By now, many of you may have heard about iPhone tracking and recording your location data, but is there anything else being extracted from cell phones without our knowledge? If you're a Michigan state resident, the answer is an alarming "maybe".
Michigan's police department have been using handheld gadgets called "extraction devices" for nearly three years now, which can take every lick of data from a mobile phone. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Michigan claims that these DEDs (data extraction devices) are being used to secretly copy cell phone data during routine traffic stops.
Seems like a serious violation to the 4th Amendment, right? If the search and seizure law prohibits police officers from checking your trunk after getting pulled over, how could stealing your cell phone data be an exception? Do they really need to investigate your photos and texts? Don't worry, the ACLU are on the case (despite being unsuccessful).
The extractors are called UFEDs-Universal Forensic Extraction Devices-which are made and sold to law enforcement by Cellebrite. The data stealer can swipe everything in under two minutes, including text messages, photos, videos, passwords and even GPS data, from over 3,000 different mobile devices. It can even take encrypted data, and no password can hold it back.
However, the Michigan State Police department have recently issued a statement to defend their use of this hacking technology. In it, they claim that the DEDs are only used if a search warrant is obtained, or if the person gives consent to have his/her phone searched. Also, they state that only specialty teams use them on criminal cases, not during routine traffic stops. And the kicker-the devices are commercially available.
If you want to purchase one, you can try getting a quote from Cellebrite, but it will probably end up costing you more than $4,000. But it's not just used for hacking-it's most commonly used commercially as a data swap tool for wireless service providers who can transfer your data from an older phone to a newer smartphone.
If you're curious to see how it works, check out the product video tutorials from Cellebrite below.
UFED Introduction UFED System Overview UFED Phone Data Extraction UFED SIM Data Extraction UFED SIM ID Cloning UFED Report Manager
For more information on using Cellebrite's mobile forensics and data transfer devices, check out their website.
Comforting thought, isn't it?
By Brian X. Chen April 20, 2011
Update 4 p.m. PT, Thursday: Wired.com has obtained a letter from Apple explaining how and why iOS devices store geo data and transmit it to Apple.
Your iPhone or 3G-equipped iPad has been secretly recording your location for the past 10 months.
Wired.com can confirm that fact: The screengrab above shows a map containing drop pins of everywhere yours truly has been in the past year.
Software hackers Peter Warden and Alasdair Allen discovered an unencrypted file inside Apple's iOS 4 software, storing a long list of locations accompanied with time stamps. The file is labeled "consolidated.db."
"Ever since iOS 4 arrived, your device has been storing a long list of locations and time stamps," Warden and Allen wrote. "We're not sure why Apple is gathering this data, but it's clearly intentional, as the database is being restored across backups, and even device migrations."
Warden is providing an open source program "iPhone Tracker" for iPhone and 3G iPad customers to output their location file into an interactive map, like the one above, so they can see for themselves. All you have to do is plug in your iDevice through USB and run Warden's application. The software requires OS X 10.6 (Snow Leopard).
The iPhoneTracker application features a sliding bar for users to see where they were in specific times of the year.
Apple did not immediately respond to a request for a comment. Apple has not previously disclosed that iPhones and iPads are constantly tracking and storing user location.
The discovery is the latest in a series of alarming incidents that serve as cautionary tales about privacy in the always-connected mobile era.
Recently, German politician and privacy advocate Malte Spitz sued his phone carrier Deutsche Telekom to get every piece of information it had about him. The carrier delivered to him a gigantic file containing 35,000 data points of his location for six months. Later, a German publication plotted Spitz's data onto an interactive map.
This iPhone and iPad privacy leak is eerily similar, and creepier, considering that Apple has sold over 100 million iPhones and 15 million iPads.
The location data stored inside "consolidated.db" cannot be accessed by Safari or any apps, said Charlie Miller, a security researcher known for discovering vulnerabilities in the iPhone. However, the data file is sensitive because a thief who gains physical access to an iPhone or iPad could look at the file and see everywhere a customer has been, or a hacker could remotely break in and read the file, Miller said.
It's not simple for a hacker to remotely access an iPhone to get to that file. But in the past, Miller found an exploit that would allow a hacker to hijack an iPhone just by sending a text message to it containing malicious code. Apple later patched that exploit, but security researchers say there are plenty of vulnerabilities in the wild left unaddressed.
Sharon Nissim, consumer privacy counsel of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, said it is possible Apple is violating the Wireless Communications and Public Safety Act, which allows telecom carriers to provide call information only in emergency situations.
"By asking for permission to collect location data, Apple may be trying to get around its legal obligations, by asking people to give up privacy rights they don't even know they have," Nissim said.
She added that a potential privacy concern is that law enforcement would be able to subpoena these types of records from people's iPhones or iPads.
And the beat goes on.
BY TOM PHILPOTT
Last August, Federal Judge Jeffrey White issued a stinging rebuke to the USDA for its process on approving new genetically modified seeds. He ruled that the agency's practice of "deregulating" novel seed varieties without first performing an environmental impact study violated the National Environmental Policy Act.
The target of Judge White's ire was the USDA's 2005 approval of Monsanto's Roundup Ready sugar beets, engineered to withstand doses of the company's own herbicide. White's ruling effectively revoked the approval of Monsanto's novel beet seeds pending an environmental impact study, and cast doubt upon the USDA's notoriously industry-friendly way of regulating GM seeds.
A rigorous environmental impact assessment would not likely be kind to Roundup Ready sugar beets. First, sugar-beet seeds are cultivated mainly in Oregon's Willamette Valley, also an important seed-production area for crops closely related to sugar beets, such as organic chard and table beets.
The engineered beets could easily cross-pollinate with the other varieties, causing severe damage to a key resource for organic and other non-GMO farmers. Second, Monsanto's already-unregulated Roundup Ready crops -- corn, soy, and cotton -- have unleashed a plague of Roundup-resistant "superweeds," forcing farmers to apply ever-higher doses of Roundup and other weed-killing poisons. Finally, the Roundup herbicide itself is proving much less ecologically benign than advertised, as Tom Laskawy has shown.
How has the Obama USDA responded to Judge White's rebuke? By repeatedly defying it, most recently in February, when the agency moved to allow farmers to plant the engineered seeds even though the impact study has yet to be completed. Its rationale for violating the court order will raise an eyebrow of anyone who read Gary Taubes' recent New York Times Magazine piece teasing out the health hazards of the American sweet tooth: the USDA feared that the GMO sugar beet ban would cause sweetener prices to rise. Thus the USDA places the food industry's right to cheap sweetener for its junk food over the dictates of a federal court.
In early April, the USDA made what I'm reading as a second response to Judge White, this one even more craven. To satisfy the legal system's pesky demand for environmental impact studies of novel GMO crops, the USDA has settled upon a brilliant solution: let the GMO industry conduct its own environmental impact studies, or pay other researchers to. The USDA announced the program in the Federal Register for April 7, 2011 [PDF].
The biotech/agrichemical industry has applauded the new plan. Karen Batra of the Biotechnology Industry Organization told the Oregon-based ag journal Capital Press that the program will likely speed up the registration process for GMO crops and make the USDA's approach less vulnerable to legal challenges like the rebuke from Judge White. Capital Press summed up Batra's assessment of the plan like this: "The pilot program will not only help move crops through the process more quickly, but the added resources will also help the documents hold up in court."
In other words, the industry plans to produce studies that find its novel products environmentally friendly, and fully expects the USDA to accept their assessments. Judge White had ruled that the USDA should be more rigorous in assessing the risks of new GMO crops, yet his decision seems to be having the opposite effect. No doubt the USDA's latest scheme reflects the administration's stated desire to not be too "burdensome" in regulating industry.
This is a major problem with our business-friendly society - the coziness between industry and government regulation, when there is regulation.
I know; business good - government bad. Got it. Just watch what you eat then.
Scratches on the Blackboard of Animal Cruelty
Monday 25 April 2011
by: Walter Brasch, The Moderate Voice
Take a pigeon.
Now put that pigeon, along with thousands of others, into small coops that don't give the bird much freedom to move.
Don't worry about food or water. It won't matter.
Take some of the pigeons—who are already disoriented from hours, maybe days, of confinement—and place a couple of them each into spring-loaded box traps on a field.
About 20 yards behind the traps have people with 12-gauge shotguns line up.
Release the pigeons and watch juveniles disguised in the bodies of adults shoot these non-threatening birds. Most of the birds will be shot five to ten feet from the traps; many, dazed and confused, are shot while standing on the ground or on the tops of cages. Each shooter will have the opportunity to shoot at 25 birds, five birds each in five separate rounds.
About a fourth of the birds will be killed outright. Most of the rest will be wounded. Teenagers will race onto the fields and grab most of the wounded birds. They will wring their necks or stuff them still alive into barrels to die from suffocation.
Some birds will be able to fly outside the killing field, only to die a slow and painful death in nearby yards, roofs, or rivers. A few will live.
Now, do it again. And again. And again. All day long. At the "state shoot" in Berks County, about 5,000 birds were launched from 27 boxes on three killing fields.
And, just to make sure that you're a macho macho man, why not stuff a bird onto a plastic fork and parade around the grounds? How about wearing a T-shirt with language so nauseating that even Cable TV would have to blur the message.
By the way, make sure you collect your bets. Illegal gambling, along with excessive drinking, is also a part of this charade that poses as sport. The shooters don't make much, but thousands of dollars will exchange hands.
These are the same psychopaths who probably twirled cats by their tails, and used birthday money to buy BB guns to pluck birds from fences and telephone wires. In their warped minds, they probably think they're Rambo, their shotguns are M-16s, the cages are bunkers, and the cooing birds are agents of Kaos, Maxwell Smart’s long-time nemesis.
This is what the NRA is defending as Americans’ Second Amendment rights. And why the Pennsylvania legislature has been afraid to pass a bill prohibiting pigeon shoots.
For more than three decades, Pennsylvanians have tried to get this practice banned. For three decades, they have failed. And when it looked as if there was even a remote chance that a slim majority of legislators might support a bill banning pigeon shoots, the House and Senate leadership, most of them from rural Pennsylvania, figured out numerous ways to lock up the bills in committees or keep them from reaching the floor for a vote. In 1994, the House did vote, 99–93, to ban pigeon shoots. But 102 votes were needed.
But now a bill to ban this form of animal cruelty may be headed for a vote in the full legislature. SB626, sponsored by Sen. Patrick Browne (R-Allentown), forbids the "use of live animals or fowl for targets at trap shoots or block shoot" gatherings. It specifically allows fair-chase hunting and protects Second Amendment rights.
Last week, the Senate Judiciary Committee finally got a spine, and voted 11–3 to send legislation to the full Senate to ban this practice. Six Republicans and five Democrats voted for the vote; all three negative votes were from Republicans, including the Senate’s president pro-tempore. Many of those voting for the ban are lifetime hunters; many are long-time NRA members. They all agree that this is not fair chase hunting but wanton animal cruelty.
But, the NRA, with its paranoid personality that believes banning animal cruelty would lead to banning guns, fired back. In a vicious letter to its members and the media, the NRA stated that national animal rights extremists, whom they have also called radicals, are trying to ban what they call a "longstanding traditional shooting sport."
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC) disagree. In 1900, the IOC banned pigeon shoots as cruelty to animals and ruled it was not a sport. The PGC says that pigeon shoots "are not what we would classify as fair-chase hunting." Also opposed to pigeon shoots are dozens of apparently other radical extremists—like the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Pennsylvania Council of Churches, the Pennsylvania Veterinary Medical Association, and the Pennsylvania Bar Association. "Each pigeon shoot teaches children that violence and animal cruelty are acceptable practices," says Heidi Prescott, senior vice-president for the HSUS.
The vote will be close in both chambers, mostly because of the financial power the NRA wields in the rural parts of Pennsylvania, and the NRA’s fingernails-on-the-blackboard screeches to its members. On his blog, Sen. Daylin Leach (D-King of Prussia), a member of the Judiciary committee, wrote that when he supported a ban on pigeon shoots in previous Legislative sessions, he "got more hate mail on this than any other issue I’ve been involved with." He stated he "got e-mails from all over the state telling me that I obviously hated America and that God, who wanted the pigeons he created to be slaughtered as quickly as possible, was very disappointed in me."
Failure to pass this bill into law will continue to make Pennsylvania, with a long-established hunting culture, the only state where pigeon shoots openly occur, and where animal cruelty is accepted.
Sickening. Sad. But it's some of what 'good-old boys' do to have fun. Wonder what their politics are?
Interesting 'Fun Facts' About Pukes.
Previously betting on President Obama and Democrats in 2008, hedge-fund managers are now "actively supporting Republicans" because of Obama's "populist attacks on Wall Street" and "Democrat-led efforts to raise their tax bills." A majority of hedge fund contributions went to the GOP in 2009-1010 election season, "a pattern not seen since 1996, when the industry was much smaller."
WAAAAH! These greedy bastards pay 15% on millions and BILLIONS, yes, billions, in income. It's called 'carried interest'. That's one reason why I bitch about the wealthy. They never have enough!
Gov. Haley Barbour (R-MS) announced Monday that he will not seek the GOP presidential nomination in 2012. Though some thought Barbour could win the nod, many felt that his previous comments praising the white supremacist Citizens' Council and failure to immediately condemn a proposal to celebrate a Ku Klux Klan leader would "derail any chance he would have against the first black U.S. president."
Guess he decided that a crook and racist wouldn't make it. I'm surprised! In this country he had a chance.
Possible GOP presidential contender Newt Gingrich " earned more than $300,000 consulting to a major ethanol lobbying group in 2009." Growth Energy, which represents a coalition of ethanol producers, paid Gingrich's consulting group $312,500. Earlier this year, Gingrich told the Wall Street Journal, "I am not a lobbyist for ethanol."
I have posted articles about this jerk. He's just a lying puke.
Rep. Hal Rogers (R-KY), the chairman the powerful appropriates committee, which chooses where to dispense federal funds, has funneled more than $236 million in taxpayer dollars to a network of nonprofit groups he started , according to a new report from ethics watchdog CREW. Rogers' family members, aides, and donors "have benefited personally" from the Rogers' largess with taxpayer money.
All politicians cheat but Democrats are pikers compared to pukes like this. Just another conservative; nothing to see here folks. Move along.
by Rick Unger
Plagiarism is defined as the "wrongful appropriation," "close imitation," or "purloining and publication" of another author's "language, thoughts, ideas, or expressions," and the representation of them as one's own original work.
With that in mind, welcome to this week's episode in the stirring adventures of Scott Walker - the 'truth challenged' Governor of Wisconsin.
Today's chapter involves the Curt Manufacturing Company, a large manufacturer of trailer hitches located near Eau Claire, Wisconsin where the Governor traveled last week - with news cameras and writers in tow - to make a big fuss about providing the funding that will create 125 new jobs at the company.
No problem there. Anytime a new job is created in this country, that is reason, indeed, for a celebration.
In a news release, Walker said -
This project directly creates 125 new jobs and indirectly creates 129 jobs, resulting in $12.6million in annual wages right here in Wisconsin. By providing these funds, we are bringing quality jobs to Wisconsin while improving road access to Curt Manufacturing's expanded facility.
Via Wisconsin Journal Sentinel -
'Way to go Governor'!
And by 'Governor', I am, of course, referring to Governor Jim Doyle, Walker's Democratic predecessor who is the one actually responsible for arranging the funding that created the 125 jobs.
In a December, 2010 press release (prior to Walker taking office) the Wisconsin Department of Commerce in the Doyle Administration announced that they were awarding Curt Manufacturing the $400,000 in tax credits and $11 million in tax-free bonds that would create the 125 new jobs.
It gets better. Where do you imagine this funding came from?
A transportation grant created in the dreaded Obama stimulus program-the very legislation Governor Walker never misses an opportunity to trash.
So confusing was the dog and pony show Walker created to take credit for someone else's work, the media actually found themselves confused. Was Walker announcing 125 jobs in addition to the 125 the media knew the Doyle Administration had already created?
"That's unfortunately not accurate," said Jim McKissick, the spokesman for Curt Manufacturing.
When the Governor's office handled the matter in its typically disingenuous way (pretending there was nothing to see here), Commerce Secretary Paul Jardin stepped into the breach and made the effort to explain it away by blaming the confusion on Curt Manufacturing.
Generally, the press releases or press conferences are tied around when the company wants to do something," Jadin said. "Obviously, they want to do it with a governor
present. That's probably what occurred here.
Yes, that is probably what happened here.
Clearly the Governor was caught in an odd situation where the receiver of the grant wanted whatever Governor was in office to show up in person to highlight the good news coming to Eau Claire.
Or not - or at least not according to the president of Curt Manufacturing, Curt Tamborino.
"Walker's office had called and said they wanted to do this final presentation with a press release in front of the media," Tamborino said Friday.
So, is it plagiarism when a governor takes direct credit for the work done by a previous administration - or just plain, old-fashioned lying?
I suppose it doesn't matter. A lie is a lie is a lie.
What does matter is that Walker, and his clearly hapless administration, can't seem to work out how to pull off a political lie without constantly getting caught red-handed. That's enough to get any politician drilled out of the union.
Did I say union?
My apologies, Governor - you didn't deserve that.
He lies ever time he talks.
He should be recalled one year from his election.
He has caused huge disruption to people's lives in Wisconsin.
He is also a Koch-sucker.
He has allies that are going to be recalled.
Who voted for this puke?
Materials sharing, Braille service are threatened
Under Gov. Scott Walker's proposed budget, Wisconsin libraries would see their funding requests cut by more than $18.9 million in 2012 alone, threatening a wide variety of services, including those for job-seekers and the blind.
Here in the capital, "My goal is to keep all the libraries open with the same hours," says Barb Dimick, director of the Madison Public Library. "We're going to all be hurt."
She resists commenting on the planned expansion of Madison's central branch, noting the sensitive and uncertain political atmosphere, statewide and locally. "I am hopeful that this will go forward," she says. "It's under discussion and under consideration."
Cuts to Wisconsin library budgets come in three areas. State aid to school libraries would be cut by $4.6 million. Funding to the state's 17 public library systems - such as the South Central Library System, which serves Dane and six other counties - would be cut by $13.5 million, essentially ending materials sharing.
The effects of cuts could be exacerbated if Walker is successful in eliminating a statute that separately specifies library "maintenance of effort." Without maintenance of effort, a city could slash its library support and instead attempt to rely on services or materials provided by a neighboring community.
State talking book and Braille services would also be cut by 10%.
The figures come from the Department of Public Instruction and the Wisconsin Library Association, which on April 6 issued the first of what it anticipates will be several "legislative alerts" to workers and patrons to restore funding.
The final impact is unknown. Shared revenue remains a wild card, as do employee benefits. Madison renegotiated union contracts before the governor's budget repair bill passed, so the impact here is delayed, but many library workers elsewhere are departing, to escape a cut in benefits.
"Officially? Nobody's saying they're taking retirement, but people are dropping like flies," says Rhonda Puntney, Wisconsin Library Association president.
The cuts come at a particularly bad time, as workers struggle to recover from the recession, says Puntney.
"It's not just books and story times and computer access," she says. "We're helping people look for jobs and learn computer skills, so they can apply for jobs. That's been a really big focus, especially for adult services. A lot of places have really stepped up, especially places like Racine and Beloit, with programs specifically geared toward job hunters.
"I'd hate to see that kind of service fall through the cracks, because there's no place else for these folks to go."
In Madison, Dimick says, there are library programs covering jobs, health, taxes and financial literacy. "We call ourselves a learning center. We have more programs than we ever have had in my tenure."
And remember, he gave huge tax cuts to corporations immediately after he took office.
That's where his priorities lie - not with people - just with MONEY AND POWER!
Justices rule in a Southern California case that firms can force customers to arbitrate their complaints individually. The ruling is seen as a major victory for corporations.
By David G. Savage, Los Angeles Times
The Supreme Court dealt a blow to class-action lawsuits that involve small claims affecting thousands or even millions of people by ruling that corporations may use arbitration clauses to block dissatisfied consumers or disgruntled employees from joining together.
In a 5-4 decision, the justices said Wednesday the Federal Arbitration Act of 1925, originally aimed at disputes over maritime and rail shipments, trumps state laws and court rulings in California and about half the states that limit arbitration clauses deemed to be "unfair" to consumers.
The ruling was "the biggest ever" on class actions, said Vanderbilt University law professor Brian Fitzpatrick, an expert on such litigation.
"It gives companies a green light to exempt themselves from all class actions from their customers or from their employees," Fitzpatrick said. "Companies can basically escape from the civil justice system. And why wouldn't a company take advantage of that?"
It has become routine now that when someone opens a bank account, subscribes to a cable TV service, buys a cellphone, a computer or a new car or makes a purchase online, he or she agrees to let disputes go to arbitration.
Many employers include the same kind of fine print for new hires, blocking class-action suits for employees with discrimination or wage complaints.
These arbitration clauses typically require individuals to bring claims on their own, not as a group.
Nonetheless, the California Supreme Court in 2005 said companies should not be allowed to "deliberately cheat large numbers of consumer out of small amounts of money" by shielding themselves from being sued.
But on Wednesday, the court's conservative majority overruled those state judges and said arbitration clauses must be enforced even if they may be unfair.
Justice Antonin Scalia said companies like the "streamlined" arbitration proceedings because they are faster and cheaper.
Deepak Gupta, the Public Citizen lawyer who represented a California couple who sued over what was purported to be a free cellphone but cost about $30.22, agreed that the ruling in their case would have a broad effect.
It allows companies to use "the fine print of take-it-or-leave it contracts" as a "shield against corporate accountability," he said.
Not all products or services come with arbitration clauses, but many do, he said. Some products, such as appliances, come with a box that includes fine-print contracts and an arbitration clause. These have been upheld as binding, even if the consumer did not sign the agreement, legal experts said.
Several business lawyers said class-action claims rarely work to the benefit of consumers anyway.
"I think this decision will help consumers, not hurt them," said Alan Kaplinsky, a Philadelphia lawyer for the American Bankers Assn. "The only people who do well in the class-action suits are the lawyers. The attorneys get millions in fees, and the consumers get a worthless coupon. For them, it's better to go through arbitration."
Still pending before the court is a major dispute over class-action suits involving job discrimination.
Lawyers for Wal-Mart Stores Inc. have asked the justices to throw out a sex-discrimination claim brought on behalf of 1.5 million current and past female employees. Though the Wal-Mart case has attracted far more attention, Wednesday's ruling on arbitration contracts could have a greater effect in blocking future class-actions suits on behalf of employees.
The decision is in line with a series of pro-arbitration rulings from the high court since the 1980s. They are all based on an obscure 1925 law that speaks of "maritime transactions." It was passed to protect shippers and dealers who exchanged goods across the country. It said that if they agreed to arbitrate disputes, those deals would have to be enforced.
But in recent years, the court's conservative majority has wielded that law to knock down objections to unfair arbitration clauses involving consumers.
Vincent and Liza Concepcion, who live in the San Diego area, were charged $30.22 in sales tax for what was promoted as a free cellphone. They tried to join a class-action suit against AT&T Mobility, but the company said the they would have to go to arbitration as individuals. Their cellphone contract prohibited class-action claims, the company said.
Judges in California - both federal and state - agreed with the Concepcions and ruled that the company could not enforce its ban on class-action claims. The Supreme Court reversed that decision in AT&T Mobility vs. Concepcion.
"Arbitration is poorly suited to the higher stakes of class litigation," Scalia said. He was joined by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and justices Anthony M. Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr.
The dissenters said a practical ban on class actions would be unfair to cheated consumers.
Justice Stephen G. Breyer said the California courts have wisely insisted on permitting class-action claims. Otherwise, he said, it would allow a company to "insulate" itself "from liability for its own frauds" by denying consumers a practical remedy.
Breyer added that a ban on class actions would prevent lawyers from representing clients for small claims.
"What rational lawyer would have signed on to represent the Concepcions in litigation for the possibility of fees stemming from a $30.22 claim," he wrote. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan joined his dissent.
The court itself divided along partisan lines. All five Republican appointees formed the majority, while the four Democratic appointees dissented.
Individuals get screwed again - in favor of BIG BUSINESS. The Five A-Holes on the court again rule in favor of making people's legal problems less important than corporations.
Tough s... people. Go find a lawyer that's willing to take your, relatively small, claim. Nope, won't happen. But you now can't file with others to make your claim bigger because it would 'hurt' corporations.
These five may be the worst judges ever on the court. Conservative PUKES!
Last edited by Atypical; 04-29-2011 at 10:12 PM.
He is the Republican id -- finally entirely unleashed from all restraint and reality.
Independent UK / By Johann Hari
April 29, 2011 |
Since the election of Barack Obama, the Republican Party has proved that one of its central intellectual arguments was right all along. It has long claimed that evolution is a myth believed in only by whiny liberals – and it turns out it was on to something. Every six months, the party venerates a new hero, and each time it is somebody further back on the evolutionary scale.
Sarah Palin told cheering rallies that her message to the world was: "We'll put a boot in your ass, it's the American way!" – but that wasn't enough. So the party found Michele Bachmann, who said darkly it was an "interesting coincidence" that swine flu only breaks out under Democratic presidents, claims the message of The Lion King is "I'm better at what I do because I'm gay", and argues "there isn't even one study that can be produced that shows carbon dioxide is a harmful gas."
That wasn't enough. I half-expected the next contender to be a lung-fish draped in the Stars and Stripes. But it wasn't anything so sophisticated. Enter stage (far) right Donald Trump, the bewigged billionaire who has filled America with phallic symbols and plastered his name across more surfaces than the average Central Asian dictator. CNN's polling suggests he is the most popular candidate among Republican voters. It's not hard to see why. Trump is every trend in Republican politics over the past 35 years taken to its logical conclusion. He is the Republican id, finally entirely unleashed from all restraint and all reality.
The first trend is towards naked imperialism. On Libya, he says: "I would go in and take the oil... I would take the oil and stop this baby stuff." On Iraq, he says: "We stay there, and we take the oil... In the old days, when you have a war and you win, that nation's yours." It is a view that the world is essentially America's property, inconveniently inhabited by foreigners squatting over oil-fields. Trump says America needs to "stop what's going on in the world. The world is just destroying our country. These other countries are sapping our strength." The US must have full spectrum dominance. In this respect, he is simply an honest George W Bush.
The second trend is towards dog-whistle prejudice – pitched just high enough for frightened white Republicans to hear it. Trump made it a central issue to suggest that Obama wasn't born in America (and therefore was occupying the White House illegally), even though this conspiracy theory had long since been proven to be as credible as the people who claim Paul McCartney was killed in 1969 and replaced with an imposter. Trump said nobody "ever comes forward" to say they knew Obama as a child in Hawaii. When lots of people pointed out they knew Obama as a child, Trump ridiculed the idea that they could remember that far back. Then he said he'd "heard" the birth certificate said Obama was Muslim. When it was released saying no such thing, Trump said: "I'm very proud of myself."
The Republican primary voters heard the message right: the black guy is foreign. He's not one of us. Trump answered these charges by saying: "I've always had a great relationship with the blacks."
The third trend is towards raw worship of wealth as an end in itself – and exempting them from all social responsibility. Trump is wealthy because his father left him a large business, and since then companies with his name on them have crashed into bankruptcy four times. In 1990, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Cay Johnston studied the Trump accounts and claimed that while Trump claimed to be worth $1.4bn, he actually owed $600m more than he owned and you and I were worth more than him. His current wealth is not known, but he claims he is worth more than $2.7bn.
Johnston says that in fact most of Trump's apparent fortune comes from "stiffing his creditors" and from government subsidies and favours for his projects – which followed large donations to the campaigns of both parties, sometimes in the very same contest. Trump denies these charges and presents himself as an entrepreneur "of genius".
Yet for the Republican Party, the accumulation of money is proof in itself of virtue, however it was acquired. The richest 1 per cent pay for the party's campaigns, and the party in turn serves their interests entirely. The most glaring example is that they have simply exempted many of the rich from taxes. Johnston studied four of Trump's recent tax returns, and found he legally paid no taxes in two of them. In America today, a janitor can pay more income tax than Donald Trump – and the Republicans regard that not as a source of shame, but of pride.
How are these tax exemptions for the super-rich paid for? Here's one example. The Republican budget that just passed through the Senate slashed funding to help premature babies to survive. The rich riot while the poor shrivel. Trump offers the ultimate symbol of this: he won't even shake hands with any ordinary Americans out on the stump, because "you catch all sorts of things" from them. Yes: the Republican front-runner is a billionaire who literally won't touch the poor or middle class.
The fourth trend is to insist that any fact inconvenient to your world view simply doesn't exist, or can be overcome by pure willpower. Soon, the US will have to extend its debt ceiling – the amount of money the government is allowed to borrow – or it will default on its debt. Virtually every economist in the world says this would cause another global economic crash. Trump snaps back: "What do economists know? Most of them aren't very smart." Confront the Republicans with any long-term social or economic problem, and they have one response: it would go away if only we insisted on our assumptions more aggressively.
This denial of reality runs deep. So Trump says "it's so easy" to deal with rising oil prices. He says he would call in Opec, the cartel of oil-producing nations, as if they were contestants on his show The Apprentice, and declare: "I'm going to look them in the eye and say, 'Fellows, you've had your fun. Your fun is over.' "
It's the same, he says, with China. He will order them to stop manipulating their currency. When he was informed that the Chinese had some leverage over the US, he snapped: "They have some of our debt. Big deal. It's a very small number relative to the world, ok?" This is what the Republican core vote wants to be told. The writer Matthew Yglesias calls it "the Green Lantern Theory of Geopolitics". It's named after the Marvel comics superhero the Green Lantern, who can only use his superpowers when he "overcomes fear" and shows confidence – and then he can do anything. This is Trump's view. The whiny world simply needs to be bullied into submission by a more assertive America – or the world can be fired and he'll find a better one.
Trump probably won't become the Republican nominee, but not because most Republicans reject his premisses. No: it will be because he states these arguments too crudely for mass public consumption. He takes the whispered dogmas of the Reagan, Bush and Tea Party years and shrieks them through a megaphone. The nominee will share similar ideas, but express them more subtly. In case you think these ideas are marginal to the party, remember - it has united behind the budget plan of Wisconsin Representative Paul Ryan. It's simple: it halves taxes on the richest 1 percent and ends all taxes on corporate income, dividends, and inheritance. It pays for it by slashing spending on food stamps, healthcare for the poor and the elderly, and basic services. It aims to return the US to the spending levels of the 1920s – and while Ryan frames it as a response to the deficit, it would actually increase it according to the independent Center for Budget and Policy Priorities. Ryan says "the reason I got involved in public service" was because he read the writings of Ayn Rand, which describe the poor as "parasites" who must "perish", and are best summarized by the title of one of her books: 'The Virtue of Selfishness.'
The tragedy is that Obama needs serious opposition – but not from this direction. In reality, he is funded by similar destructive corporate interests, and has only been a few notches closer to sanity than these people. But faced with such overt lunacy, he seems like he is serving the bottom 99 per cent of Americans much more than he really is.
The Republican Party today isn't even dominated by market fundamentalism. This is a crude Nietzscheanism, dedicated to exalting the rich as an overclass and dismissing the rest. So who should be the Republican nominee? I hear the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse were considering running – but they are facing primary challenges from the Tea Party for being way too mild-mannered.
Ain't this the truth. The republicans are the 'clown party' of politics. Dangerous idiots all. Pity the democrats are bought and paid for too.