News+and+politics religion philosophy the cynic librarian: January 2006

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Terrorist Hypocrisy and Jill Carroll

From Mona Eltahawy some words that put the terrorist kidnapping of Jill Carroll into perspective. It is obvious that anyone who wishes to counter the demonization of Moslems and Arabs must remain aware of the inequities that many women in the mideast experience. ...

Eltahawy writes:

Ever since the U.S. media uncovered the Abu Ghraib torture and abuse scandal and released photographs of the sexual humiliation of Iraqi male inmates by American soldiers, there have been rumours that Iraqi women too were abused.

Human rights groups and members of the U.S. Congress who investigated the Abu Ghraib scandal have said that there are photographs and videos that show women being sexually humiliated.

After the Abu Ghraib scandal and following outrage at their heavy handed search methods, the Americans have tried to become more culturally sensitive by ordering male troops not to touch Iraqi women and by using female soldiers to search them at checkpoints.

That is quite ironic in light of the heavy handedness of our own security forces, which pay little regard to the “honour” which we claim to so value.

Just four days before Jill Carroll was kidnapped, ostensibly for the sake of Arab women’s honour, Egypt’s prosecutor general dismissed all charges in an inquiry into the sexual assault of female journalists by government supporters during protests in Cairo in May.

Perhaps if the Egyptian women had been assaulted by Americans, the case would have gone to trial.
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Nine-year-old Palestinian Girl Shot By Israeli Soldier...

..."for acting like a terrorist." I leave it to you to figure out that while nine-year-olds act strangely at times, their actions rarely, if ever, look like what a terrorist might do.

(I've raised several children so I think I can say, if you're looking for that type of empirical basis for my judgment. But if you need anything to prove that there's something wrong with shooting a nine-year-old ... for any reason..., then I suggest that you are a bit too far gone for any proofs.)

Did you notice how the US media plastered this story in their reports from the mideast? Read more!

Where's Winston Smith When You Need Him?

In a story that evokes images of George Orwell's novel, 1984, and its notorious description of information manipulation and language distortion, RAWSTORY reports the specifics behind the Pentagon's worldwide propaganda effort. ...

Describing the statement of work of the $100M contract for these services awarded to The Lincoln Group, a US propaganda company (aka PR and advertising), RAWSTORY explains what psyops means:

In the document, titled "Information Operations Roadmap," Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld acknowledged that information planted by the Pentagon abroad was increasingly returning to American shores and being "consumed by our domestic audience."

And while it calls for "boundaries" between psyops and the American news media, it offers no such restrictions between the potentially fictional campaigns and the foreign press.

According to the military definition of psyops, its goals include manipulating emotional and objective reasoning -- suggesting that the information campaigns are not limited to objective truth.

Psyops are defined as "planned operations to convey selected information and indicators to foreign audiences to influence the emotions, motives, objective reasoning, and ultimately the behavior of foreign governments, organizations, groups, and individuals."
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Gore Vidal's State of the Union Speech

Suggestion: Turn off the TV tonight and read this speech instead. You'll hear more wit and wisdom here than in anything Mr. Bush might say in his life. Read more!

Women Soldiers Afraid of Being Raped Die of Dehydration

If true, this story should shock you. It seems that several female soldiers in Iraq would not drink water in the afternoon for fear of having to go to the latrine at night where they might be raped by male soldiers. ...

Truthout reports:

Last week, Col. Janis Karpinski told a panel of judges at the Commission of Inquiry for Crimes against Humanity Committed by the Bush Administration in New York that several women had died of dehydration because they refused to drink liquids late in the day. They were afraid of being assaulted or even raped by male soldiers if they had to use the women's latrine after dark.

The latrine for female soldiers at Camp Victory wasn't located near their barracks, so they had to go outside if they needed to use the bathroom. "There were no lights near any of their facilities, so women were doubly easy targets in the dark of the night," Karpinski told retired US Army Col. David Hackworth in a September 2004 interview. It was there that male soldiers assaulted and raped women soldiers. So the women took matters into their own hands. They didn't drink in the late afternoon so they wouldn't have to urinate at night. They didn't get raped. But some died of dehydration in the desert heat, Karpinski said.

Karpinski testified that a surgeon for the coalition's joint task force said in a briefing that "women in fear of getting up in the hours of darkness to go out to the port-a-lets or the latrines were not drinking liquids after 3 or 4 in the afternoon, and in 120 degree heat or warmer, because there was no air-conditioning at most of the facilities, they were dying from dehydration in their sleep."

"And rather than make everybody aware of that - because that's shocking, and as a leader if that's not shocking to you then you're not much of a leader - what they told the surgeon to do is don't brief those details anymore. And don't say specifically that they're women. You can provide that in a written report but don't brief it in the open anymore."

For example, Maj. Gen. Walter Wojdakowski, Sanchez's top deputy in Iraq, saw "dehydration" listed as the cause of death on the death certificate of a female master sergeant in September 2003. Under orders from Sanchez, he directed that the cause of death no longer be listed, Karpinski stated. The official explanation for this was to protect the women's privacy rights.

Sanchez's attitude was: "The women asked to be here, so now let them take what comes with the territory," Karpinski quoted him as saying. Karpinski told me that Sanchez, who was her boss, was very sensitive to the political ramifications of everything he did. She thinks it likely that when the information about the cause of these women's deaths was passed to the Pentagon, Donald Rumsfeld ordered that the details not be released. "That's how Rumsfeld works," she said.

"It was out of control," Karpinski told a group of students at Thomas Jefferson School of Law last October. There was an 800 number women could use to report sexual assaults. But no one had a phone, she added. And no one answered that number, which was based in the United States. Any woman who successfully connected to it would get a recording. Even after more than 83 incidents were reported during a six-month period in Iraq and Kuwait, the 24-hour rape hot line was still answered by a machine that told callers to leave a message.
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Hatred and Technology = Despair

Robert Wright explains in an article at The Wilson Quarterly why the combination of deadly technology and the rise in hatred and resentment towards the US bode ill for the world. Interestingly, dare I say obviously, the author pinpoints the crux of the problem as moral--"even spiritual"--an issue that is never broached in the types of discussions. Kudos to the author for some thinking outside of the box. ...

Wright writes:

Fifty years ago, a reasonable lodestone of foreign policy was to make sure all foreign governments either like us or fear us. Today that won’t suffice, because foreign governments no longer mediate all major threats to national security. Essential elements of future security range from the tough international regulation of lethal technologies to a new kind of focus on human well-being around the world. To the extent that people—-Muslim or non-Muslim-—feel bitterly resentful, feel alienated or exploited by America or by globalization, we’re all in trouble.

And maybe policy, though crucial, won’t be enough. Hatred and intolerance are moral, even spiritual, problems. Great moral and spiritual change tends to emanate from somewhere other than legislatures. Unfortunately, that’s one of the few things you can confidently say about it. This part of the solution isn’t nearly as predictable as the problem.
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Get Out Now: An Exit Plan the US Should Follow

So what do Iraqis really think should happen to their own country? The US should take this question seriously and follow the plan proposed by Raed in the Middle. Sounds much like John Murtha's plan. Of course, as we have learned from the recent Palestinian election, the Bush admin's statements about promoting democracy in the mideast are just empty rhetoric to cover up the desire of this admin to build states that conform to their own interests--whether these states are democratic or not.

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Honest Minds Want to Know

If Pres. Bush's plan to wiretap and eavesdrop on American citizens without obtaining warrants was so obviously legal, why did his own appointees disagree and why were they fired? Read more!

Overblowing Iran's Threat

Matthew Yglesias Explains how the so-called crisis over Iranian nuclear weapons is vastly overblown. ...

At the Center for American Progress website, Ygleasias writes:

The one aspect of the Iran question that does enjoy universal agreement is that it involves difficult, unappealing choices and a notable absence of easy answers. Under the circumstances, it's vital that the public have a clear understanding of what is genuinely at issue here. Instead, conservatives are seeking to foster an atmosphere of panic and hysteria that will cloud people's judgment and delegitimize and marginalize the considerable downside of military action. So far, the saving grace of the situation has been that the Bush administration itself seems undecided as to what it wants to do about Iran and has therefore been relatively restrained in its commentary, a marked contrast to its behavior in the lead-up to the Iraq War. But it hardly seems reasonable to bet heavily on the proposition that the administration will continue to eschew the demagoguery and dishonesty of its allies.

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Monday, January 30, 2006

Treatise on Fascism: Draft

Fascism is a term that has almost no meaning in today's world. The reality of this political, social, and economic system had its heyday before and after WWII. Its rawest and most evil products were the holocaust and the Spanish Civil War. Its most recent avatars include the various petty dictators and demagogues that arose in the ruins of the former Yugoslavia.

Overused and abused by leftists of all brands to denote any system that they oppose, disregarded by conservatives because the mirror image terrifies them, the term finally signifies nothing. Yet, it is useful to revisit words and concepts whose meaning, though sucked dry of meaning and pith, still evoke things, places, and events that otherwise you could not begin to comprehend.

Fascism is a needful term because, unlike other forms of authoritarian ideologies like capitalism or communism, it describes socio-cultural and economic realities that have proved hard to slough off. .Indeed, perhaps fascism is the ur-ideology. One could say that its proto-forms in ancient Mesopotamia, Greece, Judaism, and Rome prove it a perennial political structure that can adapt to diverse spatio-temporal contingencies.

As with many incidents in daily life, there are insoluble mysteries. These questions revolve around the meanings that give the answer to why I do or am what I am, what are the reasons I can’t get a girl, marry or why am I poor and that guy’s rich? Dealing with these questions brings to life many choices and reactions. What characterizes the fascist reaction is the resolution of the order of the world to a variation on control and violence.

From my own experience as a child of a father who always verged towards fascism, I can understand the strong appeal of those life answers. At the same time, I am appalled at the seamy and ugly way that these people see themselves and others. Reduced to nothing more than animals rutting in the barnyard—as my father most tellingly described sex to me one time—the world seen through fascist eyes is a struggle for existence that involves fighting for everything you have and only the strong deserve to have anything. If anyone else has something they do not, then that’s just one more reason to justify your own outrage and resentment.

My father is a self-described Nazi—I say self-described, because I have never known him to participate in any US Nazi Party activities. Then again, I don’t know that he hasn’t. From the earliest days, several things struck me about my father and they still stick out now. First, there was the overwhelming sense of fear I felt in his presence. Even when he was trying to be loving (something that always seemed strained and weird), I never felt much beyond the fear that he wanted to hurt me.

Second, he always tried to toughen me up. He always spoke about the need to be the strongest, to fight just to fight, the need to like to hurt. This was no doubt part of his bullying behavior towards me and my mother. True to his word, though, he always sought out bar fights.

Third, there was the racism. Whether it was directed at blacks or Jews, his hatred for other people was a constant during my early teenage years. At least those days that he spent at home and not at the bars.

Fourth, there was the resentment and envy of those who had more than he had. He always seemed conscious of what the other person had and hated them for it. Of course, as a blue collar worker, some of this class consciousness was just a matter of realism. But his emotions and thoughts ran to hating those who had more than he had.

Fifth, he always had a problem with being different. While a lone wolf type himself, he always went out of his way to impress on me the need to not seem “weird.” Given my propensity to books and endeavors of the imagination, he always thought it necessary to critique and make me understand that I was a sissy and odd—different from his own working-class milieu.

Sixth, the need for a story that puts it all together. Given the many crises in his life, he needed something to make sense of the tragedy of his marriage failing, the death of his youngest daughter, and personal setbacks. He needed a narrative that made sense of it all. This narrative would explain why these things happened. It is obviously simpler to blame something or someone onto whom he could project those real-life people who had crossed him. Marginalized groups or people who were different from him became easy targets for this hatred.
One of the things that I believe people are prone to is grotesquerie of evil and infamy. An example of this is the common belief that Hitler was insane—before, during, and after his rise to power. Pigeon-holing Hitler into the easily digestible and quickly dismissible category of insanity deprives the reality of who Hitler was, how he was able to come to power, and why people followed him.

I have written about this before in the way that children are often incapable of imagining evil. They expect monsters and ogres but evil often has the smiley face of a clown. Hannah Arendt focused on this phenomenon in what she called the banality of evil. That is, in the Nazi leaders she studied, she found that these were normal, every day folks with families, a dog, and a good work ethic.

There’s as much danger in dismissing fascism as a thing of the past as there is in over-intellectualizing the experience of fascism. What I think will be lost on those who do not spend their lives trying to reconstruct the past by studying history is the mind-set and emotional armature that fascism creates and thrives on.

If we can’t pin emotions and thoughts on to those we know and experience every day, then we won’t recognize it when it crops up again. And it has cropped up again recently and perhaps right now, close to home. In Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, the fascist life-form came to life.
As many historical studies show, German Nazis bullied and beat up opponents on their way to power. They intimidated through bullying anyone who might oppose them. In the US, of course, gangs are well-known. Yet, it is not just gang behavior that exhibits bullying tactics. For even within a child’s everyday school experience, there are various types of physical, emotional, and social bullying tactics.

Fascism is a way of life that sees violence as the only way to find the truth and establish justice. This can be seen in US cop shows. In most of these, you find the use of bodily threats or violence as the crisis point that brings out the truth that solves the crime. As these plots unfold, moments of crisis usually end up being resolved by a threat of force.

While you might expect this from the criminals in these shows, even the “good guys” more often than not resort to these threats. The implication here is that force for the good side is right. Yet, the moral ambivalence of many of these situations surely bypasses many who are ethically immature. All they see is: in instances of crisis resort to bullying.

From eavesdropping to other forms of hidden intrusion and spying on the secrets of others, the threat of fear that someone is looking over your shoulder or reading your emails grows every day. Fear is one of those phenomena that covers a vast amount of physiological, social, and psychological territory. For the fascist, fear is both something to overcome in oneself and something to inspire in others. Fear as a fact of life is something that is normal—in the struggle that is supposed to characterize everyday life, those who are fittest will overcome this fear and will be able to wield fear as a weapon efficiently and effectively.

Again, there are many forms of fear. One form of fear that a fascist dreads most is being different from others. Overcoming this fear means creating institutions and practices that celebrate sameness, thereby ensuring certainty and overcoming the anxiety that difference inspires. Conformism is an easy way to guarantee this sameness and certainty. From the first days that a child enters school, they are expected to conform to certain ways o acting. While this is normal for any society, the extreme of fascism entails all-encompassing conformism to the needs of the group or society.

For a fascist--like wolves--there is always an alpha male—a leader whose purity (recognized as the ability to act ruthlessly and mercilessly for goals that rise above simple personal goals) is widely acknowledged by all to be greater than all others. Given the general struggle for dominance in society, the natural-born leader will eventually show himself. Once he does, then he must be paid absolute allegiance since the overall goal is the solidarity of the group. All self-interest must be sacrificed to the group and its overall health and prolonged existence.

A proto-fascist is often an outsider looking in. They find themselves ostracized for experiencing and living in what they see as their normal, natural selves. The reasons for this ostracism can be multifarious, so reducing them to one variable is overly simplistic, if not dishonest. Possible reasons for why one might feel on society’s margins include economic, psychological, nationalistic, or religious. And so on.

Something of this feeling of being left out and ostracized can be seen in the way that many Christian evangelicals see the surrounding secular culture. For these people, they are not allowed to express their innermost feelings and experiences without encountering some form of sarcasm and perceived rejection.

In response, Christian evangelicals attack this secular mind-set as political correctness and counter it with a call to return to traditional values. They point to the overall alienation and social ills as reasons for why their ethical program should be accepted. Yet, should they succeed, their own version of correctness would enforce a ban on discussion that restricts all conversation to strictly limited terms.

Judith Shklar has recently suggested that all politics boil down to the propagation and use of fear to enforce control. The Enlightenment project hoped to overcome people’s fear through reason, as Kant argued forcefully. Since the beginning of the 20th century, however, and with the rise of regimes like Nazism, the effectiveness of the Enlightenment project came into question. From one perspective you can say that the Enlightenment products of scientific investigation themselves became tools for fascist control.

It has become more and more apparent that appeals to reason simply do not reach the existential depths of human anxiety and despair. While it is no doubt an oversimplification to characterize all religions as irrational, it does appear that religion itself can be used in the interests of a fascist-dominated ideology. Islamic, Jewish, Xtian, and Hindu extremisms exhibit exactly these features.

What seems to separate fascism from an authoritarian ideology like communism is the need to identify with a group that separates out those who are in and those who are out. Communism promised the same universality as Xtianity, Buddhism, and Islam—religions that did not simply appeal to ethnic, cultural or racial characteristics to identify believers.

Given the failure of communism, in the US this was seen as the validation of capitalism’s truth, as well as representative government. For the religious, atheist communism’s defeat was a sign that divine providence had worked its will. For politicians and others wishing to control in the US, the belief system of the religious right serves numerous purposes. It provides a mythology that easily codifies those inside and those outside.

Just as neatly, the Xtian belief system easily provides a way of instilling a fear in a centralized authority whose power emanates from a seemingly other-worldly source. Yet, this source has a worldly representative in a savior figure whose purity of purpose will cleanse the profane world and make right-living possible again.

People say it can’t happen here. We live in a democracy, it’s said. But we live in a democracy where the majority of the voters who are eligible to vote do not. Indeed, if you work out the numbers, the present President rose to power on the vote from only 28 percent of those eligible voters. How is that a democracy? Hitler himself rose to power with 36 percent of the vote. What this shows is that a highly motivated minority within a country can use democratic processes to forward its own policies.

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Truth is Fear; Fear is Truth

See Steve Clemons' write-up on the group that has published this full-page ad in the NYTimes this morning.

Clemons writes:

America as a nation -- depicted in a bull's eye target -- is a way to enhance fear and certainly does draw people together -- shivering and paranoid clustered together.

But in my view, this type of campaign perpetuates the false notion that if we check every container that comes into America, hassle every tourist, and convince people that leak-proof ballistic missile defenses are possible that they will be SAFE.

But it's a false campaign, designed not to promote trust -- but rather to keep the beneficiaries of a high-fear world in place.

Much of the world is at odds with America not because of who we are but because of policies that are blind to both their aspirations and their grievances.

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Bush Voters Prone to Racist Assumptions

According to the research social psycholgists, testing shows that many people who vote for Bush and the Republican agenda tend to rate as racially insensitive to blacks. ...

According to The Washington Post:

For their study, Nosek, Banaji and social psychologist Erik Thompson culled self-acknowledged views about blacks from nearly 130,000 whites, who volunteered online to participate in a widely used test of racial bias that measures the speed of people's associations between black or white faces and positive or negative words. The researchers examined correlations between explicit and implicit attitudes and voting behavior in all 435 congressional districts.

The analysis found that substantial majorities of Americans, liberals and conservatives, found it more difficult to associate black faces with positive concepts than white faces -- evidence of implicit bias. But districts that registered higher levels of bias systematically produced more votes for Bush.

"Obviously, such research does not speak at all to the question of the prejudice level of the president," said Banaji, "but it does show that George W. Bush is appealing as a leader to those Americans who harbor greater anti-black prejudice."
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Sunday, January 29, 2006

One More Manufactured Crisis for the Road (to Armageddon)

Juan Cole reproduces in toto an important essay by William O. Beeman, of Brown University, who details how the Iran nuclear crisis is no such thing. But this thing is begining to spin out of control. If Congress does not get its head out of its ass, we'll be hearing jets over Tehran sometime around the end of March, as the Israelis have threatened. ...

At the end of his essay, Beeman writes:

The mantra "Iran must not get nuclear weapons" has been repeated so often now that most people have come to believe that Iran has them or is getting them. Has anyone stopped to think that this only became an issue when the neoconservative agenda to "remake" the Middle East--including Iran-became actualized? The Iran nuclear crisis is truly a manufactured crisis, based on the flimsiest of evidence and reasoning. I can only hope that soberer minds rethink this position. [my emphasis]

The tragedy would be that in the end, the U.S. may goad Iran in to a real nuclear weapons program. The Iranians may reason that since they are being punished for the crime anyway, they might as well commit it. '
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Hamas Calls For Jill Carroll's Release

Hamas Calls For Jill Carroll’s Release, and Other Things Outside the Mainstream Press Read more!

Analysis of "War Against Terror"

Majikthise presents a decent analysis of why the US is not at war with "terrorism."

The brunt of her argument is found when she states:

The fact is that we're not at war on terrorism, let alone against terror. Terrorism is a strategy. Actually, it's a normative assessment of a family of tactics. In the current climate "terrorism" refers to any political violence the speaker doesn't like.

We aren't at war with terrorism and we never have been. We were at war with Iraq, and now we're fighting the Iraqi insurgency.

We are engaged in a global struggle against terrorism by Islamic extremists. But we can't even declare war on Al Qaeda, though the use of force against them has been authorized. We can't declare war against Al Qaeda for the same reason that we can't declare war against Columbia drug cartel or the mafia. These groups, however nefarious, aren't states. If we were to destroy these organizations, new groups with the same mission would take their place.
I agree with her Wittgensteinian analysis here. I'd only ask: if we aren't at war then what is the ethical status of this action? To carry on the analysis would seem to entail asking this question.

If politics is simply a mode of guaranteeing the proper use of fear by a state, as Bernard Williams (following Judith Shklar) states, then would it be correct to further characterize the operations currently underway under the umbrella term of "war against terror" as in fact a reign of terror? If so, then, following Williams' lead, the current actions by the US are unjust and therefore must be condemned as such.

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Israeli Security Official Calls for "Hunting Down" Hamas

In this story, we find an inadequate and unproductive reponse to the victory of Hamas in the recent Palestinian elections. If Israel wants Hamas to tone down their anti-Israeli rhetoric, then they must distance themselves from policies and statements like this. At the same time, I hope President Bush or one of his subordinates condemns such statements.

According to Reuters:

The architect of Israel's policy of assassinating Palestinian militants said on Sunday Israel should hunt down wanted Hamas leaders even if they become ministers in a newly elected Palestinian government.

Avi Dichter, who used to head the Shin Bet security agency and is seen as a frontrunner for a top security post after Israel's March 28 general election, said he doubted Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas would remain in power, except as a "puppet leader", following Hamas's election victory. [my emphasis]
Note that this man will probably be in the next Israeli government after elections there in March. Read more!

Anti-Religious Hysteria

From the man who brought you Politics of Fear: Beyond Left and Right and Culture of Fear, Frank Furedi, comes this essay on the anit-religious hysteria prevalent in some quarters of the political landscape. Read more!

Martha Nussbaum on Women's Bodies

Martha Nussbaum is perhaps America's best woman philosopher, if not the best American philosopher. While her work is generally derivative of Aristotle and Hellenistic philosophy, she applies their ideas to current social, political, and cultural realities. Her insight into these works is quite impressive, as is her application of them to everyday issues.

For a sample of her work on social and legal policies related to the control of women's bodies, see this series of postings at the University of Chicago Law School Faculty Blog. Read more!

Bush Touts Tocqueville...

... but has he really read and understood him? Attaboy to Think Progress for noting the President's wish to set up a think tank devoted to Tocqueville and his ideas on democracy. Also see the relevant quotes from the French writer that relate to democracy and war. Read more!

New Study Estimates Over 250,000 Dead Iraqis Since "War of Liberation"

Thanks to Rising Hegemon for pointing to this article at The Canadian National Newspaper. A new study shows that over 250,000 civilians have been killed since the US invaded that country in search of Weapons of Mass Destruction. While those weapons have never been found, many Iraqis have found the meaning of dying for democracy. Read more!

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Five Reasons Torture Is ALWAYS Wrong

How many reasons can you cite for why torture's wrong? ... Given recent polls, many Americans believe torture is never always wrong. So how can there be five reasons when it's always wrong?

David Gushee explains...

Okay, I'm not gonna lie. I got several spot on.
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Economics Determine Fears in US

Poll: Americans Worried About Threat of Poverty
NEW ORLEANS (RNS) Nearly two-thirds of Americans fear that poverty will increase, while almost the same proportion worry they will find themselves among the lowest economic class, according to a new poll by Catholic bishops. -- Gwen Filosa Read more!

Two Sides of the Same Coin?

I generally refrain from linking to articles that disparage the actions of troops in the field. My reluctance relates to how easy people find it to criticize others without thinking about how they'd act in similar circumstances. Obviously, this might imply that I condone unethical behavior. Not at all. Every unjust act should be pursued and prosecuted to the severest extent of the law.

As far as I am concerned, the people most culpable in this war are the leaders who ordered soldiers into a bogus war and then expect these soldiers to carry out actions that are ethically questionable. ...

Because war enables numerous atrocities and inhumane behavior, there must be rules and procedures that limit the behavior of combatants. As Simone Weil showed, war makes objects of victim and victimizer. In war, humans treat each other as less than human.

Much of this thinking can be seen where strategy determines what individuals should do. Strategy very rarely considers overall ethical results. Instead, they simply proposes ends--means are left to an individual to improvise. Where the ends become all-important, then the ethics of the means may get lost.

No doubt, something of this occurred when the upper pay-grades recently decided that they'd kidnap suspected insurgent leaders' wives and hold them in prison, as reported by news media so that the male insurgents would turn themselves in.

Now there is the legalistic aspect to this practice in that the Geneva Convention explicitly condemns such actions, as Juan Cole reports at his blog.

Then there are the unintended consequences of such tactics. One such consequence appears to be the kidnapping of US journalist Jill Carroll. Some see a direct connection between this kidnapping and those carried out by US special forces. Even on the surface, such a connection can be see in the kidnappers' demands for the release of Iraqi women from jail.
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Friday, January 27, 2006

Senate Unanimously (Yes That's Right Unanimously) Condemns Iran

... It's like deja vu all over again. I guess when troops hit the ground and tens of thousands of them are dying there and in Iraq, ... then the Democrats will bellyache how they were lied to again... pussies ...

The Manila Times reports:

The US Senate on Friday unanimously passed a resolution condemning Iran for its nuclear program and backing efforts to report it to the UN Security Council. [my emphasis]

The resolution, approved by a voice vote, cites Iran's "many failures ... to comply faithfully with its nuclear non-proliferations obligations."

It "strongly urges" the International Atomic Energy Agency at its special meeting on Thursday to refer Iran to the UN Security Council over suspicions it is secretly trying to develop atomic bombs.

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America: Empire of Silence

Are Americans ready for empire? I tend to believe that Americans are not ready yet for this undertaking--hopefully they never will be. But I think that the current political regime in power will try to accomplish this surreptitiously, and they are doing so already. (Consider the numbers of "bases" being built around the world by the Army.) ...

Perhaps there will arise something similar to what one might call "don't ask, don't tell" colonization. That is, the American public will not ask, even though they "know" that this is occurring; and the power brokers simply will work this way, taking no questions as quiet assent.

I believe that something like this is already in place--consider the lack of discussion, interest, or debate concerning the war in Iraq--the media simply have given Bush et al. a free ride and the citizens have simply been too lazy or preoccupied to care about what is happening.

The reason for this is that underneath it all, Americans know that the machinery of imperialism will help sustain the economic and social status quo. If I could draw an analogy: this type of insidious "silence" is similar to the silence that occurred during Nazi Germany; that is, when one's next-door Jewish neighbor was being bundled into the back of cars and trucks, people simply looked the other way.

I know I will be accused of scare-mongering, but certainly there is what is commonly called a "disconnect" going on between what people think is happening (and secretly know) and what is happening on the ground in "the colonies."

I think of the woman's daughter I had for class: she worked in the Army morgue in Iraq--what she saw and witnessed has so traumatized her life that (back here at home) she is drinking and drugging and waking up at night with nightmares. She has simply given up on bringing up her children.

It is these little "hearts of darkness" that are going to begin to eat at the fiber of this country. The question is, will we steel ourselves to the reality--continue to live as though nothing were happening?

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Globalization at Davos and the Chinese Puzzle Box

In the global market, the economic empire has no central node but is a distributed network of nodes spread across the globe. While at the moment the US is the seat of military might, the economic empire is virtual--as such, it can and will change centers of gravity as the markets open up and capital begins pouring in from previously closed markets. ...

Once China becomes the central staging point in the future of economic and military might, you can be assured that capitalist leaders like Microsoft, GM, Wal-Mart, and other companies will simply pack up their bags and move there. While individual capitalists may have sentimental attachments to state-side locales, eventually capiatalistic logic will determine how, when, where, and why they locate their headquarters. The empire of the future, like the army of the future, will be a virtual one.

The radical Islamist, Sayyid Qutb, wrote that capitalists have no homeland. I have had some experience of this working for a stock trading company. They had accessed numerous overseas trading systems and were continually working to provide computer access to newer markets.

As US hegemony increases and restrictions on capital loosen in third-world countries, fates of nations will simply depend on their continued discipline in conforming to US-dictated trade agreements. Where this discipline breaks down, you will find American corporate security and intelligence firms working to undermine the political situation in the capitalists' favor.

Reporting from the grand economic summit at Davos, Switzerland, David Ignatius writes :

Davos has come to symbolize the dominant force of our time -- the wealth-creating, job-destroying whirlwind of the global economy. Each year I come here I marvel at the reach and leveling power of this economic hurricane. There are more Chinese, Indians and Arabs every year, and less of an American presence. U.S. investment banks, technologists and venture capitalists may have spawned the globalization movement, but it has now floated free. The dealmakers come from all over the world. The one thing they seem to have in common is that nearly all were educated in the United States. That may not be much comfort if you work at an assembly plant in Dearborn, but at least America still does one thing well: running universities.
Ignatius believes that America will be saved from the winds of the economic maelstrom in its educational system. There is no reason to buy into this optimism, however. Knowledge is as portable and trans-spatial as capital.

What Ignatius does not get into is the way that the modern work place destroys more than traditional belief and cultural systems. It also destroys the possibility for any ethical individual to arise. In the type of conformity required in the global marketplace, such niceties as ethics will simply equate to what gets the job done. Within the restricted confines of employment, humans will simply become resources whose overall goal is to make sure the part of the machine they take care of does not break down.

With the type of controlled society that the Chinese have created, social and cultural conformity ensures that there are more workers who understand nothing but their place and ask few questions. In return for a guaranteed place in society, along with a share of the products of that society, they will not have expectations for anything above and beyond the social benefits.

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President Sees the (Radioactive) Light on Iran

According to the New York Sun, Pres. Bush has backed a Ruusian plan that would provide nuclear fuel to Iran for civilian nuclear power plants. Why isn't the NYTimes or Wasington Post blaring this in 2-inch letters? ...

According to Josh Gerstein:

"I have made it clear that I believe that the Iranians should have a civilian nuclear power program under these conditions: that the material used to power the plant would be manufactured in Russia, delivered under IAEA inspectors to Iran to be used in that plant, the waste of which will be picked up by the Russians and returned to Russia," Mr. Bush said at a news conference yesterday. "I think that is a good plan. The Russians came up with the idea and I support it," he added.
I wonder what Israel is thinking about this? Or is this the plan that AIPAC, the Israeli lobbying group, was so pissed about a month ago?

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Thursday, January 26, 2006

Remember When Harry Reid Shut Down the Senate?

... And do you remember why? The Democrats relented from this effort only after the Republicans promised to begin the second phase of investigating the intelligence that formed the basis for going to war with Iraq. The second phase is to find out whether the Bush administration connived, twisted, and (dare I say it?) lied about the intelligence?

So when is that going to happen? I know the American public has a short attention span, but I always thought a politician never lost a chance or forgot to exploit a situatgion that could show their opponents actually lied a country into war.

But then I have been called overly sensitive about niceties like lying to the people and all that.

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Democracy in Palestine

Congratulations to Hamas for its stunning victory in the Palestinian elections. In a dramatic gesture, this party has worked its way up from a purely ideological fringe group to take on the deeply important tasks of meeting the everyday needs and desires of the Palestinian people. It gained the trust of the masses by cleaning the streets, opening food shelters, and not giving in to Israeli bullying.

It also showed that it was free of the political and moral corruption that had infected the senescent Fatah Party, the empty shell of Yasser Arafat's elderly megalomania. ...

Of course, there are many in Israel and the US who will run around like Chicken Little and say the sky is falling. It does not need to be so. If the US takes a rational approach to Hamas, realizes that it does indeed have the Palestinians' interests at heart, and that it is a rational entity, then the US should realize that Hamas can indeed be reasoned with.

If Israelis scream about Hamas' violent past, they should consider how leaders like Menahem Begin rose to power from the terrorist who bombed innocent Bristish and Palestinians and gained recognition as a legitimate leader within Israeli society and the world at large.

There's no reason why Hamas cannot transform itself in a similar way. This is what democracy does--it brings with it its own set of accountability procedures and rationales. Most within the Palestinian population want the stand-off with Israel to end. But they want it to end with some shreds of dignity attached. Hamas can bring with it a huge amount of "street credit" thereby enabling it to negotiate with Israel without appearing to be kissing ass.

At the same time, Hamas' leaders appear to see the writing on the wall about Israel's right to exist. They will no doubt eventually backtrack on their hard-line calls for the destruction of Israel, but only after Israel pays it the respect that a sovereign nation and people deserve.

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Why Worry About Iran?

As the following article argues, there is little reason to pursue a conffrontational stance towards Iran. Instead, a properly understanding policy takes into account the "facts on the ground" inside Iran. As Thomas B. Barnett shows, these facts simply belie the monster demon painted by the mass media in the US. Instead, Barnett shows that Iran's ruling elite has little support and is basically ignored by its own people. Like the former Soviet Union, it will simply implode from its own dead weight and hollow center. ...

On the nuclear issue, Barnett observes that it's much better to keep the lines of communication open with Iran. It is in US foreign interests to appear to support a moderate and rational Iran than to provoke it into taking an extremist, hard-line stand against the US.

Barnett writes:

Tell me, since Iran is getting the bomb anyway eventually, would you feel less comfortable about this possible scenario if Iran were to open up to the West or if it remained isolated and surrounded by hostile American troops?

In which scenario do you think Tehran might risk it all by sponsoring a terrorist WMD strike against Israel or the West — when it has something to lose or nothing to lose? If America wants Iran to act responsibly in the region, it needs to give Iran some responsibility for regional security.
These comments reflect rational, considered, and decent assumptions. Former General Wesley Clarke supports this view, as do many other authorities on the region. (See my previous posting on the Nelson Report). And, as I have argued over and over, they echo the findings of the US Army War College's ISS recommendations.

Update 1/27/06 According to a FOX News/Opinion Dynamics poll, 51 percent of Americans would support US air strikes on Iranian nuclear facilities, "if diplomacy fails." Even with the stipulaton added, this is a troubling figure. It appears that the American people have been bamboozled once again into thinking that an enemy exists where it does not. How many times can the Bush admin play the fear game and the people buy into it? Rhetorically, that is an absurd question--for fear knows no bounds and people will always respond blindly and insanely when they are told that monsters exist in the wilderness of their ignorance.

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Wednesday, January 25, 2006

The Inside Poop on Iran: Hysterical Neocons

Steve Clemons at the Washington Note repirnts an analysis from the ultra-insider rag, THE NELSON REPORT. Read this. It adds some of finer points to several postings I have made recently about the hysteria over Iran. ...

In a forum of several insiders, Nelson reports:

"This is complete nonsense. There is no need for military strikes against Iran. The country is five to ten years away from the ability to enrich uranium for fuel or bombs. Even that estimate, shared by the Defense Intelligence Agency and experts at IISS, ISIS, and Carnegie assumes Iran goes full-speed ahead and does not encounter any of the technical problems that typically plague such programs. In the next few months, they will be lucky to get a test centrifuge cascade up and running. Hardly a "point of no return."

"This is not a nuclear bomb crisis, it is a nuclear regime crisis. US Ambassador John Bolton has correctly pointed out that this is a key test for the Security Council. If Iran is not stopped the entire nonproliferation regime will be weakened, and with it the UN system.

"But it will have to be diplomats, not F-15s that stop the mullahs. An air strike against a soft target, such as the uranium conversion facility at Isfahan would inflame Muslim anger, rally the Iranian public around an otherwise unpopular government and jeopardize further the US position in Iraq. Finally, the strike would not, as is often said, delay the Iranian program. It would almost certainly speed it up. That is what happened when the Israelis struck at the Iraq program in 1981. Israel knocked the Osirik reactor, but Saddam went underground, expanding from 500 to 7000 workers on a more ambitious program that escaped detection until 1991. By then he was closer to producing a bomb than he ever would have been with Osirik. It went from a side project to an obsession.
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The Good Means Taking It to the Bank

While libertarians and liberals bemoan the President's program to spy on US citizens, I wonder how many of them will now divest themselves of Microsoft and Google stocks because these companies caved in to Chinese demands to delete sites and block certain kinds of web searches? ...

If you ever wondered how the US would look after a corporate takeover, I guess Google and Microsoft's actions show what to expect. Indeed, I wonder whether Pres. Bush wasn't in phone contact with Bill Gates when the Bush decided it was a good idea to spy on Americans. In fact, Microsoft was one of the first companies to turn over the search records made by Americans at its search engine, along with Yahoo, to the government. At least Google has resisted those requests so far.

I should have posted this as an update to my earlier posting on the Indiana legislature's plan to form a security agency within the state to look for "suspicious" people.

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Theistic Revolution

William F. Clark believes that the world will eventually convert to Christianity. Arguing that the current social and cultural ills will make Christianity the logical and rational choice to spiritual mailaise, he thinks that Christianity is the most reasonable choice. ...

After a careful analysis of these ills, Clark concludes:

The attacks perpetrated since September 2001 by Muslim fanatics in the United States, Europe, and the Far East are a major catalyst for the Theistic Revolution. This is so, because these events have conclusively demonstrated that major assumptions of the modern mentality are specious — especially the belief that religious opinions "don't matter" and that all expressed points of view should be treated as equally valid.

Ultimately, the repulsive violence and intellectual poverty endemic to Islam will check its growth and help ensure Christianity's conquest of the developed world. This will occur despite the fact that many demographers predict that Islam will become the dominant religion in Europe before the end of the 21st century because of immigration and the currently low birthrate of native Europeans.

The prospect of domination by Islam will help motivate increasing numbers of Westerners to jettison everything associated with the hopelessly depressing atheistic philosophy that made such domination a real possibility. Atheism will yield its ground to primarily Christian theism, and Islam will recede into the shadows.
One assumption that he makes is that this would be a good thing. Does it matter whether this is a true form of Christianity and does that matter? Or does Clark assume that religion is good, no matter what form it takes, much in the way that the US founding fathers often assumed that religion was needed to train people in ethics. Read more!

Theater Takes on Islamic Fanaticism

Al-Alhram reviews an Egyptian play that explores the roots of Islamic fanaticism. Why is it that artists are often the first to realize the sources of our social ills? ...

Reviewing Lenin El-Ramli's plays, Nehad Selaiha writes of the dramatist's play Ahlan Ya Bakawat:

Written in the 1980s, at the height of the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in Egypt, when the wave of religious bigotry and violence reached an unprecedented murderous peak, Welcome Gentlemen displays, in a highly concentrated form, the same reckless outspokenness, uncompromising intellectual honesty and rigorous, bold scrutiny of deeply entrenched cultural attitudes and prejudices that characterise most of El-Ramli's writing. Documenting the manifestations of this terrible plague of growing fanaticism and warning of its consequences is one thing, and many have done it without daring to probe anywhere under the surface to search for its origins; but trying to trace the plague to its roots in the hallowed depths of the inherited, venerated culture, is quite another and more dangerous thing, almost tantamount to heresy.
That's a pretty universal statement all-around. The point is to break outside the limits of aesthetics and drama and find these same roots in everyday life. Read more!

Jewish-Muslim Dialog

Two authors--a Jew and a Moslem--Identify ways that these two groups can air differences and issues to reach a level of dialog that pre-empts violence. In the Lebanese newspaper, Daily Star, they write:

Finally, in order to overcome the chasm of misunderstanding and bad history that exists between the two communities, an official long-term, public dialogue of the Abrahamic faiths must be supported. Such on-going dialogue needs a role model; we were inspired by the legacy of Daniel Pearl, an American Jewish journalist who earned respect in Muslim society and who came to symbolize the very ideals of religious tolerance and East-West dialogue. With the help of this symbol, we were able to carve a path of legitimacy in our communities and to witness our dialogues playing a positive role in the warming of relations between Israel and the Muslim world.

The lesson we draw from our experience is that individuals - Muslims and Jews, youth and adults, public officials and religious leaders - should not be discouraged by incendiary calls for the destruction of Israel. Each of us, all of us, should advance our own human interactions and diplomacy efforts to carve the path of dialogue. And it is a dialogue not only of civilizations, but for the future of humankind.
Read more!

Monday, January 23, 2006

War on Terror Hype... Think China

Giving credence to the idea that the war on terror is just hype, Defense Tech reviews an upcoming Pentagon document that appears to focus on a future confrontation with China. In consequence, Defense Dept. appropriations give the terrorist threat a back-seat to large weapons systems that can take on the Chinese behemoth. ...

But see the Defense Tech posting for the full backstory about the infighting surrounding these decisions. Defense Tech concludes from its preliminary review of this document:

Terrorist-type threats will get some new attention. But the Defense Department isn't about to optimize for that threat, the way it did for the Soviet Union. Big money will continue to be spent on fighter jets designed to duel with the Soviets and destroyers designed for large-scale ground assaults. Grunts on the ground won't get much more than they do now. The war on terror may be "long." But, apparently, it's not important enough to make really big shifts.

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History and Its Impact

Americans like to believe that the past is a dead letter. Its words echo from a void whose meaning is as easily dispensable as a candy wrapper. Sure, the past is nice for a museum but in living real life, you have to deal with now.

For some superficial readers of Emerson's essay, On Self-Reliance, this is what uniquely defines us as Americans. Rejecting all traditions and customes of the past we define our own reality and thereby create a new world wherever we set foot. ...

Emerson's call to individuality cannot be reduced to such a simplistic formulation, however. While it's no doubt a good thing that in America tribal affiliations and things like blood-codes and local mythologies are jettisoned, a person who cannot understand the effects that the past has on them as a person is living in a one-dimensional and ultimately delusional world.

Of course, history works on numerous levels. There is the greater history of the species or the nation as well as the history each individual experiences simply because they are unique and definitive--someone whose like will never appear in ther worls again.

It is the effects that the national history has on the way people come to know themselves that is often the hardest dimension of one's self-consciousness to determine and assess. A community or society's past actions pass into legend and story. They also pass over into daily routines and ways of thinking that are quickly accepted as normal and form part of the identity we accept as ourselves.

One instance of this became apparent to me once when I was driving east from New Mexico. While passing through Oklahoma, I realized the many towns and roads that had Indian names. The restaurant I ate at displayed fake Indian paraphernalia on the walls. Now, there was a reservation nearby some of these places--but there were also many places that no Indian had probably walked around for more than a hundred years.

Call it my road-weary paranoia, but I began to think how truly ironic this situation was. What struck me most was how the descendants of those who had perhaps killed, raped, and massacred Indians had taken over the identity--the traditions, customs, and artifacts--of those they'd killed.

In my most hallucinatory moment, I likened this cultural imperialism to the ritual wherein the Aztec priest flays the sacrificial victim's skin from his body. Then the priest steps into the bloody carcass devoid of muscle and bone and dances to the war gods.

As I continued my journey cross-country, these thoughts haunted me, even after I reached New York.

Something akin to these thoughts come through in the review of a book on the Black Hawk Indian uprising before the US Civil War. In summing up the author's argument about this uprising, the reviewer observes the following:

War is a story we tell ourselves in order to make sense out of what is otherwise organized and semiorganized violence and murder. Creating that story involves giving the violence a larger meaning and denying that the enemy has any humanity. This the militia did as it pursued the Sauk through summer 1832, casting the fight as the restoration of peace for settlers while characterizing the Sauk as "wild beasts more than men." Whatever else may have changed in the nearly 175 years since the massacre at Bad Ax, that much has not, as we currently confront the uncomfortable truth that Americans are capable of justifying unspeakable depravity in high-minded ways.
Indeed, how we justify this depravity and how the acts comprising the depravity enter into the very acts we accept as normal to everyday reality deserve some reflection and meditation. Read more!

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Filibuster Alito

I must admit that I was surprised at how much venom some Democrats used against Supreme Court nominee Sam Alito. I listened to his answers over and over and they seemed comprehensive, knowledgeable, and very patient. This is one smart cookie. So in pulling out all the stops and attacking Alito the way they did, I was very prone to give the guy the benefit of the doubt.

Geoffrey Stone, a professor of constitutional law at the University of Chicago Law School, shows why it is a good idea to oppose Alito's installation on the Supreme Court. Stone's argument convinces me. ...

At the end of his blog posting, Stone writes:

Given the times in which we live, we need and deserve a Supreme Court willing to examine independently these extraordinary assertions of executive authority. We can fight and win the war on terrorism without inflicting upon ourselves and our posterity another regrettable episode like the Red Scare and the Japanese internment. But that will happen only if the Justices of the Supreme Court are willing to fulfill their essential role in our constitutional system.

Whatever else Judge Alito may or may not have made clear about his views on such issues as abortion, federalism, and religious freedom, he has certainly made clear that he has no interest in restraining the acts of this commander-in-chief. That, in my judgment, poses a serious threat to the nation, and is a more than adequate reason for the Senate – Republicans and Democrats alike – to deny his confirmation to the Supreme Court of the United States.

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Decapitating al-Qaeda or Us?

"Born at the Crest of the Empire" has an excellent set of pieces related to how security forces deal with terrorism. That posting links to an article at Yahoo that interviews several terrorism experts who discuss the effectiveness of "decapitating" the enemy. This means: if you cut the head off, you'll kill the body. In war, if you get rid of the leader, then you'll demoralize and scatter the soldiers. Alexander the Graet followed this principle in Persia.

Unfortunately, this tactic does not work with terrorist groups. For one thing, these groups are loosely defined entities with adaptable hierarchies. Much like today's "flat" corporation, terrorist groups exhibit easily redesigned command and control structures. Therefore, simply killing the purported head of an organization does not always, indeed in most cases, destroy the group.

Ever since the day when George Bush played out his role as padron and mouthed those immortal lines, "Bring me the head of Osama bin-Laden," (parroting that Sam Peckinpah classic, "Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia") the US has followed the demonstrably failed policies of Israeli anti-terroroism strategy. ...

Well, following that plot line did not work, so we are on to other scripts, more and more low-budget grade-B movies. The Bush admin is close to following the script for "Damien," if they haven't been following that one all along. Of course, this is the very strange logic of Washington insiders--they can spin two, three, or five movie scripts at the same time. Which one they're actually following therefore becomes that much more difficult to discern.

According Jenna Jordan, University of Chicago anti-terrorism scholar:

"The Pakistan case, where you have all those people killed, that's the kind of `bad press' that keeps a movement going," said Jordan, whose 2004 study reviewed 72 international cases, stretching back almost a century, in which militant movements' leaders were targeted and killed.

In most cases, she found, the movements carried on — particularly if they were religion-based, like al-Qaida. Only one in five violent religious groups collapsed when their leaders were eliminated, she determined.
So why continue a policy that obviously has failed? In many respects, the US is following another script, one that WS Burroughs often noted. This is the systematic and controlled use of chaos and anarchy to achieve much larger goals.

In times of stress and turmoil, that is, those in power continue to exert their control since people are reluctant to question anyone or anything that promises to bring about order, even though that order itself might be unjust or untrue. People will sacrifice freedom and self-awareness simply out of a desire to eradicate uncertainty and internal and external discord.

As Soren Kierkegaard pointed out a century and a half ago, anxiety about the future and death breeds cowardice and spiritual rigor. Instead of choosing freedom and such things as love and forgiveness, people in general will choose security and safety. These reinforce bad habits and ultimately destructive behavior and spiritual attitudes. Eventually, if left unchecked, these lead to what Kierkegaard called "the sickness unto death," a spiritually decadent state wherein people are much like zombies--"alive" and kicking, but spiritually brain-dead. Read more!

Thursday, January 19, 2006

al-Qaeda's X-Generation

In a public forum on bin-Laden, two authors who have written about him explain how the war in Iraq benefited bin-Laden and how the war will create new bin-Ladens. These comments reflect some things I posted several months ago. What this war has done is to create a cycle of revenge and resentment that will spread like wild-fire in a region that still operates on the tribal loyalty principles of vengeance killings. ...

One of the authors, Peter Bergen, makes some keen observations. For instance, he notes:

After Sept. 11, 2001, a backlash against bin Laden developed among various jihad elements, which believed the attacks hurt their cause more than it helped them. "It's a myth that all jihadist groups are united by their hatred of the United States and have a single perspective," said Bergen. "The jihad groups hate each other more than they hate the Bush Administration."
That is a message that always seems to be missing from the President's speeches, which always lump these groups together. Only recently has Bush begun to discriminate between jihadists in Iraq and the Iraqi-born insurgents. The Pentagon's own asessments put the jihadists at about 5 percent of those fighting the US.

Another point made by Berger and fellow author Steve Coll includes the following:
Speaking alongside Bergen was Steve Coll, author of the Pulitzer Prize winning "Ghost Wars; The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan and Bin Laden." Coll said that "Bin Laden's greatest gift as a leader is to control the public narrative. He has a sense of the ending of his own narrative and that ending is martyrdom."

Consequently, both authors believe that a practical mechanism for dealing with bin Laden is simply not available. From Bergen's point of view, bin Laden has two choices at this point, "He can disappear into the history books and never say anything again or he can remain in the game and risk the possibility of revealing himself." At this point in the development and disintegration of al-Qaida, Bergen believes that bin Laden has carved out a role for himself as the elder statesmen, playing a role in the media battle.
What this means is that bin-Laden is an illusion now. While Bush and others keep talking about him as a real threat, all that he can really do is serve as a mouthpiece that makes idle and empty threats. In the meantime, the new generation of bin-Ladens hang on his every word--fueled by resentment at seeing Moslems killed in Iraq and watching what they perceive as a Christian Holy War unfold in the mideast and elsewhere around the world.

To counter this growing illusion, the message needs to be gotten out that bin-Laden is a phantom of those in the US who wish to gain and hold on to power through creating fear and anxiety.

So, how do we stop terrorism? Bin-Laden himself seems to agree with William Blum. In an article in The Washington PostBlum, the US author bin-Laden quoted in his recent speech, says:
"If I were the president, I could stop terrorist attacks against the United States in a few days. Permanently. I would first apologize -- very publicly and very sincerely -- to all the widows and orphans, the impoverished and the tortured, and all the many millions of other victims of American imperialism."
Could it really be that simple? Just a recognition that the US has killed innocent men and women? The attempt to stop the procedures and policies that brought about those deaths? The first part might be easy for some but not a President who finds it difficult to admit being wrong in anything. The second part, of course, will seem naive, if not absurd, because those policies and procedures ensure the flow of oil into the US.

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Coming to a Town Council Near You: Security Officials Looking for "Suspicious" People

Indiana is setting up its own intelligence force to keep track of "suspicious" people. After the recent revelations about the NSA eavedropping on millions of Americans, the release of this information to the FBI, and the ability of anyone to buy a list of numbers you called with your cell phone, I see a pattern emerging here.

Okay here's my chance to engage in what logicians call the slippery slope fallacy--aka the Chicken Little argument, where one thing leads to another to another until we're headed to hell in a hand-basket. The fallacy rests in the fact that in identifying causes there has to be a hard, provable connection between one event and another. The slippery slope does not adequately show the links.

So, what's the link between NSA eavedropping, FBI, the Indiana security office, and cell phone lists? ...

According to UPI:

The state of Indiana may set up an "intelligence fusion center" to collect and analyze data on what security officials deem as suspicious people.

Legislators and public safety officials say the center would be part of homeland security efforts, staffed with law enforcement officers under the governor's supervision, reports the Indianapolis Star.

State Sen. Thomas J. Wyss, R-Fort Wayne, who is sponsoring a bill for the center, says the measure would allow collection of intelligence information on an individual only if that person "reasonably" appears to have knowledge of terrorist or criminal activities.
Okay, maybe I am over-reacting. There is that term there--"reasonably"--which is meant to set my paranoia at rest.

Call it paranoia, call it a healthy skepticism about the government's ability to restarin itself when it comes to using technology to spy on people. Or maybe it's just a feeling that not everyone out there is always thinking of my best interests.

Who's to say that some faceless bureaucrat can tell the difference between what's "suspicious" and what's just "eccentric"? Can I really trust the idea that some Xtian fundamentalist types--theyre' the most obvious candidates to love this measure, aren't they?--might not get into office and begin to brand everyone who makes fun of whatever "they" call normal as being suspicious?

The overriding concern here is that the threat of being watched, of being suspected of something, will ultimately instill a type of conformity in people that restricts any form of what I will call "spiritual" growth.

What do I mean by that? I mean that people who are looking for themselves often do weird things, think weird thoughts, and say weird stuff. Heck, they even search for weird articles on the web, write stuff about jihadists and Moslems and bin-Laden.

Why? Because they are finding themselves--which means they are finding how they differ from everyone else, as well as the crowd mentality that tries to make them fit into the square hole.

In order to be free to find myself, I cannot simply fear that my behavior will become suspicious and illegal. I should be allowed to experience for myself various forms of behavior--while not illegal or unethical--that go against someone else's notion of "normal."

Otherwise we have a nation of clones--something, maybe, the Xtian jihadists, Liberal PCers, neocons and corporate types want to create anyway.

Perhaps the folks who are planning these types of surveillance could take a page from the Malysian govt's book. In what is surely a very funny twist of irony, the Malaysians have just ordered a group of "moral police" to disband:
Malaysia's government has ordered an Islamic body in the capital to disband its volunteer force of moral police, saying its mission to deter so-called indecent behaviour was tantamount to invasion of privacy.

The government also warned that no such body would be allowed anywhere in the country.
This is what I call true internationalism--learning from other cultures what we ourselves seem to have forgotten.

Yet, it also seems that even in "repressed" countries, these ideas die a hard death. The Malaysian ministry in charge of the "morality police" has refused to disband, according to the staronline, a Malyasian news outlet:
he Federal Territory Religious Department (Jawi) wants to go ahead with its snoop squad, against the Cabinet's decision.

Jawi public relations officer Idris Hussein said it was not given the opportunity to explain to the Government the purpose of the unit's formation.

Update 1/20/06: According to Wired Magazine, reasons to be concerned about the govt's request to obtain Google records on a million records, include the following:
Why should anyone worry about the government requesting search logs or bother to disguise their search history?

Some people simply don't like the idea of their search history being tied to their personal lives. Others don't know what the information could be used for, but worry that the search companies could find surprising uses for that data that may invade privacy in the future.

For example, if you use Google's Gmail and web optimizing software, the company could correlate everyone you've e-mailed, all the websites you've visited after a search and even all the words you misspell in queries.

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Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Getting Real About Iraq 2

Just as I sat down to post the following quote from Defense Tech, CNN International is interviewing two reporters on this very issue of journalist safety. David Axe writes the following about how this chaotic security situation affects getting a correct picture of what is happening in Iraq, postive or negative. ...

David writes:

Whether there is much progress in Arab Iraq is certainly debatable, but it's apparent that the increasing inability of media to cover ANYTHING, much less coalition successes, is hurting the war effort. Iraq is a big, complicated problem, and as media flee or hunker down deeper in their hotel fortresses, the Western world's understanding of Iraq can only suffer.

There is a workable solution, and it's called embedding. No one protects journos as well as the U.S. and British militaries, but many media refuse to embed because they fear losing their objectivity. This is a valid fear, one even U.S. officers acknowledge, but what's better: slightly biased coverage? Or no coverage at all?
Amen brother, and good luck on your assignment "over there." Read more!

US/Israel Hypocrisy on Iran's Nukes

While Israel and the US rattle sabers Iran's way, many in the mideast see a double-standard at work. While the US appears overworked at the possibility of Iran having nuclear power and weapons, mideasterners ask themselves and others in the west why Israel is allowed to have these weapons but Moslem countries cannot.

According to Maylaysia's Star Online, the Egyptian Presdient made this plain to US VP Cheney when he visited yesterday, January 17, 2006:

"The last thing we need in the Middle East is a nuclear weapon arms race," presidential spokesman Suleiman Awad said.

"But we cannot ignore Egyptian and Arab world public opinion (that refuses) to ... make all this fuss about the Iranian nuclear programme while turning a blind eye and a deaf ear to the Israeli nuclear programme and arsenal."

Israel is widely believed to have nuclear weapons but has never confirmed or denied their existence and is not a party to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
If the US expects credibility on this issue, it must begin to hold Israel, its closest ally in the region, to publicly account for its own weapons of mass destruction arsenal and program.

The mideast public can only see the US position vis-a-vis Israel's nuclear stockpile as a double-standard. It can also only see Israel's possession of these weapons as a sign of its ability to flout international laws while it uses the US to enforce an Israeli agenda in the region.

Israel has not signed the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. It is widely acknowledged by experts in the area of nuclear arms control that Israel helped South Africa to design and develop a nuclear capability.

With this history in mind, the mideast public, not to mention those in Iran itself, must ask themselves why this movement to deny Iran the right to defend itself with these weapons, especially since Israel uses this rationale for its own nuclear program.

What is the most effective solution to overcome this hypocrisy? As Shirin Ebadi (the Iranian human rights advocate who was awarded the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize) and Muhammad Sahimi argue in the LA Times:
[T]he U.S. and Iran should enter direct negotiations. It is simply absurd for the U.S. and the most important nation in the Middle East not to communicate directly. The Bush administration should not be seduced by exile groups with no support in Iran. Developing democracy is an internal affair.

Democracy, in the end, will provide the ultimate safeguard against nuclear disaster, because a truly democratic Iran, backed by a majority of Iranians, would feel secure enough not to pursue dangerous military adventures.
This policy would coincide with the one promoted by the US International Strategic Studies Group at the US Army College. (Also see their report.) Whether or not this policy is adopted and followed, however, rests in part on the ability of the Bush administration to distance itself from the hard-line tactics of Israel and its supporters in the US, including Jewish and evangelical Christian interest groups.

As I have also noted in the past, the Bush administration may indeed find itself opposed to Israel. At least with regard to the Bush admin's rhetoric about promoting democracy in the mideast, some leaders in Israel see Arab democracy itself as a threat to its continued existence.

Update 1/21/06:The Defense Tech guys post a good link to what, in reality, Iran's potential nuclear capability is. Israel says Iran is an immediate threat, so it wants to bomb the country. Iran is several--some say 10--years away from actually getting the bomb together. Then you have this problem of actually delivering the nukes, something Pakistan is still dealing with decades after its defense posture went nuclear. 10 years seems plenty of time for diplomacy and back-channel efforts to work. Just as simply, Iran's moderate middle-classes must have a chance to consolidate their influence in the culture.

Update 1/21/06:As I have noted before, the Iranian situation is much more complext than it is portrayed in the US press. There's a power struggle going on in the Iranian hierarchy, and the President is not as powerful as the media sources give the impressio as. For example, the Iranian commentator Hossein Derakhshan writes:
I wrote a few weeks that the single biggest reason Ahmadinejad is ranting unexpectedly against Israel and the uproar he's made in the past few weeks, has internal purposes.

Khamenei has effectively prevented Ahmadinejad from having any say in foreign policy. So Ahmadinejad's strategy has been causing problems in major foreign policy issues in order to get into the gaming.

He managed to achieve some success in this regard and he definitely has gained some grounds. But it's very hard to keep it that way, since he's set the bar so high he can't push it further. Israel is the single biggest foreign policy issue in Iran these days and Ahmadinejad has pushed that envelope as far as it could go.
Again, the US policy-makers should take this into account and not react in an overly militaristic way to what is simply an internal squabble between Iranian insiders.

Update 1/21/06: Now we have Hillary Clinton telling a Princeton audience that Israel is at the core of American foreign policy in the Mid-East. Got that... the core. Okay, don't believe me? Here are her exact, reported by The Princetonian:
"The security and freedom of Israel must be decisive and remain at the core of any American approach to the Middle East..."
Related article: Hillary Clinton Says White House Has Mishandled Iran
Sen. Clinton Urges U.N. Sanctions Against Iran

Update 1/21/06: A former Defense analyst was sentenced to 12 years for passing US intelligence information about Iran to the powerful, pro-Israeli lobbying group AIPAC and a "foreign national." The type of information passed on is not known, though it's suspected that it included information about Iran's nuclear power program. See Pentagon Analyst Given 121/2 Years In Secrets Case

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