Archive for December, 2009

  • Robert Taylor
  • 28
  • Dec
  • 09

While I spent my Christmas weekend surrounded by family, friends, and the warm central California weather, I tried for just a few days to escape the whirlwind circus of American politics.

Sadly, I couldn’t help myself.

While scanning the Internet for news stories (since TV and newspapers are anemic sources of information), I stumble across President Obama quietly signing a Christmas Eve executive order giving another bailout to Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, two of Obama’s largest campaign contributors. And I could barely keep from laughing while watching Senator Max Baucus (D-Pharmaceutical Industry) resurrect the ghost of Ted Kennedy while drunkenly stammering and slobbering all over the Senate floor.

But the thing that stood out to me the most was Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Pentagon) calling for preemptive military strikes on Yemen after the failed attack by what is now being called the “underwear bomber.” On a flight bound for Detroit, a Nigerian man put firecrackers in his pants in an apparent attempt at terrorism. He received training and supplies from Yemen, and Al Qaeda, whose presence is growing in the southern tip of the Persian Gulf, is taking credit for the foiled attack.

Immediately, security agencies (there are too many to count) began beefing up security at domestic and international airports, and President Obama assured us today that he is doing everything he can to keep us safe and will soon be launching “accelerated offensives” in Yemen.

There is so much wrong with the responses to this plot it’s hard to know where to begin.

Increasing government “security” only provides the illusion of safety and at great costs to what’s left of our civil liberties.

As Congressman Ron Paul (R-Constitution) pointed out in a great debate on CNN today, the US is spending nearly $75 billion on security measures that are ineffective and easily outmaneuvered. He correctly notes how markets do a far better of job of providing protection, as it is up to individual owners of factories, hotels, banks, etc. to care of their property. If airlines were in charge of their own security instead of the clumsy and pushy TSA, flights would likely be much safer (and no strip searches either!)

Coming back to the suggestion of Lieberman that the US preemptively rain terror on Yemen, I wonder if he is aware that US special forces have been launching raids inside of Yemen for months, that the US-funded Saudi government is continually bombing the Yemeni border, and that President Obama fired a handful of cruise missiles into Yemen a week and a half ago, killing 120?

These minor points aside, the growing calls to blitz Yemen is typical of US policymakers: counterproductive overreaction. It might come as a shock to some, but terrorism comes to the continental US as a direct response to the terror that the US military has been inflicting on the Arab world for decades.

Initiating sanctions that starve half of a million Iraqis; bombing city after city; propping up corrupt governments in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan that torture, rob, and kill their own citizens; handing out billions of dollars a year for the last five decades to Israel so that they can wage indiscriminate warfare on their neighbors and cage the Palestinians in their own cities.

These are the reasons gullible young Muslim men are willing to blow themselves up. Losing a family member, a home, or a mosque in a US air strike might piss some people off.

Responding to acts or threats of terrorism with overwhelming military force is like chopping a machete to a problem that needs the calculated scalpel of effective intelligence gathering and police work. Using the logic of the Lieberman and Obama, the British had every right to launch air raids on the Irish Mafia in Boston for helping to fund IRA bombings and India should nuke Chicago for the Mumbia attacks.

The attempted attack last weekend fits the cyclical nature of America’s imperial foreign policy perfectly: we intervene militarily around the globe, terrorists strike back, more socialist security; we intervene militarily around the globe, terrorists strike back, more socialist security…

Under this rubble of fear-mongering and the bogeyman of terrorism, Americans become more and more willing to sacrifice freedom for the illusion of security. Eventually, we will run out of liberties to hand over.

_

For more of Robert’s work, please visit his Libertarian Examiner blog.

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  • Rob Spectre
  • 23
  • Dec
  • 09

Of the many institutions that failed us during this decade of American decline, none took the face-first diver into a freshly laid steamer like journalism.  The once critical Fourth Estate has not suffered post-modernity well, and its decay only accelerated as humanity turned the corner of another millennium of civilization.  The sensationalism and spectacle for which it was derided during the celebrity trials and presidential impeachment of the Nineties became the only way to sell newspapers and 30 second spots.  The news business became one OJ trial after another where headlines read like car dealership billboards, stories bloated with corporate spin and the street-savvy, careful  insight of the American journalist was replaced by the doe-eyed, photogenics of the beauty-pageant runnerup communications major fresh from community college.

How the media handled the medium can bear much of the blame.  Information technology made the business of distributing information so cheap and easy, the role of the international conglomerate as gatekeeper became obsolete.  A middling deal attorney could become a tech business kingmaker with a ten dollar hosting plan, open source blogging software and a clever domain name.  Two Dutch kids with a Twitter account developed the “news wire service  for the 21st century” out of their dorm.  Even your humble author was able to cobble together a few friends, sneak some work out of a graphic designer and get a platform reaching tens of thousands for less than $500.  Where the audiences flocked in the Nineties to websites that generated compelling content, more came after the turn of the century to those that served as platforms for users to create their own.  The concept of the “broadcast network” – a medium that delivered content to audiences numbering in million -  now applied to several hundred companies instead of a dozen.  Anyone could “go viral” with a piece of reporting and reach millions and expect to get picked up by one of the traditional outlets within a few days. While information distribution became effortless, verifying it became an impossible game of whack-a-mole.

With the lower barrier of entry came competition, generating a demand entirely new to the consumers of news: flavor.  Discussions around water coolers and dinner tables was less about what the news was than where those in the discussion had received.  “Oh, I heard that on NPR/CNN/MSNBC/Fox and Friends/Hannity/Olbermann/Beck/Maddow/HuffPo/TPM/RCP” became the standard response to the news scoop of the day.  Running on half the budget of the pioneer of 24-hour news, the success of Fox News at the beginning of the decade spawned the overt marketing of bias in the reporting of news.  The taglines read “fair and balanced” and “a fuller spectrum,” but the marketing message always spoke differently.  Suddenly it was less about being the leading news source and more being the leading news source with a particular demographic.  This decade marked the final victory of advertising over the newsroom; where the stories were all the same, but all packaged differently.

Accessibility was not the only culprit of journalism’s decline.  The technology for traditional broadcasting was changing as well.  High definition television, followed quickly by full high definition, completely changed the appearance of news anchors.  Looking good enough for television went from a twenty minute session with a skilled makeup artist to a two hundred grand investment in a leading plastic surgeon.  Walter Cronkite would not survive the age of HD – old, experience reporters were out, and young, telegenic talking heads were in.  Kelly O’Donnell could no longer hide her pack-a-day habit with foundation and Andrea Mitchell only looks slightly less decayed than her ancient husband.  The Dan Rathers gave way to the Katie Courics – the harsh realities of broadcasting at near-real resolution made faces more important than the brains behind them.

And once bias became a selling point and the finest minds took a backseat to the fairest skinned, the product began to show it.  We opened the decade with the colossal failure of the 2000 election, where premature announcements plunged the entire country into unprecedented month-long uncertainty over whom its next leader would be.  The next year those same Americans would spend the fretful morning hearing the conspiracy theories of every two-star crackpot in every producer’s rolodex while watching planes crash into the World Trade Center over and over and over – no more informed than at the beginning of the crisis but a shitload more scared.

The breaking news rush to speculation became such an expected consequence of this new era of journalism that an entirely new class of celebrity was born.  “Famous for being famous” was now something one could be in America.  No longer did an American have to produce a record or write a book or win a championship or campaign for public office or land an airplane in a river to become famous.  Now all one who wanted to be famous had to do was do something really stupid.

Celebrity was now attainable through news coverage alone.  One could now have another eight kids without the ability to care for them and get a reality show development deal.  One could hide his son in the attic, launch a balloon, call the TV station and become a Top Ten story of the year.  Even just getting naked on your MySpace page could get one at least to the C-list in this new America.  And if one was just hot and rich, one could get an invitation to the Oscars every year.

For the enormous advances of technology and process that made news something you found out about in minutes instead of days, American journalism retreated to its yellow beginnings.  The news business, where it still remained, became less about the story and more about the lead-in.

This decade will not be written in history as the one where American journalism died, but it will be marked as were it started dying – the twilight of the most important instrument of democracy.

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  • Daniel Austin
  • 20
  • Dec
  • 09
This entry is part 40 of 40 in the series The (d)SP0T

Glitchy in North Beach

glitch.4

glitch.d

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  • Robert Taylor
  • 20
  • Dec
  • 09

When news stories started reporting that DC might be closed this weekend due to a blizzard that was sweeping across the East Coast, I finally got into the Christmas spirit; let it snow, let it snow, let it snow. For the brief bliss of one weekend, Americans would be spared  from the draconian legislation that usually crawls its way out of DC.

Members of the Imperial Senate, however, did find time on Friday to put the finishing touches on President Obama’s 2010 “defense” budget (H.R. 3326, which passed 93 to 6 in the Senate and 400-30 in the House), a $636 billion appropriations bill. It is loaded with all the corruption you would expect in the largest welfare program in US history, $20.5 billion more than President Bush’s last defense bill.

While taking a look through the bill, it’s easy to see why so many members of Congress enthusiastically voted in favor of such a monstrosity. Americans will be robbed of nearly a trillion of their dollars in order to fund pork, pet projects, foreign aid to abusive governments, defense contractors, and all of the politically-connected cronies that always gravitate towards DC when “defense” budgets are being voted on.

I say “defense” because if Congress or the President were interested solely in the defense of this country, than the amount of money needed for effective intelligence gathering and protection of our shores would be about 2-3% percent of this.

George Orwell famously noted that manipulating the language is an essential task of any government, and labeling this a “defense” bill would make Orwell laugh (or cry).

For example, $30 billion is guaranteed to the Israeli government over ten years, which means that the US taxpayer will be funding about a fifth of Israel’s military expenditures every year. $500 million is headed to the thuggish Palestinian Authority. Additionally, Israel is required to spend at least 75% of this money on US contractors. Who says Obama isn’t creating any jobs!

$130 billion of it will be used to keep funding the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, which despite claims by the Obama Administration that we’ll be leaving just in time for his re-election run, we’re not leaving anytime soon.

So far under President Obama’s watch, 231 soldiers (and counting) have died in Afghanistan since he took office, over one-fourth of the total American casualties of Operation Enduring Freedom. In 10 months. After that $130 billion is spent, how many more Marines will have died? And how much more money will be thrown at this mess?

The bill also increases funding to the US Navy, which already has 11 nuclear-armed warships patrolling every ocean and is larger than the next thirteen biggest navies combined. Part of this money has probably funded the US Navy’s new PR campaign, asking more farm-boys and poor blacks to join the “global force for good.”

Even our Navy admits that the US is a global empire.

In addition to the Democrats who voted yay, 34 out of 40 Republicans in the Senate and 170 out of 178 Republicans in the House also voted for this Leviathan bill, which means the Boeing’s and Lockheed Martin’s in their district will continue to supply the money and lobbying power to get them reelected again and again.

This “defense” bill proves that Congress and the President are not divided; they are united behind a single, imperial cause: war.

_

For more of Robert’s work, please visit his Libertarian Examiner blog.

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  • Hala V. Furst
  • 17
  • Dec
  • 09

A woman’s relationship with her breasts is complicated.  Little pink ribbons serve as a constant reminder that affixed to your chest are two ticking time bombs. Every time you put on a bra, every time you have someone help you take one off, you wonder if the twins will accompany you through life. Beyond basic self-esteem related body issues, breasts are the scariest part of a woman’s anatomy.

Take for example last week, when I’m getting aggressively groped by my RNP. She stops, and asks one of the least comforting questions in the English language: “How long has this lump been here?” For those of you who don’t have boobs, you do not want to hear the word “lump.” Lumps are never good. In gravy, in mashed potatoes, in a mattress, in your boob. Lumps are bad.

My mind spiraled into grotesque fantasies of a protracted disease, without health insurance. Chemo, mastectomies, 2-Day Walk-a-thons in pink head scarves; all of these things loomed above me as I continued to stare up at the ceiling for the rest of my annual exam. I heard her say “it’s probably nothing,” in the way that doctors always do, right before they tell you to go get more tests.

In the week between the discovery of the lump and the follow up appointment, I figured I would have to encounter my mortality. I didn’t. What I did encounter was my vanity. Like most women, I don’t love a lot about my body, but I do love my boobs and my hair, the very two things that breast cancer destroys. I didn’t fear death, I feared going through life ugly, boob-less, and bald. It was challenging enough finding a mate, how was I going to do it without the only two things that saved me from being a repugnant troll?

By the time my follow up rolled around, the lump had dissipated, due to hormonal fluctuations. The doctor who examined me couldn’t even find what my RNP was talking about, assuring me that nurses tended to be overly cautious. I wondered if it was the fact that my RNP was a woman, and this doctor was a man. His relationship with breasts was as a spectator, a hobbyist, an enthusiast. He didn’t have to deal with the day to day emotional roller-coaster of breast ownership. He didn’t look in the mirror and imagine himself transformed into a prematurely menopausal 27-year-old, unable to have children, bald, with two ugly, jagged scars where her nipples used to be.

But you can bet my RNP has.

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