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10/23/2014

The Democratic Party, time and time again, win the majority of woman voters, often accusing Republicans for waging a “war on women” for denying rights to abortion and coverage for birth control. Whether this is nothing more than a liberal political tactic or a reality within the GOP is a frequent topic of debate. But there’s no arguing that Republicans need to come up with a strategy to appeal to female voters.

D.C. McAllister writes in The Federalist that the GOP must identify which women could be most receptive to the GOP agenda. From the book What Women Really Want: How American Women are Quietly Erasing Political, Racial, Class and Religious Lines to Change the Way We Live, by Celinda Lake, McAllister cites the eight types of female voters (or non-voters):

  1. The Feminist Champion: a politically engaged liberal, mostly secular and pro-choice, devoted to her career and community, strongly motivated by values of equality and opportunity
  2. The Suburban Caretaker: married with children, often spiritual and religious, highly invested in moral standards
  3. The Alpha Striver: a businesswoman who views herself as an agent of change, trying to have it all – in the conference room and at PTA meetings
  4. The Religious Crusader: views issues as “right vs. wrong” rather than “right vs. left”; church-going and often pro-life
  5. The Multicultural Maverick: young, single, urban, an individualist, liberal yet distrusting of politicians
  6. The Waitress Mom: blue-collar worker who seeks a balance in life and financial opportunities for her children, often a person of faith, swing voter
  7. The Senior Survivor: 65 years or older, security- and health-conscious, a political centrist who tends to vote in favor of the incumbent or status quo
  8. The Alienated Single: not doing well economically, politically disengaged, young, least religious and least educated, usually not registered to vote

She notes that the “Religious Crusader” and “Suburban Caretaker” are already likely Republican supporters, but now the party must first make an effort to reach the Waitress Mom and the Alpha Striver, with a secondary focus on the Alienated Single and Senior Survivor. It’s not a matter of “pandering or identity politics or tailoring policy to meet the desires of a faction,” McAllister cautions. Rather, it’s about “crafting a message and wisely talking to voters in a relevant and meaningful way that will convince them to vote for the GOP and conservative principles.”

Which, for the midterm elections, might not be going so well. In this video, Stephen Colbert highlights the stereotypes politicians often implement when reaching out to women, with this TV commercial subtly suggesting, “Let him take care of the hard stuff.”



10/22/2014

 

While presidential elections have pundits testing the public’s interest in politics years in advance—relentlessly covering primaries, controversial sound-bites, and analyses on debates—the midterms don’t seem to gain much intrigue. But they should, as control of the Senate and House is at stake, affecting the trajectory of what remains of Obama’s term.

BloombergPolitics lists five reasons the election on November 4, 2014 should be of interest:

  1. It’s a matter of national security. Whether or not Obama will use force in Iraq and Syria against the Islamic State still needs to be addressed, and, more than a year after Edward Snowden’s disclosures, the issue of surveillance reform still remains politically divisive.

  2. Domestic policies are up for revision. Lawmakers from both parties could potentially modify the Affordable Care Act and the Dodd-Frank financial overhaul law, and key members of both parties have signaled they’re ready to deal with touchy issues, such as poverty and immigration. The debt ceiling will also come into play in the coming months.

  3. Obama’s place in history is not yet decided. With Obamacare, Dodd-Frank, and the stimulus package having shaped much of Obama’s legacy, his final two years will be largely defined by his continued use (or not) of executive actions. His veto-powers and his 300 judicial nominees could also leave a mark on his lame-duck years.

  4. The direction of the Republican Party could be established (somewhat). Should Republicans take control of the Senate, the leaders’ agenda could guide the remainder of Obama’s term, as well as the response of 2016 presidential candidates. Fellow Republicans have largely blamed Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid for his role in Congress’ gridlock, though he rarely loses control of his caucus. Meanwhile Minority Leader Mitch McConnell—the conservative ideologue—is fighting to keep his seat in Kentucky, possibly affecting the party’s future ambitions.

  5. November matters for 2016. Losing isn’t an option for many presidential hopefuls, and the policies they choose to pursue in either the House or Senate will influence the political discourse of the next presidential election. Candidates to keep an eye on: Rep. Paul Ryan, Sen. Marco Rubio, Sen. Rob Portman, Sen. Rand Paul, Sen. Ted Cruz, Sen. Bernie Sanders, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, Sen. Lindsey Graham, Rep. Peter King, and Sen. Joe Manchin.

This year, however, is expected to be rather predictable. Vox Editor-in-Chief and MSNBC contributor Ezra Klein explains the scenarios, donkey-kong style:

Image by Jeffrey Zeldman, licensed under Creative Commons



10/9/2014

U.S. capitol building 

In a way, ISIS is in Washington and every other American city thanks to the post-9/11 hysteria over the dangers of terrorism.

Reprinted with permission from TomDispatch.

It happened so fast that, at first, I didn’t even take it in.

Two Saturdays ago, a friend and I were heading into the Phillips Museum in Washington, D.C., to catch a show of neo-Impressionist art when we ran into someone he knew, heading out. I was introduced and the usual chitchat ensued.  At some point, she asked me, “Do you live here?”

“No,” I replied, “I’m from New York.”

She smiled, responded that it, too, was a fine place to live, then hesitated just a beat before adding in a quiet, friendly voice: “Given ISIS, maybe neither city is such a great place to be right now.” Goodbyes were promptly said and we entered the museum.

All of this passed so quickly that I didn’t begin rolling her comment around in my head until we were looking at the sublime pointillist paintings of Georges Seurat and his associates. Only then did I think: ISIS, a danger in New York? ISIS, a danger in Washington? And I had the urge to bolt down the stairs, catch up to her, and say: whatever you do, don’t step off the curb. That’s where danger lies in American life. ISIS, not so much.

The Terrorists Have Our Number

I have no idea what provoked her comment. Maybe she was thinking about a story that had broken just two days earlier, topping the primetime TV news and hitting the front pages of newspapers. On a visit to the Big Apple, the new Iraqi prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, claimed that his intelligence services had uncovered a plot by militants of the Islamic State (IS, aka ISIS or ISIL), the extremists of the new caliphate that had gobbled up part of his country, against the subway systems of Paris, New York, and possibly other U.S. cities.

I had watched Brian Williams report that story on NBC in the usual breathless fashion, along with denials from American intelligence that there was any evidence of such a plot. I had noted as well that police patrols on my hometown’s subways were nonetheless quickly reinforced, with extra contingents of bomb-sniffing dogs and surveillance teams. Within a day, the leading officials of my state, Governor Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, were denying that they had any information on such a plot, but also taking very public rides on the city’s subways to “reassure” us all. The threat didn’t exist, but was also well in hand! I have to admit that, to me, it all seemed almost comic.

In the meantime, the background noise of the last 13 years played on. Inside the American Terrordome, the chorus of hysteria-purveyors, Republican and Democrat alike, nattered on, as had been true for weeks, about the "direct," not to say apocalyptic, threat the Islamic State and its caliph posed to the American way of life. These included Senator Lindsey Graham (“This president needs to rise to the occasion before we all get killed here at home"); Majority Leader John Boehner, who insisted that we should consider putting American boots on Iraqi and perhaps even Syrian ground soon, since “they intend to kill us”; Senator Dianne Feinstein, who swore that “the threat ISIS poses cannot be overstated”; Senator Bill Nelson, who commented that “it ought to be pretty clear when they... say they’re going to fly the black flag of ISIS over the White House that ISIS is a clear and present danger.” And a chorus of officials, named and anonymous, warning that the terror danger to the country was “imminent,” while the usual set of pundits chirped away about the potential destruction of our way of life.

The media, of course, continued to report it all with a kind of eyeball-gluing glee.  The result by the time I met that woman: 71% of Americans believed ISIS had nothing short of sleeper cells in the U.S. (shades of “Homeland”!) and at least the same percentage, if not more (depending on which poll you read), were ready to back a full-scale bombing campaign, promptly launched by the Obama administration, against the group.

If, however, you took a step out of the overwrought American universe of terror threats for 30 seconds, it couldn’t have been clearer that everyone in the grim netherworld of the Middle East now seemed to have our number. The beheading videos of the Islamic State had clearly been meant to cause hysteria on the cheap in this country — and they worked. Those first two videos somehow committed us to a war now predicted to last for years, and a never-ending bombing campaign that we know perfectly well will establish the global credentials of the Islamic State and its mad caliph in jihadist circles. (In fact, the evidence is already in. From North Africa to Afghanistan to Pakistan, the group is suddenly a brand name, its black flag something to hoist, and its style of beheading something to be imitated.)

Now, the Shia opponent of those jihadists had taken the hint and, not surprisingly, the very same path. The Iraqi prime minister, whose intelligence services had only recently been blindsided when IS militants captured huge swaths of his country, claimed to have evidence that was guaranteed to set loose the professional terror-mongers and hysterics in this country and so, assumedly, increase much-needed support for his government.

Or perhaps that woman I met had instead been struck by the news, only days earlier, that in launching a bombing campaign against the militants of the Islamic state in Syria, the Obama administration had also hit another outfit. It was called — so we were told — the Khorasan Group and, unlike the IS, it had the United States of America, the “homeland,” right in its bombsites. As became clear after the initial wave of hysteria swiftly passed, no one in our world or theirs had previously heard of such a group, which may have been a set of individuals in a larger al-Qaeda-linked Syrian rebel outfit called the al-Nusra Front who had no such name for themselves.

Whatever the case, it seemed that the Obama administration and connected intelligence outfits had our number, too. Although Khorasan was reputedly plotting against airplanes, not subways, transportation systems were evidently our jugular when it came to such outfits. This group, we were told in leaks by unnamed American intelligence officials, was made up of a “cadre” or “collection” of hardened, “senior” al-Qaeda types from Afghanistan, who had settled in Syria not to overthrow Bashir al-Assad or create a caliphate, but to prepare the way for devastating attacks on the American “homeland” and possibly Western Europe as well. It was, as Director of National Intelligence James Clapper put it, “potentially yet another threat to the homeland,” and it was “imminent.” As U.S. Central Command insisted in announcing the bombing strikes against the group, it involved “imminent attack planning.” The Khorasan Group was, said Lieutenant General William Mayville, director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, “in the final stages of plans to execute major attacks against Western targets and potentially the U.S. homeland."

Had we not hit them hard, they would be — so American intelligence officials assured us — on the verge (or at least the verge of the verge) of developing bombs so advanced that, using toothpaste tubes, rigged electronic devices, or possibly clothes soaked in explosives, their agents would be able to pass through airport security undetected and knock plane after plane out of the sky. Civilization was in peril, which meant that blazing headlines about the plot and the group mixed with shots of actual bombs (ours) exploding in Syria, and a sense of crisis that was, as ever, taken up with gusto by the media.

As Glenn Greenwald and Murtaza Hussain pointed out in a devastating report at the Intercept, the whole Khorasan story began to disassemble within a day or so of the initial announcement and the bombing strikes in Syria. It took next to no time at all for that “imminent threat” to morph into “aspirational” planning; for reporters to check with their Syrian sources and find that no one knew a thing about the so-called Khorasan Group; for the taking down of those airliners to gain an ever more distant (and possibly even fictional) look. As ever, however, pointing out the real dangers in our world was left largely to non-mainstream sources, while the threat to our way of life, to Washington and New York, lingered in the air.

Terror-Phobia and a Demobilized Citizenry

This sort of soundtrack has been the background noise in our lives for the last 13 years. And like familiar music (or Muzak), it evokes a response that’s almost beyond our control. The terror about terror, sometimes quite professionally managed (as in the case of the Khorasan Group), has flooded through our world year after year after year. ISIS is just a recent example of the way the interests of a group of extremists in making themselves larger than life and the interests of groups in this country in building up or maintaining their institutional power have meshed. Terror as the preeminent danger to our American world now courses through the societal bloodstream, helped along by regular infusions of fear from the usual panic-meisters.

On that set of emotions, an unparalleled global security state has been built (and funded), as well as a military that, in terms of its destructive power, leaves the rest of the world in the dust. In the process, and in the name of protecting Americans from the supposedly near-apocalyptic dangers posed by the original al-Qaeda and its various wannabe successors, a new version of America has come into being — one increasingly willing to bulldoze the most basic liberties, invested in the spread of blanket secrecy over government actions, committed to wholesale surveillance, and dedicated to a full-scale loss of privacy.

You can repeat until you're blue in the face that the dangers of scattered terror outfits are vanishingly small in the “homeland,” when compared to almost any other danger in American life. It won’t matter, not once the terror-mongers go to work. So, in a sense, that woman was right. For all intents and purposes, without ever leaving Iraq and Syria, ISIS is in Washington — and New York, and Topeka, and El Paso (or, as local fear-mongers in Texas suggest, ready to cross the Rio Grande at any moment), and Salt Lake City, and Sacramento. ISIS has, by now, wormed its way inside our heads. So perhaps she was right as well to suggest that Washington and New York (not to speak of wherever you happen to live) are not great places to be right now.

Let’s be honest. Post-9/11, when it comes to our own safety (and so where our tax dollars go), we’ve become as mad as loons. Worse yet, the panic, fear, and hysteria over the dangers of terrorism may be the only thing left that ties us as a citizenry to a world in which so many acts of a destructive nature are being carried out in our name.

The history of the demobilization of the American people as a true force in their own country’s actions abroad could be said to have begun in 1973, when a draft army was officially put into the history books. In the years before that, in Vietnam and at home, the evidence of how such an army could vote with its feet and through its activism had been too much for the top brass, and so the citizen army, that creation of the French Revolution, was ended with a stroke of the presidential pen. The next time around, the ranks were to be filled with “volunteers,” thanks in part to millions of dollars sunk into Mad Men-style advertising.

In the meantime, those in charge wanted to make sure that the citizenry was thoroughly demobilized and sent home. In the wake of 9/11, this desire was expressed particularly vividly when President George W. Bush urged Americans to show their patriotism (and restore the fortunes of the airlines) by visiting Disney World, vacationing, and going about their business, while his administration took care of al-Qaeda (and of course, invaded Afghanistan and Iraq).

In the ensuing years, propaganda for and an insistence that we “support,” “thank,” and adulate our “warriors” (in ways that would have been inconceivable with a citizen’s army) became the order of the day. At the same time, that force morphed into an ever more “professional,” “expeditionary” and “foreign” (as in Foreign Legion-style) outfit. When it came to the U.S. military, adulation was the only relationship that all but a tiny percentage of Americans were to be allowed.  For those in the ever-expanding U.S. military-industrial-homeland-security-intelligence-corporate complex, terror was the gift that just kept giving, the excuse for any institution-building action and career enhancement, no matter how it might contravene previous American traditions.

In this context, perhaps we should think of the puffing up of an ugly but limited reality into an all-encompassing, eternally “imminent” threat to our way of life as the final chapter in the demobilization of the American people. Terror-phobia, after all, leaves you feeling helpless and in need of protection. The only reasonable response to it is support for whatever actions your government takes to keep you "safe."

Amid the waves of fear and continual headlines about terror plots, we, the people, have now largely been relegated to the role of so many frightened spectators when it comes to our government and its actions. Welcome to the Terrordome.


Tom Engelhardt is a co-founder of the American Empire Project and the author of The United States of Fear as well as a history of the Cold War, The End of Victory Culture. He runs the Nation Institute's TomDispatch.com. His new book, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World (Haymarket Books), has just been published.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook and Tumblr. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Rebecca Solnit's Men Explain Things to Me.

Copyright 2014 Tom Engelhardt

Photo by Fotolia/ETIEN



10/8/2014

Last night “The Daily Show” senior correspondent Samantha Bee reported on the number of civilians shot by police each year … only to find that the numbers don’t exist.

While records are kept tracking the number of bullets police discharge and how many are specifically shot at civilians, the data ends when it’s a matter tallying of how many civilians are killed.

Former New York City Police Commissioner Bernie Kerik said he was confident the statistics existed somewhere, as police departments are asked to report this to the Department of Justice. But Bee quickly learned that no authority technically required police agencies to turn in this information.

“You know no mom wants to think that their child will grow up to become just another statistic,” Bee said. “Thankfully, given the current state of our laws, there’s no chance of that ever happening.”

Watch the video below, courtesy of Comedy Central:



9/2/2014

UN

A report looks at 323 movements to see which were most successful.

Assessing the effectiveness of civil resistance is a complex undertaking. The causes of change are often linked to a number of factors, and many what-if scenarios can be conjured up to imagine alternate endings; how adequate would nonviolent or violent resistance have been during WWII is a common hypothetical. But a new report that analyzed 323 campaigns which unfolded between 1900 and 2006 attempts to sort the ins and outs of success and failure in countries where people were striving for self-determination, unseating a leader, or driving out a military occupation. Tactics for the groups studied included anything from sit-ins to noncooperation to armed rebellion, and the results are telling:

  • Nonviolent movements were found to attract more people and be more powerful than violent ones—11 times bigger and twice as effective against authoritarian rulers. Co-author Erica Chenoweth remarks, "People power is really the main story here."
  • Including people from different backgrounds (gender, socio-economic, and religious) also led to a higher likelihood of accomplishing an end goal.
  • Utilizing a diversity of nonviolent tactics was found to be more compelling because it stretched thin the resources for quelling a movement. Scholar Gene Sharp cataloged 198 tactics which have since been added to with tools such as social media.
  • It was also helpful for those involved to have a longer outlook; the average length of time the movements lasted was almost three years.
  • In cases where the campaign fails, the study found that nonviolent movements were still more likely (four times as compared to violent campaigns) to eventually democratize, which was attributed to experiences in mobilization and coalition building.

The developments from the Arab Spring (which are still being felt) can be held up for comparison. Tunisia encompassed many of the successful indicators, such as a diverse group of people who used different tactics, and the road to democracy there looks plausible. While both Egypt (nonviolent) and Libya (violent) succeeded in ousting their leaders, their futures are less secure. These examples illustrate the fact that implementing change, even after the fall of reviled regimes, is no easy task. But chances are, had Egypt turned violent, its road would be even more precarious and vice versa with Libya. And although such hypotheticals are impossible to verify, the study’s conclusions point in such directions. As for Syria, which attempted nonviolence but gave way to armed groups, the future does not look bright. Turning to violence pushed many people away and rebel forces began to rely on outside forces for aid and arms which is risky (support is "usually conditional and fickle.")

In terms of external involvement, the report calls on outside governments to support nonviolent resistance early on in order to prevent escalation of violence (from within or from forces such as NATO strikes). Had the nonviolent groups in Syria been given support from the onset, who knows what may or may not have transpired. Assisting independent media outlets, monitoring the criminal justice system, and pressuring leaders not to react with violence are also advantageous actions.

Photo by sari dennise, licensed under Creative Commons.



8/14/2014

Cat in a Gun Shop

File this under Funniest Zines Ever: “How to Talk to Your Cat About Evolution.” A whip-smart take-down of creationism, the writing is angry, alright, but its rage is mitigated by frequent mentions—and photos—of cute, fluffy cats.

The zine was written by Zachary of Slaton, Texas, who publishes it under the cheeky pseudonym the American Association of Patriots (and who wishes to keep his last name private). As the AAP, Zachary uses the question-and-answer format of “histrionic religious pamphlets”—it’s kind of “Jack Chick meets Alex Jones” in its approach, he suggests, only with a few cat puns thrown in.

How to Talk to Your Cat About Gun Safety” was the AAP’s first publication in 2013. Carried mainly by independent bookstores and comic book shops, it sold 9,000 copies in just under a year—a remarkable sales record for a zine. “It made the front page of Reddit at one point,” Zachary said. “Some guy wrote an electronica song about it. Apparently, people on the internet love things about cats. Who knew!”

We spoke briefly with the AAP, who offered a few tough lessons to Utne readers (and their cats):

Which is the greater threat to cats in America today, evolution or gun control legislation?

A foolish question, but no more than we would expect from your publication of weak-kneed liberalism. To ask which is the greater threat is like asking which of an octopus’s arms are a greater threat. Both are merely limbs of a greater beast, which has but one thought in its black heart: a yearning desire to overthrow America and turn our cats against us.

We thought only human citizens could be true patriots. How do cats fit in?

The idea that cats cannot be patriots is a lie, propagated by our enemies, who seek to divide the forces of freedom and deprive us of our greatest military asset. There are almost 100 million cats living in American households, and untold millions more loosely organized into feral militias. Do you not think that the enemies of America quake in fear at the thought of an extra 100 million soldiers defending our country, soldiers who are possessing of superhuman reflexes, balance, and the ability to see in the dark? The importance of cats to American sovereignty is something that, as vigilant citizens, we must never furget.

What about dogs? Are they safe from the liberal propaganda machine?

The American Association of Patriots recommends that every member of your household be armed and trained in the safe handling of that weapon. Unfortunately, following a class action lawsuit in 1996 we are now legally required to state that firearms are not suitable for dogs, and we were forced to discontinue our line of “How to Talk to Your Dog…” educational brochures.

What would you say to those who would try to keep this vital information out of our cats' paws?

Your days are numbered! Soon the true patriots of America will rise up, cats at our side, and cast off the imperialist yoke imposed on us by the puppet Obama and his masters: the effete, atheist, socialist oligarchs of Europe who wish to rob America of its manhood, its cats, and its God.  

Photo by Fotolia/andrewgenn




7/24/2014

An Apocalyptic View of America

Requiem for the American Century: Turning 70, paragraph by paragraph 

First paragraphs on turning 70 in the American Century that was:

- Seventy-three years ago, on February 17, 1941, as a second devastating global war approached, Henry Luce, the publisher of Time and Life magazines, called on his countrymen to “create the first great American Century.” Luce died in 1967 at age 69.  Life, the pictorial magazine no home would have been without in my 1950s childhood, ceased to exist as a weekly in 1972 and as a monthly in 2000; Time, which launched his career as a media mogul, is still wobbling on, a shadow of its former self.  No one today could claim that this is Time’s century, or the American Century, or perhaps anyone else’s. Even the greatest empires now seem to have shortened lifespans.  The Soviet Century, after all, barely lasted seven decades. Of course, only the rarest among us live to be 100, which means that at 70, like Time, I’m undoubtedly beginning to wobble, too.

- The other day I sat down with an old friend, a law professor who started telling me about his students. What he said aged me instantly. They’re so young, he pointed out, that their parents didn’t even come of age during the Vietnam War. For them, he added, that war is what World War I was to us. He might as well have mentioned the Mongol conquests or the War of the Roses. We’re talking about the white-haired guys riding in the open cars in Veteran’s Day parades when I was a boy. And now, it seems, I’m them.

- In March 1976, accompanied by two friends, my wife and I got married at City Hall in San Francisco, and then adjourned to a Chinese restaurant for a dim sum lunch. If, while I was settling our bill of perhaps $30, you had told me that, almost half a century in the future, marriage would be an annual $40 billion dollar business, that official couplings would be preceded by elaborate bachelor and bachelorette parties, and that there would be such a thing as destination weddings, I would have assumed you were clueless about the future. On that score at least, the nature of the world to come was self-evident and elaborate weddings of any sort weren’t going to be part of it.

- From the time I was 20 until I was 65, I was always 40 years old. Now, I feel my age.  Still, my life at 70 is a luxury. Across the planet, from Afghanistan to Central America, and in the poverty zones of this country, young people regularly stare death in the face at an age when, so many decades ago, I was wondering whether my life would ever begin.  That’s a crime against humanity. So consider me lucky (and privileged) to be seven decades in and only now thinking about my death.

- Recently, I had the urge to tell my son something about my mother, who died before he was born. From my closet, I retrieved an attaché case of my father’s in which I keep various family mementos. Rummaging around in one of its pockets, I stumbled upon two letters my mother wrote him while he was at war. (We’re talking about World War II, that ancient conflict of the history books.) Almost four decades after her death, all I had to do was see my mother’s handwriting on the envelope—“Major C. L. Engelhardt, 1st Air Commando Force, A.P.O. 433, Postmaster, New York 17, N.Y.” —to experience such an upwelling of emotion I could barely contain my tears. So many years later, her handwriting and my father’s remain etched into my consciousness. I don’t doubt I could recognize them amid any other set of scribblings on Earth. What fingerprints were to law enforcement then, handwriting was to family memories. And that started me wondering: years from now, in an electronic world in which no one is likely to think about picking up a pen to write anyone else, what will those “fingerprints” be?

- There are so many futures and so few of them happen. On the night of October 22, 1962, a college freshman, I listened to John F. Kennedy address the American people and tell us that the Russians were building “a series of offensive missile sites” on the island of Cuba and that “the purposes of these bases can be none other than to provide a nuclear strike capability against the Western Hemisphere.” In other words, the president of the United States was telling us that we might be at the edge of the sort of world-ending, monster-mutating nuclear war that, from Godzilla to Them, had run riot in the popular culture (and the nightmares) of my childhood.  At that moment, I looked directly into the future—and there was none. We were, I believed, toast. My family, my friends, all of us, from Hudson Bay, Canada, to Lima, Peru, as the president put it. Yet here I am 52 years later. As with so many futures we imagine, somehow it didn’t happen and so many years after I’m still wondering when I’ll be toast.

- If, on that same night, you had returned from the future to tell me (or other Americans) that, nearly half a century hence, the Soviet Union would barely be a memory, that there would be no other great power challenging the United States for supremacy, and that its only serious enemies would be scattered bands of Islamic extremists, largely in countries no American of that era had even heard of, my sense of wonder would have been indescribable. And I don’t doubt that the godlier among us would have fallen to their knees and given thanks for our deliverance. It would have gone without saying that, in such a future, the U.S. stood triumphant, the American Century guaranteed to stretch into endless centuries to come.

- If, on September 10, 2001, I had peered into the future (as I undoubtedly did not), whatever world I might have imagined would surely not have included: the 9/11 attacks; or those towers collapsing apocalyptically; or that “generational” struggle launched almost instantly by the Bush administration that some neocons wanted to call "World War IV" (the Cold War being World War III), aka the Global War on Terror; or a “kill list” and drone assassination campaign run proudly out of the White House that would kill thousands in the tribal backlands of the planet; or the pouring of funds into the national security state at levels that would put the Cold War to shame; or the promotion of torture as a necessary part of the American way of life; or the creation of an offshore prison system where anything went; or the launching of a global kidnapping campaign; or our second Afghan War, this time lasting at least 13 years; or a full-scale invasion, garrisoning, and occupation of Iraq lasting eight years; or the utterly improbable possibility that, from all of this, Washington would win nothing whatsoever. Nor, on that September day, still an editor in book publishing, barely online, and reading almost everything on the page, could I have imagined that, at age 70, I would be running a website called TomDispatch, 24/7, driven by the terrible news that would, before that day, have amazed me.

- Once upon a time, if you saw someone talking to himself or herself while walking down the street, you knew you were in the presence of mental illness. Now, you know that you're catching a snippet of a mobile or smartphone conversation by someone connected eternally to everyone he or she knows and everything happening online every minute of the day. Not so long ago, this was material for some far-fetched sci-fi novel, not for life.

- If, on September 10, 2001, you had told me that the very way we are connected to each other electronically would encourage the evolution of an American surveillance state of breathtaking proportions and a corporate surveillance sphere of similar proportions, that both would have dreams of collecting, storing, and using the electronic communications of everybody on the planet, and that, in such a brief space of time, both would come remarkably close to succeeding, I wouldn’t have believed you. Nor would I have been able to absorb the fact that, in doing so, the U.S. national security state would outpace the “bad guys” of the totalitarian regimes of the previous century in the ambitiousness of its surveillance dreams. I would have thought such a development conceptually inconceivable for this country. And in that, touchingly, I would still be reflecting something of the America I grew up believing in.

- In my youth, I lived in the future. Riveted by the space operas of Isaac Asimov, among others, I grew up as a space nerd, dreaming of American glory and the colonization of distant planetary systems. At the same time, without any sense of contradiction, I inhabited future American worlds of wholesale destruction dotted with survivalist colonies in post-apocalyptic landscapes littered with mutants of every sort.

- I‘m no neuroscientist, but I wouldn’t be surprised to discover that we, as a species, are hardwired for prediction.  Preparing eternally for whatever danger might be just around the corner seems like such a useful trait, the sort of thing that keeps a species on its toes (once it has them). As far as I can tell, the brain just can’t help itself. The only problem is that we’re terrible at it. The famed fog of war is nothing compared to the fog of the future or, as I’ve often said, I’d be regularly riding my jetpack in traffic through the spired city of New York, as I was promised in my childhood. Our urge to predict the future is unsurpassed. Our ability to see it as it will be: next to nil.

Middle paragraphs for a missing American Century:

- It’s been almost 13 years since the 9/11 attacks and there’s still no learning curve in Washington. Just about every step of the way in Afghanistan and Iraq, it’s only gotten worse. Yet from that history, from repeated military interventions, surges, and Hail Marys in each of those countries, Washington has learned ...?  Yep, you guessed it: that, in a crisis, it’s up to us to plunge in again, as in Iraq today where the Obama administration is sending back troopsdrones, and helicopters, plotting to support certain government figures, deep-six others, and somehow fragment various Sunni insurgent and extremist groups. And don’t forget the endless advice administration officials have on offer, the bureaucratic assessments of the situation they continue to generate, and the weaponry they are eager to dispatch to a thoroughly destabilized land—even as they rush to “broker” a destabilizing Afghan election, a situation in which the long-term results once again aren’t likely to be positive for Washington. Consider this curious conundrum: the future is largely a mystery, except when it comes to Washington’s actions and their predictably dismal outcomes.

- Doesn’t it amaze you how little Washington gets it? Fierce as the internal disagreements in that capital city may be, seldom has a ruling group collectively been quite so incapable of putting itself in the shoes of anyone else or so tone deaf when it comes to the effects of its own acts. Take Germany where, starting with Edward Snowden’s NSA revelations, the public response to reports of massive American surveillance of the communications of ordinary Germans and their leaders wasn’t exactly greeted with enthusiasm. Now it turns out that the NSA wasn’t the only U.S. “intelligence” agency at work in that country. The CIA and possibly other agencies were recruiting spies inside German intelligence and its defense ministry. Polls show that public opinion there has been turning against the U.S. in striking ways, but Washington just can’t take it in. A little noted truth of this level of spying and surveillance is: it’s addictive. Washington can’t imagine not doing it, no matter the damage. If you keep an eye on this situation, you’ll see how the U.S. national security system has become a self-inflicted-wound machine.

- Here’s a question for our American moment: Why, in its foreign policy, can’t the Obama administration get a break? You’d think that, just by pure, dumb luck, there would be a few small victories somewhere for the greatest power on the planet, but no such thing. So for the post-American Century news jockeys among you, here’s a tip: to follow the waning fortunes of that century in real time, just keep an eye on Secretary of State John Kerry’s endless travels. He’s the Jonah of the Obama administration.  Wherever he goes, disaster, large or small, trails behind him, even when, as in Afghanistan recently, his intervention is initially billed as some sort of modest triumph.  Consider him the waning American Century personified.

- Think of the drone as a barometer of the American Century in decline. It’s the latest “perfect weapon” to arrive on the global scene with five-star reviews and promises of victory. Like the A-bomb before it, by the time its claims proved false advertising, it was already lodged deeply in our world and replicating. The drone is the John Kerry of advanced weaponry. Everywhere it goes, it brings a kind of robotic precision to killing, the problem being that its distant human trigger fingers rely on the usual improbable information about what’s actually on the ground to be killed. This means that the innocent are dying along with all those proclaimed “militants,” “high-value targets,” and al-Qaeda(-ish) leaders and “lieutenants.” Wherever the drone goes, it has been the equivalent of a recruiting poster for Islamic militants and terror groups. It brings instability and disaster in its wake. It constantly kills bad guys—and constantly creates more of them. And even as the negative reports about it come in, an addicted Washington can’t stop using it.

Last paragraphs on turning 70 (a requiem for the American Century):

- The true legacy of the foreshortened American Century, those years when Washington as top dog actually organized much of the world, may prove apocalyptic. Nuclear weapons ushered that century in with the news that humanity could now annihilate itself.  Global warming is ushering it out with the news that nature may instead be the weapon of choice. In 1990, when the Soviet system collapsed and disappeared, along with its sclerotic state-run economy, capitalism and liberal democracy were hailed in a triumphalist fashion and the moment proclaimed “the end of history.” In the 1990s, that seemed like a flattering description.  Now, with 1% electionsan unmitigated drive for profits amid growing inequality, and constant global temperature records, the end of history might turn out to have a grimmer meaning.

- Global warming (like nuclear war and nuclear winter) is history’s deal-breaker.  Otherwise, the worst humanity can do, it’s done in some fashion before. Empires rise and fall. They always have. People are desperately oppressed. It’s an old story. Humans bravely protest the conditions of their lives. Rebellions and revolutions follow and the unexpected or disappointing is often the result. You know the tale. Hope and despair, the worst and the best—it’s us. But global warming, the potential destruction of the habitat that’s made everything possible for us, that’s something new under the sun. Yes, it’s happened before, thanks to natural causes ranging from vast volcanic eruptions to plummeting asteroids, but there’s something unique about us torpedoing our own environment. This, above all, looks to be the event the American Century has overseen and that the drive for fossil-fuel profits has made a reality. Don’t fool yourself, though; we’re not destroying the planet. Give it 10 million years and it’ll regenerate just fine. But us? Honestly, who knows what we can pull out of a hat on this score.

- Let me put my cards on the table. I’m the guy who started two of his book titles with the phrases “the end of” and “the last days of,” so think of me as apocalyptic by nature. I don’t believe in God or gods, or for that matter an afterlife. In all these years, I’ve never discovered a spiritual bone in my body. Still, I do care in some way that I can't begin to understand what happens to us after I’m dead, what in particular happens to my children and my grandson, and his children and theirs, too. Go figure.

- My father’s closest friend, the last person of his generation who knew him intimately, died recently at 99. To my regret, I was no longer in touch. It nonetheless felt like an archive closing. The fog of the past now envelops much of his life. There is nobody left to tell me what I don’t know about all those years before my birth. Not a soul. And yet I can at least recognize some of the people in his old photos and tell stories about them.  My mother’s childhood album is another matter. Her brother aside, there’s no one I recognize, not a single soul, or a single story I can tell. It’s all fog. We don’t like to think of ourselves that way; we don’t like to imagine that we, in the present, will disappear into that fog with all our stories, all our experiences, all our memories.

- Here’s a question that, in a globally warming world, comes to mind: Are we a failed experiment? I know I’m not the first to ask, and to answer I’d have to be capable of peering into a future that I can’t see. So all I can say on turning 70 is: Who wouldn’t want to stick around and find out?

- Here’s the upbeat takeaway from this requiem for a foreshortened American Century: history is undoubtedly filled with seers, Cassandras, and gurus of every sort exactly because the future is such a mystery to us. Mystery, however, means surprise, which is an eternal part of every tomorrow. And surprise means, even under the worst conditions, a kind of hope. Who knows just what July 20, 2015, or 2025, or 2035 will usher on stage?  And who knows when I won’t be there to find out. Not I.

- By the way, I have the urge to offer you five predictions about the world of 2050, but what’s the point? I’d just have to advise you to ignore them all.

Tom Engelhardt is a co-founder of the American Empire Project and author of The United States of Fear as well as a history of the Cold War, The End of Victory Culture. He runs the Nation Institute's TomDispatch.com. His latest book, to be published in September, is Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single Superpower World(Haymarket Books).

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook and Tumblr. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Rebecca Solnit's Men Explain Things to Me.

Copyright 2014 Tom Engelhardt   

Photo by Fotolia/isoga








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