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  • Trump Is Right: Our Generals Haven't "Done the Job"

    This story first appeared on the TomDispatch website.

    President-elect Donald Trump's message for the nation's senior military leadership is ambiguously unambiguous. Here is he on 60 Minutes just days after the election.

    Trump: "We have some great generals. We have great generals."

    Lesley Stahl: "You said you knew more than the generals about ISIS."

    Trump: "Well, I'll be honest with you, I probably do because look at the job they've done. Okay, look at the job they've done. They haven't done the job."

    In reality, Trump, the former reality show host, knows next to nothing about ISIS—one of many gaps in his education that his impending encounter with actual reality is likely to fill. Yet when it comes to America's generals, our president-to-be is onto something. No doubt our three- and four-star officers qualify as "great" in the sense that they mean well, work hard, and are altogether fine men and women. That they have not "done the job," however, is indisputable—at least if their job is to bring America's wars to a timely and successful conclusion.

    Trump's unhappy verdict—that the senior US military leadership doesn't know how to win—applies in spades to the two principal conflicts of the post-9/11 era: the Afghanistan War (now in its 16th year) and the Iraq War, which was launched in 2003 and (after a brief hiatus) is once more grinding on. Yet the verdict applies equally to lesser theaters of conflict, largely overlooked by the American public, that in recent years have engaged the attention of US forces—a list that would include conflicts in Libya, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen.

    Granted, our generals have demonstrated an impressive aptitude for moving pieces around on a dauntingly complex military chessboard. Brigades, battle groups, and squadrons shuttle in and out of various war zones, responding to the needs of the moment. The sheer immensity of the enterprise across the Greater Middle East and northern Africa—the sorties flown, munitions expended, the seamless deployment and redeployment of thousands of troops over thousands of miles, the vast stockpiles of material positioned, expended, and continuously resupplied—represents a staggering achievement. Measured by these or similar quantifiable outputs, America's military has excelled. No other military establishment in history could have come close to duplicating the logistical feats being performed year in, year out by the armed forces of the United States.

    Nor should we overlook the resulting body count. Since the autumn of 2001, something like 370,000 combatants and noncombatants have been killed in the various theaters of operations where US forces have been active. Although modest by 20th-century standards, this post-9/11 harvest of death is hardly trivial.

    Yet in evaluating military operations, it's a mistake to confuse how much with how well. Only rarely do the outcomes of armed conflicts turn on comparative statistics. Ultimately, the one measure of success that really matters involves achieving war's political purposes. By that standard, victory requires not simply the defeat of the enemy, but accomplishing the nation's stated war aims, and not just in part or temporarily but definitively. Anything less constitutes failure, not to mention utter waste for taxpayers, and for those called upon to fight, it constitutes cause for mourning.

    By that standard, having been "at war" for virtually the entire 21st century, the United States military is still looking for its first win. And however strong the disinclination to concede that Donald Trump could be right about anything, his verdict on American generalship qualifies as apt.

    That verdict brings to mind three questions. First, with Trump a rare exception, why have the recurring shortcomings of America's military leadership largely escaped notice? Second, to what degree does faulty generalship suffice to explain why actual victory has proved so elusive? Third, to the extent that deficiencies at the top of the military hierarchy bear directly on the outcome of our wars, how might the generals improve their game?

    As to the first question, the explanation is quite simple: During protracted wars, traditional standards for measuring generalship lose their salience.  Without pertinent standards, there can be no accountability. Absent accountability, failings and weaknesses escape notice. Eventually, what you've become accustomed to seems tolerable. Twenty-first-century Americans inured to wars that never end have long since forgotten that bringing such conflicts to a prompt and successful conclusion once defined the very essence of what generals were expected to do.

    Senior military officers were presumed to possess unique expertise in designing campaigns and directing engagements. Not found among mere civilians or even among soldiers of lesser rank, this expertise provided the rationale for conferring status and authority on generals.

    In earlier eras, the very structure of wars provided a relatively straightforward mechanism for testing such claims to expertise. Events on the battlefield rendered harsh judgments, creating or destroying reputations with brutal efficiency. Back then, standards employed in evaluating generalship were clear-cut and uncompromising. Those who won battles earned fame, glory, and the gratitude of their countrymen. Those who lost battles got fired or were put out to pasture.

    During the Civil War, for example, Abraham Lincoln did not need an advanced degree in strategic studies to conclude that Union generals like John Pope, Ambrose Burnside, and Joseph Hooker didn't have what it took to defeat the Army of Northern Virginia. Humiliating defeats sustained by the Army of the Potomac at the Second Bull Run, Fredericksburg, and Chancellorsville made that obvious enough. Similarly, the victories Ulysses S. Grant and William T. Sherman gained at Shiloh, at Vicksburg, and in the Chattanooga campaign strongly suggested that here was the team to which the president could entrust the task of bringing the Confederacy to its knees.

    Today, public drunkenness, petty corruption, or sexual shenanigans with a subordinate might land generals in hot water. But as long as they avoid egregious misbehavior, senior officers charged with prosecuting America's wars are largely spared judgments of any sort. Trying hard is enough to get a passing grade.

    With the country's political leaders and public conditioned to conflicts seemingly destined to drag on for years, if not decades, no one expects the current general in chief in Iraq or Afghanistan to bring things to a successful conclusion. His job is merely to manage the situation until he passes it along to a successor, while duly adding to his collection of personal decorations and perhaps advancing his career.

    Today, for example, Army General John Nicholson commands US and allied forces in Afghanistan. He's only the latest in a long line of senior officers to preside over that war, beginning with General Tommy Franks in 2001 and continuing with Generals Mikolashek, Barno, Eikenberry, McNeill, McKiernan, McChrystal, Petraeus, Allen, Dunford, and Campbell. The title carried by these officers changed over time. So, too, did the specifics of their "mission" as Operation Enduring Freedom evolved into Operation Freedom's Sentinel. Yet even as expectations slipped lower and lower, none of the commanders rotating through Kabul delivered. Not a single one has, in our president-elect's concise formulation, "done the job." Indeed, it's increasingly difficult to know what that job is, apart from preventing the Taliban from quite literally toppling the government.

    In Iraq, meanwhile, Army Lt. General Stephen Townsend currently serves as the—count 'em—ninth American to command US and coalition forces in that country since the George W. Bush administration ordered the invasion of 2003. The first in that line, (once again) General Tommy Franks, overthrew the Saddam Hussein regime and thereby broke Iraq. The next five, Generals Sanchez, Casey, Petraeus, Odierno, and Austin, labored for eight years to put it back together again.

    At the end of 2011, President Obama declared that they had done just that and terminated the US military occupation. The Islamic State soon exposed Obama's claim as specious when its militants put a US-trained Iraqi army to flight and annexed large swaths of Iraqi territory. Following in the footsteps of his immediate predecessors Generals James Terry and Sean MacFarland, General Townsend now shoulders the task of trying to restore Iraq's status as a more or less genuinely sovereign state. He directs what the Pentagon calls Operation Inherent Resolve, dating from June 2014, the follow-on to Operation New Dawn (September 2010 to December 2011), which was itself the successor to Operation Iraqi Freedom (March 2003 to August 2010).

    When and how Inherent Resolve will conclude is difficult to forecast. This much we can, however, say with some confidence: With the end nowhere in sight, General Townsend won't be its last commander. Other generals are waiting in the wings with their own careers to polish. As in Kabul, the parade of US military commanders through Baghdad will continue.

    For some readers, this listing of mostly forgotten names and dates may have a soporific effect. Yet it should also drive home Trump's point. The United States may today have the world's most powerful and capable military—so, at least, we are constantly told. Yet the record shows that it does not have a corps of senior officers who know how to translate capability into successful outcomes.

    That brings us to the second question: Even if Commander in Chief Trump were somehow able to identify modern-day equivalents of Grant and Sherman to implement his war plans, secret or otherwise, would they deliver victory?

    On that score, we would do well to entertain doubts. Although senior officers charged with running recent American wars have not exactly covered themselves in glory, it doesn't follow that their shortcomings offer the sole or even a principal explanation for why those wars have yielded such disappointing results. The truth is that some wars aren't winnable and shouldn't be fought.

    So, yes, Trump's critique of American generalship possesses merit, but whether he knows it or not, the question truly demanding his attention as the incoming commander in chief isn't "Who should I hire (or fire) to fight my wars?" Instead, far more urgent is, "Does further war promise to solve any of my problems?"

    One mark of a successful business executive is knowing when to cut your losses. It's also the mark of a successful statesman. Trump claims to be the former. Whether his putative business savvy will translate into the world of statecraft remains to be seen. Early signs are not promising.

    As a candidate, Trump vowed to "defeat radical Islamic terrorism," destroy ISIS, "decimate Al Qaeda," and "starve funding for Iran-backed Hamas and Hezbollah." Those promises imply a significant escalation of what Americans used to call the "global war on terrorism."

    Toward that end, the incoming administration may well revive some aspects of the George W. Bush playbook, including repopulating the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and "if it's so important to the American people," reinstituting torture. The Trump administration will at least consider re-imposing sanctions on countries like Iran. It may aggressively exploit the offensive potential of cyberweapons, betting that America's cyberdefenses will hold.

    Yet President Trump is also likely to double down on the use of conventional military force. In that regard, his promise to "quickly and decisively bomb the hell out of ISIS" offers a hint of what is to come. His appointment of the uber-hawkish Lt. General Michael Flynn as his national security adviser and his selection of retired Marine Corps General James ("Mad Dog”) Mattis as defense secretary suggest that he means what he says.

    In sum, a Trump administration seems unlikely to reexamine the conviction that the problems roiling the Greater Middle East will someday, somehow yield to a US-imposed military solution. Indeed, in the face of massive evidence to the contrary, that conviction will deepen, with genuinely ironic implications for the Trump presidency.

    In the immediate wake of 9/11, George W. Bush concocted a fantasy of American soldiers liberating oppressed Afghans and Iraqis and thereby "draining the swamp" that served to incubate anti-Western terrorism. The results were beyond disappointing, while the costs exacted in terms of lives and dollars squandered were painful indeed. Incrementally, with the passage of time, many Americans concluded that perhaps the swamp most in need of attention was not on the far side of the planet but much closer at hand—right in the imperial city nestled alongside the Potomac River.

    To a very considerable extent, Trump defeated Hillary Clinton, the preferred candidate of the establishment, because he advertised himself as just the guy disgruntled Americans could count on to drain that swamp. Yet here's what too few of those Americans appreciate, even today: War created the swamp in the first place. War empowers Washington. It centralizes. It provides a rationale for federal authorities to accumulate and exercise new powers. It makes government bigger and more intrusive. It lubricates the machinery of waste, fraud, and abuse that causes tens of billions of taxpayer dollars to vanish every year. When it comes to sustaining the swamp, nothing works better than war.

    Were Trump really intent on draining that swamp—if he genuinely seeks to "Make America Great Again"— then he would extricate the United States from war. His liquidation of Trump University, which was to higher education what Freedom's Sentinel and Inherent Resolve are to modern warfare, provides a potentially instructive precedent for how to proceed.

    But don't hold your breath. All signs indicate that, in one fashion or another, our combative next president will perpetuate the wars he's inheriting. Trump may fancy that, as a veteran of Celebrity Apprentice (but not of military service), he possesses a special knack for spotting the next Grant or Sherman. But acting on that impulse will merely replenish the swamp in the Greater Middle East, along with the one in Washington. And soon enough, those who elected him with expectations of seeing the much-despised establishment dismantled will realize that they've been had.

    Which brings us, finally, to that third question: To the extent that deficiencies at the top of the military hierarchy do affect the outcome of wars, what can be done to fix the problem?

    The most expeditious approach: Purge all currently serving three- and four-star officers. Then, make a precondition for promotion to those ranks confinement in a reeducation camp run by Iraq and Afghanistan war amputees, with a curriculum designed by Veterans for Peace. Graduation should require each student to submit an essay reflecting on these words of wisdom from Grant himself: "There never was a time when, in my opinion, some way could not be found to prevent the drawing of the sword.”

    True, such an approach may seem a bit draconian. But this is no time for half measures—as even Donald Trump may eventually recognize.

    Andrew J. Bacevich is professor emeritus of history and international relations at Boston University. His most recent book is America's War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History.



  • These Are the Books We're Giving Our Friends This Year

    Every year, Mother Jones receives hundreds of worthy books, but there are always a handful that truly stand out, the ones we end up foisting on friends and family. Well, friends and family, here you go, in no particular order. Also, be sure and check out the Best Cookbooks post by food and ag writer Tom Philpott, and stay tuned for photo book picks from photo editor Mark Murrmann and the year's best music from critic Jon Young (on Sunday).

    The Hopefuls, by Jennifer Close. Beth, the twentysomething protagonist of Jennifer Close's wryly observed new novel, is an aspiring journalist loving life in New York City. But when her husband, Matt, gets a job in the Obama administration, Beth reluctantly agrees to follow him to DC. Thanks to Close's eye for detail, The Hopefuls is like a still life of Washington in 2008. She masterfully captures both the contagious enthusiasm and wonky snobbery of DC's rising political stars and their hangers-on. One character is forever telling anecdotes about senior Obama adviser David Axelrod, pretentiously referring to him as "Ax." Another refers to Obama as "the senator"—a subtle humble brag that he's worked for the president since way back when. Beth is miserable in this dreary social circle—until she and her husband click with a charismatic couple from Texas. And before she knows it, Beth herself is swept into this world of political strivers. Ultimately, The Hopefuls is as much about friendship as it is about politics—and about what happens when the two collide. —Kiera Butler, senior editor

    My Father, the Pornographer, by Chris Offutt. This memoir is not a salacious romp, as the cover might suggest, but a slow-burning examination of Chris Offutt's strained relationship with his late dad, a prolific author of smut and sci-fi. Offutt focuses less on the giant pile of kinky material he inherited than how it affected his childhood, his family, and his sense of self. His final plunge into his father's most secret, and shameful, obsessions is worth the wait. —Dave Gilson, senior editor

    Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War, by Mary Roach. This latest book from the perpetually curious Mary Roach looks at the weird yet deadly serious science of keeping soldiers alive. In a globe-trotting tour of labs, training grounds, and a nuclear sub, Roach explores how fighting men and women sweat, sleep, and poop. "No one wins a medal" for this obscure, often gross, survival research, Roach writes. "And maybe someone should." Like her previous books Gulp and Stiff, Grunt oozes bodily fluids, flippant footnotes, and weapons-grade wordplay. —D.G.

    The Arab of the Future 2: A Childhood in the Middle East, 1984-1985, by Riad Sattouf & Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, by Marcelino Truong. Two of the most affecting memoirs of the year are graphic novels by French cartoonists who grew up astride two cultures. The Arab of the Future 2 picks up where its predecessor left off: Riad Sattouf, the adorable six-year-old son of a Syrian father and a French mother, is adjusting to his new life in his father's village outside Homs in the mid-1980s. Sattouf's bubbly illustrations belie the bleakness of his surroundings, and the violence and misogyny he witnesses.

    Marcelino Truong's beautifully illustrated tale follows him and his two siblings in their move to Saigon as the Vietnam War heats up. While the kids are enthralled by the war and oblivious to its horrors, their French-born mother breaks down as she sees just how quickly things are falling apart. The two authors' artistic and narrative sensibilities differ, but their work is united by common themes: surreal childhoods amid geopolitical conflict (Sattouf and his playmates battle the Israeli Army; Truong and his cousins pretend to fight the Viet Cong) and idealistic fathers (Sattouf's dad is a Qaddafi- and Saddam-admiring pan-Arabist, while Truong's is an official in the US-backed South Vietnamese government) who are blind to the strife afflicting their countries—and families. Read together or separately, these comics pack a surprising punch. —D.G.

    Writing to Save a Life: The Louis Till File, by John Edgar Wideman. In his first book in more than a decade, the acclaimed African American author and Brown University professor John Edgar Wideman explores the saga of Emmett Till's father, who was court-martialed and hanged by the United States military well before the notorious lynching of his son by white racists in Mississippi. Via a Freedom of Information Act request, Wideman obtains records from Louis Till's military trial and interrogates the file from every angle—filling in the gaps with his own vivid imagination and recollections. Part history, part memoir, part mystery, part fiction, this insightful book reveals as much about the author as it does about his subject. As Wideman put it to me in a recent interview, "To write a story about Louis Till puts me on trial." —Michael Mechanic, senior editor

    The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead. You've probably heard plenty about 2016's National Book Award winner for fiction, but I'll pile on anyway. Whitehead's riveting slavery saga reimagines the underground railroad as a literal thing, but he doesn't dwell too heavily on that plot device. The story follows a pair of escapees from a Georgia plantation as they move north along the railroad, pursued by a determined slave catcher. Among other things, they stumble across a bizarre eugenics experiment in South Carolina and a vile campaign of ethnic cleansing in North Carolina. Whitehead's character-driven tale brings into visceral relief the horrors, the cruelty, the stark inhumanity of an economy based on captive black labor. And he reminds us, too, of the grim fate that awaited Southern whites brave enough to oppose the system. —M.M.

    The Fortunes, by Peter Ho Davies. Given the extraordinary success of Chinese Americans today, it's easy to forget how tough white society made things for their forebears who flocked here during the Gold Rush or who were imported as cheap labor for railroad companies—only to later be scapegoated and officially excluded by an act of Congress that would remain in force until 1943 (just in time for the interning of Japanese Americans). Davies' outstanding new novel reminds us how things were (and still are, if the 2016 election is any indication). The experiences of Davies' characters—a poor laundry boy hired on as a railroad magnate's valet, an ambitious Chinese American starlet—highlight the tightrope walk of maintaining one's culture while striving for acceptance in a resentful society. The Fortunes feels particularly timely now that we've handed the White House keys to a man who threatens to register and exclude Muslim immigrants, and to deport Americans (for really, what else can we honestly call them?) brought here without papers as toddlers. —M.M.

    While the City Slept: A Love Lost to Violence and a Young Man's Descent Into Madness, by Eli Sanders. One night in 2009, a disturbed young man named Isaiah Kalebu entered a Seattle home through an open window and raped and stabbed two women, killing one. He was sentenced to life in prison, but local journalist Eli Sanders, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of the case, kept digging. While the City Slept, his compassionate examination of the lives that collided that night, relates how a bright but abused boy grew into a violent criminal and, as one psychiatrist put it, "became his illness." The book plays double duty as tribute to those whose lives were upended and a meticulous indictment of the way we fail fellow citizens with serious mental disorders. —Madison Pauly, assistant editor

    Pumpkinflowers, by Matti Friedman. This is a 21st-century war story, with all of the IEDs, propaganda videos, jihadi groups we're accustomed to—but one told in the restrained, introspective style of the World War I writers Friedman turned to for inspiration. It's partly an engrossing personal story, partly a history of a forgotten chapter in Middle East conflict, and one of the best-written books I've read in years. —Max J. Rosenthal, reporter

    Homegoing, by Yaa Gyasi. This ambitious debut novel sparked a bidding war and landed Gyasi a seven-figure contract just one year after she graduated from the Iowa Writer's Workshop. Following seven generations across two continents, Gyasi manages to fit the many stages of slavery's plunder into a relatively slim volume, to dazzling and often devastating effect. Though some of the storylines unravel a bit toward the novel's end, the emphasis on global slavery's ramifications in West Africa, told with rich and lively characters and language that hums, makes this well worth the commitment. —Maddie Oatman, story editor

    Real Food, Fake Food: Why You Don't Know What You're Eating and What You Can Do About It, by Larry Olmsted. We've all been told to steer clear of artificial ingredients, but how much do you know about fake—meaning fraudulent—food? Turns out, it's everywhere, including in your kitchen right now. Olive oil, parmesan cheese, fish fillets, red wine; it would seem the more scrumptious the victual, the more likely it is to be a sham. Olmsted gives us the lay of this seedy landscape with momentum and aplomb. He demystifies the process by which fake ingredients end up in your shopping cart, explains why some of these deceitful foods could be a real threat to your health, and sheds a light on the government policies and shortsighted commercialism that landed them there. —M.O.

    Swing Time, by Zadie Smith. Award-winning author Zadie Smith's fifth novel interweaves two narratives. One involves the unnamed narrator's childhood friendship, wrought by a shared passion for dance. The other one revolves around the narrator's adult travels to Africa in the employ of a pop star as she grapples with her own biracial identity. Penned in Smith's inimitable, winding style, Swing Time looks unflinchingly at race, gender, parenting, love, and friendship. In places, I found the book an unnerving reminder of my own childhood, of parents who seemed invincible and maddeningly certain about the course of their offspring's future. —Becca Andrews, assistant editor

    March: Book Three, by Rep. John Lewis and Andrew Aydin; illustrated by Nate Powell. Police brutality, segregation, voting rights: Many of the big issues of the 1960s are alive and well today. The March graphic-history trilogy tells the story of the civil rights movement through the eyes of Rep. John Lewis, onetime chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee—a group at the center of the struggle. In poignant detail, the March books, totally 600 pages, put us at the heart of the battles over desegregation and black suffrage. We meet the movement's leaders and witness the ugly local clashes leading up to the March on Washington. In the third installment, which earned a 2016 National Book Award, the beatings and defiance of "Bloody Sunday" stand in sharp contrast to Lewis' pride on President Barack Obama's inauguration day. The book, and the trilogy, offer lessons for modern strivers on how far we've come—while serving as a reminder of how far we have yet to go. —Edwin Rios, reporter

    Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, by Matthew Desmond. In a tome filled with heartbreak, Desmond, a sociologist who teaches at Harvard, embeds with eight families who are struggling to keep a roof over their heads in the segregated city of Milwaukee. Rich in history and bolstered by engrossing research, Evicted vividly captures with empathy the lives of those caught up in deep poverty as they reel from the consequences of losing their homes. In doing so, it elevates the importance of affordable housing in today's society. "Housing is deeply implicated in causing poverty in America today," Desmond told me in March, "and we have to do something." —E.R.

    A Rage for Order: The Middle East in turmoil, from Tahrir Square to ISIS, by Robert F. Worth. This is not your typical Middle East manuscript—no bird's eye view of battlefield advancements or policy analysis on the region in collapse. Rather, Robert F. Worth, the longtime correspondent for the New York Times, managed to be on the ground seemingly everywhere that mattered during the zenith of the Arab Spring, and takes us a journey inside the lives of those whose hopes rode on the Arab Spring's promise and whose lives changed—or ended—forever once the popular uprisings collapsed into insurgencies and civil war. It's a beautifully written, moving account that brings humanity and heart to a region typically only considered in terms of conflict and chaos. —Bryan Schatz, reporter

    God Save Sex Pistols, by Johan Kugelberg, with Jon Savage and Glenn Terry. Curator, author, and all-around underground know-it-all Johan Kugelberg released the end-all Sex Pistols ephemera collection earlier this year, and just in time; soon after, Joe Corre, son of punk impressarios Malcolm McClaren and Dame Vivien Westwood, celebrated the 40th anniversary of the Sex Pistol's first single by burning more than $6 million worth of rare, original Sex Pistols and UK punk memorabilia. Though the original artifacts were lost to Corre's piqued sense of anti-nostalgia, God Save Sex Pistols lovingly showcases photos, letters, flyers, records, posters, shirts—everything related to the band that once terrified parents and politicians. The book also serves as a more focused compendium to Kugelberg & Savages' excellent 2012 book, Punk: An Aesthethic. —Mark Murrmann, photo editor

    I Contain MultitudesThe Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life, by Ed Yong. Few writers know how to explain science clearly, and even fewer science writers compose genuinely gorgeous prose. Ed Yong is that unicorn. I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us is the most elegant guide I've seen to our still-primitive understanding of the microbiome—the gazillions of tiny critters living within us. Like Nietzsche peering into a microscope, Yong urges us to think beyond "good" and "bad" microbes: "These terms belong in children's stories. They are ill-suited for describing the messy, fractious, contextual relationships of the natural world." Context is everything. "The same microbes could be good in the gut, but dangerous in the blood," Yong writes. One of the many functions of mother's milk, one scientist informs him, may be to "provide babies with a starter's pack of symbiotic viruses"—and that's a good thing. "Every one of us is a zoo in our own right—a colony enclosed within a single body," he writes. "A multi-species collection. An entire world." —Tom Philpott, food and ag correspondent

    Listen, LiberalOr, What Ever Happened to the Party of the People? by Thomas Frank. His forward-looking autopsy may seem like a contradiction in terms, but Thomas Frank had the dirge of the Democratic Party cued up before primary season. Still, the shock of November 8 catapulted the virtuosic Listen, Liberal from insightful to downright prophetic. Frank meticulously charts the Democrats' suicidal slide from a party of the factory floor to one of late-summer galas on Martha's Vineyard. He hits on all the major missteps—the decline of middle-class wages, the bank bailouts, the trade deals, the technocracy (oh, the technocracy!)—all of which were later parceled out by the flabbergasted into grasping post-election think pieces. Frank's book is lacerating and urgent, but also titillating, witty, and downright fun to read. It will no doubt give some establishment Dems the strong urge to throw the book into the ocean—indeed, their proximity to the coast and ability to conceivably do just that is part of the problem. This, for my money, is the best nonfiction of 2016. —Alex Sammon, editorial fellow

    Critics, Monsters, Fanatics, and Other Literary Essays, by Cynthia Ozick. Narratives of decline seem to be particularly in, but no one can render this notion quite as beautifully as Ozick. At 88, she's been around the literary block, and she can't help but lament the state of the American traditions of reading and writing. "What's impossible not to notice," as she put it to me earlier this year, "is the diminution of American prose." To read Ozick is enriching for her startling vocabulary alone, though her intellectual force is also something to behold. This essay collection stakes out the critical cultural importance of literary criticism, and does so with the linguistic expertise of a poet—peaking with a vivid disemboweling of the term "Kafkaesque," for all its faux-literary worth. One thing, for Ozick, is certain: The road to cultural aridity is paved with 3.5-star Amazon reviews. —A.S.

    Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis, by J.D. Vance. Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis, by J.D. Vance. If you want to understand how Donald Trump took over the GOP, and how he won so many Rust Belt counties that voted for Barack Obama, this is a good place to start. Vance uses the story of his childhood in a dying steel town to highlight what he sees as cultural shortcomings and political delusions among the region's white working class. "We talk about the value of hard work," he writes, "but tell ourselves that the reason we're not working is some perceived unfairness: Obama shut down the coal mines, or all the jobs went to the Chinese." There's plenty to disagree with in Vance's analysis—his insistence on blaming "welfare queens" for their financial problems, for example. Still, for all of us asking, "What just happened to my country?" Hillbilly Elegy provides some invaluable clues. —Jeremy Schulman, senior project manager, Climate Desk



  • What the Heck Is a Placebo Anyway?

    Anton Mesmer, an 18th-century German physician, believed a mysterious force he called "animal magnetism" could be used to cure people. Mesmer's theory was that there was invisible fluid in the body that could be controlled by magnetized objects and that disease was a result of "obstacles" to those fluids' flow. To fight the disease, Mesmer used hypnotic procedures on his patients. At times, he would give people water he had "mesmerized" in order to cure them.

    While Mesmer claimed some success with patients, he had critics. One was Benjamin Franklin, who saw Mesmer's healing techniques for what they were: placebos. In modern medicine, a placebo is a fake medical treatment used to test out the results of real medications. The placebo effect is, essentially, the body's response (in some instances, a very real response) to this fake treatment. In other words, Mesmer's medications weren't scientifically sound, but they may have made patients feel better through the power of suggestion.

    Award-winning science writer Erik Vance has spent a lot of time thinking about the placebo effect. In his book, Suggestible You: The Curious Science of Your Brain's Ability to Deceive, Transform, and Heal, Vance explores placebos, hypnosis, and how beliefs influence bodily responses to pain. "Placebos and beliefs generally is so much a part of our lives," he tells Kishore Hari on a recent episode of the Inquiring Minds podcast. "It has an amazing power to change our bodies."

    Vance has a unique perspective on the topic: He was raised in a Christian Science household and saw a doctor for the first time when he was 18 years old. "Belief was basically my health care," he says.

    Today, placebos are used by researchers to test whether drugs are actually effective in treating medical conditions—that is, whether patients who are taking an experimental medication see better results than patients who just think they are taking one. For some conditions—Parkinson's disease, for instance—placebos can actually be an effective treatment.

    It's hard to figure out what the precise mechanisms of the placebo effect are and how they work. But as Vance explains, we now know that they often involve real chemicals produced by the body—real drugs from your "internal pharmacy." Some of these chemicals are used by the brain to make sure that your expectation meets reality. When expectation doesn't meet reality, the brain steps in and forces it to fit. Parkinson's is caused by a lack of dopamine, a chemical that, among other things, is involved in reward processing in our brains. "Expectation drives placebos," Vance explained to National Geographic. "And dopamine is a chemical that's very responsive to our expectations. Parkinson's happens to be a deficiency in the very chemical that's very important in placebo effects and rewards."

    But while the mind is powerful, it can't do everything. Vance says there are rules at play. Many serious diseases, such as cancer and Alzheimer's, don't respond well to sugar pills—patients need actual medicine that has been proven more effective than placebos. "There are some places where the role of the mind to affect the body is profound," says Vance, "and other places where it is not."

    Inquiring Minds is a podcast hosted by neuroscientist and musician Indre Viskontas and Kishore Hari, the director of the Bay Area Science Festival. To catch future shows right when they are released, subscribe to Inquiring Minds via iTunes or RSS. You can follow the show on Twitter at @inquiringshow and like us on Facebook.



  • Mistrial Appears Likely in Murder Trial of South Carolina Cop Who Killed a Fleeing, Unarmed Suspect

    It appears likely that Judge Clifton Newman will be compelled to declare a mistrial in the racially charged South Carolina murder trial of former North Charleston police officer Michael Slager, who fatally shot an unarmed man who had fled from an April 2015 traffic stop. Late Friday afternoon, a lone juror sent a letter to the judge saying that he or she could not, in good conscience, vote to convict Slager of murder or manslaughter. The judge sent word asking the jurors to clarify whether that meant they were hopelessly deadlocked. The jurors responded that they were, but the prosecutor requested that the jurors receive further instruction, if need be, and the jurors expressed a willingness to deliberate further. In the meantime, the judge has sent jurors home for the weekend.

    A viral bystander video showed Slager, who is white, shooting 50-year-old Walter Scott, who is black, multiple times from behind. Posted online soon after the incident, the video thrust the Charleston area into the national debate on race and the use of deadly force by police.

    What the video didn't show is the preceding tussle during which, Slager testified, Scott had defied his orders and tried to grab the Taser he was deploying. After Scott broke free and ran away, Slager took aim and fired. Slager said he was in a state of "total fear" and believed Scott remained a threat to him, even though he was running away.

    Earlier on Friday, the jurors told Newman they were deadlocked in their attempt to reach a verdict, and the judge—who had given them the option of a lesser verdict of manslaughter—sent them back to try again. Over two days of deliberations, the jury twice asked the judge for assistance. They asked for transcripts of Slager's courtroom testimony and that of the officer who interviewed Slager after the shooting. They also asked Newman to clarify the legal distinction between "fear" and "passion." The judge responded that they would have to make that determination themselves.

    Many observers have taken note of the racial imbalance of the jury: six white men, five white women, and one black man. No matter which way it goes, the verdict has to be unanimous. A jury foreman's note that accompanied the letter from the holdout juror noted there was only one juror who "had issues" with convicting the officer.

    A hung jury would probably be good news for Slager and his defense team. The prosecutor, 9th Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson, would have to decide whether to pursue a new trial and on what charge. She announced in court that she would first want to interview jurors to gather insights before making further decisions on resolving the case. It's also possible Slager could head off a second trial by pleading to a lesser charge in exchange for a short prison stint—a manslaughter sentence in South Carolina ranges from two to thirty years without parole. But involuntary manslaughter, for instance, carries a maximum sentence of five years.

    This post has been updated.



  • The Wall Street-Washington Complex Invades Trump's Cabinet

    Of all the ways Donald Trump has fallen short of his campaign promise to "drain the swamp" of Washington politics with his Cabinet appointments, none is starker than his choice of Elaine Chao as transportation secretary. Chao is as much of a Washington insider as they come: She served as deputy transportation secretary under George H.W. Bush and as secretary of labor for eight years under George W. Bush. She's also married to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and this year he used his perch to undermine a federal agency that was going after the bank where she works.

    Since 2011, Chao has sat on the board of Wells Fargo, earning more than $1.2 million in pay over that period. This year, it was revealed that the bank had fraudulently set up millions of fake accounts that customers had never requested. That activity earned Wells Fargo a $185 million fine from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), the largest penalty levied so far by the new financial watchdog agency.

    The Senate called in Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf in September, and both Democrats and Republicans attacking the company's behavior. "This is about accountability," Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who helped create the CFPB, said at the hearing. "You should resign. You should give back the money that you took while this scam was going on, and you should be criminally investigated." Stumpf resigned a few weeks later.

    But McConnell didn't quite share that sentiment. Instead, he chose to go after the federal agency that had penalized Wells Fargo. As liberal consumer rights group Public Citizen pointed out, less than a week after the CFPB announced its fine against Wells Fargo, McConnell used his authority to try to fast-track a bill that would defang the CFPB by changing its funding structure.

    The bill ultimately failed to advance, although the CFPB could lose significant power under President Trump. And McConnell is far from the only Republican to target the CFPB. But for Trump, who ran a populist campaign decrying the power of Washington insiders and the moneyed interests they support, the selection of Chao for a top administration role seems to show he's not as opposed to the Wall Street-Washington complex as he might have suggested.



  • Holy Conflict of Interest! The Firm Holding Much of Trump's Debt May Be Up for Sale.

    Coming to an auction block near you: Donald Trump's $100 million mortgage on Trump Tower?

    As Mother Jones has detailed for months, Trump owes hundreds of millions of dollars to a variety of lenders, giving his bankers a huge amount of potential leverage over the man who will soon occupy the most powerful office in the world. Already there are concerns about Trump's biggest lender, the troubled Deutsche Bank, which he owes at least $364 million. On Friday, Reuters reported that his second-biggest lender, a small Wall Street firm called Ladder Capital Strategies, may be putting itself up for sale to the highest bidder. Public records show Trump owes the firm at least $282 million, on four lines of credit. This means that other big money players—Wall Street firms, American banks, overseas banks, financial institutions partly owned by foreign governments—could move to buy up the debts of a US president and create a host of conflicts of interest.

    Ladder Capital holds mortgages on Trump Tower and 40 Wall Street, worth $100 million and $160 million respectively, and two smaller Trump properties in New York City. All the loans Trump has taken out since 2012 have been from either Deutsche Bank and Ladder Capital. That includes his most recent loan, a $7 million mortgage from Ladder Capital that Trump took out on three condo units in the Trump International Hotel Tower on New York City's Columbus Circle. That loan was taken out in July, weeks after Trump's most recent personal financial disclosure was filed.

    Reuters reported that Ladder Capital is considering a sale and has hired Citibank to help manage the deal. Reuters cited sources who said the bank was looking at a sale as it "grapples with new regulations making selling on mortgages more difficult." The firm's primary business model is to package the loans it issues and sell them to other investors. Recent Securities and Exchange Commission filings show Ladder Capital has packaged the Trump International Hotel Tower mortgage as part of a large sale of mortgages. Despite this, on Trump's personal financial disclosures, Ladder Capital is still listed as the lender Trump owes the money to.

    It's not immediately clear how a potential sale of Ladder Capital might affect Trump's loans. But it raises the specter that some of Trump's biggest loans will be available for anyone to purchase.

    Between Deutsche Bank and Ladder Capital, Trump owes at least $646 million, and he has seven other loans listed on his financial disclosure form that could be worth another $125 million. Additionally, a real estate partnership Trump participates in borrowed $950 million from a group of lenders that includes the state-owned Bank of China. Trump's involvement in that loan may violate the Constitution's emoluments clause, which forbids top government officials from accepting financial benefits from a foreign government. The possibility that a foreign government could purchase Ladder Capital and its portfolio of loans, including Trump's, would cause other complications for Trump and the conflicts of interest already saddling his soon-to-be presidency.



  • Trump Invites World Leader Who Called Obama a "Son of a Whore" to the White House

    Rodrigo Duterte, the controversial president of the Philippines who has drawn widespread comparisons to Donald Trump, may soon be headed to the White House.

    During a Friday phone call that a Duterte aide described as "animated," Donald Trump extended an invitation to Duterte to visit the White House next year. Reuters reports that the conversation between the two leaders lasted about seven minutes.

    News of the invitation comes days after Duterte appointed Jose Antonio, a Trump business partner, to serve as a special envoy to the United States—raising yet another potential conflict of interest for the president-elect. Last month, he called for a "separation" of relations between the two countries, but later retreated from the statement.

    The Philippines leader, who once compared himself to Adolf Hitler, has drawn international condemnation for the thousands of extrajudicial killings of suspected drug dealers and users that have taken place since he became president, and for similar killings when he was mayor of a city in the southern Philippines. He has also ranted against the United States and President Barack Obama, whom he once referred to as a "son of a whore."

    But Duterte has spoken favorably of Trump. After Trump's presidential victory, Duterte said, "Long live Mr. Trump! We both curse at the slightest reason. We are alike."

    There is no word on whether Duterte plans to accept the invitation.



  • It Just Got Much Easier for the FBI to Hack Your Computer

    Just in time for the Trump administration, the FBI has gotten what critics characterize as broad new hacking powers. As of Thursday, government agents can now use warrants obtained from a single judge to hack computers in multiple jurisdictions, rather than having to get warrants from judges in each distinct jurisdiction, as required under the old rule. The rule went into effect despite the last-ditch efforts by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and others to either kill or delay it in order to give Congress time to study its implications.

    In a speech on the Senate floor Wednesday, Wyden said the change to Rule 41 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure was especially troubling given the imminent presidency of Donald Trump, who has "openly said he wants the power to hack his political opponents the same way Russia does."

    The changes were approved by the US Supreme Court in a private vote at the end of April, after several years of discussion within the federal judiciary. They were never debated by Congress. The US Department of Justice says the news rules are necessary, particularly in cases where criminals use anonymizing software to conceal their location while committing crimes such as peddling child pornography. Another concern is the weaponizing of hundreds of thousands of internet-connected devices into "botnets" that are then used to flood websites with traffic to shut them down, or for criminal activities that, in the words of Assistant Attorney General Leslie Caldwell, "siphon wealth and invade privacy on a massive scale."

    Wyden isn't convinced that the changes are urgent. Along with Sens. Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Steve Daines (R-Mont.), he tried on Wednesday to get the Senate to approve legislation that would have either blocked or delayed the implementation of the new powers.

    Those efforts failed.

    "By sitting here and doing nothing, the Senate has given consent to this expansion of government hacking and surveillance," Wyden said in a statement. "Law-abiding Americans are going to ask, 'What were you guys thinking?' when the FBI starts hacking victims of a botnet hack. Or when a mass hack goes awry and breaks their device or an entire hospital system and puts lives at risk."

    Caldwell argued the rules had already been debated and vetted. In a November 28 blog post, she wrote the federal judiciary deliberated on the changes for three years, using the same process used to modify other rules of criminal procedure. The current rule change deals specifically with venue issues—removing traditional jurisdictional constraints—and not what investigators can actually do as part of the search, she wrote. Further, investigators already had the power to search multiple computers at the same time, she noted, and it was already legal for investigators to hack victim computers to understand the scope of the criminal hack.

    "It would be strange if the law forbade searching the scene of a crime," she wrote.

    Caldwell also wrote that the rule modification doesn't change what is and isn't permissible under the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches and seizures. "The Constitution already forbids mass, indiscriminate rummaging through victims' computers, and it will continue to do so," she wrote. "By contrast, blocking the [rule change] would make it more difficult for law enforcement to combat mass hacking by actual criminals."

    But those reassurances likely will not satisfy privacy advocates. In June, tech writer Mike Masnick noted that the DOJ's justification for the rule change "skirt[ed] the truth, at best." The new rule, Masnick wrote, "effectively wipe[s] out the requirement to give a copy of the warrant to the person whose computers are being hacked," which "pretty much guarantees that some of the people who are hacked following this won't even know about it." He suggested that the DOJ's use of the threat of child exploitation as a way to legitimize the rule change in effect derailed the necessary review of serious modifications to the government's powers that should be debated and approved by Congress. "The FBI has a rather long history of abusing its surveillance powers, and especially seeking to avoid strict oversight," Masnick wrote. "Approving such a change just because the DOJ is insisting it's 'FOR THE CHILDREN, WON'T YOU PLEASE THINK OF THE CHILDREN!' isn't a particularly good reason."

    That's probably why big tech companies like Google and a host of civil rights organizations have opposed the change for years.

    "Google has a significant interest in protecting its users and securing its infrastructure," wrote Richard Salgado, Google's director of law enforcement and information security, in a February 2015 letter submitted to the Judicial Advisory Committee on Criminal Rules. "The proposed amendment substantively expands the government's current authority under Rule 41 and raises a number of monumental and highly complex constitutional, legal, and geopolitical concerns."



  • Trump Has a Huge Foreign Bank Problem

    With all his properties and deals in the United States and around the world, Donald Trump is heading to the White House burdened with multiple conflicts of interest. But the biggest ones may not be about what Trump owns, but rather what he owes.

    The United States has had wealthy presidents before. Vice President Nelson Rockefeller held a piece of possibly the greatest American fortune, and the Kennedy family wealth may have been more than $1 billion. The question these leaders faced was whether they would use their powerful offices to bolster their own assets and enrich themselves.

    That concern exists with Trump, but he presents a unique problem when it comes to conflicts of interest: He and his companies have borrowed hundreds of millions of dollars. These are loans that potentially afford his lenders leverage over Trump. This creates the possibility that Trump may find himself in the position of choosing between US interests and his lenders' interests. There's no better example of this than the $364 million Trump owes the struggling Deutsche Bank, which is staggering under fierce pressure from US financial regulators who want the bank to pay for its misdeeds during the run-up to the 2008 mortgage crisis. (Trump is in a real estate partnership that borrowed $950 million from a group of banks including a subsidiary of Deutsche Bank and the state-owned Bank of China.)

    As it has hit trouble, Deutsche Bank's stock has fallen in the past year to levels so dangerously low that the German government was reported to be considering stepping in to prop up the bank. But on January 20, the newly inaugurated President Trump will have the ability to remove all that pressure on one of his most loyal creditors.

    "I know of no case where a president has come in with hundreds of millions of dollars of indebtedness, to an entity that is under investigation for these types of alleged misconduct and in the midst of a negotiating a settlement that could put the president's principal lender out of business," says Norm Eisen, a former special counsel for ethics in the Obama administration. "The conflict is so blatant."

    Eisen and Richard Painter, who served as George W. Bush's ethics lawyer, have called on Trump to divest fully his assets—not just withdraw from the operations of his businesses, as Trump has suggested he might do. If he sells off his business interests, these loans would follow the assets and no longer pose a direct conflict of interest.

    Eisen says that even if Trump acts with the best of intentions but still retains his assets, there will be political appointees and career employees within the federal government who could feel pressure to please their boss and who may hesitate to threaten the president's personal business interests by getting tough with a bank he owes so much.

    The problem started with Deutsche Bank's role in the 2008 financial crisis. Like many big banks, it issued and resold bad residential mortgages that helped lead to the global economic collapse. Under the Obama administration, the Justice Department has pursued various Wall Street banks for their roles in the crisis, but it has allowed these banks to negotiate settlements to pay civil fines and fees to resolve claims that they misled investors. Earlier this year, Goldman Sachs paid $5.1 billion to settle a case, and in 2014 Bank of America paid $17 billion in a similar settlement. In September, the Justice Department announced it was seeking as much as $14 billion from Deutsche Bank, an amount that vastly exceeded the $2 billion to $3 billion that bank officials had assumed it might have to pay.

    The prospect that Deutsche Bank would be forced to settle for anything close to $14 billion set off a minor panic, sending the company's stock spiraling down and forcing German Prime Minister Angela Merkel to make a statement denying the German government had a plan to intervene. As various rumors about the bank's ongoing negotiations with the Justice Department leaked out, its stock price swung back and forth, but it shot up after Trump's election. Negotiations are continuing, and there is no sign of when a settlement could be reached. As president, Trump presumably won't be directly involved in the talks between the Justice Department and the bank, but the chief executive of the federal government does generally set the tone regarding how aggressive or conciliatory the Justice Department is toward banks.

    Part of the recent optimism on the part of investors may be due to speculation that a Trump administration will be friendlier to banks. But investors also know that Trump's businesses are deeply entwined with Deutsche Bank. Trump has four large mortgages with Deutsche Bank, borrowing against three of his most prized possessions: the Doral golf resort in Florida, his Chicago tower, and his brand new Washington luxury hotel. For the Washington hotel, Trump has a $170 million line of credit from Deutsche Bank that was granted in 2015, just as his presidential campaign was kicking off. According to a bank spokeswoman, all four of the loans were obtained from Deutsche's "private bank"—a division that caters exclusively to high-net-worth individuals and that can lend separately from the corporate side of the bank.

    The corporate side of Deutsche Bank previously loaned to Trump, but the relationship fell apart around the time of the financial crisis. In 2005, Trump borrowed $640 million from Deutsche Bank and several other lenders for the construction of his Chicago hotel tower. When he failed to pay back the money on time in 2008, the banks, including Deutsche Bank, demanded he pay the $40 million he had personally guaranteed. In response, Trump sued Deutsche Bank for $3 billion, saying the project's financial troubles were the fault of the economic recession, which he claimed the bank had helped cause. He accused Deutsche Bank of undermining the project and his reputation. The lawsuit was eventually settled.

    Deutsche Bank's long-term health is important to Trump's business interests. In recent years, it has been one of the only banks still willing to lend to him (at least as of his presidential run). Most other Wall Street banks, some of which loaned Trump billions of dollars in the 1980s and 1990s, essentially stopped lending to him years ago.

    It's not clear if Trump has personally guaranteed any of the loans his businesses have with Deutsche Bank. He did personally guarantee the Deutsche Bank loan involved in the lawsuit over his Chicago project. The New York Times has reported that Trump may be personally liable for up to $26 million on a mortgage he has taken out from another lender on his 40 Wall Street tower in New York City. Trump's attorney, Alan Garten, did not return a request for comment.

    Eisen says another possible area of concern with the Deutsche Bank loan is the emoluments clause, the provision of the Constitution that prohibits top federal officials from accepting gifts from foreign governments. Several ethics experts have pointed out that a loan from a state-owned bank may qualify as a gift, and red flags have popped up over the Bank of China loan. Eisen says that if the German government were to take a stake in Deutsche Bank in an effort to shore up the distressed bank, it would raise a similar constitutional problem for Trump.

    Trump's massive Deutsche Bank loans are uncharted and dangerous territory. "It's staggering," Eisen says. "And the most staggering thing is that it's only one of a host of similarly complicated conflicts. We've never seen anything like this."



  • About Face: The Pentagon Could Roll Back Soldiers' Rights Under Trump

    At a town hall meeting held by a small veterans' political action committee in October, a retired Army colonel named Don Bartholomew stood up to ask then-Republican nominee Donald Trump what he would do to fix what he called "the social engineering and political correctness that has been imposed upon our military."

    "The military has become an institution for social experiments and, as a result, the military has undergone a number of changes to regulations with regard to women in combat, transgender rights and other issues," Bartholomew complained. "None of these PC actions were combat-effective or readiness-driven." Trump strongly agreed with him. "You're right," he said. "We have a politically correct military, and it's getting more and more politically correct every day…Some of the things that they're asking you to do and be politically correct about are ridiculous."

    Since winning the presidency, Trump has yet to say much on military policy. He has picked former Marine general and military cult legend James Mattis for secretary of defense, but Mattis' views on many issues are unknown. And comments like Bartholomew's, along with the influence of social conservatives such as Vice President-elect Mike Pence, have those same advocates and service members worried that Trump will try to reverse Obama administration policy changes that had opened new opportunities for female and LGBT troops.

    "We are are very concerned about the potential rollback for all the hard work and progress that we've fought for," says Kate Germano, the COO of Service Women's Action Network, or SWAN, an advocacy group for women in the military. The bans on women in combat and troops serving openly were dropped by the Obama administration via Defense Department policy changes. That means a new Pentagon chief can simply reverse them rather than needing to pass a new law. "I think that's what…also has people a lot on edge, is the fact that [Trump] doesn't really need Congress to do anything on this," says Matt Thorn, the executive director of OutServe-SLDN, an advocacy group for LGBT service members.

    Here are some of the recent changes that may be on the chopping block:

    Women in combat: The Pentagon announced last December that all combat jobs in all the military's branches would be opened to women for the first time. The Army has since trained a handful of female infantry officers and put women in the training pipeline for other combat jobs. But the change came over the objections of some members of Congress and particularly the Marine Corps, which requested an exemption to the policy. The man who did so, Marine General Joe Dunford, is now the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and retired Marine General John Kelly, who is a candidate for secretary of state, has suggested that standards for combat troops would inevitably drop if women were allowed on the front line.

    Germano points out that James Mattis, who has been chosen as defense secretary, is "a conservative, traditional senior military officer in the service that has at every turn tried to block changes that would allow women more opportunities." While Mattis' views aren't known, she says she's "concerned" he has never publicly backed allowing women in combat. He is also close to Dunford, who was Mattis' deputy commander when Mattis commanded the 1st Marine Division during the invasion of Iraq. That combination could mean that a Marine exemption to gender integration, or a full rollback, would have powerful new support at the Pentagon.

    Gay, lesbian, and transgender service: It's been five years since gays and lesbians were first allowed to serve openly in the military, and that change now seems fairly entrenched. For example, a 2014 Military Times survey of active-duty troops showed that support for open service for gays and lesbians had reached 60 percent, up from just 35 percent in 2009. But the Defense Department only dropped the ban on transgender people serving openly in June.

    Right now, says OutServe-SLDN's Matt Thorn, there's not enough information to tell if either change might be reversed. "He did the 60 Minutes interview where he said, 'I'm fine with marriage equality,' which is a two-year-old law, but then in the same breath he says, 'I want to overturn Roe v. Wade,' which is a 40-year-old law. So there's just a very big lack of consistency, and I think that just has driven this uncertainty across the LGBT community."

    But Thorn also thinks appointing a former general like Mattis might work in favor of LGBT advances. "I think the thing with the generals in particular is that once policies are put in place, no matter Democratic or Republican administrations, the brass typically don't like to roll them back because it creates an unstable environment within the rank and file," Thorn says.

    Possible sexual-assault reforms: Trump answered a question specifically about sexual assault during the Commander-in-Chief Forum, saying that he didn't support the idea of trying military sexual-assault cases in civilian courts instead of through the military justice systems. That's one of the key reforms proposed by Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), who have been pushing for several years for improvements in how the military handles sexual assault. "I don't think it should be outside of the military," Trump said. But he also argued that the military justice system isn't doing enough. "Right now, part of the problem is nobody gets prosecuted…There are no consequence[s]."

    Trump infamously suggested in a 2013 tweet that the thousands of unreported sexual assaults in the military and low conviction rates were inevitable in a mixed-gender military.

    He said during the forum that the solution was not to remove women from the military, but such comments play into larger fears that many female service members have about Trump. Germano believes "women were starting to finally feel like their service was being recognized and respected," and that that Trump's callous comments and actions toward women may undermine that progress. A Military Times poll published this month agrees with Germano: While the survey found that 51 percent of the troops who voted backed Trump, 55 percent of women said they "worry their jobs will be adversely affected."

    "When you have someone in charge of the military who has publicly derided women, who has made comments about their looks, judges their performance based on their physical attributes, who gropes, that is of major concern because that person is ultimately setting the tone for what's going to happen for women and men in the services," Germano argues.

    For now, all Germano, Thorn, and other advocates can do is wait for more news. "We're all in the same position," she says. "We're on pins and needles waiting for decisions to be made."




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