[Note for TomDispatch Readers: TD will be taking the Memorial Day weekend off. The next piece will be posted on Tuesday May 28th. Tom]
Terracide and the Terrarists
Destroying the Planet for Record Profits
By Tom Engelhardt
We have a word for the conscious slaughter of a racial or ethnic group: genocide. And one for the conscious destruction of aspects of the environment: ecocide. But we don’t have a word for the conscious act of destroying the planet we live on, the world as humanity had known it until, historically speaking, late last night. A possibility might be “terracide” from the Latin word for earth. It has the right ring, given its similarity to the commonplace danger word of our era: terrorist.
The truth is, whatever we call them, it’s time to talk bluntly about the terrarists of our world. Yes, I know, 9/11 was horrific. Almost 3,000 dead, massive towers down, apocalyptic scenes. And yes, when it comes to terror attacks, the Boston Marathon bombings weren’t pretty either. But in both cases, those who committed the acts paid for or will pay for their crimes.
In the case of the terrarists -- and here I’m referring in particular to the men who run what may be the most profitable corporations on the planet, giant energy companies like ExxonMobil, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, BP, and Shell -- you’re the one who’s going to pay, especially your children and grandchildren. You can take one thing for granted: not a single terrarist will ever go to jail, and yet they certainly knew what they were doing.
It wasn’t that complicated. In recent years, the companies they run have been extracting fossil fuels from the Earth in ever more frenetic and ingenious ways. The burning of those fossil fuels, in turn, has put record amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere. Only this month, the CO2 level reached 400 parts per million for the first time in human history. A consensus of scientists has long concluded that the process was warming the world and that, if the average planetary temperature rose more than two degrees Celsius, all sorts of dangers could ensue, including seas rising high enough to inundate coastal cities, increasingly intense heat waves, droughts, floods, ever more extreme storm systems, and so on.
How to Make Staggering Amounts of Money and Do In the Planet
None of this was exactly a mystery. It’s in the scientific literature. NASA scientist James Hansen first publicized the reality of global warming to Congress in 1988. It took a while -- thanks in part to the terrarists -- but the news of what was happening increasingly made it into the mainstream. Anybody could learn about it.
Those who run the giant energy corporations knew perfectly well what was going on and could, of course, have read about it in the papers like the rest of us. And what did they do? They put their money into funding think tanks, politicians, foundations, and activists intent on emphasizing “doubts” about the science (since it couldn’t actually be refuted); they and their allies energetically promoted what came to be known as climate denialism. Then they sent their agents and lobbyists and money into the political system to ensure that their plundering ways would not be interfered with. And in the meantime, they redoubled their efforts to get ever tougher and sometimes “dirtier” energy out of the ground in ever tougher and dirtier ways.
[Note for TomDispatch Readers: Those of you who were struck by the recent TD piece “You Are a Guinea Pig: How Americans Became Exposed to Biohazards in the Greatest Uncontrolled Experiment Ever Launched” shouldn't miss last Sunday’s fascinating Bill Moyers interview with its authors, David Rosner and Gerald Markowitz, who have written the new book Lead Wars: The Politics of Science and the Fate of America’s Children. Tom]
Three days after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Congress passed a joint resolution called an Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF). You might remember it. In layman's terms, it was a carte blanche for the Bush administration to go to war wherever it wanted, whenever it wanted, however it wanted, under the guise of fighting anyone who “planned, authorized, committed, or aided" the September 11th attackers, or "harbored" any terrorists or terror organizations connected to the attacks. That document, more than any other, launched the Global War on Terror or GWOT. President Obama long ago ditched the name and acronym, but he kept the global war.
And don't expect that to change. On Thursday, Assistant Secretary of Defense Michael Sheehan went before Congress and insisted that the Defense Department couldn't be more "comfortable" with AUMF, as it was written, and that not a word should be altered or amended for changed circumstances. The Pentagon was so comfortable, in fact, that its officials foresee using that resolution to continue its drone-powered "dirty wars" in the Greater Middle East and Africa for years to come. “In my judgment,” Sheehan said, "this is going to go on for quite a while, yes, beyond the second term of the president... I think it’s at least 10 to 20 years.”
So there you have it. The military got its blank check for overseas wars, for sending out the drones and the special operations forces, and has no plans to change that before 2023, if not 2033. In other words, for at least the next decade, the GWOT, whatever label it's given, will continue to be the central fixture of American foreign policy. It's not going anywhere. Today, TomDispatch regulars Mattea Kramer and Jo Comerford of the invaluable National Priorities Project look at the "homeland" a decade into the future, as the effects of Congress's austerity policies sink in. Put the two together and what a grim scene you have: a country investing in war in distant lands as it crumbles here at home. Andy Kroll
The streets are so much darker now, since money for streetlights is rarely available to municipal governments. The national parks began closing down years ago. Some are already being subdivided and sold to the highest bidder. Reports on bridges crumbling or even collapsing are commonplace. The air in city after city hangs brown and heavy (and rates of childhood asthma and other lung diseases have shot up), because funding that would allow the enforcement of clean air standards by the Environmental Protection Agency is a distant memory. Public education has been cut to the bone, making good schools a luxury and, according to the Department of Education, two of every five students won’t graduate from high school.
It’s 2023 -- and this is America 10 years after the first across-the-board federal budget cuts known as sequestration went into effect. They went on for a decade, making no exception for effective programs vital to America’s economic health that were already underfunded, like job training and infrastructure repairs. It wasn’t supposed to be this way.
I worked for years as an editor at Pantheon Books. Its publisher, maybe the most adventurous in the business, was André Schiffrin. Among his many accomplishments, he “discovered” Studs Terkel (already a well-known Chicago radio personality), published his first oral history (Division Street: America), and made him a bestseller. Sometime after I arrived at Pantheon in the mid-1970s, he asked me to take a last look at a new manuscript by Studs. It was the equivalent of sending the second team onto the field, but it began my own long relationship with the famed oral historian. He was an experience -- a small man who, when he wasn’t listening professionally in a fashion beyond compare, never stopped talking. In doing so, he had an almost magical way of making those around him feel larger than life. Later, I would be the editor for two of his oral histories, one on death and the other on hope (in that splendid order and the second with the Studs-appropriate title Hope Dies Last).
Last October, Bill Moyers interviewed me about the dismal state of American politics. As our conversation was ending, he suddenly asked: “What keeps you going against all the evidence?” At that moment, Studs came to mind. I mentioned editing “one of the greats of our world” and responded this way: “It turned out that when he wrote his book about hope, it was all about activists and the basic point he made was: in good times you could just be hopeful about your life. You didn’t have to be an activist. You didn’t have to be an anything. In bad times, if you want to be hopeful, you have to take a step. You’ve got to take some step to do something in the world. And in that sense, TomDispatch is my medicine against despair. So what makes me hopeful is doing TomDispatch.”
All true. But I realize now that it wasn’t quite a full response. I had left out one crucial figure in my life: Rebecca Solnit, who taught me how to hope in a world that seemed dismal indeed. She was the one who -- I’ve written about it before -- slipped through the barely ajar door of my life in May 2003, at a moment as grim and dreary as any in my political experience. The largest antiwar movement ever to protest a war that had yet to happen had just packed its tents and gone home in despair, while Baghdad was occupied by American troops and George W. Bush and his top officials were in their “mission accomplished” triumphalist mode. Many activists then feared that they would remain so forever and would have dismissed out of hand someone who suggested that their Pax Americana dreams of domination would begin unraveling in mere weeks (as happened), not decades or centuries.
Ten years ago, exactly to the day, I published Rebecca's miraculous piece “Acts of Hope,” which she would later expand into her book Hope in the Dark. It was written to welcome that “darkness” which seemed already to be enveloping us. It was written with a sense of how the expectable unravels, of how the future surprises us, often enough with offerings not of horror but of hope.
With few people can you ever say, she (or he) changed my life, changed the very way I understand our world. For me, she’s one of the few -- and she's still doing it with her miraculous new book (out in June), The Faraway Nearby. She taught me how to look into that future darkness with hope. Like Studs, she taught me that acting, even while not knowing, is a powerful antidote to despair. So it means the world to me that she’s returned to the subject of hope to celebrate the tenth anniversary of her arrival in my life and at TomDispatch. Tom
Too Soon to Tell
The Case for Hope, Continued
By Rebecca Solnit
Ten years ago, my part of the world was full of valiant opposition to the new wars being launched far away and at home -- and of despair. And like despairing people everywhere, whether in a personal depression or a political tailspin, these activists believed the future would look more or less like the present. If there was nothing else they were confident about, at least they were confident about that. Ten years ago, as a contrarian and a person who prefers not to see others suffer, I tried to undermine despair with the case for hope.
A decade later, the present is still contaminated by the crimes of that era, but so much has changed. Not necessarily for the better -- a decade ago, most spoke of climate change as a distant problem, and then it caught up with us in 10,000 ways. But not entirely for the worse either -- the vigorous climate movement we needed arose in that decade and is growing now. If there is one thing we can draw from where we are now and where we were then, it’s that the unimaginable is ordinary, and the way forward is almost never a straight path you can glance down, but a labyrinth of surprises, gifts, and afflictions you prepare for by accepting your blind spots as well as your intuitions.
Once upon a time, the election season began with the New Hampshire primary in early March and never really gained momentum (or much attention) until the candidates were chosen and the fall campaign revved up. Now, the New Hampshire primary is in early January, and by then, the campaign season has already been underway for a couple of years.
Consider campaign 2016, the next 1% presidential election of the twenty-first century. It’s more than underway with congressional hearings that are visibly organized to skewer possible Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, and that special table-setter, the first Karl Rove super PAC attack video/ad, also lighting out after the former secretary of state. Looked at another way, like recent presidential campaigns, the 2016 version actually began before the last election ended. The initial media handicapping of future candidates by reporters and pundits, for instance, hit the news well before the first voter emerged from a polling booth in 2012 -- and it’s never stopped. Similarly, the first Iowa poll for the next campaign season made it on the scene within days of the 2012 vote count (Hillary was ahead), and the first attack ads in early primary states are already appearing. With thousands or perhaps tens of thousands of polls to follow, Americans will repeatedly “vote” in contests set up by companies, often hired by political parties or politicians to take the pulse of the public in the unending serial ballots that now precede the actual election.
And don’t forget the single most obvious characteristic of supersizing American democracy: money that will flood the zone. Billions of dollars will go to “political consultants” (in 2012, an estimated $3 billion) and billions of dollars in ads will inundate TV, radio, and almost any other medium around ($6 billion in 2012 and expected to climb in 2016). Billions of words of punditry and commentary about the election (always) “of the century” will flow from well-funded TV news outfits stoked by all those ad dollars. Above all, there will be the money pouring into super PACs and the dark side, which will inundate everything else, shaping the new landscape in which U.S. elections now take place. The sums are staggering, and the limits on how much a wealthy person can “contribute” are rapidly falling away.
As a result, “earlier” and “more” are likely to be the operative political words for 2016, which means that, in a sense, American “democracy” couldn’t be more vigorous. Unfortunately, it's the vigor of the wealthy, as TomDispatch Associate Editor Andy Kroll makes clear. Increasingly, it's their system, politically speaking and in every other way, and welcome to it. Tom
The New Pay-As-You-Go Landscape of American “Democracy”
By Andy Kroll
Billionaires with an axe to grind, now is your time. Not since the days before a bumbling crew of would-be break-in artists set into motion the fabled Watergate scandal, leading to the first far-reaching restrictions on money in American politics, have you been so free to meddle. There is no limit to the amount of money you can give to elect your friends and allies to political office, to defeat those with whom you disagree, to shape or stunt or kill policy, and above all to influence the tone and content of political discussion in this country.
Today, politics is a rich man's game. Look no further than the 2012 elections and that season's biggest donor, 79-year-old casino mogul Sheldon Adelson. He and his wife, Miriam, shocked the political class by first giving $16.5 million in an effort to make Newt Gingrich the Republican presidential nominee. Once Gingrich exited the race, the Adelsons invested more than $30 million in electing Mitt Romney. They donated millions more to support GOP candidates running for the House and Senate, to block a pro-union measure in Michigan, and to bankroll the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other conservative stalwarts (which waged their own campaigns mostly to help Republican candidates for Congress). All told, the Adelsons donated $94 million during the 2012 cycle -- nearly four times the previous record set by liberal financier George Soros. And that's only the money we know about. When you add in so-called dark money, one estimate puts their total giving at closer to $150 million.
It was not one of Adelson's better bets. Romney went down in flames; the Republicans failed to retake the Senate and conceded seats in the House; and the majority of candidates backed by Adelson-funded groups lost, too. But Adelson, who oozes chutzpah as only a gambling tycoon worth $26.5 billion could, is undeterred. Politics, he told the Wall Street Journal in his first post-election interview, is like poker: "I don't cry when I lose. There's always a new hand coming up." He said he could double his 2012 giving in future elections. "I'll spend that much and more," he said. "Let's cut any ambiguity."
But simply tallying Adelson's wins and losses -- or the Koch brothers', or George Soros's, or any other mega-donors' -- misses the bigger point. What matters is that these wealthy funders were able to give so much money in the first place.
Every now and then, news about U.S. military bases abroad actually gets a little attention. The most recent example: Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s announcement that the U.S. will be able to keep nine bases after the 2014 withdrawal of its combat troops. (“‘They want nine bases... across the country, in Kabul, Bagram, Mazar, Jalalabad, Gardez, Kandahar, Helmand, Shindand and Herat,’ he told faculty members and students [at Kabul University]. ‘We agree to give the bases. We see their presence after 2014 in Afghanistan as a positive.’”) These aren’t, of course, small bases. Two of them, Bagram and Kandahar, are veritable monsters, and so offer some indication of Washington’s possible plans -- evidently still in flux -- for keeping U.S. troops, trainers, advisors, special operations forces, CIA types, private security contractors, assorted allied Afghan militias, and whatnot in place once the war is officially “over” and “withdrawal” complete.
Most of the time, though, you have to be a fanatic news jockey to notice pieces about what could be considered the most singular aspect of the American overseas persona: our “empire of bases” (as Chalmers Johnson used to call it). Though base numbers remain staggering and historically unprecedented, most Americans are hardly aware of their existence. So, picking and choosing from the last month of overlooked base news, how many of you noticed that a U.S. KC-135 refueling plane, based at an American “military installation” connected to Manas International Airport near Bishtek, went down over northern Kyrgyzstan? How many of you knew that the U.S. had a military installation in Kyrgyzstan, just a hop, skip, and a jump across Tajikistan from Afghanistan? How many of you can even locate Kyrgyzstan? (I just checked my own atlas to be sure!)
How many of you heard that a U.S. military helicopter, evidently from a U.S. base -- one of a number -- in South Korea, crashed recently near the North Korean border? Or that the Chinese press is now plugging for the “return” of the Japanese island of Okinawa, with its huge U.S. military complex? How many of you realized that 68 years after the end of World War II, the U.S. still has dozens of bases there and that Okinawans continue to protest the construction of a new base amid the staggering concentration of foreign military installations on their soil?
How many of you noticed that Spain, going through tough economic times and significant defense cutbacks, has upped its basing relationship with the U.S.? According to the Christian Science Monitor, “500 U.S. Marines are in the process of deploying to Morón Air Base in southern Spain as part of a rapid reaction force that will act as the vanguard to protect American interests in the increasingly volatile North African region.” And speaking of Northern Africa, did you notice the report by John Reed at Foreign Policy mapping U.S. installations, especially drone bases, there and elsewhere in Africa, including satellite shots of installations you’ve probably never heard of in places like Arba Minch in Ethiopia, Niamey in Niger, the Seychelles islands in the Indian Ocean, and Lamu on the Kenyan coast? (Hey, don’t beat up on yourself. We Americans have next to no idea what’s being done in our name globally!)
You get the gist, right? Set foot just about anywhere on this planet other than China, Russia, and Iran, and you’re likely to find some kind of U.S. base, installation, or shared facility, and some news that goes with it, though you could pay endless attention to the U.S. media and never know that. You can watch our TV news for months and not have the slightest clue that we are the most militarized of global landlords and that this is the face we present to much of the world. Nor would you know that, as TomDispatch regular David Vine reports today, in tough economic times your tax dollars are still flowing bounteously to a small group of private contractors, making money hand over fist supporting that empire of bases. As he indicates, they are working hard to ensure that crony capitalism, like garrisoning the planet, remains as American as superheroes and cheeseburgers. Tom
Where Has All the Money Gone?
How Contractors Raked in $385 Billion to Build and Support Bases Abroad since 2001
By David Vine
Outside the United States, the Pentagon controls a collection of military bases unprecedented in history. With U.S. troops gone from Iraq and the withdrawal from Afghanistan underway, it’s easy to forget that we probably still have about 1,000 military bases in other peoples' lands. This giant collection of bases receives remarkably little media attention, costs a fortune, and even when cost cutting is the subject du jour, it still seems to get a free ride.
With so much money pouring into the Pentagon’s base world, the question is: Who’s benefiting?