Children’s Book: Life of the Potty

This is a silly children’s book I wrote some years back, and have just published as an ebook Life of the Potty

You are welcome to sample 20% of it for free. Have fun!

Peter Potty ebook

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WAR WITH IRAN–IS IT INEVITABLE?

By Arlen Grossman

(also published in OpEdNews.com)

A major war in the Middle East would be catastrophic, yet that is the direction we are heading. With President Trump withdrawing from the nuclear accord with Iran, we are left with a frightening scenario. Upon ending the deal, Iran might fast-track a nuclear weapons program, which would give the Trump administration what they really want: a reason to attack Iran. That would set in motion a quick war led by the United States and Israel. Iran would lose the war, but untold thousands, if not millions, would die and leave the Middle East a smoldering, unstable mess. Is that what we really want?

 National Security Advisor Michael Bolton, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and President Trump  have made it clear what they want. “The declared policy of the United States should be the overthrow of the mullahs’ regime in Tehran,” Bolton said last year. “The behavior and the objectives of the regime are not going to change and, therefore, the only solution is to change the regime itself.” It should be noted that Bolton was a staunch advocate of the disastrous American invasion of Iraq in 2003.

 American policy, Bolton wrote in January, “should be ending Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution before its fortieth anniversary (next February). Recognizing a new Iranian regime in 2019 would reverse the shame of once seeing our diplomats held hostage for four hundred and forty-four days. The former hostages can cut the ribbon to open the new U.S. Embassy in Tehran.”

 Our new Secretary of State, too, is solidly on record as hostile to Iran. Pompeo served in the military before being elected to Congress in 2011, where he was known as an outspoken hawk and a supporter of pre-emptive war against Iran. In 2016,  Pompeo circulated a letter written by 190 retired generals, admirals and other military officers calling the accord “dangerous” and likely to lead to war. “Congress must act to change Iranian behavior,” he said, “and, ultimately, the Iranian regime.”

 President Trump, of course, has long wanted the deal scrapped. During the election campaign, he declared it “the worst deal ever negotiated.” He told an AIPAC convention in 2016:“I have been in business a long time. I know deal-making. And let me tell you, this deal is catastrophic for America, for Israel and for the whole of the Middle East.” A year earlier, Trump said, “They [the Iranians] have so out-negotiated our people, because our people are babies.They have no idea what they’re doing. They will find out that if I win, we’re not babies. There’s no more being babies anymore.”

 I’m sure it’s not lost on President Trump that an invasion of Iran would distract from his numerous scandals, and might even bump up his popularity. It’s a recipe for disaster, and there may not be enough cooler heads left to slow down this out-of-control train wreck.

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Lies, Lies, and More Lies

Trump’s medical deceptions should be a scandal

By Paul Waldman/ Washington Post/ May 2, 2018

lies

“Trump disseminated false medical records to fool the public about his health.” That is a headline you have never seen, though you should have.

If you’ve gotten tired of hearing how something President Trump did would have been a major or even career-ending scandal for any other candidate, I sympathize. But that fatigue is exactly the problem, because from the beginning of his run for president, Trump has been treated not just by different rules but by rules that indulge his most dangerous tendencies.

At the same time, we allow him to manipulate us into chasing false charges that he makes against other people. And if we don’t realize how pernicious this is, we’re going to keep making the same mistakes, especially in 2020 when Trump will have a Democratic opponent to slander.

As you may have heard by now, NBC News reported:

In February 2017, a top White House aide who was Trump’s longtime personal bodyguard, along with the top lawyer at the Trump Organization and a third man, showed up at the office of Trump’s New York doctor without notice and took all the president’s medical records.

That “New York doctor” is Trump’s former physician, Harold Bornstein, the source of the account. The “longtime personal bodyguard” is Keith Schiller, at the time a White House staffer.

This appears to be a clear violation of the law. Under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), they would have had to present Bornstein with a special form in which Trump authorized them to receive copies of his records, which they reportedly didn’t. They certainly wouldn’t be allowed to rifle through a doctor’s records and seize the originals, which is how Bornstein described what happened, calling it a “raid.”

Bornstein himself may have committed a HIPAA violation when he told the New York Times that he had prescribed a hair-growth drug for Trump. That article ran two days before Schiller’s visit to his office, suggesting the article (and Trump’s inevitable rage over it) is what prompted the visit.

The White House insists that this is no big deal. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said: “It would be standard procedure for the newly elected president’s medical records to be in possession by the White House medical unit, and that was what was taking place — is those records were being transferred over to the White House medical unit as requested.”

But that doesn’t seem true either. They could have just asked for a copy of Trump’s records to be sent over so that he could be properly treated by the White House medical unit. Sending Trump’s bodyguard to New York to seize the originals is an entirely different matter.

In addition, Bornstein now admits that when he wrote a letter in December 2015 attesting to Trump’s good health, he was actually taking dictation from Trump himself.

Now here’s why this is important. At the time, everyone understood that was exactly what happened. The letter was not something any trained physician would write, and it was written in Trump’s distinctive sixth-grade braggadocio. It said “Mr. Trump has had a recent complete medical examination that showed only positive results,” that Trump’s blood work was “astonishingly excellent,” that “his physical strength and stamina are extraordinary,” and finally, that “if elected, Mr. Trump, I can state unequivocally, will be the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency.” It could not have been more obvious that Trump was the actual author of the letter if it had been signed “Donald J. Trump, I mean Harold Bornstein.”

If Hillary Clinton had done that, we would have been apoplectic, and rightfully so. But at the time, everyone treated the whole thing almost as a joke. Trump should certainly be more forthcoming, reporters said, but here’s this wacky-looking doctor with long hair writing this absurd letter — isn’t that hilarious?! Well, yes, it was comical. But a presidential candidate was hiding his medical situation from the public. And not any candidate, but the candidate who would become the oldest president ever elected, and who seems to eat nothing but fast food.

Yet at the very same time, the press not only treated Clinton’s health as a matter of utmost seriousness; it also was quick to accuse her of being overly secretive and dishonest about it.

You may remember that in September 2016, Clinton had a bout of pneumonia. At a Sept. 11 memorial event on a hot day, she got lightheaded as she was headed toward her car, stumbling and being caught by aides. The reaction from the press was to treat it as an absolutely momentous event that not only raised profound questions about her fitness to be president but also showed how sneaky and deceitful she was for not announcing the illness to the press the moment it was diagnosed.

“Hillary Clinton Is Set Back by Decision to Keep Illness Secret” said the front-page headline in the New York Times the next day. On that day, the cable TV networks ran a total of 13½ hours of coverage of Clinton’s health. Fox News went into paroxysms of speculation about the varieties of brain ailments Clinton might be suffering from. Politico published a photo gallery entitled “Hydrated Hillary: 9 times Clinton quenched her thirst,” just to show her bizarre water-drinking behavior that surely must have been concealing something.

All this demonstrates the shifting standards candidates are treated with, which somehow kept working to Trump’s benefit. On one hand, there’s a presumption that politicians tell the truth most of the time, so the things they say should be treated with a basic level of respect. Which means that when someone like Trump comes along telling obvious, constant lies, those lies just get passed on to the public over and over. Any particular lie gets discussed for a while, then set aside with a chuckle and a shake of the head. We sure are living in crazy times!

Yet when he makes false charges about others, as he regularly does, they’re given what is functionally the same respect as any other statement, to be passed on and repeated until concrete evidence emerges to prove they’re false.

Trump understands all this perfectly well. As he once told his then-toady Billy Bush when Bush called him out (privately) for lying about how great the ratings for “The Apprentice” were: “People will just believe you. You just tell them, and they believe you.”

While this is something that should concern us each and every day, we need to be particularly on guard when the 2020 election begins. Trump is going to run a scorched-earth campaign against the Democratic nominee, not just of sneering ridicule but also of innuendo and outright slander. One way we can prepare for it is to stop treating the lies Trump tells — such as putting out false letters about his medical condition — as though they’re anything less than the scandal they ought to be.

 
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CAMPAIGN WITHOUT LIMITS

Who Will Protect Elections From U.S. Oligarchs?

By Paul Street/ Truthdig/ April 18, 2018

I recently heard on cable news that special counsel Robert Mueller wanted to interview some “Russian oligarchs” about their supposed influence on the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Liberal talking heads at such organizations as MSNBC and CNN keep warning that nothing has been done yet to protect the integrity of our voting process against “Russian interference” as the 2018 midterm elections loom ever closer on the nation’s horizon.

What about the American oligarchs, I wondered, people like businessman Richard Uihlein, who regularly distort U.S. elections at every level—local, state and federal? Who will protect our “democracy” from the plutocratic “wealth primary” power of the American oligarchy?

If you are like most U.S. citizens, you’ve never heard of Richard Uihlein. An heir to the Milwaukee-based Schlitz beer fortune, Uihlein is the billionaire CEO of Uline Inc., a private, family-owned Wisconsin company that sells shipping and packaging materials to the tune of $2 billion in annual revenue. He lives in a mansion in Lake Forest, a hyper-opulent preserve north of Chicago.

So far, Uihlein is the top political contributor in the 2018 federal U.S. election cycle, at $21 million. In 2016, however, he was just the nation’s ninth biggest political investor. Above him on the plutocratic “wealth primary” scale stood the San Francisco hedge fund billionaire Tom Steyer ($91 million, all to Democratic candidates and Democratic Party-affiliated “liberal outside groups”); Las Vegas billionaire casino owner Sheldon Adelson ($83 million to Republicans and the right); Florida billionaire financier Donald Sussman ($42 million to Democrats and “liberal” groups); Chicago multimillionaire media mogul Fred Eychaner ($38 million to Democrats and “liberal” groups); Dustin Moskovitz, a co-founder of Facebook and the “world’s youngest self-made billionaire” ($27 million to Democrats and “liberal” groups); billionaire mathematician and hedge fund manager James Simons ($27 million to Democrats and “liberal” groups); billionaire hedge fund manager Paul Singer ($26 million to Republicans and right-wing groups); and billionaire right-wing hedge fund manager Robert Mercer ($26 million to Republicans and right-wing groups). Michael Bloomberg rounded out the top 10 list at a cool $23,786,083.

These megadonors are the superrich cream atop a deep plutocratic pitcher. The CRP’s list of the top 100 individual contributors to federal candidates during the 2016 election cycle ends with Karen Wright, CEO of a leading gas-compressor manufacturer. She gave a whopping $2.2 million to Republicans and the right.

How are such ridiculously astronomical political investments—far beyond the capacity of all but a super-opulent minority of U.S. citizens—possible under U.S. law? Aren’t there limits on how much rich people can spend on U.S. elections?

Super PAC Bowl

Not really. Not for rich people whose agents know how get past the nation’s porous regulations. Federal law sets a $2,500 per-person, per-election limit on how much a donor can give to a federal candidate, a $30,800 per-person, per-year limit on donations to national party committees, and a $10,000 total limit on per-person contributions to state, district or local party committees.

But the rules change when it comes to technically “independent” nonparty and “outside” groups called political action committees, known as PACs. A person can give as much as $5,000 to a PAC that contributes directly to candidates. And there are no limits whatsoever on how much a person can give to a PAC that declares it will spend its money totally independently from a candidate’s campaign. These “independent expenditure” groups, which can receive unlimited contributions from individuals, corporations or unions, are commonly called super PACs.

Some nonprofit groups, called “social welfare” organizations or “501(c)(4) groups,” can also accept unlimited contributions. The primary purpose of these groups cannot technically be political, but they can spend substantial amounts on political activities, such as TV commercials.

Adding to the plutocratic muddle, the Supreme Court’s infamous 2010 Citizens United decision overthrew a federal ban on corporations and unions making independent expenditures and financing electioneering communications. It gave corporations and unions the green light to spend unlimited sums on ads and other political tools calling for the election or defeat of individual candidates.

This has opened the door to astonishing levels of private spending in the nation’s public elections. “During the 2016 election cycle,” CRP staffer Bob Biersack notes, “the top 20 individual donors (whose contributions were disclosed) gave more than $500 million combined to political organizations. The 20 largest organizational donors also gave a total of more than $500 million, and more than $1 billion came from the top 40 donors. … At a time when Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders were confirming that large numbers of people donating small amounts could fund successful campaigns, the extraordinary role being played by the very few donors who give the most may be the most important element in this new era.”

Thanks to the problem of “dark money,” moreover, we don’t have a complete record of which rich people give how much to which candidates. While super PACS must disclose their donors, 501(c)(4)s are not required to do so. These nondisclosing organizations engage in numerous political activities: buying ads that advocate for or against a candidate, running phone banks, making contributions to super PACs (!) and more.

It’s reached the point where, as a former Republican chairman of the Federal Election Commission told The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer last year, “a single billionaire can write an eight-figure check and put not just their thumb but their whole hand on the scale—and we often have no idea who they are. … [A] random billionaire can change politics and public policy—to sweep everything else off the table—even if they don’t speak publicly, and even if there’s almost no public awareness of his or her views.”

Their right to not disclose means that the campaign finance data listed above significantly underestimates total political investments made by the nation’s leading election donors. (CONTINUED-CLICK HERE TO READ ENTIRE ARTICLE)

Super PACs

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Syria Used Chemical Weapons–Are You Sure?

By Arlen Grossman

 (Editor’s Note: What you see here is a revised and expanded version of s previous post. This version was headlined at OpEdNews.com., April 19, 2018, with over 2500 views.)

Think about this:

 

  1. Syrian President Assad had no good reason to use chemical weapons. He surely was aware that such action would be condemned by the world community and result in an American retaliation.

 

  1. By most accounts President Assad is winning the Syrian civil war, and lacks any sensible military reason to use chemical weapons.

 

  1. The U.S. has a record of lying to initiate wars (e.g. WMDs in Iraq, the Gulf of Tonkin incident in Vietnam).

Today, there appears to be no evidence released to the public that Syria was responsible for the April 7 chemical attack in Douma that a few days later resulted in a U.S., British, and French military strike.

 

Defense Secretary James Mattis admitted that the U.S. had “no evidence” that the Syrian government used Sarin against its own citizens in 2017 and just a few days after the Douma chemical attack, admitted the U.S. is still “looking for the actual evidence” that Syria used chemical weapons.

 

As usual, politicians and the mass media, without any proof, took the word of the U.S. government that Syria was responsible for using chemical weapons against its citizens.

 

My guess would be that eventually there will be another chemical attack in Syria and it will be blamed on President Bashar Hafez al-Assad and his government. This will open the gate for the United States and its allies to take out President Assad and install a new government, as well as striking a blow against Russia and Iran.

 

Nikki Haley, the American ambassador to the United Nations, flatly told the U.N. Security Council on April 14, “If the Syrian regime uses this poisonous gas again, the United States is locked and loaded. When our president draws a red line, the president enforces the red line.”

 

Of course, it would make no rational sense for Assad to use chemical weapons in the future and invite the wrath of the world and an assault by the U.S. and its allies–just as it made no sense for him to do it this most recent time. Such a move defies logic and common sense. Assad had little or nothing to gain by using chemical weapons in Douma.

 

There are no heroes in this story, certainly not Assad, Russia or Iran.  Then again, the United States, Britain and France are hardly good guys if it is shown they concocted a plan to falsely blame the Assad government for using chemical weapons.

 

Something smells bad, but it’s not sarin or chlorine.

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What About This Time?

Note: This article refers to the 2017 missile strike against Syria — TBPR Editor

NOW MATTIS ADMITS THERE WAS NO EVIDENCE ASSAD USED POISON GAS ON HIS PEOPLE

By Ian Wilkie/ Newsweek/ February 8, 2018

Lost in the hyper-politicized hullabaloo surrounding the Nunes Memorandum and the Steele Dossier was the striking statement by Secretary of Defense James Mattis that the U.S. has “no evidence” that the Syrian government used the banned nerve agent Sarin against its own people.

This assertion flies in the face of the White House (NSC) Memorandum which was rapidly produced and declassified to justify an American Tomahawk missile strike against the Shayrat airbase in Syria.

Mattis offered no temporal qualifications, which means that both the 2017 event in Khan Sheikhoun and the 2013 tragedy in Ghouta are unsolved cases in the eyes of the Defense Department and Defense Intelligence Agency.

Mattis went on to acknowledge that “aid groups and others” had provided evidence and reports but stopped short of naming President Assad as the culprit.

There were casualties from organophosphate poisoning in both cases; that much is certain. But America has accused Assad of direct responsibility for Sarin attacks and even blamed Russia for culpability in the Khan Sheikhoun tragedy.

Now its own military boss has said on the record that we have no evidence to support this conclusion. In so doing, Mattis tacitly impugned the interventionists who were responsible for pushing the “Assad is guilty” narrative twice without sufficient supporting evidence, at least in the eyes of the Pentagon.

This dissonance between the White House and the Department of Defense is especially troubling when viewed against the chorus of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) experts who have been questioning the (Obama and Trump) White House narratives concerning chemical weapons in Syria since practically the moment these “Assad-ordered events” occurred.

Serious, experienced chemical weapons experts and investigators such as Hans Blix, Scott Ritter, Gareth Porter and Theodore Postol have all cast doubt on “official” American narratives regarding President Assad employing Sarin.

These analysts have all focused on the technical aspects of the two attacks and found them not to be consistent with the use of nation-state quality Sarin munitions.

The 2013 Ghouta event, for example, employed home-made rockets of the type favored by insurgents. The White House Memorandum on Khan Sheikhoun seemed to rely heavily on testimony from the Syrian White Helmets who were filmed at the scene having contact with supposed Sarin-tainted casualties and not suffering any ill effects.

Likewise, these same actors were filmed wearing chemical weapons training suits around the supposed “point of impact” in Khan Sheikhoun, something which makes their testimony (and samples) highly suspect. A training suit offers no protection at all, and these people would all be dead if they had come into contact with real military-grade Sarin.

Chemical weapons are abhorrent and illegal, and no one knows this more than Carla Del Ponte. She, however, was unable to fulfill her U.N. Joint Investigative Mechanism mandate in Syria and withdrew in protest over the United States refusing to fully investigate allegations of chemical weapons use by “rebels” (jihadis) allied with the American effort to oust President Assad (including the use of Sarin by anti-Assad rebels).

The fact that U.N. investigators were in Syria when the chemical weapon event in Khan Sheikhoun occurred in April 2017 makes it highly dubious that Assad would have given the order to use Sarin at that time. Common sense suggests that Assad would have chosen any other time than that to use a banned weapon that he had agreed to destroy and never employ.

Furthermore, he would be placing at risk his patronage from Russia if they turned on him as a war criminal and withdrew their support for him.

Tactically, as a former soldier, it makes no sense to me that anyone would intentionally target civilians and children as the White Helmet reports suggest he did.

There is compelling analysis from Gareth Porter suggesting that phosphine could have been released by an airborne munition striking a chemical depot, since the clouds and casualties (while organophosphate-appearing in some respects) do not appear to be similar to MilSpec Sarin, particularly the high-test Russian bomb-carried Sarin which independent groups like “bellingcat” insist was deployed.

America’s credibility was damaged by Colin Powell at the United Nations in 2003 falsely accusing Saddam Hussein of having mobile anthrax laboratories. Fast forward to 2017 and we encounter Nikki Haley in an uncomfortably similar situation at the U.N. Security Council calling for action against yet another non-Western head-of-state based on weak, unsubstantiated evidence.

Now Secretary Mattis has added fuel to the WMD propaganda doubters’ fire by retroactively calling into question the rationale for an American cruise missile strike.

While in no way detracting from the horror of what took place against innocent civilians in Syria, it is time for America to stop shooting first and asking questions later.

Ian Wilkie is an international lawyer, U.S. Army veteran and former intelligence community contractor.

 
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Syria Chemical Attack: A False Flag?

‘Why would Assad use chemical weapons on civilians, knowing that it would draw world-wide condemnation and intervention, when the jihadists are surrounded and on the brink of annihilation?’

–Richard Black, Virginia State Senator

Senator Black may be on to something. He is a Republican who believes in wild conspiracy theories, but still….Why would Assad invite attacks from the U.S. and  its allies? I’m still scratching my head….

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Different Brains

A Neuroscientist Explains What Could Be Wrong with Trump Supporters’ Brains

By Bobby Azarian/ Alternet/ April 7, 2018

There’s no doubt that Donald Trump has said many things that would have been political suicide for any other Republican. And almost every time he made one of these shocking statements, political analysts on both the left and the right predicted that he’d lose supporters because of it. But as we have clearly seen over the past year, they were dead wrong every time. Trump appears to be almost totally bulletproof.

The only thing that might be more perplexing than the psychology of Donald Trump is the psychology of his supporters. In their eyes, The Donald can do no wrong. Even Trump himself seems to be astonished by this phenomenon. “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters, OK? It’s, like, incredible.” [3]

Senator John McCain, who has been a regular target for Trump, has a simple explanation for his unwavering support. “What he did was he fired up the crazies.”

While the former Republican presidential nominee may be on to something, he doesn’t exactly provide a very satisfying scientific explanation.  So how exactly are Trump loyalists psychologically or neurologically different from everyone else? What is going on in their brains that makes them so blindly devoted?

  1. The Dunning-Kruger Effect:

Some believe that many of those who support Donald Trump do so because of ignorance — basically they are under-informed or misinformed about the issues at hand. When Trump tells them that crime is skyrocketing in the United States, or that the economy is the worst it’s ever been, they simply take his word for it.

The seemingly obvious solution would be to try to reach those people through political ads, expert opinions, and logical arguments that educate with facts. Except none of those things seem to be swaying any Trump supporters from his side, despite great efforts to deliver this information to them directly.

The Dunning-Kruger effect explains that the problem isn’t just that they are misinformed; it’s that they are completely unaware that they are misinformed. This creates a double burden.

Studies [4] have shown that people who lack expertise in some area of knowledge often have a cognitive bias that prevents them from realizing that they lack expertise. As psychologist David Dunning puts it in an op-ed [5] for Politico, “The knowledge and intelligence that are required to be good at a task are often the same qualities needed to recognize that one is not good at that task — and if one lacks such knowledge and intelligence, one remains ignorant that one is not good at the task. This includes political judgment.” Essentially, they’re not smart enough to realize they’re dumb.

And if one is under the illusion that they have sufficient or even superior knowledge, then they have no reason to defer to anyone else’s judgment. This helps explain why even nonpartisan experts — like military generals and Independent former Mayor of New York/billionaire CEO Michael Bloomberg — as well as some respected Republican politicians, don’t seem to be able to say anything that can change the minds of loyal Trump followers.

Out of immense frustration, some of us may feel the urge to shake a Trump supporter and say, “Hey! Don’t you realize that he’s an idiot?!” No. They don’t. That may be hard to fathom, but that’s the nature of the Dunning-Kruger effect — one’s ignorance is completely invisible to them.

  1. Hypersensitivity to Threat

Science has unequivocally shown that the conservative brain has an exaggerated fear response when faced with stimuli that may be perceived as threatening. A classic study [6]in the journal Science found that conservatives have a stronger physiological reaction to startling noises and graphic images compared to liberals. A brain-imaging study [7]published in Current Biology revealed that those who lean right politically tend to have a larger amygdala — a structure that is electrically active during states of fear and anxiety. And a 2014 fMRI study [8] found that it is possible to predict whether someone is a liberal or conservative simply by looking at their brain activity while they view threatening or disgusting images, such as mutilated bodies. Specifically, the brains of self-identified conservatives generated more activity overall in response to the disturbing images.

So how does this help explain the unbridled loyalty of Trump supporters? These brain responses are automatic, and not influenced by logic or reason. As long as Trump continues his fear mongering by constantly portraying Muslims and Mexican immigrants as imminent dangers, many conservative brains will involuntarily light up like light bulbs being controlled by a switch. Fear keeps his followers energized and focused on safety. And when you think you’ve found your protector, you become less concerned with remarks that would normally be seen as highly offensive.

  1. Terror Management Theory

A well-supported theory from social psychology, called Terror Management Theory, explains why Trump’s fear mongering is doubly effective.

The theory is based on the fact that humans have a unique awareness of their own mortality. The inevitably of one’s death creates existential terror and anxiety that is always residing below the surface. In order to manage this terror, humans adopt cultural worldviews — like religions, political ideologies, and national identities — that act as a buffer by instilling life with meaning and value.

Terror Management Theory predicts that when people are reminded of their own mortality, which happens with fear mongering, they will more strongly defend those who share their worldviews and national or ethnic identity, and act out more aggressively towards those who do not. Hundreds of studies have confirmed this hypothesis, and some have specifically shown that triggering thoughts of death tends to shift people towards the right.

Not only do death reminders increase nationalism [9], they influence actual voting habits [10]in favor of more conservative presidential candidates. And more disturbingly, in a study with American students, scientists found that making mortality salient increased support for extreme military interventions [11] by American forces that could kill thousands of civilians overseas. Interestingly, the effect was present only in conservatives, which can likely be attributed to their heightened fear response.

By constantly emphasizing existential threat, Trump creates a psychological condition that makes the brain respond positively rather than negatively to bigoted statements and divisive rhetoric. Liberals and Independents who have been puzzled over why Trump hasn’t lost supporters after such highly offensive comments need look no further than Terror Management Theory.

  1. High Attentional Engagement

According to a recent study [12] that monitored brain activity while participants watched 40 minutes of political ads and debate clips from the presidential candidates, Donald Trump is unique in his ability to keep the brain engaged. While Hillary Clinton could only hold attention for so long, Trump kept both attention and emotional arousal high throughout the viewing session. This pattern of activity was seen even when Trump made remarks that individuals didn’t necessarily agree with. His showmanship and simple messages clearly resonate at a visceral level.

Essentially, the loyalty of Trump supporters may in part be explained by America’s addiction with entertainment and reality TV. To some, it doesn’t matter what Trump actually says because he’s so amusing to watch. With Donald, you are always left wondering what outrageous thing he is going to say or do next. He keeps us on the edge of our seat, and for that reason, some Trump supporters will forgive anything he says. They are happy as long as they are kept entertained.

Of course these explanations do not apply to all Trump supporters. In fact, some are likely intelligent people who know better, but are supporting Trump to be rebellious or to introduce chaos into the system. They may have such distaste for the establishment and Hillary Clinton that their vote for Trump was a symbolic middle finger directed at Washington.

So what can we do to potentially change the minds of Trump loyalists before voting in 2020? As a cognitive neuroscientist, it grieves me to say that there may be nothing we can do. The overwhelming majority of these people may be beyond reach, at least in the short term. The best we can do is to motivate everyone else to get out to the booths and check the box that doesn’t belong to a narcissistic nationalist who has the potential to damage the nation beyond repair.

 

Bobby Azarian is a cognitive neuroscientist, a researcher in the Visual Attention and Cognition Lab at George Mason University and a science writer whose work has been widely published.

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All Together Now…..

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Illegal Wars: The New American Way

By Maj. Danny Sjursen/ Truthdig/ March 21, 2018

[T]he President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons. …
S.J. Res. 23 (107th): Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF), Sept. 18, 2001

The President is authorized to use the Armed Forces of the United States as he determines to be necessary … in order to … defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq. …
H. J. Res 114 (107th): Authorization for the Use of Military Force Against Iraq, Oct. 18, 2002

It’s all so obvious to a detached observer. Nonetheless, it remains unspoken. The United States of America is waging several wars with dubious legal sanction in domestic or international law.

The U.S. military stands astride the Greater Mideast region on behalf of an increasingly rogue-like regime in Washington, D.C. Worse still, this isn’t a Donald Trump problem, per se. No, three successive administrations—Democratic and Republican—have widened the scope of a global “war” on a tactic (terror), on the basis of two at best vague, and at worst extralegal, congressional authorizations for the use of force (AUMF). Indeed, the U.S. is veritably addicted to waging undeclared, unwinnable wars with unconvincing legal sanction.

Despite 17 years of fighting, dying and killing, there have been no specific declarations of war. Instead, one president after another, and hundreds of derelict-in-their-duty congress members, have simply decided on their ownthat a vague resolution, rubber-stamped while the rubble in New York was still smoking, authorizes each and every conflict in which America’s soldiers—and many more civilians—continue to die. This AUMF authorized the president to kill or capture those who perpetrated the 9/11 attacks, but, well, few of America’s current adversaries had anything to do with that.

If that doesn’t seem sufficient, Washington points to the only other congressional framework for perpetual war, the long-ago discredited war resolution, which sanctioned George W. Bush’s deceitful conquest of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. But Saddam is dead and his regime gone, replaced by a U.S.-imposed chauvinist Shiite government which is now (tenuously) sovereign in Baghdad.

The specific circumstances surrounding that war resolution have passed.

So, you ask, how can, for example, war in Yemen or Somalia, be justified on the resolution’s account? Because the policy elites don’t care about logic or rational deduction, that’s why. It’s a convenient ruse, and they assume we’re not paying attention.

And the rest of us, well, we stay mostly silent, wrapped up with trying to earn a living in America’s new Gilded Age, its vastly unequal economy, and remain distracted by fancy handheld computer technology. They, the ones who act in our name—liberal and conservative policymakers alike—count on your apathy. They don’t want you to scratch off the veneer of legality and question the basis of each individual forever war in the Mideast. That would be inconvenient, but it is exactly what true citizens must do.

Let’s take a quick regional tour of some of America’s various shooting wars, and critically examine their legal sanction as it relates to the two existing AUMFs.

● How about we begin with the next massive quagmire awaiting the U.S. military in the Mideast: Syria. Almost no one realizes that the U.S. is now the proud owner of approximately one-third of Syria. Sure, we rent it out to various allied, mostly Kurdish militias, but it’s U.S. air power and a few thousand ground troops which make that possible. America got into Syria, ostensibly, to combat Islamic State—a truly brutal group.

Still, strictly speaking, there was no Islamic State in 2001, and there weren’t any Syrians among the 9/11 hijackers. Now, one might argue that Islamic State is a spinoff of al-Qaida, which did attack the United States. Careful though—by 2014, Islamic State had split from the local al-Qaida franchise (the Nusra Front), and the two had become warring rivals. More confusing still, while one could argue the 2001 AUMF covers al-Nusra, the U.S. has rarely attacked it and, indeed, sometimes armed and supplied Islamist elements affiliated with the group. What a twisted legal web Washington has spun.

Still, there the U.S. military now stands, responsible for the hopes, dreams, sustenance and well-being of millions of Syrians. Its troops aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, either. Before Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was canned, he announced that U.S. “troops will remain in Syria”—essentially indefinitely—“to ensure that neither Iran nor President Bashar al-Assad of Syria will take over [these] areas.”

That’s strange. Assad is a brutal monster, sure, but he remains the sovereign ruler of Syria, and, well, technically he didn’t invite the U.S. military into his country. That means, in a certain sense, that only Russia and Iran—purported American adversaries—have any legal sanction in Syria. So, to review, the U.S. military occupies the east of Syria, facing down and one mistake away from a war with Assad, Iran, Russia and Turkey. That sounds risky. Oh, and one more question, do the 2001 or 2002 AUMFs cover the U.S. killing of scores of Russian mercenaries? Because that happened, too, just last month.

● The world’s worst humanitarian disaster zone today is in the Arab world’s poorest country: Yemen. Here, U.S.-backed Saudi planes drop American bombs on Yemeni Houthi rebels from planes fueled in midair by the U.S. Air Force. Though the official count of civilian deaths seemed to stop at 10,000 in 2016, journalist and Yemen specialist Iona Craig, of The Intercept, told me this week on my podcast that the real number probably approaches 50,000.

That’s just the direct, war-related deaths. The bombing and Saudi—and arguably U.S. Navy—blockade also has kicked off a record-breaking cholera epidemic and a worsening famine. Children literally starve to death in Yemen. The Houthis, a Shiite sect from northwest Yemen, had nothing to do with 9/11 and hardly collaborated with Saddam’s Iraq. How, then, can we square U.S. complicity in Saudi terror-bombing with international or domestic law? Short answer: We can’t.

● In Somalia, where the U.S. military has maintained an on-again, off-again presence since 1993, the Air Force bombs and Navy SEAL commandos raid the native al-Shabab militants. A particularly nasty bunch ensconced in a nastier neighborhood, al-Shabab didn’t even exist in its current form in 2001, and certainly had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks. With no known relationship to Saddam Hussein, it’s hard to see how these Islamist militiamen fall under either AUMF.

Niger hit the headlines in a big way last year when four Army Green Berets died in a vicious ambush. No one, it seemed, not even superhawk Sen. Lindsay Graham, knew we had any troops there. Apparently, that’s no longer a requirement for the places America sends its soldiers to kill and die. Heck, most Americans had to look up the country’s pronunciation and scramble to find the joint on a map.

Despite 17 years of fighting, dying and killing, there have been no specific declarations of war. Instead, one president after another, and hundreds of derelict-in-their-duty congress members, have simply decided on their ownthat a vague resolution, rubber-stamped while the rubble in New York was still smoking, authorizes each and every conflict in which America’s soldiers—and many more civilians—continue to die. This AUMF authorized the president to kill or capture those who perpetrated the 9/11 attacks, but, well, few of America’s current adversaries had anything to do with that.

If that doesn’t seem sufficient, Washington points to the only other congressional framework for perpetual war, the long-ago discredited war resolution, which sanctioned George W. Bush’s deceitful conquest of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. But Saddam is dead and his regime gone, replaced by a U.S.-imposed chauvinist Shiite government which is now (tenuously) sovereign in Baghdad.

The specific circumstances surrounding that war resolution have passed.

So, you ask, how can, for example, war in Yemen or Somalia, be justified on the resolution’s account? Because the policy elites don’t care about logic or rational deduction, that’s why. It’s a convenient ruse, and they assume we’re not paying attention.

And the rest of us, well, we stay mostly silent, wrapped up with trying to earn a living in America’s new Gilded Age, its vastly unequal economy, and remain distracted by fancy handheld computer technology. They, the ones who act in our name—liberal and conservative policymakers alike—count on your apathy. They don’t want you to scratch off the veneer of legality and question the basis of each individual forever war in the Mideast. That would be inconvenient, but it is exactly what true citizens must do.

Let’s take a quick regional tour of some of America’s various shooting wars, and critically examine their legal sanction as it relates to the two existing AUMFs.

● How about we begin with the next massive quagmire awaiting the U.S. military in the Mideast: Syria. Almost no one realizes that the U.S. is now the proud owner of approximately one-third of Syria. Sure, we rent it out to various allied, mostly Kurdish militias, but it’s U.S. air power and a few thousand ground troops which make that possible. America got into Syria, ostensibly, to combat Islamic State—a truly brutal group.

Still, strictly speaking, there was no Islamic State in 2001, and there weren’t any Syrians among the 9/11 hijackers. Now, one might argue that Islamic State is a spinoff of al-Qaida, which did attack the United States. Careful though—by 2014, Islamic State had split from the local al-Qaida franchise (the Nusra Front), and the two had become warring rivals. More confusing still, while one could argue the 2001 AUMF covers al-Nusra, the U.S. has rarely attacked it and, indeed, sometimes armed and supplied Islamist elements affiliated with the group. What a twisted legal web Washington has spun.

Still, there the U.S. military now stands, responsible for the hopes, dreams, sustenance and well-being of millions of Syrians. Its troops aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, either. Before Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was canned, he announced that U.S. “troops will remain in Syria”—essentially indefinitely—“to ensure that neither Iran nor President Bashar al-Assad of Syria will take over [these] areas.”

That’s strange. Assad is a brutal monster, sure, but he remains the sovereign ruler of Syria, and, well, technically he didn’t invite the U.S. military into his country. That means, in a certain sense, that only Russia and Iran—purported American adversaries—have any legal sanction in Syria. So, to review, the U.S. military occupies the east of Syria, facing down and one mistake away from a war with Assad, Iran, Russia and Turkey. That sounds risky. Oh, and one more question, do the 2001 or 2002 AUMFs cover the U.S. killing of scores of Russian mercenaries? Because that happened, too, just last month.

● The world’s worst humanitarian disaster zone today is in the Arab world’s poorest country: Yemen. Here, U.S.-backed Saudi planes drop American bombs on Yemeni Houthi rebels from planes fueled in midair by the U.S. Air Force. Though the official count of civilian deaths seemed to stop at 10,000 in 2016, journalist and Yemen specialist Iona Craig, of The Intercept, told me this week on my podcast that the real number probably approaches 50,000.

That’s just the direct, war-related deaths. The bombing and Saudi—and arguably U.S. Navy—blockade also has kicked off a record-breaking cholera epidemic and a worsening famine. Children literally starve to death in Yemen. The Houthis, a Shiite sect from northwest Yemen, had nothing to do with 9/11 and hardly collaborated with Saddam’s Iraq. How, then, can we square U.S. complicity in Saudi terror-bombing with international or domestic law? Short answer: We can’t.

● In Somalia, where the U.S. military has maintained an on-again, off-again presence since 1993, the Air Force bombs and Navy SEAL commandos raid the native al-Shabab militants. A particularly nasty bunch ensconced in a nastier neighborhood, al-Shabab didn’t even exist in its current form in 2001, and certainly had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks. With no known relationship to Saddam Hussein, it’s hard to see how these Islamist militiamen fall under either AUMF.

Niger hit the headlines in a big way last year when four Army Green Berets died in a vicious ambush. No one, it seemed, not even superhawk Sen. Lindsay Graham, knew we had any troops there. Apparently, that’s no longer a requirement for the places America sends its soldiers to kill and die. Heck, most Americans had to look up the country’s pronunciation and scramble to find the joint on a map.

Here, as in most foreign interventions in the African Sahel, the U.S. (and France) are being sucked into essentially local tribal, resource or ethnic conflicts that masquerade as transnational Islamism. These desert fighters had nothing to do with 9/11, the local Islamic State affiliate didn’t exist in 2001, and Niger is 3,000 miles or so from Saddam’s old haunt in Iraq.

On the bright side, the U.S. military was kind enough to grant retroactive “imminent danger” pay—a whopping $225 a month—for all the troops in Niger and Cameroon. You see, sometimes Washington doesn’t even know it’s in a barely sanctioned “imminent danger” situation, what used to be called a war, until after the fact.

● Finally, the boondoggle of all boondoggles, the original unwinnable war: Afghanistan. In this case, al-Qaida did once operate there and the broad contours of 9/11 were planned in Afghanistan. That was 2001. By 2002, al-Qaida was all but finished in Afghanistan and had fled to Pakistan and other regional locales. The war didn’t end though, not by a long shot. Seventeen years on, and the U.S. is again ramping up its longest war. Why? Because the stubborn Taliban that once harbored Osama bin Laden won’t surrender.

Honestly, though, let’s call it like it is: America’s chosen nemesis there—the Taliban—is, and essentially always was, a local actor with aspirations confined to landlocked Afghanistan. Most of these illiterate, destitute farm boys have never met any al-Qaida. Truth is, negotiations with the Taliban might convince these folks not to harbor al-Qaida-classic in the future. That wouldn’t serve the Taliban’s local interests, after all, and would bring on the continued wrath of U.S. bombers and commandos. To give a sense of how far off the rails U.S. policy has gone in Afghanistan, American planes started bombing ethnically Uighur Chinese militants last month. Tell me how that crew relates to either of our vague AUMFs? The whole notion is absurd.

On the bright side, the U.S. military was kind enough to grant retroactive “imminent danger” pay—a whopping $225 a month—for all the troops in Niger and Cameroon. You see, sometimes Washington doesn’t even know it’s in a barely sanctioned “imminent danger” situation, what used to be called a war, until after the fact.

war 2

● Finally, the boondoggle of all boondoggles, the original unwinnable war: Afghanistan. In this case, al-Qaida did once operate there and the broad contours of 9/11 were planned in Afghanistan. That was 2001. By 2002, al-Qaida was all but finished in Afghanistan and had fled to Pakistan and other regional locales. The war didn’t end though, not by a long shot. Seventeen years on, and the U.S. is again ramping up its longest war. Why? Because the stubborn Taliban that once harbored Osama bin Laden won’t surrender.

Honestly, though, let’s call it like it is: America’s chosen nemesis there—the Taliban—is, and essentially always was, a local actor with aspirations confined to landlocked Afghanistan. Most of these illiterate, destitute farm boys have never met any al-Qaida. Truth is, negotiations with the Taliban might convince these folks not to harbor al-Qaida-classic in the future. That wouldn’t serve the Taliban’s local interests, after all, and would bring on the continued wrath of U.S. bombers and commandos. To give a sense of how far off the rails U.S. policy has gone in Afghanistan, American planes started bombing ethnically Uighur Chinese militants last month. Tell me how that crew relates to either of our vague AUMFs? The whole notion is absurd.

* * *Across the Greater Mideast today, the U.S. is bogged down in a growing number of dubiously legal wars it can’t seem to win. One look at the strategic map tells a gloomy tale: The U.S. military, ensnared in country upon country, is unable to achieve victory and unwilling to prudently withdraw. The U.S. position in Syria and Iraq is tenuous as ever. American soldiers are surrounded by hostile adversaries and unreliable frenemies on all sides: Iran, Russia, Turkey, Assad and Hezbollah.Matters are even worse than they appear. There’s no discernible strategy, folks. The U.S. holds a bad hand and is playing it badly. The American people hardly care, media coverage these days is all Russia, all the time, and Congress has these wars on autopilot. Furthermore, seen through foreign eyes—which matter, by the way—there’s a distinct gap between U.S. public pronouncements about liberty and sovereignty and America’s adherence to the international laws governing such ideals.

Behind the standard American-freedom rhetoric, and beneath the surface lies an unspoken truth: The USA flouts international law when it suits American interests and stretches domestic authorizations to their breaking point in the name of perpetual, doomed warfare. We the people are all complicit, until, that is, we demand that Congress do its constitutional duty and specifically approve (or shut down) the forever wars.

Democracy dies in the darkness exuded by the clouds of foreign wars. The fate of the republic—what remains of it—hangs in the balance.

The U.S. may be a republic or an empire. It may not be both. Now is the time for choosing.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author, expressed in an unofficial capacity, and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.

Maj. Danny Sjursen is a U.S. Army officer and former history instructor at West Point. He served tours with reconnaissance units in Iraq and Afghanistan…
Posted in Afghanistan, America, foreign policy, government, Iran, Iraq, Middle East, military, politics, Syria, war, Yemen | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment
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