I begin my latest post this way:
“As every schoolchild knows, there are three check-and-balance branches of the U.S. government: the executive, Congress, and the judiciary.  That’s bedrock Americanism and the most basic high school civics material.  Only one problem: it’s just not so.
“During the Cold War years and far more strikingly in the twenty-first century, the U.S. government has evolved.  It sprouted a fourth branch: the national security state, whose main characteristic may be an unquenchable urge to expand its power and reach.  Admittedly, it still lacks certain formal prerogatives of governmental power.  Nonetheless, at a time when Congress and the presidency are in a check-and-balance ballet of inactivity that would have been unimaginable to Americans of earlier eras, the Fourth Branch is an ever more unchecked and unbalanced power center in Washington.  Curtained off from accountability by a penumbra of secrecy, its leaders increasingly are making nitty-gritty policy decisions and largely doing what they want, a situation illuminated by a recent controversy over the possible release of a Senate report on CIA rendition and torture practices.
“All of this is or should be obvious, but remains surprisingly unacknowledged in our American world…”
In the rest of the post, I explore the rise of the national security state from World War II to late last night and then consider the recent imbroglio over the Senate Intelligence Committee’s still unreleased “torture report” – and what it tells us about the power of the Fourth Branch (and its limitations). 
This is a subject that should be part of our everyday conversation, but isn’t.  I conclude this way:
“The fact is that, for the Fourth Branch, this remains the age of impunity.  Hidden in a veil of secrecy, bolstered by secret law and secret courts, surrounded by its chosen corporations and politicians, its power to define policy and act as it sees fit in the name of American safety is visibly on the rise.  No matter what setbacks it experiences along the way, its urge to expand and control seems, at the moment, beyond staunching.  In the context of the Senate’s torture report, the question at hand remains: Who rules Washington?”
Here is just part of the beginning of Nick Turse’s sweeping anatomy of how the U.S. and China are moving into Africa:
“While few outside South Sudan would ascribe to Makuei’s notion of a direct East-West proxy war here, his conspiracy theory should, at least, serve as a reminder that U.S. and Chinese interests are at play in this war-torn nation and across Africa as a whole — and that Africans are taking note.  Almost anywhere you look on the continent, you can now find evidence of both the American and the Chinese presence, although they take quite different forms.  The Chinese are pursuing a ruthlessly pragmatic economic power-projection strategy with an emphasis on targeted multilateral interventions in African conflicts.  U.S. policy, in contrast, appears both more muddled and more military-centric, with a heavy focus on counterterrorism efforts meant to bolster amorphous strategic interests. 
“For the last decade, China has used “soft power” — aid, trade, and infrastructure projects — to make major inroads on the continent.  In the process, it has set itself up as the dominant foreign player here.  The U.S., on the other hand, increasingly confronts Africa as a “battlefield” or “battleground” or “war” in the words of the men running its operations. In recent years, there has been a substantial surge in U.S. military activities of every sort, including the setting up of military outposts and both direct and proxy interventions.  These two approaches have produced starkly contrasting results for the powers involved and the rising nations of the continent.  Which one triumphs may have profound implications for all parties in the years ahead.   The differences are, perhaps, nowhere as stark as in the world’s newest nation, South Sudan.”
The rest of his report looks deep into the situation in South Sudan and sweeps across the continent exploring all the ways in which the planet’s sole superpower and preeminent rising economic power are moving into Africa and what the results may be.  This is a major report from TomDispatch.  I hope you’ll give it your fullest attention.

Cash, Weapons and Surveillance: the U.S. is a Key Party to Every Israeli Attack
Glenn Greenwald, at The Intercept, reports: “Over the last decade, the NSA has significantly increased the surveillance assistance it provides to its Israeli counterpart, the Israeli SIGINT National Unit (ISNU; also known as Unit 8200), including data used to monitor and target Palestinians. In many cases, the NSA and ISNU work cooperatively with the British and Canadian spy agencies, the GCHQ and CSEC.”


Cash, Weapons and Surveillance: the U.S. is a Key Party to Every Israeli Attack

Glenn Greenwald, at The Intercept, reports: “Over the last decade, the NSA has significantly increased the surveillance assistance it provides to its Israeli counterpart, the Israeli SIGINT National Unit (ISNU; also known as Unit 8200), including data used to monitor and target Palestinians. In many cases, the NSA and ISNU work cooperatively with the British and Canadian spy agencies, the GCHQ and CSEC.”

TomDispatch regular Noam Chomsky uses the 70th anniversary of Hiroshima Day to explore what nuclear weapons and their “uses” tell us about the fate of humanity.  He begins this way:
“If some extraterrestrial species were compiling a history of Homo sapiens, they might well break their calendar into two eras: BNW (before nuclear weapons) and NWE (the nuclear weapons era).  The latter era, of course, opened on August 6, 1945, the first day of the countdown to what may be the inglorious end of this strange species, which attained the intelligence to discover the effective means to destroy itself, but — so the evidence suggests — not the moral and intellectual capacity to control its worst instincts. 
“Day one of the NWE was marked by the ‘success’ of Little Boy, a simple atomic bomb.  On day four, Nagasaki experienced the technological triumph of Fat Man, a more sophisticated design.  Five days later came what the official Air Force history calls the “grand finale,” a 1,000-plane raid — no mean logistical achievement — attacking Japan’s cities and killing many thousands of people, with leaflets falling among the bombs reading ‘Japan has surrendered.’ Truman announced that surrender before the last B-29 returned to its base.
“Those were the auspicious opening days of the NWE.  As we now enter its 70th year, we should be contemplating with wonder that we have survived.  We can only guess how many years remain.”
In the rest of this remarkable piece, Chomsky explores the grim history of how, over the last 70 years, leaders in Washington have been willing to invoke “national security” and threaten the use of nuclear weapons in a way that has endangered the actual security of all of us.  It’s an instant classic.  Don’t miss it!
TomDispatch regular Chip Ward begins his latest post with a man in his Utah “backyard” who “dances with beavers”:  
“The dance floor is my Utah backyard, which, like most backyards out here, is a watershed.  At its top is the Aquarius Plateau, the horizon I see from my deck, a gracefully rolling forest of pines and aspens that stretches for 50 miles to the south, 20 miles wide at its midpoint, and reaches 11,300 feet at its highest ridge… During a long career with the Bureau of Land Management, Sage Sorenson saw firsthand how beavers created rich green habitat out of overgrazed and burned-over land.  Now retired, he calls himself a ‘beaver believer’ and devotes his days to monitoring and protecting scattered ‘remnant’ beaver colonies in our region. Quietly but persistently, he advocates for their reintroduction onto stressed landscapes that need their services.
“Considering all the benefits beavers bring with them, why haven’t we rushed to return them to their keystone role in the Western landscape?  The simple answer to a complicated question is one word: cows… When beavers re-occupy their historic homelands, they compete with the human economy that once drove them deep into the wilds.”
In the rest of the piece, Ward offers a dramatic tale of how the iconic western cow (representing only 3% of the nation’s beef!) has left the uncharismatic beaver in the lurch in the similarly iconic West and why the simple logic of beaver restoration, and the magic it can bring to dried out lands in a time of great stress largely can’t be brought into effect — yet.
Naomi Oreskes begins her eye-opening look at why natural gas won’t help solve our climate change problems, this way:
“Albert Einstein is rumored to have said that one cannot solve a problem with the same thinking that led to it.  Yet this is precisely what we are now trying to do with climate change policy.  The Obama administration, the Environmental Protection Agency, many environmental groups, and the oil and gas industry all tell us that the way to solve the problem created by fossil fuels is with more fossils fuels.  We can do this, they claim, by using more natural gas, which is touted as a ‘clean’ fuel — even a ‘green’ fuel.  Like most misleading arguments, this one starts from a kernel of truth.”
In the rest of this anatomy of a future energy/climate crisis, Oreskes explores every aspect of the claims that natural gas will be a “bridge” to a clean energy future and a panacea when it comes to global warming.  It’s a genuine tour de force and a deeply nuanced and finally devastating argument against the bet so many, including the Obama administration, are making when it comes to natural gas. 
She concludes her monumental piece this way:
“Sometimes you can fight fire with fire, but the evidence suggests that this isn’t one of those times.  Under current conditions, the increased availability and decreased price of natural gas are likely to lead to an increase in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.  Preliminary data from 2013 suggest that that is already occurring. And global emissions are, of course, continuing to increase as well.
“Insanity is sometimes defined as doing the same thing but expecting a different result. Psychologists define perseveration as repetitive behavior that interferes with learning. Whatever we call it, that seems to be what is happening. And whatever it is, it doesn’t make sense. Natural gas is not the bridge to clean energy; it’s the road to more climate change.”
Don’t miss this one!
TomDispatch regular Peter Van Buren begins his dramatic account of how the president gained the right to dismantle the due process clause of the Bill of Rights and drone-kill an American citizen this way:
“You can’t get more serious about protecting the people from their government than the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution, specifically in its most critical clause: ‘No person shall be… deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.’ In 2011, the White House ordered the drone-killing of American citizen Anwar al-Awlaki without trial. It claimed this was a legal act it is prepared to repeat as necessary. Given the Fifth Amendment, how exactly was this justified? Thanks to a much contested, recently released but significantly redacted — about one-third of the text is missing — Justice Department white paper providing the basis for that extrajudicial killing, we finally know: the president in Post-Constitutional America is now officially judge, jury, and executioner.”
In the rest of the piece, Van Buren explores the puerile logic behind the Justice Department’s finally released white paper on the drone-killing of Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen and considers, among other things, the nature of the job that lawyers do for the modern increasingly king-like office of the president:  
“As medieval kings invoked church sanction to justify evil deeds, so in our modern world lawyers are mobilized to transform government actions that spit in the face of substantive due process — torture, indefinite detention without charge, murder — into something ‘legal.’ Torture morphs into acceptable enhanced interrogation techniques, indefinite detention acquires a quasi-legal stance with the faux-justice of military tribunals, and the convenient murder of a citizen is turned into an act of ‘self-defense.’ However unpalatable Anwar al-Awlaki’s words passed on via the Internet may have been, they would be unlikely to constitute a capital crime in a U.S. court. His killing violated the Fifth Amendment both procedurally and substantively.”
This is a sweeping and powerful end to Van Buren’s necessary series on what’s happened to the Bill of Rights in the post-9/11 era.  Don’t miss it.
Let me just offer you my brief introduction as an explanation for this one: In December 2002, finishing the introduction to his as yet unpublished book The Unconquerable World, Jonathan Schell wrote that the twentieth century was the era in which violence outgrew the war system that had once housed it and became “dysfunctional as a political instrument.  Increasingly, it destroys the ends for which it is employed, killing the user as well as his victim.  It has become the path to hell on earth and the end of the earth.  This is the lesson of the Somme and Verdun, of Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen, of Vorkuta and Kolyma; and it is the lesson, beyond a shadow of a doubt, of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.”
More than a decade later, that remains a crucial, if barely noticed, lesson of our moment.  Jonathan Schell died this March, but he left behind a legacy of reporting and thinking — from The Real War and The Fate of the Earth to The Unconquerable World — about just how, as the power to destroy ratcheted up, war left its traditional boundaries, and what that has meant for us — as well, potentially, as for worlds to come.  In The Unconquerable World, published just before the Bush invasion of Iraq, he went in search of other paths of change, including the nonviolent one, and in doing so he essentially imagined the Arab Spring and caught the essence of both the horrors and possibilities available to us in hard-headed ways that were both prophetic and moving.
Today, partly in honor of his memory (and my memory of him) and partly because I believe his sense of how our world worked then and still works was so acute, this website offers a selection from that book.  Consider it a grim walk down post-9/11 Memory Lane, a moment when Washington chose force as its path to… well, we now know (as Schell foresaw then) that it was indeed a path to hell.

Don’t miss Tom’s birthday post on aging and imperial America today at TomDispatch. Here’s just a snippet:

"Let me put my cards on the table. I’m the guy who started two of his book titles with the phrases ‘the end of’ and ‘the last days of,’ so think of me as apocalyptic by nature. I don’t believe in God or gods, or for that matter an afterlife. In all these years, I’ve never discovered a spiritual bone in my body. Still, I do care in some way that I can’t begin to understand what happens to us after I’m dead, what in particular happens to my children and my grandson, and his children and theirs, too. Go figure.”