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

Friday, March 31, 2006

American-Style Tyranny

I have just finished watching the Senate Judiciary Committee's hearing on Sen Russ Feingold's censure resolution of the President for his NSA domestic spying program.

It seems to me that Feingold's side was trounced in this hearing. All the hearing did was to give Specter more grist for his own bill. ...

Until Feingold and others undermine the idea that the US is at war, their continued desire to see the President's domestic spying program as illegal will falter.

I say this with some trepidation. I think the Bush admin is a clear and present danger to the life of the Republic. Unfortunately, I think the admin. has the Congress over a barrel.

We are witnessing the bitter weeds of what our representatives in government sowed in their cowardice and fear when they gave the President a broadly phrased and open-ended resolution to use military force.

All I can say is, the country has some dark days ahead of it. Perhaps these days are necessery. They will serve as a form education into what American-style tyranny looks like.

I imagine all that those who oppose this usurpation of power by the Bushites have to hope for is that the Supreme Court will judge as broadly as possible in the Hamdan case and declare that the President has set up war crimes trials in a time when: 1) there's no war and 2) there's no national emergency (for if there were, then the President might be able to invoke martial law-type powers).

That is, as Justice Breyer stated in a question to General Clement during his presentation of the government's case for a military tribunal against Hamdan:

JUSTICE BREYER: ... And, in my mind, I take their argument as saying, "Look, you want to try a war crime. You want to say this is a war crimes tribunal. One, this is not a war, at least not an ordinary war. Two, it's not a war crime, because that doesn't fall under international law. And, three, it's not a war crime tribunal or commission, because no emergency, not on the battlefield, civil courts are open, there is no military commander asking for it, it's not in any of those in other respects, like past history. And if the President can do this, well, then he can set up commissions to go to Toledo, and, in Toledo, pick up an alien, and not have any trial at all, except before that special commission." (pp. 66-67)

Now, I am sure there are nuances to this that I'm not getting, since I am not a lawyer. In fact, I have read one commentary on the Hamdan arguments that suggested that the Justices will nto want to judge broadly in this case--meaning by that they will not take on the big issues about whether it's a war or not.
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Paranoia vs Reasonable Doubt: The NSA Program and Its Effects on Society

When it comes to the debate over whether the government should be able to spy on US citizens, some express a call to rational concern and balanced objectvity. Indeed, with such a threat as government eavesdropping and the power of technology to intrude into the most private spheres of our lives, a reminder to remain calm is perhaps called for. ...

This reminder can cut two ways, however. It can make us complacent and unaware of the true threat that these measures pose. That fact alone calls for some response. In other words, you might say, "What's all the fuss about? Isn't it just a bunch of lawyers trying to make tempest in a teapot?"

I have suggested in my previous postings that the danger to us, to our culture is quite immense. It is insidious, however, and acts under the radar. This darker side of the these programs and the behaviouristic efects they have on our society is best summarized, perhaps, in the comment a student made to me after a debate on this very issue: "We need these programs because everyone is a potential terrorist."

Another delusional, overwrought mind buzzed into paranoia? Consider this story story reported by 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. [my emphasis]

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.
Giving way somewhat to a slippery slope argument: Do you want to live in a culture where spying on others, suspecting everyone to be a terrorist, looking askance at "suspicious people" (whatever that might mean)?

This is not a free society, it is a society enslaved by its mass fears and delusions. It enforces some warped notion of conformity that tracks and perhaps jails those who do not conform to some bureaucrat's idea of what is the right way to act or what ideas to think and express.

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Thursday, March 30, 2006

Bush's Vices

The growing quandary that Bush idol worshippers face is the utter defeat of that idol's image of being a virtuous man. Bush ran on a platform that he was more virtuous than Clinton. Yet, his own unvirtuous behavior far outstrips Clinton's sexual pecadillo. ...

In his study of virture, Aristotle notes that there are two main categories of virtues--the emotional and the intellectual. A perfectly virtuous person will exhibit all of these virtues at all times in all circumstances and in the right degree.

Clinton's sexual indiscretion falls under the vice of continence; it's a virtuous failing with regard to the balance that a virtuous person is supposed to exhibit between the emotional and the intellectual.

Bush's vices, however, fall under the category of the intellectual virtues. While few, if any human, can approach the ideal set out by Aristotle, it seems beyond question that intellectual vices far outweigh the emotional vices.

The intellectual virtues include theoretical and pragamtic elements. The theoretical is not simply the kind of exercise that Einstein might practise. It also includes holding to truthfulness and awareness of what truth means and entails. Bush's failings in this regard continue to come to light. The perception by the everyday Joan that Bush is a liar undermines his appeal to this virtue.

Another aspect of virtue is the practical, also called prudence. Bush's miscalculations and mismangement of the so-called "war" against terror have demolished any notion that he is a prudent person. He lacks, therefore, both of the most improtant virtues that a leader must exhibit.

One can sense the growing despair of the Bushites as more and more of Bush's failures in prudence and truthfulness come to light. In attacking the Reps, the Dems should not simply, therefore, dwell on Bush's prudential vices. They should also show his glaring intellectual failures--which is, I think, what Feingold and others do by calling the President on his duplicity with regard to the NSA program(s).

The question the Dems should pose to the voter is the following: how and why do the Republicans continue to support a man whose truthfulness and prudence have been shown to be negligible? Their support for his vices must reflect back on their own failures in these virtues.
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The Animal They Want Us To See

In another empirical factoid bolstering Greenwald's assertion that the Bushites will stop at nothing to advance their warped agenda, Norman Podhoretz suggests that recently released captive, Jill Carroll, is suffering from psychological trauma when she reports on the good treatment she received at the hands of her captors. ...

These Bushites will stop at nothing to paint the insurgents, terrorists, etc. as animals, unworthy of every human considertaion. It should be noted that Carroll is simply carrying through on her desire to report on the human angle of both sides of this "war." She took extraordinary risks to get out the story that the MSM in general refused or were incapable of reporting. That insurgents or others fighting the US occupation could conceivably be exhibiting human motives is, of course, anathema to a US regime that hopes to portray its opponents--domestic and foreign--as subhuman.

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Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Baghdad Burning

Much like Baghdad Bob, George Bush and his cohorts continue to paint a rosy picture of the social, political, and economic and cultural situation in Iraq. It's sobering, then, to receive a message for help from someone actually in the midst of the carnage. ...

According to The Mesopotamian:

Emergency measures have to be put in place immediately, otherwise as everbody in Baghdad knows, the whole city is going to fall soon. I regret sounding so pessimistic, but the alarm must be sounded with the loudest volume possible, since what is happening is Baghdad is something really awful.
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Monday, March 27, 2006

Supreme Court Justice Judges Case Before Evidence Appears

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has publicly judged the facts of a case involving Guantanamo Base detainees before the evidence has even been presented to the justices on the high court. This violates several statutes and calls into question Scalia's objectivity and impartiality, virtues necessary in a judge who is to decide cases before him or her. Scalia should recuse himself from the Guantanamo Base litigation. ...

According to BBC News:

Judge 'rejects Guantanamo rights'
Justice Antonin Scalia
Mr Scalia reportedly finds reaction in Europe to the camp "hypocritical"
A US Supreme Court justice has been quoted as saying that Guantanamo detainees do not have the right to be tried in civil courts.

Newsweek magazine said it had heard a tape of a recent talk given by Antonin Scalia in which he made these comments.

The report comes as the court prepares to hear a challenge by a Guantanamo detainee against US military tribunals.
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US Troops in the Kill Zone?

As I have posted before (in comments echoed by former Sen. Gary Hart), the threat of civil war in Iraq puts US troops in a perilous situation. This is not simply because the Defense Department will be tempted to choose sides, thereby contributing to one faction's genocide of another. The danger is that US troops will instead be attacked by both sides. This situation would potentially place the troops in a kill box that they would find almost impossible to escape from. ...

One instance of the danger that US troops will be targeted by both sides is the following:

The differing versions of what happened seemed to raise a broader question about who is in control of Iraq's security at a time when Iraqi politicians still have not formed a unified government, sectarian tensions are higher than ever and mutilated bodies keep surfacing on the streets.

Update I 3/28/06 Via Today in Iraq:
John Robb, via James Wolcott:

"Here's a likely scenario for how this will play out: deeper entrenchment within US bases (to limit casualties) and pledges of neutrality (Rumsfeld) will prove hollow. Ongoing ethnic slaughter will force US intervention to curtail the militias. Inevitably, this will increase tensions with the militias and quickly spin out of control. Military and police units sent to confront the militias will melt down (again), due to conflicting loyalties. Several large battles with militias will drive up US casualties sharply. Supply lines to US bases from Kuwait will be cut. Protesters will march on US bases to demand a withdrawal. Oil production via the south will be cut (again), bringing Iraqi oil exports to a halt. Meanwhile, the government will continue its ineffectual debate within the green zone, as irrelevant to the reality on the ground in the country as ever. Unable to function in the mounting chaos and facing a collapse in public support for the war, the US military will be forced to withdraw in haste. It will be ugly."

Update I 3/30/06 The situation I described in my previous posting is beginning to take shape. Clashes with al-Sadr have increased. This is not a good sign, indeed, as shown by the following article:
Some U.S. defense intellectuals have argued the now-fashionable nostrum of targeted killings or assassinations of insurgency local leaders or prominent cadre figures to "decapitate" insurgencies such as the Sunni one in Iraq.

But pursuing that kind of policy against the Mahdi Army or against Sadr himself would risk huge dangers. The Shiite branch of the Muslim faith has always been fixated on the martyrdom of heroic and righteous leaders and Sadr's father and two brothers both died violent and mysterious deaths, apparently at the hands of Saddam Hussein's regime, years ago. If Sadr were to die violently too, and if the event could be plausibly, even if falsely, laid at America's door, it could set off a huge popular violent uprising across Shiite Iraq eagerly fanned by Iran.

However hard going the 130,000 U.S. troops still in Iraq find things now against the Sunni insurgency, it would be vastly worse if they faced a far larger insurgency simultaneously from within the Shiite community that could, at the very least, count on intelligence and some degree of cooperation from elements within the new Shiite-dominated police and military forces. Land supply routes to U.S. forces in Baghdad and central Iraq from Kuwait and the Gulf might then be interdicted and the Pentagon might be forced to rely on air transport, at least in the short term, to supply U.S. forces in the heart of the country.
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Bush Wanted to Invade Iraq No Matter What, Memo Shows

In a story that has been seen overseas for some time, a secret memo has come to light that shows that President Bush and British Prime Minister were prepared to invade Iraq, whether they received UN approval or not. In fact, Bush suggested painting a US plane with UN colors to provoke Hussein. ...

According to an NYTimes story (via RAWStory) on the memo

The memo also shows that the president and the prime minister acknowledged that no unconventional weapons had been found inside Iraq. Faced with the possibility of not finding any before the planned invasion, Bush talked about several ways to provoke a confrontation, including a proposal to paint a U.S. surveillance plane in the colors of the United Nations in hopes of drawing fire, or assassinating Saddam. [my emphasis]
This memo and these proposed actions show that, contrary to his recent assertions to the contrary, President Bush wanted to go to war. Read more!

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Illusion of a War Paves Bush Path to Dictatorship of the Executive Branch

Isn't a background concern in the controversey about executive inherent powers a question of the "right" of the executive branch to declare martial law? That is, if the Congress limits the President's powers, then s/he cannot declare martial law in the future event of invasion, breakdown of civil order, and so on. ...

I see why some might think the concern I mention is a red herring. I guess I'd ask, though, why is it a red herring to ask whether passing one law would infringe on the potential exercise of an unacknowledged but accepted "right" such as martial law?

Let me be clear: I am not saying that at this time Congresspeople are thinking consciously about this issue. The President's ability to declare martial law is one of those tacit understandings that few acknowledge (at least so far) but all accept.

What I see happening in this discussion about the President's inherent executive power in not abiding by the current laws against wiretapping US citizens as he has done through the NSA program is an appeal to that tacit understanding without bringing it into the open.

On the other hand, until you clarify why questioning the President's inherent executive power does not imply or include this tacit understanding, to call it a red herring is begging the question.

The president's entire justification for NSA eavedropping is a grand deception built on numerous misunderstandings and vague implications.

The foundation of the deception is that the US is at war. That simply is not true, as Attorney Geberal Gonzales' statement before the Senate Judiciary Committee shows.

But the deception goes unchallenged. Based on it, however, the admin and its supporters can rely on all of these tacit understandings, such as the
President's right to declare martial law.

The point is, there's no war, no emergency that would support such an exercise of power. I say no emergency--the "war on terror" is a massive PR campaign against a threat that simply is not that great.

In this regard, I agree with Francis Fukuyama in his most recent writings. According to a Washington Post review of his new book:

And that may be the point. Fukuyama is in no hurry to confront the chronic problems of the Middle East. It isn't just that he doubts the feasibility of the neocons' nation-building schemes or their claims that democracy is the best antidote to Islamism. For Fukuyama, the challenge posed by Osama bin Laden's brand of radicalism is simply not that serious -- not, in his carefully chosen word, the sort of "existential" threat that should trouble our sleep.
Someone migh aver that the distinction between a declared war and the war on terror is just a matter of semantics. This is a logical mistake, I believe. The notion of a semantic difference implies that there are no real, practical consequences that adhere to the terms.

Whether a military action is a war or not does have practical consequences, however. As AG Gonzales pointed out, being at war carries with it consequences for treaties and related international policies into which the US has entered.

I suggest, moreover, that the question of whether the US is at war has legal and constituional consequences as well, not to mention political consequences. As some have suggested here, in a time of real war, the populace is willing to cut the executive branch some slack that it ordinarily would not do at other times. That is, the public is willing to give the President the benefit of the doubt when it comes to securing the borders and the country's defense.

What I have suggested is that the illusion of carrying out a war that is not really a war gives the President this benefit, when in fact he should not be given it. It's only an illusion whose political and social capital he can exploit because no one is willing to reveal what's happening for what it is: a lie and a deceit perpetrated not to gain the benefit of the public interest but instead a charade to further enable the political and social interests of a party and its supporters.

I am not so sure that the solution to this dilemma resides solely in the courts. The courts have shown themselves quite willing to expand the idea of a resolution for the use of military force in such a way as to equate it to what a President is allowed to do in a time of war. That is, the courts have bought into the notion that the President has the same powers under a resolution as s/he does during a time of war.

I suggested that war is one of these; the President's ability to declare martial law--abrogating civil and other rights--during emergencies seems to be a tacitly accepted prerogative or right of the President. I also suggested that this tacit understanding is the context within which many are willing to accept the current President's argument for executive privilege.

That's why I think the question of whether this is a war or not is important. If it is a war, then this tacit understanding about executive privilege seems to undergird all arguments. The reason why the courts might not wish to impinge on the President's "privilege" is because it realizes that if it does, then in a time of emergency he would be hampered from declaring martial law.

I had not read that Biden supported the view that a resolution to use force is the same as declaring war. That explains a lot about why the Dems are reluctant to support a censure. As I have argued before, the Dems don't want to support censure because they realize that they might need that power themselves when and if a Dem is President.

I find the argument that a resolution to use military force equates to a declaration of war as extremely dangerous and ultimately fallacious, based as it is on a false analogy. It is dangerous because it hands over to the President the discretion about when and where that force is to be used and in what manner.

It's a refusal of responsibility on Congress' part to uphold its own constitutional powers to oversee and maintain an ethical and political curb on the President's abuse of war powers.

It is fallacious, as I say, because the analogy between what a President can do during a war is, hypothetically, different from what s/he can do as a result of a resolution.

In terms of foreign policy, Zbigniew Brezinski has examined this question about what differentiates a war declaration from a resolution to use force. Alberto Gonzales acknowledged these differences in his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The upshot of these remarks is that unless and until Congress either declares a war or acknowledges that a resolution to use force differs from an actual war, then they will have problems bringing the President to task for his abuse of executive power.

None of this should lead you to think that I approve of the President's actions, which I consider to be illegal and potentially dictatorial. The only way, however, that this power play will be curtailed is when Congress clearly defines what the President can and cannot do in times of emergency demanding martial law, times of war, and times of police actions called into being by resolutions to use military force.

But let's at least call a spade a spade--otherwise, we exist in this shadowy world where words mean what people want them to mean and everyone is going around confused and dazed because what they think is real is just a phantom devised by the political parties' spin machines.

That's the ethically terrible aspect of this "war" that haunts us now and probably will for some time to come. If you think that question is not being asked by the soldiers themselves, I suggest you take a look at some of the stories about returning soldiers that raely make it into the news--those detailing the ethical and moral hells that the soldiers go through when they finally make it back home, either physically whole but psychologically damaged or crippled and psychologically damaged.

Indeed what can make actions done in war worse than what they are already? That was your question earlier; I suggested, following your own comments, that what can make it worse is the fact that these actions were done in a situation that is based on lies and deceit--which, I believe, is what's happening now.

This is the ethical terror I spoke about. It's a terror that borders on despair. A despair that is willing to accept any reason for what one has done just as long as it takes away the guilt and doubt about whether one was indeed fooled into killing people for a lie.

For example, consider Zbigniew Brzezinki's recent comments about why it's important whether something is a war or not.According to Think Progress, Brzezinksi recently said:
But to describe America repeatedly as a nation at war – implicitly of course with a commander and chief in charge – is to contribute to a view of the world by America that stimulates fear and isolates us from others. Other nations have suffered more from terrorism than America. None of them has embraced that definition of reality.
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Condi and Half-Truths

On CNN's Late Edition, Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice was asked by Wolf Blitzer whether the US has evidence that Iran is influencing the Iraqi political situation--implying tht Iran is sending more than moral support to Iraq's Shiite Moslems. That is, the story put out by the US admin is nebulous about what Iran is doing. ...

I do not support Iran's meddling in Iraq. Yet, for the US admin to make such indefinite accusations without acknowledging its own meddling in Iran's internal affairs is just another sign of this admin's programme of disinformation and sleight-of-hand.

Wolf Blitzer let this charade pass unnoticed, accepting Rice's assertions without asking about the presence and activities of US forces near the Iranian border.

These facts on the ground appear to suggest provocative acts that any nation would consider suspicious and worthy of response. Thus, while the US accuses Iran of meddling in Iraq's internal affairs--without brnging forth much proof--the US does exactly the same thing in Iran.

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Thursday, March 23, 2006

The Worm at the Heart of America

The Bushites are beginning to exhibit a growing sense of collapse. For the last five years they came to believe their own propaganda.

They really do believe that Bush is a prophet and that he's come to save the true remnant of Xtianity within America. They must be somewhat perturbed at the thought that they're looking at seeing life from the margins again. ...

They thought that Bush's victory meant that their way of seeing the world had gained normativity; for so many years they sat along the sidelines hoping to set the true path to righteousness back on its track after the cultural train wreck of the last 35 years.

It seems they fear nothing worse than not being the reigning ethos. They thought starting a war would teach people the way to righteousness once again. By creating a military ethos they believed that they could stem the decay wrought by materialism and moral relativism.

Their despair is somewhat troubling, though. They're looking into the abyss of their dreams dashed and mocked and strewn before swine. There's an intense sense of violence at the heart of this despair.

This is the type of despair that I call the worm at the heart of America. It's a worm whose name is McVeigh.
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Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Does the NSA Program Betray Christianity?

One of the more outstanding questions in contemporary politics is the attempt to tie together religion and politics. Whether it is Islamic, Christian, Hindu, or Jewish fundamentalism, many citizens of many countries believe that the social, cultural and economic conditions of their milieu demand a political response that has a core religious component. Indeed, in most of the solutions advanced by these advocates, there is ultimately no difference between the political and religious. ...

Of course, how each religion fleshes out the relationship between the two varies. In the most extreme cases, there is no differentiation between the religious and political authorities, such as most in contemporary Europe and other parts of the world understand as comprising a representative democracy.

As many historians point out, the development of the modern representative form of government has at least one source in the Protestant rebellion against the religious and political hegemony of the Catholic Church. The most important model for this was developed by John Calvin in Geneva, Switzerland.

The reasons for Calvin’s development of a Presbyterian form of governance have their origin in his reading of the Christian and Hebrew scriptures. Recognizing that the top-down, hierarchical and monarchical structure of Catholic Christianity was unchristian, he advocated and established in Geneva an ascending group of interlocking presbyteries, with a group of representatives making ultimate decisions affecting the community.

Calvin’s thought was even more strongly informed by the ancient Judaic and prophetic voice in the Jewish scriptures that said that God alone is ruler. These prophetic voices continually inveighed against attempts by the priestly caste and the King to usurp that role. For Calvin, a representative form of government understands the fallibility of humans and invests the use of power in the community, not a single leader.

The preceding comments provide an ironic background to the recent support by some in the evangelical movement for the expansion of executive power by the Bush administration. Perhaps no single instance of this power is more exemplary than the NSA surveillance program. As many commentators observe, the crux of this issue is the following: the President asserts that the Constitution gives his office the right of inherent privilege. In its most extreme form, this inherent privilege means that the President has the right to undertake actions which his office, and his office alone, deems necessary for the welfare of the Republic.

Of course, should the President succeed in establishing this as a constitutional precedent, the President’s power will not only be supreme in foreign affairs and military matters but potentially any other social and cultural s/he deems necessary. The problem with this, of course, is that the form of representative government set up by the founding fathers was one of checks and balances. The President’s recent efforts, should they prove successful, could potentially abrogate this system of checks and balances.

There is another, more particular irony to the NSA surveillance program. This relates to the idea that many Christian dispensationalists believe that in the end times the surrogate for Satan, the Anti-Christ, will use surveillance technology to consolidate his power over the world and to persecute believers. As many critics of the President’s NSA program note, it provides exactly a type of comprehensive surveillance that the Anti-Christ would no doubt envy.

Supporters of the President’s NSA program say that only enemies are targeted. Yet, news reports, whistle-blowers, and testimony by the Attorney General before Congress call these assertions into question. Since this program has no oversight by our elected representatives, and since the President has muzzled those who do have access to the true extent of the program, such assertions demand a sense of trust in the power of the executive to do the right thing.

I suggest, following Calvin and the Jewish prophets, that no one person has that much wisdom. Nor can they be trusted with the kind of power that is inherent in allowing decisions like this to be made by one office or person. The representative form of government, as envisioned by Calvin and the founding fathers, understood that no one human can be trusted—no matter their best intentions. In the words of the well-worn phrase, the road to Hell is paved with the best of intentions.
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Iran and US in Dialog?

Throughout the past half year I have advocated that the US engage Iran in dialog instead of blustering and pandering to the war crowd. Slowly, but inexorably, the US position seems to have evolved to exactly that point. There's certainly room for duplicity, posturing, and bad faith on both sides, but the US' leverage in the region has declined immensely with the Bush misadventure in Iraq.

As Juan Cole points out below, the US options in Iran and aspirations in the region must begin to conform to a level of hashing out disputes and disagreements in dialog rather than simply imposing its hegemonic will onto other nations. One thing that Cole does not address, however, is the continuing hypocrisy of the US position on Iran's aspirations for nuclear technology. That is, as long as Israel is allowed to stockpile nuclear weapons and pose a danger to other nations in the area, the US will continue to be seen as a two-faced partner. ...

According to Cole:

Washington no longer has much leverage on Iran. Its military is bogged down in Iraq, and its diplomats are forbidden to speak to Tehran under most circumstances. Its attempt to prevent even a civilian Iranian nuclear energy program may convince the clerical hard-liners to pull their country out of the NPT and to end international inspections. If the Iranians really did want a bomb, they could not have asked for a better pretext to leave the NPT. President Bush’s policies toward Iran have already failed, and could fail even more miserably in the months to come.
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WMD Hypocrisy

The US went to war with Iraq over WMDs that we found out did not exist. The US wants to stop Iran from having nuclear technology, even though it now allows India to have them and even though that country flouted international nuclear conventions for a decade. Israel also continues to stock-pile nuclear weapons on the US Taxpayer's dime. Now it appears that the US itself is in violation of chemical weapons prohibitions. ...

According to Defense tech, the US is developing munitions that can deliver chemical/biological "agents":

In the same manner, there is also a need for delivering non-aerosol payloads or articles, including. but not limited to, flash grenades, concussion grenades, nets, noise generators, stun balls, tire puncturing elements, electromagnetic pulse generators, mines or bomblets, listening devices, signal emitting objects, unmanned aerial vehicles, biological/chemical agents, and the like for efficient, rapid dispersal and delivery.
How's that for teaching the world by example? Read more!

Monday, March 20, 2006

Communicating What's True and Good

How do you persuade others to confront their illusions and self-deception. As many thinkers note, the major obstacle to changing someone's mind is the fact that most people listen to what they want to hear or--when they actually have to listen to someone with a different opinion--hear what they want to hear.

The idea that information alone changes people's minds--besides the epistemological problems--misses the need for actually getting someone to listen or want to listen to that information. Socrates overcame this problem by going out into the marketplace and cornering people. He then set about undermining their preconceptions. In the modern world, the public sphere--the agora of Socrates' world, where people congregated and made themselves available for discourse--has shrunk to the enclosed, insular world of private rumination. Most people in the blogosphere simply have more chances to select sources of info they already believe in and edit out anything that does not. ...

Times when people do seek out new ways of looking at the world come during crises. These include personal, social, or cultural crises. The present situation in America presents the crisis in terms of the failure of the Iraq war to live up to the prognostications of Bush et al.

If there is any willingness to listen to an argument like Feingold's, it's because the prudential debacle created by this admin is finally affecting people where they live: friends and loved ones killed or crippled in the war, national treasure gutted and frittered away in a dubious overseas military adventure, failure to confront natural catastrophes and their aftermath.

I suggest that a reason why people respond positively to Feingold's censure is because they want Bush to be held accountable for these missteps. They are not opposed to wiretapping and executive power so much as they are his ineptitude. I believe that were another terrorist attack to occur in the US, most of those who are against the NSA eavesdropping would quickly support it and blame all of us who oppose it for the attack.

All of these comments, of course, suppose that the real audience of any critique and persuasive strategy must be aimed at the electorate per se. As I have suggested earlier, it's not they who make the decisions. It's the insiders of both parties. Until they can be convinced that a censure serves their purposes, they will simply play opossum or, at best, pay some lip-service to it while they position themselves to exploit it for their own agendas.

The threat posed by Bush's version of executive power and the use of technology to expand that power will not be seen by many in power, the insiders, as dire enough. No doubt, many in power will want to keep that possibility in reserve for the time when they eventually gain power. Many Dems see what the President has done as a possibility that they want to have at their disposal in times of crisis.

How far-reaching that debate is, though, will depend on how deeply people see that the legal issues you address are the surface phenomena of a much larger problem. These include the culture of fear and distrust that the Bushites have shown is so easily manipulated and exploited for an agenda that is truly much darker and insidious than most are willing to acknowledge.

It is this culture of a post-industrial, postmodern world wherein people seek certainty and meaning in a world of massive uncertainty that rules people’s natural disposition to the truth and the good. It is this world where the natural disposition to the good is obscured and stunted to such an extent that they can’t even recognize that bombing innocent men and women is wrong, that torture is always wrong, and that an emperor with absolute power threatens their freedom.

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Bird Flu Update: WHO Says 14 Have Bird Flu in Azerbaijan

I have maintained an update on this issue for some time. I've focused on Azerbaijan as a particularly distrubing hot spot. As I've noted in previous posts, the disturbing aspect about the flu cases in this region are that they occur in family clusters. Flu experts believe that these types of cluster cases will foreshadow an outbreak of the disease in a form that is transmitted from human to human. ...

According to MOSNews, quoting World Health Organization experts:

Experts from the World Health Organization suspect 14 more people are infected with bird flu in Azerbaijan where two girls died of the the H5N1 virus earlier this month, Interfax reported Monday.

A group of WHO experts reported their suspicions after visiting the Salyansky district of Azerbaijan, 150 km to the south of the capital Baku.

Earlier three residents of the district were provisionaly diagnosed with bird flu.
Updates 1 3/21/03 According to the Khaleej Times, quoting World Health Organization experts:
The dangerous strain of H5N1 bird flu has killed five people in Azerbaijan, and several victims had no apparent contact with dead or diseased poultry, the World Health Organisation said on Tuesday.

A total of seven patients had tested positive for infection with the “highly pathogenic” strain of the H5N1 virus, which is dangerous to birds and humans, the WHO said in a statement.

Of the seven cases, which occured in the southeast and west of the country, “five cases were fatal,” it said.

In several cases, there was no history of direct contact between the human victims and birds, the WHO said. [my emphasis]

“Interviews with surviving family members have failed to uncover a history of direct exposure to dead or diseased poultry for several of the cases,” the WHO said.

WHO and Azeribaijani experts on the spot were investigating the source of the outbreak.

The investigation was focusing on the possibility that local residents may have collected feathers from the carcasses of dead swans, the organization said in a statement.
Update III 3/22/06According to Reuters:
An outbreak of bird flu in Azerbaijan that has killed five young people appears to be under control with no new infections for some time, the World Health Organisation's (WHO) local mission said on Wednesday.

The WHO in Geneva confirmed on Tuesday the five were infected with the deadly virus in the first human cases to hit the country, which lies on a crossroads between Europe and Asia.

Cristiana Salvi, spokeswoman for the WHO's mission in Azerbaijan, said there was no evidence to suggest human-to-human transmission -- scientists' worst case scenario that could lead to a global pandemic killing millions of people.
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Sunday, March 19, 2006

The Rise of the Empire of the Failed Self

If you have not yet seen or read the review of Kevin Phillips' book at NYTimes, I suggest you look at the whole thing. This book reflects many things I have discussed in previous posts at this site concerning the rise of the religious Right--especially the Reconstructionists and the Dispensationalists. ...

According to the NYTimes review:

On the far right is a still obscure but, Phillips says, rapidly growing group of "Christian Reconstructionists" who believe in a "Taliban-like" reversal of women's rights, who describe the separation of church and state as a "myth" and who call openly for a theocratic government shaped by Christian doctrine. A much larger group of Protestants, perhaps as many as a third of the population, claims to believe in the supposed biblical prophecies of an imminent "rapture" — the return of Jesus to the world and the elevation of believers to heaven.

Prophetic Christians, Phillips writes, often shape their view of politics and the world around signs that charlatan biblical scholars have identified as predictors of the apocalypse — among them a war in Iraq, the Jewish settlement of the whole of biblical Israel, even the rise of terrorism. [Phillips] convincingly demonstrates that the Bush administration has calculatedly reached out to such believers and encouraged them to see the president's policies as a response to premillennialist thought. He also suggests that the president and other members of his administration may actually believe these things themselves, that religious belief is the basis of policy, not just a tactic for selling it to the public.
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Crisis as Time for Renewal

Many are concerned about the constitutional crisis that any impeachment effort might start. Since that's not even under discussion in a censure, many still seems to see that a censure will undermine Bush's legitimacy.

The premise to this argument is that public statements that attack the President's office make him a weaker leader. When troops are in the field, having a weak leader is supposed to be obciously mean that s/he can't lead those troops effectively. ...

I suggest that a more basic assumption accepted by these thinkers is that the US govt is like a body. The President forms the head of this body. If you addle the head, the body will suffer.

Zbigniew Brzezinski encapsulated this view concisely:

Neither President Truman nor Eisenhower – Democrat and Republican – ever spoke of America being a “nation at war” during the Korean War. Neither President Johnson nor Nixon ever spoke of America being a “nation at war” during the Vietnam War. Yes we have a serious challenge from the potential threat of terrorism and we have to wage an unrelenting struggle against it. But to describe America repeatedly as a nation at war – implicitly of course with a commander and chief in charge – is to contribute to a view of the world by America that stimulates fear and isolates us from others. Other nations have suffered more from terrorism than America. None of them has embraced that definition of reality.
It's very difficult dealing with this imagery of govt as body. The notion of a centralized authority exhibits strong socio-cultural assumptions, not to mention logical haziness.

I do not think that Feingold's censure attacks this image--but there's enough anxiety produced by it that it is seen as an attack on that image. Insiders of both camps--having bought into the image--therefore characterize censure as "irresponsible."

How could it not be irresponsible, this way of thinking goes, since it (seemingly) so blithely attacks common-sense, eg, that you don't undermine the head's legitimacy in times of danger? If you did that, then you'd have chaos.

Of course, such imagery enables room for lots of self-interest. That is, not only is censure an attack on the President's authority, it also threatens self-interest of those insiders who see themselves as head of their Parties.

Let me just say that I do not accept this imagery. Finding an alternative, however, within the confines of a system that sees that the everyday citizen signs over his responsibilities to representatives who carry out his/her will is difficult.

Of course, re-imagining how a modern representative govt might look calls for reflection and considerable care. Some will say that a crisis is not that time. I suggest that crisis is always the right time to begin looking at options, possibilities, and realities. Censure at least puts some of these questions on the table. Read more!

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Jewish Extremist Blames Bird Flu in Israel on Gaza Pullout

Much like Pat Robertson in the US who has blamed various natural catastrophes on homosexuality, teaching the theory of evolution, etc., Jewish extremist Baruch Marzel believes that the recent outbreak of bird flu in Israel is God's wrath for the pullout from the Gaza strip. ...

According to Ynetnews:

The bird flu outbreak in southern Israel is God's punishment for the Gaza Strip and northern West Bank disengagement, National Jewish Front Chairman Baruch Marzel says.

"You were punished by God and now you'll have to ask for the forgiveness of Gush Katif residents," Marzel wrote in a letter to southern residents whose communities were affected by bird flu.

In the wake of the bird flu outbreak, rightists have been voicing various theories regarding the connection between the disease and the implementation of the pullout. Marzel himself is certain such connection exists.

"The kibbutz was used to house the expulsion headquarters because of greed, and therefore the bird flu outbreak happened there of all places," the far right leader wrote in his letter to Ein HaShlosha kibbutz.
Update I 3/22/06 According to IOL:
An outbreak of deadly bird flu in Israel is God's punishment for calls made in election campaign advertisements for gay marriages to be legalised, says David Basri, a prominent sage preaching the Kabbalah or Jewish mysticism.

"The Bible says God punishes depravity first through plagues against animals and then in people," the rabbi said in a religious edict quoted by his son.

Basri hoped the deaths of hundreds of thousands of turkeys and chickens would help atone for what he called the sins of left-wing Israeli political parties, his rabbi son, Yitzhak Basri, said.
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Friday, March 17, 2006

Shklar on Fear/Cruelty

In this early essay on the French philosopher Montaigne, Judith Shklar presents the bare outline for what she'd later call a Liberalism "of fear." That phrase is a bit deceptive since it seems to say that Liberals should be fearful. Yes, they should--fearful of instilling fear in others, about others and themselves.

In the essay on Montaigne, she makes clear that the Liberalism of Fear is really about understanding how many ways humans have of being cruel to others. Either through religion, politics, or other means, humans have a bevy of mechanisms by which they can deceive themselves into believing that cruelty is the best policy. ...

Concluding her essay on Montaigne and cruelty, Shklar summarizes both Montaigne and his later disciple Montesqieu:

When one begins with cruelty, an enormous gap between private and public life seems to open up. It begins with the exposure of the feebleness and pettiness of the reasons offered for public enormities, and goes on to a sense that governments are unreal and remote from the actualities about which they appear to talk. It is not that private life is better than public: both are equally cruel. It is rather that one has a sense of the incoherence and discontinuity of private and public experience. Montesquieu thought that it was impossible that the good man and the good citizen should ever be the same. The two were inherently incompatible. The demands of social life and those of personal morality are simply different. This may cause us much unhappiness, but it cannot be altered. "It is one of the misfortunes of the human condition," he wrote, using Montaigne's celebrated phrase, that "legislators must act more upon society than upon the citizens, and more upon the citizens than upon men."[xxi] He did not despair, because he believed that, on the whole, we can control our public life more effectively than our personal characters. The climate works directly upon us, and while its effects can be modified by forcing us into specific social directions, we do not as individuals really change. The English have an excellent constitution, are solid citizens, but perfectly awful people. They also suffer from incurable melancholia and suicidal tendencies. Laws can make collective life better or worse, but each of us is fundamentally unalterable, and morality is, at some point, a personal matter. He was in fact moved to optimism by believing politics and morality were wholly dissimilar, because laws made social reform possible without demanding a moral revolution that would be both impossible and tyrannical in the extreme.
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Civil War or Not (2)

Michael Signer at provides some decent analysis of whether there's a civil war in Iraq or not. He follows a recent article by Nir Rosen.

According to Signer:

The essential dynamic is an embattled minority with an extaordinary amount of esprit d'corps taking on the majority, and drawing on a history of aggrievement as fuel for the fight. Anything that reinforces the Sunnis' resentment of the majority Shiites -- or even allows that resentment to exist -- increases the conflict, and draws in surrounding parties.
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Feingold, Polls, and Presidential Ineptitude

logically a poll about issue X does not necessarily tell us about the priority that that issue has in people's lives. On the other hand, it doesn't tell us that it's not important either. Recent wisdom held, for example, that the economy was the most important thing for people. A recent poll, however, shows that the Iraq War is a priority issue for folks at this time. ...

Given Bush's recent ratings on his handling of that war (around 32 percent or so), it would seem that legal scholars have some grounds for thinking that the polls on eavesdropping might just as well be high on people's priority list--especially since it's related to how Bush is handling the war. You would admit, wouldn't you, that Mr. Bush has made it a point that NSA spying is a key part of his so-called "war" on terror?

As to the larger issue about whether polls about a President's popularity mean anything since he's not running for office anyway: It seems to me that a major theme in Bush's rhetoric has been that this war benefits everyone--not just the 36 percent that back him. If 60 percent or so of the rest of the people think that he's "incompetent" at running this war, then who's he fooling in telling us that he's waging the war for us? As far as I can tell, most people would rather have him not run this war for us. Not only that, a majority now think that this "war" isn't benefitting them at all.

I've heard your type of argument before. It goes something like this: Polls are not important because Bush has insight into "what's really important for America." This builds on the relatively sane notion that the majority of the people can be quite wrong in their judgments and it takes a man of character to stand for what is really true and right.

Now, this argument cuts both ways. Unfortunately, there's no guarantee that either Bush is right or the majority are right. Given Bush's recent floundering, deception, lies, and outright ineptitude, people find themselves questioning how right he can be, however.

I think most people have given Bush the benefit of the doubt for too long. They've done so for various reasons, the most important being perhaps the idea that you don't criticize the commander-in-chief when troops are in the field. That sounds like the fallacy of tradition.

People are beginning to grow weary of this argument, as well as the others. Even with the stranglehold on information and news, people are coming to the quite reasonable and common-sense view that Bush and his administration are bad for them.

In our form of government, the only form of redress against the incompetence of the executive is the legislature--especially an executive branch that has shown itself deaf to the will of the majority. As many have argued, it's the legislature that embodies the will of the people. Since the will of the people at this time questions the veracity and competence of this administration, it's legislators like Feingold whom the people think will do the job of calling the President to task for his lawlessness.

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Thursday, March 16, 2006

The pro-Israel Stranglehold on the US Government

Via Helena Cobban's blog, Just World News, comes this analysis of the role that the pro-Israel lobbysist play in determining Mideast foreign policy. ...

Is it okay to kill innocent Palestinian men women and children and not have the MSM report one instance of it? Be that as it may, I imagine that Israel wouldn't even have this problem if they'd given the 500,000 or so Palestinians who lived in what is now called Israel had been given either 1) land of their own or 2) a share in the government founded by Israel and its European/American backers.

To tell you the truth, however, all this talk does is to make it appear as though Israel is so important that every other consideration needs to be taken off the table. I suggest that the brunt of the Mearsheimer/Walt paper is that the US should simply treat Israel's problems the same way it does every other foreign nation.

This might mean 1) not covering Israel's ass every time a reprimand is made against it by the UN, 2) asking Israel to come clean about its nuclear program, 3) identifying how many US taxpayer dollars support that nuclear arsenal, and 4) getting Israel to abide by international law and return to pre-1960s borders, among some other things.

Cobban quotes Mearsheimer and Walt:

AIPAC’s influence on Capitol Hill goes even further. According to Douglas Bloomfield, a former AIPAC staff member, ‘it is common for members of Congress and their staffs to turn to AIPAC first when they need information, before calling the Library of Congress, the Congressional Research Service, committee staff or administration experts.’ More important, he notes that AIPAC is ‘often called on to draft speeches, work on legislation, advise on tactics, perform research, collect co-sponsors and marshal votes’.

The bottom line is that AIPAC, a de facto agent for a foreign government, has a stranglehold on Congress, with the result that US policy towards Israel is not debated there, even though that policy has important consequences for the entire world. In other words, one of the three main branches of the government is firmly committed to supporting Israel. As one former Democratic senator, Ernest Hollings, noted on leaving office, ‘you can’t have an Israeli policy other than what AIPAC gives you around here.’ Or as Ariel Sharon once told an American audience, ‘when people ask me how they can help Israel, I tell them: “Help AIPAC.”’
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Strategy Against Despair

The Right has engaged in a culture war for over twenty years. Recently, this war has taken on the characteristic of an ethical and spiritual civil war.

The fact that the Right is winning the war indicates how well organized they’ve been. I've written elsewhere about the neo-cons and religious right's Leninist tactics. By this, I don't mean they're commie, I mean that they've learned from Lenin that a small, dedicated core of true believers can bring about major changes. ...

The Right's strategy seems to have worked so far. They've captured the communication hubs, bullied and bribed the gate-keepers, and now set about ransacking the constitution.

They've exploited the very well-known Leninist perception that the "masses" are simply unwilling or perhaps incapable of doing anything on their own. Who does have the time to engage in a citizen's obligations when you're concerned about the necessities?

What's needed here is a decentered, non-hierarchical approach to power. The masses have been duped into believing that only groups bring about change. When faced with seemingly unresolvable issues, they resort to apathy and say, "what can I do?"

A decentered approach 1) identifies the danger to their sense of self 2) shows that they have individual responsibility to do something about it and 3) identifies possibility where there's seeming impossibilities.

In other words, start small-let people know that they do not to be overwhelmed by power, that they have power to do what they can. In the aggregate, many individuals doing what they can will bring about a sense of greater empowerment as well as an awareness of the direction for further growth.
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Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Civil War or Not?

While the Bush admin paints a rosy picture of the civil strife in Iraq, reports of the facts on the ground draw a much darker and more ominous landscape. Certainly, there's not the type of all-out carnage, with large armies facing off against each other as we are familiar with in our own civil war. The Iraq civil war resembles more those in Lebanon and El Salvador in the 80s.

Perhaps it's indicative of the deceitful face this admin puts on the world when you consider the controted semantics that Donald Rumsfeld went through yesterday when reporters confronted him with questions about whether there's a civil war in Iraq or not. Rumsfeld's twisted logic makes look tame those proverbial logicians who tried to answer how many angels dance on the point of a pin. ...

Two reports that are not gaining much play in the press include the following:Shi'ite clerics fear cannot prevent civil war. This report is very discouraging indeed. If the clerics--who you have to admit have been not been voices of moderation--cannot stop their followers from fighting, then the eventualities look very grim.

The other report provides insight into how individual families are "militarizing." That is, they are stocking up on food, digging in, and collecting guns and firepower. No doubt, much of this is a simple impulse to self-preservation. But it also presents the possibility that entire households are now prepared to fight those who are against them.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle:

Few Iraqis, however, share Bush's view that the crisis has been averted. They are readying themselves for the worst, fleeing likely flash points, stockpiling weapons and basic foodstuffs, barricading their neighborhoods, and drawing lines in the sand delineating Sunni and Shiite territory.

Since the golden dome of a revered Shiite shrine in Samarra was reduced to rubble last month, the country's long-simmering sectarian feud has flared into the open with unprecedented brutality.

In the wake of that attack, a series of sectarian reprisals has left hundreds of ordinary Iraqis dead and dozens of mosques ransacked. Daily execution-style killings and car bombings continue. On Sunday, multiple car bombs killed scores. The bodies of scores more, many bound and garroted, have been discovered around Baghdad since Monday. The capital's hospitals overflow with the wounded. Meanwhile, the country's politicians remain deadlocked in negotiations to form a government based on the outcome of elections more than three months ago.
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Taking on Anti-Xrist

I think all the talk about the power of the blogosphere is overblown and ill-conceived. While the excellent points and discussion going on here (where?) is important, it means nothing because it is simply words in a medium that verges on nothingness.

It's all too abstract. As many people have shown, the public sphere has been reduced to such a point that we are all anonymous voices and pseudonyms spouting ire and neat concepts but only within the comfortable zone of privacy.

Nothing will be done about the deception and evils among us until people regain the public in the phrase public sphere. Until they take to the streets, hold town mettings, host house discussions, and so on, politicians will just lie through their teeth because they know that public reaction is gonna be a whimper rather than a bang when it comes to real action. ...

I am not one for mass movements--though they have served their purpose in the past. More important are symbolic acts of individuals standing up and saying they'll be counted. Look at Thoreau and others who have followed this example.

Feingold is in fine company in this regard. He's set the example for all who care about this issue--a solitary individual willing to withstand the scorn, ridicule, and media disdain for his belief.

This does not mean that people should stop calling their representatives, writing newspapers, contributing to forums such as this one. It does mean, I think, that until people come up with creative ways to put their own bodies, spirits, or reputations at risk, the insiders on both sides will just yawn and smirk about the ghosts of the blogosphere.

To get the ball rolling on the suggestion I just made:

  • Thousands of people petition the government, individually, for information on whether their email, phone calls, etc. have been monitored. I do not know the legal paperwork involved here--perhaps someone hasa website where this type of legal stuff is found? The Freedom of Information Act forms (FOIA) can be accessed online here.

  • Stand on Main street's corner with sign saying: Stop Govt. Spying on Us: Call Senators ###-###-####

  • Place ad in newspaper with same message as 2 above.

  • Engage a conservative evangelical in discussion about how come they're against RFIDs and other potentially intrusive government tracking capabilities but not against NSA spying. There's a big disconnect here in the evangeical community. They think that the Anti-Christ will set up systems of controls similar to Orwell's 1984. Yet, I have read none of these leaders or others come out against the idea that the NSA is potentially spying and tracking them now. You don't have to buy into any of the mythology to simply educate them about 1) the NSA's p[rogram and 2) about their seeming contradiction on this point. On other words, why's it okay for Bush to spy on us but not the Anti-Christ?

  • [piggbacking on an online poster called "eyes wide open"]: Put an ad in the newspaper with the following words: "I just found out about the sneak and peek clause in the new Patriot Act. The government can enter your house when you are not there and search everything, and not tell you about it for a year. And now, they can do that without a warrant."
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Holocaust Cartoons

In response to cartoons that disparaged and lampooned the prophet Mohammad and Islam itself, some idiot Iranian publisher decided to call for Moslems to send in cartoons making fun of the Holocaust. According to recent reports, the Iranian newspaper has received nearly 200 submissions. ...

Okay before getting self-righteous, consider the following. If such a call were made in the US, how many submissions do you think there'd be? Let's gauge it this way: Iran has a population of 60 million. The US is five times the size (300 million). That means that a thousand people would have to submit cartoons to equal the Iranians.

I do not think that it's inconceivable that a thousand anti-semites would submit cartoons of this kind in the US.
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The Crux of Hate: "Give back territory and kill Arabs."

If you want to know why many Muslims distrust the US, you don't have to go too far. All you need to do is to look at the history of America's relationship with Israel. While the US bruits about the times that Palestinians and Iraq disregarded UN resolutions, the US has smoothed over the many times that Israel broke or completely flouted similar sanctions.

Indeed, a recent book provides historical insight into the planned and deliberate policy of Israel to break international law in its effort to expand its borders and to persecute the Palestinians. ...

Israel is now in the process of electing a new government after the semi-death of Ariel Sharon. The leading contender for Sharon's job is Ehud Olmert, an old-time protege of Sharon. Nothing best exemplifies Sharon's policies toward the Palestinains and arabs than the saying, "Give back territory and kill Arabs."

According to Haaretz, Olmert is staying true to Sharon's spirit by his recent actions in Palestine:

In 2000, when adman-strategist Reuven Adler and company reshaped and polished Sharon's image, a rule was made: The public likes leaders who show diplomatic moderation and military toughness, who return land and kill Arabs. Sharon followed the rule during his five-year reign, and his heir-apparent, Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will do the same.
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Tectonic Shift in Bush Admin on Islam?

State Department Secretary Condoleeza Rice's recent statements on Indonesia may reflect a shift in Bush's foreign policy. If so, this is a good sign because it counters so much propaganda and hate-filled speech against Moslems and Islam, perhaps best exemplified by Xtian commentator Pat Robertson's branding Islam as a religion of evil.

Indonesia has made great strides in terms of government policy and religious tolerance. Since the days when it was carrying out a brutal oppression and massacre of East Timorese, it has instituted more democratic reforms. While it is not perfect in its democratic institutions or religious tolerance, it can serve as a model for successfully understanding how Islam coexists with other religions. ...

According to the Washington Post, Rice said:

"Great democracies, like Indonesia and like the United States, cannot turn a blind eye to those who still live under oppression," Rice said. She praised Yudhoyono and Wirajuda for their efforts "to try to convince the authorities and the junta in Burma that it is time to join the international community and to respect human rights."
But while this sense of optimism for Indonesia is a welcome sign, Rice continues to toe the Bush line on so-called democracy in the Mideast. Until the US stops picking and choosing its candidates for democratic models, many Moslems and others will simply suspect every postive statement about Islam that the Bush admin makes. Read more!

Monday, March 13, 2006

Avian Flu Commentary/Analysis

Azerbaijahn has received their own flu testing labs from the UN. This follows on a request by the Azeri Health Minister that the UN send this equipment because he suspects that four people have died there from the Avian flu. ...

As far as I know, the only other countries with labs are western nations. This is suspicious because other nations that have avian flu have not received such labs. The European labs are so overwhelmed with suspected avian samples and requests for analysis, that many cases of suspected flu have to wait up to weeks to get results.

Based on previous reports, I suspect that the reason why Azerbaijan is getting this equipment is because there are fears that human-to-human transmission is happening there. A badly garbled article from an Azeri newspaper says that perhaps up to 100 patients are being treated for avian-flu-like symptoms.

All of this follows on reports that Azerbaijan is experiencing what are known as "cluster cases" among families. This is an ominous development because it could mean that these families are passing it to each other, not by way of exposure to fowl.

Update 3/14/06 According to

Eleven suspected human cases of the highly pathogenic H5N1 bird flu virus was found in Azerbaijan.

The World Health Organization (WHO) is investigating the scenario. Out of the 11 cases 3 people have already died. Maria Cheng, spokeswoman for the UN health agency, told that all 11 cases came from the same village near the Azerbaijani capital Baku.

Apart from the 3 fatal victims the rest of the 8 cases are from a single family. They have been hospitalized and their state is critical.

It is possible that they have been infected with the H5N1 virus because it was a known fact that poultry were already hit by the virus in neighboring areas. ... Azerbaijani authorities said they were investigating whether the deaths of two young children in the republic were caused by bird flu.

Update II 3/14/06 According to Recombinomics:
...[T]oday's WHO update on Azerbaijan indicates the familial cluster is growing in size and length and is linked to a geographical cluster in Azerbaijan. Five deaths have been reported and media reports indicated the other two fatalities also tested positive for H5N1 bird flu. Media reports indicate all victims are from two families, suggesting human-to-human transmission.

This mode of transmission is further support because the index case, who died February 23 is the cousin of the case who died March 3. Although the WHO update again withholds disease onset dates and relationships between H5 positive patients, the spread between the dates of death support human-to-human transmission. This transmission chain appears to have extended to the third generation because the 16 year-old male who died on March 10 was the brother of the patient who died on March 3.

This cluster is similar to the cluster of clusters in Turkey. In that cluster HA S227N was isolated from the index case. This genetic change increases the affinity of HA for human receptors and may be responsible for the cluster in Azerbaijan based on location and size of the clusters.

Update III 3/15/06According to Azeri news sources:
Two members of Musayev’s family, residents of the village Baim Sarikh of Terteri region died presumably of the bird flu on the same day.

Azerbaijani TV Channel ANS informs that according to physicians, the bird flu diagnosis is preliminary and can be confirmed after results of laboratory examinations are known.

It became known that the main part of peasants doesn’t slaughter poultry [my empahsis] ...

Update IV 3/15/06 This can't be good. The virus has now jumped species. While we knew that cats could contract the disease after eating dead infected birds (as found in Germany, as well as marten, it's now being reported that a dog died of the disease in Azerbaijan. From what I have read, the fact that the virus jumps to new species is a sign that it is now making itself comfortable in mammals--one step away from becoming humanly tansmissible, person to person.

According to Reuters:
A dog has died of bird flu in Azerbaijan, a country where the virus is believed to have caused the death of three young women, officials said on Wednesday.

"A dead stray dog has been found, and after analysis type A bird flu was discovered. The medical investigation is continuing," said a statement from the state commission tasked with fighting the spread of bird flu. It said the dog died on March 9 in the capital Baku.
Okay, so this was a stray dog. It makes you wonder how many other dogs have it that weren't found or that aren't stray.

Update V 3/15/06 Clarifying the idea that the virus has "jumped species," there's this article. The US virus expert says that species jumping has not yet occurred, but she is worried that the virus is aggressively seeking to do so.

According to Xinhua news:
Generally, the H5N1 virus transfers from wild birds to poultry, and then goes from poultry to wild birds or other species, including human, according to Cardona.

But in recent cases, domestic cats were infected after eating dead wild birds or contacting with them.

"That means, the virus may have acquired the ability of directly transferring from wild birds to other species, such as domestic cats or urban dogs," she said. "It may be able to do this without the poultry."

If the virus can infect domestic cats and urban dogs, which closely contact with people in everyday life, it will pose more threat to humans, she said.

There is no evidence that the virus has accomplished the so-called "species jumping," which means it can circulate among animals other than the birds.

"But there is the possibility, so we can never underestimate the virus," she said.

Update VI 3/15/06 According to Reuters, the main federal oversight department for banks issued the following statement. I hate to add to a feeling of panic, but you know something's serious when the moneychangers start trying to protect their assets.
U.S. bank regulators on Wednesday advised financial institutions to have contingency plans in place in case avian flu becomes pandemic.

"Financial institutions and their service providers supply essential financial services and, as such, should consider their preparedness and response strategy for a potential pandemic," the Federal Reserve, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the Office of Thrift Supervision said in a statement.

Update VII 3/15/06Another piece of the Azerbaijan puzzle. The lab that was sent there is a Navy Lab:
The World Health Organization has yet to confirm bird flu caused the human deaths, but said the US Navy lab that carried out the tests was reliable.

Update VII 3/17/06 According to
Dr. Jeffrey Taubenberger, of the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, says there is a frightening historic precedent from 1918. "The risk of the current bird flu is that this virus might be actually going down the same path as the 1918 virus."

Update VIII 3/17/06According to ABC News:
Three Serb children from a bird flu-affected area were taken to hospital after developing fever and flu-like symptoms, Serbia's chief epidemiologist said on Friday.

A teenager put into isolation on Thursday after developing fever was also moved to hospital. All four come from a southwestern area close to the Bosnian border, where there was a suspected case of the deadly H5N1 strain in a cockerel.

"Three children were admitted to hospital today displaying symptoms of respiratory infection," Predrag Kon told Reuters.

"Two of them have signs of a viral infection. All three are coming from the outbreak zone and came into contact with infected poultry."

Update IX 3/18/06Tests Show Egyptian Woman Dies of Bird Flu:
Initial tests have shown that a woman who died this week had bird flu, making her likely the first human death from the disease in Egypt, a spokesman for the World Health Organization said Saturday.

A U.S. Navy lab in Cairo found that the woman, who died on Friday, had the H5N1 virus, but further tests will be conducted by the WHO to give final confirmation, WHO spokesman Hassan el-Bushra told The Associated Press.

A number of people who came in contact with the woman are also being tested, said el-Bushra, who is the WHO regional adviser for emerging diseases. He would not say how many people were being tested or whether they had shown any symptoms of bird flu.
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Cole on Islam as "Religion of War"

Juan Cole, eminent historian of the Mideast has been running a series of postings on the Quran and war and peace. He's doing so because recent polls show that many Americans are prejudiced against Islam or think it's a religion of war. This perception is an increase over the poll numbers immediately after 911. The increase reflects the fact that the Islamaphobic campaign to discredt and defame Moslems and Islam is succeeding.

Cole's translations of key verses and his interpretations of them show that many of these verses have been mis-characterized and blatantly turned on their heads by the Islamaphobes. ...

A list of Cole's postings on the Quran include the following:

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Muslims and Western Civilization

Some of the rhetoric current among Islamaphobes includes the idea that civilization belongs to western European nations only. These folks even go so far as to discount and rewrite the history which shows the many material cultural improvements contributed by Muslim thinkers and inventors to that very European civilization.

These efforts by the Islamaphobes are dim-witted and clearly spurred on by hatred and ill-informed historical awareness. Much like Holocaust-deniers, these Islamaphobic historians neglect facts that most who have studied history accept. The following article lists 20 of those most important material cultural items that Muslims have left posterity. ...

According to the Independent:

10 Many modern surgical instruments are of exactly the same design as those devised in the 10th century by a Muslim surgeon called al-Zahrawi. His scalpels, bone saws, forceps, fine scissors for eye surgery and many of the 200 instruments he devised are recognisable to a modern surgeon. It was he who discovered that catgut used for internal stitches dissolves away naturally (a discovery he made when his monkey ate his lute strings) and that it can be also used to make medicine capsules. In the 13th century, another Muslim medic named Ibn Nafis described the circulation of the blood, 300 years before William Harvey discovered it. Muslims doctors also invented anaesthetics of opium and alcohol mixes and developed hollow needles to suck cataracts from eyes in a technique still used today.
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Trivialializing What's Real

A recent study by the Project for Excellence in Journalism finds that the major news media have less news. They cover about two dozen stories and repeat them ad nauseam in each venue. The nature of these stories is called trivial by this group. Blogs, on the other hand, contain more variety and more in-depth analysis than the traditional news sources. ...

According to

The review was conducted by the Project for Excellence in Journalism, an institute affiliated with the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and financed by the Pew Charitable Trusts.

As part of the review, a special study looked at how a variety of outlets, including newspapers, television, radio and the Internet, covered a single day's worth of news and concluded that there was enormous repetition and amplification of just two dozen stories. Moreover, it said, "the incremental and even ephemeral nature of what the media define as news is striking." [my emphasis]
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Saturday, March 11, 2006

WHO Suspects Family Cluster of Bird Flu Cases in Azerbaijan

As reported at Dottore Pesta (citing Recombinomics [March 4]), WHO now thinks that there have possibly been cases of family clusters of Bird Flu in Azerbaijan. As indicated below, the incidence of cluster cases (also suspected in Indonesia) indicates the possibility that the flu is spreading human-to-human. If you don't believe me, read the report. (Also, see this earlier posting.) ...

According to

Health authorities in Azerbaijan are investigating a worrisome cluster of possible human cases of H5N1 avian influenza, the World Health Organization said Thursday.

A total of 11 suspected cases, including eight members of the same family, are being assessed, WHO spokeswoman Maria Cheng said.

Of the 11 suspect cases, three people have died and one is listed in serious condition in hospital.

"Currently there are signs that suggest this could be a human H5N1 cluster," Cheng said. "But we don't know that right now. We still need to do more thorough epidemiological investigation and wait for the lab results."

"It certainly looks a bit suspicious, but we don't have enough information to draw conclusions."

Though all human cases of avian flu are potentially dangerous, WHO pays particular attention to clusters of cases. While clusters may be the result of several people from the same family or village each having exposure to infected birds, they could also signal that the virus has passed from one person to another.
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