Tag Archives: belief

The Difficulties of Discourse

This article originally appeared on Disinfo.com

The futility of political discourse seems all-too-evident in America, whether at the highest levels of power concerning the nonexistent ‘fiscal cliff’ or the debt ceiling, or around the family reunion dinner table concerning guns and health care. Both ‘sides’ are guilty of pseudoscientific claims, misrepresenting the opposition, sowing division with unnecessary ‘othering’, and usually no real clue as to where they actually stand on the issues or why they stand there at all.

Authors like Alex Berezow and Hank CampbellChris Mooney and Jonathan Haidtclaim to have found the secrets behind flawed political brains, usually on the opposite ‘side’ than their own. Many studies and online polls posit to have found the mechanisms by which liberals and conservatives operate; liberals are smarter,conservatives are happierliberals stereotype moreconservatives bow to authority more. While many of these trends can and do show up again and again, it ignores the diversity within and without party lines, the cognitive dissonance along the ideological spectrum, and the subtler reckonings of individual issue orientation. It defies capitulation, conciliation, and compromise. The sweeping generalizations that each ‘side’ usually eschews concerning class, race, religion, gender and sexuality do not seem to apply when considering others in the political landscape.

As Peter Lawler discusses in a recent BigThink post, there is actually a very wide diversity of conservative opinion, some with more depth than others. If we understand the common history, traditions, populist underpinnings and umbrella themes of even widely disparate worldviews, we can begin to work together towards reasonable approaches and solutions to society’s ills.

What’s the big difference between American conservatives and leftist nationalists?  They have different views on how much big government can remedy the excesses of big business.  Another difference concerns their view of the goodness and enduring viability of local institutions and traditional morality.  They actually tend to agree that Marx’s description of capitalism as reducing our freedom to “nothing left to lose” is largely true.  They differ a lot on the goodness and efficacy of some socialist antidote.  From a socialist view, the [The Front Porch Republic] are agrarian reactionaries.  From a Porcher view, the Marxists are irresponsibly “Gnostic” utopians.

Clearly, generalizations and sterotyping are an impediment to progress on either “side”. Even this false dichotomy of language (a relic of the oligarchy’s division tactics and oversimplified media portrayal), contributes to the unhealthy ‘othering‘ that ultimately serves to dehumanize one’s debate opponent. If the other side wants to murder unborn babies, then they are inhuman monsters. If the other side allows people of color to live with poverty and police brutality, then they are heartless misanthropists.

Because, just as with any intellectual pursuit that involves reason, logic, and candor, striving for thorough understanding is hard. It would be much simpler to only intake the sources that validate our reactionary conservatism, religious zealotry, neoconservative militancy, wall street greed and austerity, party cheerleading, progressive utopia, new age psycho-babble, left-wing anarchism, conspiracy theory, or UFO dreamland.

Party affiliation can be deceptive, as can positioning oneself along the political spectrum, rife with overgeneralizations and false associations. Although it’s also inaccurate to outright deny existing on the spectrum at all; the truth lies somewhere in the middle. On issues, you exist more on a web, an amalgam of strands as varied as the visible spectrum of light (and even the invisible, if our mixed metaphor allows for our hidden biases and subconscious belief systems). Taken as a mean, however, it is fair to place yourself somewhere, at least initially for comparison.

So does a progressive have more in common with an anarchist or socialist than a neocon? Do a Democrat and a Republican each have more in common with a centrist or moderate than the radical extremists in their own parties? Do the moderates of each ‘side’ have more they can agree on than the loud and oversampled minority flanking their ranks?

Talking Points Memo highlighted the efforts of a small, but responsible, group of conservatives who are “pro-same-sex marriage, pro-choice, pro-tax Republican activists.” They may be on the rise, as the Tea Partiers whoenergized frenzied the base resulted in embarassing media coverage, abominable policy stances, a fractured party and a disastrous election. The cry to distance themselves may be ‘Everything in Moderation!’, as we all realize that those social issues are always going to be nagging ethical arguments nuanced between us, but that the majority of Americans are actively under attack by unprincipled predators.

Most people honestly believe their delusions and logical fallacies. They came by them honestly. It will only take the incessant jackhammering of facts to break them free. Whether they believe that there is a massive Kenyan conspiracy or that the mushrooms can talk to us, they are not crazy nor liars. The endeavor of discourse, be it personable, in the media, or the national conversation, should aim to correct misconceptions, preconceived notions, and mistakes. We are not concerned with intellectually dishonest actors here. Do not lower yourself into debate with manipulators and charlatans who are mostly concerned with power and greed. They are not usually themselves radicals or revolutionaries, unless they are using and steering such a group for their own self-interests. As a rational, reasonable debater, you will find your considerable efforts at chipping away the hard exterior of an entrenched acolyte to be far easier than dealing with an unremitting fraud. You can pull the former closer to a more moderate position with enough time and work. After all, they believe themselves pursuant to the truth; they have just fallen down a corridor of errors in their search. A liar has no such allegiance.

It is true that what is ‘moderate’ and ‘centrist’ changes over time. This is not a post-modernist statement endorsing relative morality or truth. It is evident that our national dialogue, and the pandering rhetoric of our elected demogogues, swings over time. There is nothing innate in it that demands it become more progressive or reactionary over time. Other trends such as changing demographics, current events, media, law, those in power gaming the system, and technological transparency help define what the New Normal is. We all contribute to it. We are all in a constant tug-of-war game.

It may be the case that in the grand scheme of the social contract and evolution, we are hardwired by default for authoritarianism, and to conserve the status quo. Think of gene preservation and proliferation and likewise other outlier mutations. But just because something is the popular consensus (logical fallacy: argumentum ad populum) or rules by our leaders (logical fallacy: argument from authority) doesn’t make it right. Likewise, just because something is novel or progressive (logical fallacy: appeal to novelty) doesn’t make it right. It is right because it is right. No, evidence and a factual revelation of how reality works should govern our beliefs and ideology, not the other way around.

We strive as civilized animals for societal progress; to protect the unprotected, to feed the hungry, to clothe the cold, to shelter the homeless, to defend the defenseless. Members in every camp can be reached who feel a sense of justice, fairness, equaility, and civil liberty as part of our American tradition and values. Only those actively working against a righteous human condition need be discounted from the discourse (unfortunately, they are often given center stage, the sensationalist media spotlight, a louder voice within their respective parties than the rest).

And there are a variety of radicals in every camp as well; neoconservatives, tea party conservatives, anarchists, corporatists, new agers, creationists, paleoconservatives, anarchoconservatives, tax protestors, ecoterrorists, corpofascists… Their numbers do not represent the larger percentage of each group (though on specific beliefs, biases and issues, there are predispositions from one group to another). That’s not to say that somebody with some crazy ideas can’t be right every once in a blue moon (see: Alex Jones or Terence McKenna), or that their outsider theories may not hold a kernal of interesting truth. A broken clock is right twice a day, and a logically fallacious argument can still happen to be right coincidentally.

Of course, given two theories, one should not simply report on both and say the middle ground is accurate. This is what has allowed climate change denialists to voice their ‘relative truth’ to an uncritical and overly open-minded media in defiance of the overwhelming and reliably tested scientific consensus (not to be confused with popular consensus or sentiment). The right has its fair share of creationist loonies and neoliberal acolytes. And the left has plenty of crystal-worshipping, anti-vaxxer, alternative cancer cure morons as well. It seems too silly to argue which unsubstantiated claims are more damaging to scientific advancement and public policy. We all have our false dogmas, and they all damage us all.

Proposed or theoretical truths are subject to analysis, and should be eviscerated by criticism, replicated by study after study, and broken down into underlying mechanistic principles. Only after these theories hold up (be they scientific, economic, legal or political), only then should they be added to ‘The Canon.’ The Canon, despite its strict title, is ever changing, ever flowing with both the passage of time, new discoveries and contemporary understanding.

If the austerians believe that we should continue to empower the rich (“the engines of the economy”) at the expense of the poor and middle classes, then theirs should not be the default prevailing Beltway wisdom. The burden of proof is on their economic religious dogma to bear that out, especially considering how disastrous the practiced results of just such strategies have been worldwide. If any policy-maker or pundit honestly believes the inane bullshit that comes out of their pieholes, they should be exposed to harsh skepticism. They may be honestly deceived (or self-deluded), or they may themselves be revealed as a deceiver.

The onus is on all of us to research understand the arguments we are making. Just as it is inappropriate to attack Chris Christie based on his weight (logical fallacy: ad hominem), bear the responsibility of understanding a religion before criticizing its adherents, whether fundamentalist Christian, zionist Jew or radical Muslim. Explore the finer points of your debate opponent’s political philosophy by forcing them to delve into their deepest motivations, cited sources, and logical mechanisms. Who knows? You might alter your stance a bit as well.

Challenge entrenched and unfounded belief systems, especially your own. Do so with a relentless fervor, sincerely try to falsify yourself and above all be rational, be reasonable! Learn the rules of argument and logical fallacies so that you can identify when they are employed against you, by either frauds or self-deluded. Turn the incisiveSocratic Method against all claims, but do so patiently and peaceably. Make it known when you are only playing Devil’s Advocate for the sake of comprehension. Question relentlessly and mercilessly, but also earnestly and nonjudgementally. This will force someone to defend themselves not from your close-mindedness, but from critical-thinking and logic itself. It may reduce them to tears. It may change minds. It might just change the world.

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Illegal Speculation

The illicit affairs of an elusive elite continue, and nightly we struggle and strive to survive against them. What will it be that saves us? Elections? Economic reasonableness? A renewed Fourth Estate? Scientific rationality? The burgeoning religion of technology? Revolution in the streets? Or perhaps simply… ROCK.

PLAYLIST
In The Hall Of The Mountain King – Robert Wells
When the Levee Breaks – Led Zeppelin
Shadows Of – Gong
Muffin Man – Frank Zappa & the The Mothers with Captain Beefheart
Long Distance Runaround – Yes
Crystal Ball – Styx
Third Stone From The Sun – Dick Dale
Jimi And Eddie (Purple Haze/Green Acres) – Pinkard & Bowden
Manic Depression – Jeff Beck & Seal
Children Of The Night – Hysear Don Walker
Song Of The Black Lizard – Pink Martini
Where The Blues Begins – Buddy Guy with Carlos Santana
Oh Well – Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band
Rawalpindi Blues – Carla Bley
(Don’t Fear) The Reaper (Bonus Track) – Blue Öyster Cult
Levon – Elton John
Backs Turned Looking Down The Path – Warren Zevon
Fanfare for the Common Man – Emerson, Lake & Palmer
Lucky Man – Emerson, Lake & Palmer
(Jack Kerouac) On The Road – Tom Waits & Primus
Hand Of Doom – Black Sabbath
Barbary – Sir Richard Bishop
A Day In The Life – Sting

Jamie Dimon, CEO and and one of the plutocrats in charge of the country, in his presidential cufflinks, was orally pleasured by Congress this weak.

Financial analysts Jim Willie and Rob Kirby contends that the only organization large enough to act as counter-party to some of these trades is the U.S. Treasury itself.  He suspects the Treasury’s Exchange Stabilization Fund, a covert entity without oversight and accountable to no one. Kirby also notes that if publicly-traded companies (including JPMorgan, Goldman Sachs, and Morgan Stanley) are deemed to be integral to U.S. national security (meaning protecting the integrity of the dollar), they can legally be excused from reporting their true financial condition.  They are allowed to keep two sets of books.

Interest rate swaps are now over 80 percent of the massive derivatives market, and JPMorgan holds about $57.5 trillion of them.  Without the protective JPMorgan swaps, interest rates on U.S. debt could follow those of Greece and climb to 30%.  CEO Dimon could, then, indeed be “the guy in charge”: he could be controlling the lever propping up the whole U.S. financial system.

Besides the recent $3 billion in JPMorgan losses, which look more like illegal speculation than legal hedging, there is JPM’s use of its conflicting positions as clearing house and creditor of MF Global to siphon off funds that should have gone into customer accounts, and its responsibility in dooming Lehman Brothers by withholding $7 billion in cash and collateral.  There is also the fact that Dimon sat on the board of the New York Federal Reserve when it lent $55 billion to JPMorgan in 2008 to buy Bear Stearns for pennies on the dollar.  Dimon then owned nearly three million shares of JPM stock and options, in clear violation of 18 U.S.C. Section 208, which makes that sort of conflict of interest a felony.

Evidence abounds that the JPM losses are not just $3 billion but $30 billion or more, that JPM may actually be bankrupt, of systematic computer-generated selling of JPMorgan stock immediately prior to and on the dates of the granted compensation and collusion to manipulate the stock to accommodate the grant of options is called “spring-loading”, a violation of SEC Rule 10 b-5 and tax laws, with criminal and civil penalties.

But of course, Mr. Dimon wouldn’t be the only Wall Street felon steering our country towards disaster with their Mafioso Pyramid schemes, the private creation of money at interest.

The only real guarantor in all this is the government itself, first with FDIC insurance and then with government bailouts of too-big-to-fail banks.  If we the people are funding the banks, we should own them; and our national currency should be issued, not through banks at interest, but through our own sovereign government. the U.S. still has the legal power to issue its own dollars or borrow them interest-free from its own central bank.  The government could buy back its bonds and refinance them at 0% interest through the Federal Reserve—which now buys them on the open market at interest like everyone else—or it could simply rip them up.

WE are the people. WE are America and therefore the government. OUR economy is supposed to serve us; the consumers, the workers, the unemployed…

Markets are not provided by nature. They are constructed – by laws, rules, and institutions. All of these have moral bases of one sort or another. Hence, all markets are moral, according to someone’s sense of morality. The only question is, Whose morality? In contemporary America, it is conservative versus progressive morality that governs forms of economic policy.

Senator Mitch McConnell’s speech Friday at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington offers an inside look at how the  Republican goal of getting rid of Obama is inextricably linked to the Republican Supreme Court’s Citizen’s United decision equating corporations with people under the First Amendment, and to the Republican’s current determination to keep Americans in the dark about which corporations contribute what.

In the upside-down world of regressive Republicanism, McConnell thinks proposed legislation requiring companies to disclose their campaign spending would stifle their free speech, calling it a “political weapon,” used by the Democrats, “to expose its critics to harassment and intimidation.”

Five members of the Supreme Court think the legal fictions on paper (corporations) are people. Mitt Romney and the minority leader of the Senate – the highest-ranking Republican official in America – takes this logic to its absurd conclusion: If corporations are people, they must be capable of feeling harassed and intimidated if their shareholders or consumers don’t approve of their political expenditures.

Clearly, McConnell doesn’t want corporations to be forced to disclose their political contributions because he and other Republicans worry that some shareholders and consumers would react badly if they knew about their secret slush funds for the Republican Party, funneled through front groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Crossroads.

via TPM

A new report by Democrats on the Joint Economic Committee concludes that the GOP plan to enact large income tax cuts that disproportionately benefit top earners will be difficult to pay for by closing myriad tax loopholes — and that the loopholes that would likely have to be closed disproportionately benefit the middle class. The net result, according to Democrats, is that the Republican party’s tax plan would increase the tax burden for middle-income earners while lowering it for the wealthiest Americans. But the report makes several key assumptions many of which, Republicans claim, distort the GOP’s policy agenda.

The House GOP budget, authored by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), would make major changes to the tax code. It would reduce the top tax rate to 25 percent and fold all the lower brackets into a single, second bracket at 10 percent. It would index the Alternative Minimum Tax to inflation and eliminate new taxes in the health care law. Together, according to Democrats and the Tax Policy Center, these changes would increase deficits by $4.5 trillion over 10 years.

Republicans claim they’ll cover that cost by eliminating unspecified loopholes in the tax code. But what the Democrats’ report shows is that if Republicans want to lock in other key GOP policy goals, like maintaining low capital gains tax rates, or eliminating capital gains taxes altogether, they’ll likely have to close loopholes that disproportionately benefit the middle class.

The net result, according to Democrats, is that middle-income tax payers will actually end up paying more in taxes than they do now, under the GOP plan.

But at least liberals are finally calling Republicans out on their shenanigans. House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD)  publicly accusing Republicans of intentionally undermining the economy in order to defeat President Obama.

“There’s no intention on behalf of the Republicans in the House of Representatives to try to help the president move this country forward,” Hoyer told a small group of reporters in his Capitol office on Thursday morning. “I quote Jesse Jackson, who I thought said it best, there are a lot people in Washington who want to drown the captain and are prepared to sink the ship in order to do so.”

Hoyer joins Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and others who say the House GOP’s refusal to adopt even bipartisan measures like funding for transportation projects, and the renewed brinksmanship over the debt limit suggest that Republicans are engaged in deliberate economic sabotage.

Even as more and more Americans choose alternative news sources to find out what is really happening in their country, harassing those providing first hand reports muzzles the free flow of information and poses a threat to democracy. Abby Martin explores the subject for RT.

Via the New Statesman, on the Davis Dozen, who face ten year prison sentences for peacefully protesting the bank that paid for control over their school:

Sometime in July, eleven students and one professor at the University of California Davis will stand trial, accused of the “willful” and “malicious” act of protesting peacefully in front of a bank branch situated on their University campus.

There has been in recent months a great deal of online coverage of the brutality of public order policing at Davis. The treatment of the Davis Dozen, however, promises more longstanding injury. If found guilty, each faces charges of up to eleven years in prison and $1 million in fines.

As the collapse of the US banking sector caused the State of California to withdraw its funding for its public Universities, those same Universities turned to the banking sector for financial support. On 3 November 2009, just two weeks before riot police would end a student occupation at UC Berkeley by firing rubber bullets and tear gas at the students and faculty gathered outside, the University of California Davis announced on its website a new deal with US Bank, the high street banking division of U.S Bancor, the fifth largest commercial bank in the United States.

According to the terms of that deal, US Bank would provide UC Davis with a campus branch and a variable revenue stream, to be determined by the University’s success in urging its own students to sign up for US Bank accounts. In return UC Davis would print US Bank logos on all student ID cards, which from 2010 would be convertible into ATM cards attached to US Bank accounts…

Meanwhile, Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights is set to criticize Canada for the controversial law passed by the province of Quebec to clamp down on student tuition protests.

“Moves to restrict freedom of assembly continue to alarm me, as is the case in the province of Quebec in Canada in the context of students’ protests,” the commissioner is to say.

Quebec’s Bill 78 restricted the rules for organizing mass gatherings in the province as well as racked up fines for violations during mass events. It was issued in response to months-long student protest demonstrations, with anger over a hike in tuition fees in the province.

Frank La Rue, the UN’s special rapporteur for the protection of free expression, and Maina Kiai, the organization’s special rapporteur for freedom of peaceful assembly, will focus on how the United States government has failed to act on requests made by the two experts during the last year to address growing concerns over how law enforcement has acted towards the Occupy movement.

In one letter sent from the envoys to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the rapporteurs urge the Obama administration to “explain the behavior of police departments that violently disbanded some Occupy protests last fall.” Elsewhere they say that they’ve been concerned that excessive force waged on protesters “could have been related to [the protesters’] dissenting views, criticisms of economic policies, and their legitimate work in the defense of human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

Despite sending that letter to Secretary Clinton more than six months ago, neither rapporteurs has not been offered a response yet, reports Huffington Post. A spokesperson for the State Department tells HuffPo that “the US will be replying,” but declined offering any other details.

“The Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division is the lead agency for violations of human rights or civil rights in the United States,” wrote the spokesperson, sending the UN experts to them for an answer, half a year after they asked for assistance. With hundreds of arrests being chalked up to the Occupy movement and countless accounts of police brutality reported already, however, it is sending a clear message to some that the White House isn’t all that concerned over how local law enforcement agencies are interacting with protesters.

“Lack of an answer does not make the US look good in the international community,” American Civil Liberties Union Director Jamil Dakwar tells Huffington Post.“The US should at a very minimum respond to a letter like this, and if they believe that law enforcement agencies operated under legal, constitutional authority and there were no problems, then they should explain that and present that” before the Human Rights Council.

Another UN investigator has called on Washington to provide justification for the increasingly widespread use of military drones to carry out targeted killings. He says drone attacks, which take innocent civilian lives, may be violating international law.

In a rare public comment on drone strikes, President Obama told an online town hall in January that the drones had not caused “a huge number of civilian casualties.”

A group of Taliban insurgents reportedly entered a house in a village in Logar Province, south of Kabul, where a wedding ceremony either was or would be in progress.  American and Afghan forces surrounded the house, where 18 members of a single extended family had gathered for the celebration.  When firing broke out (or a grenade was thrown) and both U.S. and Afghan troops were reportedly wounded, they did indeed call in a jet, which dropped a 500-pound bomb, obliterating the residence and everyone inside, including up to nine children.

This was neither an unheard of mistake, nor an aberration in America’s Afghan War.  In late December 2001, according to reports, a B-52 and two B-1B bombers, using precision-guided weapons, wiped out 110 out of 112 wedding revelers in a small Afghan village.  Over the decade-plus that followed, American air power, piloted and drone, has been wiping out Afghans (Pakistanis and, until relatively recently, Iraqis) in a similar fashion — usually in or near their homes, sometimes in striking numbers, always on the assumption that there are bad guys among them.

For more than a decade, incident after incident, any one of which, in the U.S., would have shaken Americans to their core, led to “investigations” that went nowhere, punishments to no one, rare apologies, and on occasion, the offering of modest “solatium” payments to grieving survivors and relatives.  For such events, of course, 24/7 coverage, like future memorials, was out of the question.

By now, Afghans (and Pakistanis in tribal areas across the border) surely know the rules of the road of the American war: there is no sanctity in public or private rites.  While funerals havebeen hit repeatedly and at least one baby-naming ceremony was taken out as well, weddings have been the rites of choice for obliteration for reasons the U.S. Air Force has, as far as we know, never taken a moment to consider, no less explain.  This website counted five weddingsblown away (one in Iraq and four in Afghanistan) by mid-2008, and another from that year not reported until 2009.

You might almost think that our wars on the Eurasian continent had been launched as an assault on “family values.”

This is resulting in disintegrating relations with Pakistan (thanks, in part, to its unwillingness to offer an apology for cross-border U.S. air strikes that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers last November); perhaps because the list of recent U.S. blunders and disasters in Afghanistan has grown long and painful — the urinating on bodies of dead enemies, the killing of civilians “for sport,” the burning of Korans, the slaughter of 16 innocent villagers by one American soldier, the rise of green-on-blue violence

But the administration’s own claims been inconsistent.

Propublica collected claims by the administration about deaths from drone strikes in Pakistan and compared each one not to local reports but rather to other administration claims, analysis shows that the administration’s own figures quoted over the years raise questions about their credibility

There have been 307 American drone strikes in Pakistan since 2004, according to a New America Foundationcount. Just 44 occurred during the Bush administration. President Obama has greatly expanded the use of drones to attack suspected members of Al Qaeda, the Pakistani Taliban, and other groups in Pakistan’s remote northwest region.

Obama officials generally do not comment by name on the drone strikes in Pakistan, but they frequently talk about it to reporters (including us) on condition of anonymity. Often those anonymously sourced comments have come in response to outside tallies of civilian deaths from drone attacks, which are generally much higher than the administration’s own figures.

* April 26, 2010 The Washington Post quotes an “internal CIA accounting” saying that “just over 20 civilians” have been killed by drones in Pakistan since January 2009.

* September 10, 2010 Newsweek quotes a government estimate that “about 30” civilians were killed since the beginning of 2008.

* April 22, 2011 McClatchy reports that U.S. officials claim “about 30” civilians died in the year between August 2009 and August 2010.

* Aug. 11, 2011 The New York Times reports that CIA officers claim zero civilians were killed since May 2010

* Aug. 12, 2011 CNN quoted a U.S. official saying there were 50 civilians killed over the years in drone strikes in Pakistan.

According to this set of claims more civilians died in just 44 strikes under Bush than did in 222 strikes under Obama.

* May 29, 2012 The New York Times reports that, according to a senior Obama administration official, the number of civilians killed in drone strikes in Pakistan under president Obama is in the “single digits.”

A count by Bill Roggio, editor of the website the Long War Journal, which bases its estimates on news reports, puts the number of civilian killed in Pakistan at 138. The New America Foundation estimates that, based on press reports, between 293 and 471 civilians have been killed in the attacks. The London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which draws on a wider array of sources including researchers and lawyers in Pakistan, puts the number of civilians killed at between 482 and 832. The authors of the various estimates all emphasize that their counts are imperfect.

The attacks are executed remotely in often inaccessible regions. And there’s the question of who U.S. officials are counting as civilians. A story last month in the New York Times reported that President Obama adopted a policy that “in effect counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants.”

But we might not ever get to know what our government is doing in our name, unless brave whistleblowers, hackers, or leakers expose war crimes. Government censorship is on the rise — and not just in the countries you would expect, according to Google.

The search giant said that between July and December 2011, it received more than 1,000 requests from governments around the globe to remove content or turn over information about its users. It complied with over half those cases, which are detailed in its twice a year Global Transparency Report released on Sunday.

“Unfortunately, what we’ve seen over the past couple years has been troubling, and today is no different,” Dorothy Chou, a Google senior policy analyst, wrote in a blog post. “When we started releasing this data, in 2010, we noticed that government agencies from different countries would sometimes ask us to remove political content that our users had posted on our services. We hoped this was an aberration. But now we know it’s not.”

In the last half of 2011, Google said it received 467 court orders for the removal of more than 7,000 items. It complied with an average of 65 percent of those orders. It also received more than 561 informal requests to remove more than 4,979 items. It complied with 47 percent of those cases. These numbers do not reflect censorship in countries like Iran and China, which routinely censor content from Google without notifying the company.

Google said it was alarmed by the number of government requests to censor political speech, particularly from Western democracies like the United States, Spain and Poland. Google said it received a request from Canada’s passport-issuing agency to take down a YouTube video of one of its citizens urinating on his passport and flushing it down a toilet. (It did not.)

The company received more requests for user data from United States authorities than it did from any other country. The number of user removal requests from American authorities jumped 70 percent from the first to the second half of last year. Google received 6,321 requests to turn over information about users from American authorities, though that figure also includes requests from United States government on behalf of other governments with which it has diplomatic agreements. Its compliance rate in those cases — 93 percent — was higher than its compliance rate for any other country.

It said it did not comply in one case where a local law enforcement agency asked it to remove YouTube videos it said showed police brutality.

Airports in Canada are being wired with cameras and microphones to eavesdrop on travelers’ conversations, while the United Kingdom is proposing a mega-archive of citizens’ internet activity, phone calls, mail, and messaging.

Here in the U.S., the House Judiciary Committee committee on Tuesday reauthorized broad electronic eavesdropping powers that largely legalized the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program. They voted 23-11 to reauthorize the FISA Amendments Act. The legislation, expiring at year’s end, authorizes the government to electronically eavesdrop on Americans’ phone calls and emails without a probable-cause warrant so long as one of the parties to the communication is outside the United States. The communications may be intercepted “to acquire foreign intelligence information.”

The surveillance experts at the National Security Agency won’t tell two civil libertarian United States Senators (Ron Wyden and Mark Udall) how many Americans have had their communications picked up by the agency as part of its sweeping new counterterrorism powers. The reason: it would violate your privacy to say so.

The query bounced around the intelligence bureaucracy until it reached Charles McCullough, the Inspector General of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the nominal head of the 16 U.S. spy agencies. In a letter acquired by WIRED’s Danger Room, McCullough told the senators that the NSA inspector general “and NSA leadership agreed that an IG review of the sort suggested would itself violate the privacy of U.S. persons,” McCullough wrote.

“All that Senator Udall and I are asking for is a ballpark estimate of how many Americans have been monitored under this law, and it is disappointing that the Inspectors General cannot provide it,” Wyden told Danger Room on Monday. “If no one will even estimate how many Americans have had their communications collected under this law then it is all the more important that Congress act to close the ‘back door searches’ loophole, to keep the government from searching for Americans’ phone calls and emails without a warrant.”

But even the UN, who has otherwise seemed like the heroes this week, will convene in Dubai for a summit to remake the Internet, and not necessarily for the better, with some nations offering up new proposals that could give the U.N. the ability to intervene in cybersecurity issues, Internet taxation and content filtering.

Online freedom advocates are calling such proposals “troubling,” at best, arguing that the Internet would not benefit from increased intervention from the U.N. agency in charge of the summit, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU).

“These proposals show that many ITU member states want to use international agreements to regulate the Internet by crowding out bottom-up institutions, imposing charges for international communication, and controlling the content that consumers can access online,” wrote Eli Dourado, a research fellow at theGeorge Mason University Mercatus Center, in a blog post on Technology Liberation Front on Friday.

The U.N. summit, called the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT-12), is being held to update a treaty the countries agreed to back in 1988, before the mass adoption of the commercial Internet, cable television and wireless networking.

And recent polling data suggests that gradual acceptance of the facts may not be the trend when it comes to the theory of evolution. In the 30 years since Gallup started asking people whether they believe humans evolved, evolved under the guidance of God, or were created fully formed by God, the percentage of people adhering to the creationist view has actually gone up slightly over time, and now stands at 46 percent of the population. This is just the tip of the iceberg of a growing problem of public rejection of science.

At the same time, there’s been a steady rise in people who believe that humanity evolved without any supernatural guidance, and now stands at 15 percent. What this seeming conflict suggests is that the issue is getting more polarized, as people feel they either have to pick Team Evolution or Team Creationism.

As Chris Mooney argues in his book The Republican Brain, political identity generally trumps sober-minded assessment of the facts when it comes to convincing people of an argument or idea. The theory of evolution isn’t being rejected on its merits by the people who don’t buy it. It really can’t be by someone who is honestly assessing the evidence.

According to a study published in American Sociological Review, since 1974, conservative trust in science has been in a free-fall, declining 25 percent. In 1974, conservatives were the most pro-science group, higher than liberals and moderates. Now they’re the least pro-science group of all, with liberals showing the most trust in science.

In the short period between 2010 and 2012, the percentage of conservatives who accept global warming declined from half of conservatives to only 30 percent of them. That doesn’t reflect any kind of major shift in the evidence or the arguments around global warming–the scientific consensus that warming is happening and human-made has only solidified in the past couple of decades–so much as the strengthened perception that conservatism and believing in global warming are mutually exclusive.

But global warming doesn’t have to be anti-capitalist! Evolution doesn’t have to be atheistic!

Participants who were told about climate action’s effects on interpersonal warmth or societal development were more likely to report pro-environmental intentions than those told about the health risks of climate inaction.

As PZ Myers argued, the poor public education in science means that a shrinking portion of the American public is going into careers in science. Americans from working class backgrounds who go into these careers are far more likely to use their education and career contacts to return to their communities and improve the economic and health conditions back home. But with these declining numbers of American scientists, that possibility is being shut down.

Polls and surveys, like this one from Pew or this one from the Center for American Progress, have helped paint a picture of the Millennials, Americans born between 1982 and 2000. They’re the most ethnically diverse generation in American history: just under 60% are white, a record low. They’re also one of the most politically progressive generations in decades: they voted for Barack Obama over John McCain by a 2-to-1 margin and opposed the Iraq war by 77% to 21%. They’re disinclined to prolong the culture wars: for the most part, they’re comfortable with gay marriage, immigration, racial and gender equality. They tend to marry later in life, to be highly educated,politically engaged and technologically savvy, and to place a high value on leisure and civic engagement. And most important of all for this post: they’re the least religious generation of Americans ever.

Millennials are also less likely to report that they pray daily, to regularly attend religious services, or to describe their religious commitment as “strong”. Just 40% of them say religion is “very important” in their lives, and only 27% believe the Bible is the literal word of a god, both record lows. And as Jerry Coyne points out, while most older generations’ belief in God has stayed steady throughout the course of their lives, the Millennials are apparently getting less religious as they get older, something that’s unprecedented in American history. As The Week says, “Only 67 percent of Americans under 30 say they ‘never doubt the existence of God.’ That’s down from 76 percent in 2009 and 83 percent in 2007 — a 15 percentage point drop in just five years.”

There are nearly 78 million Millennials, as opposed to just 76 million Boomers. By 2020, the Millennials will represent almost 40% of all American voters.

Will the globalizing (if not necessarily democratizing) spirituality of the internet bring about world peace? A “bottom-up” democracy inspired by a piracy culture that hates pop culture? A technological renaissance where the User is seen as the all-important voter, the reproductive organs of technology, and the progressive, critical-thinking SPAM filter for future generations?

There are some mighty imposing obstacles to overcome, and it’s not my place to speculate.

Stranger in a Strange Land 2012-06-23: Illegal Speculation by The Stranger on Mixcloud

~The Stranger
thestranger@earthling.net

Evolution not eradication!

I think I believe the political things I do now due to critical thinking and reading about science.

Reading about science will make you a humanist, as you can deeply bathe alone in the beauty of the vastness of discovery in all that exists, and possess empathy for each and every other living human’s worst trials and tribulations.

Reading about science will make you an environmentalist, both as a survival mechanism for our species, and from an appreciation in the appropriately evolved brain regions of the vision of light wave-particles representing a fragile but physical ecosystem.

Reading about science will make you a progressive, recognizing the routine obstacles and opportune advancements available to the flourishing young species, in an optimistic attempt to evolve into something greater.

Reading about science will make you pro-LGBTQ rights, when you begin to understand that human sexuality (as no different than all other observed species on the planet) is a spectrum of varying degrees of brain states and natural physiology.

There are things, however, for which I seemingly fight against the science. Large proportions of our numbers prefer to stay the course, observe the status quo, reap the benefits of our exploitation, and feed.

I believe in liberty. I believe in freedom. I believe in the individual rights of every variety up to but not including those that affect the individual rights of others. If you do infringe on the civil rights of another (as a rapist or murderer or thief or kidnapper or corporate plunderer or embezzler or bribe-accepting crooked policy-maker), then you should be given the fairest trial imaginable and if still found guilty, be punished in accordance to the pain or suffering of the offended individual, and no more. The only exception to this is in cases where the offender represents a future threat, in which case the individual should simply be sequestered from society. The purpose of government is a facilitation of services, regulations, insurances and social contracts that are agreed upon by the members of that society. The purpose of government is not control, it is arbitration. The system of laws and penalties are the results of findings in legal precedent in deciding what benefits our species and its environment best.

With creative thought and personal liberties threatened by corporate fraud, legalized systems of corruption, political bribery, systemized oppression, censorship, violations of privacy, involuntary compulsion to self-testify, indefinite detainment, racial profiling and discrimination, indoctrinated economic inequities, endangerment by unnecessary yet catastrophic war, and even sanctioned assassination, it is difficult to imagine a flourishing of the spontaneous, imaginative, inventive, adaptable, risk-taking, persistently change-making mutants attempting to evolve our species. We call them geniuses because they’re only incrementally affecting the gene pool towards a new classification, but they’re there.

The needs of the many do outweigh the needs of the few (Winston Churchill, so I’m told, and not Mr. Spock), and when we allow the sapenice to be put back in Sapens, many of these questions seem so very simple and obvious. Especially with the realization that our own government is causing so much of it. Stop. Just stop. Don’t even look back. Stop proliferating violence and military entanglements around the world. Stop oppressing the underprivileged and underserved. Stop not only ignoring the crimes of a certain class, but routinely bailing them out at the expense of others. Stop infringing on the rights of the people that make up your country, both in word and in deed. Stop destroying the ecosystem we inhabit, if we intend to continue living here for a while longer. Put the brakes on. Freeze. Halt. Stop.

No, I’m not a civil libertarian because I’m a good member of the species, simply eating away in the ways we are told best suit our present state. I am a civil libertarian because I believe in the mutants. I believe that the outliers, given the freedom for growth, will make us all incrementally better, and not just greater.

But perhaps we needs to follow a natural progression of Homo Sapiens, Homo Dominus, Homo Maximus, Homo Awesomus, and finally Homo Hubris.

 

Being for the Benefit of Mr. ____

There are (hay) 6.93 billion people on the planet, how many of them can you say you have known? Does your facebook friend count break 300? 1,000? Combine it with your old myspace or friendster and discount the duplicates. Your high school yearbook. Consider all the names you heard on the announcements in high school that might still pop up in your memory from time to time. Whether you live in the city or country, but especially if you work in retail, food or any other customer service industry, consider for a moment the number of beings you have personally interacted with. Even on vacation in distant lands at each stage of your life cycle (not to be confused with light cycle). What could that number possibly be? 10,000? Ridiculously low. 50,000? 1,000,000? 80,000,000? How many have you met, conversed briefly, irrevocably altered the course of their life in some minuscule way, or simply seen in a crowd? How many other humans in your lifetime will you come into contact with?

And yet, if we were to include all the imaginary, supposed, or fictional people whom we are aware of, that number would inflate, mayhaps even double (?!)

Imaginary peoples are not just for children and paranoiacs, though these are the clearest examples of actual interaction and acting for the benefit of invisible men. Actors and writers create imaginary people every day, and in fact you may know more about the personal habits, secret origins, likes and dislikes, relationship histories, etc. of these figures than many of your close-ish acquaintances, and certainly more than those casual encounters (not to be confused with the until-recently seedy portion of craigslist). We actually feel deep emotion for these imaginary characters.

People fantasize about their perfect mate(s), though there are millions of capable, willing, and virile possibilities that may be foolishly passed over for not being this ridiculously idealized imaginary one(s). How about the idealized person you ascribe to an actual person, only to realize later that they do not measure up. Do the two different versions count as two different beings in the compartmentalized recesses of your memory?

I cannot even count the number of people I have met in dreamtime who I never have or will meet in pathetic waking life. Beautiful women, disturbing monstrosities, and heroic allies, all of them distinct and memorable, all of them thoroughly nonexistent.

Children believe in Santa Claus, leaving food for him and awaiting with fervent glee his annual arrival, something that parents actively encourage, though fully aware of the con.

And Ockham’s Razor be damned, all things being equal, I much prefer to live in a world with Bigfoot than without.

And what about the impersonal people we are aware definitely exist, but may as well be invisible for all we know? The smoke-and-mirror show that surrounds us when we hear unknown neighbors arguing, a man clear his throat down on the street, the familiar jingle of keys in the door as we inquisitively attempt to guess their owner? You know about the people in your town, your state, your nation, your world. Many of them appear on television, senators, comedians, lawyers, used car salesmen, news anchors, local characters. This is but a fraction of the inhabitants of the vast heavenly sphere we call our home. Our ‘neighbors’ include the Koreans, the Malaysians, the Irish, the Tasmanians, and sometimes even the Dutch. But aside from those very few you may have run into, unless you have been to all of those places they are strangers to you, no different than the fictional inhabitants of Oz, Cimmeria, Middle Earth, or Ooo, any of which you may know more about. We take it on faith that the Japanese exist, much the same way that a child takes it on faith that Santa exists, or the Christian supposes Jesus. Who is to say who is right and who is wrong?

And HOW real are some of these people anyway? I refer, of course, to Matthew Lesko. I myself have constructed quite a mix of real and fictional personal history, intermingled on the internet for any curious onlooker to attempt parsing.

And with this newfangled inner nets (not to be confused with inner tubes), faceless masses no longer simply ride the same bus as you, they watch the same videos you do, violently argue with you, like your comments, have mutual friends, check in at the same places, and tweet about the same revolutions. Surely they must all exist, this is no Truman Show lie. But the anonymity that protects them also alienates them not only from physical human connection with you, but also in some small way from the conceptual acceptance in your mind that they are indeed physical beings. Can there be any doubt? But what if you are talking to a bot or mailer-dæmon? Who has the time to administer a Turing test to each and every digital invisible person you come across? Also, its socially gauche!

As I said, we do things for the benefit of these invisible peeps. We knock on a bathroom door for the potential invisible person that may be inside, lest we find ourselves in a temporary mildly embarrassing situation (not everyone does this, those of us on the receiving end sometime disastrously discover). Writers not only create fictional people, (and sometimes multiple continuities of them), but write for an audience of imaginary people they may never see, who are enjoying the exploits of their fictional heroes, often without ever knowing or acknowledging the actual writer’s name or efforts.

I wonder (aloud in case it matters) if anyone will ever read this blog post. Or if when I look back at the number of page views, if perhaps they all aren’t just myself looking back at them wondering.

With so many people on the planet and growing, how can our overwhelmed and overworked minds manage to keep track of so many non-persons? Why do we do it? Would you bother to stop if you found out how?