Kill switch redux: British PM Cameron considers muzzling social media during riots

August 12, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

This is chilling:

The government is considering whether social media services should be shut off at times of disorder, the British prime minister, David Cameron, has told parliament.

Cameron’s comments were made in a speech to the House of Commons on Thursday. Parliament has been recalled from its summer recess to respond to the violent disorder that has affected London, Manchester, Birmingham and other UK cities.

“Mr Speaker, everyone watching these horrific actions will be stuck by how they were organised via social media,” Cameron said. “Free flow of information can be used for good. But it can also be used for ill.”

Well, true, things would be much easier without that pesky “free flow of information.” Read more

GOP radicals and the end of American exceptionalism

August 9, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Last November, Karen Tumulty wrote an interesting article titled American exceptionalism: an old idea and a new political battle:

[T]he idea that the United States is inherently superior to the world’s other nations has become the battle cry from a new front in the ongoing culture wars. Lately, it seems to be on the lips of just about every Republican who is giving any thought to running for president in 2012.

The proposition of American exceptionalism, which goes at least as far back as the writing of French aristocrat and historian Alexis de Tocqueville in the 1830s, asserts that this country has a unique character. It is also rooted in religious belief. A recent survey by the Public Religion Research Institute and the Brookings Institution found that 58 percent of Americans agreed with the statement: “God has granted America a special role in human history.

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How the Democratic establishment shunned the left, spawned the Tea Party and moved America right

August 1, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

In the aftermath of the debt ceiling fiasco, there’s a lot of head-scratching and soul-searching going on among activists, pundits and political observers.

How can the Tea Party exert such outsized influence?
Is President Obama an awful negotiator incapable of getting progressive results or a good negotiator getting exactly the anti-progressive results he wants?
Is liberal activist anger at Obama a problem or does the White House welcome it?
Do Democrats stand for anything? If so, what?
Are Republicans reckless enough to destabilize the US economy for political ends? If so, how do they get away with it?
Is Washington really broken or does it work just fine for the rich and powerful?
Is America a democracy, kleptocracy, or corporatocracy?
Are our best days ahead of us or behind us?

On the left, and specifically the online activist left, early disappointment with Obama and Democratic leaders has given way to outright disgust. The level of frustration and rage is at a boiling point and Obama is fortunate that there’s no viable primary opponent or he’d have a problem with a flood of energy, money and media attention flowing to that candidate. Granted, he and his strategists can take solace in strong (early) fundraising and relative stability in the polls among Democrats, but the netroots are canaries in the coal mine, and if I had to bet, I’d say that the president’s re-election campaign will rue the day the netroots were spurned.

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Twitter should de-list a hashtag about domestic abuse [Updated: the tag is gone]

July 31, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

As of this writing, #reasonstobeatyourgirlfriend is the top trending topic on Twitter. It is beyond despicable. Granted, many people repeating the tag are criticizing it. Still Twitter should remove it. It’s not funny. It’s not amusing. It’s disgusting.

Note: I’ve purposely included the hashtag in my call for Twitter to de-list it and some have said that reinforces the trend. Three responses:

1. It was already #1 when I tweeted so it didn’t need my help.

2. The point is for people clicking on the tag to see my call to de-list it.

3. Most importantly, the purpose of pushing the retweet is for Twitter to remove it. As soon as they do so, the hashtag becomes irrelevant and retweeting it will have made a positive difference.

UPDATE: Over 1700 1800 2500 people have retweeted my request that Twitter de-list the offensive hashtag. Around 300 more have @ replied. Hopefully Twitter will heed their outrage. For context, here’s what women and girls around the world deal with on a daily basis: http://peterdaou.com/2011/06/no-justice-on-earth-until-there-is-justice-for-women/

UPDATE II: The hashtag is gone – thanks to all who helped get the word out!

Are rightwing bloggers to blame for the Norway massacre?

July 25, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

In an article titled Killings in Norway Spotlight Anti-Muslim Thought in U.S., the New York Times highlights the connection between Anders Behring Breivik and American bloggers:

The man accused of the killing spree in Norway was deeply influenced by a small group of American bloggers and writers who have warned for years about the threat from Islam, lacing his 1,500-page manifesto with quotations from them…

His manifesto, which denounced Norwegian politicians as failing to defend the country from Islamic influence, quoted Robert Spencer, who operates the Jihad Watch Web site, 64 times, and cited other Western writers who shared his view that Muslim immigrants pose a grave danger to Western culture.

Mr. Breivik frequently cited another blog, Atlas Shrugs, and recommended the Gates of Vienna among Web sites. Pamela Geller, an outspoken critic of Islam who runs Atlas Shrugs, wrote on her blog Sunday that any assertion that she or other antijihad writers bore any responsibility for Mr. Breivik’s actions was “ridiculous.”

Much as I find Geller’s writing execrable, the primary responsibility for the slaughter in Norway rests with the cowardly killer and not the hate-mongers he quotes in his pathetic manifesto.

That’s not to say that there are no consequences for spewing a constant stream of hatred and intolerance.

After the Giffords shooting, I wrote about eliminationism on the right. My focus was on the invective directed by rightwingers at the left, but it also applies to anti-Muslim bigotry rampant on a number of conservative sites…

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Consciousness Outfolding: The Philosophical Significance of Social Media

June 16, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Note: this is a repost of a piece I wrote on June 16, 2009.

As with any new phenomenon, a wave of curiosity, criticism, mockery, and adulation follows. The Twitter meta wave is cresting.

Now, attention is focused on Twitter’s practical applications in the disputed Iranian election and its unique capacity to harness real-time events. In the larger picture, the most intriguing thing about Twitter is not how it is different from other online communication mechanisms, but how it is the same: one more technological innovation enabling the outfolding of consciousness — the collective turning-outward of human thought.

In Embryos, Galaxies, and Sentient Beings: How the Universe Makes Life, an exquisitely written and astonishingly insightful book, Richard Grossinger writes about ‘infoldedeness’, stating that “the universe is comprehensible only as a thing that has been folded many times upon itself.” Reversing Grossinger’s idea: the outfolding of the human mind, the collective sharing of our thoughts, myriad thoughts from the inane to the mundane to the profound, enabled by technology, is changing our perception of reality and thus changing reality itself.

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No justice on earth until there is justice for women

June 5, 2011 by · 2 Comments 

Scan the headlines on any given day and you’re sure to find dozens of stories about girls and women being abused, abducted, raped, beaten and killed. The pervasive oppression of women and girls is humanity’s greatest travesty.

Here are just a few links to illustrate my point…

This:

An Iranian woman who’d already been condemned to death faces another sentence of 99 lashes because of a case of mistaken identity in a photograph, according to foes of the execution. Iranian authorities imposed the sentence after they saw the photo of a woman without a head scarf in a newspaper, the International Committee Against Stoning, a human rights group, said Friday.

This:

Russian women are habitually beaten with legal impunity—in a country with no support system for victims of domestic violence. So it was horrible but hardly surprising when my friend’s husband got drunk and killed her.

This:

The children most at risk of attempted abduction by strangers are girls ages 10 to 14, many on their way to or from school.

This:

Shocking, but true: Women work 67% of the world’s working hours, yet they earn only 10% of the world’s income.

This:

Only about one third of countries around the world have laws in place to combat violence against women, and in most of these countries those laws are not enforced, well resourced or taken seriously. Violence against women and girls, in the form of human trafficking, harmful cultural practices, rape as a tactic of war and domestic violence, is one of the single greatest barriers holding women back. A staggering statistic: one out of every three women will be a victim of violence in her lifetime. And the problem is getting worse every year.

This:

Majorities in nearly all 18 sub-Saharan African countries surveyed in 2009 say rape is a major problem in their countries. A median of 77% of sub-Saharan Africans see rape as this much of a problem, but in six countries, the percentage saying this reaches 90% or higher. Gallup’s survey results reaffirm the extent to which the issue of rape plagues countries in sub-Saharan Africa, including South Africa, where nearly all (97%) call it a major problem. According to Interpol, South Africa has the highest number of declared rapes in the world, with nearly half of the victims younger than 18.

And lest anyone pretend this isn’t a domestic problem:

According to the U.S. Department of Justice’s National Crime Victimization Survey — the country’s largest and most reliable crime study — there were 248,300 sexual assaults in 2007 (the most recent data available).

Across the globe, women’s rights, their basic dignity, is under assault. It can manifest with physical violence, but it can also be part of a pervasive pattern of sexism and misogyny. Whatever form it takes, one thing is clear: there can be no justice on earth until there is justice for women.

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Axiom: When Republicans are elected, women pay the price

June 3, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

This New York Times editorial (When States Punish Women) gets it right:

Just since April, six states — Indiana, Virginia, Nebraska, Idaho, Oklahoma and Kansas — have enacted laws banning insurance coverage of abortion in the health insurance exchanges created as part of federal health care reform, bringing the total to 14 states. Two states — Arizona and Texas — joined three others in making ultrasounds mandatory for women seeking to terminate pregnancies. Bills expected to be signed soon by Florida’s Republican governor, Rick Scott, contain both types of provisions.

Many of these fresh attacks on reproductive rights, not surprisingly, have come in states where the midterm elections left Republicans in charge of both chambers of the legislature and the governor’s mansion.

The shameless attack on women’s rights is an inevitable consequence of the GOP’s electoral victories:

Using small-government, libertarian rhetoric, the Tea Party ushered in a new crop of Republican leaders under the banner of fiscal responsibility. But the aggressive antichoice legislation coming from the new GOP majority in the House makes perfectly clear that belt-tightening deficit reduction is entirely compatible with an older social agenda committed to pushing American women out of the public sphere.

These initiatives are well coordinated and poised to make an enormous impact on women’s lives. House Republicans, joined by ten Democrats, passed Mike Pence’s bill to eliminate federal funding for Planned Parenthood, which in addition to pregnancy termination provides basic reproductive healthcare, STD testing, birth control and cancer screenings to millions of American women. The Republican Party has also proposed eliminating more than $1 billion from Head Start’s budget. As a result, 157,000 children may go without preschool care.

Meanwhile, the South Dakota legislature has considered a bill justifying homicide in the case of imminent harm to a fetus, a law that critics believe may in effect legalize the murder of abortion providers. Republicans in Arizona have proposed different birth certificates for children born to women who are not US citizens in order to nullify the birthright citizenship established by the Fourteenth Amendment. And Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is poised to eliminate most of the collective bargaining rights of public employees, including nurses, teachers and other pink-collar workers who are disproportionately women.

These numbers tell the story:

It’s almost an unbe­liev­able fig­ure — 916. That’s the amount of leg­is­la­tion that has been intro­duced so far this year, in an attempt to reg­u­late a woman’s repro­duc­tive sys­tem, and we’re only in April.

This infor­ma­tion comes from a report by The Guttmacher Insti­tute, and it finds that 49 states have con­tributed to this num­ber with var­i­ous bills geared towards reg­u­lat­ing Abor­tions and a woman’s right to choose. The report states that in 15 states, the fol­low­ing mea­sures became law:

  • expand the pre-abortion wait­ing period require­ment in South Dakota to make it more oner­ous than that in any other state, by extend­ing the time from 24 hours to 72 hours and requir­ing women to obtain coun­sel­ing from a cri­sis preg­nancy cen­ter in the interim;
  • expand the abor­tion coun­sel­ing require­ment in South Dakota to man­date that coun­sel­ing be pro­vided in-person by the physi­cian who will per­form the abor­tion and that coun­sel­ing include infor­ma­tion pub­lished after 1972 on all the risk fac­tors related to abor­tion com­pli­ca­tions, even if the data are sci­en­tif­i­cally flawed;
  • require the health depart­ments in Utah and Vir­ginia to develop new reg­u­la­tions gov­ern­ing abor­tion clinics;
  • revise the Utah abor­tion refusal clause to allow any hos­pi­tal employee to refuse to “par­tic­i­pate in any way” in an abortion;
  • limit abor­tion cov­er­age in all pri­vate health plans in Utah, includ­ing plans that will be offered in the state’s health exchange; and
  • revise the Mis­sis­sippi sex edu­ca­tion law to require all school dis­tricts to pro­vide abstinence-only sex edu­ca­tion while per­mit­ting dis­cus­sion of con­tra­cep­tion only with prior approval from the state.

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The ugly truth about climate denial

May 18, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Little should surprise us in a world where intolerable injustices are widely ignored, from preventable hunger, poverty and disease to irreversible environmental destruction to the global oppression of girls and women; where wealth disparities are at record levels and wealthy bankers are bailed out by the people they’ve bankrupted; where huge corporations pay no taxes and get subsidized by the public; where a war based on lies and deceptions that resulted in unimaginable carnage is heralded as a success; where the assault on basic rights and liberties is greeted with a yawn — if not a cheer; where sports games arouse more passion and emotion than a million babies dying; where a minor celebrity infraction receives more attention than an epidemic of sexual violence in which young girls have their insides shredded with broken bottles and sticks of wood.

In this atmosphere of denial and self-destruction, few things capture the zeitgeist better than the American right’s reckless dismissal of climate change:

Late last week, the nation’s pre-eminent scientific advisory group, the National Research Council arm of the National Academy of Sciences, issued a report called “America’s Climate Choices.” As scientific reports go, its key findings were straightforward and unequivocal: “Climate change is occurring, is very likely caused primarily by human activities, and poses significant risks to humans and the environment.” Among those risks in the USA: more intense and frequent heat waves, threats to coastal communities from rising sea levels, and greater drying of the arid Southwest.

Coincidentally, USA TODAY’s Dan Vergano reported Monday, a statistics journal retracted a federally funded study that had become a touchstone among climate-change deniers. The retraction followed complaints of plagiarism and use of unreliable sources, such as Wikipedia. Taken together, these developments ought to leave the deniers in the same position as the “birthers,” who continue to challenge President Obama’s American citizenship — a vocal minority that refuses to accept overwhelming evidence.

Here are the facts:

The more carbon that gets released into the atmosphere, the higher the average temperature rises. That’s a scientific fact. Human activities, such as driving, flying, building and even turning on the lights, are the biggest contributor to the release of carbon. That too, is a fact.

Yet millions of Americans, including most Republican officials, are in absolute denial.

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America’s decline and the assault on women’s freedom and the environment

April 18, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

The right’s target list speaks volumes: from public broadcasters and scientists to health providers, unions, academics and women. Nothing drives the right into greater paroxysms of rage than NPR and Planned Parenthood, climate scientists and teachers unions.

How destructive is the assault on these institutions?

Start with Fareed Zakaria’s TIME article about America’s decline:

The following rankings come from various lists, but they all tell the same story. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), our 15-year-olds rank 17th in the world in science and 25th in math. We rank 12th among developed countries in college graduation (down from No. 1 for decades). We come in 79th in elementary-school enrollment. Our infrastructure is ranked 23rd in the world, well behind that of every other major advanced economy. American health numbers are stunning for a rich country: based on studies by the OECD and the World Health Organization, we’re 27th in life expectancy, 18th in diabetes and first in obesity. Only a few decades ago, the U.S. stood tall in such rankings. No more. There are some areas in which we are still clearly No. 1, but they’re not ones we usually brag about. We have the most guns. We have the most crime among rich countries. And, of course, we have by far the largest amount of debt in the world.

Not to mention staggering stats like this, from the LA Times:

One in five Californians struggled to afford enough food for themselves and their families last year, according to a new report by the Food Research and Action Center. The rate in California was slightly higher than the national average of 18%.

The American right is fiercely wedded to the notion of American exceptionalism, but there’s nothing exceptional about undermining women’s rights. Nor is there anything exceptional about blithely ignoring the scientific consensus that we’re endangering humanity’s future by ravaging the environment.

From women’s rights to climate change and a host of other issues, the right is setting America back. I wrote about it in a recent post, comparing America’s decline with the uprisings in the Mideast and North Africa:

The contrast between events in the Middle East and the political reality here in America is striking: as the people of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and elsewhere rise by the millions to protest injustice, and as governments from Jordan to Syria see the writing on the wall, the United States gives power to a political movement bent on reversing generations of progress.

The GOP and Tea Party, drifting ever rightward, want to strip away health coverage, undermine faith in science, deny the overwhelming consensus on the mortal threat of climate change, give tax breaks to the rich, increase record wealth disparities, abolish women’s reproductive rights, defund public radio, gut gun laws, curtail gay rights, inject religion into government, and much more.

Targeting scientists, academics, public broadcasters, unions, health care providers and women, among others, they willfully misinterpret the Constitution to make specious arguments in favor of reactionary policies and are whipped into a frenzy by millionaire radio and TV blatherers, whose sole mission is to demonize liberals and liberalism — to the point of inciting violence against them.

Democratic leaders, obsessed with wooing “independent” voters, and captives of a toxic Beltway mindset, barely make a stand in the face of this all-out assault. If we fail to see the irony of a Mideast marching into the future while America races into the past, we will pay the price.

It’s the seemingly little things:

Okay, so it’s not exactly earth-shattering green political news — but it’s still indicative of the new anti-environment attitude that’s swept into the US House of Representatives. Four years after our nation’s esteemed governing body decided to stop using one of the most destructive, ungreen materials in existence, our lawmakers have decided it’s time to cancel the program that supported biodegradable packaging, and to bring Styrofoam back.

To the big things:

“We’re broke! We’re broke!” Speaker John Boehner said on Sunday. “We’re broke in this state,” Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin said a few days ago. “New Jersey’s broke,” Gov. Chris Christie has said repeatedly. The United States faces a “looming bankruptcy,” Charles Koch, the billionaire industrialist, wrote in The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday. It’s all obfuscating nonsense, of course, a scare tactic employed for political ends. …  a substantial part was caused by deliberate decisions by state and federal lawmakers to drain government of resources by handing out huge tax cuts, mostly to the rich. As governments begin to stagger from the self-induced hemorrhaging, Republican politicians like Mr. Boehner and Mr. Walker cry poverty and use it as an excuse to break unions and kill programs they never liked in flush years.

No matter the issue, the right’s reactionary positions are undermining generations of progress. The most egregious example is the shameless attack on women’s rights:

Using small-government, libertarian rhetoric, the Tea Party ushered in a new crop of Republican leaders under the banner of fiscal responsibility. But the aggressive antichoice legislation coming from the new GOP majority in the House makes perfectly clear that belt-tightening deficit reduction is entirely compatible with an older social agenda committed to pushing American women out of the public sphere.

These initiatives are well coordinated and poised to make an enormous impact on women’s lives. House Republicans, joined by ten Democrats, passed Mike Pence’s bill to eliminate federal funding for Planned Parenthood, which in addition to pregnancy termination provides basic reproductive healthcare, STD testing, birth control and cancer screenings to millions of American women. The Republican Party has also proposed eliminating more than $1 billion from Head Start’s budget. As a result, 157,000 children may go without preschool care.

Meanwhile, the South Dakota legislature has considered a bill justifying homicide in the case of imminent harm to a fetus, a law that critics believe may in effect legalize the murder of abortion providers. Republicans in Arizona have proposed different birth certificates for children born to women who are not US citizens in order to nullify the birthright citizenship established by the Fourteenth Amendment. And Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is poised to eliminate most of the collective bargaining rights of public employees, including nurses, teachers and other pink-collar workers who are disproportionately women.

Put simply, America can’t be ‘number one’ as long as the right chooses to undermine the very entities that make it what it is.

UPDATE: Bob Herbert’s farewell column for the New York Times is a devastating look at America’s skewed priorities:

The U.S. has not just misplaced its priorities. When the most powerful country ever to inhabit the earth finds it so easy to plunge into the horror of warfare but almost impossible to find adequate work for its people or to properly educate its young, it has lost its way entirely. Nearly 14 million Americans are jobless and the outlook for many of them is grim. Since there is just one job available for every five individuals looking for work, four of the five are out of luck. Instead of a land of opportunity, the U.S. is increasingly becoming a place of limited expectations.

…The current maldistribution of wealth is also scandalous. In 2009, the richest 5 percent claimed 63.5 percent of the nation’s wealth. The overwhelming majority, the bottom 80 percent, collectively held just 12.8 percent. This inequality, in which an enormous segment of the population struggles while the fortunate few ride the gravy train, is a world-class recipe for social unrest. Downward mobility is an ever-shortening fuse leading to profound consequences.

A stark example of the fundamental unfairness that is now so widespread was in The New York Times on Friday under the headline: “G.E.’s Strategies Let It Avoid Taxes Altogether.” Despite profits of $14.2 billion — $5.1 billion from its operations in the United States — General Electric did not have to pay any U.S. taxes last year.

…Overwhelming imbalances in wealth and income inevitably result in enormous imbalances of political power. So the corporations and the very wealthy continue to do well. The employment crisis never gets addressed. The wars never end. And nation-building never gets a foothold here at home.

UPDATE II: Fred Hiatt goes after climate deniers:

The Republican self-deception that draws the most attention is the refusal to believe that Barack Obama is American-born. But there are Republican doctrinal fantasies that may be more dangerous: the conviction that taxes can always go down, but never up, for example, and the gathering consensus among Republican leaders that human-caused climate change does not exist.

The climate change denialism is a newer part of the catechism. Just a few years ago, leading Republicans — John McCain, Sarah Palin, Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and Tim Pawlenty among them — not only accepted global warming as real but supported some kind of market-based mechanism to raise the cost of burning fossil fuels. Now polls show declining numbers of Republicans believing in climate change, and a minority of those believing humans are at fault, so the candidates are scrambling to disavow their past positions.

And the New York Times describes the GOP’s eagerness to ravage the environment:

In the past month, the nation’s focus has been on the budget battle in Washington, where Republicans in Congress aligned with the Tea Party have fought hard for rollbacks to the Environmental Protection Agency, clean air and water regulations, renewable energy and other conservation programs.

But similar efforts to make historically large cuts to environmental programs are also in play at the state level as legislatures and governors take aim at conservation and regulations they see as too burdensome to business interests.

When Republicans wrested control across the country last November, they made clear that reducing all government was important, but that cutting environmental regulations was a particular priority.

UPDATE III: Check out these numbers:

It’s almost an unbe­liev­able fig­ure — 916. That’s the amount of leg­is­la­tions that have been intro­duced so far this year, in an attempt to reg­u­late a woman’s repro­duc­tive sys­tem, and we’re only in April.

This infor­ma­tion comes from a report by The Guttmacher Insti­tute, and it finds that 49 states have con­tributed to this num­ber with var­i­ous bills geared towards reg­u­lat­ing Abor­tions and a woman’s right to choose. The report states that in 15 states, the fol­low­ing mea­sures became law:

  • expand the pre-abortion wait­ing period require­ment in South Dakota to make it more oner­ous than that in any other state, by extend­ing the time from 24 hours to 72 hours and requir­ing women to obtain coun­sel­ing from a cri­sis preg­nancy cen­ter in the interim;
  • expand the abor­tion coun­sel­ing require­ment in South Dakota to man­date that coun­sel­ing be pro­vided in-person by the physi­cian who will per­form the abor­tion and that coun­sel­ing include infor­ma­tion pub­lished after 1972 on all the risk fac­tors related to abor­tion com­pli­ca­tions, even if the data are sci­en­tif­i­cally flawed;
  • require the health depart­ments in Utah and Vir­ginia to develop new reg­u­la­tions gov­ern­ing abor­tion clinics;
  • revise the Utah abor­tion refusal clause to allow any hos­pi­tal employee to refuse to “par­tic­i­pate in any way” in an abortion;
  • limit abor­tion cov­er­age in all pri­vate health plans in Utah, includ­ing plans that will be offered in the state’s health exchange; and
  • revise the Mis­sis­sippi sex edu­ca­tion law to require all school dis­tricts to pro­vide abstinence-only sex edu­ca­tion while per­mit­ting dis­cus­sion of con­tra­cep­tion only with prior approval from the state.

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