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John Feffer, Avoiding the Robot Apocalypse

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[Note for TomDispatch Readers: As many of you may remember, Dispatch Books has long been publishing John Feffer’s Splinterlands trilogy, his dystopian novels that foresaw so much that’s since engulfed us. His first volume, Splinterlands, was published in 2016, Frostlands in 2018, and the final must-read book, Songlands, is now out. Of it, Adam Hochschild has written: “An intriguing conclusion to a worthy trilogy. Feffer leaps far into the future in this book, but his view of it is enriched by a quirky, sensitive understanding of our world as it is — both its dangers and its possibilities.” Make sure, at the very least, to order yourself a copy. Any of you who might, however, like to support TomDispatch in return for your own signed, personalized Songlands, should go to our donation page and contribute at least $100 (or, if you live outside the U.S.A., $125) and it’ll be yours. Truly, you won’t regret it. In fact, given the ever-hotter world we find ourselves in, it couldn’t be a more appropriate book to read! Tom]

In my younger years, I had significant experience with futuristic worlds, sometimes of the grimmest sort. After all, I went to the moon with Jules Verne; saw London being destroyed with H.G. Wells; met my first robot with Isaac Asimov; faced the apocalyptic world of those aggressively poisonous plants, the Triffids, with John Wyndham; and met Big Brother with George Orwell. Yet, from pandemics to climate change, social media to the robotization of the planet that TomDispatch regular John Feffer describes today, nothing that I read once upon a time, no matter how futuristic, no matter how strange or apocalyptic, prepared me for the everyday world I now find myself in at age 77.

Back in the days of the pen and manual typewriter (remember, I’ve been an editor most of my life), if you had told me that, were I someday to mistakenly spell “life” as “kife,” the spell-check program on my computer (yes, an actual computer!) would promptly underline it in red to let me know that I had goofed, I would never have believed you. I, edited incessantly by a machine? Not on your life, or perhaps I should say: not until it became part of my seldom-thought-about everyday life. Nor, of course, could you have convinced me that someday I would be able to carry my total communications system in my pocket and more or less talk to anyone I know anywhere, anytime. Had you suggested that, then, I would undoubtedly have laughed you out of the room.

And yet here I am, living in an online world I barely grasp in a version of everyday life that’s left more youthful thoughts about the future in the dust. And now, Feffer has the nerve to fill me in on a future world to be in which, functionally, a robot may be carrying the equivalent of me around in its pocket or simply leave beings like me in a ditch somewhere along the way. Apocalypse then? I shudder to think. Read his piece and see if you don’t shudder, too. Tom

Artificial Intelligence Wants You (and Your Job)

We’d Better Control Machines Before They Control Us

My wife and I were recently driving in Virginia, amazed yet again that the GPS technology on our phones could guide us through a thicket of highways, around road accidents, and toward our precise destination. The artificial intelligence (AI) behind the soothing voice telling us where to turn has replaced passenger-seat navigators, maps, even traffic updates on the radio. How on earth did we survive before this technology arrived in our lives? We survived, of course, but were quite literally lost some of the time.

My reverie was interrupted by a toll booth. It was empty, as were all the other booths at this particular toll plaza. Most cars zipped through with E-Z passes, as one automated device seamlessly communicated with another. Unfortunately, our rental car didn’t have one.

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Aviva Chomsky, Migration as Resistance

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[Note for TomDispatch Readers: Tuesday is my 77th birthday and I’m taking it off.  The next TD piece will appear on Thursday. In the meantime, any of you who, after all these years, would like to keep this site (and me) going at least a little longer, do visit our donation page and offer what you can! Tom]

Give Joe Biden credit. As a 78-year-old mainstream politician, he’s made some surprisingly bold moves domestically when it comes, for instance, to climate change — even if his plans have been quite literally paralyzed by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and his coterie of Republican extremists.  So perhaps it’s not exactly good news when, on one issue, they seem to agree with him. I’m thinking of the Biden administration’s urge to launch a new Cold War with China and make Taiwan, not Kabul or Baghdad, the hot spot of the planet.

At least, it’s good to see that progressives have taken note of the increasingly depressing reality of the Biden version of foreign policy in Asia.  Recently, more than 40 progressive groups signed an eloquent letter calling on “the Biden administration and all members of Congress to eschew the dominant antagonistic approach to U.S.-China relations and instead prioritize multilateralism, diplomacy, and cooperation with China to address the existential threat that is the climate crisis.” If not, as anyone knows who’s been paying attention to the heat and fire that have overwhelmed much of a megadrought-stricken American West, we face something like doom on this visibly overheating planet of ours.  Those groups, in turn, seem to have some support in the House of Representatives at least from progressives like California Congressman Ro Khanna.

Sadly, China isn’t the only place where Biden and his foreign-policy crew seem determined to replay the long-gone Cold War era. As TomDispatch regular Aviva Chomsky, author most recently of Central America’s Forgotten History: Revolution, Violence, and the Roots of Migration, points out today, the president’s new plan for Central America, supposedly aimed at the “root causes” of migration to this country, is the disappointing equivalent of ancient history when solutions are actually available. He’s once again offering that region the kind of “aid” that helped create today’s “migrant crisis.” No, he’s not Donald Trump at the border, but he’s ensuring a planet on which Trump and crew will undoubtedly thrive.

In the cases of both China and Central America, some new thinking is deeply overdue.  Unfortunately, in the mainstream world of Washington, it shows little sign of arriving any time soon. Tom

Migration Is Not the Crisis

What Washington Could Really Do in Central America

Earlier this month, a Honduran court found David Castillo, a U.S.-trained former Army intelligence officer and the head of an internationally financed hydroelectric company, guilty of the 2016 murder of celebrated Indigenous activist Berta Cáceres. His company was building a dam that threatened the traditional lands and water sources of the Indigenous Lenca people.  For years, Cáceres and her organization, the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras, or COPINH, had led the struggle to halt that project. It turned out, however, that Cáceres’s international recognition -- she won the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize in 2015 -- couldn't protect her from becoming one of the dozens of Latin American Indigenous and environmental activists killed annually.

Yet when President Joe Biden came into office with an ambitious "Plan for Security and Prosperity in Central America," he wasn’t talking about changing policies that promoted big development projects against the will of local inhabitants. Rather, he was focused on a very different goal: stopping migration. His plan, he claimed, would address its “root causes.”  Vice President Kamala Harris was even blunter when she visited Guatemala, instructing potential migrants: “Do not come.”

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Andrea Mazzarino, War Is a Cancer on Our Democracy

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Almost 20 years after the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, as the Taliban takes district after district, withdrawing American troops are discarding vast piles of junk on bases they are now abandoning. In the process, the war on terror has become a retreat of terror, leaving behind horrified Afghans in a wrecked land.  Now, as some of those troops actually return to the U.S. (minus the 650 still “guarding the embassy” in Kabul and another few hundred on call at that city’s airport), what exactly are they coming home to?

After all, Afghanistan didn’t get its nickname, “the graveyard of empires,” for nothing.  In 1989, if you remember, when the Red Army finally limped home after its Afghan fiasco — from what its leader had by then begun calling its “bleeding wound” — it was returning to a Soviet Union only two years from implosion. For the American troops now “coming home” (that’s in quotes because some of them will undoubtedly be reshuffled elsewhere in the Greater Middle East), they probably won’t come back to a total implosion two years from now. After all, the U.S. remains richer and more powerful than the Soviets ever were. Still, they’ll certainly return to a land of staggering inequality whose political system seems to be cratering. And don’t think that our never-ending wars of this century and the untold trillions of taxpayer dollars poured into them didn’t play a role in the arrival of Donald Trump in the White House or the creation of an ever less functional political system seemingly at war with itself.

Today, TomDispatch regular, military spouse, and co-founder of the Costs of War Project Andrea Mazzarino offers an up-close-and-personal look at this country’s “bleeding wounds” — I make that phrase plural because, unlike the Soviets, in these years we’ve been fighting from Iraq to Somalia, Yemen to Libya. When you think about it, it’s quite a remarkable record of failed war. Tom

Who Authorized America’s Wars?

And Why They Never End

Sometimes, as I consider America's never-ending wars of this century, I can't help thinking of those lyrics from the Edwin Starr song, "(War, huh) Yeah! (What is it good for?) Absolutely nothing!" I mean, remind me, what good have those disastrous, failed, still largely ongoing conflicts done for this country?  Or for you?  Or for me?

For years and years, what came to be known as America's "war on terror" (and later just its "forever wars") enjoyed remarkable bipartisan support in Congress, not to say the country at large. Over nearly two decades, four presidents from both parties haven't hesitated to exercise their power to involve our military in all sorts of ways in at least 85 countries around the world in the name of defeating “terrorism” or “violent extremism.”  Such interventions have included air strikes against armed groups in seven countries, direct combat against such groups in 12 countries, military exercises in 41 countries, and training or assistance to local military, police, or border patrol units in 79 countries. And that's not even to mention the staggering number of U.S. military bases around the world where counterterrorism operations can be conducted, the massive arms sales to foreign governments, or all the additional deployments of this country's Special Operations forces.

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