Posts Tagged ‘obama’

Give Me a ‘D’ for Dumb, Pat

Friday, June 13th, 2014

By Bob Gaydos

Pat Sajak ... scientist?

Pat Sajak … scientist?

It’s Pat Sajak’s fault.

For the past few years, I’ve been writing one opinion piece a week for a blog. It’s a way to keep doing in retirement what I did for more than 40 years for newspapers.

But I have been unable to form an opinion for three weeks — ever since I read about Sajak tweeting about “global warming alarmists being unpatriotic racists knowingly misleading for their own ends.”

This made no sense to me, starting with why the ever-smiling host of “Wheel of Fortune” had any reason to think his thoughts on global warming were worth sharing on Twitter in the first place.

But as I tried to set aside the Sajak incident, I found myself unable to find anything else that made sense to me. What the heck is wrong with this country? I wondered. What could I write about when what is supposedly the most technologically advanced society in history seems to be paralyzed by a combination of willful ignorance and abject laziness. Sajak Syndrome, if you will.

When did dumb become fashionable?

Pick a topic. Global warming? Pictures of the Arctic ice pack melting? Nearly 100 percent agreement among scientists that humans are destroying the planet’s atmosphere through extravagant, ignorant use of fossil fuels and cutting down of rain forests? That’s nonsense, the pundits on Fox News say. Wasn’t it cold this winter? Didn’t it snow? What the heck do scientists know?

If it were true, the Fox News folks would tell us, the Fox flock say. Really? When they’re being paid to lie? This is abject laziness on the part of the viewers and willful ignorance on the part of the bosses and staff and big money backers at Fox News. And sadly today, most of the Republican Party.

How do you reach people who don’t want to be reached, I wondered, people who are too lazy to question, who are so set in their own prejudices that they eagerly accept the drumbeat message that the man living in the White House is to blame for all that scientific foolishness and everything else that is wrong with this country?

Please, tell me again how racism is dead in America since we elected Barack Obama, a black man, to be president. Tell that to people whose voting rights are being stripped (by Republicans). Tell that to people of color in “Stand Your Ground” states. Check the arrest and imprisonment statistics on drug crimes.

Forgive me for jumping around here, but, as I said, I can’t figure out what to write about because there is so much insanity going on in this country. The bankers drove this country into a recession through shady deals and didn’t go to jail. Today, people who still can’t find jobs because of the recession are called lazy and Congress — again, led by Republicans — cuts money for food stamps for the poor and refuses to extend unemployment benefits to the unemployed or raise the minimum wage or expand benefits to veterans.

It also refuses to cut college students — the future of this country — a break on the interest rates on their back-breaking loans. The corporations, of course, still get their tax breaks and CEOs who drive companies into the red still get rewarded with lavish golden parachutes. And the boss of McDonald’s tells his employees to get another job to make ends meet because he can’t afford to pay them a living wage. To Fox News, this makes sense.

Did I mention guns? There is a shooting at a school or mall or other public place virtually every day now, but it’s not because guns are too easy to get, the willfully ignorant insist. No, the leaders of the NRA tell us that if we armed teachers and let everyone carry weapons openly there would be fewer shootings. Bring your guns to Chili’s and Target. More guns mean fewer shootings. Oh, and if you don’t feel like paying your share of income tax, hole up on your ranch with an arsenal and defy the federal government. Because you’re a patriot. Fox News will defend your “right.’’ This is insane.

Look at the food we eat. Well, actually, most of us apparently would rather not. Monsanto, a chemical company that controls the food supply, changes the genetic structure of basic foods. This allows companies to sell food cheaper because more crops grow in less space and the “food” lasts longer on shelves. That food is usually full of salt and sugar and chemicals, in addition to having its genetic structure changed.

No one knows the possible effects of genetically modified food, but Congress (Republicans, again) allows it — won’t even require labeling of foods with GMOs — because Monsanto is a very generous donor to political campaigns. Europe has banned GMOs. China, too, and other countries. But Fox closes its eyes and ears and shuts off its brain to the obvious questions — willful ignorance — and its sheep munch away on cheap, addictive food, raising health insurance costs as diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and weight-related illnesses increase. All the while, of course — again at the instigation of Fox — they are criticizing the president for trying to make health insurance more affordable for everyone.

There’s plenty more. We are a nation of immigrants that can’t come up with a reasonable immigration policy. We espouse freedom of religion, but in some areas of America it’s probably not wise to admit being Muslim. There is still some question among some conservatives as to who is responsible when a woman is raped. Evolution is considered by the willfully ignorant and abjectly lazy as a theory to be debated. But Noah and the Flood — an undeniable fact.

The Internet gets blamed for a lot of the misinformation that is spread today. But the Internet is just a tool. People spread ignorance, out of fear, greed, selfishness, prejudice, envy, laziness. I think many of the commentators at Fox News are laughing all the way to the bank. They are getting rich by criticizing the poor. Others are simply willing to say whatever they are told to say to get a paycheck. Some are just nasty and don’t like people who are different from them. I think at times they all say stuff that they have to know can’t be true, but they do it anyway because that’s their job. There is really no excuse for people like this — the willfully ignorant.

Why the Republican Party has allowed itself to be dragged down to this level, kowtowing to the frenzied anti-government, anti-Obama cries of the tea partiers, I don’t know. I suspect it has to do with race (the president’s) and with money — who is providing how much of it to whom. Integrity is clearly not held in high regard in the GOP these days, at least not since it offered Sarah Palin as a person to be trusted a heartbeat away from the presidency.

That leaves the climate-change deniers (who also doubted the president’s birth certificate) who think anything they read on the Internet is true, except if it’s on an actual mainstream news site or one run by liberals. These are the abjectly lazy who wouldn’t check a fact put forth by Fox News even if their life depended on it. And sometimes it does.

So there’s my dilemma. I know what I have described here doesn’t apply to everyone in this country. My belief — indeed, my fervent hope — is that it doesn’t apply to a majority or even large minority of us. But Sajak Syndrome exists. So I will continue to write with that in mind and encourage others of like mind to do so as well. Far too many Americans have bought into the idea that dumb is good, up is down, black is white and what some politician said yesterday doesn’t have to make sense with what he or she says today.

Far too many, in other words, would rather think of renowned scientist Neil deGrasse Tyson, host of “Cosmos” (on Fox TV no less) as a charlatan and liar when he describes the “Big Bang” theory and tells us that global warming is an issue that needs to be addressed seriously and immediately. On this issue, they’d rather trust the judgment of game show host Pat Sajak.

That’s where I came in.

Bob Gaydos can be reached at rjgaydos@gmail.com.

 

 

 

 

The Fruits of Obama’s Syria ‘Defeat’

Thursday, September 19th, 2013
President Obama ... his Syria policy may be more than it appeared to be

President Obama … his Syria policy may be more than it appeared to be

By Bob Gaydos

In the category of Things Are Never Quite the Way They Appear (especially in international diplomacy), I give you what many “pundits” regard as President Barack Obama’s humiliating defeat in getting Syrian President Bashar Assad to: 1. Admit that his country, contrary to all his previous claims, has a stockpile of outlawed chemical weapons; 2. Agree to promptly provide an inventory of those weapons and 3. Turn the weapons over to a United Nations delegation for the purpose of destroying them all by next year..

This humanitarian feat, which will save countless thousands of lives, was accomplished without firing one missile in righteous anger or placing one set of American GI boots on the ground in the midst of Syria’s brutal civil war. Stay out of Syria is what a solid majority of Americans said they wanted ever since Obama broached the subject of a punishing strike against Syria for using chemical weapons against its own people. It is also what most Republicans in Congress insisted they wanted, contrary to their usual position on military intervention, but consistent with their policy of opposing anything Obama proposes. In this case, to the president, Republican motives didn’t matter; end results did.

This is strictly my opinion. I have no special insight into White House strategy, no one leaking me information on the president’s intentions. Rather, I have my own version of common sense and what I believe is a willingness to judge events by outcomes rather than political bias.

One of the things I believe may not necessarily be as it appears — or as many critics would have it be — is the president’s intent. I do not believe Barack Obama is so dumb as to submit a proposal to Congress that he wants passed if he knows it will be defeated. He is a biracial man living in a racist country who earned degrees from two Ivy League schools — Columbia and Harvard Law, where he was editor of the Law Review. He got elected president. Twice. Having made history, he also has guided the country slowly out of a devastating, largely Republican-created recession and got a health care plan for all Americans through a Congress that can barely agree to meet. This is one smart man (although I think his “red line“ on chemical weapons was a tactical mistake).

So, I have serious doubts that the president ever intended to launch a military strike against Syria, precisely because of the opposition he knew existed among average, war-weary Americans, as well as entrenched anti-Obama, rank-and-file Republicans. He signaled that when, after days of threatening a strike, he agreed to ask Congress to debate and vote on the issue, without even asking members to cut short their vacation to do so. That made the proposal DOA, with even many Democrats opposed to U.S. involvement in Syria because of their constituents’ opposition to it.

Ironically, with the disarmament agreement now being finalized with Syria and Russia, Obama’s continued threat to use military force if Syria fails to comply with the agreement gains much more validity and support among Americans than his original threat. Assad has admitted he’s got the weapons. French, British and American experts, as well as Human Rights Watch, say, based on a United Nations report, that there is no doubt it was Assad’s troops, not rebel forces, that used them. The U.S. Navy’s continued presence in the Mediterranean Sea now takes on even greater import to Assad.

Then, of course, there is the disarmament agreement itself. Americans are strongly of two minds on this:

1. One group, that didn’t necessarily want to attack Syria, nonetheless thinks it is embarrassing that Russian President Vladimir Putin is getting credit for the plan and that he lectured Americans (in the New York Times no less) about thinking they had to act as morality policeman of the world.

2. Another group feels it is high time America stopped acting as morality policeman of the world, focused on domestic issues instead and enlisted other countries’ help in finding diplomatic, rather than military, solutions to international crises.

I don’t think Obama cares that Putin is getting most of the credit for the chemical weapons agreement. I also don’t think the agreement just sprang into Putin’s head in a dream one night. In fact, Russian officials have acknowledged such a plan was discussed months ago with American officials. Just as Obama is no clueless patsy in this, Putin is no hero. He is no champion of human rights and Americans shouldn’t really pay serious attention to what he has to say about life in the U.S.

In fact, Russia has been the main supplier of arms for the Syrian Army, enabling the civil war to drag on and produce more than 100,000 deaths and a flood of millions fleeing their country. But it is precisely for the link with Syria that Putin had to appear to be the primary force behind the non-military plan.

Of course, this helps Putin gain even more political stature at home. As mentioned previously, Obama has been elected president twice. He cannot run again. His place in history is forged and his future as a statesman guaranteed. But Putin has an Olympics coming to his country next year and has stirred worldwide condemnation for Russia’s anti-gay laws. I wouldn’t be surprised if Russian authorities were tolerant of demonstrations supporting gay rights next winter or if Barack Obama were among the world leaders being most vocal about demanding such behavior. And, while he won’t show it, I don’t think Putin will regard his apparent backing down on gay rights as a “humiliating defeat” on the international stage.

Meanwhile, a major store of chemical weapons will be destroyed, a potential threat to Middle Eastern neighbors of Syria will have been removed, rebel forces in Syria will know they don’t have to fear facing such weapons, not one American soldier will have set foot in Syria, not one Syrian citizen will have been listed as collateral damage in a strike by American “smart” missiles, the United States will have shown cynical countries that it really can use diplomacy, rather than military might, to resolve a crisis, Assad will have been shown to be a murderous liar, Putin will have had some of his Lone Ranger image stripped away in international diplomacy, President Obama, counter to his image in some corners as a reluctant warrior, will have appeared to be willing and eager to use U.S. military power, and Republicans will have emerged as a party opposed to war. By the way, the overwhelming majority of Americans support the non-military resolution of the Syrian crisis.

Humiliating defeat my ass..

bob@zestoforange.com

Putin on Gays: A Russian Fable

Wednesday, September 4th, 2013

By Bob Gaydos 

Russian President Vladimir Putin ... some of his favorite Russians were gay.

Russian President Vladimir Putin … some of his favorite Russians were gay.

There’s an old Russian proverb that goes something like this: “How do you know when the president (prime minister, czar, party chief) is lying? His lips are moving.”

OK, so it’s not an old Russian proverb, but you get the gist. Today, it means if Russian President Vladimir Putin is speaking, the words emanating from his mouth are subject to change at any moment according to whatever he thinks will best suit his ultimate goal. That goal seems to be to consolidate his grip on power through whatever repressive measures he can get away with while pretending to support democratic principles of government.

So when Putin says, for example, that there is no discrimination against gays and lesbians in Russia — despite recent passage by the Duma of a law banning any public mention of homosexuality that could be construed as propaganda supporting it — one can assume it’s a lie. One can further assume that he thinks he has a good reason for making what common sense declares to be a bunch of bull.

That reason, of course, is the looming presence of the 2014 Winter Olympics in the Russian resort city of Sochi and Putin‘s desire to avoid a boycott of the games and/or worldwide condemnation of the Russian law and measures that might be taken to register protest against it. There are hundreds of millions of rubles at stake and Russia can ill afford to lose any of them. So don’t worry, folks, in keeping with the Olympic spirit that forbids discrimination of any kind, there will be no discrimination against gays and lesbians in Russia during the Olympics, Putin says,

Afterwards? Well, that’s another matter.

And that’s what needs to be remembered. In Russia, Putin faces no serious challenge to his words from a free, vigorous press (he’s worked hard at squelching that) and, in this case, most likely has the support of a majority of Russians. In a country with a poor history of tolerance for minorities, few are going to point out any inconsistencies between his words and actions regarding homosexuality in Russia, during and after the Olympics.

President Obama, angry that Putin granted temporary asylum in Russia to Edwin Snowden, who made public voluminous files on the U.S. government’s efforts to spy on ordinary Americans and also upset that Putin has resisted taking military action against Syria for use of chemical weapons against its own people, canceled a meeting with Putin in Russia during this week’s G20 summit. Instead, Obama met with gay activists in Russia, a double insult.

No sweat for Putin. He softened his stance on Syria and said some of his favorite Russians –Tchaikovsky, for example — were homosexuals and yet are still loved by Russians. Whatever suits his need at the time, the former KGB chief will say, usually with a smile.

The anti-gay law has led to calls to boycott the Sochi Games, but such actions always hurt far more than their intended target. In this case, thousands of athletes — including countless gay athletes — who have worked for four years for this honor would be denied what for many is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Gary Kasparov, former world chess champion and an outspoken Russian critic of Putin, says there are other ways to protest. In an interview with Huffington Post, he says the protest are not about the athletes, but rather “about Putin and his repressive regime.” He says world leaders (presidents, diplomats, royalty, etc.) should boycott the games, denying Putin their implied support for his policies and perhaps weakening his resolve to pursue similar ones.

Kasparov also thinks Olympic sponsors such as Coke, McDonald’s, Visa and other major companies should recognize the views of their main customers and express opposition to the Russian law by adorning their products with rainbow flags or other symbols of support for gays. And he says NBC and other broadcasters of the Games should use their freedom and their platform to do stories about, not only the anti-gay law, but other repressive measures taken by Putin. A little press freedom in Russia would not be such a bad idea.

Admittedly, a boycott of the games would be dramatic, but would likely only stiffen Putin’s us-against-the-world resolve and not sway Russian citizens, a difficult task under any circumstances. Moving the games from Sochi (now under martial law) is impractical given time constraints. That leaves broad public condemnation of Putin and education of the Russian public — by previously mentioned means and the use of social media — as the most effective way to make Putin eat his words. It may also wake up the Russians and make him less likely to pursue future oppressive measures.

There’s another old Russian proverb. Something about sleeping dogs and lying. OK, it’s not Russian, but you get the gist.

 

Mr. Obama: No Proof, No Attack on Syria

Thursday, August 29th, 2013
President Obama needs to make an ironclad case to justify an attack on Syria.

President Obama needs to make an ironclad case to justify an attack on Syria.

By Bob Gaydos

Here we go again.

A brutal Arab regime, under fire from rebel forces, is accused of using chemical weapons against its own people, women and children included. This violates every rule of warfare and demands military intervention by the United States, to whom the role of defender of democracy and human decency has been assigned by other nations over the years. But like everything else in the Middle East, nothing about the war in Syria is that clear-cut.

The United Nations, established in part to unify and coordinate worldwide reaction to such atrocities, as usual, is paralyzed. Any effort by the U.S. and allies to get Security Council approval for missile or air strikes against the offending party will be blocked by Russia and China, who have veto power. They do not simply follow marching orders from the White House and are big enough to make that matter. That will probably require the U.S. to put together a coalition of enough nations to give the imprimatur of legitimacy, if not legality, for such a military action.

This will likely happen despite conflicting accounts as to who actually used the chemical weapons — the ruling Assad government or the rebels — and with the assurance that U.S. involvement will include only targeted air or missile strikes (remember smart bombs?) and no involvement of ground forces in Syria’s civil war. Apparently, it will also occur without a debate on the issue by the U.S. Congress, which is unfortunate since it is the only branch of government authorized to declare war. In addition, a clear majority of Americans, weary of fighting more than a decade of wars in the Middle East, are opposed to U.S. involvement in another war in the region.

Add to these complications the fact that there has still been no convincing proof given publicly that the Syrian military, not the rebels, employed the nerve gas. Rather, Americans have been reassured by a well-respected secretary of state that the White House is certain the weapons were used by Syrian President Bashar Hafez al-Assad’s troops and that this is reason enough for U.S. involvement.

Sound familiar? Did anybody in the White House hear former Secretary of State Colin Powell — who made the case for attacking Iraq before the U.N. — recently call out former Vice President Dick Cheney for steamrolling President George W. Bush into attacking Iraq with similar justification and no solid evidence? Since that justifiable “moral” intervention lasted 10 years and cost tens of thousands of lives and destroyed a country, it would seem to behoove President Obama to present undeniable proof of guilt publicly before ordering any attack.

Obama, who has until now wisely resisted calls for U.S. military intervention in Syria, drew a red line in the sand to signal when the U.S. might actually get involved. That’s a risky diplomatic tool. His red line was the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government. Having made such a declaration and now believing that Syria has, in fact, crossed that line, the president faces a difficult choice. If he follows the will of the American people, recent history of U.S. involvement in the Middle East, and the lack of publicly offered conclusive evidence on who used the chemical weapons, he would surely not order U.S. warplanes or ships to attack Syria.

However, if he ignores his own red line, other nations that have been given similar warnings about development of nuclear weapons — Iran and North Korea — might feel emboldened to move ahead, figuring Obama was not a man of his word. That the American president was all talk, as it were. Then there is the matter of this being a deplorable act that cannot be allowed to go unpunished.

The key questions to be answered are:

— Who used the nerve gas, the government or the rebels?

— What is an appropriate response?

Given the American public’s growing distrust of the Obama administration because of its widespread spying on American citizens and its vigorous efforts to prosecute whistleblowers — who might be able to answer the question of who used the chemical weapons — the president should insist on a full public debate on Syria by Congress. This would be wise especially if he’s certain he’s got the goods on Assad. This would also be wise given the extended U.S. military presences in Iraq and Afghanistan, with little obvious gain except to the corporations that provide the machinery of war. Obama should welcome a full and open discussion by Congress of the situation and the options.

There is no good choice here. Some party is using chemical weapons against the people of Syria to further its own interests. This is barbaric. Just look at the photos of the bodies of dead children lined up. A surgical air strike or ship-launched missiles, aimed at the guilty parties only and the machinery that allows them to use the weapons, would be a viable military option. But “surgical” air strikes have been notoriously imprecise in the past. Innocent people have been killed in the name of protecting innocent people.

The obvious preference would be for a diplomatic solution that spares lives. That would probably require Obama to somehow convince Russia and China, friendly with the Syrian government, to work with him on a peaceful solution. Assad leaving Syria would be one. If that is not possible and if the president can provide conclusive and independently verifiable (say, by United Nations inspectors) proof of guilt by the Syrian government, and if Congress is given the evidence and conducts a public debate, and if more nations than Syria’s immediate neighbors (Turkey and Jordan) as well as U.S. ally Great Britain, support the action, Obama would be justified in launching a limited military intervention in Syria.

That’s a lot of ifs, to be sure and war is seldom the answer. Still, there are no ifs, ands or buts that whoever inflicted chemical weapons on the children of Syria must be made to pay.

bob@zestoforange.com

Warning: This Column May Be Bugged

Thursday, July 11th, 2013

By Bob Gaydosstock-photo-eye-spying-trough-a-computer-monitor-85320868

Hi there. Thanks for clicking on this article. I feel obliged to warn you right off that you and I are probably not alone in this seemingly intimate connection. Odds are this interchange is being monitored by some government or private computer for the purpose of, well, maybe for the sole purpose of demonstrating that it can be done.

And it is done, routinely, to anyone and everyone who uses a computer, lap top, tablet or cell phone. Privacy has become a quaint concept, an anachronism, in the computer era. The very tool that has freed us to a world of instant information and communication has also stripped us of something we cherish, our privacy.

Let me amend that. The tool is not to blame. It’s the people using it. They have entered our lives — admittedly often at our initial invitation — to such an extent that savvy technicians can put together accurate profiles of us in short order. Mostly, these people work for private companies that want to sell us something based on our computer behavior. Of course, those with malice in their heart can and do use their skills and the gathered data for nefarious purposes such as identity theft or simply installing a computer virus for no apparent reason.

This is not news to you, I’m sure. What’s perhaps new and most troubling to me is the extent to which our own government is involved in spying on us. Recent revelations by Edward Snowden of a massive cell phone data collection program run by the National Security Agency targeting average American citizens has been followed up with revelations of the extent to which the NSA also has used popular Internet service providers such as Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, Bing, AOL, Apple, Facebook and YouTube, to compile information on private citizens.

Why?

Why national security, of course. There could very well be potential terrorists lurking out there among those cute cat photos and it is part of our eternal war on terrorism to try to find them among the billions of clicks per day on computers.

That’s the company line and there is a small element of truth in it. But we can’t assess how valuable the snooping has been because the government (the White House and Congress) won’t tell us anything that can be verified by uninvolved parties. (And the head of the CIA lies to Congress without getting fired.)

Mostly, though, I have come to believe (and this is why I warn you this column may be bugged) that our government snoops do this kind of thing because they can and they really don’t see it is an invasion of privacy and most certainly do not consider the massive potential for abuse it presents. This is scary. When the computer spies forget that they, too, are American citizens and also suffer from any erosion of individual privacy along with the rest of us, the slippery slope to total control of the citizenry has begun. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness lose their meaning.

Too alarmist?

Well, consider the reaction of President Obama when Snowden subsequently revealed that the United States was snooping on countries in the European Union and elsewhere. These are our friends, mind, our allies. The EU folks erupted with indignant surprise. They were outraged, etc. Obama said, in effect, what’s the big deal? Everybody does it.

Which is in large part true. The EU huffing and puffing was largely for show. They knew they were bugged and some of them also bugged official United States locations for the purpose of … what?

The nonchalant nature of the practice on an international scale bespeaks an inability and/or unwillingness to trust friends at their word or to get some kind of edge on them in international diplomacy. So I ask, why would this attitude not translate into domestic spying? It’s no big deal. Everybody does it. National security, you know? Trust us, we mean you no harm.

Really? Well then, why is the entire process sealed in secrecy, with a special court granting rubber stamp warrants for the government bugging private citizens? Why is the court answerable to no one in the public? Why are its rulings free from challenge? Why are private contractors (Snowden was one), not actual government employees, given access to such highly classified information? What happens to the data collected on U.S. citizens who turn out to be really just “average” Americans connecting with friends or venting frustration on Facebook? Why are most of our political leaders focusing on Snowden’s release of “classified” data rather than on the enormity of the spying effort on private citizens?

And why should we not be concerned that instructions are available on line on how to turn computer cameras (yes, Skype, too) and cell phone cameras into devices that can spy on their owners, a weapon that obviously could be used by serious government computer spies? And probably is. (Put tape over the lens without actually touching it. Shut it off in the bedroom.)

We “average citizens” have definitely been complicit in creating this situation, but most of were also a bit naïve: I have nothing to hide, so why should I worry about putting personal information on line? That may have been a valid view at one time, but it ignored the reality that those with a certain amount of power inevitably seek to expand their power.

Our government is supposed to protect us from this. When it is the offending party, we need to challenge it. We have no choice. We must do this peaceably, but vigorously, through public demonstrations (as the Occupy movement tried), petitions, messages to elected officials, support for candidates who want to shine light on such programs and eliminate abuses, rejection of candidates who support the spying, protest to and boycott of companies that cooperate with spying efforts, And by voicing opinions of protest on line.

Which is where I came in. Thanks for reading this. Don’t bother deleting; Big Brother already knows you were here.

bob@zestoforange.com

The Game’s Rigged; Revolution Time

Thursday, June 27th, 2013
Eric Snowden ... traitor or planned distraction?

Edward Snowden … traitor or planned distraction?

By Bob Gaydos

Edward Snowden, currently on the run and accused of being a spy, did more than reveal how much snooping our government does on its own citizens. For me, he provided a smack upside the head and a wakeup call to something I’ve believed for a long time but, being a bit lazy and self-absorbed, had dispatched to a dusty, unexercised corner of my brain.

To wit: The game is rigged. Put another way: “Dysfunction” has a function.

Consider this: With Congress’ approval rating at historic lows, with Republicans rejecting out of hand every proposal put forth by Democratic President Barack Obama, with a Democrat-controlled Senate unable to pass meaningful legislation because of archaic filibuster rules used by Republicans, with both major political parties staking out rigid positions on opposite sides of every issue, what is the one thing on which Republicans and Democrats suddenly agree? That Edward Snowden is a traitor.

That is the Edward Snowden who blew the whistle on the most sweeping, secret domestic spying operation ever conducted by an American government on its people. It is an invasion of privacy condoned — and now vigorously defended — by both political parties as necessary for the security of the people being spied upon. Yes, the politicians also read George Orwell. But they’ve been caught with their “bad-is-good” pants down and have demonstrated that, when their power is in jeopardy, they can find true harmony. All together now: Snowden is a traitor.

The threat to the power brokers, of course, is that a lot of Americans will awaken from their self-absorbed delusion that their elected representatives are actually trying to do something positive for their constituents, as opposed to the reality they are doing whatever is necessary to maintain their membership in the power elite. That’s the 1 percent who reap the fruits of the manufactured dysfunction.

Look at it this way: Democrats talk about jobs, immigration, education, the minimum wage, etc. Republicans talk about abortion, guns, rape, gay marriage, etc. The parties bicker and banter and do next to nothing about any of those issues. Dysfunction. Or so it seems.

But they also ignore issues that would actually fix much of the apparent dysfunction — campaign finance reform and revising the filibuster rules, for two.

It’s planned dysfunction. You keep your talking points; we’ll keep ours. We’ll all get re-elected anyway or, if not, move on to even more-lucrative lobbying jobs, book tours, top corporate positions or TV punditry. Rigged.

And it’s not just Congress. Having plunged the world into the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, American banks and investment firms (which used to be separate entities) are now reaping the profits of their plundering of other people’s wealth, thanks to a government bailout and the failure of the political powers that be — who reap substantial campaign contributions from these financial institutions — to send any of the bankers to jail.

In the sequel to “Wall Street,” arch-villain Gordon Gekko says he was convicted of a “victimless crime,” as if no lives are negatively affected when companies go under because of shady, immoral behavior by financial companies.

At least Gekko went to prison for his misdeeds. But then, that was in the movies and even his creator, Oliver Stone, tries to find some redeeming traits in his main character in the sequel. Meanwhile, in real life, no one can make any money today putting money in banks and, as Gekko also points out in the sequel, the task of investing money in the stock markets, where profits may be made, has been made so complex, only “about 75 people in the world understand it.”

That may be an exaggeration, but not by much. Most of us need to trust the very people who have proven to be untrustworthy with our money to make investments.

There are other dots to connect, but for now I’ll limit it to major corporations that move top executives to influential government positions and back again, getting laws written to their liking (often by their own former employees), usually without a whimper from members of Congress. Think Monsanto and Halliburton.

Corporations pour tens of millions of dollars into political campaigns hoping to elect candidates who will then return the favor by promoting legislation that will improve corporate profits or opposing proposals placing restrictions on corporate power. The latter would include the public’s right to sue and to obtain information on corporate practices. This is serving the private, not the public, good. It’s part of the system.

Now, this rigging did not occur in a vacuum. There had to be at least an implicit acknowledgement from the rest of us that what the people to whom we had entrusted power and position was doing was right and proper for all of us. That may have simply come in the form of apathy or blissful ignorance. Don’t bother to vote. Don’t try to understand the issues. Hey, life is already too busy and complicated without such things.

But not for those whose motivation is accumulating more wealth and power. For them, an important part of the rigged system is making it seem so complicated and out of our control that it is impossible to change. That’s not necessarily true. There are people, even politicians, who recognize that things have been rigged for a powerful elite and who speak out regularly about it. Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren and Rep. Jim Moran are three of the most outspoken. They need allies and support, vocal and financial.

So do the Internet activists campaigning for campaign finance reform and greater transparency in government and Wall Street. These are not obscure issues that don’t impact us. Indeed, they are crucial to ending the grip of the 1 percent on our national wealth and positions of power.

There are some simple steps that can be taken by individuals, groups, towns to begin to reclaim some control over our lives. Registering to vote and actually voting is a start. Getting informed on the issues that matter and working to raise awareness (think the Occupy movement and social media) is another. The movement to sustainability and buying locally grown food, as opposed to that offered by corporate growers, are not just “feel-good” green ideas. Like using alternative energy, they challenge the influence of large corporations (and they don’t come more influential than oil companies) and give people some control over their lives. People have even started turning their lawns into vegetable gardens. Seattle is planning the nation’s first public food garden. Take a walk, pick an apple. Eat it.

Some of this may sound simplistic and even ineffectual in the face of such entrenched power and wealth, but all revolutions have to start somehow. And make no mistake, nothing less than an all-out revolution will serve to unrig the system and dislodge those who thrive within it. Some noise must be made. The alternative is to do what many of us have been doing for a long time — complain that “they’re all crooked, so what’s the use?”

Some people are comparing Edward Snowden to Paul Revere. I won’t go that far yet. There’s too much information still unknown (and yes, the mainstream media stands suspect as being part of the system). But I’m not ready to call Snowden a traitor either, not when Republicans and Democrats somehow manage to agree that he is. That smells too much like the fix is in.

bob@zestoforange.com

 

 

 

 

Limbaugh, Rand Paul, the ACLU and Me

Wednesday, June 12th, 2013

By Jeffrey Page

We’re just the people. We go to a job or look for one. We pay the bills. We fight the wars. We die in those wars. We’ve come to understand that the only time politicians care what we think is when there’s an election. We’re all V.I.P.s around election time.

Nowadays we have special significance ever since word got out that all our telephone records are routinely made available for scrutiny by the National Security Agency. This, it is clear, could cost votes and shorten political careers so for a while we will be taken seriously.

But usually, we’re just the people. We voted for Obama the first time because, after eight years of Bush, he was like a fresh wind blowing in. We were a little less enthusiastic the second time. And now, five months into Obama’s second term, we find ourselves aligned with Michael Moore and the ACLU, also with Glenn Beck, Rand Paul, and Rush Limbaugh on the question of government snooping into our telephoning history.

We find something dangerous and suspicious about the NSA making notes on who we call on the phone, when we call, what numbers we call, how long we speak. Yes, but government isn’t listening in on the conversation, we’re told by the very same government. That’s supposed to reassure us. But you don’t believe it, do you? Nor do I. 

I’ve been thinking about the words of the great Ma Joad in “The Grapes of Wrath” as she tells the son she loves: “Why, Tom – us people will go on livin’ when all them people is gone. Why, Tom, we’re the people that live. They ain’t gonna wipe us out. Why, we’re the people – we go on.”

I wonder if Ma Joad was just dead wrong, and that eventually them people – with their demands for lower taxes, with their specious argument that government should be run like a business (like Enron maybe?), and with their willy-nilly interpretation of the Bill of Rights – will win the war against us people. If us people lose that war, the nation will have been transformed into something unrecognizable.

As has been noted again and again, the framers could not have imagined the United States of the 21st Century. Maybe not, but it’s important to remember that the protections of the Fourth Amendment will live as long as people take the Bill of Rights seriously and do not allow it to become the plaything of those who see nothing amiss with keeping track of your telephoning.

The words of the Fourth Amendment are complicated only to the people who wish they did not exist: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

Obama swore to “preserve, protect and defend” the Constitution and yet, as the ultimate the boss of the NSA, he seems to have done little or nothing to keep us protected from the big nose of government sniffing our affairs. It is not overly dramatic to suggest that never has the Fourth Amendment – and the rest of the Bill of Rights for that matter – been in greater jeopardy than now.

I’m 29 years late, but Happy New Year 1984 anyway.

An Administration Obsessed with Leaks

Wednesday, May 15th, 2013

AP_RGBBy Bob Gaydos

When Barack Obama was running for president, he promised an administration that would be the most transparent of all time, one that would make sure the public was aware of how its government was operating — who was doing what and why.

It appears the president meant that openness to apply to those branches of government not under his direct or indirect control. Before the news broke this week that the Justice Department had used a secret subpoena to seize the phone records of up to 100 reporters and editors for the Associated Press earlier this year, the Obama administration had already set a record for indictments of present or former government officials accused of being either whistle-blowers or information leakers, depending on one’s point of view. In fact, the six such indictments are twice as many as all previous administrations combined. That suggests more than a passing interest in keeping things less than transparent.

The new case, under investigation by the U.S. Attorneys Office in the District of Columbia, involves a news story disclosing the CIA’s foiling of an Al-Qaeda plot in Yemen to blow up an airliner with an improved version of the so-called “underwear bomb.” Apparently, the CIA had an agent or agents embedded in the Al-Qaeda group. The AP did not immediately report the story as events were unfolding, at the request of the administration, which cited national security concerns. But the news agency released the story after hearing the White House planned to discuss the case publicly. That would seem to override any arguments of national security.

In fact, the national security argument seems to be questionable in the six pending cases as well, all of which were widely reported in press accounts and/or in books. While officials’ obsession with secrecy has occasionally shaken public confidence in the government, the republic has not yet crumbled from the efforts of a free press.

And that is the overriding issue here — not the CIA’s, FBI’s, or any other secrecy-obsessed agency’s ability to do its job, but the constitutionally protected right of a free and unfettered press to do its job of informing the citizens. Make no mistake, when a powerful government agency, without notice or opportunity to challenge in court, seizes a wide swath of journalists’ files or, in this case, phone records, it can have a chilling effect on the press and the public.

The files seized came from AP phone lines in various bureaus, including Washington, D.C. and New York as well as in the Capitol. As the AP pointed out in response to the seizures, the records provided a list of everyone the reporters or editors had talked to over a two-month period. If there is any more effective way of convincing people not to talk to reporters than removing the assurance of confidentiality, I don’t know it. A free press cannot operate as intended if the subjects of its stories can gain access to the possible source of the information reported.

In this case, the Justice Department apparently did not even have to justify the records seizures, and they came only after the department, by its own admission, had interviewed several hundred people and reviewed thousands of other files. In other words, it had nothing to go on, so it decided to go on a fishing expedition at AP offices.

The president is claiming no knowledge of the Justice Department’s actions in this case, which could well be true. It is also irrelevant. What matters is that high-level officials in the nation’s top law-enforcement agency felt justified in going after reporters’ records with no attempt at due process — no need to prove that the convenient “national security” argument had merit. The more citizens of a country surrender their rights to protection from unreasonable searches, seizures, wire-tappings, detentions, or door-bustings, the less secure they make themselves.

There is no telling how people in power will use that power in the future. That’s why laws should protect the most vulnerable, not the most powerful. Those in power have tremendous resources at their disposal to do what is necessary to protect the citizenry without abusing their power at the expense of the citizenry.

In this case, Obama has asked U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York, to reintroduce a media shield bill that went nowhere four years ago. It would further protect journalists who refuse to disclose confidential sources and would enable news agencies to ask a federal judge to deny requests for access to phone records.

That would at least give the press a fighting chance against heavy-handed “investigation” by government agencies. But a president who promised an open government and has instead authorized increased secret snooping on United States citizens has an obligation to do much more. Far too much behavior in the Obama administration has been justified as necessary for national security. A free and unfettered citizenry and press are the best evidence of a secure nation.

bob@zestoforange.com

 

 

The Endless Fight for Women’s Rights

Thursday, April 25th, 2013

By Bob Gaydos

Malala Yousafzai

Back when Time magazine was deciding on its “Person of the Year,” the editors went with the safe, boring and incorrect choice — Barack Obama. In doing so, they avoided the exciting, correct, popular choice — Malala Yousafzai.

Now, in promoting their other effort to pump-up sales — “The 100 Most Influential People” issue — the Time editors are also trying to cover their erring butts by putting Malala on the cover, suggesting that even in such, umm, influential company, some people are more influential than others and that Miss Yousafzai is, perhaps, the most influential of all.

I don’t know that she is. In this case, President Obama, as predictable as he may be on the list and as hamstrung as he is by Republicans in Congress, is probably the most influential person on the planet by virtue of the fact that he is president of the United States of America.

But I’m not talking about influence here; I’m talking about perception, maybe even predilection or pre-conditioning. It’s my belief that Malala, 15, got short-changed in the “Person of the Year” selection because even the progressive, fair-minded, liberal-thinking editors of Time were pre-programmed and could not get past the fact that she is a teen-aged girl and Obama is a grown man. A man of accomplishment and history, to be sure, but a man.

So, despite igniting a firestorm of international outrage and support when she was shot by the Taliban for daring to promote educational freedom for girls in Pakistan, Malala didn’t quite measure up to a two-time president, as far as Time was concerned.

But, as often happens with “influential” women, second and third looks have produced different reactions. Maybe she was a teenaged girl, but she had displayed remarkable courage and dedication to continue to fight for “education, freedom and self-determination for girls and women,” as Chelsea Clinton wrote in her piece on Malala for Time. Interesting phrase that: “self-determination for girls and women.’’

Another phrase that caught my eye in Time was Madeleine Albright’s description of Aung San Suu Kyi, a political leader fighting for democracy in Burma, as “this indomitable woman.” I don’t believe I have ever heard a man referred to that way — “this indomitable man.” Even a dictionary check turned up this: “indomitable: impossible to subdue or defeat: a woman of indomitable spirit.” Even a woman fighting for self-determination for everyone can’t escape also being identified as a spunky woman. It may be subtle, but it strikes me as simply another example of a pre-programmed perception of women as being, not simply different from men, but not quite equal.

Now, I recognize that I am venturing into tricky territory for a male, especially one who has also been exposed to the very pre-programming I mentioned above, but think about it. When have you ever heard the phrase “men’s rights” used in a discussion of some issue in a serious manner? In decades in journalism and now writing a blog, I have never heard it used, other than by some group of disgruntled men with a warped sense of reality.

But women have been fighting for equal rights in this country for centuries. Once upon a time it was for the right to vote, one would think a basic right for all in a country that boasts of equality for all. Today, the social media sites on the Internet are full of groups dedicated to fighting for “women’s rights.”

What kind of “rights“? The same pay for the same job as men. The same opportunity for advancement in a company, even though being of child-bearing age. The right to control decisions about her own body. The right to express views on important issues aggressively without being referred to as a “b****.” The right not to be raped or beaten or be treated as sex slaves. The right to a good education and equal job opportunities. In sum, all the rights men take for granted.

Legally, that doesn’t quite exist in the United States. Despite a widespread impression and numerous attempts since 1923, the Equal Rights Amendment has never been approved by the required number of states — 38 — to become law. The amendment is refreshingly simple: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any state on account of sex.” It has fallen three states short of approval and its opponents consider it to be dead, the 1982 deadline for approval having passed. Its proponents have adopted a “three state strategy,’’ believing if they can get those three approvals it will indeed become the law of the land. Political rallies are being organized to promote these efforts.

I support the pro-ERA goals and efforts to educate women to simply claim their rights without asking permission. But I’m not sure that’s enough. I also think there needs to be a fundamental change in the way we teach our children to value themselves, regardless of gender. In fact, even if the ERA were somehow to pass after all this time, the fight for “women’s rights” would have to continue, I believe, so long as a significant percentage of men and women look upon females as less equal than males. It comes down to power and the fear of losing it, or the perception of it, I think, and many men, trained from childhood as to the ‘‘proper” roles for men and women in society, will not easily change.

It is smart and right and crucial to educate young girls about being independent and the equal of any other person, male or female. Malala is a classic example of such upbringing. But, I fear, until we start showing young boys and girls how to treat everyone with respect and dignity, regardless of gender, no constitutional amendment will guarantee equal rights in this country.

bob@zestoforange.com

 

 

 

 

If It’s ‘Safe,’ Put It on the Label

Wednesday, March 27th, 2013

By Bob Gaydos

A few weeks ago I wrote a column that proclaimed, “Turns out, you really are what you eat.” For me, in the midst of changing to a more healthful diet, that statement is truer than ever. The problem is, it is getting harder to know exactly what we’re eating and the mega-companies that produce the food we eat are going out of their way to keep it that way. They’re also getting a lot of help from politicians, who bemoan rising health costs and obesity on the one hand, but don’t seem eager to learn if, just maybe, the food we eat has something to do with both. Guess it depends on who’s buttering your toast.

Disclaimer: While I have significantly modified my diet to a more healthful emphasis on non-meat fanoods and organic food, I am not a vegan or vegetarian. I believe all living things, including animals, are entitled to humane treatment and that animals who are pets or companions should not be used as food. Period.

I also believe that we humans are entitled to know as much as possible about the food being offered to us, including any changes made to the original product. Then we can make whatever decision we want, informed or uninformed, as long as we have a fair chance. That’s what this is about.

This week, President Obama, following the lead of a bought-and-paid for Congress, signed into law what has come to be known as the Monsanto Protection Act. Big mistake.

Much of the president’s political support has come from voters who believed his stated commitments to openness in government and a healthier, more informed citizenry. This swoop of his pen calls much of his rhetoric into doubt. In brief, the so-called act is actually one turgid paragraph buried in the homeland security section of a huge budget bill. It allows Monsanto, which did an all-out lobbying effort to get Congress to stick the paragraph in the bill, to plant genetically modified crop seed without any court reviewing whether or not it is safe.

Genetically modified crops are hardier, more resistant to pesticides and produce more product in less space. Through review of the gene-modifying process, the government says, it decides if they are safe for human consumption.

So ask yourself: Why then is it necessary in the first place for a food giant to want protection from having to prove its “safe” food is safe?

Correct answer: Money. It costs a lot to pay lawyers to defend you in court. Even mega-rich companies like Monsanto try to avoid court costs. Also, any doubts raised about the safety of a food product — cereal, bread, beef — is bound to hurt sales. More money.

This has far more to do with Monsanto’s bottom line than homeland security. And the fact that nobody can be 100 percent sure the genetically modified organisms are, in the long run, safe.

Now, a lot of apparently intelligent people say publicly that the GMOs are indeed safe for us to eat. I don’t discount this out of hand. As I said, this is about letting us, not some high-priced lobbyist, decide what food we want to eat and what food we’d just as soon avoid. (Obama has also appointed a former Monsanto executive as his food safety adviser.) If GMOs are so safe (may European nations have banned them), then label them and let the president give a personal testimonial on the label if he wants. “Mmm mmm good, says Barack.” Just let me know what I’m eating.

Or drinking.

The other current labeling issue involves milk, which we are told from birth is good, even necessary, for our good health, and aspartame, which, well, let’s say has had some issues.

The dairy industry has asked the Food and Drug Administration to allow it to remove front-of-package labeling on flavored milk products that proclaim “low calorie” or “artificially sweetened.” These milk products, especially chocolate milk, are big with kids, but they are drinking less of it and industry executives think the front labels may scare them off.

Again, money.

Actually, it’s more likely the labels scare off parents who then look at the ingredients and see aspartame has been added for sweetness. Just to be clear — aspartame is already in these products and listed in the ingredients. That will not change. The milk people just want it to be less obvious and to continue to label the products “milk” without any of that annoying added information.

Now, to start with, using artificial sweeteners as an argument for improving the health of children is specious. The sweeteners are so much sweeter than sugar (aspartame is 200 times sweeter) that they increase children’s appetite for other sweet foods. And school officials are not keen on kids being targeted this way and not being absolutely clear as to what they are offering in their cafeterias.

A chemical concoction, aspartame (once sold as NutraSweet) has been a controversial product from the start. Still, while being mentioned in connection with many health concerns (including brain cancer), aspartame has been found to be safe for human consumption in the United States and more than 100 other countries. For proof, check your diet soda’s ingredients.

The point is, they still call it diet soda or low-cal whatever, meaning you might want to check the ingredients to see what makes it so tasty. Just like you might want to check your milk product. Or not.

We Americans like to think of ourselves as savvy and independent consumers. We also say we revere science and aspire to good health. Yet we rank near the bottom of the world rankings for science students and near the top for obese ones — and health care costs. Maybe we should connect those dots.

Meantime, just give us all the info on the food we get and let us decide for ourselves if we want to eat it.

bob@zestoforange.com