Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Is Wikileaks The New Media?

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Short and sweet: Yes!

I write this full of emotion and incredulity on the heels of breaking news that Julian Assange has surrendered himself in the UK on weak, trumped-up rape and sexual abuse charges by two Swedish women--one of whom is a CIA collaborator.

I admit that initially, just after the newest round of leaked documents on U.S. diplomacy, I believed Assange was being naive and was conducting a personal vendetta against government in general. I thought: what in hell is so controversial about this particular disclosure? Anyone with half a political brain knows the machinations of State Department wrangling with foreign governments behind the scenes. The geopolitical world has always been a backroom of nasty deals and compromises with shady characters working on behalf of "squeaky clean" administrations. And so Assange must be personally after some kind of entity or organization.

But as with any opinion I form in haste, the line of my thinking quickly changed. I realized Assange himself (like many curious people who vote and who bother to read political science literature and exposé) was quite aware of what goes on in diplomacy. The stuff he made public was, more or less, already out there. If you happen to watch PBS' "Frontline" you'd know. Or read things like this.

Assange's point was not to embarrass governments--they do that quite well on their own. Instead, the newest disclosure is meant to educate the likes of the Palin brigade, and the insufferable parrots aligned with either party, who robotically list party talking points lifted straight off Olberman's or O'Reilly's shows when conducting an argument.

In a simple answer: Yes, Wikileaks is the new media, in that it makes available to the (sometimes un-educated) public the nasty truth behind diplomacy, war, social, and financial systems (Bank of America is in the crosshairs).

There is a brilliant line in the fifth episode of the first season of Mad Men with which Don Draper defends his career choice in advertising to a young, beatnik-type. Draper says: "Americans like to be told what they want. What to do." And the media has quite happily agreed to borrow and carry half the baton from its boss, the advertising industry.

This is what Edward Murrow said about television in 1958, at the RTNDA Convention in Chicago:

Our history will be what we make it. And if there are any historians about fifty or a hundred years from now, and there should be preserved the kinescopes for one week of all three networks, they will there find recorded in black and white, or color, evidence of decadence, escapism and insulation from the realities of the world in which we live. I invite your attention to the television schedules of all networks between the hours of 8 and 11 p.m., Eastern Time. Here you will find only fleeting and spasmodic reference to the fact that this nation is in mortal danger. There are, it is true, occasional informative programs presented in that intellectual ghetto on Sunday afternoons. But during the daily peak viewing periods, television in the main insulates us from the realities of the world in which we live. If this state of affairs continues, we may alter an advertising slogan to read: LOOK NOW, PAY LATER.

For surely we shall pay for using this most powerful instrument of communication to insulate the citizenry from the hard and demanding realities which must be faced if we are to survive. I mean the word survive literally. If there were to be a competition in indifference, or perhaps in insulation from reality, then Nero and his fiddle, Chamberlain and his umbrella, could not find a place on an early afternoon sustaining show. If Hollywood were to run out of Indians, the program schedules would be mangled beyond all recognition. Then some courageous soul with a small budget might be able to do a documentary telling what, in fact, we have done--and are still doing--to the Indians in this country. But that would be unpleasant. And we must at all costs shield the sensitive citizens from anything that is unpleasant.


This sentiment holds beyond prophetic now, for the media in general. If there exists an outlet truly designed to inform the public of the realities of our modern world, as it exists now in the 21st century, then that outlet ought to be given, even nurtured, its voice.

The criticism that Assange and his Wikileaks is committing treason (put forth with much vigor by Sarah Palin herself) is beyond obtuse. This is where an ill-educated public comes into play, repeating and disseminating this inaccurate statement into the public psyche. Assange is not an American citizen, and Wikileaks does not operate on American soil, therefore a charge of treason cannot be leveled.

It's this idiocy perpetuated by the ill-informed parrots and followers of any particular party that Wikileaks aims to stem with its disclosures.

On the heels of Assange's arrest, and of the several attempts to hack the Wikileaks site, as well as the "circling of the wagons" by many of the world's governments and multi-national corporations (fuck you Amazon, fuck you PayPal, fuck you MasterCard, fuck you Joe Lieberman--you spineless political parasite, fuck you Twitter for not listing Wikileaks as a trending subject the last few days, fuck you France and Sweden for not having the balls and fortitude to support free speech, etc.), I am happy to report that over 500 mirror sites have popped up online.

A group called "Anonymous" is working hard to launch these mushrooming venues all across the Internet, making sure nothing is disrupted as Assange moves forth with his defense.

This is the real media, in the real age of information. Wikileaks would make Edward Murrow proud.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Forget 911...

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...the media is a bloody joke.

Yesterday, checking up on my Twitter feed (which is basically an endless 'wire' of news and information set up a la the good ol' Telex days), I ran across this wonderful juxtaposition of headlines tweeted back to back by CNN: "North Korea Warns Region is on Brink of War" / "Shoppers Crowd Malls All Night Long."

This absurd pairing of news came rat-tat-tat-ing on my Tweetdeck literally within two seconds, and it efficiently introduced my coffee to my keyboard, via my nose. The latter piece of information was then basically regurgitated and repeated throughout the entire day and evening and into this morning by virtually every American news outlet I can think of, accompanied by the usual B-roll of herds of people pressed against glass doors, waiting for someone to open the malls, so they can trample one another for the iPad or the newest generation iPhone.

I worked in "the media" for nearly 7 years, from 1993 to 2000 (television), and before that for almost two years, just out of college from 1991-1993-ish (USIA-radio/Voice of America). My experience in the television field was quite interesting. I was a freelancer working for a brand new cable network run by the insufferable Roger Ailes (now president of Fox) named "America's Talking." Soon after my position there, the network folded and its airways were taken over by Bill Gates and Microsoft, who created MSNBC. I stayed on, and within a short period of time became one of the directors of Chris Matthews' show, which went through several incarnations before settling on "Hardball." Ailes went on to helm the newly-created Fox News for Murdoch. We all know how that has turned out.

But being there, at the inception of the 24-hr news cycle networks (aside from CNN and Bloomberg, this was a revolutionary concept, and at the very least it provided competition for CNN; Bloomberg was and is an all-business TV outlet) was savage and weird. Gone were the standards of journalism I had learned and practised while working in the VOA newsroom. People no longer needed to check sources, they just ran with whatever stories surfaced--whether inaccurate or not.

Being on for 24 hours meant there was a huge need for content. Any kind of content. Controversial content. Ridiculously mundane content. Even made up content.

I remember being called in to direct a live shot out of Washington during the "breaking news" that president Clinton's plane (Air Force One) was temporarily stuck in the mud at the airport in Memphis. We had aviation experts and chattering talking heads go on for literally two hours, speculating what might have gone wrong, what could be done right, and whether or not this was some sort of conspiracy by the Right Wing (imagine the off-air jokes containing right/left wings and airplanes--this was happening during Clinton's impeachment process).

"Producers" of these types of shows were literally 21-year-olds, straight out of university with poli-sci degrees, not seasoned veterans of journalism with ethics and standards. These kids were busting into our studios looking to put on the air anything that might carry some controversy. They had taken their cue from the daytime Jerry Springer shows and were implementing the strategy into this sacred field of journalism, which was systematically being eviscerated and fucked proper by their doing.

Chris Matthews took to literally muttering at all times off air: "...numbers, we need numbers tonight, anything to get the numbers..." (referring to the ratings of his show).

Anything to get the numbers. This was in 1995! I quit the business five years later, but scanning the airwaves just this morning, the same gang of usual suspects is making the rounds on these insufferable all-day and night outlets.

You name the talking head, I've worked with him/her. I remember hanging out on K-Street and 18th, just outside the entrance to the MS/CNBC studios, smoking stogeys with the fellows on the crew, when a then unknown Ann Coulter joined us, clad in a puffy Chinchilla coat, talking all kinds of nonsense about how much better clubs in New York City are than in Washington. We smiled and nodded politely at the emaciated Valley Girl holding court on a subject neither of us had any interest in. We all know what's become of her now.

I lost an acquaintance and a professional friend in the attacks of 9/11. Barbara Olson was the wife of the then-Solicitor General Ted Olson. She was a frequent contributor and guest, and a lovely person-despite her GOP leanings and ideas. She had concise, cerebral arguments that counter-balanced the madness and screaming among the other guests. She and I often went on to digest these issues in the Green Room, after the segment or show. She was a good person.

I got into conversation several times with Chris Hitchens--another frequent guest--who would usually show up in the late afternoons dis-shevelled and somewhat inebriated, yet lucid and sharp as hell. Most of the time, the issues he discussed with me went above and beyond my head, and I was always intimidated, but he took an interest in me and in the fact that my mother had been a translator in Romania for Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon, when they visited in the '70s. We all know the scathing books Hitch has written on Kissinger and Nixon.

There were a handful of good people that walked the guest beat, but even they were prodded and pushed (off air) to say something ridiculous, to create some sort of fight within the segment.


"Numbers, we need numbers tonight...anything to get the numbers."

And so, now almost 11 years removed from an ever-rotting field, I make sure I perform my due diligence when it comes to digesting news and information. I literally don't trust any one single outlet. Even Wikileaks has come under my scrutiny. Stories in which I have interest get cross-checked and cross-referenced at least five times, from different angles.

The truth always lives somewhere in between the barriers and distractors and smoke and fog and mirrors and layers of information. If it exists at all.

Friday, November 19, 2010

On Pride and Prejudice

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The greatest thing about not having any ambition to seeking political office is freedom to talk. Or even better, write. Or even mo' better: think. Over the past two years, this medium has given me ample opportunity to spill vitriol...or talk sense, depending on your political affiliation and/or religious beliefs. I am forever indebted to the founders of this site, who have respectfully asked me to "come back to the fold" to plagiarize from The Beige One in his column below. So here we go: 2012 is looming. We're back in business baby!

Checking through my news sources this morning I see the elephant dung beetle that is Sarah Palin has launched a barrage of usual horse shite against Michelle Obama--questioning her patriotism and pride in a racially-charged passage from Palin's new book (link and book name purposefully not included).

Audacity and obtuse racial and religious sentiment in this country has me raising my leery eyebrows. Just a few days ago Roger Ailes, Fox News channel president, called NPR a bunch of Nazis. This term has been thrown around loosely by the GOP now for over two years, and alarmingly seems to be accepted.

The cycle, as I see it, goes like this: outlets like Fox and its cronies start circulating ideas about Communist/Fascist influx into this country's government. Other news organizations give that 24-hour play because it's controversial...and controversy = ratings = advertising dollars. The Archie Bunkers plopped on their recliners watching tee-vee believe this is the word of God. Which in turn fuels their inner, dormant racism, and gives them the balls to actually put Hitler mustaches on Obama posters, carry firearms to protests against gays/lesbians/atheists/Muslims/insert anything you want here that doesn't jive with their values or lifestyles, and vote the aberration that makes up the Tea Party into our legislature.

It's a pretty simple cycle if most of your audience likes to not think for itself. Not to sound like an elitist, but if you don't have the curiosity to cross check ideas and sources (coming from either Left or Right or Middle or wherever), then I have no mercy for you and will assume you are a glib sheep who whistles Dixie on the way to your systematic slaughter.

It may very well be that we will get what we deserve. Or that we have already gotten it. After all, we are a democracy and we choose the evil that we choose--not necessarily wisely--but nevertheless consistently.

I can honestly say that my pride for this country, especially in the last two years, has dwindled down to nothing. And the level of frustration as I read or listen to these simpletons spew their fearful, racist, religious, and most importantly uninformed vitriol before news cameras, has over-spilled the mental vessel.

Strangely enough, I still have hope. But it's of the skewed kind. That is to say, upon seeing the stalemate that is now all but assured in Congress for the next two years, the same Einsteins who voted these incompetents into our government, will turn around and "punish" them by voting them out. And so it will go into my twilight, our economy slated to follow in Japan's footsteps.

To be perpetually continued, and made into a Hollywood movie starring Sisyphus and his buddy: one large, pesky rock.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

2012: Starting A List, Checking It Twice

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So, while the White House fritters away portions of its day by doing little things like the historic Four Loko decision*, Republicans begin exerting their influence by saying to women: "Equal pay for equal work? Fuck off."

And so, the march toward 11/6/2012 begins, and this is just the tip of the iceberg. It's been remarkable to see the atmosphere since the mid-terms took place: Conservatives and the Tea Bag Party candidates proclaiming that we're going back to the '50s; Democrats running around yelling "WOE IS US! THE SKY! IT FALLS! WHAT DID WE DO WHAT DID WE DO?!?!!", only to be outdone by the lefty pundits; Progressives yelling at them to stand the fuck up, fucking pussies. and fight for their honor.

And the losers in all of this? The public, especially those who thought that the Tea Party was going to do for them. One wonders when they'll finally wake up to the reality, or if they'll just continue echoing the noise coming from the top down (in this instance, I'm not an idealist).

Well, after essentially taking it easy for the last two years, I'm fucking tuned in; not that I was too far gone...And while I am impressed at all that Obama has done in his first two years, if he doesn't take this last election as a wake up call to feed his supporters on the left, he's doomed to be a one-term president.

Seriously, what's the point of continuing to cater to the right? They pillory him at every turn, so come back to the fold, Mr. O, come back.

Anyway, onward and leftward.

*I maintain that these little empty caloric decisions are part and parcel with daily life in the White House, regardless of administration. What's sad here is that there's nothing else the current White House can claim as new policy, yet.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Stupid Is As Stupid Does

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"I decided talking to a conservative is like talking to your refrigerator. You know, the light goes on the light goes off; it's not going to do anything that isn't built in to it. And I'm not going to talk to a conservative anymore than I talk to my damn refrigerator." ---Utah Phillips (1935-2008)

--------------------------------------------------------------------

Pick up my New York Times from the hallway outside our apartment door this morning and start perusing the headlines before my daughter would wake up. First one I notice is an article titled, Climate Change Doubt Is Tea Party Article of Faith. I start reading the article and it opens with a scene of an incumbent Indiana Democratic congressman defending his climate bill vote in front of a hostile crowd full of people self-identified as part of the "tea party" movement. He calls global warming real and indisputable, just like the vast majority of scientists who know anything about climate.

He is showered with boos. This is the next bit of the article:


...including a hearty growl from Norman Dennison, a 50-year-old electrician and founder of the Corydon Tea Party.

“It’s a flat-out lie,” Mr. Dennison said in an interview after the debate, adding that he had based his view on the preaching of Rush Limbaugh and the teaching of Scripture. “I read my Bible,” Mr. Dennison said. “He made this earth for us to utilize.”


Seriously.

And here we have the fundamental problem with trying to talk sense to conservative Christians. Put the facts in front of their face, shower them with reason, use real data to make your argument and you will be wasting your time.

The liars that are Glenn, Rush, Sean, Sarah, et al; a 2,000-year-old piece of poorly written fiction. This is who they will choose to believe, this is where they get their "truth." These sources give them the narrative as they want it to be and that's good enough for them, no matter that it flies in the face of all common sense or what the actual truth might be.

This is how it is possible for Obama to be simultaneously a Socialist and a Nazi. How he is trying to make you enroll is big, bad, government-run socialized health-care and also take away your Medicare. How he wants to redistribute the wealth and is also the puppet of Wall Street bankers. they believe every one of these things about him, never mind that they are all contradictory of each other. I suppose that makes it just like believing in their bible.

They are stupid and they are very proud of it.

This country is fucked.

(Originally posted at Out Of Tune)

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Screw Tolerance

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Things are heating up for gay rights issues in this country. "Don't ask, don't tell" is gasping at its final breaths and the issue of gay marriage is winding its way through the court system on its way to an inevitable showdown at the U.S. Supreme Court, and even if it loses there the next generation of Americans - the ones who are now in their teens and twenties - will legalize same-sex marriage anyway.

This is all great news, as the bigots - though it has taken way too long - are losing again. That is always a good thing. It has been, and still is, a long hard-fought battle for equality for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in America. We're winning the argument, us progressives, because, well, the argument on the other side is stupid.

There is one aspect to the argument that comes from the liberal side that I do have an issue with. It seems that since the 90s we have been urging people to be "tolerant" of the queers.

I say, fuck tolerance.

Gay is not something to tolerate and it sends the wrong message to the bigots and hate-mongers of the world.

I tolerate the asshole walking down the street texting who bumps in to me, instead of elbowing him in the face like I really want to do. Because in a civil society I need to resist those urges, even if someone deserves it.

I tolerate the moron on the subway listening to his headphones so loud that everyone can hear his music, instead of ripping his iPod out of his hands and crushing it with my foot. See above reason.

I tolerate conservative bible-thumpers, instead of stabbing them in the throat. Because there are too many too kill them all and it would be very messy and tiring.

The point is, you don't tolerate something that's not bad because there is nothing to tolerate. By using this word you are giving credibility to the bigotry. You are saying it is OK to think of homosexuals as sinners who are going to hell, but just be hush-hush about it.

Look, if two people enter a committed relationship with the intention of spending their lives together, regardless of their gender, it is either a) something to be celebrated and honored, or b) something to not give a shit about at all. Period. There are no other options. And you can switch back and forth between the two. I have friends and family that are answer "a" and others that are answer "b."

I'm not sure who decided on this "tolerance" mantra many years ago, and I wish I could find out what they were thinking. I suspect that comes from the left's own faulty tolerance. Specifically tolerance of fucked-up religious beliefs. Too many people on the left try to cling to their own religion that they go too much out of their way to respect the religion of others. So we ended up tip-toeing around their religion and the result is asking them for their tolerance. But in that process we give credibility to their dumb religious beliefs and we head down the road of respecting all sorts of asinine things, from polygamy to female genital mutilation. Where will it stop?

What we are supposed to say to these people is, "fuck your religion."

And there are only two real reason we have to make in our argument of why their religion should be fucked:

One is, your religion has nothing to do with what should or shouldn't be against the law in a secular nation. If you want to live in a theocracy go ahead and move to Saudi Arabia or the Vatican.

Second, I call bullshit that this is really about your religion, anyway. There are tons of things in the bible that you choose to ignore (like slavery or selling your daughter being just fine and dandy with your god) so why are you so hung up on this one? I know why, and it has nothing to do with your religion. It's because the thought of two dudes doing it grosses you out. (And let's face it, if only women were queer they would have been allowed to get married years ago, because even your most conservative born-again guy thinks two chicks getting it on is hot.) OK, maybe not all of you are grossed out by it. As we've learned from several militant "anti-gay" preacher-crusaders, some of you are turned on by it and it scares you.

But you know what? Just because gay guys can get married doesn't mean you have to have sex with guys. Or watch those guys have sex.

Hey, truth be told - and I'm sorry my gay friends - a couple of guys going at it kind of grosses me out, too. I thought maybe I was hipster enough in college and my years in Seattle in the 90s that maybe I could go gay or bi, but I just don't dig the fellas.

One night out at a bar in Seattle one of my gay pals planted a big old kiss on me, wet and sloppy with a tongue in my mouth. I acted all cool about it, but in the back of my head I was thinking, "Yuck! Gross! Ewww!" Just wasn't my thing, you know? It certainly affirmed that I'm straight, no question. (I later told said friend that I didn't enjoy it and he never tried to do it again, and we stayed friends. Just like I would do with a girl I was friends with but not attracted to.)

But just because I didn't dig it why would I try to stop him from sticking his tongue (or dick for that matter) down the throat of some guy who does? Why would I care? I was never in to black girls either - just never had any attraction to any - but that doesn't mean I should want to stop other white guys from hooking up with black women.

People have incredibly varied sexual and relationship preferences - an infinite amount, really - gay, straight and bi. They don't have to be in to the same thing as me for me to be OK for them to exists, or even be friends with them.

People are attracted to who they are attracted to, for reasons they only have to explain to themselves, and that's a beautiful thing. To try to keep them apart is such an asshole thing to do. It's as stupid as hating people for being left handed.

So fuck tolerance. As the bumper sticker I saw years ago said, "I don't tolerate differences, I celebrate them."

I think we need less tolerance in the world. Specifically, we need to stop tolerating people who use an over 2,000-year-old piece of fiction as an excuse for a pass on their fucked up bigotry.

I will never, not ever, tolerate them.

(Originally posted at Out Of Tune)

Monday, August 23, 2010

Media Manipulation

3 comments

Like most things that go "viral" on the internet these days, I usually see it after one of my friends post it on Facebook. I'm not sure if this video was one of these but several people that I know posted it to their Facebook pages and commented how wonderful it is and how they got the warm fuzzies from it.

It is over ten minutes long but you only have to see a little bit of it to know how the whole thing goes:



So yea, it is a ten-minute montage of soldiers surprising their families - some moms and wives, but mostly kids - who didn't know they were coming home. Accompanied by shitty, new-age yuppie music (Praan by Gary Schyman, which appears to be this year's favorite montage music much like Solsbury Hill was several years back) it was created with the sole purpose of puling at your heartstrings. And I suppose it works. But I had a different reaction.

I tend to pride myself on saying that I don't get offended by anything. Sure things annoy me, piss me off or make me think, "what the fuck...?" But I don't think I get offended in the same way that people who use that word, like those who were up in arms about Janet Jackson's booby (almost) being flashed on TV. But this video might be an exception.

I think this manipulative piece of shit is the definition of offensive.

Some of these clips look like home videos, but it appears a good majority of them are from media outlets, both national and local. And I know from seeing some of these clips before that these surprise coming homes at kids' schools were set up by the media themselves and were not just cameras tagging along.

So what we've got is media corporations setting up these choreographed surprises of a kid seeing their dad for the first time in probably months, and maybe even a year or more. For what purpose? Well, ratings to be sure is one reason. But even more disturbing is how this type of storyline is used to change the narrative of war to something warm, fuzzy and patriotic from what war really is about. It is not much different than the schlocky movies that came out of Hollywood during World War II. It wouldn't be surprising to find out that the Pentagon had a hand in setting some of these up just as they had involvement in those movies from the 1940s.

And this is what the media does. Rather than investigate what a war is about, why it is being fought and the brutality that is happening, we get heartwarming homecoming videos and a heroic president landing on an aircraft carrier in a flight suit. And yet the conservatives of this country continue to to push the bizarre charge of "liberal bas" in the media.

Another purpose of a video like this is to prop up the conservative charge that to criticize a war or the (Republican) President is to "spit" on the "troops" and, by extension, their children. But who is spitting on the children here?

I just don't understand how people can look at this and have good feeling about it.

How dare they use children this way? These kids are going through what is probably the most emotionally fragile time of their lives. One of their parents has been halfway around the world for a long time (even longer to a kid) fighting a war and there is a good chance they won't come back from it. When this parent does come home someone thinks it is a good idea to surprise them in front of news cameras, at their school surrounded by their classmates? Who's to say how that might affect a kid? Do the producers even consider that? Do the parents? The principals and teachers who let it happen in their schools?

Another issue, do they check to make sure this kid is not in a class with the child of a soldier who maybe came home in a box and that maybe it wouldn't be a good idea to do this in front of them?
I don't think they give a shit as long as they get their ratings and get across the narrative they are selling. Fuck the children.

If anyone suggested that they have cameras there when they tell a kid that mom or dad are not coming home because they were blown up, nobody would think that an appropriate thing to do.

This isn't either.

People shouldn't feel warm and fuzzy from looking at this video. They should be pissed and be reminded of why these homecomings are happening in the first place. Because the media is not doing the job it is supposed to be doing.

If they were then maybe we would be living in a world different from one where soldiers get ripped apart from their families because of stupid, pointless wars started by a retarded Texan for the financial benefit of his pals in the military-industrial complex.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Wishing You The Best

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I will try to keep this short and concise--unlike my other rants (which I've been told, at times aggressively, that they ramble for too long).

As Obama's poll numbers begin to plummet, as the "public" seems to lose confidence in this administration and its watered-down legislation like healthcare or financial reform, I hope and wish the American people realize the massive, inexorable corporate juggernaut under which we are all living, and its reach into our political system.

Until special interests are at the very least relegated to the political sidelines (the hope would be for lobbyists to be eliminated altogether--but dream on dreamer), there isn't much any administration will be able to do that will bring about urgent change. Couple with that, the media's adulation for the Right vs. Left partisanship rift, and we're basically at a stalemate, and will be for the rest of my life, I foresee.

Change is needed urgently. And while I realize that most everything in this country is implemented in baby steps, we have run out of time. Congress on both sides is dragging its feet, members incessantly protecting their jobs instead of trailblazing or implementing visionary legislation. When the mission of a politician is job security, we are doomed. That has flowed as the standard for many decades, but our time is up. As you can deduce, I am very much in favor of short term limits for everyone in government.

The Right vs. Left construct (being exploited and exacerbated by all media) is at the same time artificial as detrimental to progress. My wish is for disillusioned voters (like me) to realize that a perpetually-revolving door of administrations will not solve environmental or social issues. It will not "fix the economy." It will not create jobs. My wish is for all voters to realize that fundamental flaws and obstacles begin with Congress. In a way, we are aware of that: how else can the constant approval rate of Congress be so low? Yet the same characters show up for work decade after decade.

I write this on the heels of Robert Byrd's death earlier this morning. Byrd was the longest serving Senator in the United States Congress. He had been a stalwart in our government since January 3, 1959! Term limits and special interests reform must be addressed first, before anything of substance can be achieved in America.

Here's wishing us all the best; things ain't looking too rosy at the moment.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

You Lie!

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The hell with Joe Wilson and his attention-grabbing antics during Obama's healthcare speech last September, this is me lobbing the accusation at the White House, regarding the present hemming and hawing on withdrawing our troops from Afghanistan.

Seems like the stalemate that has been predicted by virtually everyone with a functioning brain who has studied history, has crystallized tensions within the government over the viability of President Obama's plan to turn around the country and begin pulling out by July 2011.

From the New York Times: For now, the White House has decided to wait until a review, already scheduled for December, to assess whether the target date can still work. But officials are emphasizing that the July 2011 withdrawal start will be based on conditions in the country, and that the president has yet to decide how quickly troops will be pulled out.

Even if some troops do begin coming home then, the officials said that it may be a small number at first. Given that he has tripled the overall force since taking office, Mr. Obama could still end his term with more forces in Afghanistan than when he began it.

“Things are not looking good,” said Bruce O. Riedel, a regional specialist at the Brookings Institution who helped formulate the administration’s first Afghan strategy in early 2009. “There’s not much sign of the turnaround that people were hoping for.”


Add to the clusterfuck that is Afghanistan the recent news that the war has surpassed the longevity of the clusterfuck that was Vietnam, and...

...but wait. Hold the horses and the carts brothers. Seems the United States has "suddenly" discovered a veritable treasure of nearly $1 trillion of un-tapped mineral deposits in the land of poppies and public stonings in soccer stadiums. We can't possibly leave now, right? Not with all that booty of iron, copper, gold, and lithium (your iPods/iPhones/iPads/iEyes are made from this sought-after alkali) waiting to be extracted.

This is complete and utter rubbish, and I expect a hell of a lot more from this administration, but time and time again it's disappointed beyond belief and in this particular case it's acting much like its predecessor. Knowledge of this "suddenly-discovered" treasure chest by the U.S. military has been floating around concretely since the Soviets stuck their fat Commie fingers into Afghanistan in the late 70s. You see, it wasn't just an ideological conversion the boys in the Politburo were after; the old hags knew very well what laid buried beneath that dusty, crusty (and aptly-named) lithosphere.

Despite the staggering news yesterday that the vast scale of Afghanistan’s mineral wealth was just recently discovered by a small team of Pentagon officials and American geologists and that the Afghan government and President Hamid Karzai were recently briefed, there is published evidence that the government has known about this for at least three years.

A 2007 United States geological report indicated that Afghanistan may very well be the "Saudi Arabia of lithium," reported the New York Times.

But, as a (sometimes disputed) literate, interested person in our long, convoluted history and subversive political and military meddling into Afghanistan, I call bullshit even on that timeline. If the Soviets knew about this booty in the late 70s, you better goddamn well believe Langley and the NSA were on top of this.

And so it goes. Orwell's prophetic words from 1948 ring true at almost every step, throughout almost every decade. War is indeed peace.

Here's an excerpt from Chapter III of "The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism" by Emmanuel Goldstein, the book that Winston Smith reads in George Orwell's "Nineteen Eighty-Four" before being arrested. If someone wants to know where the current idea of a never ending war (in this case against terrorism) comes from, the answer is here: a lucid analysis of the function of war and why war (and terrorism) will forever be with us unless we deal with and dispose of state and super-state power once for all.

All of the disputed territories contain valuable minerals, and some of them yield important vegetable products such as rubber which in colder climates it is necessary to synthesize by comparatively expensive methods. But above all they contain a bottomless reserve of cheap labour. Whichever power controls equatorial Africa, or the countries of the Middle East, or Southern India, or the Indonesian Archipelago, disposes also of the bodies of scores or hundreds of millions of ill-paid and hard-working coolies. The inhabitants of these areas, reduced more or less openly to the status of slaves, pass continually from conqueror to conqueror, and are expended like so much coal or oil in the race to turn out more armaments, to capture more territory, to control more labour power, to turn out more armaments, to capture more territory, and so on indefinitely. It should be noted that the fighting never really moves beyond the edges of the disputed areas. The frontiers of Eurasia flow back and forth between the basin of the Congo and the northern shore of the Mediterranean; the islands of the Indian Ocean and the Pacific are constantly being captured and recaptured by Oceania or by Eastasia; in Mongolia the dividing line between Eurasia and Eastasia is never stable; round the Pole all three powers lay claim to enormous territories which in fact are largely uninhabited and unexplored: but the balance of power always remains roughly even, and the territory which forms the heartland of each super-state always remains inviolate. Moreover, the labour of the exploited peoples round the Equator is not really necessary to the world's economy. They add nothing to the wealth of the world, since whatever they produce is used for purposes of war, and the object of waging a war is always to be in a better position in which to wage another war. By their labour the slave populations allow the tempo of continuous warfare to be speeded up. But if they did not exist, the structure of world society, and the process by which it maintains itself, would not be essentially different.

Monday, June 14, 2010

I Am Part Of The Problem

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When it comes to the environment I really do go out of my way to be good to the earth, for someone who lives in the modern world. I take cloth bags with me to the grocery store, I don't put my produce in those plastic produce bags (I never understand why anyone does, and I've seen people put a single apple in a bag. What the fuck?!!?), I buy organic local as much as I can, I look for bulk bins so I can avoid small plastic bags. The downtown farmers market has a bin of black beans from a farm within 100 miles and I can scoop them right in to a paper bag, thus avoiding both plastic bags and tin cans while buying a product from nearby instead of from California or Mexico.

I also get to the store by foot or public transportation, how I get around in my daily life. I put my kid in the stroller, throw my bags underneath and come home lugging sometimes three full bags of groceries. I haven't owned a car in 18 years and I'm really proud of that fact. Yes, my life would be easier with one, and there are days when I'm going home with heavy groceries, pushing the stroller and getting rained on that I really question that choice. But I'm glad I do it. The world would be a better place with a lot less cars in it.

We, my wife and I, even spend a little more money to use an environmentally-friendly diaper system that involves reusable pants and liners stuffed with biodegradable inserts that collect all the pee and poop. No plastic goes in to the landfills from our diapers. We also use cornstarch garbage bags to limit the amount of plastic we throw out so we can avoid adding to the continent made of plastic swirling around in the Pacific.

And I recycle like crazy.

But there is a good chance that all of this good I try to do for the earth is negated by how much I travel. See, even though I really can't stand to fly I do it a lot. And you want to talk about how many pounds of carbon per passenger mile a jetliner puts out? Ooh boy, no other mode of transportation even comes close. And it puts the stuff a hell of a lot farther up in the atmosphere, as to maximize the damage.

And in the next four months alone I will be taking at least four round trip flights. All from Chicago; two to the East Coast, one to the West Coast and one to Europe. That doesn't even get us to the holidays so who knows how many I might have by the end of the year? And we already know we are going to France next summer.

I certainly do well once I'm in my destination. I'm a master at getting around public transportation around the world. It is very rare that I need to rent a car. It is just the getting there that I'm helping to pump the air full of CO2. Granted, I'm better than someone who drives an SUV in their everyday life and also travels as much as me. But still.

I love to travel. I love it more than I love doing just about anything else. I talk to other people that like to travel and they always mention that, even though they love traveling so much, they are always happy to get home. Not me. Whenever I'm in line at U.S. Immigration after getting off a plane form overseas I'm always thinking to myself, "Fuck, I'm home."

I certainly would fly less if given the chance. I think a lot of people would. If they could get a real high speed train going between Chicago and New York, ones that can go 200+ mph like ones in Europe, that trip could take as little as six hours or less. Even if it got cut to eight hours I would choose that over the plane. But when it takes an overnight 18-hour trip it is hard to pull off when a person has only a certain amount of time. If it wasn't for our laughable vacation time in America it might be possible. My wife gets four weeks, which everyone considers a lot, but would be a reason to go on strike in many European countries.

A train that could go that fast could put air routes between many cities, like Chicago-NYC, out of business. And the environmental impact difference would be amazing. Especially if those trains ran on renewable electricity. If I could get around my own country on just trains and only have to fly when going overseas I would feel a lot better about it.

But for now I know not what to do. I have an insatiable and incurable wanderlust. (To the point where it can drive my wife mad. I started talking to her the other night about thinking where we wanted to move next. This is after we just moved less than ten months ago for her to start a new job. I'm pretty sure she wanted to smack me in the head.) I want to see as much of the world as I can before I die.

I can't imagine giving up travel, even though I know the environmental toll. It would kill me.

I'd like to think I'm better than that asshole driving around Manhattan, the place with the best public transit in the country, in an SUV. But maybe I'm not, after all?

Gaza, Israel, etc. Follow Up

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Great essay by Rich Cohen in this morning's Salon selections, that I believe serves as a great continuation of the discussion established by Deni last week.

I don't know enough if the history of the region to say whether or not the solutions offered by Cohen have any merit, but the introspection and tailored writing are most welcome.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Israel, Gaza and "Anti-Semitism"

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Before I begin this post I should make the disclaimer very clear. While it is true that all posts here at SEI represent the opinions of the individual person who writes it, and are not necessarily representative of all SEI bloggers' opinions (though generally they probably usually do), this one more than any other probably needs this disclaimer. So:

The following post represents the opinions of the individual writer and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of all members of the SEI team.

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I hate the conflict in the Middle East. Drives me insane and sometimes I think it will give me an ulcer. There are times that just thinking about it, and wishing so hard it could be solved, has been the cause of some of my panic attacks. It is just tragic. Such senseless violence, destruction and misery.

The other thing that frustrates me so much after a major incident involving Israeli forces happens is that many of my American Jewish friends - usually some of the most liberal, fair-minded and compassionate people I have in my life - completely lose their minds and become crazy right-wing militant propagandists. It is like they all find their inner Sarah Palin.

As soon as the most recent event happened, the attack on the aid ships heading to Gaza by Israeli commandos, many of my Jewish Facebook friends - and most are actual friends, not just people I used to kind of know that friended me on Facebook - started posting links to sites that purported to justify Israel's actions and to expose the "truth" about what "really happened" on the boats.

Some of these (and most of my Jew friends linked to the same stuff) were lists of "facts" that supposedly proved Israel acted honorably and were fully justified to do what they did. Another is the now popular video shows the "truth" about what happened, that the activists on the boat started it and the Israeli commandos were only defending themselves.

These lists that were linked to were nothing more than claims made by pro-Israeli organizations that did not resemble anything close to journalism or objectivity. They were merely propaganda with nothing to back them up. I won't go through all the claims I read but there were a couple that stood out to me. One was the claim that Israel acted in accordance with international law when it boarded the Turkish-flagged ships. Nothing from international laws or treaties is cited to bolster this claim. But it seems to be a very weak claim on the surface seeing as how these ships were taken by Israeli forces in international waters. In fact, what they did can be called an act of war against Turkey. It is also piracy.

Another is that Israel offered to let the boats dock in one of their ports and they would transfer the supplies to Gaza once they were inspected for "weapons." This is basically a diversion from the real issue since the whole point of this exercise was to highlight the fact that Israel has banned many items that don't even come close to resembling weapons components (cumin?!?!) and that the blockade seems to be more about making life in Gaza as miserable as possible and not about security.

And that video. This thing is such an obvious piece of slanted propaganda that the very idea that my Jewish friends would post it is so disheartening and sad. First off, whoever made this video claimed it was footage that was censored by the media. What a bunch of nonsense. It wasn't censored at all and has been all over the media. Then the video itself. It is two minutes long, with the first ten seconds being title screens and it goes back to title screens at 1:40. So the whole video is a minute-and-a-half long and much of it is footage that repeats. It is also full of incendiary captions, telling the viewer what they should think about this. So what you have is the briefest of video snippets, heavily edited to convey a particular point of view and heavily captioned to support that viewpoint.

Now this video purports show proof that backs up their claim that the activists started it and the Israeli forces were just defending themselves. This proof is mainly that as the commandos were landing on the boat after repelling from the helicopters they were quickly beaten with what appear to be metal rods. But, these ships were being boarded by force by heavily armed people in international water (and many of the people on the boats claim they were being fired upon prior to forces landing on the decks). Hitting invaders as they land on your boat is self defense by even the strictest of definitions. If you don't see that then you don't understand what self defense means.

It is a piece of propaganda as bad as the five-second video made by Terri Schaivo's religious fanatic parents to try to prove that their daughter was aware of her surroundings. You remember the one, with the brain damaged Schaivo seeming to be tracking a balloon with her eyes that the media showed over and over during the moronic fight to keep her alive. What the unedited version of that video showed, of course, was that her eyes moved randomly all the time and for those couple of seconds they happen to coincidently go the direction her parents were moving the balloon. She was never following the balloon, but that didn't matter to the people with an agenda who wanted to believe it.

Videos of this nature should never be trusted no matter which makes it. A similar video made by Palestinian activists with their bent would be criticized immediately by the same people promoting this video, and rightly so. So why do they so easily buy in to this one? And as Andrew Sullivan pointed out last week on Bill Maher's show, Israel has only put out these short snippets of video even though they have so much more that they will not allow anyone to see. They also confiscated all video from the reporters on the boats.

Posting something that supports what you want to be the truth without even taking a minute to really consider the validity of it is incredibly reckless and dangerous. It lessens our discourse to who can produce the best propaganda, and away from wanting to find out the actual truth.

I have also seen posted that the soldiers were justified because some of the activists were chanting something like "death to the Jews" while they fought with them. What the hell does that have to do with anything? We now get to shoot people in the head for yelling nasty, vile, hate-filled crap? Well then, would you excuse me for a second? I have to run down to the gun store then to the FOX News studio.

The most ridiculous link I've seen posted - again, by usually sane, liberal-leaning, Barrack Obama-supporting, Tea Bagger-hating Jews - is an incendiary and pointless op-ed (with its dumb allusions to the Holocaust, pointing out there are 6 million Jews in Israel and using the phrase final solution) written by Charles Krauthammer. Krauthammer is probably by far the most insane, right-wing, bigoted, lying waste of oxygen of anyone that works for a mainstream newspaper. I would say in the whole of media but for the fact that Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck exists.

Krauthammer said on TV last week that there is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Seriously, he really did. About a place where more than 80% of the population is dependent on USAid for food and a large number of their buildings are piles of rubble.

I didn't respond to any of these posts on Facebook, until I saw one of the links to the Krauthammer article and then I just pointed out that when one posts a link to someone like that to backup their argument they lose all credibility.

I was, as expected, challenged hard. Not as much by the person who posted the article as by one of their friends. I was told I didn't know what I was talking about because I must never have been to Israel (what the hell does that have to with anything?) and I obviously wasn't paying attention, which just doesn't make any sense as an argument.

And then it happened. Very quickly in fact, even quicker than it normally happens in one of these arguments. I was accused of being an anti-Semite.

Not in a direct way, of course. In a more passive-aggressive way that is all the rage these days. It was suggested that I "guess it's OK if Jews are getting killed." Oh brother. I responded one more time, just pointing out that just because someone doesn't back Israel on every action they take that doesn't make them a Jew-hater who would like to see them all dead. I did it in a very sarcastic way and I also called him a putz for making the suggestion. I didn't look at any more responses after that as it was obvious this person was not interested in an actual debate or exchange of points of view, just in shouting me down and calling me a bigot for not being in lockstep with the idea that everything Israel does is justified and for their security.

Anybody who knows me knows I'm not a Jew hater and the accusation is laughable, which is why I just always stop having the conversation at that point. There is no reason to continue to have a conversation with someone so divorced from reality. No, I dislike all religion equally and Judaism gets no free pass. Ok that may not be exactly true, I probably tend to be annoyed more by Catholicism, Mormonism and Evangelical Pentecostals then most other religions. But that's mostly because of the country I live in. I imagine if I were an Indian I would have stronger negative feelings about Sikhs and Hindus.

Point is, I don't have a dog in this fight. I think that rather than accusing me of bigotry, pro-Israeli American Jews should just maybe for a minute consider that I might be coming at this issue with a better sense of reason, logic, fairness and a hell of a lot less bias than them. I have no religious blinders affecting my opinions. Rather than my possibly being an anti-Semite, isn't it more likely that a Pro-Israeli Jewish person has a harder time seeing the situation from an objective viewpoint? I believe in human rights, a sense of fairness, freedom and peace. I am not interested in there being a "winner" in this madness.

Every American politician must always, at some point, profess the belief in Israel's "right to exist" and critics of Israel are frequently and strongly challenge with the question of whether or not we support that right. It is a way to devolve the issue down to a black and white, with no gray allowed. It is the same as George W. Bush's "with us or against us" mantra; a way to back the critic in to a corner with a lose-lose question. (Bush's other favorite political game, the straw man argument, commonly comes in to play by Israeli supporters as well. "Critics of Israel think it is OK for Hamas to fire rockets at us and we shouldn't defend ourselves," is one example, as if anyone really ever said that. It is so similar to Bush accusing critics of the Iraq war of thinking that "Iraqi's don't deserve freedom like everybody else." Such bullcrap. But I digress.)

But that is not really the question, not the entire one anyway. What they really mean when use they ask that question is, "Do you believe in Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state?

And my answer to that is no.

Ok, now pull your jaw off the floor. Yes I said it. But what does that have to do with not liking Jews? I also don't believe that Afghanistan or Iraq should be Islamic states, that Tibet or Cambodia should be Buddhist states, that England should be a Protestant state and Ireland a Catholic state. I think the Vatican should be reabsorbed back in to Italy and the pope should be kicked out of his castle on to his child rapist-protecting ass.

Theocracies are bad. Period. I criticize my own country a lot, but the beautiful thing about America was that its very foundation was that of a religion-free government (despite the revisionist history that many Christians in this country promote). The founding may have had a ton of other flaws (like slavery) but The United States' greatest achievement from the very beginning was being the first non-theocratic government in the history of the world. It cannot be understated how much better the world is because of that. Modern science thrives because of it and Europe was saved from itself by following our lead, and now even surpassing us as we regress to the likes of leaders like Bush and Romney.

People defend Israel as the only democracy in the middle East, but that is really disingenuous. So much of Israeli policy is influenced by orthodox religious groups. n fact, there are ultra-orthodox Jews in Israel who are funded by the government to just study religion all day instead of getting an actual job to contribute to society and they are also excused from the military duty that is required of every other Israeli citizen. That is an unthinkable policy in a democracy. It is the kind of thing that goes on in places like Saudi Arabia. There are even laws to force business owners, even the secular Israeli, to make accommodations for people with extremely crazy religious beliefs about not pressing buttons on the Sabbath. This means that on a Saturday in Israel you can get in to an elevator and need to go to the 20th floor, you'll be on there by yourself but the damn thing stops on every damn floor just in case there is an ultra-orthodox lunatic who needs to use it and he can't press the buttons.

The entire West Bank settlement policy is based on a group of religious fanatics who claim their right to that land because the bible said so. That is as delusional as an Islamic terrorist who thinks he will get 40 virgins in heaven for blowing himself up in a school or a Catholic who believes the pope ins infallible. It is as crazy as the evangelical "friends of Israel" who are helping to get all the Jews on Earth to the holy land because they believe it will bring about the Rapture and the Second Coming of Christ, along with the destruction and sending to Hell of all the Jews. (Really Jews, those are your "friends" and I'm the anti-Semite?)

None of this seems like democracy to me. Neither does the wholesale oppression of an ethnic group. Several years ago I was having a conversation with a Jewish actress that I was doing a show with at the time and we got on to the topic of Israel. At one point she said to me, "How can I, as a Jew, support a country that requires people in a minority group to carry papers with them at all times that must be presented on demand?"

Ironically enough, bigotry knows no bias. Bigots come in all shapes, sizes, races and religions. Show me a an ultra-orthodox Jew (Hasidic, Haredi, etc.) and I'll show you someone who is as hate-filled to other races and as convinced of his peoples' superiority over other human beings as any dumb cracker white supremacist, Holocaust-denier or Islamic extremist out there.

They have a champion in the hate monger Benjamin Netanyahu and the Likud party, who profess to seek peace with the Palestinians. What they really seek, and it seems obvious to any objective observer, is to push the Arabs out of the West Bank and to basically starve them to death in the Gaza Strip. For anyone to believe the illegal blockade of Gaza is about security is just foolish. All you need to do is look at the list of things they are not allowing in to Gaza to see that's not true. Banned items include coriander, potato chips, fabric for clothing, fresh meat, wood and fishing rods. Lord knows what kind of havoc Hamas could wreak if they could just get their hands on some coriander. They could over spice some falafel and bring down the entire region! (See the entire list here. Compiled by an Israeli human rights group, founded and run by Jews)

Palestinians are forced off their land in East Jerusalem, among other places, they have no freedom of movement in a place where their family has lived for dozens of generations , whole roads are built that only Jews are allowed to use (often through land belonging to Palestinians). Palestinians that live in Israel, the so-called Israeli Arabs, are segregated and harassed. I have been told stories by an Israeli friend of mine's parents, who were raised there, about things like coming to the defense of an Arab shopkeeper being harassed by the police for having his business open on a Jewish holiday. They are also being expelled from Israel for any excuse that can be thought up, due to the fact that they are breeding faster than Jews. And Gaza has been turned in to the world's largest refugee camp. Which has not made Israel any more secure and has bred more militancy.

A country that practices Apartheid is no democracy. And it won't survive that way.
But instead of examining itself and its actions, Israel calls any of its critics Jew-haters and bigots. Jimmy Carter, a man who worked to bring peace to Israel and one of its longtime enemies, was treated viciously for daring to question Israel's policies toward the Palestinians, especially by American Jews. One of them being Alan Dershowitz , a man who thinks we should legalize torture.

American Jews who get out of line are also treated horribly. Tony Kushner has been unfairly attacked repeatedly and even seen protestors show up when receiving an award from a predominantly Jewish university. Noam Chomsky is denied entry in to Israel to attend a lecture he's been invited to give. I've heard both men referred to as "self-hating Jews."

The anti-Semite tag has been used too often as a way to shut down debate. Too often it is allowed to work. I say no more.

Those of us who believe in reason, logic and objectivity should not allow ourselves to be beaten back by those who base their arguments on a 3000-year-old piece of fiction that tells them they are the "chosen people." A book that, it should be pointed out, also says it is OK to own slaves and sell your daughter. A message delivered from a god by the guy who supposedly parted a sea on his way to delivering the Jews to Israel.

I have been accused of judging Israel by a double standard, Israel supporters often pointing out how Hamas and Hezbollah act. Is that really what you want the frame of reference to be? Two terrorist organizations? Yes, I do expect a democratic government to act better than terrorists. Israel holds itself up as the moral superior player in the Middle East. So yes, they are going to be held to a higher standard because they claim to have a higher standard.

At the end of the day, through all of the propaganda being thrown out from all sides of this debate and all of the incendiary language and accusations, there are two basic truths that my pro-Israeli Jewish friends ignore. Israel has not released all of the video footage and made it available for the international media to inspect it to try to hash out what really happened aboard those ships. And Netanyahu has said he will not allow an independent, third-party investigation. Israel can investigate itself, thank you very much.

So I ask all pro-Israeli people this: If Israel acted honorably and within its rights to defend itself, why are they acting like a country with something to hide? An innocent government welcomes an full and open process.

Believing in that doesn't make me a Jew hater.

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SEI welcomes all comments at all times from all viewpoints. But those who insist on accusations of anti-Semitism (unless you can back it up with evidence and keep it civil) or "wanting to see Jews get killed" will be ignored and your comments will be deleted.

The Unfortunate Reply to "Don't Blame Obama For Bush's Mistakes"

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I was never all that comfortable with the Facebook meme mentioned above. I understand that the majority of the people who espoused the meme were specifically talking about things like the economy tanking, unemployment, etc.

I also suspected that, for at least a few of those adherents, that sentence became something of a mantra to ward off any and all criticisms of Obama's administration, which...well, no; to put it simply.

You wanna know why? Here's why.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Helen Thomas Must Die

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Author's Note: I originally intended to write this piece as a criticism of the older generation's perceived entitlement to spew out racist or sexist language (my parents often like to loudly express their obtuse, horrifying opinions to the public at large). Upon re-reading this, I realise that it unfairly slams one of the last, great journalists left out there. During my brief stint as a newswriter for the U.S. Info. Agency/VOA in the early 90s, I got a chance to be in the White House Press room for a handful of Q&A sessions, with Helen leading them off. As a newbie to the field of journalism, I stood literally in the last row, just inside the door, behind all the rag tag camera guys--themselves relegated to the back of the rack. I often was quite jealous of Helen's front row seat, literally three feet or so away from Prez Clin-tohn. And no, I don't really want her to die...I just think she should have used her head a little better and re-worded her statement. After all those decades of playing the game, she made the wrong move. I suppose if one is 90 years of age, one slips every now and again. Helen Thomas was a life long Liberal and many of us will always remember her contribution to the field of journalism. It's quite sad the way her career (at least with Hearst) had to end. Over the last few years, however, she had become an opinion writer for Hearst, and I'm not so sure an op-ed columnist ought to have a front seat at the show--but if anyone ever deserved it, Helen was it.

Even if she hadn't bollixed herself into a tight corner last week by loudly declaring that all Jews in Israel "should leave Palestine and go back to Poland and Germany," I would have called for and endorsed Helen Thomas' overdue demise. I mean just look at her. Hasn't she been around for long enough? Give somebody else a chance, madame. Should there not be term limits on that badass, front row seat in the White House press room?

What in hell is that thing hunched over and making gurgling noises every day? Christ, if I didn't know any better, I'd have thought it was this nasty thing from Genesis' "Land of Confusion." How's that for an earworm. But I digress.

Ms. Thomas later apologized for the incendiary remarks, saying they did not properly reflect her position on the conflict of the Middle East (wtf? How is that an un-clear position?) but the criticism has been scorching ever since. Late Friday night, former White House spokesman Ari Fleischer called for Thomas' firing from Hearst news service, where she serves as a columnist. And yesterday, Nine Speakers, Inc. -- Thomas's long time speaking agency -- announced they've dropped her (inquiring minds are anxiously awaiting to see if they change their name accordingly to Eight Speakers, Inc.) from their line up.

To me, this sort of nonsense is de rigueur for the majority of old people--famous or not--who obtusely believe that their prolonged longevity on this planet, gives them Carte Blanche to disseminate their racist, sexist vitriol that, supposedly, had been festering inside for decades--more than likely checked by the semi-lucid realization that one could not really function in civilized society spewing daily Nazi mantra.

But apparently once one becomes a septuagenarian all bets are off. There seems to be a "Common Sense" switch up there in ye olde grey matter that magically gets turned off. Incredibly, that coincides with the involuntary all-out geyser of shit that begins to spew from the mouth around the same age.

"Respect your elders" has always been a laughable concept to me. In my life, most of the elders I've encountered have thought along the lines of Ms. Thomas. In their philosophy, they have shown themselves to be brutish, conservative, bigoted, sexist, fear-laden insects with skewed values and outdated familial ideas. Respecting these people or giving them credence or a voice is detrimental to a civilized society. This is the generation that holds back progress; that clings tightly to outdated ideas, concepts, and way of life.

Personally, I root for the quick demise of such parasitic vermin. And foot-in-mouth, career-ending statements like the recent one from Ms. Thomas only make me rejoice at the consequences.

Hopefully there are consequences.

BREAKING (as of 12:22 pm EST): Helen Thomas announced today that she is retiring, effective immediately, according to a statement from Hearst Newspapers.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Engineering Degrees

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I was reading something in the last couple of days about how this administration is going to support more transportation funding for things like mass transit, biking and walking. Whatever it is I was reading included a derisive quote from George Will about how Obama is practicing social engineering and trying to take away Americans' freedom to drive wherever they want.

I can't remember where I saw this and an internet search didn't turn up the exact quotes I read. I did find a George Will article from last year that basically says the same thing, where he calls Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood the "Secretary of Behavior Modification." (There is a fairly decent rebuttal to this article here)

This yet another one of those silly conservative talking points to try to disparage a progressive policy by giving some creepy-scary sounding label. Usually these labels aren't really anything bad, but conservatives use them in bad ways enough to give them a negative connotation whenever people hear them. They've done this, with much success unfortunately, a lot in the past; creating vocabulary bogeymen out of liberal, secular humanism, progressive, Socialism..... The list goes on and on.

And of course you can easily make social engineering sound bad, it is something the Nazis did! (Gasp!)

Of course it is social engineering. That doesn't make it a bad thing. Conservatives don't have a problem with other forms of social engineering, just progressive versions of it. Playing the Stars and Stripes before baseball games is some serious social engineering. And when the right-wing religious types accuse us of social engineering..... really? Can you even think of anything in the history of mankind that is a better example than religion.

Desegregating the schools was a heck of a job in social engineering and behavior modification. Does any non-crazy conservative argue that was a bad thing?

Fact is, social engineering has been a part of civilization since there has been civilization. It has certainly always been a part of any government that has ever existed, both good and bad.

Will doesn't seem to have a problem with the social engineering that resulted from the highway and freeway systems built by our government. And that is the kind that conservatives are supposed to hate - a big, bloated government program comes in, gives direct and fully subsidized competition to private industry (passenger railroads) and drives them out of business. That was OK?

Take away Americans' freedom to drive? Are you fucking kidding me? Nothing that has been proposed comes even close to that, much as I personally would love to see that. What we are looking for is some equality in how the money is divided up among transportation modes. 'Cause you know what? 90% going to roads and only 10% going to all other options (rail, bike, walk, etc) combined just isn't very fair. What's more, polls show that this is exactly the kind of thing that a vast majority the Americans that George Will professes his love for say they want. Isn't choice a freedom?

And what about our freedoms, those of us that live in the urban areas that are the most affected by congestion? Don't our rights to clean air, bikable and walkable cities, open space and the ability to get around without a car matter? I assume that George Will lives in the suburbs, because there is no way that guy can be a city dweller. A lot of us who live in the city feel like we have a right to not have our homes invaded by bumper to bumper cars from the suburbs every day, ruining both our air quality and the general livability of our neighborhoods. We should also have the right to have sidewalks that are wide enough for the amount of people that use them instead of the narrow slivers of concrete next to 4-6 lanes of traffic whizzing by that we so commonly have to deal with.

The American people also have the right to have the freedom to move about the country without being tied to car ownership. People unable to drive, the blind for example, should also have the freedom to get around. Like I said, the American people overwhelmingly support these ideas. It's why when they build a new mass transit system that people flock to use it, even in cities where critics claim that no one will ever take it. Light rail systems in Charlotte and Dallas (yes, Dallas!) are years ahead of their ridership predictions for a reason. Yes, there are going to be people, like George Will, that will cling to their love of the car and pooh-pooh public transit. I call them assholes. But they might best be described by one of the accusations that gets thrown at us on the left all the time. Elitists.

I believe we also have the right, and responsibility, to not leave our children and grandchildren a country that is completely paved over. The is the ultimate result if the automobile continues to be the main transportation option. There needs to be a place to put all those cars as the population grows and grows.

The article that George Will wrote last year included taking potshots at Portland, OR for their anti-sprawl regulations and pro-biking and mass transit policies.

That just goes to show what a different planet George Will lives on from me.

All other things being equal (basically meaning you could have your job wherever you wanted) would you really make the case that Houston, L.A., or Phoenix would preferable to Portland?

If Portland is an example of social engineering and those other cities an example of whatever the opposite of that is, I'll take social engineering policies every time.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Love Story - La Fin

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It popped up on the "news" yesterday that Al and Tipper "turn that potty-mouthed music down" Gore have split up after 40 years of marriage.

On behalf of all of us here at SEI, let me extend a heartfelt "Who gives a fuck?" to the Gores.

I would also like to know why this "story" is at the top of the Google News page and why I have to keep seeing this headline every time I open my Yahoo mail.

Real shit is happening in the world, that a legitimate news organization would have even one goddamn reporter or even an unpaid intern devoting any time at all to this nonsense is just ridiculous.

That is all.

For now.

Monday, May 31, 2010

BP = Big Phuck-UP

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I've kept quiet about the role of the White House in this calamity some still insist on calling a "spill." But on the heels of the failure of "Top Kill" this past Saturday, I feel I should chime in.

I think, unfortunately, this situation, coupled with a slow economic recovery, a severely watered down healthcare bill, and incessant Congressional spending on Afghanistan while constantly slashing education, infrastructure, arts, and science budgets will make Barack Obama a one-term president. The frustrating thing is that his successor will step in and do nothing more, or nothing better. I am thoroughly convinced that with our Congress operating in the way it has, nothing of substance can get done. So all the perturbed proclamations from either side (Tea Baggers/Partiers whatever they're called) don't send waves of panic in me anymore. The Elephants' trunks will be just as gridlocked and tied as the Donkeys' tails have been. Until we get rid of the entrenched nepotism and corruption in Congress, we shall expect nothing to be passed.

Watching the millions of gallons being let loose into the Gulf has enraged me beyond belief. I dream about this catastrophe almost every night. I am obsessed with it. Like millions of citizens, I want to hold the White House responsible or--rather--yell at it for seemingly not doing anything. But then the more rational side takes over and I realize that the White House doesn't know what to do.

If BP has no idea, how can the White House? And even if it did, we are flat broke. There is no money to do anything...other than allocate borrowed Chinese funds to the perpetual disaster that is Afghanistan. And so, while I'd love to shake my fist and yell obscenities at the gates of the West Wing (and believe me, I have done that before, at the risk of looking like a fool or being arrested), realistically there is nothing they can do about this but stand by like all of us suckers and wait for August when both relief wells will have been completed and the gusher finally tamed.

The repercussions of this atrocity will be felt for generations. I literally foresee two to three decades of environmental affect from this unimaginable catastrophe. What no one seems to be underscoring is that, as of tomorrow, we're into "hurricane season." And so the drilling of the relief wells that is scheduled to be completed by August can be potentially shut down a few times. This, coupled with NOAA's forecast of an active storm season, is a recipe for...I've run out of synonyms for "disaster."

No one knows what to do in the short term. While the administration will be forever tainted with this as "Obama's Katrina," in reality it is as clueless as BP. Besides, it's not quite fair to invoke Katrina here--the White House did not have a 5-day warning on this catastrophic explosion. Mark my words (which don't really carry any gravitas, but still): we will all be standing by, holding our bollocks for the next 6 weeks, if we're lucky, while everything in and around the Gulf of Mexico begins to die off.

The oil geyser catastrophe is a horrendous crime upon both humanity and environment, assigned to be solved by its perpetrators.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

TheWar of Northern Aggression

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via Google images

All is not peachy and sunny as these North Korean babes (via Beloved Leader Kim Jong-il) would have you believe. Take a nice, good look at this...and now imagine hundreds of thousands of people being starved by the government... literally dying on the streets, on railroad tracks, in concrete, government housing.

What has been happening the last few days between North and South Korea has been personally un-nerving. Mainly because this writer, having been born and having lived under a similar closed society regime for eleven years, does not believe the international community has a solution for North Korea.

On Monday, South Korea cut off trade with North Korea, denied North Korean merchant ships use of its sea lanes and called on the United Nations to once again censure the North for what it called the deliberate sinking of one of its warships by a North Korean submarine. Forty-six sailors were killed in the March 26 sinking.

Past experience with sanctions has shown that only innocent people are affected by embargoes. North Korea's citizens have been starving in the streets for decades. And the world has yet to find solutions for dealing with closed society systems; particularly ones with nuclear capabilities (Iran--and make no mistake, Iran is a closed, totalitarian regime--if you believe otherwise you are naivé)

South Korea formally designated North Korea as its “principal enemy” in 1994 after the North threatened to turn Seoul into a “sea of fire” during the height of an international crisis over its development of nuclear weapons. But that designation was dropped in 2004, the same year the two Koreas also suspended propaganda broadcasts across their border.

The North Korean leader, Kim Jong-il, whose government has threatened an “all-out war” against any sanctions, has ordered his military and reserve forces to be ready for war, said an organization of North Korean defectors on Tuesday. Last Thursday, when the South formally accused the North of torpedoing its ship, a senior North Korean general relayed Mr. Kim’s order through a broadcast to intercoms fitted at most North Korean homes, said North Korea Intellectuals Solidarity, a Web site based in Seoul and run by North Korean defectors.

Moreover, concerns over this grave situation have shaken global markets--particularly the super-fragile European economy.

“The North Korean situation is also putting pressure on stocks,” said Philippe Gijsels, head of research at BNP Paribas Fortis Global Markets in Brussels. “In a normal environment, this wouldn’t be having such a big impact — they talk about going to war every few months, it seems. But markets are quite nervous and will take any excuse to sell off.” (NY Times)

At this point, no one has any idea why the DPRK sank the South Korean ship in March. No one has much of an idea of anything that's happening inside that country.

Secretary of state Hillary Clinton wrapped up two days of high-level meetings with the Chinese in Beijing on Tuesday with no progress on winning China’s backing for international measures against North Korea.

So where we stand is basically on the sidelines, with no viable solutions. The situation is grave; North Korea pops up, it seems, every few months with bizarre behaviour and aggressive tactics. Time and time again the international community has shown it has no answers other than imposing embargoes on an already starving population.

My father, a simple peasant at heart, once told me: often times people don't understand or thoroughly process anything but extreme violence and oppression brought down upon them. The brutes of North Korea ought to be exterminated with nuclear weapons. And with extreme prejudice (he likes to quote from Conrad's Heart of Darkness, whenever possible).

While I'm far from endorsing that hawk-ish proclamation, I can't help to wonder what exactly it would take to tame an insane cult leader.

Friday, May 21, 2010

The Mad Doctor

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Dr. Rand Paul, eye surgeon and son of presidential candidate Ron Paul, has just won the Republican nomination for the Senate seat in Kentucky being vacated by Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Bunning.

Of all of the primaries happening this election season, Rand Paul's got maybe the most national exposure, being that he was the most prominent candidate from the self-labeled "tea party" movement. That is, he got a lot of the usual kind of attention that the mainstream national media give to politics, the silly soap opera and the "horse race" rather than actually discussing issues and substance.

So not until after Dr. Paul smokes his opponent in Tuesday's primary, and not until he asked about it by NPR's Robert Siegel and MSNBC's Rachel Maddow, does some information come out about some really disturbing views he has about civil rights. This information was printed in an editorial by the Courier-Journal of Louisville almost a month ago. It was revealed that Dr. Paul believes the Civil Rights Act of 1964 has some major flaws. Namely, he doesn't believe that a private business can be told they can't discriminate against someone due to their race, color, religion or national origin. Yes, really.

What should have been a major story about the radical views of a candidate leading in the polls was completely ignored by the media. The main storyline about Rand Paul to this point, by design of backers of the movement, is how his success is about the strength of the so-called tea party agenda. Everything else about his primary challenge was ignored.

Now Paul, being basically a Libertarian, believes this because he thinks the world is a better place with smaller government, not because he likes racism. He also has problems with the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Fair Housing Act. Dr. Paul thinks it is OK to refuse to sell your house to a black person because, hey it's your house, and that the government has no business in making the world more accessible for those with disabilities.

From the Courier-Journal (which was written after sitting down for lengthy interviews with the candidates):


For instance, he holds an unacceptable view of civil rights, saying that while the federal government can enforce integration of government jobs and facilities, private business people should be able to decide whether they want to serve black people, or gays, or any other minority group.


Of course since this story broke, the good doctor has done a major backpedaling, saying he fully supports the Civil Rights Act and doing the typical right-wing nut-job MO of blaming liberals for "distorting" his views. But make no mistake, what he really believes has been expressed many times in both interviews and his own writing, like a 2002 letter to a newspaper arguing against the Fair Housing Act.

Now, these views may or may not mean that Dr. Paul is a racist. But they most certainly do mean that he is a complete boob.

He says that the good part of the Civil Rights Act was ending "institutional" racism, by which I assume he means ridding the world of Jim Crow laws and desegregating the public schools. But if restaurant owners, private bus companies (like Greyhound) home sellers and a myriad of other private businesses were allowed to discriminate against people due to their race, what exactly does he think would have happened? I'll tell you. We would have restaurants all over the southern US where black people are not allowed to eat, blacks forced to sit in the back of Greyhound buses, whole neighborhoods where minorities are not allowed to live and an untold number of workplaces that don't hire anybody but white people.

That IS institutional racism.

And therein lies the problem with Libertarianism. (Full disclosure - I fucking hate Libertarians. Nothing more than extreme right-wing Republicans, except they are OK with smoking pot.)

Because they are such a niche (re: fringe) group, Libertarian types have basically been allowed to define themselves in the media without any real questioning by reporters. This is mostly because mainstream reporters are either too stupid or lazy to take on the task of defining what it would really mean to live in a Libertarian world. It is really easy to repeat over and over that they believe in "limited" government, but it is a lot harder to explain what that would actually do to our lives and back up those claims with real research and scholarship.

Maybe now that there is a prominent candidate that comes from this background and we actually know it in advance this time - unlike when we don't find out until after they are elected that they hold such extreme views - the press will start to ask the real questions of him.

Shouldn't we know what Dr. Paul specifically means when he says we should limit the amount of government in our lives? (Oddly enough, this limited government mantra does not extend as far as a woman's body, as Dr. Paul believes abortion should be outlawed even in cases of rape and incest. Or gay rights, he's also against allowing gays and lesbians the right to marry)

Types like Rand Paul claim if we allowed their limited government utopia to happen that people would all behave appropriately, with the power of the profit motive the only encouragement people need to do the right thing and treat others fairly.

To believe this is to have a complete and willful ignorance of human history.



His interview with Rachel Maddow (below) is fascinating, watching him try to make it a 1st Amendment issue and also trying to square what he believes with the beliefs of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Transparency Will Be Brought To You or How The Revolution Will Be Televised

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WikiLeaks is one of the increasingly shrinking reasons I love the Internets (is that good syntax? Whatever). If you are a patron of this site, you've no doubt heard of WikiLeaks last month when it released a U.S. military video of a helicopter attack on Iraqi journalists, graphic images that drew a worldwide audience, as well as outrage.

But don't try to figure out where or who WikiLeaks is. For an organization dedicated to whistleblowing, WikiLeaks keeps a tight lid on its own affairs. Its Web site doesn't list a street address or phone number, or the names of key officers. Officially, it has no employees, headquarters or even a P.O. box.

The site has provoked official and corporate anxiety for over three years, and according to its sources, the video released last month is just a warm-up. Newly leaked material -- including what WikiLeaks officials describe as an explosive video of civilian casualties in Afghanistan -- is being prepared for release, part of a growing catalog of formerly secret documents and recordings that exceeds a million records.

WikiLeaks is tapping new technology and a growing list of financial backers (nonprofit foundations, private donations) to move closer to what the group says it has long sought to become: a global foe of excessive government secrecy and an enabler of citizen activists, journalists and others who seek to challenge governments and corporations.

In a culture in which "journalism" is defined by outrageous hyperbole spewed incessantly by pretty and not-so-pretty talking heads on both Left and Right 24-hour newschannels, WikiLeaks is the long-awaited messiah.

According to an article in the Washington Post, WikiLeaks has pioneered an approach that capitalizes on its secretive nature. Lacking a home base or traditional infrastructure, it is almost entirely virtual, relying on servers and helpers in dozens of countries. It is accessible anywhere the Internet goes, yet it is relatively immune from pressure from censors, lawyers or local governments. Its founders say those who submit material to the site typically do so anonymously.

The goal, says Daniel Schmitt, one of WikiLeaks's five core directors, is to make the organization unstoppable.


And while that kind of proclamation or language borders closely on corporate or closed society ideology, I have to trust that it is an almost necessary mission statement for a whistleblowing organization. Fight fire with fire, in a sense.

WikiLeaks's tactics have irritated governments around the world, with some striking back. China has repeatedly sought to block the site, and corporations have filed lawsuits, all of them without success.

Also watching closely are mainstream news outlets. At a time when newspapers and broadcast organizations are shedding jobs, the arrival of a global leak machine untethered by traditional journalistic rules of attribution and balance is inciting intense interest as well as apprehension. (Washington Post)

Information on WikiLeaks is vetted with the help of a network of hundreds of expert volunteers with specialties ranging from law to handwriting analysis and video encryption. To limit the possibility of threats or legal intimidation, only two members are public about their roles: Schmitt, and co-founder, Australian journalist Julian Assange. They, along with the three other founding members, draw no salaries.

WikiLeaks officials say they want to empower traditional media outlets by increasing their reach and investigative firepower at a time when many newspapers and broadcasters are slashing budgets.

"We're not there to take journalists' jobs away," Schmitt said. "On the contrary, our goal is to make mainstream journalism cheaper. We enable them to do things that no single newspaper can do by itself." (Washington Post)