News+and+politics religion philosophy the cynic librarian: September 2005

Friday, September 30, 2005

Right/Left illusions

There is an unjust apportionment of rights and goods in the US. How do we deal with this inherent injustice in a country that prides itself on fairness and doing the right thing? What I think the Right does not realize is the Capitalism is not inherently democratic, but that it increases injustice and non-democratic modalities within a body politic.

I do not believe in any Leftist conspiracy to take over the world, if that's what you are saying. I think this might have existed in the past under the Soviet Comintern, but that has disappeared in the swamps of history. Communism was an abortion, and I despise its "accomplishments" in the soviet Union and other countries where it perpetrated its crimes. The left is so fragmented on an operational level that is simply makes no sense to speak of any leftist agenda per se.

I do believe that there are serious injustices afoot in the world--the face of this injustice is capitalistic. Often its ideological support network is a reified Xtian narrative of feel-good, rugged individualism. If opposition to this injustice characterizes me as a "leftist" be it so. Yet, I would reject the label simply because it means very little to me and, I believe, means even less to the prototypical leftist whomever he/she might be.

Following Aristotle's definition of justice, this does involve the fair apportionment of goods and resources within a community. For Aristotle, of course, this meant that the Aristocrat--the man of virtue as he defined--desrved more because that was "fair" within the aristocratic way of looking at the world. In the mdoern world, such an idea aeems unjustly unfair. There is, perhaps, the notion that all have an equal right to a fair share of the goods and resources. As you note blow, however, this might revolve around such things as "hard work," etc.

This assumes of course that those who get less are somehow working less hard than others. It also assumes that all have equal access to such things as education and equal employment opportunities. I don't know that Bill Gates, for example, is any smarter or works any harder than the avergae white-collar worker. He may have had access to situations that the rest of us did not: he came from an upper-class family, he was lucky in certain situations where others were less lucky, etc.

These are exactly the points that must be discussed. Depending on how you answer this question or believe the questions can be addressed, then that will in some way determine how you characterize yourself in political terms.

The simple assertions of the revolutions in America and europe was that all men are created equal. On some level, this means that all men should have equal access to the bounty and good that any one society provides. Yet, as noted here by Spengler, not everyone _is_ created equal. Each has/her own talents, destinies, capabilities (physical and psychological), etc.

Those who tend to fall on the left side of the political specturm think the inequalities should be addressed by governmental processes that equalize the inequities; those on the right think it is a matter of "individual" effort that proves whether someone can pass the tests that show they have given their fair share towards the social goals.

I humbly submit, however, that capitalism itself brings with it an unfair advantage built into it (something even its greatest theoretician, Adam Smith, did not realize). It does not provide for the general welfare in any way, but only rewards those who can accumulate capital by whatever means.

These means, under the capitalistic ideology, do not need to abide by any meaningful parameters of social or individual virtue. Indeed, as any fair-minded survey of capitalism would show, it is the most aggressive, immoral, and mercenary who succeed, leaving others who cannot win in this zero-sum game either bleeding by the roadside or simply left to lick their wounds. Those who are even less blessed by nature with the psycho-physical armature required to succeed in this system of things fare even worse--they are simply left to rot away in poverty, self-contempt, and marginalization.

As far as theodicy is concerned: I submit that that is the role of Xtianity within capitalist countries. It attempts to explain the inequities by preaching pie in the sky heaven treasures and talking about acquiescence in suffering rather than "giving to God what's God's and to Caesar what's his." Modern evangelical Xtianity, sepcially in the forms espoused by the twin toads Robertson and Falwell, perform exactly this function in capitalist America.

I have argued for the last 10 years that there are not two parties in the US; there's simply one party with two--sometimes nuanced, sometimes not--arrangements of the same song. One is faster and a bit more hip, the other is more nostalgic and a bit less hip. Now which one is which? They are two sides of the same coin.

Your basic "insider" Democrat is usually rich with a liberal angst about that old money that has gotten them where they are. They go to the same schools, have the same netowrk of friends/non-firends, and probably even go to the same social clubs. The liberal insiders patronize the great unwashed masses with ingratiating solicitude; the conservatives say, "take your medicine" and shut up. Yet they both ultimately speak for insiders and work for insiders and simply make sure that the great unwashed masses do not get any funny ideas.

There is the notion that the modern spiritual malaise can be solved by invention or technological innovation. This is what I call the technological superstition. It revolves around the idea that you can invent or discover your way out of the problems. But I argue that the "problem" is a spiritual crisis and the idea that a spiritual crisis can be resolved by materialistically oritented notions such as invenstion or taionalistic processes is a category error. It commits the error of seeing spiritual issues in terms of quantitative issues.

I find it funny that the modern Xtian phenomenon of evangelicalism has indeed caught onto this capitalist angle of things. That is, it has commericalized Xtianity into a marketable product. Instead of filling the spiritual vaccuum now, a Xtian simply believes that they will reject secular chulture by "buying Xtian." Go into any Xtian bookstore--the amounts of consumer products is astounding--nauseating if you look at it from a certain perspective.

My question is: how many gew-gaws and refrigerators and anitseptic soaps can you make to fill that spiritual crisis that afflicts so many people who find themselves foundering and looking for some meaning to life beyond this ersatz world of finitized eternity? Capitalism has become so powerful that it has transformed the very basis of human nature and attempts to feed these basic needs with a plethora of products and life-style options that deflect the normal search of people for a lasting meaning to life.

Capitalism works under some very basic assumptions about human nature: that self-interest will generate a manageable modicum of justice and equality; that meeting the basic animal needs of the human will satiate the search for any other values; and that all realms of human reality are quanitifable and ultimately consumable/packageable. Whether or not these assumptions are correct forms the fault lines along which various socio-political solutions fall. Read more!

Opiate of the Comfortable

This author, an atheist, argues that although the belief in an eternal entity may not be conceivable, the many comfortable things that atheists and agnostics take for granted are just as questionable. Reason itself cannot provide ultimate certainty about the things of the world. While some may reject God, they believe in market forces. While they reject prophecy, they belive in the power of economists to predict markets and economic performance.

Certainly, religion cannot provide the kind of security and certainty that it seems we all seek our values and truths. Yet, Reason itself cannot reasonably provide these either. The question then becomes, how do we live in a world incertainty and with the insecurity of human reason to provide those lasting answers that will provide meaning and assurance in the face of suffering, spiritual alienation, and social injustices?
By Nassim Taleb

NASSIM NICHOLAS TALEB, an essayist and mathematical trader, is the author of Fooled By Randomness.


[NASSIM TALEB:] As a practitioner of science, I am opposed to teaching religious ideas in schools. But, it seems to me somewhat misplaced energy — more of a fight for principles than for any bottom line. As an empirical skeptic, I would like to introduce a dimension to the debates: relevance, consequence, and our ability to correct a situation — in other words the impact on our daily lives.

My portrait of the perfect fool of randomness is as follows: he does not believe in religion, providing entirely rational reasons for such disbelief. He opposes scientific method to superstition and blind faith. But alas, human skepticism appears to be quite domain-specific and relegated to the classroom. Somehow the skepticism of my fool undergoes a severe atrophy outside of these intellectual debates:

1) He believes in the stock market because he is told to do so. — automatically allocating a portion of his retirement money. And he does not realize that the manager of his mutual fund does not fare better than chance — actually a bit worse, after the (generous) fees. Nor does he realize that markets are far more random and far riskier that he is being made to believe by the high priests of the brokerage industry.

He disbelieves the bishops (on grounds of scientific method), but replaces him with the security analyst. He listens to the projections by security analysts and "experts"— not checking their past accuracy and track record. Had he checked them he would have discovered that these are no better than random — often worse.

2) He believes in the government's ability to "forecast" economic variables, oil prices, GNP growth, or inflation. Economics provide very complicated equations — but our historical track record in predicting is pitiful. It does not take long to verify these claims; simple empiricism would suffice. Yet we have confident forecasts of social security deficits by both sides (democrats and republicans) twenty and thirty years ahead! This Scandal of Prediction (which I capitalize) is far more severe than religion, simply because it determines policy making. Last time I checked no religious figure was consulted for long-term business and economic projections.

3) He believes in the "skills" of the chairmen of large corporations and pays them huge bonuses for their "performance". He forgets that theirs are the least observable contributions. This skills attribution is flimsy at best — there is no account of the possible role of luck in his success.

4) His scientific integrity makes him reject religion but he believes the economist because "economic science" has the word "science" in it.

5) He believes in the news media providing an accurate representation of the risks in the world. They don't. By what I call the narrative fallacy, the media distorts our mental map of the world by feeding us what can be made into a story that can be squeezed into our minds. For instance (preventable) cancer, not terrorism remains the greatest danger. The number of persons killed by hurricanes, while consequential, is dwarfed by that of the thousands of isolated daily victims dying in hospital beds. These are not story-worthy, implying; the absence of attention on the part of the press maps into disproportionately reduced resources allocated to their welfare. The difference between actual, actuarially defined risks and the perception of dangers is enormous — and, sadly, growing with the globalization and the media, and our increased vulnerability to visual stimuli.

. . . . . . . . . . . .

It is high time to worry about the opiates of the middle class.

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World Religious Violence

For an overview of religious violence in the world, see the following. It shows, I think, that violence occurs within and among not Islam vs. other religions but also Xtian, Jewish, Buddhist, and Hindu violence. This fact of life is improtant to remember in the current environment where only a single area of conflict is focused on: the conflict between Islam and Judaim/Xtianity.

Religious Violence Around the World

Extreme, radical Fundamentalist Muslim terrorist groups & non-Muslims Osama bin Laden heads a terrorist group called Al Quada (The Source) whose headquarters were in Afghanistan. They were protected by, and integrated with, the Taliban dictatorship in the country. Al Quada is generally regarded as having committed many terrorist attacks on U.S. ships, embassies, and buildings. The Northern Alliance of rebel Afghans, Britain and the U.S. attacked the Taliban and Al Quada, establishing a new regime in the country.

Serbian Orthodox Christians, Roman Catholic), Muslims
Fragile peace is holding, due only to the presence of peacekeepers.

Côte d'Ivoire
Muslims, Indigenous, Christian
Following the elections in late 2000, government security forces "began targeting civilians solely and explicitly on the basis of their religion, ethnic group, or national origin. The overwhelming majority of victims come from the largely Muslim north of the country, or are immigrants or the descendants of immigrants..." A military uprising continued the slaughter in 2002.

Christians & Muslims
The island is partitioned, creating enclaves for ethnic Greeks (Christians) and Turks (Muslims). A UN peace keeping force is maintaining stability.

East Timor
Christians & Muslims
A Roman Catholic country. About 20% of the population died by murder, starvation or disease after they were forcibly annexed by Indonesia (mainly Muslim). After voting for independence, many Christians were exterminated or exiled by the Indonesian army and army-funded militias in a carefully planned program of genocide and religious cleansing. The situation is now stable.

Animists, Hindus, Muslims & Sikhs
Various conflicts that heat up periodically. In late 2002-FEB, a Muslim-Hindu conflict broke out, killing an average of 100 people a day over the first five days.

Indonesia, province of Ambon
Christians & Muslims
After centuries of relative peace, conflicts between Christians and Muslims started during 1999-JUL in this province of Indonesia. The situation now appears to be stable.

Indonesia, province of Halmahera
Christians & Muslims
30 people killed. 2,000 Christians driven out; homes and churches destroyed.

Hindus & Muslims
A chronically unstable region of the world, claimed by both Pakistan and India. The availability of nuclear weapons and the eagerness to use them are destabilizing the region further. More details Thirty to sixty thousand people have died since 1989.

Serbian Orthodox Christians & Muslims
Peace enforced by NATO peacekeepers. There is convincing evidence of past mass murder by Yugoslavian government (mainly Serbian Orthodox Christians) against ethnic Albanians (mostly Muslim)

Christians, Muslims
Assaults on Christians (Protestant, Chaldean Catholic, & Assyrian Orthodox). Bombing campaign underway.

Macedonian Orthodox Christians & Muslims
Muslims (often referred to as ethnic Albanians) engaged in a civil war with the rest of the country who are primarily Macedonian Orthodox Christians. A peace treaty has been signed. Disarmament by NATO is complete.

Middle East
Jews, Muslims, & Christians
The peace process between Israel and Palestine suffered a complete breakdown. This has resulted in the deaths of thousands, in the ratio of three dead for each Jew. Major strife broke out in 2000-SEP and is continuing.

Nigeria Christians, Animists, & Muslims
Yourubas and Christians in the south of the country are battling Muslims in the north. Country is struggling towards democracy after decades of Muslim military dictatorships.

orthern Ireland Protestants, Catholics
After 3,600 killings and assassinations over 30 years, some progress has been made in the form of a ceasefire and an independent status for the country.

Suni & Shi'ite Muslims
Low level mutual attacks.

Christians & Muslims
Low level, centuries old conflict between the mainly Christian central government and Muslims in the south of the country.

Russia, Chechnya
Russian Orthodox Christians, Muslims
The Russian army attacked the breakaway region. Many atrocities have been alleged on both sides. According to the Voice of the Martyrs: "In January 2002 Chechen rebels included all Christians on their list of official enemies, vowing to 'blow up every church and mission-related facility in Russia'."

South Africa
Animists & "Witches" Hundreds of persons, suspected and accused of witches practising black magic, are murdered each year.

Sri Lanka
Buddhists & Hindus
Tamils (a mainly Hindu 18% minority) are involved in a war for independence since 1983 with the rest of the country (70% Buddhist). An estimated 65,000 have been killed. The conflict took a sudden change for the better in 2002-SEP, when the Tamils dropped their demand for complete independence. The South Asian Tsunami in 2004-DEC induced some cooperation.

Animists, Christians & Muslims
Complex ethnic, racial, religious conflict which victimizes both Animists and Christians in the South of the country. Slavery and near slavery practiced. There are allegations of genocide.

Buddhists & Communists
Country was annexed by Chinese Communists in late 1950's. Brutal suppression of Buddhism continues.

Animists, Christians, & Muslims
Christian rebels of the Lord's Resistance Army are conducting a civil war in the north of Uganda. Their goal is a Christian theocracy whose laws are based on the Ten Commandments. They abduct about 2,000 children a year who are enslaved and/or raped.

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Thursday, September 29, 2005

Is There Hope for the "Left"?

Now here is a leftist thinker whom I find interesting (but am agnostic about), who obviosuly finds Lenin's programme as relevant today for "the Left" as it was when he was devising the Russian Revolution. Zizek contraposes, however, Lenin's [Kierkegaardian!] "madness" with Stalin's "common sense."
Seize the day: Lenin's legacy
Slavoj Zizek.
London Review of Books, Vol. 24 No. 14, 25 July 2002.
Tuesday July 23, 2002

The left is undergoing a shattering experience: the progressive movement is being compelled to reinvent its whole project. What tends to be forgotten, however, is that a similar experience gave birth to Leninism. Consider Lenin's shock when, in the autumn of 1914, every European social democratic party except the Serbs' followed the 'patriotic line'. How difficult it must have been, at a time when military conflict had cut the European continent in half, not to take sides. Think how many supposedly independent-minded intellectuals, Freud included, succumbed, if only briefly, to the nationalist temptation.

In 1914, an entire world disappeared, taking with it not only the bourgeois faith in progress, but the socialist movement that accompanied it. Lenin (the Lenin of What Is to Be Done?) felt the ground fall away from beneath his feet — there was, in his desperate reaction, no sense of satisfaction, no desire to say "I told you so." At the same time, the catastrophe made possible the key Leninist Event: the overcoming of the evolutionary historicism of the Second International. The kernel of the Leninist 'utopia' — the radical imperative to smash the bourgeois state and invent a new communal social form without a standing army, police force or bureaucracy, in which all could take part in the administration of social matters — arises directly from the ashes of 1914. It wasn't a theoretical project for some distant future: in October 1917, Lenin claimed that "we can at once set in motion a state apparatus consisting of 10 if not 20 million people." What we should recognise is the 'madness' (in the Kierkegaardian sense) of this utopia — in this context, Stalinism stands for a return to 'common sense'. The explosive potential of The State and Revolution can't be overestimated: in its pages, as Neil Harding wrote in Leninism (1996), "the vocabulary and grammar of the Western tradition of politics was abruptly dispensed with." ...

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Where are the Democrats?

What about those craven Democrats? While over 100,000 people protested the war last weekend outside the White House, there was nary a Democratic leader to be found or seen. According to some news reports, many had left town the day before.

Of course, we all know that John Kerry ran on a platform of keeping the troops in Iraq, and Hilary Clinton has come out in support of the war--so it should not be surprising that many Demos decided that it was best to shy away from any overt testament to their real or true beliefs. Instead, they'll wait in the shadows until the dust falls and then weasel out into the open and declare themselves for whatever side wins.

No doubt if the troops do pull out, the Dems will say they were responsible fot it.
Taking on Pelosi

THE ANTIWAR MOVEMENT , buoyed by Cindy Sheehan and polls showing a majority of Americans question or outright oppose the occupation of Iraq, jumped back into the news this weekend with a series of major rallies that drew hundreds of thousands of people. In San Francisco some 50,000 marched from Dolores Park to Jefferson Square in a loud and festive event.

But the local leadership of the Democratic Party – starting with House minority leader Nancy Pelosi and Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein – were visibly absent, missing in action and ducking an opportunity not only to attack the Bush administration but to put the party on the side of what is now the mainstream of public opinion.

In fact, the only elected Democrat who spoke was Assembly member Mark Leno. And the only San Francisco elected official on the stage was Sup. Ross Mirkarimi. "I was astonished," Mirkarimi told us later. "Where were all the electeds?" . . . . . . . .

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[Tom] Lay de Dominos

Sorry for the polysemic title to this post but it fits the gyrations through which this story will go before it meets its rather sordid end.

With House Majority leader Tom Delay's indictment on corruption charges, are we beginning to see the falling dominos of one of the most corrupt, deceitful, lying political administrations in America?

First de Lay for corruption, then either Rove or a patsy in the President's inner sanctum indicted over the Plame affair, then Cheney for links to corrupt Halliburton contracts, and finally Bush himself for lies to Congress over the "War on Terror."

Bush's approval ratings are plummeting below 40 percent--by the time he leaves office, and once the corruption becomes widely known, I anticipate his approval rating to be in the teens.

Against those who argue that this is politically motivated by a fanatical, Democratic Texas District Attorney, remember that he has indicted only 4 Reps while indicting 14 Dems. Sounds fair-handed to me.

Also note: To bring the indictment, the DA needed an insider to finger DeLay, otherwise the charge could never have been made. That he did bring the chrages probably means that he has someone who put DeLay in a place/time and related circumstances.

Delay's troubles may only be starting, however. According to this report, he is under investigation in another case involving "super-lobbyist" Jack Abramoff and millions of dollars.

On the other hand, maybe it will serve the Democratic Party if Delay does not go quietly into that good night. As this article shows, Delay's political extermination tactics fill the bill for Democrats to portray the Reps as the sleazy, money-grubbing, suck-up-to-the-rich party they are.

Also note: Even Bush dislikes the [ex]Terminator. Note his comments on Delay's attempt to help the rich "on the backs of the poor."

Stay tuned for further developments...

DeLay Indictment May Be Overshadowed by Looming Abramoff Probe

Sept. 29 (Bloomberg) -- Representative Tom DeLay, the highest-ranking U.S. House leader ever to face criminal charges, called his indictment yesterday ``one of the weakest, most baseless'' in American history. Even if he's right, bigger legal battles may lie ahead.

The larger legal challenge for DeLay may center on a task force led by the U.S. Justice Department that's investigating Jack Abramoff, the indicted lobbyist who boasted of his relationship with DeLay.

Even as DeLay faces the charge in Texas state court in connection with corporate donations that allegedly were used to help fund the Republican takeover of the state legislature in 2002, ``he is inevitably also going to be under investigation by federal prosecutors'' in the Abramoff matter, said Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics, a Washington watchdog group that has criticized DeLay. ......

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Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Rumblings in the Ranks 5

Captain Ian Fishback is currently in the military. He sent the following letter to Senator John McCain to voice his concerns about the War on Terror, American notions of justice, and torture. The letter was published in the Washington Post today.
A Matter of Honor
Wednesday, September 28, 2005; A21

The following letter was sent to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) on Sept. 16:

Dear Senator McCain:

I am a graduate of West Point currently serving as a Captain in the U.S. Army Infantry. I have served two combat tours with the 82nd Airborne Division, one each in Afghanistan and Iraq. While I served in the Global War on Terror, the actions and statements of my leadership led me to believe that United States policy did not require application of the Geneva Conventions in Afghanistan or Iraq. On 7 May 2004, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld's testimony that the United States followed the Geneva Conventions in Iraq and the "spirit" of the Geneva Conventions in Afghanistan prompted me to begin an approach for clarification. For 17 months, I tried to determine what specific standards governed the treatment of detainees by consulting my chain of command through battalion commander, multiple JAG lawyers, multiple Democrat and Republican Congressmen and their aides, the Ft. Bragg Inspector General's office, multiple government reports, the Secretary of the Army and multiple general officers, a professional interrogator at Guantanamo Bay, the deputy head of the department at West Point responsible for teaching Just War Theory and Law of Land Warfare, and numerous peers who I regard as honorable and intelligent men.

Instead of resolving my concerns, the approach for clarification process leaves me deeply troubled. Despite my efforts, I have been unable to get clear, consistent answers from my leadership about what constitutes lawful and humane treatment of detainees. I am certain that this confusion contributed to a wide range of abuses including death threats, beatings, broken bones, murder, exposure to elements, extreme forced physical exertion, hostage-taking, stripping, sleep deprivation and degrading treatment. I and troops under my command witnessed some of these abuses in both Afghanistan and Iraq.

This is a tragedy. I can remember, as a cadet at West Point, resolving to ensure that my men would never commit a dishonorable act; that I would protect them from that type of burden. It absolutely breaks my heart that I have failed some of them in this regard.


... Some argue that since our actions are not as horrifying as Al Qaeda's, we should not be concerned. When did Al Qaeda become any type of standard by which we measure the morality of the United States? We are America, and our actions should be held to a higher standard, the ideals expressed in documents such as the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

Others argue that clear standards will limit the President's ability to wage the War on Terror. Since clear standards only limit interrogation techniques, it is reasonable for me to assume that supporters of this argument desire to use coercion to acquire information from detainees. This is morally inconsistent with the Constitution and justice in war. It is unacceptable.

Both of these arguments stem from the larger question, the most important question that this generation will answer. Do we sacrifice our ideals in order to preserve security? Terrorism inspires fear and suppresses ideals like freedom and individual rights. Overcoming the fear posed by terrorist threats is a tremendous test of our courage. Will we confront danger and adversity in order to preserve our ideals, or will our courage and commitment to individual rights wither at the prospect of sacrifice? My response is simple. If we abandon our ideals in the face of adversity and aggression, then those ideals were never really in our possession. I would rather die fighting than give up even the smallest part of the idea that is "America."

Once again, I strongly urge you to do justice to your men and women in uniform. Give them clear standards of conduct that reflect the ideals they risk their lives for.

With the Utmost Respect,

-- Capt. Ian Fishback

1st Battalion,
504th Parachute Infantry Regiment,
82nd Airborne Division,
Fort Bragg, North Carolina Read more!

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Takfir Rescinded by Islamic Clerics

The Islamic concept of takfir has been used for centuries by some Moslem clerics to condemn as apostates those who are not Moslems or who preach an interpretation of Islam different from the Sunni understanding. Recently, two major representatives rescinded the concept of takfir and called for establing a pluralistic dialog between Islamic "denominations," as well as between Islam and other religions. The following link provides some background on this startling development, something not covered by the western news media.

According to Stephen Schwartz, this means

"Takfir has always been a principle of Saudi rule and Wahhabi preaching. If, as some Saudi subjects think, Abdullah is inclined to end the practice, the formal authority of the religious radicals will be instantly abolished. A movement against takfir has taken hold elsewhere in Sunni Islam, in which many clerics now appear deeply repelled by the horrific events in Iraq. In July, an international Islamic conference in Jordan produced a statement opposing the Sunni use of takfir against Shias, a practice enunciated time and again in the bloodthirsty manifestos of Abu Musab al Zarqawi, as well as condemning takfir against Sufis. The Amman declaration called for the restoration of pluralistic debate in Islam, banned in Mecca and Medina by the Wahhabis, and for the affirmation of liberty as a principle."

The statement issued by representatives from Sunni and Shia Islam reads as follows:

"In accordance with the fatwas issued by the honourable and respectable Grand Imam Sheikh Al Azhar.

The Grand Ayatollah Al Sayyid Ali Al Sistani, the honourable and respectable grand mufti of Egypt, the honourable and respectable Shiite clerics (both Jaafari and Zaydi), the honourable and respectable grand mufti of the Sultanate of Oman.

The Islamic Fiqh Academy in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the grand council for Religious Affairs of Turkey.

The honourable and respectable grand mufti of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and the respectable members of its National Fatwa Committee, and the honourable and respectable Sheikh Dr Yusuf Al Qaradawi;

And in accordance with what was mentioned in the speech of His Majesty King Abdullah during the opening session of our conference;

And in accordance with our own knowledge in sincerity to Allah the Bounteous;

And in accordance with what was presented in this our conference by way of research papers and studies, and by way of the discussions that transpired in it;

We, the undersigned, hereby express our approval and affirmation of what appears below:

1) Whosoever is an adherent of one of the four Sunni schools of jurisprudence (Hanafite, Malikite, Shafite and Hanbalite), the Jaafari (Shiite) school of jurisprudence, the Zaydi school of jurisprudence, the Ibadi school of jurisprudence.

Or the Thahiri school of jurisprudence is a Muslim. Declaring that person an apostate is impossible.

Verily his (or her) blood, honour and property are sacrosanct. Moreover, in accordance with what appeared in the fatwa of the honourable and respectable Sheikh Al Azhar.

It is not possible to declare whosoever subscribes to the Ashaari creed or whoever practices true Sufism an apostate.

Likewise, it is not possible to declare whosoever subscribes to true Salafi thought an apostate. Equally, it is not possible to declare as apostates any group of Muslims who believes in Allah the Mighty and Sublime and His Messenger (may Peace and Blessings be upon him) and the pillars of faith, and respects the pillars of Islam and does not deny any necessary article of religion.

2) There exists more in common between the various schools of jurisprudence than there is difference.

The adherents to the eight schools of jurisprudence are in agreement as regards the basic Islamic principles.

All believe in Allah the Mighty and Sublime, the One and the Unique; that the Noble Koran is the Revealed Word of Allah; and that our master Mohammad, may Blessings and Peace be upon him, is a Prophet and Messenger unto all mankind.

All are in agreement about the five pillars of Islam: The two testaments of faith (shahadatayn), the ritual prayer (salat), almsgiving (zakat), fasting the month of Ramadan (sawm), and the Hajj to the Sacred House of Allah." Read more!

Israelis in northern Iraq (Kurdish Area)

The following article by Tariq Ali provides the best analysis of the Iraq situation I have seen in some time.

Ali is a formidable critic of western ideology in the Mideast. Among other remarks, Ali notes that the proposed Iraqi constitution calls for slicing Iraq into three parts, something everyone has known for some time.

What is new is Ali's contention that northern Iraq, soon to be known as Kurdistan, will be a US-Israeli protectorate. This latter point is a significant development. To have Israeli army types in this area would be like throwing gas on fire. Right across the border from Iran, I cannot imagine that country standing this situation for long. In strategic terms, I question the wisdom of this policy, because I question the reasons for allowing Israel into this area.

I do believe that it is the Kurds themselves who want Israeli business in the area, and I believe that this is the reason why they are there now. Yet, were such a presence to grow, I can imagine some very dire consequences. At this time, it is not conducive to peace in the region.

Any perceived expansion of Israeli influence in the region will certainly be perceived by many Arab countries as aggressive in intention. A US-Israel protectorate would simply confirm the extremist Jihadis' contentions--that is, that America and Israel are bent on establishing a Christian-Zionist government in the region.

For a unique interpretation of these facts, see Lenin's Tomb. Here the author notes that Israel has had an influence in the area for some time. One of the more surprising remarks is this author's contention that Israeli leaders had identified Sunni and Shia leaders for assassination by Kurdish operatives. If this were to be true, it would confirm the idea that Israel is not simply a victim or benign agent in the area. Instead, in the pursuit of its own interests it foments unrest and chaos in the area. This instability in the region serves its purpose because it provides an image that 1) it is under continual threat from Arab nations 2) that US oil interests in the area are threatened and 3) that Israel is the only democratic state.

On the other hand, besides keeping an eye on Iran and destabilizing the region for its own self-interests, perhaps the Israeli presence in Kurdistan also concerns maintaining a needed flow of oil into its reservoirs:

"...Will the Kurds be allowed control of all the northern oil fields, and the opening of a long-discussed pipeline from Mosul & Kirkuk to Haifa, Israel?

Israel's recent steps towards more compromise and progress on a Palestinian settlement are being used to bolster the arguments for an independent Kurdish region:

Palestinian betrayal of the Kurds, by Alan Derschowitz

However, if Sy Hersh is right, then why does Israel deny the fact that there are Israeli agents in Kurdistan? The answer, of course, is that the intelligence services would never affirm this, even if it were true. Why?

"When asked about the report, a spokesman in the Prime Minister´s Office did not deny the report.

"I have no idea about the report," he said. "I also don´t know if it is true or not. We´ve read the report and no one [in the Prime Minister´s Office] is responding to it."

An Israeli intelligence source, however, scoffed at Hersh´s report, saying that infiltrating "hundreds" of agents into Iraq is both ludicrous and pointless.

He said Israel makes use of satellite imagery to monitor Iran´s nuclear development, and only a high-level plant could provide relevant information on Iranian nuclear plants.

While human intelligence is necessary, such a large-scale operation would be bound to fail, if only for the ease with which it could be detected, he added."

The logic of colonial rule
by Tariq Ali
Friday September 23, 2005
The Guardian

There is now near-universal agreement that the western occupation of Iraq has turned out to be an unmitigated disaster; first for the people of Iraq, second for the soldiers sent by scoundrel politicians to die in a foreign land. The grammar of deceit utilised by Bush, Blair and sundry neocon/neolib apologists to justify the war has lost all credibility. Despite the embedded journalists and non-stop propaganda, the bloody images refuse to go away: the immediate withdrawal of all foreign troops is the only meaningful solution. Real history moves deep within the memory of a people, but is always an obstacle to imperial fantasists: the sight of John Reid and the Iraqi prime minister brought back memories of Anthony Eden and Nuri Said in Downing Street just before the 1958 revolution that removed the British from Iraq.

The argument that withdrawal will lead to civil war is slightly absurd, since the occupation has already accelerated and exacerbated ethnic and religious tensions in Iraq. Divide and rule is the deadly logic of colonial rule - and signs that the US is planning an exit strategy coupled with a long-term presence is evident in the new Iraqi constitution, pushed through by US proconsul Zalmay Khalilzad. This document is a defacto division of Iraq into Kurdistan (a US-Israeli protectorate) [my emphasis], Southern Iraq (dominated by Iran) and the Sunni badlands (policed by semi-reliable ex-Baathists under state department and Foreign Office tutelage). What is this if not an invitation to civil war? The occupation has also created a geopolitical mess. Recent events in Basra are linked to a western fear of Iranian domination. Having encouraged Moqtada al-Sadr's militias to resist the slavishly pro-Iranian faction, why are the British surprised when they demand real independence?

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Monday, September 26, 2005

What does American politics breed abroad?

The current standards of living in the west are built on the backs of billions of the poor, many of whom go hungry every day. The average yearly income of workers in the US has stagnated, Even under Clinton--when unemployment decreased and wages rose--the annual income was still 10 percent less than under Reagan.

The suffering I am talking about occurs in those countries which are raped by American neoliberal policies. It is without a doubt true that fat-assed American live off the emaciated and dying bodies of the young in poor countries.

The planet does not have enough resources to support the existence of current rates of consumption by the US, western Europe and Japan. How many more fat-assed Americans can the poor old globe support?

Some will say that American Yankee ingenuity will solve these problems. But you can't build and innovate when there's nothing to build or innovate with. There are numerous empires that have collapsed due to their rapacious exploitation of the natural world.

I wonder whether you have heard the story of the assistant soccer coach, Jim Keady, from St. John's University. He criticized the use of Nike emlblems on the shirts of SJ's soccer players because of the suffering caused by Nike business practices abroad. He was asked to leave the coaching staff. Instead of hiding away and licking his wounds, he decided to move to Jakarta and take up one of those jobs that you so glorify. He lived on the wage paid and lived as those who work in these places do. In a month's time he beagn to suffer from lack of food, as well as other health problems (with no healthcare provided!). He later came back and published his work.

I do not have to go far to find sweatshop conditions. They are alive and well even in the great US of A. I remember visiting a manufacturing plant in southern NM and wondering whether I was still in America. They even had the "guard tower" in the plant which used to observe the workers to make sure they were doing their jobs. The lead engineer spoke proudly of having not used the tower for several years. He said this as we stood amid towering barrels of deadly chemicals and as forklifts careened quickly through very tight passages in between workers and these chemicals.

Just to finish up, I quote from an interview with Robert Pollin recently published on the web:

"[W]hen neoliberal policies were implemented in India, small farmers in India were made substantially worse off on average. They lost trade protection, access to cheap credit and fertilizer, and technical support from agrarian extension services. They correspondingly felt increasing pressure to produce cash crops for exports rather than stable crops that would, at all costs, keep themselves and their families afloat. They were set up to fail, especially when the global prices of their cash crops, such as cotton, declined. When they did fail, lots of them felt desperate enough to commit suicide. It's a terrible tragedy."

. . . . . . . . . . . .
"India , and especially China, have indeed grown rapidly over the 1980s-1990s, what I termed the neoliberal era. But this cannot be seen as an endorsement of neoliberalism. This is true in the most obvious sense since, as I emphasize in the book, that China has not followed neoliberalism at all. They may do so in the future, but, to date, they remain a highly state-controlled economy, while at the same time allowing private investment to flourish alongside the strong state. This economic policy framework is made clear in another outstanding recent U Mass economics Ph.D., by Minqi Li. Obviously there are some useful lessons there for developing countries that want to grow, even while recognizing the brutality of the Chinese regime on many fronts, including conditions for workers.

The story in India is somewhat more ambiguous, but one thing that is clear is that the growth in India began in the 1980s, before the neoliberal policy interventions were implemented. As for Kerala, this is a case not of neoliberal interventions but quite the opposite. They have low infant mortality rates because they have an extensive and effective welfare state that provides for people's basic needs. The region of Bengal has also been controlled by the Communists for a generation now.

Taking the developing world as a whole, the story about the effects of neoliberalism are inescapable. It is [sic!] [has] led to declining average growth, increased poverty and inequality, unambiguously so if you leave China out of the calculation. Lots of honest researchers at the World Bank do not dispute these trends."

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Shattering the Monolithic Islam Myth

The following article presents the most realisitic proposal I have yet seen concerning how to form foreign policy regarding Islam in the Mideaast and around the world. It is historically accurate and identifies one fact that few pundits and backers of the current administration simply do not know or downplay: there's a deep and rancorous divide between Sunnism and Shiism.

I would argue even further and note the many differences within Sunnism itself. But this article at least goes some way in recognizing that the US can and should identify these splits within Islam and play them to its advantage. Obviously, what foreign policy's goals will be are still not clear: is it hegemony in the region? assuring oil reserves? promoting aform of self-government that accords with local historical and cultural forces? These have yet to be defined. Yet, as the proposal put forth in this article is at least a start on how to achieve whatever goals do arise.

Again, I don't support everything in the article. I do support the simple historical recognition that there are major and irreconcilable differences within Islam, contrary to the regular cant on this forum that Islam is somehwo monolithic. As I have also written, exploiting these differences can take many forms.

I suggest that the "exploitation" go along the lines of 1) distancing the US from Israel 2) communicating with and supporting publicly moderate elements in Sunnism, and 3) reassuring Iran that it can have the energy resources that it requires 4) reassuring Iran that the US does not support an overthrow of the current regime and 5) encouraging moderate elements in Iran through a) economic incentives towards liberalization of internal political machinery, and b) private/public recognition of "secularist" groups and tendencies in Iran.
Splitting Islam
A Shi’ite-Sunni strategy for surviving the War on Terror
by James Kurth

The United States now faces a widespread, long-term, and potentially catastrophic threat from Islamism, and the terrorist bombings since 9/11 indicate that this threat is becoming global in scope. Moreover, as the earlier U.S. struggle with communism, another hostile global ideology, suggests, the threat may persist for several generations. And as the accelerating spread of nuclear technology portends, the stakes of this threat may involve the nuclear destruction of one or more of America’s great cities and perhaps even the very functioning of American society itself.

The current insurgency in Iraq, largely drawn from or supported by the Sunni population, is providing inspiration and training for Islamist insurgents elsewhere. Conversely, the global network of Islamist terrorists, which is also largely composed of extremist Sunnis, has been energized and legitimized by the insurgency in Iraq. The result is a global Islamist insurgency directed at the United States, its allies, and the West more generally. The folly of recent U.S. administrations, and most especially that of President George W. Bush, has placed us in this dangerous condition. But now that we are there, the central question is how can we get out?

Proposed solutions vary in a way that is familiar and predictable, that is, according to the different ideological positions of their proponents, with the usual suspects being liberals, traditional conservatives, and neoconservatives.

. . . . . . . . .

The United States did not create the Sunni-Shi’ite split in Islamism, just as it did not create the earlier Sino-Soviet split in communism. It can, however, put itself in a position to take advantage of the divide as it very likely will develop, as it did with the analogous split during the Cold War.

When the United States got out of Vietnam, it had to abandon its project of maintaining noncommunist regimes in Indochina. Within a half decade, however, communist Vietnam, a Soviet ally, invaded communist Cambodia, a Chinese ally, and then communist China invaded communist Vietnam. With the United States out of the picture, the communist states naturally fell into fighting among themselves. The United States, under the Reagan administration, was able to take advantage of these and other conflicts within the communist world. Similarly, if the United States gets out of Iraq, it will have to abandon its delusional project of establishing democratic regimes in the Middle East. Within a short time, however, the central conflict within the Muslim world will be that between Sunnis and Shi’ites. It will be the fate of the Sunnis of Iraq, and in the longer run perhaps the fate of the Sunnis of Pakistan, that will wonderfully concentrate the Sunni mind. In that context, the current focus of Sunni Islamists upon the United States will appear misplaced and indeed mindless.

The United States should never have invaded Iraq in its vain effort to impose an external and alien development upon the Muslim world. The best course it can now take is to get out of Iraq and to allow the internal and natural contradictions within the Muslim world to take their course. The wise strategy of any truly great power in extending its influence to other countries is not to try to erect utterly new and bizarre constructions that have no foundation in the local realities. It is rather to try to turn to its own advantage those local realities and the inherent tensions within and between them.
. . . . . .
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Over 100,000 Protest War in Iraq @ White House

There's a wonderful scene in Gabriel Garcia Marquez's novel, 100 Years of Solitude, which depicts a mass demonstartion against a government in which soldiers murder all of the participants. They are destory all evidence of the masscare and thereby cover up any telling of it to others. Based on a real incident in Mexico, it comes to mind again in seeing the recent demonstration that occurred in front of the White House Saturday. Some news outlets say 100,000 attended; CNN reported (in the rolling headlines under the talking head) 150,000. Yet, the demonstration itself was not covered in full and took a back seat to hurricane coverage.

The obvious question that pops to mind is the following: "When do you have a demonstration with over 100,000 people and it doesn't happen?" While the news media are congratulating themselves over their criticisms of the govt. in their response to hurricanes, they obviously still have a prejudice against reporting dissent against a war that is killing thousands every month. Even the following article reports on the anti-Cindy Sheehan demonstration--with its 400 attendees--rather than reporting on the larger event! How's that for proportion! Read more!

Sunday, September 25, 2005

"Yugoslavia on Crack"

Yugoslavia on Crack
By Larry Johnson

"Today's New York Times reported that Prince Saud al-Faisal, the Saudi foreign minister, said Thursday that he had been warning the Bush administration in recent days that Iraq was hurtling toward disintegration, a development that he said could drag the region into war. This is not the wild ravings of a crazy man. This is a cold, honest assessment from someone who really believes he is still a friend of the United States.

Our actions are confusing the hell out of our friends. They look at Iran, who has been the largest most prolific sponsor of terrorism since 1980, expand its influence among the Iraqi shia with our help. The Iranians attacked us, Saddam didn't, yet we are helping the Iranians (at least from our friends' perspective). The Saudis (and others) scratch their heads as they watch us give the shia militia carte blanche to establish their power. The Saudis understand that the Shia are keen on solidifying their power. They wonder why we don't see this.

What the Saudis and the Kuwaitis and the Omanis and the Abu Dhabis understand is that the Sunni tribes will go to any length to defend themselves and their families from the corruption represented by Shia rule. Think for a moment what a small town in Texas, habitually under the control of Southern Baptists, would do if a group of Catholics or Hasidic Jews moved into town and took control of the political process. While an incomplete analogy, this scenario offers a taste of what is in store for Iraq.

Unlike the international intervention in Yugoslavia, there is not a firm international consensus to fight against the fragmentation of the Iraqi society. Prince Faisal, I fear, is a prophet. In the coming years the United States may face the unsavory prospect of actually having to invade Saudi Arabia to secure and protect its access to oil. In the meantime, the U.S. presence in Iraq is provoking terrorism and becoming a rallying point for our enemies.

Before George Bush tries to pick the splinter out of the eyes of his father, Bill Clinton, and Ronald Reagan, he may want to spend some time removing the huge beam lodged in his iris."

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Friday, September 23, 2005

XXXXXXXXX -- Iraq War Porn

The following site exhibits something very disturbing about the relationship between war and sexuality. The anger and despair experienced by soldiers as they kill or witness the destruction of other humans has a dehumanizing effect.

There's a normal human defense mechanism to make something positive of what one fears and is repelled by. The soldiers who take these pcitures and then publish them may be acting from several motives: 1) glorification of war and gore 2) shoving the obscene that they see into the face of those who don't know 3) unveiling the secret horror that is war or 4) the utter dehumanization of the enemy as an object of degradation and materiality.

To quote Simone Weil, in her great essay on Homer's Iliad:

'From the power to change a human being into a thing by making him die there comes another power, in its way more momentous, that of making a still living human being into a thing. He is living, he has a soul; he is nonetheless a thing.'

'As pitilessly as force annihilates, equally without pity it intoxicates those who possess or believe they possess it. In reality, no one possesses it'

I find these images and the fact that soldiers might feel motivated to take them and display them disturbing for the fact that it turns other humans into what can only be called "objects" of ridicule and sexual degradation.

It reminds me of a scene from a film called _the Dogs of War_, with Chris Walken. In one scene, after he has killed several enemy soldiers (he plays a mercenary), he breaks into a room where a woman is. The way the scene is set up is onviously meant to arouse the sexual tension in his ferociousness and his utter power over this woman. The possibility of simply raping this woman in the ferocity of his anger and brutality appears in all its rawness and viciousness. Here sex becomes not simply the act of procreative urge which it ostnetisbly is but becomes instead a dehumanizing degrading act perpetrated by a man in power and imposing his will on another human being.

You could extend this to show the close relationship between sex and violence. That is, socialization takes the "edge off" of the violent nature of sexuality itself. War brings out that close relationhsip, stripping away the veil.

Yet, even granting this, I think there is room for "outrage and indignation" at what the web site portrays. While it may unmask the betiality that forms one pole of human nature, it also outrages the other pole, the potential for acting and being other than our merely bestial selves.

WARNING: The site offers very disturbing pictures of war mixed with sexually explicit pictures.
Porn site offers soldiers free access in exchange for photos of dead Iraqis

The site's owner says images of nude female soldiers in Iraq and gory photos of dead insurgents provide an unedited version of the war - while the military investigates.

By Mark Glaser
Posted: 2005-09-20

Warning: This story contains links to unsettling images and sites where people glorify violence and pornography -- and document the hell of war. If only life came with such warnings.

The Internet has proven to be a vast resource of information and knowledge, but it only takes one hyperlink to get from the profound to the profane. When reading an Egyptian blog a few weeks ago, I stumbled onto a bulletin board site called NowThats**** (NTFU), which started out as a place for people to trade amateur pornography of wives and girlfriends.

According to the site's owner, Chris Wilson, who lives in Lakeland, Fla., but hosts the site out of Amsterdam, the site was launched in August 2004 and soon became popular with soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. When female soldiers started to appear in the nude on the site, the Pentagon blocked access to the site from military computers in the field, according to the New York Post.

But the story gets more twisted. Wilson said that soldiers were having trouble using their credit cards in Iraq to access the paid pornographic content on the site, so he offered them free access if they could show that they were actually soldiers. As proof, some sent in G-rated photos of traffic signs in Baghdad or of a day in the life of a soldier abroad. Others sent in what appear to be Iraqi civilians and insurgents who were killed by suicide bombs or soldiers' fire.

Now there's an entire forum on the site titled "Pictures from Iraq and Afghanistan - Gory," where these bloody photos show body parts, exploded heads and guts falling out of people. Along with the photos is a running commentary of people celebrating the kills, cracking jokes and arguing over what kind of weaponry was used to kill them. But the moderators will also step in when the talk gets too heated, and sometimes a more serious discussion about the Iraq war and its aims will break out. . . . . . . .

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Thursday, September 22, 2005

Rumblings in the Ranks 3

To keep abreast of the feelings of our troops, those on the ground in Iraq, I offer the following links.

In this article by Rupert Hamer in Basra, British soldiers express what all soldiers in Iraq know: there's no reason to be there. If there was one, that reason has disappeared into a fog of blood, impending civil war, and decaying ability of Iraqis to subsist. As one soldier puts it: "It's time to get home. There is no point in anyone else dying here. We are past the time that we are needed here in Basra. We have done enough."

In the second article, you can link to a web site with video clips of soldiers back from Iraq who express their dissatisfaction with the war, their participation in that war, and the growing discontent of their fellow soldiers still in Iraq. The videos can be very emotional. Soldiers describe experiences of killing citizens as well as soldiers. The devastating effect that these incidents will have on their lives cannot even begin to be imagined by us who sit in comfort and security.

According to the article:

"In one clip, Marine Staff Sergeant Jimmy Massey (ret'd) describes the killing of more than twenty unarmed protesters in the first days after the initial assault on Iraq, and the subsequent killing of many more unarmed Iraqi's at a military check point. Jimmy Massey, previously a Parris Island Trainer and Recruiter for the US Marine Corp. describes how, when he told his commanding officer "Today's been a bad day sir, we've killed a lot of civilians," his commanding officer responded "No, today is a good day." Massey adds, "When he said that I realized I was in the wrong place. Maybe I wasn't cut out for the Marine Corp." "
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Tuesday, September 20, 2005

The Devil in the Script

During the past few weeks, many Americans have shown their continuing belief in demons and demon-possession. Whoever thought that the Enlightenment principles of reason and free inquiry filtered down to the masses may wish to rethink their assumptions. The film, _The Possession of Emily Rose_, was the highest grossing attraction in the theaters for several weeks.

As the following article remarks, demon posession and exorcism of demons is an accepted practice of the Catholic Church. Indeed, the church updated its manual of exorcism in 1999. Recent news reports from the Vatican indicate that the church has performed more exorcisms in the last 20 years than it had in the preceding century.

Spirit posession is documented by ethnographic and anthropological studies. The question is how to understand these "documented" cases. The reductionistic psychological approach would see these cases simply as cases of a form of personality disorder. Religious interpretations vary from one end of literality to rationalization based on scientific models. The view I see as most meaningful within a religious and psychological persepctive is that they are psychological phenomena with spiritual content that relates to limited understandings of self in relationship to the divine.

Suffering anything physically is a terrible experience. When these times occur some want to believe that they originate in evil entities or sources opposed to God. The Bible, however, speaks of sufferings and trials brought by God. This is something very difficult for people to accept: how can God, who is good, bring pain which is bad. Yet, this way of putting it sees pain in very simplistic terms. Pain and suffering may indeed be something good if they lead to inner spiritual growth. God may bring these things on us to help us understand that to live according to his will means more than only following his ways in the good times--during the bad times, we must also stay in our faith and not give way to despair.

Film's devil is in the details
By Sarah Price Brown

Jennifer Carpenter stars as a college student who is convinced she's possessed by demons in "The Exorcism of Emily Rose."

LOS ANGELES — Does the devil exist? And if so, does that mean God exists? Where does science fit in?

Those are the questions director Scott Derrickson hoped audiences would ponder after viewing the new film "The Exorcism of Emily Rose."

"I wanted the audience to leave the film with the feeling that they must ask themselves what they believe. Specifically, what do they think about the existence of the spiritual realm?" Derrickson said.

His intent, he said, was to pose, not answer, questions, but for some, the film's position is clear.

"Even though he plays it close between science and faith, he's obviously saying, 'If you don't believe in the devil, you're doing so at your own peril,' " said Sister Rose Pacatte, director of the Pauline Center for Media Studies in Culver City, Calif., which offers educational workshops on Christianity and the media.

The movie is based in part on a true story. ....

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Rumblings in the Military Ranks 2

Another testimony to the misadventure in Iraq from a man who was there. Again, I submit that this colnel's reflections on what he was sent to Iraq to do and the reality he found on the ground represents the illusion that this o****ry's leaders continue to perpetrate against its citizens.

This is a mess of our own making

Tim Collins told his troops this was a war of liberation, not conquest. Now he says that he was naive to believe it

by Tim Collins
Sunday September 18, 2005

When I led my men of the 1st Battalion the Royal Irish Regiment across the border into Iraq we believed we were going to do some good. Goodwill and optimism abounded; it was to be a liberation, I had told my men, not a conquest.

In Iraq I sought to surround myself with advisers - Iraqis - who could help me understand what needed to be done. One of the first things they taught me was that the Baath party had been a fact of life for 35 years. Like the Nazi party, they said, it needed to be decapitated, harnessed and dismantled, each function replaced with the new regime. Many of these advisers were Baathists, yet were eager to co-operate, fired with the enthusiasm of the liberation. How must it look to them now?

What I had not realised was that there was no real plan at the higher levels to replace anything, indeed a simplistic and unimaginative overreliance in some senior quarters on the power of destruction and crude military might. We were to beat the Iraqis. That simple. Everything would come together after that.

. . . . . . . . . . . .

It is time for our leaders to explain what is going on. It was as a battalion commander trying to explain to his men why they would embark on a war that I came to public notice. The irony is that I made certain assumptions that my goodwill and altruistic motivations went to the top. Clearly I was naive. This time it is the role of the leaders of nations to explain where we are going and why. I, for one, demand to know.

· Colonel Tim Collins gave a celebrated speech to his troops about their mission to liberate, not conquer, in Iraq. He has since left the army.

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The Neoconservative Heretic

Francis Fukuyama is famous for having written the international best-seller, the Hegelian-inspired _The End of History_. Lionized by conservatives and neo-conservatives, and blisteringly attacked by liberals and leftists, the book envisions the end o history as the triumph of western neo-liberal economics and westernized constitutionality.

Then came the war on Iraq. Fukuyama had had headed a group to outline an adequate response to 911. The group's recommendations were very broad and strangely opposed to the path eventually followed by the Bush neo-cons. The Bush war on terrorism proved so irrational and at cross-purposes with his vision of conservatism that Fukuyama voted for John Kerry.

He began a magazine to promote his new vision of neo-conservatism. While the magazine publishes articles that every neo-con would love, it also publishes pieces by Brzinski and Cohen. Fukuyama's own writings have become more and more opposed to the present tack taken by the Bush foreign policy. In Fukuyama's mind, the war on terrorism has perhaps impacted and deleteriously affected American foreign policy--perhaps for years to come.

The following link provides background on Fukuyama and his alienation from mainline neo-conservatism. Some of his criticisms have been directed at Israel and its policies towards Moslems. Predictably enough, criticism of Israel has broight the accusation of anti-semitism (that subject so loved by those on this forum).
The Neocon Who Isn’t
Francis Fukuyama has all the "right" credentials. So when he opposed the Iraq War and voted for John Kerry, eyebrows were raised. They’re still rising.

By Robert S. Boynton
Issue Date: 10.05.05

On a Saturday in January 2003, as the Iraq War approached, the Pentagon’s Office of Net Assessment convened a meeting in a nondescript building in Arlington, Virginia, with three dozen of Washington’s top conservative policy intellectuals. Using an information-gathering technique dating back to the Eisenhower administration, the office asked four groups to study the long-term threat the United States faced from international terrorism and to report back to Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz.

One of the groups was led by Francis Fukuyama, a professor at Johns Hopkins’ School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), best known as the author of The End of History and the Last Man, the international bestseller that led British political philosopher John Gray to dub Fukuyama “[the] court philosopher of global capitalism.” The relationship between Fukuyama and Wolfowitz went back 35 years, to when Fukuyama was a Cornell undergraduate and Wolfowitz, then a Yale political-science professor, was a board member of the Telluride Association, the elite group house where Fukuyama lived. Fukuyama interned for Wolfowitz while a graduate student in the mid-1970s at the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, and later followed his mentor to the State Department during the first Reagan administration. When Wolfowitz became dean of the SAIS, he recruited Fukuyama from George Mason.

When Fukuyama received the Pentagon’s call, he immersed himself in subjects -- the politics of the Middle East, Islam, terrorism -- he hadn’t thought about since he’d worked with Dennis Ross on the Palestinian autonomy talks that followed the Camp David accords.

Fukuyama had spent much of the previous summer in Europe promoting Our Posthuman Future, his most recent book at the time, and his encounters with editorial boards throughout the continent left an impression on him. “That was the point at which I started to think about the whole issue of American hegemony,” he says. “Until then I had accepted the neoconservative line, which is, ‘OK, we’re hegemons, but we’re benevolent hegemons.’ But when I was in Europe, the reality of what non-Americans thought hit me more forcefully than it had before. Even the editor of the Financial Times, which is a pretty conservative paper, was absolutely livid about the way the Bush administration was dealing with the U.K. and Europe.”

Fukuyama’s team prepared furiously for three months, and, of the presentations made that January day by the four groups, Fukuyama’s was the only one Wolfowitz attended. This was precisely the time when preparations to invade Iraq were in full swing. The news Fukuyama delivered was most likely not what Wolfowitz wanted to hear.

The group’s recommendations -- which have never been mentioned publicly, much less released -- were a photographic negative of the path the Bush administration followed. The United States, the group advised, should avoid overreacting to the events of September 11, and particularly resist military incursions that would “lead to a world in which the U.S. and its policies remain the chief focus of global concern,” as Fukuyama put it in The Washington Post on the first anniversary of the attacks. The group reasoned that although military action was a necessary component of the American response, it should be of secondary concern to a “hearts and minds” campaign directed at the vast majority of the Islamic world that generally admires America.

It was an analysis that departed from the “clash of civilizations” scenarios that Fukuyama’s friend and former teacher Samuel Huntington predicted some years earlier. In contrast, Fukuyama’s group portrayed the conflict between democratic capitalism and Islamic fundamentalism as so lopsided that Huntington’s formulation overstated the strength of America’s foe. “Neither Arab nationalists nor Islamic fundamentalists, or any other alternatives in that part of the world, present a really serious route to modernization,” he told the London Independent in April 2003.

Given this radical inequality, Fukuyama has argued in subsequent writings (which reflect the ideas that appeared in his group’s report) that the United States should avoid inflammatory rhetoric such as the “war on terror.” In contrast, Fukuyama argued that while Islamic terrorists are dangerous, they don’t resemble anything close to the threat once posed by communism or fascism.
. . . . . . . .

The fact that Fukuyama portrayed the administration as having betrayed the very neoconservative agenda it had claimed to champion must have made his critique especially painful to his erstwhile mentor Wolfowitz. In particular, Fukuyama noted three foreign-policy blunders he predicted would harm the country’s prestige for years to come. The administration had launched an ill-conceived social-engineering project (“If the United States cannot eliminate poverty or raise test scores in Washington, D.C., how does it expect to bring democracy to a part of the world that has stubbornly resisted it?”); it had underestimated the importance of using international institutions to help legitimate U.S. foreign policy; and -- perhaps most hurtful to the neocons -- it had likened the threat of Islamic terrorism to the United States with the threat it posed to Israel, adopting “the Israeli mind-set” regarding the Middle East. “Are we like Israel, locked in a remorseless struggle with a large part of the Arab and Muslim world, with few avenues open to us for dealing with them other than an iron fist?” he asked.

The charges rocked the neoconservative world. Krauthammer accused Fukuyama of anti-Semitism, comparing his ideas to those of Pat Buchanan. “Frank forfeited being ‘one of us,’” says Irwin Stelzer, editor of The Neocon Reader. “It didn’t feel like a debate within the group; it felt like an attack from an outsider.” On the other side of the spectrum, of course, Fukuyama’s makeover has been greeted favorably. The Center for American Progress’ Lawrence Korb believes Fukuyama’s break has hurt the neoconservatives’ position. “I always quote him when I debate the neocons, and they don’t know what to do,” Korb says. “They can’t dismiss him so easily.”

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Friday, September 16, 2005

Venezuelan President Chavez Attacks Bush on Iraq

Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez received the loudest applause at the UN yesterday. Chavez' speech to the Un included attacking Bush's Iraq plan, asking that the UN move to another country more resepctful of the UH's principles, and accusations that the US' consumption of gasoline is shameful.

Chavez Takes Bush to Task Over Iraq War
Friday September 16, 2005 10:31 AM
Associated Press Writer

UNITED NATIONS ( AP) - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez took President Bush to task in front of a global summit for waging war in Iraq without U.N. consent and won rousing applause for his critique.

The leftist leader told a U.N. summit on Thursday that fighting the war without U.N. authorization showed Washington did not respect the world body. He recommended moving U.N. headquarters to a country that has more regard for the organization.

``There were never weapons of mass destruction but Iraq was bombed, and over U.N. objections, (it was) occupied and continues being occupied,'' Chavez said. Bush alleged that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction but none have been found, shattering one of his main arguments for going to war.

``That's why we propose to this assembly that the United Nations leave this country, which is not respectful of the very resolutions of this assembly,'' Chavez said.
. . . . . . . . . . . . .
World leaders at the summit had been asked to speak for five minutes but Chavez ran long and when the presiding diplomat passed him a note saying his time was up, he threw it on the floor. He said if Bush could speak for 20 minutes, so could he.

When he finally stopped, he got what observers said was the loudest applause of the summit.

. . . . . .
Chavez, whose country is the world's fifth-largest oil exporter, also warned the world is facing an unprecedented energy crisis.

He told reporters later the crisis will keep growing, ``not because we the producers want it but because we are running out of oil.''

Chavez singled out the United States as the most wasteful country, saying he was shocked when a quarter of all the cars he counted Thursday morning on New York streets had one person in them.

``That's crazy, one person with a huge car ... that is using up gas and polluting the atmosphere,'' he said at a news conference. ``The world cannot tolerate this model of development called the American way of life.''

In a form of energy diplomacy, Chavez has extended a preferential oil trade deal called PetroCaribe to 13 Caribbean countries in what he says is part of a plan to challenge U.S. economic domination of the region.

Under the plan, Venezuela will soon sell up to 190,000 barrels of fuel a day to countries from Jamaica to St. Lucia, offering favorable financing while shipping fuel directly to reduce costs. It is expected to help those countries save millions of dollars.

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Bush's America

This little piece of personal viewpoint and opinion says it all about the current indifference of society towards those who have nothing. It While the presentation is simple, the message is powerful. Yet, given simplicity of this view and the social implications it holds, no doubt many on this forum will miss its point, opting out for a willed ignorance. What typifies the modern spirit? Ideological partisanship that is tearing at the social fabric and will eventually be the downfall of the great dream that once was America.

Related Link

What Katrina Tells Us About Mr. Bush's Philosophy of Government
By Leonard Steinhorn

Mr. Steinhorn teaches politics and media at American University, and is the author of the forthcoming book, The Greater Generation: In Defense of the Baby Boom Legacy, to be published by St. Martin's Press in January 2006. He is a member of the board of directors of HNN.

Years from now, historians will likely see the Bush administration’s initially callous and indifferent response to hurricane Katrina as a parable for the type of conservatism this president and his party currently represent.

Bush conservatism is built on a fundamental cultural narrative that has reemerged since the Reagan Eighties – that success is a sign of virtue, and anything less, particularly poverty, can be explained only through a character flaw.

From the Roosevelt years through the Seventies, we defined the American Dream as a good job, a piece of the rock, and the ability to take care of one’s family. Those who lived paycheck to paycheck earned our respect, because hard work and determination were deemed virtuous. These were the people who built America.
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The Mirror of Islam

This author, a professor of european history at Oxford, provides six arguments about Islam. He provides short answers that either negate the question or turn it to a new, insightful angle. Finally, he suggests that one's view of Islam is a mirror in which one sees not Islam, but oneself.
What's your problem with Islam?

By Timothy Garton Ash, TIMOTHY GARTON ASH is the professor of European studies at Oxford University and a Hoover Institution senior fellow.

SITTING IN THE CAPITAL of the Islamic Republic of Iran, with a metal arrow on the ceiling of my hotel room pointing to Mecca, I feel impelled to write about our troubles with Islam. Four years after the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington, which were perpetrated in the name of Allah, most people in what we still loosely call the West would agree that we do have troubles with Islam. ....

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Thursday, September 15, 2005

Time to Talk to bin-Laden?

The war or Terror enters its fifth year. Osama bin-Laden hides out somewhere in Pakistan. The US military is always "moving in on" bin-Laden and his cohorts, but they never seem to corner the man. The idea of always being on the verge of victory reminds one of the war in George Orwell's book, 1984. The ruling power is always on the verge of victory. yet as the book closes, the war is still going--after numerous propaganda obfuscations and manipulations of "the truth"--and the country in which the protagonist lives has changed allies numerous times.

Is it time to talk to bin-Laden? Perhaps take seriously his grievances against the west and recognize that while we not condone his methods, we recognize that there might be some truth to his and his group's message? What would the US lose by doing so? Certainly, in the present circumstances, it cannot lose more prestige than it already has in the world by unilaterally going to war under the pretense of lies about WMDs and decpetion regarding Hussein's ties to the terrorists who bombed the Word Trade Center.

So what does the US have to lose by talking with bin-Laden?

Time to Talk to Al Qaeda?
by Mohammad-Mahmoud Ould Mohamedou

AS THE WAR between the United States and Al Qaeda enters its fifth year, the nature of the armed, transnational Islamist group's campaign remains misunderstood. With the conflict viewed largely as an open-and-shut matter of good versus evil, nonmilitary engagement with Al Qaeda is depicted as improper and unnecessary.

Yet developing a strategy for the next phase of the global response to Al Qaeda requires understanding the enemy -- something Western analysts have systematically failed to do. Sept. 11 was not an unprovoked, gratuitous act. It was a military operation researched and planned since at least 1996 and conducted by a trained commando in the context of a war that had twice been declared officially and publicly. The operation targeted two military locations and a civilian facility regarded as the symbol of US economic and financial power. The assault was the culmination of a larger campaign, which forecast impact, planned for the enemy's reaction, and was designed to gain the tactical upper hand.

Overwhelmingly centered on the martial aspects of the conflict, scholars and policymakers have been too focused on Al Qaeda's ''irrationality," ''fundamentalism," and ''hatred" -- and these conceptions continue to color key analyses. The sway of such explanations is particularly surprising in the face of nonambiguous statements made by Al Qaeda as to the main reasons for its war on the United States. These have been offered consistently since 1996, notably in the August 1996 and February 1998 declarations of war and the November 2002 and October 2004 justifications for its continuation.
. . . . . .

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Are You a Corporate Man Judge?

The following link presents some questions that Ralph Nader proposed that the Senate judiciary committee ask Supreme Court jsutice nominee Roberts. In his remarks, Nader asks whether Roberts can pass the Thomas Jefferson litmus test exemplified by the following Jefferson quote:

"I hope we shall... crush in its birth the aristocracy of our moneyed corporations, which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength and bid defiance to the laws of our country."

In other words, are you a corporate front-man judge or will you stand up for the people of this union by stanching the flow of blood wrought by corporate profiteers and big money men?
Could He Pass Jefferson's Litmus Test?
Questioning Judge Roberts

. . . . . .

"Today it is more important than ever for all Supreme Court Justices and, in particular, the Chief Justice1 of the Supreme Court to have the inclination and wisdom to realize that our democracy is being eroded by many kinds of widely reported systemic corporate excesses. Giant multinational corporations have no allegiance to any country or community, and the devastation and other injustices they visit upon communities throughout the United States and around the globe have outpaced the countervailing restraints that should be the hallmark of government by, for and of the people. Unfortunately, the structure and scope of these hearings are not likely to devote a sufficient priority to the corporate issues of our times."

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Culture of Death

Andrew Greeley remains the voice of sane catholicism. With an eye for hypocrisy in govt. and and ear to the ground for the little guy, Greeley knows the ins and outs of power mongering. Speaking of the culture of death, that great recent catholic mantra, Greely spins out fact after fact about the soullessness that has become the American nightmare.

Greeley notes that poverty is on the rise, profits for big corporations are getting bigger, and the hatred for the poor simply dfsguises itself as good old, virtuous greed.

While he's not willing to say that hurricane Katrina was sent by God to avenge America's injustices towards the poor and for carrying out a bogus and corrput war, he does note that Katrina pays in some way a terrible debt that FrankenBush and his cohorts have exacted on the American soul.

2 Deadly Sins Did Big Easy In
by Andrew Greeley

The terrible, tragic mess in New Orleans reflects and adds to the economic and social mess in the whole country. The foolish, endless war in Iraq has pushed the national debt beyond all reasonable limit.

The tax benefits for President Bush's friends, "the haves and the have mores" as he called them in an unwise slip of the tongue, have aggravated the deficit problems for which the grandchildren and the great-grandchildren will have to pay. Much of the debt is owned by the Chinese, who have also taken over the clothing market. Median family income and real wages fell again this year (according to the Wall Street Journal) and the proportion of the country that lives in poverty has risen again. The cost of gasoline climbs almost every day because the obscenely profitable oil companies have not plowed any money into building new refineries for the last 15 years. The proportion of people without any health insurance also has increased.

Many industries -- airlines and automotive especially -- are trying to make money by outsourcing jobs to other countries and curtailing the salaries and benefits of workers. The most notable of the offending industries -- Big Oil and Big Pharma -- are piling up profits squeezed from lifeblood of the working and middle class. No one cares about poverty anymore, so long as it is limited to the poor (like the people who couldn't escape from New Orleans because they couldn't afford autos).

. . . . . . . .

The country's habit of responding to infrastructure problems with too little and too late (Iraq writ large) will produce more disasters. Airports that are too crowded and inadequate air traffic control, poor public education, lack of concern for the poor, spiraling medical costs -- all are infrastructure problems that will come back to haunt us.

We are as a culture too proud and too greedy to worry about such matters, just as we didn't care a few years ago about the incompetence of the FBI and the CIA -- and the inability of the FBI to hire enough translators of Arabic or devise a working computer system.

The United States is the only superpower left, we can do anything we want, we don't have to care about what other countries think or worry about levees and pumps, new runways, more refineries, global warming, near misses at airports, better education, or competition from China and Asia. God Bless America!

© 2005 Chicago Sun Times

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Wednesday, September 14, 2005

What now white man?

The following is an intriguing obituary on the death of western civilization. Its take is both personal and historical. It asks questions about race, vitality, and culture that many shy away from--on the left and the right. I will have more to say later.

What now, white man?

Global competition is about to push Western culture into the abyss. An eleventh-hour obituary by Matthias Politycki

. . . . . . . . .
"But even if they were to succeed in this (incidentally accomplishing the feat of turning a deeply indebted country in need of serious restructuring into a flourishing, relaunched Federal Republic), a far greater European problem would remain: the impending decline of the former "West", already explicitly doomed as "Old Europe", a culture and way of life that has been cultivated for generations. The postmodern age with its corrosive "anything goes" marks the end of the Enlightenment: sceptical free-thinking has gone so far that today, instead of serious visions, all it develops is a jaded blanket irony, a shoulder-shrugging laissez-faire, disguised by the concept of "tolerance", towards everything and everyone. The corresponding strengthening of domestic and international "margins" will bring us countless subcultures and parallel worlds, ultimately resulting in a radical compartmentalisation of society – not least on account of passive elites who have no means of countering the breakdown of the whole into the mere sum of its parts and who have also long since given up wanting to."

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How do THEY See Us?

The following link argues that the US response to hurricane Katrina reflects badly overseas. The image of the US govt. floundering in the face of a natural disaster, seemingly incapable of helping its most vulnerable victims speaks volumes. The book that is being written in the eyes of the world about American democracy and what American freedom means is obvious when read from the scenes from NO ransmitted via TV around the globe.

Storm Warning
How the flood compromises U.S. foreign policy.
By Richard N. Haass
Posted Friday, Sept. 9, 2005, at 8:56 AM PT

. . . . .
What happens when water floods an important American city, leaving thousands dead and hundreds of thousands homeless, is something else again. It will be no easier to cordon off U.S. foreign policy from the effects of Hurricane Katrina than it has been to protect New Orleans from the waters of Lake Pontchartrain.

That a purely domestic event should have profound consequences for American foreign policy is not in and of itself new. U.S. prestige suffered a blow in 1992 when the Los Angeles riots were broadcast around the world. By contrast, Ronald Reagan's firm handling of the air-traffic controllers strike a decade before communicated resolve and firmness.

The initial federal and local reactions to Hurricane Katrina, however, have sent the opposite message. The images seen around the world communicated a lack of competence and considerable chaos and suffering. The dominant overseas reaction has been sympathy mixed with shock and horror at what was seen by many as evidence of racism and a reminder of the extreme poverty in which many Americans live. America's enemies indulged in schadenfreude. Hugo Chávez could not resist the chance to taunt President Bush; North Korea radio linked the U.S. "defeat" in Iraq with its "defeat" by Katrina; jihadists celebrated what had happened and the possibility the price of oil would soar even higher. The world's only remaining superpower appeared to be anything but. In an era of 24-hour satellite television and the Internet, public diplomacy is about who Americans are and what they do, not just what they say. Unlike Las Vegas, what happens here does not stay here.

The global impact goes beyond impressions. A priority of this administration's foreign policy is to promote democracy around the world. But the attractiveness of the American model, and the ability of the United States to be an effective advocate for more democratic, capitalist societies, which had already been weakened by the disarray in Iraq, is now weaker still as a result of the disarray at home. It will be more difficult to make the case for free markets and more open societies if the results of such reforms come to be associated with the disorder seen in New Orleans.

. . . . .

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Rumblings in the Ranks?

What is unique about the following letter--besides its unusually lucid and powerful rhetoric--is that it was published in Stars and Stripes, the official newspaper for soldiers by the US Defense Department. Soldiers know what's what--as I had noted in several earlier posts, those soldiers and the officers are going to turn the whole Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld applecart over.

One aspect of a soldier's criticism is that s/he has a certain moral authority now and what he or she is thinking and feeling carries a lot of weight in the current political/social debates. As soldiers, it is very rare for them to criticize the commander in chief. To see something like this letter in an official military forum is therefore quite interesting.

Katrina another Bush failure

The fourth major failure of the Bush administration leading to tragedy has unfolded in gruesome detail in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. It revealed the hypocrisy of “small government” and sham privatization of emergency services. The Federal Emergency Management Agency, which was professionalized under the Clinton administration by former Director Jamie Lee Witt was gutted by President Bush.

FEMA’s incompetent political-crony appointees delayed responding to Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco’s pleas for federal help, which she issued three days before Katrina hit. While people were dying there, the president returned to his fake ranch, the vice president bought a mansion, and the secretary of state shopped Ferragamo’s for $1,000 shoes.

The first failure was cutting Army Corps of Engineers funding to strengthen the levees. Technology to provide equivalent Category 5 hurricane flood protection has been implemented by Holland engineers for decades. Bush’s reduction of funding for this project guaranteed levee failure and disaster.

The second failure, the purposeful dismissal of warnings that al-Qaida was an imminent terrorism threat, led to the disaster of Sept. 11, 2001. The Bush administration downgraded terrorism as a priority, defunded a program monitoring U.S.-based al-Qaida operatives, and replaced counterterrorism Justice Department programs with anti-drug and domestic policing. After 9/11, this was quietly reversed.

The third failure, the invasion and occupation of Iraq, was based on lies and “cooking” of intelligence. This was confirmed by the Downing Street memo and the “9/11 Commission Report.” This administration didn’t care enough about servicemembers or a successful occupation to provide sufficient troops, protective armor or an exit plan. Staying longer in Iraq and failing to secure it means profit for politically connected firms.

Troops in Iraq and veterans were abandoned by a war-profiteering government, as New Orleans residents were. This presidency is deadly, knows it, and doesn’t care.

M.D. Wooldridge
Würzburg, Germany
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