October 08, 2016

Yes, It Does Reflect Who You Are, Donald! [just go away aready, you disgusting bully]

While the "deplorables" is a recent tag, and H.Clinton has gotten lots of criticism about this, it's appropriate. The only question is the size of this dirt bag. The GOP should have realized that Trump was riding a wave that had those deplorables as its core. The ones filled with hate, prejudice, and utter ignorance. And, he encouraged this. No party should have promoted anyone who gets on stage and denigrates possible future presidents of the US by calling them, "ugly," "little ..." . "lyin'.. etc, and brags about the size of his penis.

But, he is the product of the seeds and cultivation the GOP employed in the last 10 years. That unless Republicans are in charge everything else is suspect, treasonous, foreign, anti-American, anti-Xtian, illegitimate, and worthy of not only disrespect, but hate too. Everybody knows how the Congressional GOP and its leaders have behaved. Same with others down the line to local levels. Trump rode this wave the GOP created, so the GOP, Tea party, etc, all OWN him. As he said last week, "I reflect you"... 

This pussy-scandal shouldn't surprise anyone. If anyone didn't know of or cared about Don's personality before this latest revelation confirms that they've rightly have earned the label of deplorables!
A juvenile, braggart, vile, dangerous ignoramus, who wants to run the United States as a gambling hole, while encouraging and employing a basket of deplorables. He has lead them by example! What more do you want to reject this disgusting bully?

February 19, 2016

Divided Government, Partisanship and Glidlock, But Otherwise "We're Number One!"

As amazing as it may sound to those who follow politics, many people in our country don't really understand the role the US Supreme Court plays. They see the fight between president Obama and Congress about nominating a new justice as another political game. Many of my students when asked how does the high court affect their lives couldn't come up with specific cases that determined the conditions and direction of our country. A few mentioned the Roe v. Wade case and then a couple others remembered the decisions about "Obama care" and same-sex marriage.

It's the same view the general public has that things will work out, more or less regardless who's on the Supreme Court, and to similar extend in Congress. Oh, yeah, there's partisanship and some hot-button issues, but most of us have picked a team (like in sports), and we hope for the best while we expect to be disappointed by the way our political system works.

I hope this issue of getting the 9th justice on the supreme court is an educational opportunity in many ways. For starters, it highlights the principle of division of power, checks and balances. Or, how the US model separates the executive (president) from the legislature (Congress) in contrast to most western countries where the executive (usually a prime minister) control the majority of seats in the legislature (parliament). 

On this topic, I wish the media asked the presidential candidates the following question, "How do you expect to do all the things you say you will do when we have a divided government, and in all probability--judging from the last many years--Congress will not go along with your plans?"   

As for the supreme court, the president gets to nominate, and eventually gets someone he chose confirmed. The Senate cannot reject or delay forever. I can see why the Democrats might have opposed a G W Bush nomination in 2008 a few months before the election, but conservative presidents choose conservative judges, like liberals choose their kind. The times of "mainstream" or truly independent candidates for the supreme court are over. The two parties are far apart, primarily because the Republican party has left the mainstream.

Also, an appointment to the high court with its eventual effect on our society is part of a president's legacy. The stakes are high, especially in a politically, and I dare say culturally, divided country. That's why presidents now look to nominate someone in their late 40s or early 50s so they can stay on the court for 30 years!  Funny, thing, I asked my students if they could imagine themselves age 50 and they almost fell off their seats. They got the point though that the next ..supreme will be on the high court making decisions affecting their lives until they reach age 50!

Heck, that's a good enough reason to register and vote!

February 14, 2016

The Year of the Monkey Ushers Fun and Games. But Who's Going to be Laughing by Year's End?

This is shaping to be a nice new year, and once again we're called to make a decision about the direction of our country. There are vast differences between the two parties' candidates, and let's not forget that elections have consequences! The Supreme Court is always at play during a presidential election.

There have been great debates about the direction of the country already, but new ideas come primarily from the left as the right wants to bring back what it has been tried before, often with dire outcomes. Yes, "the system" has a momentum that can't be easily changed given present political realities, unless, as Bernie Sanders says, public opinion and voting changes to reflect the need for change--change that will restore most benefits to the middle class.

The presidential term lasts 8 years, and Obama has over 300 days left in office. God just gave us a gift by recalling Scalia from the US Supreme Court. How can you argue with God, right? Scripture, as per St. Paul, says the people should obey those in power, because, after all, there's a divine plan in place. Therefore, Obama should nominate a replacement asap, and the president should be the communicator-in chief in order to get the new SCOTUS justice confirmed by the Senate.

Despite the nice statements about the departed justice, Scalia was a divisive figure and a conservative champion who believed in a romantic but unrealistic view of the US constitution. The conservatives have been attacking the liberal justices as "activists" who find rights in the constitution and overturn the "will of the people" and legislatures. Of course, the 2000 SCOTUS decision to essentially give G.W. Bush the presidency was an act of judicial activism by the conservatives.  

Marco Rubio put it bluntly yesterday, that the US constitution is not "a living, breathing" document but must be interpreted "as the founders intended."  This is a conservative but misguided view. The constitution was meant for a living and breathing country, not a dead one of the 18th century! A time when owning arms meant a musket and a knife!  Indeed, we tweaked it 27 times already. And, many necessary changes that promoted rights, freedom, and the quality of life came via the judiciary branch, especially when states--often representing local majorities--remained stuck in the 18th century.

There are many cases of importance the high court has to decide before it goes into recess in June, cases such for voting rights, Obamacare, union organizing, immigration, etc.  So, let the gladiatorial games begin...  Happy Chinese new year by the way.

November 15, 2015

We are All French Today. We Cannot Allow the Terrorists to Win

The terrorist attacks in France demonstrate that we are still very primitive as a species, although we're not all on the same page or even time. Of course, we can disagree about everything, but we should be conducting ourselves in a more civilized manner by now. Alas, we have a long way to go before we eliminate violent conflict and improve the condition of life for humanity. But, what are those chains holding us back?

Exploitation, competition for resources, and a long history of conflict, make it harder to achieve peace and prosperity. Primitive ideas and religion make matters worse. This has to be acknowledged. Certain myths and belief systems must be given up if we are to progress; such beliefs our clearly outdated. Perhaps there was a need some time ago that the world, the universe was explained through myths and superstitions. It doesn't have to be today in the 21st century! 

The Paris terror attack has several causes. One is the religious faith of people who see western secular societies as the devil's playground. Such faith fuels their hatred and makes it easier to kill others and themselves. Another is the economic and political conditions in places where western imperial powers occupied lands and exploited the local populations. Wars--either started by the West or perpetually being fought on the ground in the Middle East--traumatize people and thus makes it easier to be radicalized. However, radicalism includes indoctrination and certain cultural traditions makes it easier to capture adherents. Despondent youth are prime recipients of such indoctrination. 

Rational thinking and a calm approach to problems isn't the norm in crisis situations. A prolonged crisis creates scars, harsh memories, and emotions of revenge as in the case of places that have been experiencing wars, famine, violence, and instability for generations after generations. Peace and prosperity, and feelings that life is getting better aren't created overnight. It takes time. Cultures and personal attitudes change when there's stability, affluence, and improving conditions for at least a generation or two.

At this point, though, we have to evaluate the situation without rushing to extremes and let anger--which is understandable after such a horror--dictate our reaction. Obviously, we want to maintain our open tolerant and diverse societies, but we have to be careful who we admit. This is not xenophobia, but I think a country has the right to limit entrance to those who don't share the established political and cultural values.

So, is this different than,say, what Saudi Arabia is doing? Absolutely! In Saudi, free expression is not allowed. Any critical remark earn you lashing and the death penalty as this barbaric regime employs totalitarian control over its sheepish people. In our world, however, free expression is encouraged even if it means criticizing everything and everybody. As long as it is peaceful and there's no incitement to violence. But, those who see membership in this society must accept these rules of conduct.

My thoughts (not prayers) are with the terror victims' families, their friends, and to the whole French nation.  I understand what they mean when people say, my prayers are with you, but we should not encourage this religious nonsense, because it impedes progress and peace.  

  . . 

September 27, 2015

Is the Pope Catholic? Yes, But, He Sides With Progressive Liberals on Social & Economic Matters

Is the pope Catholic? Well, of course he is, even though he's challenging traditional conservatism in the church. OK, he says he believes in the devil and that exorcisms make sense. Plus, he's turning some really obnoxious people into saints. But, you know he's hitting a wall of criticism with the economic elites,  and the socio-political conservatives. He's also popular with the masses and the intellectuals who want the church to leave the dark ages and come forward. 

Obviously, a church has to be conservative in many ways, but religious dogma changes over time. What is practiced today in several important ways is not what the church did just a couple centuries ago. The Enlightenment and the formation of another heavyweight--the modern state--curtailed the influence of the church.

It's funny to watch the faithful complain when they taste what they had prescribed for others. Oh, the Xtians are persecuted, they shout. Like Ted Cruz and Mike Hackabee said coming to the defense of the Kentucky city clerk who refused to issue marriage licenses, because, heck, that's against her religion. Hey, have you heard of the Amish who works at the Motor Vehicle Dpt and refuses to register any ..machines of the devil? Haha.

But, we have to applaud the pope when he makes speeches that help move people in the right direction. The environment, health care, immigration, the income-wealth distribution, etc, are some of the issues championed by progressives. We know that some people and leaders aren't moved by rational arguments and facts when these come from their opponents. So, it's important to have someone they respect say these things. It moves the needle of our national dialogue in the right direction. Thank you, Pope Francis.

August 11, 2015

Paul Krugman is Correct About Trump and the Rest of the GOP Field. The Know-Nothings Have Made a Comeback

Update, Aug. 11th: Those who thought Trump would implode after bullying everyone at the GOP debate and blowing lots of noisy hot air out of his.. orifices, new polls indicate the opposite, because, heck, the conservative base likes what Trump represents. The GOP leadership want to hide this ugly reality from the rest of America.

In the first contest state, Iowa, according to the latest poll, Trump leads the field at 19%, followed by Ben (who?) Carson at 12%.  In the second state contest and first primary, in New Hampshire, Trump jumped up by 7% to 32% [New Hampshire poll] after the debate. The second choice, Jeb Bush, dropped to 11%.

I think it's time for this blog to endorse Donald Trump for the Republican Party's nomination in 2016. I think Sarah Palin would be a great VP on the ticket with him. What? She's not running? OK, let's keep our eyes & ears open on this.....

Another excellent editorial by Paul K; it's worth reading it in its entirety. (see below)

The GOP strategists and party leaders aren't happy with the Donald because he's damaging and already damaged party with the mainstream (centrists and independents) voters. But, what Trump represents is the basis of the activist part of the Republican party. He's expressing views that, although deeply-held in GOP's heart, are not usually expressed when Republicans are seeking mainstream votes.  Don't believe me? Just read the national and state Republican parties' platforms. There, you find many abhorrent views that fly well with the conservative base but are sunk in the waters of where the rest of the country lives!

I often wonder how it's possible two people to see something in front of their eyes and form totally different conclusions. If it's about factual findings, then, I had believed, it'd be a simple matter of using logic and evidence to ascertain the facts. But, in reality this rarely happens, especially when something is deemed important by the individual!  People are greatly influenced by culture (including religion), ideology, and a personal sense of a comfort zone. The ideological part can numb the mind and make someone lazy to chew up and digest information. Conformity was rewarded. Venturing outside the comfort zone--into the discomfort of realizing you've made a mistake--wasn't/isn't desired either.

But, I think it may be a personality trait on how to approach life. Being a conservative is natural, or at least it's how the vast majority of humans lived and experienced their lives. Captured by culture and in time. Very few ventured outside the norm. It can be argued that such approach made sense too. At the very least, blaze makers were not rewarded but they were rather persecuted, tortured, and killed. Group think was the norm. Of course there were divisions and big conflicts. Recently, I've been pouring over the religious conflicts after the Protestant Reformation. Yes, Martin Luther, Kalvin, and others brought about tremendous change, but much of it--and it took many generations to be evident--was unintended. The bloody religious wars pitted one religious faction against another, but in essence all sides hadn't been that radical--as they all held different versions of the same flawed illusion of a divine creator who insisted upon how we dress, what we eat, how we screw, how we kill our enemies, etc.

Now, how is it that most of us think Trump is someone who uses empty (though appealing) rhetoric. He said he didn't prepare for the first GOP debate last week. I believe him, because he doesn't have to be specific as long as he appears to know and uses generalities specifically addressing the concerns of the conservative base. Instead of responding to Megyn Kelly's question about his paleolithic views on women, he responds by personally attacking her and ..Rosie O'Donnell. That debate broke all viewership records for such debates other than presidential ones. Trump was tramp. The GOP leadership may not want him but if the activist base--those who show up during the Republican primary selection process--this is exciting.

The 2016 election, was supposed to be a showcase of the "new" Republican party. There's no incumbent running this time, so both parties have a chance to re-define themselves by showcasing their candidates. They're indeed doing so....

 Paul Krugman's editorial [link] in its entirety

This was, according to many commentators, going to be the election cycle Republicans got to show off their “deep bench.” The race for the nomination would include experienced governors like Jeb Bush and Scott Walker, fresh thinkers like Rand Paul, and attractive new players like Marco Rubio. Instead, however, Donald Trump leads the field by a wide margin. What happened?

The answer, according to many of those who didn’t see it coming, is gullibility: People can’t tell the difference between someone who sounds as if he knows what he’s talking about and someone who is actually serious about the issues. And for sure there’s a lot of gullibility out there. But if you ask me, the pundits have been at least as gullible as the public, and still are.

For example, Mr. Trump’s economic views, a sort of mishmash of standard conservative talking points and protectionism, are definitely confused. But is that any worse than Jeb Bush’s deep voodoo, his claim that he could double the underlying growth rate of the American economy? And Mr. Bush’s credibility isn’t helped by his evidence for that claim: the relatively rapid growth Florida experienced during the immense housing bubble that coincided with his time as governor.

Mr. Trump, famously, is a “birther” — someone who has questioned whether President Obama was born in the United States. But is that any worse than Scott Walker’s declaration that he isn’t sure whether the president is a Christian?

Mr. Trump’s declared intention to deport all illegal immigrants is definitely extreme, and would require deep violations of civil liberties. But are there any defenders of civil liberties in the modern G.O.P.? Notice how eagerly Rand Paul, self-described libertarian, has joined in the witch hunt against Planned Parenthood.
And while Mr. Trump is definitely appealing to know-nothingism, Marco Rubio, climate change denier, has made “I’m not a scientist” his signature line. (Memo to Mr. Rubio: Presidents don’t have to be experts on everything, but they do need to listen to experts, and decide which ones to believe.)

The point is that while media puff pieces have portrayed Mr. Trump’s rivals as serious men — Jeb the moderate, Rand the original thinker, Marco the face of a new generation — their supposed seriousness is all surface. Judge them by positions as opposed to image, and what you have is a lineup of cranks. And as I said, this is no accident.

It has long been obvious that the conventions of political reporting and political commentary make it almost impossible to say the obvious — namely, that one of our two major parties has gone off the deep end. Or as the political analysts Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein put it in their book “It’s Even Worse Than It Looks,” the G.O.P. has become an “insurgent outlier … un-persuaded by conventional understanding of facts, evidence, and science.” It’s a party that has no room for rational positions on many major issues.

Or to put it another way, modern Republican politicians can’t be serious — not if they want to win primaries and have any future within the party. Crank economics, crank science, crank foreign policy are all necessary parts of a candidate’s resume.

Until now, however, leading Republicans have generally tried to preserve a fa├žade of respectability, helping the news media to maintain the pretense that it was dealing with a normal political party. What distinguishes Mr. Trump is not so much his positions as it is his lack of interest in maintaining appearances. And it turns out that the party’s base, which demands extremist positions, also prefers those positions delivered straight. Why is anyone surprised?

Remember how Mr. Trump was supposed to implode after his attack on John McCain? Mr. McCain epitomizes the strategy of sounding moderate while taking extreme positions, and is much loved by the press corps, which puts him on TV all the time. But Republican voters, it turns out, couldn’t care less about him.

Can Mr. Trump actually win the nomination? I have no idea. But even if he is eventually pushed aside, pay no attention to all the analyses you will read declaring a return to normal politics. That’s not going to happen; normal politics left the G.O.P. a long time ago. At most, we’ll see a return to normal hypocrisy, the kind that cloaks radical policies and contempt for evidence in conventional-sounding rhetoric. And that won’t be an improvement.

June 27, 2015

A Landmark Supreme Court Decision on Same-sex Marriage Moves the Country in a Progressive Direction. Conservatives Fear Sodom & Gomorrah..

What a month it has been for progressive causes in the US; the latest is that people have a right to marry a person of their choice--a right that should have been recognized long time ago. It's definitely a victory for human rights as our country is inching to the 21st century while the conservatives are kicking and screaming.

A divided supreme court (5-4) finally took the reasonable path to expanding on a couple previous decisions and making same-sex marriage legal in the whole country. In the 1960s, the Loving v. Virginia case the high court established the right to interracial marriage. Virginia's Racial Integrity Act of 1924 had tried to preserve racial purity, as many states, primarily in the deep south, forbade interracial marriages.

There have been instances of horrible treatment of homosexuals in the US, but slowly a movement began to form and push on many fronts within America society. Look, LGBT people have been in every society throughout our human history; often they were oppressed into silence and denial of who they were. Societies have benefited, because such individuals contributed to arts, sciences, culture, politics, and every other domain you can think of. It was criminal to punish them for their nature and deny them their constitutional rights.

Almost to the day, 40 years ago, a police raid on a gay bar--the Stonewall Inn in the Village section of New York City--touched off days of violent clashes and riots, events that galvanized the gay community and it became clear to all progressives that this kind of treatment of the LGBT community had to change. In the 1960s and early 1970s, it was a time of rapid change when important questions about the nature of American society were seen as a big challenge. Too much too soon--beginning with women arriving in the marketplace, civil rights for blacks, sexual revolution, political instability--usually triggers a counter-reaction. And, it did. It was the conservatives who pushed back and eventually dominated the highest levels of our political system for at least 25 years, from 1980 to the dawn of the 21st century.

A Long Arduous Road

But, even if progress can be slow, painful, and challenging, it usually marches on.

In 2003, the court struck down anti-sodomy laws in Texas v. Lawrence. Justice Kennedy--a Republican-nominated judge, but with a centrist (swing vote) flair--wrong both that majority opinions, then and last Friday.  In 2012, the same court struck down the DOMA, which had passed by Congress and signed into law by president Clinton in 1996, not so long ago as far as important laws go.

So, what happened? Well, one thing is that once Hawaii and Massachusetts passed laws allowing same-sex marriage, then it became apparent--in the eyes of the conservatives, which include Democrats and traditionalists--that giving rights to those who are entitled to but denied because of religious superstition, nothing bad happens! These two states and a couple dozen more than followed created more happiness and, surprise surprise, God didn't destroy them like Sodom and Gomorrah. Who knew, right?...

But, let's not forget what happened in 2008 and 2012, that is, the election of a Democratic president. We would not have had two liberal judges, Kagan and Sotomayor on the court today if it hadn't been for president Obama! You see presidents nominate judges to the supreme court and these judges aren't all the same in that they have a particular judicial philosophy. The conservatives--Scalia, Alito, Thomas, Roberts--voted against giving people the right to marry a spouse of their choice. The liberals--Kagan, Sotomayor, Breyer--and the centrist Kennedy decided that it is a constitutional right in the US for adults to marry any person of their choice, and that every state not only has to recognize marriages from other states but every state must allow same-sex marriage!

A present for the conservatives
The conservatives, including the likes of Scalia, Thomas, Alito, and Roberts in their dissent proposed laughable arguments. It's incredible that Scalia and Roberts are considered intellectuals. If you look at their arguments they sound sophisticated bullshit, ignorant of historical framework, and the constitutional liberal democracy we're supposed to have here. 

For example, they say unelected judges shouldn't be undone the work of legislatures, referring to the state legislatures that had passed constitutional amendments prohibiting same-sex marriage. But, a liberal democracy that has enshrined rights in the federal constitution is not a pure democracy, whereas the majority can take rights from the minority. That was the old south, keeping slaves because, guess what, the majority thought it was fine and dandy! Rights are meaningful when they're given to the minority. 

Or, that activist judges [yes, them liberals.... because when conservative judges do the same activism (remember Bush v. Gore?) it's ..legal!] destroy what society wants in defining marriage! What kind of ridiculous argument is this? We've always redefined the institution of marriage. The cases listed above did just that. Oh, you mean the Biblical definition? [You didn't think religion had nothing to do with this argument, did you?] Well, the Bible sanctioned marriage between a man and several women, plus many more concubines (sex servants). Oh, and underage girls given as brides to usually much older men. We call such practice today rape and it's illegal.

In Obergefell v. Hodges [check this out, how Jim Obergefell became the face of the in front of the supreme court] the majority of the court agreed that the US constitution is a living document, applied to contemporary circumstances within the greater framework of its liberal democratic principles. The strict constructionists, like Scalia, believe it's a dead document, thus accusing activist judges of inventing stuff not explicitly stated in the constitution. This is, of course, a stinking bullcrap pile of an argument...

Article 2, Section 2, clause 1 of the US constitution: "The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States...".   Hmm, so then who should be in charge of the US Air Force then?

Let's salute this important moment in our history for civil rights and liberties. In the words of president Obama,

“This ruling is a victory for America. This decision affirms what millions of Americans already believe in their hearts. When all Americans are truly treated as equal, we are more free.”

However, we still have a presidential race developing. This decision will further expose the bigotry and backwardness of the Republicans. Already their candidates (and not only) are talking about how to reverse this ruling. Unfortunately for them, the country has moved while their party has regressed further into the dark ages. Let's not stop pointing this out, because quality of life issues aren't only based on economics but on law and culture are well.  

 The Supreme Court's Opinion as Written by Justice Anthony Kennedy

"Marriage is sacred to those who live by their religions and offers unique fulfillment to those who find meaning in the secular realm. Its dynamic allows two people to find a life that could not be found alone, for a marriage becomes greater than just the two persons. Rising from the most basic human needs, marriage is essential to our most profound hopes and aspirations."

The swinger on the high court, justice Anthony Kennedy. His vote proved crucial in the 5-4 decision
"As all parties agree, many same-sex couples provide loving and nurturing homes to their children, whether biological or adopted. ... Excluding same-sex couples from marriage thus conflicts with a central premise of the right to marry. Without the recognition, stability, and predictability marriage offers, their children suffer the stigma of knowing their families are somehow lesser. They also suffer the significant material costs of being raised by unmarried parents, relegated through no fault of their own to a more difficult and uncertain family life. 

The marriage laws at issue here thus harm and humiliate the children of same-sex couples."
"In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. 

The Constitution grants them that right."

June 23, 2015

Why the Charleston Massacre and the Reactions to It Revive Epicurean Questions...

Today, many people are bowing in prayer, especially in Charleston, SC, after the massacre, whereas a lone gunman killed nine people in church who were praying to God. Any decent person is saddened by this kind of immoral act. Innocent lives lost always emotionally traumatize individuals and societies as a whole. Decent human beings would act to prevent such injurious acts if they could.

Today, there are lots of speeches expressing sorrow but also a belief in God. I find it truly amazing that what almost any person would do as a matter of decency is not done by God, and yet God is given only the good credit, never the bad. This is the behavior that hostages or people drenched in fear (like those under brutal totalitarian regimes) exhibit.

Actually, the speeches that urged us to be even more faithful in the face of a great tragedy are offensive for they ask me to suspend reason and dictate that I must feel the ..love of God and whatever else groupthink purports

Being faithful--accepting even the most incredible--is being able to accept anything without evidence or reason. This is like the worst virus of the mind, and this is exactly what religion is. It has a fail safe too; challenge it and it turns the faithful into a more defensive and close-minded person!

Oh, free will, they reply. Really? First, the grand designer created humans with certain attributes, including the bad ones. Why should a defective product's actions be harmful to me? Where;s my free will?  Why don't I get godly protection? To live my life the way I see it most rewarding without harming others of course! And, how about natural disasters and diseases that regularly kill millions of humans? If anyone wants to argue about free will a short trip to the local hospital should make them wonder why children (even babies) have cancer and other deathly diseases.... But, of course, this is not about using reason to understand--instead we're being asked to use our head to bow slavishly. Using faith to numb the mind and to accept horror, immorality, death, and suffering as part of the designer's great plan, should not be the practice of thinking people nowadays.

So, please, let's mourn those who die, let's help the world be a better humane place, and let's stop this nonsense about bowing our heads to an imaginary deity, who's either incompetent or impotent and thus cannot stop evil, or who doesn't really care when evil happens. 

“Epicurus's old questions are still unanswered: Is he (God) willing to prevent evil, but not able? then he is impotent. Is he able, but not willing? then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? then whence evil?”   ― David Hume

*David Hume on Religion

Sometime ago, a friend & colleague observed that I frequently mention this kind of things and talking about religion, God, etc. Yes, it's so fundamental to our world since the vast majority of humans perceive "reality" and act under such assumptions . It's incredible that almost every day, every hour something is said or done in the name of illusions/delusions, prejudice and superstition, but no one notices or says anything. It should be the other way around I reckon. So, OK, beat me up for it....

  PS. Slavery and the Confederate flag were normal too....

January 07, 2015

The Best Response to Terrorism is to Defend our Liberal Institutions. Freedom of Expression is Paramount in a Free, Tolerant, Society!

View image on TwitterFree expression and democracy were attacked with lethal force today by religious extremists in France. The so-called jihadists murdered a dozen people while shouting "God is Great." Of course, it's not Islam or the Muslim world that did this; only a few deranged individuals would support something like this.  Many Muslims are already condemning this terrorist act, though I bet some Islamic leaders will remain silent. 

Those who condemn this barbarism say that prophet Muhammad and the Koran do not support such actions. Same argument about the Bible. Both arguments are false. The holy books contain many passages in favor of killing others who are simply of a different faith or decide to leave their faith.

With the changing of society, culture, and education, people developed a new morality, dropping the extremist dictates of their holy books. It's like a supermarket of convenience--picking what suits people and what's acceptable in a modern society. It is the lack of fanaticism, without sticking to strict interpretations of revealed morals and religious practices that has made our world better.

Richard Dawkins made a statement saying that non all religions are equally violent. He probably means at present time, as by faithful extremists.There a few, like Jainism who are, by doctrine, non-violent. If you're an Jainism ..extremist, you are the least violent; you may worry about killing any form of life, including insects, and the tiniest creatures. Extremism in the vast majority of religions, on the other hand, results in lots of violence, and history proves this.

So, how do you deal with moronic terrorists who are hell-bent in applying their trade? Obviously we cannot reason with them. The freedom we offer them is not something they want to extend to others. But, we cannot succumb to their threats; we should not change the conditions that make our society more free and liveable. Probably this action will embolden the crazies home and abroad. But, the US and western-type countries should react with restraint and maturity. There are many Muslims who do appreciate the so-called western regimes, either by living in them or wanting to immigrate to them. We have to show confidence in our institutions and that we can handle crises like today's.
View image on Twitter 
We shouldn't paint all Muslims with a wide brushstroke. What I see is that religious fervor coupled with ignorance can result in terror; and terrorism is often inspired by religion. At this time, Islam fuels the hatred of many fanatics. Again, when people become more secular, educated, have a decent life whereas basic human needs are fulfilled, then extremism fades, or is found with the mentally disturbed. Yes, there have been extremists who were educated and well-to-do, but they were also religiously rejected the fruits of the Enlightenment

I do respect people making their own choices as how to live their lives, but unfortunately this is not a universal belief. Liberal democracy and, in general, western civilization is often considered a threat to traditional societies, entrenched religion, and hard conservatives everywhere. Is it a clash of civilizations like Samuel Huntington has argued? That after the Cold War, the sources of conflict would be cultural, ethnic, religious, and not economic or democracy v. authoritarianism.  I think it is the conditions, the context within people operate that is the most important factor.  Change this and gradually you see new people emerge. For example, a single most important variable is the status of women in a given society. Raise their status and beautiful things happen!

December 17, 2014

Ignorance Usually is not a Good Defense, Unless You're a Conservative Running for Office and Appealing to Idiocy

"I'm not a scientist," it's the excuse many politicians use to avoid answering controversial questions, like climate change, evolution, age of earth, etc. Of course, most of us aren't scientists, but use the products of science every day. And, most of us are alive, because of science. We doubled human life expectancy in the last 100 years, cured diseases, reduced infant mortality (and mothers' mortality at childbirth), went to the moon, understand a lot more about the universe, and we made our lives more comfortable because of science. So, science works.

What works actually it's the method of discovery, acquisition of knowledge, forming and amending scientific theories, and seeking the facts and the truth. Unfortunately, many Americans don't really understand what the scientific method is. There are several reasons for this. One is the strong influence of religion, which is much higher here than in other advanced countries. In addition religion has been meddling in education. Another reason is the failure of schools to teach what science and the scientific method is.

Education has to be knowledge, but what kind of knowledge? Memorization & repetition without understanding isn't the goal. Education, like science, should be a tool for knowledge. In this sense, it's more important how you thing than what you think about.

We may not be scientists but we must understand what science is and what it does. Democracy depends on the people's understanding of issues, engagement, and prudence. It's obvious that the quality of a system depends on the quality of the people involved. Ignorance doesn't serve the good political life--nor life in general.

"I'm not a scientist"

It's tiresome, to say the least, that leaders use this lame line. They are either ignorant or lying or both. If they're ignorant, they should recuse themselves from making public policy on issues they don't understand. They should stop promoting idiocy like, there's got to be two sides to the story, or teach the controversy, or there's no unanimity... Please, stop this nonsense. As leaders they should try to elevate public discourse by speaking carefully about science, the facts, and reality than by appealing the lowest common denominator.

Here's an ignorant person, a former governor of Florida and a member of the Bush clan, who is seriously exploring running for president of the U.S.


 Let the circus of the Republican/conservatives/tea partiers begin. It'd be hilarious if it didn't have serious implications on our public discourse.

December 10, 2014

CIA (and not only) Torture is Not Appropriate for Our Country if We Want to Champion Human Rights and Uphold the Rule of Law & International Treaties

I just read that royalty watchers were stunned by a basketball star's touching her royal highness, the breeder of a future king of Britain. Horrors. What's next? Pitchforks, tar and feathers? Frankly, I don't understand why there's so much media coverage for such a banal scripted activities of some of the most boring people on this planet. Anyway, I guess people need a circus show.

Meanwhile, the US Senate released a report about the CIA's torture practices. Yeah, pretty bad stuff. Torture is illegal and--I know I'm trending into controversial territory--immoral. No matter how it's labeled--like "enhanced interrogation--it's barbaric, unworthy of a society that wants to claim it abides by the rules of law, international treaties it has signed, and a champion of human rights.

What's interesting, and buried in the report, is that torture did not produce actionable information. Of course, many of our own experts had said that many times in the past. The torturers copied the brutality of some of our enemies. I imagine that if we watched a movie of Americans being treated the same way by some foreign language speaking torturers, we'd be calling for the annihilation of those savages and their organizations or countries.

From the Think Progress site, here are 17 facts in the Senate's report on torture. By the way, this is just about the CIA. There were other US agencies, including the military, that used torture. Remember Abu Graib prison in Baghdad?  

Below are just some of the most damning findings from the Committee’s report:
1. Torture did not lead the CIA to the courier who ultimately helped capture Osama bin Laden.
“The most accurate information on Abu Ahmad al-Kuwaiti — facilitator whose identification and tracking led to the identification of UBL’s compound and the operation that resulted in UBL’s death — “obtained from a CIA detainee was provided by a CIA detainee who had not yet been subjected to the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques; and CIA detainees who were subjected to the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques withheld and fabricated information about Abu Ahmad al-Kuwaiti.” [Page 379]
2. CIA personnel objected to torture techniques, but were “instructed” by the CIA headquarters to continue.
“The non-stop use of the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques was disturbing to CIA personnel at DETENTION SITE GREEN. These CIA personnel objected to the continued use of the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques against Abu Zubaydah, but were instructed by CIA Headquarters to continue using the techniques…”Several on the team profoundly affected.. .some to the point of tears and choking up. [Page 473]
3. The two psychologists who helped the CIA create the torture techniques earned over $81 million.
“In 2006, the value of the CIA’s base contract with the company formed by the psychologists with all options exercised was in excess of $180 million; the contractors received $81 million prior to the contract’s termination in 2009. In 2007, the CIA provided a multi-year indemnification agreement to protect the company and its employees from legal liability arising out of the program. The CIA has since paid out more than $1 million pursuant to the agreement.” [Page 11]
4. Colin Powell was not briefed on CIA interrogation methods because he would “blow his stack”.
“At the direction of the White House, the secretaries of state and defense – both principals on the National Security Council – were not briefed on program specifics until September 2003. An internal CIA email from July 2003 noted that “… the WH [White House] is extremely concerned [Secretary] Powell would blow his stack if he were to be briefed on what’s been going on.” Deputy Secretary of State Armitage complained that he and Secretary Powell were “cut out” of the National Security Council coordination process.” [Page 7]
5. The CIA used rectal feeding on detainees.
“At least five CIA detainees were subjected to “rectal rehydration” or rectal feeding without documented medical necessity. …Majid Khan’s “lunch tray” consisting of hummus, pasta with sauce, nuts, and raisins was “pureed” and rectally infused. [Page 4]
6. CIA leadership refused to punish an officer who killed a detainee during torture session.
“On two occasions in which the CIA inspector general identified wrongdoing, accountability recommendations were overruled by senior CIA leadership. In one instance, involving the death of a CIA detainee at COBALT, CIA Headquarters decided not to take disciplinary action against an officer involved because, at the time, CIA… In another instance related to a wrongful detention, no action was taken against a CIA officer because, “[t]he Director strongly believes that mistakes should be expected in a business filled with uncertainty,” and “the Director believes the scale tips decisively in favor of accepting mistakes that over connect the dots against those that under connect them.” In neither case was administrative action taken against CIA management personnel.” [Page 14]
7. The CIA tortured innocent people.
“Of the 119 known detainees that were in CIA custody during the life of the program, at least 26 were wrongfully held. Detainees often remained in custody for months after the CIA determined they should not have been detained….Other KSM [Khalid Sheikh Mohammed] fabrications led the CIA to capture and detain suspected terrorists who were later found to be innocent.” [Page 485]
8. The CIA held an “intellectually challenged man” to use as leverage against his family.
“[A]n “intellectually challenged” man whose CIA detention was used solely as leverage to get a family member to provide information, two individuals who were intelligence sources for foreign liaison services and were former CIA sources, and two individuals whom the CIA assessed to be connected to al-Qa’ida based solely on information fabricated by a CIA detainee subjected to the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques.” [Page 12]
9. The CIA intentionally mislead the media to “shape public opinion.”
“The CIA’s Office of Public Affairs and senior CIA officials coordinated to share classified information on the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program to select members of the media to counter public criticism, shape public opinion, and avoid potential congressional action to restrict the CIA’s detention and interrogation authorities and budget.” [Page 8]
10. CIA officers threatened to kill and rape detainees’ mothers.
“CIA officers also threatened at least three detainees with harm to their families—to include threats to harm the children of a detainee, threats to sexually abuse the mother of a detainee, and a threat to “cut [a detainee's] mother’s throat.” [Page 4]
11. The CIA dismissed information that wasn’t obtained through torture, even though it proved to be true.
“KSM’s reporting during his first day in CIA custody included an accurate description of a Pakistani/British operative, which was dismissed as having been provided during the initial “‘throwaway’ stage” of information collection when the CIA believed detainees provided false or worthless information.’” [Page 82]
12. CIA torture techniques included mock burials and use of insects.
“(1) the attention grasp, (2) walling, (3) facial hold, (4) facial slap, (5) cramped confinement, (6) wall standing, (7) stress positions, (8) sleep deprivation, (9) waterboard, (10) use of diapers, (11) use of insects, and (12) mock burial.” [Page 32]
13. Some interrogators had previously admitted to sexual assault.
“The Committee reviewed CIA records related to several CIA officers and contractors involved in the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program, most of whom conducted interrogations. The Committee identified a number of personnel whose backgrounds include notable derogatory information calling into question their eligibility for employment, their access to classified information, and their participation in CIA interrogation activities. In nearly all cases, the derogatory information was known to the CIA prior to the assignment of the CIA officers to the Detention and Interrogation Program. This group of officers included individuals who, among other issues, had engaged in inappropriate detainee interrogations, had workplace anger management issues, and had reportedly admitted to sexual assault.” [Page 59]
14. One interrogator played Russian roulette.
“Among other abuses…had engaged in ‘Russian Roulette’ with a detainee.” [Page 424]
15. The CIA tortured its own informants by accident.
“In the spring of 2004, after two detainees were transferred to CIA custody, CIA interrogators proposed, and CIA Headquarters approved, using the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques on one of the two detainees because it might cause the detainee to provide information that could identify inconsistencies in the other detainee’s story. After both detainees had spent approximately 24 hours shackled in the standing sleep deprivation position, CIA Headquarters confirmed that the detainees were former CIA sources. The two detainees had tried to contact the CIA on multiple occasions prior to their detention to inform the CIA of their activities and provide intelligence. [Page 133]
16. The CIA tortured detainees in a dungeon.
“Conditions at CIA detention sites were poor, and were especially bleak early in the program. CIA detainees at the COBALT detention facility were kept in complete darkness and constantly shackled in isolated cells with loud noise or music and only a bucket to use for human waste. Lack of heat at the facility likely contributed to the death of a detainee. The chief of interrogations described COBALT as a “dungeon.” Another seniorCIA officer stated that COBALT was itself an enhanced interrogation technique.” [Page 4]
17. The CIA spent hundreds of millions of dollars on the torture program.
“CIA records indicate that the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program cost well over $300 million in non-personnel costs. This included funding for the CIA to construct and maintain detention facilities, including two facilities costing nearly $X million that were never used, in part due to host country political concerns. To encourage governments to clandestinely host CIA detention sites, or to increase support for existing sites, the CIA provided millions of dollars in cash payments to foreign government officials.” [Page 16]