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Andrea Mazzarino, Anger and the MAGA Movement

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When some government program fails utterly, you’d think top officials would consider transferring at least part of the taxpayer funds they’re spending on it to programs that might actually do some good. When it comes to the U.S. military, however, as TomDispatch regular Andrea Mazzarino makes all too clear today, no such luck. And really, it just couldn’t be stranger.

At this point, the U.S. spends more money on its “defense” budget than the next nine countries (mostly allies) combined, a mind-boggling figure. Yet that budget (as well as the larger national security budget) only continues to expand. And here’s the truly odd thing: though the U.S. has poured unbelievable sums into its military since the 9/11 attacks and the launching of what quickly came to be known as the Global War on Terror, it hasn’t won a war or much of anything else in this century. And now (thank you, Donald Trump and crew!), the country itself seems to be in danger of coming apart at the seams.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re talking about the invasion of Afghanistan soon after the 9/11 attacks, resulting in a two-decade-long disaster of a losing war, or the invasion of Iraq, which cost so much and led to so little. It hardly matters where you look, in fact. As TomDispatch‘s Nick Turse recently pointed out, in Africa, where the U.S. has fought a lower-level struggle against terrorism: “In 2002 and 2003, according to State Department statistics, terrorists caused 23 casualties… Last year, according to the Africa Center for Strategic Studies, a Pentagon research institution, attacks by Islamist militants in the Sahel alone resulted in 11,643 deaths — an increase of more than 50,000%.”

And yet, as Mazzarino makes clear today, the money just continues to flow into the national security state, while insecurity in this country and the potential chaos that goes with it only increase by the day. Tom

Shooting Alone

America’s Social Priorities Shaped by Decades of War

An acquaintance who hails from the same New Jersey town as I do spends his free weekends crawling through the woods on his stomach as part of a firearms training course, green camouflage paint on his face and a revolver in his hand. He considers this both a way to have fun in his free time and to prepare for the supposed threat from immigrants everywhere. (“You never know when something could happen,” he tells me.) He's never gun-less. He brings his weapon to diners and dinners, to work meetings, and always on walks in his quiet neighborhood, where he grumbles “this is America!” whenever he hears Spanish spoken by neighbors or passersby. The implication, of course, is that the United States has become both less American and, to him, by definition, less safe in these years.

He spends his other weekends right-swiping on dating apps to try to find a new partner (he's being divorced) and watching -- yep, you guessed it! -- Fox News. He can be counted among a growing population of White, rural Americans who are lonely, lack people to count on as confidants, and feel poorly understood, not to say excluded from this country (at least as they imagine it).

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William Hartung, Democracy Versus Autocracy on America’s Campuses

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I was by nature the mildest and least courageous of young men. And yet, in April 1968, I well remember standing with two friends on the Boston Common, amid a large demonstration of young people, and turning in my draft card to protest America’s brutal and bloody war in Vietnam about which I had been feeling increasingly outraged (as so many students today are by Israel’s nightmarish set of crimes in Gaza). I then returned to my apartment and promptly wrote a letter turning down a National Defense Foreign Language Fellowship for which I had previously applied to study the Chinese language and history. In that moment, fearing I would be called up and sent to Vietnam, I had no idea whether I would end up in Canada, in jail, or indeed in the U.S. military. It was my striking luck that five women, who called themselves Women Against Daddy Warbucks, would later break into my draft board and destroy many of its 1-A files, including my own.

From that moment on, I was mobilized into a version of antiwar activism, like so many students horrified by the nightmare in Gaza today. In some strange fashion, the horror of that all-American war (and set of war crimes in a distant land) would quite literally change my life — I was then a graduate student in Chinese history — and turn me into an activist. So, I remember well how the feeling of needing to do something — anything! — can drive you into another world. That’s a reality (or perhaps I mean a surreality) so many of the students now getting arrested across this country are undoubtedly experiencing in a distinctly up-close-and-personal fashion.

Today, TomDispatch regular William Hartung, a leading expert on the U.S. military-industrial-congressional complex, considers his own years of student activism in the context of what’s happening now. He reminds us of just how a gut sense of what’s right and truly wrong on this planet of ours can mobilize us, whether we ever meant to be mobilized or not. Tom

Reflections on Student Activism

And the Struggle for a Better World

I've spent most of my life as an advocate for a more peaceful world. In recent years, I've been focused on promoting diplomacy over war and exposing the role of giant weapons companies like Lockheed Martin and its allies in Congress and at the Pentagon as they push for a “military-first” foreign policy. I've worked at an alphabet soup of think tanks: the Council on Economic Priorities (CEP), the World Policy Institute (WPI), the New America Foundation, the Center for International Policy (CIP), and my current institutional home, the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft (QI).

Most of what I've done in my career is firmly rooted in my college experience. I got a bachelor’s degree in philosophy at Columbia University, class of 1978, and my time there prepared me for my current work -- just not in the way one might expect. I took some relevant courses like Seymour Melman’s class on America's permanent war economy and Marcia Wright’s on the history of the colonization of South Africa. But my most important training came outside the classroom, as a student activist.

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Jane Braxton Little, Reporting from a Burned-Out Main Street

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Today, TomDispatch regular Jane Braxton Little writes about the “news deserts” spreading across rural parts of America. These are often the same regions hit hard by the unparalleled fires, floods, and fierce storms that are increasingly part of a world growing hotter and more violent by the year. Her own town, Greenville, was essentially burned out in 2021 by California’s single-largest blaze ever, the grim Dixie Fire (something she wrote about for TomDispatch). In response, as she notes today, she and some of her local friends and associates have bravely started a new community paper, The Plumas Sun, to fill in a bit of her own news desert in tough times.

Meanwhile, those deserts are only growing and not just in rural America either.  In a wild social-media world, the newspaper is, it seems, beginning to go down. Only recently, for instance, the LA Times laid off 20% of its newsroom, 115 journalists (especially young ones of color), not to speak of its executive editor, managing editor, and Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington D.C. bureau chief. (And all of that came after a previous set of job slashes in June 2023.)

And the LA Times wasn’t exactly atypical. In 2023, the Washington Post also cut 240 jobs or 10% of its workforce, while Time magazine axed 15% of its editorial employees. All three were reportedly losing millions of dollars. (And keep in mind that the LA Times is owned by billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong, the Post by billionaire Jeff Bezos, and Time by billionaire Marc Benioff.) Last year, there were at least 2,681 job cuts among news reporters across broadcast, digital, and print outfits and the numbers only seem to be growing.

So, as we head into the 2024 election season, news readers, whether in rural America or in some of its biggest cities, may find themselves in growing news deserts — as You Know Who once again takes center stage, a tweet at a time. Tom

Local Newspapers Are Lifelines for Climate-Disaster Communities

Can They Survive the News Desert?

When wildfires began erupting in the Texas Panhandle in February, Laurie Ezzell Brown, the editor and publisher of the Canadian Record, was in Houston on a panel discussing ways in which losing local newspapers represents a danger to democracy. Running the once-a-week Record from the Panhandle town of Canadian, she certainly knew something about the rise of "news deserts" in this country. While she was meeting with other journalists concerned about disappearing local newspapers, Brown kept an eye on reports about ignitions sparking wildfires west of her town and posted updates from afar so that her readers would remain informed.

“Those fires never stay in the next county,” Brown said grimly. And indeed, as the flames galloped through fallow fields and approached her hometown, she began a desperate drive back to Canadian with a friend. In and out of cell coverage, traveling through black-ash smoke, she saw distinctly apocalyptic scenes of torched trees and powerlines dangling from still-burning poles. As she went, she posted every scrap of information she could get for the scattered and distraught readers of her paper. How else would they know about the houses that were being torched ever closer to their own homes?

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