Blacknell.net

Politics, technology, and society. And the seasonal incursion of pro cycling.

Month: August 2010

Debating the Surveillance State

Glenn Greenwald keeps up the good fight in responding to two essays which:
perfectly illustrate the continuous stream of manipulative fear-mongering over the last decade which has reduced much of the American citizenry into a meek and submissive faction for whom no asserted government power is too extreme, provided the scary menace of 'Terrorism' is uttered to justify it.
And really, please read the links given via "two essays" above. While this subject sometimes feels like a hobby horse that I'm either riding or beating to death, I continue to believe that it is an issue critical to our society.  And yes, things *have* changed:
Every President until George W. Bush -- including Ronald Reagan -- was able to keep the country safe while adhering to that surveillance safeguard. But while even the most hawkish Americans in the 1980s -- facing the Soviet threat -- understood that domestic eavesdropping should be conducted only with judicial warrants, the war cheerleaders of the current decade insist that the far less formidable threat from Muslim extremists means we must vest the Government with the power of warrantless surveillance -- even on American citizens, on U.S. soil. That’s how far we’ve descended into the pit of fear-mongering and submission, thanks to the toxic mix of fear-mongers and the authoritarian cowards they exploit.
There's no excluding of Barack Obama in this paragraph.  Like most presidents, he's held onto the powers grabbed by the previous one.  This is not a partisan issue.  It's a fundamental issue.

Why Yes, That *Was* Hotter Than Ever . . .

The Guardian points to something that everyone living in the DC area (and probably entire Eastern Seaboard) already suspected was the case:
Now scientists have confirmed what's been pretty obvious: the entire world has just come through the warmest six months, the warmest year, and the warmest decade on record. Following the hottest June ever,AccuWeather.com yesterday said July was the second hottest July recorded – and the warmest ever for land temperatures alone.
And with that comes consequences:
Just in case those feel like abstractions, here's what they mean in practice: because warmer air holds more water vapour than cold, deluge increases. Hence, Pakistan has seen the worst flooding in its history. Because heat cuts grain yields, Russia has stopped exporting grain, spiking prices. Greenland? Guess what – heat melts ice.
But hey, just regular weather cycles, right?

Friday Music: **** It

Not safe for work, nor for some ears (whether working or not), but catchy as hell.  Love me some Cee Lo:

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Pakistan’s Floods Reach Beyond Its Borders

I think the human suffering alone is sufficient reason for contributing to the relief efforts in Pakistan, but Robert Reich makes another case:
If you’re not moved by the scale of the disaster and its aftermath, consider that our future security is inextricably bound up with the future for Pakistan. Of 175 million Pakistanis, some 100 million are under age 25. In the years ahead they’ll either opt for gainful employment or, in its absence, may choose Islamic extremism. We are already in a war for their hearts and minds, as well as those of young people throughout the Muslim world. Right now, Islamic insurgents are using the chaos as an opportunity, attacking police posts in Pakistan’s northwest while police have been occupied in rescue and relief work. Meanwhile, lacking help and losing hope, many Pakistanis are becoming increasingly hostile toward President Asif Ali Zardari.
In addition to straight cash aid, Reich highlights other things the US could do:
While they’re at it, Congress should remove all tariffs on textiles and clothing from Pakistan. Textiles and clothing are half Pakistan’s exports. More than half of all Pakistanis are employed growing cotton, weaving it into cloth, or cutting and sewing it into clothing. In the months and years ahead, Pakistan will have to rely ever more on these exports. Yet we impose a 17 percent tariff on textiles and clothing from Pakistan. If we removed it, Pakistan’s exports would surge $5 billion annually. That would boost the wages of millions there. That tariff also artificially raises the price of the clothing and textiles you and I buy. How many American jobs do we protect by this absurdity? Almost none. Instead, we’ve been importing more textiles and clothing from China and other East Asian nations. China subsidizes its exports with an artificially low currency.
Cash aid is an important and essential part of disaster relief, but this tariff reduction is the sort of long term aid that can really make a difference.  I'd add lots of caveats and exceptions to it, but it's a step in the right direction.

Saturday Afternoon Music

Águas de Março

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Thank You, Michael Bloomberg

I'm not sure if I've ever managed to talk about NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg without a heavy undercurrent of sarcasm and/or irony, but I am completely genuine in my admiration for this speech:
“We've come here to Governors Island to stand where the earliest settlers first set foot in New Amsterdam, and where the seeds of religious tolerance were first planted. We come here to see the inspiring symbol of liberty that more than 250 years later would greet millions of immigrants in this harbor. And we come here to state as strongly as ever, this is the freest city in the world. That's what makes New York special and different and strong. “Our doors are open to everyone. Everyone with a dream and a willingness to work hard and play by the rules. New York City was built by immigrants, and it's sustained by immigrants -- by people from more than 100 different countries speaking more than 200 different languages and professing every faith. And whether your parents were born here or you came here yesterday, you are a New Yorker. “We may not always agree with every one of our neighbors. That's life. And it's part of living in such a diverse and dense city. But we also recognize that part of being a New Yorker is living with your neighbors in mutual respect and tolerance. It was exactly that spirit of openness and acceptance that was attacked on 9/11, 2001. “On that day, 3,000 people were killed because some murderous fanatics didn't want us to enjoy the freedoms to profess our own faiths, to speak our own minds, to follow our own dreams, and to live our own lives. Of all our precious freedoms, the most important may be the freedom to worship as we wish. And it is a freedom that even here -- in a city that is rooted in Dutch tolerance -- was hard-won over many years. “In the mid-1650s, the small Jewish community living in lower Manhattan petitioned Dutch governor Peter Stuyvesant for the right to build a synagogue, and they were turned down. In 1657, when Stuyvesant also prohibited Quakers from holding meetings, a group of non-Quakers in Queens signed the Flushing Remonstrance, a petition in defense of the right of Quakers and others to freely practice their religion. It was perhaps the first formal political petition for religious freedom in the American colonies, and the organizer was thrown in jail and then banished from New Amsterdam. “In the 1700s, even as religious freedom took hold in America, Catholics in New York were effectively prohibited from practicing their religion, and priests could be arrested. Largely as a result, the first Catholic parish in New York City was not established until the 1780s, St. Peter's on Barclay Street, which still stands just one block north of the World Trade Center site, and one block south of the proposed mosque and community center. “This morning, the city's Landmark Preservation Commission unanimously voted to extend -- not to extend -- landmark status to the building on Park Place where the mosque and community center are planned. The decision was based solely on the fact that there was little architectural significance to the building. But with or without landmark designation, there is nothing in the law that would prevent the owners from opening a mosque within the existing building. “The simple fact is, this building is private property, and the owners have a right to use the building as a house of worship, and the government has no right whatsoever to deny that right. And if it were tried, the courts would almost certainly strike it down as a violation of the U.S. Constitution. “Whatever you may think of the proposed mosque and community center, lost in the heat of the debate has been a basic question: Should government attempt to deny private citizens the right to build a house of worship on private property based on their particular religion? That may happen in other countries, but we should never allow it to happen here. “This nation was founded on the principle that the government must never choose between religions or favor one over another. The World Trade Center site will forever hold a special place in our city, in our hearts. But we would be untrue to the best part of ourselves and who we are as New Yorkers and Americans if we said no to a mosque in lower Manhattan. “Let us not forget that Muslims were among those murdered on 9/11, and that our Muslim neighbors grieved with us as New Yorkers and as Americans. We would betray our values and play into our enemies' hands if we were to treat Muslims differently than anyone else. In fact, to cave to popular sentiment would be to hand a victory to the terrorists, and we should not stand for that. "For that reason, I believe that this is an important test of the separation of church and state as we may see in our lifetimes, as important a test. And it is critically important that we get it right. "On Sept. 11, 2001, thousands of first responders heroically rushed to the scene and saved tens of thousands of lives. More than 400 of those first responders did not make it out alive. In rushing into those burning buildings, not one of them asked, 'What God do you pray to?' (Bloomberg's voice cracks here a little as he gets choked up.) 'What beliefs do you hold?' "The attack was an act of war, and our first responders defended not only our city, but our country and our constitution. We do not honor their lives by denying the very constitutional rights they died protecting. We honor their lives by defending those rights and the freedoms that the terrorists attacked. "Of course, it is fair to ask the organizers of the mosque to show some special sensitivity to the situation, and in fact their plan envisions reaching beyond their walls and building an interfaith community. But doing so, it is my hope that the mosque will help to bring our city even closer together, and help repudiate the false and repugnant idea that the attacks of 9/11 were in any ways consistent with Islam. "Muslims are as much a part of our city and our country as the people of any faith. And they are as welcome to worship in lower Manhattan as any other group. In fact, they have been worshipping at the site for better, the better part of a year, as is their right. The local community board in lower Manhattan voted overwhelmingly to support the proposal. And if it moves forward, I expect the community center and mosque will add to the life and vitality of the neighborhood and the entire city. "Political controversies come and go, but our values and our traditions endure, and there is no neighborhood in this city that is off-limits to God's love and mercy, as the religious leaders here with us can attest."
More here.

Not In My America

Wholeheartedly endorse:

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