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If there is an ET presence…

July 9th, 2010 No comments

When Cenk Uygur of The Young Turks guest-hosted for Dylan Ratigan this past week, one the segments he did was a quick little oddity about UFO lobbyists:

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Apparently the group “Exopolitics” is lobbying the government to release the truth about extra-terrestrials. Stephen Bassett, a lobbyist for the group, claims that the government has known about the “ET presence” since the 40s, that they sequestered the information for justifiable public security reasons, but once the Cold War ended there was no longer a good reason to keep the truth from the people.

First of all, I don’t believe that extra-terrestrials have ever visited earth. As Carl Sagan used to say, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” and there is no extraordinary evidence of an ET presence on Earth. That said, there is a plethora of unconvincing evidence that when taken as a whole might lead one to believe that it may be true. After all, if ETs were around, wouldn’t they try to be as discreet as possible?

But watching this segment just got me thinking about how monumentally awesome it would be if it were true. If the government just decided one day to let everyone know that humans are not, in fact, alone in the universe, that the galaxy is brimming with life and interstellar empires—I think my biggest sensation would be one of relief.

We live at what must be a relatively unique time-period in the history of an intelligent species, at which we know how vast the universe is and how incredibly small we are in relation to it, but we still know too little about the formation of life and DNA that we must still face the possibility that we could be the only planet with life—or at least the only planet with intelligent life—in the entire cosmos.

And if that’s the case, think of the tremendous responsibility we have. Through us, the universe has become aware of itself. We could be a miracle of existence, the unlikeliest of unlikely phenomena that arose only because given enough time and enough planets on which organic compounds are floating around, there’s bound to be one in which a DNA molecule forms, replicates, and sets the process of biological evolution into motion, and we just happen to be the result of that process.

If that’s the case and we snuff ourselves out, it would be a tragedy of cosmic proportions. To think of our enormous potential—to go out and explore and experience the entire universe—squashed by our own short-sightedness and thus limiting the universe’s self-awareness to a mere blink of an eye on one speck of dust in the void.

But if intelligent species are the norm, if interstellar empires abound throughout the cosmos, then we’re off the hook in a big way. Even if we go extinct, awareness will continue in other forms and life in the universe will go on without us.

If there are ETs around and the government does know about them, I wish they would tell us. Not only do I think it would create a sense of global community in a way never before imaginable, but it would provide us with a cosmic peace of mind that we’ve never before been capable of.

Afghanistan’s Deadline

July 9th, 2010 No comments

When Obama announced his decision to escalate the war in Afghanistan (or ‘surge’ if you prefer), he also said we would begin drawing down troop levels in July 2011, a move that most people see as more political than practical.

First off, the president said from the beginning that July 2011 was only when forces would begin to be brought home – which means he could conceivably bring back just a few thousand troops and still technically meet the deadline.

But more importantly, the White House and military have made clear the deadline can simply be changed depending on conditions on the ground. Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, said Thursday that if the strategy doesn’t look like it’s working at the end of the year, the military may recommend that the timeline be altered.

True, he may have been trying to placate both sides by giving the right their escalation and the left their timetable for withdrawal, but there’s a very practical benefit to having a deadline that hasn’t been getting much focus.

Rachel Maddow is in Afghanistan this week, and one of the things she keeps mentioning is the importance of the July 2011 deadline. It gives the Afghans a sense of urgency by sending them a message that our commitment is not open-ended. The U.S. Army is not going to be around to provide security forever, so if they don’t want the Taliban to take control they’d better step up their security efforts now.

John McCain doesn’t seem to understand this, or at least he’s pretending not to:

Leaving aside the fact that the withdrawal date is obviously not ‘firm’, just the idea of such a date supports rather than undermines the strategy. What would happen if we didn’t set a date? What if McCain were president and went with a strategy of announcing that the United States would remain in Afghanistan for as long as it takes—even a million years if necessary?

Our Afghan allies would have no sense of urgency to build up their army, police force, and infrastructure on their own. They’d simply get used to relying on the U.S. for everything.

And our enemies, who McCain thinks are now just waiting in their caves until July 2011, would have a much easier time recruiting if the announced policy of the U.S. was basically to occupy their land indefinitely. In fact, they already think that is our policy, and with good reason. Most of them are fighting us because we’re occupying them. I’m speculating, but I’d bet that none of them actually believe the U.S. has any intention of ever withdrawing. If they thought we really wanted to leave and give them their country back, there would be no reason for them to fight us now. But they are fighting us now, so we might as well announce a withdrawal date.

I’d like nothing more than for our mission to succeed and for Afghanistan to be able to govern and protect itself free from the threat of a Taliban takeover. I’m just not convinced that after 9 years, we’re capable of doing that job, and I’m not willing to go another 90.

Fixes to the Electoral Process

July 9th, 2010 No comments

Last week, Dylan Ratigan held a “Fix-It” week on his MSNBC show in which he focused not only on the biggest problems our country is facing but also the possible solutions.

One of the biggest problems we have is the influence of money on electoral politics. A congressperson in the House of Representatives serves only a two-year term, which means that as soon as they get elected they have to start campaigning for re-election. They have to spend more time fund-raising than actually governing.

To make matters worse, money really does seem to be the most important thing. In 2008, 9 out of every 10 House races were won by the candidate who spent the most money.

Two possible approaches to a solution were put forward:

Democratic strategist Jimmy Williams advocated for public financing of elections, and gave an interesting fact. There were 130 million tax-returns filed last year, and if everyone had checked a box giving $4 to fund elections, that would have provided all 535 House and Senate members with $1 million for their campaigns. If the public provided all campaign financing, there would be no need to cater to corporate special interests, and you’d have more of a level playing field.

The second good idea, strangely enough, came from a Republican, California representative Darrell Issa, who wanted TV and radio stations to provide air-time for candidates to hold debates on the issues. Equal air-time to all candidates including third-parties would obviously be an enormous improvement to our current system of he-who-can-bombard-us-with-the-most-30-second-campaign-ads-wins. The 30-second campaign ad is the worst possible way to inform voters, but sadly it’s how most voters get their information.

If they gave me carte blanche to change the whole electoral system, I’d make campaigns funded exclusively by the public (corporations can still make ads if they want) and force TV and radio stations to allocate certain portions of time, maybe even just one hour a week, to give equal time to candidates to state their positions on the issues and make their case to the American people. Politics should be driven by arguments again—not just sound-bytes.

These fixes wouldn’t solve everything, of course, but they’d be a good start.