A First-C;ass Catastrophe by Diana Henriques

The Road to Black Monday, the Worst Day in Wall Street History

SILVER THURSDAY He was a towering six foot seven, his round, balding head perpetually wreathed in cigar smoke. Paul A. Volcker, the chairman of the Federal Reserve System, was formidable even when he was cheerful. On Wednesday afternoon, March 26, 1980, he was furious. Volcker, in office for barely seven months, had been pulled out of a meeting by a frantic message from Harry Jacobs, the chairman of Bache Halsey Stuart Shields, the second-largest brokerage firm on Wall Street. The Fed had almost no authority over brokerage firms, but Jacobs said he thought “it was in the national interest” that he alert Volcker to a crisis in the silver market—a market over which the Fed also had virtually no authority. Jacobs’s news was alarming. Silver prices were plummeting, and two of the firm’s biggest customers, a pair of billionaire brothers in Texas named William Herbert and Nelson Bunker Hunt, had […]

The Race for What's Left

Militarizing Homeland Security in the Climate-Change Era

Deployed to the Houston area to assist in Hurricane Harvey relief efforts, U.S. military forces hadn’t even completed their assignments when they were hurriedly dispatched to Florida, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands to face Irma, the fiercest hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean. Florida Governor Rick Scott, who had sent members of the state National Guard to devastated Houston, anxiously recalled them while putting in place emergency measures for his own state. A small flotilla of naval vessels, originally sent to waters off Texas, was similarly redirected to the Caribbean, while specialized combat units drawn from as far afield as Colorado, Illinois, and Rhode Island were rushed to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Meanwhile, members of the California National Guard were being mobilized to fight wildfires raging across that state (as across much of the West) during its hottest summer on record. Think of this as […]

Or Buck Rogers in the 21st Century

[This piece has been adapted and expanded from Alfred W. McCoy’s new book, In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power.]  Not quite a century ago, on January 7, 1929, newspaper readers across America were captivated by a brand-new comic strip, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century.  It offered the country its first images of space-age death rays, atomic explosions, and inter-planetary travel. “I was twenty years old,” World War I veteran Anthony “Buck” Rogers told readers in the very first strip, “surveying the lower levels of an abandoned mine near Pittsburgh… when suddenly… gas knocked me out. But I didn’t die. The peculiar gas… preserved me in suspended animation. Finally, another shifting of strata admitted fresh air and I revived.” Staggering out of that mine, he finds himself in the 25th century surrounded by flying warriors shooting ray guns at each other. […]

Shadow Government by Tom Engelhardt

In America’s Wars, Failure Is the New Success

It was bloody and brutal, a true generational struggle, but give them credit. In the end, they won when so many lost. James Comey was axed. Sean Spicer went down in a heap of ashes. Anthony Scaramucci crashed and burned instantaneously. Reince Priebus hung on for dear life but was finally canned. Seven months in, Steve Bannon got the old heave-ho and soon after, his minion, Sebastian Gorka, was unceremoniously shoved out the White House door. In a downpour of potential conflicts of interest and scandal, Carl Icahn bowed out. Gary Cohn has reportedly been at the edge of resignation. And so it goes in the Trump administration. Except for the generals. Think of them as the last men standing. They did it.  They took the high ground in Washington and held it with remarkable panache. Three of them: National Security Advisor Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster, Secretary of Defense and […]

Or How I Learned Not to Love Big Brother

In the wake of the 2001 terrorist attacks, Washington pursued its elusive enemies across the landscapes of Asia and Africa, thanks in part to a massive expansion of its intelligence infrastructure, particularly of the emerging technologies for digital surveillance, agile drones, and biometric identification. In 2010, almost a decade into this secret war with its voracious appetite for information, the Washington Post reported that the national security state had swelled into a “fourth branch” of the federal government — with 854,000 vetted officials, 263 security organizations, and over 3,000 intelligence units, issuing 50,000 special reports every year. Though stunning, these statistics only skimmed the visible surface of what had become history’s largest and most lethal clandestine apparatus. According to classified documents that Edward Snowden leaked in 2013, the nation’s 16 intelligence agencies alone had 107,035 employees and a combined “black budget” of $52.6 billion, the equivalent of 10% percent of […]

Shadow Government by Tom Engelhardt

High Crimes and Demeanors in the Age of Trump

Let me try to get this straight: from the moment the Soviet Union imploded in 1991 until recently just about every politician and mainstream pundit in America assured us that we were the planet’s indispensable nation, the only truly exceptional one on this small orb of ours. We were the sole superpower, Earth’s hyperpower, its designated global sheriff, the architect of our planetary future.  After five centuries of great power rivalries, in the wake of a two-superpower world that, amid the threat of nuclear annihilation, seemed to last forever and a day (even if it didn’t quite make it 50 years), the United States was the ultimate survivor, the victor of victors, the last of the last.  It stood triumphantly at the end of history.  In a lottery that had lasted since Europe’s wooden ships first broke out of a periphery of Eurasia and began to colonize much of the […]

Kill Anything That Moves

A Rare Pentagon “Success” Story

Winning! It’s the White House watchword when it comes to the U.S. armed forces. “We will give our military the tools you need to prevent war and, if required, to fight war and only do one thing — you know what that is? Win! Win!” President Donald Trump exclaimed earlier this year while standing aboard the new aircraft carrier U.S.S. Gerald R. Ford. Since World War II, however, neither preventing nor winning wars have been among America’s strong suits.  The nation has instead been embroiled in serial conflicts and interventions in which victories have been remarkably scarce, a trend that has only accelerated in the post-9/11 era. From Afghanistan to Iraq, Somalia to the Philippines, Libya to Yemen, military investments — in lives and tax dollars — have been costly and enduring victories essentially nonexistent.  But Amadou Sanogo is something of a rare all-American military success story, even if he […]

America's War for the Greater Middle East by Andrew Bacevich

The Post-Cold-War Consensus Collapses

Like it or not, the president of the United States embodies America itself. The individual inhabiting the White House has become the preeminent symbol of who we are and what we represent as a nation and a people. In a fundamental sense, he is us. It was not always so. Millard Fillmore, the 13th president (1850-1853), presided over but did not personify the American republic.  He was merely the federal chief executive.  Contemporary observers did not refer to his term in office as the Age of Fillmore.  With occasional exceptions, Abraham Lincoln in particular, much the same could be said of Fillmore’s successors.  They brought to office low expectations, which they rarely exceeded.  So when Chester A. Arthur (1881-1885) or William Howard Taft (1909-1913) left the White House, there was no rush to immortalize them by erecting gaudy shrines — now known as “presidential libraries” — to the glory of […]

War Is Not Over When It's Over by Ann Jones

Medicare for All in One State

You may have noticed that quite a few of the formerly united states of America have been choosing to go their own way. My own state, Massachusetts, now blooms with sanctuary cities sworn to protect residents from federal intrusion.  Its attorney general, Maura Healey, was among the first to raise the legal challenge to President Trump’s Muslim bans. She also sued Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and the Department of Education for abandoning rules meant to protect students from exploitation by private for-profit schools. (Think Trump University, for instance.) Even my state’s Republican governor, Charlie Baker, announced well before the presidential election that he wouldn’t vote for Donald Trump. It’s been like the Boston Tea Party all over again, with citizens and public officials refusing to abide by the edicts of their supposedly lawful rulers.  And Massachusetts is not alone. Hawaii, Washington State, New York, Minnesota, and Oregon all joined the […]

The Race for What's Left

Trump’s Fossil-Fueled Foreign Policy

Who says President Trump doesn’t have a coherent foreign policy?  Pundits and critics across the political spectrum have chided him for failing to articulate and implement a clear international agenda. Look closely at his overseas endeavors, though, and one all-too-consistent pattern emerges: Donald Trump will do whatever it takes to prolong the reign of fossil fuels by sabotaging efforts to curb carbon emissions and promoting the global consumption of U.S. oil, coal, and natural gas.  Whenever he meets with foreign leaders, it seems, his first impulse is to ply them with American fossil fuels. His decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement, which obliged this country to reduce its coal consumption and take other steps to curb its carbon emissions, was widely covered by the American mainstream news media.  On the other hand, the president’s efforts to promote greater fossil fuel consumption abroad — just as significant in terms […]

Donald Trump’s Road to Debacle in the Greater Middle East

The superhighway to disaster is already being paved. From Donald Trump’s first days in office, news of the damage to America’s international stature has come hard and fast. As if guided by some malign design, the new president seemed to identify the key pillars that have supported U.S. global power for the past 70 years and set out to topple each of them in turn. By degrading NATO, alienating Asian allies, cancelling trade treaties, and slashing critical scientific research, the Trump White House is already in the process of demolishing the delicately balanced architecture that has sustained Washington’s world leadership since the end of World War II.  However unwittingly, Trump is ensuring the accelerated collapse of American global hegemony. Stunned by his succession of foreign policy blunders, commentators — left and right, domestic and foreign — have raised their voices in a veritable chorus of criticism. A Los Angeles Times […]

Kill Anything That Moves

Globe-Trotting U.S. Special Ops Forces Already Deployed to 137 Nations in 2017

The tabs on their shoulders read “Special Forces,” “Ranger,” “Airborne.” And soon their guidon — the “colors” of Company B, 3rd Battalion of the U.S. Army’s 7th Special Forces Group — would be adorned with the “Bandera de Guerra,” a Colombian combat decoration. “Today we commemorate sixteen years of a permanent fight against drugs in a ceremony where all Colombians can recognize the special counternarcotic brigade’s hard work against drug trafficking,” said Army Colonel Walther Jimenez, the commander of the Colombian military’s Special Anti-Drug Brigade, last December.  America’s most elite troops, the Special Operations forces (SOF), have worked with that Colombian unit since its creation in December 2000.  Since 2014, four teams of Special Forces soldiers have intensely monitored the brigade.  Now, they were being honored for it. Part of a $10 billion counter-narcotics and counterterrorism program, conceived in the 1990s, special ops efforts in Colombia are a much ballyhooed American […]

Shadow Government by Tom Engelhardt

Will Trump Set a Record for the History Books?

In its own inside-out, upside-down way, it’s almost wondrous to behold. As befits our president’s wildest dreams, it may even prove to be a record for the ages, one for the history books. He was, after all, the candidate who sensed it first.  When those he was running against, like the rest of Washington’s politicians, were still insisting that the United States remained at the top of its game, not an — but the — “indispensable nation,” the only truly “exceptional” one on the face of the Earth, he said nothing of the sort.  He campaigned on America’s decline, on this country’s increasing lack of exceptionality, its potential dispensability.  He ran on the single word “again” — as in “make America great again” — because (the implication was) it just isn’t anymore.  And he swore that he and he alone was the best shot Americans, or at least non-immigrant white […]

I Was Told to Come Alone: My Journey Behind the Lines of Jihad by Souad Mekhennet

My Journey Behind the Lines of Jihad

I was told to come alone. I was not to carry any identification and would have to leave my cell phone, audio recorder, watch, and purse at my hotel in Antakya, Turkey. All I could bring were a notebook and a pen. In return, I wanted to speak to someone in authority, someone who could explain the long-term strategy of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, or ISIS. It was the summer of 2014, three weeks before the group became a household name by releasing a video of the beheading of the American journalist James Foley. Even then, I suspected that ISIS would become an important player in the world of global jihad. As a journalist covering Islamic militancy across Europe and the Middle East for the New York Times, major German news outlets, and now the Washington Post, I had watched the group take shape in the world […]

The Race for What's Left

The Petro-Powers vs. the Greens

That Donald Trump is a grand disruptor when it comes to international affairs is now a commonplace observation in the establishment media. By snubbing NATO and withdrawing from the Paris climate agreement, we’ve been told, President Trump is dismantling the liberal world order created by Franklin D. Roosevelt at the end of World War II. “Present at the Destruction” is the way Foreign Affairs magazine, the flagship publication of the Council on Foreign Relations, put it on its latest cover. Similar headlines can be found on the editorial pages of the New York Times and the Washington Post. But these prophecies of impending global disorder miss a crucial point: in his own quixotic way, Donald Trump is not only trying to obliterate the existing world order, but also attempting to lay the foundations for a new one, a world in which fossil-fuel powers will contend for supremacy with post-carbon, green-energy […]