Obama isn’t a virgin, and neither are his drones.

For those of us that are somewhat worried, or perturbed by the advancement of technology, and the things that it allows us to do in today’s society – and the things that we are told it is used for – drone warfare can be a very unsettling thought.

But the fact of the matter is that it is no longer simply a thought, a concept to be put on the table, a matter up for discussion. No for a long time now, drone warfare has been a normal everyday part of how we fight our wars – especially for America and especially those wars being fought in the Middle East.

 

In February this year, the White House defended a memo from the Justice Department, declaring that Obama had the power to order drone attacks on American citizens known to be working with Al-Qaeda, even if there is no proof that they have helped to plot an attack.

“These strikes are legal, they are ethical, and they are wise.” – Jay Carney, White House Spokesperson.

 

But are they ethical? Are they wise? America was the country, not too long ago, in the heat of the Cold War, that began to push for a total denuclearization for all countries. And they are still calling for that, any one can look at what is currently happening between America and North Korea and see that the US does not want a war, especially not a nuclear war.

So why then, are they so happy and willing to use machines to kill people?

 

Is there really that much difference, between a computerized machine, and a nuclear bomb? Both were essentially created in order to have more power over the field of war, and for the people involved, to be able to distance themselves further from the death and destruction that ensues. So then how can one country, one man, be so against one form of this, and so actively for another?

 

“The condition that an operational leader present an ‘imminent’ threat of violent attack against the United States does not require the United States to have clear evidence that a specific attack on US persons and interests will take place in the immediate future,” the memo says.

Instead, an “informed, high-level” official could decide that the targeted individual posed “an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States” if he had “recently” engaged in such activities, and there was no evidence he had renounced or abandoned them.

The 16-page memo is entitled “Lawfulness of a Lethal Operation Directed Against a US Citizen Who Is a Senior Operational Leader of Al-Qaeda or An Associated Force.” – Sydney Morning Herald, February 6 2013.

 

On March 7th this year, Republic Senator Rand Paul launched a filibuster against Obama’s drone policy, which was resoundingly felt by those on both sides of the political divide of American politics. For those of you unfamiliar with the system, a filibuster is basically when you either call for votes you need, or in this case, you stand up and talk – for a very, very long time (in this case 13 hours) – to prevent people from voting in a way that you oppose. A clever tactic. The general consensus of worry among the Senators, is that drone warfare will begin to be used to kill American citizens, on American soil. While it might be able to be pushed under the rug that many American citizens killed by drone strikes in the Middle East, have not actually ever been charged with a criminal offence; it would not be as easy to do so if they were to be killed on American soil. And Rand Paul raised a good point, doesn’t every person living under a democracy, and in fact those that aren’t as well, are they not entitled to a trial by jury and to be treated as innocent until proven guilty in the eyes of the law? So doesn’t that illustrate the fundamental problem with drone strikes, that there is no trial, there is no conviction – and quite often, there isn’t even a crime.

 

But no need to fear, the Attorney General is here! Later that week, the Senator received a letter from the Attorney General of the United States, declaring that no, the President does not have the power to order a drone strike on an American citizen on American soil who is not involved in combat. And that was pretty much, the end of that debate.

But I still want an answer to the question in terms of the rest of the population of the world. Who made Barack Obama the judge, jury and executioner? Why is it up to him, to look at a list of names every Tuesday morning and some sketchy evidence provided alongside, and decide which of these people – these fathers, sons, brothers, mothers, daughters, cousins, friends, lovers – is a threat to America and therefore deserves to die?

Why is it that just because one person could possibly, at some point in the future (probably if the US pisses them off enough first), be a threat, does that mean that they deserve to die – without actually having committed any crime at that point? They’re killed on the premise that they have the capacity.

 

So if Obama can kill people in the Middle East with his drones, because they have the capacity to be bad, what happens if he decides that there are some people in Europe, or Asia, or Australia, that could pose a threat to America’s national security? Doesn’t every person in the world, have the capacity to commit a crime, have the capacity to do these things maybe – does that mean that we all deserve to die, just incase?

 

The Sydney Morning Herald published an article on the 6th of March, two days ago – ‘A Weapon Failing to keep Peace on Any Side’ – give it a read: http://www.smh.com.au/world/a-weapon-failing-to-keep-peace-on-any-side-20130405-2hc6z.html

The article discusses how drone strikes in Pakistan have been the best recruitment aid for the Taliban in years, and that one week there are 10 to 15 volunteers, but after a drone strike, there are 150 volunteers. 150 more people ready to take up arms and fight, willing to risk their lives, because of a machine sent to kill them. General James Cartwright, former vice-chairman of the Join Chiefs of Staff under Obama, has said that they are seeing a blowback that more than convincingly suggests that drones are creating more terrorists than they are killing. In fact, there is evidence to suggest that they are killing more civilians than ‘terrorists’ in increasing numbers.

 

New US tactics such as ‘signature strikes’ and ‘double-taps’ where men are targeted due to the way they act in the former, and where a site is targeted twice in quick succession in the later; are giving drones a bad reputation as surgical killing machines. And there is no disputing that drone warfare really is Obama’s ‘baby’ – from 04 to 09 America ordered 54 drone strikes, 3 days after taking office Obama ordered his first strike, and since then has overseen 344 of them, the latest occurring on March 21st.

 

“A lot of the feelings surrounding drone strikes, comes from the complete lack of transparency that the American government offers its people on the issue. Part of the discrepancy lies in how those killed are counted. The US presumes any male of fighting age a militant unless posthumously proved otherwise. Other agencies say this is a dangerous oversimplification.

The London-based Bureau for Investigative Journalism puts the death toll from drone strikes in Pakistan since 2004 at between 2537 and 3581. Between 411 and 884 of those have been civilians, between 168 and 197 children. Pakistan estimates more than 2200 people have died over nearly a decade, including ”at least 400 civilians”.” – Sydney Morning Herald, April 6 2013.

And it’s not just Americans that think that the drones are breeding more hate than peace, there are many people within Pakistan that say that hatred of America has grown since drone attacks began, and that without this reason, the Taliban would have no support. There are polls that suggest that only 17% of Pakistan’s population believe that drone strikes are necessary to defend them from extremists.

 

For America, a country so rich in political history, so thought of as the biggest and most powerful country in the world (even now still), it seems a very large leap to be taking with such a small run-up. It seems that a country, so entrenched in their constitution, their bill of rights, their declaration of independence – all the things that the fathers of that country fought for – that for them to be acting in such a manner, is nothing short of disgraceful.

If drones are creating hate, creating terrorists, then obviously they’re not working and another tactic should be employed. If the soldiers are there, to protect innocent people and to establish a fair and democratic government, then stop killing their people, stop giving them reason to turn away from you, and show them how to create a country as rich in rights and freedoms as the United States of America.

 

Bombing for peace is like fucking for virginity. And Obama looks like he’s already lost his. 

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“I think we all need a Pep Talk”

Robby Novak is a 9 year old boy living in Henderson, Tennessee, USA – you may also know him as Kid President. Together with his older brother in law, Bradley Montague, Novak released his first video as Kid President in October 2012, with the aim to plant their hilarious seeds of wisdom across the internet. After being picked up by SoulPancake, via their YouTube Channel http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLzvRx_johoA-YabI6FWcU-jL6nKA1Um-t the team have made a lot more videos that have not only gone viral, but that spread Kid President’s message across the world.

 

The most notable video to date is “A Pep Talk from Kid President to You” which encapsulates the message that Novak is trying to send out to the world. For grown ups to be less boring, for everyone to create something awesome, for the world to start dancing, that we’re all on the same team, and for people to get up, get out there, and do something.

With hilarious catch lines like “Not cool Robert Frost!”, as well as ‘quotes’ from Journey, and a review of Michael Jordan’s career; this video gives every single person that watches it (that was 6 million in the first week), the ‘pep talk’ that they need.

 

Novak and Montague have created an incredible thing posting videos online, telling the world to get their act together. This is the message that stays with you; that we’re all on the same team and that we should get up, and make the world awesome. It might be simplified and it might be innocent, some may say naïve, but the important part to remember is that this is a 9 year old boy, talking to the adults he sees around him, that are NOT making the world awesome.

 

Check out the video – http://www.ted.com/talks/kid_president_i_think_we_all_need_a_pep_talk.html – I know that it makes me want to pick up a basketball and find Bugs.

So what will your Space Jam be?

Climate Change – coming to a cinema near you!

James Balog is the founder of an environmental activist group called Earth Vision Trust whose mission it is to create “innovative visual evidence of our impact on ice, air, water, forests and wildlife”.

 

Balog and his team have spent the last 5 years in Greenland, Iceland and North America, filming ice bergs and glaciers forming, and falling back into the sea. They believe that they have found definitive proof that climate change is causing our glaciers to melt – our seas to rise, our temperature levels of change and rise, and our global environment to change drastically.

 

“The only way that you can really try to put it into scale with human reference, is if you imagine Manhattan, and all of a sudden, all of those buildings just start to rumble and quake and this whole massive city just breaking apart in front of your eyes.” – Quote from James Balog in ‘Chasing Ice’.

 

‘Chasing Ice’ is the result of the past 5 years of work that Earth Vision Trust has put into filming hard, cold (no pun intended) evidence that climate change is the reason for the changes in the environment, in temperatures, and in weather patterns, that we have begun to experience globally over the past decade, and becoming ever more frightening in the past few years.

 

Australia has always been subject to extreme weather conditions – droughts, floods, cyclones, bushfires. But as of late, is no secret to anyone that these extremities in our weather, have become a lot more frequent and a lot less far between. This list, which is not exhaustive, illustrates the intensity of extreme weather events, that have occurred in Australia over the past 8 years:

2006

–      January; Central Coast Bushfires; NSW

–      March; Cyclone Larry; Queensland

–      March; Cyclone Monica; Queensland

2007

–      June; Hunter Valley Floods; NSW

–      June; Gippsland Floods; Victoria

2008

–      February; Mackey Floods; Queensland

2009

–      February; Black Saturday Bushfires; Victoria

2010

–      March; Queensland Floods

–      September; Victorian Floods

–      December; Carnarvon Floods; WA

2011

–      January; Queensland Floods

–      January; Victorian Floods

–      August; Gippsland Floods; Victoria

2012

–      February/March; NSW Floods

–      February/March; Victorian Floods

–      February/March; Queensland Floods

–      June; Gippsland Floods; Victoria

2013

–      January; Victorian Floods

–      January; Queensland Floods

 

Yesterday’s edition of Triple J’s, ‘Hack’, talked about Climate Change in Australian politics, and the film ‘Chasing Ice’ – if you have a spare half an hour, and like me, understand the impacts of climate change, but don’t necessarily understand how it all happens, then it comes highly recommended.

http://mpegmedia.abc.net.au/triplej/hack/daily/hack_thu_2013_4_4.mp3

 

‘Hack’s Sophie McNiell, talks to National Geographic photographer, and director of the film ‘Chasing Ice’, Jeff Orlowski about what it was like to watch polar ice caps melt before his eyes, and glaciers the size of Manhattan city just fall into the sea. The team made this incredible documentary using time lapse cameras which they situated on top of glaciers in some instances, and collected their film and data over half a decade, and have now made the most compelling piece of evidence for the impacts of climate change, and the first recorded instance of this occurring.

As Orlowski says, Balog set out to “visualize something inherently invisible”, and that is exactly what the film does. ‘Chasing Ice’ was screened for the first time last night in Melbourne, and opens across selected states (including NSW) on April 18.

 

Check it all out at http://www.chasingice.com and if you don’t see the film, do the extra reading – it’s homework worth doing. 

It’s not Gay Rights – It’s Human Rights.

The struggle for and debate surrounding marriage equality, specifically the right for gay and lesbian couples to be able to marry, is not a foreign one to any contemporary day Australian.

 

Quite often, a week cannot go past without some form of news article being written about the issue, and opinions vary far and wide. In his inauguration speech in January this year, Barack Obama, likened the struggle for gay rights to marriage, to the American civil rights movements.

And the comparison is stricking.

 

For an issue that has been around since the dawn of time – that God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve – it has taken a very long time for the issue to come to the forefront of public opinion, to matter in the scheme of politics, and for the more than half of the world’s population to be in support of marriage equality.

 

I read an article in TIME Magazine today, about the changes in societal views around the matter in terms of the American political sphere, and the judges and politicians alike that have gone from staunch traditionalism, to full blown support in the last decade alone. Quite often, the change is caused through a family member, most often one of their children, ‘coming out’. However, in some cases, this makes no difference – the prime example being George W Bush’s shunning of his daughter after she told him she was a lesbian.

 

But let’s take a look at the history of the struggle for and uprising of same sex marriage. In 1970, a Minnesota law student named Jack Baker, filed a law suit after being denied the right to marry his partner. It is not until the end of 1973 that homosexuality is no longer listed as a mental disorder in the US, and in those 3 years, a number of states legislate to ban same sex marriage. The first march for gay rights was held in Washington in 1979, and earlier in 1978, the first ‘test tube baby’ is born, throwing  a major spanner in the works in terms of how the world now defines ‘family’.

It wasn’t until 1993 that the issue came out of shadows of the AIDS epidemic, as Hawaii’s supreme court ruled that laws banning same sex marriage could be unconstitutional, and the US military implemented their infamous “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. In 1996 Bill Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act, legally defining marriage as being between a man and woman, and the first national US polls are done on legalizing gay marriage, putting initial support at 27%. This increases in 3 years to 35%.

In 2000, the Netherlands becomes the first country to legalise gay marriage, and Vermont becomes the first US state to legalise civil unions. Between 2001 and 2010, the number of countries of states, that allow same sex marriages had risen to 17, and shows not only a pattern of increasing, but also acceleration of increase, as 10 of these countries legalized in either 2009 or 2010.

By the time we get to 2013, the US military has ended the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, 9 US states have legalized, we’ve had Dumbledore announced as being gay, the X-men character Northstar becomes the first gay superhero to marry, and we have the first ever mention of gay rights in a Presidential Inaugural Address.

 

So with so much support world wide – with most European countries acknowledging civil unions, as well as many allowing same sex marriages, and an incredible rise of popularity within America and Australia – the question is, why have we not legislated on this issue?

 

In 2013, support for same sex marriage in America sits at an average of 53% overall, with 73% of 18-29 year olds, and 39% over 65 year olds, showing their support. Closer to home, the latest polls suggest that 62% of the population are in favour of same sex marriage, with 81% of 18-24 year olds supporting it. The latest Australian Senate inquiry into same sex marriage, heard over 11 000 submissions in support, with the majority of these reportedly being given by heterosexuals. And way back in 2008, the Australian Bureau of Statistics, announced that they will count same sex married couples in the next nationwide census.

 

So to the naked eye it would seem almost insane, that political parties (especially in an election year) are not jumping on the YMCA band wagon, waving their rainbow flags and honking their gay horns. But this is because the issue is complicated – primarily because the Australian Government has the constitutional right to define marriage, which they did so many years ago, and so because it is written in the constitution, it becomes a lot harder to have this changed. However, it is also because of the archaic Christian tendancies (mainly Catholic) that reside within the Parliament – but a discussion of the supposed separation of Church and State is for another time.

The primary argument against gay marriage, is that it will destroy the sanctity of the institution of marriage. That marriage is for a man and a woman who are in love, want to spend the rest of their lives together, and want to start a family. With marriage, comes a number of legal rights as well.

 

So to those who argue against gay marriage, I say this: it is Australian law, that same sex couples fall into the same category as defacto couples (people who chose not to marry), and have the same legal rights as married couples in terms of divorce and wills. A man and a man, or a woman and a woman, or a man who used to be a woman and a man – all have the same capacity to love as a man and a woman do. They also, by the grace of technology and science, have the ability to start a family, and by law, are able to spend the rest of their lives as a couple.

 

If it’s not obvious to you by now, let me put it like this: gay couples have the same rights, and can do all the same things as heterosexual couples. They can even go overseas and get married, it is just not recognized in Australia. So, if things between a homosexual and a heterosexual couple are really so identical, then why not simply give homosexual couples, the same piece of paper that you do to heterosexual couples, and let them say “I do”.

 

With Labor having secured a conscience vote  on the issue, but with Abbott refusing to budge on the topic, or allow his MP’s a conscience vote (fun facts: his sister is in a long term lesbian relationship, and his daughters made a public statement last year in support of gay marriage), let’s make marriage equality, a major point of discussion for all those sweating it out in Canberra in this election year of 2013.

It’s about time we all told Parliament, to get their gay pride on. 

What kind of person are you?

Martin Luther King Jnr once said “A man who wont die for something doesn’t deserve to live”.

 

Does that make the man prepared to die rather than not have his morning coffee, the same as the man who would die to protect his children? Does it make the man acting as a suicide bomber under the beliefs he holds, the same as the man who throws himself on a grenade to save his friend?

 

MLK Jnr wasn’t right in his comment, but nor was he wrong. We all admire the man prepared to die for his cause – we just don’t want that man to be us.

So the relevant question is, what happens when it is us?

Do we step up the mark, or do we back away into a dark corner and hide?

Both are valid options. However when this idea is broadened, from the scope of dying for something, to making decisions in life, it starts to become a different question. When you change the lens you see it through, instead of the question looking like “what are you prepared to die for?”, the question could become something more like “what are you passionate about?”, “what do you think needs to change?”, “are you prepared to stand up for what you believe in?” The concept broadens even further, into the decisions you make in your everyday life, and what they say about who you really are as a person. And so the question is less, “what would you die for?”, and becomes “what’s the stuff you’re made up of?”

 

Personally, I think that quintessentially, it really narrows down to what kind of person you are. Are you the kind of person who goes back and complains that there’s too much froth in your ‘flat’ white? Are you the kind of person that signs a petition without really reading what it’s about? Are you the kind of person that think’s you’re well informed because you watch the new whilst making dinner? Are you the kind of person that seeks out injustice and aims to correct it? Are you the kind of person who actively wants to make the world a better place, or just someone who likes the idea of it as long as you don’t have to leave your comfort zone?

 

I’m just as human as everyone else and am guilty of a lot of those things. I sign the online petitions because I know I agree with the cause, but I don’t read it properly. I agree to the terms and conditions of things without looking at the page past locating the ‘yes’ button. I like to think that I’m informed because I read a variety of news sources from all over the world with different agendas – but how much does that mean I really know?

I walk and use public transport, I pick up liter and I advocate human rights, equality, justice, and just general kindness for other people, in my everyday life. But does that mean I’m making a difference?

 

Going back to the question, what kind of person you are – I don’t know.

I don’t know who I am and I don’t know who I want to be. I don’t know who I’m likely to become and I don’t know who I’ll never be.

What I do know, is that I’m the kind of person who takes their flat white with too much froth, with only a little grumble to myself, because there’s a voice in my head telling me that it doesn’t matter; that there are bigger battles to fight; bigger wars to win.

 

So my question to you is, are you prepared to fight with me?