Posts Tagged ‘terrorism’

Trump’s victory is the end of liberalism and the rise of progressivism. Neo-liberalism, in particular, is dead. Trump has not and will not kill it. But he will help mobilize an opposition that will. He will prove to his supporters that he is not the answer.

Destroying Obamacare without a single payer system to replace it, is not the answer. Bombing ISIS families will just create more terrorism. Killing NAFTA will not bring jobs back. Lowering taxes on the rich will not reverse growing inequality. He will not build a wall across the southern border and not just because Mexico won’t pay for it. He may yet surprise us all and not even try to do any of those things. He could have been just blowing hot smoke after all. But his Republicans in Congress will push him towards those goals. And the country will suffer.


Trump’s victory is a sign that half-measures, like Obamacare don’t work. It is a sign that we want radical solutions to our growing problems, like inequality. It is a sign that people don’t trust our political leaders. And Trump will show that his measures go in the entirely wrong direction. And that is how the country will turn back towards a truly progressive agenda. Many of his supporters will turn against him and his Republican policies. Frustration will increase. People will wonder what went wrong. It will be the responsibility of progressives to deliver the ideas and the organization to point till a true solution.

Get ready Bernie…your time will come…maybe before 4 years are up!


An interesting New Yorker article by George Packer explains the reasons behind the terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo as a result of the deep alienation of many African immigrants in France. He writes that the product of that alienation is a turn to a religion as politics. Thus he states, “For some believers, the violence serves a will to absolute power in the name of God, which is a form of totalitarianism called Islamism—politics as religion, religion as politics. “Allahu Akbar!” the killers shouted in the street outside Charlie Hebdo. They, at any rate, know what they’re about.” 

Tribute To Victims Killed During Attack At Satirical Magazine Charlie Hebdo At Place De La Republique In Paris

I have no doubt that he is right about how this radical ideological Islamic movement has so powerfully captured the imagination of these immigrant young men. The cause, however, is not the religious ideology. It is the sense of powerlessness felt by these young immigrants, and by non-immigrant young French, caught in maelstrom of the on-going transition from a nationally based economy into something global, more automated, less secure, and requiring higher levels of education. Adding to that is the continuing frustrations of a democratic politics that has been captured by the ultra rich everywhere it claims to exist. Those economic and political transformations affect everybody in modern capitalist countries, but not evenly or without variation.

Terrorism experts everywhere understand that people resort to such violence when they find that other routes towards influencing those around them and the society at large seem closed or ineffective. Terrorism is a tactic used to terrorize a population to accept something (independence, an ideology, religion, etc.) when other methods fail. Thus, terror was used by Irish Catholics, Chairman Mao’s Cultural Revolutionaries, Rwandan Hutus, and countless more. States also engage in terror tactics when they sense the population is no longer listening or obedient to the rulers. Thus, dictators like Trujillo in the Dominican Republic, Stalin in the Soviet Union, Tito in Yugoslavia, and many more.

But what makes terror such a prevalent tactic is not only that its users think that other attempted ways to influence policy and politics are not working. Terror is so prevalent because it is so easy to use and to work. Every other form of influencing others requires knowledge about what those others need, want, or desire. In democratic countries, influence comes from following accepted rules and laws (or appearing to) about how to process and channel individual claims and preferences, such as by voting. When we want to influence consumers in a capitalist society, we delve into consumer research with surveys, focus groups, or, more recently, with brain research that identifies how our minds operate. Then we tailor advertising to tap into those discovered preferences or subconscious desires for designer brands, stimulation, sweetness or whatever.

Violence, however, is a method of influencing others that requires very little knowledge of the other party. Nobody has to conduct any expensive research or try to mobilize and organize millions of people. Violence is simple.  In the vast majority of cases, probably 99.9% of all people, we already know that people do not want to be hurt or to die. That makes the threat of violence, like with terrorism, something that is very effective because it is so easy to influence others.

Terrorism, whether it is in France, Iraq, or the U.S., springs not only from the alienated psychological state of some marginalized populations. It springs from the characteristics of what makes coercive force so effective and easy to get. All anyone needs is a gun or bomb or knife or box cutter to get people to obey them…even into permitting their bodies and plane to be used to destroy symbols of Western capitalist power. With rare exceptions, the very vast majority of us are so afraid of harm and death that most threats instill enough fear to either paralyze us or make us more obedient to those dispensing the threat.

Will write more about this later.

In a recent column, Ted Koppel argued that the 9/11 attacks succeeded way more than Bin Laden could have imagined.  The reason is that al Qaeda’s objective was not only to damage the U.S. by the 9/11 attack.  They wanted to lure the U.S. into a war in the Middle East, “with one overreaction after another.”

Al Qaeda believed that a long, unbearable engagement with the guerilla and terrorist tactics of al Qaeda would deplete the U.S. of blood and treasure.  Al Qaeda wanted the U.S. to go to Afghanistan.  It got that and Iraq too.  The result, they hoped, would resemble what happened to the Soviet Union in its 1980s war with Afghanistan.  They expected devastation and collapse for the United States. On this 9th anniversary of the 9/11 attack, we are weakened but have not collapsed.  Al Qaeda, however, did get more than they could have imagined.  As Koppel says, the outcome of these wars is

more than $1 trillion spent on two wars, more than 5,000 of our troops killed, tens of thousands of Iraqis and Afghans dead. Our military so overstretched that one of the few growth industries in our battered economy is the firms that provide private contractors, for everything from interrogation to security to the gathering of intelligence.

This is the exact argument I and my fellow authors made in our book The Iraq Papers published earlier this year.  On page 462, we argue that al Qaeda leaders “wanted to battle the United States in Iraq” because “a long, drawn-out war would be the best way of weakening the United States.”  Clearly, it is not in our interest to continue to fight two wars that we cannot win in any clear military sense and that actually fuels the very terrorism we want to end.

Off With Their Heads!

That is what the playing card Queen of Hearts in Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, (and in all previous versions) shouts, a flippant order to decapitate everyone and anyone who dares show her any insolence, no matter how trivial the offense.  The movie is a reminder of the excesses and abuses of authority.  It exposes the often illogical and dangerous decisions that emerge from unaccountable rulers.  There are many signs that Alice would encounter these same dangers in America today.  Two congressional events from last week come immediately to mind.  One was the passage of a bill to prevent the torturing of American school kids and the other was the introduction of a new bill that would require government authorities to treat anyone arrested as if they were already guilty.

On March 3, 2010, the House passed HR 4247, Preventing Harmful Restraint and Seclusion in Schools Act.  The bill is designed to prevent the occurrence of torture in schools, including forceful restraints, seclusion, and beatings.  Hundreds of U.S. children have suffered from such physical and mental abuse, resulting in countless injuries and death in many states, according to the General Accounting Office.  What is most interesting about this new law is that so few Republicans voted for it.  The final vote tally was 238 Democrats and 24 Republicans voting for the bill.  The overwhelming majority of Republicans, 145, voted against.  The reasons Republicans gave for voting against the bill were that not enough information was available about the prevalence of such school torture, the need to protect state’s rights, and their reluctance to impose federal guidelines on private schools.   These are all legitimate concerns.  I wonder, however, why such concerns trump something as insidious, shocking and unconstitutional as the use of torture on children in our schools?  Why are we so casual about burying our children alive, as Charles Dickens once described solitary confinement?

Another curiosity from last week appears to spring from the same odd rabbit hole that Alice fell into.  Senators John McCain and Joe Lieberman introduced legislation that would deny Miranda rights to suspected terrorists and create indefinite detentions.  This new bill, the Enemy Belligerent, Interrogation, Detention, and Prosecution Act of 2010, came out of a barrage of Republican false accusations that the so-called Christmas Day Underwear bomber was treated with too much deference by being read his rights upon capture.  Farouk Abdulmutallab was, thus, rendered useless for potential intelligence information, they argued.  This bill would, however, apply to anyone, including U.S. citizens, who the president suspects of posing a “potential threat,” having “potential intelligence,” or for any reason that the “President considers appropriate.”

This bill would, thus, make anyone, including U.S. citizens, subject to indefinite detention without trial merely for posing a potential threat, not even for any actual crimes.  The bill gets many facts and recent experiences wrong.  The actual facts are that Abdulmutallab was not read his rights right away and that he actually provided considerable intelligence before and after he was read his rights.  More important is that no federal bill can, of course, take away constitutional rights.  The McCain and Lieberman bill seeks to prevent the exclusion of any testimony gathered under such an unconstitutional law by trying any such future detainees under the Military Commission system.

McCain has a history of wavering on issues like terrorism and torture even though he was himself tortured while a prisoner of the North Vietnamese during the Vietnam War.  After McCain returned from captivity in 1974, he wrote, however, that the enemy could have accrued tremendous political benefits had they seriously complied with the laws on humane treatment.

Many ex-POWS have stated that due to the length and divisiveness of the Vietnam conflict, if the policy of the North Vietnamese towards the captured Americans had been of strict adherence to the Geneva Convention the North Vietnamese might have returned a group of men who would have been grateful and sympathetic to their problems in that part of the world.

It is tempting to label such moral flip-flops by McCain as mere politics, a pursuit of votes driven by whatever scores high in public polls.  However, it may be more accurate to see his actions and that of many other Americans as a journey into an upside down world that began seriously in the Bush administration. Thin, capricious rulers dominate this new Wonderland and gleefully preempt any pretense of fact, rationality, and logic.  The citizens of this now upside-down land can merely accommodate themselves to an increasingly maddening and anxious world wherein the rule of law is subverted by the rule of fear. So, we want to torture our suspected terrorists and torture our children because we are so afraid that the terrorists will hurt our children?  Like Alice, we find ourselves swimming through a sea of our own tears.

March 7, 2010

After completing the recent Cheney entry, I came across information that provides material evidence to the mostly speculative musings in this blog entry. It turns out that Dick Cheney, his daughter Liz, and Bush were both connected to a Mel Sembler, Bush’s Ambassador to Italy. He was also a funder and founder of a series of teenage “boot camp” organizations that used coercive methods to wean those teenagers from drugs.  These organizations, such as Straight, Inc. and others, subjected young people to a series of assaults, including sleep deprivation, starvation, stress positions, and bodily injuries as part of its treatment program. The dozens of horrified parents of these children sued the Straight organization and won multi-million dollar settlements.  After Straight went out of business, the Semblers created a series of newer anti-drug teenage boot camp groups.  More recently, Mel Sembler has become the chief financier of Liz Cheney’s anti-Obama group, Keep America Safe. Apparently, Sembler got interested in the sadistic boot camp approach to treating “drug addicted” teenagers after placing his own son in such a facility in 1974.  Sembler believed that the coercive methods used on his son worked.  Apparently, Cheney and Tabor have more in common than we at first thought.  Both are quick to resort to torture when the weak do not obey.