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Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Lie of American Exceptionalism • Climate Change Caused by Mankind • Water Wars? • Fukushima Leaking Radioactive Water into Ocean • Fox Says Muppets are Communists • Dogs and PTSD • Republicans Trying to Kill Post Office • Occupy Art • more

- Coming to a Theater Near You: The Greatest Water Crisis in the History of Civilization
    And here’s the bad news in a nutshell: if you live in the Southwest or just about anywhere in the American West, you or your children and grandchildren could soon enough be facing the Age of Thirst, which may also prove to be the greatest water crisis in the history of civilization.  No kidding.
    Jonathan Overpeck, a climate scientist at the University of Arizona who played a major role in the Nobel-Prize-winning work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, tells me that the prospect of 130° F days in Phoenix worries him far less than the prospect of decades of acute dryness. “If anything is scary, the scariest is that we could trip across a transition into a megadrought.” He adds, “You can probably bet your house that, unless we do something about these greenhouse gas emissions, the megadroughts of the future are going to be a lot hotter than the ones of the past.”
- Extreme Weather
    Given the expected weather pattern shifts due to La Nina, is there cause to bring climate change into the extreme weather debate? The Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) believes so. The Nobel prize winning group released a report on November 18 focusing on extreme weather events, linking their increase in frequency to climate change.
- It's Official, Climate Change Caused by Man: Three-quarters of climate change is man-made
    Natural climate variability is extremely unlikely to have contributed more than about one-quarter of the temperature rise observed in the past 60 years, reports a pair of Swiss climate modellers in a paper published online today. Most of the observed warming — at least 74 % — is almost certainly due to human activity, they write in Nature Geoscience.
- From Cairo to the Cape, climate change begins to take hold of Africa
    The world's poorest communities have begun to experience extreme weather outside the natural variability of African climate. Without a rapid reduction in emissions, the continent faces calamitous temperature rises within this century
- Health ‘first casualty’ of climate change
    The World Health Organisation predicts that changing climate conditions will lead to increases in malaria, cholera and dengue fever, as well as losses of life due to extreme weather events
- Horn of Africa Crisis: Drought Zone
    As millions in Kenya suffer from extreme hunger, is the US addressing the causes of the crisis or just its syptoms?
- Fukushima Plant Leaks Radioactive Water
    Large quantities of highly radioactive water have leaked through a crack in the wall of a treatment facility at the Fukushima power plant, and some may have founds its way into the sea, the plant's operator, Tokyo Electric Power [Tepco], said.
- Fox Business' Follow The Money Unmasks The Muppets' Liberal Agenda: "Brainwashing" Your Kids!
    This attempt at right-wing media criticism brought to you by the letter "S"... for stupid.
- NPR’s domestic drone commercial
    But listeners of NPR would know about virtually none of that. On its All Things Considered program yesterday, NPR broadcast a five-minute report (audio below) from Brian Naylor that purported to be a news story on the domestic use of drones but was, in fact, much more akin to a commercial for the drone industry.
- The Postal Service Plots Its Own Demise
    There are many appropriate targets for Occupy Wall Street protests. But the OWS protesters hit a bull’s-eye when they invaded a National Press Club briefing where Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe—who likes to make like a corporate executive and refer to himself as “Chief Operating Officer of the US Postal Service”—was giving a speech about the need to close local post offices, layoff workers and, though this was unspoken, take the steps that will lead to the privatization of the one of the country’s greatest public assets.[republicans want to kill the US postal service because it's a well functioning public branch of government and unionized. Republicans hate unions and hate any part of government that works well]
- Arizona Outraged At Right Wing Racist Sheriff Arpaio Fiasco, Calls For Resignation
    Less than two weeks after Citizens for a Better Arizona announced their intent to form the nation's first ever "Citizens Posse" to hold infamous Sheriff Joe Arpaio accountable for gross abuses of power and civil rights violations, an alarming new investigation just released by the Associated Press has found that hundreds of reported sex crimes, including child molestation, have fallen through the cracks of the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office.
- After Duty, Dogs Suffer Like Soldiers
    If anyone needed evidence of the frontline role played by dogs in war these days, here is the latest: the four-legged, wet-nosed troops used to sniff out mines, track down enemy fighters and clear buildings are struggling with the mental strains of combat nearly as much as their human counterparts.
- BEST CAPTION AT THE ONION ALL WEEK: Rumors Of Extramarital Affair End Campaign Of Presidential Candidate Who Didn't Know China Has Nuclear Weapons
    Republicans are so dumb they reject Cain for extra-marital affairs, but not for being utterly uninformed about the world. And then ironically throw their support behind serial-philanderer Newt Gingrich.
- Occupy Art
    Poster artwork inspired by the Occupy movement.

If you want a gauge of an America on the downward slope, you could look at the recent poll commissioned by the newspaper the Hill, in which a startling 69% of respondents said they considered the country to be in decline. Or you could just consider the soaring language of this season's presidential candidates. Mitt Romney, in a recent Republican debate on foreign policy, was typical, insisting that "this century must be an American century" in which "America leads the free world and the free world leads the entire world."

President Obama too is prone to the overheated language of American exceptionalism, announcing frequently his intention to ensure that the 21st century is "another American century."

As a 67-year-old, I grew up in a post-World War II era that, by any measure, was the height of the first American century. As much of the rest of the developed world struggled to rebuild devastated cities, the United States couldn't have been more exceptional, a one-of-a-kind country in producing the big-ticket items both of peace and of war, often from the same corporations.

Back then, there was no need for presidents or presidential candidates to get up and repetitively reassure the American people of just how exceptional we were. It was too obvious to state. After all, when you've really got it, you don't have to flaunt it.

So, the next time you hear any politician insisting that this country is American century-style exceptional, think of it as a kind of secret confession that we aren't. These days, you can feel the uncomfortably defensive snarl (or whine) that lurks in the insistence that our country isn't just another powerful nation in political gridlock and economic trouble.

Think here, if you will, of Rambo's muscles, which were in their own way as much a confession of insecurity as Romney's talk of exceptionalism. Back in the day, the screen western or war hero — Gary Cooper or John Wayne — might be strong and silent, but brute physique was the least of his attributes. He wasn't overmuscled or cartoonishly outsized. As a man of that true American century moment, he didn't have to go out of his way to emphasize his hero-hood and his physical power.

Rambo arrived on-screen in the post-Vietnam War years as a creature of American defeat. It was a time when strong and silent wasn't convincing enough anymore, when a literal arms race seemed necessary, when the pecs of American power needed to be overblown to be overshown.

Romney and crew are, verbally speaking, the Rambos of this 21st century American moment. And their version of nonstop exceptionalism fits well with another strange repetitive feature of the present landscape: the exaltation of the American soldier as a hero of heroes, an exemplar for the nation.

Much of this would have rung weirdly indeed to the ears of Americans in my childhood. They had their own set of outsized fears, but they still lived in a country with a citizen army that a draft ensured just about everyone took part in. Like mine, most families then had at least one WW II vet. And yet no one talked about greatest generations or American heroes or, like President Obama and George W. Bush before him, "the finest fighting force in the world" (or "that the world has ever known"). The soldier was simply an American.

Now, in the world of the all-volunteer Army, with the U.S. permanently, if remarkably unsuccessfully, at war around the world, the military largely exists in a separate sphere, with many Americans having no direct link to the wars being fought in their name and the soldiers who are fighting them.

Yet today, supporting the troops (or "America's warriors," as they are now often called) has become a near-religious duty. This recurrent insistence on their need for support should, like Romney's exceptionalism, be viewed as another kind of secret admission.

After all, the greatest mistake of our era was undoubtedly this: When the Soviet Union suddenly disappeared in 1991, our leaders imagined that they had achieved a kind of American victory never before seen. Where, for centuries, there had been two or more great-power rivals, there was now only the sole superpower (or even hyperpower) of planet Earth, with no significant threat anywhere.

To some, it looked as if this were, by definition, a second post-WW II moment of American exceptionalism. Mistaking military might for global power, they didn't notice that the mightier superpower of the Cold War was also heading slowly downhill in a cloud of self-congratulation. The rest of this grim story we are now living.

Long gone is that American moment and the "century" that went with it. Decline is upon us, and every assurance that it isn't only serves, however subliminally, to reinforce that reality. At whatever pace, our "warriors" and "heroes" are coming home to a distinctly unhappy, unheroic and insecure country, lacking in jobs. In the meantime, our leaders doth protest too much.

Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project, runs the Nation Institute's His latest book, "The United States of Fear," is just out.