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Stan Cox, Losing Our Cool in the Twenty-First Century

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Wow! Be impressed, very impressed!

One thing we humans certainly value is setting records. Sports, for instance, would be almost meaningless without them. And as it happens, we’re now on a record-setting streak when it comes to the weather. Globally, the month of May just came in as the Babe Ruth of all Mays, the hottest ever and that means we can now experience the full power of record-setting. (Let me just suggest that you get into a short-sleeved shirt and shorts before you read the rest of this!) One after another, the last 12 months globally have been the hottest 12 in human history (and undoubtedly way before that as well!).  And May was the 11th straight month when temperatures also breached the 1.5C threshold set as the limit for temperature rise at the 2015 Paris climate accords.

Oh, and in case you’re not living in the American Southwest where temperatures have been soaring lately (117 degrees in an ongoing heat wave scorching South Texas) or in South Asia — India’s capital, Delhi, only recently experienced a temperature of 127 (no, that is not a misprint!), as did part of Pakistan — just know that, thanks to the never-ending burning of fossil fuels, this planet is getting ever hotter. That means the air conditioning will be going on ever more often (if, of course, you can even afford to have it). If you’re confined in a Texas prison without air conditioning, as J. David Goodman recently reported in the New York Times, then you may be desperately out of luck:

“In more than a dozen interviews this week, current and former inmates, as well as their relatives and friends, described an elemental effort at survival going on inside the prisons, with inmates relying on warm water, wet towels and fans that push hot air. Some flooded their cells with water from their combination sink-toilets, lying on the wet concrete for relief. Others, desperate for the guards’ attention, lit fires or took to screaming in unison for water or for help with an inmate who had passed out.”

As it happens, TomDispatch regular Stan Cox is something of an expert on air conditioning (he even wrote a book on the subject), both what it does to save us from extreme heat and to cause yet more of it… sigh… but let him explain. Tom

Air Conditioning

Can’t Live With It, Can’t Live Without It

The odds are that the entire continental United States will swelter through a hotter-than-normal summer this year. And no surprise there. It seems as if that's been the forecast every spring for years now. But this summer promises to eclipse even the summer of 2023, which, in the Northern Hemisphere, was the hottest since at least the year 1 AD, according to tree-ring analysis. You read that correctly: this summer may be hotter than any summer in the last 2,024 years (and undoubtedly many tens of thousands before that, since tree rings can take the data back only so far).

The world’s hot future has already arrived in parts of the Global South, thanks largely to past greenhouse gas emissions mainly from the Global North. On May 29th, in Delhi, India, residents suffered under record-melting 127-degree heat. Earlier in May, deadly heat descended on Southeast Asia. The heat index (the “feels like” temperature that takes humidity into account) exceeded 125 degrees in both Manila and Bangkok this spring, thereby “rewriting climatic history,” according to experts.

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Rebecca Gordon, Cassandra Redux

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Recently, glancing at one of my bookshelves, I noticed an old book I had been involved in creating and, almost 15 years after its publication, had basically forgotten. Back in 2010, at the moment when President Barack Obama was dispatching thousands more American troops to Afghanistan and expanding that war in a myriad of ways, Nick Turse put together a bluntly entitled volume, The Case for Withdrawal from Afghanistan, in part from the work of TomDispatch authors, including me. All these years later, I picked it up and began reading through it again, noting the thoughts of authors and old friends (some no longer here), ranging from Chalmers Johnson and Juan Cole to Ann Jones and Andrew Bacevich. What struck me, of course, was that, more than 10 years before this country’s disastrous departure from Afghanistan, it was already blindingly obvious — to those who cared to look — just how badly things were going there and what should be done. (Of course, to put even that in perspective, by December 2002, just a year after the post-9/11 American invasion of that country, with TomDispatch barely a year old, I was already referring to that war — to use a word I borrowed from the Vietnam War era — as a potentially disastrous “quagmire.”)

As Turse wrote in his introduction to that book:

“To begin to imagine a true military withdrawal — of troops, bases, and the full-scale machinery of war and occupation — from that country has been the one serious option that has never been put on the proverbial ‘table’ on which ‘all options’ are so regularly said to be placed. It remains on no one’s agenda among Washington powerbrokers, and no part of the discussion and debate among its punditocracy or the mainstream media more generally. And yet the situation in Afghanistan calls out for a serious consideration of just that.”

Which is exactly what his book did in a striking fashion, a path that, he added, has “long been on the road to perdition.”

And all too sadly, it would remain so for (disastrous) years to come, while that book, so totally on target, would essentially fall off the face of the earth. Sometimes, on this increasingly strange planet of ours, it simply doesn’t pay to be right. In fact, it’s hell on earth if you’re on target but fall into the category of — to use a term TomDispatch regular Rebecca Gordon has employed so strikingly in the past and again today — a Cassandra, when being right couldn’t be more wrong in terms of how the world will treat you.  With that in mind, let Gordon once again play the role of an all-American Cassandra at TomDispatch. Tom

What Did We Know

And When Did We Know It?

A few days ago, my partner and I went in search of packing tape. Our sojourn on an idyllic (if tick-infested) Cape Cod island was ending and it was time to ship some stuff home. We stopped at a little odds-and-ends shop and found ourselves in conversation with the woman behind the counter.

She was born in Panama, where her father had served as chief engineer operating tugboats in the Panama Canal. As a child, she remembered celebrating her birthday with a trip on a tug from the Atlantic to the Pacific oceans, sailing under an arch of water produced by fireboats on either side.

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Norman Solomon, How Daniel Ellsberg’s Moral Power Remains Alive

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Strange to think that, without Daniel Ellsberg, Watergate might never have happened, Richard Nixon might have remained president, and the war in Vietnam might have taken even longer to end. So many decades later, it’s easy to forget how, in June 1971, when Ellsberg released those secret government documents that came to be known as the Pentagon Papers, and their shocking revelations about that distant war hit the front page of the New York Times, Nixon and crew were determined to move against him — and fast. It mattered not at all that he would be “indicted on 12 felony counts, including theft and violation of the Espionage Act,” and face up to 115 years in prison. That wasn’t enough for them. Nixon wanted to “try him in the press” and turned to FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover to investigate him.

As it happened, though, Hoover was a buddy of Louis Marx, the father of Ellsberg’s wife and the head of a major toy company that, among other things, made plenty of toy soldiers. (Marx regularly gave Hoover toys that he could turn over to his employees for their kids at Christmas.) So when the FBI chief moved far too slowly on Ellsberg, Nixon and his chief of staff, H.R. Haldeman, worrying about those Pentagon Papers revelations (even though they didn’t deal with Nixon’s own nightmarish role in the then-ongoing wars in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia), decided to set up a White House Special Investigations Unit. It came to be known informally as “the Plumbers.”

Its first assignment would be to break into the office of Ellsberg’s psychiatrist in search of damaging information on him. (No luck, as it turned out, but when the judge in Ellsberg’s trial found out about that break-in, he dismissed the case.) Nine months later, that unit’s ultimate assignment would, of course, have nothing to do with Ellsberg. It would be the infamous break-in at the Democratic National Committee’s headquarters in — yes! — the Watergate Office Building in Washington, D.C. The result was history that would have been inconceivable without — yes! — Daniel Ellsberg.

As TomDispatch regular Norman Solomon, author of War Made Invisible: How America Hides the Human Toll of Its Military Machine, makes clear today, Ellsberg led quite a life thereafter before dying in June 2023. Let him rest in peace. (If only the rest of this planet could do the same!) Tom  

The Absence — and Presence — of Daniel Ellsberg

A Year After His Death, He’s Still with Us

On a warm evening almost a decade ago, I sat under the stars with Daniel Ellsberg while he talked about nuclear war with alarming intensity. He was most of the way through writing his last and most important book, The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner. Somehow, he had set aside the denial so many people rely on to cope with a world that could suddenly end in unimaginable horror. Listening, I felt more and more frightened. Dan knew what he was talking about.

After working inside this country's doomsday machinery, even drafting nuclear war plans for the Pentagon during President John F. Kennedy's administration, Dan Ellsberg had gained intricate perspectives on what greased the bureaucratic wheels, personal ambitions, and political messaging of the warfare state. Deceptions about arranging for the ultimate violence of thermonuclear omnicide were of a piece with routine falsehoods about American war-making. It was easy enough to get away with lying, he told me: “How difficult is it to deceive the public? I would say, as a former insider, one becomes aware: it's not difficult to deceive them. First of all, you’re often telling them what they would like to believe -- that we’re better than other people, we're superior in our morality and our perceptions of the world.”

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