School Shootings Are More Common When The Economy Is Bad

Episodes of gun violence at America’s schools are both heartbreaking and disturbingly frequent, but the circumstances that inspire them remain elusive. A new Northwestern University study comes up with at least a partial answer.

It finds such incidents are more common during periods of high unemployment. During an economic downturn, the assumption that a diploma leads to a good job is revealed as false (at least for the moment), leading to frustration, disillusionment, and, sometimes, violence.

“In the last 25 years, there have been two periods of elevated gun violence at schools in the U.S., and the timing of such periods significantly correlates with increased economic insecurity,” writes a research team led by data scientists Adam Pah and Luis Amaral and sociologist John Hagan. “We posit that gun violence at schools is a response, in part, to the breakdown in the expectation that sustained participation in the educational system will improve economic opportunities and outcomes.”

The study, published in the journal Nature Human Behavior, features a newly build data set that identified 381 incidents of gun violence at American schools (all the way from elementary schools to colleges and universities). The list “includes all instances of gun usage, whether someone dies in the course of events or not” between 1990 and 2013.

The researchers found higher rates of gun violence at times of high unemployment. This correlation was found whether unemployment was measured at the national, regional, or city level; it was also found when they looked at two other indicators of economic distress, consumer confidence and the home foreclosure rate.

“The unemployment rate is particularly of interest,” they write, “since it is the single aggregate statistic that captures the difficulties faced by older students in the school-to-work transition, or by students’ families.”

Keep in mind that, for the most part, we’re not talking about mass shootings or gang violence  ― which, together, make up a small fraction of gun-related school violence. According to the data, the majority of such incidents involve the targeting of a specific person  ―  perhaps a former teacher or classmate.

The transition between school and working life is a time of “increasing fragility,” the researchers write. In times of economic distress, these high stress levels are exacerbated, heightening the likelihood that a depressed, angry graduate or dropout will take out his frustrations on his alma mater — with a gun.

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The Recent U.S. Terror Plots You Won’t Hear Donald Trump Talking About

As President Donald Trump struggles to defend his decision to halt refugee resettlement and immigration from seven Muslim-majority nations, it’s become increasingly clear that the executive order he signed on Friday is a solution in search of a problem.

Islamophobia may sell in the White House, but many Americans find it hard to buy his argument that the order will keep out “radical Islamic terrorists” but is “not about religion.” 

No refugee from any country targeted in Trump’s ban has carried out a fatal U.S. terror attack. This fact is inconvenient for Trump. He first proposed what critics ― and reportedly, Trump himself ― referred to as a “Muslim ban” in December 2015, after a Muslim couple killed 14 people in San Bernardino, California.  

Syed Rizwan Farook, the husband, was an American born in Chicago. And Tashfeen Malik, the wife, was a legal permanent resident of the U.S. whose native country, Pakistan, is not included in Trump’s order.

Yet those facts didn’t stop White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer from citing the San Bernardino shooting as a justification for Trump’s ban on immigrants and travelers from other Muslim-majority countries this week.

There’s little factual basis for this anti-immigrant fear-mongering, but it does enable the Trump administration to scapegoat people from a set of countries that have a combined population of 218 million. Only four nations in the world are that populous.

To understand the inconsistencies at work, it’s helpful to consider the terror threats the White House isn’t talking about ― the ones that are part of a wider trend of domestic terrorism motivated by white supremacy and other forms of right-wing extremism. 

First, let’s talk about the fatal attacks carried out by foreigners in the U.S. Between 1975 and 2015, foreign-born terrorists ― including immigrants and tourists ― killed a total of 3,024 people on U.S. soil, according to a 2016 Cato Institute report. All but 41 of those deaths came on Sept. 11, 2001 and the following days.

Three deaths came at the hands of refugees: a pair of political attacks by anti-Castro Cubans in the 1970s. A number of non-fatal terrorist attacks ― including three by refugees from Iran and Somalia, both nations on Trump’s list ― also took place over that time.

Not only is the “death by refugee terrorist” phenomenon extremely rare, but dying in an attack by a foreign-born terrorist is among the least likely causes of death in America over the past four decades. According to the Cato Institute, there’s a 1 in 3.64 billion chance each year of dying in a terror attack carried out by a refugee. 

Cato Institute

Not even sure what fraction of a percent that is.

These astronomical odds speak to the incredible rarity of death by terrorism in the U.S., especially when compared to more common causes, like routine gun violence and even shark attacks. Studies have also shown that new immigrants are generally equally or less likely to commit crimes than their natural-born counterparts. 

Some supporters of Trump’s immigration ban have pointed to terror plots in Europe in the past few years, claiming the new policy is the only way to ensure a refugee never carries out an attack on U.S. soil. Beside the obvious differences between the U.S. and Europe, these arguments often fail to acknowledge the strict vetting system that currently governs refugee resettlement into the United States. The current screening process takes between 18 and 24 months on average, and includes biometric and biographic tests, interviews and database checks carried out by both United Nations and U.S. security agencies. 

But Trump has successfully exploited Islamophobia and irrational paranoia to temporarily close off U.S. borders to people from certain countries. He defended his hasty and chaos-provoking decision by claiming that “bad dudes” would “rush” into the country if he waited (as if there were no national security apparatus to prevent this from happening).

Security experts say the terror threat from refugees and immigrants from the seven countries named in Trump’s ban ― Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen ― isn’t significantly higher than it’s been in the past, and they believe the order is only likely to make threats worse. The president has effectively cast aside the proverbial scalpel in favor of a sledgehammer. Now we’re watching him use it to perform an entirely unnecessary, far-from-surgical procedure.

This approach has created a desperate need for additional context. Between 9/11 and the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando last year, right-wing terror attacks actually claimed more lives than those reportedly motivated by Islamic extremism, according to one frequently cited study. The government defines right-wing terror as activity often motivated by principles of racial supremacy and the embrace of anti-government, anti-regulatory or anti-abortion beliefs.

Recent acts of right-wing terror include the fatal 2012 shooting of 6 people at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, the 2015 killing of 9 people at a historically black church in Charleston, South Carolina, and another 2015 shooting that killed 3 people at a Colorado Planned Parenthood clinic. Authorities disrupted many more plots that the public may have overlooked because they didn’t involve Muslims.

Republicans have played a role in deflecting attention away from far-right terror. In 2009, when former President Barack Obama’s Department of Homeland Security issued a report on right-wing extremist radicalization, GOP leaders blasted language identifying “disgruntled military veterans” as potential targets for terrorist recruitment. Then-DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano eventually apologized to veterans and retracted the report.

The cases below certainly don’t serve as a comprehensive list of every right-wing terror plot uncovered in the past few years, and calling attention to them is not an attempt to paint all men with right-wing beliefs as terrorists intent on killing Muslims or people of color.

Yet as long as the White House continues to focus exclusively on terrorist acts by people who claim to be acting in the name of Islam ― and on the least likely sources of such terrorism, like refugees ― Muslims in the U.S. and around the world will continue to be unfairly demonized. Critics say this is likely to complicate the fight against legitimate terror threats and inspire more terrorism, both foreign and domestic.

Sedgwick County Sheriffs Office

Left to right: Curtis Allen, Gavin Wright and Patrick Eugene Stein in booking photos provided on Oct. 15, 2016. The men were part of a white supremacist group and allegedly planned to bomb an apartment complex full of Somali immigrants.

In October, Patrick Stein, Gavin Wright and Curtis Allen were arrested and charged with conspiring to detonate a truck bomb in a Kansas apartment complex where more than 100 Somali immigrants lived.

All three were members of a white supremacist group called “The Crusaders.” The group espoused “sovereign citizen, anti-government, anti-Muslim, and anti-immigrant extremist beliefs,” according to an FBI agent’s affidavit. Authorities have since filed additional firearms charges against the defendants, who have all pleaded not guilty. 

Brian Snyder/Reuters

Kumba Mboma and Lucinda Maywood hug at a makeshift memorial outside the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina on June 20, 2015, three days after a mass shooting left nine people dead during a bible study.

Federal authorities arrested Ronald Chaney III, Robert Curtis Doyle and Charles Halderman in November 2015 after they allegedly tried to buy an automatic weapon, explosives and a pistol with a silencer from undercover agents. The men had discussed a plot to attack black churches and Jewish synagogues, which they justified as a necessary assault in “an impending race war.” All three suspects later pleaded guilty.

Mecklenberg County Sheriff

Left to right: Walter Eugene Litteral, Christopher Todd Campbell and Christopher James Barker.

Federal agents arrested Walter Eugene Litteral, Christopher James Barker and Christopher Todd Campbell in August 2015, after discovering a plot to manufacture explosives and purchase weapons and body armor to kill members of law enforcement and the U.S. military.

The men believed “the federal government intended to use the armed forces to impose martial law in the United States, which they and others would resist with violent force,” according to court documents. They believed this as part of a popular conspiracy theory regarding a multi-state military exercise known as Jade Helm. All three defendants later pleaded guilty and were sentenced to less than two years in prison.

St Louis Police

David Michael Hagler allegedly planned to target law enforcement officers and had “extreme anti-government” views.

Police and FBI agents raided a home in St. Louis in March 2015 after informants revealed that its owner, David Michael Hagler, had discussed plans to go on a killing spree targeting members of law enforcement at funerals and fundraisers. 

Informants said Hagler held “extreme anti-government and anti-law enforcement views,” and had recently hardened his rhetoric against minorities and Muslims. Police were concerned they’d find explosives, booby traps and assault rifles at Hagler’s home, but an extensive search only turned up other firearms. Hagler later pleaded guilty and was sentenced to a year in prison in February 2016.

Hamilton County Jail

Robert Doggart, a political candidate who allegedly planned to “inflict horrible numbers of casualties upon the enemies of our Nation and World Peace.”

Robert Doggart, of Sequatchie County, Tennessee, was charged in 2015 for allegedly plotting with associates to lay siege to Islamberg, an Islamic community in upstate New York.

Doggart, a former congressional candidate, allegedly planned to use assault rifles, firebombs and even machetes to “inflict horrible numbers of casualties upon the enemies of our Nation and World Peace,” according to court documents. His trial is set to begin next month.

David McNew via Getty Images

Members of the white supremacist National Socialist Movement hold swastika flags at an anti-immigration rally in Riverside, California, in 2009.

In July 2014, Pennsylvania police found approximately 20 improvised explosive devices at the house of Eric Charles Smith, a man with white supremacist ties whom authorities had previously arrested. Federal officials also discovered Nazi paraphernalia and literature suggesting Smith had been hosting meeting for a group called the “White Church Supremacists.”

One of the bombs included a message reading “(Expletive) the government — down with Obama (racial slur) Muslim Pig,” according to police. Smith pleaded guilty and was later sentenced to more than 7 years in prison.

Rensselaer County Jail

Shane Robert Smith allegedly plotted to form a “hit squad” to murder minorities and Jewish people.

Shane Robert Smith was arrested in August 2015 after allegedly amassing an arsenal of machine guns, semi-automatics, armor-piercing ammunition and silencers to form a “hit squad” to murder minorities and Jewish people. Officials said that the teen’s social media accounts were littered with hate speech against the groups he may have intended to target. Smith pleaded guilty in 2016 and has been sentenced to 3 years in prison. 

Violence and radicalism are complicated forces, often driven by complex social and political conditions and inflamed by personal factors. No single radical, or even group of them, can define a race, religion or belief system.

But extremism in any form can be a threat to U.S. security, and Trump says he’s simply pursuing the impossibly ambitious goal of keeping all Americans safe. If he truly wants to do that, he should be more consistent in acknowledging all potential sources of terror. Most importantly, he must not encourage further extremism, whether carried out in the name of Islam or in opposition to it.

Portions of this piece were published in a previous story on right-wing terror plots.

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Outspeak: News Roundup for January 30, 2017

Well, the world went to shit over the weekend…

1. Six people are dead and eight wounded after a gunman opened fire in a Québec mosque on Sunday. This shit has spread to Canada. More here.

2. Philippine police plan to suspend their drug war while they work to clean up their corruption. Might want to do something about their bloodthirsty president while they’re at it. More here.

3. Far left ‘rebel’, Benoît Hamon, has been chosen as the French Socialist Party’s presidential candidate. Maybe the French will lead the charge against the extreme right? More here.

4. One million Brits have signed a petition demanding that Theresa May cancel Donald Trump’s planned state visit. So far… she’s hasn’t. More here.

5. Steve Bannon has been given a seat on the National Security Council by Donald Trump. This is beyond a joke. More here.

Thousands Of Canadians Gather At Vigils For Mosque Attack Victims

Canadians held vigils across the country Monday in a show of solidarity with the nation’s Muslim communities and to mourn the victims of a shooting at the Quebec City Islamic Cultural Center.

The attack during evening prayers Sunday night killed six people and left eight wounded. It is one of the worst mass shootings in Canada’s history.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and local government officials attended a vigil a block from the Quebec City mosque. Thousands gathered in Montreal at vigils near the city’s Parc and St. Michel metro stations. 

“We stand with you, we love you and we support you. And we will always defend and protect your right to gather together and pray, today and every day,” Trudeau said in Quebec City. “Muslim Canadians are valued members of every community, and wherever they live they deserve to feel welcome and safe. They are home here.”

Events were also planned at Parliament Hill in the nation’s capital, Ottawa, and in the cities of Vancouver, Calgary and Halifax, among others. Flags were lowered at city halls around the country, and Canadians left flowers at multiple mosques to express support.

In Canada’s largest city, Toronto, residents held a candlelight vigil and walk for the victims of the attack. Earlier Monday, hundreds demonstrated outside the U.S. Consulate in Toronto to oppose President Donald Trump’s ban on Syrian refugees and travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries. The protest also expressed sympathy for the victims of the Quebec shooting, organizers said. 

Canada’s less populated northern territories, too, held vigils to condemn the attacks and mourn. A midday rally outside the remote city of Iqaluit’s only mosque, in the territory of Nunavut, drew dozens of people.

Similar vigils were planned for the northern cities of Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories and Yukon’s capital of Whitehorse.  

Terrorist attacks and mass shootings are relatively rare in Canada, and the killings have shocked many citizens in a country that supports diversity and tolerance. Muslim community leaders condemned the attack Monday and said that Canadians must confront Islamophobia, something anti-discrimination activists have previously warned is a growing issue in Quebec.

Trudeau described the shooting as “a terrorist attack on Muslims” and pledged his support for victims and all Muslim Canadians in a statement Sunday. Numerous officials in cities and provinces around Canada also issued statements of condolences, and major party leaders echoed Trudeau’s calls to stand by the country’s Muslim population. 

Police arrested Alexandre Bissonnette, a French-Canadian university student, in connection with the attack. Authorities declined to speculate on possible motives. The mosque had been the target of an Islamophobic incident last June, when a pig’s head was placed in front of it during Ramadan. The mosque’s vice president, Mohamed Labidi, said Monday that security has been a major concern for the center. 

In addition to vigils, Canadians and government officials set up a number of other tributes and memorials to those killed in the attack. The Quebec government made a book of condolences online to collect messages from the public in memory of the victims. Montreal’s city hall announced it would turn off its lights Monday night in solidarity with the Muslim community, while Quebec City set up a Web page to collect donations for the victim’s families.

A moment of silence was held in Montreal’s city hall before Mayor Denis Coderre met with leaders of the local Muslim community.

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William J. Astore: Trump’s America: A Violent Cesspool Of Our Own Making

Weapons, Warriors, and Fear as the New Order in America
Cross-posted with TomDispatch.com

I came of age during America’s Cold War with the Soviet Union, witnessing its denouement while serving in the U.S. military. In those days, the USSR led the world’s weapons trade, providing arms to the Warsaw Pact (the military alliance it dominated) as well as to client states like Cuba, Egypt, and Syria.  The United States usually came in second in arms dealing, a dubious silver medal that could, at least, be rationalized as a justifiable response to Soviet aggression, part of the necessary price for a longstanding policy of “containment.” In 1983, President Ronald Reagan had dubbed the Soviet Union an “evil empire” in part because of its militarism and aggressive push to sell weaponry around the globe, often accompanied by Soviet troops, ostensibly as trainers and advisers.

After the USSR imploded in 1991, dominating the world’s arms trade somehow came to seem so much less evil. In fact, faced with large trade deficits, a powerful military-industrial complex looking for markets, and ever more global military commitments, Washington actively sought to promote and sell American-made weaponry on a remarkable scale. And in that it succeeded admirably.

Today, when it comes to building and exporting murderous weaponry, no other country, not even that evil-empire-substitute, Vladimir Putin’s Russia, comes faintly close.  The U.S. doth bestride the world of arms production and dealing like a colossus. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, U.S. arms contractors sold $209.7 billion in weaponry in 2015, representing 56% of the world’s production.  Of that, $40 billion was exported to an array of countries, representing “half of all agreements in the worldwide arms bazaar,” as the New York Times put it.  France ($15 billion) was a distant second, with Putin’s Russia ($11 billion) earning a weak third.  Judged by the sheer amount of weapons it produces for itself, as well as for others, the U.S., notes Forbes, is “still comfortably the world’s superpower — or warmonger, depending on how you look at it.” Indeed, under President Obama, in the five-year period beginning in 2010, American arms exports outpaced the figures for the previous Bush-Cheney years by 23%. 

Not only has the U.S. come to dominate the arms trade in an almost monopolistic fashion over the last two decades, but it has also become the top exporter of troops globally.  Leaving aside the ongoing, seemingly endless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. continues to garrison the globe with approximately 800 military bases, while deploying its Special Operations forces to a significant majority of the planet’s countries annually.  As TomDispatch’s Nick Turse reported recently, “From Albania to Uruguay, Algeria to Uzbekistan, America’s most elite forces — Navy SEALs and Army Green Berets among them — were deployed to 138 countries in 2016.”  Think about that: last year, U.S. Special Operations troops were sent to more than two-thirds of the approximately 190 countries on the planet.  While some of these deployments were small, others were more impressive — and invasive — and often enough dovetailed with efforts to sell weaponry (which even has its own military acronym: FMS, or foreign military sales). 

Recall those Red Army trainers and advisers who often accompanied Soviet weaponry into the field a generation ago.  These days, travel the planet and the trainers and advisers you’ll see are overwhelmingly likely to be wearing U.S. uniforms or at least to be contractors working for Pentagon-allied, U.S.-based warrior-corporations.  Testing, touting, and toting American-made arms in far-flung realms is the common mission of the U.S. military these days, and business is booming. 

If all of this were to be summarized under one rubric, it might be Weapons & Warriors “R” Us, and it’s not just an international phenomenon.  Consider the surge in the production and sale of guns in the good old US of A.  It’s now estimated that there are more than 300 million weapons in American hands, nearly enough to arm every citizen, the tall and the small (even tots).  That old chestnut associated with early advertising for Colt Manufacturing has truly come into its own in twenty-first-century America: God created men; Sam Colt made them equal. 

These days, arms are everywhere, even prospectively in public schools, which, as Betsy DeVos pointed out recently in her confirmation hearings for secretary of education, should certainly be armed against “lone wolf” grizzly bears (if not Islamic terrorists).  Even liberals are now reportedly getting into the act, scarfing up guns in the aftermath of November’s election, apparently gripped by the rising fear of a coming Trumpocalypse.  This national mania for guns (and for carrying them everywhere) is mirrored by an abundance of domestic prisons and security firms, offering jobs that, unlike those in steel mills and manufacturing plants, can’t easily be outsourced to foreign lands.

Since the end of the Cold War, America has been exporting a mirror image of its domestic self: not the classic combo of democracy and freedom, but guns, prisons, and security forces. Globally, the label “Made in the USA” has increasingly come to be associated with violence and war (as well, of course, as Hollywood action flicks sporting things that go boom in the night).  Such exports are now so commonplace that, in some cases, Washington has even ended up arming our enemies. Just consider the hundreds of thousands of small arms sent to Iraq and Afghanistan that were simply lost track of.  (Many of them evidently ended up on sale at local black markets.) Or consider the weapons and equipment Washington provided to Iraq’s security forces, only to see them abandoned on the battlefield and captured by ISIS. Look as well at prisons like Gitmo (which Donald Trump has no intention of ever closing), Abu Ghraib, and an unknown number of black sites that were in some of these years used for rendition, detention, and torture, and gave the U.S. a reputation in the world that may prove indelible. And, of course, American-made weaponry like tear gas canisters and bombs (including cluster munitions) that regularly finds its way onto foreign soil in places like Yemen and, in the case of the tear gas, Egypt, proudly sporting those “Made in the USA” labels.   

Strangely, most Americans remain either willfully ignorant of, or indifferent to, what their country is becoming. That American-made weaponry is everywhere, that America’s warriors are all over the globe, that America’s domestic prisons are bursting with more than two million captives, is even taken by some as a point of pride. 

The New World Order

This is not the “new world order” I envisioned in 1991, when the Soviet Union was collapsing.  Back then, I was a young captain in the U.S. Air Force, and my fellow Americans were talking boldly not of arms and war, but of a “peace dividend.”  Hawks like Jeanne Kirkpatrick, who served as U.N. ambassador under Ronald Reagan, were waxing philosophical about the possibility of the U.S. shedding its worldwide military commitments to become a normal country in normal times.  There was even a fair amount of elevated discussion about whether we hadn’t reached the “end of history” and the inevitable, eternal triumph of liberal democracy.  None of it, of course, was to be.

America’s leaders made a fateful choice on a planet that seemed, after so many centuries of imperial rivalries, to have no foes worthy of the name. No longer contained by the Soviet threat, they embraced with awed enthusiasm their self-perceived destiny as the planet’s global hegemon.  It didn’t matter whether the president was Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, or Barack Obama: all of them embraced the myth of American exceptionalism, which in this context meant the unique role the United States naturally was to play as the dominant power on an otherwise rudderless, waiting planet.  That kind of exceptionalism and the resistance it engendered led such leaders to embrace and fund in staggering ways our much-lauded “warriors” and the machinery of war that went with them. And with that, in the twenty-first century, came an ethos of never-ending conflict aggravated by a steady drip-drip-drip of fear.

Year by year, in the aftermath of September 11, 2001, a mind-killing blanket of fear only spread further and deeper in American society.  Al-Qaeda, anthrax, shoe bombers, underwear bombers, ISIS, lone wolves, vehicles as weapons, and more fed public fear and lent support to the rise of the national security state, whose growing power was eternally justified in the name of keeping us safe from a single confounding phenomenon: “radical Islamic terrorism.”

Threat inflation was, in these years, the name of the game, as fear of the Other (particularly the Islamic Other) continued to rise precipitously, including, of course, fear of an allegedly un-American president.  It’s no accident that U.S. gun purchases surged after Obama’s election in 2008 and reelection in 2012.

In this febrile and fetid climate of fear, is it any wonder that a “birther” bully like Donald Trump rose to prominence?  Triumph of the Will, indeed.

Bullyboy Trump and the Loss of American Idealism

It’s no secret that Donald J. Trump takes pleasure in bullying people he sees as weak and vulnerable.  It’s all out in the open.  He’s mocked the disabled.  Boasted of grabbing pussy whenever he desires.  Called for torture.  Suggested that terrorists’ families should be murdered.  All this, and much more, seems to have won him admiration in certain quarters in this country.

Why?  Because increasingly Americans are submerged in a violent cesspool of our own making.  As a man who knows how to stoke fear as well as exploit it, President Trump fits into such an atmosphere amazingly well. With a sense of how to belittle, insult, and threaten, he has a knack for inflaming and exploiting America’s collective dark side.

But think of Trump as more symptom than cause, the outward manifestation of an inner spiritual disease that continues to eat away at the country’s societal matrix.  A sign of this unease is America’s most popular superhero of the moment.  He even has a new Lego movie coming.  Yes, it’s Batman, the vigilante alter-ego of Bruce Wayne, ultra-rich philanthropist and CEO of Wayne Enterprises.

The popularity of Batman, Gotham City’s Dark Knight, reflects America’s fractured ethos of anger, pain, and violence.  Americans find common cause in his tortured psyche, his need for vengeance, his extreme version of justice.  But at least billionaire Bruce Wayne had some regard for the vulnerable and unfortunate.  America now has a darker knight than that in Donald J. Trump, a man who mocks and assaults those he sees as beneath him, a man whose utterances sound more like a Batman villain, a man who doesn’t believe in heroes — only in himself.

The Dark Knight may yet become, under Trump, a genuine dark night for America’s collective soul. Like Batman, Trump is a product of Gotham City.  And if this country is increasingly Gotham City writ large, shining the Batman symbol worldwide and having billionaire Trump and his sidekick (General Michael Flynn?) answer the beacon is a prospect that should be more than a little unnerving.

It wasn’t that long ago that another superhero represented America: Superman.  Chivalrous, noble, compassionate, he fought without irony for truth, justice, and the American way.  And his alter ego, of course, was mild-mannered Clark Kent, a reporter no less.  (In Trump’s America, imagine the likelihood of reporters being celebrated as freedom fighters as they struggle to hold the powerful accountable.)  Perhaps it’s more telling than its makers knew that in last year’s dreary slugfest of a movie, Batman v Superman, the bat rode high while the son of Krypton ended up six feet under.

Let me, in this context, return to that moment when the Cold War ended.  Twenty-five years ago, I served as escort officer to General Robinson Risner as he spoke to cadets at the U.S. Air Force Academy.  Risner’s long and resolute endurance as a prisoner of war during the Vietnam War (captured in his memoir, The Passing of the Night) had made him something of a real-life superhero to us then.  He talked to the cadets about public service, love of country, and faith in God — noble virtues, based on humility, grace, and inner strength.  As I look back to that night, as I remember how General Risner spoke with quiet dignity of the virtues of service and sacrifice, I ask myself how America today could have become such a land of weapons and warriors, guns and gun exports, prisons and fear, led by a boastful and boorish bullyboy.

How did America’s ideals become so twisted?  And how do we regain our nobility of purpose?  One thing is certain: the current path, the one of ever greater military spending, of border walls and extreme vetting, of vilification of the Other, justified in terms of toughness and “winning,” will lead only to further violence — and darker (k)nights.  

A retired lieutenant colonel (USAF) and professor of history, Astore is a TomDispatch regular.  His personal blog is Bracing Views.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, John Feffer’s dystopian novel Splinterlands, as well as Nick Turse’s Next Time They’ll Come to Count the Dead, and Tom Engelhardt’s latest book, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.

Stop The Violence Foundation Youth Center

The Corpus Christi church in Buffalo wants to make the most out of additional buildings it runs, and one building that seems to have the most promise is an older athletic center.

The athletic center on Sears Street boasts an indoor basketball court and a bowling alley.

Church leaders are now working with a group called the Stop the Violence Foundation to see how they can work together at reducing violence in Buffalo.

One idea, for example, came from Bishop Perry Davis, who suggested a Hoops for Peace tournament in February.

“You don’t want to change the minds of the kids, but you want to give a kid somewhere to go and something to do,”
he said. “That’s going to keep them off the streets. That’s going to keep their minds occupied, and that will hopefully save lives with what we’re doing here.”

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