Friday, May 21, 2010

The Mad Doctor


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.

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Thursday, May 20, 2010

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


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)

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

A New Season of War


Saurabh Das/AP

Remember Afghanistan? Think hard. I know other, more important stories have taken over our attention lately: the gushing geyser of oil threatening the eco chain in the Gulf of Mexico and beyond, the pseudo civil war in Thailand, the European economy in the toilet, Rachel dating Jesse St. James of Vocal Adrenaline...

But guess what tovarich? Spring in Afghanistan doesn't just mean a fresh, new field of fiery red poppies to refine into opium and heroin. No suh, you crazy trainspotters. May means we're back in the business of war, wa-hoo! Unlike most Americans who have so moved on with this story, yours truly is obsessed with the "Central Asian Roundabout." Maybe it's because, as the namesake of You Know Who The Great who failed to annex Afghanistan to his collection of real estate, I feel the need to vindicate my brother-from-across-the-centuries and pick up the slack--pen, not sword, you understand. Hey baby what can I say... I'm a lover, not a fighter.

Or maybe it's because somwhereabouts the winter of '79 your not so humble opinion writer was hanging around a disgusting pensione in Rome, waiting for his entry visa into the United States, and befriended an old Soviet emigré who proceeded to school yours truly on the catastrophic mistake the CCCP had just made, invading Afghanistan. And ever since, this always-curious writer has been shaking his head at just how idiotically analogous to the Reds, America's meddling into افغانستان has been. Maybe not.

In any case, Spring has sprung, the roads have defrosted, and it's back to the front we go. If you haven't yet heard, Taliban insurgents launched a brazen assault on the American base at Bagram Wednesday morning, sparking a "large and confusing gun battle that left at least five American soldiers wounded and seven guerrillas dead." (NY Times)

Taliban leaders claimed that seven suicide bombers had blown themselves up at the gates of the base, clearing the way for more than 20 other fighters to get inside. The Taliban reports appeared a bit conflagrative, as they often are. But American officials confirmed that the base, one of the largest in Afghanistan, had come under an "ambitious and unusual assault." (NY Times)

An American official confirmed that the base was bumrushed by as many as 30 insurgents, but that no one had actually breached the defenses.

The assault on Bagram comes on the heels of an attack Tuesday by a suicide bomber in Kabul, who rammed an explosives-laden bus into an American convoy, killing 18 people, including five American soldiers and a Canadian officer.

That attack — and the one on Bagram on Wednesday — appeared to be part of a larger campaign directed at the capital and its environs. In recent days, the Taliban have smuggled five suicide bombers into the area, an American military official said.

A last check still has the White House muttering something about packing up and getting out only after establishing a strong, local governance. Historically speaking...good luck with that. If the Achaemenid Empire, the Macedonian Empire, the Indian Maurya Empire, the Muslim Arab Empire, the Sasanid Empire, and the Great Soviet Empire couldn't tame the baby, chances look a bit thin for our broke-ass selves. But hey, have you heard? Fox is putting on Glee after the Super Bowl next year.

In a move to head off questions about its long-simmering tensions with Hamid Karzai, last week the Obama administration rolled out the red carpet for Our Man in Afghanistan, granting him unprecedented access to Washington's top brass and royal treatment denied to even the closest of US allies.

But don't be fooled by appearances. Tensions are still boiling just below the surface. For all the pomp and circumstance of the four-day visit by the Afghan president and his posse of cabinet ministers and senior advisors, the Obama administration is working hard behind the scenes to weaken his authority by reinforcing local governance to boost elusive stability of the war-torn country.

Stay tuned. This series is slated to develop very slowly. And more than likely, never end. But you know, in the wise words of Eric Arthur Blair (aka Georgie Porgie Orwell): "War is Peace."

A salam alaikum brothers, and pass the AK-47s.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010


I'd like to humbly offer my reasons for deleting my profile on Facebook, at the risk (and reality) of losing touch with many good friends--some of whom write opinion here.

The answer that I've heard time and time again to my recent move has been: it's online, it's the should assume everything is public. If you don't want your information or data made public, you should not have made a profile on the service to begin with.

Yet therein lies the issue. When I first signed up with Facebook, back in 2006-ish, I was promised complete control over information I wished to keep private. Over the last four years, Facebook has continually changed its parameters and has constantly worked to un-cover information that would then be sold to third parties for the sole purpose of marketing. Or...for, perhaps, something else.

As Facebook has relentlessly changed its functionality, privacy controls have become opt-in, rather than in place by default. As users, we have been asked to constantly maneuver through the labyrinthine field of permissions to keep whichever pieces of data we want, private.

My second issue with the philosophy that "everything is public on the web" is: if that is true (or the norm) then what is to be done about the majority of us consumers doing, for example, online banking--moving money between accounts, or transferring into other accounts held with different banks, paying off credit cards, or entering our social security numbers into seemingly secure sites/fields etc.? It is quite un-nerving when you apply that open-web thinking.

And to the people who have told me: "I have nothing to hide, they can watch me, they can have whatever they want" I say: keeping information private does not always mean one is doing something illegal. One should have the option of storing information that will not be made public (think: private, IM conversations regarding one's sexual orientation).

But more than the annoyance of having my time line clogged with incessant Farmville or Mafia Wars updates from my high school buddies, or the inundation of requests for social causes and groups working to rid the world of evil, my departure from Facebook was fueled by the culture that is being nurtured by Facebook CEO, 26-year-old Mark Zuckerberg. It scares me. These are inroads for invasion of privacy that are rapidly transformed into slippery slopes to totalitarian domination. Closed societies, if you've studied history, don't start off with a bang. They slowly and systematically take away rights and freedom. I know. I come from a country which modeled itself after Stalin's Soviet Union.

Already Facebook has partnered with certain sites whose functionality one cannot fully enjoy, unless he/she has a Facebook profile. That is not an adherence to the philosophy of a free web; that is the beginning of "world domination" so to speak. When I log into Pandora and it offers me choices based on my Thumbs-Up preferences on Facebook, I get freaky-deaky about the shared information.

Since the deletion of my Facebook profile last week, I am sad to announce that I've lost touch with a handful of good people. I have sent emails, yes, but the interaction is gone. I wonder if it's for good. We'll see.

I'm not confident enough people on Facebook really care about what's happening. The service has become beyond addictive, especially to people in my age range (late 30s-early 40s)--a fact that to this day has me baffled. Maybe, at the core, we're insufferably narcissistic. Maybe we think the most mundane details of our lives are exciting. Maybe we've been tweaked by our parents, or not given enough proper attention, to believe that we are now, suddenly, the center of the universe.

For whatever reason, I'm out.