Archive for Human Rights

The Working Class Rides Again!

by Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff

work_or_riot_cropped

Holy moldering Marx, the working class is back! Drawn out of hiding by the Donald and Bernie. Cheerleaders for the Ownership Society who pushed subprime mortgages and equity draining as a substitute for NAFTA-gone jobs are aghast. As are devotees of identity politics. Solidarity Forever? Screw it. An overarching concept like class, with its multi cultural inclusiveness, could undermine decades of hard work fanning social divisions.

As for snobs on both sides of the political divide, for them it’s a real knuckle-drag to see the return of the “great unwashed”. Yes, West Virginia– there still are folks who use that phrase. Or think in its terms. That many of them are no better off economically or secure in their futures than the Morlocks they imagine and despise matters not. Illusions of superiority are as comforting as a baby’s blankie.

So– where has the working class been hiding? Answer: in plain sight. Only the term “working class” disappeared, not the actual people.

In an infamous scene from Sex & the City, the gals are discussing their sex lives (did they ever discuss anything else?) while getting a pedicure in a Korean nail salon. Miranda, a high-powered attorney, is dating a bartender. Charlotte, an art gallery manager with a wealthy husband, says the relationship has no future because a bartender is “working class”. The gals all laugh at such an archaic concept. Then the camera pans down to show the Korean women kneeling at their feet…

The term “working class” began fading out in the 1970’s; its erasure has been helpful politically to both left and right. The boon to the right is obvious; no working class means no need for organized labor. Not saying that not using the term is the sole reason unions have shrunk to a ghost of their former selves– just that it’s harder to organize people when they can’t name the group with whom their economic interests lie. And when that increasingly nameless group is made to appear ridiculous, boorish, and bigoted the organizing gets even harder. I mean, who wants to identify with–

Archie Bunker

Ah, Archie. The creation of liberal TV god Norman Lear, blue collar Archie ruled the sitcom world in All in the Family between 1971 and ’79. Talking trash with little cash. The latter wasn’t a sympathy factor, just another indicator of Archie’s social inferiority. Some claim Archie was an anti-hero and that white viewers secretly identified with him while pretending to scorn. But anti-heroes, after decades of cultural presence, tend to segue into respectability. So why does the term ”Archie Bunker” remain an insult?

Archie Bunker was an ugly stereotype. One that was allowed to stand because its target, the working class, was no longer deemed worthy of respect. Also because those being targeted were ambivalent about identifying as “working class”. Doing so flew in the face of middle class aspiration. Plus, the term was an ideological one associated with communism, our Cold War enemy, and in this country with hoary political groups still fighting the Stalin v. Trotsky wars. Many such groups featured the word “workers” in their titles. Comrades dressed the part, circa Woody Guthrie. The New Left called these groups “Old Left”. By 1971 their worker-centric influence had dwindled to an echo.

Not so New Left influence. Thanks to their piggy-backing the counterculture, rads of the New Left were hip and happening. Their cultural judgments carried weight. And from them, the working class got no respect.

Few groups on the New Left called themselves “worker” anything. In New Left minds, American workers had been corrupted by the success of organized labor and were now part of the problem not the solution. They had houses, cars, and televisions. Refrigerators full of beer. Cupboards stuffed with white bread. They worked in factories that belched pollutants and/or produced gas-guzzlers that carried people away from urban slums to suburban tract homes with lawns. (The New Left, with its amazing ability to intuit hidden motives, knew the exodus was really about racism not lawns.) But the biggest sin was support for the Vietnam War. That most working class people had kids, siblings, spouses, or friends fighting the war was no excuse. In Vietnam, the USA was Hitler. Which made all its supporters back home “good Germans”. Something New Left activists took great moral pride in not being.

Back to Norman Lear. Creator of Archie Bunker. Wealthy as hell but still an ace identifier of all things working class ugly, Lear has denounced Donald Trump. No surprise. Trump’s blue collar supporters are often called Archie. “Meathead” aka Rob Reiner, liberal son-in-law of apocryphal Archie, has also delivered a finger wag.  Apostle Meathead spreading his Creator’s Word…

One Last Thing

Thankfully for fans of the TV working class, Archie Bunker wasn’t the only blue collar guy to grace sets in the 70’s. There was also Detective Columbo of the LAPD. Underestimated. Rumpled. Smoking a cheap stogie, driving a beloved beater. Unlike Archie, Columbo never talked politics. All he did was ask homicide suspects gazillion nagging questions. Relentlessly. The payoff being his nailing arrogant elite types who thought they could get away with murder.

When I look at the people cheering Trump– and Sanders– at rallies in post-industrial places I don’t see the face of Archie Bunker. I see Columbo bringing it home. I can almost hear it…

“One last thing. Nothing important. I just need to clear up a few small details. It won’t take long. I know you need to get on with ruling. But first, can you tell me where you were when American jobs were being exported, cheap labor was being imported, and working class/middle class incomes were stagnating?”

Everybody into the beater!

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Net governance is a game – play it to win

by David Solomonoff

While we take the Internet for granted as an essential part of everyday life, decisions are being made behind the scenes that affect its future and the lives of everyone who relies on it. Net users are like players in a game where the rules are unknown and can change at any time.  Decisions are made by technologists, government regulators and legislators, nonprofits and civil society groups — with a great deal of influence by special interests — far from public view or understanding.

The recent announcement by Department of Commerce that the United States would relinquish part of its controlling role in managing the Internet Domain Name System (DNS), although long in the offing, was accelerated by fears of US control of the Net in the wake of recent NSA spying scandals.

The DNS essentially controls real estate in cyberspace by translating a human-understandable domain name like “google.com” to an Internet Protocol (IP) address that computers understand.

In October 2013 leaders of organizations responsible for coordination of the Internet technical infrastructure globally met in Montevideo, Uruguay, to consider current issues affecting the future of the Internet. In the Montevideo Statement on the Future of Internet Cooperation they expressed strong concern over the undermining of the trust and confidence of Internet users globally due to recent revelations of pervasive monitoring and surveillance. They also called for accelerating the globalization of Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) and Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) who manage the DNS, towards an environment in which all stakeholders, including all governments, participate on an equal footing.

On March 14, 2014 the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) announced its intent to transition key Internet domain name functions to the global multistakeholder community. NTIA asked ICANN, as the IANA  functions contractor and the global coordinator for the DNS, to convene a multistakeholder process to develop a proposal for the transition. In addition, NTIA explicitly stated that it would not accept a proposal that replaces the NTIA role with a government-led or an inter-governmental organization solution.

That fear of repressive government control of the Net also inspired three bills, H.R. 4342  (ih) – Domain Openness Through Continued Oversight Matters Act of 2014, H.R. 4367  (ih) – Internet Stewardship Act of 2014 and H.R. 4398  (ih) – Global Internet Freedom Act of 2014 to be introduced to the US Congress to prevent or delay the transition.

Supporters of the transition say critics betray their lack of understanding of Net governance with the proposed legislation. Several human rights and civil liberties groups supporting the transition wrote a letter arguing that the move would actually be preemptive and would sustain the current multi-stakeholder model.

The 800 pound gorilla in the room is ICANN itself which has been criticized for lacking transparency and accountability. Milton Mueller of the Internet Governance Project writes:

When the U.S. Commerce Department announced that it would end its control of the domain name system root, it called upon ICANN to “convene the multistakeholder process to develop the transition plan.” Many people worried about ICANN’s ability to run a fair process. As an organization with a huge stake in the outcome, there were fears that it might try to bias the proceedings. ICANN has a very strong interest in getting rid of external oversight and other dependencies on other organizations.

It was in this environment that the Brazilian President  Dilma Rousseff  (who herself was a victim of NSA spying) organized the NETmundial Global Multistakeholder Meeting on the Future of Internet Governance which was co-sponsored by ICANN. Concurrently with the conference, she signed the Marco Civil da Internet, a bill that sets out new guidelines for freedom of expression, net neutrality and data privacy.

Wired UK compared NETmundial to a game:

To set the scene for a Brazilian meeting over internationalising the internet, we compare the little-known world of internet governance with the greatest spectacle in football

As Brazil gears up to host the 2014 World Cup, another world game is gathering pundits and crowds. Far from the flashy arena, this other contest is over Internet governance. It’s about how, and by whom, the paradigmatically ‘unowned’ internet is managed.

Quietly waged by smooth corporate strategists, diplomats, and tech-geeks, the fight over net governance goes to the heart of global politics and economics. The bets, most curiously, run close to those in football. Brazil and Germany are leading the charge, with several other European and South American teams as potential challengers. The big question is whether they can nudge perennial football underdog and undisputed internet champion, the United States, from the top spot.

The analogy between Internet policy and games is not new or inaccurate – in 2007 Google hired game theorists to assist in their strategy in an FCC auction for wireless spectrum.

Like any other game with winners and losers, there was disappointment in the outcome of NETmundial.

Sara Myers of Global Voices, an Internet freedom group wrote:

Provisions addressing net neutrality and the principle of proportionality were not included in the final version, and a section on intermediary liability lacked safeguards to protect due process and the rights to free expression and privacy.

But the greater problem for Internet governance and Internet freedom is how few Net users even know that the Internet is governed or managed at all. While recent surveys in the US show an alarming decline in understanding of how the US government works, the number of people who even know what ICANN is is probably far smaller.

Recently the Governance Lab at New York University developed a series of proposals to make ICANN more “effective, legitimate and evolving”. The most interesting was Enhance Learning by Encouraging Games:

ICANN must take seriously its commitment to engage its global stakeholder base in decision-making, especially those who are ultimately impacted by those decisions …. ICANN could make the complexities of Internet governance and ICANN’s work more open, accessible and interesting to people with games and activities aimed at the next generation … The use of game mechanics in decision-making contexts can bolster ease and equitability of participation (enhancing legitimacy); produce incentive structures to target expertise (enhancing efficiency); and mitigate complexity through simple rules (enhancing adaptability and the ability to evolve).

While the Gov Lab has not yet begun development of such games, another group has. Media artist Josephine Dorado and game developer Jeremy Pesner, working with the Internet Society (disclaimer: as President of New York Chapter of Internet Society I am also involved in development) are modifying reACTor, their online game to promote social activism, to specifically address issues involving Internet governance and Internet freedom.

Several years ago the Internet Society explored several alternate scenarios for the evolution of the Internet in a series of animated videos. These videos are a model for the type of scenarios the game will explore. Combined with feeds from news media, activist organizations and the Internet Society’s extensive documentation on Internet governance and policy, the game will award points and prizes to players who most effectively work for an open Internet.

To integrate the game with real-world action, POPVOX, a non-partisan platform which facilitates constituents contacting US legislators and regulators, will be used. Net governance organizations like ICANN could also be integrated.

reACTor re-envisions news engagement, online activism and mobile gaming. It connects news with augmented activism: calls to action inspired by news and sustained by gameplay.

Online activist movements have previously been organized by different actors, around different issues and on different platforms. reACTor is the unified platform that activist organizations as well as game players can easily add new actions to.

reACTor brings news and activism into the 21st century by closing the gap between becoming informed and becoming involved.

Let the game begin!

 

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Now Running 4 President: The Year of Living Idiotically

by Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff

Go to the polls and keep smiling!

I loathe presidential election years. Let me count the ways.

1. Everything is subject to partisan spin. If pollen triggers hay fever, flaks din that the other party did it. The media echoes the act. (The story of O is getting an extra loud yodel!) Worse yet, so do boots on the ground. Hitherto charming intelligent friends hit the social media streets loaded with dogma. Your email gets clogged with petitions urging you to tell the left/right fanatics in the White House/Congress/Temple of Dagon that you won’t tolerate their war on business/women/the cosmos.

2. Politics trump friendship. I know someone who voted for Ralph Nader in 2000 (as I did) and was cut dead for a decade. His friends blamed him for Al Gore’s defeat. Go figure why they didn’t blame Gore.

3. Presidential elections turn thoroughly modern Millies & Mikes into medieval hysterics. The devil is supposed to have left the secularized building. Yet he surfaces every four years as the candidate of the other party. Quoting a friend in New Jersey: “Vote for whoever you like. But don’t tell me the other guy eats babies.”

4. There is no real humor in Mudville. Only partisan sallies. (Did ya hear the one about Sarah Pelosi?) A true sense of the absurd is an unwelcome guest at partisan parties. Could be worse tho. Totalitarians 86 it. Like, totally.

5. In election years the effort to shape reality by limiting language and subverting meaning ramps up. (See Newspeak for basic theory.) The publics’ flirtation with “outsider” candidates such as Donald Trump and Herman Cain reflects weariness with parsing and PC patter. Better a plainspoken zany than one who hides his strobe light under a bushel.

6. Brain dead hyperbole becomes the norm. This year’s zombie meme: “The War On”. Followed by whatever will rile The Base. But is limiting funding for morning-after birth control or raising taxes on the wealthy really the same as being bombed to smithereens or starving in the rubble of a ruined country?

7. The social issue boom-car pounds 24/7. This year’s divisive device doesn’t have much sub woof. Same sex marriage matters to its fervent supporters and opponents but frankly my dear, most people don’t give a damn. They don’t gasp with admiration or outrage when candidates strike a pose pro or con, they just wish they’d stop voguing for the media. The economy is a dry subject (dangerous to boot) but anything about sex– Hoohah!

8. None of the above tops the horror the horror of hearing candidates wax folksy on TV. When these ultimate entitled elitists drop letters from words, call people “folks”, and reference decisions made by “American families sitting round the kitchen table” my flesh creeps. I recently saw VP Joe Biden doing the populist doo. My hands were full of hot pots (I was in an actual kitchen) and I couldn’t reach the remote in time. Move over Chucky, Pinhead, and assorted killer clowns. The nightmare of Farmer Joe is seared in my brain.

According to pundits, coolness is a major factor in this year’s presidential race. If so, Ron Paul should have done better in the primaries. He doesn’t do dialect. On the leftover front, if Mitt promises to keep droning away in characterless cadences he just might get my vote. I hate candy corn that much.

 

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When Hitchens Met Clinton/Oh What a Lovely War!

by Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff

Farewell Christopher Hitchens. Gone but not forgotten. A memorial for Hitchens (he died in December) was held in late April in New York City. The New York Times announcement of the event touched on some high points of Hitchens’ career, including his 20 year stint as columnist at Vanity Fair. It also mentioned that Hitchens “had no compunction about jabbing his pen into sacred figures, like Mother Teresa, or ripe targets, like Henry Kissinger.” Not mentioned was the jab Hitchens gave President Bill Clinton. But then, No One Left to Lie To: The Triangulations of William Jefferson Clinton wasn’t a jab, it was a dissection. CSI with razor wit and moral scalpel.

No One Left to Lie To was originally published in 1999. Other editions followed and– silver lining to a cloud– it’s been reissued in light of Hitchens’ death. I just read it for the first time. A word of caution; reading No One Left aloud while a passenger in a moving vehicle is extremely dangerous. (It should probably be outlawed like texting while driving.) While zooming along the Thruway recently, my husband almost swerved off the road laughing as I read Hitchens’ skewer of a scene from Hillary Clinton’s It Takes a Village

One morning back in 1986, Bill, Hill, and child Chelsea were sitting round the breakfast table in the Arkansas governor’s mansion. Hill was explaining to Chelsea that Daddy was going to run for governor again. Saying that if he won “we would keep living in this house and he would keep trying to help people. But first we have to have an election”. The nasty part (besides the necessity of an election) was that bad people would be telling lies about Daddy to try to stop him from being re-elected:

‘Like most parents, we had told her that it was wrong to lie, and she struggled with the idea, saying over and over, “Why would people do that?” I didn’t have an answer for that one. (I still don’t.)’

It Takes a Village was published in 1996. That Hillary was still pondering why people lie at that late date seems to support Christopher Hitchens’ perception of her as “quite devoid of reflective capacity”.

When No One Left to Lie To first appeared a major flash point was Hitchens’ assertion, which he swore to in an affidavit during the impeachment process, that Sidney Blumenthal, prominent journalist and senior advisor to Bill Clinton, tried feeding him (Hitchens) a line about Monica Lewinsky being a delusional stalker who’d been “threatening” the president. (This was before Bill’s precious bodily fluids were found on Monica’s blue dress.) Blumenthal swore under oath he said no such thing.

Incidentally– or not– the question of Blumenthal as a Clinton funnel to the press arose again during the 2008 presidential race via a rumor that Blumenthal, who was affiliated with Hillary Clinton’s campaign, was leaking negative info about Barack Obama.

Sidney Blumenthal and Christopher Hitchens were professional friends. They also shared a background on the left. Hitchens was deeply disappointed in Blumenthal’s willingness to toss aside ethics and ideology in order to protect Bill Clinton. In general, Hitchens was appalled by the willingness of so many liberals to do likewise. The calculating fealty of party hacks wasn’t surprising. What bothered him profoundly were the delusions and moral evasions of those who felt that in protecting Clinton, they were protecting progressive liberalism.

The dissection of Bill (and Hill) by Hitchens in No One Left to Lie To was particularly irksome to Clinton defenders because it didn’t come from a member of the vast right wing conspiracy, but from someone who believed Clinton’s policies, foreign and domestic, betrayed liberal ideals. Hitchens also believed Bill Clinton’s political character was rotten to the core and that his sex scandals reflected that rot. Hence they were not purely personal and were open to scrutiny.

Finally, Hitchens believed the protective coloring Clinton received from the left helped him pull off the biggest lie of all; his lionization as Man of the People.

Clinton’s non-qualifications for that title are laid out extensively in No One Left. Among other things, Hitchens cited Clinton’s wag-the-dog bomb drops in Sudan and Iraq, his pandering to the middle class while whittling down welfare, and his embrace of capital punishment (in particular, his personal oversight of the execution of brain damaged Rickey Ray Rector) in order to dodge the Dukakis soft on crime bullet. Financial corruption and cronyism? No need to cover miles of familiar ground. Let’s just say Hitchens ran it down.

As for the sex scandals, Hitchens stressed abuse of power. As Arkansas attorney general and governor, and as president of the U.S., Bill Clinton consistently hit on women who were beneath him socially and susceptible to pressure. After the lovin’, Bill (and Hill) were never reluctant to go to war against inconvenient women. Enlisting official colleagues and political connections as needed.

One of the most searing sections in No One Left to Lie To deals with Bill Clinton’s alleged rape of nursing home operator Juanita Broaddrick in 1978, when Bill was Attorney General of Arkansas (the state’s chief law enforcement officer) and making his first run for governor. Hitchens lays out a convincing case for believing Broaddrick. Read it and weep. Or not.

Disclosure: In the 1970’s, I did volunteer work at several rape crisis centers. As a councilor, most of the stories I heard were totally believable. A few seemed to contain elements of falsehood. When Broaddrick first went public with her charges in 1999, I didn’t immediately assume Bill Clinton’s other scandals made him capable of rape. But after seeing Broaddrick tell her story on TV, reading pro and con accounts, and comparing her to women I’d known as a councilor, I believed her. My own experience of rape (in the 70s, most rape crisis centers were staffed by rape survivors) made that conclusion extra disturbing.

Also disturbing was how little the possibility that Broaddrick’s story was true mattered to Clinton’s defenders on the left. These were the people who were supposed to be pro-woman. Saying rape wasn’t about sex but power. Decrying the social stigma that kept women silent. Urging them to come forward, promising support and belief. Juanita Broaddrick might well have asked “Ain’t I a woman?

The chapter in No One Left titled Is There a Rapist in the Oval Office? closes with this: “the mute reception of Jaunita Broaddrick’s charges illuminates the expiring, decadent phase of American liberalism.”

Before wrapping the chapter, Christopher Hitchens had a high time describing how presidential candidate Al Gore dithered and dissembled when a woman in the audience at a 1999 campaign event asked him if he believed Juanita Broaddrick.

When Hitchens was good, he was very very good. But he did have bad hair days…

Hitchens’ anti-religious writings too often read like screeds. One picks up a whiff of obsession. And his support for the war in Iraq was rife with the same types of moral evasions he derided in Clinton’s enablers. Hitchens’ passion for truth-above-all went south. That 9/11 was used by the Bush administration as an excuse to launch a war against a country that had nothing to do with the attack mattered not. If the American public was manipulated into supporting that war through lies about WMD and images of incipient mushroom clouds, the end justified the means.

This from the man who wrote Why Orwell Matters.

Which by the way, is an excellent book. And as the memory holes open around our feet, a perfect election year read.

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Big Catholic Boo 4 Obama, Bah 4 Limbaugh the Lesser

by Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff


 

I rarely come on all Catholic. I don’t feel entitled. My Catholicism was acquired via conversion; defending the faith seems best left to those who’ve held it in their heart all along and whose knowledge is more profound. Plus, I’m not a good Catholic in practice. Raised an atheist, I never set foot in a church until well into adulthood. I believe– but I’m deficient when it comes to habits of worship.

Then there’s my reluctance to attend church locally. Complaints by victims of pedophile priests were swept under the rug for decades by the Albany Diocese. (I live in the Albany, New York area.) Unlike better Catholics who rise above the failings of human beings and connect with the eternal Church, I get hung up on the actions and inactions of its temporal leaders. My bad. I mean that sincerely. I only hope God cuts me some slack for being slack.

Being a slacker doesn’t mean I don’t notice that anti-Catholic bigotry has become a ho hum staple of pop culture. Not to worry tho. The Church has outlasted many a meat dress. Far more disturbing are the anti-Catholic actions of our government. As in, the effort by President Obama and his Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to force Catholic institutions to provide employee coverage for contraception, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs– medical procedures antithetical to Catholic belief.

For the record, I agree with the Catholic Church about abortion. I don’t agree about before-the-fact contraception. This in no way tempers my being appalled by Obama’s attempt at a massive, unconstitutional expansion of government power into the realm of religion. Never thought I’d see the day when an American president, with the backing of many in his party and much of the mainstream media, would attempt to annex Catholicism. Or for that matter, any religion. Hubris, much?

The Church has clashed with, and outlasted, other big-headed heads of state with a sex beef. Prime example, Henry VIII. The Church has also clashed with war lovers. See George Bush II.

Dubya and crew were steamed when the Church wouldn’t declare the Iraq war a just war. Neoconservatives were all over the media, crowing that polls showed American Catholics were overwhelmingly for the war. In 2003, neocon Catholic pundit Michael Novak flew to Rome and tried to make Pope John Paul II see the light. No go. The war didn’t jive, theology-wise. A few years later, Pope Benedict XVI didn’t buy it either.

To Dubya’s credit, he never tried to force Catholic institutions to arm their employees.

In the 20th Century, Catholicism was targeted by totalitarian regimes– the most extreme practitioners of thuggery against religious freedom. Those regimes are gone; the Church is still standing. In the 1980’s, the Church stood with Eastern Europe as it moved from communism to democracy.  In Poland, Pope John Paul II threw the Church’s weight behind Solidarity, the labor-based mass movement that contributed mightily to the fall of the Soviet Union. At the time, conservatives called Catholicism their new best friend.

The Catholic Church never makes the right or the left happy for long. Just when the right thinks it has the Church in its freedom loving pocket, she goes and makes some annoying pronouncement about unfettered greed, economic disparity, and the rights of workers. And harps on the suffering of civilians bombed in the name of preventative war. Just when the left is priding itself on its love for humanity, the Church says something about our responsibility to protect the helpless and how there’s nothing more helpless than an unborn baby. Then tallies the huge number of unborn babies who’ve died on the altar of reproductive rights.

Back to the hubris thing–

Rush Limbaugh has a ginormous head. He recently opened it and spewed forth some trash talk about Sandra Fluke, former president of Law Students for Reproductive Justice at Georgetown University. Rush’s spew was in response to Fluke’s testimony in Congress as to why the Obama administration should force Catholic institutions such as Georgetown to provide coverage for medical treatments that violate Catholic beliefs. Ever the political opportunist, Rush is Catholic-friendly this election cycle.  With friends like that…

Rush Limbaugh is merely a meat dress. You can turn him off. Same goes for trash talkers on the other side. Turning off government-gone-wild is a whole lot harder. But thankfully, not impossible. Remember Solidarity and smile.Thomas Sarnecki, "Solidarity Poster - "High Noon 4 June 1989"," Making the History of 1989, Item #699, http://chnm.gmu.edu/1989/items/show/699 (accessed March 07 2012, 10:36 pm).

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Brit Boffins Ponder Bioethics of Brain Manipulation

by David Solomonoff

The Nuffield Council on Bioethics today launched a consultation on the ethics of new types of technologies that ‘intervene’ in the brain, such as brain-computer interfaces, deep brain stimulation, and neural stem cell therapy.

Often developed for treatment of conditions including Parkinson’s disease, depression and stroke, they could also be used in military applications to develop weapons or vehicles that are controlled remotely by brain signals. Commercial possibilities in the gaming industry include computer games controlled by people’s thoughts.

“These challenge us to think carefully about fundamental questions to do with the brain: what makes us human, what makes us an individual, and how and why do we think and behave in the way we do,” Thomas Baldwin, Chair of the Council’s study and Professor of Philosophy at the University of York.

“For example if brain-computer interfaces are used to control military aircraft or weapons from far away, who takes ultimate responsibility for the actions? Could this be blurring the line between man and machine?” he said.

 

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Like Mao Said, Real Estate isn’t a Dinner Party

by Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff

Mao as realtor

Ho ho ho! On December 21st, the National Association of Realtors (NAR) will gift the nation with the true number of existing home sales between 2007 and 2010. The NAR’s inflated numbers were flagged earlier this year by CoreLogic, a California based data firm. When confronted, the NAR grumped they’d look into it. Sounding more like dwarfs caught mining fool’s gold than housing helpful elves. Several seasons have passed. Now, a few days before Christmas, when most people pay scant attention to news, the NAR will be giving us a wee bit of truth. How holiday special is that? Scrooge’s transformation pales by comparison.

Like Scrooge, the NAR (rhymes with guar, which when partially hydrolyzed is fully fermentable in the large bowel) had to be coerced into transformation. With CoreLogic its Ghost of Christmas Past.

Speaking of the past, though the Washington/Wall Street nexus (On Fannie, on Freddie, on Banksters and Brokers!) financially powered the housing bubble that led to the economic crash, Realtors were the relentless boots on the ground. Threatening folks that if they didn’t buy now they’d be forever priced out of the housing market. Evoking an eternity of rental serfdom under Landlord Potter. As opposed to an eternity of low or no equity mortgage serfdom under Banker Potter.

Then there were NAR TV ads. Such as the 2007 gem claiming “when you have a family it’s always a good time to buy“. Underwater families are yukking over that one. Or how about the 2008 tout for Uncle Sam’s $8,000 first-time homebuyer tax credit? The break that suckered the last clueless buyers into paying still-inflated housing prices, jacked mortgage fraudsters posing as first-time buyers, and according to many Realtors (now) prolonged the housing crash. And the ads keep coming…

During 2011, reforms limiting government backed housing programs that leave taxpayers holding the bag for mortgage failures and related bailouts have been kicking around Washington. At the same time, the NAR has been blitzing the airwaves with a fear monger pitch featuring a Norman Rockwell grandpa fretting about “the dream of home ownership being threatened“.  Then there’s their “Public Awareness” campaign which champions the housing industry as job creator. What pol with elections looming could resist that?

Not that many pols ever resist the NAR. Its lobbying clout makes pols go all wobbly in the large bowel. For years, the NAR has beat back wave after wave of legislative reforms that threatened to reduce taxpayer exposure to housing-related risk.

Still, NAR concern re job creation is admirable. Many of the jobs that flow from housing are in the unionized construction trades, the last bastions of middle class wages for America’s blue collar workers. The worker-friendly NAR recently made Bill Malkasian, former head of the Wisconsin Realtors Association (WRA), their Vice President of Political Strategic Planning. When head of the WRA, Malkasian threw the group’s full weight behind union-busting Governor Scott Walker. The Koch brothers gave big to Walker, but the Wisconsin Realtors Association gave more. In his new position Bill Malkasian will be in the NAR field, leading political strategic efforts at state and local levels all over the nation.

By the buy, Bill’s new job is part of the NAR’s atta-boy response to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that corporations and other entities have the same political speech rights as individuals and can spend as much campaign cash as they wish.

The NAR has other reasons to be cheerful. As 2012 draws nigh, its leaders are making their annual Happy Days Are Almost Here Again predictions. Plus, the NAR is based in the USA not the Peoples Republic of China.

In China, underwater homeowners are doing more than seeking interest write downs or living rent free while awaiting foreclosure. The “fang nu” (housing slaves) of China’s housing bubble are storming the gates of real estate heaven.

The Los Angeles Times, in its December 13th article China’s housing bubble is losing air, describes a revolt of the fang nu in Shanghai. Condo buyers who’d been told by salespeople that “prices wouldn’t go down” became enraged when the project’s developer (China Vanke Co.) slashed purchase prices by 25% for later buyers. The condo cadre trashed the sales office and tussled with employees. It took the police three days to quell the protest. Cities including Shanghai and Beijing have had at least seven similar uprisings in three months, in which mobs “destroyed real estate offices and demanded refunds of up to 40%”.

According to the New York Times (Village Revolts Over Inequities of Chinese Life, 12/15/11) as many as 180,000 “mass incidents” have taken place in China over the last year. There are numerous reasons for the uprisings. But a prime cause is another twist on the real estate game–

“…the seizure of land by well-connected private developers or government officials, which invariably involves forced evictions for meager compensation….these seizures are supported by local governments that have come to rely on proceeds of land sales and development to pay for day-to-day operations.”

A familiar scenario to anyone who followed the rise of eminent domain abuse during the U.S. housing bubble daze. When moderate and low income property owners discovered their neighborhoods had become land-grab goldmines for pols, planners, and developers. Justification? Revitalization by any means necessary.

Like Mao once said, “Real estate is not a dinner party”.

OK. Mao Zedong aka Mao Tse-tung aka the Great Helmsman of the Peoples Republic of China till 1976, didn’t really say that. He said this:

“A revolution is not a dinner party, or writing an essay, or painting a picture, or doing embroidery; it cannot be so refined, so leisurely and gentle, so temperate, kind, courteous, restrained and magnanimous.”*

If you substitute “real estate” for “revolution” Mao’s words could come from a sales motivational speech. One which would wrap with the threat that coffee (or tea) is only for closers.

*From Report on an Investigation of the Peasant Movement in Hunan

 

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Envisioning Occupy Wall Street as software, service

by David Solomonoff

The impact of the Occupy Wall Street movement goes far beyond a traditional protest around specific issues. The ability to rapidly respond to changing situations, a horizontal rather than vertical structure and an open source approach to developing news tools and strategies will be as significant in the long term – perhaps more so. The medium is definitely the message here.

 

In Forbes, E. D. Kain writes about how Occupy Wall Street protesters are engaging in a roll-reversal where the surveilled are surveilling the surveillers:

If the pepper-spraying incident at UC Davis had happened before smart phones and video phones, it would have been the word of the protesters against the word of the police. If this had all happened before the internet and blogs and social media, it would have taken ages before the old media apparatus would have found the wherewithal to track down the truth and then disseminate that information.
Now the incident goes viral … Strangely, though, the police act as though these new realities don’t exist or don’t matter.

http://www.forbes.com/sites/erikkain/2011/11/19/maybe-its-time-to-occupy-the-police-state/

 

In The Atlantic, Alexis Madrigal suggests one their biggest accomplishments has been to facilitate other protests in the same way a software interface allows programmers to access and re-purpose data on the Internet:

Metastatic, the protests have an organizational coherence that’s surprising for a movement with few actual leaders and almost no official institutions. Much of that can be traced to how Occupy Wall Street has functioned in catalyzing other protests. Local organizers can choose from the menu of options modeled in Zuccotti, and adapt them for local use. Occupy Wall Street was designed to be mined and recombined, not simply copied.
This idea crystallized for me yesterday when Jonathan Glick, a long-time digital journalist, tweeted, “I think #OWS was working better as an API than a destination site anyway.”
API is an acronym for Application Programming Interface.

What an API does, in essence, is make it easy for the information a service contains to be integrated with the wider Internet. So, to make the metaphor here clear, Occupy Wall Street today can be seen like the early days of Twitter.com. Nearly everyone accessed Twitter information through clients developed by people outside the Twitter HQ. These co-developers made Twitter vastly more useful by adding their own ideas to the basic functionality of the social network. These developers don’t have to take in all of OWS data or use all of the strategies developed at OWS. Instead, they can choose the most useful information streams for their own individual applications (i.e. occupations, memes, websites, essays, policy papers).

The metaphor turns out to reveal a useful way of thinking about the components that have gone into the protest.

http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/print/2011/11/a-guide-to-the-occupy-wall-street-api-or-why-the-nerdiest-way-to-think-about-ows-is-so-useful/248562/

John Robb examines their progress from the perspective of military strategist John Boyd:

The dynamic of Boyd’s strategy is to isolate your enemy across three essential vectors (physical, mental, and moral), while at the same time improving your connectivity across those same vectors. It’s very network centric for a pre-Internet theoretician.

Physical. No isolation was achieved. The physical connections of police forces remained intact. However, these incidents provided confirmation to protesters that physical filming/imaging of the protests is valuable. Given how compelling this media is, it will radically increase the professional media’s coverage of events AND increase the number of protesters recording incidents.

Mental. These incidents will cause confusion within police forces. If leaders (Mayors and college administrators) back down or vacillate over these tactics due to media pressure, it will confuse policemen in the field. In short, it will create uncertainty and doubt over what the rules of engagement actually are. IN contrast, these media events have clarified how to turn police violence into useful tools for Occupy protesters.

Moral. This is the area of connection that was damaged the most. Most people watching these videos feel that this violence is both a) illegitimate and b) excessive.

http://globalguerrillas.typepad.com/globalguerrillas/2011/11/occupy-note-112011-boyd-pepper-spray-and-tools-of-compliance-ows.html

Following on Robb’s point, the videos also increase the moral liability of journalists and politicians who attack and denounce the movement.

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Occupy Albany: Trick Or Treat?

by Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff

Happy Halloween! Last weekend, New York Governor Andy Cuomo ordered his dog, Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings, to have state and city cops chase Occupy Albany campers out of a downtown park in the Capital City. But oops, both sets of cops (and Albany County District Attorney David Soares) balked. Lots of reasons. Some jake, some not. Among the latter, law enforcement concern (according to Soares) that a forcible removal would trigger a simpatico, bad publicity action by the riotous Kegs N’ Eggs SUNY kids up in Pine Hills, aka the Student Ghetto. As if! Beer isn’t being served by Occupy Albany. Question: is Governor Andy snarling about his lack of authority? Will he punish bad dog Jerry by withholding bacon bacon bacon? And finally– can Occupy Albany attract real folks not just the usual aged-in-wood suspects? Here’s hoping. Sincerely.

Andy's Trick or Treat

 

 

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Cambodia’s Curse, Mexico’s Manana, Reckless Endangerment Stateside

by Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff

My summer reading this year kicked off with Cambodia’s Curse: the Modern History of a Troubled Land by former New York Times reporter Joel Brinkley. Brinkley won a Pulitzer in 1980 for his coverage (at the Louisville Courier Journal) of the fall of the Khmer Rouge.

The title Cambodia’s Curse bugs me. Though cultures resistant to change create illusions of inevitability, and a genocidal past casts long shadows, no nation or people are truly cursed. Nor do I buy Brinkley’s attempt to place partial blame for Cambodian acceptance of the Khmer Rouge on passivity engendered by the influence of Theravada Buddhism and Hinduism. First, it’s a simplistic take on the two religions, both of which are practiced in numerous countries that never exterminated a quarter of their own people in an effort to create a communist utopia. Second, countries with far different religious heritages have also had totalitarian holocausts. Germany and the Soviet Union most notably, respectively representing the right and the left.

As for Cambodian passivity, it must come and go– judging by the perpetual political turmoil of Cambodia in the 20th Century, and by the recent grass roots resistance to the land grabbing, population displacing, development policies of Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Caveats aside, Curse author Joel Brinkley does a swell job nailing the crony-rich corruption of Cambodia’s current government as headed by Hun Sen. Whose honorary title of “Samdech” (akin to “your excellency”) was awarded him in 1993 by Cambodia’s amazingly tenacious King Norodom Sihanouk. Easy to imagine the retired (sort of) Sihanouk doing Karaoke of I Will Survive. Dubbed the world’s most versatile pol by the Guinness Book of Records, Sihanouk has surfed wave after wave of political change since 1941. Sometimes wearing his crown, sometimes not. Using his royal influence to legitimize the Khmer Rouge in one decade and deep-six them in another. Dancing with ideologies of all stripes, telling foreigners bearing aid and investment whatever they want to hear.

Prime Minister Hun Sen is also a marvel of tenacity. In 1975, as a Khmer Rouge battalion commander, Hun Sen took part in the campaign in the eastern zone of Democratic Kampuchea (Cambodia’s name under the Khmer Rouge) that included the invasion of the capital city of Phnom Penh and the forced evacuation— aka death march– of its entire population to a rural paradise of forced labor. By the late 70’s, Pol Pot and his pals in the upper echelons of the Khmer Rouge were imploding with paranoia. Hun Sen sensed the reaper was turning his way. When Vietnam, after a series of border disputes, invaded Cambodia in 1979 and overthrew the Khmer Rouge, Hun Sen rode in with them and was given a top spot in the government installed by the Vietnamese.

Years of civil war followed. The Cold War shaped the conflict. The Soviet Union backed the repressive Vietnamese government; the USA and China supported the rebel remains of the murderous Khmer Rouge. Arms flowed from all sides. In the early 1990’s, as the Soviet Union waned, the Vietnamese departed. The Khmer Rouge dwindled. Little dictator (compared to Pol Pot) Hun Sen remained in place as prime minister. To placate international good government types bearing financial aid, he was eventually forced to accept a toothless coalition government representing parties other than his own. Dissidents are still persecuted. An independent judiciary? Freedom of speech? Who needs the lies and distortions?

Meanwhile, the handful of elderly Khmer Rouge leaders charged with crimes against humanity will probably keel over before their trials are allowed to conclude and the bureaucrats, speculators, and family members favored by Hun Sen continue to help themselves to Cambodia.

As for Cambodia’s established reformers, the go-to guys when foreign policy players from other countries require an anti-Hun Sen, they seem almost as seasoned, agenda-wise, as Sihanouk and his Samdech.

An aside about my being a mental tourist in flailing states. Yeah, there’s the appeal of the morbidly exotic. But there’s also the illuminating shock of recognition. What past or present resident of a flailing post-industrial city in say, New Jersey or New York, hasn’t seen similar political stasis? With old boys and hoary reformers as the fixed poles of political expression? Old boys rule; reformers wax profitably pious. Both sides (if the two ends of a continuum can be called “sides”) claim revitalization is just around the next public-funded corner. They may squabble over who gets paid but always agree on the need for more more more.

OK. Hun Sen and his cronies in Cambodia make our crowd seem like pikers. But to paraphrase George Bernard Shaw, we’re just haggling over degree. For folks interested in U.S. urban policy (or in improving their looting skills) Cambodia’s Curse is an instructive read.

Now Reading: Mexico

I recently started reading Manana Forever? Mexico and the Mexicans by Jorge Castaneda, Mexico’s former foreign minister. Only a few chapters in, so I can’t say much about it. But I have been brushing up on Mexico via other sources. My hitherto casual interest was amped last year by the flap over Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s comparison of Mexico to Columbia during that country’s narco insurgency days. Hillary’s take was testily denounced by President Obama– and by the Mexican government. As an example of difference in the two situations, Mexico’s national security advisor pointed out that Mexico has never “elected a drug lord such as Pablo Escobar to congress”.

Wags might reply why buy the cow when milk is so cheap.

InSight, a think tank site focused on research, analysis and investigation of organized crime in Latin America and the Caribbean, recently ran an article (Mayor Goes Free, Mexico Fails Again to Prosecute ‘Corrupt’ Politicians) about the growing number of Mexican pols whose arrests on cartel-related charges have dissolved into non-prosecution. Including Gregorio Sanchez, the former mayor of Cancun,  Jorge Hank Rhon, the former mayor of Tijuana, and dozens of state and local officials in the state of Michoacan.

Mexico has 31 states (14 of which are on the U.S. State Department’s travel warning list) and a federal district. In late July, roughly 21 state prosecutors (a job akin to being a United States Attorney) resigned. Leaving the states and Mexico’s federal district temporarily without top cops. No reason given.

Zones of Silence

In June, Mexican reporter Ricardo Chavez Aldana (a native of Ciudad Juarez) spoke at the National Association of Hispanic Journalists’ annual meeting in Florida. Chavez was among several reporters who told of being threatened and of having relatives and/or colleagues murdered by drug cartels. June was a “particularly grim month” for journalists all over Mexico. On June 20th well-known crime reporter Miguel Angel Lopez Velasco and his wife and son were murdered in Veracruz. Another Veracruz journalist had been found in a shallow grave three weeks earlier. On June 7th, armed men abducted an editor of an Acapulco newspaper from a bar and on June 13th, a reporter for two dailies in the state of Sonora (bordering Arizona) was shot to death in an abduction attempt.

Also in June: a report titled Corruption, Impunity, Silence: The War on Mexico’s Journalists, by PEN Canada and the International Human Rights Program (IHRP) at the University of Toronto blasted “the Mexican government’s repeated failure to protect the human rights of journalists, its complicity in a number of rights violations against them, and the web of Mexican laws that limit freedom of expression and effectively gag journalists who seek to expose government corruption”.

During the same month the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) upped Mexico to #8 (among the top 10 countries) on its Impunity Index; the index calculates unsolved journalist murders as a percentage of a country’s population. According to CPI “deadly anti-press violence continued to climb in Mexico, where authorities appear powerless in bringing killers to justice.”

In 2010, Mexico’s own National Human Rights Commission reported that at least 66 journalists had been killed since 2005 and 12 others had disappeared. Mexican officials claim not all murdered or kidnapped reporters are targeted because of journalism activities. Most recently in the case of police reporter Yolanda Ordaz de la Cruz. On July 26th, her decapitated corpse was found on a street in Veracruz. Colleagues say she was investigating the murder of fellow reporter Miguel Angel Lopez Velasco and his family and had received anonymous death threats. The top prosecutor for the state of Veracruz denies her murder was linked to her work.

Boosters for tourism in Mexico often imply only people involved in drugs or those who don’t mind their own business are in danger. But in a country where drug cartel terrorism has created news blackouts in journalistic zones of silence, government corruption is supported by laws that limit speech, and where 70% of all federal arrests dissolve into dropped charges and the overall rate of impunity for criminal activity is eye popping, the true number and nature of victims, be they reporters, average citizens, or foreign tourists and workers, may be difficult to ascertain.

In the meantime, the Mexico Tourism Board, under the leadership of newly appointed Chief Marketing Officer Gerardo Llanes is seeking to tidy up Mexico’s image. Llanes, who in his prior position helped launch Diet Coke in Mexico, is reaching out to U.S. media outlets like Bloomberg, Newsweek, and CNN in order to help them “get the facts straight”. Llanes and the Tourism Board will cite “swimming with whale sharks and camping” as a few of Mexico’s attractions in an upbeat publicity campaign tagged “The Place You Thought You Knew”.

Twinge of recognition: in flailing post-industrial cities stateside, political boosters always claim that the crime afflicting their bailiwick is merely a matter of perception. They also revile and/or try to work the messengers who deliver the perception. And true crime stats are always elusive.

A word about Jorge Castaneda’s Manana Forever. In it Castaneda references (negatively) the Mexican proverb: “El que no transa no avanza”. Whoever doesn’t trick or cheat gets nowhere.

The Last Book of Summer

I’m on a waiting list at my local library (I don’t do tablets– too much like Etch A Sketch) for Reckless Endangerment by Gretchen Morgenson and Joshua Rosner. A nice cozy read about all the folks in the Washington Wall Street nexus who pumped the real estate bubble that distorted our economy and then picked the public pocket when the Ponzi collapsed. I don’t expect Reckless to be a shocker, more like the kind of mystery where you know who-done-it right from the beginning but enjoy seeing how the perp is brought to justice. Oh. Wait. None of the major housing bubble perps were brought to justice. In fact, most are doing better than ever.

El que no transa no avanza!

 

 

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