TBR News August 8, 2017

Aug 08 2017

The Voice of the White House

Washington, D.C., August 8, 2017:” The raging infighting inside the Beltway between agencies competing fiercely for tax dollars is starting emerge into public view. The pro-establishment papers like the Washington Post and the New York Times are screaming at Trump and doing their best to try to poison public opinion that they are losing subscribers in record number. Trump is thwarted at every turn and because he has no political experience, he has no effective response. If he cannot govern effectively, neither can the warring agencies and the opposing political entrenched entities. Eventually, an outraged public will turn on everyone involved and, like California, the states will break away from the Union, or attempt to. If the California movement to withdraw from the United States wins at their upcoming elections, the US Army will have another country to invade and subjugate.”


Table of Contents

  • Jeff Sessions and the Alabama Watergate
  • More Evidence That Jeff Sessions’ Cannabis Crackdown May Never Materialize
  • Turkey’s Erdogan claims Germany abetting terrorists
  • Japan defense review: North Korea threats enter new stage
  • Europe needs to fend off expensive American gas – German energy major
  • Slouching Toward Mar-a-Lago
  • Washington Post Circulation Drops 37 Percent Since 2009, States DCRTV
  • What is behind Israel’s attempt to ban Al Jazeera?
  • The conservatives turning against Donald Trump
  • Early CIA History-Frank Gardiner Wisner
  • Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?

 Jeff Sessions and the Alabama Watergate

August 6, 2017


-Whether or not Attorney General Jeff Sessions survives in office, it won’t silence the hubbub in his home state of Alabama over a major bribery scandal that highlights Sessions’ conflicts of interest and could lead law enforcement to examine the role of his hand-picked successor, Senator Luther Strange, in the controversy.

The mess, which some commentators have started calling “Alabama’s Watergate,” stems from the recent admission by a state lawmaker, Oliver Robinson, that he accepted $360,000 in bribes. According to a Justice Department press release, the payments came both from an executive at Drummond Coal, one of the state’s largest companies, and an attorney at Balch & Bingham, its powerful law firm based in Birmingham. The press release says the bribes were part of a scheme to block expansion of a local Environmental Protection Agency Superfund site full of arsenic, lead, and carcinogenic hydrocarbons that threatened to cost the coal company tens of millions of dollars in cleanup costs.

“This case gets at the heart of public corruption in Alabama,” Robert Posey, the Acting US Attorney in Birmingham, said in June when accepting the state lawmaker’s admission of wrongdoing. “Well-funded special interests offer irresistible inducements to public officials. In exchange, the officials represent the interests of those who pay rather than the interests of those who vote. Here a public official betrayed his community to advocate for those who polluted their neighborhoods.”

Lawyers for Robinson, the bribe-taking lawmaker, say he is cooperating with authorities. And in a state rife with corruption—the governor, the head of the legislature, and the state’s chief judge have all been removed from office in the last year—law enforcement continues to investigate the bribery scandal.

The case is not widely known in Washington, though it has become the talk of Alabama. Luther Strange, who is a frontrunner for an August 15 Republican primary to retain his Senate seat, has seen that primary morph into a proxy battle between the GOP establishment, led by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and insurgent forces including informal Trump advisor Roger Stone. Strange’s primary opponents have evoked the corruption case to attack him. And for the White House, the investigation may provide further evidence that Sessions is “beleaguered“—as President Trump recently put it when criticizing his Attorney General for recusing himself in the Russia probe—because of a conflict of interest in that investigation. Campaign Contributions and Official Acts

Sessions has so far said nothing publicly about the matter.

The Justice Department declined to comment.

In a possible link to the case, a Balch newsletter from December 2015 reports that its lobbyists met with then-Senator Sessions to discuss an emissions issue linked to the Birmingham Superfund site. Sessions has long been critical of the EPA, restrictions on carbon emissions, and other measures opposed by the coal industry. Sessions has also received around $300,000 from Drummond and Balch political action committees as well as from their employees since the late 1990s. Consistently, Drummond and Balch rank among the second and third largest sources of campaign contributions to Sessions.

For Sessions personally, ties to the Balch law firm run deep as, over the years, he has installed various Balch attorneys in key positions on his Senate and Justice Department staffs. One former staffer, who currently practices environmental law as a Balch partner, was at Sessions’ side as an advisor during his confirmation hearings to be Attorney General in January.

Even before Sessions was approved by the Senate and took command at DOJ, he appointed another Balch partner to the sensitive position of Acting Assistant Attorney General for Environment and Natural Resources at the Department. Among other duties, that division litigates on behalf of the EPA in Superfund cases, and other matters.

Prior to his DOJ appointment by Sessions, the Balch partner, Jeffrey Wood, was a registered lobbyist for another coal industry giant, but apparently not for Drummond. However, earlier this year, Wood recused himself from any matter at the Justice Department involving Balch and “specific matters involving other clients for whom he provided legal services in the last two years.” In a list of those “specific matters,” the Justice Department cited “matters related to the … Birmingham [Superfund] site,” the polluted zone at the heart of the bribery scandal. Wood’s former Balch partner, environmental lawyer Joel Gilbert, has been identified in the Alabama press as one of two persons designated by the DOJ, though not by name, for having paid bribes related to that Superfund site. Gilbert has not been charged and did not respond to a request for comment.

“We are aware of the recent arraignment of [Alabama lawmaker] Oliver Robinson and the allegations included in the plea documents. We take these matters seriously, and are taking all appropriate steps to assess the situation,” said a spokeswoman for Balch in a written statement to the Project On Government Oversight. “We are cooperating fully with government authorities, and we are deeply committed to upholding the ethical standards of our profession and our firm.”

The Alabama press also identified another bribery suspect as a Drummond executive, David Roberson, who Federal Election Commission records list as a campaign contributor to Sessions. Neither Drummond nor Roberson responded to a request for comment. Roberson has not been charged.


More Evidence That Jeff Sessions’ Cannabis Crackdown May Never Materialize

A DOJ panel’s recommendations reportedly do not include any significant changes in marijuana enforcement.

August 7, 2017

by Jacob Sullum


Despite Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ well-known anti-pot prejudices, a broad federal crackdown on marijuana in states that have legalized it seems unlikely in light of the recommendations from a Justice Department subcommittee charged with studying the issue. The Associated Press reports that the panel, part of the DOJ’s Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Safety, “has come up with no new policy recommendations to advance the attorney general’s aggressively anti-marijuana views.”

According to the A.P., which obtained a copy of the unpublished recommendations, the subcommittee does say officials “should evaluate whether to maintain, revise or rescind” the 2013 memo from Deputy Attorney General James Cole that established a policy of prosecutorial restraint regarding state-licensed marijuana businesses. But the report does not settle on any of those options, and so far Sessions seems inclined to use the Cole memo as a guide to enforcement rather than scrapping it.

The memo, which Sessions has called “truly valuable in evaluating cases,” leaves lots of leeway for more vigorous enforcement of the federal ban on marijuana. It lists eight “enforcement priorities” that could justify federal action against state-licensed marijuana producers and distributors, several of which are either impossible to fully achieve (e.g., “preventing the diversion of marijuana from states where it is legal…to other states”) or so broad that they could always be used as a pretext for a crackdown (e.g. preventing “adverse public health consequences associated with marijuana use”).

As Mike Riggs noted here last Friday, Sessions recently sent Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and Attorney General Bob Ferguson a letter asking how they plan to address several concerns related to the enforcement priorities, including interstate smuggling, stoned driving, and underage consumption. “Please advise as to how Washington plans…to ensure that all marijuana activity is compliant with state marijuana laws, to combat diversion of marijuana, to protect public health and safety, and to prevent marijuana use by minors,” Sessions wrote. He also pointedly noted that the Cole memo says “nothing herein precludes investigation or prosecution, even in the absence of any one of the factors listed above, in particular circumstances where investigation and prosecution otherwise serves an important federal interest.”

In short, Sessions could cause a lot of trouble for the newly legal cannabis industry without bothering to retract the Cole memo, which is vague and ambiguous enough to accommodate policies ranging from laissez-faire to prosecution and forfeiture threats that put many or most marijuana merchants out of business. There are several reasons to think Sessions’ approach will land somewhere in the middle.

Sessions has been in charge of the Justice Department for six months, and so far his hostility toward marijuana legalization has not gone beyond rhetorical expressions of concern. It has not resulted in prosecutions, forfeitures, or even threatening letters to cannabusinesses. Nor has Sessions signaled that he plans to challenge state marijuana laws in federal court. Instead he punted the issue to a committee, which settled on a wait-and-see position that the A.P. describes as “tepid” and “vague.” By contrast, Sessions acted swiftly to step up the war on drugs in other ways, reviving federal “adoption” of civil forfeitures initiated by state or local agencies and establishing a tougher charging policy that is apt to result in more mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenders.

Sessions may recognize that a full-blown cannabis crackdown would not necessarily deliver results he would like. Since all but one of the eight states that have legalized marijuana for recreational use allow home cultivation, shutting down state-licensed cannabusinesses would undermine federal enforcement priorities by making production and distribution less visible and harder to monitor. Likewise a lawsuit that successfully challenged state licensing and regulation of marijuana merchants as contrary to the Controlled Substances Act.

Sessions also may be reluctant to further irk a boss who has been publicly castigating him for weeks over his handling of the investigation into Russian meddling in the presidential election. Although the A.P. says the president’s “personal views on marijuana remain mostly unknown,” Trump during his campaign repeatedly said medical use of the plant should be allowed and that states should be free to legalize recreational use as well (although he does not think that’s such a good idea). Abandoning that commitment would be politically risky for Trump, given that most Americans support marijuana legalization and even more—71 percent, according to a 2017 Quinnipiac poll—say the federal government should not interfere with it.


 Turkey’s Erdogan claims Germany abetting terrorists

August 7, 2017


ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan accused Germany on Monday of assisting terrorists by not responding to thousands of files sent to Berlin or hinding over suspects wanted by Turkish authorities.

“Germany is abetting terrorists,” Erdogan told a conference in the Black Sea province of Rize, in comments likely to further escalate tensions between the two countries.

“We gave (German Chancellor Angela) Merkel 4,500 dossiers, but have not received an answer on a single one of them,” he told members of his ruling AK Party.

“When there is a terrorist, they can tell us to give that person back. You won’t send the ones you have to us, but can ask us for yours. So you have a judiciary, but we don’t in Turkey?” he said.

In Berlin, a German government source rejected Erdogan’s latest remarks.

“Everything has really been said about this,” said the source. “Repeating the same accusations over and over again does not make them any more true.”

Already tense relations deteriorated further last month after Turkey arrested 10 rights activists, including a German, as part of a wider security crackdown.

A Turkish prosecutor has accused them of links to the network of Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Ankara blames for a failed coup in July 2016. The U.S.-based Gulen denies any involvement.

Turkey accuses Germany of sheltering Kurdish and far-leftist militants as well as military officers and other people linked to the abortive coup. Berlin denies the accusations.

Tensions between Berlin and Ankara were already running high after the arrest of a Turkish-German journalist and Turkey’s refusal to allow German lawmakers to visit troops at a Turkish air base.

Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Writing by Dominic Evans; Editing by David Dolan and Andrew Bolton


Japan defense review: North Korea threats enter new stage

An official defense report published by Japan says the threat from North Korea has reached a new stage. North Korea is now capable of launching intercontinental missiles and has advanced its nuclear weapons program.

August 8, 2017


Japan stepped up its warning of the acute threat posed by North Korea’s weapons program in its annual Defense White Paper released Tuesday. Pyongyang has continued a series of missile and nuclear tests in defiance of UN sanctions, including firing two intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) last month that landed off Japan’s west coast off Hokkaido Island.

“Since last year, when it forcibly implemented two nuclear tests and more than 20 ballistic missile launches, the security threats have entered a new stage,” the Japanese Defense Ministry said in the 563-page document.

“It is conceivable that North Korea’s nuclear weapons program has already considerably advanced and it is possible that North Korea has already achieved the miniaturization of nuclear weapons and has acquired nuclear warheads,” it said.

A change in direction

North Korea’s latest ICBM test showed that Pyongyang may now be able to reach well beyond Japan and even hit most of the continental United States with its missiles and weapons. The missile in the most recent test was fired at an extremely lofted trajectory, making the full scale of its capabilities difficult to discern.

This growing threat has prompted Japanese municipalities to hold a number of evacuation drills in case of a possible missile attack.

With North Korea pressing on with missile tests, a group of ruling party lawmakers led by Itsunori Onodera, who became defense minister on Thursday, urged Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in March to consider acquiring the capability to hit enemy bases. That would be considered a drastic change in Japan’s defense outlook, which is based on its pacifist post-World War II constitution. While the current government has in recent years revised aspects of the constitution and increased its defense budget, Tokyo has not yet gone so far as to acquire bombers or cruise missiles with enough range to strike other countries.

China’s growing strength

The white paper also highlighted concerns over China’s expanding influence in the region, pointing out that the number of Japan’s jet scrambles against Chinese aircraft hit a record high in the year to March 2017.

“There is a possibility that their naval activities, as well as air force activities, will pick up pace in the Sea of Japan from now on,” the white paper said.

Tokyo’s ties with Beijing have been plagued in recent years by the ongoing territorial dispute over a group of uninhabited islands in the East China Sea.

 Europe needs to fend off expensive American gas – German energy major

August 8, 2017


The European Union should be more active in finding alternative gas supplies, as the United States will be actively pushing its liquefied natural gas (LNG) into Europe, according to the CEO of German energy major Uniper.

“The core reason (for the sanctions) are strategic economic interests, meaning the targeted dominance of the US in energy markets,” Uniper CEO Klaus Schaefer said on Tuesday.

Uniper is among five European energy companies who have invested in the extension of the Nord Stream pipeline from Russia to Germany. The other four are ENGIE, OMV, Shell, and Wintershall.

The Nord Stream-2 pipeline plans to double the delivery capacity of Russian natural gas to Germany from the current 55 billion cubic meters per year.

According to Schaefer, US shipments are 50 percent more expensive compared with European reference prices.

“Nobody wants to pay such a premium,” he said.

Last week, US President Donald Trump signed sanctions targeting Russia’s oil and gas sector. The new measure means Washington could now penalize European investors in Russian energy projects.

Senior officials in Germany have spoken against the sanctions and promised retaliation if European companies’ interests are hurt.

Trump has been seeking American “energy dominance.” In June, the first US tanker carrying LNG arrived in the Polish port of Swinoujscie.

As a group, the countries aim to diversify energy supplies, reducing their dependence on oil and gas provided by Russia.


Slouching Toward Mar-a-Lago

The Post-Cold-War Consensus Collapses

August 8, 2017

by Andrew J. Bacevich


Like it or not, the president of the United States embodies America itself. The individual inhabiting the White House has become the preeminent symbol of who we are and what we represent as a nation and a people. In a fundamental sense, he is us.

It was not always so. Millard Fillmore, the 13th president (1850-1853), presided over but did not personify the American republic.  He was merely the federal chief executive.  Contemporary observers did not refer to his term in office as the Age of Fillmore.  With occasional exceptions, Abraham Lincoln in particular, much the same could be said of Fillmore’s successors.  They brought to office low expectations, which they rarely exceeded.  So when Chester A. Arthur (1881-1885) or William Howard Taft (1909-1913) left the White House, there was no rush to immortalize them by erecting gaudy shrines — now known as “presidential libraries” — to the glory of their presidencies.  In those distant days, ex-presidents went back home or somewhere else where they could find work.

Over the course of the past century, all that has changed.  Ours is a republic that has long since taken on the trappings of a monarchy, with the president inhabiting rarified space as our king-emperor.  The Brits have their woman in Buckingham Palace. We have our man in the White House.

Nominally, the Constitution assigns responsibilities and allocates prerogatives to three co-equal branches of government.  In practice, the executive branch enjoys primacy.  Prompted by a seemingly endless series of crises since the Great Depression and World War II, presidents have accumulated ever-greater authority, partly through usurpation, but more often than not through forfeiture.

At the same time, they also took on various extra-constitutional responsibilities.  By the beginning of the present century, Americans took it for granted that the occupant of the Oval Office should function as prophet, moral philosopher, style-setter, interpreter of the prevailing zeitgeist, and — last but hardly least — celebrity-in-chief.  In short, POTUS was the bright star at the center of the American solar system.

As recently as a year ago, few saw in this cult of the presidency cause for complaint.  On odd occasions, some particularly egregious bit of executive tomfoolery might trigger grumbling about an “imperial presidency.” Yet rarely did such complaints lead to effective remedial action.  The War Powers Resolution of 1973 might be considered the exception that proves the rule.  Inspired by the disaster of the Vietnam War and intended to constrain presidents from using force without congressional buy-in and support, that particular piece of legislation ranks alongside the Volstead Act of 1919 (enacted to enforce Prohibition) as among the least effective ever to become law.

In truth, influential American institutions — investment banks and multinational corporations, churches and universities, big city newspapers and TV networks, the bloated national security apparatus and both major political parties — have found reason aplenty to endorse a system that elevates the president to the status of demigod.  By and large, it’s been good for business, whatever that business happens to be.

Furthermore, it’s our president — not some foreign dude — who is, by common consent, the most powerful person in the universe.  For inhabitants of a nation that considers itself both “exceptional” and “indispensable,” this seems only right and proper.  So Americans generally like it that their president is the acknowledged Leader of the Free World rather than some fresh-faced pretender from France or Canada.

Then came the Great Hysteria.  Arriving with a Pearl Harbor-like shock, it erupted on the night of November 8, 2016, just as the news that Hillary Clinton was losing Florida and appeared certain to lose much else besides became apparent.

Suddenly, all the habits and precedents that had contributed to empowering the modern American presidency no longer made sense.  That a single deeply flawed individual along with a handful of unelected associates and family members should be entrusted with determining the fate of the planet suddenly seemed the very definition of madness.

Emotion-laden upheavals producing behavior that is not entirely rational are hardly unknown in the American experience.  Indeed, they recur with some frequency.  The Great Awakenings of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries are examples of the phenomenon.  So also are the two Red Scares of the twentieth century, the first in the early 1920s and the second, commonly known as “McCarthyism,” coinciding with the onset of the Cold War.

Yet the response to Donald Trump’s election, combining as it has fear, anger, bewilderment, disgust, and something akin to despair, qualifies as an upheaval without precedent.  History itself had seemingly gone off the rails.  The crude Andrew Jackson’s 1828 ousting of an impeccably pedigreed president, John Quincy Adams, was nothing compared to the vulgar Donald Trump’s defeat of an impeccably credentialed graduate of Wellesley and Yale who had served as first lady, United States senator, and secretary of state.  A self-evidently inconceivable outcome — all the smart people agreed on that point — had somehow happened anyway.

A vulgar, bombastic, thrice-married real-estate tycoon and reality TV host as prophet, moral philosopher, style-setter, interpreter of the prevailing zeitgeist, and chief celebrity?  The very idea seemed both absurd and intolerable.

If we have, as innumerable commentators assert, embarked upon the Age of Trump, the defining feature of that age might well be the single-minded determination of those horrified and intent on ensuring its prompt termination. In 2016, TIME magazine chose Trump as its person of the year.  In 2017, when it comes to dominating the news, that “person” might turn out to be a group — all those fixated on cleansing the White House of Trump’s defiling presence.

Egged on and abetted in every way by Trump himself, the anti-Trump resistance has made itself the Big Story.  Lies, hate, collusion, conspiracy, fascism:  rarely has the everyday vocabulary of American politics been as ominous and forbidding as over the past six months.  Take resistance rhetoric at face value and you might conclude that Donald Trump is indeed the fifth horseman of the Apocalypse, his presence in the presidential saddle eclipsing all other concerns.  Pestilence, War, Famine, and Death will just have to wait.

The unspoken assumption of those most determined to banish him from public life appears to be this: once he’s gone, history will be returned to its intended path, humankind will breathe a collective sigh of relief, and all will be well again.  Yet such an assumption strikes me as remarkably wrongheaded — and not merely because, should Trump prematurely depart from office, Mike Pence will succeed him.  Expectations that Trump’s ouster will restore normalcy ignore the very factors that first handed him the Republican nomination (with a slew of competitors wondering what hit them) and then put him in the Oval Office (with a vastly more seasoned and disciplined, if uninspiring, opponent left to bemoan the injustice of it all).

Not all, but many of Trump’s supporters voted for him for the same reason that people buy lottery tickets: Why not?  In their estimation, they had little to lose.  Their loathing of the status quo is such that they may well stick with Trump even as it becomes increasingly obvious that his promise of salvation — an America made “great again” — is not going to materialize.

Yet those who imagine that Trump’s removal will put things right are likewise deluding themselves.  To persist in thinking that he defines the problem is to commit an error of the first order.  Trump is not cause, but consequence.

For too long, the cult of the presidency has provided an excuse for treating politics as a melodrama staged at four-year intervals and centering on hopes of another Roosevelt or Kennedy or Reagan appearing as the agent of American deliverance.  Donald Trump’s ascent to the office once inhabited by those worthies should demolish such fantasies once and for all.

How is it that someone like Trump could become president in the first place?  Blame sexism, Fox News, James Comey, Russian meddling, and Hillary’s failure to visit Wisconsin all you want, but a more fundamental explanation is this: the election of 2016 constituted a de facto referendum on the course of recent American history.  That referendum rendered a definitive judgment: the underlying consensus informing U.S. policy since the end of the Cold War has collapsed.  Precepts that members of the policy elite have long treated as self-evident no longer command the backing or assent of the American people. Put simply: it’s the ideas, stupid.

Rabbit Poses a Question

“Without the Cold War, what’s the point of being an American?”  As the long twilight struggle was finally winding down, Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom, novelist John Updike’s late-twentieth-century Everyman, pondered that question. In short order, Rabbit got his answer.  So, too, after only perfunctory consultation, did his fellow citizens.

The passing of the Cold War offered cause for celebration.  On that point all agreed. Yet, as it turned out, it did not require reflection from the public at large.  Policy elites professed to have matters well in hand.  The dawning era, they believed, summoned Americans not to think anew, but to keep doing precisely what they were accustomed to doing, albeit without fretting further about Communist takeovers or the risks of nuclear Armageddon.  In a world where a “single superpower” was calling the shots, utopia was right around the corner.  All that was needed was for the United States to demonstrate the requisite confidence and resolve.

Three specific propositions made up the elite consensus that coalesced during the initial decade of the post-Cold-War era.  According to the first, the globalization of corporate capitalism held the key to wealth creation on a hitherto unimaginable scale.  According to the second, jettisoning norms derived from Judeo-Christian religious traditions held the key to the further expansion of personal freedom.  According to the third, muscular global leadership exercised by the United States held the key to promoting a stable and humane international order.

Unfettered neoliberalism plus the unencumbered self plus unabashed American assertiveness: these defined the elements of the post-Cold-War consensus that formed during the first half of the 1990s — plus what enthusiasts called the information revolution.  The miracle of that “revolution,” gathering momentum just as the Soviet Union was going down for the count, provided the secret sauce that infused the emerging consensus with a sense of historical inevitability.

The Cold War itself had fostered notable improvements in computational speed and capacity, new modes of communication, and techniques for storing, accessing, and manipulating information.  Yet, however impressive, such developments remained subsidiary to the larger East-West competition.  Only as the Cold War receded did they move from background to forefront.  For true believers, information technology came to serve a quasi-theological function, promising answers to life’s ultimate questions.  Although God might be dead, Americans found in Bill Gates and Steve Jobs nerdy but compelling idols.

More immediately, in the eyes of the policy elite, the information revolution meshed with and reinforced the policy consensus.  For those focused on the political economy, it greased the wheels of globalized capitalism, creating vast new opportunities for trade and investment.  For those looking to shed constraints on personal freedom, information promised empowerment, making identity itself something to choose, discard, or modify.  For members of the national security apparatus, the information revolution seemed certain to endow the United States with seemingly unassailable military capabilities.  That these various enhancements would combine to improve the human condition was taken for granted; that they would, in due course, align everybody — from Afghans to Zimbabweans — with American values and the American way of life seemed more or less inevitable.

The three presidents of the post-Cold-War era — Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama — put these several propositions to the test.  Politics-as-theater requires us to pretend that our 42nd, 43rd, and 44th presidents differed in fundamental ways.  In practice, however, their similarities greatly outweighed any of those differences.  Taken together, the administrations over which they presided collaborated in pursuing a common agenda, each intent on proving that the post-Cold-War consensus could work in the face of mounting evidence to the contrary.

To be fair, it did work for some. “Globalization” made some people very rich indeed.  In doing so, however, it greatly exacerbated inequality, while doing nothing to alleviate the condition of the American working class and underclass.

The emphasis on diversity and multiculturalism improved the status of groups long subjected to discrimination.  Yet these advances have done remarkably little to reduce the alienation and despair pervading a society suffering from epidemics of chronic substance abuse, morbid obesity, teen suicide, and similar afflictions.  Throw in the world’s highest incarceration rate, a seemingly endless appetite for porn, urban school systems mired in permanent crisis, and mass shootings that occur with metronomic regularity, and what you have is something other than the profile of a healthy society.

As for militarized American global leadership, it has indeed resulted in various bad actors meeting richly deserved fates.  Goodbye, Saddam.  Good riddance, Osama.  Yet it has also embroiled the United States in a series of costly, senseless, unsuccessful, and ultimately counterproductive wars.  As for the vaunted information revolution, its impact has been ambiguous at best, even if those with eyeballs glued to their personal electronic devices can’t tolerate being offline long enough to assess the actual costs of being perpetually connected.

In November 2016, Americans who consider themselves ill served by the post-Cold-War consensus signaled that they had had enough.  Voters not persuaded that neoliberal economic policies, a culture taking its motto from the Outback steakhouse chain, and a national security strategy that employs the U.S. military as a global police force were working to their benefit provided a crucial margin in the election of Donald Trump.

The response of the political establishment to this extraordinary repudiation testifies to the extent of its bankruptcy.  The Republican Party still clings to the notion that reducing taxes, cutting government red tape, restricting abortion, curbing immigration, prohibiting flag-burning, and increasing military spending will alleviate all that ails the country.  Meanwhile, to judge by the promises contained in their recently unveiled (and instantly forgotten) program for a “Better Deal,” Democrats believe that raising the minimum wage, capping the cost of prescription drugs, and creating apprenticeship programs for the unemployed will return their party to the good graces of the American electorate.

In both parties embarrassingly small-bore thinking prevails, with Republicans and Democrats equally bereft of fresh ideas.  Each party is led by aging hacks.  Neither has devised an antidote to the crisis in American politics signified by the nomination and election of Donald Trump.

While our emperor tweets, Rome itself fiddles.

Starting Over

I am by temperament a conservative and a traditionalist, wary of revolutionary movements that more often than not end up being hijacked by nefarious plotters more interested in satisfying their own ambitions than in pursuing high ideals.  Yet even I am prepared to admit that the status quo appears increasingly untenable. Incremental change will not suffice.  The challenge of the moment is to embrace radicalism without succumbing to irresponsibility.

The one good thing we can say about the election of Donald Trump — to borrow an image from Thomas Jefferson — is this: it ought to serve as a fire bell in the night.  If Americans have an ounce of sense, the Trump presidency will cure them once and for all of the illusion that from the White House comes redemption.  By now we ought to have had enough of de facto monarchy.

By extension, Americans should come to see as intolerable the meanness, corruption, and partisan dysfunction so much in evidence at the opposite end of Pennsylvania Avenue.  We need not wax sentimental over the days when Lyndon Johnson and Everett Dirksen presided over the Senate to conclude that Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer represent something other than progress.  If Congress continues to behave as contemptibly as it has in recent years (and in recent weeks), it will, by default, allow the conditions that have produced Trump and his cronies to prevail.

So it’s time to take another stab at an approach to governance worthy of a democratic republic.  Where to begin?  I submit that Rabbit Angstrom’s question offers a place to start:  What’s the point of being an American?

Authentic progressives and principled conservatives will offer different answers to Rabbit’s query.  My own answer is rooted in an abiding conviction that our problems are less quantitative than qualitative.  Rather than simply more — yet more wealth, more freedom, more attempts at global leadership — the times call for different.  In my view, the point of being an American is to participate in creating a society that strikes a balance between wants and needs, that exists in harmony with nature and the rest of humankind, and that is rooted in an agreed upon conception of the common good.

My own prescription for how to act upon that statement of purpose is unlikely to find favor with most readers of TomDispatch.  But therein lies the basis for an interesting debate, one that is essential to prospects for stemming the accelerating decay of American civic life.

Initiating such a debate, and so bringing into focus core issues, will remain next to impossible, however, without first clearing away the accumulated debris of the post-Cold-War era.  Preliminary steps in that direction, listed in no particular order, ought to include the following:

First, abolish the Electoral College.  Doing so will preclude any further occurrence of the circumstances that twice in recent decades cast doubt on the outcome of national elections and thereby did far more than any foreign interference to undermine the legitimacy of American politics.

Second, rollback gerrymandering.  Doing so will help restore competitive elections and make incumbency more tenuous.

Third, limit the impact of corporate money on elections at all levels, if need be by amending the Constitution.

Fourth, mandate a balanced federal budget, thereby demolishing the pretense that Americans need not choose between guns and butter.

Fifth, implement a program of national service, thereby eliminating the All-Volunteer military and restoring the tradition of the citizen-soldier.  Doing so will help close the gap between the military and society and enrich the prevailing conception of citizenship.  It might even encourage members of Congress to think twice before signing off on wars that the commander-in-chief wants to fight.

Sixth, enact tax policies that will promote greater income equality.

Seventh, increase public funding for public higher education, thereby ensuring that college remains an option for those who are not well-to-do.

Eighth, beyond mere “job” creation, attend to the growing challenges of providing meaningful work — employment that is both rewarding and reasonably remunerative — for those without advanced STEM degrees.

Ninth, end the thumb-twiddling on climate change and start treating it as the first-order national security priority that it is.

Tenth, absent evident progress on the above, create a new party system, breaking the current duopoly in which Republicans and Democrats tacitly collaborate to dictate the policy agenda and restrict the range of policy options deemed permissible.

These are not particularly original proposals and I do not offer them as a panacea.  They may, however, represent preliminary steps toward devising some new paradigm to replace a post-Cold-War consensus that, in promoting transnational corporate greed, mistaking libertinism for liberty, and embracing militarized neo-imperialism as the essence of statecraft, has paved the way for the presidency of Donald Trump.

We can and must do better. But doing so will require that we come up with better and truer ideas to serve as a foundation for American politics.


Washington Post Circulation Drops 37 Percent Since 2009, States DCRTV

Capitol Communicator

Since The Washington Post was bought two years ago by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, it no longer runs news reports on its print circulation numbers, which, like many other print newspapers around the country, had been falling at a steady rate over the past decade, reports DCRTV.com.

However, continued the DCRTV report, “in Sunday’s Post, the newspaper did give us a hint of its current circulation numbers by running a required ad statement of the latest figures. It showed the current average daily, Monday through Sunday, paid print circulation during the past year to be 395,234. That’s down about 37% since 2009, when the paper’s average daily circulation was 633,100.”


What is behind Israel’s attempt to ban Al Jazeera?

Does Netanyahu need a smoke screen for his corruption scandal or is there a more sinister reason for banning Al Jazeera?

August 7, 2017

by Mark LeVine


The present attempt by the government of Israel to close down Al Jazeera’s offices in Jerusalem reflects a potentially far-reaching shift in the perceived power and role of critical media, not just in the Israeli occupation of Palestine, but across the Arab world and larger Middle East and North Africa.

The move is particularly odd since Al Jazeera and Israel have long had a symbiotic, if often adversarial, relationship. Despite long-standing and often harsh criticism of the Israeli occupation and its policies, Israel has afforded the channel relatively wide latitude in its coverage. There have been repeated grumblings over the years, and threats to close down its bureaus, but it hasn’t prevented coverage and commentary by Al Jazeera’s staff and contributing writers.

Al Jazeera’s offices – like other media organisations – have been located for years in the same complex as the Government Press Office. Showing up for press credentials from the network has never caused any more trouble than I’ve experienced when I requested credentials for US news organisations, for example. In fact, it often felt like the relationship with Al Jazeera was a source of pride for Israeli media and press officials, one that reflected the unique set of circumstances that served each side well.

For Israel, Al Jazeera, particularly the original Arab network, provided the government unprecedented opportunities to speak to Arab citizens across the region, beginning in the 1990s – at the height of the Oslo peace process. The fact that Al Jazeera allowed Israeli officials and, through its reports, ordinary citizens to speak unfiltered was an unprecedented opening for Israel to the outside world, an opening worth what it perceived as negative coverage.

On the other hand, Al Jazeera’s access to Israeli officials and commentators gave the network a chance to expand on the usual narrow set of viewpoints presented in other Arab networks and to challenge – on the air – the official Israeli narrative.

So why, after allowing Al Jazeera to operate during some of the most intense violence of the occupation (including the sieges of Nablus and Jenin and the various and increasingly deadly attacks on Gaza), would the Israeli government suddenly feel it’s so important to terminate Al Jazeera’s presence in Jerusalem?

Is it to push attention away from the two corruption investigations of Benjamin Netanyahu – a scandal that some media have called “the most serious political crisis” for the Israeli PM? Perhaps Al Jazeera is a convenient scapegoat for Netanyahu’s failures and his increasing lack of popularity at home.

Or perhaps Israel is jumping on the bandwagon of the campaign against Al Jazeera launched by Saudi Arabia and the UAE?

It could be that Israeli media experts sense that the attacks on Qatar and Al Jazeera by so many other Arab governments are beginning to gain steam in the Arab public sphere, and thus Israel is trying, in its own twisted way, to support them, as a way of gaining favourable coverage in their official media.

Israeli Communications Minister Ayoub Kara has tried to justify the move by accusing Al Jazeera of causing Israel “to lose the lives of the best of our sons”, adding “when we see that all these countries have determined as fact that Al Jazeera is a tool of the Islamic State [group], Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran, and we are the only one who have not determined that, then something ludicrous is happening here.” The ludicrousness of the charge that Al Jazeera is enabling the killing of Israeli soldiers is not relevant here; what matters is how Israel is trying to position itself as part of a larger, Arab-led, coalition against terrorism.

It also could be that the Israeli government has developed such good, and more or less open, relationships with Arab governments across the region that it no longer needs access to Al Jazeera’s viewers. Perhaps the Israeli government has decided that it simply can do without communicating with Arab people directly, since both the rise of intense illiberalism, censorship and sectarianism have rendered such policies superfluous, and the changing mood in the Arab and official public spheres mean that many Arabs no longer even care about Israel or the occupation have equally rendered the exposure Al Jazeera afforded Israelis no longer important.

There is one other possibility, however: That Al Jazeera has become more dangerous than ever. The rise of the Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) movement to global prominence as a mechanism of worldwide resistance to the occupation has occurred, in good measure, because of the constant negative media coverage of Israel’s intensifying grip on Palestine.

Among mainstream or major media outlets, few have been as successful and focused on placing the realities of the occupation before the court of world opinion as Al Jazeera and The Guardian. Thus, the attempt to shut it down now could be the result of a determination that its coverage is, in fact, seriously harming Israel’s standing internationally, and, perhaps even more worryingly, that the government plans on engaging in actions in the near future – from another all-out assault on Gaza to the de facto or de jure annexation of significant territory in the West Bank – that it cannot afford to have covered in the critical manner that Al Jazeera would provide.

Whatever the reasons for the change in policy, the decision to force Al Jazeera from Jerusalem hints at a shift in Israeli strategic calculations that should worry anyone who cares not just about freedom of the press, but about the explosion of yet another Israeli-Palestinian war.

Mark LeVine is a professor of Middle Eastern history at the University of California, Irvine, and a distinguished visiting professor at Lund University.


The conservatives turning against Donald Trump

After 200 days of Trump’s presidency, his awkward marriage of convenience with Republicans has increasingly come under severe stress. GOP senator Jeff Flake: ‘Conservatives face a crisis of principle’

August 8, 2017

by David Smith, Lauren Gambino, Ben Jacobs and Sabrina Siddiqui in Washington

The Guardian

More Republicans will turn against Donald Trump and his politics of populism, a GOP senator and leading critic of the president has predicted, as the Guardian surveys the conservative landscape 200 days into the Trump presidency.

Jeff Flake of Arizona, among 17 conservative politicians, activists, officials and pundits interviewed over two months, revealed that while the president has given rightwing fringe groups a seat at the table, his alliance with his own party remains highly precarious.

“More of us will say, where does this lead, where are we and what happens when we get off this sugar high of populism?” said Flake, who believes the Republican party abandoned its core principles and struck “a Faustian bargain” by embracing Trump in last year’s election.

“What can we do on trade when supply chains get sent around us? Those have long-term ramifications,” added the senator. “This is not something that we can flirt with for four years and then quickly snap back, so I do think there needs to be more pushback.”

Trump, a former Democrat with no political experience, ran as an antiestablishment candidate effectively staging a hostile takeover of the Republican party. Indeed in July 2015 former Texas governor Rick Perry declared: “Donald Trump’s candidacy is a cancer on conservatism, and it must be clearly diagnosed, excised and discarded.” Perry is now Trump’s energy secretary.

But after months of criticism that they are too passive, lately congressional Republicans have flexed their muscles over threats from the White House directed at Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating Trump and Russia, and Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, as well as passing fresh sanctions against Moscow that Trump reluctantly was obliged to sign.

In addition, high-profile Republicans at various levels of government have been accused of mounting “shadow campaigns” for 2020 – including Mike Pence, the vice president, who issued a statement on Sunday denouncing a New York Times report about his alleged positioning for a post-Trump era as “disgraceful and offensive”.

Flake, whose new book, Conscience of a Conservative argues that conservatism has been compromised by “nationalism, populism, xenophobia, extreme partisanship, even celebrity”, believes others will join him in breaking ranks.

“The talk of firing Jeff Sessions, the AG, is not going over well in the Senate, and I’ve been heartened to see so many of my colleagues stand up and say that’s not going to happen, because we see it as a precursor to do something else, maybe with the special counsel, and that’s not going to happen,” Flake said, who believes the Republican party abandoned its core principles and struck “a Faustian bargain” by embracing Trump in the 2016 presidential election.

“So I do think that you’re seeing more people stand up and say, ‘We’ve got to respect the institutions.’ I do think that will continue. I do sense that the Congress is reasserting itself a little more,” Flake added.

Flake acknowledged that Trump has displayed conservative instincts in his cabinet appointments, choice of Neil Gorsuch for Supreme Court justice and plans for regulatory and tax reform. But the senator said the president’s approach to trade is populist and his temperament unstable. “A conservative embraces our allies and recognises our enemies and the kind of chaos that has ensued in both in domestic and foreign policy is very unconservative.”

The senator’s views echo those of other mainstream Republicans who have long resisted Trump. Eliot Cohen, a former state department counsellor to George W Bush’s secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, added: “This fundamentally boils down to character, and his character is rotten. He’s a narcissist who happens to have taken control of the Republican Party.

“There’s some areas where he agrees with party orthodoxy, and some where he doesn’t,” Cohen said. “But his only doctrine is: whatever is good for Donald Trump is good for the country. When he goes down – and he will go down, at some point – one of the things that will be striking is just how quickly members of Congress will turn on him.”

Trump’s awkward marriage of convenience with Republicans has been under severe stress. He alienated conservative members of the House by calling their healthcare bill “mean” just days after toasting it in the White House rose garden. He was unable to successfully cajole or persuade members of the Senate to pass their own version of the legislation and attacked their failure to do so on Twitter, where he often refers to Republicans as “they” rather than “we”.

But a full divorce would leave the president politically exposed, especially as the investigation into his election campaign’s alleged collusion with Russia gathers momentum.

Karl Rove, former senior adviser to George W Bush, said: “One of the interesting things is the difficulty of Trump advocating for party loyalty. He is neither a conservative or frankly a longtime Republican. It’s one of the reasons why he won. He was able to say, ‘I’m against the political system – Republican or Democrat – I want to blow up Washington. I’ve got a giant grenade in my hand. Are you with me?’

“It does present difficulties in governing. He doesn’t have the longtime relationship with people that most candidates for office have.”

But Trump has found a more receptive audience among pressure groups in the conservative movement. He retains strong connections with evangelical Christians, anti-tax adherents to the Tea Party, pro-life campaigners and the National Rifle Association – in April he became the first sitting president to address its annual convention since Ronald Reagan.

Sean Hannity, a Fox News host, and Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, are among those to enjoy frequent meetings and dinners at the White House. All can bring considerable pressure to bear on the Republican party.

Speaking by phone as he walked down the street, through security and into the White House for a meeting with officials, Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, said of the president: “I would argue he’s taken a more pro-conservative stand on gun rights, on home schooling, on judges than past Republican presidents. If you want to do a purity test, Reagan and Bush would not have passed on a lot of a things. Trump changes the world on behalf of conservatives.”

Trump’s ban on transgender troops in the military and a raft of policies on criminal justice, education and immigration have thrown red meat to his allies on the right. Despite numerous setbacks and a sense of chaos in his administration, his approval rating among conservative Republicans is holding steady.

Tom Tancredo, former Congressman for Colorado, put it bluntly: “There were two reasons I voted for him: one was he wasn’t Hillary Clinton; second was the Supreme Court. All else is forgiven.”

Early CIA History-Frank Gardiner Wisner

August 8, 2017

by Harry von Johnston, PhD

Frank G. Wisner, a former Lt. Commander of the United States Navy, had been an attorney and during the war was a member of the OSS. He had been a station chief in Bucharest, Romania, during the war. A dedicated anti-communist, Wisner convinced the National Security Council (NSC), in 1948 that the United States should institute a covert operations program against the Soviet forces in Eastern Europe based on the activities of the Vlasov Army during their cooperation with the Germans during the Second World War. Former Soviet General Vlasov had founded and commanded a large body of ex-Soviet soldiers who had joined the Germans after the invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941.

Wisner was a firm believer in the tremendous espionage potential to be found in the membership of former German allies in the fight against the Soviet partisan movement in Eastern Europe during the war. He also believed in their value as disseminators of anti-communist propaganda, and an eventual cadre of agents who could carry out sabotage and assassinations in the Soviet satellites.

On June 10, 1948, the State, Army, Navy, Air Force Coordinating Committee (SANACC) under the Joint Chiefs of Staff, approved the execution of “Operation Bloodstone.” This operation used Eastern Bloc anti-communists to carry out clandestine activities, sabotage and assassinations.

This was officially approved by President Harry Truman in June of 1948 by National Security Council Resolution 10/2. The wording of this resolution addressed “propaganda, economic warfare, preventative direct action including sabotage, anti-sabotage, demolitions and evacuation measures” as well as “subversion against hostile states including assistance to underground resistance movements and guerrillas.”

This program, placed under the command of Wisner, was specifically sponsored by CIA Director, Rear Admiral Roscoe Hillenkoetter.

A section entitled Office for Policy Coordination (OPC), was set up under the control of Wisner to implement these official policies.

To better organize his clandestine units, Wisner had access to the Central Registry of War Crimes and Security Suspects (CROWCASS). This agency was initially created to locate Germans who might be tried for their actions during the war. Eventually, this agency became a roster which Wisner and his agents used to build a cadre for their guerrilla units.

In 1951 and 1952, Wisner began large-scale programs designed to bring thousands of eastern European refugees into the US either as a reward for services rendered or to train for his programs of clandestine warfare against the Soviets. The exact number recruited by Wisner is still classified, but records will indicate that the recruits numbered in the tens of thousands.

Wisner’s activities led directly to the abortive Hungarian rising in November of 1956—a rising that was not supported by President Eisenhower’s administration. The bloody suppression of the revolt left 12,000 Hungarians and 3,000 Soviet military personnel dead.

This failure marked the eventual breakdown of Frank Wisner. He became irrationally abusive, drank too much and had a complete collapse in August 1958, when he had to be removed forcibly from his office under restraint. Later, after making a partial recovery, Wisner was sent as putative station chief of the CIA to London. But he was quickly recalled after he repeatedly made irrational outbursts to his British hosts—making him persona non grata in London.

Frank Wisner shot himself in the head with a shotgun on October 29, 1965.

Conservative estimates reveal that Wisner’s policy of sabotage and assassination was responsible for 30,000 deaths, excluding the Hungarian bloodbath.

As well as being a savage anti-communist, Wisner was also anti-Semitic, something he shared with many of the eastern European organizations he so assiduously courted during the course of his career.

Among the organizations Wisner valued were:

  • The Russian People’s Army (Russkaya Osvoboditelnaya Narodnaya Armiya) or RONA. Formed in liberated Soviet territory in January of 1942, in the town of Lokot, this militia was run by a former chemical engineer, Bronislav V. Kaminski. In September of 1943, RONA had 10,000 men, 36 field gun batteries and 24 tanks under their control. This group fought hard against Soviet partisan forces. In August of 1944, RONA detached a regiment of 1,700 men, under the command of Lt. Colonel Vrolov, to fight the Polish insurgents in Warsaw. They were, however, recalled after several weeks at the urgent request of the German military commander because of their savage, undisciplined behavior.
  • The Croatian Ustascha, a political movement formed by Dr. Ante Pavelic, who subsequently became head of the Croatian state under German control. The militia arm of this organization brutally fought against Serb communist partisans. The most feared of these militias was the “Black Legion” under Colonel Francetic.
  • Members of various Ukrainian, Balkan and Baltic police units who had spearheaded the brutal anti-partisan warfare in the east had a collective reputation for great ferocity in fighting the Soviets. Although anti-communism was put forward by Wisner as the attractiveness of these groups, in fact their general behavior throughout the anti-partisan campaigns was one of great brutality and not always directed at Soviet para-military units, but also against civilians in general and Jews in particular. Their anti-Semitic behavior was condoned because of their universal detestation of Soviet communists.

It is easy in retrospect to condemn Frank Wisner for his use of these groups, but his doing so does not make him a supporter of Third Reich racial attitudes. A mantra often chanted by the left is that an anti-communist is, therefore, an anti-Russian, and automatically pro-fascist and anti-Semitic.

Frank Wisner was a statist. He believed that the security of the state was the supreme law.

At the same time Harry Truman authorized the National Security Council Resolution 10/2 in June of 1948, he also instituted a special intelligence and foreign policy oversight committee to assist him. Truman had been excluded from Roosevelt’s inner circle and entered the Presidency without knowledge of such matters as the atomic bomb program. Aside from service as an artillery officer in the First World War, Truman did not have knowledge of military matters, especially in the highest levels.

This oversight committee was chaired by General Walter Bedell Smith, who had been Eisenhower’s Chief of Staff. Smith was a ruthless professional officer who had served under George Marshall and Eisenhower and was later made head of the CIA. The oversight committee was directly under the control of the President, above the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and was never an official body although its actions often set national foreign and military policy.

Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?

More comfortable online than out partying, post-Millennials are safer, physically, than adolescents have ever been. But they’re on the brink of a mental-health crisis.

by Jean M. Twenge

September 2017 Issue

The Atlantic

One day last summer, around noon, I called Athena, a 13-year-old who lives in Houston, Texas. She answered her phone—she’s had an iPhone since she was 11—sounding as if she’d just woken up. We chatted about her favorite songs and TV shows, and I asked her what she likes to do with her friends. “We go to the mall,” she said. “Do your parents drop you off?,” I asked, recalling my own middle-school days, in the 1980s, when I’d enjoy a few parent-free hours shopping with my friends. “No—I go with my family,” she replied. “We’ll go with my mom and brothers and walk a little behind them. I just have to tell my mom where we’re going. I have to check in every hour or every 30 minutes.”

Those mall trips are infrequent—about once a month. More often, Athena and her friends spend time together on their phones, unchaperoned. Unlike the teens of my generation, who might have spent an evening tying up the family landline with gossip, they talk on Snapchat, the smartphone app that allows users to send pictures and videos that quickly disappear. They make sure to keep up their Snapstreaks, which show how many days in a row they have Snapchatted with each other. Sometimes they save screenshots of particularly ridiculous pictures of friends. “It’s good blackmail,” Athena said. (Because she’s a minor, I’m not using her real name.) She told me she’d spent most of the summer hanging out alone in her room with her phone. That’s just the way her generation is, she said. “We didn’t have a choice to know any life without iPads or iPhones. I think we like our phones more than we like actual people.”

I’ve been researching generational differences for 25 years, starting when I was a 22-year-old doctoral student in psychology. Typically, the characteristics that come to define a generation appear gradually, and along a continuum. Beliefs and behaviors that were already rising simply continue to do so. Millennials, for instance, are a highly individualistic generation, but individualism had been increasing since the Baby Boomers turned on, tuned in, and dropped out. I had grown accustomed to line graphs of trends that looked like modest hills and valleys. Then I began studying Athena’s generation.

Around 2012, I noticed abrupt shifts in teen behaviors and emotional states. The gentle slopes of the line graphs became steep mountains and sheer cliffs, and many of the distinctive characteristics of the Millennial generation began to disappear. In all my analyses of generational data—some reaching back to the 1930s—I had never seen anything like it.

The allure of independence, so powerful to previous generations, holds less sway over today’s teens.

At first I presumed these might be blips, but the trends persisted, across several years and a series of national surveys. The changes weren’t just in degree, but in kind. The biggest difference between the Millennials and their predecessors was in how they viewed the world; teens today differ from the Millennials not just in their views but in how they spend their time. The experiences they have every day are radically different from those of the generation that came of age just a few years before them.

What happened in 2012 to cause such dramatic shifts in behavior? It was after the Great Recession, which officially lasted from 2007 to 2009 and had a starker effect on Millennials trying to find a place in a sputtering economy. But it was exactly the moment when the proportion of Americans who owned a smartphone surpassed 50 percent.

The more I pored over yearly surveys of teen attitudes and behaviors, and the more I talked with young people like Athena, the clearer it became that theirs is a generation shaped by the smartphone and by the concomitant rise of social media. I call them iGen. Born between 1995 and 2012, members of this generation are growing up with smartphones, have an Instagram account before they start high school, and do not remember a time before the internet. The Millennials grew up with the web as well, but it wasn’t ever-present in their lives, at hand at all times, day and night. iGen’s oldest members were early adolescents when the iPhone was introduced, in 2007, and high-school students when the iPad entered the scene, in 2010. A 2017 survey of more than 5,000 American teens found that three out of four owned an iPhone.

The advent of the smartphone and its cousin the tablet was followed quickly by hand-wringing about the deleterious effects of “screen time.” But the impact of these devices has not been fully appreciated, and goes far beyond the usual concerns about curtailed attention spans. The arrival of the smartphone has radically changed every aspect of teenagers’ lives, from the nature of their social interactions to their mental health. These changes have affected young people in every corner of the nation and in every type of household. The trends appear among teens poor and rich; of every ethnic background; in cities, suburbs, and small towns. Where there are cell towers, there are teens living their lives on their smartphone.

To those of us who fondly recall a more analog adolescence, this may seem foreign and troubling. The aim of generational study, however, is not to succumb to nostalgia for the way things used to be; it’s to understand how they are now. Some generational changes are positive, some are negative, and many are both. More comfortable in their bedrooms than in a car or at a party, today’s teens are physically safer than teens have ever been. They’re markedly less likely to get into a car accident and, having less of a taste for alcohol than their predecessors, are less susceptible to drinking’s attendant ills.

Psychologically, however, they are more vulnerable than Millennials were: Rates of teen depression and suicide have skyrocketed since 2011. It’s not an exaggeration to describe iGen as being on the brink of the worst mental-health crisis in decades. Much of this deterioration can be traced to their phones.

Even when a seismic event—a war, a technological leap, a free concert in the mud—plays an outsize role in shaping a group of young people, no single factor ever defines a generation. Parenting styles continue to change, as do school curricula and culture, and these things matter. But the twin rise of the smartphone and social media has caused an earthquake of a magnitude we’ve not seen in a very long time, if ever. There is compelling evidence that the devices we’ve placed in young people’s hands are having profound effects on their lives—and making them seriously unhappy.

In the early 1970s, the photographer Bill Yates shot a series of portraits at the Sweetheart Roller Skating Rink in Tampa, Florida. In one, a shirtless teen stands with a large bottle of peppermint schnapps stuck in the waistband of his jeans. In another, a boy who looks no older than 12 poses with a cigarette in his mouth. The rink was a place where kids could get away from their parents and inhabit a world of their own, a world where they could drink, smoke, and make out in the backs of their cars. In stark black-and-white, the adolescent Boomers gaze at Yates’s camera with the self-confidence born of making your own choices—even if, perhaps especially if, your parents wouldn’t think they were the right ones.

Fifteen years later, during my own teenage years as a member of Generation X, smoking had lost some of its romance, but independence was definitely still in. My friends and I plotted to get our driver’s license as soon as we could, making DMV appointments for the day we turned 16 and using our newfound freedom to escape the confines of our suburban neighborhood. Asked by our parents, “When will you be home?,” we replied, “When do I have to be?”

But the allure of independence, so powerful to previous generations, holds less sway over today’s teens, who are less likely to leave the house without their parents. The shift is stunning: 12th-graders in 2015 were going out less often than eighth-graders did as recently as 2009.

Today’s teens are also less likely to date. The initial stage of courtship, which Gen Xers called “liking” (as in “Ooh, he likes you!”), kids now call “talking”—an ironic choice for a generation that prefers texting to actual conversation. After two teens have “talked” for a while, they might start dating. But only about 56 percent of high-school seniors in 2015 went out on dates; for Boomers and Gen Xers, the number was about 85 percent.

The decline in dating tracks with a decline in sexual activity. The drop is the sharpest for ninth-graders, among whom the number of sexually active teens has been cut by almost 40 percent since 1991. The average teen now has had sex for the first time by the spring of 11th grade, a full year later than the average Gen Xer. Fewer teens having sex has contributed to what many see as one of the most positive youth trends in recent years: The teen birth rate hit an all-time low in 2016, down 67 percent since its modern peak, in 1991.

Even driving, a symbol of adolescent freedom inscribed in American popular culture, from Rebel Without a Cause to Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, has lost its appeal for today’s teens. Nearly all Boomer high-school students had their driver’s license by the spring of their senior year; more than one in four teens today still lack one at the end of high school. For some, Mom and Dad are such good chauffeurs that there’s no urgent need to drive. “My parents drove me everywhere and never complained, so I always had rides,” a 21-year-old student in San Diego told me. “I didn’t get my license until my mom told me I had to because she could not keep driving me to school.” She finally got her license six months after her 18th birthday. In conversation after conversation, teens described getting their license as something to be nagged into by their parents—a notion that would have been unthinkable to previous generations.

Independence isn’t free—you need some money in your pocket to pay for gas, or for that bottle of schnapps. In earlier eras, kids worked in great numbers, eager to finance their freedom or prodded by their parents to learn the value of a dollar. But iGen teens aren’t working (or managing their own money) as much. In the late 1970s, 77 percent of high-school seniors worked for pay during the school year; by the mid-2010s, only 55 percent did. The number of eighth-graders who work for pay has been cut in half. These declines accelerated during the Great Recession, but teen employment has not bounced back, even though job availability has.

Of course, putting off the responsibilities of adulthood is not an iGen innovation. Gen Xers, in the 1990s, were the first to postpone the traditional markers of adulthood. Young Gen Xers were just about as likely to drive, drink alcohol, and date as young Boomers had been, and more likely to have sex and get pregnant as teens. But as they left their teenage years behind, Gen Xers married and started careers later than their Boomer predecessors had.

Gen X managed to stretch adolescence beyond all previous limits: Its members started becoming adults earlier and finished becoming adults later. Beginning with Millennials and continuing with iGen, adolescence is contracting again—but only because its onset is being delayed. Across a range of behaviors—drinking, dating, spending time unsupervised— 18-year-olds now act more like 15-year-olds used to, and 15-year-olds more like 13-year-olds. Childhood now stretches well into high school.

Why are today’s teens waiting longer to take on both the responsibilities and the pleasures of adulthood? Shifts in the economy, and parenting, certainly play a role. In an information economy that rewards higher education more than early work history, parents may be inclined to encourage their kids to stay home and study rather than to get a part-time job. Teens, in turn, seem to be content with this homebody arrangement—not because they’re so studious, but because their social life is lived on their phone. They don’t need to leave home to spend time with their friends.

If today’s teens were a generation of grinds, we’d see that in the data. But eighth-, 10th-, and 12th-graders in the 2010s actually spend less time on homework than Gen X teens did in the early 1990s. (High-school seniors headed for four-year colleges spend about the same amount of time on homework as their predecessors did.) The time that seniors spend on activities such as student clubs and sports and exercise has changed little in recent years. Combined with the decline in working for pay, this means iGen teens have more leisure time than Gen X teens did, not less.

So what are they doing with all that time? They are on their phone, in their room, alone and often distressed.

One of the ironies of iGen life is that despite spending far more time under the same roof as their parents, today’s teens can hardly be said to be closer to their mothers and fathers than their predecessors were. “I’ve seen my friends with their families—they don’t talk to them,” Athena told me. “They just say ‘Okay, okay, whatever’ while they’re on their phones. They don’t pay attention to their family.” Like her peers, Athena is an expert at tuning out her parents so she can focus on her phone. She spent much of her summer keeping up with friends, but nearly all of it was over text or Snapchat. “I’ve been on my phone more than I’ve been with actual people,” she said. “My bed has, like, an imprint of my body.”

In this, too, she is typical. The number of teens who get together with their friends nearly every day dropped by more than 40 percent from 2000 to 2015; the decline has been especially steep recently. It’s not only a matter of fewer kids partying; fewer kids are spending time simply hanging out. That’s something most teens used to do: nerds and jocks, poor kids and rich kids, C students and A students. The roller rink, the basketball court, the town pool, the local necking spot—they’ve all been replaced by virtual spaces accessed through apps and the web.

You might expect that teens spend so much time in these new spaces because it makes them happy, but most data suggest that it does not. The Monitoring the Future survey, funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse and designed to be nationally representative, has asked 12th-graders more than 1,000 questions every year since 1975 and queried eighth- and 10th-graders since 1991. The survey asks teens how happy they are and also how much of their leisure time they spend on various activities, including nonscreen activities such as in-person social interaction and exercise, and, in recent years, screen activities such as using social media, texting, and browsing the web. The results could not be clearer: Teens who spend more time than average on screen activities are more likely to be unhappy, and those who spend more time than average on nonscreen activities are more likely to be happy.

There’s not a single exception. All screen activities are linked to less happiness, and all nonscreen activities are linked to more happiness. Eighth-graders who spend 10 or more hours a week on social media are 56 percent more likely to say they’re unhappy than those who devote less time to social media. Admittedly, 10 hours a week is a lot. But those who spend six to nine hours a week on social media are still 47 percent more likely to say they are unhappy than those who use social media even less. The opposite is true of in-person interactions. Those who spend an above-average amount of time with their friends in person are 20 percent less likely to say they’re unhappy than those who hang out for a below-average amount of time.

The more time teens spend looking at screens, the more likely they are to report symptoms of depression.

If you were going to give advice for a happy adolescence based on this survey, it would be straightforward: Put down the phone, turn off the laptop, and do something—anything—that does not involve a screen. Of course, these analyses don’t unequivocally prove that screen time causes unhappiness; it’s possible that unhappy teens spend more time online. But recent research suggests that screen time, in particular social-media use, does indeed cause unhappiness. One study asked college students with a Facebook page to complete short surveys on their phone over the course of two weeks. They’d get a text message with a link five times a day, and report on their mood and how much they’d used Facebook. The more they’d used Facebook, the unhappier they felt, but feeling unhappy did not subsequently lead to more Facebook use.

Social-networking sites like Facebook promise to connect us to friends. But the portrait of iGen teens emerging from the data is one of a lonely, dislocated generation. Teens who visit social-networking sites every day but see their friends in person less frequently are the most likely to agree with the statements “A lot of times I feel lonely,” “I often feel left out of things,” and “I often wish I had more good friends.” Teens’ feelings of loneliness spiked in 2013 and have remained high since.

This doesn’t always mean that, on an individual level, kids who spend more time online are lonelier than kids who spend less time online. Teens who spend more time on social media also spend more time with their friends in person, on average—highly social teens are more social in both venues, and less social teens are less so. But at the generational level, when teens spend more time on smartphones and less time on in-person social interactions, loneliness is more common.

So is depression. Once again, the effect of screen activities is unmistakable: The more time teens spend looking at screens, the more likely they are to report symptoms of depression. Eighth-graders who are heavy users of social media increase their risk of depression by 27 percent, while those who play sports, go to religious services, or even do homework more than the average teen cut their risk significantly.

Teens who spend three hours a day or more on electronic devices are 35 percent more likely to have a risk factor for suicide, such as making a suicide plan. (That’s much more than the risk related to, say, watching TV.) One piece of data that indirectly but stunningly captures kids’ growing isolation, for good and for bad: Since 2007, the homicide rate among teens has declined, but the suicide rate has increased. As teens have started spending less time together, they have become less likely to kill one another, and more likely to kill themselves. In 2011, for the first time in 24 years, the teen suicide rate was higher than the teen homicide rate.

Depression and suicide have many causes; too much technology is clearly not the only one. And the teen suicide rate was even higher in the 1990s, long before smartphones existed. Then again, about four times as many Americans now take antidepressants, which are often effective in treating severe depression, the type most strongly linked to suicide.

What’s the connection between smartphones and the apparent psychological distress this generation is experiencing? For all their power to link kids day and night, social media also exacerbate the age-old teen concern about being left out. Today’s teens may go to fewer parties and spend less time together in person, but when they do congregate, they document their hangouts relentlessly—on Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook. Those not invited to come along are keenly aware of it. Accordingly, the number of teens who feel left out has reached all-time highs across age groups. Like the increase in loneliness, the upswing in feeling left out has been swift and significant.

This trend has been especially steep among girls. Forty-eight percent more girls said they often felt left out in 2015 than in 2010, compared with 27 percent more boys. Girls use social media more often, giving them additional opportunities to feel excluded and lonely when they see their friends or classmates getting together without them. Social media levy a psychic tax on the teen doing the posting as well, as she anxiously awaits the affirmation of comments and likes. When Athena posts pictures to Instagram, she told me, “I’m nervous about what people think and are going to say. It sometimes bugs me when I don’t get a certain amount of likes on a picture.”

Girls have also borne the brunt of the rise in depressive symptoms among today’s teens. Boys’ depressive symptoms increased by 21 percent from 2012 to 2015, while girls’ increased by 50 percent—more than twice as much. The rise in suicide, too, is more pronounced among girls. Although the rate increased for both sexes, three times as many 12-to-14-year-old girls killed themselves in 2015 as in 2007, compared with twice as many boys. The suicide rate is still higher for boys, in part because they use more-lethal methods, but girls are beginning to close the gap.

These more dire consequences for teenage girls could also be rooted in the fact that they’re more likely to experience cyberbullying. Boys tend to bully one another physically, while girls are more likely to do so by undermining a victim’s social status or relationships. Social media give middle- and high-school girls a platform on which to carry out the style of aggression they favor, ostracizing and excluding other girls around the clock.

Social-media companies are of course aware of these problems, and to one degree or another have endeavored to prevent cyberbullying. But their various motivations are, to say the least, complex. A recently leaked Facebook document indicated that the company had been touting to advertisers its ability to determine teens’ emotional state based on their on-site behavior, and even to pinpoint “moments when young people need a confidence boost.” Facebook acknowledged that the document was real, but denied that it offers “tools to target people based on their emotional state.”

In July 2014, a 13-year-old girl in North Texas woke to the smell of something burning. Her phone had overheated and melted into the sheets. National news outlets picked up the story, stoking readers’ fears that their cellphone might spontaneously combust. To me, however, the flaming cellphone wasn’t the only surprising aspect of the story. Why, I wondered, would anyone sleep with her phone beside her in bed? It’s not as though you can surf the web while you’re sleeping. And who could slumber deeply inches from a buzzing phone?

Curious, I asked my undergraduate students at San Diego State University what they do with their phone while they sleep. Their answers were a profile in obsession. Nearly all slept with their phone, putting it under their pillow, on the mattress, or at the very least within arm’s reach of the bed. They checked social media right before they went to sleep, and reached for their phone as soon as they woke up in the morning (they had to—all of them used it as their alarm clock). Their phone was the last thing they saw before they went to sleep and the first thing they saw when they woke up. If they woke in the middle of the night, they often ended up looking at their phone. Some used the language of addiction. “I know I shouldn’t, but I just can’t help it,” one said about looking at her phone while in bed. Others saw their phone as an extension of their body—or even like a lover: “Having my phone closer to me while I’m sleeping is a comfort.”

It may be a comfort, but the smartphone is cutting into teens’ sleep: Many now sleep less than seven hours most nights. Sleep experts say that teens should get about nine hours of sleep a night; a teen who is getting less than seven hours a night is significantly sleep deprived. Fifty-seven percent more teens were sleep deprived in 2015 than in 1991. In just the four years from 2012 to 2015, 22 percent more teens failed to get seven hours of sleep.

The increase is suspiciously timed, once again starting around when most teens got a smartphone. Two national surveys show that teens who spend three or more hours a day on electronic devices are 28 percent more likely to get less than seven hours of sleep than those who spend fewer than three hours, and teens who visit social-media sites every day are 19 percent more likely to be sleep deprived. A meta-analysis of studies on electronic-device use among children found similar results: Children who use a media device right before bed are more likely to sleep less than they should, more likely to sleep poorly, and more than twice as likely to be sleepy during the day.

I’ve observed my toddler, barely old enough to walk, confidently swiping her way through an iPad.

Electronic devices and social media seem to have an especially strong ability to disrupt sleep. Teens who read books and magazines more often than the average are actually slightly less likely to be sleep deprived—either reading lulls them to sleep, or they can put the book down at bedtime. Watching TV for several hours a day is only weakly linked to sleeping less. But the allure of the smartphone is often too much to resist.

Sleep deprivation is linked to myriad issues, including compromised thinking and reasoning, susceptibility to illness, weight gain, and high blood pressure. It also affects mood: People who don’t sleep enough are prone to depression and anxiety. Again, it’s difficult to trace the precise paths of causation. Smartphones could be causing lack of sleep, which leads to depression, or the phones could be causing depression, which leads to lack of sleep. Or some other factor could be causing both depression and sleep deprivation to rise. But the smartphone, its blue light glowing in the dark, is likely playing a nefarious role.

The correlations between depression and smartphone use are strong enough to suggest that more parents should be telling their kids to put down their phone. As the technology writer Nick Bilton has reported, it’s a policy some Silicon Valley executives follow. Even Steve Jobs limited his kids’ use of the devices he brought into the world.

What’s at stake isn’t just how kids experience adolescence. The constant presence of smartphones is likely to affect them well into adulthood. Among people who suffer an episode of depression, at least half become depressed again later in life. Adolescence is a key time for developing social skills; as teens spend less time with their friends face-to-face, they have fewer opportunities to practice them. In the next decade, we may see more adults who know just the right emoji for a situation, but not the right facial expression.

I realize that restricting technology might be an unrealistic demand to impose on a generation of kids so accustomed to being wired at all times. My three daughters were born in 2006, 2009, and 2012. They’re not yet old enough to display the traits of iGen teens, but I have already witnessed firsthand just how ingrained new media are in their young lives. I’ve observed my toddler, barely old enough to walk, confidently swiping her way through an iPad. I’ve experienced my 6-year-old asking for her own cellphone. I’ve overheard my 9-year-old discussing the latest app to sweep the fourth grade. Prying the phone out of our kids’ hands will be difficult, even more so than the quixotic efforts of my parents’ generation to get their kids to turn off MTV and get some fresh air. But more seems to be at stake in urging teens to use their phone responsibly, and there are benefits to be gained even if all we instill in our children is the importance of moderation. Significant effects on both mental health and sleep time appear after two or more hours a day on electronic devices. The average teen spends about two and a half hours a day on electronic devices. Some mild boundary-setting could keep kids from falling into harmful habits.

In my conversations with teens, I saw hopeful signs that kids themselves are beginning to link some of their troubles to their ever-present phone. Athena told me that when she does spend time with her friends in person, they are often looking at their device instead of at her. “I’m trying to talk to them about something, and they don’t actually look at my face,” she said. “They’re looking at their phone, or they’re looking at their Apple Watch.” “What does that feel like, when you’re trying to talk to somebody face-to-face and they’re not looking at you?,” I asked. “It kind of hurts,” she said. “It hurts. I know my parents’ generation didn’t do that. I could be talking about something super important to me, and they wouldn’t even be listening.”

Once, she told me, she was hanging out with a friend who was texting her boyfriend. “I was trying to talk to her about my family, and what was going on, and she was like, ‘Uh-huh, yeah, whatever.’ So I took her phone out of her hands and I threw it at my wall.”

I couldn’t help laughing. “You play volleyball,” I said. “Do you have a pretty good arm?” “Yep,” she replied.



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