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    Will the US Wake Up From Its Post-9/11 Nightmare?

    Looking back on it now, the 1990s were an age of innocence for America. The Cold War was over and our leaders promised us a “peace dividend.” There was no TSA — the Transportation Security Administration — to make us take off our shoes at airports (how many bombs have they found in those billions of shoes?). The government could not tap a US phone or read private emails without a warrant from a judge. And the national debt was only $5 trillion, compared with over $28 trillion today.

    We have been told that the criminal attacks of September 11, 2001, “changed everything.” But what really changed everything was the US government’s disastrous response to them. That response was not preordained or inevitable, but the result of decisions and choices made by politicians, bureaucrats and generals who fueled and exploited our fears, unleashed wars of reprehensible vengeance and built a secretive security state, all thinly disguised behind Orwellian myths of American greatness.  

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    Most Americans believe in democracy and many regard the United States as a democratic country. But the US response to 9/11 laid bare the extent to which American leaders are willing to manipulate the public into accepting illegal wars, torture, the Guantanamo gulag and sweeping civil rights abuses — activities that undermine the very meaning of democracy. 

    Former Nuremberg prosecutor Ben Ferencz said in a speech in 2011 that “a democracy can only work if its people are being told the truth.” But America’s leaders exploited the public’s fears in the wake of 9/11 to justify wars that have killed and maimed millions of people who had nothing to do with those crimes. Ferencz compared this to the actions of the German leaders he prosecuted at Nuremberg, who also justified their invasions of other countries as “preemptive first strikes.” 

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    “You cannot run a country as Hitler did, feeding them a pack of lies to frighten them that they’re being threatened, so it’s justified to kill people you don’t even know,” Ferencz continued. “It’s not logical, it’s not decent, it’s not moral, and it’s not helpful. When an unmanned bomber from a secret American airfield fires rockets into a little Pakistani or Afghan village and thereby kills or maims unknown numbers of innocent people, what is the effect of that? Every victim will hate America forever and will be willing to die killing as many Americans as possible. Where there is no court of justice, wild vengeance is the alternative.” 

    “Insurgent Math”

    Even the commander of US forces in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, talked about “insurgent math,” conjecturing that, for every innocent person killed, the US created 10 new enemies. Thus, the so-called global war on terror fueled a global explosion of terrorism and armed resistance that will not end unless and until the United States ends the state terrorism that provokes and fuels it. 

    By opportunistically exploiting 9/11 to attack countries that had nothing to do with it, like Iraq, Somalia, Libya, Syria and Yemen, the US vastly expanded the destructive strategy it used in the 1980s to destabilize Afghanistan, which spawned the Taliban and al-Qaeda in the first place. In Libya and Syria, only 10 years after 9/11, US leaders betrayed every American who lost a loved one on September 11 by recruiting and arming al-Qaeda-led militants to overthrow two of the most secular governments in the Middle East, plunging both countries into years of intractable violence and fueling radicalization throughout the region.

    The US response to 9/11 was corrupted by a toxic soup of revenge, imperialist ambitions, war profiteering, systematic brainwashing and sheer stupidity. Lincoln Chafee, the only Republican senator who voted against the war on Iraq, later wrote, “Helping a rogue president start an unnecessary war should be a career-ending lapse of judgment.”

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    But it wasn’t. Very few of the 263 Republicans or the 110 Democrats who voted in 2002 for the US to invade Iraq paid any political price for their complicity in international aggression, which the judges at Nuremberg explicitly called “the supreme international crime.” One of them now sits at the apex of power in the White House. 

    Failure in Afghanistan

    Donald Trump and Joe Biden’s withdrawal and implicit acceptance of the US defeat in Afghanistan could serve as an important step toward ending the violence and chaos their predecessors unleashed after the 9/11 attacks. But the current debate over next year’s military budget makes it clear that our deluded leaders are still dodging the obvious lessons of 20 years of war. 

    Barbara Lee, the only member of Congress with the wisdom and courage to vote against the war resolution in 2001, has introduced a bill to cut US military spending by almost half: $350 billion per year. With the miserable failure in Afghanistan, a war that will end up costing every US taxpayer $20,000, one would think that Representative Lee’s proposal would be eliciting tremendous support. But the White House, the Pentagon and the Armed Services Committees in the House and Senate are instead falling over each other to shovel even more money into the bottomless pit of the military budget.

    Politicians’ votes on questions of war, peace and military spending are the most reliable test of their commitment to progressive values and the well-being of their constituents. You cannot call yourself a progressive or a champion of working people if you vote to appropriate more money for weapons and war than for health care, education, green jobs and fighting poverty.

    These 20 years of war have revealed to Americans and the world that modern weapons and formidable military forces can only accomplish two things: kill and maim people and destroy homes, infrastructure and entire cities. American promises to rebuild bombed-out cities and “remake” countries it has destroyed have proved worthless, as President Biden has acknowledged. 

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    Both Iraq and Afghanistan are turning primarily to China for the help they need to start rebuilding and developing economically from the ruin and devastation left by the US and its allies. America destroys, China builds. The contrast could not be more stark or self-evident. No amount of Western propaganda can hide what the whole world can see. 

    But the different paths chosen by American and Chinese leaders are not predestined. Despite the intellectual and moral bankruptcy of the US corporate media, the American public has always been wiser and more committed to cooperative diplomacy than their country’s political and executive class. It has been well-documented that many of the endless crises in US foreign policy could have been avoided if America’s leaders had just listened to the people.

    Weapons and More Weapons

    The perennial handicap that has dogged US diplomacy since World War II is precisely our investment in weapons and military forces, including nuclear weapons that threaten our very existence. It is trite but true to say that, “when the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.” 

    Other countries don’t have the option of deploying overwhelming military force to confront international problems, so they have had to be smarter and more nimble in their diplomacy and more prudent and selective in their more limited uses of military force. 

    The rote declarations of US leaders that “all options are on the table” are a euphemism for precisely the “threat or use of force” that the UN Charter explicitly prohibits, and they stymie the US development of expertise in nonviolent forms of conflict resolution. The bumbling and bombast of America’s leaders in international arenas stand in sharp contrast to the skillful diplomacy and clear language we often hear from top Russian, Chinese and Iranian diplomats, even when they are speaking in English, their second or third language.

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    By contrast, US leaders rely on threats, coups, sanctions and war to project power around the world. They promise Americans that these coercive methods will maintain US “leadership” or dominance indefinitely into the future, as if that is America’s rightful place in the world: sitting atop the globe like a cowboy on a bucking bronco. 

    A “new American century” and “Pax Americana” are Orwellian versions of Adolf Hitler’s “thousand-year Reich” but are no more realistic. No empire has lasted forever, and there is historical evidence that even the most successful empires have a lifespan of no more than 250 years, by which time their rulers have enjoyed so much wealth and power that decadence and decline inevitably set in. This describes the United States today.  

    America’s economic dominance is waning. Its once productive economy has been gutted and financialized, and most countries in the world now do more trade with China and/or the European Union than with the United States. Where America’s military once kicked open doors for American capital to “follow the flag” and open up new markets, today’s US war machine is just a bull in the global china shop, wielding purely destructive power.    

    Time to Get Serious

    But we are not condemned to passively follow the suicidal path of militarism and hostility. Biden’s withdrawal from Afghanistan could be a down payment on a transition to a more peaceful post-imperial economy — if the American public starts to actively demand peace, diplomacy and disarmament and find ways to make our voices heard. 

    First, we must get serious about demanding cuts in the Pentagon budget. None of our other problems will be solved as long as we keep allowing our leaders to flush the majority of federal discretionary spending down the same military toilet as the $2.26 trillion they wasted on the war in Afghanistan. We must oppose politicians who refuse to cut the Pentagon budget, regardless of which party they belong to and where they stand on other issues.

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    Second, we must not let ourselves or our family members be recruited into the US war machine. Instead, we must challenge our leaders’ absurd claims that the imperial forces deployed across the world to threaten other countries are somehow, by some convoluted logic, defending America. As a translator paraphrased Voltaire, “Whoever can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.”  

    Third, we must expose the ugly, destructive reality behind our country’s myths of “defending” US vital interests, humanitarian intervention, the war on terror and the latest absurdity, the ill-defined “rules-based order” — whose rules only apply to others but never to the United States. 

    Finally, we must oppose the corrupt power of the arms industry, including US weapons sales to the world’s most repressive regimes, and an unwinnable arms race that risks a potentially world-ending conflict with China and Russia. 

    Our only hope for the future is to abandon the futile quest for hegemony and instead commit to peace, cooperative diplomacy, international law and disarmament. After 20 years of war and militarism that has only left the world a more dangerous place and accelerated America’s decline, we must choose the path of peace.

    The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy. More

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    Did 9/11 Change Everything?

    Twenty years ago, the United States sustained the first substantial attacks on the mainland since the War of 1812. It was a collective shock to all Americans who believed their country to be impregnable. The Cold War had produced the existential dread of a nuclear attack, but that always lurked in the realm of the maybe. On a day-to-day basis, Americans enjoyed the exceptional privilege of national security. No one would dare attack us for fear of massive retaliation. Little did we imagine that someone would attack us in order to precipitate massive retaliation.

    Osama bin Laden understood that American power was vulnerable when overextended. He knew that the greatest military power in the history of the world, deranged by a desire for vengeance, could be lured into taking a cakewalk into a quagmire. With the attacks on September 11, 2001, al-Qaeda turned ordinary American airplanes into weapons to attack American targets. In the larger sense, bin Laden used the entire American army to destroy the foundations of American empire.

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    The commentary on this 20th anniversary of 9/11 has been predictably shallow: how the attacks changed travel, fiction, the arts in general. Consider this week’s Washington Post magazine section in which 28 contributors reflect on the ways that the attacks changed the world.

    “The attack would alter the lives of U.S. troops and their families, and millions of people in Afghanistan and Iraq,” the editors write. “It would set the course of political parties and help to decide who would lead our country. In short, 9/11 changed the world in demonstrable, massive and heartbreaking ways. But the ripple effects altered our lives in subtle, often-overlooked ways as well.”

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    The subsequent entries on art, fashion, architecture, policing, journalism and so on attempt to describe these subtler effects. Yet it’s difficult to read this special issue without concluding that 9/11, in fact, didn’t change the world much at all.

    The demonization of American Muslims? That began long before the fateful day, cresting after the Iranian Revolution in 1979. The paranoid retrenchment in American architecture? US embassies were rebuilt not in response to 9/11, but the embassy bombings in Beirut in 1983-84 and Kenya and Tanzania in 1998.

    The impact of 9/11 on the arts can be traced through a handful of works like Spike Lee’s “25th Hour” or the TV series “24” or Don DeLillo’s “Falling Man,” but it didn’t produce a new artistic movement like Dada in the wake of World War I or cli-fi in response to the climate crisis. Even the experience of flying hasn’t changed that much beyond beefed-up security measures. At this point, the introduction of personal in-flight entertainment systems has arguably altered the flying experience more profoundly.

    And isn’t the assertion that 9/11 changed everything exceptionally America-centric? Americans were deeply affected, as were the places invaded by US troops. But how much has life in Japan or Zimbabwe or Chile truly changed as a result of 9/11? Of course, Americans have always believed that, as the song goes, “we are the world.”

    More Than a Mistake

    In a more thoughtful Post consideration of 9/11, Carlos Lozado reviews many of the books that have come out in the last 20 years on what went wrong. In his summary, US policy proceeds like a cascade of falling dominos, each one a mistake that follows from the previous and sets into motion the next.

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    Successive administrations underestimated al-Qaeda and failed to see signs of preparation for the 9/11 attacks. In the aftermath of the tragedy, the Bush administration mistakenly followed the example of numerous empires in thinking that it could subdue Afghanistan and remake it in the image of the colonial overlord. It then compounded that error by invading Iraq in 2003 with the justification that Saddam Hussein was in cahoots with al-Qaeda, was building up a nuclear program, or was otherwise part of an alliance of nations determined to take advantage of an America still reeling from the 9/11 attacks. Subsequent administrations made the mistake of doubling down in Afghanistan, expanding the war on terror to other battlefields and failing to end US operations at propitious moments like the killing of Osama bin Laden in 2011.

    Lozado concludes by pointing out that Donald Trump is in many ways a product of the war on terror that followed 9/11. “Absent the war on terror, it is harder to imagine a presidential candidate decrying a sitting commander in chief as foreign, Muslim, illegitimate—and using that lie as a successful political platform,” he writes. “Absent the war on terror, it is harder to imagine a travel ban against people from Muslim-majority countries. Absent the war on terror, it is harder to imagine American protesters labeled terrorists, or a secretary of defense describing the nation’s urban streets as a ‘battle space’ to be dominated.”

    But to understand the rise of Trump, it’s necessary to see 9/11 and its aftermath as more than just the product of a series of errors of perception and judgment. Implicit in Lozado’s review is the notion that America somehow lost its way, that an otherwise robust intelligence community screwed the pooch, that some opportunistic politicians used the attacks to short-circuit democracy, public oversight and even military logic. But this assumes that the war on terror represents a substantial rift in the American fabric. The 9/11 attacks were a surprise. The response wasn’t.

    The United States had already launched a war against Iraq in 1991. It had already mistakenly identified Iran, Hamas and jihadist forces like al-Qaeda as enemies linked by their broad religious identity. It had built a worldwide arsenal of bases and kept up extraordinarily high levels of military spending to maintain full-spectrum dominance. Few American politicians questioned the necessity of this hegemony, though liberals tended to prefer that US allies shoulder some of the burden and neoconservatives favored a more aggressive effort to roll back the influence of Russia, China and other regional hegemons.

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    The “war on terror” effectively began in 1979 when the United States established its “state sponsors of terrorism” list. The Reagan administration used “counterterrorism” as an organizing principle of US foreign policy throughout the 1980s. In the post-Cold War era, the Clinton administration attempted to demonstrate its hawk credentials by launching counterterrorism strikes in Sudan, Afghanistan and Iraq.

    What changed after 9/11 is that neoconservatives could push their regime-change agenda more successfully because the attacks had temporarily suppressed the Vietnam syndrome, a response to the negative consequences of extended overseas military engagements. Every liberal in Congress, except for the indomitable Barbara Lee, supported the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, as if they’d been born just the day before. That just happens to be one of those side-effects of empire listed in fine print on the label: periodic and profound amnesia.

    In this sense, Trump is not a product of the war on terror. His views on US foreign policy have ranged across the spectrum from jingoistic to non-interventionist. His attitude toward protesters was positively Nixonian. And his recourse to conspiracy theories derived from his legendary disregard for truth. Regardless of 9/11, Trump’s ego would have propelled him toward the White House.

    The surge of popular support that placed him in the Oval Office, on the other hand, can only be understood in the post-9/11 context. Cyberspace was full of all sorts of nonsense prior to 9/11 (remember the Y2K predictions?). But the attacks gave birth to a new variety of “truthers” who insisted, against all contrary evidence, that nefarious forces had constructed a self-serving reality. The attacks on the twin towers and the Pentagon were “inside jobs.” The Newtown shootings had been staged by “crisis actors.” Barack Obama was born in Kenya.

    The shock of the United States being so dramatically and improbably attacked by a couple dozen foreigners was so great that some Americans, uncoupled from their bedrock assumptions about their own national security, were now willing to believe anything. Ultimately, they were even willing to believe someone who lied more consistently and more frequently than any other politician in US history.

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    Trump effectively promised to erase 9/11 from the American consciousness and rewind the clock back to the golden moment of unipolar US power. In offering such selective memory loss, Trump was a quintessentially imperial president.

    The Real Legacy of 9/11

    Even after the British formally began to withdraw from the empire business after World War II, they couldn’t help but continue to act as if the sun didn’t set on their domains. It was the British who masterminded the coup that deposed Mohammed Mossadegh in Iran in 1953. It was the British at the head of the invasion of Egypt in 1956 to recapture control of the Suez Canal. Between 1949 and 1970, Britain launched 34 military interventions in all.

    The UK apparently never received the memo that it was no longer a dominant military power. It’s hard for empires to retire gracefully. Just ask the French.

    The final US withdrawal from Afghanistan last month was in many ways a courageous and successful action by the Biden administration, though it’s hard to come to that conclusion by reading the media accounts. President Joe Biden made the difficult political decision to stick to the terms that his predecessor negotiated with the Taliban last year. Despite being caught by surprise by the Taliban’s rapid seizure of power over the summer, the administration was able to evacuate around 120,000 people, a number that virtually no one would have expected prior to the fall of Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan. Sure, the administration should have been better prepared. Sure, it should have committed to evacuating more Afghans who fear for their lives under the Taliban. But it made the right move to finally end the US presence in Afghanistan.

    Biden has made clear that US counterterrorism strikes in Afghanistan will continue, that the war on terror in the region is not over. Yet, US operations in the Middle East now have the feel of those British interventions in the twilight of empire. America is retreating, slowly but surely and sometimes under a protective hail of bullets. The Islamic State group and its various incarnations have become the problem of the Taliban — and the Syrian state, the Iraq state, the Libyan state (such that it is) and so on.

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    Meanwhile, the United States turns its attention toward China. But this is no Soviet Union. China is a powerhouse economy with a government that has skillfully used nationalism to bolster domestic support. With trade and investment, Beijing has recreated a Sinocentric tributary system in Asia. America really doesn’t have the capabilities to roll back Chinese influence in its own backyard.

    So that, in the end, is what 9/11 has changed. The impact on culture, on the daily lives of those not touched directly by the tragedies, has been minimal. The deeper changes — on perceptions of Muslims, on the war on terror — had been set in motion before the attacks happened.

    But America’s place in the world? In 2000, the United States was still riding high in the aftermath of the end of the Cold War. Today, despite the strains of MAGA that can be heard throughout America’s political culture, the United States has become one major power among many. It can’t dictate policy down the barrel of a gun. Economically it must reckon with China. In geopolitics, it has become the unreliable superpower.

    Even in our profound narcissism, Americans are slowly realizing, like the Brits so many years ago, that the imperial game is up.

    *[This article was originally published by FPIF.]

    The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy. More

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    Will the Taliban End Up Under the Influence?

    Yahoo News Senior Editor Mike Bebernes asks the big question on everyone’s mind after the American debacle in Afghanistan: “Does the U.S. have any real leverage over the Taliban?” After summarizing the immediate political background of the topic, he compares the speculative answers of a variety of pundits.

    Bebernes distinguishes between what he calls optimists, who “say the U.S. has enormous leverage to hold the Taliban to their commitments,” and the pessimists, who apparently believe that the interests of the two countries have so little in common that it isn’t worth bothering about the concerns of such savage people. In other words, as Donnie Brasco would say, “Forget about it!”

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    The optimists typically cite the weakness of the Afghan economy and the problems the Taliban will face without US cooperation. Others think that a common concern with fanatical terrorist groups may create an opportunity for mutual understanding. Bebernes suggests that the Taliban government is likely to “seek support in combating its own terror threat from groups like [the Islamic State in Khorasan Province], which some experts believe will create another point of leverage for the U.S.”

    One of the pessimists appears to believe that, as in the Cold War, there may become what General Turgidson in “Dr. Strangelove” would have called a “leverage gap” between the US and Russia or China. “Other world powers could undercut America’s leverage.”

    Today’s Daily Devil’s Dictionary definition:

    Leverage:

    The measure of the power of a state with imperial ambitions over the life and death of populations beyond its borders

    Contextual Note

    The trauma Americans experienced after Saigon, nearly half a century ago, and Kabul today has provoked what might be called the first “leverage crisis” in US history. For more than two centuries, the United States has carved out, largely unimpeded, its areas of influence in various parts of the world. Areas of influence eventually evolved into “spheres of influence.”

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    Following World War II, American strategists realized they could conquer, economically if not politically, the great sphere itself, the earthly globe. The globalization of what was originally the US version of Europe’s capitalist economy, along with a reinforced ideology thanks to thinkers from the University of Chicago, led every strategist within Washington’s Beltway to assume that the globe itself could become America’s hegemonic domain.

    Exercising geopolitical and economic hegemony required two things: physical presence — provided essentially by multinational firms and American military bases — and a toolbox of influence, which could take the form alternatively of overt and covert military action or economic sanctions. Ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the US State Department has wielded those tools with a sense of ever-increasing impunity as it proceeded to intimidate both its allies and nations that refused to acknowledge their tributary status with regard to US influence. For the past four decades, the US has relied on either warfare — invasion, occupation and bombing campaigns, unlimited in time and scope — or increasingly severe economic sanctions to reaffirm what was officially formulated as influence, but exercised with a spirit of hegemonic control.

    The debacle in Afghanistan reveals a deeper trouble at the core of strategic decision-making in Washington. The new emphasis on the concept of leverage can be read as an admission that the toolbox to manage a sphere of influence has lost much of its efficacy. For decades, the idea of applying and reinforcing influence dominated Washington’s strategic thinking. It is now being replaced by the much more fragile idea of exercising leverage. Both the State Department and the media pundits appear puzzled about what that might mean.

    The concept of leverage comes from the field of mechanics. It describes the function of a lever. “Levers convert a small force applied over a long distance to a large force applied over a small distance.” Twenty years of yet another futile, expensive and demonstrably stupid war appears to have taught Washington that it no longer has the control over distance that it formerly believed it had. Its wasteful actions have also diminished its force.

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    Making leverage work in mechanics requires some careful analysis, preparation and effective execution. These are efforts the strategists, planners and decision-makers, convinced of the indomitable force of their influence, have consistently failed to carry out in a competent way. Could it be too late for them to learn the art of leverage? Or is the very fact that they are now obliged to think in terms of leverage rather than influence so humiliating an experience that they will fail to engage?

    This may be the occasion for US President Joe Biden to leverage the vaunted “power of our example” rather than the “example of our power” that he so regularly mentions in his speeches. That would require some real geopolitical creativity. And does he really believe that the US could live up to that standard? Few commentators have remarked that Biden, true to his own tradition, plagiarized that line from Evan Augustine Peterson III, J.D., who originally used it in 2005 to condemn the Iraq war that Biden had so forcefully promoted as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

    Historical Note

    In 1823, President James Monroe promulgated the Monroe Doctrine that continues to this day to dominate US relations with the entire American continent. It became a permanent feature of the mindset of US strategists, who without a trace of tragic irony routinely consider Latin America in its entirety, right down to the Tierra del Fuego, as Washington’s “backyard.” Peter Hakim, a senior fellow of the Inter-American Dialogue, in a Foreign Affairs in 2007 article with the title, “Is Washington Losing Latin America?” dared to express the feelings not only of the US political class, but also those of the USA’s neighbors. “Perhaps what most troubles Latin Americans is the sense that Washington just does not take the region seriously and still considers it to be its own backyard,” he wrote.

    In 1823, Latin America’s population consisted of three broad socio-cultural and ethnic components: indigenous people who occupied most of the mountainous interior; descendants of Iberian Europeans (Spanish and Portuguese) who, following their 15th and 16th-century conquests, dominated the political and economic structures; and imported African slaves (primarily in Brazil). All three were as distant from the dominant Anglo-Saxon culture of the US as anyone could imagine. These were the populations President Monroe wanted to “protect” from hostile action by European powers. 

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    Through its own expansion justified in the name of “manifest destiny,” the US had demonstrated how it would deal with indigenous Americans. Primarily through genocidal warfare. It demonstrated its attitude toward Africans, deemed useful purely for economic exploitation as slaves. As for the Spanish and Portuguese-speaking populations who created the culture that prevailed across all the coastal regions of Latin America, they belonged at best to the category of second-class Europeans. The fact that the majority were mestizos (mixed-race) defined them irrevocably as third-class. At least they could thank their hybrid status for being spared the fate of the true indigenous, who could at any moment, even in recent times, be subjected to genocidal treatment.

    In 1904, President Theodore Roosevelt refined the Monroe Doctrine by adding the Roosevelt Corollary. It “stated that in cases of flagrant and chronic wrongdoing by a Latin American country, the United States could intervene in that country’s internal affairs.” If during the 19th the Monroe Doctrine functioned mainly as a barrier to European incursion, by the beginning of the 20th century, the US had come to understand the value for its burgeoning capitalist economy of controlling what came to become a continental sphere of influence. Controlling meant having the power to organize the economy of the countries under its influence.

    Following the Second World War and the collapse of nearly all the vestiges of European colonization, the US discovered that the entire globe could potentially become its sphere of influence. Some have called the period of the Cold War the Pax Americana, simply because the standoff with the Soviet Union never became a hot war between the two massively armed superpowers. But throughout the period there were proxy wars, clandestine operations and regime change campaigns galore that meant the heat was never really turned down.

    What a comedown it must be today to have to debate how to exercise leverage.

    *[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news. Read more of The Daily Devil’s Dictionary on Fair Observer.]

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    Israel’s Spy Agency Snubbed the U.S. Can Trust Be Restored?

    Israel’s new prime minister, Naftali Bennett, heads to Washington promising better relations and seeking support for covert attacks on Iran’s nuclear program.WASHINGTON — The cable sent this year by the outgoing C.I.A. officer in charge of building spy networks in Iran reverberated throughout the intelligence agency’s Langley headquarters, officials say: America’s network of informers had largely been lost to Tehran’s brutally efficient counterintelligence operations, which has stymied efforts to rebuild it.Israel has helped fill the breach, officials say, its robust operations in Iran providing the United States with streams of reliable intelligence on Iran’s nuclear activities, missile programs and on its support for militias around the region.The two countries’ intelligence services have a long history of cooperation and operated in virtual lock step during the Trump administration, which approved or was party to many Israeli operations in its shadow war against Iran.That changed after the election of President Biden, who promised to restore the nuclear agreement with Iran that Israel so vigorously opposed. In the spring, Benjamin Netanyahu, then Israel’s prime minister, even curtailed intelligence sharing with the United States because he did not trust the Biden administration.The challenge for the two countries — as Israel’s new prime minister, Naftali Bennett, meets with Mr. Biden at the White House on Thursday — will be whether they can rebuild that trust even as they pursue contradictory agendas on Iran. The Biden administration favors a diplomatic approach, reviving and building on the 2015 nuclear agreement, while Israeli officials say that only force can stop Iran from building an atomic bomb.A key goal for Mr. Bennett will be to determine whether the Biden administration will continue to support Israel’s covert operations against Iran’s nuclear program, senior Israeli officials said.Israeli officials hope that any new deal with Iran will not limit such operations, which in the past have included sabotage of Iranian nuclear facilities and the assassination of Iranian nuclear scientists.The White House meeting comes just weeks after William J. Burns, the C.I.A. director, traveled to Israel to meet his counterpart, David Barnea, as well as Mr. Bennett, a sign of the importance of intelligence cooperation to the bilateral relationship.“The sharing of intelligence and operational activity between Israel and the United States is one of the most important subjects on the agenda for the meeting,” said Maj. Gen. Aharon Zeevi Farkash, a former director of Israeli military intelligence. “Israel has developed unique capabilities for intelligence collection in a number of enemy countries, capabilities that the United States was not able to grow on its own and without which its national security would be vulnerable. ”William J. Burns, the C.I.A. director, second from left, recently met with his counterpart in Israel. The two agencies are trying to rebuild trust as their countries pursue contradictory agendas on Iran.Stefani Reynolds for The New York TimesIn his meeting with Mr. Biden, Mr. Bennett’s hand will be strengthened by the fact that the United States has become more dependent on Israel for information on Iran. The United States has other sources of information, including electronic eavesdropping by the National Security Agency, but it lacks the in-country spy network Israel has..css-1xzcza9{list-style-type:disc;padding-inline-start:1em;}.css-3btd0c{font-family:nyt-franklin,helvetica,arial,sans-serif;font-size:1rem;line-height:1.375rem;color:#333;margin-bottom:0.78125rem;}@media (min-width:740px){.css-3btd0c{font-size:1.0625rem;line-height:1.5rem;margin-bottom:0.9375rem;}}.css-3btd0c strong{font-weight:600;}.css-3btd0c em{font-style:italic;}.css-w739ur{margin:0 auto 5px;font-family:nyt-franklin,helvetica,arial,sans-serif;font-weight:700;font-size:1.125rem;line-height:1.3125rem;color:#121212;}#NYT_BELOW_MAIN_CONTENT_REGION .css-w739ur{font-family:nyt-cheltenham,georgia,’times new roman’,times,serif;font-weight:700;font-size:1.375rem;line-height:1.625rem;}@media (min-width:740px){#NYT_BELOW_MAIN_CONTENT_REGION .css-w739ur{font-size:1.6875rem;line-height:1.875rem;}}@media (min-width:740px){.css-w739ur{font-size:1.25rem;line-height:1.4375rem;}}.css-9s9ecg{margin-bottom:15px;}.css-uf1ume{display:-webkit-box;display:-webkit-flex;display:-ms-flexbox;display:flex;-webkit-box-pack:justify;-webkit-justify-content:space-between;-ms-flex-pack:justify;justify-content:space-between;}.css-wxi1cx{display:-webkit-box;display:-webkit-flex;display:-ms-flexbox;display:flex;-webkit-flex-direction:column;-ms-flex-direction:column;flex-direction:column;-webkit-align-self:flex-end;-ms-flex-item-align:end;align-self:flex-end;}.css-12vbvwq{background-color:white;border:1px solid #e2e2e2;width:calc(100% – 40px);max-width:600px;margin:1.5rem auto 1.9rem;padding:15px;box-sizing:border-box;}@media (min-width:740px){.css-12vbvwq{padding:20px;width:100%;}}.css-12vbvwq:focus{outline:1px solid #e2e2e2;}#NYT_BELOW_MAIN_CONTENT_REGION .css-12vbvwq{border:none;padding:10px 0 0;border-top:2px solid #121212;}.css-12vbvwq[data-truncated] .css-rdoyk0{-webkit-transform:rotate(0deg);-ms-transform:rotate(0deg);transform:rotate(0deg);}.css-12vbvwq[data-truncated] .css-eb027h{max-height:300px;overflow:hidden;-webkit-transition:none;transition:none;}.css-12vbvwq[data-truncated] .css-5gimkt:after{content:’See more’;}.css-12vbvwq[data-truncated] .css-6mllg9{opacity:1;}.css-qjk116{margin:0 auto;overflow:hidden;}.css-qjk116 strong{font-weight:700;}.css-qjk116 em{font-style:italic;}.css-qjk116 a{color:#326891;-webkit-text-decoration:underline;text-decoration:underline;text-underline-offset:1px;-webkit-text-decoration-thickness:1px;text-decoration-thickness:1px;-webkit-text-decoration-color:#326891;text-decoration-color:#326891;}.css-qjk116 a:visited{color:#326891;-webkit-text-decoration-color:#326891;text-decoration-color:#326891;}.css-qjk116 a:hover{-webkit-text-decoration:none;text-decoration:none;}The risk of such dependence became clear in April when Israel set off explosives at Iran’s Natanz nuclear plant.Mr. Netanyahu had ordered his national security officials to reduce the information that they conveyed to the United States about planned operations in Iran, American and Israeli officials said.And on the day of the attack, Israel’s foreign intelligence agency, the Mossad, gave the United States less than two hours’ notice, according to American and Israeli officials, far too short a time for the United States to assess the operation or ask Israel to call it off.Israeli and American officials interviewed for this article spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss classified operations.Israeli officials said they took the precautions because Americans had leaked information about some Israeli operations, a charge U.S. officials deny. Other Israeli officials say the Biden administration had been inattentive to their security concerns, too focused on reviving the Iran nuclear agreement that President Donald J. Trump had pulled out of.A satellite photo showing the Natanz nuclear facility in April 2021. Days earlier, Israeli operatives set off a large explosion inside the plant. Planet Labs Inc., via Associated PressIn Washington, many American officials said they believed that Mr. Netanyahu was just resuming the grudge he had held against the Obama administration, which negotiated the nuclear deal with Iran.The last-minute notification of the Natanz operation was the starkest example that Israel had changed its procedures since the Trump presidency.Senior Biden administration officials said that the Israelis, at least in spirit, had violated a longstanding, unwritten agreement to at least advise the United States of covert operations, giving Washington a chance to object.Mr. Burns called his counterpart, Yossi Cohen, the Mossad chief, expressing concern over the snub, according to people briefed on the call.Mr. Cohen said that the belated notification was the result of operational constraints and uncertainty about when the Natanz operation would take place.For the American-Israeli intelligence relationship, it was another a sharp turnabout.Relations had soured during the Obama era.The Obama White House, concerned that Israel was leaking information, kept the existence of the negotiations with Iran secret from Israel, a former Obama administration official said. Israeli intelligence learned of the meetings from its own sources.Mr. Netanyahu was also convinced that American spy agencies were keeping him under surveillance, according to a former Israeli official.During the Trump administration, cooperation reached new highs.In the spring, Benjamin Netanyahu, then Israel’s prime minister, curtailed intelligence sharing with the United States because he did not trust the Biden administration.Dan Balilty for The New York TimesWhen the Mossad stole Iran’s nuclear archive in 2018, the only foreign officials briefed in advance were Mr. Trump and his C.I.A. director, Mike Pompeo.Israeli officials used the documents to convince Mr. Trump that Iran had an active nuclear weapons program, and Mr. Trump cited them when he withdrew from the nuclear agreement months later, a major victory for Mr. Netanyahu.“This was clever use of intelligence,” Mr. Netanyahu told The New York Times in 2019.Iran has denied that it seeks a nuclear weapon, but the archives showed that Iran had a nuclear weapons program as recently as 2003. According to American intelligence officials, no evidence has emerged that the program continued.During meetings with senior Trump administration officials in late 2019 and early 2020, Mr. Cohen presented a new Iran strategy, arguing for aggressive covert operations to sabotage Iran’s nuclear facilities and killing key personnel to force Iran to accept a stricter agreement.Israel began a wave of covert operations, keeping the Trump administration in the loop on a series of cyber and bombing attacks on Iranian nuclear facilities and on the assassination of Iran’s chief nuclear scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, in November 2020, after the American election but before Mr. Biden took office.The two countries also cooperated on two operations in 2020: a U.S. operation to kill the leader of Iran’s paramilitary Quds Force, Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, and an Israeli operation to kill a Qaeda leader who had taken refuge in Tehran.Mr. Pompeo, who later served as secretary of state, said that there was no relationship more important during his four years in the Trump administration than the one that the C.I.A. had with the Mossad.“The two organizations really had a moment, an important moment in history,” he said in an interview in June.In January 2020, an American drone strike killed Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani as he was leaving the Baghdad airport. The strike was aided by Israeli intelligence.Sergey Ponomarev for The New York TimesBut the warmth of the Trump years quickly gave way to chillier relations this year. The Biden administration’s announcement of its plan to return to the Iran nuclear deal and repeated delays of visits by Israeli intelligence officials to Washington deepened skepticism of the new administration in Israel.Mr. Cohen sought to repair the relationship with the United States during his final months as Mossad chief, a senior Israeli official said.On his final visit to Washington in April, a little more than two weeks after the Natanz bombing, he met with C.I.A. officials and Mr. Biden, promising a more transparent intelligence relationship. Mr. Burns gave him a warm reception, and an award for fostering the close partnership between the Mossad and the C.I.A.“You have people within both intelligence organizations that have had relationships for a very long time,” said Will Hurd, a former C.I.A. officer and former member of the House Intelligence Committee. “There is a closeness and an ability to potentially smooth out some of the problems that may manifest from the leaders.”Arguably as important in rebooting the relations between the two spy shops was the departure of Mr. Netanyahu from the prime minister’s office.Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who meets with President Biden on Thursday, said he would use the meeting with Mr. Biden to try to reset the tone of Israel’s relationship with the United States.Amit Elkayam for The New York TimesMr. Bennett says he wants to open a new chapter in relations with the White House, and has promised a more constructive approach.But the Mossad is already planning more secret operations in Iran. The question for the Biden administration is which are acceptable and when, General Zeevi Farkash said.“The U.S. and Israel must jointly identify the red lines so that if Iran crosses them, Israel can act to prevent it from achieving military nuclear capacity,” he said.Julian E. Barnes and Adam Goldman reported from Washington, and Ronen Bergman from Tel Aviv. Eric Schmitt contributed reporting from Washington. More

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    Congress Adjourns While the Nation Burns

    While the fate of many in Afghanistan hangs in the balance, at least Americans at home can breathe a sigh of relief. Both the US House of Representatives and the Senate are on vacation for weeks to come. Citizens of the nation’s capital can recapture their identity from the out-of-town blowhards who give Washington a bad name. The trick now will be to encourage as many Republicans as possible to stay away for good. Admittedly, this may take another election to accomplish, but it is important to get to work on it now.

    On the Senate side of the Capitol, both Democrats and Republicans are leaving town with their party balloons still in the air in celebration of a bill to fund repair and replacement of a portion of the nation’s hard infrastructure that has crumbled before their very eyes for decades. It has become so rare that both parties can agree on anything that the celebration far outweighs the accomplishment. After all that hard work, it seems that it is time for a “well-deserved” weeks-long vacation, the other topic that receives regular bipartisan support.

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    On the House of Representatives side, things are a little more complicated. That group of dedicated public servants adjourned on July 30 for seven weeks, although a short recall is possible for a symbolic vote or two along the way. To be fair, they did pass some meaningful legislation in the last few months. However, only one such piece of legislation has passed the Senate as well and been signed into law — Joe Biden’s initial COVID-19 relief bill (American Rescue Plan). But at least they tried to find legislative solutions on some significant issues, the most important of which are voting rights and police reform.

    With all those senators and representatives now vacationing, it would be easy to conclude from this casual approach to governance that the nation is smoothly sailing to its appointed destiny of renewed greatness. Nothing could be further from the truth.

    There is so much that is so obviously wrong at the moment in today’s America that even the appearance of a weeks-long hiatus should ethically disqualify those vacationing legislators from further service. A “grateful” nation should retire all of them. But that won’t happen, in part because each of them will have a spin machine at work full-time rolling out the tale of just how hard they are working on the issues of the day back in their districts.

    While You Were Vacationing

    Lest you think that I am being a little hard on these self-congratulatory public servants, let’s take a look at what is going on around the nation and around the world while the US Congress has freed itself of its legislative responsibilities.

    Embed from Getty Images

    First, and most obvious, COVID-19 is again ravaging the nation. So, instead of collectively working on urgent public health initiatives, like vaccination mandates, the vacationing legislators are individually on the stump creating more public health confusion. Much of the idiocy makes enough local news that it fortifies those in the caves, covens and churches in Republican districts and states as they go about their communities spreading the disease. The only upside is that many of the vacationing Republican congresspersons are spending their time hanging out with their unmasked and unvaccinated constituents.

    Meanwhile, a country that clings to the notion that the current version of universal suffrage has become a critical component of its “democratic” foundation is in the throes of an unrelenting Republican-led effort to do everything possible to make voting more difficult and less universal. The reasons for this are simple: racism and privilege. Universal suffrage to white conservatives is only a good thing if the “universe” is overwhelmingly composed of right-wing white people. Unfortunately for that dwindling crowd, the universe includes a lot of black and brown people, and a whole bunch of young people who see “universal” as a plus.

    There is an easy way to stop the reversal of the democratic process in America. It is to pass legislation at the national level that sets clear voting rights standards, that increases access to the ballot for all eligible voters and that provides fierce enforcement measures to ensure legal compliance. But you can’t do any of this on vacation.

    While many of those vacationing legislators may come face-to-face with constituents in places where everything is burning, and heatwaves, drought and smoke spread daily devastation, nothing can be done about this either while on vacation. Therefore, environmental laws, climate change legislation, and economic incentives and regulatory mandates remain on hold. The legal framework for cleaner energy production, research and use remains unchanged and woefully inadequate to meet today’s planetary challenges.

    While climate change is taking its deadly toll during the congressional vacation season, we should not forget about gun violence and police violence. Hardly a day goes by in America without multiple firearm deaths and some measure of police overreaction or undertraining resulting in the death or serious injury of someone in some community that the cops are supposed to be protecting. It will be hard to get a full tally from these events over the coming vacation weeks, but every congressperson knows that critically-needed federal legislation to address rampant gun violence and police reform will be on hold, as well.

    No matter how completely oblivious most Americans have become to gun violence (until it hits very close to home), America remains the most likely developed country in which at any moment someone is being killed or killing themselves with a firearm. Since it has been a few weeks now since the nation’s latest high-profile mass killing, it will be hard to make it to the end of this congressional vacation without another one. Thoughts and prayers are all we get when Congress is in session, so their absence shouldn’t change the landscape much on this one. But we should all be disgusted that these public servants can go on vacation while the gun carnage continues unabated and has remained unaddressed in meaningful federal legislation for decades.

    The List Goes On

    I could go on. The list is long. But so is the vacation. Think about how a functioning legislature might be able to make some legislative progress in the coming weeks on universal access to meaningful health care, child care and family leave, a living minimum wage, tax reform and access to quality education.

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    There might even be the opportunity to debate the crippling and continuing impact of America’s systemic racism and how to do something about it. And maybe if they weren’t all on vacation, they could do something constructive, instead of sound bites, about the implementation of America’s long-overdue withdrawal from Afghanistan and its human rights implications, about immigrants and refugees, and about ensuring that the vaccines that Americans are throwing away get into the arms of those begging for them elsewhere.

    They could be doing some of this, but they are doing none of it. They are on vacation.

    *[This article was co-published on the author’s blog, Hard Left Turn.]

    The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy. More

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    How the Census Bureau Stood Up to Donald Trump’s Meddling

    WASHINGTON — There were 10 days left in the Trump presidency. And John Abowd and Tori Velkoff had a decision to make.Six months earlier, in July 2020, President Donald Trump had ordered the Census Bureau, where they were senior officials, to produce a count of every unauthorized immigrant in the nation, separate from the 2020 census count that was well underway. The Trump administration’s goal was to strip those immigrants from the population count used to divvy up House seats among the states.The move promised to benefit Republicans by sapping electoral strength from Democratic-leaning areas and handing more voting power to older, white and most likely more conservative populations.Mr. Abowd, the bureau’s chief scientist, and Ms. Velkoff, its chief demographer, were obligated by law to carry out the president’s orders. They’d assigned some of their top experts to produce an immigrant count from billions of government records. Mr. Trump had also inserted four political appointees into the bureau’s top ranks since June, in no small part to ensure that the numbers were delivered.But despite months of work, the results, in Mr. Abowd’s and Ms. Velkoff’s view, fell far short of the bureau’s standards for accuracy. Now the agency’s director, Steven Dillingham, was demanding the tallies — accurate or not — before the president left office.Mr. Abowd and Ms. Velkoff went to Ron Jarmin, the deputy director. The trio, who had more than 75 years of experience in the bureau among them, agreed on a response: They would reject the demand unless they could explain in a technical report why the numbers were useless. (In an interview this month, Mr. Dillingham said that he was merely asking for an assessment of the immigrant tabulations, with whatever caveats were necessary. “I said, look over that data and see if any of it is ready,” he said.)Mr. Jarmin then sent a message to three other Census Bureau experts whom he had assigned to assist the political appointees. Stop whatever you’re doing, it said. Any future orders will come from me.That internal struggle, which has not been previously reported, was the breaking point in a battle with the Trump administration over political interference in the census. By now, tales of Trump appointees disrupting, or outright corrupting, the work of federal agencies are familiar. But in this case, the meddling threatened not just to change the allocation of federal power, but also to skew the distribution of trillions of federal tax dollars.It was not a revolt or some sort of deep-state resistance that thwarted that effort. Instead, a slice of the career bureaucracy that keeps the federal government running, day in and day out, stood up for what it saw as the core function of the Census Bureau — to produce the gold standard for data about the nation’s population.“We tried to do what we thought was statistically sound and valid,” Ms. Velkoff said in an interview in June. “If we didn’t have a statistically sound and valid methodology, then we pushed back.”The episode pitting career officials against political appointees raises an important question: Should the Census Bureau be better protected from such political interference in the future?The White House had initially sought to identify unauthorized immigrants by adding a question about citizenship to the census form itself. Mr. Abowd had warned that doing so would harm the quality of the count. In focus groups the bureau conducted, people in various ethic groups expressed an “unprecedented” level of concern about giving the government identifying information, according to a 2017 report on the research. Nonetheless, Wilbur Ross, the secretary of the Commerce Department, which includes the Census Bureau, ordered the agency to go ahead with the citizenship question.But in June 2019, the Supreme Court rejected Mr. Ross’s proffered rationale — that adding the citizenship question was necessary to better enforce the Voting Rights Act — calling it “contrived.”With that avenue closed, the administration immediatelyordered the Census Bureau to gather data on unauthorized immigrants by combing through records of some 20 federal agencies.Mr. Abowd, Ms. Velkoff and their colleagues spent the next year collecting immigrant data from the administrative records. Then in July 2020, Mr. Trump ordered the data to be used to remove unauthorized immigrants from the coming census totals that would reapportion the House for the next decade. But to segregate unauthorized immigrants from the census totals for each state, there first had to be a census.And that was a problem. In the summer of 2020, the bureau faced the huge challenge of counting every household in the midst of a pandemic. Despite that, Mr. Ross ordered the agency to finish the count by Sept. 30 and to produce the politically crucial population figures for apportioning House seats among the states by Dec. 31. The deadlines ensured the census totals would be delivered to Mr. Trump whether or not he won the November election.Internally, census officials were aghast. Anyone who thought the agency could meet the December deadline, the day-to-day leader of the census, Timothy Olson, wrote to Mr. Jarmin and other senior census officials, “has either a mental deficiency or a political motivation.”But the anti-immigrant forces within Mr. Trump’s administration kept the pressure on, creating four new political jobs in the bureau’s top ranks — an unprecedented step — beginning in June 2020.Senior bureau officials gave them offices. They also quietly ordered that the appointees be given only rounded numbers — estimates, which could not be labeled official for political or other reasons.The first of the new political appointees was Nathaniel Cogley, a political-science professor at a state university in rural Texas who has specialized in African studies. He was soon joined by the other three, and they reported weekly to an aide to Mark Meadows, Mr. Trump’s chief of staff.Mr. Cogley began attacking the bureau’s effort to count a small share of known households that evade the best efforts of census takers. In these cases — 1.2 million people in 2010, but probably many more in pandemic-scarred 2020 — the bureau has long used a statistical method called imputation, looking at nearby households to make educated guesses about who lives in the places the census field operation missed.Some of those households are occupied by right-leaning libertarians who are deeply suspicious of the government. But many are low-income families, members of minorities and unauthorized immigrants, who expand the count for urban areas and thus increase representation for traditional Democratic strongholds.“If you leave out imputations, you leave out African Americans, Hispanics and other hard-to-count people,” Kimball Brace, a demographer and president of a consulting firm that does work on redistricting, said in an interview. Mr. Cogley called him to ask for evidence that imputation was statistically unsound. “I saw Cogley’s view as totally a way of justifying how the Republicans come out on this,” Mr. Brace said. (Mr. Cogley did not respond to calls, texts and emails asking for comment.)Mr. Ross had the power to order the bureau to do as Mr. Cogley wished. But after listening to dueling presentations, he allowed the imputation work to continue — handing the career officials a victory on one of their most important concerns. (Mr. Ross declined to comment on the record.)In early November, when Joe Biden won the presidential election, the 10-week clock for Mr. Trump’s time in office began to tick with new urgency. There would be no second term. Mr. Abowd, Ms. Velkoff and their colleagues raced to meet the Dec. 31 deadline. But the bureau hit a major technical snag: The pandemic had scrambled the locations of tens of millions of people, like college students and agricultural workers, who should have been counted where they studied or worked but instead lived elsewhere temporarily because of the coronavirus.Putting them in their proper place would take time. In late November, census officials told Mr. Dillingham, the bureau’s director, that they could not meet the Dec. 31 deadline and maintain the agency’s standards for accuracy.Mr. Cogley and other political appointees pressed for shortcuts to speed ahead, going so far as to suggest commandeering computers from other agencies to accelerate data processing, an idea the bureau dismissed as impractical. But the political appointees and the White House never answered a basic question about the numbers they most wanted: What definition of “unauthorized immigrant” should the bureau use? Did it include people contesting their deportation in court? Or children whose birthplace was unclear? Or immigrants whose green cards were being processed?In December, the White House tried one last tack: If census experts could not reliably say who should be removed from the state-by-state apportionment totals because they were in the country illegally, then administration officials would decide for them, using whatever tabulations of immigrants the bureau provided.This would take a hammer to the bureau’s standards for accuracy. It would also reverse past practice, in which the Census Bureau calculated the House apportionment and the White House delivered the results to Congress as a formality. In January, Mr. Dillingham told Mr. Jarmin it was the bureau’s No. 1 priority — above the census itself — to turn over figures on undocumented immigrants to the White House by Jan. 15. He acknowledged proposing cash bonuses to those who could make it happen, but said he made sure anyone working on the project “would not be pulled off the 2020 census data.”This last-minute order, which Mr. Dillingham delivered orally rather than in writing, was the breaking point for the career officials who had carried out every other directive. “The integrity of the statistical process that the Census Bureau is ethically committed to was abrogated in serious ways,” Mr. Abowd said.Separately and anonymously, three career officials filed whistle-blower complaints with the Commerce Department’s inspector general. The complaints accused Mr. Dillingham of violating a cardinal rule for the federal government called Statistical Policy Directive 1. “A federal statistical agency,” it states, “must be independent from political and other undue external influence in developing, producing and disseminating statistics.” Mr. Dillingham said this month that when he heard about the complaints to the inspector general, he stopped asking for the immigrant tabulations.On Jan. 18, Mr. Dillingham resigned. Mr. Trump left office two days later without the counts that would have downgraded the status of immigrants and most likely helped more Republicans win election.The census has been wielded as a political weapon before. When the very first count in 1790 fell short (at 3.9 million) of George Washington’s expectations, he didn’t change the number, but he instructed Thomas Jefferson to check it. When Jefferson’s work produced an estimate above four million, he included the higher number in descriptions of the census abroad to make the new country appear stronger.When the 1920 census counted rising population totals in American cities — thanks to an influx of Italians, Poles, Jews and others from outside Northern Europe — Congress refused to reapportion the House until 1929 so that rural areas wouldn’t lose seats.And most notoriously, after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the Army used census information to round up Japanese Americans for internment. (In 2000, the bureau apologized.)Now a group of officials at the agency are considering how the census could be better protected from political meddling and misuse. In July, a committee of career professionals put in place a new policy on data stewardship, which firms up the rules governing internal as well as external access to confidential data. A bigger idea is to move the bureau out of the Commerce Department to make it more independent, like the National Science Foundation. Congress could also mandate by statute that immigrants who reside in the country must continue to be counted, as they always have been. Lawmakers (or the president, by executive order) also could further strengthen the existing safeguards in Statistical Policy Directive 1.In the end, the delays that frustrated the anti-immigrant ambitions of Mr. Trump’s administration may end up helping his party. The bureau’s release of redistricting numbers on Thursday was several months behind schedule. Republicans, who control more state legislatures and have shown a greater appetite for extreme gerrymandering than Democrats have, could benefit because little time remains to contest maps before the 2022 elections.The newly released numbers will now set the stage for what are likely to be colossal battles over control of the House and State Legislatures.For career professionals, “the highest priority now,” Mr. Abowd said, “is restoring the credibility of the 2020 census and the Census Bureau.”Emily Bazelon is a staff writer at The Times magazine. More

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    Thought Suppression Flourishes in France and Washington

    In August, the Daily Devil’s Dictionary appears in a single weekly edition containing multiple items taken from a variety of contexts. 

    This week, we jump from French President Emmanuel Macron’s proposal of a new law intended to produce electoral momentum in the run-up to the presidential election to Republican Senator Josh Hawley’s campaign to avoid dishonoring the great tradition of white supremacy. We then move on to congressional Democrats’ greater sense of loyalty to the military-industrial complex than to their elected president and also the military threat that China’s peaceful overtures in Africa appear to represent for the US. Finally, we look at the Financial Times’ realistic, but unorthodox reading of the global debt crisis. 

    Macron’s Revised Motto: Liberté (diminished), Egalité (Two-tiered) and Neutralité

    It used to be that countries like Switzerland could claim the privilege of neutrality. The notion applied to political entities. President Macron of France has extended it to people in the name of combating “separatism,” the latest and deadliest sin against what he imagines to be republican integrity. Parliament is now deliberating on a bill designed literally to neuter the French by imposing neutrality as a behavioral norm. Macron sees the effort to inculcate and enforce “republican values” as the key to winning reelection in 2022.

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    “Introduced by hardline French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin, the bill contains a slew of measures on the neutrality of the civil service, the fight against online hatred, and the protection of civil servants such as teachers,” France 24 informs us. The New York Times explains that this “law also extends strict religious neutrality obligations beyond civil servants to anyone who is a private contractor of a public service, like bus drivers.”

    Neutralité:

    A legal concept that provides a pretext for targeting the Muslim community in France for failing to live up to republican standards, a requirement that not only judges people on their aptitude to adhere to a modern faith known as “republican principles” (which supersedes any other creed or philosophy a person may identify with), but also proclaims that those principles are universal and should be shared by any rational person anywhere in the world

    The Context

    The law voted by parliament on July 23 seeks to eliminate “separatism” by removing a few of the traditional liberties the French formerly enjoyed. It also seeks to foment a climate of suspicion against anyone who resists signing on to a behavioral code designed to protect members of the current secular order.

    To ensure that some of Marine Le Pen’s xenophobic, anti-immigrant voters may be tempted to drift across to vote for Macron in next year’s election, the president has proposed a law clearly intended to demonstrate his personal pleasure in intimidating Muslims.

    Radical Ideology According to Senator Josh Hawley

    Republicans in the United States believe in freedom of expression so long as thought itself is controlled. Missouri Senator Josh Hawley understands that white exceptionalism is the unimpeachable foundation of the American way of life. “Over the past year, Americans have watched stunned as a radical ideology spread through our country’s elite institutions—one that teaches America is an irredeemably racist nation founded by white supremacists,” Hawley said. “We cannot afford for our children to lose faith in the noble ideals this country was founded on.”

    Radical ideology:

    The citing of any facts of history that might contradict the self-proclaimed normal and noble ideology of those who believe that the power structure they are a part of is predestined not only to rule the world, but also to restrict useful, objective knowledge of the world

    The Context

    When Hawley claims that we “have to make sure that our children understand what makes this country great, the ideals of hope and promise our Founding Fathers fought for, and the love of country that unites us all,” the key concept is “make sure.” This is the language not of education but of indoctrination, a characteristic traditionally associated with totalitarian regimes that mobilize whatever resources are required to “make sure” people toe the line.

    Embed from Getty Images

    The idea of “making sure” that children “understand” should be seen as an aporia, a simple contradiction, since true understanding means appreciating what one cannot be sure of — in other words, of putting things in perspective. Hawley clearly wants to remove what he calls the “ideals” from their context. This is more about undermining than understanding.

    There are similarities between Macron’s and Hawley’s approach to normalizing understanding and testing for loyalty.

    The Democrats’ Competing Priorities 

    US President Joe Biden has claimed that transformative FDR-style reforms are his priority and opposed Donald Trump’s race to further bloat the defense budget. Biden’s party in Congress is implementing its own priorities, similar to Trump’s.

    “One has to wonder what is even the point of a Senate Democratic majority if they’re going to not only continue Trump policies but work with Senate Republicans to undermine [Biden’s] priorities. Utterly pathetic,” tweeted Stephen Miles, executive director of Win Without War.

    Priority:

    Something political leaders want the public to believe is the first thing they wish to accomplish, even when they have no intention of implementing the stated policy and also expect it will not be implemented

    The Context

    During last year’s presidential campaign, Defense News reported that Biden said that “if elected president, he doesn’t foresee major reductions in the U.S. defense budget as the military refocuses its attention to potential threats from ‘near-peer’ powers such as China and Russia.” The website nevertheless suspected that “internal pressure from the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, combined with pandemic-related economic pressures, may ultimately add up to budget cuts at a Biden Pentagon.”

    In a comic historical twist, Biden did not propose a reduction in the defense budget, but instead a modest increase despite drawing down the US commitment in the Middle East. The Senate Armed Services Committee, with a majority of Democrats, applied its pressure not to reduce the budget, but to spend even more than Biden demanded. The only “internal pressure” came from one isolated progressive, outvoted by 25 Democrats and Republicans.

    The moral of the story is clear. The president cannot run the country because even the policies he prefers (sincerely or insincerely) will be overturned by the all-powerful military-industrial complex that controls Congress. Defense is no longer about defending the nation, which is already extremely well defended. It’s about supporting the defense industries that are at the core of the economy and the focus of politicians’ attention. Spending freely on defense is the norm even in a nation that hates any spending other than consumer spending. The taxpayers will never complain, because they have been taught that producing arsenals that will never be needed is consistent with the belief in the “ideals of hope and promise our Founding Fathers fought for,” to quote Hawley again.

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    As the wealth gap continues to grow and the effects of both the COVID-19 pandemic and a growing climate crisis have spread more misery across the nation, the Republicans and Democrats on the Armed Services Committee appear to blissfully ignore the observation of a former Republican president, Dwight Eisenhower: “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.”

    The US Counters a Global Overture Threat

    It goes without saying that, given the multiplicity of threats to “national security,” the US is supposed to be everywhere in the world as a military presence. For two decades, terrorism was the main pretext, but its attraction has faded, allowing other missions to emerge, especially in Africa.

    “Now, in addition to fighting violent extremist groups, they have to counter Chinese and Russian overtures in a region where great powers are increasingly competing for access, influence, and resources,” writes Stavros Atlamazoglou in Business Insider

    Overture:

    Any initiative taken by a rival power in territories currently dominated by Western colonial and neocolonial powers, especially in regions where US troops are already present as a reminder that these are the West’s private hunting grounds

    The Context

    America’s hard power, its famed military might, appears to have a new challenge. This time it isn’t a foreign army, insurgents or terrorist cells. It is, as Atlamazoglou explains, something far more frightening: “Chinese aid, in the form of loans or infrastructure development,” part of “Beijing’s quest for natural resources and global legitimacy.” How dare the most populous nation on earth seek “natural resources and global legitimacy?” No one has called them off the bench to play the same game Western powers have excelled at for the past 500 years.

    Then there is the Russian variant, which is more respectful of the well-established American model. “Russia sells arms and provides political advisors in addition to hunting for lucrative contracts for natural resources and other geopolitical benefits,” Atlamazoglou writes. The two former rivals have remained faithful to the methods developed in that golden age politicians remember as the Cold War.

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    Atlamazoglou relies heavily on the testimony of John Black, a retired Special Forces warrant officer, who observes that American ambassadors need “to look at the country as a whole and take more risks, use [the US] military arm to effect real change within a country.” The stirring examples of Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya demonstrate how “real change” can take place when you accept to “take more risks.”

    Black understands the risk, apparently viscerally: “China or Russia might not hesitate to work with a dictator with an abdominal [sic] human-rights record to further their geopolitical goals.” Could he have possibly meant “abominable?” Or does this describe a brutal regime that weaponizes diarrhea? Citing the US commitment to the rule of law, Black implies that the US would never cavort with a dictator possessed of an abominable human-rights record.

    How did the usually serious Business Insider allow such an “abdominal” article to appear?  

    The Great Reset: The Effect of Coordination or Chaos?

    The magnates of Davos recently agreed to mobilize their forces to implement what they call the “Great Reset,” ushering in a new golden age of socially responsible capitalism. All it requires is some concerted action under their leadership.  

    Gillian Tett, writing for the Financial Times, seems to envision a different scenario: “The total global debt is now more than three times the size of the global economy, since debt — and money — has expanded inexorably since 1971. It seems most unlikely this can ever be repaid just by growth; sooner or later — and it may be much later — this will probably cause a direct or indirect restructuring or a social or financial implosion.”

    Restructuring:

    The process by which the laws of inertia teach human beings with political and economic power, who believe they possess the intelligence capable of problem-solving, that such a belief can only be an illusion

    The Context

    Humanity finds itself struggling with a straightforward situation: multiple crises related to health, climate and an economy functioning on increasingly absurd principles. Theoretically, they can all be addressed through a harmonious global focus on rational resource management followed by intelligent decision-making. But history demonstrates on a daily basis that society has delegated decision-making to: first, individuals within nations (consumers and voters); second, nations (each competing one another); and third, those who govern the nations (theoretically, politicians whose sole aim is to hold onto power once they have acquired it and who are beholden to anyone who assists them in achieving that goal).

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    In other words, the more universal the problem, the less likely it will be that it may be solved. Local and national crises continue to exist, but they have now become dominated by universal crises. The consumer economy and the quasi-democratic nation-states are structured, in terms of decision-making, in a way that makes any voluntary effort at restructuring impossible.

    Not only do our economies and political systems need restructuring. Our thinking about who we are and how we function as a society needs some serious revision.

    *[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news. Read more of The Daily Devil’s Dictionary on Fair Observer.]

    The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy. More

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    Ohio Special Primary Election Results

    The special election to replace Marcia Fudge, who joined President Biden’s cabinet as housing secretary, is a contest largely between two Black women who represent divergent views of the future of the Democratic Party. It will pit the establishment favorite, Shontel Brown, who has the endorsement of Hillary Clinton, against the left’s favored candidate, Nina Turner, who has the backing of Senator Bernie Sanders. More