Thursday, May 22, 2014

As Floodwaters Recede in Serbia, Croatia, and Bosnia, Twitter Saves Lives and Unites People.

Volunteers sandbag the river Sava near Belgrade
If you thought Twitter was only for internet marketers, sports nuts, and celebrity hounds who keep up with the Kardashians and their ilk, think again. During the past week's horrific, once in a century, floods in Serbia, Croatia, and Bosnia, Twitter has been the vehicle that has saved lives,organized volunteers, and gotten everything from baby food to helicopters to where the need was.  According to Serbian news sources, Twitter is responsible for saving at least 1500 lives.  I, for one, am not surprised. 

Twitter has fueled everything from flash mobs to the Arab Spring to Occupy Wall Street; not to mention putting the word " hashtag" into the English language. Twitter has changed the world, a fact which my generation seems largely unaware of, but which the Millennials have embraced wholeheartedly. It seems that the young people of the former Yugoslavia have united on Twitter to face this current emergency together.  When you consider that just a generation ago, their parents were killing each other wholesale over territorial boundaries and religious beliefs, while littering the countryside with landmines, this is an absolute miracle. The children of war are saving their parents and grandparents and they are doing it on Twitter.  They are an example to the world.

Andrej Nicolaidis put it rather lyrically in his excellent article for the Guardian. He's worth quoting here:
Yugoslav solidarity worked just fine for 45 years. Then the fairytale slid into another genre and ended with solidarity being eaten alive by the beast of nationalism. Wars have cleared the path for our crony capitalism with its ideology of social Darwinism: those in need were treated like social parasites and a barrier on the path of "dynamic development" of Balkan states. 
Now catastrophe in the former Yugoslavia is in the headlines once again. But this time, we are not killing each other. We are helping each other instead.

There is nothing like Mother Nature flexing her muscles to remind us all of our shared humanity. 

 Twitter helps those of us who are far away follow the news too. Just check out #FloodSerbia on Twitter and you will get an idea of what people in the Balkans are going through. Much of this feed is in English and there are lots of photos as well.   There are also a number of entitiies  tweeting about collecting funds for flood victims, but personally, I am too cynical about internet scams to trust everything I see on Twitter so I am sticking with the ones listed below. 

How to Donate to Balkan Flood Relief 

A Paypal account set up by the Serbian Government has already raised over $150,000 in just one day. You can read about it and donate here  This is perhaps the quickest way to make sure your donation gets to people who need it PDQ.

UNICEF has also started a fund to help children affected by the flood. This is what I am going with.

The British Red Cross has a special fund for the Bosnian, Serbian, Croatian Floods that you can donate to. I am sure the American Red Cross will get there soon. But at the moment, no special fund exists.

Lastly, thoughts, prayers and good wishes don't cost a penny and mean the world.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Donald Sterling, American Media, and The Racist Ravings of an Aging Douchebag

Donald Sterling meme from

In a world where African terrorists are kidnapping, raping and selling innocent schoolgirls into slavery, and entire countries are going up in flames with body counts that boggle the mind, it amazes me that American attention is riveted on pathetic billionaire narcissists  like Donald Sterling

It always amazes me that what is happening to real people in this world, is always trumped in the mainstream media (left, right and center equally) by what is going on with the Kardashians or Donald Trump, and their ilk.  There is something obscene about the superficiality of it all. 

But, there it is. I turned on CNN, CBS, NBC and Fox this morning-- channel surfing  as I drank my Saturday morning  mug of coffee and found that all the talking heads were talking about Donald Sterling's latest tape : anonymously recorded and sold for big bucks, no doubt, and now going viral .  I cannot believe that legitimate commentators are sitting around a table discussing whether or not racist remarks about people of color are acceptable as a pick up line.  I am also stunned by the narcissism of an aging douchebag like Donald Sterling thinking that explaining that his racist remarks were made only because he was jealous of the other men his girl was seeing and because he was horny and trying to get into her pants.... oh well, that makes it OK then, right?  Say what?  How can you imagine that insulting a woman's racial heritage would make her want to fall into bed with you? Does he really think that a girl like V. Stiviano, who has some pretty good gold-digger credentials in her background, is going to be attracted to an old goat like him as a lover?  Listen up Donnie boy-- it's all about the Benjamins. Got it?

It's an old and very sad story, but not a very interesting one in terms of world affairs. (to coin a phrase). As I write, the media feeding frenzy is still going on. Fortunately, it is waning, as these things don't have a long shelf life.  Now, they are all into discussing Monica Lewinsky's new article in Vanity Fair about her life since her affair with Bill Clinton.... yawn.  Monica who?  Monica wants to bury the blue dress and move on... Do it, Monica. Lord knows I already have. I am not about to pay $12 to scale Vanity Fair's online paywall to read yet another tell all piece.

Hey, maybe Monica and Donald Sterling should get together. Seems like they have a lot in common. Maybe Donald Sterling can sweet talk her into the sack.  I mean any port in a storm, right Donald?

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Putin vs. Stalin: Memories of My Cold War Childhood

image via flickr.creative commons;DonkeyHotey
I know I said I was through with political blogging, but watching Russia's President, Vladimir Putin, zero in on Ukraine like a schoolyard bully going for the new kid, got me thinking about my Cold War childhood.  Somehow all the doublespeak and propaganda seem very ominous and very familiar to someone who learned to " duck and cover" in grade school. 
If Putin wants to bring back the USSR, he's doing a pretty good job of channeling Josef Stalin, and I am far from the only person to have noticed. First we got an updated version of  what Stalin did at Yalta, when Russia grabbed most of Eastern Europe and half of Germany while Churchill, and a dying Roosevelt believed, and just let it happen. In 1947, after Yalta, Churchill coined the phrase " Iron Curtain" and it was definitely appropriate until the fall of the Soviet Union.
Now, in the wake of Putin's Crimea annexation,a crackdown on the press and limitations on personal freedom in Russia have begun. It's all being sold to the public as a return to empire and glory.  Me? I'm not so sure.  I remember the bad old days of the Cold War all too well. I don't relish a return to the constant fear of Russian military aggression that marked those days in America. I remember having to swear that I had never been a member of the Communist Party in order to get a passport when I was 20. Though I was a child at the time,  I also remember McCarthyism and the anti-communist xenophobia of the '50's. I don't relish seeing history repeat itself.


 According to today's  Washington Post  in an article titled' In Russia, A Soviet Revival Grips Leadership:
"The State Duma gave a final reading Tuesday to a bill that, as part of an “anti-terrorism” package, would require any blogger who gets 3,000 or more visitors a day to register with the state and be subject to state regulation. Other legislation before the Duma would make it a crime punishable by five years in prison to take part in an unsanctioned protest or to publish information that puts the government or military in a negative light. Members also are considering a bill that would add a course in political instruction to the school curriculum"
 So much for freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. Oh, did I mention that the article also says that all members of Russia's police force, and possibly also their families, are now unable to travel abroad?  The ruling clique is dancing with joy and counting its money.   Now that the boy oligarchs have privatized everything and have all of what used to belong to the Russian State in their own pockets, they are ready to flex their egos and play bigtime war games with the west. You know how it is, boys will be boys and it's all about mine is bigger than yours.
The sabres are rattling as Putin plays schoolyard bully, first with Crimea, and now with Eastern Ukraine.  Will Russia invade Ukraine?  Not in the conventional sense, I am sure, but Russia will manage to destabilize it, doing its own little " death by a thousand cuts" number, while China watches in the background, and Europe and America sharpen their economic tools.  You can bet there will be some guys from Texas showing up in Western Ukraine real soon to show the homeboys just how fracking is done and plans for an Eastern European " Oil Lift" ( kind of like the Berlin Airlift) are no doubt on the drawing board.
As John McCain observed so trenchantly, " Russia is a gas station masquerading as a country" That is to say, the 2 trillion dollar Russian economy is based almost entirely on oil and natural gas reserves, and if Eastern Europe stops buying; well, you get the picture. Russia cannot hope to win economically or militarily over the West, and I don't see China getting involved(but you never know, especially with China).  If the egos get big enough, and the desperation is great enough, I can see Putin and company going for the nuclear option... and that scares the living, you-know-what out of me.  I grew up with that possibility and I don't want to go back to it. I'm too old to " duck and cover"
I leave you with a little ditty written in early 1960's, at the height of the Cold War which epitomizes how my generation felt about the whole thing.  Anybody else remember Tom Lehrer?

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Senate Fail. We the People Are Not Amused

So in the wake of yet more gun carnage in America, there was yet another bill in Congress with a loophole for gun purchasers carefully crafted in to protect the rights of gun owners. It was authored by two legislators ,vetted and given an A+ by the gun lobby, and in spite of all that it failed to pass.

 I don't know about you, but I am absolutely stunned that the bi-partisan bill  to close the background check loophole could not pass the senate.  In spite of phone calls and cajoling by both the President and Vice President, and most of all, in spite of the emotional appeals made by the parents of  Sandy Hook Connecticut, the bill did not garner the 60 votes necessary to pass the Senate.

The score stands Gun Lobby 1 and the people of the United States a big, fat zero.  Yes indeed folks, here in America, the land of the free and the home of the brave, we have the best Congress money can buy.  RIP dead children of Sandy Hook.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

A Zombie Halloween for Tea Partiers

Yes, I know this cartoon is snarky, but then I am a liberal.   As a self proclaimed liberal, I have become used to being called a moron, Fascist, Commie idiot, tree hugging, latte drinking jerk  and worse by rage filled right wing trolls, so it's about time I descended to the Tea Party level and stopped trying for civilized discourse.  Whatever happened to real political discussion with people who don't bellieve the way you do?  It seems to have disappeared forever from the American political scene  .

 Its disappearance is the reason  I've basically stopped writing here and stopped watching all TV news. The "one from the right and one from the left" talking head formula leaves me less than satisfied and stimulates an awful, mud-slinging attitude rather than a spirit of compromise. Add to that all the doomsday, conspiracy theory stuff and I have just about had it.

But here it is, Halloween, and why not take one last swipe at Fox News and the Tea Party before I exit stage left. ( notice I am exiting stage left and NOT stage right)    Don't get me wrong..... I'm not taking this blog down, I just don't have the stomach to post here these days.   I may get my groove back and find myself impassioned about the American political scene once again. You never know.  In the meantime, thanks to everyone who has read and commented and been generally supportive over the years.  I'm getting offline and going out to go trick or treating..... I may be gone till Christmas or the New Year, who knows.  I'll let you know if and when I come back..... meanwhile, enjoy Halloween and don't eat too much candy.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Daniel Ellsberg Publicly Supports Edward Snowden

 Daniel Ellsberg Time Cover, back in the day

Did we all see the Op-Ed piece in Sunday's Washington Post by Daniel Ellsberg?  Well, if you haven't read it, you should, and just in case you are one of the few people on the planet who has not heard of Ellsberg (because Snowden is constantly being compared to him), let someone who is old enough to remember Nixon and Watergate and the Viet Nam War tell you that he was some kind of hero.   I'm impressed that Ellsberg spoke out in favor of Snowden.  Here's a quote:
Many people compare Edward Snowden to me unfavorably for leaving the country and seeking asylum, rather than facing trial as I did. I don’t agree. The country I stayed in was a different America, a long time ago.
After the New York Times had been enjoined from publishing the Pentagon Papers — on June 15, 1971, the first prior restraint on a newspaper in U.S. history — and I had given another copy to The Post (which would also be enjoined), I went underground with my wife, Patricia, for 13 days. My purpose (quite like Snowden’s in flying to Hong Kong) was to elude surveillance while I was arranging — with the crucial help of a number of others, still unknown to the FBI — to distribute the Pentagon Papers sequentially to 17 other newspapers, in the face of two more injunctions. The last three days of that period was in defiance of an arrest order: I was, like Snowden now, a “fugitive from justice.”

 Like Snowden, Ellsberg leaked damaging information about how the government lied to the American people.  In 1971  Ellsberg, a former military analyst at the Pentagon,  gave classified information in the form of  " The Pentagon Papers" to  influential news media  and was promptly arrested under the espionage act for doing so.  He too was called a patriot by some and a traitor by others.  The protest against the Viet Nam War was gaining ground at this time and exposing the way the government had lied to the people in order to get Americans to fight this war was fueling public fury.  The government was highly embarrassed by Ellsberg's revelations. He was  charged and put on trial, facing  the possibility of up to 115 years in prison.  In 1973,  during the depths of the  Nixon Administration's Watergate debacle, the trial was suspended and all charges eventually dropped. Oh, and just by chance, guess who had influence and got started in government during the ill fated Nixon Administration?  If you guessed Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney you would be right on the money ( to coin a phrase). Just thought I'd mention it.

There is no question that Edward Snowden has technically broken the law by revealing classified information to the public, but like Daniel Ellsberg, he has done so for patriotic reasons.  The government is trying to paint him as an egotistical high school drop out who somehow got hold of government secrets and who deserves to be punished. I see a tech saavy dedicated young man ready to sacrifice his life to get a much needed conversation about personal privacy vs. government control started. His actions are already having an international effect. Whatever you think of Edward Snowden, he is not the first whistleblower to be relentlessly pursued for embarrassing powerful people. Daniel Ellsberg is only one who went before him.  Three highly placed technical officials at NSA Thomas Drake, William Binney and J. Kirk Wiebe have been trying to public attention to  the NSA and the extent of government surveillance on private citizens since 9/11.

Snowden is following in the footsteps of some very brave  and patriotic people.  He has opened a door to the secret doings of an agency that few of us even knew was there. Like Ellsberg, Binney, and Wiebe before him, he is a man who knows that " sunshine is the best disinfectant"  The " secrets" he is divulging to the public ( not selling to a foreign government)  may end up sparking a very important discussion that can save our democracy in this electronic age.  Only time will tell.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

How Edward Snowden Woke Up America, Got the Left and Right to Agree, Screwed the NSA, And the Irony of It All

Are we all following the narrative of Edward Snowden, super-techie and former CIA computer security wizard?  Depending on who you talk to, he's either a modern day Danial Ellsberg or worse than Benedict Arnold.  Nobody is luke warm, but necessity is making for some very strange bedfellows.  Both liberal Democrats and conservative, small government Libertarians are, ironically, united in their support of Snowden. Geeks and Techi-types  who understand what the rest of us don't are also on the Snowden bandwagon. The majority of rank and file Americans either reflexively revile him as a tattletale or buy the party line that he is a spy and a traitor. One way or another,I think we have all heard of him by now.

Personally, I can't take my eyes off my twitter feed and the TV screen as the action heats up today, even though with  the post election deadlock in Washington, I have sworn off politics, particularly political blogging, as too depressing.  But, this is just too much. It is a fascinating situation worthy of Dan Brown or John Le Carre.  I have to say a few words. There are so many ironies here that I hardly know where to start and I certainly don't know what is going on.

When Edward Snowden made his initial revelations to Glenn Greenwald via The Guardian earlier this month, I was interested but I only really started listening once the reactions started.   On the internet, sentiment among my fellow Democrats was basically pro Snowden. He wasn't peddling miltary secrets to foreign governments.  He was sounding a warning to the world about the scope of American government surveillance out of a sense of moral indignation. He was a GenY activist and collegial idealist trying to improve the world in the time honored American tradition of civil disobedience.   An equally vocal group(including much of the media following what I believe now were government talking points) felt he was a self important petty bureaucrat crying wolf, betraying the country and possessing ulterior motives for making classified information public, not to mention  breaking the law. On the playground of life, nobody likes a tattletale, especially not those being tattled on.

By last week Snowden had gone to ground in Hong Kong  and all the TV talking heads had their marching orders. They were in rare form.   General Alexander, head of the NSA and President Obama and a bunch of others assured us all that nobody was reading our email or listening to our phone calls. They were only collecting something called " metadata" in order to protect us. They patted us on the head and told us not to worry. The metadata they had collected had saved us from 50 terrorist attacks, they said.  Privacy was valued and could not be violated without a court order.

I'm usually not much of a Fox News fan, being liberal and all, but the video below which offers a lot of comment on General Alexander's testimony was quite interesting. Even Fox found the General evasive about what the NSA could and could not do.  At last, an issue both right and left wingers can unite on.

Imagine how shocked I was when I found out  about the scope and the very real dangers of government surveillance. There was no mistake.  The powers that be had lied. First I saw a video of a roundtable done by USA today featuring three former NSA employees who have been trying for years to go through channels to blow the whistle on the agency's  un-constitutional activities. These are highly trained computer scientists, not low level people.William Binney worked for NSA for  30 years,eventually becoming the technical director of the of the world geopolitical and military analysis and reporting group. He was pressured to retire in 2001, but he never stopped talking and trying to get somebody to pay attention.

All three men support Edward Snowden and say he was able to do what they wanted to do. i.e. let the American people and the world know just how much secret government spying is going on.  Please watch the video.  It shook my tree and I hope it makes you ask some questions as well.

Next  I read an article in The Guardian by James Naughton that explained it all to a non technical, liberal arts major,like me.   He explained why "metadata" was not innocuous.  Indeed, it is how you or I could end up on a "no fly" list or indeed even a secret kill list by mistake and never know about it.  It is the stuff that databases are made of.  It is about patterns and mathematics not people. And this is how the government can go back and assemble anything it wants about you anytime.  Here's a quote: Please follow the link above to read the entire article. It is very enlightening.
... Of course there's no content involved, for the simple reason that content is a pain in the butt from the point of view of modern surveillance. First, you have to listen to the damned recordings, and that requires people (because even today, computers are not great at understanding everyday conversation) and time. And although Senator Feinstein let slip that the FBI already employs 10,000 people "doing intelligence on counter-terrorism", even that Stasi-scale mob isn't a match for the torrent of voice recordings that Verizon and co could cough up daily for the spooks.
So in this business at least, content isn't king. It's the metadata – the call logs showing who called whom, from which location and for how long – that you want. Why? Because that's the stuff that is machine-readable, and therefore searchable.

Then came today and a whole new raft of Sunday talk shows.  Edward Snowden left HongKong in the spotlight. He sure knows how to take advantage of a slow news day.  He hopped a plane for Moscow while Hong Kong authorities did the Pontius Pilate thing and washed their hands of the whole affair via a CYA press release.The release went viral on the internet as it gave Washington a very polite, diplomatic middle finger salute.

 Then came the bombshell. Snowden was headed for Moscow.  You could hear them screaming in Washington. As I write he is bedded down in the airport in Moscow, ready to leave for Ecuador in the morning.  Let's see what happens.  He also , I am told, has four laptops full of official secrets in his possession. He's a valuable commodity.  Uneasy lies the head etc. etc. I bet there is a whole lot of scrambling going on in the Kremlin.

Now here is another irony. Snowden, the champion of freedom and government transparency, is being aided by Moscow to get to Ecuador. Let's see, the freedom fighter has been helped by two totalitarian, communist countries, China and Russia, and is going to Ecuador, countries not exactly noted for their positive human rights policies or their open governments. How ironic is that?  You just can't make this stuff up.

Meanwhile, President Obama' s approval rating is tanking. Left, right and center are all displeased with him.  Libertarian Senator Rand Paul is hailing Snowden as a hero and criticizing Obama. New York Senator Chuck Schumer thinks Snowden is a traitor and is furious at Obama.This issue could really be a tipping point for the administration.  Welcome to your second term, Mr. Obama.  Enjoy the ride.

Me?  I think that attempting to corral and control internet transparency is futile. In the long run it just won't work. The old paradigm is over. It's the 21st century. I'm not sure what I think of Edward Snowden, but I know that he has started a conversation that needs to be had, not just in the United States, but all over the world.  I think charging him with espionage is ridiculous. He's not selling secrets to foreign governments.  He's telling the world what it needs to know. Something for which he is likely to suffer greatly in the end.   I know it won't happen, but I think we should  just say thank you and deal with it.