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Sunday, December 29, 2019

Christmas is a Sad Season for the Poor





A Short Story by John Cheever
December 1949


Christmas is a sad season. The phrase came to Charlie an instant after the alarm clock had waked him, and named for him an amorphous depression that had troubled him all the previous evening. The sky outside his window was black. He sat up in bed and pulled the light chain that hung in front of his nose. Christmas is a very sad day of the year, he thought. Of all the millions of people in New York, I am practically the only one who has to get up in the cold black of 6 a.m. on Christmas Day in the morning; I am practically the only one.

He dressed, and when he went downstairs from the top floor of the rooming house in which he lived, the only sounds he heard were the coarse sounds of sleep; the only lights burning were lights that had been forgotten. Charlie ate some breakfast in an all-night lunchwagon and took an Elevated train uptown. From Third Avenue, he walked over to Park. Park Avenue was dark. House after house put into the shine of the street lights a wall of black windows. Millions and millions were sleeping, and this general loss of consciousness generated an impression of abandonment, as if this were the fall of the city, the end of time. He opened the iron-and-glass doors of the apartment building where he had been working for six months as an elevator operator, and went through the elegant lobby to a locker room at the back. He put on a striped vest with brass buttons, a false ascot, a pair of pants with a light-blue stripe on the seam, and a coat. The night elevator man was dozing on the little bench in the car. Charlie woke him. The night elevator man told him thickly that the day doorman had been taken sick and wouldn’t be in that day. With the doorman sick, Charlie wouldn’t have any relief for lunch, and a lot of people would expect him to whistle for cabs.


Read it all here.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Anxiety About New Poverty Guidelines


Steve Liss's photo reveals the abject poverty of the most vulnerable Americans. 


Though difficult to measure, poverty debilitates and robs people of a sense of value. How will the poor fare under new policies that are coming?

The Trump administration has been exploring alternative inflation measures to deal with the problem of poverty. Under a better measure of inflation, the poverty level would grow slightly less each year.

Writing here, Senator. Bob Casey and Indivar Dutta-Gupta point out:

The National Center on Children in Poverty created the Family Resource Simulator to illustrate the impact of work supports, including income tax credits and child care assistance, offering a more complete picture of how family resources change as earnings increase. NCCP suggests families typically need nearly twice as much as the official poverty level to make ends meet thanks to factors like rent and utilities, child care, health insurance premiums, out-of-pocket medical expenses, transportation, debt and payroll taxes. The Economic Policy Institute’s Family Budgets, MIT’s Living Wage Calculator and the University of Washington’s Self-Sufficiency Standards all came to similar conclusions.
Simply put, the common, necessary expense categories not fully accounted for in the official poverty measure means the costs we all face are substantially higher than what it implies.

The US Census Bureau dropped its annual load of statistics on American poverty and the data shows Americans were no better off in 2018 than they were in 2017. 2.3 million more people snagged full-time jobs and the official poverty rate fell half a percentage point. However, fewer people have health insurance, there is still not parity between men and women's earnings, and middle-class incomes hardly budged.

During President Donald Trump’s second year in office, income from safety net programs such as food stamps and housing subsidies kept 47.7 million people out of poverty. That’s 2.8 million more people compared to 2017.

Whatever policy and guideline changes come, poverty will continue to haunt many Americans, especially the most vulnerable. Relying on the government does not dispel anxiety. More service organizations, churches, synagogues and mosques should consider should identify the poor in their communities and befriend them in a way that restores dignity. As Mother Teresa advised, "Do not wait for leaders; Do it alone, person to person."


Related reading: Paid Parental Leave for Federal Workers; A Cynical Way To Make People Poor; A Cynical Way to Make People Disappear; US Government 2019 Poverty Guidelines

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Motivation to Serve the Poor




The December topic at Ethics Forum is poverty and serving the poor, for as it is said, "Tis the season of giving."

During the holiday season we are asked to donate to charities and many good causes. On "Giving Tuesday" we are solicited online. The Media reports on projects to feed the hungry and clothe the homeless. Charles Dickens' novella "A Christmas Carol" appears in various renditions on television to remind us not to be greedy and to take care of the less fortunate.

Sadly, the focus on caring for the poor is rarely sustained beyond December. Perhaps this is why Jesus said, "The poor you will always have with you." (Matthew 26:11)

Helping others requires motivation beyond the cheery mood of the holidays. It needs to be profitable in some way to the giver. What profits you depends on what you value.

In monastic communities that are called to serve the poor the reward is knowing the community's mission is being fulfilled. In corporate environments with charitable foundations a similar reward can be felt. However, most of us do not live in monastic communities, nor are we in the position to endow through charitable foundations. Many of us live on the edge of survival ourselves and sharing with others can be a true sacrifice.

Sacrificial giving can be a reward to those who recognize the value of sacrifice. Those who do not recognize the value of sacrifice usually defer to government agencies to take care of the poor. That is the attitude of Mr. Scrooge who was approached by the charity collectors.
"At this festive season of the year, Mr. Scrooge," said the gentleman, taking up a pen, "it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the Poor and Destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time. Many thousands are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts, sir."
"Are there no prisons?" asked Scrooge.
"Plenty of prisons," said the gentleman, laying down the pen again.
"And the Union workhouses?" demanded Scrooge. "Are they still in operation?"
"They are. Still," returned the gentleman, "I wish I could say they were not."
"The Treadmill and the Poor Law are in full vigour, then?" said Scrooge.

Later, the Spirit of Christmas Present mocks Scrooge's insensitivity by hurling his own words back at him. That is part of Scrooge's transformation. Sometimes we need a mirror held up before us to reveal our true selves. May December show us what we need to be more caring toward our fellow human beings.




Friday, November 22, 2019

Churchill and the Clash of Ideologies


Stalin, Truman, and Churchill before sessions of their meeting in Berlin in July 1945. 
Photograph: Bettmann Archive


World War II was precipitated by economic troubles and the clash of ideologies. Winston Churchill was well aware of the contributing factors and had to make difficult choices. He had been a prisoner in the Boer War, a controversial strategist in World War I, and instrumental in Britain's survival during the World War II. He was not stranger to war and a man of great determination. In 1925, he wrote, "The story of the human race is war."

Churchill's perceptions of Joseph Stalin, Adolf Hitler, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, and even Mahatma Ghandi tell the story of good guys and bad guys. Churchill was the sort who assesses a person's character based on actions, and doesn't change his mind.

He considered Roosevelt a strong leader. After meeting with Roosevelt in Washington in January 1942, Churchill reported to the War Cabinet how "the last thing the President said when he came to see me off was 'To the bitter end, trust me.' We are suffering heavy blows but the United States is setting about the war with great vigour. They have jumped right into it. There is a sense of resolve to fight it on. They have tactical ideas of war, Hitler is the enemy, they will do what can re: Japan, but nothing will get in the way of defeating Hitler."

Many of Churchill's thoughts and actions were recorded by a young secretary to the deputy secretary to the War Cabinet which met in Whitehall between 1939 and 1945. Lawrence Burgis was to have destroyed his notes, but historians are glad that he secretly kept them.

Winston Churchill told the War Cabinet on 10 December 1941 that it faced an entirely new situation due to the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. He believed in the possibility of Japanese control of the vast areas between Cape Town in South Africa and Vancouver in Canada.

Burgis recorded Churchill's confrontation with Field Marshal Jan Christian Smuts over his handling of Ghandi, saying, ‘You are responsible for all our troubles in India – you had Gandhi for years and did not do away with him.’ Smuts replied: ‘When I put him in prison – three times – all Gandhi did was to make me a pair of bedroom slippers.’ 

When Ghandi went on hunger strike during the war, Churchill told the Cabinet: "Gandhi should not be released on the account of a mere threat of fasting. We should be rid of a bad man and an enemy of the Empire if he died."

Sir Edward Grigg, the joint parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for War, reported that Gandhi was getting glucose in his orange juice, and another cabinet minister said ‘he had oil rubbed into him which was nutritious." Churchill, who considered Ghandi "a bad man," responded "it is apparently not a fast merely a change of diet."


Presentation of the Sword of Stalingrad on 29 November 1943.


Churchill's initial impression of Joseph Stalin was that he was "jocular" and predisposed to work toward some good, especially in Poland. He welcomed Soviet help in the war against Nazi Germany, but he recognized that the marriage of convenience could not hide the differences between the capitalism and communism.

At the 1943 Tehran conference, Churchill presented Stalin with the ceremonial Sword of Stalingrad, specially forged and inscribed by command of King George VI as a token of homage from the British people to the Soviet defenders of the city during the Battle of Stalingrad.

Churchill summed up the Tehran proceedings in these words: “There I sat with the great Russian bear on one side of me with paws outstretched, and, on the other side, the great American buffalo. Between the two sat the poor little English donkey, who was the only one who knew the right way home.”

Churchill's attitude toward Stalin changed after the Potsdam Summit. He felt that Stalin asked too much.

During his second premiership, Churchill opposed the United States' nuclear approach to the Cold war and said, "I do not believe that the immense problem of reconciling the security of Russia with the freedom and safety of Western Europe is insoluble..." Of the U.S. policy Churchill remarked, "If you go on with this nuclear arms race, all you are going to do is make the rubble bounce."

In Great Britain Churchill became increasingly outspoken in his opposition to socialism. In a speech delivered in Perth, Scotland on 24 May 1948, he said, “Socialism is the philosophy of failure, the creed of ignorance, and the gospel of envy.” (Europe Unite: Speeches 1947; 1948, London: Cassell, 1950, p.347.)

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Anarchy and the Elites




“You've got that eternal idiotic idea that if anarchy came it would come from the poor. Why should it? The poor have been rebels, but they have never been anarchists; they have more interest than anyone else in there being some decent government. The poor man really has a stake in the country. The rich man hasn't; he can go away to New Guinea in a yacht. The poor have sometimes objected to being governed badly; the rich have always objected to being governed at all. Aristocrats were always anarchists.”― G.K. Chesterton, The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare

Friday, November 8, 2019

Living in a Post-Human World


The parish church of St Mary Magdalene at Little Whelnetham, Suffolk


R.R. Tarsitano writes, "No institution (Government, Academia, Media, etc.) is coming to save us. In fact, they will use our hope in them against us, gladly taking our time and treasure to sell us back a mess of pottage for our birthright. In a post-human world, men and women are merely objects to be manipulated for maximal pleasure until we all march into the darkness.

Tarsitano is an Anglican priest who directed this article to his fellows Anglicans. In "Outline of an Anglican Parish in the Post-Human West" he says, "As traditional Anglicans, the rest of our lives should be spent opposing these two ways to die by sacrificing ourselves for a Christ centered community."

This article is an "in-house" conversation among Anglicans. However, one need not be Anglican or even religious to apply many of Father Tarsitano's suggestions for loving humanity. These can apply in many contexts.


Tuesday, November 5, 2019

The Darkness of Mao's Revolution


Tia Zhang


The communists took power in China in 1949, ending a prolonged civil war that had left the country weary and ready for change. Many hoped that the Mao's government would improve conditions for the average citizen. Instead, China slipped into a violent revolution that became one of the twentieth-century’s greatest humanitarian disasters.

Mao unleashed his Red Guards, a group of students and children of Party officials who had been brainwashed from childhood to be Mao’s enforcers. They marched in the streets, berating and beating people at will. Executions were common, with the public being forced to watch. Conservative estimates put the death toll of Mao's revolution at 65 million.


The Great Leap Forward was Mao’s attempt to collectivize agriculture, and it resulted in the worst famine in history. It is estimated that 45 million people starved and died during Mao's Great Famine.

The book “Dancing Through the Shadow" details the period through the life experience of a Chinese ballet dancer. The story follows Tia Zhang's life as she navigates motherhood, marriage, and an escape from communist rule. The story's background is the darkness of Mao's totalitarian regime which dictating the terms of Tia's life until she could escape.




Saturday, November 2, 2019

On Trusting the Elites



G. K.Chesterton wrote:
"Only the Christian Church can offer any rational objection to a complete confidence in the rich. For she has maintained from the beginning that the danger was not in man's environment, but in man. Further, she has maintained that if we come to talk of a dangerous environment, the most dangerous environment of all is the commodious environment. I know that the most modern manufacture has been really occupied in trying to produce an abnormally large needle. I know that the most recent biologists have been chiefly anxious to discover a very small camel. But if we diminish the camel to his smallest, or open the eye of the needle to its largest — if, in short, we assume the words of Christ to have meant the very least that they could mean, His words must at the very least mean this — that rich men are not very likely to be morally trustworthy. Christianity even when watered down is hot enough to boil all modern society to rags." (From here.)

Wisdom resides in a realistic understanding of the potential dangers of great wealth and great poverty. Wisdom also directs us to thoughtfully consider what a just society would look like. Some might advocate redistribution of wealth, but the redistribution always seems to work best for those doing the redistribution, creating a new wealthy elite. The elites, who ever they may be, have the advantage when it comes to "justice."

This is one of the problem with socialism. Another problem is the socialist attack on religion in general and Christianity in particular. Vladimir Lenin stated that in order “to combat the religious fog… we founded our association, the Russian Social-Democratic Labor Party, precisely for such a struggle against every religious bamboozling of the workers.” Lenin wanted to halt “the religious humbugging of mankind” and cleanse the political system “of medieval mildew.”

The Reformation attempted to clear the Church of corruption and the Medieval mildew, but the Reformation had little influence on Russians. Corruption in church and government stirred anger against both. Lenin wrote:
"Even the bare mention of a citizen’s religion in official documents should unquestionably be eliminated. No subsidies should be granted to the established church nor state allowances made to ecclesiastical and religious societies. These should become absolutely free associations of like-minded citizens, associations independent of the state. Only the complete fulfillment of these demands can put an end to the shameful and accursed past when the church lived in feudal dependence on the state, and Russian citizens lived in feudal dependence on the established church, when medieval, inquisitorial laws (to this day remaining in our criminal codes and on our statute-books) were in existence and were applied, persecuting men for their belief or disbelief, violating men’s consciences, and linking cozy government jobs and government-derived incomes with the dispensation of this or that dope by the established church. Complete separation of Church and State is what the socialist proletariat demands of the modern state and the modern church."
Under Lenin only atheism received endorsement. Lenin recognized that socialists were, as a rule, atheists. They reject the "old prejudices" and "always preach the scientific world-outlook, and it is essential for us to combat the inconsistency of various “Christians.”

One of Lenin's objectives was the elimination of existing religion, and the prevention of future implanting of religious belief, with the goal of establishing state atheism (gosateizm).“Worshiping any god is ideological necrophilia,” Vladimir Lenin once wrote to Maxim Gorky.

The atheists closed the Russian Orthodox churches and monasteries, and those that were left open were closely monitored and under heavy restrictions. Priests were deprived of the right to vote. This can be expected if Socialism takes root in America. Socialists are not content merely to keep Church and State separate. They must seek to silence the Church.

Politics in the United States today involves an ideological struggle over who will be the new elite. Every American should be aware that greed for power and wealth rule the human heart and indeed "the most dangerous environment of all is the commodious environment" because it breeds complacency.


Related reading: V. Lenin on "Socialism and Religion"; Paul Froese, "Forced secularization in Soviet Russia: Why an atheistic monopoly failed." Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion (2004); Smelling Rats: The Story of Katharine Atholl; Living in a Post-Human World; Anarchy and the Elites


Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Destruction and Looting of Antiquities in Yemen


Yemen is home to four UNESCO World Heritage Sites and national museums that house priceless artifacts.


Bombs dropped by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen resulted in the complete destruction of the museum of Dhamar in the southwest, which contained thousands of artifacts from the Himyarite Kingdom.

Mohanad Ahmad al-Sayani, chair of Yemen’s General Organization of Antiquities and Museums in Sana’a, has lamented "Our immortal history has been wasted by wars."

The Yemeni cultural losses are noted by archaeologists. Although the country has been far less studied than Mesopotamia, it played a critical role in the rise of empires and economies in the region starting around 1000 B.C.

According to archaeologist Sarah Japp of Berlin’s German Archaeological Institute, "The destruction seems deliberate." She stated that, “The Saudis were given information on important cultural heritage sites, including exact coordinates"by UNESCO.

Japp was based in Sana’a before the war. UNESCO intended to protect the sites, but she fears that the data may instead have been used for targeting. “There is no reason to say all of these [bombings] are just accidents.”

There is evidence of al-Qaida raids on museums in Yemen and evidence in Europe of dealers who have been selling these antiquities. A special forces raid of one of the complexes of the chief financial officer of ISIS, receipts of about $5 million worth of antiquities sold over the course of a year were found.

At least 100 artifacts from Yemen have been successfully sold at auction for an estimated $1 million in the U.S., Europe and the United Arab Emirates since 2011, according to a Live Science investigation into the country's so-called "blood antiquities."

Monday, October 28, 2019

Funding ISIS by Looting Antiquities


This marble bas-relief, likely looted by Islamic State, was seized at Paris’s Roissy airport in March 2016 after arriving from North Lebanon. PHOTO: AFP/GETTY IMAGES


Plundered antiquities from Syria were sold to ISIS and used by that terrorist organization to fund their fighting. The group looted ancient sites and also purchased ancient statues, jewelry and other precious artifacts stolen in Syria and Iraq. Experts say it may take decades for the stolen artifacts to surface.

“Once looted in Syria and Iraq, objects enter a gray market shrouded in secrecy,” said Michael Danti, an archaeologist who directs the Boston-based Cultural Heritage Initiatives and advises the U.S. State Department on the looting of antiquities in Syria. “It’s a problem that will stay with us for years to come.”

Read more here.


Monday, October 21, 2019

Iconoclasm Means the Destruction of Heritage


The Sun overshadows the golden bull calf as a sign of divine appointment. 
This is a Messianic image that iconoclasts attempted to obliterate.


Alice C. Linsley

A great threat to the preservation of antiquities comes from groups seeking to destroy images of which they disapprove. This is called "iconoclasm" from the Greek Eikonoklasmos meaning "image-breaking."

Today we read about statues of Confederate soldiers being damaged or removed because some find them offensive. In most cases, the statues are safely stored or placed in a less public place. The historical value of these statues and monuments is recognized by more resilient minds.

Smashing images or destroying places of historical value does not erase the tragic events of the past. It almost insures that similar events will happen again. It is better that Auschwitz be preserved as a reminder of Nazi hatred and genocidal actions.

Iconoclasm and the destruction of monuments and antiquities is prompted by prejudice, hatred, and ideological fervor. Religious extremism also leads to smashing images in an attempt to destroy the religious tradition of others. The destruction of artifacts of historical and anthropological value leads to the destruction of a people's social and religious heritage. It is difficult for a people to recover from the loss and it may take many generations to recover.

In the sixteenth century, the Puritans stripped the churches in England of crosses, statues, icons, and stained glass windows. Under Oliver Cromwell, thousands of sacred objects were destroyed. Items of value such as precious metals and gems were re-purposed and sold to fund Cromwell's wars in Scotland and Ireland.

Iconoclasm is endorsed by the Deuteronomist in the Bible.
"...  ye shall destroy their altars, and break down their images, and cut down their groves, and burn their graven images with fire." (Deuteronomy 7:5)
The main targets to be smashed were the bamot (high or exalted places). These "high places" were originally royal places of worship. Under the guise of opposing "idolatry" the places of worship that competed with the high place of Jerusalem were to be destroyed.

King Josiah destroyed the solar horses that had been a sacred symbol among the ancient Hebrew for many generations (II Kings 23:11). Iconoclasts attempted to remove the Messianic image of the Golden Calf which was fabricated by the ruler-priest Aaron and which were found at the high places of Israelite worship at Bethel and Dan.

In 2001, Islamic fundamentalists destroyed images regarded as world treasures in Afghanistan. Extremists smashed three hundred of the 2,500 objects that had been painstakingly reassembled at the Kabul Museum and looted thousands of artifacts.

Recently, ardent opposition to the controversial Amazon Synod led some Roman Catholics to toss indigenous Pachamama figurines into the Tiber River. Though the figurines are not appropriate in the context of a Christian church, they should not have been destroyed. They have historical, religious, and anthropological value.


Related reading: Graven Images and Idols; Fundamentalism and Syncretism in Hebrew History; Looting and Burning of Churches and Images in Chile



Friday, October 18, 2019

Four Antiquities Thieves Arrested in Israel


Suspected burglars spotted by the Civil Administration's Archaeology Unit and Nature Authority near the Jordan Valley archaeological site of Tana a-Tahta. (COGAT Spokesperson's Office)


Two crews of antiquities thieves were arrested at sites in eastern Samaria in the West Bank in two unrelated incidents in the past two weeks.

According to the Ministry of Defense release, when the four suspects were arrested by Israel Police they had in their possession excavation tools, metal detectors, as well as a Jeep Defender, which were all confiscated. Following a court hearing, two were released after serving 10 days in jail and fined NIS 2,000 ($550). The other two burglars are still serving their 35-day sentence and will be fined NIS 4,000. An additional NIS 8,000 fine was levied on the burglars for the confiscated vehicle.

In a statement released by the Ministry of Defense, Head of the Civil Administration’s Archaeology Unit Hananya Hizmi said, “The phenomenon of the theft and destruction of antiquities causes both historical and cultural damage to all of the residents of the region.

The suspects were stopped at the northern Jordan Valley Hasmonean site of Alexandrium, which was built by Alexander Yannai (104-77 BCE) and rebuilt by Herod (74-4 BCE) as a fortress. It was razed in the Great Revolt against the Romans, circa 72 CE.

The site of Alexandrium is also known as Sartaba in the Babylonian Talmud, which identifies it as a “signal mountain.” It is the second in a chain of stations in which fires were lit to proclaim the new moon, which began the new Hebrew month.


Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Mosque Door Ornament Recovered


The copper decoration of the Al-Kady Abdel Baset mosque now restored.


Egypt's Ministry of Antiquities has restored a copper ornament that once decorated the main door of the Al-Kady Abdel-Baset mosque in Old Cairo. The Al-Kady Abdel-Baset mosque was built in 1420 AD.

The copper ornament was stolen from the outer door of the mosque in 2014.

Gamal Mustafa, head of the Islamic, Coptic and Jewish Antiquities Department explained that the police had identified the thief by reviewing surveillance cameras in the area.

The suspect was found in possession of several stolen items from mosques in Cairo, including a wooden decorative motif from the Gany Bek Mosque, and a decorative handwritten relief from the Ahmed Al-Mehmendar Mosque in Al-Darb Al-Ahmar.

Source: Archaeology

Monday, October 7, 2019

Stolen Coffin Returned to Egypt




US authorities have returned a stolen coffin to Egypt, two years after it was acquired by the Metropolitan Museum of Art for $4m (£3.2m) from a Parisian art dealer.

The 2,100-year-old coffin was that of a priest called Nedjemankh who served Horus as a Ram (Heryshef). The decorated surface includes scenes and prayers in gesso relief meant to protect and guide Nedjemankh on his journey to immortality.

The coffin was looted and smuggled out of Egypt in 2011 and was sold to the Met by a global art trafficking network, which used fraudulent documents.

"Thus far our investigation has determined that this coffin is just one of hundreds of antiquities stolen by the same multinational trafficking ring," Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance said.

Read more here.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Boko Haram targets Christians, Police, and Aid Workers


This screen shot appeared on Islamic State’s Amaq news site. It shows Godfrey Ali Shikagham (left) and Lawrence Duna Dacighir before their execution.


Boko Haram is one of the most violent terrorist groups in the world, killing an estimated 35,000 civilians in the past ten years.

Recently, Boko Haram murdered two Christian aid workers in Nigeria, releasing video of the killings on its website. The Christian workers were executed with gunshots from behind.

In a letter to the United Nations secretary general, a Nigerian attorney said the murders were an instance of "ethnic cleansing."

In reality, the targets of Boko Haram have consistently been unarmed Christians, police, and aid workers.

In February 2020, Islamic terrorists burned 30 people as they slept in their cars. The women and children were abducted. 


Sunday, September 29, 2019

Hezbollah Global Network Weakens


President Mauricio Macri of Argentina (left) and President Mario Abdo Benitez of Paraguay (right).


On 16 July 2019 Argentina became the first country in Latin America to officially designate Hezbollah a terrorist organization. On August 9, Paraguay also officially recognized Hezbollah as a terror organization.

The Financial Intelligence Unit of Argentina froze the assets of 14 individuals belonging to the Barakat Clan, a Lebanese crime family with ties to Hezbollah. One of the conduits for these Hezbollah money launderers was a casino in the city of IguazĂș on the Argentine side of the Tri-Border Area (TBA).

The U.S. the Treasury Department, through its Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, has sanctioned more than 50 Hezbollah-related persons or entities since 2017 as part of a larger effort at dismantling Hezbollah's global financial network.

Friday, September 27, 2019

Preserving Antiquities




The October discussion topic at Ethics Forum is the preservation of antiquities and the problem of iconoclasm. Stolen or destroyed artifacts and images represent a serious loss to scientific investigation.

The National Museum of Iraq was like a university containing thousands of artifacts and books. Researchers from many universities came to the museum to study the priceless volumes and artifacts. In 2003, the museum was looted. Books, research papers, and dictionaries of the oldest languages were burned. The objects of gold were stolen. Many artifacts of great historical value were destroyed or sold on the black market.

Most archaeological sites in Iraq were left unprotected by coalition forces between the summer of 2003 through the end of 2007. The first break-in at the museum occurred on 10 April 2003. While fighting continued outside, thieves had the run of the museum until returning museum staff chased them off on 12 April. Museum staff put up a large sign announcing that the museum was under the protection of the US military, though the first US tanks did not arrive until 16 April.


This 2550 BC gold dagger was stolen from the National Museum of Iraq and never recovered.


At least 3,138 objects were stolen from restoration and above-ground storage rooms. By January 2004, 3,037 had been recovered,1,924 via the amnesty program, and 1,113 through seizures.

The thieves knew in advance the location of the museum’s store of small, valuable, and portable items. They had keys to open the storage lockers, though in the darkness and confusion they dropped the keys and the lockers remained secure. Nevertheless, the thieves did steal 10,686 items that had been stored in boxes, including 5,144 cylinder seals. By January 2005, 2,307 of these pieces had been recovered.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Dissent Terrorism


Punctured by bullet holes, oil spews under high pressure from the Trans-Alaska pipeline.


Terrorism is not a modern problem. Terror tactics characterize many ancient conflicts. Judges 16:21 recounts how the Philistines gouged out Samson's eyes. The city of Bam, Iran was abandoned in 1722 due to an Afghan invasion during which the Afghans gouged out the eyes of many of the citizens. Jihadists behead, crucify, and burn people alive to strike terror in the hearts of perceived enemies.

Today terrorism receives intense investigation and has become a subject of academic interest, especially at universities that offer degree programs in security. Scholars classify acts of terrorism into five categories: 1) State sponsored terrorism; 2) Dissent terrorism; 3) Ideological terrorism; 4) Religious terrorism; and 5) Criminal terrorism.

An example of state sponsored terrorism was the recent attack on the Saudi oil production facilities. In this post we will examine dissent terrorism.

Dissent terrorism involves groups that have rebelled against their governments or government policies. Recent dissent movements include Occupy Wall Street, Occupy Phoenix, and cyber and physical attacks on oil pipelines.

Dissent terrorism involves acts intended to draw attention to a cause, though the original cause often becomes lost or obfuscated by competing agendas. The acts are symbolic and limited, but violent enough to focus a great deal of attention on the incident. Such dissidents tend to go underground and isolate themselves from their previous social contacts, restricting their contact to a small nucleus of dissidents (Della Porta; Diani, 1999).

The strategies are designed to have consequences for the country through Media broadcasts that stir speculation and fear and thereby influence policies. The marches, sit-ins, building take-overs, and other events of dissenters usually do not involve terrorist acts. It is easier to involve large numbers of people if the venues are promoted as peaceful.

Causes to which dissidents commit include poverty, perceived injustices, climate, environment, and women's and gay rights.

Since the terrorists attacks of September 11, US government agencies have doubled down on monitoring potential security risks. Civil rights groups claim that this threatens the constitutional rights of citizens to speak against corporate and government policies and practices. On the other hand, it is impossible to know how many violent acts of dissent terrorists have been averted due to surveillance.


Related reading: Jacques Derrida on Terrorism; Terrorists Target African Christians; Boko Haram Terrorism Spreads; Aramco Attack Likely State Sponsored Terrorism


Monday, September 23, 2019

Aramco Attack Likely State-Sponsored Terrorism




The strike on Saudi Arabia's oil fields appears to be an example of state-sponsored terrorism. State-sponsored terrorism involves terrorist acts on a state or government by a state or government.

That is the official view of the United States and the United Kingdom, both of which believe that Iran launched the missiles. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused Iran of perpetrating an "act of war" after the strikes on Saudi oil facilities, saying the attack had the "fingerprints of the Ayatollah."

However, some doubt remains as to who actually is responsible. Yemen's Iranian-backed Houthi rebels have claimed responsibility and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani insists the attack came from Yemeni forces against whom a Saudi-led coalition has been fighting since March 2015.

However, as Pompeo told reporters, the claim that Houthi rebels launched the attack "doesn't change the fingerprints of the Ayatollah as having put at risk the global energy supply."

Saudi Aramco President Amin Nasser said the synchronized attacks were timed to create "maximum damage" to the Saudi oil processing facilities at Abqaiq and Khurais in eastern Saudi Arabia.

Eighteen drones and seven cruise missiles bombarded the facilities in an assault described as a “Pearl Harbor-type" attack.

The attack knocked out an estimated 5.7 million barrels of daily oil production, slightly over five percent of the global daily crude production.




Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Jacques Derrida on Terrorism


In July, Ethics Forum focused on the theme of ethical concerns surrounding aliens and extraterrestrial life. In August, we considered the theme of political manipulation. September is dedicated to the issue of global terrorism, and we begin with a reflection by Jacques Derrida on the nature of terrorism.


Pakistani policemen observe security personnel demolishing the compound where Osama bin Laden was killed in Abbottabad on 26 February 2012. (Photo credit: Aamir Qureshi)


Derrida on Terrorism before 9/11

"It cannot be denied, as an empiricist of the eighteenth century would quite literally say, that there was an "impression" there, and the impression of what you call in English—and this is not fortuitous—a "major event." I insist here on the English because it is the language we speak here in New York, even though it is neither your language nor mine; but I also insist because the injunction comes first of all from a place where English predominates. I am not saying this only because the United States was targeted, hit, or violated on its own soil for the first time in almost two centuries—since 1812 to be exact—but because the world order that felt itself targeted through this violence is dominated largely by the Anglo-American idiom, an idiom that is indissociably linked to the political discourse that dominates the world stage, to international law, diplomatic institutions, the media, and the greatest technoscientific, capitalist, and military power. And it is very much a question of the still enigmatic but also critical essence of this hegemony. By critical, I mean at once decisive, potentially decisionary, decision-making, and in crisis: today more vulnerable and threatened than ever."

"The concepts with which this "event" has most often been described, named, categorized, are the products of a "dogmatic slumber" from which only a new philosophical reflection can awaken us, a reflection on philosophy, most notably on political philosophy and its heritage. The prevailing discourse, that of the media and of the official rhetoric, relies too readily on received concepts like "war" or "terrorism" (national or international)."

"Assuming that "bin Laden" is here the sovereign decision-maker, everyone knows that he is not Afghan, that he has been disavowed by his own country (by every "country" and state, in fact, almost without exception), that his training owes much to the United States and that, of course, he is not alone. The states that help him indirectly do not do so as states. No state as such supports him publicly. As for states that "harbor" terrorist networks, it is difficult to identify them as such. The United States and Europe, London and Berlin, are also sanctuaries, places of training or formation and information for all the "terrorists" of the world. No geography, no "territorial" determination, is thus pertinent any longer for locating the seat of these new technologies of transmission or aggression. To say it all too quickly and in passing, to amplify and clarify just a bit what I said earlier about an absolute threat whose origin is anonymous and not related to any state, such "terrorist" attacks already no longer need planes, bombs, or kamikazes: it is enough to infiltrate a strategically important computer system and introduce a virus or some other disruptive element to paralyze the economic, military, and political resources of an entire country or continent. And this can be attempted from just about anywhere on earth, at very little expense and with minimal means."

Friday, September 6, 2019

Terrorists Target African Christians


Women from a Christian village in Cameroon recover after having their ears chopped off by members of Boko Haram in July 2019. (Photo: Open Doors)


Islamic terrorism has been directed against African Christians for the past 12 years in an attempt to eliminate Christianity and to force conversions to Islam. Nigeria has experienced the most attacks on Christians. Nigeria’s conflict with Boko Haram has resulted in the deaths of over 20,000 civilians and a large-scale humanitarian crisis. Approximately 2.1 million people have been displaced by the conflict while 7 million need humanitarian assistance. The crisis is likely to expand as Boko Haram broadens its ruthless attacks.

This year (2019) the terror has spread to Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Burkina Faso.

In Burkina Faso a series of attacks began on 28 April in Silgadji, when gunman rounded up a pastor, his son and four of his congregation and demanded they deny their Christian faith and convert to Islam. After refusing they were executed one-by-one. Six were then killed at a church on 12 May and four at a Christian parade on 13 May. Four were then murdered at another church on 26 May. The fifth and sixth reported attacks took place on 9 and 10 June in which 29 were butchered by Islamist extremists.

Burkina Faso is part of a five-nation regional force against extremism, known as the G5 Sahel. Islamic extremist violence has increased in Burkina Faso's north and east near its Mali border. Hundreds have been killed in the attacks thousands have fled.

Islamic terrorists attacked the Christian village of Kalau in the North Kivu province in the Democratic Republic of Congo on 6 March 2019. They attempted to infiltrate the village under the guise of being security agents, but some village youth warned the villagers. The militants shot the village leader’s guard dogs and then opened fire, killing six Christians, including three women and a child.

The attack was launched by members of the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a group that attempted the overthrow the Ugandan government in the 90’s, seeking to replace it with an Islamic regime. The group has ties to other terrorist groups such as al-Shabaab and al-Qaeda. They are responsible for thousands of deaths throughout Uganda and eastern DRC.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

The Small Guy Can Play that Game too!





Political agendas advance through propaganda, social media, lobbyists, and political infiltration. Bots and trolls work to infiltrate social media platforms and influence public opinion and elections.

Political infiltration is sometimes called entryism. The strategy involves encouraging members or supporters of an organization or a state to join a larger organisation in an attempt to influence ideas and/or subvert the programs and objectives of the larger group.

The threat of political infiltration is not a new one. The Founding Fathers feared foreign interference and took steps to prevent it, as former Federal Election Commission Chairman Trevor Potter noted in a 2017 speech.
"The founders took steps to guard against such [interference] by including in our Constitution guardrails like the requirement that the president be a 'natural born citizen."
Another measure to protect the new nation from foreign influence was the Emoluments Clause, prohibiting any government official from accepting a title or a gift from a foreign government.

Likewise, journalists who accept money from the large media corporations are not going to bite the hand that feeds them. They will promote the acceptable narrative.

A Marxist view of the struggle between political parties and between the elites and the common man would have us focus on who controls the means of production. These are impersonal entities that influence policies through their seemingly inexhaustible purchasing power. They own the mainstream media outlets. They own the lobbies, and they influence through political infiltration and gaslighting.

In some ways the availability of social media balances the influence of powerful corporations. A discerning and articulate individual can offset the manipulation by naming it. This must be done without violating community standards of discourse. It requires self-promotion with humility.

The secret to having a positive effect as a public critic using social media is to be honest, to back up your claims with substantial sources, and to produce a large body of work. This must be done as an independent writer, and without accepting money from anyone. That is the only way to cut the puppet strings.

Every person exercises influence on someone; a friend, a room mate, or a younger sibling. You may chose how you will you influence those around you. With internet access, a critical thinker can expose a great deal of corruption and manipulation. If you speak the truth grounded in reality, you will gain a following. The small guy can play the influence game too.


Related reading: Public Debate and Search Engine Politics; Do You Know What Your Algorithms Are Up To?; The Facebook Algorithm Explained; Social Media Bots and Political Propaganda;
The Media Stokes Anger and RadicalizationTrapped in a Web of Punditry



Thursday, August 22, 2019

Social Media Bots and Political Propaganda




Wars are launched, waged, and often won by the use of political propaganda. The same can be said for political campaigns. Today the propaganda spreads through social media.

Social media platforms circulate political ideas and hope to sway public opinion through manipulative disinformation campaigns. Some of these campaigns are carried out by individuals, but most are waged by software bots, programmed to perform simple, repetitive, robotic tasks. Individuals can direct can coordinate campaigns made up of bots, fake accounts, and often present themselves as a group of people, to give the illusion of large-scale consensus. The social media platforms usually catch up with these people and neutralize their campaigns.

Some social media bots collect and distribute legitimate information. Less benign bots communicate with and harass people, manipulate trending algorithms, and inundate systems with spam. Political regimes use bots to silence opponents and to push the regime's message. These attempt to sway the vote during elections, and to defame political opponents, critics, human rights defenders, and journalists.

A person to follow for information on social media as propaganda is Samantha Bradshaw, a researcher at the Computational Propaganda Project and a doctoral candidate at the Oxford Internet Institute. She’s been tracking the phenomenon of political manipulation through disinformation on social media.

Samantha’s work examines government use of social media for coordinated digital disinformation campaigns. Her research has been featured by numerous media outlets, including the Washington Post, Bloomberg, and the Financial Times. She holds an MA in global governance from the Balsillie School of International Affairs, and a joint honors BA in political science and legal studies from the University of Waterloo. You can find Samantha on Twitter at @sbradshaww.

A timely book on this topic is Computational Propaganda: Political Parties, Politicians, and Political Manipulation on Social Media (Editors: Philip N. Howard and Samuel C. Woolley, Nov. 2018).



The book gives details on how automation and platform manipulation amounts to a new political communications mechanism. Howard and Woolley call it “computational propaganda.”

Computational propaganda differs from older styles of propaganda in that it uses algorithms, automation, and human curation to purposefully distribute disinformation over social media networks. At the same time, it learns from and mimics real people so as to manipulate public opinion across a diverse range of platforms and device networks.



Sunday, August 11, 2019

Boko Haram Terrorism Spreads



Women from a Christian village in Cameroon recover after having their ears chopped off by members of Boko Haram in July 2019. (Photo: Open Doors)


Nigeria’s decade-long conflict with Boko Haram has resulted in the deaths of over 20,000 civilians and a large-scale humanitarian crisis. Approximately 2.1 million people have been displaced by the conflict while 7 million need humanitarian assistance. The crisis is likely to expand as Boko Haram broadens its ruthless attacks.

Boko Haram terrorists stormed the Christian village of Kalagari in northern Cameroon on July 29, taking eight women hostage and cutting off their ears before releasing them. The women are being treated for their injuries but Open Doors UK said it was not clear whether all of the abducted women had been released.

The militant group has been attacking Christian communities in Nigeria for the last decade and has now spread its violent ideology into Cameroon, Niger and Chad.

2011
Boko Haram was responsible for attacks that killed more than 425 people, including police officers, soldiers, community leaders, politicians, Islamic clerics, Christian pastors, and church members. The attacks on November 4 resulted in the highest death toll in a single day since Boko Haram began its campaign of violence in Nigeria in July 2009.

2012
Boko Haram was was responsible for hundreds of deaths in attacks in Maiduguri on government buildings, markets, schools, media houses and churches, including church bombings that sparked a new wave of sectarian violence in late June 2012. The violence killed about 100 people between the bombings and the fights.

2013
Boko Haram murdered three North Korean medical doctors, beheading one, in Yobe State. Boko Haram also murdered nine female polio workers in Kano.

2014
Boko Haram murdered a Christian pastor and a Muslin cleric who were traveling together. They were ambushed in Zaria. In Feb. 2014 Boko Haram slaughtered 43 students in a Christian school in Buni Yadi.

The 300 schoolgirls abducted by Bolo Haram from the village of Chibok in 2014 are still missing.



2015
Boko Haram militants razed the entire town of Baga in north-east Nigeria. Bodies lay strewn on Baga's streets. At least 2,000 people were killed. Boko Haram now controls 70% of Borno State, which is the worst-affected by the insurgency.

In March, soldiers from Niger and Chad who liberated the Nigerian town of Damasak from Boko Haram discovered the bodies of at least 70 people, many with their throats slit, scattered under a bridge.

In June Boko Haram lauched attacks on the villages of Debiro Hawul and Debiro Bi in Borno state, killing at least 40 persons.

In a separate attack, a 12-year old female suicide bomber killed at least 10 people in the town of Gujba in Yobe State.

2016
In Feb. Boko Haram killed at lest 65 people in Dalori in Kaduna State. A suicide bomber infiltrated the group that was hiding.

The same month Boko Haram gunmen in pickups stormed the villages of Yakshari and Kachifa in Damboa district, slaughtering at least 30 villagers, in two separate attacks on Friday night and Saturday morning.

2017
Boko Haram militants kidnapped about 40 young adults, women and children and killed 18 in the town of Banki in Borno State, on the border of Nigeria and Cameroon. Boko Haram is blamed for the murders of about 400 people between April and September 2017 in the Lake Chad area. 

In 2107, Boko Haram launched 90 armed assaults and 59 suicide attacks.

2018
In June, Boko Haram attacked and killed 9 soldiers and wounded two others in Gajiram, headquarters of the local government of Nganzai in northeastern Nigeria.

In July, Boko Haram swarmed 81 Division Task Force Brigade in Jilli in Yobe State. Three Nigerian Army officers and 28 soldiers were killed.

Boko Haram began targeting soldiers. In Oct., Boko Haram attacked and killed 15 soldiers near the Niger Border and around the Lake Chad.

In Nov. gunmen overran a Nigerian army battalion at Metele Village in Guzamala Local government in Borno State killing 70 soldiers.

2019
In July, Boko Haram attacked a funeral procession, killing at least 60 people and injuring 11.

Earlier in the month Boko Haram attacked soldiers near the village of Damboa, killing five. Another 14 soldiers and two civilians were also wounded.

2020
On 10 February, Boko Haram killed at least 30 people and abducted women and children in Auno town on a major highway in Borno State, north-eastern Nigeria.

Related reading: Timeline of Boko Haram Terrorist Attacks; "Boko Haram Beyond the Headlines" (Report of Combating Terrorism Group at West Point); Boko Haram Murders Nine Polio Workers



Thursday, August 8, 2019

Trapped in a Web of Punditry


Alice C. Linsley

The citizens of the United States of America are facing what promises to be another contentious presidential election in 2020. We can expect heated rhetoric and further polarization. The election campaigns will be flashy and pander to fears on all sides. Opponents will be presented in the most unflattering way, with suggestions and accusations of deceit, corruption, and bigotry. The discourse will reach a moral and intellectual low, and the usual gaslighting will occur.

The term "gaslighting" is taken from the movie, Gaslight, in which Charles Boyer manipulates and confuses the mind of Ingrid Bergman. This type of manipulation is found inside both political parties and doubtless it will occur more frequently in the months ahead.

Gaslighting aims at causing confusion in the minds of the public. Confusion makes it difficult for people to make informed decisions. The gaslighter seeks to impose his narrative to prevent people from perceiving the reality. Dr. Bryant Welch writes about this in his book The State of Confusion (2008). He argues that various forms of political manipulation undermine the nation's ability to confront real problems.

Thinking people will be able to cut through the confusion, but few will be able to communicate the reality to others in a clear and concise way. In part, this is because we fall into the traps. We use the language of political slogans instead of simple English. We are caught in a web of punditry.

Punditry involves opinions more than data and resembles entertainment more than reporting. It dominates the mass media, and the examples are often ludicrous. As Dorothy Sayers pointed out in her famous speech "The Lost Tools of Learning" (1949) modernity has produced a climate favorable to bishops airing "their opinions about economics; biologists, about metaphysics; inorganic chemists, about theology; the most irrelevant people are appointed to highly technical ministries; and plain, blunt men write to the papers to say that Epstein and Picasso do not know how to draw."

To further complicate matters, there is a deficit of articulate communicators who hold telling the truth as their first priority. I am reminded of the sage advice Wendell Barry gave to my writing students. He wrote:
The first obligation of a writer is to tell the truth--or to come as near to telling it as is humanly possible. To do that, it is necessary to learn to write well. And to learn to write well, it is necessary to learn to read well. Reading will make you a better writer, provided you will read ever more attentively and critically. You will probably read a lot of contemporary writing in your textbooks, in magazines and newspapers, in popular novels, etc. The contemporary is inescapable. You may more easily escape the writing that is most necessary to you. I mean the books we know as "classics," books that have been read for generations or for centuries and so have proved their excellence.

The first obligation of a communicator should be to tell the truth, and in order to do that, the communicator must read, think, analyze, pay attention to details, and make distinctions. Unfortunately, less than truthful narratives dominate the public domain, and obfuscation has become an art in the political arena.

If there is an antidote to the poison, it must involve turning off the pundits, reading to learn, telling the truth, and taking responsibility for oneself.


Related reading: Wendell Barry: Telling the Truth; The Media Stokes Anger and Radicalization;
Public Debate and Search Engine Politics; Binary is a Bad Word These Days; G.K. Chesterton Explains U.S. Political Insanity