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

Saturday, October 29, 2005

The Slime Regime

With the indictment against Cheney aide Scooter Libby, the news at the forefront will this story for some time. However, this story plays out, it will tend to mute the impact of other investigations into this administration's dirty laundry.

Cases to keep an eye on include the following:

* Cheney/Libby refusal to send key documents to the Senate committee investigating the reliability pre-war information.

* Jack Abramoff's, super lobbyist, indictment and related indictment of White House aide.

* SEC investigation of Senate majority leader Bill Frist's.

* Tom DeLay's indictment in Texas for money-laundering.

* Italian investigation into faked Niger documents that made their way into the White House.

* Col. Wilkerson's (a Colin Powell aide) accusation that a Cheney-Rumsfeld "cabal" has hijacked the US government.

* A major GOP donor indicted on charges that he tried to skirt campaign finance laws by giving other people thousands of dollars to pass on to President Bush's reelection effort. Read more!

What was the President Really Saying?

I was struck by Pres. Bush's rather terse, almost elliptical comments after the indictment and resignation of Scooter Libby. What I found importatnt was what was missing: nothing about full cooperation, nothing about the seriousness of the accusations, etc. What's importatnt about this message is what is not said, I think. By its silence on these issues, I believe that the underlying message is the following: the Pres. is telling Libby that the administration is behind him, that the white house is circling the wagons, and the administration is on the offensive (read CIA beware of using this indictment as a go-ahead to undermining the war effort).

President Bush's Statement
Published: October 28, 2005
The following is the transcript of President Bush's statement on the resignation of I. Lewis Libby.

PRESIDENT BUSH: Today I accepted the resignation of Scooter Libby.

Scooter has worked tirelessly on behalf of the American people and sacrificed much in the service to this country.

He served the vice president and me through extraordinary times in our nation's history.

Special Counsel Fitzgerald's investigation and ongoing legal proceedings are serious. And now the proceedings -- the process moves into a new phase.

In our system, each individual is presumed innocent and entitled to due process and a fair trial.

While we're all saddened by today's news, we remain wholly focused on the many issues and opportunities facing this country. I got a job to do, and so do the people who work in the White House. We got a job to protect the American people, and that's what we'll continue working hard to do. : I look forward to working with Congress on policies to keep this economy moving. And pretty soon, I'll be naming someone to the Supreme Court. Read more!

Who Cares About PlameGate? The CIA

There's this very extensively researched article at wikipedia. No doubt, much of the information here does not make its way into the MSM because it's [b]protected[/b] by national secuirty laws, etc. The question is, will the real story ever be told, even if there's a trial?

The article does go some way towards understanding why the CIA insiders were so outraged by Plame's outing--it put the fear of God into them, no doubt one of Cheney's main objectives, ie, "you go against us and we'll get you where you live."

The information in the article is so particular, however, I wonder whether the wikipedia poster is not a CIA employee, with some very serious contacts inside the "company." In terms of the fallout from the outing of Plame, this article provides a circumstantial speculation by an NSA employee:

"Wayne Madsen, a reporter and former NSA employee, has claimed, "CIA sources report that at least one anonymous star placed on the CIA's Wall of Honor at its Langley, Virginia headquarters is a clandestine agent who was executed in a hostile foreign nation as a direct result of the White House leak." -- (my emphasis) Read more!

Friday, October 28, 2005

Watson and Wilson on Evolution and Religion

The following article represents the views on evolution and religion by two of the most pre-eminent evolutionary scientists alive: James Watson, Nobel laureate and co-foundewr with Francis Crick of DNA; and E.O. Wilson, the founder of sociobiology. Their comments on why most of the American public does not accept evolution are noteworthy, different in view.

Also note that Watson is more optimistic about the possibility of more Americans accepting evolution as they begin to undergo genetic testing and to benefit from its advances in terms of health and medicine. Wilson is more pessimistic, feeling that the two ways of looking at the world are inherently opposed to each other.

October 25, 2005
Long-Ago Rivals Are Dual Impresarios of Darwin's Oeuvre

. . . . . . .

"In their editorial comments on Darwin's four books - "The Voyage of the Beagle," "On the Origin of Species," "Descent of Man" and "The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals" - both note the strange disconnect that Darwin's theory is the bedrock of their discipline yet is doubted by large segments of the American public.

It is "surpassingly strange," Dr. Wilson writes, that half of Americans who responded to a recent poll said they did not believe in evolution at all. Dr. Watson writes that evolution is disputed only by those who "put their common sense on hold."

The repudiation of Darwin by religious fundamentalists is largely an American phenomenon, dismaying to Europeans, Dr. Wilson said in an interview. He attributes the difference to the frontier nature of early American society.

The religion of the frontier, he said, was "very simple, very evangelical in nature, and could summon people to quick action together." In Europe, religion was "far more hierarchical, more closely connected with the ruling class and more likely to be a state religion."

The fundamentalist strain of American religion has continued to the present day, and its collision with Darwin is one that Dr. Wilson finds perturbing. "Evolution is one of the best proven ideas of biology, so when you reject that you are beginning to turn away from what is becoming the pre-eminent science of the 21st century," he said. "So it will make a difference if the public refuses to believe in evolution."

Dr. Watson is less perturbed that so many Americans do not believe in evolution. "Oh, but eventually they will," he said in an interview in his office at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory on Long Island. "As people get themselves genetically tested and see that it helps them, they will realize their biological instructions work this way."

He has little time for intelligent design, the proposal that evolution is shaped at the level of DNA by some thoughtful demiurge. "If I have any message for intelligent design, it is that it will come and go," he said.

Dr. Watson says he wants no war between science and religion, and sees other reasons besides religious belief for people's sometimes feeble embrace of science. "I think the reason people are dealing with science less well now than 50 years ago is that it has become so complicated," he said.

But Dr. Wilson sees the two world views as irreconcilable. He believes that the propensity for religious belief was "hard-wired into us," because the tribes that believed they were favored by the gods "were the tribes that beat the other tribes." The advance of science can only undermine the religious view of the world. "I don't see the modern scientific view of the human condition will do anything but move away from traditional religious thinking," he said." . . .

@ Read more!

What was Cheney's Role in PlameGate?

Now that US Vice President Dick Cheney's aide, "Scooter" Libby has been indicted, the focus must move to the Vice President's in this entire affair.

While many conservatives and Republicans will attempt to deflect attention away from what is a serious, treasonous, act this outing of Valerie Plame is, there must be no flagging in seeing how far up the administration ladder this crime goes.

Questions that immediately jump to my mind include the following:

1) We now know that Libby got his information about Plame from Cheney--indeed, the lie he is being proescuted for is that he lied about this. If so, then in the meeting where Libby heard this, did Cheney tell Libby to go out and reveal Plame's identity? If so, this seems to imply a conspiracy.

2) Cheney asserted publicly that he did not know that Plame was a CIA agent. Now we know that he did know at least two weeks before he made this public statement. Why did Cheney feel that it was necessary to publicly deny this? Cheney's statements include the following:

"On June 11, 2003, according to the indictment, Libby first learned that Wilson was married to Valerie Plame Wilson, a CIA employee who may have been responsible for sending him to Niger. On June 12, 2003, Cheney personally advised Libby that Valerie Wilson worked at the CIA in the Counterproliferation Division. Libby understood that Cheney had received the word from the CIA.

Cheney, apparently, didn't want to reveal how much he knew. On Sept. 14, 2003 _ three months after imparting his knowledge to Libby _ Cheney said on NBC's "Meet the Press" that he didn't know anything about who sent Wilson to Niger."

We can also follow Cheney's actions and statements in relationship to White House statements and how they relate to this scandal.

3) We now know that Cheney and Libby refused to give Congress documents that would have shown that the evidence for Iraq's WMDs was made up and fabricated. If this is true, then Cheney's culpability under various federal laws that prohibit lying to Congress will become apparent.

4) The Italian government has shown that Italian Intelligence officers actually fabricated the false documents that were used by the CIA and Cheney to assert that Iraq sought yellowcake, the main ingredient for nuclear weapons. If this is ture, then what was Cheney's role in getting these documents into play?

The NYTimes reported:

"The notes do not show that Mr. Cheney knew the name of Mr. Wilson's wife. But they do show that Mr. Cheney did know and told Mr. Libby that Ms. Wilson was employed by the Central Intelligence Agency and that she may have helped arrange her husband's trip."

Associated Press Online July 11, 2003

"One of the mysteries congressional investigators seem intent to explore is how much Cheney knew. White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Monday that Cheney was not informed nor aware of the CIA report casting doubt on the British allegations. But Wilson, the former envoy who helped the CIA write the report, said in an NBC-TV interview last Sunday that Cheney's office requested and received from the CIA a report on Wilson's mission."

As CNN is reporting, it is a federal offense to reveal any CIA agent's name to someone without a security clearance--so, the issue here is not just about whether she was operaitve or that she had run undercover operations (a separate issue) but whether Libby denied that he revealed to others that she was a CIA agent, plain and simple.

Some conservatives are making the case that Valerie Plame was the one who sent her husband to Niger. Contrary to this view, evidence seems to point to the fact that Valerie Plame only "recommended" her husband after higher ups came to her and asked whether he might be a good person to send to Niger to investigate this issue. The implication that she initiated it is wrong. Others in the CIA did--she was simply sought out as a "reference."

People are asking about the "underlying issues"--I believe that Fitzpatrick is using this to leverage more information about higher ups. If Libby caves and gets a plea bargain, he might turn on others who were involved. Just speculation here...

On the other hand, as Carl Bernstein (who with BobWoodward broke the Watergate story) has said in an interview, the issue is much larger. Bernstein says that this entire scandal shows something about the US govt--executive and legislative branches--that is, that Fitzgerald is left with asking and tracking down questions that should have been asked by Congress when the entire effort to go to war was underway.

PlameGate was an effort to shut up critics of the war--a war of political insiders, so to speak. The misinformation and deceit promulgated by the administration in its justification of the war was so suspect that Cheney/Libby had to silence critics who questioned the data provided by the administration. Read more!

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Intelligent Design and the Culture Wars

One issue in the effort by Christian jihadists is the effort undertaken to invalidate the theory of evolution. As part of what is called the "culture wars," the two sides in the war can generally be characterized as "modernists" versus "traditionalists." One sure sign that the Christian jihadists are winning the war will be whether the false science called "intelligent design" (ID) becomes part of every student's education in US schools.

The following article provides a scinetific response to the main bone of contention that IDers have with the scientific theory of evolution. The question of organism complexity has been exploited by creationists and IDers. This article suggests that evolutionists now have the answer to that question.

I believe the article says that evolutionary tweaks are mutational--they are happening randomly all the time. The mutations that accord at the survival level are the ones that get passed on. At least that is how I understand the following sentence:

"So the trunk, antlers, and tusk are really just different expressions of the same type of genetic activity-funneled through the process of natural selection, in which variations useful to a particular environment tend to survive over time."

To characterize this as Dawkins does as the "selfish gene" overstates the case. The selfish gene is what gets passed on, since it is the "solution" to the problem of survival. It will continue to be passed on as long as it is able to overcome those problems, otherwise the organisms that have the gene die out. I guess one can look at it as "selfish" although that seems too anthropomorphic to me.

Some people will assert that all this implies an intelligence behind natural processes. What's the nature of this "has to," as I'll characterize it now? Why not simply see it as a purely biological process? This would mean that within the natural processes there are patterns that result in products that survive. No need to assert any intelligence at all, except the causal structure that we can "find" in the processes and then exploit. The natural world just "is."

That it "is" is an event for awe and wonder--then from this wonder and awe, one can believe what the various religious traditions assert is the "meaning" of this process. But at the natural level itself, there will only be continuing understanding--assertion and counter-assertion that will simply result in more undertsanding of the causal structures involved but no meaning that rises to the level of a religious beliefs.
Missing links
Proponents of Intelligent Design have exploited a vexing question at the heart of Darwin's theory. Now, say two leading biologists, scientists can - and must - answer back.
By Peter Dizikes | October 23, 2005

. . . . . . .

As it happens, Kirschner and Gerhart give several of these advances in evolutionary biology a broad public airing as coauthors of a new book, ''The Plausibility of Life," published this week by Yale University Press. In it, they discuss the origins of complicated biological features-from the bat's wing to the human eye-and present their theory of ''facilitated variation," which they believe addresses a major question in evolution: How can small genetic changes develop into complex, useful body parts? In a sign of the times, they also rebut claims of irreducible complexity made by Intelligent Design advocates.

In so doing, Kirschner and Gerhart say, they are tackling an issue evolutionists have often left unexamined. ''The question of how variation could be produced has been there from the beginning," says Gerhart, referring to the publication of Charles Darwin's ''On the Origin of Species" in 1859. By the 1940s, the so-called ''Modern Synthesis" of evolutionary theory powerfully buttressed Darwin's insights on natural selection with the post-Darwinian discoveries about the mechanisms of heredity. But, the authors write, the Modern Synthesis was ''silent" about the way organisms generated variation. It is not coincidental, they add, that because ''variation is the least understood of the theoretical underpinnings of evolutionary theory," it thus ''is currently the favorite target" of creationists.

Kirschner and Gerhart say this situation has now changed. Organisms, they assert, have a far greater capacity to generate rapid and complex variations than even biologists had previously supposed. Moreover, from the genetic level up to our visible features, organisms have a modular structure. In this sense, complex features are less like singularly intricate structures than a collection of building blocks.

Significantly, Kirschner and Gerhart write, while random genetic mutations in our DNA code cause variations, these mutations do not create random effects (a traditional working assumption of many evolutionists). Instead, all organisms have maintained an essentially intact set of vital mechanisms-metabolism, reproduction of DNA, growth mechanisms, and more-for at least 2 billion years. These elements, along with a long-conserved body plan common to many animals, serve as the platform for subsequent, often more visible variations.

Consider the elephant's trunk, the elk's antlers, and the narwhal's tusk, which all appear to be distinct, complex innovations. But as Kirschner and Gerhart point out, the same type of cell guided their growth in each animal. Moreover, the modular structure of life means these body parts could develop without affecting the rest of the organism. (A corollary is that it only takes limited genetic changes to bring about large bodily changes.) So the trunk, antlers, and tusk are really just different expressions of the same type of genetic activity-funneled through the process of natural selection, in which variations useful to a particular environment tend to survive over time.

Kirschner and Gerhart also suggest Behe does not consider modularity in his claim that only ''staggeringly complex biochemical processes" lie behind the composition of, say, an eye. As they note, the eyes of insects and mammals, each of which appear to be singularly complex, share important biochemical building blocks and connections among their components.

''People should be asking about the nature of complexity, not just how complex it is," amplifies Kirschner, in conversation. ''You look at a clock, and you see that every part is purposely made. That's what you would do if you were an Intelligent Designer. But instead, when you look at biology, you find that there are very few types of parts, and they are being co-opted from one place to another. We have a Lego-like capacity to very easily generate new structures."

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Thursday, October 13, 2005

Neocons Jumping Bush Ship?

The group known as the "neocons" or "neoconservative" were instrumental in framing the policy that Pres. Bush used to go to war against Iraq and the so-called war on Terror. Because the war is not going so well, this group of powerful Washington insiders have recently become very ctirical of Bush and the way he has handled this war. Instead, they have called for an even bolder and harsher policy in Iraq, as well as a wider theater of war, including the invasion of Syria and Iran.

If the neocons are deserting Bush, as this piece asserts, who will they back next? Will we be able to tell? I imagine that they'll go stealth, since their high profile in the press has turned too a bright a spotlight on their fascist tendencies.
The conservative crack up
The neocons develop an exit strategy — a political one
By Howard Fineman
MSNBC contributor
Updated: 12:46 p.m. ET Oct. 12, 2005

WASHINGTON - President George W. Bush may have no military exit strategy for Iraq, but the “neocons” who convinced him to go to war there have developed one of their own — a political one: Blame the Administration.

Their neo-Wilsonian theory is correct, they insist, but the execution was botched by a Bush team that has turned out to be incompetent, crony-filled, corrupt, unimaginative and weak over a wide range of issues.
. . . . . . . .

They think that the Middle East can be remade, and this country made safe, by instilling a semblance of democracy in the Fertile Crescent and beyond. But they seem to have given up on the ability of the Bush Administration to see that vision through.

They want more troops, not fewer; more money, not less; more passion, not the whispered talk of timetables for withdrawal.

Besides championing democracy, we need to show strength and resolve, they believe — and they are no longer convinced that Bush can show much of either.

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Does Intelligent Design Threaten Democracy?

The following article, somewhat tongue in cheek, provides an ahteist/unitarian view into what's wrong politically with "intelligent design." Along the way to "proving his thesis, the author provides some intertesting facts that are put together in a bit of a Rohrschach of liberal paranoia... or is it?
The Imperial City
Backward, Christian Soldiers!

Why must intelligent design be stopped? Because this—God forbid—could be the moment when the theocratization of America makes a real advance.

By Kurt Andersen

Will the Yankees win the pennant and the World Series? Don’t know, don’t really much care. It’s the same with religion: I just don’t get it. There may be a God or—I was raised Unitarian—an oversoul or divine oneness of creation, but I have no conviction one way or the other, nor any itch to shuck off my uncertainty in favor of either atheism or firm belief.

I realize I’m a freak, entirely out of step with the mainstream. According to the polling data, about 5 percent of Americans say they don’t believe in God, and only another 5 percent—my 5 percent—aren’t sure. But almost the whole other 90 percent subscribe to some flavor of (Christian) faith—most of those say that the Bible is literally true, and a good 30 percent believe that it was dictated by God.

And whether they are strict scriptural literalists or not, a huge supermajority of Americans believe in—what else to call it?—magic: 61 percent think the world was created in six days, 70 to 78 percent say that hell and the Devil and angels exist, 81 to 85 percent believe in Heaven. If opinion polling had existed in the Middle Ages, it’s hard to imagine that the numbers would have been much higher.

For practical reasons—reasons both of politics and civility—it ordinarily behooves our tiny minority of reality-based infidels to keep quiet about our astonishment that most of our fellow citizens are in thrall to fantastic medieval fever dreams, just as it behooves secular minorities in Islamic countries to keep their modern sentiments to themselves. In countries like ours, the Iraqs and Afghanistans and USAs, liberals need to pick their battles. . . . . .

So now my interest in the outcome of Kitzmiller et al. v. Dover Area School District—the federal trial of a lawsuit over a Pennsylvania school system’s embrace of intelligent design—is intense. Dover is close, only two hours beyond Philadelphia. Instead of rooting for Derek Jeter this fall, every joule of my home-team passion is going to the heroic team of dissenters in Dover—not just Tammy Kitzmiller and her ten fellow parents who filed suit, but Bertha Spahr and her six fellow teachers who declined to go along with the school board’s crypto-Christian meddling in their science curriculum.

This is the anti-evolution disclaimer the Dover teachers were ordered to read to their ninth-grade classes before they could teach evolution: “Because Darwin’s Theory is a theory, it continues to be tested as new evidence is discovered. . . . Gaps in the Theory exist for which there is no evidence. . . . Intelligent design is an explanation of the origin of life that differs from Darwin’s view.” In a letter to the school superintendent explaining their refusal, the teachers at one point became especially emphatic: “INTELLIGENT DESIGN,” they wrote, caps lock on, “IS NOT SCIENCE. INTELLIGENT DESIGN IS NOT BIOLOGY. INTELLIGENT DESIGN IS NOT AN ACCEPTED SCIENTIFIC THEORY.” . . . .

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Grand Jury Looking at VP Cheney's Role in Plamegate

According to this article, as I suggested several days ago, the grand jury investigating the outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame is looking at VP Cheney's role. According to inside sources, says this article, special prosecutor Fitzgerald is seeking evidence that Cheney was in on meetings where the outing was dicussed and planned.

It appears that Plame's overseas CIA operation had already been shut down a year or so before--therefore, outing her may seem to be no big deal. However, the countererargument to this is that 1) outing her nevertheless is a felony 2) puts her contacts for the overseas operation in jeopardy 3) dissuades others others who might consider working with CIA from doing so and 4) places Plame's life in jeopardy because those who were fingered by her operation or their associates may seek retaliation--knowing her name basically gives them the ease of looking her name up in the phone book or perhaps sitting outside CIA headquarters and "taking her out."
Vice President's role in outing of CIA agent under examination, sources close to prosecutor say
Jason Leopold

Cheney's role in CIA outing not known

Special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald is trying to determine whether Vice President Dick Cheney had a role in the outing of covert CIA operative Valerie Plame-Wilson, individuals close to Fitzgerald say. Plame’s husband was a vocal critic of prewar intelligence used by President George W. Bush to build support for the Iraq war.

The investigation into who leaked the officer's name to reporters has now turned toward a little known cabal of administration hawks known as the White House Iraq Group (WHIG), which came together in August 2002 to publicize the threat posed by Saddam Hussein. WHIG was founded by Bush chief of staff Andrew Card and operated out of the Vice President’s office.

Fitzgerald’s examination centers on a group of players charged with not only selling the war, but according to sources familiar with the case, to discredit anyone who openly “disagreed with the official Iraq war” story.

[b]The group’s members included Deputy White House chief of staff Karl Rove, Bush advisor Karen Hughes, Senior Advisor to the Vice President Mary Matalin, Deputy Director of Communications James Wilkinson, Assistant to the President and Legislative Liaison Nicholas Calio, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley and I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby - Chief of Staff to the Vice President and co-author of the Administration's pre-emptive strike policy.[/b]

. . . . . . .

Cheney’s role under scrutiny

[b]Two officials close to Fitzgerald told RAW STORY they have seen documents obtained from the White House Iraq Group which state that Cheney was present at several of the group's meetings. They say Cheney personally discussed with individuals in attendance at least two interviews in May and June of 2003 Wilson gave to New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof and Washington Post reporter Walter Pincus, in which he claimed the administration “twisted” prewar intelligence and what the response from the administration should be.[/b]

Cheney was interviewed by the FBI surrounding the leak in 2004. According to the New York Times, Cheney was asked whether he knew of any concerted effort by White House aides to name Ms. Wilson.

Sources close to the investigation have also confirmed that special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald is trying to determine Vice President Cheney's role in the outing of Mrs. Wilson, more specifically, if Cheney ordered the leak.

Those close to Fitzgerald say they have yet to uncover any evidence that suggests Cheney ordered the leak or played a role in the outing of Mrs. Wilson. [b]Still, the sources said they are investigating claims that Cheney may have been involved based on his attendance at meetings of the Iraq group.[/b] Previous reports indicate Cheney was intimately involved with the framing of the Iraq war.

On Wednesday, The Wall Street Journal confirmed that the Iraq group was under scrutiny.

“Formed in August 2002, the group, which included Messrs. [Karl] Rove and [Lewis] Libby, worked on setting strategy for selling the war in Iraq to the public in the months leading up to the March 2003 invasion,” the Journal reported. “The group likely would have played a significant role in responding to [former Ambassador Joseph] Wilson's claims” that the Bush administration twisted intelligence when it said Iraq tried to acquire yellow-cake uranium from Africa.

Rove's "strategic communications" task force operating inside the group was instrumental in writing and coordinating speeches by senior Bush administration officials, highlighting in September 2002 that Iraq was a nuclear threat.

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Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Zawahiri's Letter to Zarqawi

The full text of this letter is now available on the web. The letter has generated much discussion, if not simply because it outlines a grand plan of al-Qaeda and its long-term goals in the Mideast. Only fragments of this letter were originally published by the US govt., so a full text of it is important.

The text of this letter can appear pretty ominous. Yet, in understanding its implication, you should bear in mind the possibility that Zawahiri's text is a way to better "morale" of the troops in Iraq. While his long-term plans sound quite grand, the question is how realistic they are. Therefore, I think the following article presents a pretty clear analysis of Al-Qaeda's transnational pretensions--in a nutshell, it encapsulates the grand illusions of the extremists and the realities of the world situation.

I wonder how many of the so-called terrorist plots and otherwise are not really a way to boslter the notion that "we" are to fear some 1984-like enemy, whose face is bib-Laden but whose identity is completely blown up out of proportion to the actual threat. Indeed, there is some evidence that security forces in Indonesia actually carried out the Bali bombing, and was not an al-Qaeda operation, contrary to vast media reporting around the world.

I believe that Francis Fukuyama has addressed this issue, as have others who have attacked the notion that the jihadis in any way represent anything but a minisucle minority within the 1.3B Islamic population.
A transnational umma: reality or myth?
Fred Halliday
7 - 10 - 2005

The notion of a global jihad animating a universal, boundary-dissolving Islamic community is compelling to many. Fred Halliday assesses its truth.

In the four years since 9/11 much has been written, in the west and in the Islamic world, about the emergence of a new “transnational” and militant Islam, a community of jihadis who operate independently of states, recruit from many countries, and whose operations are not confined to any particular state. Al-Qaida, for example, has had fighters from dozens of countries – from Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Egypt and Morocco, to Bosnia, Chechnya, the Philippines and Pakistan (and, on occasion, Britain, France, and Australia also).

In one sense, there is nothing particularly Muslim about this phenomenon. The facility of virtual and physical movement today means that many ideas, symbols, and causes are transmitted globally and near-instantaneously. British surprise that the 7 July bombers were “homegrown” missed the fact that there very few purely “homegrown” things left – and that, in any case, at least one of the bombers had been exposed to Pakistani Islamist, if not al-Qaida, influence.

. . . . . . .

The limits of universalism

Al-Qaida’s current status as an apparently free-floating and stateless group, it must be recalled, is for Osama bin Laden and his cohorts very much a second best. Al-Qaida began life and long continued its operations with the support of states:

* 1980s, phase one: activity in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United States
* 1990-96, phase two: work alongside the Islamist revolutionary regime in Sudan to export revolution to Egypt, Algeria, Saudi Arabia and Eritrea
* 1996-2001, phase three: operations from Afghanistan, as an ally of the Taliban government

Al-Qaida is a state-centred group in a further, highly important, sense: its goal is to take power in specific Islamic states and establish a new form of authoritarian government, a caliphate. The preferred option and long-term goal of al-Qaida is therefore not something different from “transnationalism”

The Muslim world is not, nor ever has been, defined wholly or mainly in terms of the umma or transnational linkages and identities. To be sure, forms of solidarity over Muslim-related political conflicts and issues – such as Palestine, Kashmir and now Iraq – do exert a hold on many people, and inspire some to radical activism. But just as the international communist movement after 1917 masked sharp internal differences of culture, politics and interest, so today’s global jihadi movement contains such fissures. The umma may not be as stateless, fluid or international as it appears.

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Tuesday, October 11, 2005

The Iron Wall of Israel: A History of Lies and Deceit

The following link provides a rather rambling account of "new Israeli historian" Avi Shlaim. It is interesting because it provides some point-counterpoint between Shlaim's own hetreodox views and those of another hsitorian who disagrees with some of his main points.
Avi Shlaim: No peaceful solution
Ha'aretz, 13 August 2005

And apparently, despite his very innocent appearance, with his curls and his slow speech, Avi Shlaim - the third and least familiar member of the group of new historians - knows that he is a sort of enemy of the people, and even enjoys it with refined British enjoyment. And now he has come to Israel, armed with his book, "The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World."

After reading the 573 pages of the book, one can understand why Sharon and Livnat do not want Shlaim to be taught here: in very readable prose, based on facts, he surveys the history of Israel's contacts with the Arab world from 1948 to 2000, and states decisively ("The job of the historian is to judge," he says) that the Israeli story that Israel has always stretched out its hand to peace, but there was nobody to talk to - is groundless. The Arabs have repeatedly outstretched a hand to peace - says Shlaim - and Israel has always rejected it. Each time with a different excuse.

. . . . . . . . .

At the start of his academic career, says Shlaim, he made a deliberate decision not to deal with the Middle East conflict. Slowly but surely, however, he was pulled into it. An article here, an article there. In 1982 he came to Israel with a stipend to write a study on the influence of the Israel Defense Forces on Israeli foreign policy. Just then the archives dealing with the 1948 war were opened, and Shlaim found himself sitting in the State Archive for days on end. "Then my eyes were opened," he says. "I had the knowledge acquired in childhood, and I believed in Israel's purity of arms, I believed that Israel was the victim. I discovered documents that showed me other things."

Benny Morris once told me that when he found a document that proved an act of massacre or murder, he was happy about the historical discovery, but felt shame as an Israeli. What did you feel?

"I didn't sit in the IDF archive and I wasn't exposed to documents about acts of murder or rape. I worked with diplomatic papers. I didn't feel shame, but I was astonished. I knew that in every country there's a gap between rhetoric and practice, but I don't know of any country where the gap is as great as in Israel. All the leaders speak about peace, Golda Meir used to say that she was willing to travel anywhere in the world to make peace. But these were not truthful words. In the archive, in the Israeli papers, I found that all the Arab leaders were practical people, people who wanted peace.

"Take, for example, Hosni Zaim (the Syrian chief of staff who took over the government in 1949 and was deposed a few months later - M.R.). He said that his ambition was to be the first Arab leader to make peace with Israel. He proposed an exchange of ambassadors, agreed to absorb a quarter of a million Palestinian refugees in Syria, but demanded that the border pass through the middle of Lake Kinneret. He didn't issue any ultimatum about the rest of the refugees. I was astonished by the Israeli reaction. Ben-Gurion said: First we'll sign a cease-fire agreement with Syria, then we'll see. That destroyed my childhood version. It's not that Ben-Gurion didn't want peace, he wanted peace, but on the basis of the status quo. Israel said at the time that there was nobody to talk to. The truth is that Israel was actually saying that there was nothing to talk about."

Based on this statement, which took shape among the shelves of the State Archive in Jerusalem, Shlaim wrote his book "Collusion in Transjordan," which was published the same year as the books by Morris, Pappe and Flapan, those same famous - or infamous - "new historians," depending on the eye of the beholder.

In an article by Shlaim a few years ago, he summarized what seemed to him the five main arguments of the new historians:

* The official version said that Britain tried to prevent the establishment of a Jewish state; the "new historians" claimed that it tried to prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state

* The official version said that the Palestinians fled their homes of their own free will; the "new historians" said that the refugees were chased out or expelled

* The official version said that the balance of power was in favor of the Arabs; the "new historians" said that Israel had the advantage both in manpower and in arms

* The official version said that the Arabs had a coordinated plan to destroy Israel; the "new historians" said that the Arabs were divided

* The official version said that Arab intransigence prevented peace; the "new historians" said that Israel is primarily to blame for the dead end.

. . . . . .

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Monday, October 10, 2005

On Sayid Qutb and Kierkegaard

I reject Qutb's understanding of Judaism, which might be boiled down to the negative comments contained in the Koran that associate Jews with inveterate soies. It is interesting to note, though, that Qutb gives the Jews a back-handed compliment in the form of saying that if they had continued to put into practice the laws and prohibitions contained in the Torah they would have remained in God's good graces. Yet, he also understood that any sense of "chosen people" is more a human construct than God's.

I doubt that Kierkegaard would have advocated mass slaughter of innocents the way G. Bush has and Qutb's erstwhile followers like bin-Laden and Zawahiri do. Kierkegaard presupposes love in the enemy. What or how that might be done in the present war against terrorism is the question. I have suggested that this has to be done by "understanding" where the enemy is "coming from." This literally means taking on the worst fears one has about them as enemies and confronting them on their own ground. The love here means taking their beliefs and thoughts seriously--not closing yourself to the possibility that what they are right, in some respect. This is what Kierkegaard called presupposing love. The point is to find how one's enemy actually does love but has mutilated that love through some type of self-delusion.

Until one understands that, then one can kill, sure, but in doing so don't associate Kierkegaard's name with it--it is simply your own unwillingness to face the reality of the other--to express that love that one is commanded to exhibit towards even one's enemies, as Jesus says.

I hoped that our leaders would grasp this, given their professed Christian leanings. Instead they advocate the ruthless, heartless, and desperate annihilation of a group of people they seem not to even pretend to try to understand. If you believe that George Bush understands the enemy in any way other than "white hat/black hat" cliches, then I think you should look at your preconceptions.

In lieu of a real Kierkegaardian analysis of the present situation, I suggest that you take another gander at his work, _Sickness Unto Death_. There's several great translations out there. If one wants to understand Qutb and those extremists who follow his later teachings, I think starting there is the right place. Given his personal sufering, I think Qutb's thought attempts to rise above that in a form of ethico-religious belief that is too rigidly ethically didactic. This is understandable, given the moral desolation he saw around him, but the attempt to assert a systematic resolution to all of humanity's problems is at best aesthetic, at worst anti-ethical.

What Qutb failed to realize is that any assertion of authority in the present age is what is in question. The effects of scientism and rationalism undermine all attempts at asserting anything authoritatively. His attempt to return to the Koran to ascertain truths above and beyond any human doubt is praiseworthy, but it does not adequately address the issue of human sinfulness nor the commandement to love one another and one's enemies.

While there is fear and tembling in his writings--and this is the positive aspect of his work--that fear and trembling is not sustained in continuing openness to God's demands nor the reality of human finitude and inability to grasp adequately the infinite demands of the eternal reality but is shut off in the belief that the Koran is to be followed on a social level. This does not adequately address the subjective fear and trembling that must accompany every human undertaking--the fear and trembling, that is, given the spiritual inability of humans to transparently understand God's will.

For a Kierkegaardian/Girardian understanding of the 911 bombers, consider an article written by Charles K Bellinger Read more!

Friday, October 07, 2005

Al Gore: Us Democracy in Trouble

In the following speech, former Democratic presidential candidate, Al Gore, explains why the current American politcal landscape seems so "strange." Providing several examples from the founding fathers and other political philosophers, Gore argues that current news media have been deranged by reporting that is empty and vapid. Saying this is obvious, yet the reasons he provides for why this might be are informative. Among the most important influences he sees at work in this is the imposing of entertainment values on the way news is reported.

His "solution" seems somewhat anemic, however, falling back on the old cliches about the WWW and the Internet. He also speaks of the "rule of reason," as necessary for reinvigorating the public space. It is exactly the "rule," however, that hs become immensely doubtful, and whether a return to it is at possible is highly debatable, not to mention whether it is indeed even desirable. I do think, though, that he has pinpointed a malady--whether or not his solution is adequate is up for discussion.
American Democracy in Trouble
It is no longer possible to ignore the strangeness of our public discourse
Keynote Speech by Al Gore
We Media Conference in New York, NY
October 5, 2005

I came here today because I believe that American democracy is in grave danger. It is no longer possible to ignore the strangeness of our public discourse. I know that I am not the only one who feels that something has gone basically and badly wrong in the way America's fabled "marketplace of ideas" now functions.

How many of you, I wonder, have heard a friend or a family member in the last few years remark that it's almost as if America has entered "an alternate universe"?

I thought maybe it was an aberration when three-quarters of Americans said they believed that Saddam Hussein was responsible for attacking us on September 11, 2001. But more than four years later, between a third and a half still believe Saddam was personally responsible for planning and supporting the attack. . . . . . .

On the eve of the nation's decision to invade Iraq, our longest serving senator, Robert Byrd of West Virginia, stood on the Senate floor asked: "Why is this chamber empty? Why are these halls silent?"

The decision that was then being considered by the Senate with virtually no meaningful debate turned out to be a fateful one. A few days ago, the former head of the National Security Agency, Retired Lt. General William Odom, said, "The invasion of Iraq, I believe, will turn out to be the greatest strategic disaster in U.S. history." . . . .

And here is my point: it is the destruction of that marketplace of ideas that accounts for the "strangeness" that now continually haunts our efforts to reason together about the choices we must make as a nation. . . . .

The three most important characteristics of this marketplace of ideas were:

1) It was open to every individual, with no barriers to entry, save the necessity of literacy. This access, it is crucial to add, applied not only to the receipt of information but also to the ability to contribute information directly into the flow of ideas that was available to all; 2) The fate of ideas contributed by individuals depended, for the most part, on an emergent Meritocracy of Ideas. Those judged by the market to be good rose to the top, regardless of the wealth or class of the individual responsible for them; 3) The accepted rules of discourse presumed that the participants were all governed by an unspoken duty to search for general agreement. That is what a "Conversation of Democracy" is all about. . . . . . . . . . .

Our democracy has been hallowed out. The opinions of the voters are, in effect, purchased, just as demand for new products is artificially created. Decades ago Walter Lippman wrote, "the manufacture of consent...was supposed to have died out with the appearance of democracy...but it has not died out. It has, in fact, improved enormously in technique...under the impact of propaganda, it is no longer plausible to believe in the original dogma of democracy."

Like you, I recoil at Lippman's cynical dismissal of America's gift to human history. But in order to reclaim our birthright, we Americans must resolve to repair the systemic decay of the public forum and create new ways to engage in a genuine and not manipulative conversation about our future. Americans in both parties should insist on the re-establishment of respect for the Rule of Reason. We must, for example, stop tolerating the rejection and distortion of science. We must insist on an end to the cynical use of pseudo studies known to be false for the purpose of intentionally clouding the public's ability to discern the truth. . . . . . . . . . . . .

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Are We Under Attack from Satan, or just Gays?

The following article discusses the "Left behind" publishing phenomenonm. This series of books deals with the Xtian notion of the "end-times," supposedly outlined in the biblical book of "Revelation." The series itself has sold over 60 million copies worldwide, far outdistancing such counter-Xtian works as "The Da Vinci Code."

According to this author, the series is uniquely American and represents both the paranoia of the Xtian conservative branch of politics, as well as reflecting anxieties in the hearts of American Xtians.

The myths, however, upon which this series, as well as the main framework for the end-times genre (the Hal Lindsay books, the Omen cycle, etc.), although supposedly based on the book of Revelation actually originates in Vladimir Solovyov's great, but little understood work, War, Progress, and the End of History: Three Conversations, Including a Short Story of the Anti-Christ. The Polish poet, Czeslaw Milosz, has an excellent essay on this work, as well as the entire corpus of end-time scenarios in his work, Emperor of the Earth: Modes of Eccentric Vision.
Fundamentalist mind siege and psychic terrorism
by Michael Standaert

Katrina. Rita. Indonesia. London. Madrid. Gaza. Iraq. Sudan.
In the past year or so, the real world has been battered by natural disasters, terrorist attacks, war, and famine. Even as you read the prequels to the Left Behind series, you're drawn into a fictional world revealing the dark side of life and the coming judgment for those who reject God's redemption.

This vague and fear-filled quote is the lead from the latest monthly ‘Left Behind’ email newsletter from Tyndale House, publishers of the fictionalized accounts of the ‘End Times’, the Left Behind novels, written by Jerry B Jenkins and constructed by Tim LaHaye, one of America’s leading politically active fundamentalist preachers of the past 30 years. The first in a three-novel prequel series to Left Behind, The Rising: Antichrist is Born, [1] came out in early 2005; while the second, The Regime, is due out later this autumn. Since first appearing in the mid-90s, the series has sold over 70 million books, mostly in the United States.

The only other publishing phenomenon that compares to the success of the Left Behind novels in the past decade is the Harry Potter series, which had sold an estimated 250 million copies worldwide before the release of the sixth book in the summer of 2005. The Da Vinci Code has sold somewhere around seven million copies in the US and 15 million worldwide. But where both these books have a worldwide reach, the Left Behind novels are more specifically American. Before the release of the final book of the regular series, The Glorious Appearing, the Left Behind series had sold over 60 million copies in less than 10 years in the US, with another 20 million in spin-offs, mainly comic books and teen versions of the adult series marketed toward children.


1 In this most recent novel, we find out that the Antichrist character Nicolae Carpathia has been born form [sic] [b]the combined sperm of two Romanian intellectual, homosexual lovers and the egg of an ambiguously lesbian mother.[/b]

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Former Soldier Writes Book No US Company Would Touch

Why would US companies refuse to publish a book that details brutality by US soldiers in Iraq? The following article indicates that a former soldier writes vividly of how US soldiers used violence in Iraq that created an environment of desensitization to human concern for Iraqis. The book also makes a case that much of the violence used by the insurgents is simply a reflection of this ultra-violence visisted upon the Iraqi population by the soldiers.

I condemn any rationalization of US violence to justify the heinous and barbaric suicide bommbings and ehtnic violence that is tearing Iraq apart. If there is justification to this soldier's story it involves the notion of violence and revenge killings that permeate a semi-tribal society such as Iraq. The US govt. certainly never took into consideration this cultural aspect when it planned its war in Iraq. Once a country visits violence into this type of environment, it will simply create a cycle of killings that might take decades to burn itself out.
Ex-Marine denounces US brutality in Iraq in new book
Paris, AFP

US military training has created troops so desensitised to violence that battleground brutality in Iraq is rampant and has helped fuel the bloody insurgency seen there, a new book released today in France by a former Marine says.

US military training has created troops so desensitised to violence that battleground brutality in Iraq is rampant -- and has helped fuel the bloody insurgency seen there, a new book released today in France by a former Marine says.

Jimmy Massey, a former staff sergeant, told AFP that the daily attacks now doled out to US-led forces and Iraqi civilians are "because of the brutality that the Iraqi people saw at the start of the invasion." In his book, "Kill! Kill! Kill!", he says he and other Marines in his unit killed dozens of unarmed Iraqi civilians because of an exaggerated sense of threat, and that they often experienced sexual-type thrills doing so.

The book was being released first in France -- and in French -- because, he said, "I didn't find an American publisher." The French journalist who helped him write the work, Natasha Saulnier, said she believed the US companies were reluctant to touch the book because its "controversial" nature threatened commercial interests and the US public's image of their fighting forces.

Massey, who left Iraq in May 2003 shortly after US President George W Bush declared "mission accomplished", wrote the book after being discharged from the Marines with a diagnosed case of post-trauma stress syndrome.

"It's been a healing experience," he said. "It allowed me to close a lot of chapters and answer a lot of questions."

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Was Rove ordered to Testify or did He Volunteer?

Karl Rove, Bush campaign advisor and architect of many Bush policies, will testify to a grand jury investigating his role in the Valerie Plame "CIA outing" case. This will be Rove's fourth time testifying before the grand jury, but this time he has not been assured that he will not be indicted following his testimony.

It's getting confusing to figure out who did what to whom in this case. Did Rove volunteer to testify before the "Plamegate" grand jury or did federal prosecutor Fitzgerald "order" him to appear?

The following article in the NY Times suggests that Rove was ordered to appear. This contradcits previous reports that Rove asked to be heard by the grand jury. In the meantime, the article also suggests that Fitzgerald is considering issuing some type of indictment for illegal activities. These might or might not include Rove; they might also include White House aide "Scooter" Libby.
Prosecutor in Leak Inquiry Orders Rove to Return Again
Published: October 7, 2005

WASHINGTON, Oct. 6 - The special prosecutor in the C.I.A. leak case has summoned Karl Rove, the senior White House adviser, to return next week to testify to a federal grand jury in a step that could mean charges will be filed in the case, lawyers in the case said Thursday.

The prosecutor, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, has held discussions in recent days with lawyers for several administration officials suggesting that he is considering whether to charge them with a crime over the disclosure of an intelligence operative's identity in a 2003 newspaper column.

Mr. Fitzgerald is said by some of the lawyers to have indicated that he has not made up his mind about whether to accuse anyone of wrongdoing and will use the remaining days before the grand jury's term expires on Oct. 28 to decide.

Mr. Rove has appeared before the grand jury on three previous occasions.

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Thursday, October 06, 2005

US Army War College: Detente with Islamic Moderates

I have been advocating the position proposed by the following article for some time now: 1) the Huntigton model is outdated and ultimately promotes a self-fulfilling prophecy and 2) any viable model will involve getting moderate Moslems on our side.

As I have noted before, the US needs to hold Israel to the line and get a Palestinian state established or revoke all US tax-payer dollars headed to Israel; use back-channels and public statements to reassure Iran that the US will take a N. Korea approach to its energy and security problems; and promote goodwill in the worldwide Moslem community by feting Islamic moderates.
An Analytical Framework to Demystify the Radical Islamist Threat
From Parameters, Autumn 2005, pp. 72-86

In the Winter 2004-05 issue of Parameters, Philip Seib makes a laudable effort to establish the imperative for journalists, policymakers, and the American public to “undertake a more sophisticated analysis of how the world works.” This is critical because the analytical framework adopted by the media and policymakers has a direct effect on how they approach news coverage and frame discussions regarding the threat posed by radical Islamist extremists. This in turn directly affects public opinion in the United States and the world, which in the context of a war of ideas is directly related to the success or failure of both sides. Professor Seib also pointed out the fact that the “clash of civilizations” theory espoused by Samuel Huntington has been widely criticized, and this article rejects it as an appropriate analytical framework. Our purpose is to provide an alternative framework that portrays the current global conflict as a clash of systems, not civilizations.

The central danger of accepting Huntington’s model as a basis for analysis is that it is the chosen model of radical Islamists, who in turn use it to mobilize support. If a clash of civilizations is accepted in the West—or worse, accepted by the populations in Muslim states—then the forces attempting to overturn the global system could eventually succeed. Success, however, is not battalions of extremist Islamists marching down Pennsylvania Avenue; rather, it is the replacement of “apostate” regimes with an Islamic Caliphate, which can occur only once the current US-led global system is destroyed. Therefore, it is imperative that the wider global war on terror focus on the systemic implications of the struggle, which provides a credible methodology to address and mitigate the root causes that fuel the ideology of extremist Islamism.

. . . . . .

Bridging the Gap: The Struggle Across the Middle East

From a geostrategic perspective, these areas include a variety of states across the region where Islamists are actively engaged in attempting to instill their vision of a sharia-based Islamic umma. Currently, radical Islamists do not wield complete control in any state. The only state that comes close is Iran, but even Iran is caught in the struggle between religious fundamentalists and moderates who seek to modernize their country and bring to it some of the benefits of globalization. A second category of states is those in which the leaders have attempted to strike bargains with their nation’s indigenous Islamist elements in order to remain in power, such as Egypt, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia. Finally, there are also states whose governments have chosen to restrict or even eliminate all Islamist elements from gaining enough power, influence, and authority to establish themselves as a true force for change, such as Algeria, Tunisia, and Turkey.

A further complicating factor is the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian and wider Arab-Israeli conflict, which is truly about land and not religion or ideology, counter to what the Islamists would have us believe. This aspect represents a true conundrum for US Middle East policy, as it presents an opportunity for Islamists to encroach in an area that allows them to sway the opinion of the Arab street toward their ideology. Bin Laden’s attempt to hijack the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for his own purposes, adding the removal of the “Zionists” from Arab territory as one of al Qaeda’s stated goals, illustrates clearly his attempt to develop a clash of civilizations.

If the United States is to be victorious in the Global War on Terrorism, it must not allow the situation to devolve into Huntington’s simplistic, apocalyptic vision of a clash of civilizations. Instead, the United States must understand the implications of its leadership in the global system, and how to use this position to demonstrate to moderates in the Islamic world why they should join us rather than attempt to beat us.

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Islamic Moderate: Tariq Ramadan

Some neoconservatives and chicken hawks contiinue to hold the Israeli hard line on detente with moderate Islamic thinkers. They accuse Ramadan as being a wolf in sheep's clothing. Although Ramadan has been accepted as a participant on a British-govt. sponsored board, others continue to attack his policies and proposals. As the following article points out, Ramadan's proposals are quite moderate and provide a viable framework within which Moslems and westerners can find workable solutions.

One critic of Ramadan is Daniel Pipes, whose damning attack on Ramadan drew wide coverage in the blogosphere. Pipes' argument boils down to trying to piant Ramadan as a sheep in wolf's clothing. Ramdan, for his part, responded in detail to Pipes' attack. For a detailed deconstruction of Pipes' attack on ramadan, consider the "A Fistful of Euros" blog. Here we find that Pipes' argument is based on very very shaky readings of French sources, as well as anachronistic fallacies.

You should bear in mind that Tony Blair has asked ramadan to serve on a high-profile committee to study Islamic issues in Britian and Europe. I imagine that before Ramadan was aksed to do this, he was adequately "vetted" by either MI-6 (Britian's intelleigence service) or some political operatives in Blair's government. I do not think that Blair is so ignorant nor stupid to include a flaming extremist on a govt-sponsored committee.

My guess is that Blair--after having the guy vetted--wanted to include someone on this committee who some "street crds" with the Moslem committee. Street creds in this context means that he has shown himself unwilling to swallow whole the cant that is the usual part line emanating from the mouthes and brains of neo-cons, religious right fanatics, and the Israeli lobby.

For some, of course, simply voicing any opposition to Israel--however muted--is immediately suspect. Imagine their growing concern with a highly educated, very charismatic, well-spoken moderate Muslim who presents a face of Islam that contradicts their propaganda image of all Moslems as slavering, bomb-throwing fanatics with blood dripping from their hands.

Other links on Ramadan:

Not a fanatic after all?
Islamic militant or revolutionary?
My fellow Muslims, we must fight anti-Semitism

Tariq Ramadan: Dream of a patchwork philosopher
Acclaimed thinker moves to Oxford this week to write a book reconciling Islam and Europe. By Polly Curtis
Polly Curtis
Tuesday October 4, 2005

The well-oiled machine of the Labour conference came to a brief standstill last week. As a Guardian-sponsored debate on Islam in Britain neared its end, a Swiss philosopher was speaking in a steady tone, describing his vision of how a patchwork of communities, defined by faith and origin, could become a truly British society. A member of the hotel's staff arrived to turf everyone out. Instead, he stopped and listened.

Tariq Ramadan has that effect on people. He has a global following, particularly among young European Muslims. CDs of his lectures sell like pop music. He's one of the world's 100 greatest thinkers, according to Time magazine and last week's Prospect poll; some see him as a Martin Luther King figure. This week, he takes up a position as visiting professor at St Antony's College, Oxford. But he's also been accused of anti-semitism, having links to terrorists and preaching different messages according to his audience.

After the debate, with the muffled sounds of conference parties in the background, Ramadan describes the 20 years he has spent on his project to promote the idea of a compatible European-Muslim identity. As a teenager, he underwent religious training in Egypt. Back in Switzerland, he studied European philosophy, gaining two PhDs, one on Islam, the other on Nietzsche. He picked apart the Islamic scriptures and considered the laws of liberal democracies, and concluded that both were flexible enough to coexist.

But to realise this, everyone, Muslim and non-Muslim, had to be able to accept that their values might be different from those of people around them, but that they were still part of one society. He calls it "psychological integration".

It's a seductive idea of tolerance and understanding. But when Muslims are being accused of terrorism and extremism, what is easier: to retreat into the safety of their own community, or work their way into the wider society? It's a difficult psychological leap, Ramadan agrees. "We need an intellectual revolution. First it's about education. It's about self-confidence. Don't look at yourself as part of a marginalised minority. At the moment, there is a 'protect yourself' mentality among Muslims. But the best way to be respected is to give something to your society. To give value and presence."

.. . . . . . .

Ramadan's grandfather was Hassan al-Banna, who founded the Muslim Brotherhood in 1928, a political movement opposed to British imperial rule in Egypt. It believed in bringing traditional Islam into a modern context, the same idea that reverberates noisily through Ramadan's work. His political heritage carries weight with Muslim audiences around the world.

"I'm not representative of young Muslims from disadvantaged backgrounds, because I experienced a political exile, and not an economic exile," he says.

. . . . . .

But the world struggles with his ideas. "My response is too beautiful to be true," he says with frankness. "All the ideas that people have of Islam are of it being a threat. I'm challenging that and people can't believe that that is possible."

If there was any doubt left about his standing, it was eroded last month when the prime minister appointed him to a taskforce to tackle Islamist extremism in Britain. But he is critical of the government for failing to address the issue of the Iraq war in the wake of July 7.

"Of course there is a relationship between what is happening internationally and here. In one of the videotapes, [a bomber] said: 'You are killing our brothers in Baghdad, we are going to kill you here.' He is wrong. What he said is unacceptable. But he is building a political link. So give political answers. It's not right to say this is a Muslim problem. It's a political problem."

Curriculum vitae

Name: Tariq Ramadan
Age: 43
Jobs: Professor of Islamic studies and philosophy, Freiburg University, Switzerland; professor of religious conflict at University of Notre Dame, Indiana (resigned after visa was revoked); senior research fellow at Lokahi foundation, London; visiting professor at St Antony's, Oxford
Likes: spirituality, children, pistachio ice-cream
Dislikes: hypocrisy, disrespect, arrogance
Married: for almost 20 years to a teacher. They have four children

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Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Terror Fashion

There are some advertisements that promote a "look" that mimics the outfits worn by those terrorists who carry out decapitations. This provides at least anecdotal evidence for some of the spiritual desolation of capitalist culture.

Hating an economic system is one of those things that requires some explanation. I think that capitalism has created an historical situation in which forms of life have arisen that are inherently unjust and degrading to each individual's spiritual growth. Since capitalism reduces all human relationships to a common factor, capital, it does not enable the proper establishment of responsible and ethical bases for the way humans treat each other and the way they can relate to something higher than themselves.

This could be something like that--exploiting a "look" to make money. What makes possible the desire to either 1) exploit this situation or 2) want to conform to this "look"? Some people will put it down to simple greed, but that in and of itself implies a notion of sin/guilt. If true, then capitalism promotes sinful disregard for one's own spiritual welfare and incurs unconscious guilt feelings because of this. Read more!

Slave labor by US Companies in Iraq?

To call this slave labor is, of course, inflammatory. Most people will tell you that these people are there of their own "free will," therefore they are not slaves. On the other hand, the conditions under which they work are scandalous. Even the American supervisors who oversee them find their conditions unjust. Not having enough food to eat, under continual fear for their lives, these workers who seek only to better their lives are willing to die so that they can scratch out a living back home. In some sense this appears to be, at the least, a mercenary exploitation of people by American companies.

The responsibilities of these companies towards these workers seem in question. In some people's eyes, the companies are doing a great service by just making the jobs available to them. But when does the saccharine idea of benefiting them become simply an empty platitude? Certainly, in the US such practices would be outrageous, yet because these workers are not Americans they garner none of the same safeguards and consideration that an American in the same situation would get.

I worked in this industry for several years, helping to write proposals. The money these comapnies depends in large part on their costs. If the contracts that they have with the govt. are "fixed fee," then they get to keep any money that they do not spend to do the work. Of course, the question is often how much they say that employing these workers costs the company--that is, they might be billing the govt. many dollars more per employee than they are actually paying the employees.

If the contracts are "cost plus," then their costs are simply covered and they receive a bonus for accomplishing the work. Again, however, how much their costs are depend on how much they actually bill the govt. for the services they provide. See my comments above.

Where does the American reputation for fairness and equality begin and end? It would seem that the least these comanies could do is to 1) pay them a fair wage 2) make sure they are eating right 3) make sure they receive protection equal to the danger they face 4) make sure they receive adequate training and 5) they have the proper equipment to do their jobs.

The bigger issues involve responsibility as human beings treating other humans in a human way. No doubt, there are many inequalities in the world. The question is, how do Americans react to and exploit these inequalities. Responsibility seems to involve the notion that people have an inherent duty to make sure that others do not suffer under conditions for which I have the power to control and modify.

Many of these workers are desperate for work--does that then mean that I take advantage of the situation to make a profit off their situation? By becoming involved with them, it would seem that along with involvement goes certain responsibilites and obligations that I must meet as part of my own moral responsibility towards them. By simply saying that the world is a bad place, that others might be doing the same thing, or that the laws or lack of laws allows this type of exploitation seems to be immoral.

According to Hobbes, one of the basic elements of political agreements is the freedom from fear. In entering into a contract between members of a civil arrangement, agreement assumes that the one with power will protect those that have no power. This basline element seems to have been broached in this situation of workers helping to rebuild Iraq under the supervision of American contractors.

Any type of exploitation is simply wrong. To place it in "historical" persepctive as some try to do by citing slavery and worse forms of human exploitation is simply try to assuage the moral decrepitude that informs these practices. On one level, of course, one can say that the corporations are doing these guys a favor--arguing that they don't have it so good in their country, etc. on the other hand, I argue that injustice is injustice.

Even if someone wants to labor under under an unjust arrangement--and who knows how many reasons there might be for that, reasons that drive people to do desperate things--it would seem that it is still immoral to allow the arrangement to take place.
Blood, Sweat & Tears: Asia’s Poor Build U.S. Bases in Iraq
by David Phinney, Special to CorpWatch
October 3rd, 2005

Jing Soliman left his family in the Philippines for what sounded like a sure thing--a job as a warehouse worker at Camp Anaconda in Iraq. His new employer, Prime Projects International (PPI) of Dubai, is a major, but low-profile, subcontractor to Halliburton's multi-billion-dollar deal with the Pentagon to provide support services to U.S. forces.

But Soliman wouldn’t be making anything near the salaries-- starting $80,000 a year and often topping $100,000-- that Halliburton's engineering and construction unit, Kellogg, Brown & Root (KBR) pays to the truck drivers, construction workers, office workers, and other laborers it recruits from the United States. Instead, the 35-year-old father of two anticipated $615 a month – including overtime. For a 40-hour work week, that would be just over $3 an hour. But for the 12-hour day, seven-day week that Soliman says was standard for him and many contractor employees in Iraq, he actually earned $1.56 an hour.

Soliman planned to send most of his $7,380 annual pay home to his family in the Philippines, where the combined unemployment and underemployment rate tops 28 percent. The average annual income in Manila is $4,384, and the World Bank estimates that nearly half of the nation's 84 million people live on less than $2 a day.

. . . . . . . . . .

But there is also a human cost to this savings. Numerous former American contractors returning home say they were shocked at conditions faced by this mostly invisible, but indispensable army of low-paid workers. TCNs frequently sleep in crowded trailers and wait outside in line in 100 degree plus heat to eat “slop.” Many are said to lack adequate medical care and put in hard labor seven days a week, 10 hours or more a day, for little or no overtime pay. Few receive proper workplace safety equipment or adequate protection from incoming mortars and rockets. When frequent gunfire, rockets and mortar shell from the ongoing conflict hits the sprawling military camps, American contractors slip on helmets and bulletproof vests, but TCNs are frequently shielded only by the shirts on their backs and the flimsy trailers they sleep in.

Adding to these dangers and hardships, some TCNs complain publicly about not being paid the wages they expected. Others say their employers use “bait-and-switch” tactics: recruiting them for jobs in Kuwait or other Middle Eastern countries and then pressuring them to go to Iraq. All of these problems have resulted in labor disputes, strikes and on-the-job protests.

While the exact number of TCNs working in Iraq is uncertain, a rough estimate can be gleaned from Halliburton’s own numbers, which indicate that TCNs make up 35,000 of KBR’s 48,000 workers in Iraq employed under sweeping contract for military support. Known as the Logistics Civilian Augmentation Program (LOGCAP), this contract – by far the largest in Iraq -- is now approaching the $15 billion mark. Citing security concerns, however, the Houston-headquartered company and several other major contractors declined to release detailed figures on the workforce that is estimated to be 100,000 or more.

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David Phinney is a journalist and broadcaster based in Washington, DC, whose work has appeared in The Los Angeles Times, New York Times and on ABC and PBS. He can be contacted at: Lucille Quiambao and Howie Severino reported from the Philippines for this article. Additional research by Pratap Chatterjee. Read more!

Monday, October 03, 2005

Liberal/Conservative Pundits Line Up to Kick Bush's Ass

The list of pundits now against the war in Iraq continues to grow. This gentlemen--from the "liberl/conservative" (That's how they define themselves in the About Us section of their website)--argues that Bush and admin. exercized an historical muopia in getting into Iraq in the first place. Now, Bush continues to display his myopia by vowing to stay the course there.

There's still only one politican I know who has come out for an Iraqi withdrawal: Sen. Feingold. He looks to use this position to catapult him into presidency, no doubt, when the troops are still in Iraq in 2008 or have left with the country of Iraq tearing itself apart in civil war.

Except for Feingold, no other prominent democrat has voiced any opposition to the war, and instead took the Kerry line of "improving" on what George Bush bungled by sending in more troops! I hope the voters remember where these craven leaders were when young men and women died for no reason in a war that never should have been.
Historical ignorance guides Bush in Iraq
Published Sunday, October 2, 2005

In a Sept. 21 speech insisting that the United States must "stay the course" in Iraq, President George W. Bush warned that an early military withdrawal from that country would encourage al-Qaida and other terrorist organizations. Weak U.S. responses to challenges over the past quarter-century have emboldened such people, Bush argued. Among other examples, the president cited the decisions to withdraw troops from Lebanon and Somalia after U.S. forces suffered casualties.

Hawkish pundits have made similar allegations for years. But it is a curious line of argument with ominous implications. President Bush and his supporters clearly assume that the United States should have stayed in both Lebanon and Somalia. The mistake, in their opinion, was not the original decision to intervene but to limit American losses and terminate the missions. This is a classic case of learning the wrong lessons from history.

Even hawkish Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., who was a special assistant to President Ronald Reagan in the 1980s, acknowledges that the decision to send troops into Lebanon was perhaps the worst foreign policy mistake of Reagan’s presidency. The United States promptly found itself in the middle of a civil war as a de facto ally of the Christian-dominated Lebanese government.

American troops became entangled in skirmishes with Muslim militias, and U.S. battleships off the coast proceeded to shell Muslim villages. The disastrous intervention culminated with an attack by a suicide car bomber against the Marine barracks in Beirut that left 241 Marines dead. A few months later, Reagan cut his losses and pulled out of Lebanon.

The Somalia intervention was equally ill-starred. Although President George H.W. Bush sent troops into that country on a humanitarian relief mission, President Bill Clinton soon signed on to the United Nations’ far more ambitious nation-building project. The United States then became entangled in another multisided civil war.

One faction, headed by warlord Mohammed Farah Aideed, increasingly regarded the U.S. forces as an obstacle to its goals. When Washington decided to carry out the United Nations’ edict to arrest Aideed and his followers, Aideed’s militias struck back with a vengeance. The skirmishes culminated in an ambush in the capital city, Mogadishu, that left 18 elite Army Rangers dead. Soon thereafter, Clinton withdrew U.S. forces.

Both Reagan and Clinton made the right decision. It was not a mistake to withdraw and limit our losses. The real mistake was the decision to intervene in such strategically and economically irrelevant snake pits in the first place.

. . . . .

As in Lebanon and Somalia, it would have been better if the United States had never launched the ill-advised nation-building crusade in Iraq. Unfortunately, that is not the case, and so we now must choose between two bad alternatives.

Since Bush has learned the wrong lessons from history, he seems determined to pursue the least advisable one.

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Ted Galen Carpenter, vice president for defense and foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute, is the author or editor of 16 books on international affairs. Readers may write to the author at the Cato Institute, 1000 Massachusetts Ave. N.W., Washington, D.C., 20001; Web site: Read more!

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Israel Prepared to Strike Iran

This backs up the topic I did on Israelis in Kurdistan. No doubt, these spies are there to infiltrate Iran and set up forward operating bases and coordinate efforts for a strike on Iran.
Israelis urge U.S. to stop Iran's nuke goals
By David R. Sands
September 30, 2005

The United States and its allies must act to stop Iran's nuclear programs -- by force if necessary -- because conventional diplomacy will not work, three senior Israeli lawmakers from across the political spectrum warned yesterday.
As a last resort, they said, Israel itself would act unilaterally to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear arms.
Iran will not be deterred "by anything short of a threat of force," said Arieh Eldad, a member of Israel's right-wing National Union Party, part of a delegation of Knesset members visiting Washington this week.
"They won't be stopped unless they are convinced their programs will be destroyed if they continue," he said.
Yuval Steinitz, chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, said the best hope was for the United States and other major powers to make it clear to Iranian leaders now there was "no chance they will ever see the fruits of a nuclear program."
"Threats of sanctions and isolation alone will not do it," said Mr. Steinitz.
Yosef Lapid, head of the centrist opposition Shinui Party in the Knesset, added that Israel "will not live under the threat of an Iranian nuclear bomb."
"We feel we are obliged to warn our friends that Israel should not be pushed into a situation where we see no other solution but to act unilaterally" against Iran, he said.
Mr. Steinitz, a member of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's ruling Likud Party, stopped just short of a direct threat to bomb suspect Iranian nuclear sites.
Mr. Steinitz said Israeli officials estimate that Tehran is only two to three years away from developing a nuclear bomb and that time was running out for the world to act.
"We see an Iranian bomb as a devastating, existential threat to Israel, to the entire Middle East, to all Western interests in the region," he said.
"Despite all the different circumstances, we see similarities to what happened in the 1930s, when people underestimated the real problem or focused on other dangers. For us, either the world will tackle Iran in advance or all of us will face the consequences."

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Children and War: The Effects Grow

The idea that war is damaging to peoples' psyche is, of course, a truism to many in America today. But the fact that we tend to take such a reality as a truism, downplaying or muting its factticity is more a comment about ourselves than about the reality of war. Imagine if these were your own children. That is why war is so evil: it lessens the evil and barabarity that humans commit--both against each other but also those innocent victims who are scarred psychologically and whose lives will be spent warding off the demons of childhoods spent in terror.
Violence scars Iraqi children
Monday 26 September 2005, 15:05 Makka Time, 12:05 GMT

Iraq's violence is depriving children of a normal childhood

Young boys run across a Baghdad garden firing plastic guns at each other in a timeless game enjoyed around the world. But in Iraq, pretending to kill each other is much more than child's play.

"Children believe this is a normal way of life," said Harith Hassan, one of the country's leading psychologists. "They are developing psychopathic personalities."

. . . . . . . . . . .

Al-A'anee added: "I have children who play alone or hit themselves. Others are too scared to make friends."

Many children have been victims of the bloodshed, which shows no sign of easing.

Toy store owner Ziad Daoud says booming sales of plastic tanks, planes and guns, which replaced teddy bears, have started to decline due to rumours of the risks.

"These days I am selling less because people started talking about American soldiers mistakenly shooting children carrying plastic guns," he said.

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The Worst Military Mistake in US History

Any guesses? A prominent general, now retired, asserts that Pres. Bush's invasion of Iraq was the worst military mistake in US History. Of course, many already knew this fact. What historians will say about the loss of prestige, the strategic defeat of the US military in the field, and the visitation of immense death and suffering upon innocewnt men, women, and children will no doubt be forgotten in hundreds of years. Its immediate repercussions will shape Middle eastern politics for the foreseeable future.
Retired general: Iraq invasion was 'strategic disaster'
The Lowell Sun

WASHINGTON -- The invasion of Iraq was the “greatest strategic disaster in United States history,” a retired Army general said yesterday, strengthening an effort in Congress to force an American withdrawal beginning next year., Retired Army Lt. Gen. William Odom, a Vietnam veteran, said the invasion of Iraq alienated America's Middle East allies, making it harder to prosecute a war against terrorists.

The U.S. should withdraw from Iraq, he said, and reposition its military forces along the Afghan-Pakistani border to capture Osama bin Laden and crush al Qaeda cells.

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