long (candidate for City Council), Sally Hudson (candidate for state delegate), Bob Fenwick (candidate for City Council),

Read responses to possible objections.

Watch videos of what we said at City Council on May 6 and on March 4.

Some thoughts on what we might say now:

The collapse of the earth’s climate and the nuclear apocalypse that the war business is risking will cost us literally everything more valuable than money. We appreciate our City Council Members recognizing that and acting on it.

But the notion that there is a trade off in terms of investment income is one that ought to be rejected. That worry ought not to slow us down. The storms and droughts and floods that are coming will not be free. Young people are already suing governments for imposing enormous costs on young and future generations. There have been studies done of the cost of converting the world to sustainable green energy, and the cost is in the negative tens of trillions of dollars. In other words, it would save money, yet it is understood to be outrageously too expensive to even dream about.

The city has a responsibility to benefit its employees when investing their money. But if the earth and our city with it remain habitable, doesn’t that benefit even city employees? And if the city avoids even one major so-called natural disaster, won’t that financially benefit the city and its employees?

Wouldn’t the city leap at a guaranteed financial savings over a year or a month that was susceptible to temporary losses over hours or days? Why, when the same situation involves a decade rather than a year does it become incomprehensible? We need Charlottesville to act swiftly and powerfully and to inspire others to follow. Our future depends on it.