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Liz Theoharis, Why Martin Luther King Day Should Matter

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Only one thing truly hurt him at a gut level, and it wasn’t the endangerment of his vice president in a Capitol attacked by a rabid mob sporting the Confederate flag, MAGA hats, and anti-Semitic T-shirts.  Nor, believe it or not, was it even the threat of being the first president in American history to be impeached twice; nor having Deutsche Bank (which kept him afloat for years) and other major corporate entities suddenly sever ties with him; nor even having one of his major financial supporters, Sheldon Adelson, die on him. For Donald Trump, the biggest blow of last week was reportedly the Professional Golfers’ Association, or P.G.A., announcement that it was taking its 2022 championship match away from the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey.  In other words, the man who had visited golf courses more than 300 times during his presidency had suddenly become the golf equivalent of an undocumented immigrant and, according to those close to him, that truly “gutted” him.

As to what gutted so many other Americans in the last year, ranging from evictions to job loss, racism to death by Covid-19, this president could clearly have cared less and the eternally richer billionaires of this country didn’t seem to give much of a damn either; nor, in fact, did his wife Melania who, in what may have been her final message from the White House, vaguely bemoaned violence on Capitol Hill only after she had fiercely bemoaned her own treatment by unnamed critics (“salacious gossip, unwarranted personal attacks, and false and misleading accusations on me”).

As it happens, with just days left in Trump’s presidency, the self-proclaimed richest, most awesome superpower on planet Earth is now a basket case of the first order and a symbol around the globe of what not to do in a pandemic.  As even the Washington “swamp” deserts Donald Trump, Joe Biden and crew face a hell on Earth of a kind that TomDispatch regular Liz Theoharis, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign and author of Always With Us?: What Jesus Really Said About the Poor, lays out vividly on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Tom

The Earth Does Not Belong to Jeff Bezos or Elon Musk

Martin Luther King, Jr.’s True Legacy

2020 will go down as the deadliest year in American history, significantly due to the devastation delivered by the coronavirus pandemic. In addition, count in nearly two trillion dollars in damage from climate events (many caused by, or heightened by, intensifying global warming), a surge of incidents of police violence inflicted on Black and Native peoples, and millions more Americans joining the ranks of the poor even as small numbers of billionaires soared ever further into the financial heavens. And it's already obvious that 2021 is likely to prove another harrowing year.

In the first weeks of January alone, Covid-19 deaths have risen to unprecedented levels; record turnout elected Georgia’s first Black and Jewish Senators in a runoff where race-baiting, red-baiting, and voter suppression were still alive and well; and a racist, white nationalist mob swarmed the Capitol emboldened by the president, as well as senators, representatives, and other officials, in an attempt to subvert and possibly take down our democratic system. The January 6th attack on that building was by no means a singular event (in a country where local officials have in recent years been similarly threatened). It did, however, highlight dramatically the growing menace of illiberal and anti-democratic forces building in power. And one thing is guaranteed: its impact will hit the poor and people of color most strikingly. Social media and news reports suggest that, with an emboldened white supremacist movement on the rise, more such attacks are being planned.

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Michael Klare, Can the U.S. and China Cooperate on a Failing Planet?

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For just a moment, let me try to look on the bright side of the storming of the Capitol last week by a mob incited and dispatched by President Trump. When George W. Bush, the president who launched the Global War on Terror and then invaded Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, referred to what happened as an “insurrection” (“This is how election results are disputed in a banana republic”), you knew you’d spent a long day in hell. Here, to my mind, is the only potential upside when it comes to a president who has proven himself too disorganized and self-centered even to make a good autocrat.

On that capital (or do I mean Capitol?) day last week, he might have shot his wad and I suspect that means — and here’s that sunny spot, just in case you aren’t sure what’s bright and what’s dim anymore — Donald Trump’s made it significantly harder for himself to deliver a foreign-policy October Surprise in the last days of his “presidency.” In particular, he made it less likely (though how much less we won’t know until January 20th) that he would order some kind of attack on Iran, throwing the Middle East into chaos for the new Biden administration just as he himself would be jumping ship.

True, not so long ago, he countermanded his carefully chosen secretary of defense’s order to send the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz and its task force home from the Persian Gulf. He demanded that it remain there instead, threatening Iran. At the time, it looked as if, in conjunction with Benjamin Netanyahu’s Israel, he might indeed be preparing for just such a January Surprise. In addition, nuclear-armed B-52s continue to fly ominously, two at a time, from the U.S. to the Persian Gulf and back — and it’s true as well that a worried Nancy Pelosi recently discussed with Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the president’s access to the nuclear codes… gulp!

At this point, I think it’s just possible, however, that Milley & Co. might refuse to follow such last-minute Iran orders if they were issued. The same, by the way, goes for China where Trump and the Pentagon have continually upped the ante, militarily and economically. Still, “our” lame-ducklet of a president, who has ratcheted up such Sino-American tensions with a helping hand from the U.S. military, may find that he’s incited his last assault on anyone for a while.  That would mean, as TomDispatch regular Michael Klare, author of All Hell Breaking Loose: The Pentagon’s Perspective on Climate Change, makes clear today, that, in the mess of a world Joe Biden will inherit, there will be an increasingly irritated China to deal with. How he handles what, in our ever more overheated moment, is undoubtedly the most important relationship on the planet, as Klare suggests, may determine much about the years to come. Tom

President Biden’s China Conundrum

Can He Achieve Progress Where It Matters While Avoiding a New Cold (or Hot) War?

Soon-to-be President Joe Biden will instantly face a set of extraordinary domestic crises -- a runaway pandemic, a stalled economy, and raw political wounds, especially from the recent Trumpian assault on the Capitol -- but few challenges are likely to prove more severe than managing U.S. relations with China. While generally viewed as a distant foreign-policy concern, that relationship actually looms over nearly everything, including the economy, the coronavirus, climate change, science and technology, popular culture, and cyberspace. If the new administration follows the course set by the preceding one, you can count on one thing: the United States will be drawn into an insidious new Cold War with that country, impeding progress in almost every significant field. To achieve any true breakthroughs in the present global mess, the Biden team must, above all else, avert that future conflict and find ways to collaborate with its powerful challenger. Count on one thing: discovering a way to navigate this already mine-laden path will prove demanding beyond words for the most experienced policymakers in Biden’s leadership ensemble.

Even without the corrosive impacts of Donald Trump’s hostile diplomacy of recent years, China would pose an enormous challenge to any new administration. It boasts the world’s second-largest economy and, some analysts say, will soon overtake the United States to become number one. Though there are many reasons to condemn Beijing’s handling of the coronavirus, its tough nationwide clampdown (following its initial failure to acknowledge the very existence of the virus, no less the extent of its spread) allowed the country to recover from Covid-19 faster than most other nations.  As a result, Beijing has already reported strong economic growth in the second half of the year, the only major economy on the planet to do so. This means that China is in a more powerful position than ever to dictate the rules of the world economy, a situation confirmed by the European Union’s recent decision to sign a major trade and investment deal with Beijing, symbolically sidelining the United States just before the Biden administration enters office.

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William Astore, We’re All Prisoners of War Now

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America has essentially been at war, nonstop, since the weeks after the 9/11 attacks.  Those “forever wars,” as they’re now commonly called, have been both truly distant from and eerily close to us, far away and yet a deeply embedded part of American life.  And here, to my mind, is the strangest thing: those rare figures who, as citizens (or in one case an outsider), managed to reach into the heart of the American-war and national-security states and reveal something of what was actually being done in our names have suffered grim fates indeed.

Take Edward Snowden, who, in 2013, as a private contractor working for the National Security Agency (NSA), revealed the vast surveillance structure that had been built in the shadows — quite literally as a kind of shadow government — in the post-9/11 years and significantly aimed at Americans.  For his revelations (that is, his “crime”), he would be charged under the 1917 Espionage Act meant to criminalize dissent against the U.S. entry into World War I. He is now a resident of Russia (of all places) because, were he to return to his homeland, he might never again make it out of a prison cell.  Chelsea Manning, who as an Army intelligence analyst in Iraq passed secret information and documents to WikiLeaks revealing American crimes in its wars in both Afghanistan and Iraq, was charged under that same law and found herself imprisoned from 2010 until 2017, when President Obama commuted her 35-year sentence. She was then sent back to jail again for refusing to testify in court against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.  And he was, of course, the one outsider among the three of them but was indicted under that same Espionage Act. Having made public secret documents revealing a series of American nightmarish acts and crimes in its war on (and of) terror, he only recently avoided — thanks to a British judge — being extradited to the U.S. and possibly locked away for life (or death) here, though he remains incarcerated in Britain. Think of the three of them as, in a sense, prisoners of Washington’s never-ending war on terror (the only equivalent to them being the accused al-Qaeda operatives locked away, seemingly forever and untried, in the American offshore prison set up in 2001 at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba).

Retired Air Force lieutenant colonel and TomDispatch regular William Astore makes an all too relevant point today that I’ve never seen made before.  In the war on terror years, thanks to our never-ending conflicts and the staggering funding of the military-industrial complex that, even in this pandemic moment, accompanies them, not just those three figures but all of us have, in some fashion, become American POWs of a new kind. Tom

POW Nation

When Will America Free Itself From War?

“POWs Never Have A Nice Day.”  That sentiment was captured on a button a friend of mine wore for our fourth grade class photo in 1972.  That prisoners of war could never have such a day was reinforced by the sad face on that button.  Soon after, American POWs would indeed be released by their North Vietnamese captors as the American war in Vietnam ended.  They came home the next year to a much-hyped heroes’ welcome orchestrated by the administration of President Richard Nixon, but the government would never actually retire its POW/MIA (missing-in-action) flags.  Today, almost half a century later, they continue to fly at federal installations, including the U.S. Capitol as it was breached and briefly besieged last week by a mob incited by this country's lame-duck president, ostensibly to honor all U.S. veterans who were either POWs or never returned because their bodies were never recovered.

Remembering the sacrifices of our veterans is fitting and proper; it’s why we set aside Memorial Day in May and Veterans Day in November.  In thinking about those POWs and the dark legacy of this country's conflicts since World War II, however, I've come to a realization.  In the ensuing years, we Americans have all, in some sense, become prisoners of war.  We're all part of a culture that continues to esteem war, embrace militarism, and devote more than half of federal discretionary spending to wars, weaponry, and the militarization of American culture.  We live in a country that leads the world in the export of murderous munitions to the grimmest, most violent hotspots on the planet, enabling, for example, a genocidal conflict in Yemen, among other conflicts.

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