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Day after tomorrow ... was yesterday
Pentagon warns, more wars, big deficits, boomers at risk
By Paul B. Farrell, CBS.MarketWatch.com
Last Update: 8:37 PM ET June 7, 2004
ARROYO GRANDE, Calif. (CBS.MW) That's right: "The day after tomorrow was yesterday!" Because America is unprepared for what Fortune magazine dubbed "the mother of all national security issues," namely that "climate could change radically and fast," with more wars, a bigger military budget, scary federal deficits.
Have we passed the point of no return? Is it already too late to plan? Worse yet: Is America losing the ability to strategically plan ahead for "tomorrow?" Seriously, look around! Everything from national deficits to war budgeting, health care drug benefits to energy strategies, individual retirement programs to the national savings rate. We seem to have lost the mental capacity to prepare for the future.
And lest you think this is merely another review of that silly $125 million disaster movie, "The Day After Tomorrow," it is not. Nor is this a critique of NASA's earlier attempts to muzzle its climate experts from discussing the movie. Nor is this a defense of some fanatical left wing save the earth conspiracy.
My focus is not on all the very real external problems facing America. My concern is with the ever diminishing inner psychological capacity of individual Americans and our political leadership to focus on the future and plan intelligent solutions.
Americans seem possessed by a mysterious disease that is destroying our collective brain cells. As a result, we consistently ignore early warning signs and fail to plan for the future ... or we act precipitously and arrogantly with no real plans ... or when we do plan, our plans reflect the wishful thinking of a child who wants everything ... or we ignore contrary evidence and blunder ahead motivated by blind allegiance to some preconceived ideologies.
Natural resources go ... military budget grows!
For example, the global warming issue. The Fortune article was actually based on disaster warnings from inside the Pentagon, not some Hollywood movie. And the Pentagon is not worried about some new Ice Age. Forget that fiction.
Think like hard nosed Pentagon analysts: heat not ice, rising temperatures, increasing saltwater, disease, drought, farm lands and rainforests turned into deserts, a set up for famine, plagues, worldwide revolutions and global wars between haves and have nots.
The Pentagon sees the real possibility for such massive and rapid shifts in environmental conditions worldwide. And in the next couple decades the entire world could become a raging battleground as every nation fights over ever decreasing natural resources, a scenario complicated by the uncontrolled proliferation of nuclear weapons.
This is not some Hollywood fantasy or Greenpeace slogan. These are Pentagon insiders. Moreover, the probability of this scenario is now "higher than most of the scientific community, and perhaps all of the political community, are prepared to accept." And as a direct result of our inaction and failure to plan ahead "an old pattern could reemerge warfare defining human life."
More war means increasing military defense budgets and ever increasing federal deficits, which are destined to have an enormous impact on individual investment portfolios and personal retirement plans in the near future. Wake up America, wake up boomers, your retirement may not be as peaceful as you hope.
Real enemy? Our own myopic brains
Here's the real tragedy: Unfortunately you will forget this warning as fast as you can say "movie popcorn" after screening "The Day After Tomorrow." That's what really concerns me. We know what's ahead, but everyone, including politicians and the voting public, have their heads in the sand.
Why? Because we have lost the mental capacity to plan ahead for the "day after tomorrow."
Everything in our culture today is designed to focus us on the short term. For example, America's financial services community including brokers, online traders, active fund manager and the financial press are in a tacit conspiracy that encourages short term decision making that is hypnotizing us against planning for the future.
More examples: The growing popularity of reality television, talk shows and video games. Cable TV feeds us a 90 second report on a terrorist attack in Iraq. Army sergeant dead. We don't hear about his wife and kids back home. Instead, we view a reality show like "Who Will Marry My Father?" Or watch Dr. Phil solve America's obesity problems in a short session. In between, a relentless flood of 30 second commercials that instantly solve America's really big problems, like body odor, a bad hair day and which new gas guzzler to buy.
We're getting numb and number. Our brains have some kind of psychological remote clicker that tunes out all thoughts about planning ahead to solve the overwhelming issues of the federal, trade, Social Security, Medicare, defense and other deficits, just as we lacked the mental capacity to plan ahead for post war Iraq.
Brain cells destroyed, we can't plan ahead
Please get this folks: Collectively we are rapidly losing the mental capacity to plan ahead for everything! And the reason is obvious. Our short term world is infecting us with a self destructive psychological disease: Myopia coupled with narcissism, a messiah complex and the need for immediate gratification.
Here's how Fortune sees you and me reacting: "Global warming may be bad news for future generations, but let's face it, most of us spend as little time worrying about it as we did about al Qaeda before 9/11."
Will the popularity of "The Day After Tomorrow" trigger a new national conscience and a demand that Washington plan solutions for global warming problems? Quite the opposite. We'll think even less about global warming than we did before!
Why? Because our brains have fabulous storage capacity to file away disturbing images. Both the fictional movie and the real issues about global warming and global warfare will quickly vanish into our collective memories as old news.
Over time the line between fact and fiction blurs. Over time our brains are unable to differentiate between real experiences and the fictional experience in a movie or a reality show. One click of our mental "remote control" and our brain files another grim reality "out of sight, out of mind" as once again we avoid thinking about the future while focusing on some immediate and inane "reality," like the summer "Big Brother" series.
Become a 'voice in the wilderness'
Seriously, after you have the cathartic experience of watching "The Day After Tomorrow," and after you read the comments (like the New York Times: "Few climate experts think such a prospect is likely, especially in the near future") your brain will file away the very real issues of environment, global wars and skyrocketing defense budgets under the mental heading of entertaining "B movies."
So who cares? Why bother? What if the Pentagon's predictions of massive environmental changes are true. What if that could trigger massive global wars? What if that creates massive deficits by 2020 and seriously undermines boomer retirements?
There's nothing we can do, right? If the vast majority in Washington and on Main Street really are incapable of long term planning ... what can a few other thoughtful people do?
Refuse to give up! Be the voice in the wilderness! Hopefully someday soon a leader will emerge who does care. A new Roosevelt or Churchill, a new Washington or Lincoln who will inspire Americans everywhere to rise above our collective myopia before we really do pass the point of no return and we wake up too late to see that the day after tomorrow truly did happen yesterday.
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