Friday, October 30, 2009

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Is Google Making Us Stupid?

"Is Google Making Us Stupid?" by Nicholas Carr. The Atlantic, July/August, 2008.

Not only is this a great, really insightful article, but I could not resist the irony of posting it here, on my Google-sponsored blog. Even more ironic, I searched for the article using Google.

Somewhere, Neil Postman is laughing at all of us.

There is no debate when it comes to gay rights

Today's Portland Press Herald features news from a debate at USM on "Question 1"'s gay-marriage law. Yes, good-old "balanced" journalistic "objectivity" at its best.

My question is how is there any debate at all concerning this topic? Yes, I understand there exist brain-dead, Christian homophobes who seem to relish in denying others the same rights and basic liberties they enjoy. Yet, how are their opinions at all credible? Those in support of gay-marriage cite the Constitution and equal rights to back up their arguments, while those opposed have only the outdated, rigid guidelines of the Bible. (Which, despite what some will argue, are not the supreme law of the United States.)

This is where the approach of journalistic "objectivity" proves to be hollow and ineffective at presenting "both sides of the issue." In the case of gay-rights, there is no "other side." There are only those who believe in democracy and the idea that freedom should extend to all individuals, and those who do not.

I cannot help but wonder: Would USM host a "debate" on "both sides" of interracial marriage? Or, for a national return to segregated schools and re-instating Jim Crow laws? How about denying women equal opportunities at the workplace? This is the great ruse of so-called objectivity: The misguided notion that every issue has two sides to it.

As journalist Chris Hedges notes in a piece for early this year, ("With Gaza, Journalists Fail Again," Jan. 26, 2009), "Balance and objectivity are the antidote to facing unpleasant truths, a way of avoidance, a way to placate the powerful. We record the fury of a Palestinian who has lost his child in an Israeli airstrike in Gaza but make sure to mention Israel’s 'security needs,' include statements by Israeli officials who insist there was firing from the home or the mosque or the school and of course note Israel’s right to defend itself."

"We ask how and who," Hedges continues, "but never do we ask why."

Objectivity is a farce--one the mainstream press has hid behind for far too long. If there are two sides in the gay-marriage debate, they are only between those who believe in freedom for all, and those who do not.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

History's great thinkers weigh-in on religion

Am I the only one who finds this recent poll, claiming New England is the least religious region of the country, incredibly encouraging news? I hope this is not merely some passing trend, but the start of a true public movement away from organized religion.

And I'm not the only hell-bound, atheist non-believer who thinks so. Just check out what some of history's greatest thinkers (yes, I am including the rock band, Tool amongst "history's greatest thinkers") have had to say about religion:

"In heaven, all the interesting people are missing."

- Frederich Nietzsche

"The fact that a believer is happier than a sceptic is no more to the point than the fact that a drunken man is happier than a sober one. The happiness of credulity is a cheap and dangerous quality."

- George Bernard Shaw

"Religion is the impotence of the human mind to deal with occurrences it cannot understand."

- Karl Marx

"Beliefs are dangerous. Beliefs allow the mind to stop functioning. A non-functioning mind is clinically dead. Believe in nothing."

- Tool (from the liner-notes of their album, AEnima)

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A Call to Maine Voters: Reject Hateful, Christian Hegemony

On November 3, voters in Maine will decide whether or not we want to keep the recently passed law that allows gay and lesbian couples to marry, or repeal it. While early polling on “Question 1,” found residents split about even, a new poll published in today’s Bangor Daily News shows a significant gain for those opposed to repealing the law. (Given the wording of the question, a “No” vote is to keep the gay marriage law; a “Yes” vote is to repeal it.)

This new poll is, indeed, encouraging news, as anti-gay-rights supporters have engaged in ruthless, offensively false advertisements throughout the state. Most Mainers are, by now, familiar with the “Everything to Do With Schools,” ads released by “Yes on 1” groups, which falsely implies, legalizing gay-marriage will lead to homosexuality being taught in public school. The question, which literally reads, “Do you want to reject the new law that lets same-sex couples marry and allows individuals and religious groups to refuse to perform these marriages?” says nothing about schools. The word “school” for that matter, is nowhere in the bill.

However, last night I saw another “Yes” commercial—this one even more infuriating in its lack of logic. This latest ad claims “Question 1” has nothing to do with equal rights or civil liberties—that gay couples receive the same benefits under civil unions and do not need to get married. Yet, the bill has everything to do with civil liberties—the right for individuals to marry who they please.

The “Yes” crowd claims it is about “family,” “tradition,” and “values.” But who defines—whose right is it to define—what a “family” is? Are these people, most of whom are motivated by religious beliefs on this issue, completely incapable of seeing beyond the narrow, hegemonic confines of their Christian Bible? Are they so brainwashed by right-wing, Christian fundamentalism, they cannot form their own, independent opinions about anything?

I am pretty certain Jesus would not have discriminated against anyone, for any reason—-least of all one's sexual orientation. However, modern Christianity is so removed from the original teachings of Christ it bares almost no resemblance the traditional religion.

At some point, these homophobic, Christian zealots must realize they have no moral argument. They may as well be arguing for the re-segregation of schools, or for re-instating Jim Crow laws. Mainers are better than this. I remain confident we will defeat this un-Constitutional bill and make Maine a freer, more democratic state for everyone.

On November 3, cast a decisive "No" on "Question 1."

Monday, October 26, 2009

NY Times: "The Cover-Up Continues"

I was rather surprised to read this editorial in today's New York Times ("The Cover-Up Continues," Oct. 26, 2009), but it is, indeed, an encouraging sign.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

TABOR is the Solution to Nothing

More misguided, free-market worship by an equally misguided, anti-taxes conservative. (Though, he points out he is "a conservative, not a Republican," as if that is supposed to mean anything.)

Craft writes, "Economic success is driven by the individual, not government spending." I would be inclined to agree with this if the notions of individual-driven, free-market capitalism actually worked in reality. The fact is, a very small number people get lucky and rich, but for most citizens, such wealth remains a fantasy.

If Craft is so concerned about rampant government spending, why does he not mention anything about the vastly bloated military spending budget, currently estimated at $651.2 billion? Or how about the cost of our immoral, imperial adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan? These anti-taxes libertarians remain silent when it comes to military spending.

TABOR is not the answer. It was a lousy bill the first time around, and it remains lousy now.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

TABOR again?

How many times are these anti-taxes conservatives going to force TABOR (or, as I call it, The Taxpayers' Bill of Rigidity) on us? Every year, we vote on the same issues in this state: Casinos, equal rights, and taxes.

Here's the latest TABOR news from The Maine Campus.

A.G. Eric Holder's Speech at UMaine Offers Little of Substance

Here is what I learned from Attorney General Eric Holder’s speech, Friday:

- Terrorists remain at large and want to kill us all.

- This fight—both the literal war in Afghanistan, and the more abstract “War on Terror”—will go on for years.

- The United States remains committed to the rule of law, except when it comes to matters of torture. In those instances, the Department of Justice looks the other way.

- Authorizing torture is not so much a “crime” per se but a “legal opinion” which the Attorney General happens to disagree with.

- The best way students can help the country fight terrorists is to join the Justice Department upon graduation. (Seriously—this was his actual advice.)

- Oh yes: And former Secretary of Defense, William S. Cohen was known as “Bangor Billy” in college.

Am I the only one who feels I have seen this movie before? Holder’s speech seemed ripped right out of the pages of the Bush/Cheney playbook. It contained so much fear-mongering and militant hawkishness, I momentarily thought I was listening to Michael Mukasey, Alberto Gonzales, or even Henry Kissinger.

While the Obama administration may have retired the phrase, “War on Terror,” Holder’s appearance proved George W. Bush’s pre-emptive, “fight-‘em-there-so-we-don’t-have-to-fight-‘em-here,” mind-set continues to drive the nation’s foreign policy decisions. Perhaps the Nobel Peace Prize committee should have waited three weeks and listened to this lecture before granting President Obama the award?

I certainly am not questioning the seriousness of the terrorist threats Holder spoke of. However, in praising the United States’ success in combating terrorism throughout the country and the world, Holder neglected to take into account how our actions overseas—the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, not to mention the ongoing use of torture and rendition of suspected al-Qaeda operatives--might actually be contributing to the rise in hatred towards our country. Noam Chomsky in his book, Hegemony or Survival: America’s Quest for Global Dominance (2003) offers some simple, yet profound advice on how to stop terrorism: “Stop participating in it.”

During the question-and-answer portion, in which the Attorney General was subjected to a handful of pre-selected, student-submitted questions, Holder effectively avoided granting substantial answers to questions dealing with torture.

When he was asked about possible criminal prosecutions for members of the Bush administration that authorized the use of torture, Holder hedged the investigation is, essentially, still ongoing. (Which as most of us know, is entirely untrue. Bush and Cheney have confessed multiple times on national television to ordering the CIA to carry out torture in interrogations.) He added, however, that he does not believe CIA operatives who “acted in good faith,” (i.e. were just “following orders”) should be held accountable for their actions.

Since I addressed this issue specifically in my last editorial, I will give it short shrift here: Torture is a crime. Period. Holder himself has gone on record admitting as much. Failure to prosecute all individuals involved in the carrying out and authorization of torture and other heinous war crimes guarantees future presidents will carry out those same crimes again. You do not need to be a history major to understand this.

Other questions concerned the indefinitely-stalled closing of Guantanamo Bay, legalizing medical marijuana, and national implications of Maine’s gay marriage law, which will be voted on next month. Holder gave stock answers to all of these questions, revealing nothing new, or interesting. He put more energy into teasing Cohen about his college-basketball nickname, “Bangor Billy” and the fact that the Maine native was on Obama’s short-list for possible vice presidents, after last year’s election.

The entire lecture ended with both Holder and Cohen calling for an escalation of U.S. forces in Afghanistan. While Cohen bemoaned the hostile, deeply partisan arguing in Congress, for those of us who believe there is little substantive difference between the Republican and Democratic parties, such a cliched call for civilized, “bipartisan” harmony rang hollow.

What was missing from Cohen’s “insights” into the “necessity” of escalating the conflict in Afghanistan was any questioning of the war itself. Cohen, like Obama, sees the Afghanistan war as the “good war”—the one we should have been fighting all along. He likewise, in an apparent rebuttal to recent criticisms of President Obama by former Vice President Dick Cheney, claimed the Iraq War had been handled “incorrectly.” Seeing as how the war in Iraq was based entirely on lies and fabricated intelligence, the issue is not how “correctly” the war was carried out, but whether it should have been carried out in the first place.

If this was supposed to be a debate of some sort, I must have missed the contrarian, anti-war viewpoint. It certainly did not come from the audience, which cheered loudly when Cohen called the war in Afghanistan, not “Obama’s war,” but “America’s war.” Are Cohen and Holder completely ignorant of world history? Are they entirely unaware of the fact that even the Soviet Union was unable to contain Afghanistan during the 1980s? Do they not realize, furthermore, that fighting a clandestine, loosely organized enemy like al-Qaeda requires diligent, investigative police work and covert intelligence operations—not all out war?

As I exited the lecture hall, I overheard several people remark how “inspiring” the talk was. (Note the median age of the audience looked to be about 65. I saw very few college students sitting around me, and the few I did notice appeared to have difficulty staying awake for the entire talk.)

Inspiring how…? The only thing the Attorney General’s speech inspired me to do was race to my apartment, break out my duct tape, lock the door and bolt the windows shut and prepare myself for the next, inevitable terrorist attack. Why did Holder need to come to Maine to give such a standard, routine address? I feel I could have gotten the same sort of militant fear-mongering from any given issue of The New York Times. If Holder's speech proved anything it is that the Obama administration's approach to foreign policy is nearly identical to Bush's.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Attorney General Holder at UMaine

Attorney General Eric Holder spoke at the University of Maine, today. My full summary and critique of the lecture is coming soon. In the meantime, you will have to settle for the Bangor Daily News' horribly-written, corporate account. As is common for any non-sporting event at UMaine, the speech was embarrassingly under-attended. Everyone sitting around me was at least 60 years-old.

You can watch a video of the entire speech here:

Torture Probe Doesn't Go Far Enough

The following Op-Ed appeared in The Maine Campus, Sept. 28, 2009.

Earlier this month, Attorney General Eric Holder launched a preliminary investigation into CIA officials who may have engaged in torture or other heinous forms of “enhanced interrogation techniques,” under the Bush administration.

While many progressives such as myself, believe this urgent investigation into un-Constitutional abuses of power is long overdue, there is growing concern Holder’s “torture probe” may be too limited and narrow in scope to really amount to anything. Of particular concern, is the announcement Holder’s investigation will focus exclusively on low-level CIA interrogators, ignoring administration lawyers and officials who authorized the use of torture in the first place (including Dick Cheney and George W. Bush, both of whom have eagerly confessed to allowing torture on national television within the last year).

Writing for The Nation on Sept. 14, John Nichols effectively sums up the problem posed by such a narrow investigation. “There is nothing Dick Cheney and his allies in Congress and the conservative media would prefer more than a narrowly defined investigation of low-level CIA operatives. The right knows how to make “heroes” of those who dutifully carry out orders—even lawless and inhumane ones.” Nichols goes on to note the support of Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky and Senator Russ Feingold who concur that, “… a proper investigation must target those who initiated and authorized wrongdoing.”

Yet, Schakowsky and Feingold find themselves sadly alone in the Congress on this issue. Indeed, many like-minded liberal friends and colleagues I talk with prefer to do as President Obama suggests and “Look forward, rather than backward,” on the issue of torture.

This, I fear, is a grave mistake.

Torture is a crime against humanity and a direct violation of the Geneva Conventions (to which the US remains a signatory). Holder himself, during his confirmation hearing earlier this year, admitted torture is a crime. Without criminal accountability, not only for individuals who carried out acts of torture, but for those who initially ordered such tactics, our country will never “move forward.” Quite the reverse, without accountability, such crimes are almost guaranteed to resurface—perhaps not under President Obama, but maybe later, during the next Republican administration.

David Swanson, co-founder of the activist-blog site, After Downing, and author of the new book, Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union points out, “When we elected Jimmy Carter we saw policy changes, but our failure to prosecute President Nixon helped produce the Bush-Cheney catastrophe. Accountability is not about looking backward. It’s about looking forward.”

Of course, there are those who believe torture is necessary—even effective in combating terrorism. And yet, study after study has shown torture to be completely ineffective in producing valid information from detainees. (Note it took interrogators 183 attempts to get any information out of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, most of which was later discredited.) I cringe every time the mainstream media addresses the “issue” of torture, presenting it as a two-sided “debate” no different than abortion, or healthcare reform.

Am I the only citizen who is utterly disgusted by this?

There should be no debate on torture. It is deranged, vile, immoral and inhumane in every respect. Investigating and, if necessary, prosecuting individuals like Jay Bybee, John Yoo, Alberto Gonzales, Dick Cheney and George W. Bush is not about “getting even,” or relishing in some partisan, revenge-driven “witch-hunt.” It is about protecting the Constitution and enforcing the rule of law. Recall a president was nearly impeached for significantly lesser offenses.

Attorney General Holder is on the right track with his preliminary investigation and he should be applauded for going against President Obama’s wishes by pursuing the case. Now he must expand the scope of his investigation to ensure full justice is delivered.