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Andrea Mazzarino, Facing Extremism, Up Close and Personal

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Just how extreme is this country? Not quite as bad as many of us feared, it seems. Still, it’s certainly extreme enough, despite the host of election deniers who lost in the recent midterms. And that extremity can’t just be attributed to you-know-who announcing that He (and yes, I meant to capitalize that) was once again running (wildly, madly, sadly) for president, this time with an exclamation point attached to MAGA! In a seemingly never-ending, strangely low-energy address (despite that exclamation point), he assured future voters that, “in order to make America great and glorious again, I am tonight announcing my candidacy for president of the United States.”

Great and glorious indeed! Today, TomDispatch regular, co-founder of the invaluable Costs of War Project, and military spouse Andrea Mazzarino considers how extremism has indeed come home to roost in this country and how the Global War on Terror our leaders launched after the 9/11 attacks and then fought disastrously forever and a day has, in its own strange fashion, also helped lodge terror and divisiveness deep inside this country.

And yes, as she suggests, for part of that terror, you can thank disturbed former soldiers of those failed wars abroad who returned and joined all-too-well-armed extremist paramilitary groups. When it comes to such extremity, however, another factor should be thrown into the painful mix with those Mazzarino mentions: weaponry.  After all, in these decades of armed madness abroad, arms have come home big time, too, and in an ever more devastating fashion.

Americans are armed today in a way that was once unimaginable. In fact, this is the only country on Earth where the number of weapons outnumbers the population — 120 guns for every 100 of us. Under those circumstances, you won’t be surprised to learn that the U.S. also has more killings, mass and otherwise, than other wealthy countries. And as a more extreme version of America settled in for the long run during the pandemic years, gun sales only soaredOne in every five households purchased a weapon (or weaponry), 20 million guns annually in 2020 and 2021, including AR-15s of the sort used in the slaughter of schoolchildren in Uvalde, Texas. And as Mazzarino also points out, during the war on terror years, the Pentagon would arm our police departments to the teeth with military weaponry and other equipment, more than $7 billion worth by 2021, some directly off this country’s distant battlefields. So today, this increasingly divided land of ours is not only disturbed, but deeply weaponized.

And all of that should be the definition of extreme. Now, let Mazzarino tell you what such a strange version of extremity feels like up close and personal to one military spouse. Tom

How Terror Came Home and What to Make of It

My 10 Years as a Military Spouse in America’s Post-9/11 World

Recently, an agent of the Department of Homeland Security called me and started asking questions about a childhood acquaintance being investigated for extremism. I put him off.  My feelings about this were, to say the least, complex. As a military spouse of 10 years and someone who has long written about governmental abuses of power, I wanted to cooperate with efforts to root out hate. However, I also feared that my involvement might spark some kind of retaliation.

While I hadn't seen the person under investigation for years, my memories of him and of some of the things he’d done scared me. For example, when we were young teens, he threatened to bury me alive over a disagreement. He even dug a hole to demonstrate his intent. I knew that if I were to cooperate with this investigation, my testimony would not be anonymous. As a mother of two children living on an isolated farm, that left me with misgivings.

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Engelhardt, A Political Hurricane Hits America

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[Note for TomDispatch Readers: A final reminder that, for a $100 donation ($150 if you live outside the U.S.), you can still get a signed, personalized copy of Andrew Bacevich’s memorable new Dispatch Book, On Shedding an Obsolete Past: Bidding Farewell to the American Century, and, in the process, help keep this website rolling for awhile longer. At the very least, make sure you get your hands on his book, but trust me, your donations to TD make all the difference in the world! Tom]

Future Heat Wave?

When Will Climate Change Become the Crucial Issue in American Elections?

Believe me, it's strange to be an old man and feel like you're living on a new planet. On November 7th, the day before the midterm elections, I took my usual afternoon walk in New York City and I was wearing a short-sleeved shirt! That was a first for me. And no wonder, since it was 76 degrees out -- beautiful, but eerie.  After all, that's just not November weather. 

By then, in fact, a distinctly unseasonal heat wave that, the previous week, had hit the country from the Great Plains to the Gulf Coast was spreading across the Eastern U.S. from Tallahassee, Florida (a record-tying 88 degrees) to Burlington, Vermont (a record 76 degrees). Temperatures ranged from 15 to 25 degrees above normal. And yet, in a sense, this was nothing new. The worst megadrought in 1,200 years has held the West and Southwest in its grip for what seems like eons now and has evidently been moving toward the middle of the country (with the Mississippi River becoming an increasingly dried-up mud puddle).

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William Hartung, A Hall of Shame of U.S. Weapons Sales

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[Note for TomDispatch readers: Don’t forget that you can still get a signed, personalized copy of the just-published, must-read Dispatch Book, On Shedding an Obsolete Past: Bidding Farewell to the American Century, by the superb Andrew Bacevich. Just visit this site’s donation page, offer at least $100 (at least $150 if you live outside the U.S.), and it’s yours. In these years, Bacevich has had a unique way of exploring something that, in the wake of the recent election campaign, looks all the more obvious, but didn’t when he was writing the pieces in this new book of his: the precipitous decline, if not fall, of the country whose politicians not so long ago liked to think of themselves as leading the “sole superpower” on Planet Earth, the greatest country ever. That was, of course, before a fellow came along to run for president under the slogan Make America Great Again. Now, pay that visit and get that book! Tom]

As retired Air Force lieutenant colonel and historian William Astore wrote recently at his Bracing Views blog, while the Republicans didn’t experience their expected “red tide” on November 8th, Donald Trump had a genuinely dismal night, and the Democrats lost (even if barely) control of the House of Representatives, there was still a clear election winner. It just wasn’t any of the crew being covered in the media. It was the military-industrial complex. In fact, you can always count on one thing: whatever congressional Democrats and Republicans won’t agree on in the next two years — and that, by definition, will be more or less everything else — they will agree on upping the Pentagon budget, which, even before this election, was projected to hit a trillion dollars by 2027 or so.

You can certainly ask what such sums — nearing $900 billion annually ($1.4 trillion, if you’re talking about the full national security state budget) — buy us. The answer has been disastrous, unwinnable wars that, in this century, have left parts of the planet in ever greater chaos. And however under the radar such conflicts have gone in 2022, some of them are indeed still underway in Africa and parts of the Middle East, even if ever more by proxy.

In fact, as Pentagon expert and TomDispatch regular William Hartung makes clear today, one of the ways this country’s military-industrial complex conducts its proxy conflicts, however indirectly, is by dominating the global arms trade. And there, too, so many of our congressional representatives on both sides of the aisle have put their stamp of approval not just on the arming of much of the planet, but the funding of major weapons-makers. It couldn’t be stranger (to me, anyway) how little such an over-the-top phenomenon is ever explored, except by experts like Hartung at places like TomDispatch. Tom

Corporate Weapons Heaven Is a Hell on Earth

Joe Biden, the National Security State, and Arms Sales

Here's a seldom commented-upon reality of this century and this moment: the United States remains the number-one arms-exporting nation on the planet. Between 2017 and 2021, it grabbed 39% of the total global weapons market and there's nothing new about that. It has, in fact, been the top arms dealer in every year but one for the past three decades. And it's a remarkably lucrative business, earning American weapons makers tens of billions of dollars annually.

It would be one thing if it were simply a matter of money raked in by the industrial half of the military-industrial complex. Unfortunately, in these years, U.S.-supplied weaponry has also fueled conflicts, enabled human-rights violations, helped destabilize not just individual countries but whole regions, and made it significantly easier for repressive regimes to commit war crimes.

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