Tag Archives: technology

The Future

future

This week, aaron.Jacob and I look to the future of hoverbikes, robots, augmented reality and bio-hacking. Forecasts and predictions exceed our wildest imaginings, but will they prove realistic or surrealistic?

Try not to get too future shocked as we set the dial on our experimental time machine and hope for the best… tomorrow!

PLAYLIST
In The Hall Of The Mountain King (Terramix) – terraon
Future Shock – Curtis Mayfield
“The Daleks” (Serial B): TARDIS Computer – Brian Hodgson
Past Present and Future – Demon Fuzz
Tank! (TV Edit) – Seatbelts
Robot Parade – They Might Be Giants
2014 – The Unicorns
Idioteque – Radiohead
Violent – The Faint
Remember The Future (part 1-2) – Nektar
Buffalo Stance – Need New Body
In The Bio Burbs – PASSAGE
Energy Traffic – The Mole
We Are the Future – Non Phixion
Virus – Deltron
Seventeen Years – RATATAT
Friends 4 Ever – Girl Talk
IBM MT/ST The Paperwork Explosion (instr.) – Scott, Raymond
Uske Orchestra – Pel-Pun
Polka Electronic Death Country (Otto Von Schirrach remix) – Mochipet
Laser Eyes Clip – Sifl & Olly
Cyborg Control – Man Or Astroman
Look Back And Laugh – Minor Threat
Jetson’s Theme – Man… or Astroman?
The Future – Leonard Cohen

Stranger in a Strange Land 2013-02-23: The Future by The Stranger on Mixcloud

In the not-too distant future, political scientists have reason to suspect what the major issues of the next few years will be. Climate, Drones and Terrorists, Pentagon Spending, Agriculture/Energy, and Campaign Finance Reform.

This all seems a little optimistic to me. But as we’ll soon see, these wonks aren’t the only big dreamers.

The World Futurist Society has released their forecasts, and they are impressively grand. Some seem inevitable, others outlandish, but all of them progressively more challenging, and some beneficial, to mankind.

  1. Electric cars powered by fuel cells earn extra cash for their owners
  2. Open-source robot blueprints cut the cost of robots by 90%
  3. Smart phones help spur political reform in Africa
  4. The world’s oceans may face “mass extinction event” by 2050
  5. The “cloud” will become more intelligent, not just a place to store data
  6. 3-D Printing Revolutionizes manufacturing
  7. India may eclipse China in population and innovation by 2028
  8. Robots may become gentler caregivers in the next 10 years
  9. A revolution in smart materials creates a new energy boom

Idealistic indeed, as those of us who see their gadgets more as personal adversaries than helpful widgets.

“Technology that promises to remove small annoyances of one kind introduces small annoyances of another.” ~Pamela Haag

But there is the tendency to hope for the Best of All Possible Worlds,
in science-fiction, in science fact, and in augmenting our very reality. Soon people will be able to purchase Google Glass and make immediate (if superficial) improvements in their worldview. It gives new meaning to the concept of ‘rose-colored glasses’. I personally can’t wait for Super Saiyan mode, They Live mode, and Cyclops mode.

But the fact of the matter is, you can’t predict how new technologies will change the world until they become part of the commoner’s usage.

Tim Maughan argues in a fascinating new interview about augmented reality with the Huffington Post:

Technology becomes the most effective — and thus potentially the most damaging— when it passes that novelty stage and becomes mundane and commonplace. The way smartphones have radically changed the way we lead our daily lives is perhaps the most recent example. It’s been an incredibly short six years from revolutionary product launch to utterly mundane ubiquity.

And few of us have had time to pause and think about the effect it has had on us, either as individuals or society. When it comes to judging how technology effects us there’s an understandable tendency to look at the bleeding edge, at first adopters and hackers, those that take the plunge and dive in. I think it’s a tendency in part by academics and journalists to want to be seen as ‘cool-hunters’, finding the latest trends and speculating about what they could develop into.

The truth is until it becomes commonplace and in the hands of a massive range of people we can’t tell how it will be used. I don’t want to bruise anyone’s geek-pride here (okay, maybe I do a little) but being an early adopter only makes you special for a short while, and on your own you’re not going to make any paradigm shifts. By definition you need everyone else with you to do that.

Many people just don’t know what to do with the future transforming reality around them. It makes them uneasy, even panicked; Future-Shocked. And others worry that the technocratic digerati will forge ahead, leaving other classes behind; an ageless human problem for every era, none better than the rest.


Can Futurists even make a difference? Does science-fiction and those rosy-eyed optimists benefit the scientists in hot pursuit of tomorrow? Do they create a Utopian vision for which we aim? Or can they do more damage than good? Or are we all just way off the mark?

Stranger in a Strange Land 2013-02-23: The Future by The Stranger on Mixcloud

~The Stranger
thestranger@earthling.net

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Digital Culture Killed My Dog

anonymous-16114-400x250This week, aaronJacob and I examine the state of the digital world, wondering whether our state of technological growth is a good thing or a bad thing, much the same, or if that growth is perhaps a little overstated. Is it making us mentally unstable? Does it help us escape or confirm our biases? Does new technology annihilate old modalities? We’ll spend our electronically-scored time delving into as many aspects of our collective computer culture and online ouvre as we can in two hours, everything from viral videomemes and remix art to pitched copyright battles and very real cyberwars, piracy and hacktivism to censorship and surveillance. Not to mention the insidious, darkest corners of the web; conspiracy, violence, cyberbullies, trolls,  and even hauntings.

Stranger in a Strange Land 2013-01-19: Digital Culture Killed My Dog by The Stranger on Mixcloud

PLAYLIST
In the Hall of the Mountain King – Galaxee Trance
Katamari on the Swing – We Love Katamari Soundtrack
my favorite james taylor song – (8BitPeoples) yuppster
Hard Reset – Eats Tapes
Gimme the Mermaid – Negativland
Circumlocution – The Quiet American
Human After All (Alter Ego Remix) – Daft Punk
Scratch Bass – Lamb
Slow This Bird Down – Boards Of Canada
Verbal (Prefuse 73 Dipped Escalade mix) – Amon Tobin
Roboshuffle – Kid Koala
Spread Teamer – Yip-Yip
Super Mario Bros. Dirty Mix OC ReMix – A Scholar & A Physician
Spy vs Spy II (Drunk n’ Basement Mix) – 8-Bit Weapon
Lavender Town – Pokemon
Clocktown Backwards – Majora’s Mask
Wood Man Theme – Mega Man 2
Town (Day) – Castlevania 2
Hydrocity Zone Act 1 – Sonic the Hedgehog 3
no more memory – cyriak
Return of the God – Dreadnots
A Huge Ever Growing Pulsating Brain That Rules From The Centre Of The Ultraworld – The Orb
CHange FRom ONe FOrm TO ANother – The Royal You
Upgrade (A Brymar College Course) – Deltron
Sattellite Surfer – F/i

January 18 marks an online holiday: Internet Freedom Day, or#InternetFreedomDay. The day a massive online protest successfully defeated the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the PROTECT-IP Act (PIPA). But as the EFF points out, we must remain ever-vigilant against such threats:

  • Stop the Trans Pacific Partnership
  • Demand Patent Reform
  • Reform Draconian Computer Crime Law
  • Protect Cell Phone Location Data
  • Stop new Internet Surveillance Laws

We recognize the value of fair use when artists are free to express their creative, political and social statements by repurposing and remixing such classics:

Whatever new aesthetic form our digital art takes, such as data moshing or augmented reality. Heck, there is even value to preserving the nature of piracy in some regard.

So while our leaders are trying to convince us that foreign entities and idealistic individuals are to blame for the viruses and espionage around the globe, but in reality our own massively overpowered governments are spying and prying into our personal affairs, unleashing damage and persecuting the free every day.

In response to a FOIA request, the FBI sent the ACLU of empty and redacted pages (PDF), providing zero insight into what this policy actually is. The FBI says that information is “private (privileged) and confidential.”

“The Justice Department’s unfortunate decision leaves Americans with no clear understanding of when we will be subjected to tracking—possibly for months at a time—or whether the government will first get a warrant” ~Catherine Crump, an ACLU staff attorney

All this while human rights monitors document the rise in surveillance and censorship technology being exported from America to other (arguably) more repressive nations.

Human rights monitors have documented the use of US-manufactured Internet surveillance and censorship gear in 21 countries, some with checkered human rights policies such as Syria, China, and Saudi Arabia. Afghanistan, Bahrain, China, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Kenya, Kuwait, Lebanon, Malaysia, Nigeria, Qatar, Russia, South Korea, Singapore, Thailand, Turkey, and Venezuela. Egypt, Kuwait, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates. The technology isn’t subject to US State Department export restrictions except to countries such as Syria, Iran, and North Korea (all on an embargo list).

So while we idly worry about threats to our online privacy, diligent crusaders and information liberators are actively targeted by government prosecutors.

Reddit co-founder and internet freedom activist Aaron Swartz tragically committed suicide on January 11, 2013. He had been arrested and charged back in 2009 for having downloaded a massive cache of documents from JSTOR., and was facing up to 13 felony counts, 50 years in prison, and millions of dollars in fines. MIT and JSTOR had already settled over the ‘Terms of Use’ breach, but prosecutors only dropped the charges after his death.

Prosecutors allege that Swartz downloaded the articles because he intended to distribute them for free online, though Swartz was arrested before any articles were made public. He had often spoken publicly about the importance of making academic research freely available. His actions were criminalized under the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), an act was designed to prosecute hackers.

JSTOR did acknowledge it was “deeply saddened” by the Swartz tragedy.

“The case is one that we ourselves had regretted being drawn into from the outset, since JSTOR’s mission is to foster widespread access to the world’s body of scholarly knowledge,” the organization wrote in an unsigned, undated statement. “At the same time, as one of the largest archives of scholarly literature in the world, we must be careful stewards of the information entrusted to us by the owners and creators of that content. To that end, Aaron returned the data he had in his possession and JSTOR settled any civil claims we might have had against him in June 2011.”

Law professor Lawrence Lessig, a friend and mentor to Swartz, wrote a post called “Prosecutor as Bully”:

The question this government needs to answer is why it was so necessary that Aaron Swartz be labeled a “felon.” For in the 18 months of negotiations, that was what he was not willing to accept, and so that was the reason he was facing a million dollar trial in April — his wealth bled dry, yet unable to appeal openly to us for the financial help he needed to fund his defense, at least without risking the ire of a district court judge. And so as wrong and misguided and fucking sad as this is, I get how the prospect of this fight, defenseless, made it make sense to this brilliant but troubled boy to end it.

Fifty years in jail, charges our government. Somehow, we need to get beyond the “I’m right so I’m right to nuke you” ethics that dominates our time. That begins with one word: Shame.

They don’t prosecute Wall Street for destroying the world’s economy, they don’t prosecute HSBC for laundering billions for the drug cartels and terrorists, and they don’t prosecute war criminals. But they’ll prosecute Aaron Swartz, Bradley Manning and other activists.

Some Senators are demanding answers:

Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) introducedAaron’s law,” which would reform the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act that was used to prosecute Swartz. Another member of the House Judiciary Committee, Darrell Issa (R-CA), said he wanted to investigate the actions of the US Attorney who authorized the prosecution, Carmen Ortiz of Massachusetts.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) sent a letter this morning to Attorney General Eric Holder, suggesting the case against Swartz may have been retaliation for prior investigations of Swartz, or his use of FOIA.

But US Attorney Carmen Ortiz released a statement defending her prosecution of Aaron Swartz, calling it an ‘appropriate handling of the case’, even though many are claiming that it may have prompted the 26-year-old’s suicide.

“At no time did this office ever seek – or ever tell Mr. Swartz’s attorneys that it intended to see – maximum penalties under the law,” Ortiz said. She claims she would have recommended that the judge offer a deal that came with six-month prison sentence in a low-security setting.

Elliot Peters, Swartz’s lawyer, said that prosecutors planned to argue for a seven to eight year prison sentence if their client had rejected the six-month offer.

So while Zoe Lofgren’s terrific changes are a good start, the EFF vowed to continue Aaron’s work and ‘attack‘ the obsolete, vague, and abused computer and communications laws:

EFF vows to continue his work to open up closed and entrenched systems that prevent ordinary people from having access to the world’s knowledge, especially the knowledge created with our tax dollars… to attack the computer crime laws that were so horribly misused in the prosecution of Aaron.

First, [to] ensure that when a user breaks a private contract like a terms of service or other contractual obligation or duty, the government can’t charge them criminally under the CFAA or wire fraud law—two statutes the Justice Department used against Aaron.

The second set of changes ensures that no criminal liability can attach to people who simply want to exercise their right to navigate online without wearing a digital nametag. It ensures that changing a device ID or IP address cannot by itself be the basis of a CFAA or wire fraud conviction.

Meanwhile, a group of online archivists released the “Aaron Swartz Memorial JSTOR Liberator.” The initiative is a JavaScript-based bookmarklet that lets Internet users “liberate” an article, already in the public domain, from the online academic archive JSTOR. This is in the hope that free knowledge can be taken from behind academic paywalls and put into the public domain, to liberate information and do to publishing what has already been done to other forms of media.

But as Swartz’s and other “hacktivist” cases demonstrate, you don’t necessarily have to be a hacker to be viewed as one under federal law. Are activists like Swartz committing civil disobedience, or online crimes?

  • Publishing Documents – Accessing and downloading documents from private servers or behind paywalls with the intent of making them publicly available.
  • Distributed Denial of Service  – Some web activists have pressed for DDoS to be legalized as a form of protest, claiming that disrupting web traffic by occupying a server is the same as clogging streets when staging a sit-in. A petition started on the White House’s “We the People” site a few days before Swartz’s death has garnered more than 5,000 signatures.

“Distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) is not any form of hacking in any way. It is the equivalent of repeatedly hitting the refresh button on a webpage. It is, in that way, no different than any ‘occupy’ protest.”

  • Doxing – Doxing involves finding and publishing a target’s personal or corporate information.
  • Website Defacement

As we’ve seen, hackers can be a lot more benefit than harm, and the internet, if it is to be the most democratizing system on the planet, must allow for radical transparency of information. Even if you disagree with much of it, or find the bulk of it stupid or offensive. Reactionary censorship and oppression are never righteous, or even permanently effective, solutions.

Stranger in a Strange Land 2013-01-19: Digital Culture Killed My Dog by The Stranger on Mixcloud

~The Stranger
thestranger@earthling.net

“whether we know it or not, all of us are being influenced by the net. The machines have changed everything in our lives. As you know, if you use the internet, there is a tremendous evil available at your fingertips. Do not- DO NOT allow the machines to take control over your lives. Don’t do that.”

~Bill O’Reilly

“the Internet is not something that you just dump something on. It’s not a big truck. It’s a series of tubes.”

~Ted Stevens

Smart Guns Don’t Kill People

This article originally appeared on Disinfo.com

Technologist and New York Times columnist Nick Bilton explores the development of ‘smart guns‘ designed only to work with the owner’s grip or palmprint. These biometric devices are not entirely new, but are still unable to make it into the marketplace. Smart gun tech may have appeased the most idealogical contenders of either side of the debate on Sandy Hook and other gun massacres: they would not have prevented the killers from being able to use any of the firearms in question, but allowed the original owners to keep them without any infringement of their rights.

Nick Bilton via the NYT’s Bits Blog:

For example, the iGun, made by Mossberg Group, cannot be fired unless its owner is wearing a ring with a chip that activates the gun.

But you would be hard pressed to find this technology on many weapons sold in stores. “The gun industry has no interest in making smart-guns. There is no incentive for them,” said Robert J. Spitzer, a professor of political science at SUNY Cortland and the author of four books on gun policy. “There is also no appetite by the government to press ahead with any kind of regulation requiring smart-guns. These safety options exist today.”

But gun advocates are staunchly against these technologies, partly because so many guns are bought not in gun shops, but in private sales. “Many guns are bought and sold on the secondary market without background checks, and that kind of sale would be inhibited with fingerprinting-safety technologies in guns,” he said.

I called several major gun makers and the National Rifle Association. No one thinks a smart-gun will stop a determined killer. But I thought Smith & Wesson and Remington, for instance, would want to discuss how technology might help reduce accidental shootings, which killed 600 people and injured more than 14,000 in the United States in 2010. The gunmakers did not respond, and neither did the N.R.A.

A Wired magazine article from 2002 gives a glimpse of the N.R.A.’s thinking. “Mere mention of ‘smart-gun’ technology elicited sneers and snickers faster than a speeding bullet,” the magazine wrote. It quoted the N.R.A.’s executive vice president, Wayne LaPierre, as saying, “Tragic victims couldn’t have been saved by trigger locks or magazine bans or ‘smart-gun’ technology, or some new government commission running our firearms companies.”

TriggerSmart, an Irish company, has patented a childproof smart-gun. One feature is a “safe zone” that can be installed in schools and acts as a force field, disabling any TriggerSmart gun that enters a designated area. Robert McNamara, the company’s founder, has been trying to persuade gun makers to adopt the technology. He isn’t having much luck. “One gun manufacturer told us if we put this technology in one particular gun and some kid gets shot with another gun, then they will have to put them in all guns,” he said.

“We believe we could have helped prevent the Newtown massacre.”

You’ll notice how quickly the NRA equates reasonable proposals like smart gun technology with outright bans and government seizure. The impediments reveal the true, insidious nature of despicable groups like the NRA, who don’t care about human beings unless they have a large pocketbook. They don’t lobby for gun owners, but for large gun manufacturers; gun owners are the window dressing, support for them is incidental, tertiary, and superficial.

This is not the sole solution in a)the rampant problem with hundreds of thousands of unregistered guns, b)the irresponsibility of gun policy in this country, which can be well-regulated without violation of rights, or c)search of a problem, depending on your stance. Obviously ‘smart guns’ would not do anything about illegal guns or second sale or heirloom firearms, which account for a large percentage of sales and crime. This is the problem with most of the proposed legislation and ‘fixes’ from the left; they disproportionately affect responsible gun owners and not criminal use of guns.

Wayne LaPierre, no better than Diane Feinstein, used the tragedy as a pulpit to distract towards everything else besides his own moneyed lobby. It was the culture. It was vidyuh games (thanks, Jack Thompson). It wasHollywood. It was Jon Stewart. It was *as always* the atheists and gays. It was those damn mentally infirm. Hold! For a moment, my heart skipped a beat, would the NRA take an official and humanitarian position on our crumbling mental health care infrastructure? Would they promise millions in direly needed aid to prevent tragedies wrought by unfortunately afflicted people (and not their guns)? No, of course, the NRA’s position is that the mentally unfit should be registered, locked down, locked up, controlled, banned, pushed, filed,stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed or numbered. So the people themselves can be infringed upon and violated, but a material possession like guns cannot? Riiiight.

They are unforgivable hypocrites at best, and monstrous profiteers at worst; they have done their part to arm the mentally illAnd in 2007, the NRA fought to allow suspected terrorists of having guns.

My eyes began to glaze over and drool formed around the zombified corners of my mouths as gun advocates praised ideas like putting more guns in schools, more armed guards in our police state children’s vicinity, arm the teachers and principals, FUCK IT, ARM THE KIDS THEMSELVES! None of this makes any goddamned sense, of course, when we look at instances of armed people (including cops) who make shootings even worse by playing hero and spraying more bullets in our combat zones public spaces, often getting themselves and others injured or killed.

And while I don’t believe that there is any NWO scheme to take the guns out of our cold dead hands, I do think that Democrats view it as an easy P.R. win. Another insincere and empty gesture, fully knowing that the final legislation will be watered down, ineffective, meaningless and probably contain a few provisions for special interests and corporations. It might even contain a payout for the NRA, if they play their cards right. Whatever bill is passed will expire or be struck down a few years later, and the whole dance can begin again. The whole hysteria, you’ll notice, is great for gun sales.

Neither LaPierre, Feinstein, nor any other mainstream pundit is proposing any combination of rational and evidence-based approaches to guns or mental health. Even Obama’s statements about making mental health care more easily accessible were lacking any resolution, detail or conviction. They are all knee-jerk reactions based on ideological bias and false, dystopic views of how the world really works.

As FactCheck.org points out, it is a complicated issue with seemingly contradictory statistics and no clear answers. There is academic disagreement and dubious causation for what is happening in America, where gun manufacturing and sales are up, but violent crime and crimes committed with guns are down. However, “non-fatal gun injuries from assaults increased last year for the third straight year“, so there are other factors. We don’t know if there are more gun owners, or more of the same people buying more guns. And still the maniacal massacres continue. Include suicides in the number of gun deaths, and the whole story changes. Gun deaths may outstrip falling rates of automobile deaths by 2015.

I’m not an advocate for any sort of ban at this point, but conflating handguns to assault rifles is like apples to oranges. Or comparing guns to fists and hammers. Or small businesses to multinational corporations. Or fracking done in the 50′s to fracking done today. Ad nauseam. It’s absurd. Guns still account for over double all other murder weapons in the US combined.

I’m sure to ruffle feathers on both sides of the aisle whenever I talk about guns, but I just don’t see the problem with treating them like automobiles. Responsible people register them, irresponsible people don’t. If you want to keep it in your garage and not use it, don’t register it and don’t take it out. If you want to take it out and not pay a hefty fine or punishment, then register it. They only get banned when they get used irresponsibly.

So guns don’t kill people. Smart guns don’t kill people. Sane and insane people use guns to kill lots of people (more people than other weapons can in a single shot), including themselves. And those in power each have vested interests in not being reasonable.

Perhaps the best coverage of the shootings in 2012 was summed up in The Onion’s headline: Fuck Everything.

Mad Props

A huge portion of Manhattan is still without power or water, especially affecting the elderly. Water contamination becomes a concern. Public transportation remains crippled. There’s a potentially crippling gas shortage. But it gets worse—

  • Superfund sites were inundated and released massive amounts of toxic material;

  • Toxic fracking water may have been released from holding ponds into streams in West Virginia and Pennsylvania.

Here are some places to help. There’s the American Red Cross. Other local organizations that are great are being powered by recovers.org sites. There’s Staten Island Recovers and Red Hook Recovers. CAAV is doing amazing work in Chinatown. Jews for Racial and Economic Justice has a page listing partner organizations, including CAAV, that need help. Occupy Wall Street has a great Occupy Sandy page set up listing drop-off sites around the city and needs for food and supplies. They also have a page with updates from volunteers around the area, including stories of official neglect and local aid. The NYC Parks Department has a volunteer form as well. DNAinfo has a list of places giving out food in evacuation zones.

Stranger in a Strange Land 2012-11-03: Mad Props by The Stranger on Mixcloud

PLAYLIST
In The Hall Of The Mountain King – Robert Wells
In America – The Charlie Daniels Band
Soul Sacrifice – Santana
Politician – Cream
Hey Mr. President – The Electric Prunes
Plastic People – Frank Zappa & The Mothers
Guitar Solo 5 – Neil Young
Political Science – Randy Newman
Sail Away – Randy Newman
Stars and stripes forever march – Sousa Band
Pigs (Three Different Ones) – Les Claypool’s Frog Brigade
Ezy Ryder+Star Spangled Banner – Jimi Hendrix
America the Beautiful – Ray Charles
Evolution (And Flashback) – Gil Scott Heron
Modern Man Blues – 10cc
Past Zero Time – Dark Matter
Conspiracy of Truth – Anti-Pop Consortium
Politics As Usual – Jay-Z
Black Republican – Nas
Voice Of Reason – Skalpel w/Yarah Bravo
My Country, ’tis of Thee (America) – The Enclave
Yankee Doodle – Luis Oliveira & his Orchestra w/Walt Disney & Donald Duck
Battle hymn of the Republic – Thomas Chalmers

So (without politicizing this disaster too much), where have all the climate skeptics gone? Sandy’s devastation  has provoked renewed attention to the connections between climate change and extreme weather, but so far, Republican politicians have been keeping a low profile on the topic. We need action on climate change. A strong, well-funded federal government. Some are calling this a reaffirmation of progressive principles.

 

Can Sandy Help Jolt America Out of Climate Change Denial?

For decades, scientists have been warning that global warming would bring a catastrophic increase in extreme weather. 

Romney was for federal aid to states before he was against it. Mitt Romney doesn’t want to eliminate FEMA anymore.

Free-market boosters claim relief is best left to the “invisible hand.” But seeing the government in action has been inspiring, actually working and serving the people for once, which is more than can be said for FEMA under the last Republican administration.

Distracting from the global warming issue, there are already a plethora of  Right-Wing Conspiracy Theories about Hurricane Sandy:

Hell, apparently, government can even create new jobs. Not enough, mind you, and we need more progressive action in this arena. But listening to the right-wing establishment, you’d never think our species ever evolved up from the primordial muck that they like to live in.

Romney is warning that if he isn’t elected, we’ll dip further into recession. His “closing argument” sounds like the cheesy extortion lines from a gangster movie. Via TPM:

Underneath the fluff, (his) argument boils down to this: Give me the Presidency or your economy gets it. By cutting taxes even more for guys like me, you all will do a little better too. But that approach failed for ten years, so the argument makes no economic sense. But if you believe in economic faith-healing.

“You know that if the President is re-elected,” Romney said, “he will still be unable to work with the people in Congress.”  “The debt ceiling will come up again, and shutdown and default will be threatened, chilling the economy.”

“Nice little economy ya got here. I’d hate to see something … happen to it.” Additionally, Romney said that Obama “promised to be a post-partisan president, but he became the most partisan” and that his bitter relations with the House GOP could threaten the economy. As his chief example, he pointed to a crisis created entirely by his own party’s choice — Republican lawmakers’ ongoing threat to reject a debt ceiling increase. Yeah, because that’s how memories and history work.

But they’re plenty delusional, and think that Romney is winning by a landslide. If Obama wins, the GOP’s fury will intensify, and the party will only get more extreme. Wall St. favors Romney due to anger over Obama ‘fat cats’ remark’, and will only funnel more money into the dangerous hate-mongering.

And nonpartisan economists agree (five out of six, at least) that Obama is the lesser of two ignoramuses. And that “Romney’s plan is based on magic”.

Five out of six top economists say Romney is a worse bet on financial crisis-avoidance. But Obama has big challenges to address if re-elected.

Price-fixing, money-laundering and monster trading losses illustrate continuing abuse and risky behavior in the banking industry. Too-big-to-fail banks are bigger and more dangerous than ever. Politicians are embracing government austerity policies. The housing market remains troubled and recovery efforts have often protected banks at the expense of strapped homeowners. Student debt is growing, now exceeding credit card debt. unchecked flow of money into the political system. Chronic job insecurity. Republicans covering up studies that falsify their trickle-down theories. Pushing for austerity even though it has been disastrous in Europe.

The thing is, it hasn’t worked. In Greece, Europe’s austerity poster child, austerity has shrunk the economy and increased the national debt.

Greece’s draft budget for 2013 has forecast a deeper recession and worse debt problems than previously thought. The economy is expected to shrink by 4.5% next year, and government debts to rise to 189% of economic output. Austerity is literally killing Greece.

Austerity only increased inequality in Portugal. Austerity has been disastrous for Ireland, Spain braced for further austerity measures even as hungry Spaniards foraged in trash bins for food. ButSpain’s economy contracted for a fifth quarter, because of austerity-driven inflation.

All across the EU, austerity has driven joblessness to a record high of11.6 per cent.

Yet the austerians demand even more.

Americans should pay attention to the saga of austerity in the EU, because conservatives here at home are committed to the same agenda that’s failed in Europe. And they’re blowing a smoke-screen of phony budget hysteria, fueling the deficit-crisis industry.

I mean, there are plenty of progressive reasons not to vote for Barack Obama. Via Salon:

There are many good arguments against Obama, even if the Republicans cannot seem to muster any. The economic and social equity case. The president is complicit in creating an increasingly unequal — and unjust — society. The civil liberties/antiwar case. Bush’s successor, Barack Obama, went further by claiming the power not merely to detain citizens without judicial review but to assassinate them. He has waged an unprecedented war on whistleblowers and dissidents, dusting off Wilson’s Espionage Act of 1917 to prosecute more then double the number of whistleblowers than all prior presidents combined. And he has draped his actions with at least as much secrecy, if not more so, than any president in US history.

And via Alternet:

  1. Neither candidate is interested in stopping the use of the death penalty for federal or state crimes.
  2. Neither candidate is interested in eliminating or reducing the 5,113 US nuclear warheads.
  3. Neither candidate is campaigning to close Guantanamo prison.
  4. Neither candidate has called for arresting and prosecuting high ranking people on Wall Street for the subprime mortgage catastrophe.
  5. Neither candidate is interested in holding anyone in the Bush administration accountable for the torture committed by US personnel against prisoners in Guantanamo or in Iraq or Afghanistan.
  6. Neither candidate is interested in stopping the use of drones to assassinate people in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen or Somalia.
  7. Neither candidate is against warrantless surveillance, indefinite detention, or racial profiling in fighting “terrorism.’
  8. Neither candidate is interested in fighting for a living wage.
  9. Neither candidate will declare they refuse to bomb Iran.
  10. Neither candidate is refusing to take huge campaign contributions from people and organizations.
  11. Neither candidate proposes any significant specific steps to reverse global warming.
  12. Neither candidate is talking about the over 2 million people in jails and prisons in the US.
  13. Neither candidate proposes to create public jobs so everyone who wants to work can.

Both have run overwhelmingly negative campaigns, Pew has found. Both are dispatching lawyers to monitor polling places out of distrust for the other. Yes, there are going to be plenty of election trackers, even international monitors, though some states are threatening to arrest them for interfering with their shenanigans and proven fraud.

And there are oh-so-many dirty tricks that may be used on election day.

  • Voter Caging – Voter caging is the process of sending mail to the addresses of registered voters with the intent of challenging their votes if the mail goes undelivered and the voter still shows up at the polls. It still happens, but the most famous instance occurred in 1981, when Republicans sent thousands of letters to black and Latino voters in New Jersey, hoping to block as many as possible of these likely Democratic voters from voting. As a result of that stunt, the Republican National Committee entered into a consent decree with the Democratic National Committee agreeing not to engage in voter caging unless a court says it’s ok. They leave it to third-party conservative groups now.
  • Felon Disenfranchisement – newly elected Republican governors in Florida, Virginia and Iowa moved quickly to reinstate voting restrictions on the formerly incarcerated after taking office in 2010.
  • Messing with Early Voting timing: In Florida, Republican officials passed a law that seems aimed at cutting off black-church early voter mobilization efforts. In Ohio, Republican officials tried to make early voting polls close earlier in areas that vote Democratic, and stay open later in areas that tend to vote Republican.
  • Fraudulent Vote by phone: Residents in Florida, Virginia and Indiana have received phone calls erroneously telling them they don’t need to show up at the polls on Election Day because they can vote by phone.
  • Phony letters: Voters in at least 28 counties in Florida have received bogus official-looking letters saying they may be ineligible to vote.
  • Poll challengers: In most states, political parties can send a representative to polling station to challenge the eligibility of voters they think don’t have a right to vote. This can cross the bounds into voter intimidation.
  • Threatening billboardsan anonymous grouphas paid Clear Channel (owned in part by Mitt Romney’s former company Bain Capital) to put up billboards proclaiming that “Voter Fraud Is a Felony.”  And a Tea Party-affiliated group, True the Vote, is promising to send observers into polling places in Democratic areas, leading Democrats to cry voter intimidation.
  • Thousands of mail-in ballot applications may have been unfairly rejected. A new study shows that once sent in, mail-in ballots have a higher rate of being unfairly tossed out than any other form of voting.

Voter ID Laws, Voter Purges, Menacing Poll Watchers, Making voter registration more difficult (Targeting registration groups), Reprehensible Robocalls, Dropping fliers with erroneous or deceptive information about voting, Last-minute purges, Employer pressure, falsely claiming that you can’t vote if you have unpaid traffic tickets or owe child support. Other times, voters have been warned ominously that police will be stationed at the polls.

Partisan election officials to put polling places in obscure places so as to make it harder for voters in a certain precinct to vote. Scams and threats all over the country:

All in the name of preventing voter fraud, a claim that itself is a fraud perpetuated by former Bush administration lackeys. And if that’s not enough, some of the voting machines themselves have been linked to Mitt Romney’s Bain Capital:

Voting machine provider Hart Intercivic will be counting the votes in various counties in the crucial swing states of Ohio and Colorado and elsewhere throughout the country come November 6—even though it has extensive corporate ties to the Mitt Romney camp, and even though a study commissioned by the state of Ohio has labeled its voting system a “failure” when it comes to protecting the integrity of election.

A key investor in Hart was HIG Capital, seven of whose directors were former employees of Bain & Co., a consulting company of which Mitt Romney was once CEO. (Romney left the company in 1984 to co-found a spin-off company, Bain Capital.)  HIG Capital announced its investment in Hart on July 6, 2011, just one month after Romney formally announced the launch of his presidential campaign.

Nor were those the only ties between Hart and the Romney camp. Four of the HIG directors, Tony Tamer, John Bolduc, Douglas Berman, and Brian D. Schwartz, are Romney bundlers along with former Bain and H.I.G. manager Brian Shortsleeve, and,  according to Opensecrets.org , a website run by the Center for Responsive politics,  HIG Capital  has contributed $338,000 to the Romney campaign this year. Moreover, according to  a report  in The Nation , HIG Capital is tied to the Romney family via Solamere, a private equity firm that has invested in HIG and is run by Tagg Romney, the candidate’s son.

So vote third party. Write-in Jesus. Don’t worry that the corporations are collecting your personal information pertaining to your vote. Just VOTE. Vote early if you can. Register on election day, if you can.

But please, just vote.

~The Stranger
thestranger@earthling.net

Outmoded Cogs

All those outmoded pieces of the political machine stand in the way between our current miserable lot and real progress. That’s right, brand them for it! Make the reactionaries wear their conservative moniker for the shame that it is!

PLAYLIST
Peer Gynt Suite ‘In the Hall of the Mountain King’
The Supernatural Anaesthetist – Genesis
Symphonic Fantasia No.1 & 2 – Akira Ifukube
Evil Devolution – Ayreon
Loving – Astor Piazzolla, Kronos Quartet
Fight Outta You – Ben Harper
The Needle Has Landed – Neko Case
Butcher’s Boy – Damien Jurado
Miracula Eternitatis – Cirque Du Soleil
Wander – The Album Leaf
Spanish Castles in Space – The Orb
Boredom – Procol Harum
Music for a Found Harmonium – Penguin Cafe Orchestra
Gentler We – Clogs
Magnificat – Manuel Cardoso
Kentucky Moonshiner – Dave Van Ronk
Yesterday Is Here – Tom Waits

Archaic thinking, smirking opportunistic politicians, violent religious extremists, right-wing mainstream media, forcing teachers to strike, and the digital disruption of your privacy threaten us daily. Sadly, the show is only weekly, and we do what we can.

~The Stranger
thestranger@earthling.net

More Technical Difficulties!

After two absent weeks of interdimensional travel and battle, the Stranger returns to discover that his reality is on the fritz. The news is off-kilter, the music is random, and the technology won’t cooperate. Is this even his home plane of existence, or some cheap facsimile?

PLAYLIST
Epica – In the Hall of the Mountain King Live
Led Zeppelin – Immigrant Song
John Coltrane – Blue Train
Glenn Miller – Pennsylvania 6-5000
Bobby Darin – Beyond the sea
Frank Sinatra – Chicago
Space is the place – Sun RA
Sun Ra – Space Is The Place
Jimi Hendrix – Valleys Of Neptune
Small Faces – Itchycoo Park
The SpyTones – Astropolis IV
Neil Young – Southern Man
The Jam – Going Underground
Gong – Flying Teapot
They Might Be Giants – “Instanbul (Not Constantinople)”
A Land Down Under – Men at Work
Toto – Africa
Cannonball Adderley – Autumn Leaves
Iron and Wine – Sodom, South Georgia

Stranger in a Strange Land 2012-09-08: More Technical Difficulties by The Stranger on Mixcloud

~The Stranger
thestranger@earthling.net

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