Esoteric Dissertations from a One-Track Mind

July 10, 2008

The FISA Capitulation

Filed under: politics — Tags: , , , — codesmithy @ 10:26 am

The Senate voted to help cover-up the crimes of the Bush administration and the telecom companies, and presumably some elements of complicity on the part of democratic party leadership.  If Nixon were alive today, he would no doubt be wondering why he couldn’t have been so lucky.

Barack Obama voted for cloture and the final bill, thus reneging on his campaign promise to filibuster any bill that had telecom immunity.  Notably, Clinton voted against cloture, cementing my suspicion that she is vying for the VP spot.

Some are holding their breath that some type of criminal investigation will be launched after Bush leaves office.  This is like hoping that the United States won’t bomb Iran.  We are already in a heads we win, tails you lose scenario on that one.  If McCain is elected, Bush will probably put it off.  If Obama is elected, I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if Bush went ahead.  At this point, what does Bush have to lose?  Impeachment is off-the-table.

This isn’t just about Congress looking the other way, or performing ineffectual oversight.  It is about covering-up Bush’s previous crimes and vesting the executive with even more power.  We all know how the Bush administration set-up a vast legal framework about executive power which is laughably unconstitutional.  Nevertheless, Congress is doing its part to ensure that a case that challenges Bush’s legal theories is never ruled upon.  Again, this isn’t about some sort of passive indifference.  Democrats are the key enablers in an active cover-up.

Honestly, what do you think fascism looks like?  Is our understanding of it merely superficial?  Is fascism just swastikas, marches, and salutes? Does Bush need to grow a mustache before we start to catch on?

It is important to remember that this capitulation didn’t happen inspite of democratic victories in 2006, but rather because of their victories in 2006.  This Congress has proven its willingness to go along with unpopular policies while cynically pleading for more power.   Just maybe if they had a few more seats, or the presidency, they could have stopped this.  Screw that.  Nader/Gonzales ’08.

May 15, 2008

Ralph Nader @ Google

Filed under: media, politics — Tags: — codesmithy @ 9:57 am

Ralph Nader was in California talking civics with Google employees.

Nader raises the question of whether the information revolution, and Google specifically, made society better?  The premise of the question is no.  However, the answer to the question is an inconvertible yes.  Information technology has led to dramatic rises in worker productivity.  It has led to dramatic improvements in information exchange.  Citizens now have direct access to government reports and resources, direct access to thinkers who don’t make it through traditional media filters, great works, and huge collaborative efforts at our finger tips.  Nader’s own inability to see progress in this arena is more of a result of his willful ignorance than the strength of the case against him.  What used to require a research project in a library is now, literally, a few clicks away.

As for translating into civic action, first of all I would like to state that voter turnout in the United States has not been phenomenal in the modern era.   It starts out at  63.1% in 1960 and trends downward.  In short, 1 in 3 people eligible to vote, do not.  In ’88, the general election fell below 50% and mid-terms have never been above 50% since 1960.  That is appalling.  However, the one sign of encouragement is that it is getting better.  However, that significant upward trend only started recently.  The 2004 election had the highest percentage turnout since 1968.  The 2006 mid-term election had the highest percentage turnout since 1970.  Nader also ignores the significance of organizations like MoveOn.org have in organizing people for protests and the power blogs had in shaping the FISA fight.  We have had massive protests against the Iraq War, part of that is because of Internet mobilization.

Nader bemoans the fact that we are awash with information.  Yes we are awash with information, a small percentage of it good and the vast majority bad.  However, coming to universal agreement on what is good and bad is virtually impossible.  However, having too much is a much better situation than having to little or not enough.  Those that complain about the magnitude are merely deluding themselves.  They assume the quality of information was better because there was less of it.  While the average quality might be higher, in terms of the quality between the best of the best, the former is clearly the loser because it is drawing from a smaller pool of talent.  Only those eager to believe what they are told accept the previous situation.  It is precisely the mechanism to achieve higher average information quality which is realized by filtering news through a specialized class that causes the gross distortions of coverage in the mainstream media today.  This becomes baldly apparent to all those willing to do the barest modicum of research and capable of independent thought (see Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media).

So the need arises to develop community based tools for filtering that information.  That is what sites like Reddit, Digg, Fark, Slashdot, etc. are for, filtering and digesting the mass of information that is out there.

I’m incredibly surprised that Nader brought up the FCC hearings on media consolidation.  Although, it is difficult to tell exactly what he is referencing I imagine he was talking about those covered in this Bill Moyers Journal piece called “Massing of the Media.”  As a display of civics, the meetings were a complete farce.  That type of arrogance requires the removal of those actors from elected office.  The Internet is our best hope for making those actions stick and to record the offenses of those officials into the public conscience.  Although, I am curious on how Nader thinks people became mobilized to attend those meetings, carrier pigeons?

The most extreme irony had to be Nader complaining about these issues, while telling people to go to his website and sign up on his email list.

So, how about listing things we should agree on.

  • Democracy is weak in this country
  • Democracy is starting to get stronger
  • The Internet has a lot to do with this strengthening
  • We still have a long way to go

However, the last thing that I want to point out is that much of the progressive agenda was introduced due to a historical artifact.  It was the split of the social conservatives in the South that ushered in the Republican era dominated by the likes of Reagan, Bush and Gingrich.  Their legacy will be with us for decades to come.  However, what we are seeing today is a re-establishment of a consensus.  Unlike the one that came before, this one is poised to be stronger and longer-lasting because it is based on an acceptance of principles, evidence and logic and not just historical accident.  I’m not saying that it will be easy, and it far from certain, but the potential is there.  And it does begin and end with information.  We need to change the media that people consume from a plutocracy to a meritocracy.  Make the televised debates irrelevant through innovation, then we will see some meaningful changes take place.  However, it is merely an exercise in frustration to complain about the current system without recognizing the merit and possibilities in any of the alternatives.

March 16, 2008

Remarks on Religion by Noam Chomsky

Filed under: culture, religion — Tags: , , , — codesmithy @ 10:48 am

Well, I’m a little more than half-way through “90 Minutes of Heaven.” With some luck, I should be able to finish it tomorrow, although I’m not sure if I’ll be able to write up a post about it by then. There is quite a bit I would like to say.

Chomsky has some remarks on religion to hold one over. I consider myself in more or less the same boat. I particularly agree with Chomsky’s sentiment: “I think irrational belief is a dangerous phenomenon, and I try to consciously avoid irrational belief.”

As a preface, like Chomsky, I do recognize that religion does do some good. The problem I have with it is how it masks the bad. I believe the only way that we are going to make it, as a species, is on a basis of liberty and recognition of individual human dignity. Humility and introspection are keys to recognizing past failures and correcting behaviors. I recognize that religious believers encompass a diverse group of people, but what I often find is a false modesty and a deliberate lack of introspection. If one feels the don’t fall into this group then fine, my criticism doesn’t apply. However, I find such an attitude permeates Piper’s book, and worse yet, he seems unaware of the issue.

For example, let’s take the issue of the seat belt. It is safe to say, if Don Piper hadn’t been wearing his seat belt, he would have died. He admits so himself on page 55 claiming that it was a miracle he was wearing one. Therefore, if it hadn’t been for Ralph Nader, I think it is safe to say Don Piper would not be alive today. The reason the Ford Escort held up to a head-on collision with a semi as well as it did was because of the crash-testing and safety devices Nader advocated. Yes, there were countless people who contributed to saving Don Piper’s life, the doctors who treated him, the engineers who designed the car, the people who built the bridge, among countless others. However, Ralph Nader raised the consciousness of automobile safety, which led to the distinct set of circumstances that helped save Piper’s life. This did not just happen. It was a result of hard work. Nader made great personal sacrifices in this regard and was actively targeted to be personally discredited. It therefore seems superficial to irrationally thank all these imaginary factors without recognizing a few that actually made a tangible difference.

However, Piper seems unable to because his intellectually lazy explanation stops with his decision to put on the seat belt that day, and he believes that was because of God. This is why religion and honest introspection appear to be so antithetical to me. If not in theory, but in practice. I want people to break through this God barrier, look deeper than the superficial explanation and try to gain a deeper understanding of the world that surrounds us. Thus, I’m not trying to attack God or religion, I’m attacking the thinking. In this sense, God is just the word used to defend stubborn ignorance. Religion is just the crutch people use to justify their disinterested and superficial understanding of the world.

February 26, 2008

Nader to Run for Presidency

Filed under: politics — Tags: , , , — codesmithy @ 10:59 am

Ralph Nader threw his hat into the ring. As he stated, his purpose is not to win, but rather to broaden the debate. Here are some of the issues that he touched on:

  • Iraq
  • Israel-Palestine Conflict
  • Corporate Crime
  • Katrina
  • Complicity of the Democrats in the war, tax cuts, inability to pass an energy bill
  • Single-Payer Health Insurance
  • Pentagon Waste
  • Labor Law Reform/Corporate Globalization
  • Corporate Power in Washington

The whole interview is really worth watching.  More information can be found at his website: votenader.org.  Although, I wish one of the topics Nader addressed is voting reform so third-parties don’t punish the most sympathetic candidate.  In general, I think Nader underestimates the power of the indoctrinated masses.  They might all agree something is wrong, but it disingenuous to think they agree on how to fix it.  However, if democracy is ever going to be more than just a nice word in this country, we need to respect honest dissent.  Nader’s candidacy definitely falls into that category.  But, for goodness sake’s, don’t vote for him. A vote for Nader is a vote for McCain because of how the pluarity voting system works.  Work to fix this first, then candidacies like Nader’s will not be as counter-productive to their causes.  Ironically, we need third-party candidates like Nader in order to even debate the issue and this is the reason why his candidacy serves a useful purpose.

February 17, 2008

Ralph Nader on the Leading Democratic Candidates

Filed under: politics — Tags: , , , — codesmithy @ 9:08 am

Ralph Nader was on Democracy Now! giving his opinion on the two leading Democratic candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

Nader has stated that he will run if Clinton gets the nomination.  His purpose in running for the presidency is not to win, but rather to get the Democratic ticket to address concerns that deeply concern him, and affect countless other Americans such as health-care, the environment, corporate welfare, to name a few.  In short, his purpose in running is to play a foil.  The practical implications of his candidacy, and particularly how it interacts with our plurality voting system, is part of what makes him such a controversial figure in American politics even among those who support his causes.

October 14, 2007

Ralph Nader on Real Time With Bill Maher

Filed under: politics — Tags: , , , — codesmithy @ 1:13 pm

I really have to wonder how the if-we-raise-safety-standards-what-will-we-buy-at-Walmart survives as a meme.  As a consumer, I want a selection of dog food on the store shelves that won’t kill it, or a selection of children’s toys that aren’t poisonous.  It shouldn’t require any research or buyer beware.  But Nader hits the essential point on the head, the reason that hazardous products are making it into the U.S. is because the environment in which they are made is polluted.

His suggestion about how to solve the impediment to progress on bringing the Iraq War to a close by drafting the children of the President and Congressmen brings up a point that I have seen expressed elsewhere.  Disregarding the practicality of the matter,  I personally believe they can serve, the fundamental morality is why should adult off-spring pay for the political views of their parents?  (This doesn’t change the basic moral argument of: if you support the war, then you should serve.)   On the other hand, every soldier that is serving in Iraq is a son or daughter of someone, and you get the distinct feeling that if the President and Congressmen were dealing with sacrifice they are requiring of other people that 1) the post-war situation would have been done much more competently 2) the U.S. would be much closer to leaving right now.  As long as the war remains a sacrifice that other people make, there will always be a certain amount of hypocrisy associated with it.  Even then, I wouldn’t be certain that the sons and daughters of the elites wouldn’t be serving in “Champagne Units.”

So in the end, Nader’s suggestion is good for gaining popular applause, but in reality, would probably do little to actually fix the problem.  The essential problem is that we need people in power to respect the basic value of human life.  Not just the lives of themselves and their family, but everyone, equally.  In this case, the solution isn’t changing the system, it is changing the people running it.

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