Category Archives: Politics

Trash Talk, Literally

City of London Tracked Mobiles/Cells Via Wi-Fi Trash Bins

How can the public stay ahead of Big Brother when there are so many ways to keep tabs on citizenry? In what has to rank as one of the most creative methods, the City of London has been able to track Wi-Fi enabled devices that pass within proximity of 12 of the 100 “bomb-proof” recycle bins installed just before the 2012 Olympics. One might have guessed these bins were capable of more sophisticated uses as they sport internet-enabled displays. The 12 sleuth bins were “developed by… “Presence Aware” which markets the technology as providing ‘a cookie for the real world.’” Once again commerce and the security state intersect.

Quartz first broke this story and here, four hours ago, recounted its supposed withdrawal, complete with maps.

Pop-Up Ideas: BBC Radio 4 has a new series. 1st up: Malcolm Gladwell on listening in Vietnam

“Listening is hard because the more you listen the more unsettling the world becomes”

4 Episodes
15 minutes each
First broadcast: Tuesday 09 July 2013

Tim Harford (the Financial Times‘ ‘Undercover Economist’ and presenter of Radio 4’s More or Less) has a new live-recorded, mini-series in Pop-Up Ideas, 15 minute programs exploring how prominent thinkers use “key ideas in anthropology and the social sciences to tell fascinating stories about how we – and the world – work.”

Program 1: New Yorker ‘Staff Writer’ Malcolm Gladwell describes how the U.S. war in Vietnam might have gone differently had the military listened to one of its own researchers, Konrad Kellen (family birth name Katzenellenbogen.) Kellen’s job was to debrief captured Vietcong guerrillas and describe their mind-set vis-à-vis the war. (Kellen’s life story is fabulous and fascinating.)

In one such debriefing he asked the captured senior officer if the officer believed the North Vietnamese could win the war. “No,” was the reply. Minutes later he asked if the Americans, then, would win the war? “No.”

This was interpreted by top U.S. Army brass as the answers of a demoralized enemy. Kellen, however, believed the answers were the responses of someone who did not think in terms of winning or losing at all — an entirely different view and one much more threatening to any eventual U.S. and South Vietnamese victory.

Listen to Gladwell’s interview here starting about minute time stamp 2:20.

The other programs (from the BBC Radio 4 website):

Program 2: One of the world’s most influential counter-insurgency experts, David Killcullen, whose ideas were described by the Washington Post as ‘revolutionizing military thinking throughout the West’, talks about how future instability will emanate from rapidly-growing coastal megacities.

Program 3: The financial journalist Gillian Tett describes how her background in anthropology led her to predict the financial crisis in 2008.

Program 4: Tim Harford explores the concept of ‘The Tragedy of the Commons’ – a term coined by the American ecologist Garrett Hardin in a hugely influential 1968 essay.

Malala Day at the United Nations

First Formal Public Remarks by the Pakistani Girl Shot by the Taliban

Malala Yousafzai gave a speech to the United Nations Youth Assembly yesterday morning. I would like to think of it as her western ‘coming out’ talk — hoping we will hear more from her in the future. (Although she is not a neophyte when it comes to presenting her views: she had a blog hosted by BBC Urdu when she was 11 years old, hand-writing her entries that were then transcribed and uploaded by a reporter.)

You may remember that she is the little Pakistani Pashtun girl shot (along with her friends) in the head and neck October 9, 2012 by the Taliban for saying that girls should have the right to go to school. As she stabilized, in critical condition, she was airlifted to England for rehab.

She is now 16 years old!

You can skip to time stamp 3:45 to get by the Introductions and Thank You comments.

The UN video

Yasiin Bey (aka Mos Def) Force-Fed Under Standard Guantánamo Bay Procedure

A Video of the Procedure

A leaked document sets out the military instructions, or standard operating procedure, for force-feeding detainees at Guantánamo. In this four-minute film made by Human Rights organisation Reprieve and Bafta award-winning director Asif Kapadia, US actor and rapper Yasiin Bey (formerly known as Mos Def), experiences the procedure. — The Guardian Newspaper

What are the alternatives for keeping the prisoners (100 hunger-strikers with 40 being force fed) alive? I do not know.

U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler has ruled that the court cannot make a ruling on whether the detainees can be force-fed by the military, adding “The President of the United States, as Commander-in-Chief, has authority – and power – to directly address the issue of force-feeding of the detainees at Guantanamo Bay.”

If you would like to read reporter Ben Ferguson’s eye-witness account of the making of the video, click here.

NOTE: This video is not for the faint of heart (nor, as you will see, was the procedure for Mos Def, a Muslim, born Dante Smith in Brooklyn, N.Y.)

Image Credit: Reprieve and Bafta



Weiner-Spitzer: Grilling the Candidates

Hot Dog! A Campaign Made for Jokes

I did not think the possibilities for puns and jokes could get any better when former NY Representative Anthony D. Weiner tossed his 10-gallon hat in the ring as a candidate for mayor of New York City.

But now we have former NY Governor Eliot Spitzer deciding to run for comptroller.

Politics. You just have to love a profession where there’s more forgiveness and second acts than we see in the church!

Read more at The New York Times

Filibuster vs. Cloture

Current Events & Things You Should Have Learned in School

Last week, just after the June 25th Texas senate debate when Wendy Davis filibustered Bill 5 for some ten plus hours, I heard someone say, “See Democrats in the U.S. Senate are always trying to do away with the filibuster but when it’s something they care about they resort to doing it themselves.”  Leaving aside the obvious apples & oranges comparison (Davis is a Texas state senator, not a U.S. Senator) it seemed to me that the person I overheard was conflating two separate, but connected, political processes: the filibuster and cloture.

 

What many U.S. Senate Democrats want to do is to require a senator who wishes to stop a bill to actually be present and talking, to filibuster by putting his body where his mouth is. Currently, senators do not even need to be present to stop movement on a bill. Most Americans still think of the filibuster as a senator holding the floor for hours talking and reading anything he/she can to take up time. That is not the case with the current U.S. Senate rules. Unless there is a call for cloture, and it passes, bills can be stalled, held in limbo with the objecting senator truly having no skin in the game.

 

Think back to the dim days of Mr. Moody’s 8th grade civics class. Civics, by and large, was a dull affair. It lacked the pizzazz of history and possessed all the charm of balancing a bank account.  Like health class, it was always taught by the coaches of our sporting teams. But I do recall our discussions around the process of cloture (from the French for closure.)

 

According to the U.S. Senate Glossary, in an attempt to curtail unlimited debate whose purpose was to block voting and adoption of a bill, “in 1917, senators adopted a rule (Rule 22), at the urging of President Woodrow Wilson, that allowed the Senate to end a debate with a two-thirds majority vote, a device known as ‘cloture.’” If cloture passed, an up or down vote on the bill in question could then be taken after an additional thirty hours of debate, thus breaking a bottleneck. Wilson had called for enacting a cloture provision because he saw the senate as,

“the only legislative body in the world which cannot act when its majority is ready for action. A little group of willful men, representing no opinion but their own, have rendered the great government of the United States helpless and contemptible.”

Wilson’s sharp talk was in response to a twenty-three day filibuster against his placing arms on merchant ships in World War I.

 

Southern senators filibustered against the Civil Rights Act of 1964 for sixty days, proving that two-thirds of the Senate, 67 votes, can be a difficult thing to get.  Between 1917 and 1960 cloture was used only four times. In 1975 the number of senators needed for approval on a vote of cloture was reduced to 60 votes, with 16 members needed to bring the cloture question up for a vote. In the 110th Congress (2007-2008) cloture was enacted 61 times and then 63 times in the 2009-2010 congress. Yes, that’s correct, the 111th congress in one term voted cloture more than fifteen times the frequency it occurred in the first 43 years of its existence as a senate rule.

 

It is worth pointing out that the additional 30 hours of permitted debate after cloture is ruled, must be “on the measure, motion, or other matter pending before the Senate.” That is, you cannot read out your mother’s recipe for Derby pie or eloquently speechify on the entries in a dictionary (unless either of these is somehow relevant to the bill on the floor!)

 

Fortunately, the filibuster was eliminated from the U.S. House of Representatives’ rules as the assembly began to grow larger with the addition of new states. Could our already greatly deadlocked lower legislature be even less effective?