Monday, Apr 11, 2011 by

“American Idol fans want Pia Toscano back, Stefano Langone out”

I know enough about American Idol to find interesting the above headline, which is from the Chicago Sun-Times. It would be easy enough to ascribe this little outcry to the ire of a vocal minority, but I think there’s more to it than that.

I’m not psychologist — and I’m certainly no Nate Silver — but instinct tells me that this is caused by what I’ll call the “complacent voter” phenomenon, something which is endemic to our society. That is, people will only vote if they believe they won’t win. As a result we have low vote counts that are heavily swayed by a fervent (and often fringe) minority.

So it may look like Idol fans want Pia back, but I’ll posit that they’re not the same fans who vote.

Remember this in 2012.

» Continue · categories: at the polls
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Monday, Mar 7, 2011 by

“400 obscenely rich people, most of whom benefited in some way from the multi-trillion dollar taxpayer ‘bailout’ of 2008, now have more loot, stock and property than the assets of 155 million Americans combined. If you can’t bring yourself to call that a financial coup d’état, then you are simply not being honest about what you know in your heart to be true.”
— Michael Moore

(via)

» Continue · categories: minientry
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Friday, Nov 19, 2010 by

Zero Tolerance for the TSA

Security expert Bruce Schneier says he experienced the TSA’s enhanced security measures first hand (so to speak):

I experienced the enhanced patdown myself, at DCA, on Tuesday. It was invasive, but not as bad as these stories.

Here’s the thing: I have a zero-tolerance policy for physical violation — hell, shaking hands can be an ordeal for me — so rationalizing something as “invasive but not bad” makes no sense whatsoever. The more I see people justifying a certain amount of physical assault (how much?) for a certain amount of security (how much?), the more hopeless I feel about our chances as a society. Put aside for a moment how the TSA’s policies came to be. Why are people so willing to accept being groped by so-called security experts making $13 dollars an hour? Are they so afraid? Will they not do the research for themselves? Do they know the odds of dying in a terrorist attack — 1 in 30 million — is roughly equivalent to the odds of contracting fatal skin cancer from just one trip through a backscatter device? (And cancer is hardly the only side effect of radiation.)

This is a human rights issue. Schneier describes airport security zones as “extra-Constitutional areas,” but the ACLU, for one, has already taken the TSA (and the DHS) to court for violations of Constitutional rights. This is hardly a shut case, which is why we must continue to resist the TSA’s “extra-Constitutional” policies by any means.

In the meantime, for me personally there is no amount of physical invasion that is tolerable, no matter how irrational our fear of explosives-wearing boogeymen.

PS: I know it’s somewhat misguided for me to lay so much blame on the populace. As is usual in these matters, the other half of the truth behind this debacle lies behind the old question: who benefits? Follow the money and you’ll find the usual politicians enriching themselves on lobbyist snacks. We should direct our outrage accordingly.

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Sunday, Oct 31, 2010 by

War Points

WaPo columnist David Broder writes:

I am not suggesting, of course, that the president incite a war to get reelected. But the nation will rally around Obama because Iran is the greatest threat to the world in the young century. If he can confront this threat and contain Iran’s nuclear ambitions, he will have made the world safer and may be regarded as one of the most successful presidents in history.

There’s so much wrong with this disgusting blather that it’s difficult not to think that I’m misunderstanding it.

First of all, you are suggesting that the president go to war for political gain, and to argue otherwise is to split hairs.

Second, Iran is the greatest threat to the world? I’m not even sure that Iran is the most threatening country to the world, let alone its greatest threat. What about hunger, disease, or climate change? How about globalization, or the privatization of food and water supplies by corporations? Domestically, how about corporate personhood, plutocracy, oligarchy? And if you measure threats solely by nuclear arsenals, and a nation’s willingness to go to war, then the United States is clearly the greatest threat to the world.

Last point, there must be a logical fallacy that addresses this “greatest threat” frame. Let me put it this way: there will always be a greatest threat. There must always be a greatest threat, even if you find yourself in a sealed room with only a ferret and hedgehog. If you live in a universe where you’ve somehow managed to eliminate every viable threat down to the hangnail on your left thumb, does that mean it’s time to go to war with it? The phrase “greatest threat” is nigh meaningless.

I’m not familiar with David Broder, but he sounds like an idiot.

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Thursday, Jun 3, 2010 by

Words of Power

Just look at the individual words which we have recently co-opted from the US military.

When we westerners find that ‘our’ enemies — al-Qaeda, for example, or the Taliban — have set off more bombs and staged more attacks than usual, we call it ‘a spike in violence’. Ah yes, a ‘spike’!

A ‘spike’ in violence, ladies and gentlemen is a word first used, according to my files, by a brigadier general in the Baghdad Green Zone in 2004. Yet now we use that phrase, we extemporise on it, we relay it on the air as our phrase. We are using, quite literally, an expression created for us by the Pentagon. A spike, of course, goes sharply up, then sharply downwards. A ‘spike’ therefore avoids the ominous use of the words ‘increase in violence’ — for an increase, ladies and gentlemen, might not go down again afterwards.

(via Robert Fisk)

» Continue · categories: minientry
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Thursday, Jan 21, 2010 by

SCotUS: Corporations are People Too

Just in time for November’s congressional elections, the Supreme Court today handed down a 5-4 ruling (Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission [PDF]) that decrees that the Government may not restrict corporations from spending as much money as they want to influence political campaigns, particularly with the production and airing of ads. The decision reversed about two decades of restrictions on what unions and corporations could spend on elections.

The case was originally argued to determine whether an anti-Hillary Clinton feature film — produced by conservative group Citizens United — constituted political advertising. But the grounds of the case were eventually expanded to a number of campaign finance precedents. Said Justice John Paul Stevens in his sharp minority opinion, “Essentially, five justices were unhappy with the limited nature of the case before us, so they changed the case to give themselves an opportunity to change the law.”

Most telling to us, Cleta Mitchell, a conservative election lawyer, said the justices had “ripped the duct tape off the mouths of the American people, to allow them to exercise their First Amendment rights to support and oppose candidates, to criticize elected officials and candidates at any time, without the need to ask the government.”

But last time we checked, corporations are not people, and unlimited money is not free speech. Perhaps she meant that corporations are just organizations of people? But the Constitution was not designed to entitle corporations to First Amendment protections. (And though Citizens United is a nonprofit corporation, they received direct corporate funding for the movie they produced.)

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Wednesday, Dec 30, 2009 by

Security Theater

The more we undermine our own laws, the more we convert our buildings into fortresses, the more we reduce the freedoms and liberties at the foundation of our societies, the more we’re doing the terrorists’ job for them.

(via Bruce Schneier)

» Continue · categories: minientry
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Monday, Dec 28, 2009 by

New International Flight Follies

The Happy Passenger

Innocent passengers have nothing to hide.

Passengers aboard a December 25th Northwest Airlines flight subdued a Nigerian man who had ignited a device taped to his leg.

Ever the reactionaries, the fine people at the Transportation Security Administration (as directed by the US Department of Homeland Security) have hatched some wide-ranging measures in order to alleviate the rest of us from the twin burdens of humanity and freedom. But the fun part is in how they’ve implemented these restrictions.

Of course the only true prevention for criminal acts on passenger planes is to ban travelers from planes entirely. Failing that, you might consider behaving in as arbitrary and random a way as possible, in order to… well, to confuse the terrorism out of your patrons. You might also increase the number of pat-downs (definitely), perform more physical inspection of approved carry-on luggage (probably), and institute even more draconian rules for the final hour of flight (maybe).

Airline officials have also decreed that, during the final hour of flight, it is now up to individual captains to decide whether passengers can move from their seats, can use pillows or blankets, or can hold anything on their laps, including laptop computers. Some flights found travelers being instructed to keep their hands visible.

TSA spokeswoman Sterling Payne said the agency would “continually review and update these measures to ensure the highest level of security.”

Or not. Maybe. Sometimes.

» Continue · categories: fascism jamboree
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Monday, Dec 28, 2009 by

Loud Noises!

Further evidence that many Americans are emotional, intellectual infants.

Transportation Security Administration officials said passengers aboard U.S. Airways Flight 192 from Orlando, Fla., on Saturday night reported that two men, described as Middle Eastern, were acting strangely and talking loudly to each other in a foreign language.

A nearby passenger also observed one of men watching what appeared to be footage of a suicide bombing, but was actually a scene from the 2007 movie “The Kingdom.” The man also got up from his seat while the seat belt warning sign was still lit, FBI spokesman Manuel Johnson said.

“The totality of those three occurrences led this passenger to believe this was suspicious,” he said.

(via The Associated Press)

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Thursday, Dec 3, 2009 by

Dinner’s on Monsanto

“It’s food! Really.”

“It’s food! Really.”

“We are an agricultural company,” begins Monsanto’s marketing spiel. And wouldn’t you trust the company who invented aspartame and bovine growth hormone to invent food for you? How about if that company also helped develop Agent Orange? The fact is that you’ve probably eaten food genetically enhanced by Monsanto in the past day alone, and they’ve learned a lot since the Agent Orange days.

There’s a lot of money to be made if you own both the lock and the key that opens it. Chemicals are Monsanto’s game, so if I told you that they owned both the poison and the antidote you might call it pragmatism. But Monsanto’s real coup was licensing its genetically-modified seeds to the world’s farmers based primarily on the promise that Monsanto’s GM seeds produce higher yields. Cleverly, Monsanto has engineered these seeds to be resistant to their “broad-spectrum” herbicide called Roundup, which is the second half of the bargain.

This alone puts Monsanto in a profitable position, but there’s even more money to be made. Being that farmers can’t own Monsanto’s patented seeds, they must instead license a new batch after each harvest. This turns the ancient practice of seed-saving into a crime, and in response Monsanto has dispatched undercover crop police to root out (ahem) the criminal farmers, and try them for violation of intellectual property rights, patent infringement, and seed piracy.

Still, you can see why farmers would be tempted by Monsanto’s siren song. If you don’t believe that biotechnology has real environmental and health benefits, just ask Monsanto — they have an army of scientists ready with the findings. But the plants that grow from Monsanto’s seed stock don’t keep to themselves. Just as Monsanto’s representatives have infiltrated the upper echelons of our government, Monsanto’s plants produce their own seeds and pollens, and it’s not long before surrounding crops are bombarded by foreign DNA, leading to contamination of the natural surrounding ecosystem, bizarre mutations, and new vulnerability to disease. (This doesn’t just apply to Monsanto, of course. In 2002 a corn engineered by Prodigene to produce pharmaceutical medicines contaminated corn and soybean fields in Iowa and Nebraska.)

Still, farmers remain upbeat about the promise of Monsanto’s products.

[Monsanto’s] seeds represent “probably the most revolutionary event in grain crops over the last 30 years,” said Geno Lowe, a Salisbury, Md., soybean farmer.

(via washingtonpost.com)

The dinosaurs might have said the same thing about that meteor.

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