American Liberalism Project Archives September 2004 to June 2006

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Not an Act Of God

A beloved stuffed animal, abandoned, not by choice by it's owner, lies in the middle of the yellow line on I.90 near Biloxi, MS. A mother and daughter sit on a roof, which once sheltered their family, and is now nothing but part of a mountain of the debris surrounding them. A child weeps for a grandmother who has been lost. A bridge which spanned Biloxi Bay, and went through the heart of the city, resembles an undone erector set, with pylons sticking up out of the water which, along with super high winds, was it's undoing. Entire once quiet, sedate neighborhoods now look like the results of carpet bombing.

Man has managed to harness many things. We have learned to make the wind work for us via windmills to generate power. We have built massive dams and diverted rivers to make water work for us as well. But with all of this, we are still at the mercy of Mother Nature. We are shocked, saddened, unbelieving and horrified over this most recent visitation in the form of Hurricane Katrina. But has this not happened before? Yes it has. Did we rebuild and start over? Yes we did. But what is it about man that makes us so resilient and yet so naive as to think it will not happen a second or perhaps even a third time? I suppose it is perhaps part of our nature to be risk takers, to defy nature's laws, to believe that we are in control. It still has the power to amaze us when we see so clearly, from the destruction around us, that we most certainly are not, and never really have been.

There are those who will take this opportunity to point out what poor stewards of the earth we are. This may be true, but is it global warming, as some would have us believe, or just a weather pattern that has been going on for thousands of years? To come to any definitive agreement about which it is or isn't would require much cause and affect study. Is the weather pattern a beast of it's own stripe or a result of the fossil fuel usage which has spewed into our atmosphere for decades, uncontrolled? Had we reached the point of no return, the slip over the edge of "reasonable" pollution, to an area that we cannot return from? I think it is a bit of both. Certainly both warmer air and water temperatures act as a banquet which feeds these mighty storms.

Unfortunately, with this, as in all disasters we face, there will be that fringe element which will say it is divine retribution. They will be ready to quote, chapter and verse from the Bible, in an attempt to justify their claims. Or perhaps they will just spew their vitriolic rhetoric, with no attempt at justification, except to say that they claim an inner divine knowledge. This is, of course, a ridiculous premise, that somehow, for some real or imagined sins, the great Intelligent Designer has decided that we need to be punished. If there were any punishment due it would be, simply, for our own stupidity. We build cities on diseased riddled swamps, next to rivers which crest and overflow, on barrier beaches meant to protect inland areas, and expect that we will be safe. And then we face this sort of disaster, once again. Those who are able, move to higher ground and come back to survey the damage. Those who are not able, and it is mostly those who are unable or unwilling, who bear the brunt, lose their lives and homes, and pray that there will be some help for them.

But the help of one group, that has always been present, is glaringly absent this time around. The first contingent of first line responders has, historically, been the National Guard. They have sand bagged, rescued, policed, mopped up and been in the forefront of operations. Not this time, and it is all the more apparent that the home front, whose protection they exist for, is not being served. The Red Cross will be in Mississippi and Louisiana. The government will send in money, and the local authorities will do whatever it is they need to do, to maintain the peace and help with the clean up. Far away states will send groups of telephone and electric linemen to aid in the restoration of these vital services. But there will be no National Guard.

We all need to do whatever it takes to help the people of these two hardest hit states to recover from this devastation. Whether it is to donate through a local church, a food bank or clothing bank. We would expect the same for ourselves were we in the same position. What follows is a list of organizations one can contact in order to aid in the relief efforts.

Support one of the following, or search for other related charities.
American Red CrossProviding disaster services and relief.
America’s Second HarvestProviding food to victims.
Catholic Charities USAProviding relief and recovery assistance.
Charity Hospital in New OrleansProviding medical care to residents of Louisiana.
Church World ServiceDeveloping long-term recovery plans to assist with recovery.
Convoy of HopeProviding disaster relief and building supply lines.
Episcopal Relief & DevelopmentMobilizing to support residents affected by this disaster.
Heart of Florida United WayAssisting with hurricane recovery efforts in Florida.
Hearts with HandsActivating response teams to assist in the Gulf Coast and locally.
Humane Society of the U.S.Rescuing animals and assisting their caregivers in the disaster areas.
Lutheran Disaster ResponseProviding emergency relief and recovery supplies.
Mennonite Disaster ServiceProviding relief to victims.
New Orleans Area Habitat for HumanityAssisting victims of hurricane Katrina.
Noah's WishHelping to keep animals alive in face of the storm devastation.
Operation BlessingTransporting food, water, cleaning kits, and other emergency supplies.
PETsMART CharitiesProviding relief for the animals impacted by hurricanes.
Salvation ArmyLocal, regional, and national disaster relief programs.
Samaritan's PurseHelping victims of natural disasters.
United Methodist Committee on ReliefProviding relief to victims.
United Way for the Greater New Orleans AreaHelping victims of hurricanes locally.
United Way of Miami-DadeHelping victims of hurricanes locally.
Learn MoreLearn how to stay safe. Visit the sites below for tips and resources. American Red Cross
For shelter information in Louisiana, please call 1-800-469-4828.
Find Shelters
Hurricane Safety
Charity NavigatorTips on giving to charity during this crisis.
Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)Download a family disaster planning kit
FOR KIDS: FEMA for KidsHurricanes
FOR KIDS: Disaster PreparednessDownload a preparedness coloring book from FEMA
National Weather ServiceSevere weather awareness
National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)Hurricanes
State AdvisoryLouisiana

Monday, August 29, 2005

Supporting Our Troops

I know that parents and families who have loved ones in Iraq are fearful about their safety and their morale. I consider those troops as members of my extended national family and I too am concerned for their well-being. That is why I support the troops by wanting them out of that hellhole of war and want them to come home as soon as possible!

They have shown that they are willing to put their lives on the line in the service of their fellow citizens, and I am grateful for their willingness to do so. They are our heroes because of their genuine service to us and nothing can change or diminish that.

It is not their service I find lacking but the motives of the leadership that has used them in a conflict that has nothing to do with the defense of this nation. They have been betrayed by that leadership and are being pressed into service at the risk of life and limb for an ulterior agenda by leadership which seeks to take over and exploit Iraq for its resources and to establish a military presence in the middle east from which other mid-east countries can be threatened and attacked.

How do the leaders who tell us to support our troops support them? If one looks at the facts, we can see that they do not do everything possible to support our soldiers.

The US military has used Depleted Uranium weapons in Iraq. These weapons cause radiation poisoning, not only to the land of Iraq, but to our soldiers. Exposure to DU results in eventual organ failure, cancer and the birth of deformed babies from those afflicted. In the first Gulf War there were 148 casualties but since then 8,000 have died from the 'mysterious' Gulf War syndrome. The Pentagon refuses to admit to the role of Depleted Uranium poisoning in these deaths, but retired Major Doug Rokke, a military doctor has documented its effects. What ethical leadership would expose its own soldiers to this deadly hazard?

There is still a shortage of body armor and armor for humvees that would protect our soldiers from attacks. Needless deaths occur because the leadership has not insisted that those protections be available.

This leadership has reduced veteran care for those returning home wounded and suffering from emotional stress of war. Veterans who suffer illness or wounds not resulting from direct combat do not qualify for the same care or compensation as those wounded in action.

Our soldiers are trying to hold their own against an insurgency that comes primarily from those who are defending their homeland against an occupation. It is a losing battle. We are in their country and unless we kill most of the Iraqi people, the onslaught will continue. Eighty-five percent of the Iraqis want us to leave. If an occupying force were here in our homeland, we would fight as hard to be free of it.

The reasons for this war have evaporated one by one. There were no WMD'S. Saddam did allow the inspectors back in November of 2002. The UN did not give a resolution to the US for Military action and the inspectors said the inspections were proceeding well when Bush declared War in March 2003. Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11 and there were no Al Qaeda connections. Terrorism (except that conducted by Saddam Hussein against his own people) did not exist in Iraq until we invaded. After 9/11, Iraq was not identified as a terrorist state by our own State department. Thanks to the US arming and support of Saddam in the 80's, he was able to defeat every internal attempt to overthrow him.

I can't believe Bush wants a democracy in Iraq since right now the building of fourteen, yes 14, US military bases continues. In the previous Iraqi Constitution, Iraq's wealth and resources were owned only by Iraqis with no outside ownership. They had state sponsored health care, electricity and water works as well as numerable businesses which employed thousands of Iraqis in dairy, agriculture and clothing mills. Oil was state owned. Bremmer void the constitution and all of Iraq's state owned properties were put up for sale to international buyers in the name of “a free market.” Iraq has become a money-maker for the corporations who have billion dollar contracts to “rebuild” it and who provide the weapons and machines of war. The Iraqis and our soldiers are the ones who are paying for these blood-stained profits.

Those of us here, safe at home, owe our soldiers our protection and care to insure that they are not used for anything other than to do the job they signed up for, to defend our nation.

I do support our troops, and because I do, I don't want their lives endangered in a military action that has nothing to do with national defense. I want them home safely to give their lives as living, healthy members of society who really do “get to be all they can be!”

Going to war on false pretences is a violation of the trust the people and military give to a Commander in Chief. Leadership that abuses this power should be held accountable in a court of law. History shows that leaders do not always have the well-being of their people at heart when they use military force on others. If those who question the judgment of our leadership are considered anti-American or unpatriotic, then can we infer that Germans and Italians who questioned their leadership in the 1930's and '40's were unpatriotic also?

Susan Dyer

Friday, August 26, 2005

A Designer Parable

You are deep in a cave something like the one Tom Sawyer and Becky Thatcher explored. You have on sneakers, hiking shorts, and a tee shirt; you have no flashlight; you have no matches or fire or, for that matter, anything to burn. It is pitch black and for all intents and purposes you are blind. The only thing you can do is walk or crawl around on the rocky cave floor and shout, listening to the hollow echo of your voice bouncing back. You notice that when the echo returns very quickly and has a less hollow sound, you're near a wall. You discover this empirically in the next few crawls when your head strikes hard material above and ahead of your hands and your shredded knees and feet. You then feel with your hands a broad wall of rock, trickling with wetness, not one of those stalactics or stalagmites that intruded abruptly on your meanderings a little while ago.

You try to remember how you got there, but there is something wrong with your head. You can't remember much of anything. What do you call yourself, for instance? You cannot remember whether you have a name, much less what it is. You feel your own body and it feels cool, almost cold, and damp, sticky in places, and there is grit on it, dirt from the cave, whatever dirt is? You are very thirsty and hungry, so you lick at the wetness on the wall and it tastes like something, but you don't know what. It helps, but you wonder what that taste might be.

You notice that your ears are becoming more and more sensitive with each passing minute and hour. When you stop your breathing you can hear tiny droplets of fluid dripping from the cave ceiling or from stalactites. You move toward areas where the dripping sounds seem to be more frequent or louder. You crawl most of the time because the ceiling of the cave is low and you cannot pass without getting onto all fours. You crawl until suddenly your right hand fails to find the floor of the cave. It claws momentarily in thin air for something, but there is nothing. Cautiously you put your right hand near your right knee and extend your left hand forward and to the floor. Again, there is no floor. You shout and your voice comes back hollow and very attentuated. You have discovered a drop-off. Good thing you were not walking up-right.

When you shout the sound comes back so quickly that you have only a sense of big volume and small volume and something else, perhaps a turn in the direction of the cave. So, you reach for something to throw, a pebble perhaps, to listen to, to extend your perception. You need to measure the drop off, its width and depth. You drop a pebble over the side and it rattles down the sides of the drop-off and then splashs into fluid. You now know a little more about the drop-off; there is water or something at the bottom, but the pebble made a lot of confusing little noises as it skittered down the side of the drop-off, so you have a lot of data, but not the clean, clear measurement you wanted.

You find another pebble and throw it outward from yourself in the direction of the drop-off. It clicks against the side of the drop-off and rattles downward until it, too, splashes in the liquid below. You surmise that you threw the pebble beyond the near side, so it must have struck the opposing wall of the drop-off and then fallen into the pool. You toss another pebble, not as hard this time, and there is no sound of pebble hitting rock, only the splash at the bottom.

How deep is the drop-off, you wonder? Could you jump it? Could you scramble down and back up? You back up a few feet and try to stand up. Luckily, you can stand upright at this place in the cave. You reach up, but you cannot touch the ceiling. You bend down and pick up another pebble. You raise the pebble over your head as high as you can and drop it. It clicks on the ground in front of you. How long did it take to hit, you ask yourself? You repeat the process counting numbers quickly out loud from the moment of dropping to the moment you hear the noise of the pebble hitting the cave floor. You repeat the process a dozen times. You can count to "four" while the pebble drops. "Four" is how tall your vertical reach is.

You crawl forward to the drop-off place and toss another pebble, then another into the void. You count each time. Toss, count, splash, toss, count, splash, toss, count, rattle, splash. When you have a clean toss, no rattle, you count to "five" or "six," mostly "six." When there is a rattle, when you hit one of the sides by accident, the count is "seven." Once there was a rattle, "five," and no splash, so you infer that the pebble landed on something above the liquid and stuck there.

If the liquid at the bottom of the drop-off is down "six," what does that mean? Your head rebels against you, but you try to think about it. If the pebble takes "four" to drop from your up-raised hand to the floor of the cave, does "six" mean that the liquid is just about half again as tall as your up-lifted hand? Think, damn it! No, the pebble is stationary in your hand and then it moves downward (because things fall), moving faster and faster. It is going pretty fast when it hits the floor and probably faster still when it hits the pool of liquid. So, it starts at zero speed and picks up speed as it falls. Interesting.

You try dropping pebbles from your waist level to the floor. After a couple dozen tries you discover that you can count almost to "three." That's peculiar, you think. "Four" from as high as I can reach, but "three" from half of that. There can only be one conclusion: falling objects starting from zero speed fall at ever increasing speed, definitely not some constant speed.

With this in mind you decide to calculate a guess of the depth of the liquid at the bottom of the drop-off. If "three" is half of "four," then what distance is "six?" We know that "four" is the distance from up-stretched hand to floor; we know that "three" is (the first) half that distance, therefore, you infer, "two" is half that first distance, and "one" is half that distance. Just add them up (to six) and you get "eight" times the distance from waist to cave floor.

Just as you decide this is nearly correct and the drop-off way too deep, you see a bright light, the cave becomes visible, the drop-off appears to your squinting eyes as a gaping ten-foot diameter hole in the cavern floor, and within minutes you are saved by search and rescue spelunkers!

As they later explain to you on the surface that you fell through one of Florida's ever-popular sinkholes into a dry part of the cavernous Florida aquifer, you try to tell them about your calculations.

As they listen one of them notices that your measurements were based on two things: your body dimensions up-reaching arm height or your waist height and, second, your pace of counting. He, being an educated person, marvels that once again "man is the measure of all things." He understands better than ever the concept of "anthropic principles" in science; they are just reflections of the conceiving mind.

Another person notices that your powers of reasoning, even though you landed on your head and gave yourself a big concussion, were intact, and he marvels how you designed a way to improve your chances to understand your life and environment. He notes that just because things which evolved over 2,000,000,000 years are more complicated than humans have been able to understand in their 50,000 or so years (particularly the last 50 years), does not mean that a super intelligent designer or craftsman is at work.

A third person turns to the first two and says, "I noticed that he was deprived of all senses but taste, hearing and touch and that, nevertheless, he was still able to develop evidence, and that evidence was determined by the nature of his functioning sensory apparatus with all its limitations. Very good observations, the others all chimed in. They marveled at the ability of human beings to extend their grasp of things by using simple tools and reasoning with evidence.

Then a fourth person interrupted, "But this 'science' you call it is all provisional and full of errors," he said. "Obviously pebbles and caves and numbers and human bodies and brains are all the work of God, and that's the unifying principle. God is the reason he got it all together. Our friend here merely got a glimpse of the great intelligence behind it all! And, by the way, he said with a look of reverence on his slightly chubby face, it is one of God's blessed miracles that they ever found him!"

A while later, while searching for the site of this miracle so he could offer up a prayer of thanks, the fourth man lost his balance and stumbled into the very same sink hole. Unfortunately, the spelunking search and rescue team had gone home, so it was an hour before they were able to go after the fourth man. It was not soon enough, because underground in the cave when he crawled to his encounter with the drop-off, he trusted to God instead of his own wits to save him. Straining his blinded eyes for a sign from above, he soon imagined a light at the end of the cavern and tried to crawl toward it; instead he fell into the hole and broke his fool neck!


You should read at least the first two paragraphs of this article by William Safire. The key is in the last sentence of paragraph two.

"It will not be possible to rule out the supposition that the process of evolution may be guided by an intelligent design."
If the supposition were science, then it would be refutable and we could rule it out! Since it is not, the supposition and "intelligent design" are metaphysics at best and our characteristic human hubris surely.

For your entertainment today, you might also read this from The Onion. It is a clever and apt parody which points to the fact demonstrated in my Parable, above, that human beings are limited creatures who learn by observation not only directly, but by indirection through tools and other processes and events they learn to manipulate. Some are prone to jumping to conclusions, particularly when they have already committed themselves to belief systems on faith.

James Richard Brett

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Irreverend Robertson

The Reverend Pat Robertson fancies himself to be a Christian theologian, a man of peace, a spiritual leader to thousands (perhaps hundreds) of dimwitted but trusting Americans. When, two days ago, he called for the assassination of the President of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, he ceased to be a man of God and revealed himself to be what many of us have suspected for years, a rank hypocrite, an intemperate and sanctimonious ass!

Yes, Robertson apologized on Wednesday for his remarks. It took him a day to figure it all out, and obviously not by himself, certainly with help from his lawyers. What Robertson said was inexcusable. He said it. It would be interesting to know if someone in Washington put him up to it, but he said it. He sullied an entire nation, insulted another, played into the hands of forces that he barely understands, and, you know, he defrocked himself!

It matters very little that Robertson was urging our federal government to assassinate Chavez. Anyone who reads the paper knows this is illegal. Who does this arrogant, self-important, unctuous, freebooting televangelistic popinjay think he is, anyway? Murder and incitement to murder is illegal and morally reprehensible; it is among the few things that peoples of all races, creeds, and conditions agree upon. And yet, Pat Robertson, a so-called Christian, harangues the public with his mindless nonsense and commits a sacrilege, a felony, and an embarrassment to the very country that harbors his sorry, festering soul.

This story, the Robertson Assassination Doctrine, must be kept in the forefront of the news for every right-thinking human in America and the world. We have had enough of these zealots, these televangelist demagogues, these moral morons, these self-righteous mouthpieces of sullen irrationality, of senseless emotionalism, of bush league, sociopathic, psychotic, cretinous Christian hatred and evil. If charges are brought by outraged Venezuelans, our federal government must cooperate fully with the Venezuelan authorities to extradite Robertson and banish his diseased mind and spirit from our society.

James Richard Brett

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Intelligent Design...Flaws?

Let me get this straight. We have a group of people who are claiming that we are all here because of a thing called Intelligent Design? Well, I am sorry but that is one of those things that make me go hmmm. Apparently, their argument, that you, God, literally, created everything in 6 days,
is Intelligent Design. If that were true it would be absolutely brilliant! However, the flaw in their argument is that it leaves out about 95 % of the world's population, because, you know of course, according to their explanations about you, Adam was a white European male who just happened to be lost in the Middle East.

Maybe that was just one of the teensiest, weensiest mistakes in your design plan? I am sure, if you had taken the time to use a few more days, say 8 or 9 instead of 6, you would have seen the error in this plan and plunked Adam down in mid-town Manhattan where he would have had fast access to everything and would not have had to make up some story about a snake and an apple in order for yo to let him out of the boring Garden of Eden. And, with that, Adam set the precedent for a child's capability to tick off their parents.

And yet, perhaps, God had several small errors in his game plan for humanity. For example, if you had created Big Pharma before Cain and Abel, then there would have been some pretty awesome drugs available to Cain and his social anxiety could have been Prozaced or Valiumed and it would have saved Abel's life. Just a thought, God, but you know, it might have been a dandy plan.

Another thing, while we are on the subject. Was it really necessary to send Cain East of Eden? Well, I suppose, there would have been a hew and cry from all the NIMBY'S, if you had decided to incarcerate him then and there. So I guess you did have a good plan with that. Better to get him out of town, to an unknown location where the locals didn't know he was a bad egg and they welcomed him, allowed him to carry on and even let him marry one of the local girls.

By the way, I have been meaning to ask you about that. When did you create all those people in the Land of Nod? I bet it was on that 7th day. You just sort of snuck off when no one was looking, and thought you were resting. Good plan! No one has ever given it much serious thought as far as I can tell. But, there are still a few things which have me puzzled, so see if you can help me out here, would you?

If you were going to make so much water, why is it necessary to take swimming lessons? Wouldn't it have been easier to just make us all amphibious? After all, swimming lessons cost money, so sometimes it is a toss up between those and new school shoes. Dang it! It also might have been easier for anyone who had a second home on a piece of waterfront property. No need to fear the flooding. They could just stay where they are and keep right on barbecuing. Well, wait, the barbecuing wouldn't work, but then everything is a trade off, right?

I am glad, however, that you got the animal thing under control. Those dinosaurs were just plain ridiculous! The thought of potentially having the world's mothers really ticked off with you had to have been just daunting. It is hard enough to get most mothers to agree to a dog or a cat, never mind a T-Rex or a Brontosaurus, and I am sure you came to the same conclusion. Getting rid of them was a plus for sure. They were just WAY too big and we all know where bigness leads. Bigger freezers to accommodate Wooly Mammoth cuts of beef. Bigger houses to accommodate the bigger freezers, bigger cars with bigger bumpers to strap the kill onto. Well, the possibilities for hugeness are endless.

Perhaps the most puzzling thing to me is, why all the bother of creating scientists? Although I suppose if we look at it as the ultimate Scavenger Hunt we might be onto something? To leave endless clues to things...sometimes not EVEN a clue had to have taken years in the planning. And, to have had this great big, beautiful world to look for the clues in has been a pretty terrific part of it. What an awesome job! Now that has got to be the ultimate in intelligence...and sharing. After all, you wanted us to learn to share and a good parent teaches by example, no? All those scientists and discoverers and inventors are glad you left some things for them to do, although at times they have squabbled, been a tad testy with each other, all in all it has pretty much been fun and rewarding for them.

Some of the things that they are glad about are the clues in the rocks and dirt so that we could tell when things started off. (Psst...some people have a hard time believing that you are a few billion years old though...something other than the dirt and rock clue might have been nice). Also, the ape thing was not the smartest move. I think if you had, had us evolve from something like say, a whale, it might have covered that amphibious thing as well. The down side to that though, would have been that size thing, so perhaps the monkey was your best bet.

But hey, hindsight is always 20/20 isn't it?

Monday, August 22, 2005

War Is Profane

In the Big picture, our time, our prosperity, our lives and our potential are too precious to be wasted by War. War is man's failure to meet the differences and challenges of the world with intelligence and life enhancing decisions of which he is capable. War is a falling back into brutish ways using force, fear and intimidation to impose one's will. It is antithetical to responsible and enlightened behavior.

Examine the wars and conflicts of our history. They always come down to someone trying to steal from someone else or seeking to impose one's will on another. At a time when man has the technology, the skills and the wealth to enhance and improve life, these gifts have been used by unscrupulous persons to destroy human life and the planet that give us the means to survive.

War is profane because it destroys life. Peace is sacred because it preserves life. War wastes money, life and time in destructive endeavors.
Peace allows the use of money, life and time for enhancement of life. The face of war is Death. The face of Peace is Life.

War appeals to those who seek power and wealth. If they have the bigger weapons to impose their will they will take what they want without care for the fairness of their actions or concern about the damage and suffering they will cause.

Our nation has found itself under the control of people who are using our wealth and resources to wage war for the benefit of a few businessmen and their cronies in government. Under their control America has become a bully, an invader, the occupier, the oppressor.
This is not with the consent of the people; our opinions are not wanted. In fact, anyone attempting to stop the War Bully Government is labeled un-patriotic or anti-American. I have no doubt that given a vote whether or not to invade and bomb another country, most citizens would vote 'no'.

It is clear to anyone paying attention that the reasons given for bombing and invading Iraq were unjustified. I would suggest that for our leadership to use the military might of our nation in illegal attacks on other countries to promote profits and increased resources for private investors, companies and persons, is an act of treason. We pay for that military action with our taxes and with the lives of our citizen soldiers who do the fighting. It is obscene for leadership to use the lives of our soldiers in these money-making ventures.

Our soldiers, who are the children we raised to be honest, caring and who we taught to do no harm to others, are now the killing people just like themselves, harming people just like themselves, and hardening their hearts, and shutting down their minds so they can do the job they have been assigned. In turn, they are in serious jeopardy of being harmed or killed. They are returned to us with shattered minds and bodies or dead in a box, their unique precious life cut short in mid bloom. Our government cares so little for the lives of our own fighting men and women that they have exposed them to the poison of depleted uranium weapons. The dust from DU is so small that it can enter the body through the skin and cause damage to body organs, an increased risk of cancer and deformities in babies born to the contaminated soldiers. That is how the government 'supports the troops.'

The mandate of government is to serve and protect the general welfare of the people. Clearly, our general welfare and security and the health of our society are all suffering under this leadership.

Those of you who may believe that we were attacked on 9/11 because 'they hate our freedoms' have been misled. The American military presence in Saudi Arabia and our interference in middle-eastern politics where we support oppressive leadership, were two of the reasons there was a backlash against us. Citizens who don't pay attention to what our government is doing in other countries fail to see the big picture. Our government has used military action against other nations for generations to assist corporate control of foreign resources and suppress political movements rising from the desire of the people to control, and benefit from, their own resources.

The government's case for going to war with Iraq was lie after lie. Their WMD's had all been effectively destroyed before the US invaded.
Saddam did allow the inspectors back in September of 2002. In November of 2002 inspectors had re-entered Iraq and they were doing their job right up until Bush announced his plan to attack Iraq in March of 2003.

The UN did not approve a resolution for military action against Iraq. Under the treaties the US and UK had signed, the removal of Saddam (regime change) was not a legal justification to go to war.

The likely reason for the invasion of Iraq can be found in the 2000 PNAC plans which says "American land power is the essential link in the chain that translates U.S. military supremacy into American geopolitical preeminence. "While the unresolved conflict with Iraq provides the immediate justification (for military action and subsequent bases), the need for a substantial American force transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein." (Italics added.)

A U.S. military force in Iraq will be helpful when Iran and/or Syria are targeted next. After the Cold War collapsed with the Berlin wall, the arms and weapons manufacturers and their political cronies, were scrambling to find a new 'enemy' to fight and a new market for their products. It is interesting to note that the Carlyle Company has large investments in arms manufacturers and that G.W. Bush Sr. is involved with that company. Consider that the Defense budget for 2006 is $419 billion, 21% higher than 2001. War generates high profits.

This so called War on Terror is a sham. Studies have shown that Terrorism is fueled by actions of attack, occupation and interference in the homelands of others by our military forces. The use of our military in Arabian homelands is increasing terrorism and increasing the danger for all of us. We owe it to ourselves to examine the motives of leadership who would put us at such risk and remove them for violating the power we have bestowed upon them. Complain to media to do their job to expose questionable activities and send demands to Congress to investigate.

Who is the 'winner' in these wars? The corporations who wanted an oil pipe line in Afghanistan, who are 'reconstructing' Iraq, who have huge contracts to support the military and who provide the weapons and machinery of war are all experiencing huge increases in their profits from these ventures.

War may be Hell on earth to most of us but for a select few it is a huge profit machine. That is not only Profane, it is Evil.

Diplomatice Assurances -- Worthless

Countries that rely on 'diplomatic assurances' that other countries won't torture transferred prisoners "are either engaging in wishful thinking or using the assurances as a fig leaf to cover their complicity," a new report from Human Rights Watch (HRW) charges.

HRW said, "There is substantial evidence that in the course of the global "war on terrorism," an increasing number of governments have transferred, or proposed sending, alleged terrorist suspects to countries where they know the suspects will be at risk of torture or ill-treatment."

The report, "Still at Risk", said, in countries with "a serious and persistent" history of prisoner abuse, "diplomatic assurances do not and cannot prevent torture. The practice should stop."

Recipient countries have included Egypt, Syria, Uzbekistan, and Yemen, where torture is a systemic human rights problem. Transfers have also been carried out or proposed to Algeria, Morocco, Russia, Tunisia, and Turkey, "where members of particular groups - Islamists, Chechens, Kurds - are routinely singled out for the worst forms of abuse".

The HRW report comes on the heels of British Prime Minister Tony Blair's proposal, following the London underground bombings, to deport people who advocate violence.

HRW said "the use of diplomatic assurances against torture is a global phenomenon, with sending countries in North America and Europe leading the charge".

It added, "The issue of diplomatic assurances against torture gained notoriety recently when U.S. officials acknowledged a large number of transfers of suspects to countries where torture is a serious human rights problem, claiming that U.S. authorities regularly sought and received diplomatic assurances of humane treatment from receiving governments prior to the transfers. In an increasing number of those cases, the suspects have credibly alleged that they were tortured."

According to Dr. Beau Grosscup, Professor of International Relations at California State University—Chico and an expert on terrorism, "Diplomatic assurances are trumped by the military, police and intelligence 'counter-insurgency' programs that the two Cold War superpowers instituted and still run in many of these countries that train police and military personnel in torture." Grosscup says, "The real attitude driving the 'rendition' efforts is: 'Having paid to train them in torture, why not get our monies worth'."

In a separate statement, HRW criticized the August 10th 'memorandum of understanding' reached between the United Kingdom and Jordan.

It said the U.K. "cannot deport security suspects to Jordan without violating the international prohibition against sending persons to countries where they face a serious risk of torture."

The agreement, HRW said, "does nothing to reduce that risk or to change the obligation not to expose people to torture". "There is still torture in Jordan, especially with regard to security suspects," said Joe Stork, deputy director of Human Rights Watch's Middle East division. "All the good reasons that prevented the U.K. from deporting people to Jordan before August 10 remain unchanged by this agreement."

The U.K. and Jordan are both parties to the Convention against Torture and Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment. "Under international law, the prohibition against torture is absolute and cannot be waived under any circumstances", HRW said.

Britain recently detained several foreign residents who may now face deportation. Jordan's State Security Court, composed of two military and one civilian judge, had sentenced two of the men in absentia to 15-year and life sentences respectively for involvement in terrorist activities in 2000 and 2001.
HRW pointed out that "criminals convicted in absentia have the right to a full retrial once they come into Jordanian custody."

HRW said that the U.K.-Jordan agreement "represents an effort to get around the Convention against Torture's strict non-refoulement obligation and has no mechanism for accountability".

"Jordan stands to gain custody of criminal suspects while Britain rids itself of unwelcome persons, and neither country has any incentive to monitor treatment or investigate allegations of abuse."

HRW's Stork said, "Jordan's General Intelligence Department, prisons and ordinary police stations all have known records of abuse. By seeking Jordanian promises to treat these returned persons differently, the U.K. is confirming that the risk of torture continues."

In September 2004, the National Human Rights Center, an official body, announced that Abdullah al-Mushaqaba had died in Juwaida Prison as a result of torture. Detainees of that same prison told the Arab Organization for Human Rights in Jordan, a local non-governmental organization, in August 2005 that that they were severely beaten.

Last year, the Center received 250 allegations of torture or ill-treatment in Jordanian detentions. These numbers do not include the General Intelligence Directorate, which did not allow any visits by non-governmental human rights monitors. The Intelligence Directorate is often the first place of detention for security detainees.

Human Rights Watch said that the U.K. plans to conclude similar agreements with other countries across the region, including Egypt and Algeria.

"Jordan, Egypt and Algeria all have a documented history of torture," said Stork. "Neither Britain nor any other country should consider returning people to such countries where they face the risk of torture."

The past two years have seen widespread exposure of the once-secret practice of "rendition' - sending or taking prisoners to third countries.

The December 2001 expulsions of two Egyptian asylum seekers from Sweden based on assurances against torture caused a national scandal after the men alleged that they had been tortured and ill-treated in Egyptian custody. It has been reliably reported that the men were kidnapped from Sweden by the CIA and flown to Egypt n the agency's leased Gulfstream jet.

The U.S. is also faulted for its pervasive use of diplomatic assurances in rendition and immigration cases, and to effect returns of detainees from Guantánamo Bay.

HRW also says that in Europe there is "an alarming and growing trend toward securing diplomatic assurances against torture and ill-treatment to effect extraditions, deportations, and expulsions, despite Europe's claim to having the most advanced human rights protection system in the world".

Elisa C. Massimino, Washington Director for Human Rights First (HRF), points out that the United Nations Subcommission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, "alarmed at the erosion of the principle of non-refoulement (the ban on transfer to torture), passed a resolution on August 4 to try to stem the backsliding." She adds, "The resolution passed 19 to 1. The only no vote? Lee Casey, of the United States."

William Fisher -- Guest Bloggist

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Liberals: Hawks v. Doves

Democrats unlike Republicans are torn on the Iraq war issue. Why is this? Does any of this war in Iraq make sense? The answer is yes, some of it makes sense and other parts do not make sense. The sooner Democrats understand the motivations in favor of and against the war, the sooner they will be able to frame a coherent and Liberal policy about the war. If they decide, instead, to fudge the issue, they will remain the minority party for another six to ten years.

Senators Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and Joe Biden (D-Del) represent the war hawk side of the Democratic Party. Both are in favor of a strenuous continuation of the occupation. They may be predicating their positions on the almost certain beginning of a tentative withdrawal in 2006, not to mention the already announced revision of war aims by Bush & Co.

Ted Kennedy (D-Mass) and Russ Feingold (D-Wis) represent the dovish side of the Party vis-à-vis Iraq. They believe that a war so misconceived cannot possibly result in any good or profit for our country or the world. It's not that they are peaceniks or quitters; it is that they see the futility of wasting any more of our precious national resources on what has been a first-class Quagmire ever since the Ottoman Turks tried to pacify Mesopotamia in the 19th century.

I am going to make lists of the opposing issues. Not every one of these is easily tucked into a Liberal bed, but people who nominally call themselves Liberals are holding these positions. To be realistic about it I have to acknowledge that some issues are hotter than others and that some have long histories with even longer sad tales of woe attached to them. Some issues are very debatable, and some are more clearly moral issues, whether anyone cares or not. I have put the issues in descending order of weight and importance. The order seems to change with the passing news, but I believe that in the long run these will be the issues and this order the consensus.

PRO (Hawkish) Issues

1a. As long as we are there, we (especially democracy- and liberty-loving Americans) have an obligation to see to it that Iraq has a decent chance to become a friendly, democratic, prosperous ally state in the mideast.

1b. If we were to depart abruptly, Iraq would probably descend into civil war with the outcome surely being that thousands more will die and an Islamist-clerical state like Iran would emerge, dogging our efforts to bring democracy to all nations, and interfering with our access to much-needed petroleum in and around Iraq. Leaving would appear to be another Vietnam loss-of-will debacle further eroding the confidence other nations have in the strength of the United States.

2a. As corporate globalization proceeds it is important that other nations understand that the United States is ready and willing to exercise its muscle to protect national interests, that the domestic population can and will shoulder temporary burdens to achieve longterm goals.

2b. Democrats can ill-afford to appear to be soft on terrorism, national defense, and anything smacking of armed resistance to American influence. [As the election draws nearer this item gets more and more attention.]

2c. Republicans have the tough-guy image, so Democrats need to be seen as not only tough, but smart, too.

3a. It is much better that the jihadist extremists carry out (the preponderance of) their evil work in Iraq than on American or allied soil. [Before Madrid, London, and Sharm al Sheik this used to be the #1 issue.]

3b. Getting rid of Saddam Hussein and his presumed WMD, who was an evil mass murderer, and who had the temerity to thumb his nose at the U.S. after we supplied him with arms against Iran was not only morally, but politically correct, (not to mention emotionally satisfying).

4a. The security of Israel is intimately tied up with success in Iraq. Failure in Iraq will seriously reduce the security of Israel and, perhaps, set Israeli politics off on a defensive path that makes impossible any kind of settlement with Palestine.

4b. The security of Israel is a key to Jewish votes in certain parts of the U.S., particularly New York.

5. Although the war is expensive in dollars, the cost in American lives is very modest by the standards of previous military engagements. The payback to the overall economy is that the war has acted as a flywheel protecting us from almost certain downturn after the great commercial expansion of the 1990's. [This reminds me of Catch 22, only now instead of chocolate covered cotton we have depleted-uranium covered cities ... like Fallujah.]

6. Underlying all these issues was a strong sense of revenge for the 9/11 attack, a revenge that was not being slaked in Afghanistan, a revenge momentarily shared by all but that was so strong on the Hawk side that it blinded the vengeful to the Dovish issues.

CON (Dovish) Issues

1a. America should not engage in pre-emptive military action against anyone, much less ...

1b. Countries that are innocent of the charges we bring against them as pretext for war, and ...

1c. Countries that we armed when it was in our interest to have them fight a common enemy.

2. The war is producing the very insurgency that it was publically asserted it would eliminate. Producing more terrorists is counter-productive, and sponsoring a training ground for world-wide terrorism is decidedly against our national interests and diminishes our (hoped for) world reputation as a nation committed to the rule of law.

3. The war is the result of lies and other impeachable offenses against the American people and the Congress.

4. The death toll of Americans is now well over 1,800 with no end in sight. The death toll of Iraqis is not less than 25,000 with the possibility that as many as 100,000 have been needlessly killed. The wounded, crippled, dismembered, and their relatives are permanently reduced to poverty and a wretched existence.

5. The war is profitable for key corporate interests but is piling up a national debt designed to disable the social programs created since the Great Depression. It is a neocon dream.

6a. The attenuation of our forces in Iraq and Afghanistan leaves us little maneuvering room for outbreaks in other parts of the world, particularly in North Korea and Iran where the spector of nuclear proliferation threatens not only Israel but the domestic United States.

6b. In order to be credible our national defense must be maintained at peak readiness, but this does not require that we use the armed forces for vengance or out of knee-jerk responses to unrelated provocations.

7. A short and overtly non-imperial occupation of Iraq is possible. Iraqis have problems that only they can solve, (or not as they choose).

At this writing well over half of American polled say that the war in Iraq is not achieving the ends they thought at first that it could. Moreover, most Americans believe that the attack on Iraq, although it unseated the murderous Saddam Hussein (a good thing), was based on falsified information and deception.

Yet, there is a substantial part of the populations that believes that a Vietnamization of the Iraq War is possible if Americans publically declare their lack of support for the war. They believe this should be avoided ... almost at any cost. On the horns of this dilemma, the case seems to rest for the moment.

The moment is, of course, entirely fabricated by the Administration, the media, and politicians of the hawkish variety. The point of being in a democracy is to recognize and accommodate the opinion of a thoughtful majority. We don't go off the deep end too often, hopefully, even if an outraged majority thinks its a good idea at the moment. Instead we hope to be thoughtful about our positions, and when with deliberation we arrive at a conclusion, we should follow it. I believe we have sobered up from our irrational bellyflop in the deep end and should now remove ourselves from Iraq with all deliberate haste.

Democratic candidates and the Democratic national platform should embrace the anti-war issues completely and to the total exclusion of further military adventurism and resource imperialism.

James Richard Brett

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Grief vs Bush

Who cannot help but feel the pain of Cindy Sheehan? To bury one's child is, without doubt, the hardest possible duty for a parent. It is never the normal order of things. But to bury that child whose death was the result of a deliberate lie has got to be painful beyond words. Unfortunately, the ultimate price of any war is the heartbreak and the grief.

It would appear that Cindy, and her supporters, and the ever present media, have dug in for the duration of the Bush vacation, unless, of course, His Eminence deigns to come out of the stronghold to meet with her. How hard can that be? What harm would it cause? If he chooses not to sully his hands on one of the plebeians, then why not send Laura? A mother to mother chat might be in order. Who better to empathize, to lend an understanding ear? But, then again...

I cannot help but look back at previous Presidents, who, when faced with this sort of situation, would have taken the walk (drive?) down to the gate and spoken with this woman. A woman who has made the ultimate sacrifice and given her child in the service of her country. Never mind that it was a hollow sacrifice, making it all the more despicable. Certainly nothing comparable to storming the beaches at Normandy. In another day and age, when it was possible to simply walk directly into the White House and see the President, I am sure Lincoln would have welcomed Cindy Sheehan. I do believe that Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter would welcome Cindy into their home in Plains, had the death of her son placed her there.

However, to agree to meet with Cindy would take Bush out of his comfort zone. He is never comfortable unless everything has been pre-arranged, all the players have been screened and no off the cuff questions, which require real answers, are asked. That, of course, would preclude a meeting with Cindy, for her simple question, "Why?", requires an honest answer and Bush cannot be truthful. It would mean that it has all been a horrible mistake. A lie which served to enhance his sticktoitiveness , his loose canon, cowboy macho determination.

Bush is the master dissembler. The classic sociopath. The face of sympathy and yet not an ounce of true feeling . Without index cards, it is as if the marionette's strings have been cut and it cannot perform anymore. This is a man who signed a death warrant and then made a parody of the person whose death he had ordered. A man who will fly to Washington from the same TX. ranch in order to sign a paper seeking to block the removal of the feeding tube of a brain dead woman. Daily deaths seem not to have any effect, and to recognize them and to actually meet with someone who has given their child in this conflict, he feels would be pandering, but the pandering would be without purpose. (No vote getter there!)

Why would over a thousand deaths be of concern? He thinks it is his due. After all, he is Commander in Chief, supreme head honcho (Karl Rove has told him so) and therefore he answers to no one, least of all, We The People! Your son, or my daughter, and certainly Cindy Sheehan's son are, and were, nothing but blips on the video screen of his War Game. It IS a game to him. He is the ultimate star in the ultimate production of Wild Bush Rides Again, with well known character actors (Rove, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Rice) and a cast of thousands (troops) in supporting roles as Patriots!

Patriotism, (nationalism, if you will) is a strong emotion. It was a sense of patriotism that brought us together after Pearl Harbor, after 9/11 and it was patriotism which helped us buy into the lies which Bush and his gang of 4 told us about Saddam Hussein, and his ability to "nuke" us at any moment. Patriotism which inspired these young men and women to serve their country. which has ultimately, cost Cindy Sheehan the life of her son, as well as the sons and daughters of 1, 845 other mothers and fathers.

How many more Cindy Sheehan's will it take before Bush comes out of his Crawford hidey-hole, gets down on his knees and begs Cindy Sheehan's forgiveness? Ahhh, in a perfect world that would be the perfect end to Cindy's vigil, but I am not holding my breath. Bush is a child of privilege who was, and still is, protected from the nasty realities of life. One who has never had to admit that he is wrong, or that he owes anyone anything, least of all, an apology.

Cindy, I wish you luck. Perhaps you will ultimately get that which you seek. But, in the mean time, I have three words for you, albeit borrowed from the man you are seeking to speak with...

Stay the course!

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

While Rome Burns

In case you had not noticed, President Bush is at his ranch in Crawford Texas chopping wood, going to fund raisers, and oh by the way, occasionally getting updates on domestic and global issues and crises. He has so far in his Presidency spent almost as much time away from Washington as Reagan did in his entire four years in office and Reagan set a record for being gone from the White House. Apparently, Bush would like to better his record and is well on his way to do it. For someone who spent so much effort to get elected, he certainly dislikes being in our Nation’s Capital.

Meanwhile, there are currently at least two major crises in the Middle East and a very sticky problem in North Korea. Despite the best assurances earlier by the administration that Iraq would be self-governing by now, it appears that Iraq will need some more time to get a constitution written and approved. Several critical issues remain unresolved such as who will control the oil, will the Koran be the underlying document of the new constitution, what will be the status of woman in the new Iraq and, last but not least, will the country be split into several self-governing states controlled by each of the different factions that comprise the current Iraq state or will their be a strong central government. Meanwhile, we continue to pour US treasure and blood into Iraq, with no end in site.

In Iran, we have a country which is anti-US, has a history of supporting terrorists and is increasingly belligerent in its foreign policy dealings. Iran, in defiance of the desires of both the UN and the West, is proceeding with its nuclear program; a program which is capable of producing weapons grade nuclear material. Iran recently successfully tested a ballistic missile and concern grows in the West that eventually it could be fitted with a nuclear warhead. Iran has also elected a hard line president and is becoming more and more conservative.

North Korea has broken off talks which were aimed at convincing North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons program. It now appears that North Korea will continue to develop nuclear weapons and probably already has several in its weapons arsenal. North Korea has successfully fired a short to medium range missile capable of delivering a nuclear payload.

Not to worry, Bush has it all under control from his Texas ranch. Nero fiddled while Rome burned; Bush prefers to chop wood.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Vetting Leadership

For most of us, applying for a job means that we are expected to fill out an application stating our personal information and the history of our educational and job experiences. Then we are often subjected to an interview during which we elaborate on our understanding of the job we seek and how we will meet that need. In some cases applicants are required to undergo a background check into criminal and/or financial activities.

Why then do we accept candidates for leadership who do none of the above?

Instead of following a logical sequence of "vetting" to insure that the candidate is qualified and meets the requirements to serve the interests of our society, we allow them to set the agenda and are presented with circus-like campaigns which give us little or no real information about them or their intended use of the office they seek. Candidates slide into office on illusions created by PR people with the voters having little information about their positions on important issues. They are not held accountable to act in accordance with the campaign promises and philosophies they had stated before the elections. Once elected, they seem able to do as they please. We can't allow that any longer.

The office of the President of the United States is one of the most important and powerful positions in the world. The President has within his/her control, the US military, the power to sign law into being, our foreign policy, our trade agreements and the care of our domestic tranquility and well being. You would think, that given the huge power and responsibility a President has, that we would demand a thorough examination of our "CEO." If any job cries out for qualification, it is the job of President. Yet, through the current campaign process, we get to know very little of the person who takes up the power and influence we bestow upon that office.

Since every aspect of our lives is affected by that leadership, we should demand candidates meet certain criteria. From the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat, to the work we do, the quality of life and the health and wellbeing of our nation, our supreme leader, the President, influences the condition of the nation and the direction it goes in. In a nation such as ours, there are many who are qualified to lead in a beneficent way, if they were given the opportunity. Why limit ourselves to a narrow field of candidates, some who desire to use our power for interests that go against the good of the society at large?

The following is a list of qualifications a candidate, (especially President and Vice President) should meet to satisfy "we the people." This list is open to additions, refinement and suggestions. I present it to open a forum on the subject of choosing and identifying qualified leadership.

  1. Each candidate should fill out an application which includes their vital information, job history, educational history, legal history, political experience and financial connections.
  2. An independent search of their history to verify their claims on all counts should be made and published. (While lack of education or criminal record would not disqualify them, the record should be made available to the public for them to evaluate.)
  3. Candidates should present a written position paper on all issues that are relevant to current events as well as political philosophy. This they should sign on to and those papers be considered the legally binding contract between the candidate and the people. (These papers would become their "contract" with the voters and should they fail to conform to those declarations if voted into office, that violation would be grounds for impeachment as a high crime against the people.)
  4. All candidates should participate in debates. These could be presented over a year in a similar context to Jeopardy with winners going on to finals and the three finalists winning a place on the ballot for the election. The winners could be chosen by audience selection or better yet, by the participation of the viewing audience through computer vote. This is not foolproof and perhaps others could come up with a better form of consensus, but even this would allow more direct participation of the public at large. These debates would be required to be shown on national TV in prime time as part of the networks' contract for "public access" to the airwaves.
  5. No TV commercials would be allowed.
  6. All campaign money would come from public money and funds donated and dispersed without party, group or individual identification. Each qualifying candidate would get the same amount. The cost of campaigning would be reduced since campaigns would follow proscribed formats that reflect a job interview process. Each would have a web page that would contain all their information including their position and philosophy papers. Each would have a staff the help them answer specific questions from voters. Each would be allowed personal appearances once in each state. Each would be given equal air time to speak to the nation.
  7. The time for each step would be set. Two years for initial application and testing. One year for debate "playoffs." One year for three finalists to debate, discuss and present themselves to the voters.
  8. Each final candidate should be given a physical and psychological evaluation which is made public.

Does this sound far fetched? Well imagine us going after a job in the post office for example, and attempting to win a position there using campaigning, TV ads, mailers and rallies. We wouldn't get to square one because they want to hire someone who has gone through the qualification process that indicates they can do the job. Should we be satisfied with less when choosing leadership?

Not only the President and Vice President but Congress, governors and state legislature candidates should be vetted using some qualification methods.

Run off voting in state and national elections should become the method of insuring the most desired candidate wins. This would allow third parties, which may reflect the views of a large segment of the people, to come to power.

Here's an ironic fact: Everyone who works in the Whitehouse from aides to the cleaning people, have to pass an FBI background check except the President and Vice President of the United States!

The future of our lives and our society are strongly influenced by our leaders. We should demand that there is an opportunity for the best leadership to emerge and that those leaders meet the needs of our nation. The current system does not work for us!

Susan Dyer, Guest Bloggist

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Ignorance and Equality

The United States is heir to a long and wonderful tradition that probably is best described as the fulfillment of practical democracy. In America we have unbelievable liberties, rights, freedoms, and opportunities. We are the first on our planet to enjoy them, and perhaps the first to misplace them. Our country is beset by problems no one in the past had ever heard of, much less grappled with on a daily basis.

Some of our symbolic statements hint at the problems. E pluribus unum, for instance; does it mean "One out of many" or "Out of many, One." What does the other motto, Annuit Coeptis mean? There is no subject, so it must be inferred: "[Providence] favors our undertakings" or is it "[God] favors our undertakings"? Perhaps it is best rendered as "Our undertakings are favored." Certainly Americans think so. And the rest of the Great Seal on our currency: "Novus ordo seclorum," means "A new order of the ages." (!) The Founders certainly had a sense of themselves!

Isn't there something in these mottos that suggests a little whistling through the graveyard? Is there not a suggestion of pious hope, a fervent wish, a slightly hollow braggadocio? And, is there not a ring of brash truth, too? America was the first deliberately secular state; the first to organize on rational principles, contemplated by really first-rate minds ... rather than by a succession of priests, popes, princes and kings endowed by their Creator with a small chances of brilliance and quickly subdued by the shades of intrigue and avarice.

The United States is predicated on an interesting idea that all men (and subsequently all women and races) are endowed with inalienable rights. This means that whatever these rights are they cannot really ever be detached from the person of the individual. We learn later, of course, that some rights can be "suspended" because of bad behavior, or because of really bad behavior the person terminated.

But, even before the inalienable rights we declare that all men are created equal. (In the next phrase the idea of Creator is introduced to establish efficient parallelism and total ambiguity as to who or what the Creator might be.) The point of Equality is made, though. We now understand this to mean "equality before the law," that is, that no person because of lineage or position or IQ or musical talent or beauty or ugliness or any other factor, that no person has a leg up or down because of those inherently unequal characteristics ... before the law!

We know, however, that inequalities exist that are difficult to ignore. Some people are good spellers, some bad; some are good readers, others are illiterate; some believe in ghosts, while others have dispensed with explanations without evidence; some willfully commit crimes, while most do not, or at least confine themselves to infractions of minor rules and regulations. Among the kinds of things that are unequal between us are education and wisdom, (which are not always given in the same package). Some Americans pass their SAT exams with perfect scores, while others drop out of high school before attempting them, usually because they are unsuccessful at most things that schools provide.

One of the things that schools and education provide is knowledge about knowledge, that is, information about what constitutes real knowledge and what is merely speculation or what is merely a belief system. The mark of educated persons is that they understand the limits of their understanding and the various points where they rely on the knowledge of others or on their own belief systems. They may not drill themselves daily on these points, but when pressed by someone else they will generally say, "Well, I have not been to space myself, but I believe that the televised pictures of the Earth from the Moon were authentic and these pictures clearly demonstrate the spherical nature of our planet."

Or, they might say, "It is a shame that their baby was born without arms, but my understanding is that the mother was given Thalidomide during the pregnancy, and that drug has been implicated in studies I read about conducted by scientists and doctors over at the university." Some might say, however, "The deformed baby is a sign that this family has lost favor with God." Such a statement relies entirely upon the judgment of the speaker and his vast experience with the moods and whims of his own deity, which he assumes is the universal deity (despite endless circumstantial evidence to the contrary) and, therefore, the irreducible sole source of such tragedies.

We have many people in our society that think like this. It raises the question of whether or not the practice of democracy can evolve further when the premises and postulates of the various "equal" members of the society are at such odds. In fact, I believe that most Americans now believe that the idea of "equal creation" is entirely theoretical, and that in reality people are not "equal" in every way that matters!

The jarring proof of this assertion is found in the daily news, two items of which I will mention. One, was the Terri Schiavo case (the brain-dead woman kept physically alive for 15 long years while her brain tissue atrophied and was replaced by cerebro-spinal fluid) and the other was George W. Bush's recent declaration that "Intelligent Design" should be taught as a science of human origins. Both situations show a clear and horrifying lack of understanding about knowledge and how to think about knowledge.

In the case of Terri Schiavo the parents held hope above evidence and held it so strongly that eventually they ignored the real scientific knowledge of the medical doctors who were trained to understand situations like these. The parents and everyone, including Geo. Bush, Jeb Bush, Tom DeLay, Bill Frist, and thousands of other persons whose world-views include a special kind of personal relationship with "deity" displayed a horrifying ignorance of knowledge and a complete breakdown in their ability to cooperate socially because of it. They were on that issue completely autistic, completely isolated in their compass of the world around them, stolidly flat-earthers, not one second evolved over their ancestors 50,000 years earlier.

The second item was President George W. Bush's assertion that "intelligent design" be taught as a scientifically responsible rendition of the origins of human beings on planet Earth. First, Bush has no idea what "intelligent design" purports, for he has never studied it. He does not know, obviously, that while inferences can be made from the amazing display of variety and complexity in the biological world that inferences are not evidence. Yes, scientists make inferences, but they always seek and usually find evidence for, or if they do not find evidence, they abandon their inferences. Inference is a scandal of epistemology for one might easily infer a general conclusion from one instance of something. Or, there may be thousands of events and one chooses ten or a hundred as examples. It was long ago proven (by John Stuart Mill and others) that inference is notoriously incomplete. Scientists now understand this and maintain a healthy skepticism about virtually all of their provisional ideas.

The two items mentioned above call to attention not only the ignorance that seems to pervade our society, but also call into question an "educational system" that perpetuates this sort of ignorance, including the ignorance of ignorance. The educational system that produces men and women who cannot distinguish their hopes and beliefs from the facts is inadequate to the New Order we undertook over two hundred years ago. It makes of our Many not One, but a Chaos, a body politic bent on self-destruction. Such an educational system is clearly not favorable to this undertaking, this vast experiment we call America!

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Looking For Dr. Feelgood

Several years ago there was a novel published entitled Looking For Mr. Goodbar. I am in the mood to write a book as well and entitle it, Looking for Dr. FeelGood! We certainly are a nation in search of that little pill that will make all the bad scarey things go away. And apparently we are more than willing to let the Pharmaceutical Companies make a killing (pardon the pun there) on us.

And if you do not have any major complaints, and are feeling pretty good, do not be fooled, you are obviously in denial But, there is hope for you yet! Big Pharma is working day and night on your behalf. They are searching and searching, as only they know how, to find a symptom of something, ANYTHING, that you can call your own. And of course they will have developed just the right cure.

It was definitely easier back in the "good old days" when you had multiple symptoms and it all could be cured with some good old Snake Root oil or a Coca Cola at the local Drug Store. Of course that was when they actually put the drug IN the Coca Cola, but you could not take a drink of Gin (unless it came from the bathtub of course). The Snake Root Oil salesman, did one heck of a good job from the back of his wagon, and like the children of Hamlin we are still following in his dusty wheel tracks, waiting for him to start his spiel and sell us his magic elixers!

We have made giant strides in medicine and in our knowledge of what causes certain diseases. Who of us would like to have lived in Cotton Mather's day when he opined that women who persisted in "multiplied and repeated miscarriages" were blaspheming their sacred duty! Today we have the knowledge to prevent, most of the time, this multiplying miscarrying from happening. This is a good thing. Well, most of the time. We need not to forget Thalidamide and the horrors that caused.

If it was your luck to survive childbirth back in those long ago days, then you probably already had a leg up by possessing a strong constitution.. This you definitely needed. It was in your favor if an apothecary or doctor never needed to be consulted on your behalf, or to have mother check her household manual for a "home remedy". Some were harmless, however, some were a definite gamble. Consider this one in which we learn how "To Kill Worms In Children". Take sage, boil it with milk to make a good tea, turn it to whey with alum or vinegar, and give the whey to the child. If the worms are not knotted in the stomach it will be a sure cure. If the worms ARE knotted in the stomach it will kill the child. What a choice!

Even as far removed as we feel we are from that sort of treatment of our children, we are urged today by Drs., who are backed by the pharmaceutical companies, to give to our children pills that have a detrimental effect on their very well being and have actually, it is believed, made many take their own lives. Teenagers in the throes of BEING teenagers are being told they are not "normal" that they are bi polar, suffer from social anxiety,and all sorts of weird and wonderful things cooked up by the medical community, with the blessing of BIG PHARMA who rush right in with Adderall, Prozac, Ritalin and a host of other mood altering drugs, for which they rake in billions of dollars a year. The snake oil salesman had nothing on them!

Well, you say, we have lots of good things these days, it is not all bad, and you are quite right. Good hygiene and sanitation have made life much less risky, and of course gone is the taboo of suffering in silence because certain things were not to be mentioned. Today, things that are common knowledge, were then, unanswerable questions, even for reputable physicians. There were no laws to control patent medicines so when in 1708, Duffy's Elixir Salutis was advertised in the Boston News-Letter, until 1906 when the government decided that some controls needed to be in place, any quack with the talent for salesmanship, or "puffery" as it was called, could get rich quick.

Of course all sorts of statements and preposterous claims could be made, and if the subject was "unmentionable" all the better because the general public would not think to check on the veracity of it. One advertisement, for a cancer "cure", claimed that "In any woman's breast, any lump is cancer." And because the loss of his manhood, or a weakness in women, was the bane of their existence, people like Lydia E. Pinkham had a clientele ripe for the picking.
Lydia billed herself as "mother to the women of the world" and her wonder-working vegetable tonic made it's debut in 1875. As Mrs. Pinkham was a stand up member of the W.C.T.U. alcohol, she explained, which was the mainstay of her high proof "tonic", was simply there as a solvent and preservative Taken at 4 tablespoons a day I am sure there was many a housewife who was no longer concerned about a "falling womb", or much else for that matter.

But I have to think that for all the progress we have made. we have really not come too far. We can live longer and healthier lives, but we are also being scammed by the new Snake Root Oil salesmen know as Eli Lilly, Merck, Pfizer and a host of others. Their "wagon" is gone, but now the television serves the huckster's purpose, and from the comfort of out living rooms, rather than the dusty village square we are regaled with "puffery".

Lydia Pinkham's tonic has been replaced with any number of HRT's. A man's "weakness" can be taken care of with Viagara or Cialis. Years ago your mental stability being in question, your relatives would have relegated you to the attic or the cellar. Today Prozac or Ambien will be your mental health's best friend, especially if you are a teenager. If you can't sleep we have a pill for that. Acid Reflux? We'll have you eating pizza again! Toenail fungus, halitosis, dry eyes, red eyes, colds and flu. High blood pressure, low blood sugar, heart's a flutter, or allergic to butter, we have a pill for you! At great expense, we might add. Oh! and do not forget the side effects..if we bother to tell you about them.

Personally, I am still searching for my own syndrome. I saw a brand new one recently and it rather appealed to me, and I think I just might have it! It is "restless leg syndrome". Sound's like a real winner doesn't it? I have long wondered why I have felt compelled to keep making trips to the refrigerator, stove, sink, bathroom, bedroom, the car...the mall!!

Wonder what the shelf life of Lydia E, Pinkham's Vegetable tonic is. A few jolts of that and I am sure my legs will be just fine!st

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

The Roberts’

The Roberts’ Nomination

Although George Bush had the opportunity to nominate a woman for the Supreme Court vacancy created by the resignation of Sandra Day O’Conner, instead he chose to nominate a man who on the surface seems to be bullet proof. John Roberts certainly has the intellectual qualifications to serve as an associate justice on the Court, and his scanty judicial rulings offer little to judge how he might rule on critical cases such as the abortion issue. One could suspect that he was chosen for that very reason, especially since the White House has decided not to release documents concerning key cases litigated by the Solicitor General’s office. Roberts was the political deputy to then-Solicitor General Ken Starr during the Reagan Administration and these documents could be much more revealing as to his judicial philosophy.

All 8 Democratic senators on the Judiciary Committee have requested these documents and there is plenty of precedent to support that they be released. In fact, there is really no basis for this denial. Such documents have been released in previous Supreme Court nominations including the nominations of Robert Bork and the current Chief Justice, William Rehnquist. Why is the White House stonewalling this request? Perhaps there is food for the grist mill in these documents which the White House doesn’t want to be revealed especially since the information about Roberts’ record that has already been released is very troubling.

Reproductive Freedom: Roberts urged the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade

Voting Rights: Roberts helped promote the Reagan administration’s efforts to severely limit the circumstances under which minorities could bring suit under the Voting Rights Act

Access to Justice: Roberts argued that Congress should strip the Supreme Court of the authority to rule on cases regarding school prayer, abortion, busing for school desegregation and other issues, a position even more extreme than the Reagan Administration wanted to adopt.

Religious Liberty: Roberts argued against clear First Amendment protections for religious liberty and in favor of officially sponsored school prayer at graduations before the Supreme Court, which rejected his argument.

School Desegregation: Roberts argued that Congress could pass a law preventing all federal courts from ordering busing to achieve school desegregation under any circumstances, apposition even more extreme than advanced by the Reagan Administration.

These are but a few of the many examples which have come to light regarding Roberts’ judicial philosophy. Remember, Bush said he admired Justices such as Thomas and Scalia and promised to nominate people who had their judicial philosophy. Roberts just may be such a nominee: He could be a wolf in sheep’s clothing and that is why Bush has refused to release the Solicitor General documents.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Party Discipline

Party discipline is an easier call for the Republicans than for the Democrats. The Republicans have a simpler set of goals and historically, being the party of big business, have more reason to cohere and form a common front. Democrats on the other hand have a tradition of bickering endlessly over details and come "together" only at the last moments of conventions and when party largesse is being handed out. Without a doubt, the principle of party discipline has got to change for Democrats or they will forever be the minority party!

Last week the House passed the Central American Free Trade Agreement, CAFTA, which on the surface appears to be an extension of NAFTA (The North American Free Trade Agreement) between Canada, the U.S., and Mexico. CAFTA is not just an extension of NAFTA, though. It is in addition a mammoth handout to big business and even many Republicans were repelled by the sleeze and graft and corruption that was incorporated into this agreement. Most of the Republicans were brought into line by their party leadership and when all was said and done, the act passed by two votes. Of the total, fifteen were Democrat's votes!

If the Democrats who voted for CAFTA had been voting as their leadership asked on other issues, that is, if they had been good Democrats and, if they had understood that leadership sometimes has its own supervening reasons for doing things, if just these two conditions had existed, then perhaps the backsliding Democrats could be forgiven. But that is not the case. These Democrats (names to follow) were given courteous explanations of the leadership's reasons for opposing CAFTA and they ignored these reasons. Moreover, a majority of the 15 traitors—yes, they are traitors—had violated party discipline in other crucial votes, as well!

There are several things that can be done. First, and probably most obvious, is that these traitors must be brought to account for their votes. Bringing them to account will be accomplished by suspending their rights and privileges within the party, especially for choices of offices, choices of committees upon which to sit, and a thorough shunning in all matters of party strategy. These people are no longer worthy of trust.

Second, they should not receive any DNC funding for their future campaigns. Labor unions should ignore their pleas for campaign funds, and the citizens of their Congressional districts should ignore them as well.

Third, they should be summoned, individually, before the Congressional leadership and asked to explain why they think they are Democrats and why the Party should continue to respect that choice. If they say they have a right to vote any way they please, they should be summarily ejected from the party.

A purge of the untrustworthy in the party is strong medicine, indeed, but it is necessary. The opposition does not allow its members to vote any damned way they please, and they will not let these traitors vote Democratic some days and Republican the next. If they declare themselves "independent" then they will lose all the benefits that accrue to being in a system run by parties.

A purge of the party now, in 2005, is necessary because the bi-election of 2006 is far enough away that the Democratic leadership can find candidates to run against these traitors in the primaries, if these traitors prove to be reluctant to accept party discipline. There is enough time to mount an information campaign in the home districts of these traitors.

In the case of the three Hispanic Texas Representatives, the idea that they were voting for the welfare of relatives of constituents in Central America and the Dominican Republic is utter hogwash. CAFTA will send jobs currently held by citizens and residents of the U.S. (including Texas) to these places, because it is temporarily to the benefit of corporations to do this and, moreover, the temporary gain on one end is a permanent loss on the other. Americans losing jobs is precisely why the Democratic leadership asked for discipline on this vote. The traitors ignored them.

Here are the names of the traitors. Those with asterisks (*) after their names are "frequent fliers" who also defied party discipline on the bankruptcy bill, and those with pound-signs (#) were also traitors on so-called "tort reform" that limited citizens' legal rights:

  • Melissa Bean (IL) *#
  • Jim Cooper (TN) *#
  • Henry Cuellar (TX) *#
  • Norm Dicks (WA)
  • Ruben Hinojosa (TX) *#
  • William Jefferson (LA) *
  • Jim Matheson (UT) *#
  • Greg Meeks (NY) *#
  • Dennis Moore (KS) *#
  • Jim Moran (VA) *#
  • Solomon Ortiz (TX) *
  • Ike Skelton (MO) *
  • Vic Snyder (AR)
  • John Tanner (TN) *#
  • Ed Towns (NY)

These Representatives are a disgrace to the Democratic Party. Their willful disregard of the wisdom of Party leadership will cost Americans billions of dollars, thousands of jobs, untold misery in poverty, and needless damage in the fight against corporate greed and immorality.

My advice to the Democratic leadership is to give them one opportunity to beg for forgiveness and if this is not quickly forthcoming, dump these traitors into the ashcan of history!

James Richard Brett

Interesting references:
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