The American obsession with technology is often described as driving the U.S. economy. Certainly the tech boom of the 1990’s rippled across the economy until the bubble burst in 2000. By 2010 technology gadgets have acquired the allure of fashion objects. The high mark-up of high tech devices like cell phones and laptops, desktop computers, iPads and other baubles has come with considerable outsourcing of assembly jobs to lower wage manufacturing centers in Mexico, China, Taiwan and other locations. The fashion-ization of tech culture has also come with the sourcing of raw materials in conflict zones like Congo.
In the same week we celebrated the 20th year anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities Act I learned that writer and cartoonist John Callahan passed away. He was a cartoonist who said what other wouldn’t about the experience of disability. His cartoons were hysterically funny. His book “Don’t Worry He Won’t Get Far On Foot,” was both a caption to a drawing that everyone who uses a wheelchair has seen, and a collection of daring explorations of myths and stereotypes. Callahan probably had as much to do with the empowerment of people with disabilities with his universally funny work as the ADA itself.
President George H. W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act into law 20 years ago, today. Since then, we’ve almost come to take for granted many of the things it required: accessible public transportation, reserved parking, more frequent curb cuts, equal access to employment and education opportunities, and much more.
I think it odd that I am actually seriously celebrating and thinking about the 20th anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities act. As a man who has spent well over half of his life in a wheelchair with a permanent spinal cord injury I can say that my feelings about this landmark law have generally been negative.
Today the U.S. hands over a prison in Iraq and it’s barely worth a headline. The time that has passed since the U.S. invaded Iraq has created some scars and healed others. I’m struck by how much this milestone conveys the mystery of what the Iraq war has meant to the U.S. What is its legacy to a generation of young people, policymakers, and citizens? Is Iraq a failure, a success, or something different altogether?
Geological events mark their evidence in rock and the position of the earth’s crust. The earthquake becomes a part of the geological identity of a place. Geology is its own narrative and it unfolds very slowly… literally in geological time for the estimated million people still waiting for help. We have a built-in sense that people bounce back from disasters. But perhaps to even look at Haiti six months after as though it is a long time is absurd. It says more about our attention span than it says about Haiti itself. Just as the presence of President Obama on the beaches of Alabama is more likely to produce a headline than the presence of oil that same beach would, it’s our attention span that is the story.
The “headline-breaking-news all-urgency-all-the-time” model of news coverage makes it very difficult to establish the narrative line to give a complex story like Haiti’s aftermath the day-to-day focus it needs. Each tree ring tells a story in the long-term record of life on earth.
John Burns of The New York Times set up a very disturbing notion of media dynamics in the wake of the Rolling Stone demise of Gen. Stanley McChrystal. Clearly Burns believes that McChrystal was a real asset in the Afghan military campaign and is being sacrificed because of the Michael Hastings story in Rolling Stone. Burns seems to think that Hastings took nuanced moments to create a portrait of military commanders contemptuous of their civilian colleagues. The piece challenged the principle of civilian control of the U.S. Military. Burns believes the piece may have ended a longstanding relationship between journalists and military leaders as a channel for much needed information over time. By taking what Burns seemed to suggest were “off-the-record” moments and using them to support the Rolling Stone “Runaway General” premise, Hastings has made it difficult for reporters to get the real story of what is going on in Afghanistan and Iraq or at the Pentagon generally, from here on out.
New Hampshire is thinking about upgrading its 911 system to include other digital data. Under the new system, you wouldn’t simply call 911 — you would upload to 911.gov or something like that. You could transmit pictures of your deployed airbag from your very own traffic accident. You could send text messages. Instead of LOL it could be BAO (burning all over) or BOB (burning out back).
You hear the debate in the U.S. Senate: aid money is wasted money. Giving people or nations money in the form of unemployment benefits or aid is a disincentive to change. Pay unemployed people and they stay unemployed. Pay poor people and they stay poor. Give aid to corrupt governments and those governments stay corrupt.
Al-Qaida starts a magazine, gives it the catchy title, “Inspire” and gets a ton of free publicity. I got that message this morning and also another one of frustration and annoyance from two guests we asked to come on the show and talk about this bizarre new magazine. Yet while the media is focused intently on analyzing what this move says about the inner workings and aspirations of al-Qaida, it becomes much harder for a legitimate magazine like Alo, a lifestyle magazine for Muslim Americans, to get any attention.
Brendan Koerner, a writer for Wired Magazine, had a thoughtful thing to say this morning about what happens in the brain to people who use the techniques advocated by Alcoholics Anonymous to deal with their addictions. The organization is 75 years old and its success in treating alcohol abusers is notable and of significant interest to neurologists. Koerner says that one of the most powerful aspects of AA’s treatment is the replacement of the damaged brain of an addict with, in a sense, a substitute pre-frontal cortex consisting of other people. The group dynamics of AA constitute a substitute decision-mechanism capable of resisting temptation, something the addict brain cannot do very well. Are other people a kind of neurological “prosthetic,” an outboard brain to enhance or even diminish the abilities of our given brain?
What did writer/philosopher John Paul Sartre say about hell? “Hell is other people.” Maybe it should be edited to read: “My brain is other people.” Or Rene Descartes might say “They think, therefore I am.”
"They landscaped, they, they, just did nice family stuff. That's all I know. So we're just all completely shocked."
That’s a quote from one of the neighbors commenting on the arrests of at least ten people for trying to infiltrate U.S. society in some way at the behest of the Russians. The ten were charged with “failing to register as Foreign agents.” So I’m trying to imagine the Kremlin meeting of the Russian spymasters as Putin's deputies delivered the marching orders: (bad grammar added below for special Russian flavor)
"You will go to American suburb communities to blend into cultural fabric using special blending skills like being students, and doing landscaping, also watching television vignettes of 'Sex in City' and 'Dr. Phil.' You will receive instruction on how to perform “nice family stuff” such as eating Jell-o and coloring eggs for small Easter celebrations also grilling and cleaning out of garages on weekend afternoons. This will conceal you within American culture with sophisticated camouflaging effect. Finally, you will move toward centers of power by trimming lawns of Senators and other power elites, also child care for important opinion makers. When you have acquired influence contact Moscow and wait for instruction. One more thing: At NO point should you pay attention to man named Rod Blagojevich. He is part of independent undercover operation. Having problems. That is all."
So a female legal scholar and Ivy League dean faces the Senate Judiciary Committee today, while a male military scholar and Ivy League PhD faces the Senate Armed Services Committee. The tone of the two hearings will be very different for some obvious reasons.
Petraeus is beloved of both parties and has already commanded U.S. forces in Afghanistan. His confirmation is a foregone conclusion. On the other hand, it’s not going to be easy for Elena Kagan, whose confirmation is hers to lose based on her support among majority Democrats. The irony is that Petraeus’s Ivy League credentials, coupled with his military experience, are likely to be intimidating to questioning Senators, while the fact that Kagan was the dean of the Harvard Law School is going to be an opening for questioning her lack of experience as a judge.
Most of the Senators are lawyers, so maybe that is the entre to be tough on Kagan. Petraeus’s academic degrees, however, are in international relations and public administration, which are hardly obscure subjects for opinionated Senators. Yet, while Petraeus’s credentials seem to be a restraining force on the Senators of the Armed Services Committee, it’s more of an “open season” on Kagan over the Judiciary.
We’ve seen a rise of the scholar-general in the Pentagon. It’s a good thing to enlarge the expertise of military leaders, but does it elevate them to an untouchable priesthood? In the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln — the self made scholar — became a self-made military tactician because he wanted to be able to second guess the frustrating military leadership of the Union Army. Despite his lack of experience, Lincoln's oversight led to the Union victory, while disastrous decisions by generals like MacClellan, Hooker and Burnside aided Confederate forces. If generals with PhDs intimidate civilian political leaders, what quality of oversight can we expect in the Afghanistan War? If Lincoln wasn’t intimidated by his generals, then Obama and the Senate shouldn’t be either. And why should it be any different for Supreme Court nominees?
Senator Robert Byrd not only held virtually every job worth having in the United States Senate, but he also created some meant solely for himself. When I arrived in Washington, D.C. as a reporter in the early 80s, Byrd was already hard at work writing an official history of the U.S. Senate. He announced the official history initiative one day when his granddaughter and her fifth grade class were in the gallery. The Senate record quotes the Majority Leader as saying: "It might be well if they had something to go back to school and talk about."
Last week in Afghanistan it was the changing of the guard for some Generals, McCrystal sent packing, General Petraeus packing for a return visit. But all across America every day, families are packing up and sending a loved one off to join the troop surge in Afghanistan. John Hockenberry hears some of the voices from the First Battalion, 87th Infantry of the 10th Mountain Division.
So Fannie Mae wants to punish so-called strategic defaulters who abandon homes and mortgages because their property is worth less than their outstanding balance. If you ditch one of Fannie Mae’s loans they will ban you from getting another such Federal loan for 7 years. Now, a lot of details on your credit report — especially the bad ones — hang around for 7 years or more. But, with the huge involvement of the Federal Government in the housing business, this new punishment could amount to something like a financial prison sentence. I wanted to look at what other infractions get a 7 year sentence. Of course comparing a mortgage default to a crime is a little rough, but here are a few details
You can get 7 years for robbing a bank, as Gregory Fielding did last month for knocking over the TD Bank in Glen Gardner, New Jersey. Having a sexual relationship with a student will get you 7 years in Buffalo, New York. That’s what former Sacred Heart Academy teacher James D.Van Valkinberg got on Wednesday. But my favorite is Miami’s Chris Scott who get’s 7 years in the big house for defrauding banks and insurers out of $200 million by hacking consumer bank numbers and passwords.
7 years: Fannie Mae says no more Mr. Nice Guy!
Speaking this morning with the new face of BP, this fellow Darryl Willis, made me think about what public relations are all about. First of all let me be clear, I liked the guy. He certainly has a hard job dealing with claims, and his southern accent and easy going Gulf pace of speaking will certainly be a welcome change from Tony Hayward’s chilly British lilt.
His job is to deal with claims against BP and help people to get money owed them by the company for lost wages and the like. But the fact that he has worked for BP for 20 years, calls himself an executive, and appears in expensively produced commercials — reassuring people about BP’s sense of corporate responsibility — qualifies him as a company spokesperson. So I asked Willis about the story on the front page of The New York Times today. BP is developing an oil well in Alaska that pushes the envelope of technology and engineering.
The project involves ten miles of drilling that starts in deep water and goes sideways into a huge underground reservoir. Willis knew nothing about the story or the technological details. When asked what he would say to the people of Alaska to reassure them that this new well wouldn’t go awry, he responded with a corporate line about BP’s concern for safety. Then he insisted he was a real BP executive and lifelong Gulf resident not some random local hired to talk the talk with angry Gulf victims.
I wanted to ask him if we could give out his phone number so anyone listening could call him about their claims problems. I didn’t. Maybe I should have. Instead I asked if BP would hire some rugged looking mountain man with a shotgun to talk to Alaskans in the case of this new well blowing out and causing another catastrophe up north. He deflected by saying he was totally focused on the Gulf victims and that was his job everyday. In a sense he didn’t answer the question because it was obvious. That’s exactly what they would do. BP probably has any number of rugged Alaskans on the payroll ready to go if, God forbid, the worst happens up there.
The conflict between the civilian and uniformed leadership of the military is a long theme in Constitutional law. Depictions of personality differences and styles of leadership distract from a fundamental truth, true since the days of the Framers: Civilians run the military, period. And the president is commander in chief, taking on a role that has evolved over time. Both Jackson and Lincoln embodied new powers through their commander in chief identities. In the post World War II era, the commander in chief role has expanded to, in effect, militarize the presidency. This was especially true in the Bush administration as the commander in chief both justified controversial policies in the War on Terror and also deferred to the generals on other policies, such as the number of troops in Iraq. Where does Obama stand on the commander in chief question? We’ll find out more today.
"Material support for terrorists" sounds pretty sinister, and it was sinister enough on Monday for the U.S. Supreme Court to affirm, 6-to-3, that it is a crime under a 1996 law. But the Court hasn’t necessarily made it easy to determine where the line is between being neighborly or generous and being an accomplice in a campaign of terrorism.