Viewing the Candidates Through the Iran Vote

Here is why liberals cannot believe a word of Hillary’s talk on Iraq (Nezua, Unapologetic Mexican):

Here she goes again, authorizing war. I’m just curious…what will she say later, when the obvious disaster that bombing Iran would bring about has the People furious, out in the street, and demanding accountability? That she was duped? Again? That we ALL thought Iran was a grave threat?

This is damning. What will she say? Hillary took a long time, longer than any of the other candidates, to even come around in the weakest of ways as an anti-war candidate (if you can call her nuanced position even that). And now she goes and preps this nation for another round of blood, money, and perhaps even nuclear waste. Also notable was Obama’s brave abstention from the vote. What the fuck is that about? Cowardice. Unable to take a stand and get nailed to an issue as (gasp) having a position, Obama joined McCain in staying silent and ineffective.

And for all the talk about experience, well, here’s that argument shot to shit. Hillary has mountains of experience, and look at her vote! Now contrast that with freshman senator Webb (via Florida Democrat at Dailykos):

Senator Webb’s video at Think Progress urging a vote against this Amendment:
http://thinkprogress.org/…

We haven’t had one hearing on this. I’m on the Foreign Relations Committee, I’m on the Armed Services Committee. We are about to vote on something that may fundamentally change the way the United States views the Iranian military and we haven’t had one hearing. This is not the way to make foreign policy. It’s not the way to declare war.

This is no way to lead, and no way to be a Democrat. It is a great way to drive us into another dangerous war even as we stretch our military to the breaking point losing two others in the region. At what point does the blatant disregard for the practical detriment to our security become enough of a crisis for us to end this madness? You’ll notice how many Senators, Republicans and Democrats, voted for this to pass.

Capitol Switchboard: 202-224-3121. Ask to be connected to your Senator. Talk to a staff person. If you don’t get through Call or Email them directly.

Let your local candidates know they have won your active opposition in the future. Let’s do everything we can to keep the Hillarycrats and the Republicans from one more term of power. This nation cannot afford it.

The Miss Ripped Off Pageant

Apparently Beauty pageants, in addition to all the other lovely things they represent, are more about exploitation than scholarships (Freckles Cassie, YOUTHinkLeft):

I HATE beauty pageants. Big time hate. But I know I will need a scholarship to go to college and I support girls that do the beauty pageant thing in order to get a scholarship. So reading stories like this bothers me. They’re combining to try to keep her from collecting. I hope she wins!

Jennifer Lee, New York Times:

Ashley Wood, 2004’s Miss South Carolina, is locked in a dispute with the pageant over its failure to distribute the scholarship that was part of her prize.

You are talking about an organization that is promoting itself as the largest scholarship provider for women in the world,” Ms. Wood, 26, said of the Miss America Organization. “When contestants try to collect their funds, they encounter one obstacle after another.”

Which negates the raison d’etre of Beauty Pageants:

But in 2007, when women are attending college and grad school in record numbers, when the first female Speaker of the House is in power, and when women have unprecedented access to almost all professional fields, why are we still playing dress-up for money?

Only, for some at least, they aren’t even playing dress up for money.  Makes me wonder where the “tax deductible contribution to the Miss America Scholarship Fund” is actually going.

AT&T Building Censorship into New Terms of Sevice

attcensored.jpg

From slashdot:

marco13185 writes “AT&T’s new Terms of Service give AT&T the right to suspend your account and all service “for conduct that AT&T believes”…”(c) tends to damage the name or reputation of AT&T, or its parents, affiliates and subsidiaries.” After cooperating with the government’s violations of privacy and liberties, I guess AT&T wants their fair share. AT&T users may want to think twice about commenting if they value their internet service.”

I’d say this adjustment to the their Terms of Service damages the name and reputation of AT&T, its parents, affiliates, and subsidiaries. A brand is a difficult thing to build, and AT&T appears to be doing a great job of marketing their new brand as a censored communications firm.

(original image from AT&T)

American Mercenaries and the Death of Law

Blackwater mercenaries:  Coming to an American neighborhood near you (pecunium at Majikthise, emphasis mine):

The reports out of New Orleans, that Blackwater had been deputised to provide security, were worrisom.

Then I see things like this piece by Naomi Wolff which is about the ways in which Blackwater is positioning istelf to get more work in the states.

What is Blackwater? According to reporter Jeremy Scahill, the firm has 2,300 private soldiers deployed in nine countries, and maintains a database of an additional 21,000 to call upon at any time. Blackwater has over ‘$500 million in government contracts — and that does not include its secret “black” budget…’ One congressman pointed out that in terms of its manpower, Blackwater can overthrow ‘many of the world’s governments.’ Recuiters for the company seek out former military from countries that have horrific human rights abuses and use secret police and paramilitary forces to terrify their own populations: Chileans, Peruvians, Nigerians, and Salvadorans.

Blackwater is coming home to Main Street, and one of our key constitutional protections is at stake. The future for growth is directed at increased deplyment in the US in cases of natural disaster — or in the event of a ‘public emergency.’ This is a very dangerous situation, of course, now that laws have been passed that let the President decide on his say-so alone what a ‘public emergency’ might be.

The Department of Homeland Security hired these same Blackwater contractors to patrol the streets of New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina — for a contract valued at about $73 million. Does Blackwater’s reputation for careless violence against civilians in Iraq, protected by legal indemnification, matter to us? Scahill reports at least one private contractor’s accounts of other contractors’ abrupt shooting in the direction of American civilians in the wake of Katrina: ‘After that, all I heard was moaning and screaming, and the shooting stopped.’

How protected is Blackwater from prosecution for its crimes? The company’s lawyers argue that Blackwater can’t be held accountable by the Uniform Code of Military Justice, because they aren’t part of the US military; but they can’t be sued in civil court, either — because they are part of the US military.

The thought of armed mercs with a history of violence and terror patrolling our streets, convinced they have the authority to detain, the authority to act as officers of the law, is really fucking frightening.  pucinium’s reaction is understandable at a visceral level:

I’m spending more time at the range than I used to, and if Blackwater comes to my part of town, well that’s it, you’d better believe there’s a civil disturbance, because at that point I’ll be in revolt.

Before it comes to that, we might want to remind our congress critters, our senators, the newspapapers; and everyone we can think of, that USC Title 18 Part 1 Chapter 118 § 2441 is out there, and see about using it.

Blackwater maintains its employees are above the law (with our government’s support!), and has a history of violence and murder:

I was amazed, actually, that the problem of Order 17 (Paul Bremer’s diktat that contractors were immune from Iraqi prosecution) didn’t come to a head sooner, when this happened.

In December, a Blackwater employee shot and killed one of the vice president’s guards without provocation, Iraqi officials say. The employee left Iraq and no longer works for Blackwater.

Imagine that happening here (one of Dick Cheney’s Secret Service detail being  shot dead by the private bodyguard of the Ambassador of anywhere), and the only thing happening is the guy, “is no longer in [the United States].”

Yeah, right.

And there’s more:

Or this,

BAGHDAD — The Blackwater incidents cited by Iraq’s Interior Ministry as reason for the security firm to be barred from operating in Iraq include the deaths of four people with ties to Iraq’s government-funded television network.

The first of those was the Feb. 2 shooting death of Suhad Shakir, a reporter with the Al Atyaf channel, as she was driving to work. She died outside the Foreign Ministry near the Green Zone, where top U.S. and Iraqi officials live and work.

B lackwater employees murdered a journalist.  Who is to say they won’t pull the same stunt here?  Here is an except of Lindsay’s encounter with some Blackwater employees in the US (Majikthise):

When I looked in their eyes, I felt something entirely new to me–a basic mammalian sense of dread. It was as if some part of my brainstem came alive and said: “These people are predators. They would kill you.”

These mercenaries were nothing like the lunger. In fact, they weren’t overtly threatening, or outwardly aggressive. Actually, some of them were friendly in their own twitchy dead-eyed way.

As soon as I got out of sight and back to the rental car, I started shivering and didn’t stop for almost an hour.

In retrospect, I realize that I only dared to approach these guys because of a naive faith that I was an unarmed US journalist in the USA.
I can’t imagine what it would be like to live in a society where these guys were around every corner, unbound by the rule of law.

I can.  Suddenly the appeal of mercenaries, especially for domestic security, becomes absolutely clear.  Individuals who are not bound by normal human emotions or ethics employed in a way to minimize or eliminate any recourse through the courts, military or civilian.  Blackwater represents an authoritarian’s  dream come true.  And every bit of power and legitimacy they obtain makes opposing them all the harder, and stopping their abuse of human rights an uphill battle.

The image was taken from unitedcats:

One last thing that concerns me. Do we want private American armies in the USA? The above picture of Blackwater Mercenaries was taken in New Orleans.

In the markedly vain hope somewhere in our leadership there remain those with, if not wisdom, then at least good sense, I’ll offer up a few words from an old hand at politics and war:  Machiavelli:

Mercenaries and auxiliaries are useless and dangerous; and if one holds his state based on these arms, he will stand neither firm nor safe; for they are disunited, ambitious and without discipline, unfaithful, valiant before friends, cowardly before enemies; they have neither the fear of God nor fidelity to men, and destruction is deferred only so long as the attack is; for in peace one is robbed by them, and in war by the enemy. The fact is, they have no other attraction or reason for keeping the field than a trifle of stipend, which is not sufficient to make them willing to die for you.

And these prescient words should chill you with the cold air of familiarity (emphasis mine):

I wish to demonstrate further the infelicity of these arms. The mercenary captains are either capable men or they are not; if they are, you cannot trust them, because they always aspire to their own greatness, either by oppressing you, who are their master, or others contrary to your intentions; but if the captain is not skilful, you are ruined in the usual way.

American employed mercenaries, abroad and at home, represent a grave and present threat to our safety, our freedom, and the rule of law.

Burma Killing Unarmed Civilians

The Burmese government is committing murder (The Guardian):

Burma’s brutal suppression of street protests has been graphically exposed in video footage that raises the possibility that soldiers deliberately shot dead a Japanese journalist.

Japan is sending a diplomat to Burma to investigate the death of Kenji Nagai, who was one of at least nine people killed when troops opened fire on protesters yesterday.

The video images – which some Japanese experts say depict Nagai being deliberately shot in the chest at close range – will pile further pressure on a regime already facing international revulsion.

They’ve switched off internet access and are doing their best to stifle dissent.  In the meantime rumors of military unrest continue to grow:

As fresh clashes broke out, bloggers inside Burma reported dissent among troops, with soldiers refusing to leave their barracks.

The reports, which could not be independently verified, said soldiers in Mandalay, Burma’s second largest city, had refused to fire on demonstrators and had even been fighting each other.

For more updates (via Bob Harris at This Modern World):

Now that the inevitable crackdown has begun, with Buddhist monks being rounded up and protesters shot in the streets, if you’d like to follow what’s happening in Burma a little more closely — even after the next American celebrity gets in trouble with the law — bookmark Burma Digest.

Via MoveOn, Avaaz.org:  Stand with the Burmese Protesters.

Ron Paul Would Veto Children’s Health Insurance

Here’s an interesting point to consider when regarding Ron Paul as a potential President.  Imagine he was in office now.

We know he opposes universal health care.  And federal level social programs.  And taxes.

So even as Bush, in a widely despised move, prepares to veto health care for millions of children, consider.   Ron Paul would do the same thing.

The Creationist Trap

There’s an interesting post by Cory over at Josiah Concept Ministries.  In the post and the ensuing thread, we can see an old battle taking place.  Cory (representing creationists) is asking scientists to defend evolution, and Elizabeth (representing scientists) is stating that there is no science on their side.  Cory responds by criticizing Elizabeth’s knowledge of scripture, and oh what a mess we have.

Its a very instructive mess.  The first thing to leap out is the “knowledge of scripture” issue:

As a favor to her, I will help her readership by dismantling the logic behind this post, which of course betrays the fact that Elizabeth (can I call you Liz?) has surface level knowledge of Scripture at best. That statement is being kind, actually.

If creationism is a scientific theory, how is scripture in any way relevant?  We are talking science here, where empirical observations and repeatable results are the order of the day.  It gets better.  When coupled with the attacks on evolution as a theory, you can see a clear projection of faith based reasoning to science.  Faith is set in stone.  Science endeavors to find and describe reality.  So even if evolution were utter bunk, hey, no problem.  Find a better theory.

But even getting into that debate, tempting though it may be, is not productive.  The issue isn’t one of epistemic concern about how theories are born.  It is an issue of inserting religion into the science classroom, and the ensuing effects.

Creationism is, bluntly, a religious issue.  Pretending otherwise is completely dishonest.  So called intelligent design is nothing more than apologetics dressed up in a lab coat with a serious expression.  “Buy Christianity”, the actor says.

So don’t get into the debate.  Calls to “defend evolution” are a ploy to get the debate off topic from separation of church and state.  Creationism and its deformed cousin Intelligent Design are firmly nailed to the church.  And the church has no place in biology class.  It has no place in a public school save as an elective for the curious.

But let’s play devils advocate for those Christians who want to force their beliefs on all students in the public school system.  Ok, you win.  Now what?  Imagine an America with anti-gay, abstinence only, creationist, flat earth, curricula.  This isn’t just an issue of how poorly our students could compete in the sciences.  We’d be utterly trashing an entire generation’s ability to handle sex, sexuality, and even reasoning.  When you introduce the idea that faith can substitute for hard facts, all kinds of crazy possibilities open up.

The best way to keep a lid on those possibilities is to nip this in the bud.  Creationism isn’t science.  Its religious belief.  It has no place in the classroom, and no, we don’t need to take its proponents as serious scientists.  Creationists are nothing more than apologists trying to keep the light of reason from shining on their scripture by pulling the wool over the eyes of our students.

And for all that, I really liked how Cory ended his post:

So, if God formed mankind special out of the soil–then that is true.  Perhaps, then, there are intermediate steps (shown by evolution) that are not discussed by the Bible since the Bible isn’t pretending to be a science textbook.  There is truth in it, certainly, and we can’t ignore the truth it contains.  But understanding the mechanics of the nature that God created isn’t sinful, and certainly brings Him glory.

Both for the positive aspect (a creationist making an effort to tackle evolution), and the negative.  This line of thinking is much the same as the medieval logic that posited heaven existed outside the sphere which held the stars.  It is the belief that where science hasn’t reached, religion lives.   But as long as religion relies on arguments from authority and faith, rather than reason and observable reality, there is a gulf that cannot be breached.  Science doesn’t need to fit in the intellectual box religion affords it.  Science is just this:  our attempt to understand and interact with reality.

So when you read about priests accepting evolution, yes thats nice.  But it feeds into a frame that actually weakens our position.  The conciliation of science and religion has no bearing on the creationist debate other than to afford religion a false legitimacy.  And there’s no need to make our opponents arguments for them.  All the more so when our own argument is that rarest of gems: simple and effective.