Tag Archives: President Barack Obama

Cubans have much more to lose in closer ties with the United States

FILE - In this July 31, 2004 file photo, Cuba's President Fidel Castro, left, and his brother, Minister of Defense Raul Castro, attend a Parliament session in Havana, Cuba. The 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union devastated the Cuban economy, but the country limped along, first under Fidel and then, after he fell ill in 2006, under his brother Raul, head of the Cuban military. On Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2014, the U.S. and Cuba agreed to re-establish diplomatic relations and open economic and travel ties, marking a historic shift in U.S. policy toward the communist island after a half-century of enmity dating back to the Cold War. (AP Photo/Cristobal Herrera, File)

Associated Press photo

The 88-year-old Fidel Castro won’t live forever, and Cuba is about a lot more than Fidel Castro. (Castro is shown above in 2004 with his brother, Raul Castro, who took over as the leader of the island nation in 2008 due to Fidel Castro’s failing health.) The United States should have restored diplomatic relations with Cuba decades ago, and the tiny but loud minority of right-wing Cuban Americans need to shut the fuck up and for once put the greater good of Americans and Cubans above their own bitterness and selfishness — and humble themselves and remind themselves that the majority of the American people twice elected President Barack Obama to represent the United States on the global stage.

One of U.S. President Barack Obama’s best moves is his decision to open diplomatic relations with the government of Cuba after more than 50 years of a pointless cold war with the island nation.

For all of the selfish whining of the tiny but loud minority of Cuban-American wingnuts — who always have been a bunch of fucking ingrates who believe that they should control U.S. foreign policy — ironically, Cubans have a lot more to lose than do Americans should the United States and Cuba ever become super-cozy.

The typical Cuban, after all, has better access to higher education and health care than does the average American. The typical Cuban’s life expectancy is close behind the typical American’s and Cubans’ life expectancy ranks No. 1 among the Latin American nations.

Cuba has universal health care (yes, health care is a human right, and shouldn’t be an opportunity for profiteering) and Cuba’s literacy rate of 99.8 percent beats the United States’ rate of 99 percent.

Not that Cuba is perfect, perhaps especially on the measure of freedom of speech, but, of course, the United States, which, among other things, calls torture “enhanced interrogation” (someone recently remarked that that’s like calling rape “enhanced dating”) and slaughters scores of innocent civilians by drones in the name of “democracy,” isn’t exactly a paragon of human rights itself, is it?

However, would it benefit most Cubans for American corporations to muscle back into the nation and turn most Cubans into wage slaves, like most Americans are? (Capitalism is, after all, wage slavery that of course creates insane socioeconomic inequality.) Are Cubans really just itching for such wonderful imported American “freedoms” as crushing student-loan debt, wage slavery and bankruptcy from insane health-care costs?

You’d think the rabidly wingnutty Cuban Americans would salivate over the idea of turning Cuba into a cash cow for the corporations again, as it was when darling-of-the-right-wing dictator Fulgencio Batista, who couldn’t sell out the people of Cuba enough to American corporations for his own benefit and the benefit of his fellow elites, was in power.

But what’s up the right-wing Cuban-American ingrates’ asses is that they expect the U.S. government to maintain a cold war with Cuba on their behalf for eternity. They believe that their bitterness against Fidel Castro, who overthrew dictator Batista in the Cuban Revolution of the 1950s, should be reflected by U.S. governmental policy toward Cuba in perpetuity.

(Batista, by the way, fled Cuba on January 1, 1959, with hundreds of millions of dollars he’d taken through obscene corruption and after having slaughtered as many as 20,000 of his political opponents. This is the kind of man, like murderous Chilean dictator Agosto Pinochet, who gets the support of the right wing.

If you think that I’m full of shit, know that President John Kennedy said of Batista that his was “one of the most bloody and repressive dictatorships in the long history of Latin American repression” and that Kennedy wrote this:

I believe that there is no country in the world including any and all the countries under colonial domination, where economic colonization, humiliation and exploitation were worse than in Cuba, in part owing to my country’s policies during the Batista regime. I approved the proclamation which Fidel Castro made in the Sierra Maestra, when he justifiably called for justice and especially yearned to rid Cuba of corruption. I will even go further: to some extent it is as though Batista was the incarnation of a number of sins on the part of the United States. Now we shall have to pay for those sins. In the matter of the Batista regime, I am in agreement with the first Cuban revolutionaries. That is perfectly clear.

Um, yeah.)

To open diplomatic relations with another nation is not to agree with everything that nation does and has done. Certainly the U.S. government and the governments of China and Russia don’t agree on everything, but they maintain diplomatic relations nonetheless.

The teeny-tiny minority of right-wing Cuban-Americans and their supporters (including, of course, the craven politicians who want right-wing Cuban-Americans’ money and votes, such as right-wing Cuban-American scumbags U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida) need to shut the fuck up and put the greater good of the American people and the Cuban people above their own selfish political agendas, and they need to wake the fuck up and stop expecting the rest of us, the vast majority, to maintain their insane cold war of more than five decades.

I support diplomatic relations with Cuba because Cuba has much to teach the United States, which, of course, just might be just what the Cuban-American wingnuts fear most.

But, again, it is Cubans, not Americans, who have the most to lose in significantly close ties between the two nations.

The specter of Cubans once again being oppressed by the craven corporate America is, in fact, the only reason that I would or could oppose diplomatic relations with Cuba.

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Is Ferguson a symptom of black American panic?

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Finally (maybe), the president we voted for in 2008

“You know, when Trayvon Martin was first shot, I said that this could have been my son,” President Barack Obama remarked during a press conference yesterday, immediately adding, “Another way of saying that is [that] Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago.” He also remarked that while “Each successive generation seems to be making progress in changing attitudes when it comes to race,” “It doesn’t mean that we’re in a post-racial society” and “It doesn’t mean that racism is eliminated.” Anyone who has a problem with these words is a part of the problem.

I usually agree with Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson, but not this time. He begins his latest column thusly:

We should talk honestly about unresolved racial issues, such as those exposed by the Trayvon Martin case, but President Obama is not the best person to lead the discussion. Through no fault of his own, he might be the worst.

Indeed, yesterday President Hopey-Changey unexpectedly during a press conference at the White House finally discussed American race relations apparently in a way not meant to placate the incredibly easily rattled whitey.

This was the Obama I voted for in 2008 but could not vote for again in 2012, in no small part because of his history of probably being worse on the issues of race relations and racism than an actually progressive white president would have been.

Here are some nuggets from Obama’s remarks (which I recommend that you read in their entirety):

…[In] the African-American community at least, there’s a lot of pain around what happened here [in the Trayvon Martin case], [and] I think it’s important to recognize that the African-American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that — that doesn’t go away.

There are very few African-American men in this country who haven’t had the experience of being followed when they were shopping in a department store. That includes me.

And there are very few African-American men who haven’t had the experience of walking across the street and hearing the locks click on the doors of cars. That happens to me, at least before I was a senator. There are very few African-Americans who haven’t had the experience of getting on an elevator and a woman clutching her purse nervously and holding her breath until she had a chance to get off. That happens often.

…The African-American community is also knowledgeable that there is a history of racial disparities in the application of our criminal laws, everything from the death penalty to enforcement of our drug laws. And that ends up having an impact in terms of how people interpret the case.

…And so the fact that sometimes that’s unacknowledged adds to the frustration. And the fact that a lot of African-American boys are painted with a broad brush and the excuse is given, well, there are these statistics out there that show that African-American boys are more violent — using that as an excuse to then see sons treated differently causes pain.

…So — so folks understand the challenges that exist for African-American boys, but they get frustrated, I think, if they feel that there’s no context for it or — and that context is being denied. And — and that all contributes, I think, to a sense that if a white male teen was involved in the same kind of scenario, that, from top to bottom, both the outcome and the aftermath might have been different. …

Now, I don’t agree with every word that Obama spoke, such as his mindless, pro-plutocratic promotion of nonviolence — “If I see any violence, then I will remind folks that that dishonors what happened to Trayvon Martin and his family,” he remarked, even though the U.S. government and all other levels of government in the U.S. resort to violence for our plutocratic overlords all the fucking time, abroad and at home, while we commoners are never to respond in kind, thus helping to ensure the status quo (including, of course, our serfdom) — but even simple, obvious, irrefutable reminders of what black Americans routinely go through, such as being followed around at department stores and hearing the clicks of car-door locks in their presence, are powerful.

These simple truths are powerful because in the United States of America they so rarely are mentioned in the public square, and certainly, until now, never by the U.S. president.

These truths aren’t controversial because they’re truths, but because in the dysfunctional family that is the United States of America, truths that make many people uncomfortable are not to be uttered at all, and those who utter them usually are punished — not for lying, certainly, but for uttering the truths that, the unspoken but usually quite understood rule is, never are to be uttered because they make certain people — gasp!uncomfortable.

This dysfunctional bullshit needed to stop long ago, and the reason that Obama got my vote in 2008, at least in part, is that I trusted his ubiquitous promises of “hope” and “change”; I trusted him to start to break through all of the bullshit.

Unfortunately, Obama apparently has waited until his second term to begin to do so.

In his remarks about the Trayvon Martin case Obama also offered some policy changes in order to prevent similar cases from happening in the future. Among those remarks were these two:

“I think it would be useful for us to examine some state and local laws to see if it — if they are designed in such a way that they may encourage the kinds of altercations and confrontations and tragedies that we saw in the Florida case, rather than defuse potential altercations” and “…[If] we’re sending a message as a society in our communities that someone who is armed potentially has the right to use those firearms even if there’s a way for them to exit from a situation, is that really going to be contributing to the kind of peace and security and order that we’d like to see?”

I think he hit the nail on the head — the two big takeaways from the Trayvon Martin case are the problems of racial profiling (and racism and race relations in general, which, of course, are behind such profiling) and right-wing state laws that indeed actually encourage Wild-West-style violence rather than work to reduce violence.

The only Americans who possibly could have a real problem with Obama’s remarks are those who are guilty as charged. These would be the racists and white supremacists who have opposed Obama from Day One anyway.

I get it that Obama also from Day One was careful, probably especially once he stepped into the national limelight, not to appear to be an “angry” black man, lest too many white (and other non-black) people be put off by it and not vote for him. (There is a reason that someone like Obama, and not someone like Jesse Jackson [who did run for president — back in the day I went to his presidential campaign stop at my university], became our first black president.)

However, up until now Obama has gone too far in the direction of caution, neglecting the issue of race to the point that, again, I seriously have considered that an actually bold, progressive white (or other non-black) president would have done much more to improve the lives of black Americans than Obama has.

Obama’s chronic over-caution has had the paradoxical effect, I suspect, of making the fact that he’s been our first black president to be fairly meaningless, in terms of the quality of black Americans’ lives. Hell, not even just meaningless, but actually detrimental, given his “leadership” style of holding back and doing little to nothing (not only on race relations but on most matters of importance; for instance, I’ll never forget his relative inaction while British Petroleum just filled the Gulf of Mexico with oil, arguably the first real test of his presidential mettle).

Still, I suppose, better late than never, although none of us should expect that Obama now will be talking frankly and candidly about race and race relations with any frequency between now and the end of his second term. It’s never been his style, and I can’t see him radically changing his style now.

But it is the job of the president of the United States of America to talk about social issues, and to be a leader to the nation that elected him or her, and probably the most controversial social issues are the ones that need to be discussed the most, just as the most painful parts of your body are the parts that most need medical attention — certainly not denial and avoidance.

And a part of the American body politic that needs medical attention — stat — is the demographic of young black males. “We need to spend some time in thinking about how do we bolster and reinforce our African-American boys,” Obama also remarked yesterday, adding, “There are a lot of kids out there who need help who are getting a lot of negative reinforcement. And is there more that we can do to give them the sense that their country cares about them and values them and is willing to invest in them?”

Obama continued: “You know, I’m not naive about the prospects of some brand-new federal program. I’m not sure that that’s what we’re talking about here. But I do recognize that as president, I’ve got some convening power.”

Indeed. As president, Obama does have power, power that thus far he hasn’t used nearly enough for good.

So I have to disagree with Eugene Robinson when he states that “The record indicates that honest talk from Obama about race is seen by many [white (let’s face it, Robinson, who seems almost as timid as Obama does, very most likely mostly means white)] people as threatening” and that therefore, “the unfortunate fact is that if his aim is to promote dialogue about race, speaking his mind is demonstrably counterproductive.”

No, it is Obama’s up-to-now historical silence on the topic of race — other than non-threatening/non-“threatening,” throw-away platitudes — that has been demonstrably counterproductive.

Those who — gasp! — feel threatened!/“threatened”! and/or uncomfortable! need to get a fucking grip already, because they are the ones who have been preventing the United States of America from fulfilling its up-to-now fairly empty promises of liberty and justice for all.

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Millions murdered Trayvon Martin

These editorial cartoons pretty much sum it up, methinks.

I haven’t written much, if anything, about the Trayvon Martin case, since I usually don’t blog about incidents of shootings, stabbings, rapes, etc. unless they have a wider significance.

But the Trayvon Martin case, of course, does have a wider significance.

I don’t know which individual on that fateful night of February 26, 2012, in a gated community in Sanford, Florida, physically posed the larger threat to the other, the 17-year-old Martin, who was black, or the then-28-year-old half-Latino-and-half-white George Zimmerman. (Yes, in this case, the race of the individuals involved has mattered.)

But the indisputable facts are that Zimmerman had a gun and Martin did not, and that Zimmerman shot Martin dead.

The indisputable fact is that Zimmerman was playing cop in a gated community (those two words, “gated community,” speak volumes as to the sociological context of Martin’s death*), and that such vigilantism should be illegal in all 50 states.

There is a reason that actual cops, in order to become actual cops, in most instances have to demonstrate a minimum amount of intelligence and a minimum amount of psychological health: Because you don’t want morons and/or those who have head issues walking around communities with guns, playing cops.

And I can’t see that Zimmerman wasn’t racially profiling Martin: What’s a young black man doing in this gated community? (Let’s fucking face it: The No. 1 function of a gated community is to keep certain “undesirables,” who more often than not have darker skin, out and away from the wealthier and usually lighter-skinned denizens of the gated community.)

Oh, wasn’t that Zimmerman’s mindset? Would Zimmerman have pursued, with his loaded pistol, a young white man who was dressed as a preppy?

And once you have made yourself into a pseudo-cop, don’t you want to “have to” play the role at some point? So wouldn’t you be looking for such an opportunity?

Zimmerman was just acquitted in Martin’s shooting death, but, it seems to me, Zimmerman was guilty at least of manslaughter. In a saner and more just state, such as my state of California, Zimmerman most likely would have been found guilty of at least manslaughter, I surmise. However, the backasswards state of Florida (along with other backasswards states) allows yahoos to walk the streets with guns, and to use those guns to “stand their ground.”

That’s Wild-West bullshit.

Martin wasn’t pursuing Zimmerman on that night. Zimmerman, playing cop, was pursuing Martin. Zimmerman was acting offensively, not defensively. He wasn’t “standing his ground” against an unprovoked attack on his person. No, he was playing cop.**

The state of Florida, along with George Zimmerman, killed Trayvon Martin, along with the gun-nut lobby and, of course, the institutional racism that of course still persists and will persist in the United States of America for some time to come. Martin’s murderers number in the millions.

These “stand your ground” laws need to go, or at least need to be modified to make clear that you aren’t “standing your ground” if you are the fucking aggressor — especially if you are the armed aggressor against an unarmed (or hell, even armed) individual who has made no threatening advance toward you in public. (“In public” is key there; no, I do not assert that an individual does not have the right to defend his or her own home against an actual intruder, for instance, and for actual self-defense I do support the Second Amendment.)

For the reasons that I have just laid out, I support the NAACP’s and other black community leaders’ push to have Attorney General Eric Holder’s Department of Justice file federal civil-rights charges against Zimmerman, even though such an action probably would touch off a race-based firestorm, given that the U.S. president and the U.S. attorney general are black.

(President Barack Obama is conflict-adverse, however, perhaps especially when it comes to issues of race — recall that he quickly and summarily threw the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Van Jones and Shirley Sherrod, all of whom are black, under the bus when they came under attack from the white-supremacist right wing — so I certainly don’t expect the Justice Department to file federal civil-rights charges against Zimmerman, regardless of how appropriate doing so might be.)

However, the seeking of justice for the very apparent race-based murder of Trayvon Martin needs to go waaay beyond George Zimmerman. It needs to encompass the entire state of Florida and every other state with the so-called “stand your ground” laws, which are a white supremacist’s or other racist’s wet dream: the opportunity to commit race-based murders while claiming self-defense.

If you believe that the U.S. Department of Justice should file civil-rights charges in the Trayvon Martin case, you can sign this petition and/or this petition. I have signed both of them.

*On that note, I very much look forward to the upcoming sci-fi film “Elysium,” starring Matt Damon and Jodie Foster and written and directed by “District 9” creator Neill Blomkamp, whose 2009 “District 9” apparently was a statement on the white-on-black racism in South Africa.

From the previews, “Elysium” appears to be a bold statement on the direction in which the United States of America — as well as other nations, too, of course — with their haves and their have-nots, are going.

**A friend of Trayvon Martin, Rachel Jeantel, infamously testified that while she was talking to Martin on his cell phone shortly before he was killed, Martin reported that he was being followed by a “creepy-ass cracker.”

While I don’t know that I’d call George Zimmerman a “cracker,” as he looks Latino to me, and technically isn’t a “cracker,” I imagine that on the night of February 26, 2012, he indeed looked “creepy-ass,” pursuing his victim with a loaded pistol while playing cop. He probably looked crazed, because he apparently was.

And Rachel Jeantel, was treated horribly in the courtroom, was treated as though her English was not clear when it was quite clear if you actually just listened to the words that came from her mouth. Her mistreatment smacked of racism, and that the court allowed this mistreatment of her is yet another indication that there is a huge fucking problem in the state of Florida — and so that, again, it would be quite appropriate for the U.S. Justice Department to act on this.

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Two ways you can help patriot Edward Snowden right now

Updated below

U.S. National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden is seen in this still image taken from a video during an interview with the Guardian in his hotel room in Hong Kong

Reuters image

Repugnican Tea Party Speaker of the House John Boehner has called 29-year-old National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden (pictured above) a “traitor.”

This is not all that surprising, coming from an alcoholic fascist like Boehner, whose treasonous, far-right-wing party’s only wish is to preserve the status quo. (Actually, the Repugnican Tea Party traitors want to take us back to the Dark Ages, but, at the minimum, they want to keep us trapped where we are; they seek to block all progress in the United States of America, and to a large degree, they succeed.)

Edward Snowden is a defender of the U.S. Constitution — specifically, Americans’ Fourth-Amendment right to privacy.

But in the down-the-rabbit-hole United States of America, where freedom and democracy died long, long ago, the actually treasonous criminals are let off scot-fucking-free while those who report the treasonous criminals’ criminal and treasonous activity, like Snowden, Bradley Manning and Julian Assange, are made into the “criminals.” They’re called by the hypocritically treasonous powers that be “traitors,” even.

(If Snowden is a “traitor,” gee, maybe he’s a “terrorist,” too! Maybe there’s a killer drone hunting him down as I type this sentence!)

Today, the power-mad, democracy-hating, Constitution-violating traitors in Washington go after patriots like Edward Snowden and Bradley Manning. (I’d call Julian Assange a patriot, but he’s Australian… Still, he’s a lover of actual freedom and actual democracy and he rejects the faux freedom and the faux democracy that the plutocrats and their servants in D.C. claim are the real thing.)

Tomorrow, the fascists in D.C. come for the rest of us.

There are two simple things that you can do right now to help Edward Snowden:

  • One, you can contribute to his legal defense fund, which the Progressive Change Campaign Committee has set up. You can do that here. (If you decide to donate to Snowden’s legal defense fund via the PCCC, be sure to donate to the “PCCC Strategic Fund” that is shown on the webpage.) I’ve given $10 to Snowden’s legal defense fund and I probably will give more.
  • Two, you can sign the petition on the White House’s website to encourage President Barack Obama to pardon Snowden. The petition is available here. (You’ll have to register with the website if you’re not already registered; registration is simple.) When I signed the petition this morning, almost half of the necessary 100,000 signatures necessary for the White House to consider the petition had been collected.

And use your sphere of influence, of course.

Doing these things is better that doing nothing. They’re something.

We need to alter the sociopolitical environment that even makes it possible for an actually treasonous fascist like John Boehner to call a courageous patriot like Edward Snowden a “traitor.”

P.S. I have to note that it’s pretty fucking stupid for the Repugnican Tea Party, which is hurting among youthful voters, to attack the 29-year-old Snowden like this.

I don’t expect the Obama administration, which has depended upon youthful voters, to attack Snowden nearly as viciously, but it will be interesting to see how the Obama administration decides to proceed with Snowden.

Update: To be fair and balanced, I will point you to this Associated Press news story that I just read in which “Democratic” U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California has referred to Edward Snowden’s whistleblowing as “an act of treason.”

Oh, sure, the right-wing Feinstein is the chair of the Senate “intelligence” committee, but she’s also a millionaire, one of the plutocrats who benefit from the unconstitutional vast spying upon Americans.

Feinstein also voted for the Vietraq War — from which her husband, Richard Blum, a war profiteer, just happened to make millions of dollars.

With “friends” like these, who needs the fucking Repugnicans?

(If memory serves, I voted for the fascistic Feinstein in 2000, being new to California and not knowing any better; however, I didn’t vote for her in 2006 or in 2012, and I never would cast a vote for her again. She’s one of the many examples one could point to in order to demonstrate that the average American’s interests are not represented in D.C. )

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WHOSE security?

Despite President Hopey-Changey’s promises that the vast amount of data that is collected on us Americans — on our dime, of course — never would be used for nefarious purposes, I’m as confident of that as I am that killer drones never would be used on American soil on American citizens who have been branded by the powers that be as “terrorists” simply because they disagree with whichever right-wing (Repugnican Tea Party) or center-right-wing (“Democratic” Party) regime that’s in charge of the show.

Not to try to outdo Alex Jones, but I just don’t buy that the National Security Agency’s Job No. 1 actually is to protect Americans from actual terrorist attacks.

Oh, sure, if there were another 9/11-like terrorist attack, that would be embarrassing to the powers that be who claim that they’re so damned consumed about keeping all of us safe, but would they really care that some anonymous American commoners got snuffed out?

Of course not.

As long at their precious plutocratic asses are safe. That’s all that matters to them.

No, the NSA exists, I’m confident, primarily to sound the alarm for the plutocrats should the worst-case scenario ever actually arise: The American people actually rising up to overthrow their plutocratic overlords who have kept them — us — in politicosocioeconomic bondage for ages.

And the kicker is, as I mentioned, that we spied-upon-by-the-wolves sheeple are the ones who are paying for the whole “security” system that in all probability actually is meant to keep the plutocrats safe from us. (After all, we do have them vastly outnumbered.)

Perhaps the NSA’s greatest triumph is not in keeping us commoners safe, but in inducing us commoners to believe that the NSA actually works for us.

This Associated Press story on the NSA from today, for example, contains not a whiff of a hint that it might not be entirely true that the NSA exists entirely to protect American commoners from harm and that it does not at all exist, not even at least in part, to protect the plutocrats from the masses, should the masses ever actually rise up:

Washington — An email, a telephone call or even the murmur of a conversation captured by the vibration of a window — they’re all part of the data that can be swept up by the sophisticated machinery of the National Security Agency.

Its job is to use the world’s most cutting edge supercomputers and arguably the largest database storage sites to crunch and sift through immense amounts of data. The information analyzed might be stolen from a foreign official’s laptop by a Central Intelligence Agency officer overseas, intercepted by a Navy spy plane flying off the Chinese coast, or, as Americans found out this past week, gathered from U.S. phone records.

Code-breakers at the Fort Meade, Md.-based NSA use software to search for keywords in the emails or patterns in the phone numbers that might link known terrorist targets with possible new suspects. They farm out that information to the 16 U.S. intelligence agencies and to law enforcement, depending on who has the right to access which type of information, acting as gatekeeper, and they say, guardian of the nation’s civil liberties as well as its security.

The super-secret agency is under the spotlight after last week’s revelations of two surveillance programs. One involves the sweeping collection of hundreds of millions of phone records of U.S. customers. The second collects the audio, video, email, photographic and Internet search usage of foreign nationals overseas — and probably some Americans in the process — who use major Internet companies such as Microsoft, Google, Apple and Yahoo.

NSA was founded in 1952. Only years later was the NSA publicly acknowledged, which explains its nickname, “No Such Agency.”

According to its website, NSA is not allowed to spy on Americans. It is supposed to use its formidable technology to “gather information that America’s adversaries wish to keep secret,” and to “protect America’s vital national security information and systems from theft or damage by others,” as well as enabling “network warfare, a military operation,” that includes offensive cyberoperations against U.S. adversaries.

The agency also includes the Central Security Service, the military arm of code-breakers who work jointly with the agency. The two services have their headquarters on a compound that’s technically part of Fort Meade, though it’s slightly set apart from the 5,000-acre Army base.

Visible from a main highway, the tightly guarded compound requires the highest of clearances to enter and is equipped with electronic means to ward off an attack by hackers.

Other NSA facilities in Georgia, Texas, Colorado and Hawaii duplicate much of the headquarters’ brain and computer power in case a terrorist attack takes out the main location, though each one focuses on a different part of the globe.

A new million-square-foot storage facility in Salt Lake City will give the agency untold additional capacity to store the massive amounts of data it collects, as well as adding to its analytical capability.

“NSA is the elephant of the U.S. intelligence community, the biggest organization by far with the most capability and (literally) the most memory,” said former senior CIA official Bruce Riedel, who now runs the Brookings Intelligence Project. …

NSA workers are notoriously secretive. They’re known for keeping their families in the dark about what they do, including their hunt for terror mastermind Osama bin Laden. NSA code-breakers were an essential part of the team that tracked down bin Laden at a compound in Pakistan in 2011.

Their mission tracking al-Qaida and related terrorist groups continues, with NSA analysts and operators sent out to every conflict zone and overseas U.S. post, in addition to surveillance and analysis conducted at headquarters outside Washington.

The director of national intelligence, James Clapper, said in a statement [yesterday] that the NSA’s programs do not target U.S. citizens. But last week’s revelations show that the NSA is allowed to gather U.S. phone calls and emails and to sift through them for information leading to terrorist suspects, as long as a judge signs off. Lawmakers are questioning the scope of the information gathered, and how long and how much of it is kept.

“Does that data all have to be held by the government?” asked Sen. Angus King, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

King, a Maine independent, was briefed on the program this past week, but would not discuss how long the government holds on to the phone records. “I don’t think there is evidence of abuse, but I think the program can be changed to be structured with less levels of intrusion on the privacy of Americans,” he said. …

“Through software, you can search for key words and key phrases linking a communication to a particular group or individual that would fire it off to individual agencies that have interest in it,” just like Amazon or Google scans millions of emails and purchases to track consumer preferences, explained Ronald Marks, a former CIA official and author of Spying in America in the Post 9/11 World.

Detailed algorithms try to determine whether something is U.S. citizen-related or not. “It shows analysts, ‘We’ve got a U.S. citizen here, so we’ve got to be careful with it,'” he said.

Another way counterterrorist officials try to protect U.S. citizens is through centers where operators from the military, CIA, NSA, FBI, Treasury and others sit side by side. When one comes across information that his or her agency is not supposed to access, it’s turned over to someone in the center who’s authorized to see it.

But the process isn’t perfect, and sometimes what should be private information reaches agencies not authorized to see it.

“When information gets sent to the CIA that shouldn’t, it gets destroyed, and a note sent back to NSA saying, ‘You shouldn’t have sent that,'” Marks said. “Mistakes get made, but my own experience on the inside of it is, they tend to be really careful about it.” …

I’m lovin’ those last several paragraphs. We commoners are just supposed to trust that the vast governmental spying that is perpetrated upon us never would be used against us by power-mad individuals who know fully well that information is power, and thus they’re doing their damnedest to gather as much information about us as is possible while they’re telling us that they themselves can’t give us any specific information about their information gathering that they are perpetrating upon us — and that all of this is for our own good. Trust us!

“I don’t think there is evidence of abuse, but I think the program can be changed to be structured with less levels of intrusion on the privacy of Americans,” Sen. Angus King proclaimed.

Of course there wouldn’t be any evidence of abuse by the NSA or any of its subsidiaries. Because of the uber-secretive nature of these organizations, any such evidence never would be made available to anyone on the outside, would it?

And that’s what we are going to be promised in the wake of NSAgate, of course: That, to use King’s words, the “program [will] be changed to be structured with less levels of intrusion on the privacy of Americans.”

Quite predictably, we will be told by the powers that be, including, of course, President Hopey-Changey and his cronies: Shut up and run along now, you silly, paranoid commoners! Trust us! We’ll fix any problems — although, of course, we can’t share any information about that with you! For your own security!

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Magical Elves, sparkleponies and other assorted gay shit

Pro-gay ally NFL player Chris Kluwe’s colorfully titled book is due out next month. Kluwe earlier this month was dropped by the Minnesota Vikings but was picked up by the Oakland Raiders. I’m glad and proud to have him as a fellow Californian; Minnesota’s loss is California’s gain.

I usually comment on gay-rights issues in the news in a timely fashion, but I’ve been slacking as of late. So here I’ll try to catch up:

It was great to see basketball player Jason Collins, the first active player from one of the “Big Four” sports organizations (the National Football League, the National Basketball Association, Major League Baseball and the National Hockey League ), come out late last month, even if there is at least a grain of truth to gay writer Bret Easton Ellis’ criticism that Collins’ treatment by the media “as some kind of baby panda who needed to be honored and praised and consoled and — yes — infantilized by his coming out on the cover of Sports Illustrated” also made Collins a “Gay Man as Magical Elf, who whenever he comes out appears before us as some kind of saintly E.T. whose sole purpose is to be put in the position of reminding us only about Tolerance and Our Own Prejudices and To Feel Good About Ourselves and to be a symbol instead of just being a gay dude.”

And I also was happy to hear the news that pro-gay ally NFL player Chris Kluwe, who was dropped by the Minnesota Vikings earlier this month (perhaps at least in part due to his vocal pro-gay-and-pro-gay-marriage stance), shortly thereafter was picked up by the Oakland Raiders.

If Minnesota didn’t appreciate Kluwe, I’m happy to have him here in California, where Kluwe already has done us some good: Kluwe and another pro-gay ally, NFL player Brendon Ayanbadejo, per Wikipedia, “filed an amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court on February 28, 2013, regarding Hollingsworth v. Perry, in which they expressed their support of the challenge to California Proposition 8,” which in 2008 amended California’s Constitution to ban same-sex marriage, a right that California’s Supreme Court had ruled was guaranteed to Californians by the state’s Constitution before the haters later amended it with Prop H8.

I admire the very apparently heterosexual Kluwe, who is heterosexually married and has two children. According to Wikipedia, Kluwe wrote a blog called “Out of Bounds” for a Minnesota newspaper before he quit the blog last year in protest of the newspaper’s having run an editorial in support of the euphemistically titled “Minnesota Marriage Amendment,” which, just as Prop H8 did in California, would have amended the state’s constitution to ban same-sex marriage. (That amendment failed at the ballot box in November, with the haters losing by just more than 5 percentage points, and subsequently the Minnesota Legislature legalized same-sex marriage this month.)

It takes balls and selflessness to fight for a historically discriminated against and oppressed group of people of whom you apparently aren’t a member. Kluwe did the right thing by boycotting the anti-gay newspaper.

Kluwe also has been outspoken about the facts that not all athletes are dumb jocks and that there is more to life than football, even for an NFL player.

And yeah, I’ll probably buy his upcoming book, Beautifully Unique Sparkleponies: On Myths, Morons, Free Speech, Football, and Assorted Absurdities, which is due out next month.

Also this month, three states approved same-sex marriage: Delaware, Rhode Island, and, as I mentioned, Minnesota. (I find it ironic that just after the Minnesota Vikings dropped Kluwe, very possibly at least in part due to his advocacy for same-sex marriage, the state’s Legislature enacted same-sex marriage.)

True, Rhode Island and Delaware are only our 43rd and 45th most populous states, respectively, but Minnesota is our 21st most populous state, and it joins Iowa as another Midwestern state with same-sex marriage. Once the Midwest goes, how far behind can the rest of the nation be?

Finally, I found it to be a pleasant surprise to learn that President Barack Obama, this past weekend in his commencement speech to the graduates of the all-male, historically African-American Morehouse College, remarked, “… and that’s what I’m asking all of you to do: keep setting an example for what it means to be a man. Be the best husband to your wife or your boyfriend or your partner. Be the best father you can be to your children. Because nothing is more important.”

True, Obama’s wording was inelegant.* If you were a man who had married your boyfriend, he would be your “husband” or your “spouse” or your “partner” or however else you chose to refer to him (hell, call him your “wife” if you want to and if he is OK with that; it’s your marriage, not mine). But if you had married him, you probably wouldn’t still be referring to him as your “boyfriend.”

Still, I found it at least a bit encouraging for the president of the United States of America, whatever his other many flaws and missteps might be, basically state in a college commencement address before an all-male audience that marrying a member of the same sex is perfectly fine if that is what is right for the individual.

You never would have heard George W. Bush, or even Bill Clinton, utter those words at a commencement ceremony.

I noted above that Chris Kluwe is “heterosexually married.” I did that on purpose; married” no longer should automatically mean heterosexually married; “married” should include the possibility of being homosexually married — in all 50 states and in every nation on the planet that recognizes marriage between heterosexuals.

And one day, it won’t matter; “married” will just be married, and no one will much care, if he or she cares at all, whether it’s a same-sex marriage or an opposite-sex marriage.

But it still matters now, and we Magical Elves and our allies have a lot of work to do between today and the day that it no longer matters because everyone (or at least almost everyone) realizes that each and every one of us is a beautifully unique sparklepony.

*Slate.com’s William Saletan reports that Obama’s prepared remark was “Be the best husband to your wife or boyfriend to your partner or father to your children that you can be,” but, again, what Obama actually said was, “Be the best husband to your wife or your boyfriend or your partner.”

Saletan writes:

… But this time, the speech didn’t go according to script. Literally. Obama changed the “boyfriend” line from hetero boilerplate to explicitly gay-inclusive. He ad-libbed. And this was a heck of a time to do it. The speech was about what it means to be a man. The president of the United States, who until a year ago didn’t support same-sex marriage, has just put an official stamp of masculinity on male homosexuality. …

That’s certainly a possibility; it’s a valid interpretation, and it would be my interpretation, too, more or less, but, in my viewing of the clip of the remark, it appears to me as though Obama does stumble and/or hesitate a bit in getting the words out, with a nervous-and-unsure-of-himself-sounding inflection on the final word of that sentence, “partner,” and it’s not 100 percent clear to me whether he stumbles over these words because he’s messing them up or because he’s not sure how what he is saying — that it’s perfectly OK for a man to marry a man — is going to be received by his audience (Morehouse College, after all, is in Georgia, a state that isn’t exactly known as a gay-friendly state).

Indeed, sadly, if you also watch the clip, you will hear and see that after Obama asks his audience to “keep setting an example for what it means to be a man,” he has to pause for applause, but then, after he says next, “Be the best husband to your wife or your boyfriend or your partner,” very apparently his audience at first is silent in momentary confusion but then breaks out in some derisive laughter and mumbling and grumbling.

Indeed, in response to this very apparent derision over his remark that a man may marry a man, Obama puts his index finger up to his audience in apparent admonishment over their apparent homophobia.

As I said, we still have a way to go.

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