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Ariel Dorfman: A Tale of Torture and Forgiveness

By: Tom Engelhardt Tuesday June 17, 2014 6:28 am

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

Two anti-torture protestors in front of the white house, one in a cage.

Do you think the President knows it’s Torture Awareness Month?

I’ll bet you didn’t know that June is “torture awareness month” thanks to the fact that, on June 26, 1987, the Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman, and Degrading Treatment or Punishment went into effect internationally.  In this country, however, as a recent Amnesty International survey indicated, Americans are essentially living in Torture Unawareness Month, or perhaps even Torture Approval Month, and not just in June 2014 but every month of the year.

One simple fact of the post-9/11 era should make this clear and also boggle the mind, but has had almost no impact here.  But for this you need a little background from the early years of what was once called the Global War on Terror.  In addition to a stream of international kidnappings (euphemistically called “renditions”) of terror suspects, including completely innocent people the CIA snatched off the streets of global cities, as well as from the backlands of the planet and “rendered” into the hands of well-known torturing regimes (with the help of 54 other countries) and the setting up of a network of “black sites” or offshore prisons where anything went, the CIA tortured up a storm.  And it did so at the behest of the top officials of the Bush administration, including the president and vice president who were convinced that it was time for Washington to “take the gloves off.”  In those years, torture techniques were reportedly demonstrated in the White House to some of those officials, including the vice president and national security advisor.  At the time, they went by the euphemistic, administration-approved term “enhanced interrogation techniques,” which was quickly picked up and used in the U.S. mainstream media in place of the word “torture” — though only when the enhanced interrogators were American, of course.  The bad guys out there continued to “torture” in the usual fashion.

In the Obama years, torture was (at least officially) tossed out as a useful tactic.  But the torturers themselves were given a pass, every last one of them, by the Justice Department, even two cases in which the CIA’s acts of enhancement had led to death.  No charge was ever brought against anyone, including the Justice Department lawyers who wrote the tortured memos endorsing those techniques and redefining torture as only happening when the torturer meant it to, or the officials who green-lighted them.  Think of the Obama administration then as Amnesty National.  That administration did, however, have the guts to go after one man connected to the torture program, forced a plea deal from him, and sent him to jail for two years.  I’m talking about former CIA agent John Kiriakou, the only person since 9/11 convicted of a torture-related crime.  To be specific, his criminal act was to blow the whistle on his former employer’s torture program to a journalist, revealing in the process the name of a CIA agent.  That was considered such an indefensible act — in effect, an act of torture against the American security state — that justice, American-style, was done.

It’s quite a tortuous record when you think about it, not that anyone here does anymore, which is why we need TomDispatch regular Ariel Dorfman, author most recently of Feeding on Dreams: Confessions of an Unrepentant Exile, to remind us of what’s really at stake when one human being tortures another. Tom

How to Forgive Your Torturer 

The River Kwai Passes Through Latin America and Washington 

By Ariel Dorfman

What a way to celebrate Torture Awareness Month!

According to an Amnesty International Poll released in May, 45% of Americans believe that torture is “sometimes necessary and acceptable” in order to “gain information that may protect the public.” Twenty-nine percent of Britons “strongly or somewhat agreed” that torture was justified when asked the same question.

 

Peter Van Buren: RIP, The Bill of Rights

By: Tom Engelhardt Monday June 16, 2014 6:21 am

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

The Bill of Rights

The Bill of Rights

Here’s what passes for good news when it comes to a free press these days: two weeks ago, the Supreme Court refused without comment to hear a case involving New York Times reporter James Risen. It concerned his unwillingness to testify before a grand jury under subpoena and reveal a confidential source of information in his book State of War on the secret U.S. campaign against the Iranian nuclear program. The case will now go back to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, which has already ordered him to testify. He says he will instead go to jail, if necessary.

That’s the bad news, right? Really bad news! The Supremes, the highest court in the land, refused to protect a reporter protecting a source at a moment when the Obama administration is in the midst of a wide-ranging crackdown on leakers and whistleblowers of all sorts (and those in the media considered to be aiding and abetting them). Actually, in a world in which Congress has not yet managed to pass a federal shield law that would protect reporters, it turns out that that’s actually the good news — or so at least various media commentators say. Follow the logic here (and it is logic of a sort). Right now the Richmond, Virginia-based Appeals court decision applies only to courts in states under its jurisdiction. Had the Supremes agreed to take on the case, given their conservative and generally government-friendly bent on matters of executive power and what passes for national security, they would likely have ruled against Risen and that ruling would have applied nationally.

So, phew! Their rejection was a “blessing” (in disguise). The only harm they did, after all, was to confirm the atmospherics of a moment in which the Obama administration has been eager to shut down the leaking of unauthorized government information in a big way — oh yes, and drive another modest nail into the coffin of a free-to-report-what-our-government-actually-does media. That’s the minimal, not the maximal damage claim; so say various relieved commentators. As for Risen, he now has to depend on the kindness of strangers, of in fact Attorney General Eric Holder, who may briefly declare a truce in the administration’s “war on the press” and not jail him.

Best news we’ve had in a while! And should Congress pass that shield law (even if it leaves national security out), uncork the champagne! And we’ll all toast the Supreme Court and the attorney general and the president and his top officials for their grace under pressure. Or rather, hold on just a sec there. Maybe that isn’t quite the classic American way of preserving our freedoms — i.e, allowing our government free rein to preserve them for us, if its officials happen to be in the mood. In fact, as State Department whistleblower and TomDispatch regular Peter Van Buren suggests, we may be entering a grim new era when it comes to our Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Tom

What We’ve Lost Since 9/11
Taking Down the First Amendment in Post-Constitutional America

By Peter Van Buren

America has entered its third great era: the post-constitutional one. In the first, in the colonial years, a unitary executive, the King of England, ruled without checks and balances, allowing no freedom of speech, due process, or privacy when it came to protecting his power.

In the second, the principles of the Enlightenment and an armed rebellion were used to push back the king’s abuses. The result was a new country and a new constitution with a Bill of Rights expressly meant to check the government’s power. Now, we are wading into the shallow waters of a third era, a time when that government is abandoning the basic ideas that saw our nation through centuries of challenges far more daunting than terrorism. Those ideas — enshrined in the Bill of Rights — are disarmingly concise. Think of them as the haiku of a genuine people’s government.

Deeper, darker waters lie ahead and we seem drawn down into them. For here there be monsters.

William Astore: Drafted by the National Security State

By: Tom Engelhardt Thursday June 12, 2014 6:32 am

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

Uncle Sam on a hypnotic background saying "Go to Sleep."

No need to recruit: We’re all owned by the state already.

On the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings, Brian Williams led off NBC Nightly News this way: “On our broadcast tonight, the salute to the warriors who stormed the beaches here in Normandy…”  It’s such a commonplace of our American world, that word “warriors” for those in the U.S. military or, as is said time and again, our “wounded warriors” for those hurt in one of our many wars.  This time, however, because it was applied to the vets of World War II, my father’s war, it stopped me in my tracks.  For just a moment, I couldn’t help imagining what my father would have said, had anyone called him — or any of the air commandos in Burma for whom he was “operations officer” — a warrior.  Though he’s been dead now for three decades, I don’t have a moment’s doubt that he would have thought it ridiculous.  In World War I, America’s soldiers had been known as “doughboys.”  In World War II, they were regularly (and proudly) called “dogfaces” or G.I. (for “government issue”) Joes, and their citizen-soldier likenesses were reflected in the tough but bedraggled figures of Willy and Joe, Bill Mauldin’s much beloved wartime cartoon foot soldierson the long slog to Berlin.

And that was fitting for a civilian military, a draft military.  It was down to earth.  It was how you described people who had left civilian life with every intention of returning to it as soon as humanly possible, who thought the military a grim necessity of a terrible moment in history and that war, a terrible but necessary way to go.  In those days, warriors would have been an alien term, the sort you associated with, say, Prussians.

My father volunteered just after the attack on Pearl Harbor and wasn’t demobilized until the war ended, but — I remember it well in the years after — while he took pride in his service, he maintained a typical and healthy American dislike (to put it politely) for what he called “the regular army” and George Washington would have called a “standing army.”  He would have been amazed by the present American way of war and the propaganda universe we now live in when it comes to praising and elevating the U.S. military above the rest of society.  He would have found it inconceivable that a president’s wife would go on a popular TV show — I’m talking about Michelle Obama on “Nashville” — and mix it up with fictional characters to laud for the umpteenth time America’s warriors and their service to the nation.

In Vietnam, of course, the term still wasn’t warrior, it was “grunt.”  The elevation of the American soldier to the heavens of praise and bombast came significantly after the end of the citizen army, particularly with what retired Air Force Lieutenant Colonel and TomDispatch regular William Astore calls the new Fortress America mindset of the post-9/11 years and the ever more militarized world of constant war that went with it.

If only I could have picked up the phone, called my father, and heard the choice words he would have had for his newly elevated status as an American “warrior,” seven decades after Normandy.  But not being able to, on that D-Day anniversary I did the next best thing and called a 90-year-old friend, who was on a ship off one of those blood-soaked beaches as the invasion began.  Thinking back those 70 years with a certain pride, he remembered that the thing the foot soldiers of World War II resented most was saluting or saying “sir” to officers.  No warriors they — and no love for an eternal wartime either.  Put another way, the farther we’ve come from our last great military victory, symbolized by the events of June 6, 1944, the more elevated the language for describing, or perhaps whitewashing, a new American way of war that, for pure failure, may have few matches. Tom

Uncle Sam Doesn’t Want You — He Already Has You The Militarized Realities of Fortress America By William J. Astore

I spent four college years in the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) and then served 20 years in the U.S. Air Force.  In the military, especially in basic training, you have no privacy.  The government owns you.  You’re “government issue,” just another G.I., a number on a dogtag that has your blood type and religion in case you need a transfusion or last rites.  You get used to it.  That sacrifice of individual privacy and personal autonomy is the price you pay for joining the military.  Heck, I got a good career and a pension out of it, so don’t cry for me, America.

But this country has changed a lot since I joined ROTC in 1981, was fingerprinted, typed for blood, and otherwise poked and prodded. (I needed a medical waiver for myopia.)  Nowadays, in Fortress America, every one of us is, in some sense, government issue in a surveillance state gone mad.

A Record of Unparalleled Failure

By: Tom Engelhardt Tuesday June 10, 2014 6:27 am

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

Don’t Walk Away from War It’s Not the American Way By Tom Engelhardt

A battleship flying a US flag

The history of modern American warfare is a history of total failure.

The United States has been at war — major boots-on-the-ground conflicts and minor interventions, firefights, air strikes, drone assassination campaigns, occupations, special ops raids, proxy conflicts, and covert actions — nearly nonstop since the Vietnam War began.  That’s more than half a century of experience with war, American-style, and yet few in our world bother to draw the obvious conclusions.

Given the historical record, those conclusions should be staring us in the face.  They are, however, the words that can’t be said in a country committed to a military-first approach to the world, a continual build-up of its forces, an emphasis on pioneering work in the development and deployment of the latest destructive technology, and a repetitious cycling through styles of war from full-scale invasions and occupations to counterinsurgency, proxy wars, and back again.

So here are five straightforward lessons — none acceptable in what passes for discussion and debate in this country — that could be drawn from that last half century of every kind of American warfare:

  1. No matter how you define American-style war or its goals, it doesn’t work. Ever.
  2. No matter how you pose the problems of our world, it doesn’t solve them. Never.
  3. No matter how often you cite the use of military force to “stabilize” or “protect” or “liberate” countries or regions, it is a destabilizing force.
  4. No matter how regularly you praise the American way of war and its “warriors,” the U.S. military is incapable of winning its wars.
  5. No matter how often American presidents claim that the U.S. military is “the finest fighting force in history,” the evidence is in: it isn’t.

And here’s a bonus lesson: if as a polity we were to take these five no-brainers to heart and stop fighting endless wars, which drain us of national treasure, we would also have a long-term solution to the Veterans Administration health-care crisis.  It’s not the sort of thing said in our world, but the VA is in a crisis of financing and caregiving that, in the present context, cannot be solved, no matter whom you hire or fire.  The only long-term solution would be to stop fighting losing wars that the American people will pay for decades into the future, as the cost in broken bodies and broken lives is translated into medical care and dumped on the VA.

Heroes and Turncoats

One caveat.  Think whatever you want about war and American war-making, but keep in mind that we are inside an enormous propaganda machine of militarism, even if we barely acknowledge the space in our lives that it fills. Inside it, only certain opinions, certain thoughts, are acceptable, or even in some sense possible.

Take for an example the recent freeing of Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl from five years as a captive of the Haqqani network.  Much controversy has surrounded it, in part because he was traded for five former Taliban officials long kept uncharged and untried on the American Devil’s Island at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.  It has been suggested that Sgt. Bergdahl deserted his post and his unit in rural Afghanistan, simply walked away — which for opponents of the deal and of President Obama makes the “trade for terrorists” all the more shameful.  Our options when it comes to what we know of Bergdahl’s actions are essentially to decry him as a “turncoat” or near-voluntary “terrorist prisoner” or ignore them, go into a “support the troops” mode, and hail him as a “hero” of the war.  And yet there is a third option.

According to his father, in the period before he was captured, his emails home reflected growing disillusionment with the military.  (“The U.S. army is the biggest joke the world has to laugh at.  It is the army of liars, backstabbers, fools, and bullies. The few good SGTs [sergeants] are getting out as soon as they can, and they are telling us privates to do the same.”)  He had also evidently grown increasingly uncomfortable as well with the American war in that country. (“I am sorry for everything here. These people need help, yet what they get is the most conceited country in the world telling them that they are nothing and that they are stupid, that they have no idea how to live.”)  When he departed his base, he may even have left a note behind expressing such sentiments.  He had reportedly told someone in his unit earlier, “If this deployment is lame… I’m just going to walk off into the mountains of Pakistan.”

Eduardo Galeano: The World Cup and the Corporatization of Soccer

By: Tom Engelhardt Monday June 9, 2014 7:02 am

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

Cover of Soccer in Sun & Shadow

A new book look at soccer’s place on the world stage as the World Cup begins.

[Note for TomDispatch Readers: There is a tiny universe of editors of Eduardo Galeano. I was once one of them. Carl Bromley of Nation Books is so today. For an editor, working with such an author is an experience glorious beyond describing. Think of it as to ordinary editing what “the beautiful game” (soccer), World Cup variety, is to sports. With the latest round of that contest imminent, I thought the perfect teaser for TomDispatch readers would be a selection from Galeano’s classic book, Soccer in Sun and Shadow, and Galeano’s splendid literary agent Susan Bergholz agreed immediately. So, one editor to another, I asked Carl, as a literary gent and a Brit with a yen for soccer (who will be cheering for Italy), to do the TomDispatch introduction. Let me give all of you the TomDispatch Guarantee: buy Galeano’s book before the World Cup begins and you may not be able to look up long enough to catch the games!  Remember, he's just been called "the Pele of soccer writers" in the Guardian.  Tom]

Over the next few weeks, we will see all that is beautiful and all that is damned in soccer at the FIFA World Cup in Brazil. Hundreds of millions will swoon at the sight of the gods of the global game — Argentina’s Lionel Messi, Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo, Uruguay’s Luis Suarez, Italy’s Andrea Pirlo, England’s Wayne Rooney — plying their exquisite trade across the newly built or expensively refurbished stadiums on which Brazil, according to the Wall Street Journal, has spent $3.6 billion over the last few years.

The 32 national teams arriving in that country will, however, be confronted with another, far more sobering reality.  Soccer-crazy Brazil has been in revolt over the World Cup — over, in particular, the staggering sums that have been siphoned from the public purse into a string of gargantuan, desperately-behind-schedule construction projects for the competition. Last year, there were protests, some of which were violently suppressed, in more than 120 Brazilian cities during the somewhat pointless warm-up tournament that the governing body of world soccer, FIFA, runs a year before the World Cup begins.

For lovers of the game, in his celebrated masterpiece Soccer in Sun and Shadow, the great Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano long ago caught the way the spectacle of soccer and the spectacle of reality intertwined.  Of the Brazilian protests, he recently observed: “Brazilians, who are the most soccer-mad of all, have decided not to allow their sport to be used any more as an excuse for humiliating the many and enriching the few. The fiesta of soccer, a feast for the legs that play and the eyes that watch, is much more than a big business run by overlords from Switzerland. The most popular sport in the world wants to serve the people who embrace it. That is a fire police violence will never put out.”

Huge global sporting contests, their boosters promise, will transform the nature of the host country. The billions South Africa poured into hosting the World Cup were touted by some as a form of development. The result? The month-long euphoria of the contests was followed by the hangover of dealing with an expensive unused or underused stadium infrastructure scattered across that developing country. (Host countries pay FIFA for the privilege of hosting the competition, then foot the bill for most of the tournament, while FIFA takes most of the revenues.) Today, something similar is happening in Brazil where, as Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanksi have noted, there has been “a transfer of wealth from Brazil as a whole to various interest groups inside and outside the country. This is not an economic bonanza. Brazil is sacrificing a little bit of its future to host the World Cup.”

This is just one symptom of a corporate takeover of “the beautiful game” that has reached the saturation point. Since the neoliberal 1980s, Brazil, like many other South American countries, has been in the business of exporting its soccer talent to the rest of the world. As Galeano once noted of his own country’s leg drain, “In Uruguay… soccer is an export industry that scorns the domestic market. The continuous outflow of good players means mediocre professional leagues and ever fewer, ever less fervent fans.”

Corporate sponsorship is officially prohibited from team shirts during the World Cup, but elsewhere, from the T-shirts on their chests to the laces on their shoes, even in one controversial case their underpants, the players are advertisements for the multinational apparel companies who make their uniforms. And the elite among them are employed as brand ambassadors by corporations during the tournament; so expect to see Messi and Ronaldo advertising soft drinks and airlines during gamebreaks.

We all need an antidote to soccer as big business; if you can’t take to the streets of Brazil to offer your own comment on the ways in which international sports leave misery in their wake, you must, at least, pick up Eduardo Galeano’s witty and rebellious history of the game, Soccer in Sun and Shadow.  It already has a cult readership in the English-speaking world, but in the Spanish-speaking one it is considered a bible of soccer by ordinary readers and professional players alike. In the run-up to the games, TomDispatch offers you just a taste of that classic: five pieces that capture the marvel and melancholy of the world’s most popular sport. Carl Bromley

“The World Turns Around a Spinning Ball” Choreographed War and Other Aspects of the World’s Greatest Game By Eduardo Galeano

[The following passages are excerpted at TomDispatch from Eduardo Galeano’s Soccer in Sun and Shadow (Nation Books, Open Road Media ebooks).]

The Stadium

Have you ever entered an empty stadium? Try it. Stand in the middle of the field and listen. There is nothing less empty than an empty stadium. There is nothing less mute than stands bereft of spectators.

Dilip Hiro: Behind the Coup in Egypt

By: Tom Engelhardt Thursday June 5, 2014 8:08 am

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

Protestors in Tahrir Square crowd onto a military truck

From Tahrir demonstrations to brutal military regime, how the US lost its way in Egypt.

Think of Barack Obama’s recent return to West Point at graduation time to offer his approach to an increasingly chaotic world as a bookend on an era.  George W. Bush went to the Academy in June 2002 — less than a year after 9/11, seven months after the U.S. had triumphantly invaded Afghanistan, 10 months before it would (as he already knew) invade Iraq — and laid out his vision of “preemptive war.”  In that commencement address to a class about to graduate into the very wars he was launching, he threw the ancient Cold War doctrines of deterrence and containment to the sharks and proclaimed a new, finger-on-a-hair-trigger vision of global policy for a country that wasn’t about to step aside for anyone or anything. “If we wait for threats to fully materialize, we will have waited too long,” he said to resounding applause.  He added, “Our security will require all Americans to be forward-looking and resolute, to be ready for preemptive action when necessary to defend our liberty and to defend our lives.”

Speaking to the class of 2002, Bush conjured up an epic struggle without end (that certain neocons would soon begin calling “the Long War” or “World War IV“).  It would be global, Manichaean, and unquestionably victorious.  “We must uncover terror cells in 60 or more countries, using every tool of finance, intelligence, and law enforcement.  Along with our friends and allies, we must oppose proliferation and confront regimes that sponsor terror, as each case requires.  Some nations need military training to fight terror, and we’ll provide it.  Other nations oppose terror, but tolerate the hatred that leads to terror — and that must change.  We will send diplomats where they are needed, and we will send you, our soldiers, where you’re needed.”

It was Bush’s initial foray into the dream of a subjugated Greater Middle East and a planet destined to fall under the spell of a Pax Americana enforced by a military like no other in history.  It was visionary stuff, a genuine Bush (or Cheney) Doctrine.  And the president and his top officials meant every word of it.

Twelve years later, the results are in.  As President Obama pointed out to the class of 2014, some of those “terror cells in 60 or more countries” have by now become full-scale terror outfits and, helped immeasurably by the actions the Bush Doctrine dictated, are thriving.  In Afghanistan, a long-revived Taliban can’t be defeated, while neighboring Pakistan, with its own Taliban movement, has been significantly destabilized.  Amid the ongoing drone wars of two administrations, Yemen is being al-Qaedicized; the former president’s invasion of Iraq set off a devastating, still expanding Sunni-Shiite civil war across the Middle East, which is also becoming a blowback machine for terrorism, and which has thrown the whole region into chaos; Libya, Obama’s no-casualties version of intervention, is now a basket case; across much of Africa, terror groups are spreading, as is destabilization continent-wide.

Facing this and a host of other crises and problems from Ukraine to Syria to the South China Sea, and “pivoting” fruitlessly in every direction, Obama, in his second trek to West Point, put together a survey of a no-longer American planet that left the cadets sitting on their hands (though their parents cheered the line, “You are the first class since 9/11 who may not be sent into combat in Iraq or Afghanistan”) and critics from the Wall Street Journal to the New York Times bored and dismissive.  It was, all agreed, the exhausted speech of an exhausted administration addressed to an American public exhausted by more than a decade of fruitless wars in an exhausting world.

If that commencement address had just been visionless words offered by a rudderless president, it might not have mattered much, except to the nattering class in Washington.  As TomDispatch regular Dilip Hiro makes clear, however, in a magisterial look at where the Arab Spring ended up in Egypt, it isn’t only unfriendly states or stateless terror groups that aren’t cooperating in the organization of an American world.  The former “sole superpower” of planet Earth that the president (with “every fiber” of his being) insisted was still both “exceptional” and “indispensable” seemed to be losing its sway over former allies as well.  If there is no Obama Doctrine, it may be because the world of 2014 is in a state of exceptional and indispensable entropy. Tom

Clueless in Cairo
How Egypt’s Generals Sidelined Uncle Sam
By Dilip Hiro

Since September 11, 2001, Washington’s policies in the Middle East have proven a grim imperial comedy of errors and increasingly a spectacle of how a superpower is sidelined. In this drama, barely noticed by the American media, Uncle Sam’s keystone ally in the Arab world, Egypt, like Saudi Arabia, has largely turned its back on the Obama administration. As with so many of America’s former client states across the aptly named “arc of instability,” Egypt has undergone a tumultuous journey — from autocracy to democracy to a regurgitated form of military rule and repression, making its ally of four decades appear clueless.

Egypt remains one of the top recipients of U.S. foreign aid, with the Pentagon continuing to pamper the Egyptian military with advanced jet fighters, helicopters, missiles, and tanks. Between January 2011 and May 2014, Egypt underwent a democratic revolution, powered by a popular movement, which toppled President Hosni Mubarak’s regime. It enjoyed a brief tryst with democracy before suffering an anti-democratic counter-revolution by its generals. In all of this, what has been the input of the planet’s last superpower in shaping the history of the most populous country in the strategic Middle East? Zilch. Its “generosity” toward Cairo notwithstanding, Washington has been reduced to the role of a helpless bystander.

Given how long the United States has been Egypt’s critical supporter, the State Department and Pentagon bureaucracies should have built up a storehouse of understanding as to what makes the Land of the Pharaohs tick. Their failure to do so, coupled with a striking lack of familiarity by two administrations with the country’s recent history, has led to America’s humiliating sidelining in Egypt. It’s a story that has yet to be pieced together, although it’s indicative of how from Kabul to Bonn, Baghdad to Rio de Janeiro so many ruling elites no longer feel that listening to Washington is a must.

An Army as Immovable as the Pyramids

Ever since 1952, when a group of nationalist military officers ended the pro-British monarchy, Egypt’s army has been in the driver’s seat. From Gamal Abdul Nasser to Hosni Mubarak, its rulers were military commanders.  And if, in February 2011, a majority of the members of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) abandoned Mubarak, it was only to stop him from passing the presidency on to his son Gamal on his 83rd birthday.  The neoliberal policies pursued by the Mubarak government at the behest of that businessman son from 2004 onward made SCAF fear that the military’s stake in the public sector of the economy and its extensive public-private partnerships would be doomed.

Peter Van Buren: A Rising Tide Lifts All Yachts

By: Tom Engelhardt Tuesday June 3, 2014 6:57 am

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

Raise the Wage protest signs at a GAP store

A living wage would boost the entire economy.

The drumbeat of “good news” has been steady these past few months: the American economy is in recovery. Consumer confidence is up. Manufacturing is expanding. There are signs the housing market is on the “verge of a rebound.” In April, the unemployment rate dropped to 6.3% — the lowest it’s been since President Barack Obama took office.

Break down those unemployment numbers, though, and you get quite a different perspective on the American economy. One reason the unemployment rate fell was because the workforce participation rate — the number of Americans working or looking for work — decreased by nearly a million people. Many of them just packed up their hopes and went home to join the ranks of the officially uncounted jobless of this country. Why? Partially because Republicans in Congress refused to renew federal unemployment benefits for the long-term jobless — those who have been out of work for 27 weeks or more. The government requires unemployed Americans to prove that they are actively searching for work in order to be eligible for unemployment insurance. Once that motivation (and the financial means of transportation to job interviews) disappeared, many discouraged workers simply gave up looking.

At the beginning of 2014, Democrats made a big push to renew those benefits, which average $1,166 a month and kick in after the usual 26 weeks of state unemployment benefits run out.  They had been renewed yearly since the beginning of the recession — until last December, that is. Republicans promptly pushed back, demanding that any further aid for the out-of-work be “offset” by spending cuts elsewhere. In April, the impasse seemed to break when the Senate surprisingly passed a bipartisan bill to extend the emergency benefits. Since the legislation had GOP support, it was expected to pass the Republican-dominated House. House Speaker John Boehner, however, rejected it and the news cycle moved on.

The 3.5 million long-term jobless are still here though, crashing on the couches of family members or friends, struggling to feed their kids, unable to afford gas to get to those job interviews that are seldom to be found anyway. Today, former State Department whistleblower Peter Van Buren, who has been following the fate of the 99% for TomDispatch and whose new book on the subject, Ghosts of Tom Joad, has just been published, takes a look at why it’s so hard for the long-term unemployed to get back to work. He also answers questions about why the American economy doesn’t work for those at the bottom, no less the sinking middle class. Erika Eichelberger

Why Don’t the Unemployed Get Off Their Couches?
And Eight Other Critical Questions for Americans
By Peter Van Buren

Last year eight Americans — the four Waltons of Walmart fame, the two Koch brothers, Bill Gates, and Warren Buffett — made more money than 3.6 million American minimum-wage workers combined. The median pay for CEOs at America’s large corporations rose to $10 million per year, while a typical chief executive now makes about 257 times the average worker’s salary, up sharply from 181 times in 2009. Overall, 1% of Americans own more than a third of the country’s wealth.

Rebecca Solnit: #YesAllWomen Changes the Story

By: Tom Engelhardt Monday June 2, 2014 6:34 am

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

Smartphone

Twitter activism is empowering women in the aftermath of Isla Vista.

Where was the NSA?  That’s the question former State Department whistleblower Peter Van Buren recently asked at his We Meant Well blog — and it couldn’t be a smarter one.  After all, the Isla Vista killer, Elliot Rodgers, made both his own sense of disturbance and his urge for “retribution” against women quite public before he went on his terror spree.  Shouldn’t the agency, whose unofficial motto (“collect it all”) seems to be meant quite literally, have noticed his messages to the world?

Given the ridiculous mass of human communications the NSA collects, both domestically and globally, perhaps not.  But one reason its employees might not have been paying attention was that Rodgers wasn’t an Islamic jihadist-in-the-making or an al-Qaeda wannabe.  He didn’t fall among the few fringe figures since 9/11 who have committed domestic acts of Islamic terror, including Army psychiatrist Nidal Hasan, who slaughtered 13 at Fort Hood, Texas, the Tsarnaev brothers who briefly terrorized Boston, or Faisal Shahzad who managed to get a car bomb into New York’s Times Square.  Of course, it’s worth remembering that the agency American taxpayers support to the tune of almost $11 billion a year and that has made surveillance in the name of “safety” part of the American way of life somehow missed them, too!  Still, for the NSA one thing is clear enough: the Elliot Rodgers of this world may blow Americans away in numbers that put the casualty counts for what we call “domestic terrorism” to shame, but they aren’t considered “terrorists” and the war they are engaged in — against women — doesn’t qualify for any “war on terror.”

The numbers tell a grim story when it comes to this sort of terror in American life. Among other things, if you’re adding up casualties in this unnamed war, 1,500 women are murdered annually by their husbands or boyfriends.  That adds up to a 9/11-sized disaster every two years.  On the other side of things, in the wake of the killings in Isla Vista, California, and without the NSA stepping in to botch things up, the response to such terror has been extraordinary, and Rebecca Solnit, whose new Dispatch Book, Men Explain Things to Me, focuses on just what violence against women means in our society, offers her usual highly original look at ways in which women (and some men) are reconceiving our world and the horrors in it. Tom

Our Words Are Our Weapons
The Feminist Battle of the Story in the Wake of the Isla Vista Massacre
By Rebecca Solnit

It was a key match in the World Cup of Ideas. The teams vied furiously for the ball. The all-star feminist team tried repeatedly to kick it through the goalposts marked Widespread Social Problems, while the opposing team, staffed by the mainstream media and mainstream dudes, was intent on getting it into the usual net called Isolated Event. To keep the ball out of his net, the mainstream’s goalie shouted “mental illness” again and again. That “ball,” of course, was the meaning of the massacre of students in Isla Vista, California, by one of their peers.

All weekend the struggle to define his acts raged. Voices in the mainstream insisted he was mentally ill, as though that settled it, as though the world were divided into two countries called Sane and Crazy that share neither border crossings nor a culture. Mental illness is, however, more often a matter of degree, not kind, and a great many people who suffer it are gentle and compassionate. And by many measures, including injustice, insatiable greed, and ecological destruction, madness, like meanness, is central to our society, not simply at its edges.