The Irony of It All: the Snowden Affair

Early this morning I was reading yet another news report on the celebrated and infamous Mr. Snowden, this one on the BBC web site, Edward Snowden documents show NSA broke privacy rules.

No real surprises there, but the following lines of text caught my eye. It caused a flashback to the different world of my youth in the 1950’s and 1960’s:

Mr Snowden, a former NSA contractor, has leaked top secret documents to the US and British media.

He has been given asylum in Russia.

If you’re too young to remember the Cold War years, the salvos of political diatribe hurled back and forth across the continents, the Spy vs. Spy cartoons in MAD Magazine, and the strong and justifiable condemnation of the pervasively brutal authoritarian state then called the Soviet Union, the irony of this all might take longer to sink in.

No matter what else we may think of this Mr. Snowden, he challenged the legality of our national security apparatus, and the authority of the United States of America to clandestinely and indiscriminately intrude into the private affairs of every ordinary American Citizen, without warrant or explicit legal consent.

Not to mention: our hacking into the very most private affairs of Downing Street, Whitehall, Brussels, Prague, Paris, Bonn, or anywhere else in the world.

Thus Mr. Snowden found refuge in Russia, still largely run by the vestiges of the old Soviet KGB apparatus, and there, for a time at least, it would seem, he has been provided refuge and shelter from the wrath of an authoritarian security apparatus, and from lifetime incarceration in some American prison camp.

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nature.com: Conservatives Into Liberals?

In “Magic trick transforms conservatives into liberals,” Brian Owens in Nature magazine reviews a diabolical Swedish study that suggests many of us aren’t as politically hidebound as our friends in the opposite political party are so apt to charge. The study showed survey respondents could be tricked into changing conservative positions into liberal ones, and vice-versa.

On the other hand, what I also get out of this is, if we can be that manipulable,  many of us might not always have the foggiest why we hold the political beliefs we do, despite what we may think.

 

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Happy Fiscal Cliff New Year

Happy New Year. It’s a bit early to pat ourselves on the back for the midnight Senate compromise bill. We have yet to reckon with the real hurdle, Boehner’s House.

The American people are deeply divided along party lines on fiscal priorities. No president is going to “negotiate” these differences away. Like the market collapse after the 2008 meltdown, no one knows how seriously the world economy would have been impacted if the US had simply defaulted to the recession option.  It is arrogant to say that Obama “caved,” because it’s arrogant to elevate the “winning” mantra over fiscal responsibility.

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Piers Morgan Deportation Petition

As most of you’d have read by now, there’s a small movement promoting a petition at whitehouse.gov to punish CNN commentator Piers Morgan for his caustic comments against the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre in wake of the awful Sandy Hook tragedy. They’re petitioning to deport Morgan, a British citizen, despite the fact that in the United States we have not only a Second Amendment, but the First. I posted my somewhat tongue in cheek quip below to the Huffington Post:

How about deporting Wayne LaPierre to the Congo where he could lead his child soldiers in the glorious revolution against brains?”

But I was bested by another reader:

Has not the Congo suffered enough?”

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The Economy and The Dam

CATASTROPHE: To the right of the steep Interstate 5 grade that takes us out of the Los Angeles basin and over the Sierra Pelona Mountains of northwestern Los Angeles County, toward Gorman Pass, looms a massive concrete and earthen dam high above the freeway. When traffic slows up the grade, I often get the creeps pondering the fact we are all sitting ducks here. If this dam forming Castaic Lake were ever to burst, there is no place to turn around and flee, no place to go, and we and everything around and below us would all be swept away by a wall of water nearly 200 feet high. Of course the communities below would be wiped out.

They would build a new dam, and they would wait for it to fill up.

But as it turns out, this already happened before.

In 1928, one year before the 1929 Great Depression, the old St. Francis Dam failed catastrophically, killing 600 people in the flood.

When an economy breaks completely as it did in 2008, there are only a few things the government can do to stimulate demand, promote hiring, and get businesses going again. It is a slow process. And most of those things are against the political philosophy of half of the country, anyway. Like that new dam filling with water, there is just so much engineers and hydrologists can do to increase the flow of the water that fills the dam. You can dredge the feeder creek.  You can try to remove obstacles to smooth water flow. There’s no magic wand to boost the flow of water that gradually refills the dam. Most of it is up to processes that occur naturally. An economy works the same way.

But you can bet the folks in the wealthy homes high above the dam were anxious to see their Lake Castaic Reservoir refilled. “Make the river flow faster!” they’d have shouted. “Make it rain!” And they’d vote for the magician who promises he can wave his magic wand and make all that unpleasantness go away.

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Why Undecided Youth Should Vote Democratic in 2012

Maybe you’re thinking neither political party has a handle on the economy. Maybe you’re mad at Team Obama because he couldn’t reach out across a bipartisan aisle like he thought he could. Maybe you’re thinking you won’t even vote in the 2012 election.

Well, the GOP’s “social conservative” plank should be the deal breaker for you.

If you’re from a poor or middle income family, or you’re an ethnic or cultural minority, or a woman, or gay, you’re a target. If your civil rights are eroded or actually taken away by legislative fiat, you lose full civil equality. You lose your standing as a fully equal citizen to debate and argue the national issues, including both the economy, and your own right to have a fully enfranchised say in it.

No matter who you are, or what your background and upbringing was, maybe you just think it’s time we work together to put the “all” back in “all men are created equal.”

“Social conservatism” is, among other things, a cancerous code word for anti-gay, anti-women, anti-minority, anti-Islam and even anti-Semite.

Most Republicans don’t fit that description, and many are as nice as any other folks you’d hope to meet. Right now, though, if you vote Republican, you’re stuck with the “social conservatism” baggage a cult minority has imposed on the much bigger GOP.

As Chris Rock said, “If you vote against Obama because he can’t get anything done, it’s kind of like saying ‘This guy can’t cure cancer. I’m gonna vote for cancer.”

You can register for any political party you want, but vote for Obama so we can get on with the business of fixing our country.

_____

If you liked this message, please feel free to email it to your friends, or post it to Facebook or other social media. Alex Forbes Sept 2012.

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Milton Friedman Then and Now

Here’s a comment I posted to Huffington Post, commemorating the 100th anniversary of the birth of economist Milton Friedman …

The Chicago School of Economics was always conservative. More than any other economist, Milton Friedman made it synonymous with ultraconservative. Friedman was a brilliant advocate of free-market economics, but he was no ideologue. With elimination of controls, laissez-faire thinkers like Friedman (and Greenspan) envisioned increased competition, a healthy business and social environment, more jobs, a higher standard of living, and lower prices. That was the theory.

What we got was “too big to fail” mega-mergers, corrupt business practice, decreased competition, layoffs and mortgage defaults, a thrust-fault slippage of the standard of living, higher prices, and the biggest global economic catastrophe since 1929. As a consolation prize, we got Citizens United to remind us what a monumental achievement this was.

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Quote of the Day

“If you’re not sure about wanting to support Mitt Romney, whether you’re liberal or very conservative, you ought to be excited, because he’s been on your side at one time or another.”

— Rep Louis Gohmert, R-TX

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Who’s To Blame?

Mini-ed (from my recent Huffington Post comment):

The collapse was a two-decade bipartisan collaborative effort in partnership with private enterprise. The root of the collapse of the economy and average family wealth also goes, causally but perhaps coincidentally, back to 1992, the year to which family net worth was reset. That was also the year the real estate bubble really started to take off. We all said, “this can’t last.” Remember?

On paper, homeowners were worth more. Republicans and Democrats alike clapped and cheered. Relaxed and ultimately crazy lending requirements fueled a genuine American Tulip Mania. The whole economy became dependent on future growth for today’s prosperity. ARM’s, derivative speculation and toxic assets were the icing on the cake.

The $1.3 trillion war debt would certainly have helped our recovery effort. Once again, a divided America supported that effort on both sides of the aisle.

It’s time to stop the finger-pointing, roll up our shirtsleeves, and work together to fix this thing. That may require political compromise, something we used to be good at. The only thing that’s stopping us is ourselves.

 

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Top GOP Pollster to GOP: Reverse On Gay Issues

Excerpt from the remarkable article (with embedded documentation) by Andrew Sullivan at The Daily Beast:

Below is a remarkable document. It’s a memo circulated by Jan van Lohuizen, a highly respected Republican pollster, (he polled for George W. Bush in 2004), to various leading Republican operatives, candidates and insiders. It’s on the fast-shifting poll data on marriage equality and gay rights in general, and how that should affect Republican policy and language. And the pollster’s conclusion is clear: if the GOP keeps up its current rhetoric and positions on gays and lesbians, it is in danger of marginalizing itself to irrelevance or worse.

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Michael D. Higgins Video

Must-see. Michael D. Higgins is the President of Ireland. His comments on the United States political climate, respect for President Obama, and criticism of Tea Party dialectic is better than anything I ever heard in the United States. Invigorating, humorous at times, and devastatingly to the point. Embedded YouTube video.

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Anonymous Paid Political Advertising

Bill Moyers did a wonderful job of illuminating “Who Pays for Political Ads?” Following this conversation on Huffington Post, I found that I had some observations of my own.

I saw reader comments that we have NO right to know who sponsors anonymous paid political advertising — the PINK SLIME of the advertising industry. The laws of slander still apply to us, but they don’t apply to the anonymous wealthy who corrupt the electoral process.

So it is argued that we who don’t like anonymous paid political ads are free to ignore them, and people who DO like them are free to waive their right to due diligence on the source and veracity of the content. It’s argued there certainly is a protected “right” to anonymously buy the spread of smear and slander. Who can spell PROPAGANDA?

When we think about it, propaganda can be used to manipulate opinion by either side of an issue, but a civilian population has at least a theoretical means of independently verifying or debunking it. It’s quite rational and legitimate to consider the credibility of the source in evaluating things we are told. Anonymous paid political ads take this off the table, because we no longer have a way to determine the source of the information, let alone the methods used to gather or manufacture it.

Anonymity may be vital to the success of a totalitarian state, for both perpetrators and victims, but anonymous and unverifiable political defamation is subversive of a democracy. Stand up to the perpetrators!

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Schrödinger’s Cat, 2012

The New York Times had an amusing op-ed piece “A Quantum Theory of Mitt Romney,” by David Javerbaum. Mitt Romney is compared under several different tenets of Quantum Physics, in which Romney can simultaneously be both a moderate and a conservative, or, in the Feynman diagram, in which a Romney and anti-Romney collide and annihilate each other.

I was quite surprised the author didn’t also nail down the famously skeptical Schrödinger’s Cat thought experiment, in which we are asked to ponder a celebrated cat that might indeed be either dead or alive, depending on the outcome of a random event.

Wikipedia notes that “Schrödinger did not wish to promote the idea of dead-and-alive cats as a serious possibility,” but, more than 75 years later, the evidence is now tangible, dragged in not by the cat, but by politicians.

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Affordable Health Care

It’s time to rethink the whole individual mandate business. I still think conservative objections based on a distinction between taxation and the individual mandate were self-serving, convenient and artificial. Still, the codeword “individual mandate” set off alarm bells for me from the very beginning. The Supreme Court, playing Solomon splitting the baby, will be the last straw in a series of crippling setbacks for Affordable Health Care.

The Administration’s original proposal at least seemed comprehensible and containable. Compromise, lobbying and bill riders spawned a three-headed monster, mostly favoring the health care lobby at the expense of the individual citizen. It’s time to formally dump what’s left of “Obamacare” and start over.

Of single-payer health care (medical care funded from a single insurance pool), Forbes Magazine said,”The constitutionality of single payer is basically uncontroversial (Medicare is single payer health care) and the politics of it would look a lot more appealing to moderates than they did before.”

Health care costs have hit 20% of US GDP and for this we’re getting third-world care. Let the debate for a serious single-payer begin.

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“Do conservatives tend to be less intelligent?”

“Are racists dumb? Do conservatives tend to be less intelligent than liberals?” Short commentary on the dangers of oversimplifying the oversimplifiers.

See: Huffington: Intelligence Study Links Low I.Q. To Prejudice, Racism, Conservatism

Looking at the archive photo of the racist Klansmen, the article is provocative, interesting, even mildly amusing. But I think this study begs the point. The study’s lead author did acknowledge that “less intelligent types might be attracted to liberal ‘simplifying ideologies’ as well as conservative ones.” For every conservative who’s stuck in the rut of social Darwinism, we can also find some other liberal who sounds like a broken record. I think the real point is that (1) thinking isn’t the exclusive domain of hi-IQ types, and (2) embracing ideological principles is never an acceptable substitute for doing our own thinking.

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“Please Vote for Me”

I caught part of a Global Voices PBS World special called “Please Vote for Me.”

“Please Vote for Me” examines the efforts of three 8-year-old students running for class monitor in an elementary school in Wuhan, China. The youngsters are shown campaigning for votes and participating in debates.”

If you are class monitor, you get to show off, build your own political organization, and tell the other kids “Quiet!”

One way to win is influence peddling. “If you vote for me, I’ll appoint you deputy class monitor.” It turns out the really smart kids get elected to this prized grade school position by compiling long lists of one’s competitors’ faults, circulating those to the whole class in order to sway the voting.

Their teacher was Chinese, of course, but for this segment of a grade school kid’s education, they could just use American political consultants.

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“Social Conservatism”

To my knowledge this term first crept into the news around the beginning of the 2012 Presidential campaign. Everybody “sort of” knows which candidates are “social conservatives,” everybody “sort of” knows what political positions are entailed, and I have yet to see anyone explain to us what  a “social conservative” is.

So I looked up “Social Conservatism” in trusty ol’ Wikipedia. Their answer is more explicit than I feared. And it seems to directly contradict the stated GOP theme of scaling back government restrictions on of our lives.

Social Conservatism is primarily a political, and usually morally influenced, ideology that focuses on the preservation of what are seen as traditional values. Social conservatism is a form of authoritarianism often associated with the position that the national government, or the state, should have a greater role in the social and moral affairs of its citizens, generally supporting whatever it sees as morally correct choices and discouraging or outright forbidding those it considers morally wrong ones …

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On Being Careful What We Wish For

I wrote the quote below early this morning, posting it to my Facebook status and quotes database. The old truism says, “be careful what we wish for, because we just might get it.” To take one example out of so many, just look at the events leading the people of Germany into World War II: unemployment, inflation, civil unrest. Many there thought they saw a way out of a troubled two decades. The world remembers well the inexorable march of terror, secrecy and butchery that followed. Their nation was pushed into the Third Reich, albeit on false pretenses in a chaotic political time, but inescapably, this could not have happened without popular support. Mostly, ordinary citizens said they imagined their candidate would at least make the trains run on time, didn’t they?

Once we citizens elect any politician on a promise to denigrate, deny or obstruct equal rights for others, even others of whom we may disapprove, no longer can we trust in our own equal access to justice and fair play — even when we were secure in those beliefs before. — Alex Forbes

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MSNBC Anchor Goes Ballistic!

And no wonder. He was talking about the incestuous relationship between the banks, financial institutions and Congress. Sounds almost like Ike’s “Military Industrial Complex”, substituting “crony capitalism” for “the military,” doesn’t it?

The surprising YouTube clip has already gone viral on the internet. You can do your own Google search with the search phrase “MSNBC Rant.” I couldn’t find an official MSNBC version. You may need to turn up your sound a bit. The message, however, is very clear! It’s worth hearing no matter WHAT our political orientation.

We’ve got a real problem…this is a mathematical fact. Tens of trillions of dollars are being extracted from the United States of America. Democrats aren’t doing it, Republicans aren’t doing it, an entire integrated system, banking, trade and taxation, created by both parties over a period of two decades is at work on our entire country right now.

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Christie Bows Out

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie announced he was “not ready” to run for President. Pundits said he was “not ready” to address the concerns of a right-wing theological Republican base.

Family Research Council president Tony Perkins says the New Jersey governor’s support for an anti-bullying initiative could discourage social conservatives from voting for him if he does run. Read more: The Daily Caller

I’m probably one of the last people in the world who’d be regarded as qualified to judge whether Christie had the right stuff to become GOP frontrunner candidate. I stopped voting Republican – any candidate, any office – early in the Bush Administration. Christie doesn’t buy same-sex marriage, but he’s against bullying. I have no idea whether Christie has mapped out a comprehensive platform on all the issues, or had time to assemble a staff to work it out. What I’m hearing from the voters is that they think maybe this is a good thing. I liked the sound bites I heard.

Christie was a plain talker – not in the rubber-stamp agenda-driven style of a Perry or Cain, but in an enormously refreshing, broad-based and common-sense way. Christie was a man who knew how to answer a direct question. He struck me as a politician who is concerned with the well-being of all his constituents, not with the nefarious machinations of some political party.

Maybe the Republican Party just isn’t ready for Chris Christie.

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“Pravda” Prophecy

I was updating some obsolete links on this site’s old HTML pages when I stumbled across this old somewhat startling passage of mine. I wrote  it in 1998 about an even older 1989 writing project.

If you disagree strongly with the economic premise that 20th century Americans, despite unprecedented national prosperity, have largely been shafted out of any “excess disposable income” (savings) from the best and most productive years of their lives, then you’re going to object, on moral or patriotic grounds, to this Pravda project.

Pravda was my 1989 attempt to make some sense of the unfolding drama in the old Soviet Union. I gave up editing and revising this over-100 page project because events neatly outstripped my ability to keep up with them.  It’s not recommended for the faint of heart: I keep it for its historical and archival value of the sense of those times.

If my quote seemed relevant in 1998, as we gear up for the 2012 presidential elections, it seems prophetic now.

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