Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Rewards of Honest Journalism

Real journalism is tough to find these days in America. It's expensive to pay someone to investigate things. It also can mean lack of access to powerful people. If you do investigations and expose corruption among the powerful they likely won't give you much access in the future.

So with regards to claims of WMD little investigation was actually done. It was more a matter of regurgitating claims from anonymous intelligence sources, which turned out to be the Office of Vice President or some other dubious institution.

This whole thing is exposed rather blatantly with organizations like Fox News. Take the ACORN scandal. Here's a group that tries to bring minorities and the poor into the democratic process. So when a scam artist doctored some video footage to make it appear they had engaged in immoral behavior, Fox, rather than looking into it, just fell for it hook line and sinker because it promoted their agenda. Watch in this video clip how Rachel Maddow contrasts the story as shown on Fox with the actual raw footage to show how reality was turned on it's head in Fox's efforts to demonize ACORN. But the goal was achieved. ACORN has been destroyed.

But should we expect people to do investigative work? If all they can expect is grief and suffering, while being abandoned by their own news agencies and co-workers, why would anybody bother? Consider a few examples of real journalism and the corresponding rewards.

In 1998 Mike Gallagher published an important story about Chiquita Banana, formerly the United Fruit Company. Abuse of workers in Central America, cocaine trafficking, etc. All kinds of awful things. He was fired for this work based on a claim that he'd unlawfully heard some Chiquita company voice mails, a charge he denied. It was all irrelevant to the story. Chiquita never addressed the claims, but did persuade the SEC to drop their investigation into charges of criminal wrongdoing.

In 1996 Gary Webb published a series of stories regarding CIA funding for the Nicaraguan Contras. To fund the terrorist war the CIA used cocaine which was being funneled to the United States and was largely responsible for the crack cocaine epidemic of the 80's. Webb charged that the Reagan administration blocked efforts to prosecute drug traffickers to keep the money flowing. His general thesis is not seriously disputed, but his series ended his career. He was found dead in 2004 with 2 gunshot wounds to the head. His death was ruled a suicide.

In 1998 April Oliver and Jack Smith produced a story with regards to Operation Tailwind. This was a covert operation that occurred in Laos in 1970. Oliver and Smith claimed that the real purpose was to go after some American defectors and that sarin gas has been used. For that story they were fired.

The Fox method is cheaper and involves less risk. They simply dutifully report stories that their corporate masters prefer without bothering with the hard work involved in investigation. What we need to do is turn them off and listen to real journalists. They do exist.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Hezbollah More Tolerant Than Americans?

Unfortunately Americans oppose the creation of a mosque a few blocks from where the trade towers used to stand. Would that they were more tolerant. Like Hezbollah?

Lebanon has been subjected to devastating and frequent invasions by Israel. In 1982 they were subjected to an absurdly immoral and illegal invasion. 17,000 civilians were killed in just a few months. The most recent invasion was in 2006 wherein over a thousand civilians were killed and a million displaced. Keep in mind this is not a large country. It's about the size of Los Angeles county.

So one might think they would get pretty hostile at the thought of major reconstruction on a synagogue in the heart of Beirut. Here's what a spokesperson for Hezbollah, Israel's sworn enemy and major political party in Lebanon, had to say about it.

"We respect Judaism, just as we respect Christianity. Our only problem is with Israel."

Distinguishing the religion generally from the few violent elements within it that happen to be religious? That's an interesting concept. Newt Gingrich could learn a thing or two from Hezbollah.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Those South Sea Islands

What of these nations you've never heard of that sometimes vote along with the United States and Israel against the world opposing a peaceful resolution to the situation in Palestine? Here's the complete roll call.

So you've got Australia, Israel, Marshall Islands, Micronesia (Federated States of), Nauru, Palau, and the United States. Australia isn't a big shock. They seem to be kind of the junior partner, like Britain, sometimes going along with US imperialism so as to reap corresponding benefits. Israel and the US? They're always there and we know that.

What of the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, and Palau?

It happens that at Wikipedia I was looking at foreign aid and certain south sea islands popped out at me as being somewhat off the chart in terms of the foreign aid they receive. Micronesia, Marshall Island, and Palau.

I suppose this is not shocking. But it's another indication of how extreme Israeli and US rejectionism is. The vote would probably be like 150 to only 2 or 3 consistently if these south sea islands weren't being bought off.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

US Marines Duped by Fake Jihadist/Fake Ex Muslim and President of Liberty Seminary

Unfortunately it would seem to me that many Christians are prone to anti-Muslim bigotry. Ergun Caner recognized this after 9/11, so he pretended to be a formerly dedicated Muslim ex-jihadist. He could invent stories that gullible Christians would enjoy about how Muslims are bloodthirsty crazies that want nothing more than to see Christians slaughtered.

The fakery made him a star. Before he knew it he was President of a major Christian seminary. He was the guy called in to train marines in the jihadi ways of all those Muslims that needed to be killed over in those oil rich regions.

The guy would pretend he could speak Arabic and would literally invent Arabic sounding phrases to deceive his gullible audiences. He'd describe Islamic beliefs and get basic things wrong. Some really hilarious stuff. An absolutely pathetic display.

Having been busted he's not saying much about it. But he has apparently hired an Indian based PR firm to spam the web and divert people from discovering these embarrassing details.

One would think Christians would abandon him in droves. Some have. But many stand by him and make excuses for his transparent lies. Such as Norman Geisler, John Ankerberg, Ron Rhodes, and others. Punishment at Liberty has been mild. He's been demoted from President to Professor.

Geisler's defense reads much like his apologetics. Seriously. What's sad is that I once regarded him as an intellectual titan.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Strategies for Justice in Palestine

There's a pretty fierce debate going on with the left regarding the chief motivation for US policy towards Israel and also the best way to try to turn things around. Should Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) be considered as occurred in South Africa to end apartheid? Also what is the roll of the Israel Lobby, especially AIPAC, in forming US policy. Are they the predominate driving force of US benevolence towards Israel or is it a matter of corporate backing?

Apparently Harvard University has sided with those that advocate BDS. It has sold it's Israeli holdings.

But for some on the left apparently this is not regarded as a wise strategy. Allison Weir from ifamericansknew.org interviewed Noam Chomsky on the radio here. Weir apparently would advocate BDS and also regards the Israel Lobby as probably the major driving force shaping US policy towards Israel. A surprisingly prickly Chomsky argues against both of these views. Not that he says the Lobby plays no roll and not that he rejects all forms of BDS, but apparently he thinks the claim that they play the major roll is overstated and he thinks the BDS campaigns are strategic blunders, though he would support properly crafted campaigns.

It's kind of a complex and interesting debate. A key part of the debate is this article published in 2006 by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt. They were commissioned by The Atlantic Monthly to write a paper on the influence of the Israel Lobby. They worked closely with The Atlantic editing the paper per their requests in order to get the article published, but ultimately they were told that in the end The Atlantic didn't want to publish it at all regardless of the revisions. A foreign outlet, The London Review of Books, finally did publish it and a firestorm erupted. This was not surprising.

One might think that someone like Chomsky would agree with their thesis, but it turns out he does not and he wrote a brief review explaining why here. Subsequently Mearsheimer and Walt wrote a full book on the subject.

Since the Weir interview the battle continues to rage. Jeff Blankfort wrote a criticisms of Chomsky here. Jeremy Hammond replied to that here. Kim Peterson replied to Hammond here. Hammond offered a further reply to Peterson here. At all of these locations interesting further debate occurs in the comment section, as well as at other websites that duplicate the documents, such as here.

In my estimation all involved are good people that want what's best for Palestinians. Who's right though about the strategies and who is right about the influence of the Lobby? I can't yet decide.

Friday, August 13, 2010

News You Haven't Heard

Something like 60,000 people in New Orleans were stranded due to Hurricane Katrina. A huge disaster. The whole world united in support to bring relief.

But then they were Americans. If you are in Pakistan you can sit and watch as 14 million experience a similar tragedy. It's barely noticed. And by the way, global warming would appear to be the major culprit.

This is exactly what we should expect of course based on an institutional analysis of the media. The media in the US produces a product for a customer. The product is audiences. In the case of major media, like the New York Times, it's privileged audiences. The customer is advertisers. So the view of the world we should expect to see is one that serves the interests of the audiences and customers. The suffering of Americans matters. Suffering of weak, poor people in Pakistan does not.

The same is true with regards to the catastrophe in the Gulf. That spill affected powerful people, so it was big news. Much worse spills occur in Nigeria and the amazon. The effects in the amazon have been so devastating brain development of people from the region was severely retarded due to malnutrition. The people were so severely deprived for so long that experts considered classifying them as a separate species.

The people of these regions have been called "unpeople". People that don't matter. Of course they don't matter to institutions intent on maximizing profit. These institutions are considered "people" by US law. They don't matter to those people, but real people would care if they knew.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Go To A Mosque

So at 6:55 pm last Saturday I spotted online notice that one of my favorite authors, Norman Finkelstein, would be speaking at 7 pm at a mosque about 40 miles from me. So I jumped in the car and got there near 8 and people were just lining up to get something to eat. Apparently it was dinner and the lecture. The lecture hadn't yet begun.

There was a man at the entrance to the room with a clip board and a jar labeled "Flood Relief for Pakistan" with some money in it. And I asked him if this talk was open to the general public. "Sure" he said. "Is there a fee?" I asked. "Donations only, but don't you worry about that." Well, I gave him $10 anyway and stepped through the door. Immediately a man motioned to me to come with him. So I started following him and he's leading me to the front of the food line. It's obvious that I'm a visitor since I'm the only person that I see that has a white face. I'm kind of embarrassed saying that I'd rather go to the end of the line, but he insisted and he inserts me in front of a man who smiles and grabs a plate for me. He tells me that when I get my food please have a seat towards the front where I'll have a good view. Then another man approaches me just to check and see if I know what the food is so that I can get what I like. As I work down the line he's telling me what everything is. This is spicy, this is more mild, etc. I ended up grabbing a seat that wasn't all the way to the front and sat with a couple of people. The more elderly gentlemen starts conversing with me. Everyone was just as gracious as could possibly be.

I understand that Islam is a religion that is growing rapidly and I can see why. The mainstream portrayal of Islam is so negative. In fact I had planned to go with my family to a mosque on Friday for prayers just so they could experience it, kind of as an education thing. Christian friends and even atheist friends react kind of like that's some sort of dangerous thing. What I could see happening is when a person that is religious oriented experiences Islam, which in reality is so much more positive than they expect, they're probably a little shocked and greatly impressed. Perhaps this tends to draw them in.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Cancer Incidence In Fallujah Worse Than Hiroshima

One of the provisions of the Geneva Conventions reads "fixed establishments and mobile medical units of the Medical Service may in no circumstances be attacked, but shall at all times be respected and protected by the Parties to the conflict." And yet the front page of the New York Times was this following the assault of Fallujah in 2004. What you are looking at, cheered on by the media, is a war crime punishable by death if any of the patients shackled happened to die as a consequence of their treatment.

But this is not the worst of it. Chemical weaponry was used on the inhabitants of Fallujah as US officials admitted. But the staggering increase in cancer incidence, 38 fold increases in leukemia, twice the incidence at Hiroshima, is suggesting in the mind of Dr Chris Busby the use of uranium based weaponry. The results of a study recently released lend support to this conclusion. The report is being covered in international press. See for instance here. The full report is here.

Apparently this recently released report is unworthy of reporting so far in the United States.


Google search shows that this story is being covered in Russia, covered in Lebanon, covered in Britain. Not the US though.

If Not Me Then Who?

Somebody's got to get after their Congress man or woman. Why not me? So I went on line and found that my Congressman, Thaddeus McCotter, has satellite office hours during the first week of the month where constituents can meet with staff. So I went and had a discussion with his rep regarding McCotter's support for $37 billion in war funding, passed recently. Very pleasant. I made several claims and told her I would provide the sources for her. Below is the email I sent her as a follow up.

Hi Melissa. It was good talking with you today at the library. I'd like to provide some of the sources for my claims and try to understand our purposes for the substantial war funding in Afghanistan.

And I'd like to point out that I did vote for Thaddeus in November of 2008 even though I was unwilling to vote for McCain (or Obama for that matter). I don't agree with him on a lot of things, but I was encouraged to see him vote against the banker bailouts twice. It says to me that he is not unwilling to stand against the few powerful interests in favor of the voice of the people, and I hope that he will consider doing that with regards to these wars as well.

The 37 billion dollar war funding bill is described here. I have difficulty understanding our purposes there. According to Leon Panetta, director of the CIA, there is at most 100 Al Qaeda in Afghanistan (see here). This means that this war amounts to about a billion dollars per year per Al Qaeda operative. That works out to about $500/yr for a family of 4, which I represent. My next door neighbor is unemployed and has been for a couple of years. He has a family of 4. At what point do you consider if it is in the best interest of your constituents to fund this war at these cost levels? It's doubly confusing in that the Taliban offered to hand OBL over to a third party to avert war. See the Washington Post reporting here.

The concern of course is security. If you read Robert Pape's "Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism" you find that based upon an analysis of the data foreign military occupation is the primary driving force of suicide terrorism. If you look here you'll find that an analysis of RAND corporation data shows that the Iraq invasion has had the effect of increasing terrorism worldwide seven fold. You also find that this was in fact the prediction of the intelligence agencies prior to the invasion. Based on this it would seem that increased peace and security cannot be the motivation of the invasions, since it would be expected to have the opposite effect.

We discussed democracy in the Middle East, and I very much agree that it should be promoted. We know the desires of the Iraqi people. Let me quote Karen DeYoung of the Washington Post.

"Iraqis of all sectarian and ethnic groups believe that the U.S. military invasion is the primary root of the violent differences among them, and see the departure of "occupying forces" as the key to national reconciliation, according to focus groups conducted for the U.S. military last month. "

Take a look at these polling results from 2005. 82% of Iraqi's strongly oppose the presence of coalition troops. They do not want US troops to remain in the country. Why is that? Actually we know exactly why and we've known for a long time. In fact you can go all the way back to Eisenhower, who commissioned studies of his own to determine why they hate us. He learned that "there's a campaign of hatred against us in the Middle East - not by governments but by the people". He asked the National Security Council to look into the matter, and they gave their analysis as follows: "there's a perception in the region that the US is supporting corrupt, brutal, and harsh regimes, and is blocking democratization and development, and is doing so because of our interest in controlling the oil reserves in the region. It's difficult to counter this accusation because it's accurate. It is natural for us to support status quo governments and to prevent democracy because we want to maintain control over the energy resources of the region."

The Wall St Journal did a study which was released on September 12, 2001 that basically came to the same conclusions.

So in light of the evidence that these wars are costly to the constituents of Oakland county, that the wars themselves are the chief cause of violence directed against the United States, and that the evidence shows that if democracy were to be promoted in the Middle East we'd listen to the victims and withdraw forces, I would like to understand the rationale for a vote authorizing $37 billion in war funding? Why not rather push for troop withdrawal? It makes Americans safer, makes us more prosperous, and would promote democratic ideals.

Please pass these questions on to Thaddeus, and I look forward to discussing this with you further.

Monday, August 2, 2010

It's Not Just Uncle Sam

Chimpanzees have imperialist policies. Also they're into prostitution.

Jason Engwer on Extraordinary Claims

John Loftus has edited a book that sounds really good called The Christian Delusion. Some of the contributors at Triablogue have written a somewhat formal response. There has been some very interesting counter replies which are available here, particularly what has been offered by Paul Tobin and Hector Avalos. It's worth reading.

Jason Engwer has written some material on the claim that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. I've interacted with him on this issue before at some length, so I thought I'd address some of his bullet points.

- The term extraordinary is vague. All of us use vague terminology at times. Still, we should keep in mind that a vague word is being used that the critic can define and redefine on dubious grounds, sometimes without letting others know what he‘s doing.

I've responded to this argument before, but unfortunately I don't think I did reply to it in a thread that involved Jason. So I'll do it now.

The term "extraordinary" in the phrase "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence" does not mean the exact same thing in both instances. Another way of saying it would be "Highly unusual claims require evidence that is very good." The former use means "highly unusual." The latter use means "evidence that is very unlikely to lead to false conclusions." This phrase is kind of a catchy way of describing Bayes Theorem. Claims with a low initial plausibility require evidence that is of the kind that is unlikely to be mistaken and unlikely to come about if the claim were false. So very good evidence.

- Why are we supposed to think that the evidence for the resurrection isn't extraordinary? Something like the conversion of an enemy of Christianity after seeing the risen Christ (Paul) doesn't seem to be an ordinary thing. Likewise, the miracles that Paul apparently had the power to perform after seeing Christ, as he describes in his letters (including in contexts in which his audience was questioning him) and as Luke describes in Acts, don‘t seem ordinary.

This is where the above definitions are important. Suppose I tell you that 100 years ago a person managed to levitate and float. When you asked for evidence I said that a two headed unicorn farted out a text that made the claim. Is this the kind of evidence a skeptic would consider persuasive because it is highly unusual? Obviously this is not what the skeptic means when he says that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and I think anybody that can really internalize the skeptical claim in order to evaluate it would know this.

- If we need extraordinary evidence for extraordinary claims, then do we also need extraordinary evidence for our extraordinary evidence? That seems to create an infinite regress.

If by extraordinary we meant that we expect the evidence to be of the sort I describe above (a claim about a two headed unicorn farting out a text), then yes, extraordinary evidence would be required to justify such an outrageous claim. But this is not what the skeptic is asking for.

- If extraordinary is being defined as supernatural, then is the claim being made that we need supernatural evidence for supernatural claims? If, instead, we define the first term extraordinary differently than the second term within the phrase ―extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, then the phrases loses the initial appeal that it has due to the parallel use of the term extraordinary. If the term is being redefined later in the phrase, then the phrase loses the force it initially seemed to have.

And as I say above, yes the terms are being defined differently. The common sense nature of the claim in my view should make the meaning of the terms obvious. It should be obvious that we are not asking for claims of two headed unicorns farting out texts in order to justify a resurrection claim. But perhaps this is not obvious to everyone.

- Or is it being said that we need highly unusual evidence for highly unusual claims? But ordinary eyesight is commonly considered sufficient to make a witness to an unusual murder credible in a court of law.....If Jesus appears to one man on a particular occasion, then we‘d expect only one witness, a witness who perceives the appearance with ordinary means, like ordinary eyesight, rather than with extraordinary means.

I would consider ordinary eyesight to be extraordinary evidence. That is, I find my own eyesight to be extremely reliable. So if James saw the risen Christ he might be rational to accept that Jesus rose. But I am not James. The evidence I have is not eyesight. Our evidence is a CLAIM that the risen Jesus was observed with eyesight. Further that claim is put forward decades after the fact by devoted, superstitious followers. Is that extraordinary? In other words, is this the kind of evidence that is extremely unlikely to be mistaken and extremely unlikely to come about if the claim was false? Absolutely not. On the other hand if we all witnessed the risen Jesus today that would change things.