Sunday, April 28, 2013

Let's de-commercialize childhood

With their undeveloped brains, our kids do not stand a chance against commercial advertising that is seductively aimed at them by very clever adults with millions of dollars at their disposal.

The Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood is a great idea whose time has come. As they say, we must de-commercialize childhood.  

By Diane Levin and Christina Asquith
April 27, 2013 | Aljazeera

Bergen: Missed warning signs of terror attacks?

CNN's Peter Bergen analyzed why the Boston bombings -- and 9/11, for that matter -- weren't prevented, but it's the very end of his story that caught my eye:

The problem is that, as Roberta Wohlstetter pointed out half a century ago in her study of Pearl Harbor, separating out the really important signals from all the "noise" in the system is only easy to do after the fact, particularly when the U.S. government has now assembled a database of an astonishing number of 700,000 individuals it suspects of ties to terrorism.

Bergen is trying to compare the Pearl Harbor surprise attack to terrorist attacks. But there's a big difference: there weren't 700,000 Japans to keep track of in 1941. Presumably, any one of these suspects could carry out an terror attack today... or somebody who is not on the list at all.

Still, it's hard to believe there are 700,000 people in the world with ties to terrorism. Shouldn't there be way more terrorist attacks if there are so many of them?

More likely, this data base of suspects is another out-of-control government program.  Maybe we missed the Boston bombers because we were too busy following around 700,000 other people, many of whom didn't deserve to be on that list?

UPDATE (05.06.2013): Here's another article about America's bloated terrorist data bases: "Terror database too unwieldy to flag Boston suspect, critics say." The Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment (TIDE) list, with 875,000 records, is the big daddy from which all other government data bases draw, such as the FBI's Terrorist Screening Database, which in turn feeds the State Department's watch list, which is supposed to prevent terrorist suspects from getting U.S. visas.

By Peter Bergen
April 27, 2013 | CNN

Saturday, April 27, 2013

What's real corruption in Congress?

Teabaggers love to tell me about "corruption" in Congress. But what is the most direct form of corruption in Congress?

That's right, giving congressmen hundreds of thousands of dollar in campaign contributions in exchange for favorable legislation.

How come teabaggers don't talk about what's as obvious as the nose on their faces?  Because they have swallowed the conservative Republican Kool-Aid that "money = speech."

If they could just throw off that stupid mistruth, then their negative energy could be harnessed for good.

Are they willing?

By Bill Moyers and Michael Winship
April 26, 2013 | Moyers & Company

Bloomberg is the best we've got in a bad situation

This is what America needs right now, unfortunately: a rich counterbalance to the NRA's 4 million members and, more importantly, the gun & ammo manufacturers that bankroll the NRA, and hence Congressional election campaigns.

Don't like it?  Then fix Congressional campaign finance laws, you dumb "money equals speech" Republicans!

If the American people, and even NRA members, had their way, we'd have universal background checks already.

In the meantime, since the voice of the American people and NRA members means squat, thank goodness for super-rich Mayor Bloomberg who is willing to pour his millions into doing the right thing.

By Ailsa Chang
April 27, 2013 | NRP

Friday, April 26, 2013

Duck and cover...and block and charge and flee

Remember when schools used to have only fire drills? Maybe tornado drills?  Ah, the good ole' days.

Now teachers and students train to flee a shooting spree, defend themselves with ballistic chalk boards (no joke), or even charge attackers as a desperate last resort. Meanwhile, kids walk to school with bullet-proof backpacks made extra-long to cover more of their little bodies.

They say necessity is the mother of invention.  Thanks, NRA, for making all this necessary!

UPDATE (05.05.2013): NPR is a little slower than me; here is an article about the same thing, and how these offensive-defensive measures are basically a scam by companies looking to get education grant money: "Bulletproof Whiteboards And The Marketing Of School Safety."

By Dan Roberts
April 26, 2013 | Guardian

What really motivated Boston bombers?

No comment. Just read it!

By Gary Leupp
April 25, 2013 | CounterPunch

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Google's Schmidt the next Steve Jobs? Eh, not likely

I guess today's big technology CEOs are under a lot of pressure to be the next guru like Steve Jobs.  It's not enough to be smart, rich and powerful anymore.  I almost feel sorry for them; but not at all sorry for the fawning journalists who try to help them.

So here comes Google Chairman Eric Schmidt, who, according to CNN, "has been thinking a lot about our digital future."  Oh wow.

But I think Schmidt should stick to helping us search for cat videos and naked people instead, because he's obviously better at that.  Here's what I mean:

1) Online privacy classes will be taught alongside sex education in schools. 

Actually online privacy classes will be taught BEFORE sex education in schools, if we're talking about America or most of the developing world. We'd rather talk to our kids about anything but sex. We'd rather teach girls to shave and boys to braid hair. 

2) The rise of the mobile Web means the entire world will be online by 2020.

This is such a techie-naive, developed-world prediction. This may be hard for Schmidt to fathom, but there are billions of people in the world today who have no use for the Internet, no matter how cheap it gets.  

Only 31 percent of the developing world is online today; and only 16 percent in Africa.  About a billion homes have no Internet access.  And they're perfectly satisfied with their lives; or else, they can't afford, or relate to, anything that's on the Internet. They're barely getting used to sending text messages with their calloused, malnourished thumbs.  And smartphones, tablets?  Forget it!  Hundreds of millions of people alive today will die of natural causes without ever having googled anything and they won't regret it. That's my prediction, Eric Schmidt.

3) News organizations will find themselves out of the breaking-news business, as it becomes impossible to keep up with the real-time nature of information sources like Twitter.

Exactly. Because I trust Kim Kardashian over Wolf Blitzer to give me the latest breaking news. 

Seriously, first they predicted that the Internet would kill print news; now Schmidt is predicting that the Internet will kill Internet news.  Huh-what?

And what about every Republican over the age of 50 who gets most of his information from anonymous chain e-mails originating from 2003?  How is Twitter going to replicate that "real-time" experience for them?  

Here's my prediction: Internet news and journalism in general are going to move more towards the PolitiFact / Snopes model, because there are way too many lies out there nowadays and the fact-checkers can't possibly keep up.  

4) "Since information wants to be free, don't write anything down you don't want read back to you in court or printed on the front page of a newspaper, as the saying goes. In the future, this adage will broaden to include not just what you say and write, but the websites you visit, who you include in your online network, what you 'like,' and what others who are connected to you say and share."

This is a really shitty, self-serving prediction for Schmidt to make. Know why? Because we can regulate this with a so-called right-to-forget law that is coming soon in Europe.  And who stands the most to lose from such laws?  Google, Facebook, etc., because they make money selling our private data and Internet habits to businesses.  The Stanford Law Review estimated that they would stand to lose up to 2 percent of their global income just for refusing to delete our photos that we don't like.

5) As the Web expands, revolutions will begin springing up in nations with oppressive governments "more casually and more often than at any other time in history."

Ah yes, a casual revolution. That's one where an unacquainted group of dark-skinned, downtrodden lads in chinos and ironic plaid cowboy shirts sipping on Frappuccinos blog on their smartphones about their "lame" dictator and how they're "totally going to overthrow him this weekend"... sometime between the gym and Game of Thrones.

That's sarcasm, by the way.  The words "casual" and "revolution" do not belong in the same sentence, unless you also include the word "failed."

6) More people will use technology for terror. But a Web presence will make those terrorists easier to find, too.

I put this one in the category of, "Things will get a lot worse, but they'll get a lot better, too."  

Don't go too far out on a limb there with your prognosticating, Schmiddy!

By Doug Gross
April 24, 2013 | CNN

Saturday, April 20, 2013

'Celebrity saviors' a net negative for Africa

I'm always ready to pile on any criticism of St. Oprah and Lady Madonna!

All in all, despite their perhaps good intentions -- and acknowledging their tendency to self-aggrandizement -- "celebrity saviors" are probably a net negative for international development efforts, really misrepresenting to the public what effective aid is about.

In fact, studies show that "flies in the eyes" imagery of developing nations actually turns Western people off to supporting aid efforts.

Such stereotypical imagery, as African journalist and TED talker Andrew Mwenda notes, also scares away business:

Thus, as a result of these campaigns, our continent tends to attract the most compassionate people of the West who come to give charity. However, its negative side effect is to scare away the most enterprising people of the West who would bring capital to invest and make money. Even when they do try to do something in Africa, like Bill Gates has done through his foundation, they come as merchants of charity, not enterprise.

By Andrew M. Mwenda
April 17, 2013 | CNN

Re-post: What makes - and un-makes - young jihadists?

I want to re-post this article from 2009 about what made -- and un-made -- young British jihadists: "What Makes a Young Person Embrace Death and Murder? Former Jihadists Speak Out."

Here's what I had to say then:

It's not really that complicated. If white Western societies can successfully integrate Muslims, they will not feel alienated and look for a radical identity. (I cannot fail to mention that, for whatever reason, I haven't yet figured it out, the USA is light years ahead of Britain in this regard.) And if white Christians would be, well, more Christian, and embrace Muslims with love and acceptance, there would be many fewer terrorist recruits. That is not to say, "It's all our fault," but we do have a role to play, and a responsibility to build tolerant, loving societies -- as saccharine and heretically un-military as that solution may sound in today's post-9/11 world, where violence is always the answer.

From what we know so far about the alleged Boston bombers, they seemed to have been isolated loners who never felt like a part of U.S. society. The older brother said he had never made an American friend; he didn't understand Americans.

It's telling that they didn't have their parents or strong family ties in the U.S. either that could have offered psychological support.

It seems that they sought out a radical Islamist ideology that was ready and waiting for them on the Internet, to fill the void inside themselves, and perhaps to re-make themselves in a heroic image to compensate for their personal failures.

Many people will accuse me of trying to justify the alleged killers with these simple observations. People will accuse me of arguing that Islamist ideology played no role.  I'm not.  Explaining is not the same as justifying. It may make political hay and provocative punditry to paint all U.S. Muslims with the broad brush of "terrorist," but it's a dead-end conclusion. It's not operational. We must be smarter... and more human.

UPDATE (04.21.2013): OK, now a more detailed picture of the younger brother, Dzhokar Tsarnaev, is emerging. Apparently he "partied" in his dorm after the Boston marathon bombings. Maybe he wasn't such a loner after all. 

On the other hand, I know how loosely Americans use the word "friend," and how lonely U.S. life can be even while surrounded by smiling "friends," especially for non-natives.  In the U.S., a "friend" is anybody who says, "hey" to you on the street, shares a table with you in the cafeteria, or once had a drink with you. The American understanding of "friend" really confuses and ultimately disappoints many emigres to America, who after a time tend to seek out other foreigners, especially from their respective home countries, who share a similar understanding of friendship. So how many real friends did Dzhokar have, if any?.... Didn't he confide in a single friend besides his brother? 

Moreover, I think it's telling that Dzhokar Tsarnaev maintained an account on VKontakte, the Russian equivalent of Facebook. The stories I've seen didn't mention his having a Facebook account. Isn't that a bit weird? I don't know a single American teen or 20-something without a Facebook account. This kid emigrated to the U.S. when he was 9 or 10, and yet apparently he felt more connected to people in the former USSR. 

He did have a Twitter feed though, apparently. Here's one of those tweets: "Jahar @J_tsar: a decade in america already, i want out.

UPDATE (05.02.2013): So it looks like Dzhokar Tsarnaev partly confided in three of his buddies, two of them from the ex-Soviet Republic of Kazakhstan, that he knew how to make a bomb; and asked them to take whatever they wanted from his dorm room after his photo appeared as a suspect.

Have historians been unfair to Dubya?

Prof. Stephen Knott argues that Dubya has been treated unfairly by historians making their Best & Worst Presidents lists.  (As if their lists matter to anybody, but let's forget that for now....)

There are two ways to evaluate the success of a U.S. president: by what the evaluator thinks a president did right or wrong; or by how effectively a president got what he wanted; furthermore, one could evaluate how enduring were the gains a president won.

By the first measure, many people, including many Republicans, think Bush was a failure. But partisanship, ideology and ego affect our judgment, so it's one of those things best left to argue over beers. By the second measure, however, I'd argue that Bush was pretty darn successful, unfortunately. And his "achievements" endure.

Why do I say "unfortunately"? We had a recent example. Last night, when noting the nation's reaction to the apprehension of the Boston bombers and their alleged Islamist beliefs, I posted"It's still Dubya's America and we're just living in it... including President Obama."

That is, I meant that Dubya and his team (including his team at FOX News and Clear Channel) have been extremely successful in framing our view of Muslims, so successful that even President Obama seems prisoner to our prejudices.  The Left is silent while Obama is under constant pressure by the Right to link the entire religion of Islam to terrorism.

Here's the latest bulletin from the conservative GWOT Language Police: "The language of terror," by Charles Krauthammer.  You have to read through a lot of nothing to get to Krauthammer's point at the very end:

Obama has performed admirably during the Boston crisis, speaking both reassuringly and with determination. But he continues to be linguistically uneasy. His wavering over the word terrorism is telling, though in this case unimportant. The real test will come when we learn the motive for the attack.

As of this writing, we don’t know. It could be Islamist, white supremacist, anarchist, anything. What words will Obama use? It is a measure of the emptiness of Obama’s preferred description — “violent extremists” — that, even as we know nothing, it can already be applied to the Boston bomber(s). Which means, the designation is meaningless.

You see, it makes all the difference in the world that the Boston bombers' alleged motivation was Islamist beliefs, and that our President says so. Why? Well, it's obvious, isn't it? Because it's ammunition for those who want to categorize all Muslims, including legal U.S. residents and citizens, as suspected terrorists. There's no other reason for the Right to police this language issue so severely. 

And as George Orwell warned us, language controls our thoughts. Control our language, control our thoughts. That is just one "achievement" of the successful George W. Bush "imperial" presidency, but it's a mighty one.

How about some more?  Bush's Great War on Terra (GWOT) continues and even escalates: with drone attacks, G'itmo, sanctioned rendition and torture, domestic spying and Internet surveillance, prosecuting government whistle blowers, and assassinating U.S. citizens when they are overseas. Obama continues Bush's extra-constitutional practice of presidential signing statements. Bush's occupations of choice in Afghanistan and Iraq are inexorable; Obama cannot or will not get out of them. Deregulated Wall Street banks may still gamble, legally, with depositors' and taxpayers' free money and are now Too Bigger To Fail. Deregulated for-profit colleges that live on government-backed student loans still hold the majority of student debt, now at $1 trillion. The budget of Bush's Department of Homeland Security now rivals the Pentagon's. Bush's unfunded Medicare Advantage entitlement is still wildly popular even among seniors in the Tea Parties... yet to put Medicare's finances back in order requires cutting or reforming Medicare Advantage, giving Republicans the opportunity to accuse Democrats of "cutting Medicare." Clinton's federal assault-weapons ban was allowed to expire in 2004; meanwhile right-to-carry and concealed-carry laws were passed in most states with Bush's encouragement, even as mass shootings increased.  And speaking of guns, Obama ironically got blamed for Bush's "Fast and Furious" "gunwalking"/drug-interdiction program by the ATF. And finally, Bush's unaffordable tax cuts on the very wealthy are now sacrosanct even among Democrats who once fought them, even in the worst economic climate since the Great Depression, with the two aforementioned wars still on the nation's credit card, unpaid for.  

As a result of all this and more, Bush increased our national debt 91 percent ($5.9 trillion), and yet somehow escapes blame for it; meanwhile spineless Democrats are ready to apologize for Obama's deficits (totaling $4.9 trillion or a 41 percent increase over FY 2009) caused by Bush's Great Recession and two unfinished wars. For that political magic act, we are compelled to acknowledge that Dubya was a brilliant politician. Obama is a dunderhead by comparison.

I haven't read Knott's book, but based on its title, Rush to Judgment: George W. Bush, the War on Terror, and His Critics, it probably highlights Bush's achievements in fighting terrorism.  If that's so, then Knott has an excellent case to make that Bush got everything he wanted and more, i.e. he was pretty darn successful. Too bad for us. 

UPDATE (04.24.2013): Ralph Nader repeats a lot of what I've said in his op-ed: "Obama Is Comfortable With Bush's Inferno." 

UPDATE (04.26.2013):  Here's an acerbic take on Dubya's strategy of "Keep Quiet and Hope They Forget" by Alexandra Petri: "George W. Bush was the greatest president of all time, ever."  It's working.  Dumbo has outsmarted us again.  [Facepalm.]

By Stephen F. Knott
April 20, 2013 | Washington Post

Mass shootings increasing, esp. after RTC-CC laws

MJ has proven once and for all that good guys with guns don't stop bad guys with guns. Right-to-carry and concealed-carry laws haven't improved things, in fact, mass shootings have increased over the same period.

And don't forget to check out this amazing study by Mother Jones of all mass shootings over the past 30 years: "A Guide to Mass Shootings in America."  Some key takeaways:

  • Most of the killers were white males;
  • Most of the guns were obtained legally;
  • One-third of the guns that killers used would have been outlawed by the Assault Weapons Ban of 2013.

By Mark Follman
April 11, 2013 | Mother Jones

Friday, April 19, 2013

Rosenberg: Obama wanted to cut safety net all along

Rosenberg "uncovers" an Obama "conspiracy" that Tea Partyers and liberals alike don't want to acknowledge: he's been plotting to cut Social Security and Medicare without raising taxes to Clinton-era levels since BEFORE he was inaugurated, before the Tea Parties even existed.

Then, when Obama proposed cutting Medicare, exactly as Republicans proposed, they attacked him for it. He doesn't understand he's playing a losing game.

Or maybe he doesn't care?:

But, of course, Obama is not going to be running again. He will be collecting speaker's fees from the donor class. And they like what he is doing just fine. Obama's real base, it turns out, is exactly the same as George W Bush's: the have and have-mores. This budget is for them and them alone. To think otherwise is to continue living in denial.

Read it and weep, everyone.

By Paul Rosenberg
April 18, 2013 | Aljazeera

Sirota's prediction coming true as Boston bombers identified

It didn't take long for David Sirota's dire prediction to come true:

It will probably be much different if the bomber ends up being a Muslim and/or a foreigner from the developing world. As we know from our own history, when those kind of individuals break laws in such a high-profile way, America often cites them as both proof that entire demographic groups must be targeted, and that therefore a more systemic response is warranted. At that point, it’s easy to imagine conservatives citing Boston as a reason to block immigration reform defense spending cuts and the Afghan War withdrawal and to further expand surveillance and other encroachments on civil liberties.

Already conservatives are saying there is a larger Muslim (this time Chechen Muslim) jihadi conspiracy at work in the U.S.

Speculated conservative Judicial Watch: "There’s no telling how many of these Chechen terrorists have infiltrated the United States or how many opportunities the government has missed to protect the country by deporting them."

I'm sure Russia's President for Life Vladimir Putin is ROTFLHAO right now....

Actually FOX News published a story that was fairly fair-minded, dismissing a larger conspiracy, albeit with a provocative title as FOX is wont to do, but I'm sure it won't last, FOX and the rest of the conservative media will jump on the jihadi conspiracy wagon soon enough.... 

It's still Dubya's America and we're just living in it... including President Obama.

UPDATE (04.21.2013): Here's another anti-Muslim screed in reaction to the alleged Boston bombers from somebody named Andrew McCarthy at the respected National Review Online: "Jihad Will Not Be Wished Away." I still subscribe to elementary school writing lessons, when they taught us to end an essay with a call to action. Here's McCarthy's:
There are all kinds of Islam, including the supremacist kind that is far more widely held than we’re comfortable acknowledging. Until we get beyond that discomfort, until we are prepared to ask, “What Islam?” — and until we are prepared to treat Islamic supremacism as the pariah it should be — Boston’s hellish week will remain our recurring nightmare.
Everybody got that? Got any idea how to act on that?  Neither do I.  And that's why all such conservative op-eds and diatribes are stupid and ultimately racist and/or anti-Muslim, because all they do is stir up suspicion and hatred for innocent Americans who happen to be Muslim.

And here's another one from NRO by Mark Steyn, an on-air substitute for Rush Limbaugh: "The 'Co-exist' Bombers." Steyn jokes how disappointed David Sirota must be that the bombers were indeed immigrants and Muslims. Besides taking a lot of swipes at Massachusetts liberals, the only sensible thing Steyn wrote was this, again, at the end. (Why do conservative pundits always save their one cogent thought for the end?):
On Monday, [April 15], it didn’t feel Islamic: a small death toll at a popular event but not one with the resonance and iconic quality the big-time jihadists like — like 9/11, the embassy bombings, the U.S.S. Cole. After all, if the jihad crowd wanted to blow up a few people here and there IRA-style they could have been doing it all this last decade.  
Good point! Too bad more blood-and-guts American Islamophobes aren't thinking about this more deeply and honestly. Indeed, how do you draw the connection between the U.S.S. Cole in 2000 and these two kids in Boston in 2013? That's more than six degrees of Bacon, to be sure. 

See, that's a big problem for the neocons and Islamophobes, because it's their task to cast any terrorist attacks as part of a larger conspiracy, a global jihad. So far, it's working for many of them simply to make that bald assertion of jihad; but I think more & more folks are starting to wise up to this con that leads us nowhere... or even worse, leads us to places like Iraq.  

Beer baron cancels NRA membership in protest

You can read Busch's letter to the NRA here.  Good for him!  Let's hope more responsible hunters and gun owners have the courage to follow suit, and abide the wishes of 90 percent of Americans and 74 percent of NRA members, instead of the cabal of gun & ammo manufacturers who own the NRA.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Baker: Errors by deficit-hawk economists cost how many jobs?

[HT: Vern.]  This is a somewhat technical piece, but it suffices to say that it takes down one of the principle economic arguments for austerity and deficit reduction.

How much real-world damage was caused by policy makers acting on R&R's flawed economic analysis by cutting public expenditures during an economic crisis thereby exacerbating the economic downturn?

Getting economics right matters to millions of real people!

By Dean Baker
April 16, 2013 | CEPR

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Sachs: N. Korea not so crazy, given U.S. past

Usually Jeffrey Sachs writes about global economics and poverty, but for some reason he was moved to write about N. Korea and how there is quite a lot of reason as opposed to madness in its actions, considering how the U.S. is not a very loyal friend to dictatorial regimes.

Iraq, Libya and Panama are all countries whose dictators "found a common language" with the U.S., only to be killed or arrested a few years later with America's support.

Sachs is also correct to point out the United States' rank hypocrisy when it comes to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty: "That the US demands that this or that state must denuclearize while others [Israel, India and Pakistan] flout the treaty is an assertion of [U.S.] power, not principle."

We say we are a nation founded on ideals. When we cease to draw strength from our ideals, but instead only our military and (declining) economic might, then we must resign ourselves to the inevitable decline and fall that all empires suffer.

By Jeffrey Sachs
April 15, 2013 | Huffington Post

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Common Core conspiracy!

The tinfoil hat crew -- Glenn Beck, Michelle Malkin, et al -- are coming out against Common Core. And since the Tea Parties take their lead from the craziest of the crazy conservative talking heads, Common Core has now become the Obama conspiracy du jour for the teabaggers.

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan correctly dismissed wacko conservatives' fear mongering as "a conspiracy theory in search of a conspiracy."

Since conservatives give more credence to the messenger than the message, here is an op-ed on the conservative NRO site in favor of Common Core. Enjoy.  

Personally, I haven't taken the time yet to see whether the CC program is well designed or not, but in principle I'm all in favor of establishing a national curriculum for our K-12 students. Our kids in Detroit and Des Moines are not so different that they need completely different standards, set by our elected (read: politicized) local school boards, who often have no training or experience in education. 

Local control over education is so 19th century and has long past outlived its usefulness. Let the  bureaucrats (experts) decide!

By Kathleen Porter-Magee & Sol Stern
April 3, 2013 | National Review

Monday, April 1, 2013

Thoughts on fighting terrorism

I would like President Obama and Congress to lay down a few markers for U.S. citizens and the rest of the world, because the "Great War on Terrorism" (GWOT) is hopelessly muddled and prone to overreach.

First, in operational terms, the most important marker is that any terrorist group that we take action against must present a clear and present danger to the United States, because that is the measure by which we decide whether to take military action against other sovereign states. And as a practical matter, we must look where such terrorists are based. If they are acting in a sovereign state -- as they are most likely to do -- then we must act only with the permission of that state. Failure to act militarily without that state's permission would be a violation of that state's sovereignty. There is hardly any act more serious that the United States could undertake. Violating another country's sovereignty should never be done lightly, and never without clear consultations with said state. And again, as a practical matter, we should be extremely wary of violating any country's sovereignty, since they are prone to take the most extreme actions against us in response. The United States would do no less if the shoe were on the other foot.

Second, we must always make a clear distinction between state-sponsored terrorism and non-state-sponsored terrorism.

Bitter experience has taught us that non-state terrorists flourish in failed or failing states, like maggots in a rotting corpse. Such groups present a novel and special challenge to the United States.  We know now that terrorist groups often hope that the U.S. will choose to put boots on the ground in failed states. Such groups flock to failed or failing states; in the first case for refuge and operational freedom; in the latter case often to foment total state failure to secure such operational freedom.  

Furthermore, terrorist groups know that our presence in such states will provide them with ready and abundant targets in confusing environments where our rules of engagement are muddled and lead to the killing of combatants and innocent non-combatants alike. Terrorists do not care about non-combatants. Indeed they hope that innocents will be killed by indiscriminate use of American force, since such killings tend to bolster their recruitment and win over public opinion to their side.

State-sponsored terrorism, by contrast, is war by other, indirect means by our adversaries in other sovereign states.  Where we can make a solid connection between the actions of terrorists against the U.S. and the states who sponsor them, then the U.S. should have the right to respond appropriately, up to and including military force against the sponsor state.  The U.S. has made it fairly clear that it will hold state sponsors accountable. So this is not the real problem. 

The main condition is that we must avoid conflating the two types of terrorism.  The second condition is that our government should never fail to provide evidence of a clear and present danger to the United States (or its allies) before authorizing military force against non-state or state-sponsored terrorists, or the states who sponsor terrorists.  

The U.S. Constitution makes no reference to terrorism. Terrorism did not exist in the late 18th century.  It is a modern phenomenon. Nevertheless, the principle set down in the Constitution that the President must seek permission from Congress to declare war should still apply in the case of terrorist organizations.  Our Founding Fathers' fear was not that the U.S. would make war against private individuals as opposed to other sovereign states; rather, our Founders were afraid that the Executive would deploy U.S. forces indiscriminately and non-judiciously. The same fear, the same likelihood, exists with regard to traditional warfare as it does with non-traditional counter-terrorism military operations.

Punish Starbucks for its sellout on guns

I'm always keen to find a new reason to boycott Starbucks. It's no coincidence that Mike Myers chose Starbucks as the parent company of Dr. Evil.  Starbucks' hypocrisy with regard to guns is vile: 

Starbucks admits the risk to its employees and customers by banning guns at its Starbucks' corporate headquarters. Why should only senior management be protected? Gunshot accidents have already been reported in Starbucks stores.

For better or worse, today much social change seems to gain traction only at the consumer-retail level:

According to Elliot Fineman, CEO of the National Gun Victims Action Council (NGAC), we are at the "secondhand smoke" moment in the gun debate--the moment when people realized that smokers endangered everyone not just themselves and they were no longer tolerated. When corporations and consumers stood up to Big Tobacco and banned smoking in stores, restaurants and public spaces, laws soon followed.

Like second-hand smoke, the public is now beginning to see that gun proliferation is a constant threat to children and innocent bystanders that is getting worse through the aggression of gun rights' activists and lawmakers' inaction.

But even Starbucks, aka Evil Inc., cannot top the hypocrisy of our U.S. Congress. You can't very well carry a firearm into congressional galleries or hearing rooms. Even crazy pro-gun Republicans aren't so stupid as to risk getting shot by other crazies, even as they promote gun-owners' "right" to put Americans' lives at risk everywhere else.  

By Martha Rosenberg
March 28, 2013 | AlterNet

It wasn't Bush or neocons who pushed us into Iraq

Let us not forget that it wasn't just Bushites, talk radio, FOX and neocons who hawked the Iraq war and ridiculed into intellectual or unpatriotic isolation those who opposed the Iraq war:

The power elite, especially the liberal elite, has always been willing to sacrifice integrity and truth for power, personal advancement, foundation grants, awards, tenured professorships, columns, book contracts, television appearances, generous lecture fees and social status. They know what they need to say. They know which ideology they have to serve. They know what lies must be told—the biggest being that they take moral stances on issues that aren’t safe and anodyne. They have been at this game a long time. And they will, should their careers require it, happily sell us out again.

Let us also not forget just how many Americans -- and people throughout the world -- protested the Iraq war before it even started. The invasion of Iraq was a slow-motion train wreck that all of us could see coming months and miles away.

Here's a pretty good description of a real intellectual:

Julien Benda argued in his 1927 book “The Treason of Intellectuals”—“La Trahison des Clercs”—that it is only when we are not in pursuit of practical aims or material advantages that we can serve as a conscience and a corrective. Those who transfer their allegiance to the practical aims of power and material advantage emasculate themselves intellectually and morally. Benda wrote that intellectuals were once supposed to be indifferent to popular passions. They “set an example of attachment to the purely disinterested activity of the mind and created a belief in the supreme value of this form of existence.” They looked “as moralists upon the conflict of human egotisms.” They “preached, in the name of humanity or justice, the adoption of an abstract principle superior to and directly opposed to these passions.” 

By Chris Hedges
March 31, 2013 | Truthdig