October 1st, 2012
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Living Under Drones

This report from the International Human Rights and Conflict Resolution Clinic of Stanford Law School and the Global Justice Clinic at New York University examines the recent history of American drone strikes in Pakistan and the myriad ill effects had upon the people of Pakistan.

In the United States, the dominant narrative about the use of drones in Pakistan is of a surgically precise and effective tool that makes the US safer by enabling “targeted killing” of terrorists, with minimal downsides or collateral impacts.

This narrative is false.

Read the full report here.

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August 15th, 2012
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atomvincent:

nytimes:

If you live in Butler or Warren counties in the Republican-leaning suburbs of Cincinnati, you can vote for president beginning in October by going to a polling place in the evening or on weekends. Republican officials in those counties want to make it convenient for their residents to vote early and avoid long lines on Election Day.

But, if you live in Cincinnati, you’re out of luck. Republicans on the county election board are planning to end early voting in the city promptly at 5 p.m., and ban it completely on weekends, according to The Cincinnati Enquirer. The convenience, in other words, will not be extended to the city’s working people.

The sleazy politics behind the disparity is obvious. Hamilton County, which contains Cincinnati, is largely Democratic and voted solidly for Barack Obama in 2008. So did the other urban areas of Cleveland, Columbus and Akron, where Republicans, with the assistance of the Ohio secretary of state, Jon Husted, have already eliminated the extended hours for early voting.

County election boards in Ohio, a closely contested swing state, are evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans. In counties likely to vote for President Obama, Republicans have voted against the extended hours, and Mr. Husted has broken the tie in their favor. (He said the counties couldn’t afford the long hours.) In counties likely to vote for Mitt Romney, Republicans have not objected to the extended hours.

This is just the latest alarming example of how Republicans across the country are trying to manipulate the electoral system by blocking the voting rights of their opponents. These actions have a disproportionate effect on blacks, Hispanics and other ethnic minorities who struggled for so long to participate in American democracy.

Cincinnati, for example, is 45 percent black, and Cleveland 53 percent. Butler County, however, is 8 percent black, and Warren 3.5 percent. This kind of racial disparity is clearly visible wherever Republicans have trampled on voting rights during Mr. Obama’s term.

In Florida, more than half of black voters went to the polls early in 2008 largely to support Mr. Obama. So, last year, Republican lawmakers there severely curtailed the early voting period. In Pennsylvania and other states that have imposed strict voter ID requirements, the impact will be felt hardest by blacks, Hispanics, older citizens and students, all of whom tend to lack government ID cards at a higher rate than the general population. At the trial in Pennsylvania over the constitutionality of the state’s voter ID law, the plaintiffs introduced clear evidence, compiled by a geographic data analysis firm, that registered voters in Philadelphia who lack government ID cards are concentrated in minority and low-income areas.

In Ohio, as in other states, the Republican Party is establishing a reputation for putting short-term political gain ahead of the most fundamental democratic rights.

Reblogged from A T O M
August 6th, 2012
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Dropping Acid

Writing for the Morning News, Tim Doody profiles Dr. James Fadiman,  investigates the back-and-forth history of government involvement with psychedelic drugs, and explores the broad benefits - both personal and societal - that could (and have) stemmed from the use of psychedelics.

Who knows, their latest findings may one day affirm some ancient hypotheses. If reality isn’t shaped with the psychically aware, self-organizing units that Giordano Bruno called monads in the sixteenth century, then perhaps it’s woven with Indra’s net, the jeweled nodes of which stretch into infinity, each one a reflection of all others. To entertain such ontologies is to re-contextualize one’s self as a marvelous conduit in a timeless whole, through which molecules and meaning flow, from nebulae to neurons and back again. If certain of these molecules connect with our serotonin receptors like a key in a pin tumbler, and open a door to extraordinary vistas, why shouldn’t we peek?

Read the full article here.

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August 1st, 2012
arvindsuguness
Fiction and Philosophy
Gore Vidal, the American writer and political activist, died yesterday at the age of 86. In this 1974 interview for The Paris Review, he discusses the art of fiction and why so many people hated him:

INTERVIEWER
Why will you always get a bad press?
VIDAL
That’s more for you to determine than for me. I have my theories, no doubt wrong. I suspect that the range of my activity is unbearable to people who write about books. Lenny Bernstein is not reviewed in The New York Times by an unsuccessful composer or by a student at Julliard. He might be better off if he were, but he isn’t. Writers are the only people who are reviewed by people of their own kind. And their own kind can often be reasonably generous—if you stay in your category. I don’t. I do many different things rather better than most people do one thing. And envy is the central fact of American life. Then, of course, I am the enemy to so many. I have attacked both Nixon and the Kennedys—as well as the American empire. I’ve also made the case that American literature has been second-rate from the beginning. This caused distress in book-chat land. They knew I was wrong, but since they don’t read foreign or old books, they were forced to write things like “Vidal thinks Victor Hugo is better than Faulkner.” Well, Hugo is better than Faulkner, but to the residents of book-chat land Hugo is just a man with a funny name who wrote Les Misérables, a movie on the late show. Finally, I am proud to say that I am most disliked because for twenty-six years I have been in open rebellion against the heterosexual dictatorship in the United States. Fortunately, I have lived long enough to see the dictatorship start to collapse. I now hope to live long enough to see a sexual democracy in America. I deserve at least a statue in Dupont Circle—along with Dr. Kinsey.

Read the full article here.
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Fiction and Philosophy

Gore Vidal, the American writer and political activist, died yesterday at the age of 86. In this 1974 interview for The Paris Review, he discusses the art of fiction and why so many people hated him:

INTERVIEWER

Why will you always get a bad press?

VIDAL

That’s more for you to determine than for me. I have my theories, no doubt wrong. I suspect that the range of my activity is unbearable to people who write about books. Lenny Bernstein is not reviewed in The New York Times by an unsuccessful composer or by a student at Julliard. He might be better off if he were, but he isn’t. Writers are the only people who are reviewed by people of their own kind. And their own kind can often be reasonably generous—if you stay in your category. I don’t. I do many different things rather better than most people do one thing. And envy is the central fact of American life. Then, of course, I am the enemy to so many. I have attacked both Nixon and the Kennedys—as well as the American empire. I’ve also made the case that American literature has been second-rate from the beginning. This caused distress in book-chat land. They knew I was wrong, but since they don’t read foreign or old books, they were forced to write things like “Vidal thinks Victor Hugo is better than Faulkner.” Well, Hugo is better than Faulkner, but to the residents of book-chat land Hugo is just a man with a funny name who wrote Les Misérables, a movie on the late show. Finally, I am proud to say that I am most disliked because for twenty-six years I have been in open rebellion against the heterosexual dictatorship in the United States. Fortunately, I have lived long enough to see the dictatorship start to collapse. I now hope to live long enough to see a sexual democracy in America. I deserve at least a statue in Dupont Circle—along with Dr. Kinsey.

Read the full article here.

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July 16th, 2012
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Overpopulation: The Dirtiest Word

In this 2010 piece for Mother Jones, Julia Whitty looks at the issues we face as global population swells over the next half century and why no one wants to talk about the problem.

In The Population Bomb, Ehrlich predicted inevitable mass starvation as early as the 1970s and 1980s—notably in India, which he claimed could not possibly attain food self-sufficiency. Instead, American agronomist Norman Borlaug’s “Green Revolution” brought dwarf wheat strains and chemical fertilizers to increase India’s crop yields 168 percent within a decade. This monumental achievement defused the bomb and earned Ehrlich the dismissive title of Malthusian: just one more in a line of pessimists forecasting phantom famines. Ever since, the subject has been largely taboo. Scientists from a variety of fields privately tell me the issue of overpopulation is simply too controversial—too inflamed with passions to get funded, too strong a magnet for ideologues. Those who’ve tackled it tell me of harassment, even physical threats, from a frightening fringe.

Read the full article here.

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July 10th, 2012
chasewhiteside

Will Citizens United Doom Obama’s Reelection?

Robert Draper writes for NY Times Magazine about the post-Citizens United Super PAC race for cash, one which Democrats are losing badly:

Two years later, President Obama repeatedly denounced the conservative super PACs that had cropped up in the wake of the Citizens United decision. In so doing, Obama ended up unilaterally disarming Democrats while animating Republicans. “When Obama attacked us by name in the fall of 2010, accusing us of taking money from the Chinese, it was basically the best fund-raising pitch we could’ve made,” says Jonathan Collegio, a spokesman for American Crossroads, the conservative super PAC conceived by Karl Rove and the Republican consultant Ed Gillespie. “We raised $13 million the week after they attacked us.” Burton and Sweeney watched from the White House — more with rueful admiration than moral outrage — as the Republicans turned the tables, outspending Democratic groups by $100 million and taking back the House….

During the first 10 months of its existence, Priorities USA Action managed to raise only $7 million. (Of this, $2 million was seed money from Jeffrey Katzenberg, the C.E.O. of DreamWorks Animation; another $1 million came from the comedian Bill Maher.) Their travails to some degree reflect the Democratic Party’s greater struggle with its prim self-perception. From the perspective of many Democrats, this year’s foray into post-Citizens United campaigning calls to mind an “Apocalypse Now”-like journey into the maw of something darker than death itself — namely, a morality-free zone in which Republicans alone can thrive. “I think that many Democrats feel that participating in the system would be validating Citizens United, which was a bad and destructive decision,” Geoff Garin says.

A sentiment commonly held by Democrats — so much so that it’s part of the standard Priorities pitch to donors — is that their only motivation to contribute is a moral one, while Republicans like the Koch brothers donate because they stand to make gobs of money if their pro-business candidate is elected. One of Priorities’ big donors told me another reason that conservatives are more suited to a post-Citizens United climate than progressives. “To me, a lot of the super-PAC money on the Republican side comes from hatred,” he said. “We Democrats just don’t hate like that.” 

Read the full article here.

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June 25th, 2012
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Health Care and the High Court

As the nation awaits the forthcoming Supreme Court verdict on the healthcare mandate, let’s take a moment to look at what, exactly, has been deliberated, and what’s at stake. From May of this year, Ronald Dworkin writes on the importance and constitutionality of the healthcare law for the New York Review of Books.

The plaintiffs have asked the Court to declare the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional. The political and social stakes are enormous. But the legal issues, most analysts think, are not really controversial: the Constitution’s text, the Supreme Court’s own precedents, and basic constitutional principle seem obviously to require upholding the act. Analysts at first predicted a 7–2 decision rejecting the challenge. But they apparently misjudged the dedication of the ultraconservative justices, whose questions in the oral argument have now convinced many commentators that on the contrary, in spite of text, precedent, and principle, the Court will declare the act unconstitutional in June, by a 5–4 vote. That prediction may be too swift. There is still reason to hope, as I discuss later, that Justice Anthony Kennedy, often the swing vote between liberals and ultraconservatives, will have sufficient respect for congressional authority to save the act.

The prospect of an overruling is frightening. American health care is an unjust and expensive shambles; only a comprehensive national program can even begin to repair it. One in six Americans lacks any health insurance, and the uninsured of working age have a 40 percent higher risk of death than those who are privately insured. Insurance is often unavailable even for those willing and able to pay for it: according to the Government Accountability Office, an average of 19 percent of individual applications for insurance are declined for a variety of reasons including the applicant’s being on a prescription medicine or being overweight.

If the Court does declare the act unconstitutional, it would have ruled that Congress lacks the power to adopt what it thought the most effective, efficient, fair, and politically workable remedy—not because that national remedy would violate anyone’s rights, or limit anyone’s liberty in ways a state government could not, or be otherwise unfair, but for the sole reason that in the Court’s opinion our constitution is a strict and arbitrary document that denies our national legislature the power to enact the only politically possible national program. If that opinion were right, we would have to accept that our eighteenth- century constitution is not the enduring marvel of statesmanship we suppose but an anachronistic, crippling burden we cannot escape, a straitjacket that makes it impossible for us to achieve a just national society.

Read the full article here.

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June 19th, 2012
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The Grease Men of Jaffna

Writing for Guernica, Hannah Tennant-Moore tells of her search for a boogeyman haunting Tamil communities in the Jaffna Peninsula and offers a glimpse at post-war life for the Tamil’s of Sri Lanka.

I asked the engineer if he believed the government was using the Grease Man for its own ends. “Of course!” he said. “About a year ago, it was the white vans. Black windows, no identity plates. They abducted people. Sometimes hurt them and let them go. Sometimes gone. The authorities say it is a mystery. But to the people it is no mystery.” He glanced around and lowered his voice. “The people are missing the LTTE. They had their minus points, but at least we had some bargaining power. But we have much hope the Americans will save us. We love Hillary Clinton.” He hoped she would pressure the government to house internally displaced Tamils and abolish the Prevention of Terrorism Act, which authorizes indefinite detention.

“Do you know that we have the same law in our country?” I explained that several laws passed since 9/11 empower the president to arrest and jail non-U.S. citizens without charging them with a crime. The engineer was shocked. He had never heard of Guantanamo.

Read the full article here.

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June 14th, 2012
chasewhiteside

How ‘Liberal’ Media Outlets Cripple Modern Liberalism 

Steve Almond, for the New York Times Magazine:

This, to be blunt, is the tragic flaw of the modern liberal. We choose to see ourselves as innocent victims of an escalating right-wing fanaticism. But too often we serve as willing accomplices to this escalation and to the resulting degradation of our civic discourse. We do this, without even meaning to, by consuming conservative folly as mass entertainment….

The real problem is that liberals, both on an institutional and a personal level, have chosen to treat for-profit propaganda as news. In so doing, we have helped redefine liberalism as an essentially reactionary movement. Rather than initiating discussion, or advocating for more humane policy, we react to the most vile and nihilistic voices on the right….

Media outlets like MSNBC and The Huffington Post often justify their coverage of these voices by claiming to serve as watchdogs. It would be more accurate to think of them as de facto loudspeakers for conservative agitprop. The demagogues of the world, after all, derive power solely from their ability to provoke reaction. Those liberals (like me) who take the bait, are to blame for their outsize influence….

Taken as a whole, the arrangement is entirely cynical. This slavish coverage of conservative scoundrels does nothing to illuminate policy or challenge our assumptions. On the contrary, its central goal mirrors that of the pundits it reviles: to boost ratings by reinforcing easy prejudices. These ratings come courtesy of dolts like me: liberals who choose, every day, to click on their links and to watch their shows….

Rather than taking up the banner and the burden of the causes I believe in, or questioning my own consumptive habits, I’ve come to rely on private moments of indignation for moral vindication. I fume at the iniquity of Pundit A and laugh at the hypocrisy of Candidate B and feel absolved — without ever having left my couch. It’s a closed system of scorn and self-congratulation….

But what’s really happening when I scoff at Sarah Palin’s latest tweet amounts to a mimetic indulgence: I’m bleeding the world of nuance, surrendering to the seduction of binary thinking.

This pattern of defensive grievance, writ large, has derailed the liberal agenda and crippled the nation’s moral progress.

Read the full article here.

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June 4th, 2012
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America the Philosophical?

In this essay adapted from the introduction to his book on the subject, Carlin Romano argues (despite popular opinion and evidence to the contrary) that “America in the early 21st century towers as the most philosophical culture in the history of the world.” I can’t say I buy his argument, but the perspective he takes on philosophy in contemporary American culture is certainly unique and thought-provoking. Do you think the United States is in the throes of a philosophical renaissance? For The Chronicle of Higher Education:

How can America the Philosophical make sense?

It does, I submit, if one emulates what philosophers ideally do—subject preconceptions to ongoing analysis, and use their imaginations. The traditional clichés get it wrong. Examples that run counter to the vision of America the Philosophical prop up the clichés because they imply a musty view of philosophy. They depend too much on activities christened ”philosophy” according to antiquated academic criteria, and pay too little mind to what honest intellectuals recognize as philosophy today.

For whether one prefers the view of Habermas, Germany’s foremost philosopher, that truth issues only from deliberation conducted under maximum conditions of openness and freedom, or the view of Rorty, America’s most important recent philosopher, that better conceptual vocabularies rather than firmer truths should be our aim, it’s plain that America’s philosophical landscape—pluralistic, quantitatively huge, all potential criticisms available—provides a more conducive arena, or agora, than any other. If we take the best contemporary thinkers at their word and think of philosophy as an ever-expanding practice of persuasion rather than a cut-and-dried discipline that hunts down eternal verities, then America the Philosophical—a far larger entity than the roughly 11,000 members of the American Philosophical Association—not only looks more likely but also clearly outstrips any rival as the paramount philosophical culture. In the early years of the 21st century, America is to philosophy what Italy is to art or Norway to skiing: a perfectly designed environment for the practice.

Read the full article here.

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