You are browsing the archive for Politics.

Lewis Lapham: Laughing into Darkness

7:25 am in Uncategorized by Tom Engelhardt

This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

Mark Twain at work

Is there a Mark Twain for the modern age?

Not being Navajo, there were no “first laugh” ceremonies in my household.  But who could forget their child’s first laugh?  It’s like having one of the mysteries of life presented to you out of nowhere, right in your own house.  That laugh comes from some unknown place deep inside. It may be a response to surprise (peekaboo… now, I’m here, now I’m gone, now I’m back again!) or who knows what, but it’s granted to us, imprinted on us, with a kind of inexpressible joy. The Navajos evidently consider a baby’s first laugh the moment you become a social being, enter the human community, and join the rest of us — and the person who induces that laugh has the honor of holding the ceremony.  Anyone who has ever gotten a classic “belly laugh” out of a baby certainly has a sense that an honor has indeed been bestowed and that a ceremony should be in order.

The laugh is assumedly there to take you through a dark world without a total loss of joy, to join you to the rest of us in the conspiracy of life, and to give you a little distance on what passes for reality.  It precedes anything we would normally consider humor, reflecting the deepest comedy at our core.  Anyone who has had a child undoubtedly noticed that the laugh also precedes the punch line, that the form of the joke is somehow a pleasure even before you understand why a chicken crossing the road is funny or what that rabbi, penguin, and president were doing in a bar.  It’s far deeper and truer.

So true that Lewis Lapham in the Winter issue of his remarkable magazine, Lapham’s Quarterly, grabs his Mark Twain and steps directly into the darkness of our present gilded age with the verve that humor arms you with. As always, his magazine unites some of the most provocative and original voices in history around a single topic, in this case comedy. (You can subscribe to the Quarterly by clicking here.) As ever, TomDispatch thanks the editors of that journal for allowing us to offer an exclusive look at Lapham’s introduction to the new issue. Tom

The Solid Nonpareil
Why No Mark Twain for Our Second Gilded Age?
By Lewis H. Lapham

[This essay will appear in "Comedy," the Winter 2014 issue of Lapham's Quarterly. This slightly adapted version is posted at TomDispatch.com with the kind permission of that magazine.]

Well, humor is the great thing, the saving thing, after all. — Mark Twain

Twain for as long as I’ve known him has been true to his word, and so I’m careful never to find myself too far out of his reach. The Library of America volumes of his Collected Tales, Sketches, Speeches, and Essays (1852–1910) stand behind my desk on a shelf with the dictionaries and the atlas. On days when the news both foreign and domestic is moving briskly from bad to worse, I look to one or another of Twain’s jests to spring the trap or lower a rope, to summon, as he is in the habit of doing, a blast of laughter to blow away the “peacock shams” of the world’s “colossal humbug.”

Read the rest of this entry →

Bill Moyers: The Great American Class War

9:50 am in Uncategorized by Tom Engelhardt

This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

Stencil: No War but Class War

Bill Moyers on Class War in America

If you’ve heard the phrase “class war” in twenty-first-century America, the odds are that it’s been a curse spat from the mouths of Republican warriors castigating Democrats for engaging in high crimes and misdemeanors like trying to tax the rich.  Back in 2011, for example, President Obama’s modest proposal of a “millionaire tax” was typically labeled “class warfare” and he was accused by Congressman Paul Ryan, among others, of heading down the “class warfare path.”  Similarly, in 2012, Mitt Romney and other Republican presidential hopefuls blasted the president for encouraging “class warfare” by attacking entrepreneurial success. In the face of such charges, Democrats invariably go on the defensive, denying that they are in any way inciters of class warfare.  In the meantime, unions and the poor are blasted by the same right-wing crew for having the devastatingly bad taste to act in a manner that supposedly might lead to such conflict.

In our own time, to adapt a classic line slightly, how the mighty have risen!  And that story could be told in terms of the fate of the phrase “class war,” which deserves its Stephen Colbert or Jon Stewart moment.  After all, for at least a century, it was a commonplace in an all-American lexicon in which “class struggle,” “working class,” and “plutocrat” were typical everyday words and it was used not to indict those on the bottom but the rich of whatever gilded age we were passing into or out of.  It was essentially purged from the national vocabulary in the economic good times (and rabidly anti-communist years) after World War II, only to resurface with the Republican resurgence of the 1980s as a way to dismiss anyone challenging those who controlled ever more of the wealth and power in America.

It was a phrase, that is, impounded by Republicans in the name of, and in the defense of, those who were already impounding so much else in American life.  All you have to do is take a look at recent figures on income and wealth inequality, on where the money’s really going in this society, to recognize the truth of Warren Buffet’s famed comment: “There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.”

Recently, Bill Moyers (who needs no introduction) gave a speech at the Brennan Center in New York City in which he laid out what class warfare really means in this society.  The first appearance of the host of Moyers & Company at TomDispatch is a full-throated call to save what’s left of American democracy from — another of those banned words that should come back into use — the plutocrats.  Tom

The Great American Class War
Plutocracy Versus Democracy
By Bill Moyers

I met Supreme Court Justice William Brennan in 1987 when I was creating a series for public television called In Search of the Constitution, celebrating the bicentennial of our founding document.  By then, he had served on the court longer than any of his colleagues and had written close to 500 majority opinions, many of them addressing fundamental questions of equality, voting rights, school segregation, and — in New York Times v. Sullivan in particular — the defense of a free press.

Read the rest of this entry →

Beverly Gologorsky: My Neighbor, War

7:38 am in Uncategorized by Tom Engelhardt

This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

Cover of "Stop Here"

Novelist Beverly Gologorsky on the influence of war on fiction & culture.

In the years when I was growing up more or less middle class, American war on the childhood front couldn’t have been sunnier.  True, American soldiers were fighting a grim new stalemate of a conflict in Korea and we kids often enough found ourselves crouched under our school desks practicing for the nuclear destruction of our neighborhoods, but the culture was still focused on World War II.  Enter a movie theater then and as just about any war flick ended, the Air Force arrived in the nick of time, the Marines eternally advanced, and victory was ours, a God-given trait of the American way of life.

In those days, it was still easy to present war sunny-side up.  After all, you couldn’t go wrong with the Good War — not that anyone called it that until Studs Terkel put the phrase into the language and the culture dropped the quote marks with which he carefully encircled it.  And if your Dad, who had served in one of the great draft armies of our history, sat beside you silently in that movie theater while John Wayne saved the world, never saying a word about his war (except in rare and sudden outbursts of anger), well, that was no problem.  His silence only encouraged you to feel that, given what you’d seen at the movies (not to speak of on TV, in books, in comics, and more or less anywhere else), you already understood his experience and it had been grand indeed.

And then, of course, we boys went into the parks, backyards, or fields and practiced making war the American way, shooting commies, or Ruskies, or Indians, or Japs, or Nazis with toy guns (or sticks).  It may not sound pretty anymore, but take my word for it, it was glorious back when.

More than half a century later, those movies are relics of the neolithic era.  The toy six-shooters I once holstered and strapped to my waist, along with the green plastic soldiers that I used to storm the beaches of Iwo Jima or Normandy, are somewhere in the trash heap of time.  And in the wake of Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan, who believes that America has a God-given right to victory?  Still, I have a few relics from that era, lead Civil War and Indian War-style soldiers who, more than half a century ago, fought out elaborate battles on my floor, and I’d be a liar if I didn’t admit that holding one for a moment doesn’t give me some faint wash of emotion from another age.  That emotion, so much stronger then, sent thousands of young Americans into Vietnam dreaming of John Wayne.

These days, post-Vietnam, post-9/11, no one rides to the rescue, “victory” is no longer in our possession, and for the first time in memory, a majority of the public thinks Washington should “mind its own business” globally when it comes to war-making.  Not surprisingly, in an America that’s lost its appetite for war, such conflicts are far more embattled, so much less onscreen, and as novelist Beverly Gologorsky writes today, unacknowledged in much of American fiction.

There was nothing sunny about war, even in the 1950s, for the young, working-class Gologorsky.  If my childhood was, in a sense, lit by war and by a 24/7 economy in which the same giant corporations built ever larger cars and missiles, television consoles and submarines, hers was shadowed by it.  She sensed, far more than I, the truth of war that lay in our future.  That shadowing is the essence of her deeply moving “Vietnam” novel, The Things We Do to Make It Home, and her just-published second novel, Stop Here, a book that comes to grips in a way both subtle and heart-rending with the Iraq and Afghan wars without ever leaving the environs of a diner in Long Island, New York. Tom

In the Shadow of War
Life and Fiction in Twenty-First-Century America
By Beverly Gologorsky

I’m a voracious reader of American fiction and I’ve noticed something odd in recent years. This country has been eternally “at war” and you just wouldn’t know that — a small amount of veteran’s fiction aside — from the novels that are generally published.  For at least a decade, Americans have been living in the shadow of war and yet, except in pop fiction of the Tom Clancy variety (where, in the end, we always win), there’s remarkably little evidence of it.

Read the rest of this entry →

Chase Madar: The Criminalization of Everyday Life

7:33 am in Uncategorized by Tom Engelhardt

This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

Police Tank

Militarized police are now a fact of life nationwide.

Sometimes a single story has a way of standing in for everything you need to know.  In the case of the up-arming, up-armoring, and militarization of police forces across the country, there is such a story.  Not the police, mind you, but the campus cops at Ohio State University now possess an MRAP; that is, a $500,000, 18-ton, mine-resistant, ambush-protected armored vehicle of a sort used in the Afghan War and, as Hunter Stuart of the Huffington Post reported, built to withstand “ballistic arms fire, mine fields, IEDs, and nuclear, biological, and chemical environments.” Sounds like just the thing for bouts of binge drinking and post-football-game shenanigans.

That MRAP came, like so much other equipment police departments are stocking up on — from tactical military vests, assault rifles, and grenade launchers to actual tanks and helicopters — as a freebie via a Pentagon-organized surplus military equipment program. As it happens, police departments across the country are getting MRAPs like OSU’s, including the Dakota County Sheriff’s Office in Minnesota. It’s received one of 18 such decommissioned military vehicles already being distributed around that state. So has Warren County which, like a number of counties in New York state, some quite rural, is now deploying Afghan War-grade vehicles.  (Nationwide, rural counties have received a disproportionate percentage of the billions of dollars worth of surplus military equipment that has gone to the police in these years.)

When questioned on the utility of its new MRAP, Warren County Sheriff Bud York suggested, according to the Post-Star, the local newspaper, that “in an era of terrorist attacks on U.S. soil and mass killings in schools, police agencies need to be ready for whatever comes their way… The vehicle will also serve as a deterrent to drug dealers or others who might be contemplating a show of force.”  So, breathe a sigh of relief, Warren County is ready for the next al-Qaeda-style show of force and, for those fretting about how to deal with such things, there are now 165 18-ton “deterrents” in the hands of local law enforcement around the country, with hundreds of requests still pending.

You can imagine just how useful an MRAP is likely to be if the next Adam Lanza busts into a school in Warren County, assault rifle in hand, or takes over a building at Ohio State University.  But keep in mind that we all love bargains and that Warren County vehicle cost the department less than $10.  (Yes, you read that right!)  A cornucopia of such Pentagon “bargains” has, in the post-9/11 years, played its part in transforming the way the police imagine their jobs and in militarizing the very idea of policing in this country.

Just thinking about that MRAP at OSU makes me feel like I grew up in Neolithic America.  After all, when I went to college in the early 1960s, campus cops were mooks in suits.  Gun-less, they were there to enforce such crucial matters as “parietal hours.”  (If you’re too young to know what they were, look it up.)  At their worst, they faced what in those still civilianized (and sexist) days were called “panty raids,” but today would undoubtedly be seen as potential manifestations of a terrorist mentality.  Now, if there is a sit-in or sit-down on campus, as infamously at the University of California, Davis, during the Occupy movement, expect that the demonstrators will be treated like enemies of the state and pepper-sprayed or perhaps Tased.  And if there’s a bona fide student riot in town, the cops will now roll out an armored vehicle (as they did recently in Seattle).

By the way, don’t think it’s just the weaponry that’s militarizing the police.  It’s a mentality as well that, like those weapons, is migrating home from our distant wars.  It’s a sense that the U.S., too, is a “battlefield” and that, for instance, those highly militarized SWAT teams spreading to just about any community you want to mention are made up of “operators” (a “term of art” from the special operations  community) ready to deal with threats to American life.

Embedding itself chillingly in our civilian world, that battlefield is proving mobile indeed.  As Chase Madar wrote for TomDispatch the last time around, it leads now to the repeated handcuffing of six- and seven-year-olds in our schools as mini-criminals for offenses that once would have been dealt with by a teacher or principal, not a cop, and at school, not in jail or court.  Today, Madar returns to explain just how this particular nightmare is spreading into every crevice of American life. Tom

The Over-Policing of America
Police Overkill Has Entered the DNA of Social Policy
By Chase Madar

If all you’ve got is a hammer, then everything starts to look like a nail. And if police and prosecutors are your only tool, sooner or later everything and everyone will be treated as criminal. This is increasingly the American way of life, a path that involves “solving” social problems (and even some non-problems) by throwing cops at them, with generally disastrous results. Wall-to-wall criminal law encroaches ever more on everyday life as police power is applied in ways that would have been unthinkable just a generation ago.

Read the rest of this entry →

Pratap Chatterjee: The Jason Bourne Strategy

7:35 am in Uncategorized by Tom Engelhardt

This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

[Note from Tom: A death can feel like an archive closing forever on some aspect of your life.  Such is the case for me with the death of Andre Schiffrin.  If you’ll all excuse me, I want to note his passing briefly here:

Secret Agent

Does the CIA think it’s in a Hollywood movie?

This won’t mean much to most of you, but Andre, publisher of Pantheon Books and my boss for 15 years, the person who, in 1976, hired me when there was really no obvious reason to do so and, more than anyone else, let me become what I am today, died last weekend. It’s a moment of genuine sadness for me, an indication that an era — my own in many ways, though he was nine years older than me — has ended. The world of books is unimaginable (to me) without him. Without him, Studs Terkel might never have done his oral histories and Art Spiegelman’s Maus, the “first graphic novel,” might never have been published. (He let me do Spiegelman’s masterpiece when, in embryonic form, it had been turned down by every major publishing house in New York.)

I first spent time with Andre in 1971 after I had published an essay, “Ambush at Kamikaze Pass,” in the single most obscure journal on the planet, The Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars. He nonetheless read it and invited me to lunch to urge me to turn it into a book, something I couldn’t faintly imagine doing at the time. I did, however, finally come to agree with him and wrote that book, which was published in 1995 as The End of Victory Culture.  In other words, with my project as with so much else in the world of books, he was a man almost 25 years ahead of his time.

Ariel Dorfman, a writer whose work I published early on in my tenure at Pantheon, wrote me this after Andre’s death: “His existence changed our lives, just by giving you free rein at Pantheon to believe in a young exiled writer.” He couldn’t have been more on the mark. 
Andre’s New York Times obituary offered the gist of his life and the sense that he was a great one. It missed, however, his risk-taking nature and his radical view of what might matter to our world.  It also provided a less than satisfactory account of how the right-wing owner of the conglomerate that housed Pantheon made use of a politically inauspicious time for a small left-wing publishing outfit to push him out of his job (after which we, his loyal editors and employees, quit in protest). Still, no complaints here. The world and the man that made me are both history. What more is there to say at the moment?]

Someone should launch a feature somewhere on American foreign and war policy under the rubric: How could anything possibly go wrong?  Here are just two recent examples.

The Obama administration intervenes militarily in Libya, plays a significant role in overthrowing the autocrat who runs the country as a police state, and helps unleash chaos in its wake. The streets of Libyan cities fill with militias as the new government’s control of the situation fades to next to nil. Which brings us to our present moment, when a panicky Washington decides that what’s needed is yet another, different kind of intervention. The plan seems to be to compete with various local and Islamic militias by creating a government militia as the core of a new “national army.” Its members are to be drawn from already existing militias and they’ll be trained somewhere outside of Libya. What an idea! Honestly, what could possibly go wrong?

Or consider this: Washington begins to panic about heightening tensions between Japan and China over uninhabited islands in the East China Sea.  The problem, reports David Sanger of the New York Times, based on what Obama administration officials have told him, is that the conflict could escalate and so “derail their complex plan to manage China’s rise without overtly trying to contain it.”  Now, let’s get this straight: before things began to run off the rails in the East China Sea, the Obama administration was confidently planning to “manage” the rise of the next superpower on a planet already in such tumult that what being a new great power might even mean is open to question. And keep in mind that we’re talking about an administration that couldn’t manage the rollout of a website.  What could possibly go wrong?

Both examples highlight the strange combination of hubris and panic that, as TomDispatch regular Pratap Chatterjee points out today, seems to be the essence of so many of Washington’s plans and actions at the moment.  The urge to “manage” is invariably followed by shock at the unmanageability of this roiling globe of ours, followed by panic over plans gone desperately awry when things begin, utterly predictably, to happen unpredictably, followed of course by the next set of managerial plans.  Is there no learning curve in Washington? Tom

Hollywood Without the Happy Ending
How the CIA Bungled the War on Terror
By Pratap Chatterjee

Call it the Jason Bourne strategy.

Think of it as the CIA’s plunge into Hollywood — or into the absurd.  As recent revelations have made clear, that Agency’s moves couldn’t be have been more far-fetched or more real.  In its post-9/11 global shadow war, it has employed both private contractors and some of the world’s most notorious prisoners in ways that leave the latest episode of the Bourne films in the dust: hired gunmen trained to kill as well as former inmates who cashed in on the notoriety of having worn an orange jumpsuit in the world’s most infamous jail.

Read the rest of this entry →

Peter Van Buren: 1984 Was an Instruction Manual

7:41 am in Uncategorized by Tom Engelhardt

This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

1984 Cover

An instruction manual?

Once upon a time, you might have said that someone “disappeared.”  But in the 1970s in Argentina, Chile, and elsewhere, that verb grew eerily more active in its passive form.  He or she no longer “disappeared,” but “was disappeared” — up to 30,000 Argentineans by their own military in the course of an internal struggle that came to be known as “the dirty war.”  Those gone were the “desaparecidos.

There is something so deeply, morally repugnant about disappearing another human being, no matter how or where or why it’s done, that it’s hard to express.  Yet in twenty-first century America, the possibilities for disappearing people in new and inventive ways may be migrating online, as former State Department whistleblower and TomDispatch regular Peter Van Buren suggests in his latest post. Tom

Welcome to the Memory Hole
Disappearing Edward Snowden
By Peter Van Buren

What if Edward Snowden was made to disappear? No, I’m not suggesting some future CIA rendition effort or a who-killed-Snowden conspiracy theory of a disappearance, but a more ominous kind.

What if everything a whistleblower had ever exposed could simply be made to go away? What if every National Security Agency (NSA) document Snowden released, every interview he gave, every documented trace of a national security state careening out of control could be made to disappear in real-time? What if the very posting of such revelations could be turned into a fruitless, record-less endeavor?

Am I suggesting the plot for a novel by some twenty-first century George Orwell? Hardly. As we edge toward a fully digital world, such things may soon be possible, not in science fiction but in our world — and at the push of a button. In fact, the earliest prototypes of a new kind of “disappearance” are already being tested. We are closer to a shocking, dystopian reality that might once have been the stuff of futuristic novels than we imagine. Welcome to the memory hole.

Even if some future government stepped over one of the last remaining red lines in our world and simply assassinated whistleblowers as they surfaced, others would always emerge. Back in 1948, in his eerie novel 1984, however, Orwell suggested a far more diabolical solution to the problem. He conjured up a technological device for the world of Big Brother that he called “the memory hole.” In his dark future, armies of bureaucrats, working in what he sardonically dubbed the Ministry of Truth, spent their lives erasing or altering documents, newspapers, books, and the like in order to create an acceptable version of history. When a person fell out of favor, the Ministry of Truth sent him and all the documentation relating to him down the memory hole. Every story or report in which his life was in any way noted or recorded would be edited to eradicate all traces of him.

Read the rest of this entry →

Tomgram: Todd Gitlin, Climate Change as a Business Model

7:52 am in Uncategorized by Tom Engelhardt

This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

When a crossroads doesn’t lie in the woods or the fields but in our minds, we seldom know it’s there or that we’ve made the choice to take one path and not the other until it’s long past.  Sometimes, the best you can do is look for the tiniest clues as to where we’re really heading.  When it comes to climate change, you can pile up the nightmares — Super-Typhoon Haiyan, possibly the strongest such storm ever to hit land (with the usual prominent caveats about how we can never quite know whether an individual event of this sort was global-warming-induced or not); Australia, which only recently elected a climate-change denialist as prime minister and is experiencing its hottest year on record; the rest of the planet, which is living through the seventh warmest year on record; and so on.

And yet, every now and then, set against the overwhelming, you can sense change in the tiniest of things. Here, for instance, may be a little sign when it comes to global warming: on November 1st, the New York Times featured a piece prominently placed on its front page about how climate change might affect global food production (badly). The story was based on a leaked draft of an upcoming Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report. The piece wasn’t itself particularly striking, but given that paper’s treatment of climate change over the years, its placement was. Just over two weeks later, after the devastation of parts of the Philippines and with a U.N. climate meeting underway in Poland that normally might hardly have been noticed, it front-paged a far more striking report whose title caught the mood of the moment: “Growing Clamor About Inequities of Climate Change.”  Recorded was the growing anger and frustration particularly of island nations that had, in greenhouse gas terms, contributed little to climate change and were feeling the brunt of it anyway.  Like many other mainstream publications, theTimes hasn’t exactly been stellar in the placement and attention it’s given to what almost certainly is the single most important issue of our era. So consider this a (rising) sea change, an indication that, for the paper of record, global warming has just jumped somewhere nearer the front of the line.

And here’s another little surprise and possible sign of changing times.  In case no one noticed, Red State America (RSA), the land of climate deniers, has in recent years been hit hard by record droughtsheatwildfiresfloods, and storms, by what our news likes to call “extreme weather” (with little or no reference to climate change).  So how has that everyday reality been absorbed, if at all? The British Guardian recently reported new polling research by a Stanford social psychologist, who has long been taking the American pulse on the subject, indicating that the inhabitants of RSA — we’re talking about Texas and Oklahoma, among other states — now overwhelmingly believe climate change is a reality, and that a significant majority of them want the government to work on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Two stories placed strikingly in a major paper and one passing poll.  Not exactly a typhoon of evidence, but sometimes you take your straws in the wind where you find them.  In the meantime, young activists (and older ones, too) are trying to take the typhoon by the horns and, with a growing campaign to pressure universities and colleges to divest from the giant energy companies, to change the mood and calculations of our moment.  Let TomDispatch regular Todd Gitlin tell the rest of the story — and stay tuned because, whatever may be happening now, there will be crossroads ahead, choices to be made on a planet that’s guaranteed to be in increasing turmoil for the rest of our lives. Tom

How to Reverse a Slow-Motion Apocalypse 
Why the Divestment Movement Against Big Energy Matters 
By Todd Gitlin

Apocalyptic climate change is upon us.  For shorthand, let’s call it a slow-motion apocalypse to distinguish it from an intergalactic attack out of the blue or a suddenly surging Genesis-style flood.

Slow-motion, however, is not no-motion. In fits and starts, speeding up and slowing down, turning risks into clumps of extreme fact, one catastrophe after another — even if there can be no 100% certitude about the origin of each one — the planetary future careens toward the unlivable. That future is, it seems, arriving ahead of schedule, though erratically enough that most people — in the lucky, prosperous countries at any rate — can still imagine the planet conducting something close to business as usual.

To those who pay attention, of course, the recent bursts of extreme weather are not “remote “or “abstract,” nor matters to be deferred until later in the century while we worry about more immediate problems. The coming dystopian landscape is all too real and it is already right here for many millions. (Think: the Philippines, the Maldives Islands, drowned New Orleans, the New York City subways, Far Rockaway, the Jersey Shore, the parched Southwest, the parched and then flooded Midwest and other food belts, the Western forests that these days are regularly engulfed in “record” flames, and so on.)  A child born in the United States this year stands a reasonable chance of living into the next century when everything, from available arable land and food resources to life on our disappearing seacoasts, will have changed, changed utterly.

A movement to forestall such menaces must convince many more millions outside Bangladesh or the Pacific islands that what’s “out there” is not remote in time or geographically far away, but remarkably close at hand, already lapping at many shores — and then to mobilize those millions to leverage our strengths and exploit the weaknesses of the institutions arrayed against us that benefit from destruction and have a stake in our weakness.

There is a poetic fitness to human history at this juncture.  Eons ago, various forms of life became defunct.  A civilization then evolved to extract the remains of that defunct life from the earth and turn it into energy. As a result, it’s now we who are challenged to avoid making our own style of existence defunct.

Is it not uncanny that we have come face-to-face with the consequences of a way of life based on burning up the remnants of previous broken-down orders of life?  It’s a misnomer to call those remains — coal, oil, and gas — “fossil fuels.”  They are not actually made up of fossils at all.  Still, there’s an eerie justice in the inaccuracy, since here we are, converting the residue of earlier breakdowns into another possible breakdown.  The question is: will we become the next fossils?

Subsidizing Big Energy

The institutions of our ruling world have a powerful stake in the mad momentum of climate change — the energy system that’s producing it and the political stasis that sustains and guarantees it — so powerful as to seem unbreakable.  Don’t count on them to avert the coming crisis.  They can’t.  In some sense, they are the crisis.

Corporations and governments promote the burning of fossil fuels, which means the dumping of its waste product, carbon dioxide, into the atmosphere where, in record amounts, it heats the planet.  This is not an oversight; it is a business model.

Governments collude with global warming, in part by bankrolling the giant fossil fuel companies (FFCs). As a recent report written by Shelagh Whitley for the Overseas Development Institute puts it,

“Producers of oil, gas, and coal received more than $500 billion in government subsidies around the world in 2011… If their aim is to avoid dangerous climate change, governments are shooting themselves in both feet.  They are subsidizing the very activities that are pushing the world towards dangerous climate change, and creating barriers to investment in low-carbon development and subsidy incentives that encourage investment in carbon-intensive energy.”

Of course a half-trillion dollars in subsidies doesn’t just happen.  It cannot be said too often: the FFCs thrive by conniving with governments.  They finance politicians to do their bidding.  Seven of the ten largest companies in the world are FFCs, as are four of the ten most profitable (just outnumbering three Chinese banks, which presumably have their own major FFC connections).  These behemoths have phenomenal clout when they lobby for fossil-fuel-friendly development and against remedial policies like a carbon tax.  And if this were not enough, they flood the world with fraudulent claims that climate change is not happening, or is not dangerous, or that its dimensions and human causes are controversial among scientists whose profession it is to study the climate.

The Cascade

Fossilized corporations do their thing while frozen governments produce (or opt out of) hapless and toothless international agreements. By default, initiative must arise elsewhere — in places where reason and passion have some purchase as well as a tradition, places where new power may be created and deployed.  This counterpower is, in fact, developing.

Given the might and recalcitrance of the usual culpable and complicit institutions, it falls to people’s initiatives and to other kinds of institutions to take up the slack.  This means universities, churches, and other investment pools, now increasingly under pressure from mushrooming campaigns to divest funds from FFCs; and popular movements against coal, oil, fracking, and other dangerous projects — in particular, at the moment, movements in the U.S., Canada, and elsewhere to stop tar sands pipelines.

Those in the growing divestment movement suffer no illusions that universities themselves wield the magnitude of power you find in investment banks or, of course, the FFCs themselves.  They are simply seeking leverage where they can.  The sums of capital held by universities, in particular, are small on the scale of things.  Harvard, the educational institution with the largest endowment (some $32.7 billion at last count), reports that only 3% of its direct holdings are in the top 200 energy outfits.  (The amount of its money held indirectly and opaquely, through private capital pools, and so also possibly invested in FFCs, is unclear.)  Though millions of dollars are at stake, that’s a drop in the bucket for Harvard, whose holdings amount, in turn, to nowhere near a drop in the total market capitalization of those energy giants.

Set against a landscape in which people have lost faith in the principle sectors of power, however, universities still have a certain legitimacy that grants them the potential for leverage. Divestment will make news precisely because such movements are unusual: universities biting the hands of the dogs that feed them, so to speak.

We won’t know how much influence that legitimacy can bring about until the attempts are made.  What we do know, from historical precedent, is that such efforts, even when they start on a small scale, tend to inspire more of the same.  As Robert Kinloch Massie argues in his fine book on South African sanctions, Loosing the Bonds, divestment campaigns such as those over apartheid and Big Tobacco (phased out by Harvard in 1990) worked by creating a cascade effect.

With climate change, the stigmatization of the FFCs is already spreading from universities and churches to city and state pension funds.  Eventually, if it works, the cascade changes the atmosphere around private and public investment decisions.  Then those decisions themselves begin to change and such changes become part of a new market calculation for investors and politicians alike.

That’s why it matters so much that some 400 divestment campaigns are currently underway at American colleges and universities. Cascades of influence can move institutions, often in surprising ways.  Every time a divestment demand is put forward, the conversation changes in elite board rooms where investment decisions are made.  Children of FFC executives go home for Christmas and their nagging questions make their parents’ business-as-usual lives less comfortable.  (This dynamic, though seldom credited, undoubtedly played some role in ending the Vietnam War.)

At Harvard, my alma mater, a fierce campaign by courageous and strategic-minded students has spun off a parallel campaign by alumni.  They are being asked to withhold contributions to the university and to donate to an escrow fund until Harvard divests from its direct holdings in FFCs and undertakes to divest from its indirect holdings as well.

Is this sort of demand just a gesture of moral purity?  Not necessarily.  Indeed, there may well be an economic payoff for morally motivated divestment and reinvestment.  My fellow alumnus Bevis Longstreth, a former commissioner of the Securities and Exchange Commission, makes a strong case that the policies of the FFCs are shortsighted and risky.  (During the year 2012 alone, the top 200 sank $674 billion into acquiring and developing new energy reserves and working out ways to exploit them.)  Significant parts of the capital they are now investing will likely be “wasted,” since in a climate-change world, large portions of those reserves will have to stay in the ground.

Looked at in the long term, the FFCs may not turn out to be such smart investments after all. Indeed, in the boilerplate language of financial prospectuses, past results are no guarantee of future results; and there are already investment models showing that non-FFC funds deliver better proceeds.

These efforts and arguments have yet to convince Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust that climate change is one of those “extraordinarily rare circumstances” when divestment is justified.  Instead, she proposes “engagement” with the boards of the energy companies, as if sweet reason by itself stood a chance of outtalking sweet crude oil.  She touts Harvard’s teaching and research on climate issues, while neglecting the way those corporations fund disinformation meant to blunt the effect of that teaching and research.  Having declared that the issue is not “political,” she defends Harvard’s investments in the chief funders of propaganda against climate science.  Some rejection of politics!  Meanwhile, for saying no to divestment, President Faust wins the applause of an Alabama coal company front group.

Still, Divest Harvard is undeterred. By conducting referenda, organizing panels and rallies, gathering signatures, and activating alumni, it and like-minded groups are in the process of changing elite conversations about wealth and moral responsibility in the midst of a slow-motion apocalypse.  They are helping ensure that previously unthinkable conversations become thinkable.

Something similar is taking place on many other campuses.  At the same time, writers in influential conservative publications have already begun taking this movement seriously, and the first signs of a changing state of mind are evident.  A report out of Oxford’s Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment, for example, recently warned against the risks of “stranded assets” (all those fossil fuels already bought and paid for by the FFCs that will never make it out of the ground). The Economist has begun to doubt that oil is such a great investment. The Financial Times heralds the spread of divestment efforts to city governments.

Hinges Open Doors

Transforming the world is something like winning a war.  If the objective is to eliminate a condition like hunger, mass violence, or racial domination, then the institutions and systems of power that produce, defend, and sustain this condition have to be dislodged and defeated.  For that, most people have to stop experiencing the condition — and the enemy that makes it possible — as abstractions “out there.”

A movement isn’t called that for nothing.  It has to move people.  It needs lovers, and friends, and allies.  It has to generate a cascade of feeling — moral feeling.  The movement’s passion has to become a general passion.  And that passion must be focused: the concern that people feel about some large condition “out there” has to find traction closer to home.

Vis-à-vis the slow-motion apocalypse of climate change, there’s plenty of bad news daily and it’s hitting ever closer home, even if you live in the parching Southwest or the burning West, not the Philippines or the Maldive Islands.  Until recently, however, it sometimes felt as if the climate movement was spinning its wheels, gaining no traction.  But the extraordinary work of Bill McKibben and his collaborators at 350.org, and the movements against the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline and its Canadian equivalent, the Northern Gateway pipeline, have changed the climate-change climate.

Now, the divestment movement, too, becomes a junction point where action in the here-and-now, on local ground, gains momentum toward a grander transformation. These movements are the hinges on which the door to a livable future swings.

Todd Gitlin, a TomDispatch regular, is a professor of journalism and sociology at Columbia University, the chair of the PhD program in communications, and the author of The Whole World Is Watching: Mass Media in the Making and Unmaking of the New Left; The Sixties: Years of Hope, Days of Rage; and Occupy Nation: The Roots, the Spirit, and the Promise of Occupy Wall Street.

[Note: Thanks go to the sociologist Gay Seidman, elected as an anti-apartheid candidate to Harvard’s Board of Overseers in 1986, and to Eric Chivian, M.D., who got me thinking about the concept of a slow-motion apocalypse.]

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook or Tumblr. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Ann Jones’s They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return From America’s Wars — The Untold Story.

Copyright 2013 Todd Gitlin

Tomgram: Todd Miller, The Border-Industrial Complex Goes Abroad

7:44 am in Uncategorized by Tom Engelhardt

<p><a href=”http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175774/tomgram%3A_todd_miller%2C_the_border-industrial_complex_goes_abroad/”>This</a> article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click <a href=”http://tomdispatch.us2.list-manage.com/subscribe?u=6cb39ff0b1f670c349f828c73&id=1e41682ade”>here</a>.</p>

<p>As with the rest of our homeland security state, when it comes to border security, reality checks aren&rsquo;t often in the cards.&nbsp; The money just pours into a world of remarkable secrecy and unaccountability.&nbsp; Last week, however, the Government Accountability Office&nbsp;<a href=”http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/politics/2013/11/tsa-behavior-profiling-not-effective-gao-report-finds/”>released</a>&nbsp;a report about a Transportation Security Administration decision to spend $200 million a year on a &ldquo;behavioral screening program&rdquo; involving 3,000 &ldquo;behavior detection officers&rdquo; at 176 airports.&nbsp; The GAO concluded that, $1 billion later, it worked &ldquo;probably no better than chance.&rdquo;&nbsp; Put another way, 3,000 specially trained TSA agents could rely on their expensive profiling techniques to pick twitchy passengers out of screening lines as likely terrorists, or they could look at you and flip a coin.&nbsp;</p>
<p>The lesson here: nothing, not even a program without meaningful content that costs an arm and a leg, will stop our national security officials from constantly up-armoring this country and so making it more secure from one of the&nbsp;<a href=”http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175402/engelhardt_100%25_doctrine”>least pressing dangers</a>&nbsp;Americans face: terrorism.&nbsp; That endless securitization process is transparent in a way that, until the&nbsp;<a href=”http://www.theguardian.com/world/the-nsa-files”>Snowden revelations</a>, nothing much else about our security state was.&nbsp; Any alarming incident, any nut who tries to&nbsp;<a href=”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Reid”>light his shoes</a>&nbsp;or&nbsp;<a href=”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Umar_Farouk_Abdulmutallab”>stashes a bomb</a>&nbsp;in his underwear or enters an airport and&nbsp;<a href=”http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/suspect-charged-with-murder-in-lax-shooting/2013/11/02/20946d66-43fe-11e3-8b74-d89d714ca4dd_story_1.html”>blows away</a>&nbsp;a TSA agent, and you promptly get the next set of&nbsp;<a href=”http://thehill.com/blogs/transportation-report/tsa/189252-union-calls-for-armed-tsa-agents-after-shooting”>calls</a>&nbsp;for more: more weaponry, more surveillance, more guards, more draconian regulations, more security technology, more high-tech walls, more billions of dollars going to one &ldquo;complex&rdquo; or another, and more of what passes in twenty-first-century America for safety.&nbsp; Much of this — like that TSA profiling program or our vast set of&nbsp;<a href=”http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175771/tomgram%3A_engelhardt%2C_a_surveillance_state_scorecard/”>global eavesdropping operations</a>&nbsp;– has a kind of coin-flipping quality to it.&nbsp;</p>
<p>Still, it should never be claimed that this mania for what we insist on calling &ldquo;security&rdquo; provides no security for anyone.&nbsp; After all, it guarantees the safety of those officially guarding us.&nbsp; They always know that some small set of maniacs or other will make sure the funding never stops, their jobs will remain secure, and the military-industrial-complex, homeland-security complex, and border-security complex will continue to thrive in a country that&rsquo;s been looking a little on the peaked side of late.&nbsp; In this context,&nbsp;<a href=”http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175723/todd_miller_surveillance_surge”>TomDispatch regular</a>&nbsp;Todd Miller, who covers our borderlands for this site, offers us the latest news about how to keep border security rolling in dough.&nbsp; The formula is simple enough, if nonetheless startling: stop thinking of our borders as just those strips of land running between the U.S. and Mexico and the U.S. and Canada. Turning borderlands into Border World is the obvious way to create a cash cow.&nbsp;<em>Tom</em></p>
<blockquote>
<p><strong>Border Patrol International&nbsp;</strong><br /><strong>&ldquo;The American Homeland Is the Planet&rdquo;&nbsp;</strong><br />By&nbsp;<a href=”http://www.tomdispatch.com/authors/toddmiller”>Todd Miller</a></p>
<p>It isn&rsquo;t exactly the towering 20-foot wall that runs like a scar through significant parts of the U.S.-Mexican borderlands. Imagine instead the sort of metal police barricades you see at protests. These are unevenly lined up like so many crooked teeth on the Dominican Republic&rsquo;s side of the river that acts as its border with Haiti. Like dazed versions of U.S. Border Patrol agents, the armed Dominican border guards sit at their assigned posts, staring at the opposite shore.&nbsp; There, on Haitian territory, children splash in the water and women wash clothes on rocks.</p>
<p>One of those CESFRONT (Specialized Border Security Corps) guards, carrying an assault rifle, is walking six young Haitian men back to the main base in Dajabon, which is painted desert camouflage as if it were in a Middle Eastern war zone.</p>
<p>If the scene looks like a five-and-dime version of what happens on the U.S. southern border, that&rsquo;s because it is. The enforcement model the Dominican Republic uses to police its boundary with Haiti is an import from the United States.</p>
<div></div>
<p>CESFRONT itself is, in fact, an outgrowth of a U.S. effort to promote &ldquo;strong borders&rdquo; abroad as part of its Global War on Terror.&nbsp; So U.S. Consul-General Michael Schimmel told a group from the Columbia Law School Human Rights Clinic in the Dominican Republic back in 2008, according to an internal report written by the law students along with the Dominican immigrant solidarity organization Solidaridad Fronteriza. The U.S. military, he added, was training the Dominican border patrol in &ldquo;professionalism.&rdquo;</p>
<p>Schimmel was explaining an overlooked manifestation of U.S. imperial policy in the post-9/11 era. &nbsp;Militarized borders are becoming ever more common throughout the world, especially in areas of U.S. influence.</p>
<p>CESFRONT&rsquo;s Dajabon commander is Colonel Juan de Jesus Cruz, a stout, Napoleonic figure with a booming voice. Watching the colonel interact with those detained Haitian teenagers was my first brush with how Washington&rsquo;s &ldquo;strong borders&rdquo; abroad policy plays out on the ground. The CESFRONT base in Dajabon is located near the Massacre River that divides the two countries.&nbsp; Its name is a grim reminder of a time in 1937 when Dominican forces slaughtered an estimated 20,000 Haitians in what has been <a href=”http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2012/10/01/162092252/remembering-to-never-forget-dominican-republics-parsley-massacre”>called</a> the &ldquo;twentieth century&rsquo;s least-remembered act of genocide.&rdquo; That act ensured the imposition of a 227-mile boundary between the two countries that share the same island.</p>
<p>As rain falls and the sky growls, Cruz points to the drenched young Haitians and says a single word, &ldquo;<em>ilegales</em>,&rdquo; his index finger hovering in the air. &nbsp;The word &ldquo;illegals&rdquo; doesn&rsquo;t settle well with one of the teenagers, who glares at the colonel and replies defiantly, &ldquo;We have come because of hunger.&rdquo;</p>
<p>His claim is corroborated by every <a href=”http://web.worldbank.org/WBSITE/EXTERNAL/TOPICS/EXTPOVERTY/EXTPA/0,,contentMDK:20207590~menuPK:435735~pagePK:148956~piPK:216618~theSitePK:430367~isCURL:Y~isCURL:Y,00.html”>report</a> about conditions in Haiti, but the colonel responds, &ldquo;You have resources there,&rdquo; with the spirit of a man who relishes a debate.</p>
<p>The teenager, who will undoubtedly soon be expelled from the Dominican Republic like so many other Haitians (including, these days, people of Haitian descent <a href=”http://www.latimes.com/opinion/commentary/la-oe-kurlansky-haiti-dominican-republic-citizensh-20131110,0,5489523.story#axzz2kgwDTmLx”>born</a> in the country), gives the colonel a withering look.&nbsp; He&rsquo;s clearly boiling inside. &ldquo;There&rsquo;s hunger in Haiti. There&rsquo;s poverty in Haiti. There is no way the colonel could not see that,&rdquo; he tells Cruz. &ldquo;You are right on the border.&rdquo;</p>
<p>This tense, uneasy, and commonplace interaction is one of countless numbers of similar moments spanning continents from Latin America and Africa to the Middle East and Asia. On one side, a man in a uniform with a gun and the authority to detain, deport, or sometimes even kill; on the other, people with the most fundamental of unmet needs and without the proper documentation to cross an international boundary. Such people, uprooted, in flight, in pain, in desperate straits, are today ever more commonly dismissed, if they&rsquo;re lucky, as the equivalent of criminals, or if they aren&rsquo;t so lucky, labeled &ldquo;terrorists&rdquo; and treated accordingly.</p>
<p>In a seminal <a href=”http://www.globaldetentionproject.org/fileadmin/publications/Flynn_LASA.pdf”>article</a> &ldquo;Where&rsquo;s the U.S. Border?,&rdquo; Michael Flynn, founder of the Global Detention Project, described the expansion of U.S. &ldquo;border enforcement&rdquo; to the planet in the context of the Global War on Terror as essentially a new way of defining national sovereignty.&nbsp; &ldquo;U.S. border control efforts,&rdquo; he argued, &ldquo;have undergone a dramatic metamorphosis in recent years as the United States has attempted to implement practices aimed at stopping migrants long before they reach U.S. shores.&rdquo;</p>
<p>In this way, borders are, in a sense, being both built up and torn down.&nbsp; Just as with the drones that, from Pakistan to Somalia, the White House <a href=”http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175551/engelhardt_assassin_in_chief”>sends</a> across national boundaries to execute those it has identified as our enemies, so with border patrolling: definitions of U.S. national &ldquo;sovereignty,&rdquo; including where our own borders end and where our version of &ldquo;national&rdquo; defense stretches are becoming ever more malleable.&nbsp; As Flynn wrote, although &ldquo;the U.S. border has been hardened in a number of ways — most dramatically by building actual walls — it is misleading to think that the country&rsquo;s efforts stop there. Rather the U.S. border in an age dominated by a global war on terrorism and the effects of economic globalization has become a flexible point of contention.&rdquo;</p>
<p>In other words, &ldquo;hard&rdquo; as actual U.S. borders are becoming, what might be called our global, or perhaps even virtual, borders are growing ever more pliable and ever more expansive — extending not only to places like the Dominican Republic, but to the edges of our vast military-surveillance grid, into cyberspace, and via spinning satellites and other spying systems, into space itself.</p>
<p>Back in 2004, a single <a href=”http://www.9-11commission.gov/report/911Report.pdf”>sentence</a> in the 9/11 commission report caught this changing mood succinctly: &ldquo;9/11 has taught us that terrorism against American interests &lsquo;over there&rsquo; should be regarded just as we regard terrorism against Americans &lsquo;over here.&rsquo; In this same sense the American homeland is the planet.&rdquo;</p>
<p><strong>New World Border</strong></p>
<p>Washington&rsquo;s response to the 2010 Haitian earthquake provides one example of how quickly a mobile U.S. border and associated fears of massive immigration or unrest can be brought into play.</p>
<p>In the first days after that disaster, a U.S. Air Force cargo plane circled parts of the island for five hours repeatedly <a href=”http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/19/us/19refugee.html?_r=0″>broadcasting</a> in Creole the prerecorded voice of Raymond Joseph, Haiti&rsquo;s ambassador to the United States.</p>
<p>&ldquo;Listen, don&rsquo;t rush [to the United States] on boats to leave the country,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;If you do that, we&rsquo;ll all have even worse problems. Because I&rsquo;ll be honest with you: if you think you will reach the U.S. and all the doors will be wide open to you, that&rsquo;s not at all the case. And they will intercept you right on the water and send you back home where you came from.&rdquo;</p>
<p>That disembodied voice from the heavens was addressing Haitians still stunned in the wake of an earthquake that had killed up to 316,000 people and left an additional one million homeless. State Department Deputy Spokesman Gordon Duguid <a href=”http://www.cnn.com/2010/WORLD/americas/01/19/haiti.broadcast.warning/”>explained</a> the daily flights to CNN this way: &ldquo;We are sending public service messages&hellip; to save lives.&rdquo; Meanwhile, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) quickly dispatched 16 Coast Guard cutters to patrol Haitian waters, blocking people from leaving their devastated island. DHS authorities also cleared space in a 600-bed immigration detention center in Miami, and at the <a href=”http://www.otherworldsarepossible.org/business-disaster-wheres-haiti-bound-money-going”>for-profit</a> Guantanamo Bay Migrations Operation Center (run by the GEO Group) at the infamous U.S. base in Cuba.</p>
<p>In other words, the U.S. border is no longer static and &ldquo;homeland security&rdquo; no longer stays in the homeland: it&rsquo;s mobile, it&rsquo;s rapid, and it’s international.</p>
<p>Maybe this is why, last March, when I asked the young salesmen from <a href=”http://www.l-3com.com/”>L-3 Communications</a>, a surveillance technology company, at the <a href=”http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175723/”>Border Security Expo</a> in Phoenix if they were worried about the sequester — Congress&rsquo;s across-the-board budget cuts that have taken dollars away from the Pentagon and the Department of Homeland Security — one of them simply shrugged. &ldquo;There&rsquo;s the international market,&rdquo; he said as if this were almost too obvious to mention.</p>
<p>He was standing in front of a black globular glass eye of a camera they were peddling to security types.&nbsp; It was draped with desert camouflage, as if we were out in the Arizona borderlands, while all around us you could feel the energy, the synergy, of an emerging border-industrial complex.&nbsp; Everywhere you looked government officials, Border Patrol types, and the representatives of private industry were meeting and dealing in front of hundreds of booths under the high ceilings of the convention center.</p>
<p>On the internationalization of border security, he wasn&rsquo;t exaggerating. At least 14 other countries ranging from Israel to Russia were present, their representatives browsing products ranging from miniature drones to Glock handguns. And behind the bustle of that event lay estimates that the global market for homeland security and emergency management will <a href=”http://www.siptrunkingreport.com/news/2013/08/09/7336900.htm”>reach</a> $544 billion annually by 2018. &ldquo;The threat of cross-border terrorism, cyber-crime, piracy, drug trade, human trafficking, internal dissent, separatist movements has been a driving factor for the homeland security market,&rdquo; the market research company MarketsandMarkets <a href=”http://www.marketsandmarkets.com/Market-Reports/homeland-security-emergency-management-market-575.html”>reported</a>, based on a study of high-profit security markets in North America, Europe, and Asia.</p>
<p>This booming business thrives off the creation of new border patrols globally. The Dominican Republic&rsquo;s CESFRONT, for instance, did not exist before 2006. That year, according to <em>Dominican Today</em>, a group of &ldquo;U.S. experts&rdquo; <a href=”http://www.dominicantoday.com/dr/local/2006/8/7/16173/US-team-reveals-weaknesses-at-the-Dominican-Haiti-border”>reported</a> that there were &ldquo;a series of weaknesses that will lead to all kinds of illicit activities&rdquo; on the Haitian-Dominican border. The U.S. team recommended that &ldquo;there should be helicopters deployed in the region and [that] there be a creation of a Border Guard.&rdquo; A month after their report appeared, that country, by Dominican presidential decree, had its own border patrol.</p>
<p>By 2009, the new force had already received training, funding, and resources from a number of U.S. agencies, <a href=”https://www.wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/10SANTODOMINGO5_a.html”>including</a> the Border Patrol itself. Somehow, it seems that what the U.S. consulate calls &ldquo;strong borders&rdquo; between the Dominican Republic and the hemisphere&rsquo;s poorest country has become an integral part of a terror-obsessed world.</p>
<p>When I met with Colonel Orlando Jerez, a CESFRONT commander, in the border guard agency&rsquo;s headquarters in the Dominican capital Santo Domingo, I noticed that on his desk he had a U.S. Border Patrol model car, a replica of the one that agency <a href=”http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2012/nov/27/while-battling-drug-cartels-border-agency-spent-84/?page=all”>sponsored</a> on the NASCAR circuit from 2006 to 2008 in an attempt to recruit new agents. Along the side of the shiny box that held it was this mission statement: &ldquo;We are the guardians of the nation&rsquo;s borders, we are America&rsquo;s frontlines.&rdquo;</p>
<p>When I asked Jerez whether CESFRONT had a relationship with our Border Patrol, he replied without a second&rsquo;s hesitation, &ldquo;Of course, they have an office in the U.S. embassy.&rdquo;</p>
<p>Jerez is not alone. Washington&rsquo;s global boundary-building, its promotion of those strong borders, and its urge to preempt &ldquo;terrorism against American interests &lsquo;over there,&rsquo;&rdquo; as the 9/11 commission report put it, are spreading fast. For example, the Central American Regional Security Initiative, a $496 million U.S. counter-drug plan launched in 2008, identifies <a href=”http://www.state.gov/p/wha/rls/fs/2012/183455.htm”>&ldquo;border security deficiencies&rdquo;</a> among Central American countries as a key problem to be dealt with ASAP. So the U.S. Border Patrol has gone to Guatemala and Honduras to help train new units of border guards.</p>
<p>As in Central America, border patrolling&rsquo;s most vibrant markets are in places that Washington sees as far too chaotic, yet where its economic and political interests reside. For six years now, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has sent its agents, <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/cbpphotos/sets/72157627531647935/”>clad</a> in brown jumpsuits, to Iraq&rsquo;s borderlands to assist that government in the creation of a force to police its &ldquo;porous&rdquo; borders (where chaos has indeed been endemic since the 2003 U.S. invasion and subsequent occupation of the country). U.S. boundary-building efforts began there in 2004 with an operation labeled <a href=”http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/world/iraq/2004-08-14-iraq-border_x.htm”>&ldquo;Phantom Linebacker&rdquo;</a> in which 15,000 border guards were trained to patrol in — as the name of the operation indicates — the spirit of American football.</p>
<p>In 2012, agent Adrian Long <a href=”http://nemo.cbp.gov/opa/frontline/frontline_spring12.pdf”>told</a> <em>Frontline</em>, the CBP’s in-house magazine, that his agency trains Iraqis &ldquo;in Border Patrol techniques like cutting sign, doing drags, setting up checkpoints and patrols.&rdquo; Long was repeating the same lingo so often heard on the U.S.-Mexican border, where agents &ldquo;cut sign&rdquo; to track people by their trail marks and do &ldquo;drags&rdquo; to smooth out dirt roads so they can more easily see the footprints of any &ldquo;border intruders.&rdquo; In Afghanistan, Border Patrol agents are similarly training forces to police that country&rsquo;s 3,436 miles of frontiers. In 2012, during one training session, an Afghan policeman even turned his gun on two CBP agents in an &ldquo;insider attack,&rdquo; <a href=”http://www.examiner.com/article/green-on-blue-murder-afghanistan-war-claims-two-us-cbp-agents-lives”>killing</a> them and seriously injuring a third.</p>
<p>Around soccer&rsquo;s World Cup, which South Africa hosted in 2010, CBP assisted that government in creating a Customs and Border Control Unit tasked with &ldquo;securing South Africa&rsquo;s borders while facilitating the movement of goods and people,&rdquo; <a href=”http://www.cbp.gov/linkhandler/cgov/newsroom/publications/frontline_magazine/frontline_sum10_print.ctt/frontline.pdf”>according</a> to CBP&rsquo;s Africa and Middle East branch country manager for South Africa Tasha Reid Hippolyte. South Africa has even brought its <a href=”http://www.irinnews.org/report/89262/south-africa-troops-reinforcing-a-porous-and-dangerous-border”>military special forces</a> into the border patrolling process. Near the Zimbabwean border, its militarized guards were using a triple barrier of razor wire and electric fencing that can be set to offer shocks ranging from mild to deadly in their efforts to stop border crossers. Such equipment had not been used in that country since the apartheid-era.</p>
<p>In many cases, the U.S. is also training border forces in the use of sophisticated surveillance systems, drones, and the construction of fences and barriers of various kinds, largely in attempts to clamp down on the movement of people between poorer and richer countries.&nbsp; More than 15,000 foreign participants in more than 100 countries have <a href=”http://www.cbp.gov/xp/CustomsToday/2007/jun_jul/extend_america.xml”>taken part</a> in CBP training sessions since October 2002. It is little wonder, then, that an L-3 Communications sales rep would shrug off the constraints of a shrinking domestic national security budget.</p>
<p>Meanwhile, U.S. borders are functionally being stretched in all sorts of complex ways, even across the waters.&nbsp; As Michael Schmidt <a href=”http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/14/world/europe/us-security-has-beachhead-at-foreign-airports.html”>wrote </a>in the <em>New York Times</em> in 2012, for example, &ldquo;An ocean away from the United States, travelers flying out of the international airport here on the west coast of Ireland are confronting one of the newest lines of defense in the war on terrorism: the United States border.&rdquo; There, at Shannon International Airport, Department of Homeland Security officials set up the equivalent of a prescreening border checkpoint for air travelers.&nbsp;</p>
<p>Whether it is in your airports or, as in Haiti&rsquo;s case, in the international waters around your country, the U.S. border is on its way to scrutinize you, to make sure that you are not a threat to the &ldquo;homeland.&rdquo; If you don&rsquo;t meet Washington&rsquo;s criteria for whatever reason, you will be stopped, forcibly if necessary, from entering the United States, or even in many cases from travelling anywhere at all.</p>
<p>CBP attach&eacute;s are now detailed to U.S. embassies in Brazil, Mexico, Kenya, South Africa, Italy, and Canada, among many other countries. According to an agency publication, <em>Customs and Border Protection Today</em>, they have been <a href=”http://www.cbp.gov/xp/CustomsToday/2004/May/other/cbpAttaches.xml”>tasked</a> with the mission of keeping &ldquo;terrorists and their weapons from our shores,&rdquo; as well as providing technical assistance, &ldquo;fostering secure trade practices, and strengthening border authority principles.&rdquo; The anonymous writer then typically, if floridly, describes &ldquo;our country&rsquo;s border&rdquo; as &ldquo;the armor of the body politic; it protects the systems and infrastructures that function within. Knives pierce armor and can jeopardize the body — so we sheath them; keep them at bay; and demand accountability from those who use them.&rdquo; &nbsp;</p>
<p>As CBP Commissioner Robert Bonner <a href=”http://www.cbp.gov/xp/CustomsToday/2004/May/other/cbpAttaches.xml”>put it</a> in 2004, the U.S. is &ldquo;extending our zone of security, where we can do so, beyond our physical borders — so that American borders are the last line of defense, not the first line of defense.&rdquo;</p>
<p>Perhaps this is why few here batted an eye when, in 2012, Assistant Secretary of International Affairs and Chief Diplomatic Officer for the Department of Homeland Security Alan Bersin flatly <a href=”http://www.examiner.com/article/dhs-official-our-southern-border-is-now-with-guatemala”>declared</a>, “The Guatemalan border with Chiapas is now our southern border.”</p>
<p><strong>On the Edge of Empire</strong></p>
<p>As dusk falls and the rainstorm ends, I walk along the river&rsquo;s edge where those Dominican border patrol agents are still sitting, staring into Haiti. Considering that U.S. forces occupied the Dominican Republic and Haiti numerous times in the previous century, it&rsquo;s easy to imagine why Washington&rsquo;s border chieftains consider this sad, impoverished spot part of our &ldquo;backyard.&rdquo; Not far from where I&rsquo;m walking is the Codevi industrial free trade zone that straddles the border.&nbsp; There, Haitian workers churn out jeans mainly for Levi Strauss and the North American market, <a href=”http://www.thestar.com/news/world/2010/10/16/haitis_garment_industry_hanging_by_a_thread.html”>earning</a> less than three dollars a day.</p>
<p>I approach one of the CESFRONT guards in his desert camouflage uniform. &nbsp;He&rsquo;s sitting with his assault rifle between his legs. He looks beyond bored — no surprise since being suspicious of people who happen to be on the other side of a border can be deadly tedious work.</p>
<p>Diaz, as his name patch identifies him, tells me that his shift, which runs from 6 p.m. to midnight, is normally eventless because Haitians rarely cross here. When I explain where I&rsquo;m from, he wants to know what the U.S.-Mexico border looks like. I tell him about the fencing, the sensors, the cameras, and the agents everywhere you look. I ask if he has ever met agents of the U.S. Border Patrol.</p>
<p>&nbsp;&ldquo;Of course!&rdquo; he says in Spanish, &ldquo;there have been training sessions.&rdquo;</p>
<p>Then I ask if terrorists are crossing this border, which is the reason the U.S. consulate in Santo Domingo gives for supporting the creation of CESFRONT.</p>
<p>Diaz looks at me as if I&rsquo;m nuts before offering an emphatic &ldquo;No!&rdquo;</p>
<p>No surprise there either.&nbsp; CESFRONT, like similar outfits proliferating globally, isn&rsquo;t really about terrorism. It&rsquo;s all about Haiti, one of the poorest countries on the planet. It is a response to fears of the mass movement of desperate, often hungry, people in the U.S. sphere of dominance. It is the manifestation of a new vision of global geopolitics in which human beings in need are to be corralled, their free movement criminalized, and their labor exploited.</p>
<p>With this in mind, the experimental border control technologies being tested along the U.S.-Mexican boundary line and the border-industrial complex that has <a href=”http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175723/”>grown up</a> around it are heading abroad in a major way.&nbsp; If Congress finally passes a new multi-billion dollar border-policing package, its effects will be felt not only along U.S. borders, but also at the edges of its empire.</p>
<p><em>Todd Miller, a <a href=”http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175723/todd_miller_creating_a_military-industrial-immigration_complex”>TomDispatch regular</a>, has researched and written about U.S.-Mexican border issues for more than 10 years. He has worked on both sides of the border for BorderLinks in Tucson, Arizona, and Witness for Peace in Oaxaca, Mexico. He now writes on border and immigration issues for NACLA Report on the Americas and its blog &ldquo;</em><a href=”http://nacla.org/blog/border-wars”><em>Border Wars</em></a><em>,&rdquo; among other places. His first book, </em><a href=”http://www.amazon.com/dp/0872866319/ref=nosim/?tag=tomdispatch-20″>Border Patrol Nation</a>,<em> will be published in spring 2014 for the Open Media Series of City Lights Books.</em></p>
<p><em>Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on <a href=”http://www.facebook.com/tomdispatch”>Facebook</a> or <a href=”http://tomdispatch.tumblr.com/”>Tumblr</a>. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Ann Jones&rsquo;s </em><a href=”http://www.amazon.com/dp/1608463710/ref=nosim/?tag=tomdispatch-20″>They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return From America&rsquo;s Wars — The Untold Story</a><em>.</em></p>
<p>Copyright 2013 Todd Miller</p>
</blockquote>

Michael Klare: A Climate Change-Fueled Revolution?

7:15 am in Uncategorized by Tom Engelhardt

This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

Family standing in Typhoon Haiyan rubble

Can revolution save us from climate change apocalypse?

There’s a crossroads moment in our recent history that comes back to me whenever I think of our warming planet.  (2013 is shaping up to be the seventh warmest year since records began to be kept in 1850.  The 10 warmest years have all occured since 1998.)  In the six months from July 1979 to January 1980, as Jimmy Carter’s one-term presidency was winding down, he urged two approaches to global energy on Americans.  One was dismissed out of hand, the other taken up with alacrity — and our world is incommensurately the worse for it.  Here’s a description I wrote back in May that is worth quoting again:

On July 15, 1979, at a time when gas lines, sometimes blocks long, were a disturbing fixture of American life, President Jimmy Carter spoke directly to the American people on television for 32 minutes, calling for a concerted effort to end the country’s oil dependence on the Middle East.  ‘To give us energy security,’ he announced, ‘I am asking for the most massive peacetime commitment of funds and resources in our nation’s history to develop America’s own alternative sources of fuel — from coal, from oil shale, from plant products for gasohol, from unconventional gas, from the sun…’

It’s true that, with the science of climate change then in its infancy, Carter wouldn’t have known about the possibility of an overheating world, and his vision of ‘alternative energy’ wasn’t exactly a fossil-fuel-free one.  Even then — shades of today or possibly tomorrow — he was talking about having ‘more oil in our shale alone than several Saudi Arabias.’  Still, it was a remarkably forward-looking speech.

Had we invested massively in alternative energy R&D back then, who knows where we might be today?  Instead, the media dubbed it the ‘malaise speech,’ though the president never actually used that word, speaking instead of an American ‘crisis of confidence.’  While the initial public reaction seemed positive, it didn’t last long.  In the end, the president’s energy proposals were essentially laughed out of the room and ignored for decades.

Carter would, however, make his mark on U.S. energy policy, just not quite in the way he had imagined.  Six months later, on January 23, 1980, in his last State of the Union Address, he would proclaim what came to be known as the Carter Doctrine: ‘Let our position be absolutely clear,’ he said. ‘An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force.’

No one would laugh him out of the room for that.  Instead, the Pentagon would fatefully begin organizing itself to protect U.S. (and oil) interests in the Persian Gulf on a new scale and America’s oil wars would follow soon enough.  Not long after that address, it would start building up a Rapid Deployment Force in the Gulf that would in the end become U.S. Central Command.  More than three decades later, ironies abound: thanks in part to those oil wars, whole swaths of the energy-rich Middle East are in crisis, if not chaos, while the big energy companies have put time and money into a staggeringly fossil-fuel version of Carter’s ‘alternative’ North America.  They’ve focused on shale oil, and on shale gas as well, and with new production methods, they are reputedly on the brink of turning the United States into a ‘new Saudi Arabia.’

Could there have been a sadder choice in recent history? If, in 1979, the U.S. had invested in a big way in solar, wind, tidal power, and who knows what else, imagine where we might be today. Imagine a world not facing a future in which storms like Super-Typhoon Haiyan, which recently leveled part of the Philippines, its winds devastating, its storm surge killing staggering numbers, threaten to become the norm for our children and grandchildren.

So oil wars, yes! — which meant transforming the Greater Middle East into a region of chaos, instability, and death.  An oil-ravaged planet, yes indeed! — which meant potentially transforming a future version of Earth into a planet of chaos, instability, and death!  A green energy revolution, not on your life! — not while the giant energy corporations have so much invested in underground reserves of fossil fuels and such gigantic profits to make, not while so many governments are deeply intertwined with those energy giants or are themselves essentially giant energy companies.  No wonder TomDispatch regular Michael Klare suggests that it falls into our hands to ensure that a green energy revolution arrives ahead of a human-created, fossil-fueled apocalypse. Tom

Surviving Climate Change
Is a Green Energy Revolution on the Global Agenda?
By Michael T. Klare

A week after the most powerful “super typhoon” ever recorded pummeled the Philippines, killing thousands in a single province, and three weeks after the northern Chinese city of Harbin suffered a devastating “airpocalypse,” suffocating the city with coal-plant pollution, government leaders beware! Although individual events like these cannot be attributed with absolute certainty to increased fossil fuel use and climate change, they are the type of disasters that, scientists tell us, will become a pervasive part of life on a planet being transformed by the massive consumption of carbon-based fuels.  If, as is now the case, governments across the planet back an extension of the carbon age and ever increasing reliance on “unconventional” fossil fuels like tar sands and shale gas, we should all expect trouble.  In fact, we should expect mass upheavals leading to a green energy revolution.

Read the rest of this entry →

Tom Engelhardt: A Surveillance State Scorecard

8:07 am in Uncategorized by Tom Engelhardt

This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

NSA Logo

Tom Engelhardt analyzes weeks of NSA revelations.

[Note for TomDispatch Readers: As many of you know, I recently went out to Santa Fe for an event organized by the Lannan Foundation.  There, I introduced a talk by, and then had an on-stage conversation with, Jeremy Scahill, author of Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield, which we recently featured at this site. I’ve called him our “first blowback reporter.” He’s also that rare creature, a superb extemporaneous speaker. It occurred to me that TD readers might enjoy seeing the evening and getting a little glimpse into Scahill’s world. Click here for my introduction and his talk. Click here for my onstage interview with him in which, among other things, he discusses his new media project with Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras. Tom]

Mistaking Omniscience for Omnipotence
In a World Without Privacy, There Are No Exemptions for Our Spies
By Tom Engelhardt

Given how similar they sound and how easy it is to imagine one leading to the other, confusing omniscience (having total knowledge) with omnipotence (having total power) is easy enough.  It’s a reasonable supposition that, before the Snowden revelations hit, America’s spymasters had made just that mistake. If the drip-drip-drip of Snowden’s mother of all leaks — which began in May and clearly won’t stop for months to come — has taught us anything, however, it should be this: omniscience is not omnipotence. At least on the global political scene today, they may bear remarkably little relation to each other. In fact, at the moment Washington seems to be operating in a world in which the more you know about the secret lives of others, the less powerful you turn out to be.

Let’s begin by positing this:  There’s never been anything quite like it.  The slow-tease pulling back of the National Security Agency curtain to reveal the skeletal surveillance structure embedded in our planet (what cheekbones!) has been an epochal event.  It’s minimally the political spectacle of 2013, and maybe 2014, too. It’s made a mockery of the 24/7 news cycle and the urge of the media to leave the last big deal for the next big deal as quickly as possible.

It’s visibly changed attitudes around the world toward the U.S. — strikingly for the worse, even if this hasn’t fully sunk in here yet.  Domestically, the inability to put the issue to sleep or tuck it away somewhere or even outlast it has left the Obama administration, Congress, and the intelligence community increasingly at one another’s throats.  And somewhere in a system made for leaks, there are young techies inside a surveillance machine so viscerally appalling, so like the worst sci-fi scenarios they read while growing up, that — no matter the penalties — one of them, two of them, many of them are likely to become the next Edward Snowden(s).

So where to start, almost half a year into an unfolding crisis of surveillance that shows no signs of ending?  If you think of this as a scorecard, then the place to begin is, of course, with the line-up, which means starting with omniscience.  After all, that’s the NSA’s genuine success story — and what kid doesn’t enjoy hearing about the (not so) little engine that could?

Omniscience

Conceptually speaking, we’ve never seen anything like the National Security Agency’s urge to surveill, eavesdrop on, spy on, monitor, record, and save every communication of any sort on the planet — to keep track of humanity, all of humanity, from its major leaders to obscure figures in the backlands of the planet.  And the fact is that, within the scope of what might be technologically feasible in our era, they seem not to have missed an opportunity.

Read the rest of this entry →