Aviva Chomsky: A newspaper’s crisis reveals unreported worlds

Is there a category of human beings who, in election 2016, have been the focus of more negative attention, fear-mongering, or worse press than immigrants, especially undocumented ones coming from or through Mexico (those infamous “rapists”)?  I doubt it.  Thought of in another way, such immigrants seem to be the only “lobbying group” capable of convincing Republican politicians that our crumbling infrastructure needs to be shored up — hence those monster walls to come along the Mexican border.  Immigrants, it’s now well known, are a shiftless bunch of criminals, or as Donald Trump put it, “If you look at the statistics of people coming, you look at the statistics on rape, on crime, on everything coming in illegally into this country it’s mind-boggling!” And don’t forget the terrorist types supposedly worming their way in among refugees — another category of immigrants — fleeing the chaos the U.S. had such a hand in creating in Syria and Iraq.  Those lost souls looking for asylum here have been a particular target of Republican candidates and office holders eager to ban them from coming anywhere near this country or at least their states.  Put it all together and you have a witch’s brew when it comes to the land of the free and home of the… well, whatever.

So imagine the national shock (had anyone been paying attention) that “The Criminalization of Immigration in the United States,” a study by researchers Walter A. Ewing, Daniel E. Martínez, and Rubén G. Rumbaut released last July through the American Immigration Council, should have caused here.  The three scholars offered truly shocking news.  They crunched the latest numbers and confirmed decades of other studies showing that immigration does anything but increase U.S. crime rates.  Immigrants, legal and otherwise, are charged with far fewer “serious crimes” and are jailed far less often than the native born.  To be specific, their study found that “1.6% of immigrant males age 18-39 are incarcerated, compared to 3.3% of the native-born. This disparity in incarceration rates has existed for decades, as evidenced by data from the 1980, 1990, and 2000 decennial censuses. In each of those years, the incarceration rates of the native-born were anywhere from two to five times higher than that of immigrants.”  The same, by the way, holds true for incarceration rates “among the young, less-educated Mexican, Salvadoran, and Guatemalan men who make up the bulk of the unauthorized population.”

How in the world do such definitive hard numbers fit with the overwrought sense of fear and alarm, the myth-making about immigrants alive in the country today?  In her second TomDispatch post, Aviva Chomsky offers an interesting answer: it’s not that hard to create a nightmare vision of immigrants when they are almost never seen by the Americans you are scaring the hell out of.  Their invisibility in our world ensures that just about any picture can be painted of them without fear of contradiction because there’s nothing in most of our lives to which to compare it.  So consider today just one recent case in which, however briefly, that cloak of invisibility began to be lifted from the remarkably lawful, remarkably hardworking immigrants who are the target of so much calumny this election season. Tom Engelhardt

All the news that’s fit to print
How the media hide undocumented workers
By Aviva Chomsky

In our post-modern (or post-post-modern?) age, we are supposedly transcending the material certainties of the past. The virtual world of the Internet is replacing the “real,” material world, as theory asks us to question the very notion of reality.  Yet that virtual world turns out to rely heavily on some distinctly old systems and realities, including the physical labor of those who produce, care for, and provide the goods and services for the post-industrial information economy. 

As it happens, this increasingly invisible, underground economy of muscles and sweat, blood and effort intersects in the most intimate ways with those who enjoy the benefits of the virtual world. Of course, our connection to that virtual world comes through physical devices, and each of them follows a commodity chain that begins with the mining of rare earth elements and ends at a toxic disposal or recycling site, usually somewhere in the Third World.

Closer to home, too, the incontrovertible realities of our physical lives depend on labor — often that of undocumented immigrants — invisible but far from virtual, that makes apparently endless mundane daily routines possible.

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Bill McKibben: The real zombie apocalypse

Here we are just a couple of weeks into 2016 and we already know that last year was the second-warmest on record in the continental United States (the winner so far being 2012); the month of December was a U.S. record-breaker for heat and also precipitation; and it’s assumed that, when the final figures come in later this month, 2015 will prove to be the hottest year on record globally. Even before this news is confirmed, we know that 14 of the 15 warmest years on record have occurred in the twenty-first century which, at least to me, looks ominously like a pattern. And early expectations are that this year will top last, with the help of a continuing monster El Niño event in the overheating waters of the Pacific that has only added to the impact of global warming and to fierce weather around the world. Everywhere it seems increasingly possible to see the signs of climate change: the melting Arctic; the destabilizing ice sheets in both the Antarctic and Greenland; the already rising sea levels that are someday destined to submerge major coastal cities; the disappearing glaciers (and so, in some regions, endangered water supplies); monster typhoons; severe droughts; and the burning that goes with a globally expanding fire season; the — in a word — extremity of it all.

With 2015 in the history books, it’s easy enough to think of our changing weather as part of that history, but that would be a mistake. Climate change, if allowed to come to full fruition, will be something else altogether — not history, but the possible end of it. History, after all, is something we’re generally familiar with. It has its surprises, but the rise and fall of nations, of empires, even of civilizations, the coming of democracy or dictators, the rising of peoples, the failure of revolutions, and yet more autocrats, all of that is the normal course of human events. All of it is part of the ongoing record. Climate change is something else entirely. Certainly, it emerges from history, since through our industrial processes — the burning of coal and oil — we created it, however inadvertently (at first). But let’s face it: global warming is the potential deal-breaker for history. It threatens not just to submerge global cities, but to sink civilization itself.

Don’t think of it as a tragedy for the planet. Give Earth a few million years and it’ll do fine. If climate change does its worst, life, in some fashion, possibly even human life, will undoubtedly survive and someday once again flourish, but the environment in which our civilizations have been built and our modest history recorded, the welcoming planet we’ve known will cease to exist in any time span that is meaningful to us. That is the future reality we face in the grim zombie world of the giant energy companies and energy states that Bill McKibben describes today. It’s why organizations like the one he founded, 350.org, are so important to our future and to the literal preservation of history. Unless we ensure that the human future is powered by alternative energy, and do so relatively quickly, while keeping the preponderance of fossil fuels in the ground, we will indeed find ourselves out of history and in the midst of a climate-change version of a zombie apocalypse. Tom Engelhardt

Night of the living dead, climate change-style
How to stop the fossil fuel industry from wrecking our world
By Bill McKibben

When I was a kid, I was creepily fascinated by the wrongheaded idea, current in my grade school, that your hair and your fingernails kept growing after you died. The lesson seemed to be that it was hard to kill something off — if it wanted to keep going.

Something similar is happening right now with the fossil fuel industry. Even as the global warming crisis makes it clear that coal, natural gas, and oil are yesterday’s energy, the momentum of two centuries of fossil fuel development means new projects keep emerging in a zombie-like fashion.

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Michael Klare: The look of a badly oiled planet

When it comes to news about Saudi Arabia, the execution of an oppositional Shiite cleric, Nimr al-Nimr, has topped the headlines recently — and small wonder.  Aging King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud and his 30-year-old son, Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the new defense minister who has already involved his country in a classic quagmire war in Yemen, clearly intended that death as a regional provocation.  The new Saudi leadership even refused to return the cleric’s body to his family for burial, but interred it with the many al-Qaeda terror suspects killed at the same time, some beheaded.  After death, in other words, al-Nimr was left in uncomfortable company.  Think of it as the ultimate beyond-the-grave insult.  The provocative message embedded in the announcement of his execution was so obvious that, in Shia Iran, crowds supporting that country’s religious hardliners (with their own hideous execution policies) promptly torched the Saudi embassy in Tehran.  In the following days, as the Saudis broke diplomatic relations with Iran, ended a failing truce in Yemen (promptly bombing a home for the blind and also hitting the Iranian embassy in Sana’a), and rallied Sunni neighboring states to similarly break ties or at least downgrade relations, the whole, roiling region hit the news as war fears rose.

On September 10, 2001, had someone predicted that the oil heartlands of the planet would, within a decade and a half, become a roiling mix of failed states, fierce sectarian religious and ethnic struggles, spreading terror groups, and the first terror “caliphate” in history, if you had suggested that Saudi Arabia, one of the more stable countries on the planet, might someday begin to come unglued, that Libya would essentially collapse, Syria be no more, and Iraq be transformed into a riven tripartite land, you would surely have been laughed out of any room of pundits and experts.  So the recent intensification of such a state of affairs, involving two countries in those heartlands with gigantic energy reserves, is big news indeed — but not perhaps the biggest news in the region.

My own pick might be a story that passed largely unnoticed in our American world.  Sitting atop some of the planet’s great oil reserves and getting 73% of their revenues from oil sales (income that dropped by 23% last year), the Saudi royals just hiked the domestic price of gas at the pump by 40%.  Though it still remains dirt cheap by global standards, that act — which is like charging for salt water in the middle of the ocean — is an indication that something startling is going on.  And note that, in the years to come, that kingdom’s rulers are planning to cut back on similar subsidies for “electricity, water, diesel, and kerosene.”  In other words, the world’s largest oil producer and a country of striking wealth (and foreign reserves) no longer feels comfortable giving away gas to its own population, even though this is part of a bargain it struck long ago for peace in the kingdom.

And the reason for this has little to do with Iran or Syria or Yemen or Iraq or the Islamic State.  The problem is far more basic, as TomDispatch’s resident energy expert Michael Klare points out today.  It’s the price of oil, which in the last 18 months has dropped through the floor.  In a sense, the oil business — with its constellation of giant energy firms, until recently among the most profitable companies in history, and its energy-producing states, until recently riding high — may prove to be the natural-resource equivalent of a failed state, and, as Klare makes clear, the changing economics of oil will transform the political face of the planet.  So keep your eye on Saudi Arabia.  Things there could get ugly indeed. Tom Engelhardt

The oil pricequake
Political turmoil in a time of low energy prices
By Michael T. Klare

As 2015 drew to a close, many in the global energy industry were praying that the price of oil would bounce back from the abyss, restoring the petroleum-centric world of the past half-century.  All evidence, however, points to a continuing depression in oil prices in 2016 — one that may, in fact, stretch into the 2020s and beyond.  Given the centrality of oil (and oil revenues) in the global power equation, this is bound to translate into a profound shakeup in the political order, with petroleum-producing states from Saudi Arabia to Russia losing both prominence and geopolitical clout.

To put things in perspective, it was not so long ago — in June 2014, to be exact — that Brent crude, the global benchmark for oil, was selling at $115 per barrel.  Energy analysts then generally assumed that the price of oil would remain well over $100 deep into the future, and might gradually rise to even more stratospheric levels.  Such predictions inspired the giant energy companies to invest hundreds of billions of dollars in what were then termed “unconventional” reserves: Arctic oil, Canadian tar sands, deep offshore reserves, and dense shale formations. It seemed obvious then that whatever the problems with, and the cost of extracting, such energy reserves, sooner or later handsome profits would be made. It mattered little that the cost of exploiting such reserves might reach $50 or more a barrel.

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Michael Klare: Go green young woman, young man

Excuse me if I take a flier today and write an introduction on the good news about climate change. Yep, the good news. It would, of course, be easy enough to do the opposite. When it comes to climate change, gloomy is a cinch. Just about any piece on the subject is likely to depress the hell out of you. Did you know — as I learned only recently from a New York Times article — that sea levels rose at a rate of 1.7 millimeters annually during the previous century, but from 1993 on, that rate has nearly doubled to 3.2 millimeters? Later this century, scientists estimate that it could be “16 millimeters a year, or about six-tenths of an inch” — at least three feet by century’s end and possibly worse, depending on what’s melting and how fast. If you’re a coastal dweller as I am (the eastern U.S.), that should give you pause, and if you live in a coastal area of China, you should be getting nervous. But I did say good news, didn’t I, and it is the weekend that 195 countries reached a climate agreement in Paris, isn’t it? So here goes.

Let’s start with the divestment movement. In Paris recently, the heroic 350.org announced a startling figure. More than 500 institutions representing $3.4 trillion in assets have agreed to get rid of all or part of the fossil fuel investments in their portfolios. That represents a big leap forward for divestment. And this is just one aspect of a growing global climate change movement that wants to point us toward the exit when it comes to the age of carbon and is proving that it can’t be ignored. And speaking of carbon emissions, here’s a little news flash from the atmospheric front lines: it’s just faintly possible that those emissions are peaking ahead of schedule. Despite a modest global economic recovery, for the last couple of years greenhouse gas emissions have flat-lined and they may even fall by a modest 0.6% in 2015. Don’t dance a jig yet. This may not even be the “peak emissions” moment, but if not, it could be coming more quickly than expected.

On a planet getting hotter all the time, this isn’t exactly nirvana-style news, but add this in: it had been hoped that somehow the negotiating nations of the world gathered in Paris these last two weeks might agree to the goal of keeping the prospective rise in temperature on planet Earth to 2 degrees Celsius. As it happens, climate scientists have increasingly been warning that even that number could result in devastating environmental disruptions. To the surprise of all, the aspirational number now mentioned in the Paris agreement is 1.5 degrees Celsius. (Humanity has already fossil-fueled the temperature upward by about a degree since the industrial revolution began.) Of course, agreeing on such a figure is one thing. Coming anywhere near achieving it is another.

Still, good news and climate change are not normally associated, so let’s give a tiny cheer for these glimpses of upbeat news this week, as well as for the agreement just reached, and then consider what’s positive in the long-term outlook for all of us. There, too, as TomDispatch‘s invaluable energy expert Michael Klare suggests, there’s a green glow on the horizon amid the gloom when it comes to renewable energy sources. So don’t pop that champagne cork yet, but do read on! Tom Engelhardt

A new world beckons
The future belongs to renewables
By Michael T. Klare

Historically, the transition from one energy system to another, as from wood to coal or coal to oil, has proven an enormously complicated process, requiring decades to complete. In similar fashion, it will undoubtedly be many years before renewable forms of energy — wind, solar, tidal, geothermal, and others still in development — replace fossil fuels as the world’s leading energy providers. Nonetheless, 2015 can be viewed as the year in which the epochal transition from one set of fuels to another took off, with renewables making such significant strides that, for the first time in centuries, the beginning of the end of the Fossil Fuel Era has come into sight.

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Tom Engelhardt: Roads to nowhere, ghost soldiers, and a $43 million gas station in Afghanistan

It’s a $cam!
The American way of war in the twenty-first century
By Tom Engelhardt

Let’s begin with the $12 billion in shrink-wrapped $100 bills, Iraqi oil money held in the U.S.  The Bush administration began flying it into Baghdad on C-130s soon after U.S. troops entered that city in April 2003.  Essentially dumped into the void that had once been the Iraqi state, at least $1.2 to $1.6 billion of it was stolen and ended up years later in a mysterious bunker in Lebanon.  And that’s just what happened as the starting gun went off.

It’s never ended.  In 2011, the final report of the congressionally mandated Commission on Wartime Contracting estimated that somewhere between $31 billion and $60 billion taxpayer dollars had been lost to fraud and waste in the American “reconstruction” of Iraq and Afghanistan.  In Iraq, for instance, there was that $75 million police academy, initially hailed “as crucial to U.S. efforts to prepare Iraqis to take control of the country’s security.”  It was, however, so poorly constructed that it proved a health hazard.  In 2006, “feces and urine rained from the ceilings in [its] student barracks” and that was only the beginning of its problems.

When the bad press started, Parsons Corporation, the private contractor that built it, agreed to fix it for nothing more than the princely sum already paid.  A year later, a New York Times reporter visited and found that “the ceilings are still stained with excrement, parts of the structures are crumbling, and sections of the buildings are unusable because the toilets are filthy and nonfunctioning.”  This seems to have been par for the course.  Typically enough, the Khan Bani Saad Correctional Facility, a $40 million prison Parsons also contracted to build, was never even finished.

And these were hardly isolated cases or problems specific to Iraq.  Consider, for instance, those police stations in Afghanistan believed to be crucial to “standing up” a new security force in that country.  Despite the money poured into them and endless cost overruns, many were either never completed or never built, leaving new Afghan police recruits camping out.  And the police were hardly alone.  Take the $3.4 million unfinished teacher-training center in Sheberghan, Afghanistan, that an Iraqi company was contracted to build (using, of course, American dollars) and from which it walked away, money in hand.

And why stick to buildings, when there were those Iraqi roads to nowhere paid for by American dollars? At least one of them did at least prove useful to insurgent groups moving their guerrillas around (like the $37 million bridge the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built between Afghanistan and Tajikistan that helped facilitate the region’s booming drug trade in opium and heroin).  In Afghanistan, Highway 1 between the capital Kabul and the southern city of Kandahar, unofficially dubbed the “highway to nowhere,” was so poorly constructed that it began crumbling in its first Afghan winter.

And don’t think that this was an aberration.  The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) hired an American nonprofit, International Relief and Development (IRD), to oversee an ambitious road-building program meant to gain the support of rural villagers.  Almost $300 million later, it could point to “less than 100 miles of gravel road completed.”  Each mile of road had, by then, cost U.S. taxpayers $2.8 million, instead of the expected $290,000, while a quarter of the road-building funds reportedly went directly to IRD for administrative and staff costs.  Needless to say, as the road program failed, USAID hired IRD to oversee other non-transportation projects.

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Ann Jones: The never-ending war

In an effort to attack Taliban fighters, an air strike by a U.S. plane killed dozens of civilians in Kunduz, Afghanistan. In the wake of the attack, an American general responded in unequivocal fashion. “I take this possible loss of life or injury to innocent Afghans very seriously,” he said. “I have ordered a complete investigation into the reasons and results of this attack, which I will share with the Afghan people.”

In an effort to attack Taliban fighters, an air strike by a U.S. plane killed dozens of civilians in Kunduz, Afghanistan. In the wake of the attack, an American general responded in unequivocal fashion. “I want to offer my deepest condolences to those innocent civilians who were harmed and killed on Saturday,” he said. “I’ve ordered a thorough investigation into this tragic incident… we will share the results of the investigation once it is complete.”

The first of those air strikes took place in 2009 and targeted fuel tankers hijacked by the Taliban. The second took place last month and targeted a hospital that Afghan officials say was used as a safe haven by the Taliban. The striking similarities between the two attacks are rooted not in uncanny coincidence but in the law of averages. Bomb a country long enough and such echoes are bound to occur.

Of course, U.S. planes have been carrying out attacks and terrorizing innocent Afghans in and around Kunduz (and elsewhere in the country) since 2001. This is, after all, America’s war in Afghanistan, which has produced eerily repetitive tragedies; a war that’s also seen almost endless announcements of achievements, improvements, and progress; a war that seems to regularly circle back on itself.

“The Taliban is gone,” Army General Tommy Franks, the chief of U.S. Central Command, announced in 2002. “Afghanistan is rising from the oppression of the Taliban into an independent, democratic nation.” Six years later, the Taliban was, oddly enough, still around. But things were still going well. “We’re clearly not done… But I do know that we’re making good progress, and each and every day we’re making a difference in the Afghan people’s lives,” said Army Major General Jeffrey Schloesser. In 2010, Army General David Petraeus offered his unique assessment of the war. “We’re making progress, and progress is winning, if you will,” he insisted. This summer, another five years having passed, Army General John Campbell weighed in: “We have done a great job, both from both a conventional perspective and our special operating forces, and from the Afghan security forces… I see [the Afghans] continue to progress and continue to be very resilient.”

There have been so many claims of “progress” these last 14 years (and so many air strike apologies as well) and yet each announcement of further success seems to signal the very opposite. Days after Campbell spoke, for instance, Brigadier General Wilson Shoffner, the U.S. deputy chief of staff for communications in Afghanistan, told reporters, “Kunduz is — is not now, and has not been in danger of being overrun by the Taliban… that’s sort of how we see it.” Just over a month later, Kunduz fell to the Taliban.

This is the war that TomDispatch regular Ann Jones has monitored, analyzed, and covered since its opening stages, first as a humanitarian worker and then as a reporter. While the military was spinning tales of progress, Jones had a far more realistic assessment. “The story of success in Afghanistan was always more fairy tale than fact — one scam used to sell another,” she wrote at this site in 2006, drawing attention to “a threefold failure: no peace, no democracy, and no reconstruction.” After embedding with U.S. troops in 2010 she said all the things America’s generals never did. “I’d been ‘on the front’ of this war for less than two weeks, and I already needed a vacation,” she wrote. “Being outside the wire had filled me with sorrow as I watched earnest, heavily armed and armored boys try to win over white-bearded Afghans — men of extraordinary dignity — who have seen all this before and know the outcome.”

All this is to say Jones has been remarkably, consistently, undeniably ahead of the curve on the conflict, a reality reflected in her revelatory look at the deeply personal costs of America’s second Afghan War in her now-classic book, They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return from America’s Wars — The Untold Story. She’s done what billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars, 17 U.S. intelligence agencies, the finest officers produced by America’s premier military academies, and untold numbers of analysts with access to highly classified information, have failed to do: accurately assess the situation in a country the U.S. has been intimately enmeshed in, on and off now, for the better part of four decades. With that in mind, let Jones give you the lowdown on the current state of “progress” there. When you’re through, chances are — even if you lack a top-secret clearance and have never set foot in the Greater Middle East — you’ll have a better grasp of the reality of the war than either the Pentagon or the president has ever had. Nick Turse

Afghanistan “after” the American war
Once more down the rabbit hole
By Ann Jones

Ten months ago, on December 28, 2014, a ceremony in Kabul officially marked the conclusion of America’s very long war in Afghanistan. President Obama called that day “a milestone for our country.” After more than 13 years, he said, “our combat mission in Afghanistan is ending, and the longest war in American history is coming to a responsible conclusion.”

That was then. This is now. In between, on September 28, 2015, came another milestone: the Taliban takeover of Kunduz, the capital of the province of the same name in northern Afghanistan, and with a population of about 270,000, the country’s fifth-largest city.

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Michael Klare: Are resource wars our future?

These days, all you have to do is look around if you want your hair to stand on end on the subject of our future on this planet.  Here’s just a little relatively random list of recent news on climate-change-related happenings.

Mexico was recently hit by the most powerful hurricane ever recorded in the Western Hemisphere.  According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, average global temperatures for September ran off the rails.  (“This marks the fifth consecutive month a monthly high temperature record has been set and is the highest departure from average for any month among all 1,629 months in the record that began in January 1880.”)  It was the seventh month of 2015 to be “record shattering” and the year itself looks as if it might cumulatively be the same.  (By now, this story is considered so humdrum and expectable that it didn’t even make the front page of my hometown newspaper!)  The cataclysmic civil war, terror war, and international conflict in Syria is being reclassified as the first climate-change war based on the staggering drought that preceded it.  That, in fact, has been called “the worst long-term drought and most severe set of crop failures since agricultural civilizations began in the Fertile Crescent many millennia ago.”  Turning to colder climes, ice in Antarctica is melting so unexpectedly quickly that, according to the latest research, the continent’s ice shelves might be heading for collapse by 2100, guaranteeing a future rise in sea levels of potentially staggering proportions.  Meanwhile, last week you could go online and watch dramatic video evidence of the melting of Greenland — rivers of water raging across a dissolving ice shelf that, one of these decades, will raise sea levels by an estimated 20 feet globally.  And oh yes, for those of you curious about the hotter regions, a new study indicates that heat waves in the Persian Gulf may be so fierce before or by the end of this century that, in some of parts of the oil heartlands of the planet, they might quite literally endanger human survival.

Need I go on?  Need I mention why the upcoming climate change confab in Paris in a few weeks matters big time? Need I add that, whatever agreements may be reached there, they are essentially guaranteed not to be enough to bring global warming truly under control.  And in that context, if you think that a Greater Middle East with five failed states in it since 2001 is already a nightmare, consider TomDispatch regular Michael Klare’s vision of a resource-war-torn planet in a “record-shattering” future of abysmal heat and climate tipping points.  If you want to know what’s at stake for our grandchildren and great-grandchildren, read this article. Tom Engelhardt

Why the Paris climate summit will be a peace conference
Averting a world of failed states and resource wars
By Michael T. Klare

At the end of November, delegations from nearly 200 countries will convene in Paris for what is billed as the most important climate meeting ever held.  Officially known as the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP-21) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (the 1992 treaty that designated that phenomenon a threat to planetary health and human survival), the Paris summit will be focused on the adoption of measures that would limit global warming to less than catastrophic levels. If it fails, world temperatures in the coming decades are likely to exceed 2 degrees Celsius (3.5 degrees Fahrenheit), the maximum amount most scientists believe the Earth can endure without experiencing irreversible climate shocks, including soaring temperatures and a substantial rise in global sea levels.

A failure to cap carbon emissions guarantees another result as well, though one far less discussed.  It will, in the long run, bring on not just climate shocks, but also worldwide instability, insurrection, and warfare.  In this sense, COP-21 should be considered not just a climate summit but a peace conference — perhaps the most significant peace convocation in history.

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Nick Turse: Success, failure, and the ‘finest warriors who ever went into combat’

If journalism was once considered the first rough draft of history, now, when it comes to American military policy at least, it’s often the first rough pass at writing a script for The Daily Show.” Take, for example, a little inside-the-paper piece that Eric Schmitt of the New York Times penned recently with this headline: “New Role for General After Failure of Syria Rebel Plan.” And here’s the first paragraph:

“The Army general in charge of the Pentagon’s failed $500 million program to train and equip Syrian rebels is leaving his job in the next few weeks, but is likely to be promoted and assigned a senior counterterrorism position here, American officials said on Monday.”

Yes, you read that right. Major General Michael Nagata is indeed “likely to be promoted.” He remains, according to Schmitt, one of “the Army’s rising stars” and is “in line to be awarded a third star, to lieutenant general, and take a senior position at the National Counterterrorism Center in Washington.” Oh, and one of the reasons for his possible upcoming promotion, other than having overseen a program to produce 15,000 American-backed “moderate” Syrian rebels ready to fight the Islamic State that actually only produced a handful of them who fought no one, is according to “colleagues” his “bureaucratic acumen in counterterrorism jobs at the C.I.A. and the Pentagon.”

Bureaucratic acumen! What better skill could you ask for in the new American national security state built since 9/11 on failure? No kidding, wouldn’t you give your right arm to be in an organization that essentially called whatever you did success and promoted you accordingly? As TomDispatch’s Nick Turse notes in his latest stunning report on America’s Special Operations forces, the secret military within our military that has in recent years grown to monstrous proportions has also gone from “success” to “success”; that is, as an organization, its expansion has been dependent upon Washington’s military failures and disasters, especially in the Greater Middle East. One of Bob Dylan’s famed cryptic lyrics seems to cover the situation with a certain precision: “She knows there’s no success like failure. And that failure’s no success at all.” Tom Engelhardt 

Iraq, Afghanistan, and other special ops “successes”
America’s elite forces deploy to a record-shattering 147 countries in 2015
By Nick Turse

They’re some of the best soldiers in the world: highly trained, well equipped, and experts in weapons, intelligence gathering, and battlefield medicine.  They study foreign cultures and learn local languages.  They’re smart, skillful, wear some very iconic headgear, and their 12-member teams are “capable of conducting the full spectrum of special operations, from building indigenous security forces to identifying and targeting threats to U.S. national interests.” 

They’re also quite successful.  At least they think so.

“In the last decade, Green Berets have deployed into 135 of the 195 recognized countries in the world. Successes in Afghanistan, Iraq, Trans-Sahel Africa, the Philippines, the Andean Ridge, the Caribbean, and Central America have resulted in an increasing demand for [Special Forces] around the globe,” reads a statement on the website of U.S. Army Special Forces Command.

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Michael Klare: Tipping points and the question of civilizational survival

In mid-August, TomDispatch’s Michael Klare wrote presciently of the oncoming global oil glut, the way it was driving the price of petroleum into the “energy subbasement,” and how such a financial “rout,” if extended over the next couple of years, might lead toward a new (and better) world of energy.  As it happens, the first good news of the sort Klare was imagining has since come in.  In a country where the price of gas at the pump now averages $2.29 a gallon (and in some places has dropped under $1.90), Big Oil has begun cutting back on its devastating plans to extract every imaginable drop of fossil fuel from the planet and burn it.  Oil companies have also been laying off employees by the tens of thousands and deep-sixing, at least for now, plans to search for and exploit tar sands and other “tough oil” deposits worldwide.

In that context, as September ended, after a disappointing six weeks of drilling, Royal Dutch Shell cancelled “for the foreseeable future” its search for oil and natural gas in the tempestuous but melting waters of the Alaskan Arctic.  This was no small thing and a great victory for an environmental movement that had long fought to put obstacles in the way of Shell’s exploration plans.  Green-lighted by the Obama administration to drill in the Chukchi Sea this summer, Shell has over the last nine years sunk more than $7 billion into its Arctic drilling project, so the decision to close up shop was no small thing and offers a tiny ray of hope for what activism can do when reality offers a modest helping hand.

As Klare makes clear today, when it comes to the burning of fossil fuels, reality — if only we bother to notice it — is threatening to offer something more like the back of its hand to us on this embattled planet of ours.  He offers a look at a future in which humanity, like various increasingly endangered ecosystems including the Arctic, may be approaching a “tipping point.” Tom Engelhardt

Welcome to a new planet
Climate change “tipping points” and the fate of the Earth
By Michael T. Klare

Not so long ago, it was science fiction. Now, it’s hard science — and that should frighten us all. The latest reports from the prestigious and sober Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) make increasingly hair-raising reading, suggesting that the planet is approaching possible moments of irreversible damage in a fashion and at a speed that had not been anticipated.

Scientists have long worried that climate change will not continue to advance in a “linear” fashion, with the planet getting a little bit hotter most years.  Instead, they fear, humanity could someday experience “non-linear” climate shifts (also known as “singularities” or “tipping points”) after which there would be sudden and irreversible change of a catastrophic nature.  This was the premise of the 2004 climate-disaster film The Day After Tomorrow.  In that movie — most notable for its vivid scenes of a frozen-over New York City — melting polar ice causes a disruption in the North Atlantic Current, which in turn triggers a series of catastrophic storms and disasters.  At the time of its release, many knowledgeable scientists derided the film’s premise, insisting that the confluence of events it portrayed was unlikely or simply impossible.

Fast forward 11 years and the prospect of such calamitous tipping points in the North Atlantic or elsewhere no longer looks improbable.  In fact, climate scientists have begun to note early indicators of possible catastrophes.

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Frida Berrigan: A mother thinks the unthinkable

Frida Berrigan’s piece today speaks to me very personally. At 71, I have two children and a grandchild in this world, and I feel some responsibility for the sorry planet I’m leaving them. TomDispatch began as a no-name listserv, springing from a post-9/11 foreboding that, though I had been mobilized and active in the Vietnam War era, what was coming would be the worst years of my life, politically speaking. As those repetitive ceremonies in which we celebrated ourselves and our country as the greatest victims, survivors, and dominators on the planet spread, as they refused to end, as the urge for revenge of some all-encompassing sort grew and was encouraged by the Bush administration, as I began to grasp where its top officials were thinking about taking us (to hell and back, to quote a movie title of my childhood), I had the urge to do something.

I had done good work as a book editor over the years, but this was different.  It was a powerful feeling that I couldn’t just leave what seemed to be a degrading country or world to my children without lifting a hand, without trying to do something.  I had no idea what, but from that feeling, thanks to happenstance, dumb luck, and obsession, TomDispatch stumbled into existence.  And because I was then indeed doing something, I felt, amid the gloom, a certain hope.

So I’ve never looked back.  But, of course, one small critical website that attempts to offer ways to reframe what’s happening on our increasingly embattled planet hardly represents a world-saving act, nor did I ever think that such an act could be mine — or really any individual’s.  What this has meant, though, is that, 14 years later, when with utter exuberance my grandson “races” me down a city block pulling me by the hand, I feel just the sort of pleasure (at one remove since I’m no longer the parent) that TomDispatch regular Berrigan describes so movingly with her own daughter.  And every time I’m with him, just as she describes, there are those other moments, the ones when I suddenly remember what’s happening on this planet, the ones when I look at him and feel overcome by sadness verging on grief at the potentially devastated world that may be his inheritance, my “gift” to him.  Those are indeed fears “too big to name.”  Still, Berrigan does a remarkable job of bringing to consciousness a new sensibility that, however seldom mentioned, must be increasingly common currency on this planet. Tom Engelhart

Parenting on the brink
Wrestling with fears too big to name
By Frida Berrigan

Madeline is in the swing, her face the picture of delight. “Mo, mo,” she cries and kicks her legs to show me that she wants me to push her higher and faster. I push, and push, and push with both hands. There is no thought in my head except for her joy. I’m completely present in this moment. It’s perfection. Madeline embodies the eternal now and she carries me with her, pulling me out of my worries and fears and plans.

But not forever: after a few minutes, my mind and eyes wander. I take in the whole busy playground, crowded with toddlers plunging headlong into adventure and their attendant adults shouting exhortations to be careful, offering snacks, or lost in the tiny offices they carry in their hands. It’s a gorgeous day. Sunny and blue and not too hot, a hint of fall in the breeze. And then my eye is caught by a much younger mom across the playground trying to convince her toddler that it’s time to go.

When Madeline graduates from high school, I will be 57. Jeez, I think, that mom will still be younger than I am now when her kid walks across that stage. If I live to be 85, Madeline will be 46 and maybe by then I’ll have some grandkids.  In fact, I’m suddenly convinced of it.  Between Madeline and her three-year-old brother Seamus and their eight-year-old sister Rosena, I will definitely live to see grandkids.  I reassure myself for the millionth time that having kids in my late thirties was totally fine.

And then another thought comes to mind, the sort of thought that haunts the parents of this moment: When I’m 85, it will be 2059, and what will that look like? When my grandkids are my age now, it could be almost a new century. And what will our planet look like then? And I feel that little chill that must be increasingly commonplace among other parents of 2015.

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Nomi Prins: How Trump became Trump and what that means for the rest of us

Sometimes when I look at the increasingly bizarre, never-ending campaign for the White House and the staggering fundraising that goes with it, I think to myself: if we were in Kabul, Afghanistan, we would know what this was. We would recognize warlord politics. We would understand that (Bernie Sanders aside) politicians running for the presidency now need patrons — modern-day Medicis who can fund the super PACs that are increasingly the heart and soul of a process leading to the first $10 billion election. Those billionaire funders are, of course, America’s warlords. In his book No Good Men Among the Living: America, the Taliban, and the War Through Afghan Eyes, reporter Anand Gopal offers a riveting up close and personal look at how the process works far from home. One of the Afghans he follows is a remarkable woman who, under the patronage of just such a warlord, finds herself a senator in the Afghan Parliament.

In our system, the candidates now first test their “electability” not with voters in primaries, but with a tiny coterie of the super-rich.  In the case of the Koch brothers, for instance, they literally audition for support. In twenty-first-century America, these should undoubtedly be considered the real primaries and what happens starting in Iowa and New Hampshire early next year should be thought of as the secondaries. The increasingly fierce contests for money are America’s new electoral reality, the one the Supreme Court let loose on the land with its 2010 Citizens United decision that freed the voice of money to overwhelm the many voices of this country. The process of fundraising has only gained momentum since then and yet this new form of electoral politics is a system still in formation, like molten lava only now beginning to cool and settle into its future shape.

To give credit where it’s due, Donald Trump has kept that lava hot in ways that, under other circumstances, would be amusing indeed. After all, he’s the definition of an American warlord — and he’s also running for the presidency. It’s an unexpected wrinkle in the coalescence of a genuinely plutocratic electoral system. In other words, The Donald would like to send himself and, as TomDispatch regular Nomi Prins points out today, his money directly to the Oval Office in January 2017, while mocking those helpless peons of the political class who need to turn to people like him to be in the big time. Despite some public discussion of Trump’s many bankruptcies, Mr. Art of the Deal has had remarkably free sailing when it comes to what it might mean to put a billionaire in the White House. Conflicts of interest? Don’t even think about it!  Prins, author of All the Presidents’ Bankers: The Hidden Alliances That Drive American Power, shifts the focus to where it should be — on The Donald’s finances and the conflicts that make the man and would be part and parcel of any Trump presidency. Tom Engelhardt

Trumpocrisy
The Donald’s finances and the art of ignoring conflicts and contradictions
By Nomi Prins

The 2016 election campaign is certainly a billionaire’s playground when it comes to “establishment candidates” like Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush who cater to mega-donors and use their money to try to rally party bases. The only genuine exception to the rule this time around has been Bernie Sanders, who has built a solid grassroots following and funding machine, while shunning what he calls “the billionaire class” that fuels the super PACs.

Donald Trump, like Ross Perot back in the 1992 and 1996 elections, has played quite a different trick on the money-saturated American political system.  He has removed the billionaire as middleman between citizen plebeians and political elites, and created a true .00001% candidate, because he’s… well, a financial elite unto himself, however conveniently posed as the country’s straight-talking “everyman.”

Despite his I-can-buy-but-can’t-be-bought swagger, Trump’s persona has been carefully constructed to deflect even the most obvious questions of conflict of interest that his wealth and deal-making history should bring up. He claims that he would govern (or dictate) as he is, no apologies or bullshit. But would he?

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Greg Grandin: Henry of Arabia

Why do I always seem to be writing about Henry Kissinger?   

I once listened to the man who helped prolong the Vietnam War for half a decade declare that its “tragedy” lay in the fact “that the faith of Americans in each other became destroyed in the process.” I later took to the (web)pages of the New York Times to suggest that perhaps “the pain endured by millions of survivors in Vietnam who lost family, the pain of millions who were wounded, of millions who were killed, of millions driven from their homes into slums and [refugee] camps reeking of squalor” was a greater tragedy.

Then there was that book review for the Daily Beast on the forgotten genocide in Bangladesh. Wouldn’t you know that Kissinger was completely wrapped up in it? He and his boss President Richard Nixon, in fact, conspired to support “Pakistan’s fiercely anti-communist Muslim military ruler in the face of his 1971 mass murder of mostly Hindu Bengalis who were seeking political autonomy and, ultimately, their own independent nation.” Frightening as it may seem, during this episode Nixon proved to be the voice of reason as Kissinger apparently pushed to escalate the conflict into a showdown with the Soviets. 

Earlier this year, in the pages of The Nation, I found myself writing yet again about the former national security adviser and secretary of state, this time for his role in Rory Kennedy’s Oscar-nominated documentary, Last Days in Vietnam:

“Kissinger — architect of the secret, murderous bombing of neighboring Cambodia and top adviser to a president who resigned rather than face impeachment — is given carte blanche to craft his own self-serving version of history and to champion another former boss, President Ford, as a humanitarian.”

Of course, Kissinger’s name and handiwork also show up in my book on American war crimes in Vietnam, Kill Anything That Moves. And here I am again writing about the man, an activity that’s starting to look almost obsessive, so let me explain. One day in the early 2000s, I found myself on a street in New York City watching as Kissinger was hustled away amid a sea of roiling vitriol. “War criminal,” shouted the protesters. “You’ve got blood on your hands, Henry.” It wasn’t quite clear whose blood they were referring to. It might have been that of Cambodians. Unless it was Vietnamese. Or Laotians. Or Chileans. Or Bangladeshis. Or East Timorese. From one corner of the world to another, Kissinger seems to have had a hand in a remarkable number of untoward acts of state. 

And as TomDispatch regular Greg Grandin suggests today, that’s only the beginning of a grim list of nations. Just as the United States was extricating itself from its long debacle in Indochina, Grandin points out, it was embarking on what would become another festering fiasco. If George W. Bush blew a hole through the Greater Middle East, Henry Kissinger lit the fuse. Today, we’re still dealing with the hellacious fallout of Kissinger’s in-office foreign policy machinations and out-of-office wise-man advice as the Greater Middle East hemorrhages lives and refugees.

This revelation and a raft of others figure in Grandin’s latest book, Kissinger’s Shadow: The Long Reach of America’s Most Controversial Statesman, which paints a stunning portrait of that consummate political chameleon and offers answers about how and why the world is so destabilized and why so much of it can be traced, at least in part, to the United States and its senior statesman, Henry the K. Andrew Bacevich calls Grandin’s book a “tour de force” and Publisher’s Weekly says ardent Kissinger foes will be “enthralled,” so pick up a copy after you’re done reading about the CEO emeritus of Debacle, Inc. Nick Turse

Debacle, Inc.
How Henry Kissinger helped create our “proliferated” world
By Greg Grandin

The only person Henry Kissinger flattered more than President Richard Nixon was Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the Shah of Iran. In the early 1970s, the Shah, sitting atop an enormous reserve of increasingly expensive oil and a key figure in Nixon and Kissinger’s move into the Middle East, wanted to be dealt with as a serious person. He expected his country to be treated with the same respect Washington showed other key Cold War allies like West Germany and Great Britain. As Nixon’s national security adviser and, after 1973, secretary of state, Kissinger’s job was to pump up the Shah, to make him feel like he truly was the “king of kings.”

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Nick Turse: A secret war in 135 countries

It was an impressive effort: a front-page New York Times story about a “new way of war” with the bylines of six reporters, and two more and a team of researchers cited at the end of the piece. “They have plotted deadly missions from secret bases in the badlands of Somalia. In Afghanistan, they have engaged in combat so intimate that they have emerged soaked in blood that was not their own. On clandestine raids in the dead of the night, their weapons of choice have ranged from customized carbines to primeval tomahawks.” So began the Times investigation of SEAL Team 6, its nonstop missions, its weaponry, its culture, the stresses and strains its “warriors” have experienced in recent years, and even some of the accusations leveled against them. (“Afghan villagers and a British commander accused SEALs of indiscriminately killing men in one hamlet.”)

For all the secrecy surrounding SEAL Team 6, it has been the public face of America’s Special Operations forces and so has garnered massive attention, especially, of course, after some of its members killed Osama bin Laden on a raid in Abbottabad, Pakistan, in 2011. It even won a starring role in the Oscar-winning Hollywood film Zero Dark Thirty, produced with CIA help, about the tracking down of bin Laden. As a unit, however, SEAL Team 6 is “roughly 300 assault troops, called operators, and 1,500 support personnel”; in other words, more or less a drop in the bucket when it comes to America’s Special Operations forces. And its story, however nonstop and dramatic, is similarly a drop in the bucket when it comes to the flood of special operations actions in these years.

While SEAL Team 6 has received extensive coverage, what could be considered the military story of the twenty-first century, the massive, ongoing expansion of a secret force (functionally the president’s private army) cocooned inside the U.S. military — now at almost 70,000 personnel and growing — has gotten next to none. Keep in mind that such a force is already larger than the active-duty militaries of Australia, Chile, Cuba, Hungary, the Netherlands, Nigeria, and South Africa, among a bevy of other countries. If those 70,000 personnel engaging in operations across the planet — even their most mundane acts enveloped in a blanket of secrecy — have created, as the Times suggests, a new way of war in and out of Washington’s war zones, it has gone largely unreported in the American media.

Thanks to Nick Turse (and Andrew Bacevich), however, TomDispatch has been the exception to this seemingly ironclad rule. Since 2011, when he found special operations units deployed to 120 countries annually, Turse has continued to chart their expanding global role in 2012, 2014, and this year. He has also tried, as today, to assess just how successful this new way of war that melds the soldier and the spy, the counterinsurgent and the guerrilla, the drone assassin and the “man-hunter” has been. Imagine for a moment the resources that the media would apply to such an analogous Russian or Chinese force, if its units covertly trained “friendly” militaries or went into action yearly in at least two-thirds of the countries on the planet. Tom Engelhardt

U.S. special ops forces deployed in 135 nations
2015 proves to be record-breaking year for the military’s secret military
By Nick Turse

You can find them in dusty, sunbaked badlands, moist tropical forests, and the salty spray of third-world littorals. Standing in judgement, buffeted by the rotor wash of a helicopter or sweltering beneath the relentless desert sun, they instruct, yell, and cajole as skinnier men playact under their watchful eyes. In many places, more than their particular brand of camouflage, better boots, and designer gear sets them apart. Their days are scented by stale sweat and gunpowder; their nights are spent in rustic locales or third-world bars.

These men — and they are mostly men — belong to an exclusive military fraternity that traces its heritage back to the birth of the nation. Typically, they’ve spent the better part of a decade as more conventional soldiers, sailors, marines, or airmen before making the cut. They’ve probably been deployed overseas four to 10 times. The officers are generally approaching their mid-thirties; the enlisted men, their late twenties. They’ve had more schooling than most in the military. They’re likely to be married with a couple of kids. And day after day, they carry out shadowy missions over much of the planet: sometimes covert raids, more often hush-hush training exercises from Chad to Uganda, Bahrain to Saudi Arabia, Albania to Romania, Bangladesh to Sri Lanka, Belize to Uruguay. They belong to the Special Operations forces (SOF), America’s most elite troops — Army Green Berets and Navy SEALs, among others — and odds are, if you throw a dart at a world map or stop a spinning globe with your index finger and don’t hit water, they’ve been there sometime in 2015.

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Krushnic and King: The corporate nuclear complex

They’ve run the most profitable companies in history and, to put it bluntly, they are destroying the planet.  In the past, given an American obsession with terrorists, I’ve called them “terrarists.”  I’m referring, of course, to the CEOs of the Big Energy companies, who in these years have strained to find new ways to exploit every imaginable reservoir of fossil fuels on the planet and put them into the atmosphere in the form of carbon dioxide emissions.  One thing is certain: just as the top executives running tobacco companies, the lead industry, and asbestos outfits once did, they know what their drive for mega-profits means for the rest of us — check out the fire season in western North America this year — and our children and grandchildren.  If you think the world is experiencing major refugee flows right now, just wait until the droughts grow more extreme and the flooding of coastal areas increases.

As I wrote back in 2013:

“With all three industries, the negative results conveniently arrived years, sometimes decades, after exposure and so were hard to connect to it.  Each of these industries knew that the relationship existed.  Each used that time-disconnect as protection.  One difference: if you were a tobacco, lead, or asbestos exec, you might be able to ensure that your children and grandchildren weren’t exposed to your product.  In the long run, that’s not a choice when it comes to fossil fuels and CO2, as we all live on the same planet (though it’s also true that the well-off in the temperate zones are unlikely to be the first to suffer).”

Remarkably enough, as Richard Krushnic and Jonathan King make clear today, the profits pursued by a second set of CEOs are similarly linked in the most intimate ways to the potential destruction of the planet (at least as a habitable environment for humanity and many other species) and the potential deaths of tens of millions of people.  These are the executives who run the companies that develop, maintain, and modernize our nuclear arsenal and, as with the energy companies, use their lobbyists and their cash to push constantly in Washington for more of the same.  Someday, looking back, historians (if they still exist) will undoubtedly consider the activities of both groups as examples of the ultimate in criminality. Tom Engelhardt

Privatizing the apocalypse
How nuclear weapons companies commandeer your tax dollars
By Richard Krushnic and Jonathan Alan King

Imagine for a moment a genuine absurdity: somewhere in the United States, the highly profitable operations of a set of corporations were based on the possibility that sooner or later your neighborhood would be destroyed and you and all your neighbors annihilated.  And not just you and your neighbors, but others and their neighbors across the planet. What would we think of such companies, of such a project, of the mega-profits made off it?

In fact, such companies do exist. They service the American nuclear weapons industry and the Pentagon’s vast arsenal of potentially world-destroying weaponry.  They make massive profits doing so, live comfortable lives in our neighborhoods, and play an active role in Washington politics.  Most Americans know little or nothing about their activities and the media seldom bother to report on them or their profits, even though the work they do is in the service of an apocalyptic future almost beyond imagining.

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Rebecca Gordon: Flying the unfriendly skies of America

Rebecca Gordon’s piece today triggered a little repressed memory of mine of a trip I took in 2003. Arriving at the airport, I turned my suitcase over to the ticket agent, only to be told that it had been singled out for special inspection. I was already running TomDispatch and I couldn’t help wondering, somewhat nervously, if my activities had preceded me to the airport. I was directed to another spot in the terminal where I lifted the suitcase onto a table in front of a Transportation Security Administration agent. She promptly unzipped the bag, flipped it open, and front and center, face up atop my folded clothes, was a book that had “Unabomber” in big letters in its title. It felt as if a jolt of electricity had shot through my body and my eyes were bugging out of my head at my obvious stupidity. As if to confirm that feeling, the agent looked stunned, too. We were both silent for a too-long moment, contemplating the reckless passenger who had a book about the Unabomber conspicuously displayed in his bag.  Then she said, “How is it?”

It was the last question I expected to hear and I stumbled far too quickly to respond with something like: “I don’t know. I haven’t read it yet. A newspaper asked me to review it.” (All true, but in translation it clearly meant: “Hey, I know this looks terrible, but I’m a reputable book reviewer, not your basic terror-lovin’ sorta guy.”) Not much else was said, but believe me, my bag and backpack were inspected with a thoroughness that had to be seen to be believed. A second agent was even called in to lend a hand. In the end, the bag was cleared for departure and, chastened, I headed for the security line, already unfastening my belt.

And there’s a little p.s. to this episode. Not so long after, I set out on another trip, this time carrying Tariq Ali’s book, Clash of Fundamentalisms: Crusades, Jihads, and Modernity, with me. As I was packing, I noticed that its cover featured George Bush’s face superimposed on Osama bin Laden’s. It was a striking image and in a split second I was slipping the jacket off the book to leave at home. If I got singled out again, I had no intention of letting an agent find a cloned bin Laden-Bush image among my possessions.

In this way, microscopic act by microscopic act, whoever we are, whatever we think we think, we can’t help but absorb the limits, the directives, the intentions that our ascendant national security state wants to impose on us. In all sorts of devious ways, without serious thought, in acts that hardly register, we make their agendas, their surveillance, their searches our own; we turn their taste in reading and thinking and expressing themselves into ours. Someday, there’s a great book to be written on all the hidden triumphs of that ever-more powerful shadow state that has embedded its version of the American way of life inside our own. In the meantime, check out TomDispatch regular Rebecca Gordon’s account of how we create our own no-fly lists and become our own no-fliers in the unfriendly skies of twenty-first-century America. Tom Engelhardt      

The no-fly follies
How to censor yourself before the government even has the chance
By Rebecca Gordon

It was August 2002. My partner Jan Adams and I were just beginning our annual pilgrimage to Massachusetts to visit my father and stepmother. At the check-in line at San Francisco International Airport, we handed over our driver’s licenses and waited for the airline ticket agent to find our flight and reservation. Suddenly, she got a funny look on her face. “There’s something wrong with the computer,” she said. “I need to talk to my supervisor.”

So began a day of confusion and fear, followed by several years of indignation, frustration, and litigation, as we struggled to find out why — as the agent’s supervisor soon informed us with a similarly strange look on her face — we’d both “turned up on the FBI’s no-fly list.” Her eyes grew wide as she looked us over. “I don’t understand it,” she said. “You don’t fit the profile.”

She was right, of course. A pair of middle-aged, middle-class, white lesbians did not fit the profile of the “Arab terrorists” she expected the no-fly list to contain. What she didn’t know was that our suitcases held hundreds of copies of War Times/Tiempo de guerras, a free, bilingual antiwar tabloid we’d helped start. Could aging pacifists have fit the danger-to-America profile?

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