Saturday, July 21, 2012

Lessons of the Tragedy in Colorado

The sickening spectre public violence that seems to take place periodically in American society makes people revisit this issue periodically. Let us not throw up our collective hands in simplistically saying it was just evil - the lessons of the tragedy can be used as a teaching moment.

Our collective memories seem to have forgotten the one thing that many major sociologists, psychologists and criminologists warned us about during the Reagan Era: Dismantle the public mental health safety net, and a generation later, we will pay with a greater incidence of violence is society. Has  such a reality come to pass? To explain it away in these political terms only would be too simple.

What were and are some of the issues?

Is it simply the diabolical nature of the Evil Knight in the Batman Comic book, very effectively presented on the screen?

Is it merely that mental health has been gutted, so that those who could connect with persons in the mental health industry are since the Reagan era, made to roam the streets/ be at large in society, when they need to be in therapy?

Or, is it easy access to automatic machine guns (I use this term loosely), so that one man can inflict damage on such a vast scale?

Or, is it that the safety net having come apart in public education (there are no school counselors left) - where perhaps such loners can find some help?

Or, did this young man have the advantages of birth and society (he came from god-fearing Church going Christian family, in upper middle class San Diego), yet still came apart?

Or, is it one more male who slipped through the family and educational safety net... as some will, anyway?

Is there something about capitalism in its extreme form which seems to dehumanize and alienate and cause such incidents with growing frequency in American society?

Every child has parents, and a family. Every child is a product of a society.

Answers and opinions will vary - but several things are clear, thus far: the perpetrator in this case came from a well -grounded, Christian family; he came from an economically successful background in San Diego; he was a quiet, high-achieving, and even an academically gifted student in high school and at a prestigious U C. What went wrong with these institutions, that the safety net there did not function?

I have no answers, but clearly, we see time and time again, that one maladjustment person, who slips through his family, 'church' and community has the potential to destroy what we carefully build up as our society, as much as any terrorist does. If we spend such a huge percentage on our Defense budget, surely this should be balanced proportionally by comparable expenditures on our domestic society's needs?

This young perpetrator's mental situation became such that he could, reportedly over a span of a couple of months, carefully plan and plot his mad plot to harm not only on innocent civilians, including children, but he could also simultaneously set a methodical trap for police and firefighters, too.

When will society as a whole realize that we cannot cut budgets, and still keep cutting more and more from mental health, education, society as whole without damaging itself, all of our collective selves?

Cutting taxes (and services) is no more than a jingoistic answer; we need to think, discuss, and do better.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Democracy IS for Sale, says the US Supreme Court

While most Americans were chewing over the Immigration, and issues of State v. Federal power yesterday, another ruling, of perhaps greater note, in the long run, was also handed down. It is innocuously titled AMERICAN TRADITION PARTNERSHIP, INC., FKA WESTERN TRADITION PARTNERSHIP, INC., ET AL. v. STEVE BULLOCK, ATTORNEY GENERAL OF MONTANA, ET AL.

Americans have (almost) accepted unequal treatment before the law. Most of us shrugged, when Jamie Diamond answering question in the US. Secure in the backing of the US taxpayers (by a private Federal Reserve), this officer of a ‘too-big-to-fail’ bank, JP Morgan Chase, was blasé about his company having lost more than three BILLION U.S. dollars – it was in London, not the US, after all; in “derivatives” so we the US public, need not concern our little heads…

Others groaned, but stayed blasé, but for a different reason. Given that the US Supreme Court held in ‘Americans United’ that Money is Free Speech, and had previously ruled that Corporations are People with their own First Amendment Rights – at least we had our local and state governments. So perhaps this last ruling came as no surprise.

The final nail seems to have been hammered in yesterday, June 25, 2012 (a day that will truly live in infamy), when US Supreme Court struck a death knell for democracy. It ruled that a Montana ban on corporate money, ruling 5-4 that the controversial 2010 Citizens United ruling applies to state and local elections. It wrote that, “The question represented in this case is whether the holding of Citizens United applies to the state law” and it stated in no uncertain terms, “There can be no serious doubt that it does.”

Let me repeat, according to the US Supreme Court, money is speech, corporations are people, and it is fine for corporations to stack their money against regular folks, in any local and state election? Presumably even for dogcatcher, if they so choose? Whatever happened to democracy, a cherished American value? Honestly, when comedian Steven Colbert set up his Colbert Nation pact for a Super PAC, I thought it was funny! Sadly, today’s comedians speak as much truth, as any Shakespearean court jester.

This goes beyond the pale. Some students used to laugh at Professor Peter Phillips and his alarmist views on Project Censored; who is laughing now? Certainly not anyone of us who are in the 99%...

It is sad that in the US, it is no longer a government of, by and for the people – it is a government of by and for the corporations. Abraham Lincoln must be turning in his grave! Anyone else reminded of George Orwell’s 1984, where robot citizens heard, ‘War is Peace…

Well, folks it has come to pass: the US Supreme Court has killed democracy. So what’s the average person to do? Ideas, anyone?

If you don’t believe me, or if want to sleep out the coming election, here is the text:

Cite as: 567 U. S. ____ (2012)
Per Curiam

No. 11–1179. Decided June 25, 2012
A Montana state law provides that a “corporation may not make . . . an expenditure in connection with a candi­date or a political committee that supports or opposes a candidate or a political party.” Mont. Code Ann. §13–35–227(1) (2011). The Montana Supreme Court rejected petitioners’ claim that this statute violates the First Amendment. 2011 MT 328, 363 Mont. 220, 271 P. 3d 1. In Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, this Court struck down a similar federal law, holding that “political speech does not lose First Amendment protection simply because its source is a corporation.” 558 U. S. ___, ___ (2010) (slip op., at 26) (internal quotation marks omit­ted). The question presented in this case is whether the holding of Citizens United applies to the Montana state law. There can be no serious doubt that it does. See U. S. Const., Art. VI, cl. 2. Montana’s arguments in support of the judgment below either were already rejected in Citi­zens United, or fail to meaningfully distinguish that case.
The petition for certiorari is granted. The judgment of the Supreme Court of Montana is reversed.
It is so ordered.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Paul Krugman in NYT, June 3, 2012...

Paul Krugman's piece in the New York Times of June 3, 2012 on "the Republican Economy" raises some interesting questions. He does good anaylsis, and points out what is wrong, but does not offer some details that are part of the dysfunction. Namely, Gingrich's GOPAC word list to use against the Democrats; and Grover Norquist's Taxpayer Protection Plan. If the Left is to make any inroads towards sane consensus, and if this country is not to be sold (due to Obama occupying the White House), Democrats have to look countering these two facts. Yes, the parallel to Know Nothing party's reign of ignorance in US history is there, but this can be changed.

One - start by praising what the right seems to cherish, Capitalism. Then talk about the regulations needed to an unbridled capitalism. Detail how historic regulations have helped most people in the US.

Two - embrace the discussion about the multicultural nature of US society (which started the moment the Europeans landed in what became the US); don't shun it. Talk about the differences of race and religion. Link it to diversity and globalization. Don't follow the path of the Know Nothings and the McCarthy Era.

Three - fund education. A democracy requires basic education and critical thinking skills for its people/ citizens. We cannot take pride in a chorus of 'I know nothing.'

Four - get the press to do what it should - carry its weight in a democracy. Talk about the link to what Project Censored calls Junk News and Real News. Do we as a society need to know more about 'Branjolina', or our politicians and political system?

Unless these are made a part of the conversation, very little will improve.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Good Luck This Week 49ers!

Good Luck to the 49ers! Make it as good a game as the last one!

The "Internet" - SOPA and PIPA background/clarification

Let me clarify my last blog: I was not commenting on the Legislation known as SOPA and PIPA; I was merely clarifying some of the underlying issues of SOPA and PIPA.

To clarify further, the "internet" as it is known, has two basic functions. The first is for communication/ information, and the second is for buying products/ e-commerce.

Under the first function fall things such as emailing folks, looking up google maps, even reading online news and magazines, and communicating with friends and family, perhaps checking out what is others are doing!

I am all for freedom and communication. I am staunch supporter of the First Amendment. I used to make my students read newspapers (e-versions were acceptable) - democracy requires it.
And yes, those who provide us with these services, deserve all the ad revenues they can generate.

Under the second area, e-commerce, falls what I was talking about: about copyright and ethics. Should a singer's or musician's services be not rewarded?

If their song/music are broadcast on a radio (I assume) there are some built-in protections, and it is seen, more or less, as an advertisement. People who like hearing these artists work broadcast on the radio, will (hopefully) go out and purchase the music, or look up what else they have (online or in a store). If they come to town, a person may be inclined to go attend their concert. Yes, there will be some who will record it off the radio, but it is assumed they do this for their own non-commercial use. Reading a free sample from a book falls in this category.

But if someone were to either download music for free, or freely (and thus far, illegally) download an artist's entire work - and allow everyone to do the same - this is what I was talking about. To me, this amounts to preventing a singer or musician from making a living. This is what I equate to stealing. This is what needs protection. Those who have much more at stake than I, will probably hire attorneys far more knowledgeable (and expensive!) than I, to protect this.

Yes, art is dialogical, and it needs to get the word out on what artists are doing. This is where the marketing industry comes in. It bravely straddles the information and e-commerce functions of the internet.

Yes, we need legislators more effective and better informed than those who simply announce "I am not a nerd" on the floor of the House! And yes, any legislation needs to be discussed and worked out (democracy at its best), and yes, I will even use the dirty word for politicians in D.C. - compromise. That is what I suggested in my previous blog. What will hopefully come out, eventually, is legislation that is fair to all sides.

Why does what come out of Washington impact everyone worldwide - because of ICAAN (the US government, which eventually owns the patent and trademark on the internet, which it paid for, for defense purposes, decades ago).

My concern for writing the previous blog was simply that many folks signing the online petitions and e-mails to their legislators do not see the full story, or have all the facts. And yes, championing the underdog is something that I do!

Eventually, I have faith that the conscience of people will prevail.
Just as it did when we see the plight of a singer like Reshma's (the singer from Pakistan) economic struggles came to be known, and many artists from the music industry came to her rescue...
Just as most of us object to injustice anywhere - be it in another country, or at home - and immediately post things online (becoming instant journalists!).

The internet as we refer to it, is a rapidly changing world, where things resemble the day of the Wild West, and the Gold Rush (Go 49ers!) - please don't throw out the baby with the bathwater - just because an issue does not fit a Tweet (which fits on a cell phone), or needs critical thinking/ a little reflection?

Please help to preserve the rights of those of us artists of all kinds (including those of us who are struggling!), who are simply trying to make an honest living? Don't misunderstand and downplay the issues of SOPA and PIPA as mere "censorship" - it goes a lot deeper than that.


Thursday, January 19, 2012

SOPA and PIPA - What are the real issues?

Theatrics aside, what are the real issues with SOPA and PIPA?

On the one hand, are those that want free access to everything, and complain about censorship;
on the other hand, are those who say what censorship, it is about good old capitalism, and ownership.

Who is right?

Lets step back, and start with a basic question:
If Person 1 owned something, Person 2 wanted it - and person 2 took it - what would the issue be?
Stealing, pure and simple. That it is done online does not change the issue - it is still stealing.

Take this up several notches. According to well established US principles of Copyright Laws, there is ownership - by writers, artists and musicians, the creators of content. There is, at the same time, the technological ability to make available this content easily and cheaply to others anywhere. The computer hardware and software manufacturers get their profit when they sell their products.

Yet, all the smart technical folks still need content - minus content, we are headed for another empty bubble. It is now a play for market share between the technical folks and the content folks.

We buy tools - computers and phones etc. What these computer companies can put on these to dazzle us is content. At the risk of being unpopular (but it has to be said) - those who create content also deserve their share of profit.

The kind of infringement (now being hotly debated) has become not just occasional plagiarism, but routine business practice. In fact, whole new industries have sprung up around this,, and to keep us safe, etc.

The second point in this debate, seldom mentioned online, deals with equality, consistency, and rules of logic. All the online companies basically want to be like hackers of yesterday - and want to not observe copyright laws, in some way, shape or form.

Do these same computer companies not enforce their own ownership of their "intellectual property"?
These same companies want the US government to make sure that China, Russsia, India and esp. Iran, does not violate their intellectual property - don't they?
 There has to be consistency.

So when did the issue become "censorship"?
In my opinion, when some decided to play politics.

Otherwise, it is simply as illogical a case of when "we" do it, it is for our profit; therefore what we do, is acceptable. When others do the same, it is not allowed.

It is about money, folks! Like the CEO earning over 400% of the money that an average worker makes. How many of those complaining, and signing petitions to help defeat censorship etc. are among the 1%? Enter greed, masquerading as "market forces" and manipulation.

That these "free" market forces do not work in an absolute sense is evidenced by the popularity of nonprofits and sustainability. Just today I attended a talk on the newly legal (in some states) For Benefit corporations. Yes folks, Capitalism is evolving - and so should information technology. It is no longer the days of the caveman, who could hit another on the head with a club, carry off his loot, and not face jail... compromise.

It is time to honestly acknowledge what is really at issue, and like grown ups, deal with both sides fairly - and esp, stop making this into a political football.


Monday, January 16, 2012