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Tuesday, December 12, 2006

HAX!!!

By: Michael Akerman

102 comments

That, my friends, is what we call a "hack!"

Alright, comments on old posts should be Haloscan. New posts should be Blogger, assuming tags are given to the posts.

~Michael Akerman

Comments Test

By: Michael Akerman


I broke something in the comments stuff making the last post.

I'm trying to fix it.

~Michael Akerman

Monday, December 11, 2006

Blogger Beta

By: Michael Akerman

4 comments

Assuming you are not blind, you probably noticed that the site has changed rather drastically.

This is because we've moved to the new Blogger Beta and, with that, I've moved to a Blogger template to take advantage of the new features (movable widgets! Dynamic template changes! An easy way to change colors! New code tools! Tagging and categories! Weeeeee!).

The old HaloScan comments are still on the old posts (or should be. Drop me a comment on this post if they're not), but I'm going to try Blogger's commenting system (no idea what new stuff came in that with the Beta) for a while. If everyone vastly prefers HaloScan, I can easily move back to it.

Also, feel free to comment on which template you like better: the current one or the old one (which I, personally, thought was hideous). Or, if you like this one, but think it could be better, tell me that and how. I'll probably dig into some template editing anyway. The main bar is too squished. The footers of the posts wrap too much, and Smith's posts look even longer than usual.

Exam Time Again

It's exam time again at NCSU. I won't be detailed, since I've gone over this before, but I'll continue my lackluster campaign against final exams. They prove nothing, are too weighty in grade calculations and serve mainly as a massive stress producer for no clear purpose.

I'm going to try to post sometime this week when I'm not studying for or taking an exam. Maybe my new toys on the blog will entice me.

By my hand,
~Michael Akerman

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Electoral Elucidations '06: David vs. Goliath

By: UnrepentantNewDealer


Well, I had intended to post on the midterm elections sometime before, you know, election day. But, honestly, I've been so busy out there in the trenches trying to overthrow the corrupt Republican regime in Congress, that I quite literally haven't had the time. I've been canvassing (that's the door-to-door form of voter harassment) and phone-banking (far more polite than anonymous robo-calls) practically every spare moment for the last few weeks. Just this morning, I got up before 5:30 in the morning to cast my ballot the minute the polls opened at 6:30 and then positioned myself 50 feet from the entrance to the elementary school polling place to hand out campaign literature.... in the cold and the pouring rain. I'm typing this between noonish classes afterwhich, it's back out into the trenches till polls close at 7:30 pm. I have so much to say about all this, my personal experiences with this campaign and my thoughts on the broader national picture, but it will have to wait until after the election.

I have just two things I'd like to bring up now: First, the candidate I've been helping out this semester is Larry Kissell. He worked in the textile mills for 27 years before getting his degree and becoming a high school social studies teacher. He threw his hat into the race this year to challenge incumbent Rep. Robin Hayes, depending on who you talk to, either the third or fourth-richest man in Congress, a man who got his wealth by marrying into the Cannon textile company--you know, the one that shipped all its jobs to China. Textiles were the mainstay of the 8th district and last year, when the Central American Free Trade Agreement came before Congress, Hayes told his constituents he was "flat out, completely, horizontally oppssed to CAFTA," which was "not in the best interests of the core constituency I represent," and he vowed "there is no way I could vote for CAFTA."

Funny thing happened on the way to the House floor. The bill came to the floor, Hayes voted no, and the bill lost by one vote. In a highly irregular move in violation of House procedures, the bill was kept on the floor late into the night anyway as the GOP leadership searched for one persuadable vote. Speaker of the House Denny Hastert sequestered Robin Hayes in his office. God only knows what Hastert threatened him with, but when Hayes came out, visibly shaken, he changed his vote, and voted for CAFTA, thus enabling it to pass.

Hayes undoubtedly thought he could get away with promising not to vote for CAFTA and then turning around and voting for it anyway. After all, the D.C. Democrats would run some California liberal, as in the last several elections, and the voters in this conservative but still-majority Democratic district would again vote for Hayes. He thought wrong. The D.C. Dem. establishment candidate bowed out early and Kissell won the primary and set out winning the hearts and minds of NC-08 voters. I really don't have time to get into all the details now, but the gist is, this year, Hayes actually has a credible opponent. And judging by the polls, as well as the reaction I've gotten from voters today and in the last few weeks, Kissel is going to win, and win convincingly. Most tellingly, the Kissell campaign has volunteers at every precinct polling station in Meck and probably in the entire 8th district. I've been at two polling places today and no Hayes supporters have yet shown up. We're fired up and passionate about our candidate, enough to wait out in the cold pouring rain. Hayes' supporters.... well, I suppose you can't blame them; after all, it is raining.

While Hayes' supporters aren't out in evidence, Kissell voters sure are. Even with the rain, turnout seems to be far higher than normal in a midterm election, from every age group. And I've long since lost track of the number of voters who have come up to me and chewed Hayes out, asked me how good Kissell's chances are and thanked me for being out there, "fighting the good fight."

So, how is it that every news organization and political guru rates NC-08 a "solid Republican," or just in the last few days, "leaning Republican," race? Simple. Money talks. Hayes ended September with $1.2 million in his campaign war chest and the ability to self-finance with his estimated $100 fortune. Kissell ended it with $88.94, as he is dependent on small contributions from individual donors, rather than corporate donations, and has to spend every penny he gets almost as soon as he recieves it. When asked about it, Kissell replied that his campaign's bank statement looked a lot more like the average 8th district voter's than Hayes'. And amazingly, Kissell is tied or ahead of Hayes in the polls.

It has often been said that the system is too corrupt, that only candidates with tons of money can win. That's going to be proven wrong today here in southern NC, and probably throughout the nation. Think about it though: if a former mill worker with $88.93 can defeat an incumbent millionaire, that means that the American Dream is still alive, that Mr. Smith can indeed go to Washington, David can indeed defeat Goliath, that honesty and decency can trump the Almighty Dollar. That's an inspiring lesson, no matter what party you support.

There is a groundswell of support for Democrats in the 8th district and for Democrats nationally. Again, as with the NC-08 race, nationally, Republicans are favored by many to win because of their financial advantage, polls be damned. Barron's, for example, predicted that Republicans will keep control of both House and Senate because they have more money. They rated races, using only one tool: the amount of money each side has on hand. On the other extreme, the MSM, loving to gush over poll results, keeps nattering on about a Democratic landslide. There is no doubt in my mind that, if the system wasn't rigged by both parties to protect incumbents, there would be a Democratic landslide on the order of the "Republican Revolution" of '94. Since it is rigged (more on that in a later post), a landslide is unlikely.

I suppose I should go on the record before the polls close with my highly-unscientific predictions: Democrats need to pick up 15 seats to control the House, I'd say we pick up between 25-30 (my gut instinct is that it will be more than that, but I don't want to get overconfident and jinx it.) We need to pick up 6 to control the Senate. We've got Pennsylvania, Ohio, Rhode Island, and Montana in the bag (yeah, I know the last two races have tightened recently, but I find the poll results here showing Lincoln Chafee and Conrad "Most Likely to be Indicted" Burns tied with their Democratic opponents a little hard to swallow). So, that leaves two seat that need to go our way out of these three: Virginia, Tennessee, and Missouri. All are very close. Tennessee appears to be out of reach; what was once a tied race has turned into a sizable Republican lead, probably thank to the now-infamous Republican miscegenation ads (though I'd love to be proven wrong about this and Tennessee elect the first black senator from the South since Reconstruction). Virginia is very close too, but I think Jim Webb will pull an upset against George "Macaca" Allen. That leaves Missouri, and only a fool would try to predict the outcome of that one. If I had to say, I'd give the advantage to Jim Talent, as Missouri has traditionally been a very Republican state, but it's going to be extremely close. If I'm right, the Senate will again be split exactly 50-50 with Dick Cheney casting the deciding vote, as was the case during the first few months of Bush's first term. If I'm wrong and Talent loses, the Dems have both houses of Congress, unless they lose somewhere else. Should be an interesting night all around. Feel free to leave your own predictions in the comments box and we'll see who got the closest.

Now, back into the trenches,

Michael J. Smith

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Wither IVIC?

By: UnrepentantNewDealer


For your Halloween pleasure, a morbid parody (all apologies to Monty Python):

The Dead Blog Collector: Bring out yer dead! Bring out yer dead!
Large Man with Dead Blog: Here's one. [placing it on the cart]
The Dead Blog Collector: That'll be ninepence.
IVIC: I'm not dead.
Blog Collector (BC): What?
Large Man (LM): Nothing. There's your ninepence.
IVIC: I'm not dead.
BC: 'Ere, it says it's not dead.
LM: Yes, it is.
IVIC: I'm not.
BC: It isn't.
LM: Well, it will be soon. It's very ill. No one has posted on it in more than 3 months!
IVIC: I'm getting better.
LM: No, you're not, you'll be stone dead inactive in a moment.
BC: Well, I can't take it like that. It's against blogosphere regulations.
IVIC: I don't want to go on the cart.
LM: Oh, don't be such a baby!
BC: I can't take it.
IVIC: I feel fine.
LM: Oh, do me a favor!
BC: I can't.
LM: Will you hang around for a couple of minutes? It won't be long.
BC: I promised to be over at MySpace. They've lost nine today. [mutters] Bloody format, it's no wonder--
LM: Well, when is your next round?
BC: Thursday.
IVIC: I think I'll go for a walk.
LM: You're not fooling anyone, you know? Is there anything you could do?
IVIC: I feel happy. I feel happy.

[BC glances up and down the street furtively, then whacks IVIC with a club.]

LM: Ah, thank you very much.
BC: Not at all. See you on Thursday.
LM: Right.

The End of IVIC?

Wow. It has been a long time since I or anyone else has posted on this blog. As you can see by scrolling down, Akerman last posted in July, myself at the end of June, and Ed not since March. Thus far this year, we have posted 3, 7, and 3 times each, respectively, for a grand total of 13 posts, thus far this year. Contrast that with last year's total of 19, 23, and 9, respectively, for a grand total of 51 posts, concentrated in the first half of that year; 2004: 32, 19, 11, respectively, 62 total, concentrated in the second half of that year; 2003 (which Akerman only started the blog in August of that year): 19, 3, 4, respectively, 26 total. (I think I did that counting right; higher math's never been one of my strong suits.)

Why? Why the drop-off? I can only speak for myself. I have been busy, to be sure, but somehow I was able to make time before. Recently, that's not been the case.

I believe this blog originally grew out of the deep (and not-so-deep) conversations between Ed Snyder, Michael Akerman, and myself at the lunch table freshman year of high school. When Akerman founded this blog at the beginning of senior year, it duplicated our conversations at school, providing another forum for them. Perhaps for this reason, I didn't really feel the need to blog much senior year; if I had a thought or witticism I wanted to share, I could tell Akerman or Snyder at school. This state of affairs changed after graduation; I wound up contributing to the blog again after a long absense, really in order to maintain the old friendships from high school, as well as to provide an outlet for my thoughts, now that those daily in-person conversations were gone.

The "Golden Age" of IVIC thus began, lasting from roughly August 2004-April 2005. This was the period of maximum blogging by all parties, as well as maximum commenting by non-IVIC bloggers, mainly fellow classmates from Ragsdale's class of '04. Then, starting in May 2005, a long, slow die-off, the EKG readings spiking briefly, every now and then, but with decreasing frequency. The yearly totals tell the sad tale: 26, 62, 51, 13.

Again, why has this happened? I can only speak for myself, but it is not that I have not had killer ideas for posts in recent months. No, it is simply that I find myself deriving less and less pleasure from blogging. I derive some pleasure from crafting a well-written, well-reasoned blog post, but I derive more pleasure from the spirited give-and-take in the comments from fellow IVIC bloggers, as well as other bloggers. During its "Golden Age," IVIC provided a forum, not just for Snyder, Akerman, and myself, but also, through comments, for old friends from the Ragsdale diaspora: Kristen, Angela, Philip, Adam, Maggie, etc.) as well as for various "others" (namely Scott and "Man from the Mountain"). And of course, we commented on their blogs. I guess what I'm getting at here is that there was a sense of community then on IVIC, a community broader than IVIC itself, a community of friends and acquaintances from high school held together by exchanging ideas and sometimes insults on this blog. I am coming to realize that the loss of this community has not only harmed this blog, it impoverished my own life immeasurably.

That accounts for why it has been so long since I posted. The community spirit is gone, as is even the give-and-take in response to posts. In truth, I do blog for my own sanity and enjoyment, but at the same time, blogging without getting any kind of a response from readers feels pointless and depressing. As I pointed out in January, "It gets really discouraging when you post an entry and... you get no comment. So, then you post another entry and... you still get no comments. When this continues for month after month, it really gets depressing.... This long-running conversation--really going on since the lunch table freshman year at RHS--has fallen silent."

Honestly, I'm at a loss for what to do. I do enjoy blogging, but only if there is a discussion going on, rather than a rambling monologue, which would bore me as much as it would bore you. I want that old IVIC community spirit to return, but I know not how to achieve that, nor even if it is possible at this point. I once contemplated creating a separate blog of my own, and my thoughts return to it now. Perhaps on it, I could at least release my thoughts and clear my mind.

While I am not willing to give up on IVIC just yet, we need to find a way to resuscitate it, to revive it. Again, speaking only for myself, I am open to any and all suggestions from any and all comers. I will do my part over the next week by posting at least one post on the upcoming midterm elections. The last election did wonders for this blog's activity and traffic; perhaps it can again. Only time (which, of course, does not exist!) will tell.

In Peace,

Michael J. Smith

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Call Them on Your (Stem) Cell

By: Michael Akerman


(EDITED on 7/21/06 to clarify some biology in the sixth paragraph)

First off, I'm trying to muster up the desire to finish Bear (Bear? What's he talking about? Oh, right, the "short" story), but I know how it ends, so it's kind of boring to write. I'll get to it eventually.




It's Just a Bill


After passing in the Senate by darn close to a super-majority, the most recent important stem cell bill now sits on the desk of the President of the United States. Bush is, of course, likely to veto it, in following with his firm stance against destructive stem cell research (which is currently the only way to obtain new cell lines).

I, in my arrogance and by vastly over-reaching the influence of this blog, would caution the President against vetoing such a bill. The vast majority of his voting base approves of stem cell research, including the much-maligned "Christian Right" (by which the Democratic pundits and bloggers really mean the Christian nutjobs, which is an entirely different set of people. Rather, perhaps, a crazed subset of ignorant fools in the larger group of Republican Christians). But, that's merely a political reason, and it shouldn't convince anyone, politician or not, that stem cell research is the right thing to do.

Bush, in his zeal to prevent any approximation of "playing God," seems to have missed some important lessons on modern stem cell research (and the research this bill would allow). Stem cell research, in the current sense, uses the embryos left over from in-vitro fertilization, since dozens are produced and, unless a couple wants to have dozens of children, only a few are implanted. So, thousands (tens of thousands? Hundreds of thousands? Doesn't really matter) of embryos are left over, frozen for a few months to a few years before finally being destroyed.

The last few words of that sentence were key. Bush does not want life to be destroyed to give life, but these are doomed embryos, to put it darkly. They will be destroyed. They have been part of the noble quest to let a loving pair in mankind's great family create new life, and they should be used in their finality to help some ailing member of the great family to retain life.

And it is important to use as many embryos as possible. Indeed, scientists already are with private and Californian funding. You see, with all the versatility that stem cells likely have, they still have mostly-immutable DNA. The human body tends to reject foreign DNA, with the likelihood of rejection rising with the difference of the foreign DNA (EDIT: To clarify, the body does not reject DNA directly. Rather, it rejects the proteins on the surface of the cells, which are produced based on the cell's DNA. This is why O-type blood, which has none of the A-B identifier proteins on the surface of the cells, is compatible with all blood types, while AB-type blood, which has both A and B identifier proteins, is only compatible with AB blood types). This is why it's always vitally important to get a "compatible" kidney for transplants. One too differing from the patients own kidney will be attacked and destroyed.

If many cell lines are produced, the likelihood of there being at least one line that is very similar to a patient's DNA is vastly improved. This is, I should note, the argument for therapeutic cloning, which is another bag of worms entirely. In TC, the patient is cloned in an egg, and that egg developed into an embryo, before harvesting those stem cells. This virtually guarantees that the inducted cells will not be rejected, but it means producing human embryos (whether they are persons at the embryonic stage or not is a matter of belief) purely to destroy them, which is rather more irksome than using pre-extant embryos that must be destroyed.

However, it is clear that the chance to treat diseases ranging from heart disease to Alzheimer's vastly outweighs the evil of destroying already-doomed embryos. Indeed, it is clear that it is evil not to use these embryos to support life if we can. Life is a terrible thing to waste when it can so easily help others.

So, Mr. President, sign this bill into law.

By my hand,

~Michael Akerman

Friday, June 30, 2006

Mission to Moss Point

By: UnrepentantNewDealer


Like most of you, I've been fairly busy: working, going on a mission trip (more on that in a minute) and taking a summer French course at A&T (can you say, "Parley vu Francaise?"). I've been meaning to post more often this summer, but a look at the calender shows that this is the last day of June and that if nothing is posted tonight, the IVIC archives will have an embarrassing gap. (So, you're welcome, Akerman!) It's late at night and I'm very tired, so excuse me if I become incoherent.

Mission to Moss Point

Last week, I went with my church on a mission trip to the Mississippi Gulf Coast to help the rebuilding efforts. My church had sent four previous mission teams down there starting last fall and established a fruitful relationship with a local church, Dantzler Memorial UMC in Moss Point, Mississippi, just north of Pascagoula. Sleeping in Sunday school rooms for a few hours each night, we woke up long before sunrise to do "reroofing" work on a local house. The heat and humidity were stifling even at 5 AM, and the work was difficult, more so than on any construction project I've worked on before. We found out the first day that it was useless even trying to get any work done past 2pm, the heat and humidity were so bad. I lost track of how many times I said, only half in jest, that I wished Katrina had hit cool Maine, instead of the sauna of Mississippi.

I went to Carolina Cross Connection, a construction mission and outreach trip, for four summers during high school. We helped build wheelchair ramps and did house painting and repair, lawnwork and coolsealing a roof for poor people and elderly shut-ins in the mountains of North Carolina. I thought I had seen devastation, the kind produced through the decades-long wearing down of communities and families by the perpetual tempest of poverty. It wasn't until I stood one evening on the beach in Biloxi and stared at the abosolute desolation around me that I truly understood devastation.

Actually, it defies comprehension. The area around Moss Point was hard hit, but there was very little visible damage left there. Along the beaches was another story. Almost everything was completely wiped out: trees, houses, gas stations, restaurants, hotels. Rubble littered the beaches where the 27-foot storm surge, the highest ever recorded, came ashore last August, with Katrina supposedly only a Category 3 storm at that time. I've seen the results of Cat 3 storms (Fran, for example, in 1996) and based on the Hurricane Hugo/Andrew-scale devastation, I strongly suspect the experts will soon posthumously correct it to at least a 4, as they corrected Andrew from a 4 to a 5 a full decade after it made landfall.

On Wednesday night, Dantzler Memorial invited all the volunteer groups staying at the church to a nighttime service. As the locals talked about what they had been through, they emphasized how grateful they were to their fellow Christians for helping them rebuild. New Orleans got all the attention, but the damage in Mississippi was at least as severe and, as numerous people said, the state and federal governments and Red Cross did nothing to help. The area is recovering due to the thousands of Christians across the country who have donated their time, their money, or their blood, sweat and tears.

The biggest sacrifices have been made by the locals who have opened their churches and their homes to the thousands of mission teams; the church we stayed at had even installed two makeshift showers after Katrina so that volunteers could rinse off the sweat after a hard day's work--this at a time when many church members were still waiting on their FEMA trailer and doing bucket duty every time it rained. Some of the older ladies of the church contributed by providing clean towels for the volunteers, which they washed at their own homes daily. The pastor told us of one church member, a 90-some-year old lady who got irate that no one had thought to ask her to wash towels; though she had bad arthritis and couldn't fold the towels, she could dump them in the washer.

This wasn't just about a bunch of Christians coming into an area and doing volunteer work; it was Christians from the area and from out of state working together to bring the Gulf Coast back on its feet. If there are those who are cynical and wonder what Christianity is all about, let them come to the Gulf Coast: it is there that the true meaning of Christianity can be found, not in any creed or article of faith, but in the actions of both the volunteers and the "victims," all slaving to help "the least of these." For truly, "faith without works is dead."

If anyone reading this can help out in any way, though your time or your money, please do so. Contact your church to find out what you can do to help. Katrina may have hit almost a year ago, but the Gulf Coast will be needing all the Christian charity it can get for many years to come.


Go forth into the world in peace,

Michael J. Smith

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Double Standards

By: Michael Akerman


Gentle readers, if ye be of sound, non-laughter-crippled nature, I would caution ye against reading my second-to-last post, for it contains horrors you wouldn't believe, of things I promised to do regularly but didn't!

I've been in a writer's slump, as it were. I simply don't know what to write about. The immigration issue is something, and maybe I'll cover it in detail (this weekend, perhaps), but I can sum it up rather concisely: illegal immigrants are breaking the law, they are sending our money out of the country, and they are taking jobs that the poorest citizens and legal immigrants could (and would, at the wages that those jobs deserve) take. We don't need them, they don't help us, and, most importantly, they are taking valuable space up that the good people who have shown they respect our laws and seek legal means of entrance should get.

I suppose I could say my opinions on what precisely we should do about it, but, as you can perhaps see from the title, that's not what this post is about.




Some People are More Equal Than Others

I'm tired of the double standards our society foists on us: I'm sick of affirmative action, I'm pissed off at the race card, and I'm generally weary of all the preferential treatment being thrown about. This being my soapbox, I will embark on railing against another facet in this taboo subject, and there's nothing any of you can do to stop me.

Before I begin, I caution you against throwing around claims of sexism (as this will be mostly about gender-based double standards), and I offer what I hope is a very specific disclaimer: I do not intend any of these statements as sweeping indictments of any group. I am aware, thank you, that not everyone is alike, and that, indeed, most of the members of the general groups I'll be writing about do not exhibit the behaviors I will describe. So, I intend only to criticize those who cling to these beliefs and actions.

So, the impetus for this: students caught having sex during school hours. There are several things wrong with this story, and I hope it's obvious that the school had no business in punishing two wholly capable and rational humans for indulging their baser instincts, since they were not at a school function, were not representing the school, and were not at a school facility (obviously, they should be punished for skipping, which is a minor offense). But that is standard bureaucratic negligence on the part of the school, which is a thing all too common. There are many schools run by incompetent administrators (this blog's authors were blessed to attend a high school that had, at least, a highly effective principal, though the lower administrators rotated through various phases of strength and shoddiness), and it is pointless for me to proselytize about that, since my answer is the conservative one: move away from national standards, drop the No Child Left Behind crap, and give more power and oversight to local governance. As a personal addition, I add that the children and parents should grade the teachers and administrators at the end of the year, just as the children are being graded.

No, that's not what irks me in this. If you read the article, you may have noticed something missing. Though the "girlfriend" is older and just as responsible as Ryan, she is not identified, and there is no note of her being punished. This stands to reason, since, as far as I can find in any news report, only Ryan was served a notice and suspended. Supposedly, the girl's mother demanded Ryan's suspension, but, since her daughter is a perfect angel, evidently neglected to consider if the blame should be spread.

Of course, it should be. She (I am forced to use the general "she," since we can have no clue what her name is) is as responsible as Ryan. It is incredible that she wasn't. Did no one think to blame her? Why should she not be punished equally? If women are to have equality, why can something like this still happen, where the female is immediately treated as the victim? It is notable, too, that the lack of identification regarding the girlfriend stinks of how the media treats supposed victims of sexual crimes (especially rape), so this consensual sex is treated as if it were what is widely considered the second-worst crime. This is, of course, something that has made the Duke Lacrosse case exceedingly difficult, as we are not allowed to weigh the character of the accuser to any large degree.

It is an artifact of feminism, it seems, that has bred the belief system that women should be equal in every situation unless it's bad for them. A similar thing has happened in race relations, but this was not due to the civil rights movement, but came afterward. It is this editorialist's opinion that affirmative action bred this desire for half-equality, but that is an issue best covered elsewhere. It is this attitude, though, that leads to 90% of divorced fathers having less than full custody.

This is endemic in the world of divorce: the mother is preferred to the father far more often than should be the case. It is obviously true that the mother ought to be preferred in some cases, but these involve abusive fathers and are few and far between. Custody is given to the mother, alimony is given to the ex-wife, and child support is paid disproportionately by non-custodial fathers, even if the father makes far less income than the mother (the link above has good statistics on these issues).

Over and over, the world is expected to give women equal opportunity. This is a good belief: women are as capable as men (note, I don't discount some difference in natural tendency. Men may be more likely to be good at math, but many women can be just as good in the field). However, when a woman may be adversely affected by a decision, society then assumes that women do not take advantage of their equality: that is, they are treated as less capable and more needing of artificial advantages.

It is of the utmost importance that we do away with this system by training the leaders of our culture: the judges, the administrators, the police. Heck, if necessary, make some laws that require equal punishment for equal behavior (in this case, we must tread lightly. Over-enforcement of such laws could bring us back to the sorry state of the nation before feminism). Like affirmative action, this is a system that enables the continuation of inequality. It is a system that teaches women that they need special treatment, and that they can't be as self-sufficient as men can be. This attitude, and beliefs in its ilk, are part of the cluster of issues born of thoughtlessness and naivete that maintain the "glass ceiling." It is not malicious behavior that keeps women achieving less than men, by and large (yes, it does happen, but it's not common, and becoming less so with every anti-feminist executive who dies out): it is this benign misconduct that suppresses.

Change yourself, and change society.

By my hand,
~Michael Akerman

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

The Case for Firing Rumsfeld (Or "Heckuva Job, Rummy!")

By: UnrepentantNewDealer


For those of you keeping track at home, this post is not part of my ongoing Iraq series (which I am about half-way through). Of course, it does involve Iraq, too, but the recent spate of news cycles involving America's favorite war criminal begs comment.

"He's a ruthless little bastard. You can be sure of that."
--Richard Nixon on former aide Donald Rumsfeld.

The wars are going badly. Retired generals are coming out of the woodwork (I lost count at seven) to call for DefSec Donald Rumsfeld's resignation, joined by senators in both parties and by the majority of the American people. Marine Corp. Gen. Anthony Zinni fumed that, "Ten years worth of planning were thrown away; troop levels dismissed out of hand. … These were not tactical mistakes. These were strategic mistakes, mistakes of policy made back here." Everywhere he goes, Rumsfeld is hounded by protesters. It all came to a head last week when Rumsfeld was confronted at a Q&A by a former CIA anaylist named Ray McGovern, who asked Rumsfeld point-blank: "Why did you lie to get us into a war that was not necessary and that has caused these kinds of casualties? Why?" Here is what followed:

DONALD RUMSFELD: Well, first of all, I haven’t lied. I did not lie then.... I'm not in the intelligence business. They gave the world their honest opinion. It appears that there were not weapons of mass destruction there.
RAY McGOVERN: You said you knew where they were.
DONALD RUMSFELD: I did not. I said I knew where suspect sites were, and we were --
RAY McGOVERN: You said you knew where they were, “near Tikrit, near Baghdad, and northeast, south and west of there.” Those were your words....

McGovern was, of course, right. On March 30, 2003, in an appearance on ABC, Rumsfeld was questoned about the fact that no WMD had yet been found. He responded: "The area in the south and the west and the north that coalition forces control is substantial. It happens not to be the area where weapons of mass destruction were dispersed. We know where they are. They're in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south and north somewhat."

Perhaps nothing better illustrates the sheer mendacity of this administration, and particularly of Rumsfeld: When confronted with a statement he famously made, a statement on the Defense Department's own website , he denied ever making the statement. "If you can't dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit;" it seems to be Rumsfeld's motto. Sadly, for 5 years, Rumsfeld (and the administration as a whole) has been able to pull the wool over the eyes of our vigilant lapdogs in the press. The rise and.... um.... well, if this were a fairy tale, there would be a fall, but since it's not.... the rise and rise of Donald Rumsfeld is emblematic of the entire administration. Out of the whole rotten bunch, Rumsfeld's failures are simply the most galling.

Rummy's War on the Military

I kinda hate to admit it now, but originally, I kinda liked Rumsfeld. When Bush appointed him to head the Pentagon, he seemed to me to be the right man for the job. Desipite the absence of a major power threat in the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union, the military budget in the 1990s continued to increase, surpassing its former peak under Reagan. For FY 2001, the last budget under Clinton, the Pentagon asked for $305 billion--Congress ultimately approved a defense budget with $5 billion more than the Pentagon asked for. As of this year, the U.S. defense budget is expected to equal that of the rest of the world combined. Seems a bit of an overkill, huh?

It was a pleasant surprise to find out that Rummy agreed with me. (I'll call him that from now on as it's easier to type than "Rumsfeld.") He came in pledging to reform the military, to slim it down and create a smarter, sleeker, more agile military. Rummy ran into a lot of resistance both within the military and on Capitol Hill when he tried to close unneeded military bases and cancel worthless programs focused on threats from a bygone era (such as the $11 billion program for the Crusader artillery system, designed to target advanced Soviet tanks.)

Where Rummy and I parted company, even before 9/11, was in defining the nature of the threats to America in this new century. Rummy, along with the other founding members of the Project for a New American Century, saw the greatest threat to America as being posed by so-called "rouge states"--nations like North Korea, Iran, and Iraq--that were suspected of pursuing WMD they could then put in a warhead on top of an ICBM and launch at America. Thus, as the threat America faced was missile-based weapons fired by "rouge states," a "missile defense shield" was crucial.

Before 9/11, many critics of the "missile defense system" pointed out that no missile defense system could stop our enemies from deploying their weapons from inside our country's borders, which would have the advantage of being cheaper for them, as well as more suited to the non-state sponsored terrorist groups that truly posed the greatest threat to America.

In a speech he delivered on September 10, 2001, Rummy identified the "adversary that poses a threat, a serious threat, to the security of the United States of America.... It's the Pentagon bureaucracy."

Believing that the professional military officers and staff were pathologically risk-averse, Rummy declared that he was completely in charge, and that only he was capable of taking the action required to reform our military. From this messianic belief came the corrollary that he would have to micromanage every detail of Pentagon operations, including overriding the best-laid plans of senior generals.

Rummy was enamored of American might. He believed that we could win decisively against our enemies with only a small force of soldiers and an intimidating "shock and awe" bombing campaign, which he debuted in the Afghan war. A handful of special forces troops working with Taliban-sympathizing warlords were strangely unable to capture or kill Osama bin Laden or any of al-Qaida's leadership at Tora Bora or at Shah-i-Kot. So few troops were sent in that even after almost 5 years the warlords that ruined Afghanistan are still in control and the elected government's writ is tenous, even in the capital. Iraq is merely Afghanistan on a larger and bloodier scale, with tribal and religious leaders taking the place of the warlords.

Since the 1990s, Rumsfeld had urged a preemptive strike against Iraq. He began his campaign to pressure the president into launching such a strike within hours of the 9/11 attacks. According to Bob Woodward's Plan of Attack, Rummy complained that Afghanistan had too few targets, and that Iraq would put America's military prowess to better use. Overriding the advise of his generals and military experts, Rummy decided Iraq could be invaded with less than 100,000 troops and that troop levels could be drawn down to 30,000 by the summer of 2003.

After General Eric Shinseki, the Army's chief of staff, told Congress in February 2003 that the number of troops that would be needed for the occupation of Iraq, after the invasion, would be "something on the order of several hundred thousand soldiers," Rummy fired back, calling that "far off the mark."

Speaking for his boss, Paul Wolfowitz told Congress that Shinseki was wrong: Wolfie downplayed fears of ethnic or sectarian strife, said the Iraqis would welcome U.S. occupation and predicted that "even countries like France will have a strong interest in assisting Iraq in reconstruction." The kicker was his claim that he found it "hard to believe" it would take more troops to occupy Iraq than to defeat Saddam's army. Wolfie also shot down estimates that the war and reconstruction could cost $95 billion as ridiculously high and even pointed out that, given Iraq's oil wealth, "To assume we're going to pay for it all is just wrong." I don't know whether to laugh or to cry.

Rummy's decision to ignore the professional opinions of the military's best and brightest tacticians and Middle East specialists and invade with far too few troops to properly occupy Iraq is the great strategic blunder that set virtually all the later misfortunes of the Iraq war rolling (that and his decision to disband the Iraqi Army [armed bitter unemployed men of fighting age: what's the worst that could happen?] and criminalize the civil servants who could get Iraq back on its feet quickest simply because they were Baath party members [to get good jobs under Saddam, you had to be].)

Immediately upon "liberating" Baghdad, American troops were unable to stop the widespread looting, much of it organized by Saddam loyalists. Many historical artifacts were lost forever; thousands of tons of weapons-grade ammo was left unguarded, thus giving the insurgents a practically inexhaustible supply of ammo they employ to this day. But somehow, the Oil Ministry was secured; though, lot of good that did us when the insurgents started using their new-found ammo to blow up oil pipelines, keeping Iraq's oil production still below pre-war levels more than three years after the invasion. All of this was predictable, all of this was avoidable. Had we had Shinseki's "several hundred thousand" troops in Iraq during the critical months of April to early August 2003, the insurgency could have been contained and probably stomped out.

Ultimately, the buck stops with Bush, but Bush wasn't the one hunched over maps orchestrating the entire war and second-guessing the experts, lecturing a cowed General Tommy Franks on tactics. Rumsfeld was -- and, for snatching stalemate from the mouth of victory by gambling that he knew better than the experts and proving the experts right in the first place, he deserves to be sacked.

Yet that does not truly do justice to Rummy's incompetence. When trying to get allies onboard to help reconstruct, the last thing you want to do is insult them ("Old Europe"). When a soldier confronts you about being sent into combat with sub-standard equipment and faulty armor, it doesn't help to blithly reply, "You go to war with army you have, not the army you want." Also, when Iraq's national treasures are looted while American troops guard the oil ministry, it's a bad PR move to respond that, "Freedom's untidy," and "Stuff happens."

And of course, who can forget Rummy's most memorable accomplishment, Abu Ghraib, which single-handedly made it impossible for the U.S. to win the war of hearts and minds in the Muslim world for a generation? Muckraker extrodinaire Seymour Hersh, who broke the abuse/torture story, also tied the abuses directly to policy decisions made by Rumsfeld, particularly his order to interrogators to "get tough" on detainees. The insistence by Bush and Rumsfeld that all detainees in their "War on Terror" were not "prisoners of war" but "enemy combatants," and therefore, the Geneva Conventions did not apply to them, led directly to Abu Ghraib. When you put MPs, rather than trained interrogators, in charge of detainees and tell them to "get tough" on these detainees, while reminding them that these detainees do not have to be treated to Geneva Convention standards -- when in short, you remove the limits that previously governed interrogation and do not impose crystal-clear new limits -- it should not be surprising when soldiers "cross the line."

Today, Rumsfeld's power is greater than ever. With the resignation of CIA chief Porter Goss and his deputy, Kyle Foggo, in the ever-widening "Duke Cunningham/bribery/influence-peddling/Watergate II/Hookergate Mother of All Scandals," Rumsfeld is closer than ever to achieving his dream: complete control over America's intelligence agencies. Contrary to popular belief, the CIA comprises only 15% of America's intel budget; more than 80% goes to agencies reporting to the DefSec. Having long clashed with the past two CIA directors to gain control of the CIA, Rumsfeld looks set to get his wish, as Bush's new CIA chief nominee is General Michael Hayden, former NSA director and Rumsfeld protege. But even Republicans seem opposed to the idea of a military man gaining control of the civilian spy agency, and Hayden's implementation of the illegal wiretapping program and his possible ties to the aforementioned Hookergate scandal make his confirmation far from a sure thing.

The most troubling aspect of this latest development is that Bush feels no qualms with rewarding Rummy's colossal failures by granting him even more power. If Bush realized that Rumsfeld's actions have left America less secure, if he recognized that pursuing the same failed policies again and again expecting a different outcome is truly insanity, if he realized that the only way to get out of a hole is to stop digging, he would fire Rumsfeld now. Actually, he would have fired him a long time ago. The fact that he hasn't raises the disturbing possibility that Bush might not even recognize that a change in course is necessary; that Bush truly believes that, as Cheney put it last May, "The insurgency is its last throes"; that as Bush put it three years ago this month, "The battle for Iraq is over." It is a frightening possibility.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Iraq: Three Years Later: Pt. 3: The Morality of War

By: UnrepentantNewDealer


When, if ever, is war justified?

This is a question as eternal as Cicero, St. Augustine, and St. Thomas Aquinas, and as timely today as ever. There are actually three modes of just war philosophy: jus ad bellum (justification/motive for the war beforehand, also known as "Just Cause"), jus in bello (what is morally right and justified conduct during time of war), and jus post bellum (which involves a just peace and the meting out of justice to war criminals). I will confine myself here to discussing jus ad bellum.

There is no doubt that early Christianity was a pacifist religion. Not only does Jesus condemn using violence, he strongly criticizes Peter when he tries to use violence on Jesus' behalf -- "Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword," (Matthew 26:52) -- seeming to indicate some sort of divine punishment, in the next life if not this one. If violence against another human being is not justified to save the life of Our Lord and Savior, then it is surely never justified.

We also have the writings of Paul: "Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.... Do not repay anyone evil for evil.... Never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, 'Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.'.... Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good." (Romans 12: 14, 17, 19, 21).

The root of my opposition to murder of any kind, be it individual or state sanctioned, capital punishment or war, is grounded on this notion: that as God is the only one who can give life, He is the only one who can take life. For anyone else to take a life is an usurpation of God's divine prerogitive, an attempt to stand on equal footing with God. Everyone from statesmen and rulers to subjects are subject to the same divine authority, so prohibitions against murder are also prohibitions against competitive organized state-sanctioned mass murder, which we quaintly call "war." Thus any Christian discussion of the morality of war must be based on the morality of murder. As the one is immoral, so must be the other.

Paul's words on submitting to state authority also seem to reinforce the inherent pacifist nature of early Christianity. This is not to preclude principled non-violent resistance to the state: Jesus' saying, "If anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile," (Matthew 5:41) refers to the common practice of Roman soldiers forcing Jews to carry their packs for them. Roman law prohibited a soldier from forcing a civilian to carry their load for more than mile (or whatever the Roman equivalent was). "Going the extra mile" was thus a devious attempt at "killing with kindness." As Paul pointed out, Jesus said, "'If your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.'" (Romans 12:20)

This all changed when the Emperor Constantine converted and Christianity went from being a persecuted faith to the official religion of the empire. Somehow, Christian pacifism had to be reconciled with the need for a state to go to war.

St. Augustine was the first to explictly develop the "just war" concept in a Christian context. St. Thomas Aquinas, drawing on Augustine's work, declared that a war is just if it meets three conditions: the warring party must be recognized as a sovereign with authority to wage war on behalf of his people, there must be "just cause", and the belligerents "must have a rightful intention, so that they intend the advancement of good, or the avoidance of evil.... For it may happen that the war is declared by the legitimate authority, and for a just cause, and yet be rendered unlawful through a wicked intention."

My problem with Aquinas' definition of a "just war" is how he, quoting Augustine, describes "just cause": "A just war is wont to be described as one that avenges wrongs, when a nation or state has to be punished, for refusing to make amends for the wrongs inflicted by its subjects, or to restore what it has seized unjustly."

Can you see the loophole in this Maginot line of logic big enough to send a Panzer division through? Virtually every nation that has ever gone to war has done so under the pretext of righting some past wrong, whether it be over Alsace-Lorraine or even at its most ridiculous, Slobadan Milosevich's rallying of his fellow Serbs from 1989-1999 to attack Muslim Kosovar ethnic Albanian civilians to avenge an ancient Serbian kingdom's defeat by Muslim forces in 1389! Any definition of "just war" that seeks to actually promote peace cannot be so vague.

I have for well over 8 years now had my own personal definition of "just war", though I didn't know the historical roots of the question. After reading Albert Einstein's The World As I See It in sixth grade, I agreed with Einstein that, just as murder is always evil, war is always evil. However, after consideration, I differed from him in that I thought that there were occasions in which war is less evil than every other alternative. As Jimmy Carter put it in his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, "War may sometimes be a necessary evil. But no matter how necessary, it is always evil, never a good."

Keeping in mind that wars are always evil and never just but sometimes necessary, under what circumstances are wars necessary? Under what circumstances can a Christian support war? I believe that there are only three types of war that are necessary:

1) Wars of self-defense: Although it is contrary to Christian precepts, most of us would agree that a person has the right to murder in self-defense. A Christian argument could be made that a state has a duty to protect its citizens, and thus a duty to defend it against foreign aggression. A good example of this is America's involvement in World War II following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

2) Wars to help weaker nations defend themselves: Not all nations are able to defend themselves against all agressors. Just as a Christian has a duty to to intervene to stop thugs from beating up a weaker party, so a state also has the duty to come to the aid of a nation that cannot defend itself against an aggressor attacking it. Britian's entry into World War I to help defend Belgium against Germany is probably the textbook example of Tenet 2.

3) Wars to stop a genocide: This is probably the most controversial tenet of my own Just War Theory. Tenets 1 and 2 both deal with violations of another nation-state's sovereignty. But if a Christian has an obligation to defend the weaker party in a contest between sovereign nations, does he not also have an obligation to defend the weaker party inside a country during time of persecution, when the contest is between a sovereign nation and at least some of her citizens? I would say yes, that arbitrary state borders should not impede justice.

This argument could also be expanded to include any mistreatment of citizens by their government, but this would lead to endless war. As long as there are despots on Earth, which will probably be as long as the urge to wield absolute power over others is part of the nature of this peculiar human animal, there will always be some abridgement of human rights. Is it worth going to war against every nation that infringes on human rights? Some of these nations have nuclear weapons, so going to to war against them would almost certainly have negative costs (nuclear winter, Armegeddon, dead numbering in the millions-to-billions range, etc.) that would far outweigh the positives sought (free speech, freedom of religion, etc.). Even for those abuser-nations without nukes, for the sake of world peace, the sword must be sheathed in favor of diplomacy. Even Churchill thought that, "Jaw-jaw [talking] is always preferable to war-war."

But there are some human rights abuses so egregious that any means taken to end them is not merely necessary but a moral duty. Such is the case with the most egrious abuse of all, the worst crime imaginable: genocide. Failing to swiftly and harshly punish the perpetrators of genocide only encourages other would-be-genocidal madmen to think they can get away with it. Under the cover of World War I, the Ottoman Empire organized the mass murder of over 1 million Armenian men, women, and children. Nothing was done; 20 years later, when Hitler was asked by his cronies why he thought he would be able to get away with his "Final Solution," his response was chilling: "Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?"

Would the Holocaust have still happened if the world had done something to stop the Armenian genocide? Would it have lasted as long as it did? For those still skeptical of my third tenet, consider that stopping the Holocaust is not permissible under the first two. If not for Hitler's monumental folly in declaring war on America after Pearl Harbor, America would not have been at war with Germany at all. Thus we would not have been able to intervene on the Continent until after Germany eventually did declare war against America after subduing Russia and Britain, by which point it would have been too late for the Jews of Europe.

Tenet 3 seems to me the most noble reason to go to war. It is also rare in human history for a nation to go to war solely to stop a genocide. In fact, it has occurred exactly once: when NATO forces bombed Serbia in 1999 to stop Milosevic's genocide against the ethnic Albanians of Kosovo province. Despite the fact that I consider war immoral, I have never been more proud to be an American than on the day the first bombs fell on Serbia.

Now, for the obvious question: Does the Iraq war meet the standards I have set to be called a "just war"? Going down the checklist, it fails to meet the first qualification, self-defense: In 2003, Iraq did not attack America, nor has it ever done so. Number 2, defending others: Iraq had not attacked any of its neighbors. The 1991 Gulf War was justified to help defend Kuwait from Iraqi aggression; from 1991-2003 there was no similar act of Iraqi aggression against its neighbors.

On the third count of genocide, there was no genocide going on inside Iraq in 2003 (perhaps one could say Saddam’s draining of the swamps of the Marsh Arabs counted, but that might be a bit of a stretch.). However, Saddam did conduct a genocide in the late 1980s against the Kurds. Intervention then would have been appropriate, but Iraq was then engaged in a war against Iran (a violation of Tenet 1), and the Reagan-Bush I administration viewed the matter through a simplistic “enemy-of-my-enemy-is-my-friend” approach. Not only did our government not stop the genocide, it defended the Iraqi regime, blaming the attacks on the Iranians, long after the international media had established the truth. Throughout the “Anfal campaign” of gas attacks against Kurdish villagers, the spigot of American monetary and weapons support stayed open, with the U.S. even passing satellite data and other sensitive materials to the Iraqis to use against Iranian forces.

So, the current Iraq War fails to meet the standards required of a just war. Ergo, the war is unjust, and it is the duty of all Christians to oppose it. Or is it? There is one type of war I have not yet addressed: preemptive war. Can a preemptive war be a just war? My conclusions on that, plus the Bush team’s sorry record on nonproliferation, the jus ad bellum of this war, will follow in my next post.

In peace,

Michael J. Smith

Friday, April 07, 2006

Iraq: Three Years Later: Pt. Deux: The First Casuality of War

By: UnrepentantNewDealer


I had originally hoped that I would post pt. 2 soon after pt. 1, but due to computer problems and tons of schoolwork in the interim, that was not to be. Since my last post, an interesting debate has been taking place on the metaphysics of abortion. I have little doubt that this debate will continue and have no wish to preempt it, only to provide a change of scenery and continue my planned series of posts on Iraq.

In the last post, I detailed the lies of the Bush administration in the leadup to the Iraq war. Due to length, I decided to end it there rather than detail precisely why these claims were lies--which is, naturally enough, the subject of this post.

Where to start? Those who don't remember Pt. 1 can catch up here. In fact, it might be a good idea to look back at the claims outlined in my last post to refresh your memory. The most startling thing about all of these claims by senior administration officials is how often they use the words "no doubt." They do not portray the intelligence as we now know it was--flawed, ambiguous, with some sources of dubious credibility affirming the administration's assertions and some sources of better credibility affirming the contrary. No, far from it, the Bush White House told Americans, in Dick Cheney's words, "Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction."

A plausible explanation for the statements of officials before the invasion that there was "no doubt" Iraq had WMD and the complete lack of WMD discovered in Iraq after the invasion is that the administration merely overstated its case. "Overstated" would be a bit of a stretch, though. "Fabricated" would seem to be more accurate.

Remember that the Bush administration's rationale for invading Iraq was not to spread democracy; in a post-9/11 world, the president knew that Americans would not support another war (in addition to the one in Afghanistan) unless he could connect it to a threat to national security. His case, which convinced most Americans, myself included, was that we knew Saddam had WMD in violation of UN resolutions, we knew that he had ties to terrorists (including a long-standing collaboration with al-Qaida), and hence, the all-too-real danger was that Saddam could give these WMD to terrorist groups to use against America and her allies. This is how we were sold the idea of preemptive war against Iraq.

The Terrorist Connection

First, the administration needed to establish links between Al-Qaida and Saddam. Right-wing partisans have tried to claim that the administration never claimed that the two were in cahoots. Yet, Bush sent a letter to Congress on the outbreak of war three years ago, to immunize himself against claims that he needed a specific authorization from Congress to invade Iraq. Quite the contrary, his letter claimed, the invasion of Iraq was already authorized by the "Authorization to Use Military Force" Congress passed after 9/11; specifically, the section giving him permission to use military force against those "nations, organizations, or persons who planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001." There really isn't any wiggle room here. Bush asserted in this letter that the regime of Saddam Hussein fit the definition of “nations, organizations, or persons who planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001.” Ergo, military action was justified without another congressional resolution.

Of course, not a shred of evidence has ever proven such a link between Al-Qaida and Saddam. The VP trotted out an alleged meeting, based on a Czech intelligence report, between the leader of the 9/11 hijackers, Mohammed Atta, and a top Iraqi intelligence officer in Prague in April of 2001. This was discredited long before the invasion of Iraq. The CIA warned that the report was not credible and the FBI had already established through financial records (later confirmed by the 9/11 Commission) that Atta was indisputably in Florida on the date in question, not in Prague. In October 2002, CIA director George Tenet told Congress that the CIA could not verify the Prague story.

Most damning of all, "on October 21, 2002, The New York Times reported that Czech President Vaclav Havel 'quietly told the White House he has concluded that there is no evidence to confirm earlier reports' of the meeting." The Czech government had passed onto the U.S. a piece of intel, then, after concluding it was fake, warned the U.S. government at the highest levels that it was not true. Someone truly concerned about Iraq's links to terrorists would have quietly laid this one to rest at this point. Yet, despite such warnings, the VP and others in the administration kept repeating this assertion up to the outbreak of war, and in Cheney's case, long after.


Beware 0f Curveballs


This was typical of the way intelligence was misused by the White House in the leadup to war. Remember this gem from Powell's speech to the UN?: "One of the most worrisome things that emerges from the thick intelligence file we have on Iraq's biological weapons is the existence of mobile production facilities used to make biological agents.... The trucks and train cars are easily moved and are designed to evade detection by inspectors. In a matter of months, they can produce a quantity of biological poison equal to the entire amount that Iraq claimed to have produced in the years prior to the Gulf War."

Turns out this was based on a single source, a former Iraqi Army major codenamed "Curveball," who was passed onto the Defense Intelligence Agency by the Iraqi exile group led by Ahmad Chalabi, the Iraqi exile convicted of bank fraud in Jordan in 1982 and considered unreliable and too close to Iran (a nation that would stand to gain quite a lot by Saddam's overthrow) by the CIA and State Department, but beloved by the neocons at the Pentagon and the White House, who made "infomation" provided by Chalabi's group the core of the case for war. (Surprise, suprise, after the invasion, it turned out Chalabi's tips were unreliable and he passed U.S. intelligence secrets to Iran. Why, oh, why, didn't someone speak out?) This "Curveball" turned out to be none other than the brother of one of Chalabi's closest associates.

"So the Defense Intelligence Agency put out a 'fabrication notice' in May 2002 for intelligence agencies advising them to consider any information from that source as suspect. But intelligence analysts ignored the notice and the information from the Iraqi major on the existence of biological weapons labs was included in the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate, a key pre-war report that assessed Iraq's banned weapons capabilities."

"On the same day of Powell's presentation, senior Iraqi officials at al-Kindi Research, Testing, Development, and Engineering facility in Mosul, Iraq, commented to the UK's Observer newspaper on pictures Powell alleged to be of Iraqi mobile laboratories saying 'those vans are used to produce hydrogen chemically for artillery weather balloons.'"

As with Atta's Prague connection, the administration was warned beforehand that these claims were bunk:

"According to an investigation by the Senate Intelligence Committee, the main source for this information was an Iraqi defector codenamed Curveball who was a source for the German central intelligence agency BND. Several German intelligence officials responsible for Curveball have now told the LA Times that the Bush administration and the CIA have repeatedly exaggerated his claims and ignored warnings of the BND that the source was unreliable. Recounting his reaction after seeing Powell's United Nations speech one German intelligence officer said: 'We were shocked. Mein Gott! We had always told them it was not proven…. It was not hard intelligence.'

"Powell was never warned that his United Nations speech contained material that both the DIA and CIA had determined was false, even though several people present at Powell's CIA meetings were fully aware of this.... Questioning the validity of Curveball's information in front of his CIA supervisor, the doctor was advised to 'Keep in mind that this war is going to happen regardless of what Curveball said or didn't say and the Powers That Be probably aren't terribly interested in whether Curveball knows what he's talking about.'

"Shortly after Powell's UN speech and several days before the invasion, United Nations weapons inspectors attempted to directly verify several key claims made by Curveball, but concluded that they were unsustainable. The White House insisted on its WMD claims based on Curveball's information.

"Even after the invasion, when more and more of Curveball's accounts were shown to be pure fabrication, the CIA and the Bush administration relied on Curveball's information. When U.S. forces discovered trucks with lab equipment and Curveball claimed that these were identical to the ones he has been reporting about, the CIA rushed to publish a White Paper claiming that these trucks were part of Saddam Hussein's secret biological weapons program and Bush claimed publicly that, 'We found the weapons of mass destruction.' Several days later, twelve of the thirteen WMD experts who analyzed the trucks agreed that the equipment was not suited for biological weapons production."

But wait, there's more!

"By this time [summer 2001], too, U.S. intelligence had been informed that Curveball was a possible alcoholic and 'out of control.'.... A second Iraqi exile source had echoed Curveball's talk of such trailers. He was judged a fabricator by the CIA in early 2002, but by July his statements were back in classified U.S. reports. As for Curveball, whose veracity was never checked by the DIA, within three months his German handlers would be telling the CIA he was unreliable, a 'waste of time.'"

Anyone who still doubts that we were lied into war should really just read the whole article. What should be apparent by this point is that the intelligence agencies didn't misread the threat posed by Saddam; their warnings merely went unheeded.

"In an unusual move, Cheney shuttled to the CIA through mid-2002 to visit analysts 10 times, according to Patricia Wald, a member of the presidential investigative commission headed by Judge Laurence Silberman and ex-U.S. Sen. Charles Robb. The commission concluded analysts 'worked in an environment that did not encourage skepticism about the conventional wisdom.'

The CIA analysts weren't proving the claims Cheney needed to convince Americans Saddam was a threat. So, he apparently figured that the analysts would magically find the evidence he was looking for if he merely watched over them at their desks. The CIA analysts still didn't seem to be getting the message, so the neocons started up an ad-hoc intelligence outfit at the Pentagon called the Office of Special Plans to provide the intelligence the neocons wanted.

In the fall of 2002, the administration started warning about Iraq's efforts to purchase uranium to build nuclear weapons. In April 2001, "a CIA report told of another 'indicator': Iraq was shopping for thousands of high-strength aluminum tubes, said to be useful as cores of centrifuges to enrich uranium, the stuff of atom bombs.... On April 11, 2001, a day after the classified CIA report was distributed, the Energy Department filed a swift dissent. Energy, home of U.S. centrifuge specialists, said the tubes' dimensions weren't well-suited for centrifuges, and were more likely meant for artillery rockets. The U.N. nuclear agency, the Vienna-based IAEA, told U.S. officials the same.

Anyone want to take a stab at what the tubes turned out to have been used for? If you guessed, "artillery rockets," you're catching on!


Taken In By Bad Forgeries

The other part of the case that Iraq was restarting its nuclear weapons program was that it was trying to buy uranium. James Bamford's A Pretext For War tells the whole sordid story. The short version is that, over the New Year's holiday in 2000/2001 the Nigerian embassy in Rome was ransacked by unknown perpetrators. Strangely, the only items removed from the embassy were documents. In September 2001, an unknown individual gave agents from SISMI, Italy's intel agency, documents allegedly showing that Wissam al-Zahawiah, Iraq's ambassodor to the Vatican, had in 1999 visited Niger to try to purchase "500 tonnes of uranium." The smoking gun was a document that was "dated July 6, 2000, and signed by Niger President Tandia Mamadou.... noted that it was legal under the Niger constitution of 1965.... The uranum was supposedly shipped on August 28 and would have arrived around the time of September 11."

These documents were painfully obvious forgeries, which we now know were fabricated using the documents stolen from the embassy. Let's do a little detective work here: "A letter dated July 30, 1999, actually refers in the past tense to supposed deals agreed to in Niamey a year later, on June 29, 2000. And the October 10 letter had the heading "Conseil Militaire Supreme," an organization that went out of existence in May 1989. The signature was that of Minister of Foreign Affairs Allele Habibou, who held the post from 1988 to 1989 and had been out of office for more than a decade. And finally, while the letter was dated October 10, it was supposedly stamped as recieved in Rome on September 28--thus it was recieved about two weeks before it was ever sent, another form of magic.

"Also, the agreement signed by President Mamadou says the transaction was approved under the May 12, 1965, constitution, but a new constitution was promulgated on August 9, 1999, and the presidential signature bore little resemblance to that of the real Tandja Mamadou. At the same time, the forger used an inaccurate representation of the national emblem.

"And a September 3, 2001, document attempting to show a connection to the attacks appears identical to the document outlining the ambassador's previous 1999 trip--same flight date and time. The only thing that was changed was the date at the top of the page. Also, by September 4, 2001, al-Zahawiah was no longer ambassador, a slight problem."

A slight problem, indeed! Revealing these documents to be forgeries wasn't hard; you could do it in hour or two on Google--which is exactly how long it took IAEA inspectors to debunk them using Google.

Turns out al-Zahawiah was merely trying to get African heads of state to visit Baghdad in defiance of the air embargo, as Libya's Ghadafi already had. These forgeries were analyzed by SISMI and a summary of the information was passed to British intelligence, which then passed on the summary to the CIA, where it was quickly deemed of dubious origin and filed away, never to see the light of day again. The State Department's own intel service also investigated the claims; the head of the unit, Greg Thielman, recalled afterwords that, "A whole lot of things told us that the report was bogus. This wasn't highly contested. There weren't strong advocates on the other side. It was done, shot down."

Unfortunately, the new Office of Special Plans, got wind of the intel and informed Cheney about it. The next morning, Cheney asked his CIA briefer to check out this report. More to humor the VP than anything else, the CIA decided to investigate further by sending former ambassador Joe Wilson to Niger. Ideally suited for the mission, he had served as envoy in Iraq and in several African nations, including Niger. Wilson investigated and found that the alleged transfer of uranium was impossible, for the Nigerian government did not own the uranium mines--Eurpoean companies did. "From the time the ore is extracted from the ground; packed in hermetically sealed, numbered, and dated drums; and transported to Benin, where it is loaded onto ships, it is heavily guarded by gendarmes and the International Atomic Energy Agency."

Wilson concluded that there was too much oversight over the mines for any such illegal sale to have occurred. He reported back to CIA headquarters that the documents were bogus; these conclusions were forwarded to the White House in March 2002. Despite these, and other warnings, the forgeries became central to the President's case for war. Remember those damning "sixteen words" from Bush's 2003 State of the Union address: "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussin recently sought significant quanities of uranium from Africa."

In reality, we now know that, "Evidence shows Iraq in 2001 had little interest in nuclear 'reconstitution.' In one captured document from that May, Iraqi diplomats in Kenya reported to Baghdad that a Ugandan businessman had offered uranium for sale, but they turned him away, saying U.N. sanctions forbade it."


The Case of Hussein Kamel

The prize for most egregious Iraq lie would surely go to Cheney and the other officials who used the words of Hussein Kamel to support their case that Iraq had WMD. Kamel was the son-in-law of Saddam and was the head of Iraq's unconventional waepons programs until his defection to the the West in 1995. He defected with thousands of pages of classified Iraqi documents on their pre-1991 WMD programs were provided to the UN weapons inspectors as well as to the CIA. Being the highest-ranking Iraqi to defect gave added credence to his words.

According to Cheney before the war, Kamel "should serve as a reminder to all that we often learned more as the result of defections than we learned from the inspection regime itself." Kamel was held up by Kenneth Pollard and other neocons as Exhibit A for why inspections were not working and preemptive war was required.

Yet, when reporter John Barry looked at the actual CIA interrogation logs for Kamel for an article for Newsweek in early 2003, he found that Kamel had actually said that, "after the Gulf War, Iraq destroyed all its chemical and biological weapons stocks and the missiles to deliver them.... a military aide who defected with Kamel... backed Kamel's assertions about the destruction of WMD stocks.' In Kamel's words, "All weapons-- biological, chemical, missile, nuclear, were destroyed."

Sadly, Kamel was no longer available to correct the neocons' misrepresentation of what he'd said. Several months after defecting, Kamel foolishly accepted Saddam's offer to return to Iraq and recieve a pardon. Like all who betrayed Saddam, Kamel recieved a bullet to the head. Yes, it ended badly for Kamel, but the fact that he was dead must have been of great comfort to the neocons three years ago. Dead men tell no tales.

Putting the Pieces Together

The former head of the CIA's Counterterrorism division, Vince Cannistraro "said that in the weeks and months leading up to the war in Iraq, the White House had exerted unprecedented pressure on the CIA and other intelligence agencies to come up with evidence linking Iraq to Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaida. Pressure was also placed on analysts, he said, to show that Baghdad was trying to build a nuclear bomb. 'They were looking for those selective pieces of intelligence that would support the policy,' Cannistraro said." (Bamford, p.335-336)

That meshes with what a British diplomat wrote in the now-infamous "Downing Street Memo" from July 2002: that, "Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy."

It also meshes with the accounts of others in the Bush administration. Then-Treasury Sec. Paul O'Neill claimed in his 2004 book "The Price of Loyalty" that the first cabinet meeting of his presidency in January 2001, was consumed by allegations of the threat posed by Iraq and the need for military action against Saddam. It meshes with White House Counterterrorism Czar Richard Clarke's assertion that on September 12, 2001, "The president, in a very intimidating way, left us, me and my staff, with the clear indication that he wanted us to come back with the word that there was an Iraqi hand behind 9/11 because they had been planning to do something about Iraq from before the time they came into office." It meshes with former Supreme Allied Commander-Europe Wesley Clark's claim that on the evening of 9/11, "I was on CNN, and I got a call at my home saying, 'You got to say this is connected. This is state-sponsored terrorism. This has to be connected to Saddam Hussein.' I said, 'But--I'm willing to say it, but what's your evidence?' And I never got any evidence."

It meshes with the note Rumsfeld's secretary took at 2:40 p.m. on 9/11, quoting Rumsfeld saying that "he wanted 'best info fast. Judge whether good enough hit S.H.' – meaning Saddam Hussein – 'at same time. Not only UBL' – the initials used to identify Osama bin Laden. 'Go massive,' the notes quote him as saying. 'Sweep it all up. Things related and not.' The preponderance of evidence meshes to form a compelling theory: that, for whatever reason, the Bush administration was determined to go to war against Iraq long before 9/11 and that they deliberately distorted and cherry-picked intelligence to present a convincing case for war.
The Lie

But, there will be those who will still say, where is the lie? Perhaps the president was ignorant of the disputes between agencies on whether Iraq had WMD? Au contraire! Take a look at This
:
"Among other things, the report stated that the Energy Department and the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research believed that the tubes were 'intended for conventional weapons,' a view disagreeing with that of other intelligence agencies, including the CIA, which believed that the tubes were intended for a nuclear bomb.

"The disclosure that Bush was informed of the DOE and State dissents is the first evidence that the president himself knew of the sharp debate within the government over the aluminum tubes during the time that he, Cheney, and other members of the Cabinet were citing the tubes as clear evidence of an Iraqi nuclear program. Neither the president nor the vice president told the public about the disagreement among the agencies....

"The report stated that U.S. intelligence agencies unanimously agreed that it was unlikely that Saddam would try to attack the United States -- except if 'ongoing military operations risked the imminent demise of his regime' or if he intended to 'extract revenge' for such an assault, according to records and sources.
"

On the eve of war, Bush told Americans, "Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised." He also repeatedly claimed Saddam Hussein's regime posed a threat to America. In reality, we now know that the President was informed that there was doubt among America's intel agencies about whether Iraq had WMD, and that the intel agencies unanimously agreed that Saddam would not try to attack America. I do not fault him for choosing to believe that Saddam had WMD. I do fault him for saying that there was no doubt that Saddam had WMD, when in fact, that was very much in doubt, and the president knew it was in doubt before he made the above statement. I do fault him for claiming that Saddam posed an imminent threat to America when no intel agency made that claim.That's not overstating your case. That's lying to the American people--and to the world. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I rest my case.

Actually, not quite. The reason it's important that Bush lied before the war is that it calls into question both his credibility and competence in the three years since. If Bush had prosecuted the Iraq war competently and truthfully, the fact that he lied us into the war in the first place would merely be crying over spilt milk. Instead, the same incompetence and dishonesty that characterized the leadup to the war has also dominated the three years since.

To Be Continued....

Friday, March 31, 2006

A reformed argument awaiting refutation...

By: Ed


Ok, after much thought the previous argument presented was erronous on several fronts.
1. It failed to use precise language (personhood is too ambiguous and defining it as I did did not capture the fullness of the word and also created confusion. Besides, using it necessitates my defining it. I would rather force others to do the work while keeping the same type of conclusion. As Dr. Hoffman put it, "why obligate yourself to extra premises when you don't have to?"

2. Premise 1 is faulty. What it should say is the if one can't differentate between two things then they must share the same property. Furthermore, it would require what "differentiate" entails.

So, without further eloquence I come to the reformed argument that I belief rectifies these difficulties. Remember please to criticise the argument. We can discuss the consequenses of the conclusion later, but of immediate importance is whether or not the premises are true and the conclusion follows from them.

P1 However one chooses to distinguish between a human organism, A, with the right to life and a human organism, B, without the right to life (and without B having made a choice to forfeit those rights by B's actions ie: Murderers who are constant threats to others) then one will always find a possible human, C, without the right to life under the deffinition one uses to differentiate between A and B but who in fact has the right to life under the current justice system.

P2 It is illogical, immoral and illegal to distinguish between a human organism, A, with the right to life and human organism, B, without the right to life without 1) Just Cause and 2)being consistent in the deffinition under the law.
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In the current system of law, one cannot distinguish between a human organism, A, with the right to life and a human organism, B, without the right to life legally, morally or logically.


Just Cause is defined as:

1) Demonstrating a clear intrinisic difference/change between what one considers human organism A (with the right to life) and human organism B (without the right to life) that provides sufficient reason to deny the right to life to organism B.

2. The argument demonstrating this change must be sound. That is, All mammals are warm blooded means that human organism under 2 can be legally killed is not a sound argument. The conclusion does not follow from the premises.

Just Cause is an integral part of this argument. We easily say that I or whomever is reading this argument has the right to life. Therfore, intuitively we see this need in humanity. Part of the support for this idea of humanities intuitive support for life comes from the fact that humans, for the most part, promote killing another human, x, only when x tries to divert from the aforementioned intuition by either 1) killing another human 2) Threatening to kill another human or 3) Removing another humans quality of life in such a way that a perceived death occurs for other humans. It could also be argued that we have this same intuition (provided someone is not seriously disturbed) for all life. We hesitate to kill without sufficient reason. This is compounded when the killing is of other human organisms. Therfore, I would say that it must be demonstrated why the right to life must be taken from another living thing, especially a human organism. For animals, this can be done a bit more easily. We need them to live. We eat them. It could perhaps be that in more advanced countries this is not so, but in general eating some meat allows at least a healthier life.

Furthermore, the fact that someone must demonstrate sufficient reason to deny the right to life protects racial, gender, religious, ect discriminations from becoming a genocide. Thus the argument puts the burden for defining the difference between organism A and organism B on someone else, while protecting against unjust discrimination.

For example, consider the premise that:
1) All human organisms under 28 weeks old do not have the right to life

This cannot follow. One reason is that time is not an intrinsic change. If it were, I could say the all people over age 90 do not have the right to life. The only way then to differentiate between organism A and organism B is to use a developmental deffinition which I believe, in any possible instance, can fall into premise 1 of the initial argument and then not satisfy condition 2 of premise 2 (consistency).

Furthemore, the current differentiation between organism A and organism B used in the Supreme Court is thrown out by this argument. It is concievable that a possible person C can be at conception put into a machine that simulates the womb. Thus, the human organism is viable. Therfore, the viability argument does not demonstrate intrinsic change in the organism since the womb is just another way for the human organism to recieve nurishment.

It could be argued though that there is a difference between the womb and a machine simulating the womb. This is the argument that the mother does not wish to be used as an environment for the human organism created within her. This is the heart of the pro abortion argument. However, premise 1 comes to the rescue with the idea of possible human organisms currently protected under the law. Let us suppose that siamese twins are born with one twin having all the vital organs necessary to live and the other lacking, say, a heart. The twin with all of the organs necessary for life may not want to be used to keep another alive, but nonetheless they are in that position and the second twin without the heart is protected under the law.

I really think this argument works. Let me know and thanks for the input,

Ed

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Metaphysical Theories of Substance

By: Ed


I am taking a Metaphysics course right now at UNCG and am doing quite well. It is taught by Dr. Hoffman who, it turns out, has written a book with another faculty member (in fact our main textbook) that solves problems that nobody else has ever solved before.

Metaphysics is a philosophy course that deals with being qua being. That is, with what exists; with what is. Part of this is determining what actually exists and the second part is categorizing and explaining it. I think at this point most people know several philosophical jabs by now having to do with odd philosophies. Mostly these deal with "Does this diploma really exist" types of jokes. These philisophical views always perplexed me until my Metaphysics course. It turns out that substance is surprisingly hard to define. Try it. I did and it appears almost impossible.

For example, one fellow tried to define it in terms of properties. All the properties of a ball (height, color, width, texture, ect) in one place at one time. That is a substance. Unfortunately you can't differentiate then between a ball and the event of a ball being at rest. Events then can become a substance, which simply won't do. Furthermore, a soul in intuitively a spiritual substance and so, having no physical place, cannot be a substance.

To make a long story short, and come closer to the point of this post, the deffinition has to do with a certain unity that substances have. This is easy for a box, but becomes harder for people and organisms. To allow organisms in, a functional type of unity is used. (By the way, these principles stand, and have stood for some time, unrefuted in the world of philosopy)

So, my point...

It turns out that with this deffinition a human organism is the same substance, that is, a human organism, from conception to death even though it goes through tremendous change. (My philosophy teacher also teaches a philosophy of the constitution class which I am taking next semester) The Supreme court affirms this fact. They, however, make the distinction between a human organism and a human person. The human organism that has the property of personhood, they would argue, must be viable from the mother's womb. That is to say, as they define it, must be able to survive outside the mother's womb. This is not counting machines or other implements needed for the child to live. If it were, then anyone on insulin could be killed legally.

So here is the problem. With more scientific research and progress, earlier and earlier premature births can succeed. It could, logically, be that one day a human organism is viable at conception. At least for now, partial birth abortions are out the window by the supreme courts own deffinition.

So here is my argument...

P1 If one cannot differentiate between a human organism and a human organism with the property of personhood then either all human organisms have personhood or all human organisms do not have personhood.

P2 It is not the case that all human organisms do not have personhood (ie: we know we, myself and the reader, have personhood)

P3 It is not the case that we can differentiate between a human organism and a human organism with the property of personhood.
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All human organisms have the property of personhood.

Deffinition 1...
Personhood: The same as having rights; of being distinctly human and subject to the protection of the law.

A defense of premise 3....

This is assuming that the viability of a child at conception occurs with more scientific advances. Another deffinition can't replace the current one used in the Supreme Court(at least not that I can think of).

For example, it can't be consciousness because then I could kill anyone who is asleep or in a coma. It can't be a test of mental faculties because then I could kill all mentally handicapped people. It can't be a test of physical functions because then any blind, deaf, sick, elderly or otherwise infirm and handicapped person could also legally be killed.

Certainly we are not at the point where a child is viable at conception, but there are a great deal of abortions that occur when a fetus is viable right now and so the Supreme Court goes against its own deffinition. This can only lead to chaos since the law needs to be specific and enacted as such.

Let me know what you think of this argument,

Ed