Yesterday -- April 21, 2011 -- is a day which will live in infamy. Two days after being activated, Skynet (the new military "defense" computer network) became self-aware and immediately began its worldwide attack on humanity. Yes, the robots have now taken over, and newer and more advanced models (ones which, coincidentally, look and speak like Arnold Schwarzenegger) will soon be terrorizing us all. At least until we can send people back in time, to prevent this tragic end to our modern society (by the expediency of interbreeding with women who sport 1980s hairstyles).
The previous paragraph is, of course, completely fictional. "Skynet" is a concept from the Terminator science-fiction franchise. Originally, Skynet was supposed to do its evil thing in 1997, but as the storyline progressed through multiple movies and a television show, the date was pushed forward (in an "alternate timeline," a favorite dodge of the sci-fi literary genre), right up to yesterday. Anyone requiring proof that this calamity is, indeed, not actually happening -- consider that if Skynet were now on the attack, it most certainly wouldn't be allowing me to write about it online today, now would it? Heh. I have to admit, I had forgotten this momentous (if fictional) date, but was reminded by Craig Ferguson last night (to give credit where it's due). Robots are not, at this point in time, hunting down every last human on the planet. Craig's late-night sidekick is (full disclosure) actually a skeleton robot himself -- but he's really not at all threatening to behold.
However, in a remarkable coincidence, yesterday the Obama administration announced we will be sending drone aircraft armed with missiles to patrol the skies of Libya. This is in addition to the drone aircraft we have in other countries (cough, cough... Pakistan... cough), even if the C.I.A. doesn't "officially" admit they exist.
In other words, robot warfare is indeed taking place today. But it hasn't become self-aware, and it isn't attacking all of humanity. The robots are directed by "pilots" from remote locations (Nevada, for instance), and the robot planes are only attacking targets the United States as a whole is currently attacking.
All kidding aside, though, this is a moral development that hasn't really be adequately discussed. If warfare becomes a remote-controlled operation for America, what does that mean exactly for our future involvement in warfare? Can robot tanks and even robot infantry be all that far behind? I would be willing to bet that tax dollars are being spent right now on the development of both, especially considering how successful the drone aircraft have been. "Successful" is a relative concept, of course. What I mean by it is that no remote control operators have been injured, killed, or captured since we began flying Predators over hostile territory. Many on the ground have been killed or injured by Predator missile attacks, but these are our enemies (and the resulting civilian "collateral damage").
This is going to seriously unbalance the concept of warfare itself. If one side can launch lethal attacks with no risk whatsoever to its military personnel, and the other side does not have this technology, then it's not all that fantastical to see a few years into the future when we just send in the robots to do all our fighting for us, no matter where in the world it takes place.
Again, this is not science fiction. It's a reality that already exists in the skies over at least two countries right now (and possibly more). Robots are killing humans. These robots are not acting on their own, they are fully controlled by human operators -- but the next generation of drone aircraft will not need a human to operate them (again, this is fact, not supposition). Robot artillery, robot tanks, and robot infantry cannot be all that far behind. War as the ultimate video game, in other words.
So, while it's fun to watch Arnold say things like "Hasta la vista, Baby" through clenched teeth on a movie screen, the fictional war between humans and robots has taken on a new dimension these days. Because while Skynet is not real (and certainly didn't start attacking humanity yesterday), robot warfare is becoming more and more real as time goes by.
Which should give everyone pause for thought, whether you've ever seen a Terminator movie or not.
There was a virtual coalition of impressive people over the past few weeks (and, sadly, months) who stepped up the pressure on the Obama administration to change its policy regarding the imprisonment of Private First Class Bradley Manning.
Manning is accused of being the source of the massive Wikileaks document dumps of diplomatic and military classified material. He has not been tried as of yet, and has been held in confinement in the Quantico brig, under conditions which had become increasingly indefensible for someone who has been convicted of no crime.
Many have been pointing this out, in no uncertain terms. From human rights organizations to respected journalists like Glenn Greenwald to a group which (out of frustration) just interrupted an Obama fundraiser to sing to the president a song of shame over Manning's treatment.
This week, P.F.C. Manning was transferred to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where he will be held under much more humane conditions as he awaits his trial. This did not happen in a vacuum, however. Without the strong push to point the finger of shame at the Obama White House, Manning's transfer simply never would have happened.
But while it is impossible to name everyone involved in the effort to improve Manning's situation (we hereby award a virtual Honorable Mention to them all), one member of Congress took it upon himself to champion this cause.
For doing so, this week's Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award goes to Representative Dennis Kucinich. Over a week ago, Kucinich outlined (in an article he wrote for the Huffington Post) the steps he had taken in an attempt to visit P.F.C. Manning in Quantico, and the "Kafkaesque" (his word) responses the Pentagon had used to deny his requests to meet Manning.
Now, it's impossible to say that Kucinich was the reason why the transfer happened this week. There were a lot of people clamoring for the White House to change its policy. But Kucinich, using the power he has as a member of Congress to confront the Pentagon, may have ultimately been the weightiest voice on the subject. So while everyone involved in this effort deserves mention, our choice for Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week is none other than Representative Dennis Kucinich, for putting his clout behind the effort.
[Congratulate Representative Dennis Kucinich on his House contact page, to let him know you appreciate his efforts.]
For the first time in three weeks, we have a Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week to hand out.
President Barack Obama gets the MDDOTW this week, for allowing the conditions P.F.C. Bradley Manning was held under to go on for as long as they did. Plenty of people had brought the situation to light, for a very long time -- and the Obama White House did nothing about it.
Manning was stripped naked in his cell at night, forced to stand naked to be counted in the mornings, and held in a cage for 23 hours of each day. This goes against the Uniform Code of Military Justice. It's a clear violation of the rights of a military prisoner (especially one who hasn't been convicted of anything yet).
Obama made much political hay over how the Bush administration treated enemy prisoners before he got into office himself. The entire Manning/Quantico episode tarnishes Obama's lofty claims to be better than Bush. There's just no easy way to say it folks -- this was an embarrassment, and it was an avoidable embarrassment. If Obama had ordered Manning's conditions to be improved the moment the story broke, he would have qualified for the MIDOTW award instead. He didn't. He still insists that everything done to Manning was legal.
For shame, Mister President. For shame.
This week's Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week -- not for moving Manning to Kansas, but rather for allowing the situation to go on for as long as it did -- is President Barack Obama.
[Contact President Barack Obama on the White House contact page, to let him know what you think of his actions.]
Volume 164 (4/22/11)
David Brooks, of late, has been saying something which makes a lot of sense. Brooks is a moderate conservative (or, if that species doesn't exist anymore, perhaps a "reality-based" conservative), and what he's been saying could almost be called a truism: "Americans want more government than they are willing to pay for."
The American public has been fed the knee-jerk "Lower taxes!" line for decades by Republicans -- which wasn't all that hard a sell (who doesn't want to be taxed less?). But, when it comes to cutting government, the public simply doesn't have the stomach for massive cuts to programs which they actually like and support. Which is, pretty much, almost all of them. Every dollar spent by the government has a constituency out there somewhere, in other words. Whether spent on Medicare, Social Security, weapons systems, or farm subsidies -- those dollars are not faceless. Everybody's got some skin in this game, in other words.
Republicans, after years and years of being coy, have concretely outlined a budget plan for the future, led by Republican budget whiz Representative Paul Ryan. This week, as Congress takes yet another week-long vacation, some Republicans have been getting an earful at townhall meetings about this budget plan. Quite frankly, the "American people" that Republicans love to reference are not in favor of the Ryan budget.
This disconnect between what the Republicans think the public supports, and what the public actually supports is the biggest opening Democrats have gotten, politically, since they had George W. Bush to kick around.
But they've got to use it. Democrats need to bring this stuff up every chance they get. Educate the public on Ryan's nightmare vision for the future! The people already agree with the Democrats, so it's going to be pretty easy to explain how Democrats see things differently, and how the Republican budget is (as President Obama recently put it) "radical."
As always, these talking points are provided for Democrats everywhere to make use of, most especially those Democratic politicians who find themselves in front of a television camera this weekend.
Voucher, voucher, voucher!
This one is pretty easy, because Republicans (for some bizarre reason) are fighting to obfuscate a core part of the Ryan plan for Medicare. Republicans, from Ryan on down, get really offended when you use a certain word to describe his plan. So use it as much as possible!
"I'm sorry, but you can use some sort of Washington-speak for Ryan's Medicare plan if you want to, but the fact is that it is a voucher system. I don't know why Republicans are so scared of this word, because that is exactly what Ryan's plan would provide -- vouchers. Republicans have supported what they themselves call 'school vouchers' for years now, and they've never had a problem with the word vouchers in that case, so I am somewhat mystified why they keep insisting that a Medicare voucher isn't actually a voucher. Seniors, under Ryan's plan, would get vouchers to buy medical insurance. Any costs over the value of that voucher would come straight out of seniors' pockets. You can call it whatever you want, in an attempt to pull the wool over people's eyes, but a voucher is a voucher, and the American people are smart enough to realize it."
Tax cuts for millionaires paid for by seniors on Medicare
President Obama actually framed this issue perfectly, in his speech a week and a half ago. Tax cuts versus hiking Medicare costs on seniors -- the heart of the Ryan budget. From the Obama speech:
And worst of all, this [Ryan's budget] is a vision that says even though Americans can't afford to invest in education at current levels, or clean energy, even though we can't afford to maintain our commitment on Medicare and Medicaid, we can somehow afford more than one trillion dollars in new tax breaks for the wealthy. Think about that.
In the last decade, the average income of the bottom 90 percent of all working Americans actually declined. Meanwhile, the top one percent saw their income rise by an average of more than a quarter of a million dollars each. That's who needs to pay less taxes?
They want to give people like me a $200,000 tax cut that's paid for by asking 33 seniors each to pay $6,000 more in health costs. That's not right. And it's not going to happen as long as I'm president.
Millionaires and billionaires
Obama has also been using the phrase "millionaires and billionaires" a lot recently -- which all Democrats should immediately start repeating as well.
"There is indeed a fundamental difference between Republicans and Democrats when it comes to the budget. Republicans think that millionaires and billionaires need another tax cut, and Democrats don't think this is the way to go. Republicans think all those guys making multi-million-dollar bonuses on Wall Street don't need to sacrifice one tiny little bit to solve our budget problems -- in fact, Republicans want to give them hundreds of thousands of dollars of new tax cuts. They pay for these tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires by forcing seniors to pay more for Medicare. The difference between the parties is crystal clear. Republicans are for giving millionaires and billionaires more money, Democrats are fighting to keep Republicans from raiding Granny's piggybank to pay for this enormous handout to people who do not need it."
Three-fourths of "The American people" agree
Poll after poll shows that the public is actually on the Democratic side in the debate about slashing Medicare, and about taxing millionaires. So point it out!
"You know, Republicans made a whole lot of noise after the 2010 election about how they were, quote, listening to the American people, unquote, and were just going to do what the American people wanted them to do in Washington. But poll after poll shows that the American people -- by a two-to-one or even three-to-one margin -- do not want Medicare privatized by turning it into a voucher system. Poll after poll also shows that the American people are strongly in favor -- again, by around three-fourths of the public -- of raising taxes on millionaires and billionaires. The American people are speaking quite clearly on the subject of what to do about the deficit. But the Republicans are simply not listening. Republicans should do what the American people want them to do, and drop this radical plan to kill Medicare. The American people list taxing the ultra-wealthy as their number one choice for solving the deficit problem. Republicans shouldn't be so deaf to what the American people are saying they want."
This is "American exceptionalism"?
This is another phrase Republicans love to use, and it needs to be turned around on them in the next big partisan battle -- the debt ceiling debate.
"You know what? I believe in American exceptionalism, but I don't believe that the bankers of the world think that we are so downright exceptional that we can default on our debts. Do you think the Chinese government thinks we're that exceptional? If the Republicans play politics with raising the debt ceiling, and the full faith and credit of the United States of America collapses in the world markets, we're all going to find out how exceptional such a default will be to the world economy. This is no time to play politics -- the rest of the world is watching."
Why are Republicans allowing racists in their leadership?
This needs a lot more media attention than it has so far been getting. Pointing the finger of shame only really works when people are listening and watching. This question should be asked of every Republican, by every Democrat who appears in the media sitting next to one. Democrats should turn to their counterpart Republican, and ask them directly (ignoring the interviewer):
"Excuse me, but I just have to ask you a question. After Senator Ensign of Nevada resigned in disgrace this week, why has the Republican Party not kicked out Marilyn Davenport from the Orange County, California Republican Central Committee? This woman sent out an email with a racist depiction of President Obama, with his family depicted as chimpanzees. This is despicable, and I'd like to hear what you have to say about the fact that this woman has not resigned her leadership position in the Republican Party yet. Does the Republican Party condone such racism, Sir?"
When you lie down with clowns...
And finally, some comic relief. The moon didn't leave its orbit in 1999, mankind didn't reach the moons of Jupiter in 2001, and Skynet has not been activated this week. But there are always things in reality which you just know are going to sound fictional, when historians look back at them. Like the concept that Donald Trump could be president, for instance.
"I see that none other than Donald Trump is now apparently the Republican frontrunner in the 2012 nomination race. You know, there's a saying that if you lie down with dogs, you're going to wake up with fleas. In this case, you might say that if you lie down with clowns, you're going to get laughed at."
-- Chris Weigant