Will the U.S. Military Hammer Strike the Citizen Nails?

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Caption at the Guardian: Members of an airborne military unit are deployed on the streets of Washington DC on Thursday. Photograph: Win McNamee/Getty Images

W.J. Astore

When the only tool you have is a hammer, all problems begin to look like nails.  This year alone, the U.S. government will spend roughly $740 billion on its military, though the real figure when you add in all costs exceeds a trillion dollars.  With so much “invested,” as the Pentagon likes to say, in that military, there’s a strong tendency to see it as the solution to the most stubborn problems.  All problems become nails either to be whacked down or pulled out and discarded depending upon which end of the military hammer our rulers choose to employ.

Americans are used to “our” military being used to hammer home American exceptionalism in faraway, foreign places.  But what about when that hammer is deployed to Main Street USA to hammer peaceful protesters into line?  Or, alternatively, to pull them out of the streets and into the jails?  That hammer doesn’t seem to be such a solid “investment,” does it?

It appears the Trump administration has now backed away from plans to commit regular federal troops to “dominate” protesters.  Opposition from retired generals and admirals like James Mattis, John Allen, and Mike Mullen may have helped.  But if and when protests become more widespread or embarrassing to Trump personally, don’t be surprised if the “bunker boy” calls again for troops to be committed, the U.S. Constitution be damned.  After all, he’s described peaceful protesters led by clergy in Washington, D.C. as “terrorists,” and we should all know by now what a “war on terror” looks like, led by generals like that same James Mattis.

Remember when a militarized hammer was a symbol of that Evil Empire, the Soviet Union?  Remember when violent suppression of peaceful protests was something “they” did, you know, the bad commies, in places like Hungary and Czechoslovakia?  As Paul Krugman has noted, today much of the GOP would cheer on Trump if he launched a military coup in the name of “law and order.”

Echoing this, one white American from Michigan told a reporter he “applauds” Trump’s crackdown and “fully supports” Trump if he orders federal troops into American streets to suppress protests.  In the same story from the Guardian, reporting from the white suburb of St Clair Shores, many residents “share the president’s world view that the police and national guard are heroically battling violent agitators, not brutally suppressing largely peaceful protesters.”

The story noted that “Several men who were part of a construction crew called the protests ‘stupid’ and a ‘waste of time and energy.’  Some even suggested Floyd was at fault for his death because he allegedly committed a crime, despite general worldwide outrage at the brutal manner of his killing and the criminal charges it has now brought against the officers involved.”

So, you have Americans who support the brutal murder of George Floyd, with the police acting as judge, jury, and executioner, simply because Floyd allegedly passed a counterfeit bill.  They even support a military crackdown, again in the name of “law and order.”

Who’s the evil empire now, America?

44 thoughts on “Will the U.S. Military Hammer Strike the Citizen Nails?

  1. The unmistakable double standard (applauding dissent abroad, snuffing it out domestically) could not be more obvious and acute in light of the past few weeks, but the pattern has been clear for generations. Finding a few quotable supporters of state violence turned inward seems an obvious strategy to shore up support for an emerging corporate tyranny where holders of power have gotten quite used to winning all battles (narrating, protesting, rioting, looting, etc.) handily. Civilian and military boots on the ground appear to be overwhelmingly compliant with that approach because, I surmise, they believe themselves to be part of that tyranny. However, they’re tools (hammers in your metaphor), not members of the corporate elite. In fact, police and enlisted military, unless I’m mistaken, are better categorized as working class. Odd how they’ve been so fully convinced to do others’ dirty work.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Excellent points! Everything that’s happening is as much about corporate money as it is about “keeping order.” Throughout the world, and notably in South American countries, U.S. boots on the ground have been there at the behest of corporations for decades. Now the practice has come home.

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  2. Just saw this at the Guardian:

    Trump is lashing out against the mayor of DC, after Muriel Bowser sent a letter to the president requesting that all additional law enforcement officials brought to the city in response to the George Floyd protests be removed.

    In a tweet, Trump described Bowser as “incompetent” and said the National Guard troops sent to DC had “saved her from great embarrassment.”

    The president ominously concluded, “If she doesn’t treat these men and women well, then we’ll bring in a different group of men and women!”

    The tweet seemed to indicate Trump was considering sending active-duty troops to the city, even though defense secretary Mark Esper has reportedly ordered home several hundred troops from the 82nd Airborne Division who were brought to the capital region in case they needed to support local law enforcement.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. On a historical note: the 82nd Airborne (one outfit I recall specifically) has been deployed on the streets of Amerika during past uprisings (probably it was 1967 and/or the 1968 reaction to Dr. King’s assassination). I do not recall ever hearing of the “1807 Insurrection Act,” which I’m guessing resulted from “Shay’s Rebellion” or something similar, being invoked then. A Presidential Declaration of a National State of Emergency would suffice to bring in the regular military. But of course, since your local police are now armed to the teeth with military-grade weapons, that isn’t “necessary” even from a “Law & Order” logical perspective. I welcome the criticisms from former high-ranking officers, but I warn you, fellow citizens: the vast majority of US military personnel WILL obey orders. The solution to this threat–the removal from office as Unfit for Duty of a MENTALLY DERANGED President–is not practical, thanks to the Dereliction of Duty of the members of Trump’s Cabinet. Impeachment was already attempted. Any further attempt would again be defeated by GOP majority in Senate. And thus we see just how broken “our” System truly is.

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  4. Addendum: The case of “The Fort Hood 3,” one of the first well-publicized revolts of active-duty troops during the Vietnam War, stemmed from GIs refusing to deploy to Chicago for “riot control” duty during the 1968 Dem. National Convention. So, again, nothing new in the threat to use or actual use of regular military against civilians.

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  5. Lovely spin doctoring here, but that’s to be expected from a rag like The Guardian. Once peaceful protests have been taken over by Antifa, a group which is anything but peaceful. While I’m not in favour of ramping up authoritarianism in the name of safety (despite my occasion hyperbolic comment to the contrary, I tend to get hot under the collar whenever anyone defends Antifa), the whole notion that it’s “evil empire” vs “innocent protesters” is total nonsense.

    There is no such thing as innocence. There are only degrees of guilt. – Fyodor Karamazov

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    1. I’ve seen no evidence Antifa is behind these protests.

      Consider this video and the police saying afterwards this elderly man “tripped and fell.” When two police were suspended, all the other cops in the unit (more than 50) resigned in solidarity with the cops.

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      1. I never said Antifa was behind anything. Antifa has a nasty habit of latching on to peaceful protests and using that as an excuse to riot and loot. Why? Beats me, but people like them are the reason that the rest of us can’t have nice things. Noam Chomsky calls Antifa “a gift to the far-right” for a very good reason. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: violent, opportunistic gangs provide the State with yet another excuse to take everyone else’s liberties away. As long as bad actors like Antifa exist, no-one will get the police reform that they need. Instead, the police will continue to act like an army of occupation, rather than public servants, and the frightened sheep will welcome it.

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        1. On Antifa’s alleged involvement here:

          “False social media rumors about so-called antifa activists traveling en masse into rural areas of America have led rightwing vigilantes to carry out armed patrols of small cities and towns in the western United States and beyond.

          In some cases, local activists planning peaceful protests in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and in protest at the killing of George Floyd have been inundated with death threats.

          Since Donald Trump tweeted recently that antifa would be declared a terrorist group, the term has gained broader currency on the American right and is seen as a dire threat. In fact, it simply means “anti-fascist” and is used to describe a wide spectrum of leftist and anarchist groups and individuals. It has no existence as a separate organization.

          The FBI has said there is “no evidence” of antifa involvement in violence linked to the Floyd protests and NBC News has reported one supposed antifa group posting violent rhetoric on the internet was in fact linked to white supremacists.” [The Guardian, 6/6/20]

          Liked by 2 people

          1. You know me better than to think that I’d fall for a social media rumour that probably doesn’t even exist. I’m not even on FakeBook or Twiddle. I get my news from aggregator websites, so I have multiple sources to work with, some of which debunk others.

            The reason I’m so confrontational when it comes to the subject of Antifa (by the way, I know what the name stands for, but any group could call itself anti-X, and by denouncing the group, that doesn’t mean I am pro-X) is because I have seen it in action, heard its de facto leaders speak, and I’ve read more anarcho-communist literature than even the average Antifa member. Fun fact, Antifa has actually existed in one form or another since the 1930s, and yes, even the current movement started in Germany.

            Regarding these “rightwing vigilantes,” uh, WHERE?! This sounds like more Guardian-style spin doctoring to me. Yes, Americans are buying lots of guns in response to the current crisis, but that means absolutely nothing. Americans buy guns in response to natural disasters, but to firearm-phobic Britons (The Guardian is a British tabloid, if you didn’t already know), firearm purchases indicate a terrible epidemic of violence (speaking of epidemics, weren’t we all still under lockdown when this began? what happened to “protesting is a non-essential activity?”). You can disavow the public’s response all you want, but said response is not a reliable indicator of any specific widespread mentality. I would like some evidence of these vigilante groups, and don’t think I’ll be easily fooled: I know all the tricks in the fake news book (for the record, Donald Trump didn’t coin the term “fake news,” he merely popularised it; fake news has been around for decades), and one picture of an armed neighbourhood watch does not mean anything, especially if it’s a recycled image from three years ago.

            One final point, and this is somewhat humourous: the “white supremacists” posting violent rhetoric under Antifa’s name are actually trolls. These trolls planned a widespread infiltration of the black bloc, so that they could slap MAGA bumper stickers on the cars of activists, with the intent that Antifa would smash and burn their own cars. I don’t know if that plan was ever carried out, much less if it worked, but it made me laugh.

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          2. Kaja: Once again, we see the success of Trump/Barr. By stressing Antifa (no evidence) and talking about domestic terrorism, they try to change the subject from largely spontaneous and mass protest of police violence to, well, something else. Now Trump is harping on the NFL and players who take a knee while our “sacred” national anthem plays. Let’s not talk about racism — let’s talk about “Old Glory” instead. How dare those (mostly) black football players disrespect Amerika!

            He/they will keep trying to change the subject until something sticks. China! Immigrants! Russia! The Bible! The Flag!

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          3. I reiterate my stance that “antifa” is a stupid term, period. Though I am certainly anti-Fascist, I never use it myself except to criticize its very existence. When Fascism comes a-knocking, it is difficult to pretend to neutrality (“Oh, I don’t want to get involved!” Sound familiar?). I’m sure Trump is far too lazy to have actually studied the history of the rise of Mussolini and Hitler, but in his inner circle I bet there are adherents of those methods. (One fascistic Steve–Bannon–found the Exit door, but in walked another–Mr. Miller.) And it should be no surprise whatsoever that rightwing extremists are all over social media, planting false BS. Hell, that’s “why” social media exist, sad to say!

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      2. I have no direct knowledge of the incident in question, but I’ve seen it claimed the elderly chap was seeking to shake hands with cops! If so, this may have been a peacemaking effort–if the man had been protesting police brutality–OR he may have been pro-cop! That would be a dandy irony, eh?

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        1. The 75-year-old in question was carrying a police riot helmet, perhaps to return it to the cops. I’m guessing he said something they didn’t like (such as, what gives you the right to quash a peaceful assembly?), and so they pushed him down, then ignored him as he bled from the ears. Amerika!

          Liked by 1 person

          1. I’ve seen him ID’d now as one Michael Gugino, known to be politically progressive. Cops tend to behave like pack animals: as soon as one turns needlessly aggressive, the others fall right in line. Let it not be forgotten that at least one (I haven’t seen the video in ages, but I am certain of this) black cop participated in the beating of Mr. Rodney King back in 1991.

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    2. George Carlin is always refreshing — “the government doesn’t care about you” — and your rights can be easily taken away — so true.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. I heard this somewhere but not sure from who
    “Those who will give up freedom to have security will have and deserve neither.”

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    1. I’m surprised no one has chimed in on this to this point (3:15 PM Eastern, June 6). I am sure it was one of “the Founding Fathers,” or at least a major figure in the earliest decades of the republic, who originally made this observation. A google search would nail this down, I imagine, but I’m not gonna do it myself! Commenting on this website is already a time-consuming “occupation”!

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      1. In the interest of accuracy and context, a cursory inquiry of the Internet resulted in this:

        “Ben Franklin’s Famous ‘Liberty, Safety’ Quote Lost Its Context In 21st Century”, NPR (March 2, 2015)
        Heard on All Things Considered:

        . . . [snip] . . .

        SIEGEL: What’s the exact quotation?

        WITTES: The exact quotation, which is from a letter that Franklin is believed to have written on behalf of the Pennsylvania General Assembly, reads, “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

        SIEGEL: And what was the context of this remark?

        WITTES: He was writing about a tax dispute between the Pennsylvania General Assembly and the family of the Penns, the proprietary family of the Pennsylvania colony who ruled it from afar. And the legislature was trying to tax the Penn family lands to pay for frontier defense during the French and Indian War. And the Penn family kept instructing the governor to veto. Franklin felt that this was a great affront to the ability of the legislature to govern. And so he actually meant purchase a little temporary safety very literally. The Penn family was trying to give a lump sum of money in exchange for the General Assembly’s acknowledging that it did not have the authority to tax it.

        SIEGEL: So far from being a pro-privacy quotation, if anything, it’s a pro-taxation and pro-defense spending quotation.

        WITTES: It is a quotation that defends the authority of a legislature to govern in the interests of collective security. It means, in context, not quite the opposite of what it’s almost always quoted as saying but much closer to the opposite than to the thing that people think it means.

        Not sure how this Franklin quote applies to the U.S. colony today, but it seems to me that the present-day “Penn Families” (transnational corporate oligarchs) have not only achieved their goal of permanent tax-and-regulatory avoidance — thank you Reagan/Thatcher, Clinton/Blair, Bush, Obama, Trump — but have managed to pay off their American and British plantation overseers (politicians, soldiers, cops, and prison guards) with relatively trivial lump-sum handouts from time to time. In other words, our globally distributed (i.e., “from afar”) ruling corporate class have achieved maximum liberty and security for themselves while deserving neither. On the other hand, due to their captive-consumer mentality and assiduously learned passivity, the Anglo-American proles have achieved near-maximum servitude and insecurity while deserving both. For as my younger brother the recently retired California high school history and English teacher liked to tell his students: “You will get in this life precisely the treatment from others that you are prepared to tolerate.”

        It seems to me that the present-day Colonial Penn Families have triumphed over the Ben Franklins (to the extent any such persons remain in Orwell’s Oceania) no matter what our sage and eloquent ancestor may have intended by his remarks.

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      2. The wealth flowing upwards since Covid-19 has been staggering. Staggering.

        My dad was right: the rich get richer and the poor, poorer. He also said the rich had neither sympathy nor use for the poor — based on his experience as a factory worker as well as enduring the Great Depression.

        My point: the rich will use whatever forces are at their disposal to keep the rest of us supine or bleeding. Trump is used to doing this. He has no compunctions, none, against using the military, or any other force at his disposal. I’m sure he’s baffled at the “opposition” he’s facing. What do we have a military for, thinketh Trump, if not to dominate the peasants and pissants?

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        1. The “sales” or “marketing” job that has convinced practically all the proles in US that they’re actually “the middle class” remains, to me, one of the most remarkable propaganda successes of all time. To this is added the racism handed down from generation to generation of the relatively privileged white working class and what do we get? The latest “poll of [opinion] polls” shows FORTY-ONE PERCENT of the citizenry still approves of Trump’s presidency!! Yes, these polls can be dubious and have an official margin of error. So let’s suppose “only” about 33% actually support the incumbent. Think of what that means! For one thing, to me, it means the United (??) States is “toast” in the realm of anything like “greatness.” [Pardon my heavy reliance on quotation marks here!] Since factory jobs were shipped overseas, we can’t even claim to be a major manufacturing power any longer. We are a society slipping down the crapper day by day. The participation of (mostly) young white people in the demonstrations against racist police brutality is very encouraging, and I’ve never seen the reaction to police misdeeds reach this far and deep, with even corporations and staid cultural institutions endorsing “Black Lives Matter.” But REAL CHANGE will not come easily and Trump, in my analysis, still has a very strong chance of re-election. Lack of an inspiring Democratic candidate + successful voter suppression by GOP + the wretched Electoral College = Four More Years of Madness. Be ready for it. Of course, there are also the historical facts that neither Louis XVI/Marie Antoinette nor Tsar Nicholas/Tsaress Alexandria (“Anastasia screamed in vain”–Jagger/Richards) believed revolution on their soil was possible. ()

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          1. Addendum: I placed a “wink” at end of last sentence in my previous comment but the website misinterpreted the symbols I enclosed it in. Oh well, a learning experience.

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  7. I put on my cynic hat whenever I hear or see a retired General or Admiral go off on The Trumpet. CNN and MSDNC will then schedule a parade of “experts” to agree that The Trumpet is a grave threat to America.

    Smedley Butler had this to say: “Like all the members of the military profession, I never had a thought of my own until I left the service. My mental faculties remained in suspended animation while I obeyed the orders of higher-ups. This is typical with everyone in the military service.”

    Butler’s comment maybe overly harsh. However, I cannot recall a single General or Admiral that was retired or on active duty that questioned Bush the Younger’s premeditated fact free justification for unleashing Gulf War 2. Bush the Younger’s run up to Gulf War 2 reminded me of the police planting evidence on some hapless person to justify a beating or a killing.

    Bush the Younger had his fact free Trumpian moment when he proclaimed – “Mission Accomplished”.

    At least from what I read on Facebook, my reactionary Right-wing “friends” have welded to together a conspiracy of George Soros, Bill Gates, antifa, et. al., to insert some tracking numbers into us. This is laughable we have been “tracked” for some time via the internet and cell phones.

    Oh by the way, I am a card carrying member of the ACLU, does anyone know – How you can obtain an official Antfa Card??? Just asking 4 a friend.

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    1. Just wear a lot of black clothing, ML, and protest for any right other than the 2nd Amendment, and you’re sure to be identified as Antifa 🙂

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    2. As I’ve been opining, I have no doubt the overwhelming majority of today’s military personnel would obey orders to crush domestic dissent. The overwhelming majority obeyed their orders to go and kill the people of Vietnam, after all. And that was a majority-conscripted military. No one relishes doing stockade time (or worse, as in Fort Leavenworth, or “the Grey Castle” in Portsmouth for Marines) for refusing to obey orders. Some of us WERE willing to face that during Vietnam, and we did hamper the Machine but couldn’t bring it to its knees. There have been reports of some National Guard personnel “vanishing” when their units were mobilized recently for “riot control,” and that’s great, but again, the majority follows their orders. Consider this a warning from a veteran that one should not get dangerously optimistic about today’s military “siding with the Constitution.” If you wrap yourself in the Constitution you will find it is penetrated by bullets with the greatest of ease.

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  8. Cry Havoc and Slip the Dogs of War:

    Tom Cotton, a US senator for Arkansas who is said to be plotting a run for president in 2024, has been one of the loudest voices.

    “If local law enforcement is overwhelmed and needs backup, let’s see how tough these antifa terrorists are when they’re facing off with the 101st Airborne Division,” Cotton tweeted on Monday, pulling off the neat trick of both labelling anti-fascist activists “terrorists” and plugging his own service in the US army.

    In a follow-up tweet, Cotton added: “And, if necessary, the 10th Mountain, 82nd Airborne, 1st Cav, 3rd Infantry—whatever it takes to restore order. No quarter for insurrectionists, anarchists, rioters, and looters.”

    The phrase “no quarter” has historically meant to kill opponents, rather than arrest them, as MediaMatter’s Lis Power swiftly pointed out, but Cotton’s demand for the US military to take to the streets of cities and towns across the country was cheered by the president.

    “100% Correct. Thank you Tom!” Trump tweeted, as he reposted Cotton’s idea.
    https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/jun/07/trump-protests-notes-far-right-crackdown-peaceful-protesters
    =======================================
    Coming soon to your streets, Abrams tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles, or as the late Daley the Elder once said,

    The policeman isn’t there to create disorder; the policeman is there to preserve disorder.
    Richard J. Daley

    Liked by 1 person

    1. And on the way, full-on combat vandalism:
      https://www.motherjones.com/anti-racism-police-protest/2020/06/videos-show-cops-slashing-car-tires-at-protests-in-minneapolis/
      A new police procedure, apparently.
      They have defined all non-police as the enemy.
      Up-armored self-pity and whining even while looking like so many robo-cops.
      Too bad these police are not as aware, smart and clever as the actual robo-cop movies and series which I loved like crazy.
      One reporter’s account of the cops laughing at him remind me of two items. 1) in 1977 I was a new bartender at the Royals baseball stadium and didn’t know which way to go to the employee’s parking lot so I stopped to ask the traffic-directly cops, assuming they would help. Instead, the cop who came over took my head in his hand and shoved it up into the top of the driver’s side window, dropped my back into the car, told me to leave and they all just laughed. Big joke for them.
      A few years later, in the 1990’s, when my now partner was working a night shift at the university, the cops would come by to talk with her (the usual god’s gift of cops to attractive women). Along the way they would often talk about what the things they did to civilians (they had a term for it but I can’t remember at the moment) because they could get away with it. Cop fun. Entertainment for them. I’m sure not cop fun for their victims.
      Maybe these are Rogo-cops, except they don’t seem to be a few rogues.

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      1. “To Protect and To Serve” is a motto frequently emblazoned on police vehicles. To Protect and To Serve the interests of the Ruling Class is and always has been their real mission. Clearly, despite the heavier than ever armament they carry, cops are being indoctrinated to consider every civilian a potential menace. From Phil Ochs, c. 1977: “They [cops] shoot first, they shoot later….’I am the Masculine American Man/I kill therefore I am'” Yes, had ‘RoboCop’ not had his programming tampered with, he would have been much more trustworthy to deal with than today’s flesh and blood police. And by the way, robo-cops ARE on the horizon. Those eager white-coated brainy kids working for DARPA are hard at work to bring that to reality, I am very confident. And who will write THEIR programs? Someone like William Barr, I imagine.

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          1. Yes, a huge wave of austerity is planned when state and municipal governments try to claw their budgets back toward balanced. Of course, the police are a special case: unlike, say, sanitation workers or office drones at bureaucracy HQ, they are heavily armed and extremely dangerous!! Also, as the protectors of the privileges of “the 1%,” they have a special status. Most cops, I’m sure, come from working-class family backgrounds, but find themselves arrayed AGAINST the working class. They’ll be last in line for any pay/benefit cuts. But yeah, they may have to give up something in negotiations.

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    2. Ah, the Great State of Arkansas! I thunked Cotton was from Texas, actually. Same difference these days? As far as GOP goes, that is. Don’t want to slander those folks in both states who are decent individuals. If Trump is re-elected–a very real possibility, as I’ve been pointing out–I wouldn’t count on an election in 2024. I know, that makes me look like a “hyper-paranoid Conspiracy Theorist.” But times really are changing, and as some famous person whose name escapes me right now once said: “When the facts change, I change my opinion” (or words to that effect).

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  9. Hi Everyone: Put a lot into this article at TomDispatch.com. Hope you can read it.

    http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/176711/tomgram%3A_william_astore%2C_america%27s_forever_wars_have_come_home

    “Rarely are the police sent to prosecute scofflaws in high places. I haven’t seen any bankers being choked to death on the street under an officer’s knee. Nor have I seen any corporate “citizens” being choked to death by cops. It’s so much easier to hassle and arrest the little people for whom, if they’re black or otherwise vulnerable, arrest may even end in death.

    By standing apart from us, militarized, a thin blue line, the police no longer stand with us.”

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      1. Good one! Now, L.A. in 2019, setting of the original movie (released 1982) hasn’t quite evolved/devolved to what was depicted. Ah, but “1984” is another story! Heard on radio news today that NYPD–it may have been some other police dept., or several–plans to try to track down anti-racism protesters they want to charge with “violent acts” after-the-“fact” by putting facial recognition computer programs to work on images captured during demonstrations. I guess it’s time to destroy your SIMSS cards and only use “burners” for cellphone communication!

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