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 TeasersTom Engelhardt Blogview

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This year, I simply couldn’t get one fact out of my head: according to a 2017 report from the Institute for Policy Studies, three billionaires — Jeff Bezos, Warren Buffet, and Bill Gates — have amassed as much wealth as the bottom half of American society. That’s 160 million people! (And unlike our president, I don’t use exclamation points lightly or often.) Or as Oxfam reported in January of this year, the wealth of eight men — and yes, they were men (including the three mentioned above) — was equal to that of half the people on this planet in 2017. Yikes! And just to give you a sense of where we’ve been heading at supersonic speed, an Oxfam report a year earlier had 62 billionaires owning half the planet’s wealth. Imagine that: 62 to eight in a single year.

Then consider what we know about the rise of the billionaire class. Again, according to Oxfam, a new billionaire appeared every two days in 2017, while 82% of the wealth being created on this planet already went to the top 1% and the bottom half of the global population saw no wealth gains at all. In 2017 (the last year for which we have such figures), the total wealth of the globe’s billionaire class ballooned by almost 20%. (And I want you to know that, unlike our president, I’m fighting hard to restrain the urge to put one or more exclamation points after every one of those sentences.)

Oxfam released its figures this January to coincide with the annual meeting of the world’s top dogs at Davos in Switzerland. Assumedly, it will do so again in January 2019 and I shudder to think what the next set of stats are likely to be. In the meantime, consider what TomDispatch regular Nomi Prins, author most recently of Collusion: How Central Bankers Rigged the World, has to say about a planet on which the actual economic situation of most people bears remarkably little relationship to what’s generally advertised and why, if you think stability is already a thing of the past in a Trumpian world, you ain’t seen nuthin’ yet.

 
• Category: Economics • Tags: Inequality, Wall Street 
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It’s not been a good era for migrants — and no, I’m not talking about those “caravans” of desperate human beings from Central America heading for the U.S. (and the wrath of Donald J. Trump). I’m thinking about birds — shorebirds, in fact, which are surely the greatest migrants on the planet. The Hudsonian godwit, for instance, flies more than 9,000 miles yearly to its Arctic breeding grounds. Since 1974, however, populations of that bird have taken a 70% nose (or beak) dive, part of the great shorebird die-off of this era. In fact, bird populations of many sorts are dropping across the planet. These include mountain birds that have nowhere higher to go as global temperatures increase and the common farmland birds of France whose populations have fallen by a third, though some like the meadow pipit (at 68%) have experienced far more precipitous drops. Then, there are the birds of the Mojave Desert in California and Nevada. In those largely protected national park or preserve areas, according to a recent study, bird populations are down 42% in the last century, possibly thanks to climate change. And none of this is out of the ordinary, since it’s now estimated that 40% of all bird species are in decline globally and one of every eight is threatened with extinction.

I’ve always remembered John Jay Audubon’s 1813 description of a vast flock of passenger pigeons flying unceasingly overhead for three days. “The light of noon-day,” he wrote, “was obscured as by an eclipse.” Such flocks were once estimated to have more than a billion birds. A single Wisconsin nesting area was, in the nineteenth century, said to contain 136 million of them. Thanks to habitat destruction and overhunting — pigeon pot pie was popular fare, being “the cheapest protein on land” at the time — the last of those birds, “Martha,” died in a Cincinnati zoo in 1914.

Now, it seems many other species of birds, including snowy owls (which I’ve tried but never succeeded in seeing), are following in Martha’s wake or at least suffering severe declines. According to Audubon researchers, the bobwhite, for instance — a bird I used to see every summer but no longer do — has suffered a stunning 82% decline in this country. All of this shocks me. I was from my early teenage years a birdwatcher. I have no idea now what first attracted me to birds. All I can say is that watching them was a strange thing for a young teenager growing up in the middle of Manhattan to do, especially in an era when no boy in his right mind would fess up to such an activity (for fear of being drummed out of the corps of boys). It was a secret I shared only with my best friend. I can remember well going with him to New York’s Central Park during spring migration season, when birds passing overhead have remarkably few places to land in the big city, and being shown species I wouldn’t see again for decades by what were then the stereotypical Audubon types — little old people in tennis sneakers (exactly what I now am). It was a thrill at the time and remains so in memory (as every year my old friend and I still return to that park to do it all over again).

It couldn’t be sadder to imagine that someday, thanks to what TomDispatch regular, environmental activist, and wildlife photographer Subhankar Banerjee terms “biological annihilation,” so many of the birds I saw may no more be there for my grandchildren and great-grandchildren than the passenger pigeon was for me. Birds are, of course, only one small part of a staggering process of human-caused obliteration now underway across this planet, as Banerjee explains today. It may be the saddest story of all at a moment when humanity just can’t seem to get a handle on its tendency to destroy.

 
• Category: Science • Tags: Global Warming 
In a Crippled World, All the News That’s Fit to Splint
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Breaking News! — as NBC Nightly News anchor Lester Holt often puts it when beginning his evening broadcast. Here, in summary, is my view of the news that’s breaking in the United States on just about any day of the week:

Trump. Trump. Trump. Trump. Trump.

Or rather (in the president’s style):

Trump! Trump! Trump! Trump! Trump !!!!!!!!

Or here’s another way of thinking about the news unmediated — a word that’s gained new resonance in the age of The Donald — by anyone but him: below you’ll find a set of run-on tweets from you-know-who to his base — and by that I mean not just his American fans but “the Fake News Media” that treats such messages as the catnip of their twenty-first-century lives. These particular ones are from the afternoon of November 29th and the morning of November 30th @realDonaldTrump (mistakes and all). Consider it a wee sampling of the unmediated DJT (SAD!). However, given the desperately sped up all-Donald-all-the-time universe we live in, these — being almost two weeks old — are already ancient history, the equivalent of so many messages from Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, scratched in cuneiform on clay tablets:

“Just landed in Argentina with @FLOTUS Melania! #G20Summit. ‘This demonstrates the Robert Mueller and his partisans have no evidence, not a whiff of collusion, between Trump and the Russians. Russian project legal. Trump Tower meeting (son Don), perfectly legal. He wasn’t involved with hacking.’ Gregg Jarrett. A total Witch Hunt! Alan Dershowitz: ‘These are not crimes. He (Mueller) has no authority to be a roving Commissioner. I don’t see any evidence of crimes.’ This is an illegal Hoax that should be ended immediately. Mueller refuses to look at the real crimes on the other side. Where is the IG REPORT? Arrived in Argentina with a very busy two days planned. Important meetings scheduled throughout. Our great Country is extremely well represented. Will be very productive! Oh, I get it! I am a very good developer, happily living my life, when I see our Country going in the wrong direction (to put it mildly). Against all odds, I decide to run for President & continue to run my business-very legal & very cool, talked about it on the campaign trail… Lightly looked at doing a building somewhere in Russia. Put up zero money, zero guarantees and didn’t do the project. Witch Hunt!”

And so it goes in an America already preparing to sign off on 2018 in a blur of Trump.

Or think of the Trumpian news cycle as just a set of trigger names: Paul (pardon “not off the table”) Manafort, Michael (“very weak”) Cohen, Robert (“phony witch hunt”) Mueller, Mia (“gave me no love”) Love, Vladimir (“very, very strong”) Putin, Elizabeth (“Pocahontas”) Warren, Mohammed (“might have done it” ) bin Salman, Justin (“stabbed us in the back”) Trudeau, Emmanuel (“very insulting”) Macron, Rex (“dumb as a rock“) Tillerson, James (“weak and untruthful slime ball”) Comey, Jim (“rude, terrible person”) Acosta, Roger (“guts”) Stone.

Or here are the names of the 13 New York Times reporters with bylines on pieces in some way related to Donald Trump and in that paper on the day after the president’s former lawyer Michael Cohen pled guilty to lying to Congress about a “potential Russian business deal during the presidential campaign”: Mike McIntire, Megan Twohey, Mark Mazzetti, Benjamin Weiser, Ben Protess, Maggie Haberman, Peter Baker, Daniel Politi, David D. Kirkpatrick, Michael S. Schmidt, Sharon LaFraniere, Linda Qui, and David E. Sanger. And these six reporters were given credit for helping on one or more of the pieces those 13 were involved in producing: Katie Benner, Nicholas Fandos, Eileen Sullivan, William K. Rashbaum, Neil MacFarquhar, Matt Apuzzo, and Andrew Kramer. (And that’s not even including whoever wrote the unsigned editorial page column, “Why It Matters That Mr. Cohen Lied,” or Kitty Bennett who, according to a note, “contributed research” to one of those pieces.)

 
• Category: Foreign Policy, Ideology • Tags: Donald Trump 
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What planet do we actually live on? Start with this fact: the last four years — 2015, 2016, 2017, and (it seems a sure thing) 2018 — will be the hottest on record. And if that doesn’t seem like evidence enough of something worth noting, how about 20 of the last 22 years being the warmest on record? Of course, as TomDispatch regular Rebecca Gordon makes clear today, little of that matters in the 2018 version of America, not even California fires unique in the historical record that sent a haze of smoke 3,000 miles across the U.S. to the city where a president with “very high levels of intelligence” sits in the Oval Office — on the rare occasions when he’s not on a golf course — angrily tweeting about how cold it is outside. (“In the East, it could be the COLDEST New Year’s Eve on record. Perhaps we could use a little bit of that good old Global Warming that our Country, but not other countries, was going to pay TRILLIONS OF DOLLARS to protect against. Bundle up!”)

With the latest of the president’s tweets mesmerizing just about every media outlet in sight, the latest in the Mueller investigation dribbling out to yet more presidential tweets, Rudy Giuliani comments, raging headlines, and… well, you know the score (and so does Rebecca Gordon), no wonder it’s hard to keep your eyes on the actual world. I’m thinking about the one that lurks somewhere behind the giant form of Donald J. Trump. Still, curiously enough in Donald Trump’s America (though you undoubtedly won’t have noticed it), the latest Monmouth University Poll does indicate that even 64% of Republicans (not to speak of 92% of Democrats and 78% of independents) believe that the Earth’s climate is changing in less than thrilling ways. The president himself and all his climate-denying minions are part of a shrinking crew of very high-intelligence-level types, a mere 16% of Americans in fact, who are still convinced that climate change isn’t happening. So consider that something of an achievement in a world in which when you look, it’s hard, as Gordon points out today in her own striking way, to see anything but… well, you know exactly who! (And given the way he wields exclamation points, I use that one advisedly.) Our president blocks… under the circumstances, I wish I could say the sun… but our view of more or less anything else, which, given the state of the planet, is in itself no small disaster.

 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Donald Trump, Global Warming 
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Who could doubt that the world of Donald Trump has recently become yet more embattled? Yes, there’s the Mueller investigation reportedly winding up (or down). And yes, there were those midterm elections, a blow — as journalist and novelist Ben Fountain explains today — to The Donald, creating yet another crew ready to investigate, subpoena, and otherwise irritate and anger you know who and possibly further hammer his family business operating out of the White House. But when you’re making up that presidential besiegement list, don’t forget to include a bullet point for “promises,” because, honestly, they could be the final ingredient in the concoction that takes him down in 2020.

You can already feel it in his growing anxiety over the trade war he’s set off with China. You remember his promise that “trade wars are good, and easy to win.” Hmmm… as it turns out, not quite that easy given a globalized economic system in which punching a hole anywhere is the equivalent of punching yourself in the gut. Or there’s that 2017 jobs promise he made in Youngstown, Ohio, near the General Motor’s Lordstown Plant, one of five that company has just announced that it’s “idling” next year: “They’re all coming back,” he swore of manufacturing jobs. “They’re all coming back. Don’t move. Don’t sell your house.” Tell that to GM workers across Midwestern states today. Or there’s the “big, fat, beautiful wall” he brought down that Trump Tower escalator into the presidential race back in 2015. (“I would build a great wall, and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me… And I will have Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words.”) And he’s now threatening to shut down a government still controlled by Republicans to get it built. And that’s just the most modest of starts on a list our promiser-in-chief hasn’t hesitated to constantly update. Only problem: he’s not proving to be a deliverer-in-chief, not faintly, and that may truly sink in by 2020.

Besiege Trump, back him against a wall or off the golf course and into the Oval Office, however, and you have an angry, even potentially unhinged problem on your hands. So watch out. Of course, what choice do any of us have but to watch (out or otherwise), since we’re talking about the human being who continues to be covered like no other in history? And while you’re at it, take a moment to check out a key factor in the coming siege of Donald Trump (and family), the new House of Representatives, thanks to one of the best journalists (and novelists) around, Ben Fountain, whose new book, Beautiful Country Burn Again: Democracy, Rebellion, and Revolution, provides a dazzling, if grim, road map to just how we got here.

 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: China, Donald Trump 
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Whether you realize it or not, we are in a new age of imperial geopolitics on a grand — and potentially disastrous — scale. TomDispatch regular Alfred McCoy, author of In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power, lays out devastatingly just what that is likely to mean in the age of Donald Trump. And once you’ve read his piece on a century-plus of geopolitical thinkers who helped reorganize this planet in genuinely discordant ways, perhaps you’ll feel it’s time for us to imagine a new kind of geopolitics, one that finally addresses the disaster of empire and the ways in which such geopolitical thinking now intersects with another kind of disaster: climate change. For catastrophic as the previous versions of geopolitics may have been, just wait until such imperial and national follies, including the drive of China and India to build new coal plants galore, meet global warming. By this century’s end, that phenomenon may leave significant parts of the planet facing six nightmarish crises at once, ranging from mega-droughts and mega-fires to rising sea levels and catastrophic flooding. Or what about the possibility that intense heat waves (sparked in part by the massive burning of coal) will, later in this century, make the north China plain, now the most heavily populated part of that country, uninhabitable and do the same for parts of northern India and South Asia? Or what about the recent estimate in a congressionally mandated report on climate change (carefully released by the Trump administration on Black Friday in an attempt to bury it) that this country will also be deeply affected, as, for instance, wildfires of the kind that just devastated parts of California will triple, and the U.S. economy will be downsized by 10% or more by 2100?

We are now on a planet guaranteed, barring a miracle of coordinated human action, to find itself in a set of geo-ruins of an unprecedented sort by 2100, ruins that will remain so on a time scale anything but historical or in any way human. With that in mind, consider McCoy’s account of the “architects of imperial disaster” who got us to just this spot and to an American president whose goal in life is to do everything humanly possible to pump more greenhouse gases in the atmosphere

 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Donald Trump, Global Warming 
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In the 1950s, I grew up in the heart of New York City and had a remarkable amount of contact with Native Americans. As you might expect, I never actually met one in those years. What I had in mind was all the time I spent at the local RKO and other movie theaters watching Hollywood westerns. They were, of course, filled with Indians, and in those films, we — and I don’t mean the 12-year-old Tom Engelhardt, but the blue coats, the stage coach drivers and their passengers, the cowboys, and the pioneers I identified with — were regularly ambushed by those Indians. In the end, with rare exceptions, the natives predictably fell as they circled the wagon train or stagecoach or attacked those cavalrymen, whooping and shooting their arrows. They went down, naturally enough, before the implacable power of “our” weaponry, “our” marksmanship. And here’s the thing: they deserved it. After all, they were attacking us. We never ambushed them. They, that is, were “the invaders” and we, invariably, the aggressed upon.

All of this came to my mind when, in the midst of the 2018 midterm election campaign, Donald Trump labeled as “invaders” a caravan of desperate refugees, including women and small children fleeing their violent, impoverished lands (which the U.S. had a significant hand in making so) for asylum or refuge in this country. And then, of course, he sent almost 6,000 military personnel to the U.S.-Mexico border to protect us (and twiddle their thumbs).

I was reminded then of that celluloid past because Donald Trump, who is only a couple of years younger than me and undoubtedly grew up in the same movie world, felt — I suspect — so comfortable lambasting those refugees as invaders exactly because the term fit perfectly the “history” we had learned in our mutual childhoods. His claim was, in fact, a twenty-first-century version of the way, in our youth, the history of this country was regularly turned on its head, making the desperate and invaded into the nefarious and invasive. And, in truth, even without the helping hand of Donald Trump, that version of our history has never really ended, as TomDispatch regular Aviva Chomsky shows today. Native Americans are still being treated as if they were the invaders in what was once their own land and, like that caravan from Latin America, slapped down for it. Let her tell you how what she calls the DNA industry and various parts of our government, local and national, have been working overtime to recreate, after a fashion, the movie world of my childhood.

 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Donald Trump, Immigration 
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It’s now more than 17 years later, years in which American commanding generals in Afghanistan repeatedly hailed the U.S. military’s “progress” there and regularly applauded the way we had finally “turned a corner” in the Afghan War — only to find more Taliban fighters armed with RPGs around that very corner. Finally, in the 18th year of the war, an American general — to be specific, Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — has come to a somewhat different conclusion. This, mind you, at a moment when the Taliban has taken control of more territory than at any time since they were forced from power by the U.S. invasion of 2001. His assessment also comes in the face of the worst casualties (“unsustainable”) for the American-backed Afghan security forces in memory (more than 28,000 deaths since 2015, according to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani). In response, Dunford has offered the shocking news that — get a grip on yourself here — the Taliban “are not losing right now, I think that is fair to say…” Hmm… give America’s top general credit for finally offering up the bad news, even if a few years late, with only a modestly optimistic spin on it. Believe me, in the twenty-first-century annals of the U.S. military, that passes for realism of the first order.

Today, however, TomDispatch regular Andrew Bacevich, author of the new book Twilight of the American Century, offers us a timely reminder of another American commander who, 14 long years ago, sensed that the country’s war on terror was not going well and was unlikely to end in any imaginable future — and just why that might be. As it happens, that very general has just been nominated by the Trump administration as the U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia. And what a moment to head for Riyadh! After all, only last week the CIA leaked to the Washington Post its conclusion that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, that land’s (dys)functional ruler, had personally ordered the brutal murder of one of that paper’s contributing columnists. On the subject, President Trump continues to shuffle his feet awkwardly. Stay tuned. The war on terror may just be revving up.

 
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I remember Chalmers Johnson once describing to me his surprise on discovering that, after the Cold War ended and the Soviet Union imploded, the whole global military structure that Washington had set up — which he later came to call “America’s empire of bases” or our “globe-girdling Baseworld” — chugged right on. It didn’t matter that there was no real enemy left on Planet Earth. It was, I believe, what finally convinced Johnson that this country was indeed an empire. And here’s the strange thing, though it goes remarkably unnoticed in our world: that vast global structure of military garrisons, unprecedented in history, ranging from some the size of American towns to small outposts, has remained in place to this very second. Though little attention has been paid in recent years — despite the fact that it couldn’t be a more prominent feature on this planet, geo-militarily speaking — there remain something like 800 American garrisons worldwide (not counting, of course, the more than 420 military bases located in the continental U.S., Guam, and Puerto Rico), as David Vine reported in his path-breaking 2015 book, Base Nation.

There’s never been anything quite like it, not for the Roman Empire, the British Empire, or the Soviet one either. And as TomDispatch regular and U.S. Army Major Danny Sjursen reports today, with our military now in the process of transforming the whole planet into an even more militarized place, those bases will be all the more relevant. So here’s a small suggestion for all the media outlets covering President Trump in such a 24/7 fashion: Why not spare just one reporter to cover that empire of bases on a planet on which, as Sjursen reports, the U.S. military is increasingly focused on future wars of every imaginable sort (right up to the sort that could leave this planet in shreds)?

 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: American Military 
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Whatever you may think of President Trump, it’s important to be fair to him. You might have noticed that, on his recent trip to France (“five days of fury”), officially to mourn and praise America’s war dead on the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, he managed to miss his first scheduled ceremony. It was at a cemetery where some of those American war dead were buried. He skipped it, thanks to a little uncomfortable rain, and came late for the second of those events at the Suresnes American Cemetery just outside Paris (this time complaining publicly about the rain). As TomDispatch regular Rajan Menon reminds us today, such acts brought a good deal of derision upon the president in Europe and here (or rather in the world of everywhere that we know as the Internet). What went unreported amid the mockery and the presidential excuses (the presidential helicopter couldn’t fly in such weather… security concerns…) was something I now exclusively report here. The president was absent for a reason he was far too brave to publicize: those “bone spurs” that had prevented him from taking part in the Vietnam War half a century ago were acting up again! So give him credit for silent heroism.

And let me mention one other thing about his Paris visit while I’m at it. An official close to the president (so close he may exist only inside my head) revealed to TomDispatch that The Donald’s advisers wanted him to give his speech at that second cemetery under a banner that would have read “Mission Accomplished.” Out of modesty (a word normally not associated with him), he refused. He felt that, until he could do more than — as Menon describes today — simply cause chaos among America’s allies or further encourage the splintering of the European Union and the NATO alliance, such an act would be presidentially immodest. He now reportedly swears that, as a Trump-praising evangelical minister recently put it, he’ll only stand under such a banner if he can truly “kick-start the end times.” Otherwise he fears he might repeat George W. Bush’s mistake.

Okay, I admit it. I’m just messing around with you, but Rajan Menon isn’t. Check him out and, in doing so, be reminded that a future Trumpian world increasingly looks like no laughing matter.

 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Donald Trump 
Tom Engelhardt
About Tom Engelhardt

Tom Engelhardt created and runs the Tomdispatch.com website, a project of The Nation Institute where he is a Fellow. He is the author of a highly praised history of American triumphalism in the Cold War, The End of Victory Culture, and of a novel, The Last Days of Publishing, as well as a collection of his Tomdispatch interviews, Mission Unaccomplished. Each spring he is a Teaching Fellow at the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley.

Tomdispatch.com is the sideline that ate his life. Before that he worked as an editor at Pacific News Service in the early 1970s, and, these last three decades, as an editor in book publishing. For 15 years, he was Senior Editor at Pantheon Books where he edited and published award-winning works ranging from Art Spiegelman's Maus and John Dower's War Without Mercy to Eduardo Galeano's Memory of Fire trilogy. He is now Consulting Editor at Metropolitan Books, as well as co-founder and co-editor of Metropolitan's The American Empire Project. Many of the authors whose books he has edited and published over the years now write for Tomdispatch.com. He is married to Nancy J. Garrity, a therapist, and has two children, Maggie and Will.

His new book, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World (Haymarket Books), has just been published.


Personal Classics
Eight Exceptional(ly Dumb) American Achievements of the Twenty-First Century
How the Security State’s Mania for Secrecy Will Create You
Delusional Thinking in the Age of the Single Superpower