Monday, July 28, 2008

Crazy ideas

There has been a lot of talk in the Main-Stream Media (MSM) and by Republican politicians like John McCain that tries to portray Israeli and/or American air strikes on Iran's nuclear sites before January as inevitable or even desirable. Among the most frightening was this recent New York Times op-ed piece by Benny Morris

Israel will almost surely attack Iran's nuclear sites in the next four to seven months — and the leaders in Washington and even Tehran should hope that the attack will be successful enough to cause at least a significant delay in the Iranian production schedule, if not complete destruction, of that country's nuclear program. Because if the attack fails, the Middle East will almost certainly face a nuclear war — either through a subsequent pre-emptive Israeli nuclear strike or a nuclear exchange shortly after Iran gets the bomb.

These statements seem to presuppose that we have forgotten the NIE report that states Iran is many years away from having nuclear weapons. In case you had forgotten, something these people seem to be counting on, a Dec 3, 2007 article in the New York Times, reported that the National Intelligence Estimate, the consensus view of all 16 American spy agencies:

concludes that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003 and that the program remains frozen, contradicting judgment two years ago that Tehran was working relentlessly toward building a nuclear bomb.

Furthermore, since there are international nuclear inspectors in Iran, to restart their nuclear program Iran would first need to kick the inspectors out, at which very pubic and noticeable point they would still be years away from having a nuclear weapon.

Far from making the world safer, airstrikes by the United States or Israel against Iran would be an unmitigated disaster, most immediately for the Iranian people but also for the Israelis and the Middle East as a whole. Talk of bombing Iran, a country which has attacked no other country for thousands of years, is absolutely crazy and by rights anyone who advocates such ideas should immediately lose all credibility and influence. Instead we have the "paper or record" publishing such notions and a major political party is about to nominate as its candidate for president a man who jokes about bomb, bomb, bombing Iran.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

God says, “I sent a helicopter…”

You have probably heard this story. I found the following version of it on the web related by Dr. Robert A. Schuller during an interview:

…It's like the joke about the man who has been notified that his house is going to be flooded and he needs to get out of the house. He says no I don't have to, God is going to take care of me. Then the flood starts to rise and a sheriff comes along and tells him to get out. The man says no, God is going to save me. So, the floods continue to rise, and he climbs on top of the house. A boat comes along and he's told to climb into the boat. He says, no, no , God is going to save me. Finally, a helicopter comes along and they lower the net to rescue him. The man says, no, no, God is going to save me! Well, the man drowns and goes to heaven. When he gets to heaven he says to God, "why didn't you save me?" God says, "I sent the sheriff, I sent a boat, I sent a helicopter, what more did you want me to do?"

I thought of this story when I recently saw a television program about medical researchers who had dedicated themselves to curing paralyzing spinal cord injuries. One of the researchers had a daughter who was in a wheel chair, paralyzed from the chest down after breaking her neck in a diving accident. They thought therapies involving stem cells were the most promising line of research, but were forced to spend a great deal of time away from the laboratory doing education and public relations, trying to overcome religious objections that impeded their work.

If the first version of the story is valid theology surely the following is equally valid :

A vigorous, intelligent and attractive young man breaks his neck in a horse-riding accident and becomes a paraplegic. During the following 10 years many medical researchers work on promising therapies for healing spinal cord injuries but their work is hampered and delayed by religious-based objections to the use of embryonic stem cells. Finally the man dies of complications from his paralysis. When he gets to heaven he says to God, "why didn't you cure me?" God says, "I sent medical researchers to devise therapies for healing injuries like yours using stem cells. What more did you want me to do?"

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Brief but destructive storm passes through

A severe thunderstorm came through the Quad Cities Monday morning about 6 a.m. In the Illinois Quad Cities power was knocked out almost everywhere and had not been restored to large areas as of Monday evening and, according to the Moline Dispatch, would not be restored to many until Wednesday. I live in one of the few neighborhoods in Moline that never lost its power. I also had cable (and therefore internet) connections for 3 hours after the storm, but then curiously lost it until early Monday evening. Although we had not lost power almost all the stores and other businesses in Moline had and we had to go across the river to Iowa just to find a place to eat.

When the power goes out it is a reminder just how dependant on our modern technology and conveniences we have become. It should also be a reminder how quickly and dramatically our easy and comfortable world can be turned upside down by a disaster. Imagine a disaster that effects the whole world rather than just a narrow thunderstorm band and continues on for weeks, months or years rather than just a few minutes. Further imagine that it is a disaster caused by us that we could have prevented.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

How do we get good government?

The terms oligarchy (rule by an elite), plutocracy (rule by the rich), kleptocracy (rule by thieves), geriocracy (rule by the old) and nepotism (hiring and promotion of relatives) are always used to describe bad government, government not run for the general good. What is the preferred alternative to those sorts of bad rule? It is a meritocracy (a system in which people rise to positions of authority and responsibility based on their performance and accomplishments), of course. What other good alternative could there possibly be?

So, if we want a meritocracy, rather than those bad things how do we bring it about? When choosing for whom to vote for president you would make your selection based on the candidate's experience, education and accomplishments, of course. You would not automatically select the next highest ranking person in the governing council like they do in China, the old Soviet Union and the Mormon Church – that would give you an oligarchy. You do not automatically select the richest candidate (or the candidate who represents the richest people) – that would give you a plutocracy. You would not automatically select the best thief, the oldest candidate or the candidate most closely related to the previous ruler.

Of course, your political orientation would determine what type of experience and accomplishments are most relevant and important. You may or may not think that having been a community organizer in one's youth is a plus. You may or may not think that having been held prisoner and tortured is experience we want in our president. But experience and accomplishments are what you would look at in making your choice.

So what are we to make of people who are wary of politicians they suspect may "be looking down on people like me" or may "think they are better than me" because the candidate is very accomplished? What are we to make of suggestions that we select a politician for president that gives us the impression that we could just hang out and share a beer with them? How could choosing our leaders on that basis result in good government? Wouldn't that result in a fratocracy (rule by frat boys)?

Sunday, July 13, 2008

War Crimes were committed

I think it is now clear to the vast majority of Americans that over the last 7 years the CIA and the United States military, following orders coming down from the Bush Administration, have been torturing people, despite repeated statements from President Bush and his spokesmen that "we do not torture." The latest evidence is in a book, "The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned Into a War on American Ideals," by Jane Mayer. According to an article in the New York Times which received an advance copy of the book:

Red Cross investigators concluded last year in a secret report that the Central Intelligence Agency's interrogation methods for high-level Qaeda prisoners constituted torture and could make the Bush administration officials who approved them guilty of war crimes, according to a new book on counterterrorism efforts since 2001.

Now that the International Red Cross has concluded that war crimes were committed, will top Bush Administration officials, such as Richard Armitage, Donald Rumsfeld and Richard Cheney, live the rest of their lives in fear of being arrested and tried as war criminals, ala Pinochet? Although indicting and trying Pinochet was not politically possible in Chile that was not the case everywhere in the world. Spain indicted Pinochet for war crimes and Britain honored Spain's warrant when Pinochet came to Britain for medical treatment.

Back in 2001 a high-level government official bragged to a reporter that they in the Bush Administration were creating reality by their actions, unlike those, like the reporter, who were in the "reality-based community." We now see what the world they were creating looks like. Although the rest of the country may be able to move on after November the former Bush Administration officials will have to deal with the consequences of their actions for the rest of their lives. They have created a Hell here on earth for themselves in which they have condemned themselves to live. I wonder how that will be working out for them.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

McCain – “Social Security is a disgrace”

Has John McCain given up on the idea of being president? How else can you explain him saying that the way the Social Security system works, and has worked since its inception, is a disgrace that he would change if he were elected. Here is a link to an article about this by Washington Post bloggers. [Many newspapers this morning have an AP article about this that puts as favorable a McCain spin as it can on it, but AP does not want bloggers linking to their stories so you will have to find that article on your own.]

All retirees who receive Social Security paid into the system all their working lives, paying the benefits of those then retired, in the expectation of receiving the benefits now. Neither they nor the baby boomer generation who are going to be retiring soon would look favorably on a proposal to change the system so that current workers no longer pay the benefits of current retirees.

The only way the system could be changed that would not be grossly unfair to all the workers who have paid into the system would be for the federal government to inject huge amounts of money into Social Security from somewhere else in the budget to cover the shortfall caused by workers' contributions going into private accounts rather than the general pool. John McCain, as would be expected given his admitted lack of economic expertise, has no idea from where this extra money would come, especially since he plans to make the Bush tax cuts permanent and also balance the budget.

Perhaps he is just tired of campaigning and thinks that touching the third rail of politics will put him out of his misery.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

An Oil-Free President

For most Americans the rise in gas prices has been a very unwelcome development, forcing all but the very rich to reduce their driving, boating and other gasoline dependent activites and/or cut back in other areas to pay higher fuel prices. But it has been a godsend to the oil companies-- they are making record profits!

Polls show that an overwelming majority of Americans consider the presidency of George W. Bush a failed presidency. But the president and the vice-president, both oil-men, may consider the current situation to be "mission accomplished!" They and their oil company supporters and contributors may be giving each other high-fives and fist bumps in private celebration of high oil prices.

How is the Republican Party responding to this crisis? They are spending over $3 million in the next week in a new ad campaign to convince voters that high gas prices are Barack Obama's fault.

A lot of people think this demands a response. Tomorrow, Wednesday, July 9, 2008 has been declared a National Day of Action for an Oil-Free President. People will be gathering at gas stations around the country to reach out to voters and make sure they know John McCain is Big Oil's candidate and that he won't solve our energy crisis. In the Quad Cities people will be at the corner of Harrison and Locust streets in Davenport between 4 and 5 PM. If you are thinking about attending or want to know more details go here.

They will have signs and be handing out fliers to remind people that McCain is in the pocket of Big Oil. His campaign is run by oil industry lobbyists, and he looks to Big Oil for big campaign contributions. We can't count on him to push for alternative energy solutions or help lower gas prices.

Friday, July 04, 2008

This Land is Your Land

In celebration of Independence Day today I present the most patriotic song I know - "This Land is Your Land" by Woodie Guthrie:

I think if Woodie were here today he would be telling us that the message of this song is needed now more than ever. This land is your and my land but it has been stolen from us and we need to take it back. Unlike the people of Zimbabwe, China or Burma we do not need to risk beatings, prison or death to fight the bastards that have stolen our country. What we have to do is stop believing their lies, stop allowing them to frame the debate for us and stop being afraid of the things they want us to be afraid of -- things that pose relatively little danger to us -- like foreigners and the spector of terrorism.

We need to start recognizing who the true enemies of our freedom and liberties are:
* People who accuse others of not supporting our troops while they themselves are destroying our military by starving them of resources and sending them on multiple extended tours of unnessary, counter-productive invasions and occupations of countries which were no threat to us.
* People who ask us to give up our personal liberties and freedoms for more security which they then do not deliver.
* People who give tax breaks to the wealthiest Americans while pawning off the costs of unnecessary wars on future generations.
* People who tell us the answer to our energy problems are to allow drilling for oil in some of our few remaining pristine natural places, which would not result in any additional oil for more than 10 years and would at best only produce enough oil to meet our needs for 6 months while causing damage to the environment that would last for hundreds of years.
* People who convince our legislatures to remove the traditional limits on usury and predatory lending and then proceed to prey upon the most financially vulnerable among us, sadddling them with loans with interest rates that start off low but then rise above the borrower's level to pay and then these villians ask the legislatures to make it harder for their victims to declare bankruptcy.
* People who tell us that government is the problem rather than the solution and then, when they are in power, appoint incompetent idealogues to head government agencies so that government will resemble their description.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Military ordered to become terrorists?

An article in this morning's New York Times reveals that when the US military received orders from the civilian leadership in the Bush Administration in 2002 that everything had changed after 9/11 and that they should now use interrogation techniques which had previously been illegal on the prisoners they had captured in Afghanistan, and later Iraq, they knowingly adopted techniques used by the Chinese Communists against US soldiers captured during the Korean War.

The military trainers who came to Guantánamo Bay in December 2002 based an entire interrogation class on a chart showing the effects of "coercive management techniques" for possible use on prisoners, including "sleep deprivation," "prolonged constraint," and "exposure."

What the trainers did not say, and may not have known, was that their chart had been copied verbatim from a 1957 Air Force study of Chinese Communist techniques used during the Korean War to obtain confessions, many of them false, from American prisoners.

Holy Manchurian Candidate, Batman! The military leaders who sent those trainers to Guantánamo Bay knew that those were not techniques to obtain "actionable intelligence." The idea that the torture was justified because it would reveal information about future acts of terrorism, allowing those acts to be prevented and thus saving lives, has been proven by this article to have been a post hoc rationalization.

We don't know even the approximate wording of the order that came down from the Bush Administration to the military that rescinded the ban on torturing prisoners but we now know that when the military implemented that order they started using techniques that they knew produced false confessions. What does that tell you about what the thrust of that order was?

If the primary directive the military was following was to obtain information about future plans would they have adopted those techniques? We are left with two choices. Either that the order was to obtain accurate information "by any means necessary" and the military was incompetent, implementing that order using methods totally unsuited to that purpose. Or the military competently followed an order which placed little or no importance on obtaining accurate information. Perhaps the order said simply: "to combat terrorism we are going to become terrorists."