Monday, May 19, 2014

The greatest threat to world peace (and prosperity)

Since the end of World War II, there have been 248 armed conflicts in 153 locations around the world. The United States launched 201 overseas military operations between the end of World War II and 2001 [80%], and since then, others, including Afghanistan and Iraq. During the 20th century, 190 million deaths could be directly and indirectly related to war – more than in the previous 4 centuries.

– from the study The Role of Public Health in the Prevention of War: Rationale and Competencies, published in the June 2014 American Journal of Public Health

From the same report: “The United States is responsible for 41% of the world’s total military spending. The next largest in spending are China, accounting for 8.2%; Russia, 4.1%; and the United Kingdom and France, both 3.6%.   If all military costs are included, annual [US] spending amounts to $1 trillion." 

Peace, which costs nothing, is attended with infinitely more advantage than any victory with all its expense.

– Thomas Paine
   From his The Rights of Man

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Excerpt from Glenn Greenwald's "No Place to Hide"

Yesterday was the official release date of Glenn Greenwald’s new book No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Security State. (Amazon).  To coincide with the release, Tom Engelhardt posed this edited excerpt of the first chapter of that book on his TomDispatch website.

It reads like a spy thriller, because that's exactly what it is ... only this isn't fantasy, it's real life.

Glenn Greenwald wrote, of his initial lack of interest and unwillingness to install encryption software that Edward Snowden required him to use before the could communicate:

Despite my intentions, I did nothing, consumed as I was at the time with other stories, and still unconvinced that [Snowden] had anything worthwhile to say.

It was at that point that [Snowden], as he later told me, became frustrated. “Here am I,” he thought, “ready to risk my liberty, perhaps even my life, to hand this guy thousands of Top Secret documents from the nation’s most secretive agency -- a leak that will produce dozens if not hundreds of huge journalistic scoops. And he can’t even be bothered to install an encryption program.”

That’s how close I came to blowing off one of the largest and most consequential national security leaks in U.S. history.

All that, "we need to make sure you weren't followed," "leave your cell phone in your hotel room" kind of stuff seemed like an unnecessary cloak-and-dagger game to Greenwald.  He learned pretty quickly just how real it all was, and how absolutely necessary.

So, why did Edward Snowden take such risks with his life and his future?  Who was he working for?  Who was paying him ?  He provided Glenn Greenwald with the answer:

I want to spark a worldwide debate about privacy, Internet freedom, and the dangers of state surveillance.  I’m not afraid of what will happen to me. I’ve accepted that my life will likely be over from my doing this. I’m at peace with that. I know it’s the right thing to do.

That's enough to satisfy me.  Because no one I know has that degree of courage. No one I know is compelled to that degree by a moral imperative.  No one I know is willing to take such risks, with no certain promise of reward, simply because they believe doing so is the right thing to do.

And I believe Edward Snowden is the greatest living American.
Can't wait for the rest of this story!

Let freedom ring

On Sunday, the people of two geographic regions of Ukraine (Donetsk and Luhansk) turned out in huge numbers to vote (overwhelmingly in favor) of independence from Ukraine.  On  Monday, one of those regions made a declaration of independence, and named itself the "People's Republic of Donetsk."

Oleksandr Turchynov, Ukraine's acting president, told his country's parliament: "The farce which terrorists call the referendum will have no legal consequences except the criminal responsibility for its organisers."

Let's just say that the election was a legitimate reflection of the desire of the overwhelming majority of the peoples of those regions; none of whom are "terrorists," and the outcome should've come as absolutely no surprise to anyone.

It was embarrassing to watch the United States of American opposing the rights of yet another nation to seek independence through democratic elections, and uttering empty threats against Russia.  The United States has no business trying to control the outcome of events in Ukraine and the United States certainly has no credibility when speaking about military encroachments on the sovereignty of tiny less-powerful states.

Obama should've kept his mouth shut.   Does he deserve the humiliation he's getting at the hands of Vladimir Putin?  Absolutely.

And does Canada deserve its reputation as the lapdog of the US?  Absolutely.  It was absurd for Canada to hurl threats at Russia ... tiny Canada doesn't have enough weight to be throwing it around.  Besides, Canada's reputation as a peacemaker was worth more in international goodwill and respect than anything the country had going for it.

The only thing I've found surprising is how quickly the anti-Russian propaganda hit prime-time TV.  It seemed like overnight the "terrorist" enemies in a number of prime-time shows suddenly became Russians, with the thick stereotyped accent.  Even as recently as one year ago, I can guarantee you those same villains would have been Muslim extremists or at least identified as coming from a predominately Muslim country.

It has also been quite amusing to watch the neocons fall flat on their faces in an effort to inflame war fever in Americans.  Americans are no longer interested in foreign policy, and it has been very gratifying to see they have no interest in new foreign wars of imperialism.

Let freedom ring.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Land of the Free?

Almost all countries tax the income only of their residents, not citizens. For nearly all nationalities, if you don't live in the country of your citizenship, your home government doesn't tax you on income earned abroad. However, two countries tax the worldwide income of nonresidents who are citizens of the country, regardless of their residence.  Two only, count them:
  1. Eritrea taxes its nonresident citizens on their foreign income at a reduced flat rate of 2%.
  2. The United States taxes its citizens and resident foreigners on their worldwide income, and nonresident foreigners on their local income.

The Land of the Free is one of the only countries on the planet that taxes its non-resident citizens on their worldwide income.  And, don't forget, if you're an American with $10,000 or more in foreign bank accounts, you need to file an annual Department of the Treasury Form 90-22.1 Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (FBAR). They want to know; and you better tell.

Americans can brag to me all they want about their military and economic might and the great expanse of their empire, the greatest the world has ever known, but as for Americans being freer than other nations, give me a break. That is an apparent falsehood.

Land of the Free?  Don't make me sick. 

Sunday, May 11, 2014

The evidence supports decades-old predictions

One of the reasons why a high confidence is being placed in the 3rd National Climate Assessment, released last week (a congressionally-mandated report by 300 leading climate scientists and experts is that so many of the projections made by the same scientists decades ago have come true:  increases in heatwaves, droughts and severe flooding.

The report concluded that:  "The global warming of the past 50 years is primarily due to human activities, predominantly the burning of fossil fuels.  Over the last 50 years, much of the United States has seen an increase in prolonged periods of excessively high temperatures, more heavy downpours, and in some regions, more severe droughts.  Evidence indicates that the human influence on climate has already roughly doubled the probability of extreme heat events such as the record-breaking summer heat experienced in 2011 in Texas and Oklahoma. In some regions, prolonged periods of high temperatures associated with droughts contribute to conditions that lead to larger wildfires and longer fire seasons."
Download or read the entire report:  or just the overview and highlights.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Leave that stuff to the experts

Most of my life was spent in a state of deliberate ignorance.  I was totally into my career and took almost no interest in anything that wasn't relevant to it in some way. I pretty much just ignored most of what was going on around me.  All work; no play.  Boy, have I changed.

When I met my wife, in 1988, she told me one evening after a visit to her folks, "Charles, you don't need to be afraid to speak up at my parents' house; don't be afraid to speak up to Bob, he's just trying to find out how you feel about things."

And I replied, "I'm not afraid to speak up, it's just that I don't have any opinions about most of that stuff.  I just don't know enough about it to form an opinion."  My wife was like, "Well, you must have some opinion, just state it."

And I was like, "Actually, no, I don't have any opinion really, and to state an opinion, in ignorance, would just be stupid."

Most of the topics were either current news events or politics, or the hot button social issues that people in the Bible Belt obsess over. The truth was, I just didn't care about those things.  Most were complex issues, and I felt it was best to leave those things to the experts; those who were elected to make the difficult decisions on our behalf; exactly so we don't have to.  We can concern ourselves with our own personal lives, vote every couple of years, and and forget that we're part of a society.

Leave such matters to the experts:  That's an attitude that most people tend to hold today, I think.  They have so much going on in their lives, that they choose not to worry about anything that doesn't affect them immediately or directly. Anything else is for someone else to worry about, debate and decide.  Leave it with the experts, let them argue and let the politicians argue.  After all, no matter what the public says, it will be their decision in the end. Life is too short and we have so much in our lives to worry about. Why worry about something like that when, at the end of the day, only powerful money-hungry people will get a say.

I've come to believe that that attitude is wrong on several levels:

Most of all, that attitude is wrong because it represents a refusal to accept individual responsibility. It isn't easy, and it isn't comfortable, but it is the responsibility of all citizens of a representative democracy like the United States to educate themselves to the extent they are capable, and to take responsibility for their own futures; for the big long-range decisions.  That's what self-governance means.

That attitude is wrong because it represents an acceptance of the status quo.  It validates the system; a system in which the people have no real power, or interest in self-governance, but abdicate their choices, decisions and their futures to others, hopefully "wiser than we."  No one thinks of themselves as instruments of change.  In other words, it's an acceptance of impotence.  It's defeatism.  "Leave it to the experts" is the surrender of a person who admits he or she has already lost.

Look around ... where on this planet is significant lasting social change being accomplished through elections?  You want to tell me that's how change is being effected in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Tunisia, Egypt, Turkey, Ukraine/Crimea?

I'm not saying that one shouldn't vote; I encourage everyone to vote this Fall.  Just don't expect anything to change as a result.

Direct activism is effecting more change in our world than democratic elections.  And I think society will benefit from far more of it.  In the streets. Young people who can't find the time, the energy, or the interest to protest are making themselves a huge part of the problem by refusing to be part of the solution.