Saturday, September 30, 2006

Is torture ever really not torture because we’re the good guys?

For those who dispute whether or not various methods of torture are indeed torture all I can say is it is what it is. Period. And, more importantly, it is a reflection on us. If there is such a thing as God, let’s hope it has mercy on our souls.

Via Andrew Sullivan, here is a variation of water boarding by the SS in the movie, Jacob the Liar. Here is a summary of "torture" articles at SLATE magazine.

The attack on liberty and same sex marriage in Virginia

Virginia voters will be faced with a proposed amendment to the Virginia constitution to not only ban same sex marriages but also banning the recognition of legal relationship between unmarried individuals, heterosexual or homosexual. The irony is that Virginia, well known for the Virginia Declaration of Rights that was the first constitution protection of individual rights anywhere, may soon be expanding the power of the government to restrict individual rights. This is absolutely awful legislation that this blog has argued against here, here, here and here.

Here is the wording of the proposed amendment:

Question: Shall Article I (the Bill of Rights) of the Constitution of
Virginia be amended to state:
"That only a union between one man and one woman may be a marriage valid in or recognized by this Commonwealth and its political subdivisions.

This Commonwealth and its political subdivisions shall not create or
recognize a legal status for relationships of unmarried individuals that intends
to approximate the design, qualities, significance, or effects of marriage. Nor
shall this Commonwealth or its political subdivisions create or recognize
another union, partnership, or other legal status to which is assigned the
rights, benefits, obligations, qualities, or effects of marriage."?

The Commonwealth Coalition is the umbrella organization in Virginia working to defeat this attack on liberty. Go to the Commonwealth Coalition website here and listen to messages about the amendment. To see the Commonwealth Coalition’s last television ad, go here.

How can you help?

Join the Commonwealth Coalition here and view the volunteer opportunities here.
Go to the Commonwealth Coalition website here and make a secure contribution now to stop this amendment. This plea for contributions is not only for Virginians but for out-of-staters who may be reading this blog – tell them that Sisyphus sent you.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Torture’s proponents and moral relativism

“Would it be permissible, in the name of a good cause, for the "good guys" to legalize the raping of 5-year-olds?”

Moral relativism and the debate about torture by A. Barton Hinkle in today’s Richmond Times Dispatch:
TORTURE'S DEFENDERS say the U.S. would torture people only for good reasons -- to stop a terrorist attack -- rather than, say, to force someone to renounce his faith. In other words, the ends justify the means. But good ends do not justify wrongful means. This isn't the place for a lengthy dissection of
consequentialist vs. deontological ethics. Simply note that even when the
consequences of a given course of action can be known with per- fect certainty
-- which they never can -- con- sequentialism runs counter to all defensible
moral reasoning. Is it ethically permissible to kill an innocent person in order
to harvest his organs and thereby save the lives of five other people? Conse -
quentialist, ends-justify-means ethics says, yes.

Torture advocates rely principally on two other arguments: First, that
enemy combatants do not abide by the rules of warfare, and therefore they do not
fall under the protective umbrella of the Geneva Conventions. Yet as Heather Mac
Donald of the Manhattan Institute pointed out recently: "The very fact that
detainees are violating the rules of war, that they are not wearing uniforms or
any identifying insignia, makes the possibility of factual error in who you pick
up much more severe than when you are capturing a traditional uniformed

Just so. Note the case of Maher Arar, whom the U.S. kidnapped and
handed over to the Syrians for 10 months of torture -- and whom the Canadian
government recently found innocent of any terrorist leanings. Note the many
detainees who have been released from Camp X-Ray at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, long after their initial capture in the fog of battle or on the suggestion of an
unreliable informant. They were unjustly held; imagine if they had been tortured
for months on end as well.

Such cases illustrate the fallacy underlying the other principal
defense of torture. Torture's advocates act as though "coercive interrogation"
would be used only against known terrorists in ticking-time-bomb scenarios. Yet
the Bush administration has not been seeking authority to torture only in a few
limited cases. Nor do documented cases of torture by U.S. authorities match such
a scenario. Five years into the War on Terror -- the "Long War," as it is being
called -- torture is virtually never an urgent necessity to obtain information
available no other way.

THE SCENARIO is often persuasive, however, because it is one of the few
instances in which torture can be considered an act of self-defense -- and if
self-defense is morally permissible, which it is, then torture must be. So the
red herring of the ticking time-bomb is waved, and defenders of torture draw
parallels, as Golberg does, to homicide: There are gradations of killing, and
homicide in self-defense is not so heinous as cold-blooded murder. Likewise,
they say, there are no bright lines regarding torture, only shades of gray. What
is taboo shouldn't always be.

Well. In Christianity Today's "Five Reasons Torture Is Always Wrong,"
David Gushee quotes Immanuel Kant on the "natural . . . disposition to argue
against [the] strict laws of duty and to question their validity, or at least
their purity and strictness, and, if possible, to make them more accordant with
our wishes and inclinations, that is to say, to corrupt them at their very
source, and to entirely destroy their worth." As a grindstone to hone that
observation, consider not homicide -- against which there is no bright-line
societal taboo -- but child molestation. Would it be permissible, in the name of
a good cause, for the "good guys" to legalize the raping of

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Five years after the 9-11 attacks the terrorists’ attempts to gut Western liberty is finally beginning to succeed

This is a sad day for the United States. Congress has granted an unprecedented expansion of power to the executive branch and struck a blow against the liberty of the American people. This was done in the name of the “war on terror.” The legislation (a.k.a. “the torture bill”) passed the Senate tonight by a vote of 65 to 34 and passed the House yesterday by a vote of 253 to 168. The vote was largely along party lines.

The New York Times had an excellent editorial this morning summarizing the bill and the reasons for its passage:

Here’s what happens when this irresponsible Congress railroads a profoundlyimportant bill to serve the mindless politics of a midterm election: The Bushadministration uses Republicans’ fear of losing their majority to push through ghastly ideas about antiterrorism that will make American troops less safe and do lasting damage to our 217-year-old nation of laws — while actually doing nothing to protect the nation from terrorists. Democrats betray their principles to avoid last-minute attack ads. Our democracy is the big loser.

Republicans say Congress must act right now to create procedures for charging and trying terrorists — because the men accused of plotting the 9/11 attacks are available for trial. That’s pure propaganda. Those men could have been tried and convicted long ago, but President Bush chose not to. He held them in illegal detention, had them questioned in ways that will make real trials very hard, and invented a transparently illegal system of kangaroo courts to convict them.

It was only after the Supreme Court issued the inevitable ruling striking down Mr. Bush’s shadow penal system that he adopted his tone of urgency. It serves a cynical goal: Republican strategists think they can win this fall, not by passing a good law but by forcing Democrats to vote against a bad one so they could be made to look soft on terrorism.

Last week, the White House and three Republican senators announced a terrible deal on this legislation that gave Mr. Bush most of what he wanted, including a blanket waiver for crimes Americans may have committed in the service of his antiterrorism policies. Then Vice President Dick Cheney and his willing lawmakers rewrote the rest of the measure so that it would give Mr. Bush the power to jail pretty much anyone he wants for as long as he wants without charging them, to unilaterally reinterpret the Geneva Conventions, to authorize what normal people consider torture, and to deny justice to hundreds of men captured in error.

These are some of the bill’s biggest flaws:

Enemy Combatants: A dangerously broad definition of “illegal enemy combatant” in the bill could subject legal residents of the United States, as well as foreign citizens living in their own countries, to summary arrest and indefinite detention with no hope of appeal. The president could give the power to apply this label to anyone he wanted.

The Geneva Conventions: The bill would repudiate a half-century of international precedent by allowing Mr. Bush to decide on his own what abusive interrogation methods he considered permissible. And his decision could stay secret — there’s no requirement that this list be published.

Habeas Corpus: Detainees in U.S. military prisons would lose the basic right to challenge their imprisonment. These cases do not clog the courts, nor coddle terrorists. They simply give wrongly imprisoned people a chance to prove their innocence.

Judicial Review: The courts would have no power to review any aspect of this new system, except verdicts by military tribunals. The bill would limit appeals and bar legal actions based on the Geneva Conventions, directly or indirectly. All Mr. Bush would have to do to lock anyone up forever is to declare him an illegal combatant and not have a trial.

Coerced Evidence: Coerced evidence would be permissible if a judge considered it reliable — already a contradiction in terms — and relevant. Coercion is defined in a way that exempts anything done before the passage of the 2005 Detainee Treatment Act, and anything else Mr. Bush chooses.

Secret Evidence: American standards of justice prohibit evidence and testimony that is kept secret from the defendant, whether the accused is a corporate executive or a mass murderer. But the bill as redrafted by Mr. Cheney seems to weaken protections against such evidence.

Offenses: The definition of torture is unacceptably narrow, a virtual reprise of the deeply cynical memos the administration produced after 9/11. Rape and sexual assault are defined in a retrograde way that covers only forced or coerced activity, and not other forms of nonconsensual sex. The bill would effectively eliminate the idea of rape as torture.

•There is not enough time to fix these bills, especially since the few Republicans who call themselves moderates have been whipped into line, and the Democratic leadership in the Senate seems to have misplaced its spine. If there was ever a moment for a filibuster, this was it.

We don’t blame the Democrats for being frightened. The Republicans have made it clear that they’ll use any opportunity to brand anyone who votes against this bill as a terrorist enabler. But Americans of the future won’t remember the pragmatic arguments for caving in to the administration.

They’ll know that in 2006, Congress passed a tyrannical law that will be ranked with the low points in American democracy, our generation’s version of the Alien and Sedition Acts.

Andrew Sullivan, an outspoken opponent of torture, puts it this way:
Whatever else this is, it is not a constitutional democracy. It is a thinly-veiled military dictatorship, subject to only one control: the will of the Great Decider. And the war that justifies this astonishing attack on American liberty is permanent, without end. And check the vagueness of the language: "purposefully supported" hostilities. Could that mean mere expression of support for terror? Remember that many completely innocent people have already been incarcerated for years without trial or any chance for a fair hearing on the basis of false rumors or smears or even bounty hunters. …

All I know is that al Qaeda is winning battles every week now. And they are winning them because their aim of gutting Western liberty is shared by the president of the United States. The fact that we are finding this latest, chilling stuff out now - while this horrifying bill is being rushed into law to help rescue some midterms - is beyond belief....

The pictures above of are a water board and of a water board in use. This is an “interrogation technique” permitted under this legislation. The pictures, by the way, are from the museum now at the former Tuol Sleng Prison in Phnom Penh, Cambodia (via David Corn). The museum is an attempt to document Khymer Rouge atrocities. At least we know the kind of company we are now keeping.

American Madrassas: Training tomorrow’s Christian Soldiers

"I want to see young people who are committed to the cause of Jesus Christ as the young people are to the cause of Islam. I want to see them as radically laying down their lives for the cause of the Gospel as they are in Pakistan, in Israel and Palestine and all those different places."

Harry’s Place has a short piece on the new documentary, Jesus Camp. You can see the trailer here.

Pretty spooky.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

The extraordinary rendition of Maher Arar

Four years ago, Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen born in Syria, was detained in New York based upon faulty information provided by certain Canadian officials. He was accused of being a member of Al Qaeda and questioned for several days. He was then deported to Syria. He was imprisoned for over a year and tortured into confessing he had been in Afghanistan training with Al Qaeda. He was finally release due to diplomatic pressure by Canada. An inquiry by the Canadian government found him innocent of any wrong doing. U.S. officials denied “extraordinary rendition” had taken place.

You may see the CBC timeline here, a report on recent developments here, and his website here. You may see a short video here prepared by the Center for Constitutional Rights.

And when you get a chance, read (or re-read) the old Sinclair Lewis novel, It Can’t Happen Here.

The Democrats need to start asking the right question: How do we fix Iraq?

The recent revelations from the National Intelligence Estimate are clear that the bungling of the efforts in Iraq has created a whole new generation of terrorists. Rather than making the U.S. and the rest of the world safer, just the opposite has occurred.

The Bush administration and its enablers in the U.S. Congress are responsible for this situation and hopefully will pay a price in the November elections. However, determining responsibility for the mess is easy. Determining a solution to the mess is something else altogether. It cannot be assumed this new generation of terrorists will simply fold their tents and fade into the night if the U.S. does likewise by withdrawing from Iraq. The status quo, of course, is hardly an attractive or sensible alternative either.

If the Democrats are to become the majority party in either house (or, hopefully both) of Congress, then they need to start thinking like a governing party. There are no easy or painless solutions but we need to be thinking and discussing possibilities sooner rather than later. This situation in Iraq is becoming too dangerous for the unchecked Bush administration to be allowed to make matter worse.

This is David Ignatius’ take on that very issue in today’s Washington Post:
The issue raised by the National Intelligence Estimate is much grimmer than
the domestic political game. Iraq has fostered a new generation of terrorists.
The question is what to do about that threat. How can America prevent Iraq from
becoming a safe haven where the newly hatched terrorists will plan Sept.
11-scale attacks that could kill thousands of Americans? How do we restabilize a
Middle East that today is dangerously unbalanced because of America's blunders
in Iraq?

This should be the Democrats' moment, if they can translate the
national anger over Iraq into a coherent strategy for that country. But with a
few notable exceptions, the Democrats are mostly ducking the hard question of
what to do next. They act as if all those America-hating terrorists will
evaporate back into the sands of Anbar province if the United States pulls out
its troops. Alas, that is not the case. That is the problem with Iraq -- it is
not an easy mistake to fix.

I wish Democrats (and Republicans, for that matter) were asking this
question: How do we prevent Iraq from becoming a failed state? Many critics of
the war would argue that the worst has already happened -- Iraq has unraveled.
Unfortunately, as bad as things are, they could get considerably worse.
Following a rapid American pullout, Iraq could descend into a full-blown civil
war, with Sunni-Shiite violence spreading throughout the region. In this chaos,
oil supplies could be threatened, sending prices well above $100 a barrel.
Turkey, Iran and Jordan would intervene to protect their interests. James
Fallows titled his collection of prescient essays warning about the Iraq war
"Blind Into Baghdad." We shouldn't compound the error by being "blind out of
Baghdad," too.

The Democrat who has tried hardest to think through these problems is
Sen. Joseph Biden. He argues that the current government of national unity isn't
succeeding in holding Iraq together and that America should instead embrace a
policy of "federalism plus" that will devolve power to the Shiite, Sunni and
Kurdish regions. Iraqis are already voting for sectarian solutions, Biden
argues, and America won't stabilize Iraq unless it aligns its policy with this
reality. I disagree with some of the senator's conclusions, but he's asking the
right question: How do we fix Iraq?

America needs to reckon with the message of the National Intelligence
Estimate. Iraq has compounded Muslim rage and created a dangerous crisis for the United States. The Democrats understandably want to treat Iraq as George Bush's war and wash their hands of it. But the damage of Iraq can be mitigated only if it again becomes the nation's war -- with the whole country invested in finding a way out of the morass that doesn't leave us permanently in greater peril…

Monday, September 25, 2006

Democracy promotion in the post-Bush world

“One major piece of fallout from the Bush foreign policy era is the discrediting of America's role in promoting democracy around the world,” according to Suzanne Nossel at Democracy Arsenal. Fortunately, for all concerned, time is running out on the Bush administration’s hold on power and it is not too early to begin thinking about the framework of an American post-Bush foreign policy.

Despite the bad name the Bush administration has giving democracy promotion; Suzanne Nossel believes it should remain an important cornerstone of the U.S. involvement in the international arena. She offers ten specific observations following the Bush years.

1. The U.S. must remain at the forefront of promoting democracy worldwide - The hangover of the Bush years will lead many to
urge retreat from efforts to advance democracy in farflung places, on grounds that such work is costly, dangerous, and bound to fail. While the impulse is understandable, this would be a huge mistake. America's role in fostering democracy and aiding democrats the world over helped fuel us to superpowerdom during the first half the twentieth century, and keep us there during the second….

2. Democracy is not the same as pro-Americanism - One of the rationales behind American support for democracy is the idea that Democratic regimes are more inclined to support the US. While this is true in the long term, the effect is neither immediate nor universal, as we've learned the hard way in the Palestinian territories, Lebanon and - arguably - Iran. … Americans need to understand that fostering democracies around the world will benefit US interests over time, and not to expect immediate gratification in the form of pro-US governments.

3. Democracy delayed will be seen as democracy denied - The US cannot afford to take the position that where democratic elections may result in the rise of extremist or anti-US elements, such elections should be indefinitely postponed….

4. Elections are necessary but not sufficient for democracy - Rather than downplaying the importance of elections, US policymakers should place more emphasis on dimensions like the development of democratic institutions; the building of an independent judiciary; freedom of the press and of expression; civic education; a firm state monopoly on the use of force, and more….

5. Pro-democracy and anti-corruption must go hand-in-hand - The big lesson of Hamas' victory is not that elections were a bad idea, but that West's erred glaringly in failure to ensure that the previous Fatah-led government provided adequate levels of law and order and social services to sustain its hold on power. By most accounts, Hamas' win reflected less popular extremism than abject frustration with the corruption and ineptitude of the Fatah regime. Similar tendencies are reportedly behind Hezbollah's popularity in Lebanon….

6. Democracy must be seen as homegrown - It seems obvious that a system of self-rule cannot be imposed from the outside, though evidently not so to team Bush….

7. You can't eat political freedom, nor hide behind it - Populations that are hungry, destitute, or terrorized by violence may well have priorities that come before political freedom. If democratization fails to address people's most basic needs, they will be miserable and restive irrespective of the sanctity of their right to vote. If those promoting democracy, including the US, are oblivious to issues of
popular welfare, their political agenda will be suspect….

8. Democracy must coexist with, not trump, cultural and religious heritage - Tricky but true, if democracy is seen as overriding deeply-held cultural and religious beliefs, it will be rejected in many quarters….

9. Populations that resist authoritarianism at home will reject it on the world stage as well - The same instincts that lead populations to overthrow dictators and demand a say over their affairs cause them to resent American policy diktats in the global arena, and to insist on more multilateral approaches…

10. Proponents of democracy will see their own democracies held up to scrutiny - Ever since the US began assertively promoting the spread of democracy, skeptics around the world have pointed to flaws in our own system. This happened during the Eisenhower era when American policies on race were exposed as an affront to our own professed values, and more recently in the scandals that have surrounded Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and Hurricane Katrina. To serve as a beacon for democracy around the globe, the US must be prepared to hold itself to a higher standard at home…

Read the entire article here.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

What Senator Allen said before Macaca

This from Salon. The article speaks for itself.
Three former college football teammates of Sen. George Allen say that the Virginia Republican repeatedly used an inflammatory racial epithet and demonstrated racist attitudes toward blacks during the early 1970s.

"Allen said he came to Virginia because he wanted to play football in a place where 'blacks knew their place,'" said Dr. Ken Shelton, a white
radiologist in North Carolina who played tight end for the University of Virginia football team when Allen was quarterback. "He used the N-word on a
regular basis back then."

A second white teammate, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he feared retribution from the Allen campaign, separately claimed that Allen used the word "nigger" to describe blacks. "It was so common with George when he was among his white friends. This is the terminology he used," the teammate said.

A third white teammate contacted separately, who also spoke on
condition of anonymity out of fear of being attacked by the Virginia senator,
said he too remembers Allen using the word "nigger," though he said he could not
recall a specific conversation in which Allen used the term. "My impression of
him was that he was a racist," the third teammate said.

Shelton also told Salon that the future senator gave him the nickname
"Wizard," because he shared a last name with Robert Shelton, who served in the
1960s as the imperial wizard of the United Klans of America, a group affiliated
with the Ku Klux Klan. The radiologist said he decided earlier this year that he
would go public with his concerns about Allen if a reporter ever called. About
four months ago, when he heard that Allen was a possible candidate for president
in 2008, Shelton began to write down some of the negative memories of his former teammate. He provided Salon excerpts of those notes last week.

Shelton played football with Allen in the 1972 and 1973 seasons,
according to the team media guides from those years. Shelton remembers Allen's
attitudes about race surfacing early in their relationship. At one point,
Shelton says, Allen nicknamed him "Wizard," after United Klans imperial wizard
Robert Shelton. "He asked me if I was related at all," Shelton remembers. "I
knew of that name, and I said absolutely not." Several former teammates
confirmed that Shelton's team nickname was "Wizard," though no one contacted by Salon could confirm firsthand knowledge of the handle's origin. "Everyone called me 'Wizard' that knows me from those days," said Shelton. "My nickname stuck."

Shelton said he also remembers a disturbing deer hunting trip with
Allen on land that was owned by the family of Billy Lanahan, a wide receiver on
the team. After they had killed a deer, Shelton said he remembers Allen asking
Lanahan where the local black residents lived. Shelton said Allen then drove the
three of them to that neighborhood with the severed head of the deer. "He
proceeded to take the doe's head and stuff it into a mailbox," Shelton said.

You may read the entire article here.

The Pope, Islam and the Enlightenment

Pope Benedict XVI, previously known as Joseph Alois Ratzinger, gave a lecture approximately two weeks ago at University of Regensburg, in Bavaria, Germany in which he made reference to a quote by the Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus on the subject of Christianity and Islam, and the truth of both. Quoting the emperor, he said:

“Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find
things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the
faith he preached.”

The emperor goes on to explain in detail the reasons why spreading the
faith through violence is something unreasonable. Violence is incompatible with
the nature of God and the nature of the soul.

“God is not pleased by blood, and not acting reasonably is contrary to
God's nature. Faith is born of the soul, not the body. Whoever would lead
someone to faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly, without
violence and threats... To convince a reasonable soul, one does not need a
strong arm, or weapons of any kind, or any other means of threatening a person
with death....”

As you are probably aware, there have been riots in various Muslim countries and a nun was killed in Somalia in reaction to the comments. The Pope has issued an apology for those taking offense and defended himself by saying he was only quoting what someone else had said.

I feel American writers are usually very namby-pamby when it comes to saying anything that might be construed as critical of the Catholic Church in general and the Pope in particular. It seems British writers are more willing to get right to the point when addressing topics relating to religion. Therefore, I’m sharing the views of two Brits below.

Christopher Hitchens is never one to suffer fools. He writes,

Attempting to revive his moribund church on a visit to Germany, where the
Roman congregations are increasingly sparse, Joseph Ratzinger (as I shall always
think of him) has managed to do a moderate amount of harm—and absolutely no
good—to the very tense and distraught discussion now in progress between Europe and Islam. …

After the most perfunctory introduction, Ratzinger goes straight to his
choice of quotation, which is taken from 14th-century Byzantine Emperor Manuel
II. This potentate supposedly once engaged in debate—the precise time and place
is unknown—with an unnamed Persian. The subject was Christianity and Islam. The Byzantine asks the Persian to "show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached." (On the face of it, not a very open-ended inquiry.) But, warming to his own theme, the purple-clad monarch of Constantinople allegedly added that "to convince a reasonable soul, one does not need a strong arm, or weapons of any kind, or any other means of threatening a person with death."

Now, you do not have to be a Muslim to think that for the bishop of
Rome to cite this is the most perfect hypocrisy. There would have been no
established Byzantine or Roman Christianity if the faith had not been spread and
maintained and enforced by every kind of violence and cruelty and coercion. To
take Islam's own favorite self-pitying example: It was the Catholic crusaders
who sacked and burned Christian Byzantium on their way to Palestine—and that was only after they had methodically set about the Jews, so the Muslim world was
actually only the third victim of this barbarity. …Yet of all the words he could
have chosen, to suggest that religion might wish to break its old connection
with conquest, intolerance, and subjugation, Ratzinger had to select an example
that was designed to remind his hearers of the crudest excesses of the medieval
period. His mention of Manuel II was evidently not accidental or anecdotal. He
refers to him repeatedly and returns to him again in the closing paragraph, as
if to rub it in.

The Muslim protesters are actually being highly ungrateful. When the
embassies of Denmark were being torched earlier this year, Rome managed a few
words of protest about … the inadvisability of profane cartoons. In almost every
confrontation between Islam and the West, or Islam and Israel, the Vatican has
either split the difference or helped to ventriloquize Muslim grievances. Most
of all, throughout his address to the audience at Regensburg, the man who
modestly considers himself the vicar of Christ on Earth maintained a steady
attack on the idea that reason and the individual conscience can be preferred to
faith. He pretends that the word Logos can mean either "the word" or "reason,"
which it can in Greek but never does in the Bible, where it is presented as
heavenly truth. He mentions Kant and Descartes in passing, leaves out Spinoza
and Hume entirely, and dishonestly tries to make it seem as if religion and the
Enlightenment and science are ultimately compatible, when the whole effort of
free inquiry always had to be asserted, at great risk, against the fantastic
illusion of "revealed" truth and its all-too-earthly human potentates. It is
often said—and was said by Ratzinger when he was an underling of the last Roman prelate—that Islam is not capable of a Reformation. We would not even have this word in our language if the Roman Catholic Church had been able to have its own way. Now its new reactionary leader has really "offended" the Muslim world, while simultaneously asking us to distrust the only reliable weapon—reason—that we possess in these dark times. A fine day's work, and one that we could well have done without.

Johann Hari considers not only what the Pope said in Bavaria but the impact of his anti-Enlightenment messages are having on the Third World, in particular as it pertains to birth control and AIDS prevention. He writes,
Both Joseph Ratzinger and the Islamists calling for his decapitation
believe they have direct access to an invisible supernatural being called “God”.
Both believe this God wills them to make decisions that have led to the horrific
deaths of tens of thousands of people. Both believe this God finds secular
democratic Europe disgusting, an atheistic bog dominated by a “culture of
death.” Both hate feminism and gay rights and sexual freedom. Both believe they
are infallible, and that the billions who refuse to follow them are incurring
the wrath of the Creator of the Universe. The only real difference is the name
they give to this creature, and a few added textual tweaks on either side.

The tragedy is that when there are so many good reasons to hate Joseph
Ratzinger, this week’s rioters have chosen one of the few bogus ones. For over a
decade now, he has been one of the primary defenders of priests who go to the
poorest, most vulnerable people in the world and tell them condoms are the cause
of AIDS. In the past year, I have sat in two Catholic churches thousands of
miles apart and listened while a Catholic priest told illiterate people with no
alternative sources of information that condoms come pre-infected with AIDS and
are the reason people die of it. In Bukavu, a crater-city in Congo, and in the
slums ringing Caracas, Venezuela, people believed it. They told me they “would
not go to Heaven” if they used condoms, and that condoms contain tiny invisible
holes through which the virus passes – the advice their priest had doled out.

I did not stumble across a pair of freakish exceptions. A slew of human
rights groups have documented how these lethal lies have been orchestrated by
the Vatican itself, with Ratzinger humming along in the background. The
president of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for the Family, Cardinal Alfonso
Lopez Trujillo, said, “The AIDS virus is roughly 450 times smaller than the
spermatozoon. The spermatozoon can easily pass through the ‘net’ that is formed
by the condom.” These people have not been sacked by Ratzinger; many have been promoted.

… there is a deeper philosophical repugnance to Ratzinger lying beneath
these individual decisions. His recent lecture was devoted to the premise that
the free pursuit of reason will lead all people to a rational belief in the
Christian God described in the Bible. (You know – the God who explicitly
supports slavery, commits genocide against the Amelkites, stones prostitutes,
and feeds small children to bears). The Christian God is Reason Personified,
while the Muslim God is “beyond reason” – hence the fuss. But this
intra-superstitious squabble is not the real outrage.

However much he swears it is not, this argument is deeply
anti-Enlightenment. The central insight of the Enlightenment is that there are
two fundamentally different ways to understand the world. One is divine
revelation, where a being contacts you from another realm and discloses some
truth. (Another word for this is ‘hallucination’). The second method is reason –
observing the world empirically, and drawing conclusions from the things we
observe. The ultimate expression of reason is the scientific method. These
approaches are fundamentally contrasting, and you cannot simply weld them
together with contorted theological trickery.

By claiming that divine revelation leads to reason – indeed, is its central
underpinning – Ratzinger is subtly attacking the core principles of the
Enlightenment. There is nothing we can observe in the world that leads us
rationally to conclude a magical creature created it. But Ratzinger wants to be
able to claim the fruits of the Enlightenment, like science, without following
its basic principles. Whenever people do try to stretch reason to accord with
faith – as he demands – they invariably produce contorted, corrupted unreason
like the absurdity of ‘intelligent design theory’ (which should be dubbed
Creationism 2.0).

Of course, none of Ratzinger’s lies justify threats of violence against
him. For decades now, he has been saying atheists have “no morality” and are
“depraved”, and that homosexuality is “an objective disorder” and “evil” – far
worse insults than last week’s cagey, quickly-retracted half-slur on Muslims –
and it never occurred to us to respond by attacking Catholic children or nuns
working with the starving. We mocked the sex advice of an elderly virgin, gave
money to aid agencies trying to correct his poisonous lies, and got on with our
lives. The cool balm of reason is the way to put down God’s most rabid
Rottweiler – not the furious fire of a parallel fundamentalism.

You may read Hitchens here and Hari here in their entirety.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

The core of the Bush problem is an extremist worldview

To raise political debate above the name-calling and 10-second sound bites requires intellectual honesty and political courage. Our country has experienced one party rule in Washington on a number of occasions but I am not aware of anything comparable to the one party rule we have seen over the past six years. During previous rule by Democrats or Republicans debate still flourished, Congress took its oversight responsibilities seriously, and the White House was forced to work with Congress. Democrat Senator Harry Truman gained fame by investigating corruption between wartime contractors and the Democratic executive branch. There are no Harry Trumans in Congress today.

There was a brief glimmer of hope when Senators Graham, Warner and McCain stood up to the President’s proposals to disregard the Geneva Conventions. I have not had the opportunity to absorb the details of the compromise reached yesterday but fear the three Senators caved in and we are about to become a nation that officially sanctions torture. Let’s be honest -- our nation has sunk pretty low. The Republican Party controls the White House, the Congress and the Supreme Court. They need to take responsibility for the state of these affairs.

What is at the core of this democratic decline? It is extremism in thought and action. It is a distrust of the democratic system. It is arrogance. It is a circle-the-wagon mentality that automatically kicks in whenever criticism is presented about the current resident of the White House.

Todd Gitlin explores this idea in an opinion piece in today’s L.A. Times. He writes,
…The core of the Bush problem is an extremist worldview. Bush's aggressive
go-it-alone attitude kicked in long before 9/11. "You're either with us or
you're with the terrorists" was just an extension of Bush's rejection of the
Kyoto Protocol (the international global warming agreement) and the
International Criminal Court.

Under Bush, reality had to be bulldozed into submission. Whatever went
wrong in Iraq or Afghanistan, questioning Bush's narrow understanding of the
Islamist danger amounted to appeasement, cutting and running, pining for defeat.
Whatever the economic conditions, the remedies were privatization, deregulation
and tax cuts for plutocrats. On every front, foreign and domestic, liberals were
to blame.

This attitude didn't stop with Bush alone, and it persists unaltered. Just
recently, in this spirit, an e-mail from Republican National Committee Chairman
Ken Mehlman warned that Democratic victories in the midterm elections would mean "government by the far left," "weaken[ing] America" thus: "Impeachment. Cutting and running from the war on terror. Key defense systems dismantled. Tax cuts repealed. Speaker Pelosi."

The logic of this paranoid worldview is a deep and awful thing to confront.
But confronting it is a matter of intellectual honesty.

Today, it's morally mandatory, a matter of intellectual decency, that
Bush's erstwhile partisans rethink both their credulity and their ideology and
ask how they could for so long have overlooked what now strikes them as obvious. "Whoops, sorry about that" and "mistakes were made" — love that passive voice — won't do.

Friday, September 22, 2006

The Bush plan for Iraq is like watching a movie backwards

We won before we didn’t. The Bush administration must hate chronological order as much as it hates post-war planning. Here is Michael Kinsley’s take on the administration’s war efforts so far:
Harold Pinter wrote a play a while back called Betrayal. … The plot was a fairly mundane story about an adulterous affair among affluent London literati. What gives the tale its haunting magic is that Pinter tells it in reverse: starting with the couple breaking up and ending with that first, ambiguous flirtation.

Return with me, if you will, to May 1, 2003. That was the day Bush
landed on the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln, and—under a banner declaring
"Mission Accomplished"—declared that "major combat operations in Iraq have
ended" and "the United States and our allies have prevailed. (Applause.)" (This
is from the official White House transcript.) The White House claimed that the
banner was somebody else's idea and that Bush didn't declare victory in so many
words. But Bush did use the word "victory," saying that Iraq was "one victory in
a war on terror ... " And as I recall, the occasion was pretty triumphal.
Perhaps you remember differently. And in his radio address two days later, Bush
used the term "victory" unabashedly.

Soon, however, the concept of "victory" became more fluid. There is not
just one victory, but many. Or, as then-press secretary Scott McClellan put it
in August 2004, "Every progress made in Iraq since the collapse of Saddam's
regime is a victory against the terrorists and enemies of Iraq." And there was a
subtle shift from declaring how wonderful victory was to emphasizing how
wonderful it will be. "The rise of democracy in Iraq will be an essential
victory in the war on terror," the vice president said in April 2004.

During his 2004 presidential campaign, Bush said repeatedly that one reason
to vote for him over Sen. John Kerry was that he, Bush, had "a strategy that
will lead to victory. And that strategy has four commitments." By October 2005,
these four "commitments" had been honed down to three "prongs." Then they
metastasized into four "categories for victory. And they're clear, and our
command structure and our diplomats in Iraq understand the definition of
victory." It's nice that someone does.

It was during the 2004 campaign that Bush offered his most imaginative
explanation for why victory in Iraq looked so much like failure. "Because we
achieved such a rapid victory"—note that it is once more, briefly, a
victory—"more of the Saddam loyalists were [still] around."

On May 1, 2006, the third anniversary of "mission accomplished," White
House press secretary Scott McClellan was asked whether "victory" had been
achieved in Iraq. He said, "We're making real progress on our plan for victory.
... We are on the path to victory. We are winning in Iraq. But there is more
work to do." Democrats should shut up because their criticism of the president
"does nothing to help advance our goal of achieving victory in Iraq." (Once
victory is achieved, presumably, it will be OK for Democrats to criticize.) And
make no mistake: "[W]hen the job in Iraq is done, it will be a major victory."

On Aug. 28, criticizing "self-defeating pessimism," Vice President Cheney
said there are "only two options in Iraq—victory or defeat." On Aug. 31, Bush
said that "victory in Iraq will be difficult and it will require more
sacrifice." He predicted that "victory in Iraq will be a crushing defeat for our
enemies"—which, as a tautology, is a safe bet.

Which brings us to last week, and Bush's television speech on the fifth
anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001. "Bush Says Iraq Victory Is Vital" was the
Washington Post's accurate headline. And Bush was eloquent. "Once more into the
breach, dear friends, once more … " Well, maybe not that eloquent. But his point
was the same as Henry V's: Don't give up now! "Mistakes have been made in Iraq," he conceded. He even conceded that "Saddam Hussein was not responsible for the 9/11 attacks." But let us not, for mercy's sake, learn anything from five years of experience. Instead, let's just pretend it all never happened. After all, we
won this war back in 2003.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

The devil and Mr. Chavez

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's sophomoric antics this week at the United Nations only confirm that despite his globetrotting he is not a leader of international stature. In case you missed it, he called President Bush "the devil" and pronounced the U.N. "worthless". Venezuela is competing with Guatemala for a seat on the Security Council next year and Chavez seems to be taking the John Bolton approach by attacking the very institution he wants to help lead.

According to the Los Angeles Times, “Standing at the lectern where Bush had delivered his speech the day before, Chavez said, ‘Yesterday, the devil came here. Right here.’ He crossed himself. ‘Right here. And it smells of sulfur still today.’ Many diplomats in the vaulted chamber laughed and clapped.” The remarks about Bush have drawn criticism from Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi and Congressman Charles Rangel.

I have to agree with Marc Cooper when he says, “All I know is that if I were George W. Bush and was worried what the world thought of me, I would quickly choose Chavez as the guy to represent the global opposition.”

Of course, Chavez -- as well as the leaders of any number of trouble spots in the Middle East -- has the power and influence he does because of oil. Imagine if the United States developed alternative sources of fuel and became less dependent on oil rather than filling the treasuries of those hostile to us. On the other hand, national leaders like Chavez and Bush need one another since they both exercise power with fear. As noted before in a quote from Slaves of Academe,
…in practice he and George W. Bush have quite a lot in common, in terms of
methodology. Both have moved aggressively to control the state and harness it to
their personal politics. Both have assumed mythic proportions (in their own
minds, at the very least) as saviours of the nation, have politicised and
compromised civil society, both preside over deeply split electorates, and are
controversial and divisive leaders who relish conflict and the grand

Testimonies: Iraqi Witnesses to the Saddam Era

Democratiya has made available the Iraqi Memory Foundation’s testimonies of survivors and witnesses of atrocity in Saddam Hussein's Iraq. You may find it here or click Democratiya in the column to the right.

“If you don't know who you're fighting, you can't beat them.”

Following the attacks of September 11th it would seem clear as to who it is we needed to carry the war to – those who attacked us. Specifically, this was Al Qaeda and their state sponsors, the Taliban. NATO invaded Afghanistan with close to universal support from not only the people of the United States but countries around the world. The war was going well and then the Bush administration began to lose interest. It began to look for more enemies to confront and turned their backs on opportunities to rebuild a very important relationship with Iran. Iran had been a key ally of the United States until the overthrow of the Shah. (Following the seizure of the U.S. embassy and holding of America hostages in the late 1970’s, relations have been very chilly. Iran was sympathetic to the overthrow of the Taliban and the door was open to work together. Unfortunately, working with Iran was not what the Bush administration had in mind. We may pay a price for that decision in the months and years to come.)

Five years later, it seems that every issue in the Middle East is somehow being tied to September 11th in ways that make less and less sense. Every problem group in the entire area is assumed to be terrorist, and most recently Islamofascists, with ties to 9-11. And if the oversimplification of political movements in the Middle East isn’t bad enough then this administration’s aversion to diplomacy and over-reliance on military responses almost exclusively is creating more problems than we are going to be able to solve. If a hammer is the only tool in your toolbox then every problem begins to look like a nail.

Peter Beinart addresses the issue of the war on “terrorism” and the war on “Islamofascism”: He argues these terms are so broad and imprecise they have become almost meaningless. Success requires clarity, not vague generalities. He writes,

… in the days after September 11, we were fighting "terrorism." But that put us
at war with Sri Lanka's Tamil Tigers and Spain's Basque separatists, both of
which blow up civilians for political gain. Terrorism, a thousand critics noted,
is not an opponent; it is a tactic. So, in his 2002 State of the Union address,
President Bush turned his attention to the "axis of evil": Iraq, Iran, and North
Korea, and their terrorist minions. Except that Iraq and North Korea didn't
really have terrorist minions, and Iran's were not those who attacked us on
September 11. Now North Korea--a diversity pick from the beginning--has fallen
off the list. And the president is suggesting that our enemy has something to do
with Islam after all. We are fighting

"Islamofascism" has become widely popular on the right, which is ironic given that it was primarily designed to appeal to the left. When Paul Berman and Christopher Hitchens popularized the concept, they were trying to prevent their fellow leftists from investing Osama bin Laden with anti-imperialist legitimacy. To the contrary, they argued, fighting Al Qaeda was part of the left's grand anti-fascist tradition. It was a noble effort, but there were problems. At its core, fascism involves worship of the nation. Bin Laden, however, isn't an ultra-nationalist; he's an ultra anti-nationalist. He sees Middle Eastern countries as insidious, Western impositions that must be abolished so Muslims can reunite under a theocratic

The more apt epithet for bin Laden is totalitarian. Hannah Arendt, totalitarian's foremost interpreter, insisted that totalitarianism and fascism were different. Totalitarians need not deify the nation: Hitler imagined a race-based utopia and Stalin imagined a class-based one. What linked them, in the philosopher Michael Walzer's words, was their "political messianism"--their vision of a perfect new world brought about through coercive state power. The perfection of the vision mandated the scope of the coercion: It had to be total. Most dictators merely try to control political behavior--behavior that threatens their hold on power. But, in a totalitarian state, all behavior is political because everyone must do their part to create a perfect world. In fascist Italy, the church remained largely autonomous. In a totalitarian state, however, you either actively participate in the ideological
project or you are an enemy. Such a state, Arendt wrote, cannot permit "the
autonomous existence of any activity whatsoever." It cannot even allow "the
neutrality of chess."

For Al Qaeda, the utopia is religious. Bin Laden and his supporters call themselves salafis, from the word salaf, which refers to Mohammed's companions in the seventh century. And, since salafi society was perfect, recreating it requires total state control. A true Islamic state, wrote the influential salafist theoretician Maulana Maududi, must have a "sphere of activity [that] is co-extensive with human life. ...In such a state, no one can regard any field of his affairs as personal and private." Thus, the Taliban banned chess and virtually every game or hobby. Music, said the Taliban's education minister, "creates a strain in the mind and hampers study of Islam." In other words, it hinders the effort to create the pure Muslims required for a pure Islamic society.

So Islamic (or more precisely, salafi) totalitarianism is a good description of what bin Laden's followers believe. But Bush doesn't apply the term Islamofascist merely to followers of Al Qaeda; he applies it to the insurgents in Iraq and to the regime
in Iran. And, in so doing, he destroys its clarity. The average Iraqi insurgent
is not fighting to usher in a utopian vision of Islam; he is fighting because an
American soldier killed his cousin or because Shia are stealing his country.
America's enemy in Iraq includes totalitarians, but it is mostly nationalist and

Iran isn't really totalitarian either. Its hybrid political system is far from democratic (and has grown more oppressive in recent years) but still permits some public disagreement. Within limits, it allows people to differ about the definition of an Islamic state, something a totalitarian regime cannot allow. Iran has also proved half-hearted about regulating apolitical behavior--the kind that doesn't threaten the regime but impedes utopia. Ayatollah Khomeini refused to ban non-Islamic music, art, and, yes, chess. And, unlike the Taliban, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has said he doesn't care how citizens cut their hair. Tehran's goal is less popular mobilization than popular indifference. …

That doesn't make Iran benign. But it does raise questions about whether the claim Arendt made about totalitarian regimes--that their messianic character made them inherently expansionist--fits Ahmadinejad's, too. A war against Islamic totalitarianism has clear boundaries: It means a struggle against violent salafis. A war against Islamofascism does not, and that is precisely the point: It lets the Bush administration add enemies--first Iraq, now Iran--while implying that they share Al Qaeda's ideology and represent the same kind of threat. That's not true, and five years after September 11, it has left Americans increasingly confused about who we are fighting, and increasingly skeptical that we can win.

You can read the entire piece here.

Barry Goldwater

I was 13 at the time of the 1964 Presidential election and my earliest memories of Barry Goldwater. I remember him as rather scary, a view I think shared by most of the nation based upon the vote that year. Over the years I grew to respect his honesty even though I still disagreed with him on many issues. This was in contrast to the successor of his leadership of the Republican Party, Richard Nixon – a man who personified dishonesty and abuse of power. Goldwater called him "the most dishonest individual I have ever met in my life".

Goldwater is credited with the beginning of the takeover of the Republican Party by conservative ideologues. His brand of conservatism had a very libertarian bent to it. (For example, on the issue of gays in the military he once said, “You don’t have to be straight to be in the military. You just have to shoot straight.”) However, there were competing conversatisms more interested in power than principled stands that eventually carried the day.

Goldwater’s granddaughter has done a documentary about his life for HBO. I've not had the opportunity to see it yet. However, Andrew Sullivan has. He discusses the movie and comments on contemporary conservatism:
…Goldwater had no truck for government spending, and raged at the fiscal
excesses of his time. By today's Republican standards, the spending he was
fulminating against was peanuts. Goldwater was an adamant defender of states'
rights, a principle he stuck with even though it meant being smeared as a bigot
and a racist. Bush's GOP has no principled interest in federalism, from its
education policies to its attacks on states that violate religious doctrines on
such issues as marriage, end-of-life matters and even medical marijuana. From
the 1970s, Goldwater recognized Falwell and the religious right for what they
are: charlatans who have as much concern for traditional conservatism as big
government liberals do. What Goldwater would have said about the Schiavo case
would not be broadcastable on network television. He also adhered to the old
conservative notion of live-and-let-live. He never had a problem with gays, and
although he clearly found abortion an awful thing, he wasn't about to remove a
female citizen's right in the early stages of pregnancy to control her own body.
He was, in other words, a conservative. Or as his great book put it: a
conservative with a conscience. And if he was a conservative, then the current
Republican party and the current president simply aren't. More and more
observers recognize this, especially those who do not have a vested or financial
interest in sustaining the charade that this is a conservative administration in
any meaningful sense.

The documentary makes much of Goldwater's stance on the 1964 Civil Rights Act and Johnson's astonishingly courageous move to back it. The irony of Goldwater's career is that this decision, made on a principled stance of federalism and limited government, became something else on the ground. It shifted the Republican Party base away from California and the sun-belt into the Deep South. Goldwater was a Western conservative, not a Southern one. And whichever party the South controls will have a hard time reflecting the kind of skeptical, libertarian, tolerant principles Goldwater believed in. So he both created American conservatism and laid the grounds for its eventual implosion. All these years later, the end-result is a Texan president who hasn't seen a civil liberty he wouldn't junk at a second's notice, who bases campaigns on subtle appeals to prejudice and fear of minorities, who has doubled the debt of the next generation, expanded government at a pace not seen since FDR, engaged in two reckless wars without the preparation or manpower to succeed, presided over a government riddled with incompetence and cronyism, and who has nominated candidates to the Supreme Court using their religious faith as a criterion. Whatever else Bush is, he is not merely not Goldwater. He is, in many ways, his nemesis. Which is why conservatism as we have known it has been strangled - by the Republicans…

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

VA Senate race: Who is genuine?

Senator Allen’s history of denials about his ancestry and his supporters’ claims that he was being “tarred as a Jew” followed by his odd admissions yesterday about his family history trying to portray himself as a victim only focuses attention on Mr. Allen’s faux Bubba persona he has been grooming during his political career. This is less about the king who had no clothes than about the king who had no redneck.

This is in contrast to James Webb who seems to be quite genuine. Margaret Edds writes in this week’s Style magazine about Webb:
Webb, a military man’s son who perfected his fighting skills on the
battlefields of Vietnam, reveres Tennessee’s Andrew Jackson. The seventh
president shocked sophisticates by opening the White House to buckskins and
boots, opposed a centralized bank and brought “a coarse but refreshing openness
to the country’s governing process,” the candidate writes.

It’s easy to see why Webb, a proud man whose campaign bank account
seriously trails Allen’s, might disdain courting wealthy donors. His book argues
that the country-club whites who ran the South through much of the 20th century
perpetuated class conflict between blacks and poor whites because it helped keep
them in control.

Heading into the fall campaign, the chief rap on George Allen is that he
supported the Bush administration on 97 percent of key votes. Reading “Born
Fighting,” it’s hard to imagine Jim Webb agreeing with anyone, anywhere, 97
percent of the time. Skeptics might legitimately wonder how such independence
would fit into the renowned (at least until recently) collegiality of the U.S.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The slippery slope of torturing prisoners

The Republican dominated Congress, which has been in a comatose state for the past six years, has finally woken up. Republican Senators Warner, McCain and Graham have taken a stand against White House bullying efforts to drag this country down a very steep slippery slope of abandoning common standards of decency in the treatment of prisoners taken during war time.

The Bush administration’s plans to rewrite these internationally recognized rules, so we are resorting to torture, are a sign of weakness of our intelligence services. It represents misguided priorities in an attempt to gain information we legitimately should have to protect our nation against those hostile to us. If this administration put as much effort into developing our intelligence capabilities as it does in this wrong-headed legislation to approve abusing prisoners, we would be much safer.

This also is a symptom of how low the standards of decency have sunk under the leadership of this administration. Political leaders who have taken a stand against torture are being congratulated for occupying the moral high ground. But lets be honest, being against torture is like being against rape. Why is this even an issue?

The most immediate issue in all of this is self-interest -- we need to look out for our soldiers not only in the current conflicts but in wars in the future whether they are conventional wars or not. Every soldier on the battlefield has intelligence useful to the other side. If American soldiers are captured on the battlefield do we not expect they will be treated decently or are we willing to let them be tortured because they have information that could save lives on the other side? If we follow the administration down this slippery slope then there is little or nothing to stop others from doing the same.

Robert Kuttner offers this perspective:
My father was a machine gunner with the U.S. Army's 28th Infantry Division,
which was among the first units to march down the Champs-Elysées after the
Allied liberation of Paris. In December 1944, having landed at Normandy and
fought across France and Belgium, he was captured in the Battle of the Bulge,
and sent hundreds of miles through northern Germany in an unheated boxcar in the dead of winter to a prison camp at Muhlberg in the east.

My father survived the war not because of the generosity of the Nazis to
Jewish soldiers. The Germans must have been tempted to send captured Jewish
American soldiers to Auschwitz along with Polish, German and Dutch Jews. But
they did not. My father survived because, amazingly, even the Nazis respected
the reciprocal agreements on humane treatment of prisoners.

The doctrine was simple: You don't abuse my soldiers when you take them
prisoner, and I won't abuse yours. In most cases, despite the multiple
atrocities of World War II, the doctrine held.

I thought of my father as I followed John McCain, John Warner and
Lindsey Graham, the Republican senators who are bravely resisting the Bush
administration's insane doctrine that the United States should become the first
signatory government to take exceptions to the Geneva agreements on humane
treatment of prisoners.

McCain was not as fortunate as my father. After his plane was shot down, he
was tortured by the North Vietnamese, who did not respect the Geneva
Conventions, and kept in a hellhole for six years. If anyone has the right to
dispute the doctrine of reciprocal, humane prisoner treatment, it is McCain. But
instead, McCain reasons, correctly, that if the United States, of all nations,
grants itself the right to abuse prisoners, not only are our soldiers at greater
risk, but our national soul.

Thanks to their leadership, the Senate Armed Services Committee rejected
the administration bill, and reported the McCain bill, requiring due process in
the prosecution of all captives, and respecting the protections of the Geneva
Conventions. The administration is still pressing to pass its bill. But for
once, it may not prevail.

Finally, on multiple fronts, after nearly six years of blind loyalty,
Republican moderates in Congress are beginning to rebel against the sheer
recklessness of their president - excuse me, of Vice President Dick Cheney and
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who are the architects of these policies. A
higher loyalty is at last trumping partisan fealty to a dangerously radical

The founders of the United States wisely gave us separate branches of
government as checks and balances against tyranny. They may not have imagined
Dick Cheney, but they were familiar with his kind. The self respect of Congress
has been battered these nearly six long years, but it is coming back to life
just in time.

You may read the entire article here.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Senator Allen speaking before Family Research Council

Senator George Allen will be joining Ann Coulter and Jerry Falwell as featured speakers at the Family Research Council (FRC) political “briefing” in Washington in late September.

FRC is a Christianist organization founded by James Dobson that opposes abortion and rights for anyone other than heterosexuals. The organization opposes the availability of the vaccine for human papilloma virus (a virus that causes cervical cancer) because it might encourage sexual promiscuity. They also are proponents of the teaching of intelligent design and abstinence only sex education.

Recent controversies regarding Tony Perkins, the current president, pertain to his links to David Duke and the Council of Conservative Citizens. Another controversy involved founder James Dobson claim that the children’s cartoon character, SpongBob SquarePants was gay and sending coded messages to children.

NYT reports on VA Senate race

The New York Times reports on the Virginia Senate race in this morning’s paper. The story tells of how the race has become competitive. A snippet about yesterday’s debate on Meet the Press:
In one of the sharpest exchanges of the campaign, Mr. Webb and Mr. Allen
squared off on the war in Iraq on “Meet the Press” on NBC on Sunday, with Mr.
Allen defending the Bush administration’s policy and denouncing the
“second-guessing and Monday-morning quarterbacking” of the critics. “We’re going
to need to do what it takes to succeed,” Mr. Allen said, when asked if he would
support additional troops in Iraq, “because it’s essential to the security of
the United States of America.”

Mr. Webb responded: “I know what it’s like to be on the ground. I know
what it’s like to fight a war like this, and either — there are limits to what
the military can do. Eventually, this is going to have to move into a diplomatic
environment, and that’s where this administration seems to have blinders. They
are not talking to Syria, they are not talking to Iran, and there are ways that
we can do this, move this forward.”

Mr. Webb also took several digs at what he called theorists in the
administration and among its allies who know combat only in the abstract. Mr.
Allen, like the majority of the current Congress, did not serve in the

You can read the entire article here.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

"I'm not here for the Iraqis," one staffer noted to a reporter over lunch. "I'm here for George Bush."

This staffer might as well as admitted he or she wasn’t there for the American people either.

The story in today’s Washington Post tells of how qualified people with expertise in Middle East culture and politics or post-conflict reconstruction were skipped over in favor of those unqualified but loyal to the Republican Party and the Bush administration. They went to Iraq to put their neo-conservative stamp on that society. Iraq today is an example of what neo-conservatism can do for America.

The article consists of excerpts from a book written by Rajiv Chandrasekaran. He tells of how the staff for the Coalitional Provision Authority (CPA) was screened by Jim O’Beirne, husband of National Review's Kate O'Beirne, for political correctness before being hired. The CPA, under the leadership and heavy hand of L. Paul Bremer, is largely responsible for the squandering of the victory over Sadam Hussein by American troops. While reading this, think of the suffering by the Iraqi people and the casualties of American soldiers that could have been avoided had the reconstruction efforts by the CPA not been so corrupted. And ask yourself; where in the Hell was the Congressional oversight?

A few tidbits:

… applicants didn't need to be experts in the Middle East or in
post-conflict reconstruction. What seemed most important was loyalty to the Bush administration.

O'Beirne's staff posed blunt questions to some candidates about
domestic politics: Did you vote for George W. Bush in 2000? Do you support the
way the president is fighting the war on terror? Two people who sought jobs with
the U.S. occupation authority said they were even asked their views on Roe v.
Wade .

Many of those chosen by O'Beirne's office to work for the Coalition
Provisional Authority, which ran Iraq's government from April 2003 to June 2004,
lacked vital skills and experience. A 24-year-old who had never worked in
finance -- but had applied for a White House job -- was sent to reopen Baghdad's
stock exchange. The daughter of a prominent neoconservative commentator and a recent graduate from an evangelical university for home-schooled children were
tapped to manage Iraq's $13 billion budget, even though they didn't have a
background in accounting.

Endowed with $18 billion in U.S. reconstruction funds and a
comparatively quiescent environment in the immediate aftermath of the U.S.
invasion, the CPA was the U.S. government's first and best hope to resuscitate
Iraq -- to establish order, promote rebuilding and assemble a viable government,
all of which, experts believe, would have constricted the insurgency and
mitigated the chances of civil war. Many of the basic tasks Americans struggle
to accomplish today in Iraq -- training the army, vetting the police, increasing
electricity generation -- could have been performed far more effectively in 2003
by the CPA.

But many CPA staff members were more interested in other things: in
instituting a flat tax, in selling off government assets, in ending food rations
and otherwise fashioning a new nation that looked a lot like the United States.
Many of them spent their days cloistered in the Green Zone, a walled-off enclave
in central Baghdad with towering palms, posh villas, well-stocked bars and
resort-size swimming pools.

By the time Bremer departed in June 2004, Iraq was in a precarious
state. The Iraqi army, which had been dissolved and refashioned by the CPA, was
one-third the size he had pledged it would be. Seventy percent of police
officers had not been screened or trained. Electricity generation was far below
what Bremer had promised to achieve. And Iraq's interim government had been
selected not by elections but by Americans. Divisive issues were to be resolved
later on, increasing the chances that tension over those matters would fuel
civil strife.

To recruit the people he wanted, O'Beirne sought résumés from the
offices of Republican congressmen, conservative think tanks and GOP activists.
He discarded applications from those his staff deemed ideologically suspect,
even if the applicants possessed Arabic language skills or postwar rebuilding

As more and more of O'Beirne's hires arrived in the
Green Zone, the CPA's headquarters in Hussein's marble-walled former Republican Palace felt like a campaign war room. Bumper stickers and mouse pads praising
President Bush were standard desk decorations. In addition to military uniforms
and "Operation Iraqi Freedom" garb, "Bush-Cheney 2004" T-shirts were among the most common pieces of clothing.

"I'm not here for the Iraqis," one staffer noted to a reporter over
lunch. "I'm here for George Bush."

You can read the entire article here.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Bush administration: How low can we sink?

How low can we sink? Congress is debating the pros and cons of torture. It is like debating the pros and cons of rape. This administration’s bungling efforts to confront the very real threats facing this nation is misguided not only strategically but morally. Even if the administration fails in its efforts during the current debate in Congress, the impact of this drive to corrupt our system of government and justice damages our reputation around the world and endangers our soldiers. These actions increasingly isolate the United States which leaves us far more vulnerable to attacks in the future.

The New York Times sums up the issues here:
The idea that the nation's chief executive is pressing so hard to undermine
basic standards of justice is shocking. Any argument that these extreme methods
would be used only against the most dangerous of international terrorists has
been destroyed by the handling of hundreds of prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, many
of whom appear to have been scooped up in Afghanistan years ago with little
attempt to verify any connection to terrorism, and now are in danger of
lingering behind bars forever without a day in court.

To lend his lobbying an utterly false sense of urgency, Bush announced last
week that he had taken 14 dangerous terrorists from the secret CIA prisons where
he had been holding them for years and sent them to Guantánamo to stand trial.
But none of the prisoners is going anywhere. Timetable is related only to the
election calendar.

One section of the administration bill would put American soldiers
in grave jeopardy by rewriting the Geneva Conventions, condoning the practice of
hiding prisoners in secret cells and permitting the continued use of
interrogation methods that violate the Conventions at the CIA prisons.

Bush has made it clear that he plans to continue operating the CIA camps.
And he wants Congress to collaborate by exempting the United States from a
provision in the Geneva Conventions that prohibits "outrages upon personal
dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment." Bush says this
wording is too vague, but that's a dodge. What he really wants is congressional
authority to go on doing things to prisoners in CIA jails that are clear
violations of international rules. He also wants Congress to rewrite the War
Crimes Act, which makes it a crime to violate the Geneva Conventions.

The opposition to these provisions by legal scholars, military lawyers and
a host of former top military commanders has been overwhelming. In recent days,
two former chairmen of the joint chiefs of staff, Colin L. Powell, and John W.
Vessey, wrote to Senator John McCain urging him to go on fighting the White
House. "The world is beginning to doubt the moral basis of our fight against
terrorism," Powell wrote.

More than two dozen former military leaders and top Pentagon officials
wrote to Senator John Warner, chairman of the Armed Services Committee,
expressing "profound concern" about undermining the Geneva Conventions.

Senators Warner, McCain and Lindsey Graham have formed a
principled spine of resistance against their party's attempt to steamroller the
White House legislation through Congress. But their own bill - the only
competing proposal to emerge so far - shares some big problems with the
president's. One is its scope. Both bills draw the definition of "unlawful enemy
combatant" so broadly that it could cover almost anyone that a particular
administration decides is a threat, remove him from the judicial system and
subject him to a military trial.

But the White House bill also includes anyone who gives "material support"
to a terrorist group or anyone affiliated with a terrorist group. Legal experts
fear this definition could cover people who, for example, contribute to
charities without knowing they support terrorist groups.

It also could be used to capture foreign citizens in their native
countries, or anywhere else, a concern that America's allies have raised
repeatedly. This sort of thing has already happened.

The White House wants to strip the federal courts of any power to review
the detentions of the prisoners in Guantánamo Bay. This provision has no real
bearing on the handful of genuine terrorists who were recently shipped there
from abroad.

Their cases are likely to be brought before military commissions, whose
judgments could be appealed to higher courts, including the Supreme Court. But
it has a profound impact on the hundreds of others at Guantánamo Bay. Many of
them, perhaps the majority, committed minor offenses, if any.

The administration has no intention of trying them, and wants to prevent
them from appealing for help in court.

This week, nine current and former federal judges, including a former FBI
director appointed by Ronald Reagan, begged Congress not to give in to White
House pressure on this point. "For 200 years, the federal judiciary has
maintained Chief Justice Marshall's solemn admonition that ours is a government
of laws, and not of men," their letter said. "The proposed legislation imperils
this proud history."

The nation is in this hideous mess because Bush ignored the advice of
people like this when he tried to set up prison camps beyond the reach of the
law. It's hard to believe their warnings will be ignored again, but the signs
are ominous.

Many members of Congress who succumb to the strong-arming will know, in
their hearts, that they were doing the wrong thing out of fear for their
political futures. Perhaps the voters will not judge them harshly this fall. But
history will.

You can read the entire editorial here.

Senator Allen on the Colbert Report

There is a conventional wisdom that Vice President Dan Quayle’s political career was over when he became the butt of jokes on late night television. That said, please note Senator Allen has been the subject of a Colbert Report that can be seen here.

Also, if you missed Senator Allen’s “Listening Tour” video from August where he singles out an Indian-American for harassment, you may see it here.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Is U.S. policy inadvertently helping create a Russian-Chinese alliance?

Eugene Trani was a Russian scholar before he became the President of Virginia Commonwealth University. It is therefore a country he is familiar with.

He has a piece in today’s International Herald Tribune voicing concern about the United States’ failure to build a useful relationship with Russia. Russia has much to offer the U.S. from oil and gas to various kinds of help in the conflict with terrorist groups. While it is quite appropriate to be critical of the Putin regime for the move away from democracy and the heavy handed approach to Chechnya it does not make sense from a strategic point of view to give Russia the cold shoulder. The result could be to push Russia into a closer relationship with China that could have negative implications for American interests in the future.

Trani writes of his impressions and observations following a trip to Russia last summer ,
The Russia I visited was one of growing prosperity and innovation,
progressive education and an economic strength not based exclusively on oil and

It was a Russia uniquely positioned to forge solid partnerships for the war
on terrorism, nuclear nonproliferation and energy - all vital issues for

This sidestepping of America is apparent in … pivotal arenas. Russia has
taken an active interest in the expanding Chinese market, and in connecting its
security strategy to China's expanding power.

Russia is in a unique position, geographically and politically, to meet
China's rapidly growing demand for energy, natural resources and timber. And
China provides Russia with a ripe market for high-tech weapons.

In a 2005 article in the Beijing Review, the Russian ambassador to China,
Sergei Razov, wrote of bilateral relations with China as being "at the highest
level in history," citing their first joint military maneuvers and rapidly
growing trade, the volume of which exceeded $29 billion in 2005.

Razov also discussed the ten-fold increase in Chinese students in Russia
over the past decade - that when the number of Chinese students applying to U.S.
universities has drastically decreased.

Russia's deepening relations with China have already created alarming

In 2005, Russia and China attempted to restrict access by the United States
and NATO to Central Asian air bases, despite the critical role of these bases
for military and humanitarian operations in Afghanistan - an effort that Russia
previously supported.

If the United States continues to criticize Russia, Russian-Chinese
relations over the next 10 years could lead to a regrouping of world powers and
possibly a new Cold War.

But if the United States moved to full engagement with Russia, it could
realize considerable policy and economic gains. For a model, America need look
no further than its foreign policy with China - like Russia, a nuclear-armed
nation with a long history of authoritarian government.

China also does not always play by America's rules. But while the State
Department recently announced sanctions against Russia for the alleged selling
of restricted items to Iran, the Department of the Treasury gave China only a
slap on the wrist in May over its currency manipulation in flagrant disregard of
U.S. law.

Last April, President George W. Bush welcomed President Hu Jintao to the
United States, saying, "The United States and China are two nations divided by a
vast ocean yet connected through a global economy that has created opportunity
for both our peoples."America's failure to bestow the same recognition on Russia
as it has on China could end up relegating the United States not only to the
other side of the ocean, but to the other side of a new kind of iron

You can read the entire article here.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Are terrorists more of a cult than a movement?

David Ignatius has an interesting column in today’s Washington Post regarding President Bush’s argument we are in for a long war against a global enemy of Muslim fanatics. He cites Marc Sageman, a former CIA case officer in Pakistan who later became a psychiatrist. Sageman has done a lot of research on individuals associated with terrorist activities and argues we are facing more of a cult that will burn itself out over time than a political movement that can carry on for generations. He writes,
Sageman argues in his book, "Understanding Terror Networks," that we are facing something closer to a cult network than an organized global adversary. Like many cults through history, the Muslim terrorists thrive by channeling and perverting the idealism of young people…

… the Sunni jihadism of al-Qaeda and its spinoff groups is a generational phenomenon. Unless new grievances spawn new recruits, it will gradually ebb over time. In other words, this is a fire that will gradually burn itself out unless we keep pumping in more oxygen. Nothing in Sageman's analysis implies that America should be any less aggressive in defending itself against terrorism. But he does argue that we should choose our offensive battles wisely and avoid glamorizing the jihadist network further through our rhetoric or actions.

Sageman's focus on the generational arc of violence got me thinking
about my recent trip to Iran. The revolutionary intensity hasn't disappeared
there, but it is certainly further down the curve than is the Sunni world. When
I attended Friday prayers at Tehran University, I was struck by how old the
people shouting "death to America" were. I would guess the average age was well
over 40. The generation of the Iranian revolution is getting long in the tooth.
The only sure way to ignite revolutionary zealotry in the younger generation
would be for America to go to war with Iran -- something I dearly hope we can