World

The massive and unseen costs of America’s post-9/11 wars

"I got out of the Marines and within a few years, 15 of my buddies had killed themselves," one veteran rifleman who served two tours in both Afghanistan and Iraq between 2003 and 2011 said to me recently. "One minute they belonged and the next, they were out, and they couldn't fit in. They had nowhere to work, no one who related to them. And they had these PTSD symptoms that made them react in ways other Americans didn't."

This veteran's remark may seem striking to many Americans who watched this country's post-9/11 wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere unfold in an early display of pyrotechnic air raids and lines of troops and tanks moving through desert landscapes, and then essentially stopped paying attention. As a co-founder of Brown University's Costs of War Project, as well as a military spouse who has written about and lived in a reasonably up-close-and-personal way through the costs of almost two decades of war in the Greater Middle East and Africa, my Marine acquaintance's comments didn't surprise me.

Quite the opposite. In the sort of bitter terms I'm used to, they only confirmed what I already knew: that most of war's suffering doesn't happen in the moment of combat amid the bullets, bombs, and ever-more-sophisticated IEDs on America's foreign battlefields. Most of it, whether for soldiers or civilians, happens indirectly, thanks to the way war destroys people's minds, its wear and tear on their bodies, and what it does to the delicate systems that uphold society's functioning like hospitals, roads, schools, and most of all, families and communities that must survive amid so much loss.

Combat Deaths: The Tip of the Iceberg

A major task of the Costs of War Project has been to document the death toll among uniformed American troops from our post-9/11 wars, especially in Afghanistan and Iraq. Compared to the 400,000 American deaths (and still climbing) from Covid-19 in less than a year, the approximately 7,000 American military deaths from those wars over almost two decades seem, if anything, small indeed (though, of course, that total doesn't include thousands of military contractors who also fought and died on the American side). Even for me, as an activist and also a psychotherapist who bears witness to human suffering on a fairly regular basis, it's easy enough to grow desensitized to the words "more than 7,000," since my life hasn't been threatened by combat daily.

Indeed, 7,000 is a small number compared not just to Covid-19 deaths here but to the 335,000-plus deaths of civilians in our war zones since 2001. It doesn't even measure up to the 110,000 (and counting) Iraqi, Afghan, and other allied soldiers and police killed in our wars. However, 7,000 isn't so small when you think about what the loss of one life in combat means to the larger circle of people in that person's community.

To focus only on the numbers of American combat deaths ignores two key issues. First, every single combat death in Iraq and Afghanistan has ripple effects here at home. As the wife of a submarine officer who has completed four sea tours and who, as a Pentagon staffer, has had to deal with war's carnage in detail, I've been intimately involved in numerous communities grieving over military deaths and sustaining wounds years after the bodies have been buried. Parents, spouses, children, siblings, and friends of soldiers who have been killed in action live with survivor's guilt, depression, anxiety, and sometimes addiction to alcohol or drugs.

Families, many with young children, struggle to pay the rent, purchase food, or cover healthcare premiums and copays after losing the person who was often the sole source of family income. Communities have lost workers, volunteers, and neighbors at a time of mass illness and unrest just when we need those who can sustain intense pressure, problem solve, and work across class, party, and racial lines – in other words, our soldiers. (And yes, while the storming of the Capitol earlier this month included military veterans, I have no doubt that the majority of U.S. troops and veterans would prefer to be shot before getting involved in such a nightmare.)

Second, as the testimony of the former Marine I interviewed suggests, many people suffer and die long after the battles they fought in are over. Social scientists still know very little about the magnitude of deaths because of — but not in — war's battles. Still, a 2008 study by the Geneva Declaration Secretariat estimated that indirect deaths from war are at least four times as high as deaths sustained in combat.

At the Costs of War Project, we've started to examine the effects of war on human health and mortality, particularly in America's war zones. There, people die in childbirth because hospitals or clinics have been destroyed. They die because there are no longer the doctors or the necessary equipment to detect cancer early enough or even more common problems like infections. They die because roads have been bombed or are unsafe to travel on. They die from malnutrition because farms, factories, and the infrastructure to transport food have all been reduced to rubble. They die because the only things available and affordable to anesthetize them from emotional and physical pain may be opioids, alcohol, or other dangerous substances. They die because the healthcare workers who might have treated them for, or immunized them against, once obsolete illnesses like polio have been intimidated from doing their work. And of course, as is evident from our own skyrocketing military suicide rates, they die by their own hands.

It's very hard to count up such deaths, but as a therapist who works with U.S. military families and people who have emigrated from dozens of often war-torn countries around the world, the mechanisms by which war creates indirect death seem all too clear to me: you find that, in the post-war moment, you can't sleep, let alone get through your day, without debris on the highway, a strange look from someone, or an unexpected loud noise outside sparking terror.

If the stress hormones coursing through your body don't wreak their own havoc in the form of painful chronic illnesses like fibromyalgia or mental illnesses like depression and anxiety, then the methods you use to cope like overeating, reckless driving, or substance abuse, very well might. If you are a child or the spouse of someone who has lived through repeated deployments to America's twenty-first-century wars, then there's a significant chance you'll be on the receiving end of physical violence from someone who lacks the tools and self-control to deal peacefully. We aren't counting or even describing such injuries and the deaths that can sometimes result from them, but we do need to find a way.

A Gaping Hole in Our Knowledge

My colleagues and I have started to examine the indirect costs of war through interviews with people who have born witness to war or lived through it, as has the U.S. government through its own limited collection of statistics. For example, in 2018, some 18 American active-duty military personnel or veterans died by suicide each day. (Yes, daily.) But all we really know so far is this: self-inflicted deaths from violence, car accidents, substance abuse, and chronic stress that can be traced back to this country's post-9/11 wars are problems that plague military communities, and they didn't exist at this magnitude before Washington decided to respond to the 9/11 attacks by invading Afghanistan and then Iraq.

Still, we have remarkably little information about the scope and nature of such problems. I'll tell you what I do know with certainty, though: the only consistent and cohesive institutions sustaining troops home from America's battle zones are the "families," formal and informal, of servicemembers and the communities in which they live — not just their spouses and children, but also extended families, neighbors, and friends. When it comes to the more formal support structures — Veterans Affairs hospitals and outpatient clinics, providers that accept military insurance, small nonprofits that provide recreational and other forms of support and the like — there just aren't enough of them.

It's common knowledge in my community that referral processes and wait times for such aid are often long and stressful. If you're a veteran seeking help, it's likely that you'll find yourself having to switch doctors more than once a year, rather than getting the continuity of care you might need to treat complex physical and emotional trauma. Meanwhile, childcare and other kinds of supportive caregiving that might help control neglect and abuse are laughably sparse.

As the upper-middle-class wife of an officer in a family that enjoys the benefit of dual incomes, I can still offer examples from my own life and community that should raise questions about how someone with fewer resources and already under the stress that accompanies multiple "tours" of America's battle zones can survive. My husband and I had to pull years' worth of retirement savings from our bank account to afford a lifesaving prenatal treatment for me that military insurance would not then fund (though it would indeed be covered later) — a problem that could have been avoided had the customer service representatives of the Department of Defense's health and medical program, Tricare, been appropriately funded and trained.

The wife of an officer we know whose son has autism had to go through months of letter-writing and advocacy to receive care both for that boy and her other young child so she could apply for jobs and travel to her own medical appointments during her husband's multiple deployments. (Tricare would only fund care for one child, leaving her watching the other.) Active-duty and veteran servicemembers I know regularly drink and use drugs heavily each night to calm their anxieties and post-traumatic stress symptoms sufficiently to sit through family dinners, watch our ever-more-distressing news, or get a few hours of sleep.

Many fear seeking mental-health treatment because of the real threat that, in the military, exposure for doing so will result in professional demotion. We live in an era where so much depends on competent, trustworthy security to shield us from the dual threats of a deadly pandemic and domestic terrorism and yet our security forces often lead lives that are problematic indeed. The toll in such lives — what might be thought of as indirect deaths from combat — that we've endorsed by failing to welcome home and provide adequately for the some two million servicemembers who have fought in "our" wars should be a focus of our attention and yet is largely unnoticed.

A Defense Bill That Defends Little

With such human costs of war in mind, it's a wonder to me that the only bipartisan bill passed by Congress over a presidential veto in the Trump years was the recent monumentally funded $740 billion "defense" bill. It included spending for yet more weapons production, as well as salary raises, among other measures that were meant to shore up the fighting power of our active-duty troops (after 19-plus years of unsuccessful wars abroad).

Most striking to me, however, amid its massive support for the military-industrial complex, is how little that bill does to expand social support for military families. There is indeed a modest increase in daycare assistance for troops' family members with disabilities, as well as limits to increased copays for those who use their military insurance in their communities. Missing totally, however, are key structural changes like protections for soldiers who seek mental healthcare, more robust job-training programs for those desiring to transition into the civilian workforce, greater accountability for Tricare when it comes to providing accurate information on services available in the community, and expanded childcare support for military families.

Indeed, what's most notable about that bill's very existence is how the leaders of both political parties keep funding war spending above all else, especially given that our foreign wars of this century have accomplished little of discernible value beyond making a mess that may never be cleaned up. To me, what that bill truly represented was the massive and unseen costs of America's post-9/11 wars at home and abroad.

It seems that we Americans still care more about waging war in distant lands than about protecting our own people right here at home. Indirect deaths from our conflicts are a reality, however little noticed they may be. Isn't it time to begin weaving a genuine safety net, allowing vulnerable Americans who fought in those very wars to be better supported so that, no longer committing senseless violence against others, they don't commit it on themselves?

Copyright 2021 Andrea Mazzarino

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Books, John Feffer's new dystopian novel Frostlands (the second in the Splinterlands series), Beverly Gologorsky's novel Every Body Has a Story, and Tom Engelhardt's A Nation Unmade by War, as well as Alfred McCoy's In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power and John Dower's The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II.

Andrea Mazzarino, a TomDispatch regular, co-founded Brown University's Costs of War Project. She has held various clinical, research, and advocacy positions, including at a Veterans Affairs PTSD Outpatient Clinic, with Human Rights Watch, and at a community mental health agency. She is the co-editor of War and Health: The Medical Consequences of the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Joe Biden is already facing the first test of his commitment to diplomacy in Iran

President Biden's commitment to re-entering the Iran nuclear deal—formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA—is already facing backlash from a motley crew of warhawks both domestic and foreign. Right now, opponents of re-entering the deal are centering their vitriol on one of the nation's foremost experts on both the Middle East and diplomacy: Robert Malley, who Biden might tap to be the next Iran envoy.

On January 21, conservative journalist Eli Lake penned an opinion piece in Bloomberg News arguing that President Biden should not appoint Malley because Malley ignores Iran's human rights abuses and "regional terror". Republican Senator Tom Cotton retweeted Lake's piece with the heading: "Malley has a long track record of sympathy for the Iranian regime & animus towards Israel. The ayatollahs wouldn't believe their luck if he is selected." Pro regime-change Iranians such as Mariam Memarsadeghi, conservative American journalists like Breitbart's Joel Pollak, and the far-right Zionist Organization of America are opposing Malley. Benjamin Netanyahu has expressed opposition to Malley getting the appointment and Maj. Gen. Yaakov Amidror, a close advisor to the prime minister, said that if the U.S. reenters the JCPOA, Israel may take military action against Iran. A petition opposing Malley has even started on Change.org.

What makes Malley such a threat to these opponents of talks with Iran?

Malley is the polar opposite of Trump's Special Representative to Iran Elliot Abrams, whose only interest was squeezing the economy and whipping up conflict in the hopes of regime change. Malley, on the other hand, has called U.S. Middle East policy "a litany of failed enterprises" requiring "self-reflection" and is a true believer in diplomacy.

Under the Clinton and Obama administrations, Malley helped organize the 2000 Camp David Summit as Special Assistant to President Clinton; acted as Obama's White House Coordinator for the Middle East, North Africa, and the Gulf region; and was the lead negotiator on the White House staff for the 2015 Iran Nuclear Deal. When Obama left office, Malley became president of the International Crisis Group, a group formed in 1995 to prevent wars.

During the Trump years, Malley was a fierce critic of Trump's Iran policy. In an Atlantic piece he coauthored, he denounced Trump's plan to withdraw and refuted critiques about the sunset clauses in the deal not extending for more years. "The time-bound nature of some of the constraints [in the JCPOA] is not a flaw of the deal, it was a prerequisite for it," he wrote. "The real choice in 2015 was between achieving a deal that constrained the size of Iran's nuclear program for many years and ensured intrusive inspections forever, or not getting one."

He condemned Trump's maximum pressure campaign as a maximum failure, explaining that throughout Trump's presidency, "Iran's nuclear program grew, increasingly unconstrained by the JCPOA. Tehran has more accurate ballistic missiles than ever before and more of them. The regional picture grew more, not less, fraught."

While Malley's detractors accuse him of ignoring the regime's grim human rights record, national security and human rights organizations supporting Malley said in a joint letter that since Trump left the nuclear deal, "Iran's civil society is weaker and more isolated, making it harder for them to advocate for change."

Hawks have another reason for opposing Malley: his refusal to show blind support for Israel. In 2001 Malley co-wrote an article for the New York Review arguing that the failure of the Israeli-Palestinian Camp David negotiations had not been the sole fault of Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat but included then-Israeli leader Ehud Barak. The U.S. pro-Israel establishment wasted no time accusing Malley of having an anti-Israel bias.

Malley has also been pilloried for meeting with members of the Palestinian political group Hamas, designated a terror organization by the U.S. In a letter to The New York Times, Malley explained that these encounters were part of his job when he was Middle East program director at the International Crisis Group, and that he was regularly asked by both American and Israeli officials to brief them on these meetings.

With the Biden administration already facing opposition from Israel about its intent to return to the JCPOA, Malley's expertise on Israel and his willingness to talk to all sides will be an asset.

Malley understands that re-entering the JCPOA must be undertaken swiftly and will not be easy. Iranian presidential elections are scheduled for June and predictions are that a hardline candidate will win, making negotiations with the U.S. harder. He is also keenly aware that re-entering the JCPOA is not enough to calm the regional conflicts, which is why he supports a European initiative to encourage de-escalation dialogues between Iran and neighboring Gulf states. As U.S. Special Envoy to Iran, Malley could put the weight of the U.S. behind such efforts.

Malley's Middle East foreign policy expertise and diplomatic skills make him the ideal candidate to reinvigorate the JCPOA and help calm regional tensions. Biden's response to the far-right uproar against Malley will be a test of his fortitude in standing up to the hawks and charting a new course for U.S. policy in the Middle East. Peace-loving Americans should shore up Biden's resolve by supporting Malley's appointment.

Medea Benjamin is cofounder of CODEPINK for Peace, and author of several books, including Inside Iran: The Real History and Politics of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Ariel Gold is the national co-director and Senior Middle East Policy Analyst with CODEPINK for Peace.

The climate crisis is worse than even scientists can imagine. Here’s what happened when one tried

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Peter Kalmus, out of his mind, stumbled back toward the car. It was all happening. All the stuff he'd been trying to get others to see, and failing to get others to see — it was all here. The day before, when his family started their Labor Day backpacking trip along the oak-lined dry creek bed in Romero Canyon, in the mountains east of Santa Barbara, the temperature had been 105 degrees. Now it was 110 degrees, and under his backpack, his “large mammalian self," as Peter called his body, was more than just overheating. He was melting down. Everything felt wrong. His brain felt wrong and the planet felt wrong, and everything that lived on the planet felt wrong, off-kilter, in the wrong place.

Nearing the trailhead, Peter's mind death-spiralled: What's next summer going to bring? How hot will it be in 10 years? Yes, the data showed that the temperature would only rise annually by a few tenths of a degree Celsius. But those tenths would add up and the extreme temperatures would rise even faster, and while Peter's big mammal body could handle 100 degrees, sort of, 110 drove him crazy. That was just not a friendly climate for a human. 110 degrees was hostile, an alien planet.

Lizards fried, right there on the rocks. Elsewhere, songbirds fell out of the sky. There was more human conflict, just as the researchers promised. Not outright violence, not here, not yet. But Peter's kids were pissed and his wife was pissed and the salience that he'd so desperately wanted others to feel — “salience" being the term of choice in the climate community for the gut-level understanding that climate change isn't going to be a problem in the future, it is a crisis now — that salience was here. The full catastrophe was here (both in the planetary and the Zorba the Greek sense: “Wife. Children. House. Everything. The full catastrophe"). To cool down, Peter, a climate scientist who studied coral reefs, had stood in a stream for an hour, like a man might stand at a morgue waiting to identify a loved one's body, irritated by his powerlessness, massively depressed. He found no thrill in the fact that he'd been right.

Sharon Kunde, Peter's wife, found no thrill in the situation either, though her body felt fine. It was just hot … OK, very hot. Her husband was decompensating. The trip sucked.

“I was losing it," Peter later recalled as we sat on their front porch on a far-too-warm November afternoon in Altadena, California, just below the San Gabriel Mountains.

“Yeah," Sharon said.

“Losing my grip."

“Yeah."

“Poor Sharon is the closest person to me, and I share everything with her."

Sometimes everything is both too much and not enough. George Marshall opened his book, “Don't Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Ignore Climate Change," with the parable of Jan Karski, a young Polish resistance fighter who, in 1943, met in person with Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter, who was both a Jew and widely regarded as one of the great minds of his generation. Karski briefed the justice on what he'd seen firsthand: the pillage of the Warsaw Ghetto, the Belzec death camp. Afterward, Frankfurter said, “I do not believe you."

The Polish ambassador, who had arranged the meeting on the recommendation of President Franklin Roosevelt, interrupted to defend Karski's account.

“I did not say that he is lying," Frankfurter explained. “I said that I didn't believe him. It's a different thing. My mind, my heart— they are made in such a way that I cannot accept. No no no."

Sharon, too, possessed a self-protective mind and heart. A high school English teacher and practiced stoic from her Midwestern German Lutheran childhood, she didn't believe in saying things you were not yet prepared to act upon. “We find it difficult to understand each other on this topic," Sharon, 46, said of her husband's climate fixation.

Yet while Sharon was preternaturally contained, Peter was a yard sale, whole self out in the open. At 47, he worked at NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab, studying which reefs might survive the longest as the oceans warm. He had more twinkle in his eye that one might expect for a man possessed by planetary demise. But he often held his head in his hands like a 50-pound kettlebell. Every time he heard a plane fly overhead, he muttered, “Fossil fuel noise."

For years, in articles in Yes! magazine, in op-eds in the Los Angeles Times, in his book Being the Change: Live Well and Spark a Climate Revolution, on social media, Peter had been pleading, begging for people to pay attention to the global emergency. “Is this my personal hell?" he tweeted this past fall. “That I have to spend my entire life desperately trying to convince everyone NOT TO DESTROY THE FUCKING EARTH?"

His pain was transfixing, a case study in a fundamental climate riddle: How do you confront the truth of climate change when the very act of letting it in risked toppling your sanity? There is too much grief, too much suffering to bear. So we intellectualize. We rationalize. And too often, without even allowing ourselves to know we're doing it, we turn away. At virtually every level — personal, political, policy, corporate — we repeat this pattern. We fail, or don't even try, to rise to the challenge. Yes, there are the behemoth forces of power and money reinforcing the status quo. But even those of us who firmly believe we care very often fail to translate that caring into much action. We make polite, perhaps even impassioned conversation. We say smart climate things in the boardroom or classroom or kitchen or on the campaign trail. And then … there's a gap, a great nothingness and inertia. What happens if a human — or to be precise, a climate scientist, both privileged and cursed to understand the depth of the problem — lets the full catastrophe in?

Once Peter, Sharon and their 12- and 14-year-old sons set their packs down at the car on that infernal Labor Day weekend, they blasted the air conditioning, then stopped for Gatorade and Flamin' Hot Doritos to try to recover from their trip. But the heat had descended not just on Peter's big mammal body but on millions of acres of dry cheatgrass and oak chaparral.

That same afternoon, around 1 p.m., the Bobcat fire started five miles from their house in the Los Angeles hills.

Peter's climate obsession started, as many obsessions do, with the cross-wiring of exuberance and fear. In late 2005, Sharon got pregnant with their first child, and in the throes of joy and panic that accompanied impending fatherhood, Peter attended the weekly physics colloquium at Columbia University, where he was working on an astrophysics Ph.D. The topic that day was the energy imbalance in the planet — how more energy was coming into earth's atmosphere from the sun than our atmosphere was radiating back out into space. Peter was rapt. He'd grown up a nerdy Catholic Boy Scout in suburban Chicago, and had always been, as his sister Audrey Kalmus said, someone who “jumped into things he believed in with three feet." He'd met Sharon at Harvard. They'd moved to New York so she could earn a teaching degree. For a while, before returning to school, Peter had made good money on Wall Street writing code. Now here he was hearing, really hearing for the first time, that the planet, his son's future home, was going to roast. Full stop.

This was a catastrophe — a physical, physics catastrophe, and here he was, a physicist about to have a son. He exited the lecture hall in a daze. “I was kind of like, 'Are we just going to pretend this is like a normal scientific talk?'" he told me, recalling his thoughts. “We're talking about the end of life on Earth as we know it."

For the next eight months, Peter walked around Manhattan, “freaking out in my brain," he said, like “one of those end-is-near people with the sandwich boards." He tried converting Columbia's undergraduate green groups to his cause. Did they care about the environment? Yes. Did they care about the planetary catastrophe? Well, yes, of course they did, but they were going to stick with their project of getting plastic bags out of dining halls, OK? He tried lobbying the university administrators to switch to wind power. Couldn't even get a meeting. Nothing made sense. Why was Al Gore spending a fortune to make a climate movie only to flinch at the end of “An Inconvenient Truth" and say, essentially, Just buy more efficient light bulbs? Almost nobody saw it — really saw it. WE ARE HAVING AN EMERGENCY. There was only one possible endgame here if humans didn't stop burning fossil fuels, fast: global chaos, mass violence, miserable deaths.

Peter and Sharon's friends came over to meet and bless their baby, Braird, shortly after he was born in June 2006. All the guests went around the room offering wishes for the unborn child. When Peter's turn came, he said he hoped that his son didn't get shot at in climate-induced barbarity and that he did not starve.

Peter and Sharon rented a house with a big avocado tree when they moved to California, in 2008, for Peter's dream postdoc studying gravitational waves at CalTech. Braird was 2 and Sharon was nursing newborn Zane. Peter and Sharon had both come from families with four kids, and they didn't want Braird to be an only child — and having a child when you want one is also immeasurably wonderful, too wonderful, in this case, to give up. (They did later decide to forgo a third.) In Peter's first run at grassroots activism, he organized a climate protest with a friend. Only two people showed up. Peter joined Transition Pasadena, a community group dedicated to producing “a more resilient city and for living lighter on our Earth." He also said he tried pushing “to focus the group around global heating and climate breakdown," but the members, he said, wanted to talk about “gardening and city council meetings," not the apocalypse, so Peter and Transition Pasadena parted ways.

Four years into climate awakening and action, Peter felt he had accomplished nearly zero. One night, frustrated with inaction and disgusted with fossil fuel use, he sat at his computer and calculated the sources of all his own emissions so he could go about reducing them.

In the morning he presented Sharon with a pie chart.

This was one of those moments that both distorted and crystalized the scale problems inherent in addressing climate change, the personal and the planetary, the insignificant and the enormous, warping and reverberating as if modulated by a wah-wah pedal. Peter himself believed that you can't fix climate change with individual virtue any more than you can fix systemic racism that way. But he also knew, at some point, “You have to burn your ships on the beach," as Richard Reiss, a climate educator and fellow at the Institute for Sustainable Cities at Hunter College, put it. You need to commit, perhaps even create drama, and make real changes in your life.

By far the biggest wedge of the pie chart was Peter flying to scientific meetings and conferences. For the family, if Peter quit flying, it meant he'd be home more to help with the kids. Sharon reserved the right to keep flying if she wanted. Win-win.

Peter's second-largest source of emissions was food. So he started growing artichokes, eggplant, kale and squash, plus tending fruit trees, and that was great. Then he started composting — OK, that's great, too. He also started keeping bees and raising chickens, and soon raccoons and possums discovered the chickens and Peter began running outside in his underwear in the middle of the night when he heard the chickens scream. Baby chicks lived in the house, which the boys loved. Braird got stung by bees while Sharon was at a meditation retreat and it turned out Braird was allergic and he went into shock.

Next came dumpster diving (which eventually — and thankfully — morphed into an arrangement with Trader Joe's to pick up their unsellable food every other Sunday night). Peter's haul — “seven or eight boxes," according to Sharon; “three boxes," according to Peter — included dozens of eggs with only one broken. Flats of (mostly not moldy) strawberries. Bread past its sell-by date. Peter did his best to put things away before he fell asleep because waking up to the mess drove Sharon nuts. But … it was a lot. Low-carbon living was a lot.

They stopped using the gas dryer. They stopped shitting in the flush toilet and started practicing “humanure," composting their own crap. Sharon had lived with an outhouse in Mongolia, “so that was something I was used to," she said. Plus, to be honest, she liked the local, organic anti-capitalist politics of it. “Marx writes about this in 'Capital, Volume 1' that one of the reasons Europeans started to use chemical fertilizers is because people started to move into the cities and off of the land, … and people stopped pooping out in the countryside, so it became less fertile." The main problem, for Sharon, was that their bathroom was small and the composting toilet was inside. They used eucalyptus leaves to try to cover up the smell, but then little bits of leaves got all over the bathroom, too. After a while Peter moved the composting toilet outdoors. He also built an outdoor shower that Sharon found quite lovely, “rustic and California."

Sharon commiserated with a friend who was married to a priest. How do you have an equal marriage with a man who's trying to save the world? The priest's wife, too, found “it impossible for her to have any space for herself," Sharon said. “Because he was called by God to minister to people. When she tried to do her own thing, it wasn't as important as his." Motherhood was hard enough. Sharon wanted to write a novel. She wanted to write poetry. She wanted to go for a run, or even a walk, in peace. “His dreams were so much more heroic and important that I had to sort of, I don't know," she said. “I had to go along with it."

The most trying component of the low-carbon experiment for Sharon was the 1985 Mercedes that Peter converted to biodiesel. Maeby, as Sharon hate-named the car — as in Maeby we'll get there, Maeby we won't — arrived in their lives in 2011, just as Sharon was starting an English Ph.D. at UC Irvine and commuting 50 miles each way. Yes, they took family summer road trips to go camping and visit friends. But on the winter trips to visit their families in the Midwest, the grease coagulated in the cold, which made Maeby break down more. Some nights Sharon cried in the motel room, but “when it's daytime it all seemed better," she said. She talked about renting a car or even flying home but never did. Still, late one night on a very cold, dark and lonely Utah highway when Peter was under the broken-down car, and Braird and Zane were in the back seat, screaming, and Sharon was revving the engine at Peter's request — she started to wonder if she had Stockholm syndrome.

Sometimes, Sharon thought of Peter as being like “John the Baptist, a voice in the wilderness, crying out, 'Repent, repent!'" This was said with love but also annoyance. As Larissa MacFarquhar explored in her book “Strangers Drowning," extreme do-gooders often provoke us. We find them ridiculous, self-righteous, sometimes even perverse or narcissistic moralists for whom, MacFarquhar writes, “It is always wartime." Just figuring out how to raise children on the Earth, right now, presented so many existential questions. Peter often indulged in a half-joking zombie apocalypse mentality. He wanted to teach his boys to grow crops, to defend themselves, to fix things. “I do think we need to be talking about the collapse of civilization and the deaths of billions of people," he said.

When she was at her gloomiest, Sharon, too, felt scared to leave her sons on this planet, but she also called on her tight-lipped German upbringing to create a bubble of denialist peace. “Things you don't want to confront, just ignore it. Pretend it's not there," she said. Her “ethics of care," as she called it, involved encouraging the boys to take music lessons, read books and even meditate when she could persuade them to join her. She wanted to prepare her sons to be creative and resilient. If the planet was crumbling, they'd need rich interior lives.

Did Sharon want the boys to worry? “I don't know, I don't know," she said. That was the never-ending, urgent, timeless question. How much do we want our children to understand about the horrors of the world?

In 2012, Peter switched fields, from astrophysics to earth science, because he just couldn't stop obsessing. This meant backpedaling in his career, quitting the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) experiment, three founding members of which would go on to win the 2017 Nobel Prize in physics. Still, even his new job was a strange fit. Science itself — with its cultural terror of appearing biased — was a strange fit.

Peter had given up expecting emotional comfort. He'd given up on decorum. He had nightmares about being on planes. “The emissions, you know," he said. “It feels like the plane is flying on ground-up babies to me." Even the simplest decisions led him into deep philosophical rifts. The boys' music lessons, to Peter, seemed woefully, almost willfully anachronistic, a literal fiddling while Rome or Los Angeles burned.

Peter kept trying to figure out ways to make his voice heard. He organized climate cafes, modeled on death cafes, places for people to gather to share grief (Sharon did not attend). He started No Fly Climate Sci, a grassroots group of academic institutions and individual scientists committed to flying less. He kept writing, posting, organizing, talking. This was not always well received. Before the pandemic, Peter stood on the sidelines of Braird's soccer games when it was 113 degrees. “And I'd be telling the other parents: This is climate change," he said. “And, you know, they don't want to hear that during a soccer game. But I can't not do it. I can't."

WE ARE HAVING AN EMERGENCY — Peter thought that all day, every day. “Here I am with a retirement account," Peter said. Did he need a retirement account? What was the world going to be like in 2060, when he was an old man? He'd been careful with himself not to become a doomer. Doomers, in his mind, were selfish. They'd given up on the greater good and retreated to their own bunkers, leaving the rest of us to burn. Still, despite Peter's commitment to keep working toward global change, Sharon found Peter's florid negativity distasteful at times. “There's almost like a pornographic fascination with 'Oh, I'm going to imagine just how bad everything is going to be,'" she said.

Sharon staged minor rebellions to maintain a sense of self — little stuff, like using lots of hot water when she did the dishes, and bigger stuff, like she stopped talking sometimes. Braird and Zane, too, each absorbed and reacted to Peter's passionate cri de coeur in their own ways. Zane, the younger one, started doing his own regular, Greta Thunberg-style climate strikes in front of city hall. Braird, the older, meanwhile, was entering his teens, differentiating and waxing nihilistic. When asked what he wanted to do with his future, Braird said, “What future?" When asked what he thought about climate change, he sunk a dagger into his father's heart like only a child can. Braird said, “I don't really think about it."

On the Tuesday evening after Labor Day, two days after the family returned from their infernal backpacking, Peter, still recovering from heat exhaustion, stood at the sink doing dishes. Braird played League of Legends on his bed. Sharon sat meditating, as she did from 7-8 p.m. each night. Then the emergency alerts blew up their phones. An evacuation warning, the Bobcat fire. The day before, in the ongoing horrible heat, they'd taped their windows shut against the smoke but they hadn't packed go bags. They never really believed their house would burn. The state was a climate warzone. Military helicopters had rescued 200 people trapped in a Sierra lake by the Creek fire, which had thrown up a plume of flames 50,000 feet. Cal Fire was predicting the Bobcat fire would not be contained for six weeks.

Sharon finished meditating. Then she started photographing all their stuff, including the insides of closets and drawers, because that's what insurance adjusters tell you to do: Document your property so you can make a stronger claim. Peter snapped. He didn't care about the pictures or the insurance. He just wanted to let the house incinerate. He felt done pretending that anything was normal, and he decided that now would be a good time to tell Sharon that he'd felt frustrated and gaslit by her all these years.

“WE NEVER EVEN TALK ABOUT CLIMATE CHANGE! DO YOU EVEN CARE ABOUT CLIMATE CHANGE?" he said. This did not go well.

She threw a laundry basket. “YOU HAVE GOT TO BE FUCKING KIDDING ME," she shouted. “Our entire lives are about climate change."

There it was, that gap we build around knowing and integrating, to protect our own lives and minds. Yet after the fight, after finally saying aloud what he'd been thinking for almost 15 years, Peter felt better. Not because anything was different. Nothing was different. The situation remained unshakably, cosmically wrong. The only reason to care about insurance, books, paintings, the house, was if you believed that there would be a stable planet on which to enjoy those things in 20 or 40 or 80 years. If you believe there'd be a “planet with seasons, where you can grow food and have water, and you can go outside without dying from heatstroke," Peter said. “I don't have that anymore, that sense of stability."

But he also knew, deep down, that Sharon could not, and should not, give that up. She was a more anxious person than he was. They both knew that. “For me to stay sane, there's only so much I can take," Sharon said. Earlier on the night of their big fight they'd watched “The Handmaid's Tale," as they did each Tuesday. Sharon often thought about the main character, June. “You have to moderate how you think. You have to think in little chunks, so you can endure, just like June does," she told me. “You have to make sacrifices so you can survive. If you can survive to fight another day, then maybe the right opportunity will present itself. You can't kill yourself well, you can. But that's not the option I want to take."

Maeby is now gone. Peter drives an electric car. The composting toilet remains outside, though Peter admits, “The other three family members are not interested in contributing at all." Peter's current project is making climate ads. Is this how he can tell the story of what is happening to the world in a way that will make people not just hear and retreat but act? He thinks about this all the time. How do you describe an intolerable problem in a way that listeners — even you, dear reader will truly let in?

All through October and November, the Bobcat fire continued to burn. It grew to 115,000 acres. Its 300-foot-high flames licked up against Mount Wilson Observatory, where scientists first proved the existence of a universe outside the Milky Way. The fire continued to burn well into December, when UN Secretary-General Ant nio Guterres urged, with middling effect, the nations of the world to declare a climate emergency. So far, 38 have done so. The United States is not one of them. In January, a team of 19 climate scientists published a paper, “Understanding the Challenges of Avoiding a Ghastly Future," that said, “The scale of the threats to the biosphere and all its life forms — including humanity — is in fact so great that it is difficult to grasp for even well-informed experts." The language of this sentence could not be more dire. It makes the mind go numb.

So how, with our limited human minds, do we attend enough to make real progress? How do we not flinch and look away? The truth of what is happening shakes the foundations of our sense of self. It asserts a distorting gravity, bending our priorities and warping our whole lives. The overt denialists are easy villains, the monsters who look like monsters. But the rest of us, much of the time, wear pretty green masks over our self-interest and denial, and then go about our days. Then each morning we wake to a new headline like: The planet is dying faster than we thought."

While I was trying (and failing) to process it all, Peter called to make sure I understood the importance of a comment he'd made: He's no longer embarrassed to tell people he would die to keep the planet from overheating. He's left behind the solace of denial. He's well aware of the cost. What a luxury to feel that the ground we walk on and this planet that is rotating around the sun is in some sense OK."

Russians in 38 cities brave freezing temperatures to protests against Putin jailing his biggest opponent

Russian citizens in 38 cities are protesting the country's sham elections in which Russian President Vladimir Putin has felt so threatened by the opposition candidate, anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny, that he has had him imprisoned and poisoned in an attempt to silence his voice and kill his movement.

The Russian presidential elections are a complete sham used to legitimate Putin's power. In the last election, Putin "won" nearly 77 percent of the vote amid claims of ballot stuffing, the Kremlin choosing which candidates get to run, police arresting any anti-Putin protesters and pro-Putin candidates receiving far more financial backing than his opponents.

Navalny himself, a popular anti-corruption campaigner who is one of Putin's most outspoken critics, according to The Week, has previously been barred from running due to a trumped-up and controversial fraud conviction allegedly masterminded by Putin. In August 2020, Navalny was poisoned with a nerve agent called Novichok and survived his hospitalization. Navalny has said he got a Russian federal agent to reveal how he was poisoned, though the Kremlin has denied any involvement.

Three days ago, Navalny was jailed once more for allegedly violating his parole. He now inhabits Matrosskaya Tishina or Sailor's Silence, a jail in Moscow's north-east region that has housed high-ranking prisoners that authorities have wanted to cut off from the outside world since the Soviet era, according to Reuters. The jail is notoriously deadly.

Russian citizens across the nation have seemingly had enough and have begun protesting his imprisonment, as the videos below attest. Hundreds have been arrested as police fight to maintain control.

The U.S. Embassy in Russia has weighed in by saying, "We're watching reports of protests in 38 Russian cities, arrests of 350+ peaceful protesters and journalists. The U.S. supports the right of all people to peaceful protest, freedom of expression. Steps being taken by Russian authorities are suppressing those rights."






















Scottish green party demands 'urgent investigation' to keep Trump's 'toxic brand out' of Scotland

Its been one day since former President Donald Trump departed the White House and Scotland is already taking aggressive actions to ensure his "toxic brand" does not thrive in the country.

According to People World, on Jan. 20, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon was urged to launch an unexplained wealth order (UWO) to look into Trump's 2014 purchase of Ayrshire's Turnberry golf resort and "kick his 'toxic brand out of Scotland.'"

Although the resort has undergone renovations that cost the Trump Organization more than $250 million, it has been reported that that the resort has suffered substantial losses for the last six consecutive years.

The latest call for a UWO comes two years after previous calls for investigations into Trump's financial dealings in Scotland. In April of 2019, a campaign group known as Avaaz appealed to the First Minister claimed that "any application for such an order is a decision for the Crown Office."

On Jan. 21, members of the Scottish Greens shared their concerns with the First Minister as they urged her yet again to refrain from "hiding behind officials" and move forward with an investigation.

"One of the biggest proponents globally of dangerous misinformation – from Covid to climate and more – has been kicked off Twitter and Facebook, today is being kicked out of the White House," the party's co-leader Patrick Harvie said, adding, "And it's time we kicked his toxic brand out of Scotland too."

He added, "From today, Donald Trump will no longer be the US President, and his business activities are under criminal investigation in the US. Yet his purchases in Scotland have still not been investigated, despite serious concerns about how they were funded."

"This advice was sent to the First Minister at the weekend. It's long past time the Scottish government demonstrated that Scotland cannot be a country where anyone with the money can buy whatever land and property they want, no questions asked."

He also argued that Trump's resort has not lived up to the expectations his organization promised when the property was initially purchased. "Trump's business in Scotland has never generated the number of jobs promised," Harvie said, adding, "But even if it had there is no reason to ignore the damage to Scotland's international reputation through being associated with this toxic brand."

Ocasio-Cortez smacks down Ted Cruz after he says Paris Climate Agreement is about the 'citizens of Paris'


U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
(D-NY) blasted U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) on Wednesday after he criticized newly-sworn in President Joe Biden for rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement hours after taking office.

The embattled Texas Senator tried to pay homage to former President Donald Trump in a tweet suggesting that the historic accords were simply about "the views of the citizens of Paris," instead of "the jobs of the citizens of Pittsburgh." Trump used that false argument when he withdrew from the Agreement.

197 countries have signed the Paris Agreement, nine – including the U.S. under Trump – have pulled out or are no longer following it. The only countries that are not part of the agreement but considered significant emitters of greenhouse gasses are the U.S. and Iran.

"By rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement, President Biden indicates he's more interested in the views of the citizens of Paris than in the jobs of the citizens of Pittsburgh," Cruz tweeted Wednesday. "This agreement will do little to affect the climate and will harm the livelihoods of Americans."

Cruz is facing calls for his resignation or expulsion from the Senate after he became a leader in the movement to unlawfully overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. That movement came to a head after Cruz and Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) joined President Donald Trump in inciting the deadly January 6 insurrection.

Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez slammed Cruz, strongly suggesting he is incompetent, mocking his grasp of the Paris Agreement, and lambasting him for his role in the insurrection.


China imposes sanctions on top Trump allies minutes after his leaves office: report

China's federal government has announced sanctions against some of former President Donald Trump's top allies, including former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and former Trump economic adviser Peter Navarro.

At 12:10 p.m. on January 20 — while President Joe Biden was delivering his inaugural speech — Bloomberg News reporter Nicholas Wadhams tweeted:

The sanctions, Wadhams noted, will also affect former Breitbart News CEO Steve Bannon — who Trump granted a pardon for federal criminal charges during his last full day in office — and former National Security Adviser John Bolton.

Federal judge blocks Trump order targeting lawyers supporting ICC Afghan war crimes probe

A federal judge in New York on Monday issued an injunction against President Donald Trump's June executive order sanctioning human rights lawyers cooperating with an International Criminal Court investigtion of alleged U.S. war crimes in Afghanistan.

U.S. District Judge Katherine Polk Failla in Manhattan issued a preliminary injunction (pdf) barring the Trump administration from targeting four law professors with criminal or civil penalties for supporting the work of the ICC in its investigation of alleged extrajudicial killing, torture, rape, and other potential war crimes committed by military and CIA personnel and allied forces during the ongoing 19-year war in Afghanistan—the longest campaign of the so-called War on Terror.

"The court is mindful of the government's interest in defending its foreign policy prerogatives and maximizing the efficacy of its policy tools," Failla wrote. "Nevertheless, national security concerns must not become a talisman used to ward off inconvenient claims, a 'label' used to 'cover a multitude of sins.'"

The ruling came in a case filed last October by the Open Society Justice Initiative and professors Diane Marie Amann, Margaret deGuzman, Gabor Rona, and Milena Sterio, who argued that Trump's order violates their constitutional rights.

Failla determined that Trump's order unconstitutionally prohibits free speech "so as to induce [ICC officials] to desist from their investigation of U.S. and allied personnel."

James Goldston, executive director of the Open Society Justice Initiative, welcomed Failla's decision, saying in a statement that the injunction "affirms what we have said from the start: the executive order is misguided and unconstitutional, violating our fundamental rights to free speech."


The lawsuit came a month after Trump imposed sanctions targeting Fatou Bensouda and Phakiso Mochochoko, the ICC's chief prosecutor and prosecution jurisdiction division director, respectively, in retaliation for their scrutinty of U.S. wartime conduct.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared at the time that "the United States has never ratified the Rome Statute that created the court, and we will not tolerate its illegitimate attempts to subject Americans to its jurisdiction."

In April 2019, the ICC Pre-Trial Chamber II announced it would not grant a request by Bensouda to open an investigation into alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity, including deliberate attacks on civilians and child soldier conscription by Taliban militants, torture and sexual violence by members of Afghan National Security Forces, and torture of prisoners held in U.S. military and secret CIA prisons in Afghanistan, Poland, Romania, and Lithuania.

The decision was condemned by human rights advocates, many of whom accused the ICC of bowing to intense pressure from the Trump administration after it barred Bensouda, a Gambian national, from entering the United States. The administration threatened further retaliation, including travel bans and economic sanctions, against the ICC.

In December 2019, the ICC convened a three-day hearing in The Hague, Netherlands at which prosecutors and Afghan victims of alleged U.S. and Afghan government torture pleaded with court officials to reverse their April decision and conduct a war crimes probe. The ICC unanimously ruled in March 2020 that the investigation could proceed. Pompeo condemned the decision, calling the ICC "an unaccountable political institution masquerading as a legal body."

In July 2020, top Trump officials were further incensed after prominent Canadian jurist William Schabas submitted a request to the ICC to investigate senior U.S. and Israeli officials for alleged war crimes committed against the Palestinian people.

Looking ahead to Trump's January 20 departure from the White House, Goldston asserted that "rather than spending time defending an order in direct conflict with Washington's historic support for international justice, the incoming administration should rescind it on day one."

According to Reuters, the incoming Biden administration may consider lifting sanctions against the ICC officials, pending an evaluation of the role of sanctions in U.S. foreign policy.

'Likely Russian in origin': US intel agencies smack down Trump attempt to blame China for massive hack

The massive and months-long "SolarWinds" hack of more than 250 federal agencies and private businesses was "likely Russian in origin," according to a joint statement from top U.S. Intelligence Agencies, including the FBI, released Tuesday. The statement definitively contrasts with President Donald Trump's claims recently that it could have been perpetrated by China.


Calling the hack an "intelligence gathering effort" – which is the very definition of espionage – the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), and the National Security Agency/Central Security Service (NSA/CSS) say "that an Advanced Persistent Threat (APT) actor, likely Russian in origin, is responsible for most or all of the recently discovered, ongoing cyber compromises of both government and non-governmental networks."

Ironically, perhaps, the statement begins by saying it is being made on "behalf of President Trump."

It also makes clear the hack was a "serious compromise."

The statement claims the hack affected fewer than ten agencies, which appears to deviate from earlier reports.

Trump's tangled relationship with the Saudi royal family now includes extensive cover-ups for multiple murders

One year ago, three U.S. servicemen were killed in a terrorist attack at Pensacola Naval Air Station by an officer in the Royal Saudi Air Force, who had been coordinating with al-Qaida operatives for years while completing a pilot training program at the base. Earlier this month the three service members were posthumously honored with the Purple Heart. Their families, however, are still waiting for President Trump to make good on what he had assured them the day after their children were killed: That he would get to the bottom of the attack, and that the Saudi royal family — specifically, King Salman himself, the desert monarchy's absolute ruler — would take care of them.

They are also still waiting for Trump himself, or anyone in the administration, to contact them.

Now the Trump administration is reportedly weighing whether to grant Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman legal immunity from a federal lawsuit accusing him of targeting a former intelligence officer for assassination. The decision could also lead to the dismissal of other cases against MBS, including one accusing him of directing the murder and dismemberment of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.

The move, however, could also thwart possible legal action on the part of the Pensacola victims, who may be covered under the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, which gives federal courts jurisdiction over a foreign state's support for acts of terrorism against U.S. targets, even if the foreign county is not a designated state sponsor of terrorism.

Hanging over all this is the recently renewed possibility that members of the Saudi Royal family could be called as witnesses in a lawsuit brought against the kingdom by families of victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the U.S.

The Pensacola attacker, Mohammad al-Shamrani, was later revealed to have been in regular contact since 2015 with what the FBI described as "dangerous operatives" in al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). That predates by two years his 2017 arrival at the U.S. on a special visa for flight training at NAS Pensacola, the same base where some of the 9/11 hijackers listed an address.

About a week before the attack, al-Shamrani visited the 9/11 memorial in Manhattan, and on Sept. 11, 2019, just months before the shooting, he posted a social media message saying that "the countdown has begun." While officials have not gone so far to say the attacker was directed by al-Qaida, they have said his ties to the group were "significant." No foreign terrorist organization has successfully directed a deadly attack in the U.S. since 2001.

The attack lasted about 15 minutes before security forces killed the shooter. In that time he shot to death Ensign Joshua Watson, Petty Officer 3rd Class Mohammed Haitham and Petty Officer 3rd Class Cameron Walter, and wounded eight other service members, using a semiautomatic handgun with about 180 rounds of ammunition.

The morning after the shooting, President Trump told reporters as he departed for a fundraiser at another location in Florida that King Salman was "very, very devastated" about the shooting, and the royal family would help the affected families "very greatly." The king, Trump said, would involve himself in the effort personally.

"I spoke with the King of Saudi Arabia. They are devastated in Saudi Arabia," the president said. "We're finding out what took place, whether it's one person or a number of people. And the king will be involved in taking care of families and loved ones. He feels very strongly. He's very, very devastated by what happened and what took place. Likewise the crown prince. They are devastated by what took place in Pensacola. And I think they're going to help out the families very greatly."

"But, right now, they send their condolences," Trump continued. "And, as you know, I've sent my condolences. It's a very shocking thing. And we'll find out — we'll get to the bottom of it very quickly."

A family member of one of the victims told Salon that neither country had lived up to its promises. "No one from the Saudi government has reached out to any of the families," this person said. "No one from the White House has ever called us. No one has been held accountable. We're still waiting."

The Navy released its investigation in November. The heavily redacted report concluded that the attacker had self-radicalized, but a synopsis added that "the organizational environment inherent in the aviation pipeline" played a role, and that conditions to an extent were little different from what could lead to similar actions from "our own Sailors and civilian personnel." (The report notes "an adverse microclimate for all students" where superiors subjected foreign students to "derogatory and sometimes abusive comments as well as humiliating public reprimands" — such an incident in which an instructor referred to al-Shamrani as "Pornstache.")

A month after the attack, Attorney General Bill Barr announced that nearly two dozen other Saudis in the U.S. for military training were being deported for having anti-American or "jihadist" content on their social media. Seventeen of them had also reportedly come in contact with child pornography.

However, the unclassified sections of the 267-page Navy report contain just one passing mention of AQAP. At one point the report reveals that investigators had not reviewed the shooter's responses to security questions on his visa application: "The security portion contains 55 yes or no questions pertaining to such areas as terrorism, espionage, illegal activity, immigration violations, felony convictions, etc. The submitted A-2 visa application was not reviewed for derogatory material as part of this investigation."

The document contrasts sharply with FBI Director Christopher Wray's press conference six months earlier.

"The new evidence shows that al-Shamrani had radicalized not after training here in the U.S. but at least as far back as 2015, and that he had been connecting and associating with a number of dangerous AQAP operatives ever since," Wray said. "It shows that al-Shamrani described a desire to learn about flying years ago, around the same time he talked about attending the Saudi Air Force Academy in order to carry out what he called a 'special operation.' And he then pressed his plans forward, joining the Air Force and bringing his plot here — to America."

Wray said that the attacker associated with AQAP while he lived in Texas and Florida, and discussed his plans and tactics directly with the group, "taking advantage of the information he acquired here, to assess how many people he could try to kill."

"He was meticulous in his planning," Wray said, adding: "He wasn't just coordinating with them about planning and tactics — he was helping the organization make the most it could out of his murders. And he continued to confer with his AQAP associates right until the end, the very night before he started shooting."

In the days after that attack, Trump, offered a conspicuous non-response, strongly out of character for someone who has often been among the first public figures to politicize a terrorist attack apparently carried out by a Muslim. Early in his presidency he falsely denounced a casino robbery in the Philippines as an act of terrorism, a knee-jerk mistake that reportedly drew laughs in the White House situation room. He once appeared to invent a terrorist attack in Sweden that had not happened, and then doubled down on it.

But the president refused to call the al-Qaida-inspired attack on U.S. troops an act of terrorism, let alone "radical Islamic terrorism." (Barr called it a terrorist attack the next month, following an preliminary investigation.) The closest Trump came was a retweet of a TV interview of Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., using the term.

(The president, whose retweets are a cesspool of fringe-right and white supremacist accounts, often uses the technique to create a layer of deniability between himself and the tweet's actual claim. "That was a retweet," he once said, after sharing a tweet that connected the Clintons to the death in custody of convicted pedophile Jeffrey Epstein. "That wasn't from me. That was from [the original account].")

Trump's own tweet after the attack, however, only said he'd spoken on the phone with King Salman, who expressed "sincere condolences":

King Salman of Saudi Arabia just called to express his sincere condolences and give his sympathies to the families and friends of the warriors who were killed and wounded in the attack that took place in Pensacola, Florida. The King said that the Saudi people are greatly angered by the barbaric actions of the shooter, and that this person in no way shape or form represents the feelings of the Saudi people who love the American people.

By contrast, 11 months prior, Trump boasted on Twitter about avenging al-Qaida's 2000 bombing of the USS Cole, claiming that "our work against al Qaeda continues."

"Our GREAT MILITARY has delivered justice for the heroes lost and wounded in the cowardly attack on the USS Cole. We have just killed the leader of that attack, Jamal al-Badawi," Trump wrote. "Our work against al Qaeda continues. We will never stop in our fight against Radical Islamic Terrorism!"

Two months after Pensacola, the U.S. confirmed that it had killed the AQAP leader who claimed responsibility for the attack, in a drone strike in Yemen. Trump had already alluded to the assassination in several tweets, but he still had not contacted any of the families robbed of their loved ones in an attack on his own soldiers at Pensacola.

"Where was our president?" asked the family member who spoke to Salon. "Where was the man that refuses to lose and loves America?"

For whatever reason, Trump's fight stops at the gates of the Saudi royal palace. For instance, the president took the kingdom's side when it blockaded Qatar, home to a critical U.S. military base. He has defended the country's continued bombing of Yemen, which has created a humanitarian disaster, and vetoed an overwhelmingly bipartisan bill to halt weapons sales as that tragedy escalated.

Weeks before the Pensacola shooting, CNN reported that the State Department and Pentagon were deploying teams to Saudi Arabia to investigate the network's reports that, only months after Trump jammed a multibillion-dollar Saudi weapons deal through Congress, U.S.-made weapons were being transferred to groups including al-Qaida fighters in Yemen, in violation of the sales agreement. The State Department said that the Saudis' "continued insufficient responses" were muddling the probe.

(The joint U.S.-Saudi military training program at Pensacola NAS is a part of the weapons package.)

Trump's deference to the Saudis came to the forefront the year before, in October 2018, when a hit team of Saudi nationals dismembered Khashoggi — a Washington Post journalist and U.S. resident — in the Saudi embassy in Istanbul. U.S. intelligence concluded with its highest degree of certainty that Crown Prince Mohammed had personally directed the murder. (In October 2019, MBS took "full responsibility" for the killing, but denied any advance knowledge.) In a rare moment of bipartisanship, Congress condemned Saudi Arabia and passed legislation blocking arms sales to the kingdom — sales Trump had bragged about repeatedly.

Trump disputed his intelligence community's conclusion on the Khashoggi murder, and the New York Times reported that Jared Kushner advised the president to ignore the bipartisan outrage and support Prince Mohammed until it passed. A few weeks after the murder, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo traveled to Saudi Arabia, where in a closed-door meeting he reportedly passed the Crown Prince a "road map" meant to help him navigate the scandal.

According to a CNN report last year, Pompeo was reportedly one of only two men in the room with Trump — the other being former national security adviser John Bolton — during the president's post-Khashoggi phone call with Saudi leaders. The transcript of that call was immediately sequestered.

"Officials who ordinarily would have been given access to a rough transcript of the conversation never saw one, according to one source," CNN reported. "Instead, a transcript was never circulated at all, which the source said was highly unusual."

Additionally, CNN reported that there were "no transcripts made of the phone conversations between Trump and the Saudi king or crown prince to prevent leaks." The officials said the radical step didn't stem from concerns about classified information, but instead seemed designed to shield Trump from potential political consequences.

The White House, of course, was not the only party capable of creating transcripts or recording those calls. Whoever else might have them — which would include various parties on the Saudi side or any intelligence agencies that might have intercepted the call — would have devastating blackmail material on the outgoing president. That would also include the Saudis themselves.

"They give us a lot of jobs. They give us a lot of business," Trump said to explain his non-response to Khashoggi's murder.

Though Trump has in recent years denied having financial ties to Saudi Arabia, he and a number of people close to him have had many business dealings with the kingdom. At a 2015 campaign rally, candidate Trump said, "Saudi Arabia, I get along with all of them. They buy apartments from me. They spend $40 million, $50 million. Am I supposed to dislike them? I like them very much." He also said that he likes doing deals with the Saudis because "Saudi Arabia pays cash."

In May 2017, Trump and his son-in-law Jared Kushner flew to Saudi Arabia on the president's first international visit. On that trip, Trump announced a $110 billion arms deal with the Saudis — a number since proved to be wildly overstated — as part of an even larger $350 billion investment deal, in which the royal family pledged to invest $20 billion in a $40 billion U.S. infrastructure fund.

Kushner is literally in debt to the company that manages this fund — the Blackstone Group — which over the last six years has loaned Kushner Companies, long plagued by financial woes, more than $400 million to fund a number of deals. Kushner also has ties to Tom Barrack, who went in with Blackstone on the fund. A 2019 congressional report alleged that Barrack urged the Trump administration to share nuclear technology with Saudi Arabia while simultaneously going in with the kingdom on a company that would benefit from the new policy.

In 2018, The New York Times reported that the Saudis have been ingratiating themselves to Kushner for years. In October 2017, a year before Khashoggi's murder, Kushner made an unannounced visit to Saudi Arabia, where he reportedly gave Prince Mohammed a list of Saudi dissidents that came directly from the President's Daily Brief, one of the U.S. government's most sensitive intelligence documents. Six months later, MBS visited Trump in Washington, but a sizable portion of the Saudi entourage stayed in Manhattan at the Trump International Hotel. The Washington Post's David Farenthold reported that the Saudis' five-day stay yielded a profit for the quarter:

After two years of decline, revenue from room rentals went up 13 percent in the first three months of 2018. What caused the uptick at President Trump's flagship hotel in New York? One major factor: "a last-minute visit to New York by the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia," wrote [the hotel's] general manager Prince A. Sanders in a May 15 letter, which was obtained by The Washington Post...."Due to our close industry relationships,' he wrote, 'we were able to accommodate many of the accompanying travelers."

And in the summer of 2016, weeks after Trump claimed the GOP nomination, Donald Trump Jr. met in Trump Tower with George Nader — an adviser to Prince Mohammed — along with a representative from an Israeli psy-ops firm. The New York Times reported that Nader told Trump Jr. that the Saudi and United Arab Emirates royal families were "eager to help his father win election as president." It's not clear what, if anything, came of this, but Nader later cut the owner of the Israeli firm a check for up to $2 million. One explanation for the payment, according to the Times, concerned "an elaborate presentation about the significance of social media campaigning to Mr. Trump's victory."

Here's why you should care about the thousands of farmers protesting in India

2020 has been a year of ongoing protests and demonstrations for change across the globe. It has also been the year the world saw not only the largest but longest single protest to date. For almost a month now, tens of thousands of farmers in India have marched and protested against three bills passed in India's parliament in September. Since their start in late November, the protests have spread from the Indian capital of New Delhi to other parts of the country and garnered global attention. More than 250 million people across India have participated in not only the ongoing protest but in 24-hour strikes to show solidarity. According to Reuters, nearly 30 people have died as a result of freezing temperatures and at least 10 have died in accidents near protest sites

Despite the severe cold weather, farmers from the northern states of Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, and Rajasthan have vowed to stay camped outside of national highways until the laws are repealed. "It's very difficult to camp out in this weather, but we aren't scared," Balbir Singh, an octogenarian from the Patiala district of Punjab, told Reuters. "We won't go back until our demands are met. Even if we have to die here, we will."

The bills in question include the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, the Farmers' Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act. While the first two laws expand on the marketing infrastructure provided by India's state-level governments and enable direct marketing of farm products to processors, aggregators, wholesalers, large retailers, and exporters, the third law works to facilitate the production, movement, and distribution of farm produce by removing existing regulatory barriers. As a result, farmers' already depressed wealth is further reduced.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi argues that under these laws the agricultural system will be streamlined and farmers will have more freedom to sell their goods at any price directly to private businesses, as opposed to having to sell their produce through auction, known as the "mandi system." However, farmers argue that these bills will collectively privatize the agricultural system, making them vulnerable to corporate exploitation.

Additionally, under the new laws large corporations can dominate the market by driving down prices and diminishing any advantage farmers had at setting their own produce prices. This will add to India's growing unemployment and the debt the farming community is already facing.

According to Al Jazeera, many farmers argue the current state-controlled "mandi system" needs reform within the food supply chain to give farmers more options to sell their crops to make a profit, and that these new laws will only further disempower farmers economically and within the agricultural system as a whole.

Despite consistent development in the tech sector, agriculture still remains the largest source of income for most Indians, employing more than one-half of the subcontinent's workforce. However, despite feeding a significant portion of India's economy and people, farmers themselves have struggled for years, often bearing debts and losses as a result of not only marketed goods but severe weather changes resulting from climate change.

While Modi and his corrupt government maintain that these laws will protect farmers, these farmers, who are often elderly, refuse to stop protesting until their demands are met. "We're worried no one will buy our produce, and that we'll go into debt," Harinder Singh, general secretary of a Punjabi farmers union, told NPR. "We want the government to repeal these laws."

Similar to protests in the U.S. in which peaceful demonstrators are met with police-induced violence, protesters in India have faced harsh and violent retaliation from the government. At the start of the protest on Nov. 25 when marchers first reached New Delhi, police officials not only used tear gas and water cannons against protesters but damaged roads outside the city to prevent them from entering. Photos and videos went viral on social media depicting the brutal tactics police officials were using, including beating protesters. Despite this, farmers and their allies continued to march on and were even filmed feeding some of the officers who beat them.

As a result of global attention and the ongoing protest being the largest and longest one in human history, talks between representatives of a farmers union and government officials are scheduled to take place this week. This has come as a shock to many South Asians, as the Modi government is not known to talk about issues and instead inflict violence on protesters of its policies.

While these protests are taking place mainly in India and are in favor of Indian farmers, it is important to note that they impact conditions and people outside of the country. "The pandemic has shown us that there are two economies," Simran Jeet Singh, a scholar of religion and history currently teaching at Union Seminary, told CNN. "Essential workers across the world are suffering. The farmers in India represent all of them, and their resistance to unjust legislation that privileges the uber-wealthy corporations is a resistance that speaks to so many of us all over the world."

Not only is India one of the world's largest producers and exporters of spices, but the places in which these protests are happening lead the world's export in Basmati rice and milk. Outside of food, these herbs are used for homeopathy and medical practices as well. Odds are that something in your home was made in India and would not have been had these farmers been protesting earlier. These protests impact not only the livelihood of farmers in India but also how you receive the goods you use on a daily basis, whether it be spices or cotton found in your clothing or bed sheets.

"Even if you don't feel a personal connection to India or the farmers out there like many of us do, as a human being who lives on earth you should be concerned about exploitation of the people who feed you everyday," Ramanpreet Kaur, a Sikh Punjabi woman in New York, told CNN.

People from all across the world including the U.S. are partaking in solidarity movements with these farmers because even if you do not consume the goods they produce, this is a humanitarian issue. Human beings should always be valued over corporations. A number of nonprofit organizations like Khalsa Aid are working to provide protesters and organizers with food and other supplies. Even if you cannot protest, you can help these farmers in a number of ways, including donating to organizations that help the families impacted such as Sahaita. Whether you are Indian or not should not matter: Exploitation should not be ignored.