Are We About to Face Our Gravest Constitutional Crisis?

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Chris Hedges.

Before this lame-duck Congress adjourns in December we could face the most serious constitutional crisis in the history of the republic if Donald Trump attempts to shut down the investigation by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III.

A supine and pliant Republican Party, still in control of the House and the Senate, would probably not challenge Trump. The Supreme Court, which would be the final arbiter in any legal challenge to the president, would probably not rule against him. And his cultish followers, perhaps 40 million Americans, would respond enthusiastically to his trashing of democratic institutions and incitements of violence against the press, the Democratic Party leadership, his critics and all who take to the streets in protest. The United States by Christmas, if Trump plays this card, could become a full-blown authoritarian state where the rule of law no longer exists and the president is a despot.

Trump has flouted the Constitution since taking office. He has obstructed justice by firing the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, James Comey, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, replacing Sessions with the Trump partisan Matthew Whitaker. The president regularly ridicules the Mueller investigation and insults its leader. In a tweet last week he called the investigation a “witch hunt,” a “total mess” and “absolutely nuts,” and he went on to assert that Mueller and his investigators were “screaming and shouting at people” to make them provide “the answers they want.” He called those involved in the probe “a disgrace to our nation.”

He has repeatedly delivered diatribes against the press as “the enemy of the people,” belittled, mocked and insulted reporters during press conferences and defended his revoking of the White House press credentials of a CNN reporter. He and his family openly use the presidency for self-enrichment, often by steering lobbyists and foreign officials to Trump’s hotels and golf courses. He has peddled numerous conspiracy theories to discredit U.S. elections and deployed military troops along the southern border to resist an “invasion” of migrants. However, an attempt to fire Mueller and shut down the investigation would obliterate the Constitution as a functional document. There would be one last gasp of democracy by those of us who protest. It is not certain we would succeed.

The potential crisis the nation faces is far more serious than the one that occurred when it was revealed that President Richard Nixon had funded and covered up the June 17, 1972, burglary at Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate complex in Washington. (Nixon’s lying about the secret bombing of Cambodia, which occurred from March 18, 1969, to May 26, 1970, and killed over half a million people, was, like all crimes of empire, never formally addressed and was not cited in the impeachment documents that were prepared.) The institutions tasked with defending democracy and the rule of law were far more robust during the Nixon constitutional crisis: There were Republicans in the Congress willing to hold the president accountable to the law; the courts were independent; the press had widespread credibility. In addition, the president met the onslaught of charges and revelations by retreating from the public. None of this is true now. Trump, with Fox News acting as a megaphone for his hate speech and conspiracy theories, has been holding Nuremberg-like rallies across the country to prepare the roughly 40 percent of the public who remain loyal to him to become shock troops. His followers are filled with hate and resentment for the elites who betrayed them. They are hungry for revenge. They do not live in a fact-based universe. And they are awash in weapons.

“Trump knows once the Democrats control the House, they can subpoena the records of his administration,” Ralph Nader said when I reached him by phone in Connecticut. “He’s going to want to get this over with, even if it sparks a constitutional crisis, while the Republicans still control the Congress. There’s little doubt this will all come to a head before the Christmas holidays. Unfortunately for Mueller, he has not issued a subpoena to the president that would have protected him [Mueller]. If he had issued a subpoena, which he has every right to do, especially after being rebuffed in hours and hours of private negotiations for information from the president, he would be protected. Once you issue a subpoena, you have a lot of law on your side. If Trump defied a subpoena, he would get in legal hot water. But short of a subpoena, it’s just political back and forth. By not issuing a subpoena Mueller is more vulnerable to Whitaker and Trump.”

So far, there have been no hints from the Mueller investigation’s criminal charges or the guilty pleas by Trump associates that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia during the 2016 presidential election. Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman, was found guilty on eight of the 18 counts that Mueller brought against him, but none of his crimes had anything to do with the presidential election or Russian influence. Manafort’s financial crimes included five counts of tax fraud, one of hiding foreign bank accounts and two of bank fraud. These crimes predated the Trump campaign. Rick Gates, the former deputy campaign chairman, pleaded guilty to conspiracy against the United States and making false statements. George Papadopoulos spent 14 days in jail for lying to the FBI. Michael Cohen, Trump’s onetime lawyer, pleaded guilty to making illegal campaign contributions by paying hush money to the porn actress Stephanie Clifford, known as Stormy Daniels, and Playboy model Karen McDougal. Cohen, due to be sentenced Dec. 12 in U.S. District Court in Manhattan on charges of tax evasion, making false statements to a bank and the two campaign contribution violations, appears to be cooperating with the investigation, like most of those who have been indicted.

In February Mueller indicted 13 Russians and three Russian entities on charges of interfering in the 2016 U.S. elections, indictments that would not, I suspect, have taken place without hard evidence, but these indictments still do not appear to link the Trump campaign directly to Russia in an act of collusion. Perhaps the expected indictments of Roger Stone, reportedly for his alleged contacts with WikiLeaks, and Jerome Corsi, who said he expects to be indicted for “giving false information to the special counsel or to one of the other grand [juries],” will connect Trump and Russia, but until now the Mueller investigation appears to be focused on financial crimes, which appear rampant within the Trump business organization and among Trump associates. It is questionable, however, whether financial crimes will be enough to justify impeachment proceedings. Trump says he has finished answering written questions submitted to him from Mueller’s team and has promised to turn them over this week.

“Trump is in a dimension by himself,” said Nader. “He has inured the public to all kinds of scandals, bad language, accusations, admissions, harassment of women, boasting about it, lying about his business and keeping his tax returns a secret. You have to have an even higher level of damning materials in the [Mueller] report in order to breach that level of inurement that the public has become accustomed to.”

Trump wields the power of the presidential pardon and has suggested he can use it to pardon relatives and himself. There is no legal precedent for such pardons, but the Supreme Court would probably uphold whatever novel legal interpretation the Trump White House would use. Trump might also try to divert attention away from the political meltdown by starting another war.

“Trump may try to save himself by starting hostilities abroad,” Nader said. “He is especially inclined to do this because of his extraordinary psychological instabilities and impulsiveness. He also has a monumental ego that lets him live in a fantasy world. The signal that he is planning this kind of move, a move he would carry out if he loses all other options to stay in office and be re-elected, will be if he replaces chief of staff John Kelly with a war hawk and his secretary of defense, James Mattis, with another war hawk. He has two war hawks who would like to see this happen. One is John Bolton, his national security adviser, and the other is the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo. Bolton and Pompeo have similar views about using military might abroad and ignoring constitutional, statutory and treaty restraints. They would like to see Kelly and Mattis removed. Pompeo, a graduate of West Point, has ambitions to become secretary of defense. If you see Kelly and Mattis replaced with warmongers, this move might reveal his ultimate trump card. He can use a war to shut down political opposition and dissent in the name of supporting the troops.”

Trump has a few weeks before the Democrats take control of the House. This may give him enough time to carry out his constitutional coup and consolidate power. Our decayed democratic institutions, including a corporate press that has rendered the working class and the poor invisible and serves as an apologist for corporate power, are detested by many Trump Republicans. Trump can rally his cultish supporters, hermetically sealed in their non-reality-based belief system, to attack and demolish the last of our democratic protections.

“We have a tremendous dearth of readiness by major constituencies such as civic groups, the legal profession, the business community and academia to deal with someone who misuses his authority, power and resources,” Nader warned. “Nobody knows how to do it more precisely, relentlessly, strategically and tactically than the cunning Donald J. Trump.”

Editor’s note: See an Oct. 17 column by Chris Hedges on Ralph Nader’s latest book, “How the Rats Re-Formed Congress.”

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N. Korea Reports Test of ‘Ultramodern Tactical Weapon’

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by FOSTER KLUG and HYUNG-JIN KIM / The Associated Press.

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un observed the successful test of an unspecified “newly developed ultramodern tactical weapon,” state media reported Friday, in an apparent bid to apply pressure on the United States and South Korea.

It didn’t appear to be a test of a nuclear device or a long-range missile with the potential to target the U.S. A string of such tests last year had many fearing war before the North turned to engagement and diplomacy. Still, any mention of weapons testing could influence the direction of stalled diplomatic efforts spearheaded by Washington and aimed at ridding the North of its nuclear weapons.

The North hasn’t publicly tested any weapons since November 2017, but in recent days Pyongyang reportedly expressed anger at U.S.-led international sanctions and ongoing small-scale military drills between South Korea and the United States.

Earlier this month, North Korea’s Foreign Ministry warned it could bring back its policy of bolstering its nuclear arsenal if it doesn’t receive sanctions relief.

“It’s North Korea-style coercive diplomacy. North Korea is saying ‘If you don’t listen to us, you will face political burdens,'” said analyst Shin Beomchul of Seoul’s Asan Institute for Policy Studies.

Diplomacy has stalled since a summit between Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump in June, with Washington pushing for more action on nuclear disarmament and the North insisting that the U.S. first approve a peace declaration formally ending the Korean War and lift sanctions.

Shin said the weapon North Korea tested could be a missile, artillery, an anti-air gun, a drone or other high-tech conventional weapons systems.

Yang Wook, a Seoul-based military expert, said a “tactical weapon” in North Korea refers to “a weapon aimed at striking South Korea including U.S. military bases” there, so the North may have tested a short-range missile or a multiple rocket launch system.

Even if the test was a message for Washington and Seoul, Friday’s report from the North was noticeably less belligerent than past announcements of weapons tests, and didn’t focus on North Korean claims of U.S. and South Korean hostility.

Yang said the latest North Korean test won’t completely break down nuclear diplomacy, though more questions would be raised about how sincere the North is about its commitment to denuclearization.

Asked about the test, the U.S. State Department said that American and North Korean officials are talking about implementing the commitments that Trump and Kim made during their June meeting in Singapore. Eugene Lee, spokeswoman of South Korea’s Unification Ministry, declined to comment on Kim’s inspection of the weapons test.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, attending a Southeast Asian summit in Singapore, cited the “great progress” made on North Korea but said more had to be done.

A year and a half ago, “nuclear tests were taking place, missiles were flying over Japan and there were threats and propagations against our nation and nations in the region,” Pence said.

“Today, no more missiles are flying, no more nuclear tests, our hostages have come home, and North Korea has begun anew to return fallen American heroes from the Korean War to our soil. We made great progress but there’s more work to be done,” he said.

Pence stressed that U.N. sanctions had to remain enforced.

It’s the first publicly known field inspection of a weapons test by Kim Jong Un since he observed the testing of the Hwasong-15 intercontinental ballistic missile in November of last year, according to South Korea’s Unification Ministry.

The North said the test took place at the Academy of National Defense Science and that Kim couldn’t suppress his “passionate joy” at its success. He was described as “so excited to say that another great work was done by the defense scientists and munitions industrial workers to increase the defense capability of the country.”

Last year’s string of increasingly powerful weapons tests, many experts believe, put the North on the brink of a viable arsenal of nuclear-tipped missiles that can target anywhere in the mainland United States.

Trump and Kim are both interested in another summit, but it’s unclear when it might happen. Pence has said the next meeting would allow the two leaders to put what they discussed in their last summit on paper.


Associated Press writer Kim Tong-hyung in Seoul, Annabelle Liang in Singapore and Matthew Pennington in Washington contributed to this report.

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Part of Migrant Caravan Reaches Tijuana

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by ELLIOT SPAGAT / The Associated Press.

TIJUANA, Mexico — Exhausted migrants in a caravan of Central American asylum-seekers napped on mattresses in a converted municipal gymnasium, while men played soccer and exchanged banter on a crowded, adjoining courtyard. A woman dabbed her crying, naked toddler with a moist cloth.

Nearly 2,000 caravan migrants had reached the U.S. border in Mexico’s northwestern corner by Thursday, with more coming in a steady trickle of buses. The city of Tijuana, with its privately run shelters operating well above their capacity of 700, opened the gymnasium and gated sport complex for up to 1,000 migrants, with a potential to expand to 3,000.

With U.S. border inspectors processing only about 100 asylum claims a day at the main border crossing with San Diego, prospects grew that migrants would be stuck waiting in Tijuana for months.

Francisco Rueda, the top deputy to Baja California state Gov. Francisco Vega de la Madrid, said about 1,750 migrants from the caravan had reached Tijuana so far.

“This is not a crisis,” he told reporters, though he agreed that “this is an extraordinary situation.”

Rueda said the state has 7,000 jobs available for its “Central American migrant brothers” who obtain legal residence status in Mexico.

“Today in Baja California there is an employment opportunity for those who request it, but it order for this to happen, it has to regulate migrant status,” he said.

The city’s thriving factories are always looking for workers, and several thousand Haitian migrants who were turned away at the U.S. border have found jobs and settled in Tijuana the last two years.

Police made their presence known in a city that is suffering an all-time-high homicide rate. A group of about 50 migrants, mostly women and children, walked through downtown streets Thursday from the city shelter to a breakfast hall under police escort.

As buses from western and central Mexico trickled in, some families camped inside the bus terminal and waited for word on where they could find a safe place to sleep.

Oscar Zapata, 31, reached the Tijuana bus station at 2 a.m. Thursday from Guadalajara with his wife and their three children, ages 4, 5 and 12, and headed to the breakfast hall, where migrants were served free beef and potatoes.

Back home in La Ceiba, Honduras, he sold pirated CDs and DVDs in the street and two gangs demanding “protection” money threatened to kidnap his daughter and force her into prostitution if he didn’t pay. When he heard about the caravan on the TV news last month, he didn’t think twice.

“It was the opportunity to get out,” Zapata said.

Zapata said he hopes to join a brother in Los Angeles but has not yet decided on his next move. Like many others, he plans to wait in Tijuana for others in the caravan to arrive and gather more information before seeking asylum in the United States.

Byron Jose Blandino, a 27-year-old bricklayer from Nicaragua who slept in the converted gymnasium, said he wanted to request asylum but not until he could speak with someone well-versed in U.S. law and asylum procedures.

“The first thing is to wait,” Blandino said. “I do not want to break the laws of any country. If I could enter in a peaceful manner, that would be good.

To claim asylum in San Diego, migrants enter their names in a tattered notebook held together by duct tape and managed by the migrants in a plaza outside the entry to the main border crossing. On Thursday, migrants who registered six weeks ago were getting their names called. The waiting list has grown to more than 3,000 names and stands to become much longer with the new arrivals.

Dozens of gay and transgender migrants in the caravan were already lining up Thursday to submit asylum claims, though it was unclear how soon they would be able to do so.

Rueda, the governor’s deputy, said that if all migrants from the caravan currently in Tijuana were to register to seek asylum in the U.S., they would likely have to wait four months at current processing rates. For that reason, the state has asked Mexican federal authorities to encourage people in other caravans to go to other border cities.

There are real questions about how the city of more than 1.6 million will manage to handle the migrant caravans working their way through Mexico, which may total 10,000 people in all.

“No city in the world is prepared to receive this number of migrants,” said Mario Osuna, Tijuana’s social development director. He said the city hopes Mexico’s federal government “will start legalizing these people immediately” so they can get jobs and earn a living.

The caravan has fragmented somewhat in recent days in a final push to the border, with some migrants moving rapidly in buses and others falling behind.

On Thursday, hundreds were stranded for most of the day at a gas station in Navojoa, some 750 miles (1,200 kilometers) from Tijuana.

“We were dropped here at midnight … in the middle of nowhere, where supposedly some buses were going to come pick us up, but nothing,” Alejandra Grisel Rodriguez of Honduras told The Associated Press by phone. “We are without water, without food.”

After about 12 hours, seven buses began arriving to collect the migrants, Rodriguez said, but they quickly filled up.

“We would need at least 40 or 50,” she said.


Associated Press writer Maria Verza in Culiacan, Mexico, contributed to this report.

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Wildfire Is Called Deadliest in U.S. in a Century

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by The Associated Press.

Wildfire experts say the Northern California wildfire that has killed at least 56 is the deadliest in a century.

California officials say the fire burning in a rural area far north of San Francisco killed more people than any blaze in the state’s recorded history.

But the U.S. government doesn’t closely track civilian casualties and records from long ago are incomplete.

Stephen Pyne, a regent professor at Arizona State University’s School of Life Sciences and author of “Between Two Fires: A Fire History of Contemporary America,” and Crystal Kolden, a professor at the University of Idaho and expert in fire science, said 1918 was the last time more people were killed in a wildfire.

“For the modern era, this is definitely going to go down as the deadliest on record for the U.S.,” said Kolden, who has studied wildfires for 20 years since she worked as a wildland firefighter for the U.S. Forest Service.

A century ago, the Cloquet Fire broke out in drought-stricken northern Minnesota and raced through a number of rural communities, destroying thousands of homes and killing an estimated 1,000 people. The fire helped prompt the federal government to start developing firefighting practices and policies.

Pyne, who was a firefighter before he began researching wildfires in 1977, said U.S. government agencies still don’t keep good statistics on civilian casualties from wildfires.

“Fire statistics are not very good because they’re remotely generated,” he said. “It’s very hard to find out even how many houses burned in a year.”

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American History for Truthdiggers: Tragic Dawn of Overseas Imperialism

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Maj. Danny Sjursen.

Editor’s note: The past is prologue. The stories we tell about ourselves and our forebears inform the sort of country we think we are and help determine public policy. As our current president promises to “make America great again,” this moment is an appropriate time to reconsider our past, look back at various eras of United States history and re-evaluate America’s origins. When, exactly, were we “great”?

Below is the 21st installment of the “American History for Truthdiggers” series, a pull-no-punches appraisal of our shared, if flawed, past. The author of the series, Danny Sjursen, an active-duty major in the U.S. Army, served military tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and taught the nation’s checkered, often inspiring past when he was an assistant professor of history at West Point. His war experiences, his scholarship, his skill as a writer and his patriotism illuminate these Truthdig posts.

Part 21 of “American History for Truthdiggers.”

See: Part 1; Part 2; Part 3; Part 4; Part 5; Part 6; Part 7; Part 8; Part 9; Part 10; Part 11; Part 12; Part 13; Part 14; Part 15; Part 16; Part 17; Part 18; Part 19; Part 20.

* * *

Empire. It is a word that most Americans loathe. After all, the United States was born through its rebellion against the great (British) empire of the day. American politicians, policymakers and the public alike have long preferred to imagine the U.S. as, rather, a beacon of freedom in the world, bringing light to those in the darkness of despotism. Europeans, not Americans, it is thought, had empires. Some version of this myth has pervaded the republic from its earliest colonial origins, and nothing could be further from the truth.

According to the old historical narrative, the U.S. has always been a democratic republic and only briefly dabbled (from 1898 to 1904) with outright imperialism. And, indeed, even in that era—in which the U.S. seized Puerto Rico, Guam, Hawaii and the Philippines—the U.S. saw itself as “liberating” the locals from Spanish despotism. This wasn’t real imperialism but rather, to use a term from the day, “benevolent assimilation.” Oh, what a gloriously American euphemism!

The truth, of course, is far more discomfiting. The U.S. was an empire before it had even gained its own independence. From the moment that Englishmen landed at Jamestown and Plymouth Rock, theirs was an imperial experiment. Native tribes were conquered and displaced westward, year in and year out, until there were no sovereign Indians left to fight. In 1848, the U.S. Army conquered northern Mexico and rechristened it the American Southwest. Yes, the U.S. was always an empire, what Thomas Jefferson self-consciously called an “Empire of Liberty.” Only the American Empire looked different from the British and Western European variety. Until 1898, the U.S. lacked the overseas possessions and expansive naval power that have come to define our contemporary image of empire. That was the British, French and Spanish model. No, the U.S. was a great land empire most similar (ironically) to that of Russia, but an empire nonetheless.

Still, there is something profound about 1898 and the years that followed. For it was in this era that the American people—and their leaders—became sick with the disease of overseas imperialism. With no Indians left to fight and no Mexican lands worth conquering, Americans looked abroad for new monsters to destroy and new lands to occupy. Britain and France were far too powerful and were not to be trifled with; but Spain, the deteriorating Spanish Empire in the Caribbean and Pacific, proved a tempting target. And so it was, through a brief—“splendid,” as it was described—little war with Spain, that the United States would annex foreign territories and join the European race for colonies.

1898 is central to our understanding of the United States’ contemporary role in the world, for it was at that moment that the peculiar exceptional millenarianism of American idealism merged with the Western mission of “civilization.” The result was a more overt, distant and expansive version of American Empire. And, though the U.S. no longer officially “annexes” foreign territories, its neo-imperial foreign policy is alive and well, with U.S. military forces ensconced in some 800 bases in more than 80 countries—numbers that by far exceed those of other nations. Furthermore, the remnants of America’s first overseas conquests are with us today, as the people of Puerto Rico, Guam and Samoa are still only partial Americans—citizens, yes, but citizens without congressional representation or a vote in presidential elections. How ironic, indeed, that a nation founded in opposition to “taxation without representation” should, for more than 100 years now, hold so many of its people in a situation remarkably similar to that of the American colonists before the Revolutionary War.

In retrospect, then, 1898 represents both continuity with America’s imperial past and a bridge to its contemporary neo-imperial future. This era is key because it stands as a moment of no return: a pivot point at which the United States became a global empire. One can hardly understand contemporary interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan without a clear account of 1898 and what followed. The Spanish-American War and the occupation of the Philippines are two of America’s fundamental sins, and their consequences resonate in our ever uncertain present.

The Closing of the Frontier (1890)

In 1890, the distinguished American historian Frederick Jackson Turner combed the latest U.S. census and declared, in a widely read speech, that the American “frontier” was officially “closed.” He meant, of course, that there were no longer any uncharted Western lands to explore or Indian tribes to fight. The West was conquered and “civilized,” once and for all. According to Turner, westward expansion had defined American history and American values. “Civilizing” the West, through hardy individualism and strife, had altered and established the American soul. In his telling, which was very influential in its day, the “loss” of the frontier wasn’t necessarily a good thing; in fact, it had the potential to “soften” Americans and rot the foundation of the republic.

It was believed that without new lands to conquer, new space in which to expand, Americans would become a sedentary people riven with the same class divisions (and social conflict) infecting Europe. Furthermore, without new markets, how would American farmers and manufacturers maintain and improve their economic situation? The West was an idea, mostly, but it spoke to an inherently American trait: expansionism. Ours was a society of more: more land, more profits, more freedom, more growth. In a view widely held—then and now—the U.S. would die if it ever stopped expanding. From “sea to shining sea” wasn’t enough; no two oceans should hem in American markets, the American people or American ideals. This was, and is, the messianic nature of the American experiment, for better or worse.

Many citizens were riddled with anxiety about the “loss” of the West. This helps explain the widely popular phenomenon of Buffalo Bill Cody’s traveling “Wild West” shows, in which he paraded Indians around the cities of the American East and, eventually, around the world. Americans were transfixed at the sight of “savage” natives and “noble” cowboys and cavalrymen. For Americans of the 1890s, the West—and all it entailed—represented both freedom and virile masculinity. As more and more Americans moved to big cities and became factory laborers, many wondered whether American manhood itself was not in crisis. Those with the means (and the inherent insecurity), men like Theodore Roosevelt, the scion of a wealthy patrician New York family, made pilgrimages to Western ranches as though they represented the New Jerusalem. It is only thus that we have the image of this future American president, a city boy, adorned in Western attire. Such was the inherent unease of the times.

How to Sell an Unnecessary War: William Randolph Hearst and the Media-Militarist Conspiracy

This 1896 political cartoon from a Spanish newspaper shows a rapacious Uncle Sam reaching toward Cuba and other Spanish colonies in the Caribbean.

By 1898, the United States was bursting with energy, self-righteousness and anxiety. The only question was where all that expansionist energy would direct itself. It was then that a coalition of newspapermen and imperialist politicians provided a ready target: Cuba. Spain had, for many years, been engaged in a counterinsurgency campaign against Cuban rebels seeking independence. This would provide the opening that America’s burgeoning imperialists longed for. At the same time, none of this interest in Cuban affairs was new. Before the American Civil War, Southerners had repeatedly called for the annexation of Cuba as a new slave state.

Now, however, a conglomeration of powerful interests pushed for U.S. intervention on behalf of the Cubans. If that campaign resulted in the seizure of Cuba, well, then, all the better. Historians have long debated which factors or impulses were most responsible for America’s overseas expansion and intervention in Cuba. The reality, though, is that it was a confluence of interests that pushed the U.S. toward war with Spain. Corporate capitalists sought new markets for their goods; missionaries dreamed of Christianizing and “civilizing” foreign peoples; naval strategists coveted bases and coaling stations to project power across the seas; expansionist politicians—prominent among them Theodore Roosevelt and Sen. Henry Cabot Lodge—believed the U.S. had a mission to expand in order to salvage the virility of the republic; and “muckraking” newspapermen led by William Randolph Hearst desired nothing more than to sell papers and turn a profit—and the best way to do that was to report, and exaggerate, Spanish atrocities and drum up a new, popular war. War sells, after all.

The key triumvirate, however, was the alliance between Assistant Secretary of the Navy Roosevelt, Massachusetts Sen. Lodge and newspaper magnate Hearst. Lodge, for one, genuinely hoped for some crisis to precipitate war with Spain. In 1898, he wrote to a friend, “There may be an explosion any day in Cuba which would settle a great many things.” How right he was! First, an intercepted letter from the Spanish minister in Washington was found to contain unflattering references to President William McKinley. Hearst’s papers exaggerated the story, with his New York Journal running the headline, “WORST INSULT TO THE UNITED STATES IN ITS HISTORY.” This came on top of several years of stories in which the Journal writers whipped up chauvinist support for war with Spain.

Then, fatefully, on Feb. 15, 1898, an American naval vessel, the USS Maine, exploded in a harbor in Cuba, killing 258 sailors. Without the slightest pause for an investigation, a Hearst headline proclaimed “DESTRUCTION OF THE WARSHIP MAINE WAS THE WORK OF AN ENEMY.” It wasn’t, and experts confirmed later that the explosion was accidental. Even at the time, several policymakers and experts suspected the Maine had fallen victim to fluke tragedy. The secretary of the Navy wrote that the explosion was “probably the result of an accident”; furthermore, the country’s principal expert on maritime explosions—a professor at the Naval Academy—concluded that “no torpedo such as is known in modern warfare can of itself cause an explosion as powerful as that which destroyed the Maine.” It hardly mattered. The explosion of the Maine provided the casus belli for a nation ready for war.

Crowds gathered to protest at the Spanish Embassy; effigies of Spaniards were burned. Hearst, the newspaperman who had long sought war, cabled to one of his correspondents that “Maine is a great thing.” President McKinley—who had seen the horror of war at the Battle of Antietam—was initially hesitant to rush into action, but he quickly bowed to the pressure of a militaristic public and Congress. He, without international legal sanction, insisted that Spain give up possession of its “ever-faithful isle.” The president must have known, of course, that Spain could never bow to such a demand and still maintain its global prestige. Then, on April 11, McKinley delivered a message to Congress arguing that the U.S. must intervene in Cuba not simply as a result of the Maine explosion, but as a humanitarian intervention on behalf of the embattled Cubans. As historian Stephen Kinzer has written, McKinley thus “became the first American president to threaten war against another country because it was mistreating its own subjects.” He would not be the last.

Spain declared war on the U.S. on April 24, and Washington issued a declaration the next day. The military conflict was to last less than four months, ending in a decisive American victory over an empire long past its prime. Secretary of State John Hay called it a “splendid little war,” and, indeed, it was by some measures the most popular war in American history. War fever infected the American people. The French ambassador observed that a “sort of bellicose fever has seized the American nation”; the London Times called it “the delirium of war”; a German newspaper described it as a “lust for conquest.”

Seeking martial glory, Roosevelt resigned his position as assistant Navy secretary and raised a regiment of volunteer cavalry, “the Rough Riders.” He would take it to Cuba as part of the hastily formed American expeditionary force seeking to “liberate” the island. Roosevelt found the combat he so desired when his regiment bravely charged to victory in the Battle of San Juan Hill (which was actually fought on nearby Kettle Hill and involved the often-forgotten help of the professional black 9th and 10th Cavalry regiments). Old Teddy was as giddy as a schoolboy, shouting at the height of the battle: “Holy Godfrey, what fun!” He would later call the battle “the great day of my life.” After the battle, Roosevelt annoyed his professional military peers by shamelessly (and uncouthly) lobbying for a Medal of Honor for himself (President Bill Clinton would eventually bestow the award 80 years after the future president’s death).

The war was far from glorious. The Spanish were dislodged from Guam, the Philippines, Puerto Rico and Cuba, but deaths from disease outnumbered U.S. battle deaths by some eight to one. Few Americans cared about this fact, so caught were they in the martial fever of the day.

In early 1899, the U.S. Senate would, by a narrow margin, ratify a treaty in which Spain ceded Guam, Puerto Rico and the Philippines to America. This moment was, indeed, a point of no return—the instant that the U.S. became an overseas empire. Cuba technically received independence but, under Congress’ Platt Amendment, became essentially a U.S. protectorate; Washington retained the right to intervene at will in Cuban affairs.

And what of the Cubans themselves, on those behalf the war was supposedly fought? U.S. military and political personnel were, upon arriving on the island, surprised to learn that a significant portion of the population and the rebels were black. After all, the last thing the U.S. of 1898 wanted was an independent black republic on its southern shores. Furthermore, when it turned out the Cuban revolutionaries had expansive social reformist aims beyond independence, Washington was even less apt to grant full independence. Gen. Leonard Wood (a U.S. Army fort is named for him in Missouri), the military governor of Cuba, argued that the U.S. should maintain an indefinite occupation of the island “while saying as little as possible about the whole thing.” Wood was eventually pleased by the text of the Platt Amendment, stating, “There is, of course, little or no independence left Cuba under [the amendment].” This all cohered with Wood’s worldview. He considered the Cubans “as ignorant as children,” and sought to chose their first president.

The Spanish-American War also served another purpose for Americans. The conflict, it was said, would heal the divisions of the Civil War and unite the nation behind a “noble” cause. Newspapers bristled with stories of former Union and Confederate veterans serving together in the American Army in Cuba and the Philippines. In one famous anecdote, the former Confederate Gen. Joseph “Fighting Joe” Wheeler—now an old man—led a charge and seemingly forgot whom exactly he was fighting, rallying his men with the cry “Let’s go, boys! We’ve got the damn Yankees on the run again!” It seemed the Spanish-American War was all things for all people, except, of course, the Spaniards and the natives of the former colonies.

After the victory, the Americans’ goals became ever more expansive. A war waged for Cuba turned into a war of conquest as the U.S. seized the Spanish colonies of Guam, Puerto Rico, the Philippines and—for good measure—the independent island of Hawaii (which the Dole corporation coveted as a source of sugar for the American market). In reference to that island, McKinley declared, “We need Hawaii just as much and a good deal more than we did California. It is manifest destiny.” And so it was.

Fighting for American Manhood

Modern historians continue to grapple with the puzzle of America’s leap into the colonial land grab in 1898. What prompted the sudden bellicosity of American military might? What drove the spirit of the populace to cheer on the war? As usual, there is no simple answer. This much, however, seems certain: The answers to these questions are as much cultural as political. Indeed, one factor that seemingly drove the rush to war was a prevailing American insecurity about the citizens’ collective manhood and masculinity. The historian Jackson Lears, in fact, has persuasively argued that “imperialists deployed a mystical language of evolutionary progress … celebrating the renewal of masculine will and equating it with personal regeneration.”

Why all this gender insecurity? Well, the nation had, with the exception of several small Indian wars fought by the regular Army, been at peace since 1865. The younger generation looked up to the martial exploits of their Civil War veteran fathers. The elders feared that the nation’s youths, for lack of military service and without a Western frontier to conquer, were growing soft. Fewer and fewer Americans of the late 19th century did backbreaking farm work in the fields or ranches of the West as the population shifted toward unskilled “soft” labor in the cities of the East and Midwest.

In this climate of insecurity and toxic masculinity, many Americans and their public leaders began to believe the U.S. needed a war to rejuvenate the population and retrieve America’s collective masculinity. As early as 1895, Theodore Roosevelt—the poster boy for masculine self-consciousness—declared that he “[s]hould welcome almost any war, for I think this country needs one.” Because many women, such as the famed social activist Jane Addams, were or would soon be dissenting anti-imperialists, the expansionists depicted their opponents as lacking what Roosevelt declared “the essential manliness of the American character.” Furthermore, pro-imperialist political cartoons often depicted their opponents wearing women’s clothing.

This image from the U.S. Military Academy yearbook of 1924 suggests the self-conscious sexuality and homoeroticism inherent in American warfare, especially in the imperialist adventures of the previous generation.

In perhaps his most famous speech, “The Strenuous Life,” Roosevelt referred to America’s mission in pacifying the now rebellious Filipinos as “man’s work.” The speech was littered with sociosexual language such as his consistent exhortations that Americans must not “shrink” from their duties, and argued that anti-imperialists had an “unwillingness to play the part of men.” In another speech, in Boston, Roosevelt stated, “We have got to put down the [Philippine] insurrection! If we are men, we can’t do otherwise.” Of course, gender roles and masculine insecurity alone cannot explain the drive for colonies and military expansion; neither, though, can we discount its role in propelling the nation forward into war and conquest.

White Man’s Burden: Race and Empire

Take up the White Man’s burden,
The savage wars of peace—
Fill full the mouth of Famine
And bid the sickness cease. …

Take up the White Man’s burden,
Ye dare not stoop to less. …
By all ye cry or whisper,
By all ye leave or do,
The silent, sullen peoples
Shall weigh your gods and you.

Take up the White Man’s burden, Have done with childish days. …
Comes now, to search your manhood. …”

—An excerpt from the Englishman Rudyard Kipling’s poem “White Man’s Burden,” an inducement for the United States to occupy the Philippine Islands and join the other imperialist nations of Europe.

Racism is the original sin of the American experiment. White supremacy was part of the cultural baggage American troops carried abroad. The scourge of race did not stop at our shores. Moreover, it was a global phenomenon; this was the era of social Darwinism, the notion that “survival of the fittest” applied to man as well as beast, that certain races were scientifically superior to others. It was all snake oil, of course, but it was a predominant ideology—especially since, well, the “higher-level” white race wrote the books and carried the most advanced weapons. It was thus that racism, along with masculinity, would drive American expansionist imperialism at the turn of the 20th century.

The war with Spain and the much longer conflict with the Filipino rebels occurred in the context of what was the height of racial violence in the American South. Lynching of blacks reached pandemic proportions, what the author (and later anti-imperialist) Mark Twain described as “an epidemic of bloody insanities.” By one estimate, in the period surrounding the start of the 20th century someone in the South was hanged or burned alive on average once every four days. Racism infected the populace and policymakers on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line. And that disease would frame America’s new wars, which, by no accident, were waged against brown folks. The language of this imperial era, and the prevailing racialized ideology so prevalent in American society, pervaded and justified America’s wars, suppressions and annexations.

Before the wars even began, men like Roosevelt argued that, indeed, the U.S. had a racial obligation to get into the imperial game. He wrote, in 1897, that he felt “a good deal disheartened at the queer lack of imperial instinct our people show … [it would seem] we have lost, or wholly lack, the masterful impulse which alone can make a race great.” Later, as governor of New York, Roosevelt—who dedicated a peculiar amount of his attention to international rather than state affairs—declared that the U.S. had a “mighty mission” and that it needed a “knowledge of [our] new duties.” Where the American flag once flew [in Cuba and the Philippines] “there must and shall be no return to tyranny or savagery.”

After the U.S. seized the Philippines from Spain, a long legislative debate ensued over just what to do with the islands: Should they be granted independence or held as a colony? On the floor of the Senate, the influential Indiana Republican Albert Beveridge summarized the majority opinion. The Filipinos, because of their race, couldn’t possibly govern themselves. “How could they?” he exclaimed, “They are not a self-governing race. They are Orientals.” Later, back in Indiana, Beveridge questioned how anyone could oppose the “mission” of American imperialism. After all, he argued, “The rule of liberty … applies only to those who are capable of self-government. We govern Indians without their consent. … We govern children without their consent.” Coarse though his language was, at least Beveridge was articulating a consistent truth: Americans did have a long history of selectively applying civil rights, regularly denying them to blacks and natives. Why not, then, deny such freedoms to “Orientals”?

Other interest groups agreed with the racialized framing of America’s role in the world. Missionaries, for example, flocked to the Philippines to “Christianize” the natives—apparently, and ironically, unaware that most Filipinos were already Christian (Roman Catholic). American soldiers also used racist language to address the tough counterinsurgencies they found themselves engrossed in, and to label and dehumanize their enemies. Just before open warfare broke out between American troops and Filipino rebels in the capital of Manila, one U.S. trooper wrote, “Where these sassy niggers used to greet us daily with a pleasant smile … they now pass by with menacing looks.” It was, indeed, remarkable how quickly the pejoratives long applied to African-Americans were retooled for America’s new Asian subjects.

When fighting did break out in the Philippines, the soldier who fired the first shots ran back to his lines and yelled, “Line up, fellows, the niggers are in here, all through!” Years later, another American soldier wrote home from the Philippines that “I am growing hardhearted, for I am in my glory when I can sight my gun on some dark skin and pull the trigger.” American soldiers and officers—often veterans of the Native American wars of the last century—also took to mixing metaphors when describing their Filipino opponents. Gen. Elwell Otis urged Filipinos in his district to “be good Indians.” Gen. Frederick Funston (for whom a military camp is named in Kansas) considered Filipinos “a semi-savage people.” Theodore Roosevelt took to calling Filipino insurgents “Apache or Comanche,” or otherwise “Chinese half-breeds” or “Malay bandits.”

In another twist of irony, many of the Army regiments engaged in combat in the Philippines consisted of black enlisted men. Often more sympathetic to the locals, these African-American troopers recognized how racism alienated and inflamed the Filipino population. One black soldier, B.D. Flower, wrote home in 1902, “Almost without exception, soldiers and also many officers refer to natives in their presence as ‘Niggers’ … and we are daily making permanent enemies. …” Analogous situations exist in America’s contemporary occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Arabs are often called “camel jockeys,” “rag heads” or “sand niggers.” The temptation and comfortable mental heuristic to lump the enemy together as an inhuman and often racialized “other” all too often only empowers and spreads rebellion. It is a lesson that this author lamentably learned in Baghdad and Kandahar, and that U.S. Army soldiers of the last century learned in Manila.

Nor was it just missionaries and soldiers who employed racial rhetoric to justify the annexation of new colonies and subjugation of the Filipino rebel movement. An editorial in the Philadelphia Ledger opined, “It is not civilized warfare, but we are not dealing with a civilized people. The only thing that they know is fear and force, violence and brutality, and we are giving it to them. …” Senior politicians also used racist and pejorative language. President McKinley referred to “misguided Filipinos” who simply couldn’t recognize that the U.S. acted “under the providence of God and in the name of human progress and civilization.” In sum, the United States had a racial, religious and civilizational duty to “benevolently assimilate” those the civilian governor (and future U.S. president) of the Philippines, William Howard Taft, patronizingly called “our little brown brothers.”

From the poetry of the day to the crass language of the common soldier to the rhetoric of the missionary to the proclamations of senior politicians, race infected the words and ideas of American imperialists. Armed with the armor of white supremacy, American fighting men and policymakers would, in the conflict that followed in the Philippines, wage war with a savagery they would never have applied to a white European enemy.

Quagmire and Atrocity: The Philippine-American War

“No imperial designs lurk in the American mind. They are alien to American sentiment. … Our priceless principles undergo no change under a tropical sun.” —President William McKinley in speaking of the Philippines in 1899

It has long been inaccurately labeled the “Philippine Insurrection” or “the Philippine-American War” and has been almost lost to history. Few Americans today even recall what is actually best described as a long-running Filipino rebellion waged in quest of independence. In a cruel irony, it was to be the United States—forged in opposition to empire and occupation—that would now play King George as the Filipinos struggled for independence.

There was nothing inevitable about the war in the Philippines. Sure, the island chain was a Spanish possession, but given that the war of 1898 was waged allegedly over Cuba, nothing stipulated that the U.S. had to invade and occupy the Philippines. Here again, Roosevelt was front and center. Without consulting his boss or the president, Assistant Secretary of the Navy Roosevelt issued pre-emptive orders to Adm. George Dewey’s Pacific fleet to sail to Manila and sink the Spanish ships there in the event of an outbreak of war. War began and Dewey followed orders. The result was a massacre. The better-equipped American warships outranged the Spanish vessels and inflicted 381 casualties while suffering only six wounded. Even then, with the Spanish fleet at the bottom of the harbor, nothing preordained the American ground occupation of the islands, but a sort of militaristic inertia ensured that McKinley would indeed sail an army to Manila to take control of the archipelago.

McKinley, true to his honest nature, later admitted that when he heard of Dewey’s victory at Manila he “could not have told you where those darned islands were within a thousand miles.” Presidential ignorance aside, before a significant land force could reinforce Dewey, the naval commander sought all the help he could get in defeating the Spanish garrison. Dewey went so far as to sail the Filipino rebel leader Emilio Aguinaldo—the Filipinos had been in the midst of an independence struggle with the Spanish when the Americans arrived—from Hong Kong to Manila, hoping Aguinaldo’s rebels would reinforce American efforts on the islands. Aguinaldo believed he and Dewey had a deal: that once the combined American-Filipino force liberated the islands, the U.S. would recognize Philippine independence. It was not to be.

In the end, when the Spanish garrison surrendered Manila, Aguinaldo was not even invited to the ceremony. It was then, under pressure from expansionists in McKinley’s own party, that the U.S. president had what he described as a “divine intervention” instructing him to annex the Philippine Islands. Struck by a sudden urge as he walked the corridors of the White House on the night of Oct. 24, 1898, he fell to his knees “and prayed Almighty God for light and guidance,” according to McKinley. Spoiler alert: God told him to seize the Philippines. Later he would declare that “there was nothing left for us to do but to take them all, and to educate the Filipinos, and uplift and civilize and Christianize them by God’s grace.” (As previously noted, most of these pagans who required Christianization were already Roman Catholics!) Interestingly, this was not the only militaristic divine intervention in U.S. presidential history. Before the 2003 invasion of Iraq, then-President George W. Bush famously announced that “God told him to end the tyranny in Iraq!” In both cases God seems to have saddled Americans with dirty, difficult tasks. (Well, he is known to work in mysterious ways. …)

At the start of 1899, McKinley imposed official military rule over the Philippines. Aguinaldo, who led his own army, one that was then staring across the lines at the American Army, could never accept this arrangement. He declared, “My nation cannot remain indifferent in view of such a violation and aggressive seizure of its territory by a nation [the U.S.] which has arrogated to itself the title, ‘champion of oppressed races.’ … My government is disposed to open hostilities.” Before the fighting kicked off, however, the Filipinos, following in the footsteps of the American colonists, nominated members to a newly elected congress and wrote a constitution that drew from the examples of Belgium, France, Mexico and Brazil. Washington ignored this impressively democratic turn of events.

The war began when sentries from the two opposing armies fired upon each other on Feb. 4, 1899. The day ended badly for the Filipinos. The superiorly armed and trained American Army implemented a prepared plan of attack as soon as the first shots were fired, and by day’s end 3,000 Filipinos lay dead, in contrast with 60 American fatalities. Within weeks, thousands more Filipino troops and civilians were killed. The anti-imperialist American Sen. Eugene Hale then declared in Washington, accurately, “More Filipinos have been killed by the guns of our army and navy than were patriots killed in any six battles of the Revolutionary War.”

U.S. soldiers torture a Filipino in 1901 with the “water cure,” a form of what is now called waterboarding.

After Aguinaldo’s conventional army was mostly defeated, the archipelago settled into years of guerrilla warfare between the U.S. Army and assorted local rebels (or freedom fighters, depending on one’s point of view). As the war turned into an insurgency, the brutality of both sides—but especially of the Americans—intensified. U.S. soldiers, seeking to gather tactical information from captured insurgents, took to administering the “water cure,” a crude form of waterboarding that dates back to the Spanish Inquisition in the 16th century. A victim was held to the ground and force-fed water; then his tormentors would stomp on his stomach and repeat the process. Most victims died. A form of this torture would later be employed by the U.S. at Guantanamo Bay and various secret prisons during the so-called “war on terror.”

A private wrote in a letter published in a newspaper that after an American soldier was found mutilated, Gen. Loyd Wheaton ordered his forces “to burn the town and kill every native in sight, which was done.” By 1901, Secretary of War Elihu Root had formalized the brutality of the war, telling reporters that from then on the U.S. Army would follow a “more rigid policy” in the Philippines. One reporter from a New York magazine, The Outlook, went to see this rigid policy for himself. He wrote back a horrifying description of American counterinsurgency. “In some of our dealings with the Filipinos we seem to be following more or less … the example of Spain. We have established a penal colony; we have burned native villages … we resort to torture as a means of obtaining information.” One general, James Franklin Bell, told a reporter that after two years of war “one-sixth of [the main island] of Luzon’s population had either been killed or died of disease”—which would have amounted to more than half a million people. Bell was awarded the Medal of Honor for his efforts.

A reporter from the Philadelphia Ledger observed, “Our men have been relentless, have killed to exterminate men, women, children, prisoners and captives … lads of ten and up, the idea prevailing that the Filipino, as such, was little better than a dog.”

Reports of high numbers of prisoner executions appear credible. By the summer of 1901, casualty figures showed that five times as many Filipinos were being killed as wounded—the opposite of what is normally seen in wars. Gen. Arthur MacArthur, senior commander in the Philippines and father of the future Gen. Douglas MacArthur, admitted that his men were indeed under orders to use “very drastic tactics.” That seems an understatement. Nor was American military violence the only threat to the Filipinos. Around the same time, a cholera epidemic killed over 100,000 people. America’s brand of “freedom” came at a high price for the Filipino population.

By late 1901, with the insurgency all but defeated, many Americans had begun to lose interest in the war. Then, on Sept. 28, Filipino rebels on the distant Philippine island of Samar surprised and killed a high percentage of a U.S. Army company, mostly with machetes. Roughly 50 Americans were slain outright or mortally wounded. Labeled by the press as the “Balangiga Massacre,” it was immediately compared (inaccurately) to Custer’s Last Stand and The Alamo. The real controversy, however, erupted after Brig. Gen. Jacob “Hell-Roaring Jake” Smith, a 62-year-old vet of the Indian Wars, was sent to pacify Samar.

Reports of extreme abuses and alleged war crimes immediately arrived back home. This time the Congress had little choice but to conduct a pro forma investigation. During congressional hearings, a U.S. Army major testified that Gen. Smith had told him: “I want no prisoners. I wish you to kill and burn. The more you kill and burn, the better you will please me. I want all persons killed who are capable of bearing arms.” When the major asked for an age guideline, Smith allegedly replied “10 years.” Smith, called to the hearings, eventually admitted to all this. He was court-martialed but served not a day in prison. His punishment was a reprimand from the secretary of war, with the leniency being justified on the grounds that Smith was driven to crime by “cruel and barbarous savages.” For another American general, Frederick Funston, even the reprimand of Smith was too harsh. Funston freely admitted in a speech that he “personally strung up 35 Filipinos without trial, so what’s all the fuss over [Smith] dispatching a few treacherous savages?” Asked how he felt about the growing anti-imperialist movement in America, Funston declared that those harboring such sentiments “should be dragged out of their homes and lynched.” Reading of this interview, the avowed anti-imperialist Mark Twain volunteered to be the first man lynched.

The final major campaign occurred on southern Luzon in 1902. Gen. James Franklin Bell removed natives from villages and placed them in concentration camps; crops were burned and livestock was killed; a random Filipino was selected for execution each time an American soldier was killed in combat (a certain war crime even by the standards of the day); and an American decree made it “a crime for any Filipino to advocate independence.” In three months, 50,000 locals were killed. The war was effectively over, though short spurts of violence and rebellion would occur occasionally for another decade. Untold hundreds of thousands of Filipinos were dead. The water buffalo, the key to rural life in the region, had been made nearly extinct, its numbers diminished by some 90 percent. Indeed, as historian Stephen Kinzer disturbingly noted, “Far more Filipinos were killed or died as a result of mistreatment [over four years] than in three and a half centuries of Spanish rule.” This, it appears, was the price of American “liberty”—and the islands would not receive genuine independence until after World War II!

For the Soul of America: The (Mostly) Noble Anti-Imperialist Movement

In this 1899 political cartoon from The American Sentinel titled “The New Temptation on the Mount,” the devil of despotism and imperialism tempts Lady Liberty with the spoils of overseas conquest.

For all the villains in this story, there were Americans willing to dissent against overseas conquest and imperialism. Indeed, they were a large, diverse and sometimes peculiar lot. They are, too, the heroes of the era. For the most part, that is. From the very start of the Philippine occupation, many prominent citizens publicly opposed the war. This coalition of intellectuals, politicians, artists and businessmen may have acceded to the conquest of native and Mexican lands but saw imperial expansion overseas as un-American and unconstitutional. Throughout the era they made their voices heard and fought for the soul of the nation.

Early critics of the war pointed out the hypocrisy of fighting for Cuban rights when African-Americans at home were still regularly lynched and disenfranchised. A dozen prominent New Yorkers raised the alarm in a public letter before the war with Spain, proclaiming, “The cruelty exhibited in Cuba is no peculiarity of the Spanish race; within the last few weeks instances of cruelty to Negroes occurred in this country which equal, if not surpass, anything which has occurred in Cuba. … Our crusade in this matter should begin at home.” The most prominent black leader of the era, Booker T. Washington, raised a similar concern in a speech after the Spanish surrender. After praising the heroic efforts of the troops, he called for America to heal racial wounds on the domestic front. He argued, “Until we conquer ourselves, I make no empty statement when I say we shall have, especially in the southern part of our country, a cancer gnawing at the heart of the republic.”

It was, however, the annexation of the Philippines that truly kicked off a dissenting movement in the United States. Skeptics across the spectrum of public life would form the Anti-Imperialist league, which, at its height, had hundreds of thousands of members—one of the largest anti-war movements in American history and an impressive achievement in a period of such intense martial fervor. The leaders of the movement included Democratic Party stalwart William Jennings Bryan, the magnate Andrew Carnegie (who offered to buy the Philippines from the U.S. government in order to set the islands free!), the social activist Jane Addams, the labor organizer Samuel Gompers, the civil rights leader Booker T. Washington, former President Grover Cleveland, former President Benjamin Harrison and the famed author Mark Twain. What the members of this diverse group had in common was a profound sense that imperialism was antithetical to the idea of America.

Bryan, one of the great orators of the day, summarized this notion when he proclaimed that “the imperialistic idea is directly antagonistic to the idea and ideals which have been cherished by the American people since the signing of the Declaration of Independence.” The politician and Civil War veteran Carl Schurz compared the Filipino rebels favorably with the colonial patriots and asked what Americans would do if the natives refused to submit—“Let soldiers marching under the Stars and Stripes shoot them down? Shoot them down because they stand up for their independence?” Of course, that is exactly what the U.S. Army would do, under orders from the president himself.

The Anti-Imperialist League won many moral but few practical victories. Part of the reason for this was the U.S. government’s overt suppression of civil liberties. Famously, in what became known as the “mail war,” the postmaster general ordered anti-imperialist literature mailed to soldiers in the Philippines to be confiscated. Critics of American foreign policy called it the “rape of the mail.” Practically thwarted, artists and cultural critics took the anti-imperial fight to public. The most prominent and outspoken was Mark Twain, and this, more than his famous books, marked the man’s finest hour. He announced his stand in late 1900, stating, “I have seen that we do not intend to free, but to subjugate the people of the Philippines. We have gone there to conquer, not to redeem. … And so I am an anti-imperialist.” Twain only lashed out harder as the war went on. By 1901, he declared that “we have debauched America’s honor and blackened her face” and recommended the Stars and Stripes be changed: “We can just have our usual flag, with the white stripes painted black and the stars replaced by the skull and cross-bones.” Some called it treason, others patriotism.

Though the anti-imperialists might appear to be saints, there was a dark element in the movement. Many dissenters’ opposition to annexation of foreign lands came not from a moral code but from fear of the racial amalgamation that might result. Some of these men were anti-imperialist senators from the South. One, Sen. Ben Tillman of South Carolina, summarized this viewpoint, concluding, “You are undertaking to annex and make a component part of this Government islands inhabited by tens of millions of the colored race … barbarians of the lowest type.” Furthermore, he stated, “It is to the injection of the body politic of the United States of that vitiated blood, that debased and ignorant people, that we object.” This was far from the language of liberty, but remained embarrassingly common in the movement.

This offensive component aside, eventually, and remarkably, genuine anti-imperialist sentiments made it into the official platform of the Democrats, one of the two mainstream political parties. Imagine a major party platform, even today, declaring: “We oppose militarism. It means conquest abroad and intimidation and oppression at home. It means the strong arm which has been ever fatal to free institutions.” It was a noble platform, indeed. But, ultimately, these sentiments and this party lost. Theodore Roosevelt, the national cheerleader of imperialism, easily retained the presidency in the election of 1904 (he had risen from vice president to the presidency when McKinley was assassinated in 1901). In a sense, this marked the death knell of an era of anti-imperialism. There had been, in the election, a referendum on the nature of the national soul, and, sadly, the American people chose war, conquest and annexation.

* * *

This era remains with us; it is alive in our debates and politics. Consider this: Even now, citizens of Puerto Rico, Guam and Samoa have no representation in Congress or a vote in presidential elections. The status of these territories and their populations is peculiar for a nation that so strongly professes democracy. The situation is a direct result of decisions made in 1898-1904. In 1901, the Supreme Court, by a vote of 5 to 4, ruled in Downes v. Bidwell that “the Constitution does not apply” to the territories because the islands were “inhabited by alien races.” This verdict, one among what are called the “insular cases,” remains essentially intact to this day.

Another legacy of the era was the rapid expansion of executive, presidential power. McKinley became the first president to, according to historian Stephen Kinzer, “send a large force to a country with which the United States was not at war,” when, in 1900, he dispatched 5,000 troops from the Philippines to help suppress the nationalist Boxer Rebellion in China. One could plausibly argue that this was the birth of what is still known as “presidential war power.” It is because of this precedent that American soldiers fight one undeclared war after another across the Middle East. Between 1898 and 1904, the American people—living in a somewhat democratic country (for white men, at least)—made a series of choices about what, exactly, the United States was to be. Mark Twain begged the populace to choose liberty; Roosevelt urged expansion and power. The citizenry made its fateful choice, for better or worse.

We live still in the shadow of 1898. The choice between republic and empire still lies before us.

* * *

To learn more about this topic, consider the following scholarly works:
• Stephen Kinzer, “The True Flag: Theodore Roosevelt, Mark Twain, and the Birth of American Empire” (2017).
• Jackson Lears, “Rebirth of a Nation: The Making of Modern America, 1877-1920” (2009).
• Jill Lepore, “These Truths: A History of the United States” (2018).

Maj. Danny Sjursen, a regular contributor to Truthdig, is a U.S. Army officer and former history instructor at West Point. He served tours with reconnaissance units in Iraq and Afghanistan. He has written a memoir and critical analysis of the Iraq War, “Ghost Riders of Baghdad: Soldiers, Civilians, and the Myth of the Surge.” He lives with his wife and four sons in Lawrence, Kan. Follow him on Twitter at @SkepticalVet and check out his new podcast, “Fortress on a Hill,” co-hosted with fellow vet Chris “Henri” Henrikson.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author, expressed in an unofficial capacity, and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.

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White House Bans CNN Reporter After Tiff With Trump

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by David Bauder / The Associated Press.

NEW YORK — The White House on Wednesday suspended the press pass of CNN correspondent Jim Acosta after he and President Donald Trump had a heated confrontation during a news conference.

They began sparring after Acosta asked Trump about the caravan of migrants heading from Latin America to the southern U.S. border. When Acosta tried to follow up with another question, Trump said, “That’s enough!” and a female White House aide unsuccessfully tried to grab the microphone from Acosta.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders released a statement accusing Acosta of “placing his hands on a young woman just trying to do her job as a White House intern,” calling it “absolutely unacceptable.”

The interaction between Acosta and the intern was brief, and Acosta appeared to brush her arm as she reached for the microphone and he tried to hold onto it. “Pardon me, ma’am,” he told her.

Acosta tweeted that Sanders’ statement that he put his hands on the aide was “a lie.”

CNN said in a statement that the White House revoked Acosta’s press pass out of “retaliation for his challenging questions” Wednesday, and the network accused Sanders of lying about Acosta’s actions.

“(Sanders) provided fraudulent accusations and cited an incident that never happened. This unprecedented decision is a threat to our democracy and the country deserves better,” CNN said. “Jim Acosta has our full support.”

Journalists assigned to cover the White House apply for passes that allow them daily access to press areas in the West Wing. White House staffers decide whether journalists are eligible, though the Secret Service determines whether their applications are approved.

The post-midterm election news conference marked a new low in the president’s relationship with journalists.

“It’s such a hostile media,” Trump said after ordering reporter April Ryan of the American Urban Radio Networks to sit down when she tried to ask him a question.

The president complained that the media did not cover the humming economy and was responsible for much of the country’s divided politics. He said, “I can do something fantastic, and they make it look not good.”

His exchanges with CNN’s Acosta and NBC News’ Peter Alexander turned bitterly personal, unusual even for a forum where the nature of their jobs often put presidents and the press at odds.

“I came in here as a nice person wanting to answer questions, and I had people jumping out of their seats screaming questions at me,” said Trump, who talked for nearly 90 minutes despite the run-ins with reporters.

Acosta asked Trump why the caravan of migrants was emphasized as an issue in the just-concluded midterm races, and he questioned Trump’s reference to the caravan as an invasion.

“You should let me run the country,” Trump said. “You run CNN and if you did it well, your ratings would be much better.”

After Acosta asked about the investigation of Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election, Trump tried to turn to Alexander, but Acosta continued to ask questions.

“CNN should be ashamed of itself having you work for them,” the president said to Acosta. “You are a rude, terrible person. You shouldn’t be working for CNN. The way you treat Sarah Sanders is horrible. The way you treat other people is horrible. You shouldn’t treat people that way.”

Alexander came to his colleague’s defense. “I’ve traveled with him and watched him,” Alexander said. “He’s a diligent reporter who busts his butt like the rest of us.”

“I’m not a big fan of yours, either,” Trump replied.

“I understand,” Alexander said, attempting to ask a question. Acosta stood back up and noted the explosive devices that were recently sent to CNN and some of the president’s political opponents.

“Just sit down,” Trump said. “When you report fake news, which CNN does a lot, you are the enemy of the people.”

CNN said Trump’s attacks on the press have gone too far.

“They are not only dangerous, they are disturbingly un-American,” CNN tweeted after the exchange. “While President Trump has made it clear he does not respect a free press, he has a sworn obligation to protect it. A free press is vital to democracy, and we stand behind Jim Acosta and his fellow journalists everywhere.”

In announcing Acosta’s suspension, Sanders said, “The fact that CNN is proud of the way their employee behaved is not only disgusting, it is an example of their outrageous disregard for everyone, including young women, who work in this administration.”

The White House Correspondents Association released a statement Wednesday saying it “strongly objects to the Trump Administration’s decision to use U.S. Secret Service security credentials as a tool to punish a reporter with whom it has a difficult relationship. Revoking access to the White House complex is a reaction out of line to the purported offense and is unacceptable.”

The WHCA called on the White House to “immediately reverse this weak and misguided action.”

During the news conference, Trump also turned on reporter Yamiche Alcindor of PBS’ “NewsHour.” She said that “on the campaign trail, you called yourself a nationalist. Some people saw that as emboldening white nationalists.” Trump interrupted her, calling it a racist question.

Alcindor pressed on: “There are some people who say the Republican Party is seen as supporting white nationalists because of your rhetoric. What do you say to that?”

“What you said is so insulting to me,” he said. “It’s a very terrible thing you said to me.”

Alcindor moved on to a different topic. Later, via Twitter, she said that she has interviewed white nationalists who say they are more excited by Trump than they have been about other presidents. “Even if President Trump doesn’t intend it, some see him as directly appealing to the racists,” she wrote.

Trump told Ryan, of American Urban Radio Networks, repeatedly to sit down when she attempted to ask Trump about accusations of voter suppression. He said she was rude for interrupting another reporter, though he did briefly answer one of Ryan’s questions.

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Scum vs. Scum

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Chris Hedges.

There is perhaps no better illustration of the deep decay of the American political system than the Senate race in New Jersey. Sen. Bob Menendez, running for re-election, was censured by the Senate Ethics Committee for accepting bribes from the Florida businessman Salomon Melgen, who was convicted in 2017 of defrauding Medicare of $73 million. The senator had flown to the Dominican Republic with Melgen on the physician’s private jet and stayed in his private villa, where the men cavorted with young Dominican women who allegedly were prostitutes. Menendez performed numerous political favors for Melgen, including helping some of the Dominican women acquire visas to the United States. Menendez was indicted in a federal corruption trial but escaped sentencing because of a hung jury.

Menendez has a voting record as sordid as most Democrats’. He supported the $716 billion military spending bill, along with 85 percent of his fellow Senate Democrats. He signed a letter, along with other Democratic leaders, calling for steps to extradite Julian Assange to stand trial in the United States. The senator, the ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee, is owned by the lobby for Israel—a country that routinely and massively interferes in our elections—and supported moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem. He helped cause the 2008 global financial crisis by voting to revoke Glass-Steagall, the Depression-era law enacted to create a firewall between commercial and investment banks.

His Republican rival in the Senate race that will be decided Tuesday is Bob Hugin, whose reported net worth is at least $84 million. With Hugin as its CEO, the pharmaceutical firm Celgene made $200 million by conspiring to keep generic cancer drugs off the market, according to its critics. Celgene, a model of everything that is wrong with our for-profit health care system, paid $280 million to settle a lawsuit filed by a whistleblower who accused the firm of improperly marketing two drugs to treat several forms of cancer without getting Federal Drug Administration approval, thereby defrauding Medicare. Celgene, over seven years, also doubled the price of the cancer drug Revlimid to some $20,000 for a supply of 28 pills.

The Senate campaign in New Jersey has seen no discussion of substantive issues. It is dominated by both candidates’ nonstop personal attacks and negative ads, part of the typical burlesque of American politics.

Scum versus scum. That sums up this election season. Is it any wonder that 100 million Americans don’t bother to vote? When all you are offered is Bob One or Bob Two, why bother? One-fourth of Democratic challengers in competitive House districts in this week’s elections have backgrounds in the CIA, the military, the National Security Council or the State Department. Nearly all candidates on the ballots in House races are corporate-sponsored, with a few lonely exceptions such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib, members of the Democratic Socialists of America who are running as Democrats. The securities and finance industry has backed Democratic congressional candidates 63 percent to 37 percent over Republicans, according to data collected by the Center for Responsive Politics. Democratic candidates and political action committees have received $56.8 million, compared with Republicans’ $33.4 million, the center reported. The broader sector of finance, insurance and real estate, it found, has given $174 million to Democratic candidates, against $157 million to Republicans. And Michael Bloomberg, weighing his own presidential run, has pledged $100 million to elect a Democratic Congress.

“In interviews with two dozen Wall Street executives, fund-raisers, donors and those who raise money from them, Democrats described an extraordinary level of investment and excitement from the finance sector … ,” The New York Times reported about current campaign contributions to the Democrats from the corporate oligarchs.

Our system of legalized bribery is an equal-opportunity employer.

Of course, we are all supposed to vote Democratic to halt the tide of Trump fascism. But should the Democrats take control of the House of Representatives, hate speech and violence as a tool for intimidation and control will increase, with much of it directed, as we saw with the pipe bombs intended to decapitate the Democratic Party leadership, toward prominent Democratic politicians and critics of Donald Trump. Should the white man’s party of the president retain control of the House and the Senate, violence will still be the favored instrument of political control as the last of democratic protections are stripped from us. Either way we are in for it.

Trump is a clownish and embarrassing tool of the kleptocrats. His faux populism is a sham. Only the rich like his tax cuts, his refusal to raise the minimum wage and his effort to destroy Obamacare. All he has left is hate. And he will use it. Which is not to say that, if only to throw up some obstacle to Trump, you shouldn’t vote for the Democratic scum, tools of the war industry and the pharmaceutical and insurance industry, Wall Street and the fossil fuel industry, as opposed to the Republican scum. But Democratic control of the House will do very little to halt our descent into corporate tyranny, especially with another economic crisis brewing on Wall Street. The rot inside the American political system is deep and terminal.

The Democrats, who refuse to address the social inequality they helped orchestrate and that has given rise to Trump, are the party of racial and ethnic inclusivity, identity politics, Wall Street and the military. Their core battle cry is: We are not Trump! This is ultimately a losing formula. It was adopted by Hillary Clinton, who is apparently weighing another run for the presidency after we thought we had thrust a stake through her political heart. It is the agenda of the well-heeled East Coast and West Coast elites who want to instill corporate fascism with a friendly face.

Bertram Gross (1912-1997) in “Friendly Fascism: The New Face of American Power” warned us that fascism always has two looks. One is paternal, benevolent, entertaining and kind. The other is embodied in the executioner’s sadistic leer. Janus-like, fascism seeks to present itself to a captive public as a force for good and moral renewal. It promises protection against enemies real and invented. But denounce its ideology, challenge its power, demand freedom from fascism’s iron grip, and you are mercilessly crushed. Gross knew that if the United States’ form of fascism, expressed through corporate tyranny, was able to effectively mask its true intentions behind its “friendly” face we would be stripped of power, shorn of our most cherished rights and impoverished. He has been proved correct.

“Looking at the present, I see a more probable future: a new despotism creeping slowly across America,” Gross wrote. “Faceless oligarchs sit at command posts of a corporate-government complex that has been slowly evolving over many decades. In efforts to enlarge their own powers and privileges, they are willing to have others suffer the intended or unintended consequences of their institutional or personal greed. For Americans, these consequences include chronic inflation, recurring recession, open and hidden unemployment, the poisoning of air, water, soil and bodies, and more important, the subversion of our constitution. More broadly, consequences include widespread intervention in international politics through economic manipulation, covert action, or military invasion.”

No totalitarian state has mastered propaganda better than the corporate state. Our press has replaced journalism with trivia, feel-good stories, jingoism and celebrity gossip. The banal and the absurd, delivered by cheery corporate courtiers, saturate the airwaves. Our emotions are skillfully manipulated around manufactured personalities and manufactured events. We are, at the same time, offered elaborate diversionary spectacles including sporting events, reality television and absurdist political campaigns. Trump is a master of this form of entertainment. Our emotional and intellectual energy is swallowed up by the modern equivalent of the Roman arena. Choreographed political vaudeville, which costs corporations billions of dollars, is called free elections. Cliché-ridden slogans, which assure us that the freedoms we cherish remain sacrosanct, dominate our national discourse as these freedoms are stripped from us by judicial and legislative fiat. It is a vast con game.

You cannot use the word “liberty” when your government, as ours does, watches you 24 hours a day and stores all of your personal information in government computers in perpetuity. You cannot use the word “liberty” when you are the most photographed and monitored population in human history. You cannot use the word “liberty” when it is impossible to vote against the interests of Goldman Sachs or General Dynamics. You cannot use the word “liberty” when the state empowers militarized police to use indiscriminate lethal force against unarmed citizens in the streets of American cities. You cannot use the word “liberty” when 2.3 million citizens, mostly poor people of color, are held in the largest prison system on earth. This is the relationship between a master and a slave. The choice is between whom we want to clamp on our chains—a jailer who mouths politically correct bromides or a racist, Christian fascist. Either way we are shackled.

Gross understood that unchecked corporate power would inevitably lead to corporate fascism. It is the natural consequence of the ruling ideology of neoliberalism that consolidates power and wealth into the hands of a tiny group of oligarchs. The political philosopher Sheldon Wolin, refining Gross’ thesis, would later characterize this corporate tyranny or friendly fascism as “inverted totalitarianism.” It was, as Gross and Wolin pointed out, characterized by anonymity. It purported to pay fealty to electoral politics, the Constitution and the iconography and symbols of American patriotism but internally had seized all of the levers of power to render the citizen impotent. Gross warned that we were being shackled incrementally. Most would not notice until they were in total bondage. He wrote that “a friendly fascist power structure in the United States, Canada, Western Europe, or today’s Japan would be far more sophisticated than the ‘caesarism’ of fascist Germany, Italy, and Japan. It would need no charismatic dictator nor even a titular head … it would require no one-party rule, no mass fascist party, no glorification of the State, no dissolution of legislatures, no denial of reason. Rather, it would come slowly as an outgrowth of present trends in the Establishment.”

Gross foresaw that technological advances in the hands of corporations would be used to trap the public in what he called “cultural ghettoization” so that “almost every individual would get a personalized sequence of information injections at any time of the day—or night.” This is what, of course, television, our electronic devices and the internet have done. He warned that we would be mesmerized by the entertaining shadows on the wall of the Platonic cave as we were enslaved.

Gross knew that the most destructive force against the body politic would be the war profiteers and the militarists. He saw how they would siphon off the resources of the state to wage endless war, a sum that now accounts for half of all discretionary spending. And he grasped that warfare is the natural extension of corporatism. He wrote:

Under the militarism of German, Italian, and Japanese fascism violence was openly glorified. It was applied regionally—by the Germans in Europe and England, the Italians in the Mediterranean, the Japanese in Asia. In battle, it was administered by professional militarists who, despite many conflicts with politicians, were guided by old-fashioned standards of duty, honor, country, and willingness to risk their own lives.

The emerging militarism of friendly fascism is somewhat different. It is global in scope. It involves weapons of doomsday proportions, something that Hitler could dream of but never achieve. It is based on an integration between industry, science, and the military that the old-fashioned fascists could never even barely approximate. It points toward equally close integration among military, paramilitary, and civilian elements. Many of the civilian leaders—such as Zbigniew Brzezinski or Paul Nitze—tend to be much more bloodthirsty than any top brass. In turn, the new-style military professionals tend to become corporate-style entrepreneurs who tend to operate—as Major Richard A. Gabriel and Lieutenant Colonel Paul L. Savage have disclosed—in accordance with the ethics of the marketplace. The old buzzwords of duty, honor, and patriotism are mainly used to justify officer subservience to the interests of transnational corporations and the continuing presentation of threats to some corporate investments as threats to the interest of the American people as a whole. Above all, in sharp contrast with classic fascism’s glorification of violence, the friendly fascist orientation is to sanitize, even hide, the greater violence of modern warfare behind such “value-free” terms as “nuclear exchange,” “counterforce” and “flexible response,” behind the huge geographical distances between the senders and receivers of destruction through missiles or even on the “automated battlefield,” and the even greater psychological distances between the First World elites and the ordinary people who might be consigned to quick or slow death.

We no longer live in a functioning democracy. Self-styled liberals and progressives, as they do in every election cycle, are urging us to vote for the Democrats, although the Democratic Party in Europe would be classified as a right-wing party, and tell us to begin to build progressive movements the day after the election. Only no one ever builds these movements. The Democratic Party knows there is no price to pay for selling us out and its abject service to corporations. It knows the left and liberals become supplicants in every election cycle. And this is why the Democratic Party drifts further and further to the right and we become more and more irrelevant. If you stand for something, you have to be willing to fight for it. But there is no fight in us.

The elites, Republican and Democrat, belong to the same club. We are not in it. Take a look at the flight roster of the billionaire Jeffrey Epstein, who was accused of prostituting dozens of underage girls and ended up spending 13 months in prison on a single count. He flew political insiders from both parties and the business world to his secluded Caribbean island, known as “Orgy Island,” on his jet, which the press nicknamed “the Lolita Express.” Some of the names on his flight roster, which usually included unidentified women, were Bill Clinton, who took dozens of trips, Alan Dershowitz, former Treasury Secretary and former Harvard President Larry Summers, the Candide-like Steven Pinker, whose fairy dust ensures we are getting better and better, and Britain’s Prince Andrew. Epstein was also a friend of Trump, whom he visited at Mar-a-Lago.

We live on the precipice, the eve of the deluge. Past civilizations have crumbled in the same way, although as Hegel understood, the only thing we learn from history is “that people and governments never have learned anything from history.” We will not arrest the decline if the Democrats regain control of the House. At best we will briefly slow it. The corporate engines of pillage, oppression, ecocide and endless war are untouchable. Corporate power will do its dirty work regardless of which face—the friendly fascist face of the Democrats or the demented visage of the Trump Republicans—is pushed out front. If you want real change, change that means something, then mobilize, mobilize, mobilize, not for one of the two political parties but to rise up and destroy the corporate structures that ensure our doom.

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Some State Election Servers Could be Exposed to Hackers

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Jack Gillum and Jeff Kao / ProPublica.

As recently as Monday, computer servers that powered Kentucky’s online voter registration and Wisconsin’s reporting of election results ran software that could potentially expose information to hackers or enable access to sensitive files without a password.

The insecure service run by Wisconsin could be reached from internet addresses based in Russia, which has become notorious for seeking to influence U.S. elections. Kentucky’s was accessible from other Eastern European countries.

The service, known as FTP, provides public access to files — sometimes anonymously and without encryption. As a result, security experts say, it could act as a gateway for hackers to acquire key details of a server’s operating system and exploit its vulnerabilities. Some corporations and other institutions have dropped FTP in favor of more secure alternatives.

Officials in both states said that voter-registration data has not been compromised and that their states’ infrastructure was protected against infiltration. Still, Wisconsin said it turned off its FTP service following ProPublica’s inquiries. Kentucky left its password-free service running and said ProPublica didn’t understand its approach to security.

The states’ reliance on FTP highlights the uneven security practices in online election systems just days before the midterm elections. In September, ProPublica reported that more than one-third of counties overseeing closely contested elections for congressional seats ran email systems that could make it easy for hackers to log in and steal potentially sensitive information.

Some states remain hampered by bureaucratic disagreements, or regard other needs as more pressing. If intruders were able to gain access to election-related server files, for instance, they could prevent people from registering to vote, compromise unofficial tallies or direct voters to the wrong polling place. Those actions could potentially sow chaos on Election Day and raise questions as to whether the vote was legitimate.

“FTP is a 40-year-old protocol that is insecure and not being retired quickly enough,” said Joseph Lorenzo Hall, the chief technologist at the Center for Democracy and Technology in Washington, D.C., and an advocate for better voting security. “Every communication sent via FTP is not secure, meaning anyone in the hotel, airport or coffee shop on the same public Wi-Fi network that you are on can see everything sent and received. And malicious attackers can change the contents of a transmission without either side detecting the change.”

The mere presence of superfluous services on a public server, such as FTP, raises the risk of a hacker gaining access to sensitive configuration details about the server, Hall said. “Unnecessary services like FTP,” he said, can be used to cripple a server by bombarding it with traffic — known as a distributed denial of service attack — or allow hackers to break into other computers on the same network. Secure FTP services, or SFTP, which were introduced more recently, should be used instead, Hall said.

In March 2017, the FBI warned of “criminal actors” targeting FTP servers that allow access to anyone on the internet without a password. This year, the website said a security researcher discovered an FTP server was configured in a similar manner and accidentally exposed the details of more than 200,000 patients.

Using a list of internet addresses for websites run by each state’s election agency, ProPublica scanned them for open “ports,” or virtual doors, which allow any computer on the internet to access them. Those ports can reveal some of the software a server is running, such as a website or FTP.

The FTP server in Wisconsin required a password. Kentucky’s didn’t. In addition, ProPublica found Maine’s FTP service on the same internet address as a state website that directs voters to their local polling places. But Kristen Schulze Muszynski, a spokeswoman for the Maine secretary of state, said the FTP service ran on a computer server separately from the lookup tool. It “never jeopardized Maine’s election process, and at no time was voter data at risk of being manipulated,” she said.

Several other states appear to have open FTP ports that weren’t operating. In one of those states, West Virginia, Chief Information Officer David Tackett said FTP services are protected behind a firewall.

Cyberattacks on state election systems marred the 2016 campaign. For example, special counsel Robert Mueller charged 12 Russians this past July in connection with an unspecified breach that Illinois officials say was very likely an attack on its voter registration database that exposed the personal details of thousands of people. A hacker’s ability to alter unofficial or early voting results was “a very real threat” ahead of the 2016 election, former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson testified in March before a Senate intelligence panel.

The Wisconsin Elections Commission revealed in September 2017 that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security notified it of an unsuccessful Russian hacking attempt the previous year that involved scanning for computer system vulnerabilities. Commission spokesman Reid Magney said the Russians did not scan the state’s “commercially-hosted agency websites,” including the commission’s site.

Major search engines like Google often prominently post voting results gathered automatically from state election commission sites. Magney said Wisconsin’s website ran an FTP service for years because the hosting provider, Cruiskeen Consulting, never turned it off. Cruiskeen is a mostly one-person operation that sometimes uses freelance consultants, according to its website.

Asked if Cruiskeen has ever alerted officials about suspicious activity or unauthorized access attempts, Magney said: “Cruiskeen does a lot of monitoring for unsuccessful login attempts and blocks them at the firewall. They also check the logs regularly for suspicious activity.” The same internet address previously hosted commercial websites like

Cruiskeen did not return phone calls or messages from ProPublica this week seeking comment. Magney said the owner is retiring soon, and the state plans to transfer the election-results website to a state-run computer system.

As of late Wednesday, Kentucky’s voter-registration server still allowed users to browse a list of files without a password. Even the names of the files contained clues that could conceivably help an intruder. For example, they indicated that Kentucky may use driver’s licenses on file in its motor vehicle software to verify voters’ identities.

Bradford Queen, a spokesman for Kentucky’s secretary of state, declined to say if running an FTP server was problematic. “We are constantly guarding against foreign and domestic bad actors and have confidence in the security measures deployed to protect our infrastructure,” he said.

“ProPublica’s claims regarding Kentucky’s website lack a complete understanding of the commonwealth’s full approach to security, which is multi-layered. Defenses exist within each layer to determine and block offending traffic.”

Mike Tigas and Ken Schwencke contributed to this report.

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How Marriott’s Credit Union Swindles Its Low-Wage Workers

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Naomi LaChance.

As approximately 8,000 Marriott workers nationwide enter their second month on strike, protesting poor labor practices, some employees are speaking out about how the Marriott Employees’ Federal Credit Union exploits their hardship.

“The money gets into my account, and they take it out when I overdraft,” Amos Troyah, a dishwasher at a Philadelphia Marriott, told The New York Times. “They are robbing me.”

In 12 months, Troyah made $30,000 and paid $2,000 in fees to the credit union.

Last week, Marriott employees filed a class action lawsuit in Philadelphia over charges on loans that were previously undisclosed at the credit union, which is officially independent, though its leadership is made up of Marriott executives.

Workers pay a $35 fee to apply for a loan of up to $500 for six months. Often, the borrowers do not realize that these loans have an annual interest rate of 40 to 50 percent. The lawsuit states that Marriott’s human resources departments markets these loans to workers who are unaware of costs, which include a $10 weekly deduction straight from their Marriott paycheck.

“While the mini-loan may appear to be a free-standing financial product, it is part-and-parcel of the unequal bargaining relationship between the Marriott and its employees. By providing employees with quick cash when needed and indebting them to their employer, the mini-loan allows the Marriott to retain its workforce while subjecting workers to unfair and unpredictable scheduling practices,” the lawsuit argues.

The credit union also charges $35 for an overdraft and fees of around $6 and $10 when an account goes below a specified balance or a person carries out too many transactions. Fees make up an unusually high amount of the credit union’s $188 million assets, at 1.7 percent. According to the a federal regulatory agency, fees on loans at the Marriott credit union are unusually high: $11 for every $100.

These fees can add hardship for workers who are already in tough financial situations. “As the largest employer in hospitality, they’re in a position where they could really step forward and try to do right by their employees,” said Lisa Correa, a worker at the Marriott Marquis in San Francisco. “They continue to find ways to downsize the workforce, adding to our workload, and they’re doing whatever they can to not pay medical.”

According to The Nation, the credit union exploits people of color, who are less likely than the rest of the population to have savings, due to unequal access to wealth. If a person then takes out a predatory loan, they are likely to become even more reliant on lenders. The Nation also points out that this practice has roots in the racism of the post-Civil War South:

<blockquote>The combination of predatory lending and predatory-employment practices has a historical precedent in the sharecropping system that kept formerly enslaved black families in the South trapped in a cycle of debt. Since most sharecroppers did not have a steady cash flow, they used their prospective crops as collateral to finance loans from the country store, a merchant who faced little competition and could therefore set interest rates as high as 50 or 60 percent. White store merchants and landlords built their own wealth on a system that left predominantly black sharecroppers in perpetual debt. </blockquote>

On its website, Marriott’s credit union states that: “Unlike most banks, credit unions focus on individuals, not larger businesses. They are able to offer better value than banks by putting the credit union’s profits back into providing service to members, not by providing capital gains to shareholders.”

But those capital gains certainly have not reached Marriott’s low-income workers.

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The Cult of Trump

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Chris Hedges.

Cult leaders arise from decayed communities and societies in which people have been shorn of political, social and economic power. The disempowered, infantilized by a world they cannot control, gravitate to cult leaders who appear omnipotent and promise a return to a mythical golden age. The cult leaders vow to crush the forces, embodied in demonized groups and individuals, that are blamed for their misery. The more outrageous the cult leaders become, the more they flout law and social conventions, the more they gain in popularity. Cult leaders are immune to the norms of established society. This is their appeal. Cult leaders demand a God-like power. Those who follow them grant them this power in the hope that the cult leaders will save them.

Donald Trump has transformed the decayed carcass of the Republican Party into a cult. All cults are personality cults. They are extensions of the cult leaders. The cult reflects the leader’s prejudices, worldview, personal style and ideas. Trump did not create the yearning for a cult leader. Huge segments of the population, betrayed by the established elites, were conditioned for a cult leader. They were desperately looking for someone to rescue them and solve their problems. They found their cult leader in the New York real estate developer and reality television show star. Only when we recognize Trump as a cult leader, and many of those who support him as cult followers, will we understand where we are headed and how we must resist.

It was 40 years ago next month that a messianic preacher named Jim Jones convinced or forced more than 900 of his followers, including roughly 280 children, to die by ingesting a cyanide-laced drink. Trump’s refusal to acknowledge and address the impending crisis of ecocide and the massive mismanagement of the economy by kleptocrats, his bellicosity, his threats against Iran and China and the withdrawal from nuclear arms treaties, along with his demonization of all who oppose him, ensure our cultural and, if left unchecked, physical extinction. Cult leaders are driven, at their core, by the death instinct, the instinct to annihilate and destroy rather than nurture and create. Trump shares many of the characteristics of Jones as well as other cult leaders including Marshall Herff Applewhite and Bonnie Lu Nettles, the founders of the Heaven’s Gate cult; the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, who led the Unification Church; Credonia Mwerinde, who led the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God in Uganda; Li Hongzhi, the founder of Falun Gong; and David Koresh, who led the Branch Davidian cult in Waco, Texas. Cult leaders are narcissists. They demand obsequious fawning and total obedience. They prize loyalty above competence. They wield absolute control. They do not tolerate criticism. They are deeply insecure, a trait they attempt to cover up with bombastic grandiosity. They are amoral and emotionally and physically abusive. They see those around them as objects to be manipulated for their own empowerment, enjoyment and often sadistic entertainment. All those outside the cult are branded as forces of evil, prompting an epic battle whose natural expression is violence.

“A cult is a mirror of what is inside the cult leader,” Margaret Thaler Singer wrote in “Cults in Our Midst.” “He has no restraints on him. He can make his fantasies and desires come alive in the world he creates around him. He can lead people to do his bidding. He can make the surrounding world really his world. What most cult leaders achieve is akin to the fantasies of a child at play, creating a world with toys and utensils. In that play world, the child feels omnipotent and creates a realm of his own for a few minutes or a few hours. He moves the toy dolls about. They do his bidding. They speak his words back to him. He punishes them any way he wants. He is all-powerful and makes his fantasy come alive. When I see the sand tables and the collections of toys some child therapists have in their offices, I think that a cult leader must look about and place people in his created world much as a child creates on the sand table a world that reflects his or her desires and fantasies. The difference is that the cult leader has actual humans doing his bidding as he makes a world around him that springs from inside his own head.”

George Orwell understood that cult leaders manipulate followers primarily through language, not force. This linguistic manipulation is a gradual process. It is rooted in continual mental chaos and verbal confusion. Lies, conspiracy theories, outlandish ideas and contradictory statements that defy reality and fact soon paralyze the opposition. The opposition, with every attempt to counter this absurdism with the rational—such as the decision by Barack Obama to make his birth certificate public or by Sen. Elizabeth Warren to release the results of her DNA test to prove she has Native American ancestry—plays to the cult leader. The cult leader does not take his or her statements seriously and often denies ever making them, even when they are documented. Lies and truth do not matter. The language of the cult leader is designed exclusively to appeal to the emotional needs of those in the cult.

“Hitler kept his enemies in a state of constant confusion and diplomatic upheaval,” Joost A.M. Meerloo wrote in “The Rape of the Mind: The Psychology of Thought Control, Menticide, and Brainwashing.” “They never knew what this unpredictable madman was going to do next. Hitler was never logical, because he knew that that was what he was expected to be. Logic can be met with logic, while illogic cannot—it confuses those who think straight. The Big Lie and monotonously repeated nonsense have more emotional appeal in a cold war than logic and reason. While the enemy is still searching for a reasonable counter-argument to the first lie, the totalitarians can assault him with another.”

The cult leader grooms followers to speak in the language of hate and violence. The cult leader constantly paints a picture of an existential threat, often invented, that puts the cult followers in danger. Trump is doing this by demonizing the caravan of some 4,000 immigrants, most from Honduras, moving through southern Mexico. Caravans of immigrants, are, in fact, nothing new. The beleaguered and impoverished asylum seekers, including many families with children, are 1,000 miles from the Texas border. But Trump, aided by nearly nonstop coverage by Fox News and Christian broadcasting, is using the caravan to terrify his followers, just as he, along with these media outlets, portrayed the protesters who flooded the U.S. capital to oppose the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh as unruly mobs. Trump claims the Democrats want to open the border to these “criminals” and to “unknown Middle Easterners” who are, he suggests, radical jihadists. Christian broadcasting operations, such as Pat Robertson’s The 700 Club, splice pictures of marching jihadists in black uniforms cradling automatic weapons into the video shots of the caravan.

The fear mongering and rhetoric of hate and violence, as I saw in the former Yugoslavia, eventually lead to widespread acts of violence against those the cult leader defines as the enemy. The 13 explosive devices sent last week to Trump critics and leaders of the Democratic Party, including Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden, along with George Soros, James Clapper and CNN, allegedly by Cesar Sayoc, an ex-stripper and fanatic Trump supporter who was living out of his van, herald more violence. Trump, tossing gasoline on the flames, used this assault against much of the leadership of the Democratic Party to again attack the press, or, as he calls it, “the enemy of the people.” “A very big part of the Anger we see today in our society is caused by the purposely false and inaccurate reporting of the Mainstream Media that I refer to as Fake News,” he tweeted. “It has gotten so bad and hateful that is beyond description. Mainstream Media must clean up its acts, FAST!”

It should come as no surprise that on Saturday another enraged American white male, his fury and despair seemingly stoked by the diatribes and conspiracy theories of the far right, entered a Pittsburgh synagogue and massacred eight men and three women as he shouted anti-Semitic abuse. Shot by police and arrested at the scene was Robert Bowers, who believes that Jewish groups are aiding the caravan of immigrants in southern Mexico. He was armed with a military-style AR-15 assault rifle, plus three handguns. The proliferation of easily accessible high-caliber weapons, coupled with the division of the country into the blessed and the damned by Trump and his fellow cultists, threatens to turn the landscape of the United States into one that resembles Mexico, where at least 145 people in politics, including 48 candidates and pre-candidates, along with party leaders and campaign workers, have been assassinated over the last 12 months, according to Etellekt, a risk analysis firm in Mexico. There have been 627 incidents of violence against politicians, 206 threats and acts of intimidation, 57 firearm assaults and 52 attacks on family members that resulted in 50 fatalities. Trump’s response to the mass shooting at the synagogue was to say places of worship should have armed guards, a call for further proliferation of firearms. Look south if you want a vision of our future.

Domestic terrorism and nihilistic violence are the natural outcomes of the economic, social and political stagnation, the total seizure of power by a corporate cabal and oligarchic elite, and the contamination of civil discourse by cult leaders. The weaponization of language is proliferating, as seen in the vile rhetoric that characterizes many political campaigns for the midterm elections, including the racist robocall sent out against Andrew Gillum, an African-American candidate for the governorship of Florida. “Well, hello there. I is the negro Andrew Gillum and I’ll be askin’ you to make me governor of this here state of Florida,” a man speaking in a caricature of a black dialect accompanied by jungle noises said in the robocall. Cults externalize evil. Evil is embodied in the demonized other, whether desperate immigrants, black political candidates and voters, or the Democratic Party. The only way to purge this evil and restore America to greatness is to eradicate these human contaminants.

The cult leader, unlike a traditional politician, makes no effort to reach out to his opponents. The cult leader seeks to widen the divisions. The leader brands those outside the cult as irredeemable. The leader seeks the omnipotence to crush those who do not kneel in adoration. The followers, yearning to be protected and empowered by the cult leader, seek to give the cult leader omnipotence. Democratic norms, an impediment to the leader’s omnipotence, are attacked and abolished. Those in the cult seek to be surrounded by the cult leader’s magical aura. Reality is sacrificed for fantasy. Those who challenge the fantasy are not considered human. They are Satanic.

Meerloo wrote:

The dictator is not only a sick man, he is also a cruel opportunist. He sees no value in any other person and feels no gratitude for any help he may have received. He is suspicious and dishonest and believes that his personal ends justify any means he may use to achieve them. Peculiarly enough, every tyrant still searches for some self-justification. Without such a soothing device for his own conscience, he cannot live. His attitude toward other people is manipulative; to him, they are merely tools for the advancement of his own interests. He rejects the conception of doubt, of internal contradictions, or man’s inborn ambivalence. He denies the psychological fact that man grows to maturity through groping, through trial and error, through the interplay of contrasting feelings. Because he will not permit himself to grope, to learn through trial and error, the dictator can never become a mature person. … It is because the dictator is afraid, albeit unconsciously, of his own internal contradictions, that he is afraid of the same internal contradictions of his fellow man. He must purge and purge, terrorize and terrorize in order to still his own raging inner drives. He must kill every doubter, destroy every person who makes a mistake, imprison everyone who cannot be proved to be utterly single-minded.

Behavior that ensures the destruction of a public figure’s career does not affect a cult leader. It does not matter how many lies uttered by Trump are meticulously documented by The New York Times or The Washington Post. It does not matter that Trump’s personal financial interests, as we see in his relationship with the Saudis, take precedence over the rule of law, diplomatic protocols and national security. It does not matter that he is credibly charged by numerous women with being a sexual predator, a common characteristic of cult leaders. It does not matter that he is inept, lazy and ignorant. The establishment, whose credibility has been destroyed because of its complicity in empowering the ruling oligarchy and the corporate state, might as well be blowing soap bubbles at Trump. Their vitriol, to his followers, only justifies the hatred radiating from the cult.

The cult leader responds to only one emotion—fear. The cult leader, usually a coward, will react when he thinks he is in danger. The cult leader will bargain and compromise when afraid. The cult leader will give the appearance of being flexible and reasonable. But as soon as the cult leader is no longer afraid, the old patterns of behavior return, with a special venom directed at those who were able to momentarily impinge upon his power.

The removal of Trump from power would not remove the yearning of tens of millions of people, many conditioned by the Christian right, for a cult leader. Most of the leaders of the Christian right have built cult followings of their own. These Christian fascists embraced magical thinking, attacked their enemies as agents of Satan and denounced reality-based science and journalism long before Trump did. Cults are a product of social decay and despair, and our decay and despair are expanding, soon to explode in another financial crisis.

The efforts by the Democratic Party and much of the press, including CNN and The New York Times, to discredit Trump, as if our problems are embodied in him, are futile. The smug, self-righteousness of this crusade against Trump only contributes to the national reality television show that has replaced journalism and politics. This crusade attempts to reduce a social, economic and political crisis to the personality of Trump. It is accompanied by a refusal to confront and name the corporate forces responsible for our failed democracy. This collusion with the forces of corporate oppression neuters the press and Trump’s mainstream critics.

Our only hope is to organize the overthrow of the corporate state that vomited up Trump. Our democratic institutions, including the legislative bodies, the courts and the media, are hostage to corporate power. They are no longer democratic. We must, like liberation movements of the past, engage in acts of sustained mass civil disobedience and non-cooperation. By turning our ire on the corporate state, we name the true sources of power and abuse. We expose the absurdity of blaming our demise on demonized groups such as undocumented workers, Muslims, African-Americans, Latinos, liberals, feminists, gays and others. We give people an alternative to a Democratic Party that refuses to confront the corporate forces of oppression and cannot be rehabilitated. We make possible the restoration of an open society. If we fail to embrace this militancy, which alone has the ability to destroy cult leaders, we will continue the march toward tyranny.

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