How is it that we — citizens of the United States — are even having such a discussion?
Video: Jailing Hillary!? Trump’s Outrageous Case for Dictatorship. Courtesy: The Closer with Keith Olbermann, GQ.
How is it that we — citizens of the United States — are even having such a discussion?
Video: Jailing Hillary!? Trump’s Outrageous Case for Dictatorship. Courtesy: The Closer with Keith Olbermann, GQ.
Money continues to swirl and flow in US politics. During a presidential election season the dollar figure is now in the billions. The number is unfathomable and despicable. And, yet according to the US Supreme Court money is free speech so it’s perfectly legal — although morally abhorrent (to many).
Thus, by corollary, many people feel (and know) that the system is twisted, rigged, and corrupt. Money sways lawmakers. Money helps write laws; it overturns others. Money elects. Money smears. Money impeaches. Money filters news; it distorts fact. Money buys influence, it buys access.
Of course, in a democracy, this would seem to be a travesty — many millions of ordinary citizens without thousands or millions of dollars are left without a voice. Because the voice of the many is completely usurped by the voice of the few, replete with their expensive megaphones and smartphones with speed-dial connections to their political puppets. But, don’t forget, we — the ordinary citizens of the US — don’t live in a democracy; we live in a plutocracy. The wealthy few, rule for and by themselves.
A small example, collectively, the top 20 political donors have so far, this election season alone, donated a staggering $171.5 million to their favorite political action committees (PAC). This doesn’t even include money that’s funneled directly to the candidates themselves.
It’s obscene and corrupt.
But, hey, it’s free speech, so we’re told.
From Washington Post:
Since 2015, super PACs have raised $607.7 million and have spent $452 million. The top 50 donors together have supplied $248.2 million—41 percent of the money raised to date.
The largest share of the money has come from donors who have given between $1 million and $5 million. Five contributors giving more than $10 million each contributed 14 percent of the total raised.
Many of the biggest super PAC donors have spread around their money, financing multiple super PACs that back presidential hopefuls and congressional candidates. They hail from various sectors, with many drawing on fortunes made in the energy industry, on Wall Street and in health care.
The Washington Post is also tracking donations made through “ghost corporations” whose backers cannot be identified. Clicking on “ghost corporations” below brings up a list the corporate contributors to super PACs who have not yet been publicly linked to individual donors.
Read the whole story here.
Image: Snapshot of top donors compiled by Washington Post.
Yes, it’s time to muse on the current state of affairs in the US and the current presidential election cycle. The race, in some quarters, has devolved into a peculiar hybrid of vulgar reality TV show and absurd adolescent popularity contest (with my apologies to adolescents the world over).
The incessant bloviating, bragging, lies, bigotry and hatred espoused by some of the current political candidates has me considering two elements that are vital to our democracy.
The first, our right to freedom of speech, freedom of the press and freedom of assembly is enshrined in the Constitution. However vile and repulsive their speech, the peddlers of caustic words have a right to speak. Their opponents and detractors have an equal right as well. But, this must be done by all sides, free of intimidation, threats and violence.
The second, is no less important, but you’ll not find any requirement or right listed in any statute. Yet, our democracy fully depends upon it. Our system of governance requires a citizenry that is educated and also versed in the political process. The alternative, as we increasingly see in the United States, is a politically-savvy uber-class with its moneyed handlers and benefactors, “the so-called establishment”, to which most ordinary citizens have outsourced their reasoning, and a growing underclass fueled by distrust, anger and resentment — a recipe for divisiveness and anarchy.
While founder Thomas Jefferson never did say, “An educated citizenry is a vital requisite for our survival as a free people,” many of his writings confirm his fundamental belief that a strong democracy is existentially linked to an educated citizenry. Jefferson did say the following:
Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government;… whenever things get so far wrong as to attract their notice, they may be relied on to set them to rights.
It is an axiom in my mind that our liberty can never be safe but in the hands of the people themselves, and that, too, of the people with a certain degree of instruction.
Above all things I hope the education of the common people will be attended to, convinced that on their good sense we may rely with the most security for the preservation of a due degree of liberty.
Light and liberty go together.
Jefferson’s powerful words as so especially important today. I have to agree with Michael Lynch professor of philosophy at the University of Connecticut, “Googling” a snippet of information is not a substitute for internalizing established facts, reasoned political discourse or wisdom.
We can all love the “poorly educated”, but it is our duty to ensure each and every citizen is well-educated. Anything less fails to open the door to personal opportunity and further reinforces a system of division.
Image: Portrait of Thomas Jefferson by Rembrandt Peale, 1800. Courtesy: White House Historical Association. Public Domain.
Greece has been in an increasingly troubled economic situation of late, but the nation’s current crisis has been decades in the making. Over several generations successive governments overspent on an enormous scale on populist social programs, such a healthcare, pensions and other benefits. And, these same governments — regardless of party affiliation — did little to account for this spending either by cutting services or raising revenues (and may would also add, curtailing tax evasion).
On this 4th of July, Greece is now effectively bankrupt — banks are closed, a quarter of the adult population is unemployed, European creditors have called in their loans, and lenders are sitting on the sidelines until the country charts a more sustainable path. So, while the country suffers I am reminded on this anniversary of America’s founding that Greece’s most important export — democracy — still flourishes, despite some obvious flaws. This ancient civilization brought the world many gifts; we should be thankful and hopeful that the embattled Greeks can once again rebuild their great nation and export their treasures.
From the Guardian:
Just how special were the ancient Greeks? Was there really a Greek “miracle”? The question has become painfully politicised. Critics of colonialism and racism tend to play down the specialness of the ancient Greeks. Those who maintain that there was something identifiably different and even superior about the Greeks, on the other hand, are often die-hard conservatives who have a vested interest in proving the superiority of “western” ideals. I fit into neither camp. I am certainly opposed to colonialism and racism, and have investigated reactionary abuses of the classical tradition in colonial India and by apologists of slavery all the way through to the American Civil War. But my constant engagement with the ancient Greeks and their culture has made me more, rather than less, convinced that they asked a series of crucial questions that are difficult to identify in combination within any of the other cultures of the ancient Mediterranean or Near Eastern antiquity. This is why, as I will go on to argue, I believe in classics for the people – that ideas from the ancient Greeks should be taught to everybody, not just the privileged few.
The foundations of Greek culture were laid long before the arrival of Christianity, between 800 and 300BC. Greek-speakers lived in hundreds of different villages, towns and cities, from Spain to Libya and the Nile Delta, from the freezing river Don in the northeastern corner of the Black Sea to Trebizond. They were culturally elastic, and often freely intermarried with other peoples; they had no sense of ethnic inequality that was biologically determined, since the concepts of distinct world “races” had not been invented. They tolerated and even welcomed imported foreign gods. And what united them was never geopolitics. With the arguable exception of the short-lived Macedonian empire in the later 4th century BC, there never was a recognisable, independent, state run by Greek-speakers, centred in and including what we now know as Greece, until after the Greek war of independence in the early 19th century.
What bound the Greeks together was an enquiring cast of mind underpinned by a wonderful shared set of stories and poems and a restlessness that made them more likely to sail away and found a new city-state than tolerate starvation or oppression in a mainland metropolis. The diasporic, seafaring Greeks, while they invented new communities from scratch and were stimulated by interacting with other ethnic groups, made a rapid series of intellectual discoveries that raised the Mediterranean world to a new level of civilisation. This process of self-education was much admired by the Greeks and Romans of the centuries that followed. When the texts and artworks of classical Greece were rediscovered in the European Renaissance, they changed the world for a second time.
Yet over the last two decades the notion that the Greeks were exceptional has been questioned. It has been emphasised that they were just one of many ethnic and linguistic groups centred in the eastern end of the ancient Mediterranean world. Long before the Greeks appeared in the historical record, several complicated civilisations had existed – the Mesopotamians and Egyptians, the Hattians and Hittites. Other peoples provided the Greeks with crucial technological advances; they learned the phonetic alphabet from the Phoenicians, and how to mint coins from the Lydians. They may have learned how to compose elaborate cult hymns from the mysterious Luwians of Syria and central Anatolia. During the period in which the Greeks invented rational philosophy and science, after 600BC, their horizons were dramatically opened up by the expansion of the Persian empire.
In the late 19th and 20th centuries, our understanding of the other cultures of the Ancient Near East advanced rapidly. We know far more about the minds of the Greeks’ predecessors and neighbours than we did before the landmark discovery of the Epic of Gilgamesh on clay tablets in the Tigris valley in 1853. There has been a stream of newly published texts in the languages of the successive peoples who dominated the fertile plains of Mesopotamia (Sumerians, Akkadians, Babylonians, Assyrians). The words of Hittites on the tablets found at Hattuša in central Turkey and the phrases inscribed on clay tablets at Ugarit in northern Syria have been deciphered. New texts as well as fresh interpretations of writings by the ancient Egyptians continue to appear, requiring, for example, a reassessment of the importance of the Nubians to North African history. Many of these thrilling advances have revealed how much the Greeks shared with, and absorbed from, their predecessors and neighbours. Painstaking comparative studies have been published which reveal the Greek “miracle” to have been one constituent of a continuous process of intercultural exchange.
It has become a new orthodoxy that the Greeks were very similar to their Ancient Near Eastern neighbours, in Mesopotamia, Egypt, the Levant, Persia and Asia Minor. Some scholars have gone so far as to ask whether the Greeks came up with anything new at all, or whether they merely acted as a conduit through which the combined wisdom of all the civilisations of the eastern Mediterranean was disseminated across the territories conquered by Alexander the Great, before arriving at Rome and posterity. Others have seen sinister racist motives at work and accused classicists of creating in their own image the Oldest Dead White European Males; some have claimed, with some justification, that northern Europeans have systematically distorted and concealed the evidence showing how much the ancient Greeks owed to Semitic and African peoples rather than to Indo-European, “Aryan” traditions.
Taken singly, most Greek achievements can be paralleled in the culture of at least one of their neighbours. The Babylonians knew about Pythagoras’s theorem centuries before Pythagoras was born. The tribes of the Caucasus had brought mining and metallurgy to unprecedented levels. The Hittites had made advances in chariot technology, but they were also highly literate. They recorded the polished and emotive orations delivered on formal occasions in their royal court, and their carefully argued legal speeches. One Hittite king foreshadows Greek historiography when he chronicles in detail his frustration at the incompetence of some of his military officers during the siege of a Hurrian city. The Phoenicians were just as great seafarers as any Greeks. The Egyptians developed medicine based on empirical experience rather than religious dogma and told Odyssey-like stories about sailors who went missing and returned after adventures overseas. Pithy fables similar to those of Aesop were composed in an archaic Aramaic dialect of Syria and housed in Jewish temples. Architectural design concepts and technical know-how came from the Persians to the Greek world via the many Ionian Greek workmen who helped build Persepolis, Susa and Pasargadae, named Yauna in Persian texts. Nevertheless, none of these peoples produced anything equivalent to Athenian democracy, comic theatre, philosophical logic or Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics.
Read the entire article here.
Image: Flag of Greece. Courtesy of Wikipedia. Public Domain.
History reminds us of those critical events that pose threats to us on various levels: to our well being at a narrow level and to the foundations of our democracies at a much broader level. And, most of these existential threats seem to come from the outside: wars, terrorism, ethnic cleansing.
But it’s not quite that simple — the biggest threats come not from external sources of evil, but from within us. Perhaps the two most significant are our apathy and paranoia. Taken together they erode our duty to protect our democracy, and hand over ever-increasing power to those who claim to protect us. Thus, before the Nazi machine enslaved huge portions of Europe, the citizens of Germany allowed it to gain power; before Al-Qaeda and Isis and their terrorist look-a-likes gained notoriety local conditions allowed these groups to flourish. We are all complicit in our inaction — driven by indifference or fear, or both.
Two timely events serve to remind us of the huge costs and consequences of our inaction from apathy and paranoia. One from the not too distant past, and the other portends our future. First, it is Victory in Europe (VE) day, the anniversary of the Allied win in WWII, on May 8, 1945. Many millions perished through the brutal policies of the Nazi ideology and its instrument, the Wehrmacht, and millions more subsequently perished in the fight to restore moral order. Much of Europe first ignored the growing threat of the national socialists. As the threat grew, Europe continued to contemplate appeasement. Only later, as true scale of atrocities became apparent did leaders realize that the threat needed to be tackled head-on.
Second, a federal appeals court in the United States ruled on May 7, 2015 that the National Security Agency’s collection of millions of phone records is illegal. This serves to remind us of the threat that our own governments pose to our fundamental freedoms under the promise of continued comfort and security. For those who truly care about the fragility of democracy this is a momentous and rightful ruling. It is all the more remarkable that since the calamitous events of September 11, 2001 few have challenged this governmental overreach into our private lives: our phone calls, our movements, our internet surfing habits, our credit card history. We have seen few public demonstrations and all too little ongoing debate. Indeed, only through the recent revelations by Edward Snowden did the debate even enter the media cycle. And, the debate is only just beginning.
Both of these events show that only we, the people who are fortunate enough to live within a democracy, can choose a path that strengthens our governmental institutions and balances these against our fundamental rights. By corollary we can choose a path that weakens our institutions too. One path requires engagement and action against those who use fear to make us conform. The other path, often easier, requires that we do nothing, accept the status quo, curl up in the comfort of our cocoons and give in to fear.
So this is why the appeals court ruling is so important. While only three in number, the judges have established that our government has been acting illegally, yet supposedly on our behalf. While the judges did not terminate the unlawful program, they pointedly requested the US Congress to debate and then define laws that would be narrower and less at odds with citizens’ constitutional rights. So, the courts have done us all a great favor. One can only hope that this opens the eyes, ears and mouths of the apathetic and fearful so that they continuously demand fair and considered action from their elected representatives. Only then can we begin to make inroads against the real and insidious threats to our democracy — our apathy and our fear. And perhaps, also, Mr.Snowden can take a small helping of solace.
From the Guardian:
The US court of appeals has ruled that the bulk collection of telephone metadata is unlawful, in a landmark decision that clears the way for a full legal challenge against the National Security Agency.
A panel of three federal judges for the second circuit overturned an earlier rulingthat the controversial surveillance practice first revealed to the US public by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden in 2013 could not be subject to judicial review.
But the judges also waded into the charged and ongoing debate over the reauthorization of a key Patriot Act provision currently before US legislators. That provision, which the appeals court ruled the NSA program surpassed, will expire on 1 June amid gridlock in Washington on what to do about it.
The judges opted not to end the domestic bulk collection while Congress decides its fate, calling judicial inaction “a lesser intrusion” on privacy than at the time the case was initially argued.
“In light of the asserted national security interests at stake, we deem it prudent to pause to allow an opportunity for debate in Congress that may (or may not) profoundly alter the legal landscape,” the judges ruled.
But they also sent a tacit warning to Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate who is pushing to re-authorize the provision, known as Section 215, without modification: “There will be time then to address appellants’ constitutional issues.”
“We hold that the text of section 215 cannot bear the weight the government asks us to assign to it, and that it does not authorize the telephone metadata program,” concluded their judgment.
“Such a monumental shift in our approach to combating terrorism requires a clearer signal from Congress than a recycling of oft?used language long held in similar contexts to mean something far narrower,” the judges added.
“We conclude that to allow the government to collect phone records only because they may become relevant to a possible authorized investigation in the future fails even the permissive ‘relevance’ test.
“We agree with appellants that the government’s argument is ‘irreconcilable with the statute’s plain text’.”
Read the entire story here.
Image: Edward Snowden. Courtesy of Wikipedia.
While this election cycle in the United States has been especially partisan this season, it’s worth remembering that politics in an open democracy is sometimes brutal, frequently nasty and often petty. Partisan fights, both metaphorical and physical, have been occuring since the Republic was founded
[div class=attrib]From the New York Times:[end-div]
As the cable news channels count down the hours before the first polls close on Tuesday, an entire election cycle will have passed since President Obama last sat down with Fox News. The organization’s standing request to interview the president is now almost two years old.
At NBC News, the journalists reporting on the Romney campaign will continue to absorb taunts from their sources about their sister cable channel, MSNBC. “You mean, Al Sharpton’s network,” as Stuart Stevens, a senior Romney adviser, is especially fond of reminding them.
Spend just a little time watching either Fox News or MSNBC, and it is easy to see why such tensions run high. In fact, by some measures, the partisan bitterness on cable news has never been as stark — and in some ways, as silly or small.
Martin Bashir, the host of MSNBC’s 4 p.m. hour, recently tried to assess why Mitt Romney seemed irritable on the campaign trail and offered a provocative theory: that he might have mental problems.
“Mrs. Romney has expressed concerns about her husband’s mental well-being,” Mr. Bashir told one of his guests. “But do you get the feeling that perhaps there’s more to this than she’s saying?”
Over on Fox News, similar psychological evaluations were under way on “Fox & Friends.” Keith Ablow, a psychiatrist and a member of the channel’s “Medical A-Team,” suggested that Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s “bizarre laughter” during the vice-presidential debate might have something to do with a larger mental health issue. “You have to put dementia on the differential diagnosis,” he noted matter-of-factly.
Neither outlet has built its reputation on moderation and restraint, but during this presidential election, research shows that both are pushing their stridency to new levels.
A Pew Research Center study found that of Fox News stories about Mr. Obama from the end of August through the end of October, just 6 percent were positive and 46 percent were negative.
Pew also found that Mr. Obama was covered far more than Mr. Romney. The president was a significant figure in 74 percent of Fox’s campaign stories, compared with 49 percent for Romney. In 2008, Pew found that the channel reported on Mr. Obama and John McCain in roughly equal amounts.
The greater disparity was on MSNBC, which gave Mr. Romney positive coverage just 3 percent of the time, Pew found. It examined 259 segments about Mr. Romney and found that 71 percent were negative.
MSNBC, whose programs are hosted by a new crop of extravagant partisans like Mr. Bashir, Mr. Sharpton and Lawrence O’Donnell, has tested the limits of good taste this year. Mr. O’Donnell was forced to apologize in April after describing the Mormon Church as nothing more than a scheme cooked up by a man who “got caught having sex with the maid and explained to his wife that God told him to do it.”
The channel’s hosts recycle talking points handed out by the Obama campaign, even using them as titles for program segments, like Mr. Bashir did recently with a segment he called “Romnesia,” referring to Mr. Obama’s term to explain his opponent’s shifting positions.
The hosts insult and mock, like Alex Wagner did in recently describing Mr. Romney’s trip overseas as “National Lampoon’s European Vacation” — a line she borrowed from an Obama spokeswoman. Mr. Romney was not only hapless, Ms. Wagner said, he also looked “disheveled” and “a little bit sweaty” in a recent appearance.
Not that they save their scorn just for their programs. Some MSNBC hosts even use the channel’s own ads promoting its slogan “Lean Forward,” to criticize Mr. Romney and the Republicans. Mr. O’Donnell accuses the Republican nominee of basing his campaign on the false notion that Mr. Obama is inciting class warfare. “You have to come up with a lie,” he says, when your campaign is based on empty rhetoric.
In her ad, Rachel Maddow breathlessly decodes the logic behind the push to overhaul state voting laws. “The idea is to shrink the electorate,” she says, “so a smaller number of people get to decide what happens to all of us.”
Such stridency has put NBC News journalists who cover Republicans in awkward and compromised positions, several people who work for the network said. To distance themselves from their sister channel, they have started taking steps to reassure Republican sources, like pointing out that they are reporting for NBC programs like “Today” and “Nightly News” — not for MSNBC.
At Fox News, there is a palpable sense that the White House punishes the outlet for its coverage, not only by withholding the president, who has done interviews with every other major network, but also by denying them access to Michelle Obama.
This fall, Mrs. Obama has done a spate of television appearances, from CNN to “Jimmy Kimmel Live” on ABC. But when officials from Fox News recently asked for an interview with the first lady, they were told no. She has not appeared on the channel since 2010, when she sat down with Mike Huckabee.
Lately the White House and Fox News have been at odds over the channel’s aggressive coverage of the attack on the American diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya. Fox initially raised questions over the White House’s explanation of the events that led to the attack — questions that other news organizations have since started reporting on more fully.
But the commentary on the channel quickly and often turns to accusations that the White House played politics with American lives. “Everything they told us was a lie,” Sean Hannity said recently as he and John H. Sununu, a former governor of New Hampshire and a Romney campaign supporter, took turns raising questions about how the Obama administration misled the public. “A hoax,” Mr. Hannity called the administration’s explanation. “A cover-up.”
Mr. Hannity has also taken to selectively fact-checking Mr. Obama’s claims, co-opting a journalistic tool that has proliferated in this election as news outlets sought to bring more accountability to their coverage.
Mr. Hannity’s guest fact-checkers have included hardly objective sources, like Dick Morris, the former Clinton aide turned conservative commentator; Liz Cheney, the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney; and Michelle Malkin, the right-wing provocateur.
[div class=attrib]Read the entire article after the jump.[end-div]
[div class=attrib]Image courtesy of University of Maine at Farmington.[end-div]
The internet has the potential to make our current political process obsolete. A review of “The End of Politics” by British politician Douglas Carswell shows how connectedness provides a significant opportunity to reshape the political process, and in some cases completely undermine government, for the good.
[div class=attrib]Charles Moore for the Telegraph:[end-div]
I think I can help you tackle this thought-provoking book. First of all, the title misleads. Enchanting though the idea will sound to many people, this is not about the end of politics. It is, after all, written by a Member of Parliament, Douglas Carswell (Con., Clacton) and he is fascinated by the subject. There’ll always be politics, he is saying, but not as we know it.
Second, you don’t really need to read the first half. It is essentially a passionately expressed set of arguments about why our current political arrangements do not work. It is good stuff, but there is plenty of it in the more independent-minded newspapers most days. The important bit is Part Two, beginning on page 145 and running for a modest 119 pages. It is called “The Birth of iDemocracy”.
Mr Carswell resembles those old barometers in which, in bad weather (Part One), a man with a mackintosh, an umbrella and a scowl comes out of the house. In good weather (Part Two), he pops out wearing a white suit, a straw hat and a broad smile. What makes him happy is the feeling that the digital revolution can restore to the people the power which, in the early days of the universal franchise, they possessed – and much, much more. He believes that the digital revolution has at last harnessed technology to express the “collective brain” of humanity. We develop our collective intelligence by exchanging the properties of our individual ones.
Throughout history, we have been impeded in doing this by physical barriers, such as distance, and by artificial ones, such as priesthoods of bureaucrats and experts. Today, i-this and e-that are cutting out these middlemen. He quotes the internet sage, Clay Shirky: “Here comes everybody”. Mr Carswell directs magnificent scorn at the aides to David Cameron who briefed the media that the Prime Minister now has an iPad app which will allow him, at a stroke of his finger, “to judge the success or failure of ministers with reference to performance-related data”.
The effect of the digital revolution is exactly the opposite of what the aides imagine. Far from now being able to survey everything, always, like God, the Prime Minister – any prime minister – is now in an unprecedentedly weak position in relation to the average citizen: “Digital technology is starting to allow us to choose for ourselves things that until recently Digital Dave and Co decided for us.”
A non-physical business, for instance, can often decide pretty freely where, for the purposes of taxation, it wants to live. Naturally, it will choose benign jurisdictions. Governments can try to ban it from doing so, but they will either fail, or find that they are cutting off their nose to spite their face. The very idea of a “tax base”, on which treasuries depend, wobbles when so much value lies in intellectual property and intellectual property is mobile. So taxes need to be flatter to keep their revenues up. If they are flatter, they will be paid by more people.
Therefore it becomes much harder for government to grow, since most people do not want to pay more.
[div class=attrib]Read the entire article after the jump.[end-div]