Tag Archives: tom engelhardt

Apocalyptic thinking on the Left about climate change risks burning their credibility

Summary:  Epistemic closure has infected both Left and Right in America. Examples of this on the Right are legion. Today we look at an example on the Left, and its potentially severe consequences for this already endangered species in America.

The Last Myth

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Contents

  1. Changes in American politics
  2. “Ending the World the Human Way”
  3. Epistemic closure: it’s a bipartisan illness
  4. Cautionary notes about the Left’s strategy
  5. About the author
  6. Important things to remember about global warming
  7. Climate change couture
  8. Comments

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(1)  Changes in American politics: we all fall down

I have seen many changes in American politics during my life.

  • Twenty years as an active Republican, giving money and time.
  • Then Bush’s reactionary economic policies and the mad reaction to 9-11 pushed me to the Left (crossing the hordes moving the other way), joining what they said was the “reality-based community”.
  • Recent years have proven my hope delusional (again).

People I trusted — on whose counsel I relied upon — joined the climate crusade, abandoning the consensus of climate scientists (also spurned by the Right) in favor of doomster prophecies … which bring us to an article by someone I greatly respect, 44 of whose posts are reposted on the FM website, whose website is on the blogroll and at the top of my daily reading list …

The United States Of Fear

Both sides find fear useful

(2)  About the end of the world

Excerpt from “Ending the World the Human Way
Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch, 2 February 2014

{Climate change} could even be considered the story of all stories.  It’s just that climate change and its component parts are unlike every other story from the Syrian slaughter and the problems of Obamacare to Bridgegate and Justin Bieber’s arrest.  The future of all other stories, of the news and storytelling itself, rests on just how climate change manifests itself over the coming decades or even century.  What happens in the 2014 midterms or the 2016 presidential elections, in our wars, politics, and culture, who is celebrated and who ignored — none of it will matter if climate change devastates the planet.

Climate change isn’t the news and it isn’t a set of news stories.  It’s the prospective end of all news.  Think of it as the anti-news.

All the rest is part of the annals of human history: the rise and fall of empires, of movements, of dictatorships and democracies, of just about anything you want to mention.  The most crucial stories, like the most faddish ones, are — every one of them — passing phenomena, which is of course what makes them the news.

Climate change isn’t.  New as that human-caused phenomenon may be — having its origins in the industrial revolution — it’s nonetheless on a different scale from everything else, which is why journalists and environmentalists often have so much trouble figuring out how to write about it in a way that leaves it continually in the news.

… If the carbon emissions from fossil fuels are allowed to continue to accumulate in the atmosphere, the science of what will happen sooner or later is relatively clear, even if its exact timetable remains in question: this world will be destabilized as will humanity (along with countless other species).  We could, at the worst, essentially burn ourselves off Planet Earth.  This would prove a passing event for the planet itself, but not for us, nor for any fragment of humanity that managed to survive in some degraded form, nor for the civilizations we’ve developed over thousands of years. …

Nuclear Dress Rehearsal

Here’s the strange thing: we went through a dress rehearsal for this in the twentieth century when dealing (or not dealing) with nuclear weapons, aka the Bomb — often capitalized in my youth as a sign of how nuclear disaster was felt to be looming over life itself. …

How does Tom know that anthropogenic climate change will pose such a severe threat, a potential apocalypse? He cites as support for this claim only two articles. Nothing from the IPCC or a major climate agency; both are from the New York Times.

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Mission Failure: Afghanistan

Summary: The very first articles articles at DNI, in 2003, expressed skepticism about the Afghanistan War.  By 2009 it was clear that we could achieve nothing useful from the war. But our military exists to feed itself, disconnected from any rational national goals, and only after ten years has the drawdown slowly began. Today Tom Engelhardt begins the long review, necessary if we are to avoid the post-Vietnam amnesia and learn from our expenditure of blood and treasure in that distant land.

A Message Written in Blood That No One Wants to Hear
By Tom Engelhardt
Published at TomDispatch on 31 July 2012. Posted here with his generous permission.

Imagine for a moment that almost once a week for the last six months somebody somewhere in this country had burst, well-armed, into a movie theater showing a superhero film and fired into the audience. That would get your attention, wouldn’t it? James Holmes times 21?  It would dominate the news.  We would certainly be consulting experts, trying to make sense of the pattern, groping for explanations. And what if the same thing had also happened almost once every two weeks in 2011? Imagine the shock, imagine the reaction here.

Well, the equivalent has happened in Afghanistan (minus, of course, the superhero movies).  It even has a name: green-on-blue violence. In 2012 — and twice last week — Afghan soldiers, policemen, or security guards, largely in units being trained or mentored by the U.S. or its NATO allies, have turned their guns on those mentors, the people who are funding, supporting, and teaching them, and pulled the trigger.

It’s already happened at least 21 times in this half-year, resulting in 30 American and European deaths, a 50% jump from 2011, when similar acts occurred at least 21 times with 35 coalition deaths. (The “at least” is there because, in May, the Associated Press reported that, while U.S. and NATO spokespeople were releasing the news of deaths from such acts, green-on-blue incidents that resulted in no fatalities, even if there were wounded, were sometimes not reported at all.)

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America’s Shadow Wars in Africa

Summary:  There’s an institutional drive for growth, just like that in biological entities. Sometimes it become cancerous, inimical to the overall organism. So it is with our mad profitless empire — which makes previous empires (eg, Spain, British) look like works of genius. Here Nick Turse looks at the latest expansion, taking US forces — financed with borrowed money — into Africa. The tyrannical juntas there need our support!

Obama’s Scramble for Africa
Secret Wars, Secret Bases, and the Pentagon’s “New Spice Route” in Africa
By Nick Turse


Originally published at TomDispatch, 12 July 2012.
Reposted with the author’s generous permission.

Contents

  1. Introduction by Tom Endlehardt
  2. Our main feature by Nick Turse
  3. Reply by Africom, and Turse’s response
  4. About the author
  5. For more information about our empire

(1) Introduction by Tom Englehardt

Here’s an odd question: Is it possible that the U.S. military is present in more countries and more places now than at the height of the Cold War?  It’s true that the U.S. is reducing its forces and giant bases in Europe and that its troops are out of Iraq (except for that huge, militarized embassy in Baghdad).  On the other hand, there’s that massive ground, air, and naval build-up in the Persian Gulf, the Obama administration’s widely publicized “pivot” to Asia (including troops and ships), those new drone bases in the eastern Indian Ocean region, some movement back into Latin America (including a new base in Chile), and don’t forget Africa, where less than a decade ago, the U.S. had almost no military presence at all.  Now, as TomDispatch Associate Editor Nick Turse writes in the latest in his “changing face of empire” series, U.S. special operations forces, regular troops, private contractors, and drones are spreading across the continent with remarkable (if little noticed) rapidity.

Putting together the pieces on Africa isn’t easy.  For instance, only the other day it was revealed that three U.S. Army commandos in a Toyota Land Cruiser had skidded off a bridge in Mali in April.  They died, all three, along with three women identified as “Moroccan prostitutes.”  This is how we know that U.S. special operations forces were operating in chaotic, previously democratic Mali after a coup by a U.S.-trained captain accelerated the unraveling of the country, leading more recently to its virtual dismemberment by Tuareg rebels and Islamist insurgents.  Consider this a sample of what Nick Turse calls the U.S. military’s “scramble for Africa” in a seamy, secretive nutshell.

So here’s another question: Who decided in 2007 that a U.S. Africa Command should be set up to begin a process of turning that continent into a web of U.S. bases and other operations?  Who decided that every Islamist rebel group in Africa, no matter how local or locally focused, was a threat to the U.S., calling for a military response?  Certainly not the American people, who know nothing about this, who were never asked if expanding the U.S. global military mission to Africa was something they favored, who never heard the slightest debate, or even a single peep from Washington on the subject.

(2) Our main feature, by Nick Turse

They call it the New Spice Route, an homage to the medieval trade network that connected Europe, Africa, and Asia, even if today’s “spice road” has nothing to do with cinnamon, cloves, or silks.  Instead, it’s a superpower’s superhighway, on which trucks and ships shuttle fuel, food, and military equipment through a growing maritime and ground transportation infrastructure to a network of supply depots, tiny camps, and airfields meant to service a fast-growing U.S. military presence in Africa.

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The Great Charter. Its Fate, and Ours.

Summary:  The past decade has seen us stripped of civil liberties dating back to the signing of Magna Carta in 1215, and won through centuries of struggle since then.  As the Founders feared might happen.  Today Noam Chomsky explains how this happened and what it means for us. The next few years might be decisive; America’s future lies in our hands.

The Great Charter, Its Fate, and Ours

By Noam Chomsky. Originally published at TomDispatch. Reposted with their generous permission.

The tomb of Magna Carta

Contents

  1. Introduction by Tom Englehardt
  2. Destroying the Commons. How the Magna Carta Became a Minor Carta
  3. About the author
  4. For more information

(1)  Introduction by Tom Engelhardt

This week the ACLU and the Center for Constitutional Rights filed suit against CIA Director David Petraeus, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, and two top special operations forces commanders for “violating the Constitution and international law” in the drone assassination of three American citizens in Yemen, Anwar al-Awlaki, Samir Khan, and al-Awlaki’s 16-year-old son Abdulrahman (though no one claims he had anything whatsoever to do with terror campaigns).  The suit is based on the Constitution’s promise of “due process” (“[N]or shall any person… be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law”), which to the untutored eye of this non-lawyer clearly seems to involve “law.”

Attorney General Eric Holder evidently thinks otherwise and has explained his reasoning when it comes to the right of the Obama administration to order such deaths: “The Constitution guarantees due process, not judicial process.”  If you’re not inside the National Security Complex, it may be just a tad hard to grasp how “due process” could mean a secret process of review in the White House presided over by a president with a “kill list” (whose legal justification, laid out by the Justice Department, cannot be made public).  And yet that is, as far as we can tell, indeed the claim.

It will be a surprise if this case goes far.  The government is almost certain to bring to bear the usual not-quite-state-secrets-act to squelch it, with its lawyers undoubtedly claiming that any such trial could reveal damaging secrets about our expanding drone wars.  Of course, U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, and more rarely Somalia are regularly in the news, and have been proudly cited or even boasted about by officials from the president on down, yet they remain somehow “covert” and unmentionable when it suits the administration.  And since just about anything the National Security Complex does evidently now qualifies for classified status, secrecy is increasingly the convenient excuse for just about anything.

In the case of our drone wars, “covert” clearly has little to do with secrecy in any normal sense and a lot to do with lack of accountability to anyone not involved in choosing those to be killed or launching the attacks.  One thing is clear: whatever the ACLU and others do, we now live in a post-legal America, a world in which no act (other than whistleblowing), however illegal, within the national security state can be successfully prosecuted in court.  This has clearly been part of a process by which, since 2001, American liberties have been turned in for “safety.”  Something did change after 9/11 (when “everything” was supposed to have changed) and in a speech at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, reproduced below in full, Noam Chomsky backs up a few centuries to lay out a vivid history of just how this happened.

(2)  Destroying the Commons. How the Magna Carta Became a Minor Carta
By Noam Chomsky
This is the full text of a speech he gave recently at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.

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Pepe Escobar looks at the future, as we build a full spectrum confrontation world

Summary:  By now most people see that the world is changing, as the post-WWII era passes away. The only large group remaining blind to this: the American people. Here Pepe Escobar looks at today’s trends and extrapolates them into the future. America is at war, but with whom? Perhaps we’re at war with inevitable trends. At war with the future.

A History of the World, BRIC by BRIC:
Neoliberal Dragons, Eurasian Wet Dreams, and Robocop Fantasies

By Pepe Escobar
Originally published at TomDispatch, 26 April 2012
Reposted with the author’s generous permission.

Contents

  1. Introduction by Tom Endlehardt
  2. Our main feature by Pepe Escobar
  3. About the author
  4. For more information

(1) Introduction by Tom Englehardt

Last December, a super-secret RQ-170 Sentinel, part of a far-reaching program of CIA drone surveillance over Iran, went down (or was shot down, or computer-jacked and hacked down) and was recovered intact by the Iranian military.  This week, an Iranian general proudly announced that his country’s experts had accessed the plane’s computer — he offered information he claimed proved it — and were now “reverse-engineering” the drone to create one of their own.

Most or all of his claims have been widely doubted, derided, or simply dismissed in our world, and for all I know his was indeed pure bluster and bluff.  But if so, it still managed to catch an urge that lay behind a couple of hundred years of global history: to adapt the most sophisticated aspects of the West to resist the West.  That urge has been essential to the way our planet has developed. After all, much of the last two centuries might well be headlined in technological, economic, and even political terms, “The History of Reverse-Engineering.”

Starting in the 18th century, whether you were in the Ottoman Empire or China, wherever, in fact, cannon-mounted European ships appeared to break down doors and conquer countries or subject them to an alien will, the issue of reverse-engineering was always close at hand.  For endless decades, the preeminent question, the crucial thing to debate, was just what could be adapted from the Western arsenal of weapons, politics, technology, and ideas, and how it could be melded with local culture, how it could be given Ottoman, Indian, Chinese, Japanese, or [fill in the blank] “characteristics” and made to check or reverse the course of events.  The rise of Japan in the nineteenth century and the more recent spectacular growth of China are, without any doubt, cases of the history of reverse-engineering.

Whatever the successes and failures of that process, the question today — as the U.S. declines, Europe stagnates, and the explosive BRICS countries head for center stage — is perhaps this: Can reverse-engineering really take us any farther, or will it in the end simply take us down?  Isn’t it time for something new in the engineering universe or perhaps for the coming of reverse-reverse-engineering somewhere on this weather-freaky, overtaxed planet of ours?

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Memory Failure at the Pentagon, one that has cost us dearly (and will cost more before the end)

Summary:  We are like children, believing that closing our eyes tightly disappears the expense, casualties, and blowback from our war in Afghanistan. All that remains is the exhalation of our killing, our pride in our drones and special ops warriors. Unfortunately this does not as well as we hope. Nick Turse describes a more effective solution.

Wars of Attrition:
Green Zones of the Mind, Guerrillas, and a Technical Knockout in Afghanistan

By Nick Turse
Originally published at TomDispatch, 24 April 2012
Reposted with the author’s generous permission.

Contents

  1. Introduction by Tom Endlehardt
  2. Our main feature by Nick Turse
  3. About the author
  4. For more information

(1) Introduction by Tom Englehardt

Call it a mantra, a litany, or a to-don’t list, but the drip, drip, drip of Afghan disaster and the gross-out acts accompanying it have already resulted in one of those classic fill-you-in paragraphs that reporters hang onto for whenever the next little catastrophe rears its ugly head.  Here’s how that list typically went after the Los Angeles Times revealed that troops from the 82nd Airborne had mugged for the camera with the corpses or body parts of Afghan enemies:  “The images also add to a troubling list of cases — including Marines videotaped urinating on Taliban bodies, the burning of Korans, and the massacre of villagers attributed to a lone Army sergeant — that have cast American soldiers in the harshest possible light before the Afghan public.”

That is, of course, only a partial list.  Left out, for instance, was the American “kill team” that hunted Afghan civilians “for sport,” took body parts as trophies, and shot photos of their “kills,” not to speak of the sniper outfit that posed with an SS banner, or the U.S. base named “Combat Outpost Aryan.”  (For Afghans, of course, it’s been so much worse.  After all, what Americans even remember the obliterated wedding parties, eviscerated baby-naming ceremonies, blown away funerals, or even the eight shepherd boys “armed” with sticks recently slaughtered by helicopter, or any of the “thorough investigations” the U.S. military officially launched about which no one ever heard a peep, or the lack of command responsibility for any of this?)

When a war goes bad, you can be thousands of miles away and it still stinks like rotting cheese.  Hence, the constant drop in those American polling numbers about whether we should ever have fought the Afghan War.  Yes, war strain will be war strain and boys will be boys, but mistake after mistake, horror after horror, the rise of a historically rare phenomenon — Afghan soldiers and policemen repeatedly turning their guns on their American “allies” — all this adds up to a war effort increasingly on life support (even as the Obama administration negotiates to keep troops in the country through 2024).

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Some important articles. Mirrors in which we can see America.

Summary:  Every society has rationality tokens.  Some have many; some few.  In some they are held by people who become leaders of their society; in some they’re held by outcasts.  As a nation evolves, its rationality tokens pass into new hands.  Here we look at America, seeking to find their new holders.

A model American

The disk was made of an undistinguished alloy of common metals, a gray monotone. It looked like a Boston subway token, save for two words inlaid in silver. The words “Rationality Token” flashed against the dull metal background.

{Nathan explained …} “Years ago, a friend of mine noticed an odd thing about meetings with groups of bureaucrats.  Only one bureaucrat in the room would have something rational and intelligent to say about the question under discussion; the rest would answer either with a magician’s verbal handwaving, with statements that were internally inconsistent, or with statements that had no apparent connection to the topic.

“Oddly, for each question, a different bureaucrat gave the rational response. It seemed as though a law of nature prevented more than one bureaucrat from being rational at a time. And you could never predict which bureaucrat could answer a particular question rationally.  My friend developed a theory:  a roomful of bureaucrats shares a single rationality token. Only the one holding the token can act intelligently. The bureaucrats pass the token around secretly during the meeting.”

— from Marc Stiegler’s David’s Sling (1988) — free e-book  here

The bad news

We can easily ignore the rapid decay of the American polity, as it will affect most people only when too late for reform.  The media make this easier by distracting us with accounts of political class’ gibbering and capering, while in the shadows our leaders erase away our civil liberties.  The news media do this because we prefer not to know.  We cover our eyes to avoid seeing what we have become.

The good news

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