Friday, January 31, 2020

The Republican Disgrace

"It doesn't matter how good the Constitution is. It doesn't matter how brilliant the Framers were. It doesn't matter how good or bad our advocacy in this trial is. It doesn't matter how well written the oath of impartiality is. If right doesn't matter, we're lost. If truth doesn't matter, we're lost" -Adam Schiff.

"When our democracy is threatened from within, we must save it ourselves... Transcending forces of decay, disinformation, and disunion will not be easy. This is the great national calling of our time: the North Star that must guide decisions about ending or enduring disastrous presidencies. There is no quick fix for the challenges we face. They are surmountable only if each of us resolves anew that America and democracy are well worth fighting for" -Laurence Tribe.

When people ask, what crime did Trump commit, they are ignorant of these facts about impeachment: “The very essence of impeachment is political rather than criminal… Politicians rather than judges hold the impeachment power… Instead, it serves only to remove political authority from ‘him who would make a bad use of it’” (Tribe, 13). “Impeachment doesn’t require proof of a crime… Impeachment and criminal punishment are distinct… (44) The argument that only criminal offenses are impeachable is deeply and profoundly wrong. It misunderstands the Constitution, U.S. history, and the nature of criminal law in important ways… The wrongness of this claim offends us as scholars and troubles us as citizens. A relentless focus on criminality distorts public dialogue about impeachment. It also sabotages productive discussion about improper (though noncriminal) uses of presidential power…” (45).

When a president abuses “the formal powers” of the office of the presidency to secure an election, it is our constitutional system that will not allow him to corrupt our democracy. In the case of Trump, who is a “serial abuser of power,” allowing him to “remain in office poses a clear danger of grave harm to the constitutional order” (23) and to our national security. “The corrupt exercise of power in exchange for a personal benefit defines impeachable bribery” (33); moreover, Trump’s myriad attempts to impede justice proves impeachable obstruction. “If Congress errs here, the American people must live forever with the consequences” (28).

We only have to ask the Republicans who defend Trump: would they have impeached Obama if he had done what Trump has done? 

Tribe, Laurence H. and Joshua Matz. To End a Presidency: The Power of Impeachment. New York: Basic Books, 2018. 

-Glen Brown

From "Why Donald Trump Is a Threat to Our Democracy and Unfit to be President of the United States of America." For the article, click here. 

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

“Conservative Christian TV Host Rick Wiles claims that the coronavirus is a plague sent by God to purge the world of sin”

“Rick Wiles, host of TruNews, a television ‘news’ program produced for conservative Christians, recently explained to his viewers that the coronavirus is a plague, noting that ‘plagues are one of the last steps of judgment’ and that ‘God is about to purge a lot of sin off this planet.
“Speaking to his conservative Christian audience, Wiles first points the blame for God’s wrath on the Chinese, declaring: ‘Look at China, a godless state, a godless government, a godless communist government that persecutes Christians… the Chinese Communists are not virtuous people they’re godless.
“Wiles then continues, arguing that God would soon target the United States:Look at the United States. Look at the spiritual rebellion that is in this country, the hatred of God, the hatred of the Bible, the hatred of righteousness. Just vile, disgusting people in this country now, transgendering little children, perverting them. Look at the rapes, and the sexual immorality, and the filth on our TVs and our movies.
“Wiles concludes: ‘Folks, the Death Angel may be moving right now across the planet. This is the time to get right with God … The blood of Jesus Christ will protect you. Do not fear. If you are living right for God, if the blood of Jesus Christ is on you, you have no reason to fear this Death Angel. But those of you who are opposing the church of God, mocking God, attacking his servants, you’d better wise up because there is a Death Angel on the loose right now, and you are going to get an attitude adjustment.’
“…For those who want to dismiss Wiles as a lone lunatic, it is important to note that he is a popular conservative Christian broadcaster with a large audience and White House press credentials. In short, Wiles may be a lunatic, but his insanity is shared by many conservative Christians, and they vote. 
“Bottom line: Conservative Christian TV Host Rick Wiles warns his audience that ‘God is about to purge a lot of sin off this planet’ via the Coronavirus, and those who mock God will be punished” (Christian TV Host: Coronavirus Sent to Punish Those Who Mock God). 


Wiles recently said Trump's impeachment is a "Jew coup" planned by a "Jewish cabal"; TruNews was still able to obtain press credentials to cover Trump's recent trip to the World Economic Forum in Davos. Wiles stated: "We are honored to be here [in Davos], representing the Kingdom of Heaven and our King Jesus Christ."

Friday, January 24, 2020

Trump Removes Protections on Streams and Wetlands Across the Country

“The Trump administration on Thursday [January 23] signed its long-promised regulation to remove millions of miles of streams and roughly half the country’s wetlands from federal protection, the largest rollback of the Clean Water Act since the modern law was passed in 1972.

“The move delivers a major win for the agriculture, home building, mining, and oil and gas industries, which have for decades sought to shrink the scope of the water law that requires them to obtain permits to discharge pollution into waterways or fill in wetlands, and imposes fines for oil spills into protected waterways.

“Those industries had fiercely fought an Obama-era regulation that cemented broad protections for head water streams, which are at the beginning of the river network, as well as certain wetlands. …Donald Trump, whose golf courses and other businesses had fought with regulators over Clean Water Act permits, has lambasted that rule as ‘disastrous’ and his administration repealed it last year.

“Here are six things to know about the new regulation, known as the Navigable Waters Protection Rule:

1) It goes beyond overturning Obama to erase protections that have been in place for decades

“The Trump administration has made a point of rolling back environmental rules put in place by its predecessor, accusing the Obama administration of federal overreach. But the new regulation goes much beyond repealing the Obama-era rule, unwinding the previous rules that have been in place to protect head water streams and wetlands since the 1970s and ‘80s.

“‘President Trump’s administration wants to make our waters burn again,’ Earth justice attorney Janette Brimmer said in a statement, referring to the 1969 fire on the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland that served as a major impetus for passing the Clean Water Act. ‘This all-out assault on basic safeguards will send our country back to the days when corporate polluters could dump whatever sludge or slime they wished into the streams and wetlands that often connect to the water we drink.’

2) It drew complaints from EPA's own advisers

“The Trump administration issued the rule despite concerns raised by EPA’s outside scientific advisers, who issued a draft report in late December that said the proposed version of the rule was ‘in conflict with established science … and the objectives of the Clean Water Act.’ The criticism was particularly notable given that the majority of the board members were handpicked by the Trump administration.

“When the Obama administration issued its more expansive rule in 2015, it did so based on a massive scientific report that documented the importance of small streams to the health of downstream rivers and bays. In overturning that rule and issuing a far narrower one that would remove federal protections for waterways that don't flow regularly and wetlands that don't have an immediate surface water connection to larger waterways, the Trump administration has argued that it's a matter of policy rather than of science.

“‘This isn’t about what’s an important water body. All water is important. This is about what waters Congress intended the agency to regulate,’ a senior EPA official said on a call with reporters Thursday.

3) Half the country's wetlands could lose protection

“Wetlands, the in-between zone separating water and land, serve a crucial role in soaking up flood waters, filtering pollution and providing habitat to fish and wildlife. Despite a goal by President Ronald Reagan to have ‘no net loss’ of wetlands, the U.S. has drained or filled in the lion's share of its marshes and bogs, and is continuing on a downward trend.

“The new rule lifts federal protections for roughly half of the country's wetlands, according to the agency's own internal estimates Environmental groups say this would surely accelerate the trend of lost wetlands at a time when the changing climate makes their benefits all the more important.

4) Dry, Western states will see the biggest impact

“Waterways in arid regions of the country, particularly in the West, are likely to be among those most affected by the new rule, which removes federal protections for streams that flow only after rainfall. According to EPA, as much as 94 percent of Arizona’s waterways could lose Clean Water Act protection under the regulation, as well as 89 percent of Nevada's.

“The Trump administration argues that just because a waterway isn't federally regulated doesn't mean that it's not protected, since states can still set more expansive protections. ‘Many states already have a robust network of regulations that protect their state’s waterways,’ EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler told reporters. But many states, including Arizona, have laws on the books that prevent them from regulating more stringently than the federal government and states have been cutting the budgets for their environmental agencies.

5) Après WOTUS, the deluge of lawsuits

“The new rule will set off the latest fight in a decades’ long legal brawl over the scope of the Clean Water Act, which intensified following a muddled Supreme Court decision in 2006. With environmental groups already vowing to sue, the new Trump rule will likely become quickly entangled in litigation, much as its Obama-era predecessor was.

The water law is aimed at cleaning up ‘navigable waters’ like the Mississippi River and the Chesapeake Bay, but it is widely recognized that those can’t be protected without also restricting pollution into the streams and creeks that flow into them, as well as the wetlands that buffer them from runoff. But how far upstream the law’s protections reach has been a source of heated controversy.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

“The solution is for students to go on strike until our institutions agree to pay adjuncts a fair wage” - Peter Jacobs

“Universities, colleges and community colleges make heavy use of part-time professors and lecturers, known as ‘adjuncts.’ Chances are very good that if you’re a current college student, you’ve taken a class taught by an adjunct.

“Although they make up a large chunk of college instructors, adjuncts are paid only a tiny fraction of what full-time professors make, often with no benefits and no say in institutional decision-making. Adjunct professors may hold doctorates but are paid on average only $3,000 for each course that they teach. If (and this is a big if) an adjunct somehow manages to secure five courses to teach during the academic year, which is on par with (or exceeds) the load of a full-time professor, they could be bringing in a whopping $15,000 a year

“Adjuncts fear that if they ask for a raise, they will just be replaced with someone else who is more desperate for work and less argumentative. Adjuncts are also often caught in a cruel catch-22, where they can’t afford to strike for higher pay because their current pay is so low that striking would leave them unable to pay rent or other living expenses.

“Historians Kristen Edwards and Kim Tolley sum up the current adjunct situation quite well in The Chronicle of Higher Education: ‘Many colleges claim to advance social justice or develop democratic communities, but few have acted on their own principles when it comes to giving adjunct faculty a living wage and a real voice in decision-making. Everyone who cares about the quality of higher education should demand they do so. Since the founding of the nation, the purpose of higher education has been to develop skilled, thoughtful citizens capable of contributing in meaningful ways to society. This purpose will never be realized with a professoriate composed predominantly of instructors who work without the protection of real academic freedom, and have no role in shared governance, no job security, no benefits, low wages, and no real hope of ever finding a full-time position.’

“Given that our institutions are uninterested in paying these professors what they are worth; given that they are uninterested in allowing adjuncts to participate in college decision-making; given that adjunct professors are in such a tenuous position that they are by and large unable to bargain; given that even successful bargaining brings modest gains at best, and given the staggering amount of money that students pay in tuition, the solution is for students to go on strike until our institutions agree to pay adjuncts a fair wage.

“[We should] argue that $12,000 a course would be much more on par with the value these professors provide. This should come with benefits, job security and participation in institutional decision-making.

“…[Remember]: These adjuncts create courses, give lectures, answer questions outside of class, spend hours grading, help thousands of students learn to think critically and to move toward a better future, while getting paid less than some people make working in the fast food industry. Maybe it’s time we do something for them. Do we care about fair pay? Do we care about fair benefits? Do we care about fair representation? Do we believe that our adjunct professors are worth more than $15,000 a year?

“If we do, occupy lecture halls. Get into the auditoriums. Take over the labs. Sleep in those weird tiny rooms for the upper-level classes that only fit 10 people. Bring mattresses, bring blankets, bring food, bring games, blast music. Make big signs. Bring call-and-response chants. Discuss injustice. Demand justice. Tell our friends at other colleges to do the same. Make a difference for the people who are helping us make a difference in the world” (Peter Jacobs at Press Herald).

There are 68 articles on this social injustice. To access all 68 articles, click here, and then scroll down for each one. Click on "Older Posts" to continue.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Possible New Ways to Treat Alzheimer’s Disease

“Alzheimer's disease has long been characterized by the buildup of two distinct proteins in the brain: first beta-amyloid, which accumulates in clumps, or plaques, and then tau, which forms toxic tangles that lead to cell death. But how beta-amyloid leads to the devastation of tau has never been precisely clear. Now a new study at the University of Alabama at Birmingham appears to describe that missing mechanism.

“The study details a cascade of events. Buildup of beta-amyloid activates a receptor that responds to a brain chemical called norepinephrine, which is commonly known for mobilizing the brain and body for action. Activation of this receptor by both beta-amyloid and norepinephrine boosts the activity of an enzyme that activates tau and increases the vulnerability of brain cells to it, according to the study, published in Science Translational Medicine.

“Essentially, beta-amyloid hijacks the norepinephrine pathway to trigger a toxic buildup of tau, says Qin Wang, the study’s senior author and a professor of neuropharmacology in the department of cell, developmental and integrative biology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. ‘We really show that this norepinephrine is a missing piece of this whole Alzheimer’s disease puzzle,’ she says…”  

For the complete article, click here. 

Friday, January 17, 2020

"All of us have created and are creating the conditions in which omnicide is inevitable" by Danielle Celermajer

“As the full extent of the devastation of the Holocaust became apparent, a Polish Jew whose entire family had been killed, Raphael Lemkin, came to realise that there was no word for the distinctive crime that had been committed: the murder of a people. His life work became finding a word to name the crime and then convincing the world to use it and condemn it: genocide. Today, not only has genocide become a dreadful part of our lexicon. We recognise it as perhaps the gravest of all crimes.
“During these first days of the third decade of the twenty-first century, as we watch humans, animals, trees, insects, fungi, ecosystems, forests, rivers (and on and on) being killed, we find ourselves without a word to name what is happening. True, in recent years, environmentalists have coined the term ecocide, the killing of ecosystems — but this is something more. This is the killing of everything. Omnicide.
“Some will object, no doubt, that this does not count as a ‘cide’ — a murder or killing — but is rather a natural phenomenon, albeit an unspeakably regrettable one. Where is the murderous intent? Difficult to locate, admittedly, but a new crime also requires a new understanding of culpability. Indeed, one of the most serious problems with the laws against genocide is that they were written in a way that requires that the specific intent to destroy a people can be shown to have existed. Even where it did exist, such intent most often remains hidden in people’s dark hearts.
“This time, though, we need to go much further. We need to understand that the responsibility for omnicide is various and layered. The role that those responsible play this time is almost always less direct, but its effect no less devastating. We are unlikely to identify anyone actively scheming the death of the five-hundred million wild animals whom we believe to have died in the first month of this summer’s Australian bushfires.
“We can, however, identify the political representatives who refused to meet with fire chiefs who had been seeking to warn of, and act to mitigate, the impending disaster. The same political representatives who approved and continue to approve new coalmines in the face of scientific consensus on the effect that continuing to burn fossil fuels will have on climate in general, and drought and temperatures in particular. The same political representatives who approve water being diverted to support resource extraction, when living beings are dying for want of water and drying to the point of conflagration.
“We can identify the media owners who sponsor mass denial of the scientific evidence of the effects of a fossil fuel addicted economy on the climate. The same media owners who deploy the tools of mass manipulation to stoke fear, seed confusion, breed ignorance and create and then fuel hostile divisions within communities.
“We can identify the financial institutions that continue to invest in, and thereby prop up toxic industries, and who support the abovementioned media owners so as to protect themselves from accumulating stranded assets. We can identify the investors who use their financial and social capital to support politicians who will protect their financial interests. We can identify a corporate culture and a legal system, populated by lawyers, management consultants and financial analysts, that incentivise or even require companies to maximise short term shareholder profit and externalise costs to the future and the planet.
“And then we can identify parties closer to home. Business owners and investors whose profits depend on systems of extraction and resource exploitation. Consumers addicted to lifestyles based on resource extraction and the exploitation of the natural world. Citizens who prioritise narrow short-term interests over the sustainability of the planet. Citizens who lack the courage or fortitude to take ourselves through the social and economic transformations required to give our children and the more-than-human-world a future. Citizens who do not bother to take the time or make the effort to develop well-informed opinions, but would rather run to the comfort of the truisms of their tribe.
“We can also identify the humans and human cultures that have told ourselves that we are superior to, and thus have the right to dominate and exploit, other animals and the natural world. That we are the ones who get to flourish, and that everything else that is here, is here for our use. That other beings are not life but resource.
“None on this long list developed a specific intent to kill everything. But all of us have created and are creating the conditions in which omnicide is inevitable.
“When I was growing up, my parents used to play a Bob Dylan song called Who Killed Davey Moore,’ about a boxer who died in the ring when he was just 30 years old. Each verse begins with some party — the coach, the crowd, the manager, the gambling man, the boxing writer, the other fighter — answering the title’s question, ‘Who killed Davey Moore?’ They each respond, ‘Not I …’ and then explain that they were just doing what it is that they do: going to the fight, writing about the fight, throwing the punches and so on. And of course, they each told the truth.
“We too are just doing what it is that we do: ensuring that the largest political donors support our political campaigns; maximising profits; ensuring a high share price; living a comfortable life style; avoiding change; lazily buying back in to the conceit that we humans are special. But sometimes, just doing what it is that we do is sufficient to kill, not just Davey Moore, but everything.
“Omnicide, the gravest of all crimes. And as with all crimes, those responsible must be held accountable.”

Danielle Celermajer is Professor of Sociology and Social Policy at the University of Sydney. She is the author of The Sins of the Nation and the Ritual of Apologies and The Prevention of Torture: An Ecological Approach.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

A Baby Opossum Left Blind with Broken Jaw after Beaten on a Golf Course

HILTON HEAD, N.C. (WJW) — An opossum is recovering after golfers beat her with their clubs.
According to the Wildlife Rehab of Greenville, Scarlett was beaten on Friday by golfers on Hilton Head Island, leaving her blind and with a broken jaw. Scarlett weighs only two pounds and still has her baby teeth.
A veterinarian is managing her care and believes she can recover, but a lengthy recovery process is expected. Officials do not know why the golfers beat her.
As rehabbers, the wildlife center says it has no authority to investigate the incident; however, they have filed a report with the Department of Natural Resources and trust they will investigate further. The rehab has also contacted the golf course about the incident.
Wildlife Rehab of Greenville reminds citizens that this incident should not reflect poorly on the golf course or the city of Hilton Head, stating that “this act is the sole responsibility of the sick person or persons who attacked this baby.”
The rehab center is accepting donations to help with Scarlett’s care.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Stephen Hawking: from Brief Answers to the Big Questions

“…For centuries, it was believed that disabled people like me were living under a curse that was inflicted by God. Well, I suppose it’s possible that I’ve upset someone up there, but I prefer to think that everything can be explained another way, by the laws of nature. If you believe in science, like I do, you believe that there are certain laws that are always obeyed. If you like, you can say the laws are the work of God, but that is more a definition of God than a proof of his existence…(26).

“I believe that the discovery of these laws has been humankind’s greatest achievement, for it’s these laws of nature — as we now call them — that will tell us whether we need a god to explain the universe at all. The laws of nature are a description of how things actually work in the past, present and future. In tennis, the ball always goes exactly where they say it will. And there are many other laws at work here too. They govern everything that is going on, from how the energy of the shot is produced in the players’ muscles to the speed at which the grass grows beneath their feet. But what’s really important is that these physical laws, as well as being unchangeable, are universal. They apply not just to the flight of a ball, but to the motion of a planet, and everything else in the universe. Unlike laws made by humans, the laws of nature cannot be broken — that’s why they are so powerful and, when seen from a religious standpoint, controversial too…(27-8).

One could define God as the embodiment of the laws of nature. However, this is not what most people would think of as God. They mean a human-like being, with whom one can have a personal relationship. When you look at the vast size of the universe, and how insignificant and accidental human life is in it, that seems most implausible. I use the word ‘God’ in an impersonal sense, like Einstein did, for the laws of nature, so knowing the mind of God is knowing the laws of nature. My prediction is that we will know the mind of God by the end of this century…(28). I think the universe was spontaneously created out of nothing, according to the laws of science...(29).
Despite the complexity and variety of the universe, it turns out that to make one you need just three ingredients. Let’s imagine that we could list them in some kind of cosmic cookbook. So what are the three ingredients we need to cook up a universe? The first is matter — stuff that has mass. Matter is all around us, in the ground beneath our feet and out in space. Dust, rock, ice, liquids. Vast clouds of gas, massive spirals of stars, each containing billions of suns, stretching away for incredible distances (29).
“The second thing you need is energy. Even if you’ve never thought about it, we all know what energy is. Something we encounter every day. Look up at the Sun and you can feel it on your face: energy produced by a star ninety-three million miles away. Energy permeates the universe, driving the processes that keep it a dynamic, endlessly changing place.
“So we have matter and we have energy. The third thing we need to build a universe is space. Lots of space. You can call the universe many things — awesome, beautiful, violent — but one thing you can’t call it is cramped. Wherever we look we see space, more space and even more space. Stretching in all directions…(30). 
“As I was growing up in England after the Second World War, it was a time of austerity. We were told that you never get something for nothing. But now, after a lifetime of work, I think that actually you can get a whole universe for free. (31).
“The great mystery at the heart of the Big Bang is to explain how an entire, fantastically enormous universe of space and energy can materialize out of nothing. The secret lies in one of the strangest facts about our cosmos. The laws of physics demand the existence of something called ‘negative energy' (30-1).
“To help you get your head around this weird but crucial concept, let me draw on a simple analogy. Imagine a man wants to build a hill on a flat piece of land. The hill will represent the universe. To make this hill he digs a hole in the ground and uses that soil to dig his hill. But of course he’s not just making a hill — he’s also making a hole, in effect a negative version of the hill. The stuff that was in the hole has now become the hill, so it all perfectly balances out. This is the principle behind what happened at the beginning of the universe (32). 
“When the Big Bang produced a massive amount of positive energy, it simultaneously produced the same amount of negative energy. In this way, the positive and the negative add up to zero, always. It’s another law of nature (32).
“So where is all this negative energy today? It’s in the third ingredient in our cosmic cookbook: it’s in space. This may sound odd, but according to the laws of nature concerning gravity and motion — laws that are among the oldest in science — space itself is a vast store of negative energy. Enough to ensure that everything adds up to zero (32).
“I’ll admit that, unless mathematics is your thing, this is hard to grasp, but it’s true. The endless web of billions upon billions of galaxies, each pulling on each other by the force of gravity, acts like a giant storage device. The universe is like an enormous battery storing negative energy. The positive side of things — the mass and energy we see today — is like the hill. The corresponding hole, or negative side of things, is spread throughout space (33). 
“So what does this mean in our quest to find out if there is a God? It means that if the universe adds up to nothing, then you don’t need a God to create it. The universe is the ultimate free lunch (33).
“Since we know the universe itself was once very small — perhaps smaller than a proton — this means something quite remarkable. It means the universe itself, in all its mind-boggling vastness and complexity, could simply have popped into existence without violating the known laws of nature. From that moment on, vast amounts of energy were released as space itself expanded — a place to store all the negative energy needed to balance the books. But, of course, the critical question is raised again: did God create the quantum laws that allowed the Big Bang to occur? In a nutshell, do we need a God to set it up so that the Big Bang could bang? I have no desire to offend anyone of faith, but I think science has a more compelling explanation than a divine creator…(34).
“Imagine a river, flowing down a mountainside. What caused the river? Well, perhaps the rain that fell earlier in the mountains. But then, what caused the rain? A good answer would be the Sun, that shone down on the ocean and lifted water vapor up into the sky and made clouds. Okay, so what caused the Sun to shine? Well, if we look inside, we see the process known as fusion, in which hydrogen atoms join to form helium, releasing vast quantities of energy in the process. So far so good. Where does the hydrogen come from? Answer: The Big Bang. But here’s the crucial bit. The laws of nature itself tell us that not only could the universe have popped into existence without any assistance, like a proton, and have required nothing in terms of energy, but also that it is possible that nothing caused the Big Bang. Nothing...(34-5).
“Something very wonderful happened to time at the instant of the Big Bang. Time itself began. To understand this mind-boggling idea, consider a black hole floating in space. A typical black hole is a star so massive that it has collapsed in on itself. It’s so massive that not even light can escape its gravity, which is why it’s almost perfectly black. Its gravitational pull is so powerful, it warps and distorts not only light but also time. To see how, imagine a clock is being sucked into it. As the clock gets closer and closer to the black hole, it begins to get slower and slower. Time itself begins to slow down. Now imagine the clock as it enters the black hole — well, assuming of course that it could withstand the extreme gravitational forces– it would actually stop. It stops not because it is broken, but because inside the black hole time itself doesn’t exist. And that’s exactly what happened at the start of the universe…(35-7).
“As we travel back in time towards the moment of the Big Bang, the universe gets smaller and smaller and smaller, until it finally comes to a point where the whole universe is a space so small that it is in effect a single infinitesimally small, infinitesimally dense black hole. And just as with modern-day black holes, floating around in space, the laws of nature dictate something quite extraordinary. They tell us that here too time itself must come to a stop. You can’t get to a time before the Big Bang because there was no time before the Big Bang. We have finally found something that doesn’t have a cause, because there was no time for a cause to exist in. For me this means that there is no possibility of a creator, because there is no time for a creator to have existed in…(37-8).
“[I]t’s my view that the simplest explanation is that there is no God. No one created the universe and no one directs our fate. This leads me to a profound realization: there is probably no heaven and afterlife either. I think belief in an afterlife is just wishful thinking. There is no reliable evidence for it, and it flies in the face of everything we know in science. I think that when we die we return to dust. But there’s a sense in which we live on, in our influence, and in our genes that we pass on to our children. We have this one life to appreciate the grand design of the universe, and for that I am extremely grateful…(38).
“One day, I hope we will know the answers to all these questions. But there are other challenges, other big questions on the planet which must be answered, and these will also need a new generation who are interested and engaged, and have an understanding of science. How will we feed an ever-growing population? Provide clean water, generate renewable energy, prevent and cure disease and slow down global climate change? I hope that science and technology will provide the answers to these questions, but it will take people, human beings with knowledge and understanding, to implement these solutions. Let us fight for every woman and every man to have the opportunity to live healthy, secure lives, full of opportunity and love. We are all time travelers, journeying together into the future. But let us work together to make that future a place we want to visit. Be brave, be curious, be determined, overcome the odds. It can be done…”(21-2).  (These excerpts are also from Brainpickings). 

Hawking, Stephen. Brief Answers to the Big Questions. New York: Bantam Books, 2018.

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

The So-called Moral Guidelines for Waging a Just War: A Synopsis

“…JUST WAR THEORY offers a series of principles that aim to retain a plausible moral framework for war. From the just war (justum bellum) tradition, theorists distinguish between the rules that govern the justice of war (jus ad bellum) from those that govern just and fair conduct in war (jus In bello) and the responsibility and accountability of warring parties after the war (jus post bellum). The three aspects are by no means mutually exclusive, but they offer a set of moral guidelines for waging war that are neither unrestricted nor too restrictive. The problem for ethics involves expounding the guidelines in particular wars or situations.

The Jus Ad Bellum Convention:

“The principles of the justice of war are commonly held to be: [1.] Having just cause, [2.] Being a last resort, [3.] Being declared by a proper authority, [4.] Possessing right intention, [5.] Having a reasonable chance of success, and [6.] The end being proportional to the means used.
One can immediately detect that the principles are not wholly intrinsicist nor consequentialist—they invoke the concerns of both models. Whilst this provides just war theory with the advantage of flexibility, the lack of a strict ethical framework means that the principles themselves are open to broad interpretations. Examining each in turn draws attention to the relevant problems.

“Possessing just cause is the first and arguably the most important condition of jus ad bellum. Most theorists hold that initiating acts of aggression is unjust and gives a group a just cause to defend itself. But unless ‘aggression’ is defined, this proscription is rather open-ended. For example, just cause resulting from an act of aggression can ostensibly be a response to a physical injury (for example, a violation of territory), an insult (an aggression against national honor), a trade embargo (an aggression against economic activity), or even to a neighbor’s prosperity (a violation of social justice).

“The onus is then on the just war theorist to provide a consistent and sound account of what is meant by just cause. Whilst not going into the reasons why the other explanations do not offer a useful condition of just cause, the consensus is that an initiation of physical force is wrong and may justly be resisted. Self-defense against physical aggression, therefore, is putatively the only sufficient reason for just cause. Nonetheless, the principle of self-defense can be extrapolated to anticipate probable acts of aggression, as well as in assisting others against an oppressive government or from another external threat (interventionism). Therefore, it is commonly held that aggressive war is only permissible if its purpose is to retaliate against a wrong already committed (for example, to pursue and punish an aggressor), or to pre-empt an anticipated attack.

“In recent years, the argument for preemption has gained supporters in the West: surely, the argument goes, it is right on consequentialist grounds to strike the first blow if a future war is to be avoided. By acting decisively against a probable aggressor, a powerful message is sent that a nation will defend itself with armed force; thus preemption may provide a deterrent and a more peaceful world. 

However, critics complain that preemptive strikes are based on conjectured rather than impending aggression and in effect denounce the moral principle that an agent is presumed innocent – posturing and the building up of armaments do not in themselves constitute aggression, just as a man carrying a weapon is not a man using a weapon, Consequentialist critics may also reject preemption on the grounds that it is more likely to destabilize peace, while other realists may complain that a preemptive strike policy is the ploy of a tyrannical or bullying power that justifies other nations to act in their self-interest to neutralize either through alliances or military action – such is the principle behind the ‘balance of power’ politics in which nations constantly renew their alliances and treatises to ensure that not one of them becomes a hegemonic power.

“It is also feared that the policy of preemption slips easily into the machinations of ‘false flag operations’ in which a pretext for war is created by a contrived theatrical or actual stunt – of dressing one’s own soldiers up in the enemy’s uniforms, for instance, and having them attack a military or even civilian target so as to gain political backing for a war. Unfortunately, false flag operations tend to be quite common. Just war theory would reject them as it would reject waging war to defend a leader’s ‘honor’ following an insult. Realists may defend them on grounds of a higher necessity but such moves are likely to fail as being smoke screens for political rather than moral interests.

“War should always be a last resort. This connects intimately with presenting a just cause – all other forms of solution must have been attempted prior to the declaration of war. It has often been recognized that war unleashes forces and powers that soon get beyond the grips of the leaders and generals to control – there is too much ‘fog’ in war, as Clausewitz noted, but that fog is also a moral haze in which truth and trust are early casualties. The resulting damage that war wrecks tends to be very high for most economies and so theorists have advised that war should not be lightly accepted: once unleashed, war is not like a sport that can be quickly stopped at the blow of a whistle (although the Celtic druids supposedly had the power to stop a battle by virtue of their moral standing) and its repercussions last for generations. Holding ‘hawks’ at bay though is a complicated task – the apparent ease by which war may resolve disputes, especially in the eyes of those whose military might is apparently great and victory a certainty, does present war as a low cost option relative to continuing political problems and economic or moral hardship. Yet the just war theorist wishes to underline the need to attempt all other solutions but also to tie the justice of the war to the other principles of jus ad bellum too.

“The notion of proper authority seems to be resolved for most of the theorists, who claim it obviously resides in the sovereign power of the state. But the concept of sovereignty raises a plethora of issues to consider here. If a government is just, i.e., most theorists would accept that the government is accountable and does not rule arbitrarily, then giving the officers of the state the right to declare war is reasonable, so the more removed from a proper and just form a government is, the more reasonable it is that its claim to justifiable political sovereignty disintegrates.

“A historical example can elucidate the problem: when Nazi Germany invaded France in 1940 it set up the Vichy puppet regime. What allegiance did the people of France under its rule owe to its precepts and rules? A Hobbesian rendition of almost absolute allegiance to the state entails that resistance is wrong (so long as the state is not tyrannical and imposes war when it should be the guardian of peace); whereas a Lockean or instrumentalist conception of the state entails that a poorly accountable, inept, or corrupt regime possesses no sovereignty, and the right of declaring war (to defend themselves against the government or from a foreign power) is wholly justifiable. The notion of proper authority therefore requires thinking about what is meant by sovereignty, what is meant by the state, and what is the proper relationship between a people and its government.

“The possession of right intention is ostensibly less problematic. The general thrust of the concept being that a nation waging a just war should be doing so for the cause of justice and not for reasons of self-interest or aggrandizement. Putatively, a just war cannot be considered to be just if reasons of national interest are paramount or overwhelm the pretext of fighting aggression. However, ‘right intention’ masks many philosophical problems. According to Kant, possessing good intent constitutes the only condition of moral activity, regardless of the consequences envisioned or caused, and regardless, or even in spite, of any self interest in the action the agent may have. The extreme intrinsicism of Kant can be criticized on various grounds, the most pertinent here being the value of self-interest itself.

“At what point does right intention separate itself from self-interest – is the moral worthiness of intent only gained by acting in favor of one’s neighbor, and if so, what does that imply for moral action – that one should woo one’s neighbor’s spouse to make him/her feel good? Acting with proper intent requires us to think about what is proper and it is not certain that not acting in self-interest is necessarily the proper thing to do.

“On the one hand, if the only method to secure a general peace (something usually held to be good in itself) is to annex a belligerent neighbor's territory, political aggrandizement becomes intimately connected with the proper intention of maintaining the peace for all or the majority. On the other hand, a nation may possess just cause to defend an oppressed group, and may rightly argue that the proper intention is to secure their freedom, yet such a war may justly be deemed too expensive or too difficult to wage; i.e., it is not ultimately in their self-interest to fight the just war. On that account, the realist may counter that national interest is paramount: only if waging war on behalf of freedom is also complemented by the securing of economic or other military interests should a nation commit its troops. The issue of intention raises the concern of practicalities as well as consequences, both of which should be considered before declaring war.

“The next principle is that of reasonable success. This is another necessary condition for waging just war, but again is insufficient by itself. Given just cause and right intention, the just war theory asserts that there must be a reasonable probability of success. The principle of reasonable success is consequentialist in that the costs and benefits of a campaign must be calculated. However, the concept of weighing benefits poses moral as well as practical problems as evinced in the following questions:

“Should one not go to the aid of a people or declare war if there is no conceivable chance of success? Is it right to comply with aggression because the costs of not complying are too prohibitive? Would it be right to crush a weak enemy because it would be marginally costless? Is it not sometimes morally necessary to stand up to a bullying larger force, as the Finns did when Russia invaded in 1940, for the sake of national self-esteem or simple interests of defending land?

“Historically, many nations have overcome the probability of defeat: the fight may seem hopeless, but a charismatic leader or rousing speech can sometimes be enough to stir a people into fighting with all their will. Winston Churchill offered the British nation some of the finest of war's rhetoric when it was threatened with defeat and invasion by Nazi Germany in 1940. For example: ‘Let us therefore brace ourselves to do our duty, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Commonwealth and its Empire lasts for a thousand years, men will still say, 'This was their finest hour.’….And ‘What is our aim? Victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror; victory, however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival.’ (Speeches to Parliament, 1940). However, the thrust of the reasonable success principle emphasizes that human life and economic resources should not be wasted in what would obviously be an uneven match. For a nation threatened by invasion, other forms of retaliation or defense may be available, such as civil disobedience, or even forming alliances with other small nations to equalize the odds.

“The final guide of jus ad bellum is that the desired end should be proportional to the means used. This principle overlaps into the moral guidelines of how a war should be fought, namely the principles of jus In bello. With regards to just cause, a policy of war requires a goal, and that goal must be proportional to the other principles of just cause. Whilst this commonly entails the minimizing of war's destruction, it can also invoke general balance of power considerations.

“For example, if nation A invades a land belonging to the people of nation B, then B has just cause to take the land back. According to the principle of proportionality, B’s counter-attack must not invoke a disproportionate response: it should aim to retrieve its land and not exact further retribution or invade the aggressor’s lands, or in graphic terms it should not retaliate with overwhelming force or nuclear weaponry to resolve a small border dispute. That goal may be tempered with attaining assurances that no further invasion will take place, but for B to invade and annex regions of A is nominally a disproportionate response, unless (controversially) that is the only method for securing guarantees of no future reprisals. For B to invade and annex A, and then to continue to invade neutral neighboring nations on the grounds that their territory would provide a useful defense against other threats and a putative imbalance of power is even more unsustainable.

“On the whole, the principles offered by jus ad bellum are useful guidelines for reviewing the morality of going to war that are not tied to the intrinsicist’s absolutism or consequentialist’s open-endedness. Philosophically, however, they invoke a plethora of problems by either their independent vagueness or by mutually inconsistent results – a properly declared war may involve improper intention or disproportionate ambitions. But war is a complicated issue and the principles are nonetheless a useful starting point for ethical examination and they remain a guide for both statesmen and women and for those who judge political proceedings…”