[ a fully caused & embodied blog ] [ Good Sense Without God ]
It is in the prosecution of some single object, and in striving to reach its accomplishment by the combined application of his moral and physical energies, that the true happiness of man, in his full vigour and development, consists. Possession, it is true, crowns exertion with repose; but it is only in the illusions of fancy that it has power to charm our eyes. If we consider the position of man in the universe,—if we remember the constant tendency of his energies towards some definite activity, and recognize the influence of surrounding nature, which is ever provoking him to exertion, we shall be ready to acknowledge that repose and possession do not indeed exist but in imagination. - Wilhelm von Humboldt, The Sphere and Duties of Government (The Limits of State Action) (1854 ed.)

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Required Reading

The administration guts its own argument for 9/11 trials

    Can anyone reconcile Obama's homage to "our legal traditions" and his professed faith in jury trials in the New York federal courts with the reality of what his administration is doing: i.e., denying trials to a large number of detainees, either by putting them before military commissions or simply indefinitely imprisoning them without any process at all?

The Real Price of Trying KSM

    Good criminal defense attorneys are seldom deterred by futility, so it's reasonable to expect that KSM's lawyers will make all the arguments there are to make: They'll allege a violation of KSM's right to a speedy trial, claiming that the years he spent in CIA detention and Gitmo violated this constitutional right. They'll seek suppression of KSM's statements, arguing (persuasively) that the torture he endured—sleep deprivation, noise, cold, physical abuse, and, of course, 183 water-boarding sessions—make his statements involuntary. They will insist that everything stemming from those statements must be suppressed, under the Fourth Amendment, as the fruit of the wildly poisonous tree. They will demand the names of operatives and interrogators, using KSM's right to confront the witnesses against him to box the government into revealing things it would prefer to keep secret—the identities of confidential informants, the locations of secret safe houses, the names of other inmates and detainees who provided information about him, and a thousand other clever things that should make the government squirm. The defense will attack the CIA, FBI, and NSA, demanding information about wiretapping and signal intelligence and sources and methods. They'll move to dismiss the case because there is simply no venue in the United States in which KSM can get a fair trial.

  .  .  .

In an idealized view, our judicial system is insulated from the ribald passions of politics. In reality, those passions suffuse the criminal justice system, and no matter how compelling the case for suppressing evidence that would actually effect the trial might be, given the politics at play, there is no judge in the country who will seriously endanger the prosecution. Instead, with the defense motions duly denied, the case will proceed to trial, and then (as no jury in the country is going to acquit KSM) to conviction and a series of appeals. And that's where the ultimate effect of a vigorous defense of KSM gets really grim.

At each stage of the appellate process, a higher court will countenance the cowardly decisions made by the trial judge, ennobling them with the unfortunate force of precedent. The judicial refusal to consider KSM's years of quasi-legal military detention as a violation of his right to a speedy trial will erode that already crippled constitutional concept. The denial of the venue motion will raise the bar even higher for defendants looking to escape from damning pretrial publicity. Ever deferential to the trial court, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit will affirm dozens of decisions that redact and restrict the disclosure of secret documents, prompting the government to be ever more expansive in invoking claims of national security and emboldening other judges to withhold critical evidence from future defendants. Finally, the twisted logic required to disentangle KSM's initial torture from his subsequent "clean team" statements will provide a blueprint for the government, giving them the prize they've been after all this time—a legal way both to torture and to prosecute.

Renouncing Islamism: To the brink and back again

    He started to recruit other students, as he had done so many times before. But it was harder. "Everyone hated the [unelected] government [of Hosni Mubarak], and the US for backing it," he says. But there was an inhibiting sympathy for the victims of 9/11 – until the Bush administration began to respond with Guantanamo Bay and bombs. "That made it much easier. After that, I could persuade people a lot faster."

  .  .  .

    To my surprise, the ex-jihadis said their rage about Western foreign policy – which was real, and burning – emerged only after their identity crises, and as a result of it. They identified with the story of oppressed Muslims abroad because it seemed to mirror the oppressive disorientation they felt in their own minds. Usman Raja, a bluff, buff boxer who begged to become a suicide bomber in the mid-1990s, tells me: "Your inner life is chaotic and you feel under threat the whole time. And then you're told by Islamists that life for Muslims everywhere is chaotic and under threat. It becomes bigger than you. It's about the world – and that's an amazing relief. The answer isn't inside your confused self. It's out there in the world."

    But once they had made that leap to identify with the Umma – the global Muslim community – they got angrier the more abusive our foreign policy came. Every one of them said the Bush administration's response to 9/11 – from Guantanamo to Iraq – made jihadism seem more like an accurate description of the world. Hadiya Masieh, a tiny female former HT organiser, tells me: "You'd see Bush on the television building torture camps and bombing Muslims and you think – anything is justified to stop this. What are we meant to do, just stand still and let him cut our throats?"

    But the converse was – they stressed – also true. When they saw ordinary Westerners trying to uphold human rights, their jihadism began to stutter. Almost all of them said that they doubted their Islamism when they saw a million non-Muslims march in London to oppose the Iraq War: "How could we demonise people who obviously opposed aggression against Muslims?" asks Hadiya.

How the US Funds the Taliban

    In this grotesque carnival, the US military's contractors are forced to pay suspected insurgents to protect American supply routes. It is an accepted fact of the military logistics operation in Afghanistan that the US government funds the very forces American troops are fighting. And it is a deadly irony, because these funds add up to a huge amount of money for the Taliban. "It's a big part of their income," one of the top Afghan government security officials told The Nation in an interview. In fact, US military officials in Kabul estimate that a minimum of 10 percent of the Pentagon's logistics contracts--hundreds of millions of dollars--consists of payments to insurgents.

  .  .  .

    The real secret to trucking in Afghanistan is ensuring security on the perilous roads, controlled by warlords, tribal militias, insurgents and Taliban commanders. The American executive I talked to was fairly specific about it: "The Army is basically paying the Taliban not to shoot at them. It is Department of Defense money." That is something everyone seems to agree on.

  .  .  .

    Hanna explained that the prices charged are different, depending on the route: "We're basically being extorted. Where you don't pay, you're going to get attacked. We just have our field guys go down there, and they pay off who they need to." Sometimes, he says, the extortion fee is high, and sometimes it is low. "Moving ten trucks, it is probably $800 per truck to move through an area. It's based on the number of trucks and what you're carrying. If you have fuel trucks, they are going to charge you more. If you have dry trucks, they're not going to charge you as much. If you are carrying MRAPs or Humvees, they are going to charge you more."

    Hanna says it is just a necessary evil. "If you tell me not to pay these insurgents in this area, the chances of my trucks getting attacked increase exponentially."

The Two Percent Robustness

    At first the "public option" was to be a massive but less-than-universal healthcare plan that would prove so efficient and effective that over several years the public would all opt into it. It was a backdoor to a civilized system of Medicare for all. Now what's left of it? Now it's a public option for 2 percent of Americans, and in some states 0 percent, to be run by private corporations, with prices set to avoid any efficiency or competition for the wasteful health insurance companies.

  .  .  .

    Is that better than nothing? No, it's worse, because this pathetic scam of a healthcare plan is plastered like lipstick on a pig to a bailout for the health insurance corporations. (Sure, the bill contains some reforms to the insurance corporations' practices, but that's like trying to reform piranhas.) And when the healthcare crisis continues to worsen in the coming years, the blame will be placed on the nearly nonexistent public option, thus justifying making things even worse, if possible. And the same bill goes out of its way to prevent states from solving the problem on their own, allowing them to opt out of the perverse public option (opting into which would hardly be noticeable anyway) but denying states the ability to create real healthcare funding for their residents. Congressman Kucinich's amendment to remedy this has been stripped out by Speaker Pelosi.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Letters: What tired Oregon teachers say

Dear Editors and Teachers:

There are a number of problems with Susan Nielsen's attempt to evoke
sympathy for teachers in her article "What tired Oregon teachers say"
on Sunday 11/15. While I agree that teachers are woefully
under-appreciated and under-valued - their role being among the most
vital to any community - along with this comes equally strenuous
responsibility. My experience leads me to believe that where the
system is failing is inculcating, fostering, and sustaining in
teachers a goal of "eudaimonia": Each and every students needs to
flourish to their maximum potential. I recognize the difficulty in a
class of 30 or so, and it would even be hard with only 10. But, I have
found that most teachers unwilling to work with me to achieve this for
my children, let alone for their class as a whole. Further, some
districts such as mine actively disallow in-class volunteering.
Consequentially, I reject the notion that teachers are lacking
volunteer support.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Required Reading

Factual errors cited in cases against detainees (from 2006)
The US military's accusations against detainees at Guantanamo Bay contain factual errors and some easily disproved assertions, according to declassified records, raising questions about whether the US military has thoroughly investigated its cases against the roughly 400 inmates.

For instance, one detainee is accused of belonging to an Al Qaeda cell ``circa 1998," according to the summary of evidence prepared for his hearing. But Pentagon records show the detainee was born in 1986, making him 11 or 12 in 1998.

In another case, a detainee stands accused of attending a terrorist training camp in July 2001. But copies of pay stubs show he was a chef in London at the time.

The United States as Cho Seung-Hui: How the State Sanctifies Murder ("old" Arthur Silber post)
The similarities between Cho's psychology and the forces that drive United States foreign policy ought to be startling, and profoundly disturbing: the feelings of vulnerability, victimization, humiliation and rage are the same -- as is the determination to restore one's own dominance through violence and murder. But be sure you appreciate the the chronology and the causal chain that Lifton correctly identifies: just as Cho did not suddenly become a murderer on the morning of April 16, but only reached that awful destination after years of inexorable psychological development along one particular path, so too the United States was not instantaneously transformed into an unfocused, rage-filled international murderer after 9/11. As Lifton states, "The war on terrorism, then, took amorphous impulses toward combating terror and used them as a pretext for realizing a prior mission aimed at American global hegemony."

'Going Muslim' (it should be needless to say, but still I say it, that you can only believe I endorse this if you have read no other posts from this blog; in which case, go read another post from this blog)
The difference between "going postal," in the conventional sense, and "going Muslim," in the sense that I suggest, is that there would not necessarily be a psychological "snapping" point in the case of the imminently violent Muslim; instead, there could be a calculated discarding of camouflage--the camouflage of integration--in an act of revelatory catharsis. In spite of suggestions by some who know him that he had a history of "harassment" as a Muslim in the army, Maj. Hasan did not "snap" in the "postal" manner. He gave away his possessions on the morning of his day of murder. He even gave away--to a neighbor--a packet of frozen broccoli that he did not wish to see go to waste, even as he mapped in his mind the laying waste of lives at Fort Hood. His was a meticulous, even punctilious "departure."

Monday, November 9, 2009

Required Reading: On Healthcare

The Two Percent Robustness
Is that better than nothing? No, it's worse, because this pathetic scam of a healthcare plan is plastered like lipstick on a pig to a bailout for the health insurance corporations. (Sure, the bill contains some reforms to the insurance corporations' practices, but that's like trying to reform piranhas.) And when the healthcare crisis continues to worsen in the coming years, the blame will be placed on the nearly nonexistent public option, thus justifying making things even worse, if possible. And the same bill goes out of its way to prevent states from solving the problem on their own, allowing them to opt out of the perverse public option (opting into which would hardly be noticeable anyway) but denying states the ability to create real healthcare funding for their residents. Congressman Kucinich's amendment to remedy this has been stripped out by Speaker Pelosi.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Required Reading

Bury the Chains
The American author Adam Hochschild on the British struggle to abolish slavery: one of the most ambitious and brilliantly organised citizens' movements of all time, the forerunner of the human rights movements of the last century. Its birth - among a group of Quakers and two Anglican activists - coincided with the departure of the First Fleet of convicts to Botany Bay. Its ultimate success, with the emancipation bill of 1831, preceded the ending of transportation to Australia.

Why Aren't Progressives Disrupting ObamaCare Town Halls?
Many progressives are getting all bent out of shape over the "brown shirt" rabble organized by health industry PR firms to disrupt the so-called "town meetings" being organized all over the country by Democratic members of Congress.

What they are conveniently forgetting is that these are not really "town meetings" at all, at least in the sense of the town meetings I grew up with, and started out covering as a young journalist in Connecticut--that is, meetings called and run democratically, with leaders elected from the floor, open to all residents of a community.

These "town meetings" are really nothing but propaganda sessions run by members of Congress who are trying to burnish their fraudulent credentials as public servants, and trying to perpetrate a huge fraud of a health care bill that purports to be a progressive "reform" of the US health care system, but that actually further entrenches the control of that system by the insurance industry, and to a lesser extent, the hospital and drug industry.

ObamaCare is to health reform what bank bailouts are to financial system reform, which is to say it is the opposite of what its name implies.

The right-wing nuts who cry that ObamaCare is introducing euthanasia for the elderly and infirm, or that it is socialism, are ignorant wackos, to be sure, but they are right about one thing: Americans are about to be royally screwed on health care reform by the president and the Democratic Congress, just as they've been screwed by them on financial system "reform."

The appropriate response to this screw-job is the one the right has adopted: shut these sham "town meetings" down, and run the sell-out politicians out of town on a rail, preferably coated in tar and feathers they way the snake-oil salesmen of old used to be handled!

Martin Luther King Would Have Loved the Teabaggers, Not Called Them Racists
A few weeks ago, I attended the teabagger protests in D.C. The thing I noticed the most about the folks there was that, for the most part, they were friendly, nice, hardworking people. Sure, there were some crazies; sure, there were some racists. For the most part, though, they looked like the type of folks I grew up with in the labor movement, coming to D.C. to participate in a protest and spend the rest of the weekend taking in some monuments and museums. These weren't rich suburbanites; the teabaggers I saw were mainly poor people, whose trip to D.C. was probably the only the vacation they would be able to afford this year.

Fascist America III: Resistance for the Long Haul
Nothin' but good times ahead. Now that they're organized up and had a little practice, the possibilities for further mayhem are limited only by the boundless paranoia and unfettered fantasies of the right-wing mind. Out at our local county fair this past weekend, the GOP booth was festooned with a wide array of buttons, tees, and bumper stickers proclaiming the owner's status as a "Proud Member of the Right-Wing Mob," and other similarly, um, assertively empowered sentiments. Judging from the general belligerence of the collection on offer, that seems to be the GOP's whole political identity now. They're determined to move boldly into 2010 as the party of America's union-, immigrant-, democracy-, and (if necessary) head-busting squadristi -- and they're damn proud of it all, you betcha.

Conyers Explains Why He Didn't Push Impeachment
I recall suggesting that Conyers might have "sold-out", after which most of his staff refused to speak to me. I'm sure someone did call him a traitor, and I can't imagine what's worse than that. Perhaps someone said that he was complicit in the death of 1.3 million Iraqis. That's pretty bad. But that charge would not be baseless. We had a situation in which a majority of Americans wanted impeachment, a majority of Conyers' constituents (including his wife) wanted impeachment, 100 cities passed resolutions demanding impeachment, impeachment resolutions were introduced and referred to the House Judiciary Committee, the chairman of that committee believed the offenses were "among the most impeachable in our nation's history," the charges included the launching of the war on Iraq, and the chairman refused to act. It's possible that his actions would have failed in the House or the Senate. It's possible that his actions, whether failing or succeeding, would have had some other negative consequence. But the fact was that he refused to try, and as many of us read the Constitution that was a failure of duty.

Destroying the Democratic Majority
Meanwhile the bill itself will force people to buy insurance, provides inadequate subsidies, and falls hardest on the middle class and young people—forcing them to spend a huge chunk of their discretionary income on average, and doubtless pushing many families into bankruptcy (plenty are on the verge, it is impossible to imagine that this won’t push them over the edge).

The Inhuman Stain: Saying Yes to State Terror
I've been writing about the case of Maher Arar since December 2003. He is the innocent Canadian man who was seized by U.S officials on his way back to Canada and then, at the order of the Justice Department, "renditioned" to Syria, where it was known that the authorities would torture the alleged "terrorist." They did, brutally. He was finally released, and his innocence was confirmed by the Canadian government, which paid him some $9 million for its part in his ordeal. – The United States, on the other hand, made no apologies, no restitution; instead, the government has resolutely blocked any attempt by Arar to seek justice in American courts.

Exclusive: I Was Kidnapped by the CIA
There is nothing particularly unusual about Abu Omar's story. Torture is a standard investigative technique of Egypt's intelligence services and police, as the State Department and human rights organizations have documented myriad times over the years. What is somewhat unusual is that Abu Omar ended up inside Egypt's torture chambers courtesy of the United States, via an "extraordinary rendition"—in this case, a spectacular daylight kidnapping by the Central Intelligence Agency on the streets of Milan, Italy.

Stone Walls and Steel Bars: America's War on its Own Keeps Raging
The cruel and unusual punitiveness of American society is a frequent topic on these page. (The most recent piece is here.) No nation on earth puts as many of its people in jail -- both in real numbers and as a percentage of the population. And few if any have "justice" systems so savagely targeted at racial minorities. For the past 30 years -- concurrent with the organized effort by the monied, militarized elite to destroy any and all restraints on their predatory appetites -- the United States has waged an unrelenting war on its black population, and on other minority and marginalized groups as well.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Blinded by Hope

Glenn Greenwald
keeps a continuous eye on difference between Obama and Bush: It is kind of like playing find Waldo here [].

Monday, March 16, 2009

Obama Sucks as President

Glenn Greenwald - I have to say (again): No regrets on NOT voting for him.
After many years of anger and complaint and outrage directed at the Bush administration for its civil liberties assaults and executive power abuses, the last thing most people want to do is conclude that the Obama administration is continuing the core of that extremism. That was why the flurry of executive orders in the first week produced such praise: those who are devoted to civil liberties were, from the start, eager to believe that things would be different, and most want to do everything but conclude that the only improvements that will be made by Obama will be cosmetic ones.

But it's becoming increasingly difficult for honest commentators to do anything else but conclude that. After all, these are the exact policies which, when embraced by Bush, produced such intense protest over the last eight years. Nobody is complaining because the Obama administration is acting too slowly in renouncing these policies. The opposite is true: they are rushing to actively embrace them. And while there are still opportunities to meaningfully depart from the extremism of the last eight years, the evidence appears more and more compelling that, at least in these areas, there is little or no intent on the part of the Obama administration to do so.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Letter to the Oregonian: Regarding Hovde on Family Leave

Dear Editors:

Removing the chaff from
Hovde's opinion piece ("Paid family leave? Let's give it a deserved rest", Sun. 22) reveals the wheat of her anti-humanitarianism. She conflates the deserved responsibility of "personal choice" with the vagaries of personal "circumstance". She dehumanizes people as "employees" or "co-workers" and finds their concern for each other as "odd" or "burdensome". She isolates people as "individuals" who "need to do their part" and appropriately "plan" and is unable to see them as her community and the care of young and old its point. But ultimately she would prefer to punish the many families in need than find out her yuppie neighbor got her $42. What a sad person.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Required Reading: Israel & Terrorism, Impeaching Bush, Torture

  • Arthur Silber: The Necessary Violence of the Murderous National Bully
    To think that Israel "lost" reveals a significant failure to understand the operations of the State, and of a particular kind of State. Just as the U.S. drive to American global hegemony means that the U.S. government intends to have its way no matter what, Israel intends to have its way within the smaller territory which it claims for its own dominance. From this perspective, it can be seen that the exercise of power in the manner just demonstrated by Israel is not a strategy toward a further end: the exercise of power is the end. Terrorizing an entire captive population, making large numbers of people (including many entirely innocent people) believe they have no choice but to obey, and visiting destruction and death upon them if they do not do exactly as they are told -- all of that is the purpose. To summarize this point, which applies to the governments of both the United States and Israel:
    The fundamental lesson is unmistakable, and unmistakably evil in intent and execution (a word made horribly appropriate in more than one sense by our government's actions): you will do exactly as we say -- or else.
    Israel did all this -- and no one stopped it. When Israel does it again, it is almost certain that no one, certainly not the U.S. government, will stop it then, either. That, I submit, is precisely what victory looks like.
  • As the Arabs see the Jews, His Majesty King Abdullah, The American Magazine, November, 1947
    Our case is quite simple: For nearly 2,000 years Palestine has been almost 100 per cent Arab. It is still preponderantly Arab today, in spite of enormous Jewish immigration. But if this immigration continues we shall soon be outnumbered—a minority in our home.

    . . .

    Our position is so simple and natural that we are amazed it should even be questioned. It is exactly the same position you in America take in regard to the unhappy European Jews. You are sorry for them, but you do not want them in your country.

    We do not want them in ours, either. Not because they are Jews, but because they are foreigners. We would not want hundreds of thousands of foreigners in our country, be they Englishmen or Norwegians or Brazilians or whatever.

    . . .

    Such fragmentary records as we have indicate that the Jews were wandering nomads from Iraq who moved to southern Turkey, came south to Palestine, stayed there a short time, and then passed to Egypt, where they remained about 400 years. About 1300 BC (according to your calendar) they left Egypt and gradually conquered most—but not all—of the inhabitants of Palestine.

    . . .

    Only once, during the empire of David and Solomon, did the Jews ever control nearly—but not all—the land which is today Palestine. This empire lasted only 70 years, ending in 926 BC. Only 250 years later the Kingdom of Judah had shrunk to a small province around Jerusalem, barely a quarter of modern Palestine.

    In 63 BC the Jews were conquered by Roman Pompey, and never again had even the vestige of independence. The Roman Emperor Hadrian finally wiped them out about 135 AD. He utterly destroyed Jerusalem, rebuilt under another name, and for hundreds of years no Jew was permitted to enter it. A handful of Jews remained in Palestine but the vast majority were killed or scattered to other countries, in the Diaspora, or the Great Dispersion. From that time Palestine ceased to be a Jewish country, in any conceivable sense.

    This was 1,815 years ago, and yet the Jews solemnly pretend they still own Palestine! If such fantasy were allowed, how the map of the world would dance about!
  • LA Times: Israel declares unilateral cease-fire in Gaza Strip
    Israel faced growing international pressure to halt the incessant airstrikes and thundering ground offensive, which by today had killed more than 1,200 Palestinians, a third of them children, according to Gaza Health Ministry figures that the United Nations deemed credible. At least 13 Israelis -- 10 soldiers and three civilians -- have died.

    Officials in Israel also said they wanted to stop the fighting before Barack Obama is sworn in as president Tuesday to avoid clouding a historic day for the Jewish state's main ally and creating friction with the new U.S. administration.

    . . .

    The Jewish state has imposed a blockade on Gaza since Hamas won Palestinian legislative elections in 2006 but continued to preach Israel's destruction. Hamas took exclusive control of the territory in June 2007, ending a power-sharing government with the rival Fatah faction, which now controls only the West Bank.
  • Chris Floyd: Sham, Shock and Awe: False Peace Process Bears Bitter Fruit in Gaza
    Although Siegman does not cast it in these terms, what we have been witnessing in Palestine over the past several decades is a remarkable echo of the dispossession and destruction of the Native American nations by the United States. There are myriad differences, of course, but the broad outline is basically the same: a people denigrated as primitive and inferior are being stripped of their land, driven into poverty and desperation, and killed in large numbers by another people who believe that their "manifest destiny" and moral superiority justify violent conquest and repression. Any violent resistance to the conquest is treated as barbaric terrorism -- and another justification for yet more repression, for even harsher tactics to grind down the conquered, secure "the frontier" and make it safe for "settlers" and the "civilization" they bring.
  • Chris Floyd: The End of Hypocrisy: Crime's Gleeful Abandon in Gaza
    But now the masks are falling away -- or rather, they are being flung aside with gleeful abandon. America's top officials -- including the president and vice president -- openly admit to ordering torture...and they are praised for it, even held up as shining examples for future leaders to follow. Vast swathes of the corporate media labor mightily to justify the ancient evil of the water torture, and other "high-end interrogation techniques," to use the diabolical terminology of CIA Director Michael Hayden. The escalation of the on-going American war crime in Iraq -- the so-called "surge" -- is lauded as a "success beyond our wildest dreams" by the new, "progressive" manager of the empire, Barack Obama. (Imagine calling an action that allowed a known serial killer to extend his spree for years into the future a wild, dreamy "success.") Citizens of the "liberal democracy" in Israel -- the "light unto the nations" -- gather in safety and comfort on open hillsides to watch, cheering, as bombs fall on the trapped and helpless civilians penned in the Gaza ghetto. These macabre celebrations are echoed across America, where bitter partisan foes put aside their differences to come together in their unstinting, uncritical support of child murder across the sea.
  • Glenn Greenwald: Tom Friedman offers a perfect definition of "terrorism"
    In any event, Friedman's column today is uncharacteristically and refreshingly honest. He explains that the 2006 Israeli invasion and bombing of Lebanon was, contrary to conventional wisdom, a great success. To make this case, Friedman acknowledges that the deaths of innocent Lebanese civilians was not an unfortunate and undesirable by-product of that war, but rather, was a vital aspect of the Israeli strategy -- the centerpiece, actually, of teaching Lebanese civilians a lesson they would not soon forget:
    Israel’s counterstrategy was to use its Air Force to pummel Hezbollah and, while not directly targeting the Lebanese civilians with whom Hezbollah was intertwined, to inflict substantial property damage and collateral casualties on Lebanon at large. It was not pretty, but it was logical. Israel basically said that when dealing with a nonstate actor, Hezbollah, nested among civilians, the only long-term source of deterrence was to exact enough pain on the civilians — the families and employers of the militants — to restrain Hezbollah in the future.

    Israel’s military was not focused on the morning after the war in Lebanon — when Hezbollah declared victory and the Israeli press declared defeat. It was focused on the morning after the morning after, when all the real business happens in the Middle East. That’s when Lebanese civilians, in anguish, said to Hezbollah: “What were you thinking? Look what destruction you have visited on your own community! For what? For whom?”
    Friedman says that he is "unsure" whether the current Israeli attack on Gaza is similiarly designed to teach Palestinians the same lesson by inflicting "heavy pain" on civilians, but he hopes it is:
    In Gaza, I still can’t tell if Israel is trying to eradicate Hamas or trying to “educate” Hamas, by inflicting a heavy death toll on Hamas militants and heavy pain on the Gaza population. If it is out to destroy Hamas, casualties will be horrific and the aftermath could be Somalia-like chaos. If it is out to educate Hamas, Israel may have achieved its aims.
    The war strategy which Friedman is heralding -- what he explicitly describes with euphemism-free candor as "exacting enough pain on civilians" in order to teach them a lesson -- is about as definitive of a war crime as it gets. It also happens to be the classic, textbook definition of "terrorism."
  • Via Glenn Greenwald:

Conyers and Impeachment
  • Conyers Explains Why He Didn't Push Impeachment
    I recall suggesting that Conyers might have "sold-out", after which most of his staff refused to speak to me. I'm sure someone did call him a traitor, and I can't imagine what's worse than that. Perhaps someone said that he was complicit in the death of 1.3 million Iraqis. That's pretty bad. But that charge would not be baseless. We had a situation in which a majority of Americans wanted impeachment, a majority of Conyers' constituents (including his wife) wanted impeachment, 100 cities passed resolutions demanding impeachment, impeachment resolutions were introduced and referred to the House Judiciary Committee, the chairman of that committee believed the offenses were "among the most impeachable in our nation's history," the charges included the launching of the war on Iraq, and the chairman refused to act. It's possible that his actions would have failed in the House or the Senate. It's possible that his actions, whether failing or succeeding, would have had some other negative consequence. But the fact was that he refused to try, and as many of us read the Constitution that was a failure of duty.
  • Chris Floyd: Head Cases: History's Clear Answer to the Torture Debate
    When the question of what to do about the torturers was put to Barack Obama on TV this week -- after it was voted the single most important question that viewers wanted the president-elect to answer -- he responded with his usual mealy-mouthed blather about a preference for "moving on" and "looking to the future not the past," etc., etc., while throwing in a couple of non-commital pieties about the rule of law and so on. He even refused to say whether he would direct his attorney general to make a specific inquiry into allegations of torture -- by anyone in government, much less top officials. Again, it seems clear that if it is at all possible, Obama will bury the issue several fathoms deep -- just as Bill Clinton thwarted and killed off several investigations into high crimes by the first George Bush and his crew.

    In any case, the "debate" on this question in the rarefied climes of Establishment goes on, even as the principals -- George W. Bush and Dick Cheney -- openly confess their crimes in a series of self-justifying "interviews" with pathetic, bootlicking toadies; i.e., the nation's "media elite." Yet on the same day that Obama was waffling about "moving forward" from that little spot of bother about interrogations, Bush was also on national television, openly confessing to at least one clear-cut, indisputable war crime -- again, a capital crime under U.S. law: the torture of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged "mastermind" of the 9/11 attacks. Bush said he authorized the use of a "list of tools" for interrogating KSM -- tools which included waterboarding, as Dick Cheney confirmed in yet another television confession.

    Perhaps the strangest thing about the torture "debate" is that there is any debate at all over "what to do" about those who ordered the crimes to be committed. Scott Horton at Harper's explains what hundreds of years of Anglo-American jurisprudence clearly says about heads of state who order and countenance torture: they should be tried, and if convicted, executed. In fact, the verdict passed on the last head of state in this legal tradition who was found guilty of torture was that "he be taken to a place of execution, where his head was to be severed from his body by an axe."

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Talking with A Believer: How did it Start?

As I briefly mentioned before, it came about that I started talking to George for two reasons:
  • I got/am kinda tired of talking to "liberals"; AND
  • I have read the books by prominent atheists: Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens.
The first has been a long time brewing. Discussing pretty much anything with American 'liberals' -- not to speak of those sad pathetic characters who 'see both sides', are 'practical', and/or are socially 'liberal' but economically 'conservative', uggh -- is frustrating and depressing. The reality of any situation is actually pretty easy to determine (for example, see this on the current Israel/Gaza horror) and the appropriate moral judgment (the universality of morals) is all too obvious. The state of 'liberalism' in American is crap: Just take the Democrat's complicity in Bush's "War on Terror" and the delusions in effecting change by voting for a war criminal. It is also the case that most 'liberals' are not serious in their politics. By this I mean their beliefs come from internalizing popular/public 'liberalism'. There is very little thought or effort put into their beliefs.

As for the second, after reading these atheistic attacks on religion/dogma I am very interested in understanding the 'religious'. I truly do not understand why one would believe something for which one has no proof (ie. on faith).
Quick digression: I believe the "way to Truth" is via the Scientific Method. Conjecture, evidence, experiment, and theory is essientially a methodology to incrementally correct one's guesses. This method can not prove something true, but it can prove something false or more correct.
I have also been reading for some time philosophy books and following blogs on morality, ethics, Consequentialism, Freethinkers, and radical movements in history. All of this is because I am trying to come to a good and true epistemology. At this point I have pretty much settled on Naturalism, Stoicism, Humanism, Utilitarianism, and Scientism and pull from them what I want when I want. So I am curious: Why do people believe in Gods and have religious epistemologies? And why are these epistemologies believable?

So, one day I was in the cafeteria at my work place early in the morning for breakfast. I noticed a person reading/studying something pretty seriously. I had noticed this person on several occasions doing this. While there are many many things to study intently, the Bible is an obvious and popular one. Given that I work in high-tech it was not unreasonable to also guess something nerdy. I gave the odds about 50/50. So I introduced myself and asked saying something like (from memory): "Excuse me. I have noticed you here studying something. Would it be the Bible?" He said "Yes." I was half way there! I then asked the 'big' question: "I am an atheist. I am looking for someone religious to discuss philosophy and religion with. I am only going to bother you once: Here is my [work] email address. If you want to talk, send me an email and we can set it up."

It may seem strange or very forward of me to ask in this way, but it really was not. First, I really did nothing more than leave the decision in his hands; he had all the power and so would probably not feel pressured. But more importantly I made one large assumption: Anyone studying the Bible, at work, in the cafeteria, on more than 3 occasions, is in all likelihood someone who takes it seriously. From this, it is not unreasonable to conclude that an invitation to talk about his religion would welcomed because nearly all religions are looking to convert people. This is not meant to be insulting. I believe there are very few discussions on matters of import where the participants are not looking, in some degree, to convert (ie. convince) each other. I also do not mean to say that converting me immediately came to his mind (nor did he ever try as we shall see). But, I believe that because of certain aspects of human psychology, discussing particular topics such as religion, politics, economics, morality, and ethics, the participants are to some not insignificant degree looking to convert (ie. convince) others that their belief(s) is the correct one. At this point all that might seem like reasonable assumptions, but you are still wondering: Why did he announce himself as an atheist? Well, I pretty much assume that the religious look at atheists the way I just described looking at the religious: Incredulous. Even people who I consider only just barely religious have a hard time when I answer the question: 'What happens after you die?' with: "Nothing. That is it, final, finished." I figured this would more likely be a hook rather than a turn off.

That was it! I had introduced myself to someone who was religious and seriously so: He met the criteria of seriousness that 'liberals' do not possess and an epistemology I can not understand anyone having. I was very excited!

So far (reverse chronological):
  1. George introduces himself...
  2. Before I introduce George...
  3. Religious Moral/Ethical Decision Making
  4. Moral/Ethical Decision Making

George introduces himself...

As I have briefly mentioned before, I have been talking with George: A self-avowed Fundamental Baptist Christian; a "Believer". He and I have been discussing weekly (for the most part) for the last 5 months our respective philosophies. Unfortunately, he has become unavailable for further discussions. I would now like to reflect on the discussions, but first I asked George for a short self-introduction:
I believe that Jesus Christ was God come in the flesh; the Christ (Messiah); that Jesus laid down his life to be crucified to pay the penalty for my sins, that he was buried, and that he arose from the dead three days later; that in his resurrection he proved he had power over death and sin; that because I have accepted God’s gift of Jesus’ payment for my sins that when I die he will give me eternal life.
Obviously no person or their epistemology can be summed up in a few sentences so first I thank George for attempting. It should be noted therefore that he is much more than this and that any assumption you make from this are your own. In following posts I will be reflecting on the discussion and presenting George's position or words to the best of my recollection. You should of course assume that I did not fully understand or recall correctly.

Judging George from these posts would be wrong: Judging me would be right.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Before I introduce George...

I should perhaps introduce myself. Right now I am best able to define myself as:
  • Naturalist
  • Humanist
  • Anarchist
  • Libertarian Socialist
  • Eudaimonia (ie. human flourishing) is the goal or purpose of life and occurs when preferences/interests/desires are met
  • No expectations (ie. nirodha)
  • 3 Step Ethics
    1. Assert the definitions of "good" and "bad".
    2. Have a methodology for deciding on how to act.
    3. The result(s) by definition are what is "right" and/or "wrong".
  • People are basically good
  • Do to others as they would want done to themselves
Here are some real world/practical things that help to define me:
  • I will vote for pretty much any/all tax increases
  • I will vote for pretty much NO increase in prison or law enforcement
  • I will vote for pretty much anything having to do with libraries or schools
  • I do give money to things like the ACLU, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, People for the American Way, etc.
  • pro-abortion & euthanasia
Among my favorite authors are:Among my favorite historical philosophies and figures are:That is probably enough for now.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Thank Goodness for Python!

Pie Iesu domine, dona eis requiem:

Five is right out!

Goodness, I wanna stop posting about Israel!

Chris Floyd quotes Uri Avnery:
Immediately after the incident became known throughout the world, the army “revealed” that Hamas fighters had been firing mortars from near the school entrance. As proof they released an aerial photo which indeed showed the school and the mortar. But within a short time the official army liar had to admit that the photo was more than a year old. In brief: a falsification.

Later the official liar claimed that “our soldiers were shot at from inside the school”. Barely a day passed before the army had to admit to UN personnel that that was a lie, too. Nobody had shot from inside the school, no Hamas fighters were inside the school, which was full of terrified refugees.

What about Obama? Screwing us already?

Hey! What is Obama up to? Oh, goodie!!

Chris Floyd: Enduring Priorities in an Age of Change: War and Profits Over People
If you want a glimpse of the fundamental moral obscenity that underlies our bold new era of hope and change, look no further than Barack Obama's promise this week to "overhaul" Social Security and Medicare. This effort to cut back on support for the sick, the old, the weak, the unfortunate and the abandoned will be a "central part" of the new administration's economic program, a linchpin of its struggle to curb federal spending, Obama declared.
President-elect Barack Obama said Wednesday that overhauling Social Security and Medicare would be "a central part" of his administration’s efforts to contain federal spending, signaling for the first time that he would wade into the thorny politics of entitlement programs.
"We expect that discussion around entitlements will be a part, a central part" of efforts to curb federal spending, Mr. Obama said at a news conference. By February, he said, "we will have more to say about how we’re going to approach entitlement spending."

Naomi Klien: Torture & Israel

'Never Before!' Our Amnesiac Torture Debate
Suffice it to say that choosing Panama to declare “We do not torture” is a little like dropping by a slaughterhouse to pronounce the United States a nation of vegetarians.
. . .
It’s a history that has been exhaustively documented in an avalanche of books, declassified documents, CIA training manuals, court records and truth commissions. In his upcoming book, A Question of Torture, Alfred McCoy synthesizes this unwieldy cache of evidence, producing an indispensable and riveting account of how monstrous CIA-funded experiments on psychiatric patients and prisoners in the 1950s turned into a template for what he calls “no-touch torture,” based on sensory deprivation and self-inflicted pain. McCoy traces how these methods were field-tested by CIA agents in Vietnam as part of the Phoenix program and then imported to Latin America and Asia under the guise of police training programs.
Israel: Boycott, Divest, Sanction

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Required Reading: Israeli Immorality

Chris Floyd:
Moloch's Altar: Child Sacrifice and the War on Terror

A Tiny Revolution: How Did Reality Get On My TV? ( w/ video )

From Glenn Greenwald:
It is not a justification to say that Hamas, if possible, would kill all Israelis. It is not a justification that Jews have been persecuted throughout recorded history. It is not a justification to say that Hamas uses civilians as shields (especially in an urban setting).

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Offended? There is no equivalence...

Is someone afraid in Sderot? Probably. Is the terror there equivalent to the terror in Gaza. Hardly. Pay attention:
A tower of white smoke rose from the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanoun after another Israeli bombardment Monday morning, and a half-dozen Israelis, perched on a dusty hilltop, gazed at the scene like armchair military strategists.

Avi Pilchick took a long swig of Pepsi and propped a foot on the plastic patio chair he'd carried up the hillside to watch the fighting. "They are doing good," Pilchick, 20, said of Israeli forces battling Palestinian militants in Gaza, "but they can do more."

Somewhere in Beit Hanoun, Ashraf El-Masri's family cowered in their concrete tenement home, their neighborhood surrounded by Israeli soldiers. El-Masri said that five residents had been killed by Israeli shelling that morning, and the blasts had traumatized the youngest of his nine children into a terrified silence...

On the hilltop overlooking Beit Hanoun, Pilchick squinted into the sharp sunlight. He'd taken time off from his job at a foreign exchange bureau in Jerusalem and driven down to Sderot with a friend on Saturday, the day the ground operation opened...Sderot residents — some of them carrying binoculars — have gathered on the hilltop since the offensive began for a glimpse of the fighting...

In their darkened home in Beit Hanoun, Ashraf El-Masri's children were in utter distress. No one has stepped outside since Israeli ground forces entered the town Saturday night, and more Israeli shelling awakened them Monday morning, including a strike on a nearby mosque.

Israelis, sipping Pepsi, watch bombardment of Gaza town

Oh, and I forgot to add... (still NSFW)

It is not like we fuck around in the politics over there do we?

Fuck you.

UPDATED: What You Don’t Know About Gaza

This post is NSFW

To those who think Israel's current actions in Gaza are justified:

Fuck you.

Israel criticised after 'shocking' discovery of exhausted children
Four exhausted children have been discovered cowering in a house next to the bodies of their mothers by staff of the International Committee of the Red Cross, which today accused the Israeli military of "unacceptable" delays in allowing medics safe access to injured Gazans.

The Red Cross workers found the small children, who were so weak they could not stand, sheltering next to the bodies of their mothers in a house in Zeitoun, southeast of Gaza City. Another man was found alive, but again too weak to stand. At least 12 bodies were lying on mattresses.
First off the whole discussion is moot: Israel is not at all in danger of being wiped out.

So here is Wikipedia's page on the the current conflict in Gaza. Hmmm, I wonder why there was an increase in rocket attacks in November when before there were nearly none?

Could Israel have started the current conflict? Nah:

So read something.

And just in case you forgot: Fuck you.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Religious Moral/Ethical Decision Making

Remember discussing moral/ethical decision making? I tried to fit George's moral/ethical decision making process into my 3 step process:
  1. Assert the definitions of "good" and "bad".
  2. Have a methodology for deciding on how to act.
  3. The result(s) by definition are what is "right" and/or "wrong".
So, I asked if this was a fair fit of his beliefs:
  1. What is “good” and/or “bad” is declared to be what God say via the Bible; AND
  2. Given God is the ultimate authority doing what he says one ought to do, acting to bring about “good” as defined by him, and/or acting to reduce the “bad” as defined by him; AND
  3. Determines a “right” or “wrong” act.
( I have left in my poor grammar! Wink! )
He said yes.

Here are some important points in this for me:
  • The Bible is completely true.
  • The Bible is prescriptive, ie. it has rules one ought to follow.
  • God is the ultimate authority and therefore ought to be followed.
George pointed out (my interpretation and inference in a follow up discussion) that because God is good, perfect, and infinite in ability, that makes him the ultimate authority and makes sense to follow his rules. He also pointed out that God's rules are given in the Bible. Therefore, the Bible must be the word of God and also perfect.

Of course there is also one (other) vital point:
  • One ought to follow any/all of God's rules.
This implies that George -- if sufficiently convinced -- would follow any commandment given to him by God, even ones that would seem to me to be immoral/unethical. Of course, given he believes God is good, I think he believes that such a thing -- such as killing a baby -- would not really happen. But theoretically he would do so if commanded. This is unconfirmed and I have requested if this is so. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Required Read: Further

  • Disinformation, secrecy and lies: How the Gaza offensive came about
    Long-term preparation, careful gathering of information, secret discussions, operational deception and the misleading of the public - all these stood behind the Israel Defense Forces "Cast Lead" operation against Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip, which began Saturday morning.

    The disinformation effort, according to defense officials, took Hamas by surprise and served to significantly increase the number of its casualties in the strike.

    . . .

    The plan of action that was implemented in Operation Cast Lead remained only a blueprint until a month ago, when tensions soared after the IDF carried out an incursion into Gaza during the ceasefire to take out a tunnel which the army said was intended to facilitate an attack by Palestinian militants on IDF troops.

    On November 19, following dozens of Qassam rockets and mortar rounds which exploded on Israeli soil, the plan was brought for Barak's final approval. Last Thursday, on December 18, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and the defense minister met at IDF headquarters in central Tel Aviv to approve the operation.

  • Gaza: the logic of colonial power
    I have often been asked by policy analysts, policy-makers and those stuck with implementing those policies for my advice on what I think America should do to promote peace or win hearts and minds in the Muslim world. It too often feels futile, because such a revolution in American policy would be required that only a true revolution in the American government could bring about the needed changes. An American journal once asked me to contribute an essay to a discussion on whether terrorism or attacks against civilians could ever be justified. My answer was that an American journal should not be asking whether attacks on civilians can ever be justified. This is a question for the weak, for the Native Americans in the past, for the Jews in Nazi Germany, for the Palestinians today, to ask themselves.

    Terrorism is a normative term and not a descriptive concept. An empty word that means everything and nothing, it is used to describe what the Other does, not what we do. The powerful – whether Israel, America, Russia or China – will always describe their victims' struggle as terrorism, but the destruction of Chechnya, the ethnic cleansing of Palestine, the slow slaughter of the remaining Palestinians, the American occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan – with the tens of thousands of civilians it has killed … these will never earn the title of terrorism, though civilians were the target and terrorising them was the purpose.

    Counterinsurgency, now popular again among in the Pentagon, is another way of saying the suppression of national liberation struggles. Terror and intimidation are as essential to it as is winning hearts and minds.

    Normative rules are determined by power relations. Those with power determine what is legal and illegal. They besiege the weak in legal prohibitions to prevent the weak from resisting. For the weak to resist is illegal by definition. Concepts like terrorism are invented and used normatively as if a neutral court had produced them, instead of the oppressors. The danger in this excessive use of legality actually undermines legality, diminishing the credibility of international institutions such as the United Nations. It becomes apparent that the powerful, those who make the rules, insist on legality merely to preserve the power relations that serve them or to maintain their occupation and colonialism.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Required Reading

  • Glenn Greenwald
    • Obama's impressive new OLC chief
      I first read these posts of Johnsen's a few weeks ago when a reporter asked me about my reaction to the possibility that she might be appointed to head the OLC. Beyond these articles, I don't know all that much about her, but anyone who can write this, in this unapologetic, euphemism-free and even impolitic tone, warning that the problem isn't merely John Yoo but Bush himself, repeatedly demanding "outrage," criticizing the Democratic Congress for legalizing Bush's surveillance program, arguing that we cannot merely "move on" if we are to restore our national honor, stating the OLC's "core job description" is to "say 'no' to the President," all while emphasizing that the danger is unchecked power not just for the Bush administration but "for years and administrations to come" -- and to do so in the middle of an election year when she knows she has a good chance to be appointed to a high-level position if the Democratic candidate won and yet nonetheless eschewed standard, obfuscating Beltway politesse about these matters -- is someone whose appointment to such an important post is almost certainly a positive sign. No praise is due Obama until he actually does things that merit praise, but it's hard not to consider this encouraging.
    • Orwell, blinding tribalism, selective Terrorism, and Israel/Gaza
      So many of these conflicts -- one might say almost all of them -- end up shaped by the same virtually universal deficiency: excessive tribalistic identification (i.e.: the group with which I was trained to identify is right and good and just and my group's enemy is bad and wrong and violent), which causes people to view the world only from the perspective of their side, to believe that X is good when they do it and evil when it's done to them. X can be torture, or the killing of civilians in order to "send a message" (i.e., Terrorism), or invading and occupying other people's land, or using massive lethal force against defenseless populations, or seeing one's own side as composed of real humans and the other side as sub-human, evil barbarians.
  • Via A Tiny Revolution -- Tom Engelhardt: The Ponzi Scheme Presidency
    With Bush's "commander-in-chief" presidency only days from its end, the price tag on his "war" continues to soar as dollars grow scarce, new investors refuse to pay in, and the scheme crumbles. Unfortunately, the American people, typical suckers in such a con game, will be left with a mile-high stack of IOU's. In any Ponzi scheme comparison with Madoff, however, one difference (other than size) stands out. Sooner or later, Madoff, like Charles Ponzi himself, will end up behind bars, while George, Dick, & Co. will be writing their memoirs and living off the fat of the land.
  • Arthur Silber: Witness the Lightbringer, the Harbinger of Hope and Change, the Man of Peace, and His Wondrous and Mighty Works
    As my title notes, in many contexts -- and indisputably in this one -- silence means consent. But Obama has repeatedly told us that he not only consents: he actively supports this policy -- not only with regard to Israel, but in Iraq, and in connection with the American ruling class's determination to maintain, consolidate and expand its global hegemonic role. Also see here and here, and many other articles linked therein. If anyone is surprised by any of this, he has only himself to blame. On many occasions, Obama told you precisely what he believed and what he would and would not do -- and many people, out of a stupidly misguided "hope" or, much more contemptibly, out of a desire to acquire power for "their" gang of criminals, chose not to believe Obama's own words (or to disregard them). They appear not to realize the nature of the insult they thus leveled at the impliedly loathsome vessel which they selected as the repository of their feeble, unfounded hopes: if you didn't believe what he said and preferred to believe he actually meant something else -- that something else being what you contend you believe -- that can only mean you thought he was a liar, which indeed he is. And yet many people still voted for him, even after concluding Obama was a calculating manipulator of the first order, one who was primarily interested in acquiring power and nothing else at all. (I discussed one example of this self-delusion in the concluding section of this article.)
    This is the article that Arthur riffs from.