Friday, June 27, 2014

Comparing Bergdahl and Tahmooressi

The true test of our patriotism is whether we will serve our returning heroes as well as they've served us.
    ~ Barack Obama

Robin Abcarian is a seemingly partisan writer for the L.A. Times who is disturbed by the inevitable comparisons between Sgt. Tahmooressi and Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.  She writes:
The situation of Marine reservist Sgt. Andrew Tahmooressi, 25, who has been jailed in Mexico since March 31 after being busted on the Mexican side of the U.S.-Mexico border with three firearms in his car, is not remotely comparable to the situation of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who was held for five years by the Taliban.
You mean, apples and oranges?  The evidence points to Bergdahl being a deserter who likely sought out the Taliban thinking that they were just poor misunderstood freedomfighters who needed hugs.  If the intelligence engine in the Mideast weren’t hamstrung, we might have extracted Bergdahl with a team instead of using him for more appeasement politics (I'll give you two knights and rook and a bishop for that pawn).  Tahmooressi is a veteran who was trying to adjust to civilian life.  He was actually trying to not enter the country and they wouldn’t let him not enter.  When a country gives you no choice but to violate their laws it’s time to drop the narrative about the sacredness of a nation's laws.  Given Abcarian’s obvious political bent, I wonder if he would acknowledge that intruders from the other side of the border are not here by accident, and have voluntarily broken our laws. The main difference there is that Tahmooressi tried to preemptively deport himself so that he wouldn’t violate their laws, and the intruders from the other side avoid deportation.
“You don't insult an ally, especially  when you are asking it for a favor.”
You mean like not talking about ‘whose butt to kick’ when you are talking about an ally’s role in taking care of an oil spill?  (Abcarian is taking offense at the language in one letter to the White House condemning the actions of Mexico.)  In the early Obama Doctrine, no nation was more an ally than any other, certainly not Britain and definitely not Israel.  Alliance is a two-way street.  As far as I know, Mexico is not our ally but a corrupt and irresponsible leech.  Mexican politicians create a disastrous economy, blame us for not taking in all the people damaged by their incompetence, and all that Obama can offer in return is more appeasement by agreeing with them.  Tahmooressi’s treatment is an insult to the U. S. of A., and we should cut the money we send to Mexico until we get him back.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

2012 Debates: Obama Sounded Desperate Over Pensions!

"No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation, alter that character, or eclipse the light of the values that we stand for."
In the 2nd Presidential Debate of 2012, the thing that stood out almost as dramatically as the theatrical "act of terror" doublespeak event was what happened a little over an hour into the debate.  It is significant because Obama sounds like he suddenly loses all that composure that is most evident when he's expecting Crowley to back him up (which happens only a little later in the debate) and becomes desperate for the topic to change.

Romney had briefly started to return to a topic that he hadn't quite finished remarking on (it seemed he had been told repeatedly that they would have plenty of time to address each topic), which was the topic of fiscal relations between America and China.  Obama had continued in the vein that had characterized his campaign in painting Romney as the evil "corporationy" corporate guy who rides around on his yacht and invests in China.

Romney starts to point out that pensions and 401Ks depend on the sort of portfolios that diversify in order to be low risk and not a gamble. Don't you want your pension plan to pay out   Instead of answering Romney's question, Obama not only denies he knows much about his pension (yet another thing he pleads the 5th on), but he tries to deflect the attention of the audience by saying, "Hey Romney's rich unlike me."  If Obama's pension plan is simpler than Romney's, why doesn't he understand it?  Is it because he's expecting to get more for honorariums and memoirs and interviews like Dead Broke Hillary did when she left office?  If Obama isn't well-to-do, why doesn't he care to know what's in his pension plan?

He knew enough to be afraid of where Romney was going with it, and the last thing this Progressive wanted on national tv was an economic lesson from someone who knows economics.  Worse, he didn't want anyone to realize that their pensions come from the same wealth-creating mechanism that liberals hate: investment, corporations, capitalism.  (Three dirty words in the liberal dictionary.)  When you tax corporations you deincentivize the investment and risktaking that results in dividends and job growth.  Without those things, your pension (and your social security) are guaranteed by a Ponzi scheme instead of by invested capital.

The "Rich Romney" bogeyman was the red herring that Obama kept pointing to whenever he didn't want to have a "teachable moment."  Why did so much of American buy that act?  Why have they preferred a rich guy that knows very little economics and shows little respect for the Constitution to a rich guy that knows a lot about economics?

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Hollywood Fears Drones, Loves the Drone King [movie reviews]

This article discusses the plots of numerous sci-fi movies and contains spoilers for:  Total Recall, Elysium, Revenge of the Sith, The Lego Movie, Robocop, Captain America Winter Soldier, X-Men Days of Future Past.

You might think that Hollywood would be afraid of a ruler who is building an army of automated machines and an automated system for detecting threats to the regime.  It is amazing the number of movies that depict fear of the drone/droid, the soldier that is programmed simply to follow orders and has no qualms about war crimes and no Oathkeeper sentiments about the Constitution.

Revenge of the Sith
The recent trend could be said to be heralded by the Star Wars prequilogy, where the bad guys start out with access to a robot army, and eventually replace it with an army of clones (essentially a clone becomes a sort of human automaton for the purposes of the plot) called Stormtroopers.  Given his political leanings, Lucas may have had the university shootings of the Nixon era in mind when he conceived of the clone origins of Stormtroopers.  Also back then, he didn't have CGI, so Stormtroopers are much more nimble than any robot seen in the first Star Wars.

Total Recall
More recently we have the Total Recall remake. The remake tightens the colonialism angle and changes the setting to be completely on Earth.  Instead of the Martian colony vs. Earth, it's the Australian colony vs. Britain in a post-apocalyptic time--basic Two Worlds theme. The British dictator amasses an enormous army of robot soldiers which the Australian people will be powerless to stop.  The Australian people appear to be unarmed and can only run in terror as doomsday approaches.  It doesn't matter if the British people aren't keen on genocide; the autonomous battle droids will destroy on command.  NO human army necessary.

The Supersoldier Era
Similar problems in Elysium.  Director Blomkamp makes a very similar movie to his previous District 9: a reluctant hero with a severe medical condition trying to get to a magic healing machine in the sky.  The adaptation of this plot to a Two Worlds story makes for a more gritty realization of the movie Upside Down (another Two Worlds sci-fi fantasy).  No extraterrestials in Elysium, however, quasi-governmental corporations are still responsible for slums, but in Elysium the protagonist is another factory worker who helps build battle droids (as in Total Recall) who will later show expertise in disabling them.  Elysium shows the totalitarian oppression accomplished through these droids and drones.  Only police/soldiers and criminals are armed, so the 2nd Amendment has been successfully dismantled in the future.  Blomkamp expands the apartheid theme of District 9 into a fanciful treatment (and moral framing) of America's immigration problem.  In the end, the Constitution of the future is not just a living document but living code.  Rewriting the code can instantly confer a right to free healthcare (not to mention the right to not be arrested) on whole populations.  (If only we didn't have this whole plague of representational government standing in the way of amnesty!)

Which brings us to the Robocop reboot.  Where in the original Robocop movie corporations seem to be stepping in for a missing government, the reboot has been reworked into a morality tale that blames the corporations for bad government policy.  The movie frames its politics by showing a robot army used by America to occupy a Middle Eastern country.  It is extremely successful in reducing American casualties.  Suicide bombers are shown discussing how they don't want to kill anyone, just want to die on national tv (which is astoundingly different from suicide bombing in the 21st century), recasting terrorism as martyrdom.

A piece of legislation called the "Dreyfus Act" keeps the American government from using the military droids/drones to police its citizens.  So, as in Elysium, evil "corporationy" corporations are at work to overturn the Dreyfus Act (by funding a tv program for propaganda purposes) so they can sell even more droids.  Unlike the original, Robocop is simply a way to market robot police: by making a man into a robot soldier.  No politicians are shown to be villainous, just the cold-hearted corporate bozos.  The lead villain is named "Sellars" just to drive home that it's the bourgeois merchant class you are to fear.  If the government turns its robot military on its own citizens, it's the fault of corporate lobbying, so let's not ask why the government wants robot soldiers policing its own people, like an enemy occupation.

Robocop Alex Murphy is incredibly successful at solving and eliminating crime with his datamining, auto-profiling, and invincibility.  He should change his name to Homeland Security.  Is the point of Robocop that liberty is too essential to risk it even if that means are streets are not as crime-free?  Where are the pro-gun liberals?  They should take this message to heart.  Or is the message that a robot army is only bad if a corporation builds it?  Shouldn't we be afraid of a government empowered to squash any civilian uprising?  Even President Lincoln acknowledged that a people have a natural right to overthrow their government (whether he actuallly believed that is another matter).  Certainly all the authors of the Constitution, the Declaration, the Federalist papers and the Anti-Federalist papers agreed with that as the most fundamental right (because without that right, what happens when the government stops respecting your rights?).

Winter Soldier
Captain America: The Winter Soldier seems to be afraid for another reason.  The robot army in this movie is a bunch of aerial warships that combine the Obama-era data-mining powers of the NSA with the ability to target from the air anyone deemed likely to pose a threat to a totalitarian government.  The idea behind this movie is that once a benevolent government acquires the power to oppress its citizens, it is in immediate danger of a coup from people with the will to oppress the citizens.  Shades of this appear in The Avengers when the supersoldiers question whether a government more highly armed than its people can be trusted to always have their best interests at heart.

Days of Future Past
And now we have X-Men: Days of Future Past, which features a future where mutants are hunted by super-drones/droids, and not just them but anybody that carries the potential in their DNA for these paranormal mutants. Kind of like the Patriot Act under both Bush and Obama has been used to for purposes other than anticipating terrorist acts.  Kind of like a "legal regime" for indefinite suspension of citizen rights (Rachel Maddow).  Yep, the government gets so afraid of mutant terrorism (and they have good reason to be afraid) in the 1970s (alternate timeline) that they start work on droids that can detect a mutant and destroy him.  Eventually, these drones acquire powers that (out)match that of the mutants and the people of the world are oppressed by them in a indefinitely long contingency dictatorship.  By creating machines that even mutants couldn't fight, they ended up with a government that the people couldn't fight.

Lego Movie
The Lego Movie was a breath of fresh air, a fundamentally Libertarian movie that got past the Hollywood censors by naming their villain "Lord Business."  Lord Business is not just the President but the major stockholder in a wealthy conglomerate that controls most of the media, makes all the automated voting machines, and runs all the surveillance systems in the country.  He also has a robot army consisting of battle drones, worker drones, and "micro-managers."  The people are lulled into being micro-managed by the tentacles of Lord Business's empire until it reaches its logical conclusion of total control.  The political solution ends up with the people arming themselves with ideas and the weapons those ideas bring about.  Nice! This movie doesn't have so much the nebulous notion that corporations are inherently evil, although it obviously denounces cronyism and crony-corporatism, and makes a plug for the little business owner and his ideas.

Is it ironic that the movie that seems the most friendly to robot armies is a movie starring Matt Damon, one of the few Hollywood liberals that question why Obama is eroding our rights when he promised to bring back the Bill of Rights.  (In his words, the President "broke up with" him.)  In Elysium, the oppressive robot army turns good.  At the movie's end, instead of being horrible they all of a sudden act with great compassion and care.  It is good to have a robot army because a benevolent dictator (as Sean Penn conceived of Hugo Chavez and Castro) can use them to bring "liberty and justice for all."  This is almost a 180 from Winter Soldier, except that Elysium takes great care to show at the beginning how dangerous this technology is when used indiscriminately on a largely unarmed populace.

The ending of Elysium evoked this techno-socialist fantasy by Richard Brautigan:
I like to think
(it has to be!)
of a cybernetic ecology
where we are free of our labors
and joined back to nature,
returned to our mammal brothers and sisters,
and all watched over
by machines of loving grace.
Brautigan dreamed of a time when we will all be Eloi.  He wasn't concerned about the Morlocks.

You would think by now that people would have realized that whatever power grabs you tolerate in the President you trust, you leave open to the next President, whom you probably will not trust.  While Hollywood might appear to share our fear of drones and homeland security, they are still busy buying $40,000 plates for the man that has done more to increase their scope and use of homeland security and drones against the American citizen--except for Matt Damon, remarkably, who actually has noticed that Obama is everything they supposedly hated about Bush.  Most of them aren't concerned because as long as it's Obama eroding the Bill of Rights we're just being watched over by machines of loving grace.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Benghazi Act of Terror: Singularity, Gullibility and Complicity in the Debates

A brief summary of the evolution of the Benghazi narrative from the White House in the first few weeks:
It was senseless violence caused by a reprehensible video.  We endured the attack 11 years ago, and no acts of terror will shake our resolve. We have no reason to think that this was a preplanned attack.  There was a demonstration over a video.  It's too early to tell if some al Qaeda groups might have been walking back from a party with their rocket launchers and decided to join in.  Let me be clear: there is no reason at this point to think terrorists were involved, and no acts of terror will shake our resolve, whether or not terrorists are involved. As far as anyone knows this was a case of unpremeditated terror by people who were offended by a video ... and who happened to have grenade launchers.   
The actual phrase in the transcript is "no acts of terror."  Of course, only a "wingnut" would notice.  
Is it only the "low information voter" who has so little critical thinking to confuse general "acts of terror" with "this was an act of terror," or did the book-of-the-month club liberal also fall for the Candy Crowley stunt?  The picture above doesn't lend much hope.  The Obama devotees strangely missed where Candy Crowley appeared on The View the day following the debate saying that she had only conceded a minor point about terminology, complaining that no one remembered that she was actually saying that Romney was right about Obama's evasion about terrorism.  (No one could remember because no one was even paying attention after the well-timed applause.)

Weeks after the Rose Garden speech where the "no acts of terror will ever shake the resolve" line is supposed to have unequivocably identified the Benghazi event as a terrorist attack, ABC reported:
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney confirmed today that the president believes the deadly assault on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi was a “terrorist attack,” a term Obama has not yet used in his characterization of the violence.
WHAT!  Didn't ABC hear the Rose Garden speech?!!  Why don't they realize that Obama called it a terrorist attack from day 1.  Maybe ABC had paid attention to the interview with 60 minutes right after the Rose Garden speech:
KROFT: “Mr. President, this morning you went out of your way to avoid the use of the word ‘terrorism’ in connection with the Libya attack.”
OBAMA: “Right.”
KROFT: “Do you believe that this was a terrorist attack?”
OBAMA: “Well, it’s too early to know exactly how this came about, what group was involved, but obviously it was an attack on Americans. And we are going to be working with the Libyan government to make sure that we bring these folks to justice, one way or the other.”

Friday, June 13, 2014

If 'Maleficent' Is About Rape, What Does It Mean?

This article contains major *spoilers* for the movie Maleficent!

How on earth was I going to justify that this woman would curse a baby?
  ~ Screenwriter Linda Woolverton in Huffington Post
The recent Disney movie Maleficent tries to provide a backstory to explain the eponymous villain's mean streak.  In the original movie Sleeping Beauty, the villain shows up at the christening of King Stephan's daughter because she feels sleighted for having not been invited (and she wasn't invited because, well, she's so villainous).

The movie centers around a past relationship between Maleficent and King Stephan.  And the foul deed that starts the cycle of revenge is that Stephan cuts off Maleficent's fairy wings (in case you wondered why Maleficent didn't have wings like the three good fairies).

Stephan is only able to do this because Maleficent trusts him implicitly for friendship's sake, and Stephan, for the sake of his courtly ambition, drugs her and then, with too much compunction to kill, decides to take her wings as trophies of the pretended kill.  People have since wondered of this violation of trust is a metaphor for rape, and Angelina Jolie has reportedly confirmed that this was an intentional metaphor.  As is commonly reported, rape is very often committed by someone the victim knows, and rape also often occurs with the help of a drugged beverage.

What might presume that Stephan's ambition is a metaphor for men not feeling manly without some conquests under their belt in this post-sexual revolution, enlightened age, in fact feeling like undesirable nobodies.  Stephan's conquest makes him a somebody, and in the place of the woman who loved him he instead chooses a trophy wife.  

But here's where it really gets interesting.  Because of this violation, instead of getting back at Stephan, Maleficent goes after the child made possible by the violation.

And as you've had ample warning about spoilers, Maleficent stops seeing her rapist in the child, and instead sees a soul much like herself; she emotionally adopts the child, becomes her guardian, and repents of her murderous rage.  In the end, she risks her life to save the child's.

In the last two years, there have been stories brought up about women who have killed their babies on sight immediately after birth because of their hate for the rapist, and how traumatic this is for the mothers (strangely without considering how awful this might be for the children killed), as though this sheds some special light on abortion as a medical and social (and spiritual!) remedy.  And in this same time period Disney has given us an intentional metaphor for rape that unintentionally argues that the child should not suffer for the sins of the rapist.  Maleficent even experiences something like abortion regret partway through the film.

Which reminds me of this much ignored half of a much reviled comment:
"I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be on the rapist and not attacking the child."

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Revisiting Honesty Over Acts of Terror

In the 2nd Presidential Debate of 2012, Candy Crowley after wrongly reinforcing Obama's misleading phrase where he vaguely spoke of unspecified "acts of terror" as the White House misinformed the public for weeks about a demonstration over a video, tried to appear even-handed by,  but Democrats were still whopping it up over Crowley's wrong statement that he called it an "act of terror."  If he had really called it an act of terror, then the White House could not have been coy with the press and evaded calling it a terrorist attack for weeks.  But who could see the inconsistency as Democrats were loudly high-fiving over another successful publicity stunt?

Too bad we didn't have access to this information in October about what General Petraeus had foudn fishy about the edited CIA talking points:
The original CIA talking points had been blunt: The assault on U.S. facilities in Benghazi was a terrorist attack conducted by a large group of Islamic extremists, including some with ties to al Qaeda.
These were strong claims. The CIA usually qualifies its assessments, providing policymakers a sense of whether the conclusions of its analysis are offered with “high confidence,” “moderate confidence,” or “low confidence.” That first draft signaled confidence, even certainty: “We do know that Islamic extremists with ties to al Qaeda participated in the attack.”
Al Qaeda just happened by with rockets and assault weapons on September 11th when they noticed people demonstrating over a video and decided to join in?  Hmmm... No, we better just not ever mention al Qaeda at all. Blame it on a video, Susan Rice.  And after we tell America, we'll find the person responsible, we'll jail the guy who made the video.

Jill Kelley became an advocate for internet privacy after the private information from her personal email were leaked once the FBI had searched them.  Why did the FBI leak the information, unless Eric Holder wanted to create a different sort of scandal for the people to associate with Petraeus?  How many months before the Benghazi incident was the Petraeus affair being investigated?

Also in the 2nd Debate, Obama tells us that as he's watching the terrorists go after the two surviving men in the embassy, he'll avenge them (or at least find the perpetrators).  He's watching all this happen live and he admits to already having written them off and doesn't explain why.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

A Prisoner's Dilemma

Today I was thinking that there is something like The Prisoners' Dilemma at work with the divide between "the rich" and "the poor."  The Reagan years demonstrated (to conservatives, anyway) that supply-side economics go a long way toward reducing the divide.   The rich got richer and the poor got richer too.  The gap between African American incomes and average American income got smaller.  The rich got richer as they invested in jobs (and paid people to work) and everybody's jobs and retirement plans reaped the benefits.

So why do those much richer than middle class and much poorer than middle class tend to vote for things like "the gesture of taxing the rich" and increased deficit spending if it is worse for everybody?  As in the Prisoners' Dilemma, each person settles for a bird in the hand than many birds in the bush.  The less evenly the wealth is distributed, the more each person protects what they have.  The more the economy tanks, the more the "little guy" is going to vote for whomever provides the most immediate relief, regardless of the consequences for the nation.