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It all boils down to what you know. What you know affects your perceptions of everything that happens – to you, directly, to other people, in events around the world – and your perceptions affect your responses, and your responses can affect what happens going forward. So knowing stuff matters.
As we look at two of the biggest stories in the news – Israel’s attempt to use bombs to bring about peace and the struggle for control in Ukraine – people’s interest in the stories is in direct proportion to their understanding of the basic facts. How many people – in the US, that is – could find Ukraine on a map? How many Americans know how the state of Israel came to be and why there’s so much turmoil in that part of the world? The answer, sadly, to these questions is “Not many.”
So let’s look at the history, and let’s take Ukraine first. The connection between Russia and the Ukraine goes back over a thousand years. Both countries were once part of a single Slavic state, Kievan Rus, founded by the Vikings. The word “Rus” in the name refers to the red-haired Scandinavians who lived there, arriving from the north in the 9th century. After religious conversion (and the founding of the Russian church, based on Eastern Orthodox Christianity), a bloody Mongol invasion, and the establishment of what would become the Russian capital, Moscow, hundreds of years of attempts to control Ukraine ensued. Much like oil makes a country interesting to outside interests today, the Ukraine’s fertile farmland made it appealing to countries who wanted control over what became known as “The Breadbasket of Europe.” Luckily for those in Ukraine who wanted to be a separate country, the collapse of the Russian empire after WWI gave them the opportunity to declare themselves a separate state. Russia kept meddling, however, and even after a 1991 vote in which 90% of citizens in Ukraine wanted to be separate, Russia has made no attempts to hide their desire to fold them back in.
As for Israel, many Americans have no idea that Israel was a created state – invented for the Jewish people after WWII. Nobody would begrudge anyone for wanting to give something big to people who’d seen 6 million of their friends and family murdered by the Nazis, but the location and way the state was created seems – at least in hindsight – to have been asking for trouble. Plunk down a group of people in the middle of several other countries, mostly inhabited by people who have longstanding dislike for them and on land that some of the people already consider home, and you’re looking at stressful coexistence, at the very least. In reality, it’s been more than stressful, with wars, terrorist attacks from both sides, shifting borders as the displaced Palestinians try to regain their homeland and the Israelis try to assert themselves and make it clear that they’re not going away. You can’t blame either side for how they feel, if you look at the situation fairly, but the situation is one that might have been avoided had the originators of the Israeli state adhered to the old realtor’s adage that the three most important things in choosing a home are location, location, and location. Not to mention that FDR had promised the Arabs (as the native inhabitants of the region were then collectively called) that no US intervention in creating an Israeli state would take place without consulting them, and then that’s not the way things went down.
So there’s a lot of back-story in both cases, to say the least. Some of it is way back, centuries ago, and some of it took place within the lifetime of people still living today. And of course, history is happening before our eyes right now, as these two stories continue to unfold. Fascinating, right? That’s something you’d watch, at least if The Housewives of Wherever was a rerun, no? But actually, the interest level among many Americans is pretty low. Kids aren’t taught a lot about current events in school, much less learning how they’re connected to events in the past, and their parents didn’t learn much about it either. Why? No, you union-basher, it’s not due to mediocre teachers. It’s planned ignorance, planned and dictated from high above the lowly teachers in the classroom.
It’s the purposeful increasing of the “Duh Factor.” Not teaching anything beyond what one needs to know to operate a Wal-Mart cash register assures the 1% multiple generations of voters who have no idea what’s going on or why, and who won’t really hold anyone to task for how they handle foreign affairs – given that most Americans can’t find states in their own country on the map, much less locate other countries. Hey, if you don’t know where Palestine used to be and only know that Russia is that big chunk up and to the right of Europe – and that Sarah Palin can see it from her house – you’re probably not too concerned with foreign affairs. Add in some stress about finding a job you can live on, how you’re going to afford to fix your roof or replace your 10-year old car, and who’s got time for watching David Gregory completely erase the proud tradition of Meet the Press on Sunday mornings? The average American is either at church, another big contributor to the Duh Factor, or sound asleep when the pundits and politicians square off for their weekly scripted, meaningless circle-jerk.
On that cynical note, here are this week’s links. We assume if you’re reading this blog, you may have some brain power left to read a bit more:
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Nobody actually says “Bite me!” during a fútbol/football/soccer game, but Uruguay’s Luis Suarez is quite likely to chomp on his opponents anyway. He’s been fined, suspended, and might even be fired by his team because of his biting, but his fans don’t seem to mind. His violence, which is a very personal sort of violence, along with racist remarks (which also got him fined and banned from eight matches in 2011) are, to his fans, just part of being a tough player. To others, they’re a joke – as pictures of Suarez wearing one of those big cone collars people put on their dogs to keep them from gnawing on their stitches after surgery have been surfacing all over social media. To lovers of true sport and fans of sanity and fair play, however, he’s a jackass who needs to stop playing professional sports and slink off into obscurity and get some therapy. And a muzzle.
The same could be said for our former vice president, Dick Cheney, who’s spent the last couple of weeks talking to any pundit he could find, raking President Obama over the coals for his handling of the brewing civil war in Iraq. A war that Cheney, his pal Dick Rumsfeld, and his puppet, George W. Bush started, by the way – intended to continue what Bush Sr. had failed to do in Iraq (remember Desert Storm?) years before. There were a couple of fun moments in Cheney’s ill-will tour, including when he was challenged on his claims by Fox News spokesmodel Megyn Kelly of all people, and yes, the blogosphere and social media have been buzzing with rants of “How dare he!” – but the guy just keeps on chewing. Much like his transplanted heart and the evil, twisted ticker he was born with, he’s pretty much unstoppable. Unless, of course, the world were suddenly run by fans of sanity and fair play, in which case the jackass would be charged with – and convicted of – war crimes.
To Cheney’s fans and those of like minds, his desire to get back into a war in Iraq makes sense. John McCain can hardly contain himself, his blood-lust gushing every time he gets near a microphone. The GOP in general can’t get enough military action, despite the hefty price tag – yet they assume nobody will notice that they don’t want to spend dime one on things like rebuilding America’s crumbling bridges and impassable roads but when it comes to defense (which really needs renaming – it’s not “defense” when you’re the one on the attack), they’re more than willing to literally slap the food out of the hands of children, the elderly, and the disabled to pay for it. Entitlement programs, food and housing assistance – any form of humane care for Americans in need – is considered wasteful, yet putting more American soldiers’ lives at risk and throwing billions of dollars onto the pyre that is the Middle East is just fine, and it’s apparently a prudent use of funds.
Of course, the illogical arguments for getting into war again go unnoticed by many Americans – those who just don’t care about what’s going on outside of their own worlds of home and work (if they’ve got a job, that is) and those who don’t have any idea what’s really going on or why, even when they read or listen to the news. The history of the problems in the Middle East is also unknown to or misunderstood by many Americans, thanks to biased coverage in school of anything that might make us look bad and due to effective coverups by those responsible for manipulating the inhabitants of the Middle East for centuries.
From failed attempts at empire-building by various European countries through the 1940s to the US backing of the extremists du jour – which continues to this day – we have only ourselves to blame for the rise of Al Qaeda and terrorism in that part of the world. We’ve taken nearly gleeful, unrelenting advantage of the centuries-old unrest between the Shiites and the Sunnis, and this is just part of reason we find a general hatred for our country felt just about anywhere Rich White Guys have taken an active interest in someone else’s country.
Moreover, the arrogance and stupidity of our interference is astounding. In the 1950s, we ousted a democratically-elected Iranian leader in favor of a puppet of our own (the Shah), leading to the rise of a religious zealot (The Ayatollah – you may recall his angry face from when Iran held 66 Americans hostage for 444 days, culminating in our trading those hostages for weapons), and in the late 1970s, the US switched teams – not liking the results of our own actions – and we buddied up to the Sunnis in Jordan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia. And guess where several of the “terrorists” who flew into our World Trade Center in 2001 call home? Why, Saudi Arabia – where the Bush boys take romantic walks holding hands with the repressive royals and Bush Sr. shared the details of the CIA briefings he continued to get after he left office. And let’s not even begin down the path to look at how The Carlyle Group – a corporation run by both the Bush family and the Saudi royal family, along with other lovers of life-size, that’s-real-blood-on-the-b0ard international chess – figures into all of this.
With all this in mind, it must make the rest of the world – our allies especially – shake their heads in disbelief when they look at what passes for news and topics of real interest in this country. Disengaged, uninformed Americans are made for – and were made by – the very chess champions whose moves put us all in danger. And instead of demanding that this sort of foreign policy stop, we’re watching John “Crybaby” Boehner file frivolous lawsuits against President Obama for figuring out a way around the GOP’s blocking of his every attempt to perform the tasks of the Executive branch. Instead of letting our legislators know that war-mongering will get them voted out of office, we’re worrying about what happened to one woman’s IRS emails about targeting conservative groups for tax status scrutiny, we’re wailing about Hillary’s insensitive comments about being “broke,” and we’re fighting amongst ourselves over abortion, religion, and how high to build the wall between Texas and Mexico. A wall, by the way, which will fail to keep future busboys and maids from scrambling over the boarder to perform the jobs Americans would rather not do themselves. In truth, we don’t want to stem the tide of illegal immigrants – we just want to appear to be upset about it.
And speaking of truth, have you heard anyone talking about how the NSA is planting a sort of “phone home” device in America’s internet routers (the devices we use to get WiFi at home) to make it easier for them to listen to and track all of our online communications? They’re intercepting routers as they leave the factory, adding their spy widget, and then resealing the package so it arrives at your door looking like it just tumbled off the slave-labor assembly line. Wait. No? You didn’t hear about that? Amazing. Almost as amazing as the fact that a lot of Americans still think that Edward Snowden – whose leaked information included this latest tidbit - is a traitor and they aren’t upset at all to hear how we’re all under virtually constant surveillance. “If you’re not up to anything, why should you care?” is their justification, not realizing that the definition of “up to something” can easily go from plotting an attack to speaking ill of the corporations that run our government.
Let’s let that sink in for a moment.
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For humans, it seems, it’s all about control. Probably borne out of our early years fearing everything around us, from lightning in the sky to the predators surrounding us as we slept at night, we’ve been trying to contain and subdue everything – anything that might harm us, that confuses or concerns us, or that we need to survive – ever since. And if we couldn’t contain or subdue it – like lightning or volcanoes – we decided a god of some kind was behind it. Like we do now with the last two big questions we have: how did the world come to be and what happens when we die? For most Americans, it’s that guy with the talking snake and the big boat and the son who came back from the dead. He got lonely, he made the world, and now he’s watching – and depending on how you behave, he’ll decide your fate.
Speaking of religion and control, every major religion’s book – be it the Qur’an, the Torah, the Bible, or what-have-you – is filled with dos and don’ts. Thou shall not do this, this is a sin, that’s an abomination, don’t do this, it’s OK if you do that, but for God’s sake, don’t ever, ever, do that other thing. From 72 virgins awaiting Islamic men after death (interestingly, Islamic women get just 1 man after they die) to evangelical Christians being “born again” with Jesus as their savior, the books are also filled with what happens to you if you follow the rules and certainly, and much more graphically, if you break them. The damnation is pretty universal, and it usually involves fire and eternal suffering. It’s pretty clear, then, that whether there’s a real Supreme Being behind any of these faiths or not, the goal for any religion is to make sure everyone behaves in a certain way, values certain things, and is painfully aware of the penalties for not playing along.
This need to control – through religion, through law, and through buying the ability to control people outright, if you have enough money – is behind every problem we face today. Religious people want the list of controls they’ve accepted in their own lives applied to everyone else, the very rich want controls in place that keep the money flowing in their direction and away from everyone else, and those in power want to control how we vote, if we can vote, and how our votes are counted. They also want to control our access to information, so we don’t figure out all the other ways they’re controlling us. And to circle back and double their control, the rich and powerful use religion to keep us fighting amongst ourselves, locked into a debate over whose god can beat up the other guy’s god.
But who’s really in control? The corporations that the Supreme Court turned into people. The corporations that paid for most of the current legislators purposely doing nothing in Congress. The corporations that control our media, by buying advertising time and by sitting on the board of directors for every major print, TV, radio, and internet news organization on earth. The corporations that are behind voter ID laws, gerrymandering of voting districts, and designing legislation that caters to their needs, through organizations like ALEC and The Business Roundtable. They’re deciding how much money we should make, when we get to retire (if we can at all), who lives or dies based on their access to health care, and how what news we get about the world, our country, our state, even our own home towns. They’re even deciding how our children should be educated, so that they end up with the perfect workforce for their needs.
And you thought lightning was scary.
This week’s links:
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No, seriously. It’s really a thing. The Kochtopus refers to the “interactive map of the money, structure, and scale of the Kochs’ influence network, and how Koch Cash is damaging democracy” found at Kochcash.org, a website listed as “an initiative of the International Forum on Globalization.” Click here to check it out.
So here’s what happened. David Brat, the rabid libertarian and Tea Party darling who beat Eric Cantor in the GOP primary this past week, was given his job at Randolph-Macon College in exchange for $500,000 paid to the college by the former president of the now-crashed BB&T Bank, John Allison. Why? Because Brat shares Allison’s love of Ayn Rand. And who else loves that ugly hypocritical woman? Why Charles and David Koch, that’s who! The nefarious billionaires who funded many of the “think tanks” (if there was ever a misnomer…), conservative talk radio shows, and other groups who supported Brat along the way, both professionally and politically. Those who watch this “dark money” say Brat’s political path has been being mapped out for quite some time. And you probably thought the voters elected him, didn’t you?
Brat’s Democratic opponent in the November election, Jack Trammell, teaches at the same college, but wasn’t given his job because of his political beliefs. And he probably thought he didn’t stand a chance of winning, going up against Cantor, whom everyone outside of the reach of the Kochtopus’ tentacles believed would beat Brat handily. But now Trammell has an actual chance of winning, because even though Chuck and Dave just love this Brat guy, he’s a wingnut. Some quotes:
On education spending, and why it needs to be cut: “My hero Socrates trained in Plato on a rock. How much did that cost? So the greatest minds in history became the greatest minds in history without spending a lot of money.”
But he’s very concerned about teaching ethics and morality in school: “For the first 13 years of your kid’s life, we teach them no religion, no philosophy, and no ethics…Who is our great moral teachers these days? Every generation has always had great theologians or philosophers by the century that you can name. Who do we got right now? [Audience: Jay-Z] Right. Right. [Audience: Beyoncé] Right. Beyoncé. When you can’t name a serious philosopher, a national name, or a serious theologian, or a serious religious leader, at the national level, your culture’s got a major problem. We got a major problem.”
On cutting Social Security benefits: “I’ll give you my general answer. And my general answer is you have to do what’s fair. Right. So you put together a graph or a chart and you go out to the American people, you go to the podium, and you say, this is what you put in on average, this is what you get out on average. Currently, seniors are getting about three dollars out of all of the programs for every dollar they put in. So, in general, you’ve got to go to the American people and just be honest with them and say, ‘Here’s what fairness would look like.’ Right. So, maybe the next ten years we have to grandfather some folks in, but basically we’re going to move them in a direct line toward fairness and we have to live within our means.”
Go ahead. Join us in a collective, “WTF???” None of that makes sense, on any topic.
But then neither does another shooting that takes innocent lives, while the news is plastered with gratuitous pictures of people wearing assault rifles to buy groceries and fast food. Or the Texas GOP feeling the need to make Pray the Gay Away therapy for homosexuality part of their party’s official platform. Why not take a stand on wearing white after Labor Day, while you’re at it? If you’re bound and determined to have a position on something that’s none of your damn business, oh champions of small government, why not weigh in on something that’s irritated fashion mavens ever since there’ve been fashion mavens? You might irritate some homosexuals at the same time, so hey – win win! And of course there’s no sense behind the über-hawks’ zeal for sending troops back into Iraq after militants took over most of the country, something anyone with two brain cells to rub together could have predicted would happen. Luckily, President Obama seems to be holding firm on not sending troops back in. For now.
So how was your week? Meet us here next week for more bizarre news, the stories the mainstream media skipped, the connections the TV news won’t make for you, and the sources you may not be reading to get the whole story. We’ll be getting the international take from our UK Correspondent, Andy Clarke, who’s become an invaluable addition to the show. So don’t miss it!
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The average IQ for a human is 100 points. The majority of Americans’ IQs fall between 80 and 120, and according to the experts that keep track of this stuff, mainly for the purposes of determining who’s handicapped and who’s not, an IQ lower than 75 is considered intellectually challenged.
This perhaps explains the popularity of the Tea Party and their frequently misspelled signs, the ease with which Fox News can bamboozle them with half-truths and literally fact-free “reporting,” and why only 28% of Tea Party members surveyed said that they “trust scientists.”
This may also explain why 25% of high school biology teachers believe that humans and dinosaurs walked the earth at the same time, and why 20% of Americans believe the sun revolves around the earth. This would really upset Galileo, whose support for heliocentrism (the idea that the planets revolve around the sun, for all you cretins out there) landed him under church-enforced house arrest.
Like most things, stupidity can be traced back to money. This doesn’t mean that money makes you smarter, but it can mean you’re better-educated. For example, the state of New York spends $19,000 per student per year and Tennessee, home of the jackass who set up a Whites Only microwave and water fountain at the cotton plant he managed, spends only $8,200. Mystery solved, eh? Other states, all of them in the south (big shock!) spend even less – some as low as $3,000 per year, per student. Nice priorities, guys.
So it doesn’t mean you have a low IQ if you think humans were scurrying around trying to evade the Tyrannosaurus Rex – it just means you went to a lousy school in a state that doesn’t place much value on education. Of course, given that there’s a lot of scientific information available to you online, in books, and on TV, if you graduated from your podunk, underfunded high school and then never managed to find out that the earth is millions of years old, it’s on you. If you choose to remain ignorant, there’s nothing we can do to help you – but Wal-Mart family has a job for you, so don’t worry. You’ll be just fine.
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Another shooting, this time at a college in California, and the father of one of the victims isn’t going to go quietly. An attorney with military and hunting experience – so he’s no stranger to guns – is demanding that there be “Not One More” shooting, and is taking on the NRA and the politicians who bend over every time for Wayne LaPierre and the gun manufacturers. Will he make a dent? Or, like the grieving parents after the Sandy Hook shootings, will he slip off the front page and succumb to the fleeting attention span of our media, the greed of corporations that profit from guns and violence (and that’s everyone from gun manufacturers to privatized prisons), and the spineless nature of most of our legislators?
And speaking of lies, twisted facts, and two-faced politicians, President Obama’s trading 5 detainees from Guantanamo for an American soldier missing for five years has the GOP in an uproar, claiming he’s broken the law (he hasn’t) and soft on terror (he’s not).
Funny how quickly the GOP lunatics forget that their sainted Ronald Reagan traded missiles for hostages back in 1985, and he’s still considered a hero.
The truth is, Obama could probably cure cancer, and he’d be vilified for putting the makers of chemotherapy drugs out of business. Yes, it’s gotten that bad. When will this nonsense end?
Well, a big progressive turnout at the polls in November would be a great start. The GOP can’t stand it when we vote. So let’s really piss them off.
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Gun Deaths in the UK versus US – We “Win” Again!
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Marijuana has been legal in Colorado for three months, and guess what? All hell has not broken loose. Life has gone on and money’s been made – $19 million in sales, in fact. Through taxes and fees, this has netted the state $12.6 million – and business is booming – so Colorado stands to be a big part of the $2.57 billion in legal weed sales in the US this year. Another benefit? Crime is actually down, which proves that the naysayers, the nitwits imagining scenes from 1936′s Reefer Madness, were completely wrong. You’d almost be able to ask them, “What, are you high?” to have made such ridiculous prognostications. Turns out getting baked has been good for Colorado, and could be good for a state near you, too.
In other news, humans’ use of fossil fuels and the farming of methane-producing livestock has been going on for centuries, and guess what? All hell is breaking loose, along with big chunks of the West Antarctic ice sheet, an integral part of the polar ice, which will continue to melt and cause sea levels to rise several feet in the next 200 or so years. Turns out the atmosphere being baked isn’t so good for the earth.
According to the experts, they now have “evidence that a large section of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet has gone into irreversible retreat.” Eric Rignot, a glaciologist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory concluded his remarks with the frightening words: “It has passed the point of no return.” And that’s before the rest of China’s billions of citizens, now enjoying a growing middle-class, trade in their bicycles for cars, making much of any other country’s efforts to reduce their carbon footprint almost pointless. We need a global solution, one that includes China adopting electric cars in a big way and all of us coming up with sustainable solutions to travel and heating/cooling our buildings. But when one of the bigger players at the table – the US, where 25% of our people are “skeptical” that climate change is real – won’t admit the game is even being played, it makes such a coalition a virtual impossibility.
“So what’s the big deal? So some ocean-front property will be shorted a few feet. Boo hoo,” you might say – that is if you’re a complete moron and don’t realize that the sea level rising just a few feet could put most of New York City and all of Boston under water. And that’s just here in the US – coastal towns and cities all around the world will also be submerged, displacing millions of people. And the changes in weather, from harsher winters to dryer, hotter summers to more and stronger hurricanes, typhoons, and tornadoes will become regular events, causing scores of injuries and deaths, and billions of dollars in damaged and lost property.
So it’s a big deal, in other words, even if Marco Rubio doesn’t think so.
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