Trump: Military Spending “Crazy”

Go With Your Gut, Mr. President: You Called US Defense Spending “Crazy,” and You Were Dead On

President Trump certainly isn’t known for ideological consistency, but he occasionally drops powerful “truth bombs” worthy of our attention.

by Maj. Danny Sjursen / December 11, 2018

Military spending

When he’s right, he’s right. Look, I’ve been critical of this president too many times to count, but – unlike most mainstream media pundits – I’m willing to give credit when it’s due. Last week, in a surprise morning tweet, President Trump called U.S. defense spending, which topped out at a record $716 billion this year, “crazy.” Furthermore, he even hinted at talks with America’s two main military rivals, President Xi of China, and President Putin of Russia to stave o! what Trump referred to as “a major and uncontrollable arms race.” Of

course, we woke up this morning to the news that Trump seems – unsurprisingly – to have reversed course again, with administration o”cials stating that Trump will instead boost the Pentagon budget to $750 billion.

Still, it’s worth reflecting on Trump’s initial announcement. After all, I had to read the original Trump tweet twice. Was the candidate who promised to bomb “the shit out of” ISIS and to “bring back” waterboarding torture and a “whole lot worse” turning dove? Well, not exactly, but Trump was talking sense. And it’s not the first time he’s done so. Remember that candidate Trump regularlydeclared the 2003 invasion of Iraq “the single worst decision ever made.” Couldn’t have put it better myself. Then, just before disappointingly announcing a troop increase in Afghanistan, Trump admitted his initial “instinct” was to “pull out.” Right again.

It seems that one of the only things holding Trump back from ushering in real change in America’s militarized foreign policy are his rather more mainstream advisors and bipartisan congressional war-hawks. Over and over again, media, especially conventional center-left “liberal” media, assures us that these folks – the Jim Mattis, H.R. McMaster, and John Kellys of the world – are the “adults in the room,” far more “responsible” than loose cannon Trump. And you know what, yea, that may occasionally been true. But on foreign policy these retired generals and their Republican and Democratic supporters on the Hill have been wrong at every turn over the last 17 years.

They, the “adults” in the Beltway crowd, have for two decades sold the American people the snake oil of increased military intervention, counterinsurgency dogma, and armed nation-building, achieving nothing more than destabilization of the entire Greater Middle East and the worst humanitarian catastrophes since World War II. They insist on ever-expanding military budgets – a lovely kickback to the American arms industry – and assure the public that they need “just a little more time” to win a “victory” of sorts in the perpetual wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. It is long past time for some fresh thinking on military policy in the Middle East and common sense caps on runaway defense spending. And, if such good sense has to come from a man like Trump, then, well, so be it. Let’s give him a chance.

Military spending truly is out of control in the United States, and it has been

ever since the end of the Second World War. At least during the Cold War (1946-91) there was some, albeit exaggerated, justification for high defense budgets. Nonetheless, except for a brief dip during President Bill Clinton’s first term, military spending never slowed down. And, after 9/11, such outlays ran straight o!-the-rails. But it wasn’t necessary. Terrorism isn’t, and never was, an existential threat, or a danger on anywhere near the scale of a potential Cold War nuclear exchange with the Soviets. On the contrary, most of the post-9/11 spending and the concurrent on-the-ground military interventions in the Muslim world have been nothing but counterproductive.

And it’s all so needless. In 2017, US defense spending was equal to that of the next seven countries combined. Furthermore, five of those seven big spenders – Saudi Arabia, India, France, Britain, and Japan – are friendly US”partners.” So let’s not pretend that modest cuts to this bloated budget will pose some colossal threat to American homeland security. What all that spending and fighting and killing and dying has done is fill the co!ers of a domestic arms industry that is one of the last remnants of America’s once vibrant manufacturing industry. Those billions of dollars found their way into CEO’s pockets, the campaign nest eggs of compliant Democratic and Republican legislators, and the bloated salaries of revolving-door second jobs for retired military generals.

What such skyrocketing spending doesn’t do is benefit the average American. Military spending represented over 53% of total discretionary budget spending in 2015, and it’s only rising. That’s ten times the expenditure each on education and veterans’ benefits, about twenty times US spending on peaceful foreign aid, and fifty times the outlay for food and agriculture. There are, we must admit, some real opportunity costs inherent in such ballooning military spending. Five star general, West Point grad, and eventual President Dwight Eisenhower – a man whose stated policies on this topic would today place him to the left of both his own Republican Party and the neoliberal Democratic Party – parsed this out as early as 1953. That year, in his famous “A Chance for Peace” speech, Ike warned of the dangers of the growing military-industrial complex and opined on the lost opportunity costs of runaway spending,concluding presciently that:

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.

The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities.

It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population.

It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some 50 miles of concrete highway.

We pay for a single fighter plane with a half million bushels of wheat.

We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people.

This, I repeat, is the best way of life to be found on the road the world has been taking. This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.

Conservative or liberal, democratic socialist or libertarian, all ideologically consistent political groups should be touched by Eisenhower’s generations- old words and support President Trump’s modest call for spending cuts and arms control talks with Russia and China. Think of the good that the hundreds of billions spent on the merchants of death could do for everyday Americans. (Small c) conservatives and libertarians could have their tax cuts, balanced budgets, and fiscal discipline. True liberals and progressives could fight to shift some of that money to healthcare and education. No doubt, such groups would fight over the best use of those funds – and that’s a battle I’ll postpone for a later date – but the first step is agreeing on the need for common sense reductions and the demilitarization of the American economy. This is a fight that requires an alliance between principled, traditional opponents on the left and right. And, it demands a tough public battle with the bipartisan militarist consensus running Washington.

Consider this: in the wake of President Trump’s modest, and sensible call for reigning in “crazy” defense spending – to the tune of just a token $30 billion

cut – an array of bipartisan hawks both in and outside the administration lost their collective minds. Secretary of Defense Mattis told the Reagan National Defense Forum that cutting defense wouldn’t help the deficit (which sounds illogical) and insisted on the “critical need” for a $733 billion defense budget for 2020. Then, Republican defense-industry cheerleaders in Congress, Representative Mac Thornberry of Texas and Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma, exclaimed that such modest cuts would be “dangerous” and have a “crippling e!ect” on the military. Really, a hefty $700 billion defense budget would be “crippling?” Me thinks the congressmen doth protest too much.

In spite of the inevitable protestations from mainstream bipartisan war hawks around Washington, Americans should support the president’s seemingly new inclination for arms control and defense reductions. This president, maybe more than most, feeds on public adulation and positive attention. Thus, the citizenry should back the president’s nascent sensible comments and proceed with cautious optimism, hoping that Trump pulls a Ronald Reagan and reverses his hawkish ways in favor of international negotiation. Remember that Reagan was elected as a Cold Warrior super-hawk in 1980, but later decided to work with Soviet Premier Mikael Gorbachev to cut nuclear and defense arsenals. That was the right call, though it’s important and instructive to remember that most of Reagan’s own cabinet and a majority of the Republican Party was initially skeptical, if not downright unsupportive.

Who knows if President Trump is serious about commonsense defense cuts and prudent arms reduction negotiations. After all the man has reversed and contradicted himself a time or too – even on this very topic. Still, if Mr. Trump pulls this o! it would be a surprise master stroke that would likely be applauded on Main Street but pilloried on K Street in D.C.

Should he surprise his critics, upset his corporate backers, and lessen international tensions even a little bit, well, then we’ll have to admit he has for once demonstrated his potential.

Now that’d be the “Art of the Deal.”

Danny Sjursen is a US Army officer and regular contributor to He served combat tours with reconnaissance units in Iraq and Afghanistan and later


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Freshman Rep. Learns the Ropes

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Why His Base Loves Trump

Yale psychiatrist explains how devotion to Trump is based on emotional patterns most people grow out of by age five

By Tana Ganeva/  Raw Story/ December 3, 2018


President Donald Trump took to Twitter on Monday to heap praise upon his ally Roger Stone, who continues to maintain his refusal to flip — even as Trump’s former fixer, Michael Cohen, who once said he’d take a bullet for the president, begged federal prosecutors to not serve jail time.

Stone might be Trump’s most infamous supporter—but there are millions of Americans who refuse to abandon the president regardless of the chaotic news cycle. A poll conducted over the summer found that many Trump supporters trust the President more than their own friends and family.

Raw Story spoke with Yale psychiatry professor Bandy X. Lee on why the president’s
supporters show such undying devotion to a man who’s repeatedly reneged on promises
and whose tumultuous first term has been filled with shake-ups. (Lee speaks for herself,
not for Yale).

Raw Story: In your opinion, what are the emotions driving Donald Trump’s base?

Bandy X. Lee: The sense of grandiose omnipotence that he displays seems especially appealing to his emotionally-needy followers. No matter what the world says, he fights back against criticism, continues to lie in the face of truth, and above all is still president. What matters is that he is winning, not whether he is honest or law-abiding. This may seem puzzling to the rest of us, but when you are overcome with feelings of powerlessness, this type of cartoonish, exaggerated force is often more important than true ability. This is the more primitive morality, as we call it, of “might makes right,” which in normal development you grow out of by age five.

But, in this case, Trump appeals to that childlike degree of emotional development? Why?

Strongman-type personalities are very appealing in times of socioeconomic or political crisis, as the population is less able to think rationally but is rather overcome with fear, or desire to draw strength from fantastical ideas. This happens to normal people in times of stress, or to people whose development has been stunted because of emotional injury. The problem is, the person who promises the impossible and states, “I alone can fix it,” and gives himself an A+ on his performance, is not a strong person who can deliver but the opposite. So Mr. Trump’s “base“ looks for someone to rescue them and their intense yearning does not allow them to see through his deception, while Mr. Trump senses better than anyone their needs (they are his) and makes use of them for his own benefit—even as he disdains his supporters for being so gullible. In this manner, they fulfill each other’s emotional needs in a mutually unhealthy way.

What’s your biggest concern?

One concern I have, in my 20 years of studying this personality structure while treating violent offenders, is the disturbing societal trend. More and more of this personality type are taking on leadership positions, including of corporations, whereas 20 years ago one would mostly find them in jails and prisons. This also means there are a growing number of people who emulate them in the general culture, who become deprived from the structures that they create, and who become emotionally traumatized as a result of any of these consequences. People who are wounded this way continue to seek omnipotent parental figures as adults, and the vicious circle continues. Unable to find outer satisfaction for their inner needs, some keep pursuing ever greater power until they reach the highest positions, but since this is the opposite of proper treatment, their conditions only grow worse while society suffers a trail of carnage. It is actually a tragedy that Mr. Trump cannot receive proper care, even as his disorder is on display for the world to see, but is rather surrounded by those who enable his illness and make use of his weaknesses to their own destructive ends.

On the one hand, different demographics that have tended to support Trump in the past—let’s say white women and neo-Nazis—don’t have much in common. Are there psychological factors that unite them?

Well, he unites them through a common, mythological past that they can all be nostalgic for, and that might be his “talent.” We know from the former Yugoslavia that this past can be hundreds of years ago, not just decades, and is really a metaphor for discontent with the self in the present. Mr. Trump’s behavioral pattern is not that of leaders at all but rather of obsequious followers, as we have seen Mr. Trump become in the presence of even more successful strongmen, such as Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong-Un, or Rodrigo Duterte. We find in him a pattern of following exactly what his base is looking for—he has no intrinsic philosophy or ideology but is responding to an emotional need for adulation and approval, and so he will try anything that gets as many people on board as possible. He will also sense keenly those who will never go along with his pathological methods—that is, healthy people—and drop them instantly. That is why we see him desperately clinging to an ever narrower base with increasingly fringe ideas.

He also has to scapegoat groups in order to distract from his billionaire cabinet, tax breaks for the rich, and trade wars that hurt his base the most, and so his demonizing of other helpless groups will only increase with time. We were worried that he might lead us into a devastating war or stage a terrorist attack, but he actually managed to turn a humanitarian crisis of people fleeing violence into an invading army that required thousands of troops at the Mexican border. If this “feigned war” fails to distract, then he may yet stage a real war. With the special counsel’s investigations about to be released, after devastating midterm elections for him and in a vulnerable economy, he will experience loss of popularity as a terrifying threat to his inflated self-image. There will likely be no limit to the violence he is capable of, since destroying the world would be nothing compared to the shame and humiliation he might suffer.

By the way, I think we need to include a very different demographic group among his supporters, which is the richest one percent. This will be the more calculating, pragmatic group. How is such a minority able to control politics and to keep convincing 99 percent of the population to give up what it has so that it can grow richer still? It is by distracting and manipulating the 99 percent through advertising, hot-button issues such as abortion, Fox News, and reality TV, which explicitly employ psychological techniques to make the population more impulsive, irrational, and ill-informed. So when the federally-funded American Psychiatric Association, which heavily depends on the pharmaceutical industry, says that psychiatrists should not comment on the president’s mental instability, we have to question: is it protecting the psychological methods that are being used to manipulate the public so as to make it more unhealthy, while blocking information that might restore its health? If mental health professionals were allowed to educate and inform the public more about psychological matters, then the population would be empowered, and healing could start replacing the damage.

How does Donald Trump mirror and communicate with his base?

A big part of this is through Twitter. This is why Mr. Trump will not stop, no matter how undignified people said it was of a president from the beginning. He knows it is his psychological lifeline. I was recently asked in an interview to comment on Twitter’s hateful conduct policy, which I read for the first time, and it was clear that he violated it from the first line, but they were not able to deactivate his account, since they know the backlash would be severe. But the only way to manage someone with his condition is to set severe limits — and restrain and remove his access to weapons—and tweets are his psychological weapon, which he “shoots” in order to exert his power.

And the rallies?

Another way he communicates with his base is through his numerous rallies. He projects a lot. Projection is a psychological term for displacing thoughts or qualities in yourself you cannot tolerate onto someone else. He does this when he calls legitimate news “fake” and news agencies “the enemy of the people.” He is unconsciously telling us that he is himself “fake news” and “the enemy of the people.” He also made up the clever slogan, “Democrats produce mobs. Republicans produce jobs.”

And that is not accurate because … 

But if you look at the statistics, the majority of the “angry mobs” that commit violence and terrorism are right-wing, while Democratic policies almost always lower unemployment rates. And when he calls Hillary Clinton “crooked” and that we should “lock her up,” he is trying to disown his fraudulent tendencies and to block thoughts of seeing himself as someone we need to lock up. The extreme exaggeration, the inability to consider the possibility that it could apply to him, and the failure to test against obvious reality give away the fact that the opposite is true, but his obedient base is predisposed to believing his defenses more than their own observations.

Trump seems to have intuited how to communicate with his base, evading the filter of the media. What do you think about that?

You are right in that it is all intuitive, not rational or logical, which would have less emotional force. Emotional power can be helpful when healthy, but when unhealthy, it can overcome all healthy approaches. As mental health professionals, we have to watch the media continue to get played, and it still has not managed to catch up. There is a phenomenon called “shared psychosis” (also called “folie à deux”) that happens when an untreated sick person is in close proximity to, say, other family members within a household. In such a situation, normal people grow increasingly out of touch with reality and take on symptoms of the person who is unwell. It can also happen with an impaired president—once in power, he becomes not only the most urgent problem that needs to be addressed but a cause of widespread deterioration of health in a way that can become a “folie à millions.” Treatment involves removing the sick individual from the others, and very quickly, the others return to normal. It shows how powerful mental sickness is: the otherwise normal person becomes sick and not the other way around. His unfettered access to the people through Twitter is as dangerous as his unfettered access to the nuclear codes, since he is laying the groundwork for a culture of violence that can unleash epidemics of violence. This is why waiting for the next decision of voters in 2020 is itself dangerous and reckless in its lack of understanding of the present danger the president poses.


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So Much Clutter, So Little Time…

Pathological Consumption Has Become So Normalized

That We Rarely Notice It

By George Monbiot/ November 14, 2018


There’s nothing they need, nothing they don’t own already, nothing they even want. So you buy them a solar-powered waving queen; a belly button brush; a silver-plated ice cream tub holder; a “hilarious” inflatable zimmer frame; a confection of plastic and electronics called Terry the Swearing Turtle; or – and somehow I find this significant – a Scratch Off World wall map.

They seem amusing on the first day of Christmas, daft on the second, embarrassing on the third. By the twelfth they’re in landfill. For thirty seconds of dubious entertainment, or a hedonic stimulus that lasts no longer than a nicotine hit, we commission the use of materials whose impacts will ramify for generations.

Researching her film The Story of Stuff, Annie Leonard discovered that of the materials flowing through the consumer economy, only 1% remain in use six months after sale(1). Even the goods we might have expected to hold onto are soon condemned to destruction through either planned obsolescence (breaking quickly) or perceived obsolesence (becoming unfashionable).

But many of the products we buy, especially for Christmas, cannot become obsolescent. The term implies a loss of utility, but they had no utility in the first place. An electronic drum-machine t-shirt; a Darth Vader talking piggy bank; an ear-shaped i-phone case; an individual beer can chiller; an electronic wine breather; a sonic screwdriver remote control; bacon toothpaste; a dancing dog: no one is expected to use them, or even look at them, after Christmas Day. They are designed to elicit thanks, perhaps a snigger or two, and then be thrown away.

The fatuity of the products is matched by the profundity of the impacts. Rare materials, complex electronics, the energy needed for manufacture and transport are extracted and refined and combined into compounds of utter pointlessness. When you take account of the fossil fuels whose use we commission in other countries, manufacturing and consumption are responsible for more than half of our carbon dioxide production(2). We are screwing the planet to make solar-powered bath thermometers and desktop crazy golfers.

People in eastern Congo are massacred to facilitate smart phone upgrades of ever diminishing marginal utility(3). Forests are felled to make “personalised heart-shaped wooden cheese board sets”. Rivers are poisoned to manufacture talking fish. This is pathological consumption: a world-consuming epidemic of collective madness, rendered so normal by advertising and the media that we scarcely notice what has happened to us.

In 2007, the journalist Adam Welz records, 13 rhinos were killed by poachers in South Africa. This year, so far, 585 have been shot(4). No one is entirely sure why. But one answer is that very rich people in Vietnam are now sprinkling ground rhino horn on their food or snorting it like cocaine to display their wealth. It’s grotesque, but it scarcely differs from what almost everyone in industrialised nations is doing: trashing the living world through pointless consumption.

This boom has not happened by accident. Our lives have been corralled and shaped in order to encourage it. World trade rules force countries to participate in the festival of junk. Governments cut taxes, deregulate business, manipulate interest rates to stimulate spending. But seldom do the engineers of these policies stop and ask “spending on what?”. When every conceivable want and need has been met (among those who have disposable money), growth depends on selling the utterly useless. The solemnity of the state, its might and majesty, are harnessed to the task of delivering Terry the Swearing Turtle to our doors.

Grown men and women devote their lives to manufacturing and marketing this rubbish, and dissing the idea of living without it. “I always knit my gifts”, says a woman in a television ad for an electronics outlet. “Well you shouldn’t,” replies the narrator(5). An advertisement for Google’s latest tablet shows a father and son camping in the woods. Their enjoyment depends on the Nexus 7’s special features(6). The best things in life are free, but we’ve found a way of selling them to you.

The growth of inequality that has accompanied the consumer boom ensures that the rising economic tide no longer lifts all boats. In the US in 2010 a remarkable 93% of the growth in incomes accrued to the top 1% of the population(7). The old excuse, that we must trash the planet to help the poor, simply does not wash. For a few decades of extra enrichment for those who already possess more money than they know how to spend, the prospects of everyone else who will live on this earth are diminished.

So effectively have governments, the media and advertisers associated consumption with prosperity and happiness that to say these things is to expose yourself to opprobrium and ridicule. Witness last week’s Moral Maze programme, in which most of the panel lined up to decry the idea of consuming less, and to associate it, somehow, with authoritarianism(8). When the world goes mad, those who resist are denounced as lunatics.

Bake them a cake, write them a poem, give them a kiss, tell them a joke, but for god’s sake stop trashing the planet to tell someone you care. All it shows is that you don’t.

Clutter 2.jpg


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With E-coli, Probably

soup 1

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In China’s new surveillance state, everyone will be watched, reviewed and rated

Social credit and a high-tech, all-seeing government will keep every citizen in line

By James O’Malley/ The Spectator/ December 5, 2018

The bullet train from Beijing to Shanghai is the fastest in the world. It takes just over four hours to travel the 819-mile journey. From the train, it is impossible to ignore China’s economic success. There are cities the size of London that many westerners will never even have heard of. They are filled with glass towers and shopping centres, selling Cartier watches and Gucci bags.

As the train sets off from each station, an announcement plays in both Chinese and stilted English: ‘Dear passengers, people who travel without a ticket or behave disorderly, or smoke in public areas, will be punished according to regulations and the behaviour will be recorded in the individual credit information system. To avoid a negative record of personal credit please follow the relevant regulations and help with the orders on the train and at the station.’

As a technology journalist, I’m used to hearing Silicon Valley executives talk about how liberating new technology is. Yet this announcement startled me. It was a reminder that the same technology that has transformed liberal democracies is now starting to be used by authoritarian governments who want to tighten their grip on society.

‘Personal credit’ is essentially a permanent record of an individual’s behaviour. In the case of the train announcement, the record is maintained by China’s transport department. If you’re caught travelling without a ticket or smoking on the train, you’ll be put on a blacklist. You may even find yourself banned from the railways.


In principle, this might seem like a good idea. But what gives the system a sinister edge is the government’s stated intention. By 2020, it wants to join up the railway blacklist with similar blacklists held by other government departments, municipalities and even private sector businesses. These records will then form part of a national ‘social credit’ system.

Social credit works in a similar way to how we rate our Uber drivers and Deliveroo orders. It allows individuals to be rated and scored. Good behaviour is rewarded with points, while bad behaviour is penalised. Run a red light? Lose some points. Donated to charity? Bonus points. Sold contaminated food in your restaurant? That’s going to hit your social credit rating hard.

The score is constantly updated. If it falls below an acceptable threshold, then it’s game over. You could be denied the right to travel, purchase luxury goods or gain access to services. In some cases, you may even be publicly shamed with your face displayed on billboards. An infraction in one area of life could easily come back to haunt you in another. According to a State Council policy document: ‘If trust is broken in one place, restrictions are imposed everywhere.’

Dr Rogier Creemers, perhaps the West’s leading expert on the system, explains how moral authority has been a central part of Chinese politics for the past two millennia. ‘China never had a separate church in the way that western countries did, and so the moral authority of the church is also held by the state. This isn’t just about people obeying the law; it’s about the state claiming the moral authority to define what virtue is, and then demanding that people live virtuously.’

There isn’t yet a single system of control. The Chinese government is still working on knitting together the various databases and systems so that different parts of government can access data held in different silos. But there are around 40 local trials currently in operation, each of which has different rules and punishments. Once in place, the social credit system will act as a way of enforcing existing laws and regulations.

In China’s tech hub Shenzhen, a city of 12.5 million people, jaywalkers are punished using the social credit system. Pedestrians who don’t cross the road at the right time or do so in the wrong place have their photos posted on a government website, and on billboards on the sides of the roads. One firm, Intellifusion, is reported to be building a system that will automate this with facial recognition technology. Not only will the system be able to identify offenders automatically, it will then text them to let them know they face punishment.

Another local trial is taking place in the city of Jinan, but this one is for dog owners. Individuals start with 12 points, but can lose them for infractions like walking their pet without a leash, or letting the animal bark too much. Lose all your points and the government takes your pooch away.

The private sector has been just as keen to adopt social credit. Sesame Credit was launched by e-commerce giant Alibaba in 2015. Much like Amazon, Alibaba is a platform that connects buyers and sellers. But unlike in America and Europe, most Chinese people didn’t have a bank account until recently, so financial tools such as credit checks were unavailable. A system was needed to create trust within the marketplace.

Enter social credit. Users who opt in to the system are given a score — somewhere between 350 and 950, based on different metrics: how much a user spends, how much personal information has been entered into the app, whether bills and credit card payments have been made on time and how many verified friends a user has.

These metrics are then used as a proxy for trust. If someone has bought plenty of items without a problem, or has friends who use the platform whom the company has already verified, and so on, the system will divine that the person is more trustworthy.

As with the government systems, scores are important. If you have a sufficiently high score, you unlock perks, such as the ability to rent bicycles without paying a deposit, use massage chairs (which are strangely ubiquitous in China) for free, or even fast-track your application for a Schengen visa.

What makes Sesame Credit controversial is that the algorithm that drives it is kept secret. Most users will have no idea how their score is calculated. But the company has admitted it is partially based on the types of products people buy. ‘Someone who plays video games for ten hours a day, for example, would be considered an idle person,’ Li Yingyun, Sesame’s technology director, has said. Buying products for your child would mark you out as a more responsible citizen.

Economies are built on trust and China’s economy has matured at an astonishing rate. Those who support the system say that it’s designed to manage low-level misdemeanours and will help create more trust.

But it’s easy to see where the next steps could lead. You don’t need to read too much dystopian science fiction to imagine how such an opaque system, where a mysterious number decides your rights and privileges, could be used to control a population. Some trials have already led to alarming results. In one region, the phone system was configured so that anyone calling someone on a debtor blacklist was warned that they were contacting an untrustworthy individual.

While we might trust the people currently in charge of the new high-tech security apparatus, how can we be sure that the people in charge in the future will use it responsibly? In other words, even if you inexplicably trust the Chinese government to behave responsibly today, how can you be so sure that Xi Jinping or his successors will behave the same way tomorrow? China’s innovative use of new technology may not just enable perfect surveillance. It will align an individual’s motives with those of the state itself.

Technology is only going to develop further. Processing power will increase, as will facial recognition. The number of devices containing cameras and microchips will increase too. It will keep getting easier to sift through huge amounts of information, in the hunt for anything subversive.

What China has achieved in such a short time is staggering. But the announcement I heard on the bullet train made me nervous. It was an ominous reminder that there is a darker side to China’s growth, which may soon affect us all.

Expanded Surveillance


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How the Media Serve Trump

By Arlen Grossman

revised November 7
published in November 11, 2018

Donald Trump castigates the media at every opportunity, calling them “fake news,” and  “enemy of the people,”  but in reality, they are his best friends and most effective promoters.

Somehow his approval rating remains stable, despite his lies, divisive speeches and all the insane nonsensical garbage he spews out. He is still able to draw enthusiastic, adoring crowds and keep the nation’s attention squarely focused on him.

How is his popularity sustained? Why hasn’t he  been knocked off his pedestal? Why did millions of Americans vote for many of the senate candidates he campaigned for in the mid-terms? The answer, I believe, is the way he is treated by the corporate news media. These ratings-driven media companies allow Donald Trump to dominate their coverage. They breathlessly cover everything he does or says. The president is able to fabricate reality and go on bizarre, incendiary rants–and totally get away with it. 

Things may change now that Democrats control the House, but for the last two years the opposition party didn’t seem to exist. Oh, they were out there, pointing out the absurdity and danger of the president’s tweets and policies. Yet, with minimal coverage from the news media, they might as well have been talking into the wind. Where were  Democratic leaders and prominent office-holders, like Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi and Elizabeth Warren? They were around, of course, but Trump has been just plain irresistible to the news media. He sucks up all the air, leaving Democrats on the outside looking in.

Donald Trump enjoys extraordinary luck and political savvy and knows how to play the media like a violin virtuoso. Everything he says is treated like an important presidential pronouncement, when in fact they are truly infantile, unhinged, ill-informed blather, if not downright lies (What’s the latest count from the Washington Post, 6000-plus?). Unfortunately millions of Americans believe he knows what he is talking about and await his daily diatribes as if they were important proclamations.

Being that he is the President of the United States, Trump deserves to be heard. But the corporate news media can give him sufficient coverage without overwhelming the viewers, and allow some time for other points of view. As it stands now, he is receiving millions of dollars in free, mostly unchallenged advertising for his likely 2020 run for re-election.

There is no doubt Donald Trump is a media dream, pulling in phenomenal ratings. People love or loathe everything he says and does, and will continue paying attention. But the corporate news media needs to pay attention to the cost to the country. If there is still such a thing as corporate responsibility, they will realize their over-the-top coverage of President Trump only helps him destroy the underpinnings of our democracy and turn Americans against each other.

The corporate news media has a responsibility to treat President Trump as they have previous presidents and other influential political leaders. That is, not allow him to totally dominate the news coverage, and to allow the opposition some rebuttal time.

It’s way past time to level the playing field.


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Tired of Losing?

Why American Leaders Persist in Waging Losing Wars

Hint: They’re Winning in Other Ways

By William Astore/ October 25, 2018

As America enters the 18th year of its war in Afghanistan and its 16th in Iraq, the war on terror continues in Yemen, Syria, and parts of Africa, including Libya, Niger, and Somalia. Meanwhile, the Trump administration threatens yet more war, this time with Iran. (And given these last years, just how do you imagine that’s likely to turn out?) Honestly, isn’t it time Americans gave a little more thought to why their leaders persist in waging losing wars across significant parts of the planet?  So consider the rest of this piece my attempt to do just that.

PeLet’s face it: profits and power should be classified as perennial reasons why U.S. leaders persist in waging such conflicts. War may be a racket, as General Smedley Butler claimed long ago, but who cares these days since business is booming? And let’s add to such profits a few other all-American motivations. Start with the fact that, in some curious sense, war is in the American bloodstream. As former New York Times war correspondent Chris Hedges once put it, “War is a force that gives us meaning.” Historically, we Americans are a violent people who have invested much in a self-image of toughness now being displayed across the “global battlespace.” (Hence all the talk in this country not about our soldiers but about our “warriors.”) As the bumper stickers I see regularly where I live say: “God, guns, & guts made America free.” To make the world freer, why not export all three?

Add in, as well, the issue of political credibility. No president wants to appear weak and in the United States of the last many decades, pulling back from a war has been the definition of weakness. No one — certainly not Donald Trump — wants to be known as the president who “lost” Afghanistan or Iraq. As was true of Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon in the Vietnam years, so in this century fear of electoral defeat has helped prolong the country’s hopeless wars. Generals, too, have their own fears of defeat, fears that drive them to escalate conflicts (call it the urge to surge) and even to advocate for the use of nuclear weapons, as General William Westmoreland did in 1968 during the Vietnam War.



Washington’s own deeply embedded illusions and deceptions also serve to generate and perpetuate its wars. Lauding our troops as “freedom fighters” for peace and prosperity, presidents like George W. Bush have waged a set of brutal wars in the name of spreading democracy and a better way of life. The trouble is: incessant war doesn’t spread democracy — though in the twenty-first century we’ve learned that it does spread terror groups — it kills it. At the same time, our leaders, military and civilian, have given us a false picture of the nature of the wars they’re fighting. They continue to present the U.S. military and its vaunted “smart” weaponry as a precision surgical instrument capable of targeting and destroying the cancer of terrorism, especially of the radical Islamic variety. Despite the hoopla about them, however, those precision instruments of war turn out to be blunt indeed, leading to the widespread killing of innocents, the massive displacement of people across America’s war zones, and floods of refugees who have, in turn, helped spark the rise of the populist right in lands otherwise still at peace.

Lurking behind the incessant warfare of this century is another belief, particularly ascendant in the Trump White House: that big militaries and expensive weaponry represent “investments” in a better future — as if the Pentagon were the Bank of America or Wall Street. Steroidal military spending continues to be sold as a key to creating jobs and maintaining America’s competitive edge, as if war were America’s primary business. (And perhaps it is!)

Those who facilitate enormous military budgets and frequent conflicts abroad still earn special praise here. Consider, for example, Senator John McCain’s rapturous final sendoff, including the way arms maker Lockheed Martin lauded him as an American hero supposedly tough and demanding when it came to military contractors. (And if you believe that, you’ll believe anything.)

Put all of this together and what you’re likely to come up with is the American version of George Orwell’s famed formulation in his novel 1984: “war is peace.”

The War the Pentagon Knew How to Win

Twenty years ago, when I was a major on active duty in the U.S. Air Force, a major concern was the possible corroding of civil-military relations — in particular, a growing gap between the military and the civilians who were supposed to control them. I’m a clipper of newspaper articles and I saved some from that long-gone era. “Sharp divergence found in views of military and civilians,” reported the New York Times in September 1999. “Civilians, military seen growing apart,” noted the Washington Post a month later. Such pieces were picking up on trends already noted by distinguished military commentators like Thomas Ricks and Richard Kohn. In July 1997, for instance, Ricks had written an influential Atlantic article, “The Widening Gap between the Military and Society.” In 1999, Kohn gave a lecture at the Air Force Academy titled “The Erosion of Civilian Control of the Military in the United States Today.”

A generation ago, such commentators worried that the all-volunteer military was becoming an increasingly conservative and partisan institution filled with generals and admirals contemptuous of civilians, notably then-President Bill Clinton. At the time, according to one study, 64% of military officers identified as Republicans, only 8% as Democrats and, when it came to the highest levels of command, that figure for Republicans was in the stratosphere, approaching 90%. Kohn quoted a West Point graduate as saying, “We’re in danger of developing our own in-house Soviet-style military, one in which if you’re not in ‘the party,’ you don’t get ahead.” In a similar fashion, 67% of military officers self-identified as politically conservative, only 4% as liberal.

In a 1998 article for the U.S. Naval Institute’s Proceedings, Ricks noted that “the ratio of conservatives to liberals in the military” had gone from “about 4 to 1 in 1976, which is about where I would expect a culturally conservative, hierarchical institution like the U.S. military to be, to 23 to 1 in 1996.” This “creeping politicization of the officer corps,” Ricks concluded, was creating a less professional military, one in the process of becoming “its own interest group.” That could lead, he cautioned, to an erosion of military effectiveness if officers were promoted based on their political leanings rather than their combat skills.

How has the civil-military relationship changed in the last two decades? Despite bending on social issues (gays in the military, women in more combat roles), today’s military is arguably neither more liberal nor less partisan than it was in the Clinton years. It certainly hasn’t returned to its citizen-soldier roots via a draft. Change, if it’s come, has been on the civilian side of the divide as Americans have grown both more militarized and more partisan (without any greater urge to sign up and serve). In this century, the civil-military divide of a generation ago has been bridged by endless celebrations of that military as “the best of us” (as Vice President Mike Pence recently put it).

Such expressions, now commonplace, of boundless faith in and thankfulness for the military are undoubtedly driven in part by guilt over neither serving, nor undoubtedly even truly caring. Typically, Pence didn’t serve and neither did Donald Trump (those pesky “heel spurs”). As retired Army Colonel Andrew Bacevich put it in 2007: “To assuage uneasy consciences, the many who do not serve [in the all-volunteer military] proclaim their high regard for the few who do. This has vaulted America’s fighting men and women to the top of the nation’s moral hierarchy. The character and charisma long ago associated with the pioneer or the small farmer — or carried in the 1960s by Dr. King and the civil-rights movement — has now come to rest upon the soldier.” This elevation of “our” troops as America’s moral heroes feeds a Pentagon imperative that seeks to isolate the military from criticism and its commanders from accountability for wars gone horribly wrong.

Paradoxically, Americans have become both too detached from their military and too deferential to it. We now love to applaud that military, which, the pollsters tell us, enjoys a significantly higher degree of trust and approval from the public than the presidency, Congress, the media, the Catholic church, or the Supreme Court. What that military needs, however, in this era of endless war is not loud cheers, but tough love.

As a retired military man, I do think our troops deserve a measure of esteem. There’s a selfless ethic to the military that should seem admirable in this age of selfies and selfishness. That said, the military does not deserve the deference of the present moment, nor the constant adulation it gets in endless ceremonies at any ballpark or sporting arena. Indeed, deference and adulation, the balm of military dictatorships, should be poison to the military of a democracy.

With U.S. forces endlessly fighting ill-begotten wars, whether in Vietnam in the 1960s or in Iraq and Afghanistan four decades later, it’s easy to lose sight of where the Pentagon continues to maintain a truly winning record: right here in the U.S.A. Today, whatever’s happening on the country’s distant battlefields, the idea that ever more inflated military spending is an investment in making America great again reigns supreme — as it has, with little interruption, since the 1980s and the era of President Ronald Reagan.

The military’s purpose should be, as Richard Kohn put it long ago, “to defend society, not to define it. The latter is militarism.” With that in mind, think of the way various retired military men lined up behind Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton in 2016, including a classically unhinged performance by retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn (he of the “lock her up” chants) for Trump at the Republican convention and a shout-out of a speech by retired General John Allen for Clinton at the Democratic one. America’s presidential candidates, it seemed, needed to be anointed by retired generals, setting a dangerous precedent for future civil-military relations.

A Letter From My Senator

A few months back, I wrote a note to one of my senators to complain about America’s endless wars and received a signed reply via email. I’m sure you won’t be surprised to learn that it was a canned response, but no less telling for that. My senator began by praising American troops as “tough, smart, and courageous, and they make huge sacrifices to keep our families safe. We owe them all a true debt of gratitude for their service.” OK, I got an instant warm and fuzzy feeling, but seeking applause wasn’t exactly the purpose of my note.

My senator then expressed support for counterterror operations, for, that is, “conducting limited, targeted operations designed to deter violent extremists that pose a credible threat to America’s national security, including al-Qaeda and its affiliates, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), localized extremist groups, and homegrown terrorists.” My senator then added a caveat, suggesting that the military should obey “the law of armed conflict” and that the authorization for the use of military force (AUMF) that Congress hastily approved in the aftermath of 9/11 should not be interpreted as an “open-ended mandate” for perpetual war.

Finally, my senator voiced support for diplomacy as well as military action, writing, “I believe that our foreign policy should be smart, tough, and pragmatic, using every tool in the toolbox — including defense, diplomacy, and development — to advance U.S. security and economic interests around the world.” The conclusion: “robust” diplomacy must be combined with a “strong” military.

Now, can you guess the name and party affiliation of that senator? Could it have been Lindsey Graham or Jeff Flake, Republicans who favor a beyond-strong military and endlessly aggressive counterterror operations? Of course, from that little critical comment on the AUMF, you’ve probably already figured out that my senator is a Democrat. But did you guess that my military-praising, counterterror-waging representative was Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts?

Full disclosure: I like Warren and have made small contributions to her campaign. And her letter did stipulate that she believed “military action should always be a last resort.” Still, nowhere in it was there any critique of, or even passingly critical commentary about, the U.S. military, or the still-spreading war on terror, or the never-ending Afghan War, or the wastefulness of Pentagon spending, or the devastation wrought in these years by the last superpower on this planet. Everything was anodyne and safe — and this from a senator who’s been pilloried by the right as a flaming liberal and caricatured as yet another socialist out to destroy America.

I know what you’re thinking: What choice does Warren have but to play it safe? She can’t go on record criticizing the military. (She’s already gotten in enough trouble in my home state for daring to criticize the police.) If she doesn’t support a “strong” U.S. military presence globally, how could she remain a viable presidential candidate in 2020?

And I would agree with you, but with this little addendum: Isn’t that proof that the Pentagon has won its most important war, the one that captured — to steal a phrase from another losing war — the “hearts and minds” of America? In this country in 2018, as in 2017, 2016, and so on, the U.S. military and its leaders dictate what is acceptable for us to say and do when it comes to our prodigal pursuit of weapons and wars.

So, while it’s true that the military establishment failed to win those “hearts and minds” in Vietnam or more recently in Iraq and Afghanistan, they sure as hell didn’t fail to win them here. In Homeland, U.S.A., in fact, victory has been achieved and, judging by the latest Pentagon budgets, it couldn’t be more overwhelming.

If you ask — and few Americans do these days — why this country’s losing wars persist, the answer should be, at least in part: because there’s no accountability. The losers in those wars have seized control of our national narrative. They now define how the military is seen (as an investment, a boon, a good and great thing); they now shape how we view our wars abroad (as regrettable perhaps, but necessary and also a sign of national toughness); they now assign all serious criticism of the Pentagon to what they might term the defeatist fringe.

In their hearts, America’s self-professed warriors know they’re right. But the wrongs they’ve committed, and continue to commit, in our name will not be truly righted until Americans begin to reject the madness of rampant militarism, bloated militaries, and endless wars.

A retired Air Force lieutenant colonel and professor of history, Astore is a TomDispatch regular. His personal blog is Bracing Views.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Books, Beverly Gologorsky’s novel Every Body Has a Storyand Tom Engelhardt’s A Nation Unmade by War, as well as Alfred McCoy’s In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power, John Dower’s The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II, and John Feffer’s dystopian novel Splinterlands.

Copyright 2018 William J. Astore

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You’ve Seen One Tree, You’ve Seen Them All


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How the Rich Get Richer

Seeing Trump tax returns is just first step

By Charlotte Rampell/ Washington Post/ October 8, 2018


Everyone is shocked, shocked to learn that President Trump amassed his fortune not by the sweat of his brow, but rather the old-fashioned way: choosing the right parents and dodging the Internal Revenue Service. That’s certainly the lesson of The New York Times expose this week reporting that Trump received more than $400 million in today’s dollars from his father’s business empire, some of it through what the Times characterized as criminal tax fraud.

What to do with this information? Beyond all the Trump-specific takeaways — such as, duh, we need to see his tax returns — two much broader policy conclusions shouldn’t get lost here: 1. We need to adequately fund the IRS.

2. What’s scandalous here isn’t just what’s illegal. It’s also what is legal.

If you’re wondering how Trump was able to duck the tax authorities for so long, given the brazen acts documented by the Times, note that we have basically stopped prosecuting tax crimes and other white-collar offenses.


There are lots of reasons tax cheats are sleeping easier than they used to. One is that Congress has repeatedly stripped the IRS of money and staff, though the IRS brings in much more money than it spends.

Consequently, audit rates have plummeted, especially for corporations and the ultrawealthy. Since fiscal 2011, the audit rate for big corporations (those with at least $10 million in assets) has fallen by half; for households making at least $1 million in income, it’s down by two-thirds.

To some extent, corporations and the rich have always managed to outgun the IRS — including during the 1990s, when the Trump family engaged in its dodgiest tax dodging. But these days, the agency is bringing a knife to a bazooka fight. Which brings me to the second issue.

There’s a bunch of stuff the Trumps reportedly did that may not be illegal, but should be. When itcomes to taxes — like lots of other policy arenas,such as campaign finance— we need to work harder not only to enforce the laws on the books, but also to make those laws fairer, clearer and less susceptible to exploitation.

Real estate, in particular, has lots and lots of loopholes and other opportunities for (legal) tax avoidance. Relative to other taxpayers, for instance, real estate investors can more easily use losses to reduce or completely wipe out future tax bills — something Trump is also believed to have done, based on a leaked 1995 return declaring a $916 million loss.

There have been periodic attempts to plug real-estatespecific tax loopholes. In fact, Trump personally testified before Congress in 1991 about his disgust for the removal of tax shelters for real estate, complaining that tax shelter is “a very bad-sounding word, even though it isn’t necessarily a bad thing.”

The Times reported that the Trumps used (and likely abused) an estate-planning technique known as a “grantorretained annuity trust” to help them duck hundreds of millions of dollars in gift taxes during the 1990s. This is, in fact, a tool that many rich people employ to pass on more wealth to their heirs tax-free, costing Uncle Sam tons of money for no justifiable economic reason. The Barack Obama administration issued regulations to curb this popular tax-dodging tool. But almost a year ago, the Trump administration quietly withdrew those regulations.

And, of course, two months later, Trump signed an enormous tax overhaul that will save dynastic families such as his even more money by cutting income tax rates, doubling the exemption for the estate tax and, at the last minute, even adding a special new tax break for (you guessed it!) real estate investors.

Ours is a tax code that largely operates on the honor system. If high-profile people don’t behave honorably — by cheating, by axing the cops who could catch the cheating and by rigging the tax code further in their favor so that cheating becomes a little less necessary — that entire honor system will deteriorate. No one, not even Leona Helmsley’s “little people,” wants to be the only sucker left still paying their tax bills honestly.

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