Friday, December 31, 2010

Blasphemy Law Defenders Go on Strike

ISLAMABAD, Dec 31: Businesses were closed and traffic remained off road in most cities and towns of the country on Friday on a strike call given by religious parties in protest against what they believe the government plans to change the blasphemy law.

The strike went ahead despite a categorical announcement on Thursday by federal Minister for Religious Affairs Syed Khurshid Ahmed Shah that the government was not bringing any bill to amend the law.

Markets were closed and roads deserted in Karachi, Lahore, Peshawar, Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Multan, Quetta and other cities and towns.

Demonstrators said their goal was to defend the honour of the Prophet (peace be upon him).

“We will start a civil disobedience movement if the government makes any amendment to the law,” the chairman of the Sunni Ittehad Council, Sahibzada Fazal Karim, said.Police said protesters near the residence of President Asif Ali Zardari in Karachi pelted stones as they shouted slogans “We`ll sacrifice our lives – we`ll save the sanctity of the Prophet (peace be upon him)”.

Teargas shells were fired to disperse them, witnesses said.

In Lahore, thousands of people participated in four protest demonstrations.

A large number of activists from different religious parties held three rallies in Multan during the shutter-down.

Hundreds of protesters rallied in main cities of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan. Political observers here said the religious parties` decision to go with their plan for the strike after the government`s clear-cut announcement that it did not intend to repeal or change the law had more to do with politics than religion.

“We will not allow the government to bring about any change in the blasphemy law. If it tried to do so, we would send it packing,” Hafiz Hamdullah, a leader of the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam, told supporters at a rally in Quetta.

A loose alliance of over a dozen religious parties announced the general strike on Dec 15, a day after the JUI pulled out of the coalition when Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani sacked one of its ministers.

From here.  The blasphemy law is used to persecute religious minorities, especially Christians.
Related reading:  "Pakistan Appeases Islamic Fundamentalists"

Haley Barbour's Decision on the Scott Sisters

Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour's decision to commute the prison sentences of two sisters drew wide attention in part because their cause has been embraced by civil rights activists. But an unusual aspect of the arrangement is also drawing scrutiny: Barbour said his action was "conditioned on" one sister donating a kidney to the other.

The case involves sisters serving double life sentences for armed robbery convictions. Barbour agreed this week to suspend their sentences in light of the poor health of 38-year-old Jamie Scott, who requires regular dialysis. The governor said in a statement that 36-year-old Gladys Scott's release is conditioned on her giving a kidney to her inmate sibling.

"The Mississippi Department of Corrections believes the sisters no longer pose a threat to society," Barbour said in the statement. "Their incarceration is no longer necessary for public safety or rehabilitation, and Jamie Scott's medical condition creates a substantial cost to the State of Mississippi. . . . Gladys Scott's release is conditioned on her donating one of her kidneys to her sister, a procedure which should be scheduled with urgency."

Some medical ethicists are concerned about the role of the organ donation in the Scotts' release. Barbour's spokesman Dan Turner said the contingency was Gladys Scott's idea.

"It was something that she offered," Turner said. "It was not something that the governor's office or Department of Corrections or the parole board said, 'If you do this, we would do this.' It was not held as a quid pro quo. She offered."

Gladys Scott will not be forced to return to prison if for some reason she cannot donate the organ, the governor's office said. Medical ethicists say they're still concerned, even if the donation is voluntary.

"If the sister belongs in prison, then she should be allowed to donate and return to prison, and if she doesn't belong in prison, then she should have her sentence commuted whether or not she is a donor," said physician Michael Shapiro, chief of organ transplantation at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey and chair of the United Network for Organ Sharing's ethics committee.

NAACP President Benjamin Jealous, who met with Barbour about the sisters' case and has pushed for their release, said the governor's office has made it clear Gladys Scott will not go back to prison if her kidney is not a match. Both sisters will follow traditional parole release procedures.

"This is a shining example of how governors should use their commutation powers," Jealous said. "At the end of the day, the most important thing is that they are free and reunited with their families. This is a day when the right thing is being done."

Read it all here.

Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889 – 1951)

Ludwig Wittgenstein, an Austrian-British philosopher, was one of the most influential thinkers of the 20th century. His work contributed to various movements in analytic and linguistic philosophy. He studied at Trinity College, Cambridge with Bertrand Russell. As colleagues, Russell and Wittgenstein developed their view called “logical atomism.”

Russell inspired Wittgenstein to consider the nature of thought itself. Russell was famous for statements like these:

  • “Thought is subversive and revolutionary, destructive and terrible. Thought is merciless to privilege, established institutions, and comfortable habit. Thought is great and swift and free.”
  • “Do not fear to be eccentric in opinion, for every opinion now accepted was once eccentric.”
Wittgenstein argued that language is composed of complex propositions that can be analyzed into less complex propositions until one arrives at simple or elementary propositions. Correspondingly, the world is composed of complex facts that can be analyzed into less complex facts until one arrives at simple or “atomic” facts. The world is the totality of these facts. So a chair is wood (or metal) and nails (or brackets) and fabric components as well as something upon which we sit. In Wittgenstein's view this mental picture (chair) which we suppose gives us a true account of an object actually “stands in the way of our seeing the use of the word as it is” (PI:305). The picture of one thing, that is in fact many things, leads us to the childish belief that there is a correspondence between the word and the nature of the thing.

According to Wittgenstein’s picture theory, meaning requires that there be “atomic” facts. This means that meaning is arrived at through analysis of only propositions that picture facts, or propositions of science. By this reasoning, metaphysical and ethical statements are not meaningful assertions. Words such as good, evil and beauty don’t represent simple propositions, so a statement such as “Murder is evil” is impossible to verify factually.

Wittgenstein’s most famous work is Tractatus Logico-philosophicus (1921), a volume of only 75 pages, but which he believed provided the “final solution” to philosophical problems. In the Tractatus, he held that “philosophy aims at the logical clarification of thoughts”and philosophy is “not a body of propositions, but to make propositions clear.”

Logical positivists were greatly influenced by Wittgenstein’s Tractatus. They soundly rejected all truth claims that could not be reduced to atomic facts and pushed ethics aside, viewing it largely as a waste of intellectual energy.  Logical Positivism was a highly academic approach that had little appeal to the average person who struggled with day to day matters of moral choice. It also didn’t represent the religious sentiments of Wittgenstein, who called Kierkegaard “a saint.”

In the lesson on Kierkegaard, we found that he believed that knowledge is miraculous or supernaturally provided.  He would have agreed with the Socratic-Platonic view that there is no learning, since one can’t learn what one already knows intuitively or a priori. Drawing of John Climacus’ understanding of spiritual enlightenment, Kierkegaard further argued that learning involves a mysterious change that takes place in the learner at a specific moment of his existence - a moment of enlightenment. In this moment, the learner is absolutely certain that he/she has grasped eternal knowledge. He maintains that this is miraculous because it only can be initiated by God, who is beyond time and space, through a series of events in time and space This learning or enlightenment is highly individual and subjective, and it is unique for every learner. Such knowledge produces an existential change though this change may be very difficult to explain or even to articulate, given the limitations of human language.

Kierkegaard died 34 years before Wittgenstein was born and though Wittenstein was familiar with Kieregaard's writings, the two philosophers approached the question of knowledge differently. For Wittgenstein language can only approximate reality. It can never be other than a picture of reality.  In other words, a statement or expression describes an experience by creating a structure isomorphic with the structure of that experience.

In the Philosophical Investigations (1953), Wittgenstein moves in a different direction from his Tractatus Logico-philosophicus.  In Tractatus, he argued that philosophy aims at the logical clarification of thoughts”and is “not a body of propositions, but to make propositions clear.”  Language is useful but approximates reality. In Philosophical Investigations, he insisted that "philosophy is a battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language.” Here language gets in the way. These writings divide Wittgenstein’s work into two distinct phases. The two are not oppositional, however. Wittgenstein never set aside his picture theory of a thought as a logical picture of facts. In the Tractatus, he develops his thought about the logic of propositions, whereas in the Philosophical Investigations he is concerned about other forms of language.

According to Wittgenstein’s picture theory, meaning requires that there be “atomic” facts. This means that meaning is arrived at through analysis of only propositions that picture facts, or propositions of science. By this reasoning, metaphysical and ethical statements are not meaningful assertions. Words such as good, evil and beauty don’t represent simple propositions, so a statement such as “Murder is evil” is impossible to verify factually. Logical positivists were greatly influenced by Wittgenstein’s Tractatus. They soundly rejected all truth claims that could not be reduced to atomic facts and pushed ethics aside, viewing it largely as a waste of intellectual energy.

Although only a few explicit references to Kierkegaard exist in Wittgenstein’s works, it is clear that Wittgenstein shared Kierkegaard’s religious inclinations. In conversation with his friend Maurice O'Connor Drury, Wittgenstein made the following remark: “Bach wrote on the title page of his Orgelbuchlein, ‘To the glory of the most high God, and that my neighbor may be benefited thereby.’ That is what I would have liked to say about my work.”

A much as he may have wanted to be remembered for giving glory to God, Wittgenstein’s religious thought had little influence on 20th century ethics. His Tractatus on the other hand, influenced the development of Logical Positivism with its strong element of atheism, and works published after his death influenced German Idealism.  Rarely is Wittgenstein's thought considered alongside that of Søren Kierkegaard, though clearly Kierkegaard was a significant source of inspiration for him. The philosopher who best understood this was Wittgenstein's student, friend and translator, Elizabeth Anscombe, to whom we will turn in the next lesson.

Related reading: Elizabeth Anscombe on Justice

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Pakistan Appeases Islamic Fundamentalists

ISLAMABAD, Dec 29: In a move to appease religious parties, the government told the National Assembly on Wednesday it had no mind to change the controversial anti-blasphemy law often seen misused against members of minority communities, but appeared calm against political theatrics of some volatile allies.

Religious Affairs Minister Khurshid Ahmed Shah interrupted the house proceedings to make a policy statement “with full responsibility” that the “government has no intention to repeal the anti-blasphemy law and to disown a private bill of a PPP member proposing changes in the Zia-era law to abolish a mandatory death sentence against a convict provided by it and to guard against miscarriage of justice.

The government assurance came ahead of what has been described as a countrywide “shutter down strike” called for Friday by a religious grouping seeking to protect the dignity of the holy prophet Mohammad (PBUH), or “namoos-i-risalat”. “The government regards safeguarding ‘namoos-i-risalat’ as its responsibility and believes in it”, the minister said and, in a reference to the daft submitted by former information minister Sherry Rehman but yet to come before the house, added: “If someone has brought a private bill, it has nothing to do with the government.”

Mr Shah also assured the house that the government would not allow any wrong done to minorities, which have often complained of false accusations made against their members under a law enforced by former military dictator Gen Mohammad Zia-u-Haq as part of his controversial campaign to Islamise the Pakistani society. But he did not specify any measures to do that.

The strike call was given by a “Namoos-i-Risalat” conference held in Islamabad on Dec 15 under the auspices of Majlis-i-Tahafuz Khatam-e-Nabuwat (association for the protection of the finality of prophethood), which was also attended by the representatives of some banned religious groups operating under new names.

From here.

Another important bill which would grant justice to victims of acid attacks by seeking life term for permanent disfigurement of a person`s face or any other part of body by acts like acid-throwing will probably be buried proceedurally.  This too is a concession to the Islamic fundamentalists.

Pakistanis on Trial in United Arab Emirates

ABU DHABI, Dec 28: Two Pakistani brothers accused of collecting money and recruiting ‘jihadis’ for Al Qaeda have gone on trial in the United Arab Emirates, a daily reported on Tuesday.

They appeared in court on Monday, The National newspaper reported.

The pair, charged with “running a jihadi organisation and aiding and abetting Al Qaeda”, has confessed to having links with the jihadi network, the court was told according to the report.

They also “had direct communication with a senior member of Al Qaeda”, it said.

The report only identified the suspects as ‘AkW’, a 49-year-old project manager, and ‘AsW’, a 43-year-old marketing manager, and said they arrived in the Gulf emirate in 2008.

The two men “were arrested by UAE security forces at AsW’s home” in Ras Al Khaimah in April, “after a tip-off from the Pakistani authorities”, the paper said.

However, they told Monday’s hearing “their confessions to having links with Al Qaeda had been obtained under duress”. Prosecutors allege AkW sent “two laptop computers, two telescopes, two pencil torches, two Swiss army knives and a tent” to “Islamist militants” in Pakistan.

“His brother is accused of being an accomplice.”

The equipment was sent to Waziristan. Prosecutors said they found a message on AkW’s computer sent to Mustafa Abu Al Yazid, Al Qaeda’s purported number three and Osama bin Laden’s former treasurer who was later killed in a drone strike, on May 21.

AkW categorically denied the court charges.—AFP

US Facing Debt Scarcity?

Ron Robins, Founder & Analyst - Investing for the Soul

If US consumers believe it difficult to borrow now, just wait! In the next few years credit conditions are likely to go back seventy years when private debt was difficult to obtain. Most Americans intuitively believe there is too much debt at every level of society. But the economic and political vested interests do not want them worried about that. They want to give them credit to infinity to keep this economic mess from imploding. The US Federal Reserve’s new round of quantitative easing (QE2) is clear evidence of that. However, Americans are right about their inordinate debt load, and future economic conditions are likely to create a severe debt scarcity.

The principal reasons for the coming debt scarcity are that ‘debt saturation’—where total income cannot support total debt—has arrived, say some analysts; also, the growing understanding that adding new debt may not increase GDP—it could decrease it; and that the banks and financial system are a train wreck in waiting, eventually being forced to mark their assets to market, thus creating for them massive asset write-downs and strangling their lending ability.

The realization that debt saturation has arrived will not surprise many people. But understanding that new debt can decrease economic activity might surprise them. And the numbers illustrate this possibility. In Nathan’s Economic Edge, Nathan states, “in the third quarter of 2009 each dollar of debt added produced NEGATIVE 15 cents of productivity, and at the end of 2009, each dollar of new debt now SUBTRACTS 45 cents from GDP!”

In fact Nathan also shows that for decades, each new dollar of debt produces less and less in return, from a return of close to $0.90 in the mid 1960s to about $0.20 by 2007. One explanation for this is that as societal debt increased it focused disproportionately on consumption rather than productive enterprise, whose return appears greater.

On the subject of consumption, the renowned economist David Rosenberg in The Globe & Mail on August 16 stated that “U.S. household debt-income ratio peaked in the first quarter of 2008 at 136 per cent. The ratio currently sits at 126 per cent, but the pre-2001 norm was 70 per cent. To get down to this normalized ratio again, debt would have to be reduced by about $6-trillion. So far, nearly $600-billion of bad household debt has been destroyed.” This data reaffirms Americans growing aversion to debt, that debt has become too onerous, and is suggestive of debt saturation.

Replacing declining consumer debt is the exponential growth of US government debt. For 2009 and 2010, the combined US government’s fiscal deficits required or require borrowing an extra $2.7 trillion or so. Yet with all that spending—combined with about $2 trillion of ‘money printing’ from the US Federal Reserve (the Fed)—it created only around $1 trillion in increased economic growth!

One may argue that the phenomenal US government borrowings will provide returns far into the future and that the present low economic returns are due to not funding areas with potentially better returns. Some economists say that spending on infrastructure and education provides the best returns. However, with economists such as Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman and numerous others predicting huge continuing deficits for years ahead, and with a Japan-like slump in economic activity, the odds are likely that any new borrowed dollar will continue to provide only poor returns for years to come.

A further, major reason for the coming debt scarcity will be the tremendously impaired financial condition of the banks. The values assigned to many bank assets are fictional according to numerous experts. QE2 is about many things but one of them is aimed at delaying the potential for implosion of the banking system. In 2009, the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) caved in to government and banking industry lobbyists to allow many bank assets to be ‘marked to fantasy’ and not ‘marked to market.’

This viewpoint is best expressed by highly respected Associate Professor William Black (and formerly a senior regulator who nailed the banks during the savings and loan debacle) and Professor L. Randall Wray, who wrote an article on October 22 in The Huffington Post, entitled, “Foreclose on the Foreclosure Fraudsters, Part 1: Put Bank of America in Receivership.” They wrote that, “FASB's new rules allowed the banks (and the Fed, which has taken over a trillion dollars in toxic mortgages as wholly inadequate collateral) to refuse to recognize hundreds of billions of dollars of losses. This accounting scam produces enormous fictional ‘income’ and ‘capital’ at the banks.”

However, the Federal Reserve may be realizing that it might not have been such a good idea to buy some of these ‘toxic’ securities. Bloomberg reported on October 19 that, “citing alleged failures by Countrywide to service loans properly… Pacific Investment Management Co., BlackRock Inc. and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York are seeking to force Bank of America Corp. to repurchase soured mortgages packaged into $47 billion of bonds by its Countrywide Financial Corp. unit, people familiar with the matter said.”

Also, on November 2, CNBC reported that Citigroup could be liable for huge amounts of toxic security buy-backs as well. “If all four mortgage acquisition channels turn out to be equally as defective… Citi's liability for repurchases could soar to about $100 billion dollars at a 60 per cent defect rate - and to around $133 billion dollars at an 80 per cent defect rate.”

Clearly, such numbers are staggering. These, as well as many other banks and financial entities, could collapse. Politically, in the present circumstances, it would be difficult for the US government to provide massive new funds to support the financial system. Therefore, it will be up to the Fed to decide what to do.

If the Fed prints ever increasing amounts of new money to try to moderate the financial collapse, hyperinflation could be the result. If it does not print massive amounts of new money, a deflationary depression could be born.

In high inflationary or hyperinflationary conditions, few will want to lend as they get paid back in dollars that are declining very rapidly in value. In a deflationary episode, lending is reduced due to huge loan losses. Therefore, during either, and/or after such events, debt scarcity will be in full force.

Data indicates that American consumers do not want to increase their debt. Debt saturation is occurring, and with it a declining return on each borrowed dollar—even for the US government. Most significantly, the banks and the financial system will probably soon experience a new round of massive real estate related losses and subsequent financial institutions’ bankruptcies. Thus, a new major financial crisis will likely soon engulf America, greatly impairing its lending facilities and creating a severe scarcity of debt.


Sunday, December 26, 2010

Quote of the Week - Robert Spitzer

Science, unlike philosophy and metaphysics, cannot deductively prove a creation or God. Science is an empirical and inductive discipline, meaning that it cannot be certain that it has considered all possible data that would be relevant to a complete explanation of particular physical phenomena or the universe itself. Nevertheless, it is reasonable and responsible to attribute qualified truth value to long-standing, rigorously established theories until such time as new data requires them to be changed. This is what enables science to 1) identify, aggregate, and synthesize evidence indicating the finitude of past time in the universe and 2) to identify the exceedingly high improbability of the random occurrence of conditions necessary to sustain life in the universe."

-- Robert Spitzer, S.J., New Proofs for the Existence of God: Contributions of Contemporary Physics and Philosophy (Grand Rapids, MI.: Eerdmans, 2010), 73.

Bethleham Festivities Cheer Muslims

BETHLEHEM (West Bank), Dec 24: The traditional birthplace of Jesus Christ is celebrating its merriest Christmas in years, as tens of thousands of tourists thronged Bethlehem on Friday for the annual holiday festivities in this Biblical West Bank town.

Officials said the turnout was shaping up to be the largest since 2000. Unseasonably mild weather, a virtual halt in Israeli-Palestinian violence and a burgeoning economic revival in the West Bank all added to the holiday cheer.

Israeli officials have said they expect about 90,000 visitors in Bethlehem during the current two-week holiday season, up from 70,000 last year.

Visitors entering the town must cross through a massive metal gate in the separation barrier Israel built between Jerusalem and Bethlehem during a wave of Palestinian attacks last decade.

The Roman Catholic Church’s top clergyman in the region, Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal, expressed his traditional wishes for “peace, love and unity among us”. But on the sunny, warm day, with temperatures approaching 20 degrees Celsius, he added another wish to his list: “to ask God to send us rain and winter besides peace and justice and dignity for all.”

Raed Arafat, the 40-year-old owner of the ‘Stars and Bucks Cafe’, played Christmas songs over loudspeakers and handed out free Arabian coffee at his shop near Manger Square. “There are more people this year,” an ecstatic Arafat said.

Many visitors were local Palestinians, including veiled Muslim women. “Because of the hard situation and the pressure we are living in, we take advantage of any joyful moment and bring our children to play,” said Khitam Harazallah, a housewife from the nearby Deheishe refugee camp who came with her two young children.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas travelled to Bethlehem to greet the revellers, saying he hoped the coming year would finally bring peace.

“We are seekers of peace in the path of Jesus,” he said. “We hope that next year will be a year of peace by establishing the independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital, living side by side with Israel in peace and security.”In a goodwill gesture, Israel allowed 500 members of Gaza’s tiny Christian community to travel to Bethlehem.–AP

Related reading: Let Peace Reign

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Bethlehem: Hard Place for Christians

Bethlehem (AsiaNews) - This Christmas in Bethlehem, the cross has been banned from souvenirs for tourists and pilgrims in the Holy Land. Some textile workshops in Jerusalem and Hebron have begun to print and sell T-shirts depicting the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem without the cross. Because of the growth of Islamic fundamentalism in the Palestinian territories, the cross was also removed from t-shirts of football teams.
Interviewed by AsiaNews, Samir Qumsieh, journalist and director of the Catholic television station Al-Mahed Nativity TV in Bethlehem, said: "I want to launch a campaign to urge people not to buy these products - he says - because the removal of the cross is an intimidation against Christians, it is like saying that Jesus was never crucified. "

Like every year, thousands including authorities, faithful and tourists from all over the world crowd, the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem for midnight mass on the night of 24 December. It will be celebrated by the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem and will be attended by the highest offices of the Palestinian Authority.

Qumsieh says that the population is living these days with joy, but the situation for Christians is still dramatic. According to the journalist, the dialogue of recent years between Muslims, Christians and Jews has not changed the situation.

"In the Holy Land - said Qumsieh - the emigration of Christians is growing, even if the authorities refuse to give precise numbers. Every day there are people who flee to other countries. As Christians, we live in a constant feeling of fear and uncertainty, and if you live in constant tension and pessimism you can not plan anything.

Read it all here.

Friday, December 24, 2010

FCC Rules on "Network Neutrality"

(ARTICLE 19/IFEX) - London 22.12.10 - The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted 3-2 for a new rule on "network neutrality" to ensure that internet service providers do not discriminate against internet sites and services. The net neutrality rules, which came out on 21 December, set broad principles but provide limited protection to users and providers of information or services.

"The Federal Communications Commission reaffirmation of the need for an open internet to promote freedom of expression is a welcome move," said Dr Agnès Callamard, executive director of ARTICLE 19. "However, the rules adopted are weak and do not provide for adequate safeguards against discrimination, especially in relation to mobile broadband," continued Callamard.

The FCC network neutrality rule adopts three basic principles for all internet service providers (ISPs) including cable, telephone and mobile companies: 1) ISPs must be transparent in their network practices to consumers and content and service providers; 2) ISPs are prohibited from blocking lawful sites and services; and 3) ISPs are prohibited from "unreasonable" discrimination of content and services.

However, under the new rules, mobile communications are not as stringently protected as landline communications. While websites and other applications which compete with mobile ISPs services cannot be blocked, the rules do not directly prohibit other services from being restricted. All ISPs are also allowed to restrict access to content and services for reasonable network management. More positively, consumers and providers may file complaints about unlawful limits which will be heard by the FCC on a fast track basis.

ARTICLE 19 believes that network neutrality is essential to allow individuals to "seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers" as protected under international human rights law. In particular, the following principles should be adopted to protect freedom of expression on line:

• The Internet should remain open so that everyone is able to send and receive the content, use the services and run the applications of their choice, on the device of their choice, within the law;
• There should be no discrimination in the treatment of Internet traffic, based on the device, content, author, or the origin and/or destination of the content, service or application;
• Meaningful information about any traffic management practices must be made available to all stakeholders, end users and businesses that rely on broadband infrastructure to reach their customers.

Network neutrality is currently being debated in countries and international bodies around the world, including at the European Union. Earlier this month, ARTICLE 19 joined with 18 internet companies and groups including Skype, Ebay, and Consumer Focus in writing to UK Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calling on the UK government to adopt stronger rules on network neutrality.

Click on the following link to read an FCC news release regarding the decision:
fcc_acts_to_preserve_internet_freedom_and_openness.doc (60 KB)

Click here to read the letter to Minister Ed Vaizey

For more information:
ARTICLE 19: Global Campaign for Free Expression
Free Word Centre
60 Farringdon Road
United Kingdom
info (@)
Phone: +44 20 7324 2517
Fax: +44 20 7490 0566

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855)

Alice C. Linsley

Kierkegaard was a brilliant philosopher who was critical of 18th century Romanticism’s emphasis on naturalism. He was also critical of Empiricism’s claim that moral judgment must be based on reason and verifiable data. Kierkegaard believed that the basis for forming moral judgment is always subjective and that the purpose of Philosophy should be to enhance the individual’s quality of life and freedom.

Kierkegaard and Nietzsche shared an overarching realization that anything decided to be meaningful or important must come from within the individual. It is the human race itself that attributes meaning. They both regarded the objective truth of the Enlightenment as a concept that ultimately leads to frustration, despair and anxiety. In Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling and in Nietzsche’s On the Genealogy of Morals, each philosopher sets out to discover the importance of subjective human emotion, and the role of human freedom in the universe.

In his personal life Kierkegaard suffered from depression. Before age 21, he lost his mother and five of his family members. He never married because he regarded marriage as “the deepest form of revelation” and he doubted that he could so thoroughly self-reveal as to fulfill his ideal of marriage. Evidently his struggle with depression didn’t hinder him from expressing his ideas, as he was an extraordinarily prolific writer, contributing in the areas of philosophy, theology, psychology and social criticism.

Kierkegaard refers to biblical Abraham as a “knight of faith” and sees him as the embodiment of his existentialist philosophy. For Kierkegaard, true individuality comes through surrendering one’s individuality. Abraham discovers his meaning in the cosmos through losing himself in God, but when one tries to explain this to another person, the explanation seems absurd.

Kierkegaard wrote, “If a human being did not have an eternal consciousness, if underlying everything there were only a wild, fermenting power that writhing in dark passions produced everything, be it significant or insignificant, if a vast, never appeased emptiness hid beneath everything, what would life be then but despair?” In this statement, Kierkegaard expresses “existential anxiety” or “angst.” Existential angst is not the same as normal fear. It is not caused by outside events that signal danger, it never leaves, it touches every area of our lives, and it does not respond to counseling.

Although Kierkegaard never used the term "existentialism" in his writings, he is regarded as the founder of Christian existentialism. Kierkegaard believed that the value of a philosopher's ideas should be judged by the person's life.  (He would have judged Nietzsche's ideas as lacking moral and intellectual value, which Nietzsche would have applauded!)  According to Kierkegaard, the individual’s life is the basis upon which he is judged by God. A writer's work is an important part of his existence, but his life as a whole is what ultimately matters to God.

This is why he was attracted to the lives of the saints, especially John Climacus, a 6th century monk who spent much of his time in solitude, prayer and fasting.

While at the monastery on Mount Sinai, Abbot John wrote “The Ladder of Divine Ascent,” a work arranged into thirty chapters or “steps.” Each step details the vices that the individual must conquer and the virtues that the individual must perfect in order to ascend the spiritual “ladder” to the Kingdom of Heaven. Here are some of John Climacus’ famous sayings:

Step 1: A Christian is one who imitated Christ in thought, word and deed. A lover of God is one who lives in communion with all that is natural and sinless.

Step 5: Repentance is a contract with God for a second life. A penitent inflicts his own punishment upon himself.

Step 9: If you forgive quickly, you, too, will be quickly forgiven.

Step 15: Purity is putting on the nature of angels. It is the longed-for house of Christ and the earthly heaven of the heart.

Step 17: He who has tasted the things on high easily despises what is below. He who has not, only finds joy in possessions.

Step 25: Humility is a divine shelter which prevents us from seeing our achievements.

Step 50: There remain three virtues that bind and secure the union of all: Faith, Hope and Love--- and the greatest of these is Love.

Kierkegaard published Philosophical Fragments under the name of John Climacus. In this work, Kierkegaard poses three important questions:

• What is the relationship between history (temporal existence) and human consciousness (eternal existence)?

• Is there any purpose or meaning to events in our temporal existence other than historical interest?

• Is it possible to base eternal happiness upon historical knowledge?

Kierkegaard’s solution was to find a link between the historical/temporal and the eternal/nontemporal. He does so by explaining knowledge as miraculous or supernatural. He agrees with the Socratic-Platonic view that there is no learning, since one can’t learn what one already knows. Drawing of John Climacus’ understanding of spiritual enlightenment, Kierkegaard argues that learning involves a mysterious change that takes place in the learner at a specific moment of his existence - a moment of enlightenment. In this moment, the learner is absolutely certain that he/she has grasped eternal knowledge. He maintains that this is miraculous and supernatural because it only can be initiated by God through a series of historical/temporal events. This learning (or enlightenment) is highly individual and subjective, and it is unique for every learner.

Kierkegaard argues further that individuals are unable to know anything that is certain except through this supernatural intervention in history. In this sense, Kierkegaard is a Skeptic. He doubts that humans are able of our own faculties to learn or know anything.

So what makes this learning or enlightenment possible? Kierkegaard recognizes that human existence involves suffering, anguish, pain, sickness and death. That being our plight, we naturally desire an escape. This desire is very powerful. It is a yearning for the eternal that leads us to “leap into absurdity.”

What is the absurdity? For Kierkegaard, it is the supernatural intervention of the divine Person Jesus Christ entering history, making it possible for us to know that God exists. The existence of God can’t be proved by reason, by experimentation, by logic or through observation. Only by faith in this divine intervention can one hope to escape the suffering of this life and move from ignorance to enlightenment. This is the “supernaturalism” of Kierkegaard’s philosophy and it is clearly the opposite of the naturalism of Nietzsche and the Romantics.

Whereas Nietzsche rejected the prevailing morality in favor of his “immoralism,” Kierkegaard presents social norms as the universal measure of service to the community. Even human sacrifice is justified in terms of how it serves the community, so when Agamemnon sacrifices his daughter Iphigenia he is performing a tragic sacrifice in order that the Greek expedition to Troy may succeed. Were Abraham’s intention in sacrificing Isaac to gain worldly success, he would simply be another tragic hero like Agamemnon. But as Kierkegaard understands the story of Mount Moriah, it is Abraham’s absolute surrender to God that makes possible his receiving back his offering and much more. Kierkegaard explains, “Infinite resignation is the last stage before faith …for only in infinite resignation do I become conscious of my external validity, and only then can one speak of grasping existence by virtue of faith.”

Kierkegaard recognizes an existential duty to a creator God as more authoritative than human social norms. Ultimately God's definition of the distinction between good and evil outranks any human definition. He holds up biblical Abraham's near sacrifice of his son, not as an example of obedience to social norms, but as the consequence of a "teleological suspension of the ethical.”

That is, Abraham recognizes a duty to obey something higher than both his social duty not to kill an innocent and his fatherly commitment to his son. (Fear and Trembling)

From Kierkegaard's perspective, the distinction between good and evil is dependent not on social norms but on God. Therefore it is possible for Abraham to live and act beyond the prescribed norms of his day to fulfill a spiritual destiny that he alone can fulfill. This renders ethical cases such as Abraham's problematic, since we have no public policy to guide our decision about whether Abraham is obeying God's command or is a deluded would-be murderer.

In the end, Kierkegaard’s existential philosophy can’t be used to formulate specific ethical guidelines for society. It is simply too personal and too subjective. While existentialism would become a popular philosophy in the 20th century, ethics in the post-modern world would be influenced more by analytic and linguistic philosophy, and especially the work of Ludwig Wittgenstein, to which we turn next.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (1844-1900)

Alice C. Linsley

Nietzsche called himself an “immoralist” and criticized almost all the moral philosophers. He wrote:

“Whether it be hedonism or pessimism or utilitarianism or eudaemonism: all these modes of thought which assess the value of things according to pleasure and suffering, that is to say according to attendant and secondary phenomena, are foreground modes of thought and naïvetés which anyone conscious of creative powers and an artist’s conscience will look down on with derision” (Peoples and Fatherlands, 7:225).

Nietzsche’s moral framework is his own peculiar interpretation of history. Nietzsche says that history reveals two kinds of morality, the morality of the masters and the morality of the slaves. The master morality ascribes to itself noble qualities such as bravery, daring, truthfulness and blondness, but regards inferiors as swarthy cowards, given to lies and vulgarity. According to Nietzsche, the poor and weak resented this and therefore constructed a different system of values and morals which stressed humility, sympathy and cooperation among themselves as the underdog. Nietzsche called this “a transvaluation of values” and he blamed it on the Jews.

He wrote, “It was the Jews who, reversing the aristocratic equation (good = noble = beautiful = happy = loved by the gods), dared with a frightening consistency to suggest the contrary equation, and to hold on to it with the teeth of the most profound hatred (the hatred of the powerless)” (On the Genealogy of Morals 19)

Nietzsche held that the revolt of the slaves reached it peak in first-century Christianity. He blamed Christianity for the downfall of ancient Rome, the fatherland of aristocratic virtues embodied in the Caesars. Rome was destroyed, in Nietzsche’s mind, because people began to honor four Jews: Jesus, Mary, Peter and Paul (GM 36). He argues that the success of Christianity meant the degeneration of the virtuous ideals of power in favor of compassion for the lowly.

He believed that immoral rulers and those who sought world domination embody the highest morality. He praised Napoleon as one who showed the world what it means to be noble. He wrote:

“But there are cases where a leader or bell-wether is felt to be indispensable; in such cases people keep trying to set up an aggregation of clever herd-men in place of real commanders: that is the origin, for instance, of all parliamentary constitutions. But what a blessing, in spite of everything, what a release from an increasingly unbearable burden is the appearance of an absolute commander of these herd-Europeans! This was demonstrated most recently by the effect of Napoleon when he appeared on the scene. The history of the impact of Napoleon can be said to be the history of the highest happiness this entire century has achieved…” (Beyond Good and Evil 86)

To achieve Nietzsche’s ideal of a master race, Christianity would have to be overturned. Nietzsche claimed that modern man no longer had need of the idea of God. He declared that “God is dead” and that the death of God would eventually lead to the loss of every universal perspective. Once this happens, there can no longer be any coherent sense of objective truth. Instead we would be guided in our moral decisions by only our own perspectives.

Some argue that Nietzsche’s view renders all truth so subjective that the very idea of truth becomes meaningless. However, this is not Nietzsche’s intention. He places a high value on truth as blunt honesty, especially among those who would be masters. What Nietzsche calls honesty is the opposite of compassion and sympathy. Nietzsche’s highest virtue is cruelty justified by power. Nietzsche calls for the strong in the world to break their self-imposed chains and assert their power and vitality upon the world. Nietzsche admits that “a philosophy that dares to do this has already placed itself beyond good and evil” (BGE 7).

Nietzsche wrote in Thus Spoke Zarathustra about how the Übermensch (Superman) must create the noble values of power, enthusiasm for war, and world domination to bring human existence to a new level. “Renouncing war,” Nietzsche wrote, “means renouncing the great life” (TI 23).

For Nietzsche the “will to power” is the secret of life and the destiny of humanity. He believes that a historical figure will arise who will bring perfection to the world. He describes this figure as a “Roman Caesar with the soul of Christ.” His methods will include predation and biological engineering (eugenics) of human populations. Perhaps his entire grotesque philosophy is summarized in this statement:

The strong men, the masters, regain the pure conscience of a beast of prey; monsters filled with joy, they can return from a fearful succession of murder, arson, rape, and torture with the same joy in their hearts, the same contentment in their souls as if they had indulged in some student's rag.... When a man is capable of commanding, when he is by nature a "Master," when he is violent in act and gesture, of what importance are treaties to him?... To judge morality properly, it must be replaced by two concepts borrowed from zoology: the taming of a beast and the breeding of a specific species.

Nietzsche has been the subject of numerous psychological studies. Some believe that his paranoia, lack of coherence, and grandiosity were products of a mind affected by advanced stage syphilis, which he was known to have. According to the memoirs of his sister, who cared for him, the signs of third-stage syphilis became acute in the last years of Nietzsche’s life. This may explain the grandiosity of his ideas.

It may also explain his irrational hatred of the Church and of women. In Beyond Good and Evil, Nietzsche maintained that higher forms of civilization require stricter controls on women. Nietzsche seemed to gain pleasure from insulting women. He was known for his statements such as these, "Women are less than shallow" and "Are you going to women? Do not forget the whip!" Perhaps his view of women is best summed in this statement: “And finally, woman! One-half of mankind is weak, chronically sick, changeable, shifty - woman requires . . . a religion of the weak which glorifies weakness, love and modesty as divine: or better still, she makes the strong weak - she succeeds in overcoming the strong. Woman has always conspired with decadent types - the priests, for instance - against the "mighty," against the "strong," against men. Women avail themselves of children for the cult of piety. . .”

Nietzsche devoted much of his writings to demonstrating that Christianity is irrational and degrading. The Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard agreed with the first part of Nietzsche’s evaluation of Christianity, but not the second part. Kierkegaard believed that the validity of Christianity was not dependent on its reasonableness and that the individual’s unique identity in the universe is derived from taking possession of his nature as a creature of God. Far from being degrading, Kierkegaard saw Christianity as essential to realize both one’s despair and one’s existence.

We will consider Kierkegaard in tomorrow's post.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Two Falat Paintings Seized by Feds

NEW YORK (AP) - U.S. authorities say they've seized two paintings in New York that were stolen from the National Museum in Warsaw, Poland, by the Nazis during World War II.

The paintings by 19th-century Polish artist Julian Falat were seized last Wednesday. Federal prosecutors also filed court papers aimed at recovering the paintings, "Off to the Hunt" and "The Hunt."

Prosecutors say the paintings remained missing after World War II. Polish authorities alerted U.S. authorities in 2006 that both were about to be sold at auction in New York.

In a lawsuit, the U.S. government says the paintings can be seized because they constituted stolen property imported into the United States illegally.

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

WikiLeaks and the Question of Legitimacy

The ethical standards that apply to an organization depend in part on what kind of organization it is. Some standards are either universal or nearly so: lying, cheating, stealing are generally bad whoever you are. But lots of other rules, principles, and values will vary, at least in terms of the weight attached to them. It matters for lots of purposes whether you are a corporation, a government agency, a non-governmental organization (NGO), a social club, a church, or a newspaper.

What kind of organization is WikiLeaks? It is sometimes referred to as a news agency, though that designation is disputed. Let’s look at WikiLeaks as a straightforward cause-oriented NGO, for the sake of argument.

One key question we ought to ask with regard to any NGO has to do with its legitimacy. In other words, for any NGO, we need to ask, “does this group have the right to speak and act on behalf of the cause it claims to speak and act for?” In other words, anyone may claim (for example) to “represent the forces of Good” or to “stand for justice” or to “speak for the whales.” And anyone is free to say what they want in defence of goodness or justice or whales. But saying you speak for goodness or justice or whales doesn’t mean that you actually do, and it doesn’t mean that anyone should listen to you or consult you on important decisions. Being a legitimate spokesperson takes something else. But what?

One framework that I’ve found useful is the one provided by Iain Atack in his paper “Four Criteria of Development NGO Legitimacy.”1. Atack’s framework is intended to apply to development NGOs, but I think that the basic idea can be applied more broadly.

Atack suggests that an NGO may gain legitimacy from one or more of 4 sources:

•Representativeness (Does the organization, for example, have a large membership base for which it genuinely speaks?)

•Effectiveness (Does the organization have a proven track record of getting the job done?)

•Empowerment (Does the organization work not just to achieve its goals, but to make sure that those it helps are, in the long run, left better-able to achieve those goals themselves?)

•Values (Does the organization embody and promote the values that are essential to the sort of organization it is, whatever those may be?)

Each of these is a way in which an NGO might acquire legitimacy. Some NGOs might score well on several of those. Some on just one. Some on none — and those that score well on none of those criteria are, according to Atack’s framework, lacking in legitimacy. Stated negatively, we could put the point this way: if an organization doesn’t have a membership base, isn’t effective, doesn’t work to empower those it seeks to help, and doesn’t embody the relevant values, then just what makes it think it has the right to speak or act for anyone other than itself?

Of course, these are not all-or-nothing questions. An organization can be representative, effective, etc., to a greater or lesser degree, and hence be either more or less legitimate.

This framework isn’t the be-all and end-all of assessing NGO legitimacy, but it’s a starting point. So, consider an NGO like WikiLeaks. Where does its legitimacy come from? In other words, what is the source of whatever moral authority is has? Is it from one of the sources Atack suggests, or is it something else?


From here.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Serb Prisoners Murdered for their Organs?

Was Kosovo's recently re-elected Prime Minister involved in murdering Serb prisoners for their organs during the 1999 civil war? An official report from a committee of the Council of Europe said this week that there is enough evidence to warrant further investigation. This was angrily repudiated by Hashim Thaci, the prime minister, as defamatory and as Serb propaganda. These rumours had been thoroughly discredited many times, he told a press conference in Pristina.

The report, by Swiss politician Dick Marty, says that there are "numerous indications" that organs were removed from some prisoners of the Kosovo Liberation Army in 1999. Mr Thaci, a former KLA commander, was accused of being "the boss" of a mafia-like criminal organisation involved in heroin dealing and organ trafficking.

According to the Guardian, which received an advance copy, the report says: "The testimonies on which we based our findings spoke credibly and consistently of a methodology by which all of the captives were killed, usually by a gunshot to the head, before being operated on to remove one or more of their organs."

The organ trafficking seems to have continued after the war. Seven men were charged this week in Pristina this week. Poor people from Moldova, Kazakhstan, Russia and Turkey were promised up to €14,500 for their organs. The recipients, who came from Canada, Germany, Poland and Israel, paid between €80,000 and €100,000 for them. But the donors were never paid, European Union prosecutor Jonathan Ratel told Pristina District Court. Five of the seven were doctors.

The gruesome story is extremely murky, but this week's developments support claims made by Carla Del Ponte, a former United Nations war crimes prosecutor, in a 2008 book. ~ Guardian, Dec 14

Friday, December 17, 2010

Pentagon and US Intelligence Disagree on Afghan War

WASHINGTON, Dec 16: US intelligence agencies are lining up against the Pentagon in the debate over Afghanistan strategy, arguing that the prospect for success in the war is questionable despite recent military gains.

Experts within the US government, including officials familiar with advice the White House is receiving, say recent progress is undermined by a weak and corrupt Afghan government and Pakistan’s reluctance to crack down on militants allegedly hiding on its side of the border.

“There is a lot of scepticism within the administration about whether the strategy is working,” including among intelligence and some White House officials, said Caroline Wadhams, South Asia expert at the Centre for American Progress, a think tank close to the White House.

Amid talk of review of US operations in Afghanistan that was announced on Thursday, there was deep division among the agencies advising President Barack Obama, according to US officials.

Pentagon leaders say they believe the counter-insurgency policy, crafted and directed by General David Petraeus, has made progress in clearing Taliban fighters out of parts of Afghanistan and then holding that territory.

A principal objective of the strategy is to expand those areas until they overlap, creating a swath of insurgent-free territory that US forces can hand to Afghan authorities.

But US spy agencies gave the White House a more pessimistic assessment of the counter-insurgency strategy.

According to two US officials, pessimism about US prospects is reflected in two National Intelligence Estimates, one about Afghanistan and the other about Pakistan.

Those reports were submitted to the White House as the US intelligence agencies’ contribution to the policy review.

The officials said the estimates represented a differing assessment from military leaders about the likelihood of significant progress in Afghanistan before next July when Mr Obama says he plans to start winding down US operations there.

Most notable among the intelligence agencies’ concerns, the officials said, was their assessment that long-term progress in Afghanistan would be very difficult until Pakistan took stronger action against militants in the border area.

The CIA has been conducting an extensive secret campaign using drone aircraft to kill Al Qaeda and other militants in Pakistan. But some US officials say that if anything, efforts by Pakistan’s own intelligence and military services to root out militants from their sanctuaries have lately been less, rather than more, vigorous.

“There’s broad agreement among senior policymakers that CIA operations are doing major damage to terrorists,” said one US official, who added the United States “simply can’t afford to curtail” the drone campaign.

“The Pakistanis, for their part, could step up to the plate a bit more if for no other reason than it’s in their own self-interest.

After all, they’ve been brutally targeted by very bad actors who live on Pakistani soil,” he added.

There is a growing belief within Congress that current war policy is in serious jeopardy due to alleged Pakistani recalcitrance and Afghan corruption, according to congressional aides who said those problems were leading prominent lawmakers to conclude privately the United States should extricate its forces sooner rather than later.—Reuters

Quote of the Week - Nicholas Rescher

"The theorist who maintains that science is the be-all and end-all - that what is not in the science textbooks is not worth knowing - is an ideologist with a peculiar and distorted doctrine of his own. For him, science is no longer a sector of the cognitive enterprise but an all-inclusive world-view. This is the doctrine not of science but of scientism. Totake this stance is not to celebrate science but to distort it." -- Nicholas Rescher

All the Generals in the Roman Church?

We have all seen the war movies and heard the stories of those too young to serve lying about their age so as to join the service in defense of liberty, justice, or freedom. Some said they were young and naive, but they wanted to be in the battle. They wanted to make a difference.

When I hear these stories, I usually think of the kid from Brooklyn or the farm boy out of Iowa. They knew where the real battle of their day was occurring and they wanted to be part of it.

The kid from Brooklyn, the farm boy from Iowa, the nuns at Walsingham?

In a joint statement, the nuns explained their situation. They said: “On December 2 2010 Sister Wendy Renate, Sister Jane Louise and Sister Carolyne Joseph left the Priory of Our Lady in Walsingham for a period of discernment with the intention of joining the ordinariate when established. We ask prayers for ourselves and for the Sisters remaining at the Priory of Our Lady.”

The community, which numbered seven nuns belonging to the Society of St Margaret, reportedly voted four to three against joining the ordinariate. The three nuns who left the community are its youngest members. The priory is an autonomous house of the Society of St Margaret and is not linked to the Anglican shrine at Walsingham, which is under the administration of Rt Rev Lindsay Urwin, the former Bishop of Horsham.

The young always seem to know where the battle is. Maybe not just the young.

Increasingly, I get the feeling that more and more separated Christians are coming to the realization that in the battle between Christianity and militant secularism, all the generals are in the Catholic Church.

I don’t base this feeling—and I readily admit it is a feeling not based on much more than my gut—that serious Christians of many stripes increasingly see the church, the Catholic Church, as the “pillar and bulwark of the truth.”

I was at a business dinner a few years ago. I work for a German company. This dinner, in Miami, was with some of the head muckety-mucks from my company. I got into a conversation with one executive out of Germany, a former Lutheran pastor, who confided to me that he was seriously considering becoming Catholic.

I asked him why and he responded in a startlingly straightforward manner. “The Catholic Church doesn’t change its teachings.” I understood that this was the dumbed-down version of what he was trying to say but I understood what he was getting at.

I also asked him, if he believed that, why he had not yet converted. He went on at length about family pressure and, well you know the rest. Change is tough. Change after a lifetime is really tough.

This is why I marvel at the courage of some of the long-serving Bishops of the Anglican communion. I suppose it shows the wisdom of what Pope Benedict has wrought through the introduction of the ordinariate. Such change has got to be easier when you are not alone.

That said, I cannot help but think that these young nuns are making the move because they implicitly understand that the battle has been joined. The lines are being formed. It is time for a choice. Do you stand with Jesus? Do you stand with his Church? Do you have the “pillar and bulwark of the truth?”

I don’t pretend to know how this will all work out. But I do know that before the end, there will be battles, the lines will be drawn, and there will be one flock and one shepherd.

From here.

Orthodox Church bishops are probably more "militant" than most Roman bishops.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Sasoli 6th Journalist Murdered in Balochichistan

IFJ/IFEX) - December 15, 2010 - The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) demands an immediate investigation into the death of Mohammad Khan Sasoli, who was shot dead in Khuzdar, Balochistan province, in Pakistan's south-west, on December 14.

Sasoli, a correspondent with Daily Balochistan Times and DawnNews TV, and president of the Khuzdar Press Club, is the sixth journalist to be reported killed in Balochistan this year, among a total death toll in Pakistan of 15 journalists and media workers. Four journalists have been killed in Pakistan in the past 10 days.

The Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), an IFJ affiliate, reports that Sasoli was shot by two unidentified motorcyclists as he stepped out of his car, after returning home from the press club. He was taken to hospital by his family after sustaining bullet wounds to the head and chest, but died before he could receive medical attention, according to local media reports.

The motive for the killing was not clear.

"Balochistan has become a notoriously dangerous location in which to work as a journalist, with a death toll for 2010 that surpasses most countries," IFJ Asia-Pacific Director Jacqueline Park said.

"Of grave concern is the shameful lack of action by authorities to investigate these murders and bring those responsible to justice."

Faiz Mohammad Sasoli, a former president of the same press club, was murdered in similar circumstances on June 27. Journalists in Khuzdar claim that all members of the club face threats from militant Baloch autonomy movements, the PFUJ reports.

No arrests have been made for the murder of Faiz, or the abduction and murder of Abdul Hameed Hayatan, whose body was found near Turbat in Balochistan on November 18. Hayatan was allegedly abducted by state security agents before his death.

"The IFJ supports the demands of the PFUJ that the Government of Balochistan dedicate all necessary resources to arresting and punishing the killers of these journalists, and bring an end to impunity for media killings," Park said.

Mohammad Khan Sasoli is survived by his wife and son.
For more information:

International Federation of Journalists
International Press Centre, Residence Palace
Bloc C, second floor, Rue de la Loi, 155
1040 Brussels
Phone: +32 2 2352207
Fax: +32 2 2352219

Apple: Christian Dogma Offends. You think?

Jesus arrived on earth as a baby tender and mild, resting in a manger, but He also offended the hypocrites of His day and He still does.  Here is the latest example:

The Manhattan Declaration is an ecumenical document promoting traditional marriage, the sanctity of human life and religious liberty. It’s been signed by almost 500,000 people and is extremely civil and respectful in language. They recently created an iPhone app to help promote their cause…and it’s doing just that:

“Some of you may be aware by now that Apple has removed the Manhattan Declaration iPhone/iPad application from the iTunes Store. This happened some time over the Thanksgiving holiday.

The Manhattan Declaration app was accepted by Apple and rated as a 4+, meaning it contained no objectionable material. Yet Apple pulled the app shortly after a small but very vocal protest by those who favor gay marriage and abortion. These groups claim that the Manhattan Declaration promotes ‘homophobia’ and that its supporters are ‘anti-gay."

The Manhattan Declaration folks have asked Apple and are still waiting for an official explanation. But Apple did say that the app was removed “because it violates our developer guidelines by being offensive to large groups of people.”

The “large group of people” apparently includes and the 7000+ people who signed their petition to remove the app. Their statement said the following: “The Manhattan Declaration application exists to collect signatures on a website which espouses hateful and divisive language, the very kind of language I hope the iTunes Store will not want to help disseminate. Despite the store rating the application 4+ (‘no objectionable material’), I can assure you that the application does in fact contain lots of objectionable material.”

First, I can guarantee you that the almost 500,000 people (and soon to be many more) who signed the Manhattan Declaration are “offended” by not only Apple removing this app, but by countless other apps Apple chooses to “disseminate.” Will they be removing all of those apps, too?

Second, Apple is making a huge mistake choosing to make this entirely traditional and innocuous declaration their example of what constitutes “offensive to large groups of people.” Not only because the language used in the Manhattan Declaration is more civil and has been more thoughtfully chosen than that used in just about any other app, but mostly because of what they are calling so offensive: Christianity. There is nothing in the Manhattan Declaration that isn’t completely in line with Christian teaching. To call it offensive is to call Christianity offensive.

Third, there is perhaps no better thing Apple could have done to help “disseminate” the Manhattan Declaration cause than to remove it’s app from the Apple store for being too offensive.

Many have called this a “free speech” issue. But if this is a free speech issue, it’s one of Apple’s right as a private company to decide who and what they want to support (as they’ve done in the past).

And this isn’t about being tolerant of everyone (which Apple, & co. clearly are not). And it’s not about being offensive (which Apple, & co. clearly are…to me). This is about drawing lines and taking sides in a very real culture war. If you didn’t know already, now you know which side Apple is on…at least today.

From here.

Texas Jurors Not to Be Swayed by Facebook

The Texas Supreme Court released proposed amendments to the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure that, among other things, would hammer home the point that the internets are no place for jurors to be hanging out.

Proposed Rule 226a would change the mandatory instructions that trial judges would give to potential jurors on a panel, and to the jury once selected, in several ways. The current rule was last amended in 2005, and makes no mention of the internet. But the proposed new rule includes the following instructions:

  • Do not discuss this case with anyone, even your spouse or a friend, either in person or by any other means [including by phone, text message, email message, chat room, blog, or social networking websites such as Facebook, Twitter, or Myspace]. Do not allow anyone to discuss the case with you or in your hearing. If anyone tries to discuss the case with you or in your hearing, tell me immediately. We do not want you to be influenced by something other than the evidence admitted in court.

  • Do not investigate this case on your own. For example:
a. Do not try to get information about the case, lawyers, witnesses, or issues from outside this courtroom.

b. Do not go to places mentioned in the case to inspect the places.

c. Do not inspect items mentioned in this case unless they are presented as evidence in court.

d. Do not look anything up in a law book, dictionary, or public record to try to learn more about the case.

e. Do not look anything up on the Internet to try to learn more about the case.

f. And do not let anyone else do any of these things for you.

From here.

Holbrooke's Last Words: Stop Afghanistan War

WASHINGTON, Dec 14: Richard Holbrooke, the late US special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, had some stark final words as he was sedated and going in for surgery, the Washington Post reported on Tuesday.

“You’ve got to stop this war in Afghanistan,” Mr Holbrooke told his Pakistani surgeon, the Post reported, citing unnamed family members. These were his last words.

The comments were reported to the media by a senior US official who accompanied Mr Holbrooke to the hospital. But the surgeon, Dr Farzad Najam, said he could not discuss this with the media.

The annual administration review on Afghan policy is due to discuss what progress has been made since Mr Obama last year deployed 30,000 extra forces there to try to turn the tide of war and prepare to start the US troop withdrawal in July 2011.

From Pakistan Dawn

Richard Holbrooke, known as a ‘bulldozer’ for his tough negotiating skills, died in a Washington hospital on Monday. He was 69.

Mr Holbrooke was admitted to George Washington University Hospital on Friday after falling ill during a meeting at Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s office. On Saturday, he underwent 20 hours of surgery to fix an aortic dissection, a rare condition. He had another surgery on Sunday and on Monday he died from complications of the torn aorta.  May his soul rest in peace.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Obama and Top CEOs to Meet

WASHINGTON — Hiring is anemic but corporate profits are up, and President Barack Obama is having 20 CEOs over to talk about how to tap that cash to boost jobs.

But don't count on the president to reprise the "fat cat" scolding he gave bankers a year ago. No, this is not a woodshed moment.

For Obama and the business sector, Wednesday's meeting is a wary embrace.

With new tax and trade deals as enticements, Obama is taking yet another step toward the political middle as he moves to confront a still-weak economic recovery and the capital's new political alignment.

Read it all here.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

An Ethicist Looks at Wikileaks

At first, the more I read and thought about Wikileaks, the more difficult I found it to know what was the ethical path to take with respect to it and its perpetrators. Ultimately, I landed in the unfamiliar position of agreeing with Hillary Clinton. As she said, Wikileaks is neither laudatory nor brave. On balance, it is a force for serious harm even allowing that it could entail some good. I will show why I believe that in this article.

As an ethicist, I find the Wikileaks moment in our history fascinating, if frustrating, because of the layers of difficult-to-answer questions it creates in our quest for ethical guidance. Some of these questions arise from the technoscience that makes Wikileaks possible as a global phenomenon. Others come from the compounding difficulty, though by no means impossibility, of finding a consensus on the ethics that should guide us in an era of ubiquitous moral relativism.

As the most basic level, though, they result from the simple fact that good facts are necessary for good ethics and we don't have all the facts needed to fully assess how much harm the leaks will cause. The possible consequences of the leaks have been the subject of intense disagreement. Predictions have ranged from the leaks having no serious consequences to their undermining "the functional integrity of the whole Western security apparatus… [on which] our very survival depends". At the further end of the spectrum of possible harms, our civilization itself is seen as being under attack by those who regard the leaks as "the 9/11 of international diplomacy" that may precipitate a world war. In between is the growing consensus that the leaks, at the very least, have the potential to cause serious harm to Western nations and their allies to the advantage of their enemies.

Working out the ethics of Wikileaks is also difficult because it makes a difference whether or not we see ends as justifying means. Julian Assange, the Wikileaks founder, obtained the leaked documents from a trusted person who had access and stole them. If we believe that this means of obtaining the information was fundamentally wrong, and that even good ends—let alone seriously harmful ones—do not justify using wrong means, then using that information would be unethical. If, on the other hand, we believe that laudatory ends can justify unacceptable means and we regard the Wikileaks as having such ends, we might see use of the information as ethical.

If we do regard Assange's conduct as evil and capable of causing catastrophic consequences, what of others who make use of the Wikileaks information? Are they complicit in the evil? Much depends on whether their use of the information is sufficiently disconnected from the evil such that it is not tainted by it. This is a distinction with real world antecedents and implications. It has been considered in relation to using medical information that resulted from the horrific Nazi human medical experimentation. But, assuming for the sake of argument that the Wikileaks conduct is evil, the media and web servers who are disseminating the information are not parties coming onto the scene after the evil conduct has been undertaken. They are playing a direct and active role in that conduct. They are co-evildoers. The ethical repercussions of this in our media-driven world could be staggering.

Layers of harm
In considering the ethics of Wikileaks, we must keep in mind that what is and isn't ethical can differ at different levels of analysis. These levels are the individual (micro), institutional (meso), societal (macro), and global (mega). All of them are relevant in the case of Wikileaks. Something that might pass ethical muster at one level might not do so at another. For instance, freedom of speech might justify disclosure of certain information at the level of individual rights. The harm that disclosure would cause at all the other levels would make it unethical at those levels, however.

We can also distinguish threats to individuals, which bring into play the criminal law, from threats to a whole society, which raise "war and peace" issues. Wikileaks presents both kinds of threats. Unlike the former, the latter threats are not decided within the limitations of a criminal code, nor on ethical grounds that pertain to persons as individuals. In undertaking analysis of situations that raise both these kinds of threats, as Wikileaks does, we must be careful not to confuse the State with the Person. To apply moral standards to the State that properly apply only to the individual, and sometimes even vice versa, is an error. In ethics, such distinctions are crucial. There are ethical principles that apply to secular government but they are not necessarily, and sometimes cannot be, the same as those that apply to individual persons.

As these considerations indicate, an enquiry into the ethics of Wikileaks might provide some insights about how we should handle the situations the leaks have created. So, here are some of the questions we could ask in undertaking an ethical analysis of Wikileaks.

The man at the centre
How should we characterize the ethics of Assange's conduct? That depends, first, on whether it is beneficial or harmful.

Assange says his goal is justice. He asserts that justice requires transparency and revelation of corruption, which is what he sees Wikileaks accomplishing.

Some people, including major media such as the New York Times and The Guardian newspapers, must see the leaks as beneficial, overall, despite their putting at serious risk the lives or safety of some identifiable people and, possibly, the present or future safety of some societies. Their statements indicate that they believe they've reduced any risk of harm to an acceptable level by redacting certain information in the leaked documents.

And, one assumes, they must also see Assange's and their own conduct as ethical, despite the documents having been obtained illegally. How else could they justify being complicit in his actions by facilitating the distribution of the Wikileaks information? Do they regard their assistance as an exercise of freedom of the press and freedom of speech? If so, moves to restrict the publication of Wikileaks documents would involve ethical considerations at institutional, societal and global levels.

At the other end of a spectrum, others see Assange's conduct as extremely harmful to the extent that they accuse him of treason, sedition, sabotage, espionage and terrorism. Canadian journalist David Warren neatly summed up this view of Assange when he called him "wiked". In considering what an appropriate response to Assange is, some commentators have even proposed that, given the stakes, assassination is not an outrageous consideration. Assange has spoken on the record to say that the people making such proposals "should be charged with the crime of incitement to commit murder".

Putting lives at risk
These commentators believe Assange's conduct has placed the lives of many innocent people at risk or already resulted in their deaths, and that it will continue to do so as he presses on with Wikileaks. They argue that "Assange and Wikileaks have advanced, and are continuing to advance, the interests of very evil regimes against the interests of (relatively) good ones" and conclude that "the consequences of emasculating the U.S. diplomatic and intelligence services are horrendous."

Even taking into account the differences that exist between individual level ethics and State level ethics, any order from a State authority to kill Assange could only, if ever, be ethically and legally justified if it came within the strict parameters of legitimate self-defence necessary to save human life. And that would only be the case, if Assange, himself, posed an immediate and direct threat to human life and if killing him were the only reasonable way to alleviate the threat. Assange's conduct does not fulfill the first requirement and even if it did, the threat can be eliminated other than by killing him. He is already in custody on allegations of sexual assault. He is available to be tried for any crimes he has committed with regard to Wikileaks.

Such a prosecution might not succeed, however. Attempts to prosecute Assange in connection with Wikileaks, at least in the United States, would likely fail because there would reportedly be "insurmountable legal hurdles".

Moreover, to accept that an order to assassinate Assange could be ethical would involve setting a precedent that we are justified in sidestepping the normal processes of justice and the rule of law. Such sidestepping would itself be a serious harm to society. As well, and not insignificantly, it would brush too close to the horrific practice of Muslim clerics issuing edicts to kill those considered guilty of blasphemy.

Brave new cyberworld
Might Assange's conduct also be characterized as a form of cyber-terrorism? The primary goal of terrorism is to disrupt the societies that are attacked and make them fearful. Wikileaks will result in the disruption of diplomatic exchanges that can be crucial to protecting our societies. It will provide information to those who would do us harm and could assist them in that goal. Finally, it could harm relationships with our allies, all of which could make many of us justifiably fearful. One problem here is that our laws on treason, sedition and so on, have not been updated to take into account possibilities such as Wikileaks that are opened up by the cyber-world.

A stark warning that Wikileaks delivers is the power of one person using the new technoscience to have enormous impact, whether for good or evil. This power is vastly augmented by convergence—the impact of the combination of various technoscience developments of which the Internet is a prime example. Assange's conduct shows the grave threat that just one individual can pose to societies, which is a valid fear in relation to terrorism, in general, and bioterrorism or the use of small nuclear devices, in particular. One terrorist working in his kitchen or home garage can create weapons with enormous destructive potential.

The destructive capacity of contemporary terrorist acts need not, however, involve the detonation of a bomb or use of other weapons of 21st century warfare. We must ask what threat Wikileaks poses to our general "social capital", the metaphysical entity that consists of the "norms, networks, and trust [that we rely on] for cooperation and mutual benefit . . . [and which] has enormous potential to enable people to act in solidarity for the sake of collective goals"? The clear answer is that it will likely damage every element of it.

Even giving Assange and his co-leakers the benefit of any doubt regarding their claim that Wikileaks is a force for good, instead of promoting collective good by augmenting social capital, then, Wikileaks promotes collective harm by depleting social capital. Keep in mind such harm is mainly, or only, to our Western democratic societies. It does not touch other societies that reject our systems of governance, values, and way of life. Indeed, Wikileaks is likely to assist them.

And what does Wikileaks reveal about the moral and social consciences of its participants? Relatively recent research shows that moral intuition and appropriate emotional responses play a role in making decisions that are ethically sound. Might Assange have undeveloped moral intuition and immature emotional responses? Might the same be said of those, including in the media, who have assisted him? Are they morally and ethically retarded? In Assange's case, might this be associated with his being a "computer nerd"? He has a background as a "hacker." That—purposely breaking and entering by electronic means—is where someone steps over the line into truly criminal behaviour. It is thus also where "moral intuition" comes to an end, assuming it was present initially.

Although, we work from a basic presumption that openness and transparency are morally and ethically sound (governments and bureaucracies should keep this presumption more clearly in mind and act accordingly), that is not always the case. At the very least, we need to question whether the very openness and transparency promoted by Wikileaks is, in fact, morally and ethically sound. In doing so, we should keep in mind that just because something is ethically acceptable in one situation, does not mean it is acceptable in another. A nude man at a nude beach is acceptable; a man who exposes himself to children in playgrounds is not. Both are showing the same "equipment". But, as the example shows, context can determine criminality and the presence or absence of breaches of ethics.

An ethical analysis
So, where on the spectrum from ethically justified acts to acting criminally, even evilly, does Wikileaks belong? That depends on answers to such questions as: Are the Wikileaks democratic progress, or just old-fashioned gossip in cyber form? Are they something much more heinous? Is there any ethical rationale to justify revealing what was meant to be kept private? Certainly, just the capacity of new technology to make these disclosures possible is not ethical justification. Avoiding serious harm that can't be avoided in any less harmful way would justify breaching privacy. But the breach of privacy involved in Wikileaks does not avoid harm. It inflicts it.

And might Wikileaks be an extreme example of trends that are now ubiquitous in our Western societies? We are societies largely based on moral relativism. This is the concept that there are no absolute truths with respect to what is right or wrong. Rather, that all depends on the circumstances and, not infrequently, personal preferences.

Both as individuals and societies we espouse "intense or selfish individualism". Priority is given to individual rights, to autonomy and self-determination, even in some cases when serious harm to the community could result from doing so. Obligations to the community, if they are recognized at all, are seen as weak. Such imbalance between individual rights and community obligations reflects a climate of individual and societal level narcissism—the world revolves around just me or my society.

What happens when we apply these concepts to Assange, and to the media that have assisted him? In all probability, they believe they are doing good in releasing Wikileaks. They are informing people. As they see it, such information will augment those people's power to choose (the right to choose is the first, and sometimes the only, commandment of intense individualists). And it's possible they are, indeed, doing good in the case of some of the revelations. But it seems apt to bring to mind an old saying in human rights: "Nowhere are human rights more threatened than when we act purporting to do only good." The reason is that we overlook the harms that are also unavoidably inflicted.

So, one important question in deciding on the ethics of the Wikileaks is whether the world is a better and safer place because of them, or a worse and more dangerous one. Here is where I find myself agreeing with Hillary Clinton's assessment. For while we do not yet know the full harm that may come from the leaks, there is no evidence at all to show how they will contribute to a countervailing good. Indeed, we have seen how the one good they are overtly intended to achieve—an augmented state of openness and transparency—is not in itself necessarily ethically justified. Worse, neither Assange nor his Wikileaks colleagues have shown publicly any concern to balance harms against goods which, at the very least, is recklessness—that is, conscious unjustified risk-taking—if not intentional wrongdoing.

And Assange is not the only person whose ethics should be scrutinized. Frequently, as in Wikileaks, there's still an old-fashioned transgressor involved. In this case, it's the person who stole these documents. What breaches of ethics did he commit? I've already queried the ethics of the media, who are "associate leakers", in relation to Wikileaks, but what about their ethics, more generally? Ethical responsibility is like a cake not a football: one person cannot throw it away and have someone else catch it; everyone can have a slice and not all the slices might be the same size or have the same icing or taste.

Let me end as I began: As I continued to read and think even more about Wikileaks, I found it easier to know what was the ethical path to take with respect to it and its perpetrators. I believe that, overall, Wikileaks involves grossly unethical conduct, some of which is also illegal.

Margaret Somerville is the Samuel Gale Professor of Law, Professor in the Faculty of Medicine, and Founding Director of the Centre for Medicine, Ethics, and Law at McGill University. This was first published on Cardus.

From here.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Key Health (Insurance) Reform Ruled Unconstitutional

A federal judge in Virginia ruled Monday that a key provision of the nation's sweeping health care overhaul is unconstitutional, the most significant legal setback so far for President Obama's signature domestic initiative.

President Obama's health care law--a cornerstone of the White House's legislative agenda--has suffered a major legal setback after a federal district judge in Virginia ruled Monday that requiring most Americans to purchase health insurance by 2014 is unconstitutional. Judge Henry E. Hudson, a Bush appointee, concluded that the so-called "individual mandate," requiring individuals to purchase health insurance, exceeds Congress's authority to regulate commerce.

The ruling will not interfere with the implementation of the law but is likely to "create confusion among the public and further destabilize political support for legislation that is under fierce attack from Republicans in Congress and in many statehouses," The New York Times reports. The judge indicated that his ruling applies only to the individual mandate and related provisions of the law.

Read more here and here.

Moroccans and Indians Responsible for 2004 Madrid Train Bombing

WASHINGTON, Dec 12: Two Indian citizens were involved in the 2004 Madrid commuter train bombings that killed 191 people, a US diplomatic cable says.

The cable, sent by the US Embassy in Madrid on March 15, 2004, identified the two Indians as Vinay Kohly, who was born in Jalandhar on June 11, 1976, and Suresh Kumar, born on Jan 27, 1972, in Hoshiarpur.

The cable, released this weekend by WikiLeaks, noted that the two accused persons had sold the telephones used in the attacks to some Moroccans suspects.

According to the cable, Qaeda emerged as the main suspect in the investigation into the March 11, 2004, attacks in Madrid, although authorities could not completely rule out the possibility that a Spanish terrorist group called ETA also played a role.

Spanish authorities had detained five suspects, three Moroccan and two Indian citizens. All three Moroccans were said to have links to Imad Eddin Barakat Yarkas, who was indicted for his role as an alleged ringleader in Al Qaeda’s organisation in Spain. Authorities reportedly linked the three to the attacks after tracing the cell-phone from one of the sport bag bombs that did not detonate. The three Moroccans were Kamal Zougam, Mohamed El Bekkali Boutalih and Mohamed Chaqui.

All reportedly had police records and Zougam was named in Spanish Judge Baltasar Garzon’s September 2003 indictment of Barakat Yarkas, though not indicted himself. Zougam reportedly ran an internet cafe with Chaqui, his half-brother.

On March 13, 2004, Spanish authorities were advised of a videotape placed in a trash container near a prominent mosque, located near the major M-30 roadway in Madrid. The tape purportedly showed a masked spokesman, going by the name of Abu Dujan Al Afghani, who claimed responsibility for the attacks on behalf of Al Qaeda’s military group in Europe.

From here.

Saudi Arabia Big Funder of Jihadists

Saudi Arabia is accused, along with Qatar, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, of failing to prevent some of its richest citizens financing the insurgency against Nato troops in Afghanistan. Fund-raisers from the Taliban regularly travel to UAE to take advantage of its weak borders and financial regulation to launder money.

However, it is Saudi Arabia that receives the harshest assessment. The country from which Osama bin Laden and most of the 9/11 terrorists originated, according to Mrs Clinton, "a critical financial support base for al-Qa'ida, the Taliban, Lashkar-e-Toiba and other terrorist groups, including Hamas, which probably raise millions of dollars annually from Saudi sources, often during the Haj and Ramadan".

These pilgrimages, especially the Haj, are described as a "big problem" in another cable dated 29 May 2009. Detailing a briefing from the Saudi interior ministry to Richard Holbrooke, the US envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, it notes: "The Haj is still a major security loophole for the Saudis, since pilgrims often travel with large amounts of cash and the Saudis cannot refuse them entry into Saudi Arabia."

It also quotes one of the officials admitting that the Haj is "a vacuum in our security". The huge annual influx of Muslims from around the world offers a prime opportunity for militants and their donors to enter the kingdom to exchange funds, launder money through front companies and accept money from government-approved charities.

The memo underlines that the US supports the work of Islamic charities, but is frustrated that they are so easily exploited to fund terrorism.

"In 2002, the Saudi government promised to set up a charities committee that would address this issue, but has yet to do so," Mrs Clinton's cable reads, before seeming to admit with disappointment that merely "obtaining Saudi acknowledgement of the scope of this problem and a commitment to take decisive action" has proved hard.

Read it all here.