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Why It’s So Hard to Understand That the Violence Your Country Exports Is Terrorism

Attribution bias is a familiar theme in the literature of modern psychology.

“I do not understand the squeamishness about the use of gas. I am strongly in favor of using poison gas against uncivilized tribes. It would spread a lively terror.”—Winston Churchill, 1920, with regard to the uprising in Iraq.London.On 23 March 2017, Khalid Masood ploughed his car into pedestrians on Westminster Bridge in London, stabbed a police officer with a knife, and then was shot dead. He killed four people in the rampage, which injured an additional forty people and disturbed the equanimity of a major Western city. Masood, who was born in Dartford (Kent, United Kingdom), had run afoul of the law for many years—mainly because of acts of violence and possession of weapons. The gap between the act of Masood and a common criminal is narrow.Two months ago, the head of the Metropolitan Police said that “warning lights are flashing” over the rise of violent crime across England and Wales. The preferred weapon, said Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, was the common knife. Violent crime had risen by twenty-two percent, with the last quarter of 2016 registering 30,838 crimes committed with knives. Masood’s crime could well have been read alongside this data, as a serious problem of an increase in violence with knives as the weapon of choice.Instead, the media and the British political class offered a sanctimonious lesson in civics. This was, said UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, “an attack on our democracy, the heart of our democracy.” UK Prime Minister Theresa May told the House of Commons that despite this attack, “we will move forward together, never giving in to terror. And never allowing the voices of hate and evil to drive us apart.” One newspaper suggested that Boris Johnson’s statement was “Churchillian.”ISIS, which has been under serious threat in Iraq and Syria, has called upon people around the world to conduct acts of criminal violence in its name. There is no evidence yet that Masood acted on the instructions of ISIS or that he was following the ISIS edict to attack people in public areas in the West. What is known is that right after the attack, ISIS took credit for it, calling Masood its “soldier.” ISIS social media celebrated the attack. There is a form of delirium at work here—a group weakened now seeks to glorify itself by a pathetic attack by a man with a criminal record, using an old car and a knife.Attribution bias is a familiar theme in the literature of modern psychology. It refers to the problem that occurs when people evaluate the actions of themselves or others based not on the facts but on attributions transferred from inherent biases. Fritz Heider, who first developed this theory in The Psychology of Interpersonal Relations (1958), suggested that attributions are made mostly to preserve one’s self-concept—namely one’s sense of self. Rather than evaluate one’s own behavior in a bad situation, one tends to blame others and to disregard the constraints that others operate under. This is typically considered to be a “self-serving bias”—the winner of an election says, “I won because the people voted for me,” whereas the loser says, “I lost because of voter fraud.”Masood’s act has already been pinned on ISIS, and ISIS has already adopted him as one of its combatants. Both decisions are self-serving—the one to deny any native role for the production of Masood and the other to uplift a flagging insurgency. Masood’s own convulsions with racism, his own desire to seek glory above his miserable situation: these are not taken seriously. “Home-grown” terrorists have ‘home-grown’ problems. But the term ‘terrorist’ allows the “home-grown” person to be exported—as it were—to other countries, to defer blame to them—to ISIS, in this case.Al-MansouraThree thousand miles southeast of London sits the town of al-Mansoura, near the city of Raqqa (Syria). Aerial bombardment by the United States in the area around Raqqa had pushed about fifty families to take shelter in the al-Badia school in the town. The US bombings had come to soften up ISIS positions in the towns around Raqqa as hundreds of US forces take their positions in its periphery. The US forces—and their allies, the Syrian Democratic Forces—have sought to seize a major dam on the Euphrates River at the town of Tabqah. This dam is essential to the water supply for Raqqa. The battle over Tabqah, one of the last remaining conduits into and out of Raqqa, will be essential before the US and its allies turns its firepower against ISIS’s “capital.”On 22 March 2017, hours before Khalid Masood conducted his terror attack in London, US aircraft bombed the school. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, based in London, says that thirty-three civilians died in this bombing run. Hamoud Almousa of Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently says that the number might be as high as 101 civilians. The day before, on 21 March, US aircraft bombed the town of Tabqah, hitting the Maysaloon school, a field hospital and homes on al-Synaa street—killing twenty civilians. A week before, US aircraft bombed the town of al-Jineh (near Aleppo), hitting a mosque and killing forty-six civilians. Col. John Thomas of the US Central Command said that the US aircraft did not hit a mosque. “We are going to look into any allegations of civilian casualties in relation to this strike,” he said. This statement always suggests that the Central Command knows that it hit civilians, but does not want to make a direct statement one way or another.AirWars, a non-profit group that maintains a record of casualties from aerial bombardment, says that in March alone there have been over a thousand civilian non-combatant deaths in Iraq and Syria as a result of what it calls “Coalition actions”—with the US aircraft inflicting the bulk of the casualties. This considerable spike has led AirWars to suspend its investigation of Russian-inflicted casualties (fifty in March) and to divert its staff to look at those inflicted by the Coalition aircraft alone.The Western media focused on the actions of Khalid Masood and remained silent on these deaths. Brief notes of this or that massacre appeared, but without the focus and intensity of the kind of coverage given to the attack by Masood. No front page story with a large picture, no “Breaking News” coverage on television with correspondents insisting that spokesperson for US Central Command give them more than pabulum. It is as if we live in two alternative universes—one, where terror confounds the population with moral indignation and two, where large deaths from jet fighters are treated as the necessary side-effects of war. One is terrorism; the other is an accident.It does not feel accidental to the people of al-Mansoura or al-Jineh.BinariesI have spent decades thinking about the asymmetry of reactions to these sorts of incidents in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan. I have written about them, indignation as the mood of these essays. But this is spitting into the wind. It is futile on Facebook, for instance, to make the suggestion that the 2016 Karrada bombings in Baghdad (Iraq), which killed over 300 people, should have driven people to turn their profile pictures into Iraqi flags (as the world had done after the 2015 Paris attacks, when 137 people were killed). “Je Suis Charlie” is easy to write, but not #AmiAvijit. Eyes roll when these gestures are urged, whether through bewilderment at their meaning or exhaustion at their sanctimoniousness. After all, the eye-roll suggests, how could one compare a satirical French magazine with obscure Bangladeshi bloggers who have been hacked to death? It takes an immense act of will to push editors to run stories on tragedies that seem distant even from the places where they occur. All eyes focus on the latest attack in Molenbeek, but few turn with the same intensity to look at the tragedies in Beirut or in Cairo.Over the years I have settled on some binaries that operate to blind thinking about violence in the world. Our days have become hallucinations, with violence always at the edge of consciousness. But violence is understood through these binaries in ways that befuddle those who believe in a universal humanity, those who believe—in concrete terms—that people in Kabul deserve empathy and sympathy as much as people in Berlin. In fact, the scale of the violence in Kabul is so much greater than in Berlin that you would imagine greater sympathy for those in far more distress. But actually the logic of these binaries moves consciousness in the opposite direction.Eastern Malevolence / Western BenevolenceThere is standard belief amongst reporters—for example—that Western actions are motivated by the highest values and are therefore benevolent. The loftiest values of our time—democracy and human rights—are sequestered inside the concept of the West. The East—bedraggled—is treated as a place without these values. It is bereft, a bad student. There is what Aimé Césaire calls “shy racism,” for it suggests that Easterners cannot be given the benefit of doubt when they act, or that Westerners could not also be malevolent in their objectives. The way this logic runs it is the Eastern bombing of Syria’s Aleppo, conducted by the Oriental despot Bashar al-Asad, that is inhumane, while it is the Western bombing of Iraq’s Mosul (250 to 370 civilians killed in the first week of March) that is humane. It would pierce the armor of Western self-regard to admit that its armed forces could—without sentiment of care—bomb mosques and schoolhouses.What about Hitler? Is he not the epitome of Western malevolence? Hitler is the madman, much as white terrorists in the West are madmen. They do not define the society or the culture. No one asks after their attacks for Christianity to answer for their crimes or for Western Civilization to stand condemned. They are not compared to Hitler. The modern analogues of Hitler are always to be found in the East—Saddam, Bashar, Kim Jong-un—but not in the West.It took some guts for the Indian politician Shashi Tharoor to remark that “Churchill was no better than Hitler” —a statement that has led to the routine objections from the British political class. US President Donald Trump insisted on returning his bust to the Oval Office, where he showed it with great aplomb to the UK Prime Minister Theresa May (she gave him a copy of a Churchill speech during her visit). It does not bother either Trump or May that Churchill was a racist, who believed that the “Aryan stock is bound to triumph.” Cliches are mobilized to defend him: he was a man of his time, when such ideas were commonplace. But such ideas were being vigorously challenged from the colonies and from within Britain. Hitler’s Endlösung was not of a different quality from Churchill’s Bengal Famine of 1943. Tharoor’s comparison of Churchill to Hitler will not stick. It will eventually be swept away. Far easier to see Hitler in Bashar al-Assad or in Kim Jong-un than in Churchill or George W. Bush. Hitler was Europe’s aberration, not—as Césaire pointed out—the logical culmination of colonial brutality.State Legality / Non-State IllegalityStates do not normally act outside the confines of international law. If they do, then it is in error. Or there are some states that are not proper states, but “rogue states” that do not behave according to the principles of civilization. Normal states, not rogue states, the logic of shy racism goes, never intentionally violate the laws of war and behave in a barbaric way. Their acts of murder are always unintentional because it would be too costly for them to intentionally murder civilians.When the United Nations Human Rights Council wanted to investigate NATO’s 2011 bombing of Libya, based on UN Security Council resolution 1973, its Brussels headquarters stalled. NATO’s legal adviser, Peter Olson, wrote to the United Nations saying that NATO deserved immunity. “We would be concerned if NATO incidents were included in the commission’s report as on par with those which the commission may ultimately conclude did violate law or constitute crimes,” Olson wrote. What NATO would like, he concluded, was for the UN commission to “clearly state that NATO did not deliberately target civilians and did not commit war crimes in Libya.” In other words, without any investigation, the UN Human Rights Council should give NATO a certificate of high moral character.If civilians are killed, then it is either entirely accidental or it is because the enemy has used them as human shields. Strange illogical statements emerge from the power centers of the West to befuddle criticism. US President Obama’s drone strike policy allowed his operators to strike at crowds of people who looked like enemies (the “signature strike”). If, later, the intelligence services determined that some of them were not indeed enemies then those civilians would be ‘posthumously exonerated’. But they would—of course—be dead, murdered by a state actor that is not seen to be rogue and that sees itself as abiding by international law.Rogue states and rogue non-state actors do not abide by the protocols of the laws of war, and therefore they are the only ones who violate them intentionally. The violence of the rogue state and the rogue non-state actor is always worse than that of those who are deemed to be legitimate states and legitimate non-state actors. The nuclear weapons of India, Israel and Pakistan are acceptable, but Iran’s nuclear energy program is a grave threat to humanity. A ‘knife attack’ by a Palestinian child is horrendous and it is taken to define not only the Palestinian liberation movement, but Palestinian culture in general. The bombing of four young Palestinian boys on a Gaza beach is accidental and not definitive of either Israeli state action or of Israeli culture. This asymmetry of evaluation is fundamental to the ruling ideas of our time.Violence to Heal / Violence to HurtWhen the US military conducted its massive bombing run against Iraq in March 2003 under the name “Shock and Awe,” it was considered to be in the service of human rights and security. But the language used by its architects was genocidal. Harlan K. Uliman, who developed the theory of “Shock and Awe,” said in 2003, “You take the city down. You get rid of their power, water. In two, three, four, five days, they are physically, emotionally and psychologically exhausted.” A Pentagon official said of the actual bombing runs, “There will not be a safe place in Baghdad. The sheer size of this has never been seen before, never been contemplated before.” Hundreds of cruise missiles rained on Baghdad. Eventually, after a decade of war and occupation, the violence of the war would claim at least a million Iraqi lives.But yet, the language to define the war is muted. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said of the war that “from the [UN] charter point of view, it was illegal.” This should mean that US President George W. Bush and his coterie are war criminals. But his successor, US President Barack Obama refused to open an investigation and the world followed suit. Bush’s language about bringing democracy and freedom to Iraq became the anthem. If a million people died, so be it. It was all to heal Iraq, to free Iraq.The violence of the Iraqi insurgency, on the other hand, was immediately considered to be violence intended to hurt, to create problems not only for the United States, but for Iraq itself. The violence of the West is prophylactic, while the violence of the East is destructive.Precious Life / Disposable LifeWhen news broke of the failed US raid on the village of al-Jineh (Yemen), the Western media concentrated on the death of Ryan Owens who was a Seal Team 6 member. There was a great deal of discussion on his death and little mention of the civilians who were killed by Owens’ comrades in that raid. If they were mentioned it was as a number: twenty-eight or thirty. There were no names in the stories, no way to make these people into human beings. Nothing about Mohammad Khaled Orabi (age 14), Hasan Omar Orabi (age 10), Ahmad Nouri Issa (age 23), Mustapha Nashat Said al-Sheikh (age 23), Ali Mustapha (age 17), Abd al Rahman Hasim (age 17), and not even Nawar al-Awlaki (age 8) whose father and brother had been killed in earlier raids. No mention of the names of the forty-two Somali refugees gunned down by a Saudi helicopter gunship, a weapons system provided by the United States. To offer these names would be to give these people humanity.When twenty thousand or more people died because an US-owned factory exploded in Bhopal, Michael Utidjian, medical director of American Cyanamid said in 1984, it is sad but needs to be seen in context. What is that context? Indians do not have the “North American philosophy of the importance of human life.” They do not mind when people die, it seems. They have a different standard of humanity. Their lives are disposable. They are not precious. Thirty-three dead here, forty-two dead there. Sad yes, but not tragic. Tragedy is only possible if one has the “North American philosophy of the importance of human life.”Legible Narrative / Illegible NarrativeIt would be an illogical narrative to suggest that Western generals want to raze cities. That is not their motivation. When the US flattened Fallujah (Iraq) in 2004, under the command of then Major General James Mattis of the 1st Marine Division, this was not the intent. That the use of Depleted Uranium led to cancer rates fourteen times higher than in Hiroshima (Japan) after the atom bomb was dropped there was incidental, not deliberative. It is impossible to imagine an American, for instance, being cruel in military strategy. On the other hand, it is easy to imagine a Syrian general, such as General Issam Zahreddine, being systematically vicious. It is not possible to see both as ferocious. It would be an illegible narrative if these two stories were set side by side. One is so obviously a better man (Mattis) than the other (Zahreddine). The character of the man of the West always surmounts the character of the man of the East.Violent ShockWho needs censorship when you have ideology? When anything outside the governing ideology tries to make an appearance it is dismissed as the rants of a conspiracy theorist or as “alt-facts.” Terrorism is terrorism and counter-terrorism is counter-terrorism. To break down the distinctions between them is a scandal against civilization itself. Of course al-Qa‘ida is bad and the US military is good! That is ipso facto, the essence of reality.None of this is the blame of individual reporters or editors or indeed of individual readers of the press reportage. It is not something restricted to the West, for these attitudes are shared widely around the world. This is not a consequence of the impact of CNN or of BBC, but of much earlier, much deeper attitudes with deep roots from colonial times. It was an old colonial view that the violence of the imperial armies must have some Enlightenment logic behind them, whereas those of the darker world came motivated by messianism, tribalism, millenarianism or other illogical views of older times.When in the 1950s the British violently crushed the aspirations of the Kenyans, sending thousands to concentration camps and killing—as the historian Caroline Elkins argues – a hundred thousand people, this was done for rational reasons. The Empire had to be protected. The uprising of the Mau Mau, which they were countering in Kenya, could not be allowed to succeed. Indeed, it could not succeed—the British suggested—because it was merely the eruption of older African instincts. Even the name of the group powerfully allowed the British to paint their insurgency in diabolical colors. The rebels called their outfit the Kenya Land and Freedom Army. The use of the words ‘land’ and ‘freedom’ suggested a link to the national liberation movements of that decolonization era. They also suggested a rational political platform, to distribute land to the colonized population in a free Kenya. The British insisted on calling them the Mau Mau—the name carrying for a British audience the full flavor of traditional Africa in its sound, the rhythm of a drum, the call from deep in the forest, the sly racism of the denial of the more traditional national liberation force. In the name Mau Mau appeared the forest and in it would dissolve the accusations of concentration camps and mass killings. It was not the British that did those killings, but the Mau Mau. Always the Mau Mau, never Lord Evelyn Baring who wrote that the British had to inflict “violent shock” against the Kenyans or else the British Empire would be defeated in Kenya.From Lord Baring’s Violent Shock to George W. Bush’s Shock and Awe: this cannot be terrorism. It is the business of rational states. Terrorism is what the others do. Always.This article originally appeared on Jadaliyya.
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Making America Insecure Again: What a Trump Presidency Really Means for National Insecurity

The defense budget will be bigger, but it won’t make us any more safe.

Donald Trump’s supporters believe that his election will end business as usual in Washington. The self-glorifying Trump agrees and indeed his has, so far, been the most unorthodox presidency of our era, if not any era. It’s a chaotic and tweet-driven administration that makes headlines daily thanks to scandals, acts of stunning incompetence, rants, accusations, wild claims, and conspiracy theories.  On one crucial issue, however, Trump has been a complete conformist. Despite the headline-grabbing uproar over Muslim bans and the like, his stance on national security couldn’t be more recognizable. His list of major threats — terrorism, Iran, North Korea, and China — features the usual suspects that Republicans, Democrats, and the foreign policy establishment have long deemed dangerous.Trump’s conception of security not only doesn’t break the mold of recent administrations, it’s a remarkably fine fit for it.  That’s because his focus is on protecting Americans from foreign groups or governments that could threaten us or destroy physical objects (buildings, bridges, and the like) in the homeland.  In doing so, he, like his predecessors, steers clear of a definition of “security” that would include the workaday difficulties that actually make Americans insecure.  These include poverty, joblessness or underemployment, wages too meager to enable even full-time workers to make ends meet, and a wealth-based public school system that hampers the economic and professional prospects, as well as futures, of startling numbers of American children. To this list must be added the radical dangers climate change poses to the health and safety of future citizens. Trump may present himself as a maverick, but on security he never wavers from an all-too-familiar externally focused and militarized narrative.Conjurer-in-ChiefBarack Obama wrote a bestselling book titled The Audacity of Hope.  Perhaps Donald Trump should write one titled The Audacity of Wealth.  During the presidential campaign of 2016 he morphed unashamedly from plutocrat to populist, assuring millions of people struggling with unemployment, debt, and inadequate incomes that he would solve their problems.  The shtick worked.  Many Americans believed him. Fifty-two percent of voters who did not have a college degree chose him.  Among whites with that same educational profile, he did even better, winning 67% of their votes. Unemployment, underemployment, stagnant wages, and the outsourcing of production (and so jobs) have hit those who lack a college degree especially hard.  Yet many of them were convinced by Trump’s populist message.  It made no difference that he belonged to the wealthiest 0.00004% of Americans, if his net worth is the widely reported $3.5 billion, and the top 0.00002% if, as he claims, it’s actually $10 billion. Former Louisiana Governor Huey Long, perhaps the country’s best-known populist historically speaking, was born and raised in Winn Parish, a poor part of Louisiana.  In the 1930s, his origins and his far-reaching ideas for redistributing wealth gave him credibility.  By contrast, Trump wasn’t cut from humble cloth; nor in his present reincarnation has he even claimed to stand for the reallocation of wealth (except possibly to his wealthy compatriots).  His father, Fred Trump, was a multimillionaire who, at the time of his death in 1999, had a net worth of $250 million, which was divided among his four surviving children.  The proportional allocations are not publicly known, though it’s safe to assume that Donald did well.  He also got his start in business — and it wasn’t even an impressive one — thanks to lavish help from Fred to the tune of millions of dollars.  When he subsequently hit rough patches, Dad’s connections and loan guarantees helped set things right.A man who himself benefited handsomely from globalization, outsourcing, and a designed-for-the-wealthy tax code nonetheless managed to convince coal miners in West Virginia and workers in Ohio that all of these were terrible things that enriched a "financial elite" that had made itself wealthy at the expense of American workers and that electing him would end the swindle.He also persuaded millions of voters that foreign enemies were the biggest threat to their security and that he’d crush them by “rebuilding” America’s military machine.  Worried about ISIS? Don’t be.  Trump would “bomb the shit out of them.”  Concerned about the nuclear arms race?  Not to worry.  “We’ll outmatch them at every pass and outlast them all.”Yet few if any Americans lie awake at night fearing invasion by another country or the outbreak of nuclear war.  Fifteen years after 9/11, terrorism still ranks high on the American list of concerns (especially, the polls tell us, among Republicans).  But that danger is not nearly as dire as Trump and the U.S. national security state insist it is.  A litany of statistics shows that deaths from car crashes leave death-by-terrorist in the dust, while since 2002 even bee, hornet, and wasp stings have killed more Americans annually in the United States than “Islamic terrorists.”Since 9/11, only 95 Americans — 95 too many, let it be said — have been killed in terrorist attacks in the U.S.  Not one of the perpetrators was a tourist or someone on another type of temporary visa, and several were non-Muslims.  Nor were any of them refugees, or connected to any of the countries in Trump’s two Muslim bans.  Indeed, as the journalist Nick Gillespie notes, since the adoption of the 1980 Refugee Act no refugee has been involved in a terrorist attack that killed Americans.  Still, Trump’s hyperbole has persuaded many in this country that terrorism poses a major, imminent threat to them and that measures like a 90-day ban on travel to the United States by the citizens of certain Muslim countries will protect them.  (A recent poll shows that 54% of the public supports this policy.)  As for terrorist plots, successful or not, by white far-right extremists, the president simply hasn’t felt the urge to say much about them.In other words, President Trump, like candidate Trump, embraces the standard take on national security.  He, too, is focused on war and terrorism.  Here, on the other hand, are some threats — a suggestive, not inclusive, list — that genuinely make, or threaten to make, millions of Americans insecure and vulnerable.Poverty: According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2015, 43 million Americans, 13.5% of the population, lived below the poverty line ($11,700 for an individual and $20,090 for a three-person household) — an increase of 1% since 2007, the year before the Great Recession.  For children under 18, the 2015 poverty rate was 19.7%.  While that was an improvement on the 21.1% of 2014, it still meant that nearly a fifth of American children were poor.The working poor: Yes, you can have a job and still be poor if your wages are low or stagnant or have fallen. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) uses a conservative definition for these individuals: “People who spent at least 27 weeks in the labor force during the year — either working or looking for work — but whose incomes were below the poverty level.” Though some studies use a more expansive definition, even by the BLS’s criteria, there were 9.5 million working poor in 2014.Even if you work and bring in wages above the poverty line, you may still barely be getting by.  Oxfam reports that 58 million American workers make less than $15 an hour and 44 million make less than $12 an hour.  Congress last raised the minimum hourly wage to $7.25 in 2007 (and even then included exceptions that applied to several types of workers).  That sum has since lost nearly 10% of its purchasing power thanks to inflation.Wage stagnation and economic inequality: These two conditions explain a large part of the working-but-barely-making-it phenomenon.  Let’s start with those stagnant wages.  According to the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), for about three decades after World War II, hourly wage increases for workers in non-supervisory roles kept pace with productivity increases: at 91.3% and 96.7%, respectively.  Then things changed dramatically.  Between 1973 and 2013, productivity increased by 74.4% and wages by only 9.2%.  In other words, with wages adjusted for inflation, the average American worker made no more in 2013 than in 1973.  As for economic inequality, the EPI reports that from 1980 to 2013 the income of the top 1% of wage earners increased by 138% compared to 15% for the bottom 90%.  For those at the lowest end of the wage scale it was even worse. In those years, their hourly pay actually dropped by 5%.When was the last time you heard Donald Trump talk about stagnant wages or growing economic inequality, both of which make his most fervent supporters insecure? In reality, the defunding of federal programs that provide energy subsidies, employment assistance, and legal services to people with low incomes will only hurt many Trump voters who are already struggling economically.Climate change: There is a scientific consensus on this problem, which already contributes to droughts and floods that reduce food production, damages property, and threatens lives, not to speak of increasing the range of forest fires and lengthening the global fire season, as well as helping spread diseases like cholera, malaria, and dengue fever.  Trump once infamously described climate change as a Chinese-fabricated “hoax” meant to reduce the competitiveness of American companies.  No matter that, in recent years, the Chinese government has taken serious steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  Now, President Trump is gearing up to take the U.S. out of the climate change sweepstakes entirely. For instance, he remains determined to withdraw the country from the 2015 Paris Agreement (signed by 197 countries and so far ratified by 134 of them) aimed at limiting the increase in global temperature to a maximum of two degrees Celsius during this century.  Scott Pruitt, his appointee to run the Environmental Protection Agency, denies that climate change is significantly connected to “human activity” and is stocking his agency with climate change deniers of like mind. Needless to say Pruitt didn’t balk at Trump’s decision to cut the EPA’s budget by 31%.Nor do Trump and his team favor promoting alternative sources of energy or reducing carbon emissions, even though the United States is second only to China in total emissions and among the globe’s largest emitters on a per-capita basis. Trump seems poised to scale back President Obama’s plan to increase the Corporate Annual Fuel Efficiency Standard — created by the government to reduce average automobile gas consumption — from the present 35.5 miles per gallon to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025, end the 2015 freeze on leases for coal mining on federal land, and ease power plant emission limits. Worse yet, Trump’s America First Energy Plan calls for producing more oil and gas but contains nary a word about climate change or a green energy strategy. If you want a failsafe formula for future environment-related insecurity, this, of course, is it.Bogus RemediesCandidate Trump certainly did tap into a deepening sense of insecurity about wage stagnation, the disappearance of good working-class jobs, and increasing economic inequality.  But in the classic national security mode, he has artfully framed these problems, too, as examples of the economic hardship that foreign countries have inflicted on America. And the four remedies he offers, all rooted in a nationalistic economic outlook, won’t actually help American workers, could hurt them, or are at best cosmetic.First, he favors renegotiating multilateral trade deals like NAFTA and wasted no time withdrawing the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, accords which he believes hurt American workers.  Second, he wants to impose tariffs of 35% to 45% on imports from countries such as Mexico and China that he accuses of unfair trade practices. Third, at least on the campaign trail he pledged to punish countries like China, Japan, and Germany for supposedly devaluing their currencies in order to boost their exports unfairly at America’s expense.  Fourth, he’s high on slapping a border tax on companies that import from their branches or subcontractors abroad the components needed to make products to be sold in the United States, as well as on firms that simply import finished products and sell them locally.Some of these punitive moves, if actually pursued, will only provoke retaliation from other countries, harming American exporters and consequently the workers they employ.  Tariffs will, of course, also increase the cost of imported goods, hurting consumers with low incomes the most, just as taxing U.S. corporations for importing from their subsidiaries abroad will increase the prices of locally made goods, possibly reducing demand and so jobs.  Even the nullification of trade pacts, whatever positives might be involved, won’t bring industries like steel, textiles, and basic machine-making that once provided good jobs for the working class back to the United States.  Trump blames China for the decline in manufacturing employment, as does one of his top economists, Peter Navarro.  (Despite holding a Harvard Ph.D. in economics, Navarro evidently doesn’t grasp that trade deficits don’t have a major effect on employment and that protectionism doesn’t cut trade deficits.)What’s really required are policies that help displaced manufacturing workers to get decent jobs now, while addressing wage stagnancy, which has been significantly aided and abetted by a sharp decline in union membership in recent decades.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, between 1983 and 2015 membership in public-sector unions held reasonably steady.  Not so for private-sector union membership, which plunged from 12 million in 1983 to 7.6 million in 2015.  As a result, workers have been increasingly incapable of combatting wage stagnation through collective bargaining.  Tellingly enough, however, as of 2015, the median weekly paycheck of unionized workers was still 21% larger than that of workers who did not belong to a union.  Consider Trump’s business history when it comes to labor (including the hiring and stiffing of undocumented workers), as well as the make up of his immensely wealthy, Goldman Sachs-ified economic team, and the Republican Party’s attitude toward unions.  Then ask yourself: How likely is it that this administration will be well disposed toward unionization or collective bargaining?And don’t forget automation, a subject Donald Trump has essentially been mum about.  It has contributed decisively to job loss and wage stagnancy by reducing or even eliminating the need for labor in certain economic sectors.  As economists Michael Hicks and Srikant Devraj have demonstrated, increased productivity through automation has been far more crucial in reducing the need for human labor in U.S. manufacturing than outsourced jobs and imports.  Thanks to labor-displacing technologies, U.S. manufacturing output actually increased in value by 17.6% between 2006 and 2013 while the workforce continued to shrink.Another source of wage stagnancy is rising economic inequality, which stems partly from the fierce corporate focus since the 1980s on boosting quarterly earnings and paying dividends that will keep shareholders happy, even if that requires incurring debt, rather than increasing workers’ wages.  Alternative PoliciesTrump claims that he will create more jobs by lowering the corporate tax rate.  At 35% — 38.9% including the average state tax — the American corporate tax rate is significantly higher than the global average (29.5%).  Nonetheless, the familiar high-corporate-taxes-kill-jobs narrative that Trump trumpets is simplistic. More than 60% of American companies are so-called S corporations.  They pay no corporate tax: they pass their profits on to stockholders who then report the gains when filing income tax returns.  And even the corporations that do pay taxes manage to reduce the burden significantly through such steps as claiming accelerated depreciation on equipment and establishing offshore companies whose books reflect their profits.  As a result, their true tax rate isn’t anything like 38.9%.  High corporate taxes aren’t what stops companies from creating jobs or paying workers more, which means that changing that rate won’t fix any problems, not for American workers anyway.There are other solutions to low wages and unemployment, even if President Trump will never favor them.  Investing more in public education, for example.  Local property taxes and state monies still count heavily in funding public schools. (Federal support is less than 15%.)  So the quality of a school can depend greatly on the zip code in which it’s located, especially because parents in wealthy neighborhoods normally raise more money to help their schools than their non-affluent counterparts can.  School quality can also depend on how wealthy your state is.Though other factors doubtless play a role, in general, the better the quality of the school, the greater the likelihood that a child will go to college and the stronger his or her income and prospects will be.  Increasing federal funding to schools that lack adequate resources could improve matters.  But if you expect President Trump and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to consider such a proposition, think again.Raising the minimum wage significantly could also help reduce income inequality and the number of working poor. Democrats have favored raising the minimum wage to $10.10, which, it is believed, would reduce the number of people living in poverty by an estimated 4.6 million.  That’s hardly an outlandish proposal.  Some experts, like former Labor Secretary Robert Reich, have called for a minimum wage of $15 an hour, though they are in the minority.  But even certain mainstream economists, like Princeton’s Alan Krueger, support a $12 rate and reject the right-wing claim that it would kill jobs.Don’t expect the Trump administration (or the GOP) to push for any form of such a policy. Take a look at the members of the president’s Strategic and Policy Forum (SPF), whose duties include providing advice on job creation, and you’ll realize that such a relatively modest goal will be off the table for at least the next four years.  You’ll find representatives from the Blackstone Group, Walmart, IBM, General Motors, Boeing, and General Electric in the SPF, but not one labor advocate.  Case closed.  Prepare for Business as UsualThe net worth of Trump’s cabinet (the president excluded) is $5 billion, and that’s a conservative estimate (no pun intended).  By some calculations, it may be $13 billion.  According to Politifact’s Tom Kertscher, that “modest” $5 billion figure exceeds the net worth of the bottom one-third of all American families.  Now, what likelihood do you think there is that Trump would ever implement policies that threatened to transform the distribution of wealth and power in America to the detriment of the economic class from which he and his cabinet hail?  (In that spirit, remember that candidate Trump proposed a tax plan that would focus on the wealthiest Americans by cutting the top tax rate from 39.6% to 25% and eliminating the estate tax, 90% of which is paid by the country’s wealthiest 10%.)It’s much easier to scapegoat outsiders, whether China, Japan, Mexico, and Germany (whose government Trump trade adviser Navarro has also accused of currency manipulation), or undocumented workers who generally hold jobs in the U.S. that require lower skills, pay less, and that most American citizens avoid.  It’s also easier to stick with the standard militarized conception of national security and, for good measure, hype the perils posed by Islam, which for Steve Bannon, Trump’s chief political strategist, and Stephen Miller, his senior adviser on policy, amounts to a synonym for extremism and violence, even if Islamic terrorists pose the most miniscule of threats to most Americans.   Not surprisingly, Trump proposes to increase the country’s already staggering defense spending for next year by another $54 billion.  To put that increment in perspective, consider that Russia’s total defense spending in 2015 was $66 billion and Britain’s $56 billion, while the United States already spends more on defense than at least the next seven countries combined.  (In fairness to Trump, Senators John McCain and Mac Thornberry, respectively the chairmen of the Senate Armed Services Committee and the House Armed Services Committee, want to bulk up the defense budget even more.)Trump also seems determined to stay the course on America’s forever wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Neither he nor his generals show any sign of abandoning the Obama-era strategy of whack-a-mole drone strikes and raids by Special Operations forces against terrorist redoubts around the world (as witness a recent failed special ops raid in Yemen and 24 drone strikes — half of the maximum number that the United States launched against that country in any preceding year). Trump has already deployed 400 Marines as well as Army Rangers to fight ISIS in Raqqa, Syria, and another thousand troops may soon be heading that way.  And General John Nicholson, commander of the US-led military coalition in Afghanistan, has called for “a few thousand” additional troops for that country.So expect President Trump to dwell obsessively on threats that have a low probability of harming Americans, while offering no effective solutions for the quotidian hardships that actually do make so many citizens feel insecure. Expect, as well, that the more he proves unable to deliver on his economic promises to the working class, the more he’ll harp on the standard threats and engage in saber rattling, hoping that a continual atmosphere of emergency and vulnerability will disarm critics and divert attention from his failures.  In the end, count on one thing: voters who were drawn to Trump because they believed he would rein in interventionism abroad and deal with festering problems at home are in for a disappointment.
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Sunday Morning Bobblehead Thread



My youngest is taking a digital illustration class, and was trying to decide what to do as a project. She is obsessed with the musical Hamilton, so she’s currently working on an animatic based on her favorite song, which is the one in which Angelica Schuyler recalls her first meeting with Alexander Hamilton. This isn’t hers; it’s the one that inspired her to try her hand at it. But I also think that the message of our first president is one that the current occupant of the White House (and all his enablers within the West Wing and Congress) should remember: History has its eyes on you. You don’t get to decide who writes your story.
And I don’t believe that history will be kind to the Republican Party, because their desire to hold onto power and wealth over concern for their constituencies could not be more blatant.
History has its eyes on them. Is this the legacy they wish for?
ABC’s “This Week” – U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley; Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz.; Dmitry Peskov, press secretary to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Panel: ABC’s Jonathan Karl, Anne Gearan of The Washington Post and Michael Leiter, former director at the National Counterterrorism Center.
NBC’s “Meet the Press” – Former FBI agent Clint Watts, now with the Foreign Policy Research Institute at George Washington University; Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.; Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. Panel: Robert Draper of GQ and The New York Times Magazine; Eugene Robinson of The Washington Post; Greta Van Susteren of MSNBC’s “For the Record”; and Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report.
CBS’ “Face the Nation” -Haley; Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas; Sen. Angus King, I-Maine; and Jon Meacham. Panel: Peter Baker of The New York Times, Susan Page of USA Today, Michael Graham of The Weekly Standard and David Ignatius of The Washington Post.
CNN’s “State of the Union” – Reps. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., ranking member of the House intelligence committee; Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, Freedom Caucus founding chairman; and Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross. Panel: Mike Rogers, national security commentator; political commentator Nina Turner; Rep. Jason Lewis, R-Minn.; and Neera Tanden, president of the Center for American Progress.
↓ Story continues below ↓CNN’s “Reliable Sources” – Tina Brown, founder of Women in the World and president and CEO of Tina Brown Live Media; Angie Drobnic Holan of PolitiFact; Glenn Kessler of The Washington Post; and Matthew Garrahan of Financial Times. A panel features Charles Blow of The New York Times, Jeff Mason of Reuters and Matthew Continetti of The Washington Free Beacon.
CNN’s “Fareed Zakaria GPS” — Jeff Immelt, chairman/CEO of General Electric; former Gov. Tom Kean, R-N.J.; Evgeny Afineevsky, director of “Cries From Syria”; and Kholoud Helmi, Syrian human rights campaigner.
“Fox News Sunday” – Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt; McConnell. Panel: radio host Laura Ingraham, Julie Pace of The Associated Press, Gerald F. Seib of The Wall Street Journal and Gillian Turner, former member of the White House National Security Council.
So what’s catching your eye this morning?