Medea Benjamin: 10 Good Things About 2017

When I recently asked a prominent activist how she was doing, she took my hands, looked me in the eyes and said, “Everything I’ve been working on for 50 years has gone down the toilet.” With so many good people feeling depressed, let’s point to the positive things that happened, even in this really, really bad year.

1. #MeToo movement has empowered victims of sexual harassment and assault, and encouraged accountability. Those two small words defined a social media-based movement in which women,  and some men, have come forward to publicly share their stories of sexual assault and harassment, and expose their abusers. The movement—and fallout—spread globally, with the hashtag trending in at least 85 countries. The bravery and solidarity of these victims of sexual abuse will help build a future in which impunity for sexual predators is no longer the norm.

2. The year has seen an explosion of grassroots organizing, protest, and activism. An active and uncompromising spirit of revolt has blossomed in the face of a frightening political climate during Donald Trump’s presidency. On January 21, two million people took to the streets in Women’s Marches across the world as a show of solidarity against Trump’s vile and misogynistic rhetoric.

On January 29, thousands gathered in airports around the country to protest Trump’s xenophobic and unconstitutional Muslim ban. In April, 200,000 people joined the People’s Climate March to stand up to the administration’s reckless stance on climate. In July, disability rights activists staged countless actions on Capitol Hill in response to the GOP’s cruel and life-threatening healthcare bill.

In November and December, “Dreamers” protected by Obama’s provision called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) stormed the Hill to demand a replacement for that program, which Trump ended in September.

New groups like Indivisible have helped millions of Americans confront their members of Congress, roughly 24,000 people joined the Democratic Socialists of America, and organizations like the ACLU and Planned Parenthood have seen massive surges in donations.

3. We’re already seeing rebukes of Trump at the ballot box. A wave of Democratic electoral victories swept some unlikely regions of the country, showing popular rejection of Donald Trump and his party. Republican gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie, who ran a shameless race-baiting campaign, lost by a wide margin to Democrat Ralph Northam in Virginia.

In New Jersey, Phil Murphy handily defeated Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno, making that state the seventh in the nation with Democratic control over legislative and executive branches. In Alabama’s special election to fill Jeff Sessions’ vacant Senate seat, Democrat Doug Jones took the lead over alleged sexual predator Roy Moore—an astonishing win in a deep red state, propelled largely by Black voters.

Danica Roem in Virginia, who ran against a virulently anti-LGBTQ opponent, became the first openly transgender person elected as a US legislator. Her win ended 26 years of Republican rule in that district. And in Virginia’s 50th district, self-described democratic socialist Lee Carter defeated powerful Republican delegate Jackson Miller.

4. The first group of J20 protesters, people arrested in Washington DC on the day of Trump’s inauguration, were found not guilty. It was a scary year for the 194 protesters, journalists and medics facing multiple felony charges, including rioting and property destruction, that could have resulted in prison terms of up to 60 years.

The state’s attempt to collectively punish almost 200 people for property destruction committed by a handful is an outrageous example of judicial overreach in an era in which First Amendment rights are under siege. On December 21, however, the jury returned 42 separate not-guilty verdicts for the first six defendants to stand trial. Their acquittal on all charges hopefully portends more non-guilty verdicts for the remaining 188 defendants and gives a boost to our basic rights of free speech and assembly.

5. Chelsea Manning was released from prison after 7 years. Army Pvt. Manning was first detained in 2010 and ultimately convicted of violating the Espionage Act after she leaked troves of documents exposing abuses by the US military, including a video of American helicopters firing on unarmed civilians in Baghdad, Iraq. She was sentenced to 35 years in prison.

She developed post-traumatic stress disorder in prison and was repeatedly denied medical treatment for her gender dysphoria. The Army finally granted her the treatment after she went on a hunger strike. On January 17, 2017, President Obama commuted Manning’s sentence, and she was released in May. We owe Chelsea Manning a debt of gratitude for her tenacious commitment to exposing the crimes of U.S. empire.

6. Cities and states have committed to positive climate initiatives, despite federal regression. Twenty states and 110 cities signed “America’s Pledge,” a commitment to stick to Obama-era climate goals even after Trump’s disastrous decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accords. In December, a group of 36 cities signed the “Chicago Charter,” an agreement to reduce greenhouse emissions and monitor each others progress. These pacts demonstrate popular sentiment and political will, at the local, city and state level, to fight the corporate oligarchs who perpetuate climate chaos.

7. Trump’s presidency has deepened the critical national conversation about racism and white supremacy. The Black Lives Matter movement, which started under Obama’s administration, exposed this nation’s systemic racism. The victory of Donald Trump emboldened white supremacists, as evidenced in the violent Charlottesville neo-Nazi rally in August.

But the year has also seen a wave of opposition to racism, Islamophobia and anti-semitism that includes the toppling of confederate flags and statues, confronting hate speech, demanding the removal of white supremacists Steve Bannon, Sebastian Gorka and Stephen Miller from the White House (two of the three are gone), and building strong interfaith alliances locally and nationally.

8. This was the year the world said no to nuclear weapons. While Donald Trump taunted North Korea’s Kim Jung Un (“Little Rocket Man”) and threatened to tear up the Iran nuclear deal, on July 7, 122 of the world’s nations showed their rejection of nuclear weapons by adopting an historic Nuclear Weapons Prohibition Treaty. The treaty, opposed by all nine nuclear states, is now open for signatures and the ban will come into effect 90 days after being ratified by 50 states.

The organization that promoted this ban is The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), an alliance of 450 nongovernmental organizations in about 100 countries. It was thrilling to learn that ICAN was awarded this year’s Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo. The treaty and the Peace Prize are indications that despite the intransigence of the nuclear-armed states, the global community is determined to ban nuclear weapons.

9. ISIS no longer has a caliphate. For peace activists, it’s hard to put forth military actions as victories, especially when these actions incur a large civilian toll. This is indeed the case with ISIS, where at least 9,000 civilians were killed in the battle to retake the northern Iraqi city of Mosul.

But we do have to acknowledge that taking away ISIS’ territorial base has put a stop to some of the group’s horrific human rights abuses. It will also hopefully make it easier to find a settlement to the dreadful wars that have been raging in Syria and Iraq, and give our government one less excuse for dumping so much of our resources into the military.

10. The global community stood up to Trump’s stance on Jerusalem. In a stinging rebuke of President Donald Trump’s controversial decision to declare Jerusalem the capital of Israel, 128 countries, including some of the US’s most trusted and reliable allies, voted in favor of a United Nations resolution calling for a reversal of his position.

Despite the threat from US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley that the US would be“taking names” of those who voted against it, only nine countries voted with the US and 25 abstained. The resolution isn’t binding, but it’s a stark illustration of just how isolated the United States is in its stance toward Israel.

As we head into the new year, let’s keep ourselves inspired by the hard work of folks at home and abroad who gave us something to cheer about for 2017. May we have a much longer list in 2018.

(This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License)

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North Korea: The Costs of War, Calculated

By ,

Donald Trump is contemplating wars that would dwarf anything that his immediate predecessors ever considered.

He has dropped the mother of all bombs in Afghanistan, and he’s considering the mother of all wars in the Middle East. He is abetting Saudi Arabia’s devastating war in Yemen. Many evangelicals are welcoming his announcement of U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel as a sign that the end of days is nigh. The conflict with Iran is about to heat up early next year when Trump, in the absence of any congressional action, will decide whether to fulfill his promise to tear up the nuclear agreement that the Obama administration worked so hard to negotiate and the peace movement backed with crucial support.

But no war has acquired quite the same apparent inevitability as the conflict with North Korea. Here in Washington, pundits and policymakers are talking about a “three-month window” within which the Trump administration can stop North Korea from acquiring the capability to strike U.S. cities with nuclear weapons.

Read the full article.

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America Has Taken Nearly 70% of the World’s Wealth Gains Since 2012

alternet.org

Incentive for Terrorism: America Has Taken Nearly 70% of the World’s Wealth Gains Since 2012

By Paul Buchheit / AlterNet

America’s super-rich are taking not just from their own nation, but from the rest of the world. Data from the 2017 Global Wealth Databook and various war reports help to explain why U.S. citizens are alienating people outside our borders.

From 2012 to 2017, global wealth increased by $37.7 trillion, and U.S. wealth increased by $26 trillion. Largely because of a surging stock market, our nation took nearly 70 percent of the entire global wealth gain over the past five years. Based on their dominant share of U.S. wealth, America’s richest 10 percent—much less than 1 percent of the world’s adult population—took over half the world’s wealth gain in the past five years.

Wealth in the Volatile Middle East Has Declined

It’s not surprising that young men in the Middle East and Africa would harbor resentment against a country that takes the great majority of the wealth—especially considering that the most troubled areas of the world have collectively lost wealth between 2012 and 2017. That’s both average wealth and median wealth.

Although the GWD has limited data about individual nations in the Middle East and Africa, some is available. Median wealth has plummeted in Syria and Iran and Yemen. It has gone down by almost half in all of Africa. Wealth levels are crashing in the areas of the world where we wage war.

We’re Bombing Nations That Aren’t Terrorist Threats

An explosion jolted Basim awake, and he could see the night sky through the massive hole in his bombed-out Iraqi house. “Mayada!” he screamed for his wife. No response from her, or from his daughter Tuqa…. In the hospital days later, Basim lifted his phone and looked at the smiling images of a wife and daughter he would never see again. He began to sob uncontrollably.

One would think that a nation monopolizing the world’s new wealth would avoid alienating the victims of inequality. But it’s just the opposite. The U.S. dropped thousands of bombs on seven Middle Eastern and African countries in 2016. Estimates of civilian deaths by airwar monitoring groups surpass official Pentagon numbers by a wide margin.

For the desperate residents of Yemen, attacks by Saudi Arabia continue with American weapons, using American targeting data and delivered by American jets. Power and water facilities have been destroyed. Supply lines have been cut. Hospitals have been bombed, and a cholera epidemic is raging out of control.

In Africa, the Pentagon is engaged in about 100 missions in 20 African countries. That includes Somalia, which has been the target of a wave of new U.S. bombings in 2017, even though that country is one of the Middle Eastern states that “are not serious terrorism risks,” according to the Cato Institute. The bombing campaign in Somalia is waged with no public debate or congressional authorization. Since 2001 the Authorization for Use of Military Force Act has been used to justify deadly attacks on any newly feared potential enemy, under the guise of taking aggressive action on any nation that might have “planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks” of 9/11.

Apology to the Troops

Big money interests have turned America into a financial machine, accumulating more and more tax-deferred wealth through the stock market, and using the media to frighten us with overblown terrorist threats. At the same time, Americans are brainwashed into believing that we’re forever fighting a war for freedom. But freedom has become a distorted concept in our increasingly unequal nation. Young lives are put at risk to ensure that a few thousand American households are free to take most of the wealth.

Paul Buchheit is the author of “Disposable Americans” (2017). He is an advocate for social and economic justice. His essays, videos, and poems can be found at YouDeserveFacts.org.

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Discussion on the American War against Viet Nam

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Deaths In Other Nations Since WW II Due To Us Interventions

By James A. Lucas

24 April, 2007
Countercurrents.org

INTRODUCTION

After the catastrophic attacks of September 11 2001 monumental sorrow and a feeling of desperate and understandable anger began to permeate the American psyche. A few people at that time attempted to promote a balanced perspective by pointing out that the United States had also been responsible for causing those same feelings in people in other nations, but they produced hardly a ripple. Although Americans understand in the abstract the wisdom of people around the world empathizing with the suffering of one another, such a reminder of wrongs committed by our nation got little hearing and was soon overshadowed by an accelerated “war on terrorism.”

But we must continue our efforts to develop understanding and compassion in the world. Hopefully, this article will assist in doing that by addressing the question “How many September 11ths has the United States caused in other nations since WWII?” This theme is developed in this report which contains an estimated numbers of such deaths in 37 nations as well as brief explanations of why the U.S. is considered culpable.

The causes of wars are complex. In some instances nations other than the U.S. may have been responsible for more deaths, but if the involvement of our nation appeared to have been a necessary cause of a war or conflict it was considered responsible for the deaths in it. In other words they probably would not have taken place if the U.S. had not used the heavy hand of its power. The military and economic power of the United States was crucial.

This study reveals that U.S. military forces were directly responsible for about 10 to 15 million deaths during the Korean and Vietnam Wars and the two Iraq Wars. The Korean War also includes Chinese deaths while the Vietnam War also includes fatalities in Cambodia and Laos.

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The Hidden Costs of “National Security”

Ten Ways Your Tax Dollars Pay for War — Past, Present, and Future
By William D. Hartung

You wouldn’t know it, based on the endless cries for more money coming from the military, politicians, and the president, but these are the best of times for the Pentagon.  Spending on the Department of Defense alone is already well in excess of half a trillion dollars a year and counting.  Adjusted for inflation, that means it’s higher than at the height of President Ronald Reagan’s massive buildup of the 1980s and is now nearing the post-World War II funding peak.  And yet that’s barely half the story.  There are hundreds of billions of dollars in “defense” spending that aren’t even counted in the Pentagon budget.

Under the circumstances, laying all this out in grisly detail — and believe me, when you dive into the figures, they couldn’t be grislier — is the only way to offer a better sense of the true costs of our wars past, present, and future, and of the funding that is the lifeblood of the national security state.  When you do that, you end up with no less than 10 categories of national security spending (only one of which is the Pentagon budget).  So steel yourself for a tour of our nation’s trillion-dollar-plus “national security” budget. Given the Pentagon’s penchant for wasting money and our government’s record of engaging in dangerously misguided wars without end, it’s clear that a large portion of this massive investment of taxpayer dollars isn’t making anyone any safer.

1) The Pentagon Budget: The Pentagon’s “base” or regular budget contains the costs of the peacetime training, arming, and operation of the U.S. military and of the massive civilian workforce that supports it — and if waste is your Eden, then you’re in paradise.

The department’s budget is awash in waste, as you might expect from the only major federal agency that has never passed an audit.  For example, last year a report by the Defense Business Board, a Pentagon advisory panel, found that the Department of Defense could save $125 billion over five years just by trimming excess bureaucracy.  And a new study by the Pentagon’s Inspector General indicates that the department has ignored hundreds of recommendations that could have saved it more than $33.6 billion.

The Pentagon can’t even get an accurate count of the number of private contractors it employs, but the figure is certainly in the range of 600,000 or higher, and many of them carry out tasks that might far better be handled by government employees.  Cutting that enormous contractor work force by just 15%, only a start when it comes to eliminating the unnecessary duplication involved in hiring government employees and private contractors to do the same work, would save an easy $20 billion annually.

And the items mentioned so far are only the most obvious examples of misguided expenditures at the Department of Defense.  Even larger savings could be realized by scaling back the Pentagon’s global ambitions, which have caused nothing but trouble in the last decade and a half as the U.S. military has waged devastating and counterproductive wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, and elsewhere across the Greater Middle East and Africa.  An analysis by Ben Friedman of the libertarian Cato Institute estimates that the Pentagon could reduce its projected spending by one trillion dollars over the next decade if Washington reined in its interventionary instincts and focused only on America’s core interests.

Donald Trump, of course, ran for president as a businessman who would clean house and institute unprecedented efficiencies in government.  Instead, on entering the Oval Office, he’s done a superb job of ignoring chronic problems at the Pentagon, proposing instead to give that department a hefty raise: $575 billion next year.  And yet his expansive military funding plans look relatively mild compared to the desires of the gung-ho members of the armed services committees in the House and Senate.  Democrats and Republicans alike want to hike the Pentagon budget to at least $600 billion or more.  The legislative fight over a final number will play out over the rest of this year.  For now, let’s just use Trump’s number as a placeholder.

Pentagon Budget: $575 billion

2) The War Budget: The wars of this century, from Iraq to Afghanistan and beyond, have largely been paid for through a special account that lies outside the regular Pentagon budget.  This war budget — known in the antiseptic language of the Pentagon as the “Overseas Contingency Operations” account, or OCO — peaked at more than $180 billion at the height of the Bush administration’s intervention in Iraq.

As troop numbers in that country and Afghanistan have plumetted from hundreds of thousands to about 15,000, the war budget, miraculously enough, hasn’t fallen at anywhere near the same pace.  That’s because it’s not even subject to the modest caps on the Pentagon’s regular budget imposed by Congress back in 2011, as part of a deal to keep the government open.

In reality, over the past five years, the war budget has become a slush fund that pays for tens of billions of dollars in Pentagon expenses that have nothing to do with fighting wars.  The Trump administration wants $64.6 billion for that boondoggle budget in fiscal year 2018.  Some in Congress would like to hike it another $10 billion.  For consistency, we’ll again use the Trump number as a baseline.

War Budget: $64.6 Billion

Running Total: $639.6 Billion

3) Nuclear Warheads (and more): You might think that the most powerful weapons in the U.S. arsenal — nuclear warheads — would be paid for out of the Pentagon budget.   And you would, of course, be wrong.  The cost of researching, developing, maintaining, and “modernizing” the American arsenal of 6,800 nuclear warheads falls to an obscure agency located inside the Department of Energy, the National Nuclear Security Administration, or NNSA. It also works on naval nuclear reactors, pays for the environmental cleanup of nuclear weapons facilities, and funds the nation’s three nuclear weapons laboratories, at a total annual cost of more than $20 billion per year.

Department of Energy (nuclear): $20 Billion

Running total: $659.6 billion

4) “Other Defense”: This catchall category encompasses a number of flows of defense-related funding that go to agencies other than the Pentagon.  It totals about $8 billion per year. In recent years, about two-thirds of this money has gone to pay for the homeland security activities of the FBI, accounting for more than half of that agency’s annual budget.

“Other Defense”: $8 Billion

Running Total: $677.6 billion

The four categories above make up what the White House budget office considers total spending on “national defense.”  But I’m sure you won’t be shocked to learn that their cumulative $677.6 billion represents far from the full story.  So let’s keep right on going.

5) Homeland Security: After the 9/11 attacks, Congress created a mega-agency, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).  It absorbed 22 then-existing entities, all involved in internal security and border protection, creating the sprawling cabinet department that now has 240,000 employees.  For those of you keeping score at home, the agencies and other entities currently under the umbrella of DHS include the Coast Guard, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency, the Transportation Security Agency, the U.S. Secret Service, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE), and the Office of Intelligence Analysis (the only one of America’s 17 intelligence agencies to fit under the department’s rubric).

How many of these agencies actually make us safer?  That would be a debatable topic, if anyone were actually interested in such a debate.  ICE — America’s deportation force — has, for instance, done far more to cause suffering than to protect us from criminals or terrorists.  On the other hand, it’s reassuring to know that there is an office charged with determining whether there is a nuclear weapon or radioactive “dirty bomb” in our midst.

While it’s hard to outdo the Pentagon, DHS has its own record of dubious expenditures on items large and small.  They range from $1,000 fees for employees to attend conferences at spas to the purchase of bagpipes for border protection personnel to the payment of scores of remarkably fat salaries to agency bureaucrats.  On the occasion of its 10th anniversary in 2013, Congressman Jeff Duncan (R-SC) excoriated the department as “rife with waste,” among other things, pointing to a report by the DHS inspector general that it had misspent over $1 billion.

DHS was supposed to provide a better focus for efforts to protect the United States from internal threats.  Its biggest problem, though, may be that it has become a magnet for increased funding for haphazard, misplaced, and often simply dangerous initiatives.  These would, for instance, include its program to supply grants to local law enforcement agencies to help them buy military-grade equipment to be deployed not against terrorists, but against citizens protesting the injustices perpetrated by the very same agencies being armed by DHS.

The Trump administration has proposed spending $50 billion on DHS in FY 2018.

Homeland Security: $50 Billion

Running Total: $717.6 Billion

6) Military Aid: U.S. government-run military aid programs have proliferated rapidly in this century.  The United States now has scores of arms and training programs serving more than 140 countries.  They cost more than $18 billion per year, with about 40% of that total located in the State Department’s budget.  While the Pentagon’s share has already been accounted for, the $7 billion at State — which can ill afford to pay for such programs with the Trump administration seeking to gut the rest of its budget — has not.

Military Aid at the State Department: $7 Billion

Running Total: $724.6 Billion

7) Intelligence: The United States government has 16 separate intelligence agencies: the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA); the National Security Agency (NSA); the Defense Intelligence Agency; the FBI; the State Department Bureau of Intelligence and Research; the Department of Homeland Security Office of Intelligence Analysis; the Drug Enforcement Administration Office of National Security Intelligence; the Treasury Department Office of Intelligence and Analysis; the Department of Energy Office of Intelligence and Counterintelligence; the National Reconnaissance Office; the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency; Air Force Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance; Army Military Intelligence; the Office of Naval Intelligence; Marine Corps Intelligence; and Coast Guard Intelligence. Add to these the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), which is supposed to coordinate this far-flung intelligence network, and you have a grand total of 17 agencies.

The U.S. will spend more than $70 billion on intelligence this year, spread across all these agencies.  The bulk of this funding is contained in the Pentagon budget — including the budgets of the CIA and the NSA (believed to be hidden under obscure line items there).  At most, a few billion dollars in additional expenditures on intelligence fall outside the Pentagon budget and since, given the secrecy involved, that figure can’t be determined, let’s not add anything further to our running tally.

Intelligence: $70 Billion (mostly contained inside the Pentagon budget)

Running Total: $724.6 Billion

8) Supporting Veterans: A steady uptick of veterans generated by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has dramatically increased the costs of supporting such vets once they come home, including the war wounded, some of whom will need medical care for life.  For 2018, the Veterans Administration has requested over $186 billion for its budget, more than three times what it was before the 2001 intervention in Afghanistan.

Veterans: $186 billion

Running Total: $910.6 Billion

9) Military Retirement: The trust fund set up to cover pensions for military retirees and their survivors doesn’t have enough money to pay out all the benefits promised to these individuals.  As a result, it is supplemented annually by an appropriation from the general revenues of the government.  That supplement has by now reached roughly $80 billion per year.

Military Retirement: $80 Billion

Running Total: $990.6 Billion 

10) Defense Share of Interest on the Debt: It’s no secret that the U.S. government regularly runs at a deficit and that the total national debt is growing. It may be more surprising to learn that the interest on that debt runs at roughly $500 billion per year.  The Project on Government Oversight calculates the share of the interest on that debt generated by defense-related programs at more than $100 billion annually.

Defense Share of the Interest on the Debt: $100 billion

Grand Total: $1.09 Trillion

That final annual tally of nearly $1.1 trillion to pay for past wars, fund current wars, and prepare for possible future conflicts is roughly double the already staggering $575 billion the Trump administration has proposed as the Pentagon’s regular budget for 2018.  Most taxpayers have no idea that more than a trillion dollars a year is going to what’s still called “defense,” but these days might equally be called national insecurity.

So the next time you hear the president, the secretary of defense, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, or a hawkish lawmaker claim that the U.S. military is practically collapsing from a lack of funding, don’t believe it for a second.  Donald Trump may finally have put plutocracy in the Oval Office, but a militarized version of it has long been ensconced in the Pentagon and the rest of the national security state.  In government terms, make no mistake about it, the Pentagon & Co. are the 1%.

William D. Hartung, a TomDispatch regular, is the director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy and the author of Prophets of War: Lockheed Martin and the Making of the Military-Industrial Complex.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, John Dower’s The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II, as well as John Feffer’s dystopian novel Splinterlands, Nick Turse’s Next Time They’ll Come to Count the Dead, and Tom Engelhardt’s Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.

Copyright 2017 William D. Hartung

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Interfaith Peace Walk

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