With the stroke of his talented larynx, Obama bids adieu to the Iraqi occupation by declaring that “those days are over.” Aside from the physical relocation of America’s armed expression from one base to another, I’m not entirely sure what days he means. Of course, all but his most fervent ideologues know that this is more of a pre-election year holiday salve than substantial shift in foreign policy. A steaming pile of ho-ho-ho to maybe help forget this shameful conquest so we can go on pretending that we do not provide the mechanism for multi-national corporations to endlessly divert capital from periphery to core.
But hey, score one for the bumper-magnet ribbon crowd who can now rejoice over years of straddling some imaginary line between abhorring the war yet supporting the troops.
It is said that given a sufficient timeline, even a blindfolded monkey could eventually crank out the complete works of William Shakespeare. So while I find the mainstream media's latest obsession with TSA overreach nothing more than crass opportunism in exploiting a momentary twitter peak, I have been enjoying the catharsis of finally seeing air- and ink-time devoted to exposing this dark stain on our national identity.
In the wake of 9-11, we not only ceded airport authority to agents lacking any substantial training in either law-enforcement or civil liberties, but did so in such a manner as to effectively exempt then from oversight under the constitution-busting guise of 'national security.' Anyone surprised by abuses, or the banality of evil "just following orders" vein of defense, should seriously consider a career in public relations. Yet among the various accounts of those urine-stained, lead-vulvad and child molested victims of this behemoth, scant attention has been paid to the more telling question of who remains exempt from these invasions.
Actually, this is something I wrote about, to no measurable reception, in a column over five years ago. Little has changed since then. With all of the recent talk about airport security, this ought to be a bombshell of a story. Every media outfit in the country should be covering it. It undermines almost everything TSA has told us from the beginning about the "need" to screen pilots and flight attendants, and if there is a more ringing "let me get this straight ..." scenario anywhere in the realm of airport security, I’d like to hear it.
Since the TSA is clearly aware of the loophole, it is difficult to see this as anything other than the same selective myopia that lead to a crackdown on airport security while virtually ignoring the far more pervasive threat to our nation's maritime ports. In that case it was the lobbying efforts of Walmart in using its economic influence to subvert efforts towards tighter port security insofar as “security requirements should not become a barrier to trade.” Yet given the wasteful spending lavished upon aviation security, it is difficult to reconcile our unwillingness to subject multinationals to the same treatment demanded by the TSA.
Chomsky once noted that a democracy is a state whose central institutions are under popular control, whereas under capitalism, those institutions are under autocratic control. When Bob's Catering Conglomerate can move freely about while I have to choose between a radiation bath or public hand-job, I have to ask which one we really are?
So what to do in a political and cultural landscape in which well-told lies have more validity than fact-based truth:
“...by a two-to-one margin likely voters thought their taxes had gone up, when, for almost all of them, they had actually gone down. Republican politicians, and conservative commentators, told them Barack Obama was a tax-mad lunatic. They lied. The mainstream media did not do their job and correct them. The White House was too polite—"civil," just like Obama promised—to say much. So people believed the lie.”
We’ve entered a bizzarro world in which calling out lies is considered rude, says Perlstein, so liars are allowed to sit tight and dominate the discourse. This gels with Bill Maher’s critique of the Rally for Sanity, that calling for “balance for balance’s sake” ignores two important aspects of news reporting: facts and evidence.
The modern left is saddled with a two-fold curse. The first is the erroneous belief that civility is paramount – a paradigmatic weakness that prevents us from calling out lies and the liars who repeat them. The second is the conundrum that left-leaning politicians are beholden to the same corporate interests that drive such lies. True Enough has become the mantra of the modern-era; a policy of ignoring the “little” lies, laughing at the big ones, and losing elections rather than bucking the status quo.
Blaming Americans for being ignorant unwashed masses--or taking potshots at an education system that doesn’t teach critical thinking-- would be the easy answer to this conundrum.
But the reality is that if messaging has such a big effect on Americans, then messaging matters.
And indeed, it is messaging over fact that drives the 21st century political consumer. The intelligentsia and masses alike fight a perpetual battle over whose lie can achieve critical mass (hint – the corporate media are neither left- nor right-wing, but overwhelmingly neoliberal) while multi-national corporations continue to consolidate power. In the end, it really doesn’t matter what liars control which body of government; the debate itself is king. Our capacity to choose tribal identity over self-interest keeps us all distracted from the only truth that matters – that the interests of the ruling class are not our own.
Contrary to the rallying cries of various grammatically-challenged teabaggers, we have never had a functioning democratic society. If you’re a long-time reader, you may have seen a quote from Chomsky on this page:
Personally, I'm in favor of democracy, which means that the central institutions of society have to be under popular control. Now, under capitalism, we can't have democracy by definition. Capitalism is a system in which the central institutions of society are in principle under autocratic control.
Indeed, the internet is the first and only example we’ve had of a truly globalized forum in which all may enjoy equal participation. The powers-that-be hate this and have tried (will try) everything they can, from firewalls to censorship, to squash it. Net neutrality – the principle that the equality of all internet traffic is protected by the force of law – has been long-resisted as antithetical to the free-market. This is, of course, utter hogwash. It is about far more than whether Comcast can throttle down their competitors bandwidth - at this point the internet underlies so much of our lives that it has become a basic necessity to participating in our global economy.
There is an interesting parallel here with the advent of electricity. While most of us take for granted the ability to plug in our refrigerator, there was a time when power lines were something that only rich people could use, and even then only for their new-fangled light bulbs. Back then, there was nobody who could imagine other uses for it – the idea of using this form of fire to clean your clothes or freeze your food was preposterous. Those who pushed for governmental intervention to ensure equal distribution were decried as socialists. Much as with the internet, for as indispensable as it has become, we quite literally have no idea what the future will bring.
In this day and age, I would say that it's hard to believe that we're still discussing whether net-neutrality is a good thing, but this is what happens when money becomes intertwined with power and influence:
This letter, being pushed by Rep Gene Green (D-TX), pertains to whether or not the Internet will remain an open engine of economic and democratic freedom. In D.C., legislators and lobbyists are debating something called "net neutrality," which is a common-sense FCC proposal to keep phone and cable companies from interfering with what you can do online and how you can use the Internet. Without net neutrality, phone and cable companies can limit your online speech and freedom. I think the Daily Show explains the issue best (here (with John Hodgman) and here).
For the time being, I think that the net-neutrality debate may suffer from poor branding - the phrase itself reeks of techno-elitist packaging that makes all but the geeky among us sglaze over. But however much you may care about the issue itself, you should know by now that the 21st century is the age of the internet. The series of tubes is not just about watching videos of cats - it is how you talk on the phone, watch TV, do your banking, and participate in our democracy. It is far too important to allow the so-called 'free' market to destroy it through greed. We need to start thinking long-term about having alternate sources of bandwidth just like we have alternate sources of fuel. But in the short-term, we also need to ensure that our fledgling global democracy is not co-opted by those who would destroy it for profit.
With the present structure of cable-TV, is it so hard to imagine the internet's future to be something like this:
Libertarians embrace a worldview trending towards anarchism (or at least government minimalism), a position with which, as a Neo-Gramscian Marxist, I have an abundance of affinity. In fact, on a long enough timeline (where units are measured in centuries anyway), I’ve little doubt that this is where the human condition will trend – presuming we manage not to destroy ourselves in the process. For those of us in the present tense, however, Libertarianism, like Marxism, gets a bad rap for the fact that some of its most visible proponents are either vacuous, dangerous opportunists (Palin being the most obvious example) or else otherwise intelligent individuals who are transparently inconsistent and self-serving.
Case in point of the latter is Dr. Rand Paul, the movement’s latest media darling, who was elected to the Kentucky Senate seat last week. The news outlets and blogosphere are in an unusual flaming accord this week over his recent example of government overreach in the Civil Rights Act of 1964: (WSJ: Paul's Civil-Rights Remarks Ignite Row, Wash Post: Rand Paul comments about civil rights stir controversy, Eugene Robinson: GOP's Tea Party invite might still be in the mail, The Hill: Rand Paul causes Civil Rights Act controversy with desegregation remarks, AP: Rand Paul Is 'Kentucky Fried Candidate' Over Civil Rights Comments, Lexington Herald-Leader: Paul's statements on discrimination stir controversy, NYT: Tea Party Pick Causes Uproar on Civil Rights, Salon: More historic legislation Rand Paul wouldn't have supported, PoliticsDaily: Rand Paul: An Anti-Government Conspiracy Theorist? (h/t Americablog).
If you’ve been asleep at the wheel on this one, Paul’s position is that the act, which covers a wide range of civil rights issues on interstate commerce, is but a single an example of federal intrusion in the individual liberties of business owners to determine the nature of their clientele. In the context of this example, Rand concedes that this would naturally expand to the right refuse service to people of color, gays, Jews, etc. Paul’s continued inability to staunch the blood flow on this kicked the GOP spin machine into overdrive and lead Paul to cancel his appearance on Meet the Press – only the third person in 62 years to do so.
I care far less to what degree Paul may personally be racist than I do in the fact that this degenerative myopia is completely consistent with the Libertarian platform. However persuasive I may find this mode of thought in the abstract, it presumes a fundamental faith in humanity to do the right thing without the force of law. Individual liberty is not an absolute - it comes with the caveat that one person't liberty cannot infringe on anothers. With regards to the Civil Rights Act, we state that you are free to operate a business in our country, but you are not free to restrict your operations based on the color of someone's skin.
Indeed, the universe may trend towards global justice, but it has a long, long way to go. The restaurant owner who hangs a no-blacks sign up in his window will, in the 21st century, probably get run out of (most, though not all) towns by a combination of enlightened objectors and those too embarrassed to wear racism on their sleeve by frequenting a regressive patron. But what about no-gay, no-Democrat, no-punk, no-Catholic policies or the every-more-likely no-Arab policies? Sometimes our laws exist to compel American ideals even when our citizens find them offensive for the simple reason that we share our national identity and don’t want bigots forming an outward part of our cultural landscape.
For the time being, I still manage to disconnect my emotional processes from the issues enough to understand the difference between personaility and ideology, but herein lies the problem – this may be a particularly egregious example of Libertarianism carried to its logical conclusion, but it is nevertheless conssistent with the overall platform. Where the movement’s present incarnation really breaks down is in its outward hypocrisy in preferencing the liberty of commerce over individual or collective liberties. Indeed, lost somewhat in the row over lunch-counter segregation is the fact that Paul also had harsh words for Obama's supposedly ‘un-American’ stance in blaming the oil spill on, well … the company actually responsible for it. In Paul’s universe, the same liberty that allows corporations to escape the regulatory oversight of those who would be affected by disaster should likewise extend to absolving such entities of blame when their self-policing predictably breaks down. As Robert Slayton points out:
Advocates like Dr. Paul claim that they are speaking on behalf of the little guy, against the steam-roller of a large institution like big government. The problem with this claim is that there is another big institution that harms the ordinary citizen in our world, and that is big business. And in that case, libertarians have little to condemn, and thus show their true colors. … So their dirty little secret is out. Libertarians are not really for the little guy, against structures that would grind down our individuality. They're really just right-wingers, pro-business and anti government, the only institution with the power to limit large corporations when they commit abuses. Rand Paul is sincere, but in his blindness and dogmatism, he becomes a shill for big business, not the champion of citizen's rights he claims to be.
Without doubt, we exist in an era where power is increasingly consolidated into the hands of a few multi-national corporations which, unlike government, have no responsibility for social welfare. In the U.S., capitalist malfeasance has been kept in check through a strong judiciary whereas in Europe there is strong regulation. Yet if we are to judge the Libertarian movement by it’s leaders, then we must conclude that it is a facade for what right-wingers have always pushed for – a system of commerce in which neither mode of enforcement remains available to protect citizens from the dark side of the profit motive – a conservative nanny state where the government is expected to stay out of the way - expect when necessary to ensure that capitalist movements are free from civilian oversight. In this manner, it is a disease masquerading as a solution, spouting the ideals of liberty while covertly working to dismatle the very freedoms it's adherents espouse.
The latest in a string of disasters from the Franken-Food folks:
Millions of hectares of farmland in northern China have been struck by infestations of bugs following the widespread adoption of Bt cotton, an engineered variety made by the US biotech giant, Monsanto.
Outbreaks of mirid bugs, which can devastate around 200 varieties of fruit, vegetable and corn crops, have risen dramatically in the past decade, as cotton farmers have shifted from traditional cotton crops to GM varieties, scientists said.
I published an article on GMO farming as part of a sustainable development module in grad school. While I was (still am) largely cynical of our ability to predict the long-term consequences of such scientific forays, I had no moral qualms about research into genetic modification. Agrarian societies have long engaged in such manipulation through selective breeding and modern biotechnology is ostensibly an attempt to employ sophisticated gene splicing techniques to achieve the same ends. Since the manipulation occurs at the genetic level, the randomness of the selective breeding process is bypassed and therefore the results can be more predictable within fewer generational attempts.
Particularly with the promise of super-foods such as 'golden rice', I was initially enthusiastic about biotechnology's potential to address global food security. After completing my research, however, I found little to support the movement in its current form, and substantial evidence that it should be halted immediately.
At minimum, the research and development expenses associated with bringing a crop to market are far too immense for practically anyone outside global agribusiness. Virtually all of the research and production of plant GMO’s is carried out by seven major “life science” companies, many of whom are actually pharmaceutical giants. Golden Rice projects may be good PR, but they ignore the fact that people aren't hungry because their rice is no nutritious enough, they're hungry because all they eat is rice. In the meantime, these corporations mount an assault on the farmers themselves with the inclusion of suicide genes which ensure that crops become infertile after a single season (requiring the purchase of more seeds), that they work with only a single strain of pesticide/herbicide (happily sold by the same company) and whose controversy artificially constricts the available market to countries friendly to GM foods (notably, the U.S.).
In an ecological sense, GM crops not only shuttle much of the developing world into mono-cropping (think Ireland's potato famine), but also have the same effect as hospital superbugs (e.g. antibiotic-resistant strains of MRSA spawned by the overuse of germicides). Those organisms able to adapt to the chemical assault form super-pests and super-weeds which are not only nearly impossible to control, but have the bonus effect of assaulting neighboring farms who chose not to become slaves to global agribusiness.
Hey, I'm all about human ingenuity. But does anyone still believe that multi-national corporations have our best interests in mind?
Welcome to Logorama - quite simply the most enjoyable and provocative short I've seen in Donkey's years! Logorama was directed by the French H5 collective and debuted at last year's Cannes festival. It later won an Academy award under the “animated short” category.
It's a bit long (about 16 minutes), and definitely NOT suitable for work, but totally worth it. I watched it and then watched it again. I think I might grab a third showing after I post this. Enjoy!
Conflict and Conciliation: Faith and Politics in an Age of Global Dissonance
Despite the peaceful foundations of global monotheistic religions, the broad diversity of interpretations can lead to a sharp paradox regarding the use of force. Inevitably, we must ask ourselves: How can those who ascribe to peaceful beliefs suspend their own moral foundation to beat the drums of war? ... read more
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A self-indulgent blog for people just like me - PhD, author, photographer, entrepreneur, husband, father, music-lover, and uber-geek. More about Jay