The Fourth Year

05/03/2012

This is that fourth year I always dread. I dread the third year, too. That’s when the rhetoric and debates ramp up, leaving many of us sick of political talk even before elections are more than a year away. Having a long commute, I have become pretty savvy at switching off the news, in favor of other radio material, the very millisecond I hear keywords resembling “super PAC,” “Romney,” “campaign,” and sometimes simply “Obama.” Now, as a slogan, “forward” is being added to that list. I just don’t care because, right now, is doesn’t matter. And it hasn’t mattered for a long time.

There is a lot of coverage out there that’s hard to ignore. There are debates and town hall meetings and talk around the water cooler. For many people across the nation, there is at least some chance to participate in the dialog and the nomination process. But when it really comes down to it, individual participation is a guided process. So much of it is about psychology. The party leaders know it, and would probably rather you not think about it.

Although “The Adjustment Bureau” is fictional (as far as we know! Hah!), parts of that film have stuck with me for over a year… most notably this scene: David Norris, played by Matt Damon, is a politician who is seeking a U.S. Senate seat. When that aspiration falls short, Norris is fed up and lets loose during his concession speech.

David Norris:

…we had a rule in my neighborhood, when you got in a fight, it wasn’t whether or not you got knocked down. It’s what you do when you get back up.

And I came here to tell you tonight that I will get back up!

Um…that’s bullshit! We…we didn’t have that saying in my neighborhood. It’s just one of those phrases that uh…that has some attraction with a focus group and so we kept using it. That’s not true. You know, 1998, I did a cover for GQ. The title was ‘Youngest Congressmen Ever’ and, since then, every story I tried to explain how I got here so fast. And…and the word that people kept uh…using was “authentic” and…

…here’s the problem, this isn’t even my tie. This tie was selected for me by a group of specialists, in Tenafly, New Jersey, who chose it over fifty-six other ties we tested. In fact, our data suggests that I have to stick to either a tie that is red or a tie that is blue. A yellow tie made it look as if I was taking my situation lightly and I may in fact pull my pants down at any moment.

A silver tie meant that I’d forgotten my roots. My shoes, you know, shiny shoes we associate with a high priced lawyers and bankers. If you want to get a working mans vote you need to scuff up your shoes a little bit, but you can’t scuff ’em so much that you alienate the lawyers and the bankers, cause you need them to pay for the specialist back in Tenafly.

It’s interesting to consider our current President’s attire choices. The necktie blog “Neck of State” shows that, during his first 100 days in office, President Obama wore a red or blue tie seven out of eight times. That’s nearly 90% of the time. Maybe he just really likes those colors, or maybe someone told him something like “Wearing at least one of the two primary colors on the American flag comes across as being more patriotic.”

There is that obsession with lapels that politicians have, too… American flag lapels, specifically. Reagan started the trend. George W. wore ’em. Dick Cheney wore ’em, and Obama wore ’em until he “noticed a lot of people wearing a lapel pin and not acting very patriotic.” Maybe someone also told him about the Cornell study that suggests greater exposure to the American flag persuades some people to shift toward “more conservative Republican attitudes and voting behavior.”

Another changing area of modern politics is the celebrity appeal. Modern Presidents are fit and handsome. Obama is “cool” and was accused of being more of a “rock star” than a politician during his campaign, going so far as flying to Germany to give a speech for, well, who really knows…just a demonstration of his popularity with another culture that can’t vote for him, I guess. Los Angeles and San Diego are other good spots for that. (I don’t mean that as a jab, but it’s true that some Democrats are motivated to extend social programs to people who are in this country illegally, and Los Angeles is a known safe haven for illegal immigrants.)

Never before has an American President been so willing to optimize the media in so many ways. And never before has a President been seen paling around with celebrities so much. The gap is bridging between celebrity and politician as time marches on. Of course, the POTUS is a pretty well-defined position. Such a person doesn’t get to endorse products and get to be famous for being famous. Rather, the line is blurring in such a way that U.S. Presidents are in the top 1% of income earners, go on on late-night talk shows and send birthday tributes to celebrities and, out of necessity, hobnob at fundraisers with their richest and most famous best buddies.

These days, the notion of political celebrity isn’t limited to the examples just mentioned. Take, for example, the show put on for political conventions. They are made up of prominent figures reading scripted statements from a teleprompter, with theatrics including pyrotechnics, fancy lighting normally reserved for big concerts, confetti, giant balloons, and elaborate stage sets that resemble things like Roman temples. It’s a manufactured environment, and what a person said holds less weight than if they were in a darkened theater with a spotlight shining down on him or her.

In a world where so many technologies and products are vying for one’s attention, we are reduced to getting our information from soundbites. Context is everything, and context we rarely get. Thirty-minute speeches are reduced to three seconds. All that ends up mattering is a catchphrase and the inevitability of moving in a direction that really has no inherent meaning. It just exists and can’t be changed. It’s called “forward.”

__________________________________________________________________
Further reading / cited material:

University of Minnesota, Humphrey School of Public Affairs:
“Romney Speaks 8+ Minutes More than Closest Rival at SC Debate”
http://blog.lib.umn.edu/cspg/smartpolitics/2012/01/romney_speaks_8_minutes_more_t.php

Los Angeles Times:
“Tale of the tape: Romney has had most face time in GOP debates”

Cornell Chronicle: “Study: Setting eyes on Old Glory moves voters toward GOP”
http://www.news.cornell.edu/stories/July11/FlagGOP.html

Neck of State: “Grading Obama’s First 100 Days”
http://www.neckofstate.com/

Washington Post: “Obama Stops Wearing Flag Pin”
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/10/05/AR2007100501027.html

Advertisements

Warfare

02/16/2012

MSN/Innovation News Daily (whatever that is) posted a rather interesting article last week entitled “‘Smart bullet’ hits targets a mile away.” The gist is that Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico has developed a bullet that uses fins to constantly readjust its course towards a target pinpointed by a laser beam. Pretty cool, huh? But what are the implications brought on by new warfare technology, and do we really need it?

Articles related to the aforementioned one (linked at the bottom of this page) speak of topics like the U.S. Army placing an order for “suicide drones” and a new grenade/launcher combination that’s being assessed in Afghanistan. Suicide drones are capable of relaying reconnaissance information back to operators on the ground and can also be used as a missile, if needed. The new grenade launcher looks more like a small, automatic assault rifle than ever, and the projectile that goes along with it can be programmed to explode at precise distances.

Although this kind of technology seems pretty incredible/kinda awesome, we have to continue to ask “We need this equipment to fight whom?” The military-industrial complex really starts to seems like a complex when we assess how we Americans constantly and continually police the globe. What would really be awesome would be diplomacy and to look past the rhetoric that people hate Americans “because of our freedom.” Education and critical thinking help provide that much-needed chance to take a step back and think “Ya know, it can’t really be as simple as that.” And it’s not.

Consider another perspective: let’s say your neighbor commits some sort of heinous crime, then disappears without a trace. Before you know it, people are speculating that he has fled the town, the county, maybe even the state. Ten years pass and the police are still camped out in your backyard. I image you would be irate. After all, you didn’t invite these visitors to occupy your yard, and you can’t figure out how to get rid of them. After all, it is your property.

Many Middle Eastern people were sympathetic over 9/11… we know that. We’ve seen them. We’ve heard their voices. We know most of them aren’t terrorists. But it also has to be less-than-comforting to have convoys of soldiers, armed to the teeth, rolling around their towns in these destructive machines, playing a perpetual game of Whac-A-Mole.

Something about no longer having to actually confront, who you believe to be, the enemy is alarming. Simply enough, in the days of yore, if someone shot at you, you shot back. The enemy was pretty well defined. You knew who and where they were, hunkered down on the other side of the battlefield. Now, we fly aircraft outfitted with small, black-and-white cameras having resolution only great enough to show people carrying… things. And we shoot at these people from meters, and sometimes kilometers, away. But what exactly are they carrying? Guns? Cameras? Does anyone know or really care?

When these incidents – these mistakes – take place, the government has a tendency to go on the defensive. Dispensing half-truths and other fabrications seem to be the priority, rather than acknowledging that people are fallible. It happened with the Reuters photographers that were gunned down by Apache helicopters in Baghdad. It happened when Pat Tillman was killed by “friendly fire” in Afghanistan. It came to light when Jessica Lynch contradicted our government by clarifying that she was never able to fire a single shot from her jammed M16 rifle when her convoy came under attack in Iraq.

The same people who try to write history, whether or not what’s being written is factual, are the same people developing advanced weaponry. Through psychology and force they remain in power. And when fraud is revealed, more propaganda is thrown around by asserting with scary words like “terrorist,” “espionage,” “traitor,” and “insurgent.”

I would like to make a note here that our troops are not responsible for this culture. They are young, impressionable men and women who are trained to be tough and to dehumanize the enemy. Our soldiers on the front lines are under constant stress, knowing that a threat to their lives could be just around the corner. PTSD is rampant among troops returning home, and the constant warfare dictated by our government is screwing up the minds of these young adults for the rest of their lives. It is insanely irresponsible to go to war based on “bad intel” and to then keep fighting anyway. To date, 4,000+ U.S. soldiers have been killed in Iraq. That’s more than all the people killed in the 9/11 attacks. Interesting, considering 9/11 and the purported presence of “WMDs” were used as justification to invade Iraq. As we all know, no weapons of mass destruction were ever found, and no evidence has ever been uncovered linking Iraq to 9/11 in any capacity.

Another “defense” program recently in the works has been the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jet program. The selling point for this aircraft was that it would save the military money, as it could be used by the Marines, Air Force, and Navy, rather than developing a new jet for each of those branches. However, what is a “money saver” is actually the Pentagon’s most expensive program ever, at $382 billion for 2,443 F-35 jets. 2,443 jets for what? Are these to patrol our borders? As we worry about what is happening on the other side of the globe, drug violence is spilling over into the United States. Farmers along the U.S./Mexico border have been killed, and it’s speculated that a number of abductions and killings in Arizona, Georgia, Texas, and Alabama are cartel-related. (CNN)

If we really want to do some good, we could take some of our drones out of the Middle East, and do some reconnaissance work over the Mexican villas that the drug cartels are operating out of. We could also stop spending money in Iraq and Afghanistan, stop spending so much money on seven-hundred-some overseas military bases in over half the world’s countries, and stop pumping money into Israel and Egypt so they can keep acquiring weapons. The term “national defense” means less than ever these days. It’s become a convoluted catchphrase used to justify a whole host of actions that have very little, sometimes arguably nothing at all, to do with actually defending a nation.

Imagine what better use we could make of reallocating money intended for “defense spending.” Our schools are in serious trouble. We have people living on the streets, eating out of trash cans. Emergency services are being cut in towns across the nation. Our infrastructure is eroding in many places. But focus on a greater good and “taking care of our own” gets replaced by meddling in affairs across the globe. We also “invest” billions of dollars annually in other countries to promote pro-Americanism. That’s not the official decree but, believe me, recipients of U.S. aid are not random countries asking for a handout.

U.S. Army Orders First Suicide Drones
http://www.innovationnewsdaily.com/550-suicide-drone-army-switchblade.html

New Video Showcases Army’s Grenade Launcher
http://www.innovationnewsdaily.com/185-xm25-grenade-launcher.html

‘Smart bullet’ hits targets a mile away
http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/46206458/ns/technology_and_science-innovation/#.Tyhfc4E_cXA

Pentagon’s F-35 Fighter Under Fire in Congress
http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/military/jan-june10/defense_04-21.html

The Mexico drug war: Bodies for billions
http://www.cnn.com/2012/01/15/world/mexico-drug-war-essay/index.html