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Congressman Rangel Seeks To Reinstate The Military Draft If War Against Islamic State Is Approved By Congress

This week, the U.S. Congress ought to be voting on whether to authorize Barack Obama’s new war against the Islamic State. However, members of the U.S. House and Senate are in a rush to leave Washington D.C., so that they can gather money for their re-election campaigns, so no such vote will take place. What has taken place is a vote in the House of Representatives on legislation authorizing Barack Obama to send weapons into Syria, to rebels who are fighting against both the dictatorial government and the Islamic State. Both houses of Congress seem content to allow President Obama to continue his unconstitutional war in Iraq and Syria.

Charles Rangel voted against the legislation to send weapons to rebels in Syria, but he wanted to do more. Rangel sought to attach an amendment to the legislation, which would do two things:

1. Require the new war to be paid for with a special war tax
2. Reinstate the military draft, so that a wide range of young Americans will be placed in harm’s way during the course of the war.

“We already lost 6,800 American lives in this war, and it is very difficult to explain to their families and friends at funerals what the cause was or whether we won or lost,” Rangel said yesterday. “The question should be once we make a determination that there is a threat to our national security, we should have the mandatory Selective Service Act reinstated. We already have it on the books. We should activate it to make certain that if you are voting to put more men and women’s lives into jeopardy, make certain it is universal men and women would be selected to make certain that they provide for a national service of some sort.”

The leadership of the U.S. House of Representatives did not give Congressman Rangel the opportunity to introduce his amendment.

The House voted to approve the legislation to send weapons to rebel groups in Syria. Most members of both political parties voted in favor of the weapons bill. Nearly equal numbers of Republicans (53) and Democrats (55) dissented.

Big Money Corrodes Absolutely: Mayday Super PAC devolves into spinning self-protection

From its inception, the Mayday PAC run by Americans Elect alumni Lawrence Lessig, Kahlil Byrd and Mark McKinnon has run on a tank of political fuel emblazoned with the words JUST TRUST US.

So the Mayday PAC was led by a group of people who deceived followers in a previous political effort. So what? Just trust us, said the leaders of the Mayday PAC.

So the Mayday PAC planned to stop the corrosive effect of big money in political campaigns by… yes, raising and spending big money in political campaigns. So what? Just trust us, said the leaders of the Mayday PAC. Or, as they put it in their promotional literature, “Embrace the irony.”

So the Mayday PAC actually ended up sending loads of money to a group whose leaders actually oppose campaign finance reform and who appear to have spent the money to promote causes unrelated to campaign finance reform. So what? Just trust us, say the leaders of the Mayday PAC. All is well behind the curtain…

… but not all is well behind the curtain. Last week, blogger DocDawg found and disclosed an ongoing chat between staffers of the Mayday PAC as they split time between:

  • trying to figure out how to hide or “spin” the news that the Mayday PAC hadn’t attracted the big-donor contributions it told its followers it would have,
  • trying to figure out how to reconcile the contradiction of supporting a candidate who said he took no PAC money who actually did take PAC money, and
  • giving DocDawg a hard time for criticizing the group.

In its rhetoric, the Mayday PAC asserts that it is different from all the other Super PACs because you can Just Trust its leaders, who are good and honest and well-meaning and principled and pure enough to avoid the taint of money. But in its actions and behind-the-scenes deliberations, the Mayday PAC is taking the journey traveled by just about every other Super PAC out there:

  • starting out with an idea to promote,
  • making the decision to take others’ money to do it,
  • making deals with other groups to accomplish immediate tasks in ways that contradict the super PAC’s initial ideals,
  • finding itself the target of criticism,
  • spinning the truth, and
  • turning to defense of the group itself as an increasingly important activity.

Just as no Super PAC begins as an invention of the Hall of Pure Evil, so there are no moneyed groups that are so Purely Good that they can be trusted to wield immense political power responsibly on the basis of that Pure Goodness, on the basis of faith in the line “Just Trust Us.” Give me enough money on the basis of trust alone and I’d probably make the same mistakes. Let’s stop shoveling huge loads of cash to new group after new group, relying on trust and personal purity as we hope that this time, the latest group will deliver us from the schemes of the group before. A movement to reform corrupt power must avoid corrupting tools. The people we must be protected from include ourselves.

Did Obama Really Say There Would Be No Boots On the Ground?

What’s the easiest way to get American soldiers to Iraq?

Lie to the American people.

That’s what happened the last time American soldiers were sent to fight in a war in Iraq. George W. Bush and Dick Cheney wanted a war, so they told the American people that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. It was a bald faced lie, and it worked.

What about this time around?

Well, this time around, the American people are being led to believe that now that “we are at war with” the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq (without the constitutionally required congressional declaration of war), American soldiers won’t be sent back to Iraq. The idea has been that there will be no “boots on the ground”.

iraq orange cratersRepublican U.S. Representative Matt Salmon recently blasted the dishonesty of this assertion. “Why don’t we be straight with the American people? There are already boots on the ground. You might not want to call it boots on the ground. But, the people that are there, the over 1,000 that are already there right now, their families consider them to be boots on the ground,” he said.

Exposing the lie even further, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told Congress yesterday that American soldiers in ground combat against soldiers of the Islamic State could easily become part of the new U.S. War. Dempsey explained to members of Congress that he “would go back to the president and make a recommendation that may include the use of ground forces,” if he believed it to be the best military strategy.

This statement from Dempsey has been depicted as a reversal of policy from the Obama Administration, but is it? When Barack Obama gave a speech announcing that the United States is now at war against the Islamic State, he said that “the best way to defeat a group like ISIL isn’t by sending large numbers of American combat forces to wage a ground war”. That statement makes it sound as if Obama is ruling out sending American soldiers into ground combat in Iraq and Syria, but that’s not precisely what it says. Obama’s words only argue against “large numbers” of American soldiers fighting on the ground, and they only state that a massive American ground army in the Middle East isn’t the best strategy, rather than promising that such an army won’t end up going to Iraq.

In fact, in Obama’s speech, he admitted that he has already approved sending more American soldiers to be on the ground in Iraq. Obama described their mission in a limited way, that they “will help Iraqi and Kurdish forces with the training, intelligence and equipment they need to take the fight to these terrorists on the ground”, but never in his speech did he promise that American soldiers wouldn’t join in fights on the ground.

This wasn’t an accident. Speeches by the President of the United States are reviewed word by word to make sure that the President says exactly what he intends to say – nothing more, and nothing less. It seems that Barack Obama’s strategy is to triangulate, appearing to Americans to be proposing only a bombing campaign while allowing himself room for another American ground invasion.

It’s telling, and troubling, that Obama chose to end a speech titled We Will Degrade and Destroy ISIL with the observation that the new war in Iraq is starting “thirteen years after our country was attacked”, as if there is a connection between Iraq, the Islamic State and the attacks of September 11, 2001. We went through this kind of misdirection with the last Iraq war as well. There is no connection between the Islamic State and the attacks of September 11, 2001. The Islamic State didn’t even exist in 2001.

Barack Obama, the politician who won the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination instead of Hillary Clinton because he had opposed war in Iraq and promised to end it, is now bringing the United States into an entirely new war in Iraq, and doing it in a style that George W. Bush would have approved of. Democrats ought to be outraged that their own political party’s leader is engaged in these kinds of slippery maneuvers, but so far, voices of Democratic dissent are few and far between.

School Me In Scottish independence

In a little bit more than a day from now, Scotland will vote about whether to become a country independent from the United Kingdom. I have no earthly clue why this matters.

I am an American completely unschooled in the injustices between the British nations.

What is there, besides independence itself, that the Scots wish to achieve? What do they suggest will happen if Scotland becomes independent? Will the people there stop being Scottish and become nearly Scots?

Teach me Seamus, the ways of Highland justice. Tell me why your independence matters.

Sex Gap in Pay Narrows to Smallest Extent in U.S. History

In the face of a mantra of “only get worse“, “only get worse,” “only get worse,” “only get worse,” I offer this instance of bad matters getting better. The U.S. Census Bureau has just released information on the gap in median pay between men and women working full-time year-round in the United States:

Sex Gap in Pay in 2013 narrowed to 78.3%

Median pay for men and women is by no means equal, but 2013 saw movement in a positive direction. Among those working full-time year-round, women earned 78.3% of what men earned. This is the smallest pay gap between men and women in U.S. history.

The reasons for the sex gap in pay are many: differences in experience, employer, occupation, educational major, and discrimination are among these. I do not mean to conclude that the situation today is perfect — only that in this respect the situation is getting better.

Against a backdrop of troubling news, it is helpful to remember that things can get better. Hope is not an unreasonable affliction.

Louie Gohmert Makes Sense Again!

Back in May, U.S. Representative Louie Gohmert, who is generally known as one of the most incoherent, ideologically extremist right wingers in the U.S. House of Representatives, swerved into the territory of the sane, and actually made sense when he expressed concern that the supposed reform of federal government surveillance activities contained loopholes that would allow continued electronic dragnet spying against American citizens.

louie gohmertYesterday, Louie did it again, at least for a the better part of a minute. Giving a floor speech on the Obama Administration policy of declaring war against the Islamic State without constitutionally-required congressional authority, Gohmert made some idiotic comments, such as equating the leaders of Iran with Adolph Hitler. But then, Gohmert spent a short bit of time discussing a truly important concern: Obama’s plan to send weapons into Syria.

Gohmert noted that there is a history of the Islamic State taking weapons that were donated to opponents of the Islamic State by the US government. The seizure of these weapons makes small Islamic State victories into significant strategic gains. The Islamic State is using weapons that were sent into Syria by the CIA, as well as weapons that were sent to Iraq, supposedly to keep the country secure and stable.

Gohmert makes an excellent point when he implies that sending weapons to an unstable, war-torn region won’t bring violence to an end, and may actually make matters worse. It’s outrageous that it takes a regressive Texas Republican to introduce this idea into public debate, while supposedly anti-gun liberals are busy supporting Barack Obama’s NRA-style contention that flooding an area with weapons will help to bring lasting peace.

Gohmert is a poor spokesman for peace, but very few of the supposedly level-headed Democrats are willing to criticize their own political party’s President, even when he leads American into yet another Yeehaw foreign policy.

If The USA Can’t Ban Guns, Why Ban Body Armor?

In spite of all the predictions by Republican activists that Barack Obama would snatch away their guns, nothing of the sort has happened. Six years into the Obama presidency, and there are still guns all over the United States, and no significant gun ban in sight. We can’t prohibit guns in the USA, because of the Second Amendment to the Constitution.

advanced body armorThe Second Amendment promises the right to bear arms, but it doesn’t say anything about the right to carry objects of genuine self-protection. So, there’s no reason that legislation introduced this summer by Congressman Mike Honda could not pass into law.

H.R. 5344, the Responsible Body Armor Possession Act, would prohibit Americans from possessing advanced body armor, defined as follows:

The term `enhanced body armor’ means body armor, including a helmet or shield, the ballistic resistance of which meets or exceeds
the ballistic performance of Type III armor, determined using National Institute of Justice Standard-0101.06.”.
(c) Penalties.–Section 924(a) of such title is amended by adding at the end the following:
“(8) Whoever knowingly violates section 932 shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than 10 years, or both.

It’s a bipartisan bill, with primary sponsorship from right wing Republican Mike Kelly as well as Democrats Bill Pascrell and Alcee Hastings.

The idea behind the bill is fairly easy to understand. If someone wanted to hurt many people, and picked up a gun to start shooting people while wearing advanced, bullet-proof body armor, it would be very difficult to stop that person’s attacks.

However, I’m concerned about the priorities of a country that allows its citizens to stockpile weapons designed to kill large numbers of people in short lengths of time, but makes it a crime punishable by up to 10 years in prison simply to possess armor designed to protect against attacks from those weapons. Besides, if the justification for the Responsible Body Armor Possession Act is that advanced body armor could be used in deadly attacks, doesn’t that actually mean that advanced body armor is a kind of weapon, and thus protected property under the Second Amendment?

Although most of the sponsors of this bill are Democrats, its reasoning is based upon that of the National Rifle Association: That our safety is dependent upon our ability to shoot people with guns. As advanced military technology enters our society, the most effective methods for dealing with it are going to have to be social, rather than technological. We need to develop a culture of nonviolence, rather than a dependence upon violence as a source of security.

Echinocystis Erupts

A week ago, I wrote about my discovery of the native plant Echinocystis lobata, the wild cucumber. This morning, the specimen I collected shared with me a little surprise. Though I had severed the fruit from the vine, it remained alive, developing as it ordinarily would, given that this time do year, vines in the squash family die back anyway.

The spiny little gourd split open, but not just in a random kind of rupture. Its skin peeled back from the end opposite its attachment to the vine. This is the end that would be pointing down if the fruit was still hanging where it had grown. Inside the fruit, two chambers were revealed, each with a ripe seed, ready to drop out and hit the ground. It’s a kind of bomb bay doors method of seed dispersal that I have never seen before.

Echinocystis lobata seed dispersal

President Obama Declares War Without Consent Of Congress

“We are at war with ISIL.”

This declaration was made at the end of last week by the top spokesman for President Barack Obama, Press Secretary Josh Earnest, and was repeated by Pentagon spokesman John Kirby.

They are powerful people, who speak for the President of the United States, but who are they to declare that the United States is at war?

iraq smudge war 2014They aren’t the U.S. Congress. Under the Constitution of the United States of America, Article 1, Section 8, it is Congress, not the President, not the Press Secretary, and not a military spokesman, that has the legal right to declare that the United States is at war. “The Congress shall have Power… To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water;

To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years;

To provide and maintain a Navy;

To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces;

To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions;

To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress.

There is no declaration of war specifying the Islamic State, formerly known as ISIS or ISIL, as an enemy of the United States. On July 25 of this year, the U.S. House of Representatives passed House Concurrent Resolution 105, which “Prohibits the President from deploying or maintaining U.S. Armed Forces in a sustained combat role in Iraq without specific statutory authorization enacted after the adoption of this concurrent resolution”, or would, if it was also passed by the U.S. Senate. It was not, and so H. Con. Res 105 has no legal authority on its own. However, it adds significant weight to the argument that Congress may not be in support of a new war in Iraq, and reminds us that it is not within the power of the White House to decide who it will wage war against in the name of the entire nation.

On Thursday, U.S. Representatives Raul Grijalva, Keith Ellison, and Barbara Lee introduced House Concurrent Resolution 114, which urges Congress to hold a vote on whether there shall be war against the Islamic State, rather than simply allowing Barack Obama to unconstitutionally seize the power to declare war for himself. H. Con. Res. 114 reads:

“Whereas Congress has a constitutional duty, enshrined in article I, section 8, clause 11 of the United States Constitution, to debate and examine the significant consequences of another multi-year United States military
intervention in the Middle East;

Whereas the War Powers Resolution provides that 60 days after the President informs Congress that he has introduced Armed Forces into an overseas theater, the President “shall terminate any use of United States Armed Forces” unless Congress has authorized such use of the Armed Forces;

Whereas the United States military has engaged in over 100 airstrikes in Iraq since August 8, 2014;

Whereas currently there are over 1,000 United States military personnel deployed in Iraq;

Whereas the United States military has flown surveillance sorties over Syria to collect information on the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS);

Whereas the Obama administration has stated that the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 2002 (Public Law 107-243) is obsolete and has supported its repeal;

Whereas the Authorization for Use of Military Force (Public Law 107-40) should not apply to ISIS because ISIS has no operational connection to al Qaeda or the Taliban and is not currently considered an “associated force” of al Qaeda;

Whereas any new authorization for the use of military force should be narrowly tailored and limited;

Whereas ISIS is a violent extremist organization that has terrorized and committed unconscionable atrocities against religious and ethnic minority communities in the course of attempting to create a de-facto state within the borders of Iraq and Syria;

Whereas the threat posed by ISIS requires a robust response from a broad international coalition, with regional partners playing prominent and leading roles;

Whereas Congress should support a comprehensive strategy for defeating ISIS that cuts off access to ISIS supplies and financial resources and isolates extremist elements by addressing the legitimate political grievances and aspirations of local religious and ethnic communities in Iraq and Syria;

Whereas this issue should be immediately referred to and debated by the United Nations Security Council;

Whereas the House of Representatives passed House Concurrent Resolution 105 on July 25, 2014, by a vote of 370-40; and

Whereas House Concurrent Resolution 105 expressed the sense of Congress that the President shall not deploy or maintain United States Armed Forces in a sustained combat role in Iraq without statutory authorization: Now, therefore, be itResolved by the House of Representatives (the Senate concurring), That Congress–
(1) should debate and vote on a statutory authorization for
any sustained United States combat role in Iraq or Syria;
(2) does not support the deployment of ground combat troops
in Iraq or Syria;
(3) should ensure that any such statutory authorization is
narrowly tailored and limited; and
(4) should ensure that any statutory authorization includes
robust reporting requirements.”

Conformity and Obedience are Not the Only Options

Conservative religious radio show host Michael L. Brown imagines a battle between two sides and declares his allegiance:

Michael L. Brown declares I would rather stand with God and be judged by the world than stand with the world and be judged by God.  Are these the only two options?

Brown asserts that a person must choose between obedience to a real or imagined authority and conformity to the ways of the majority. But are those really the only ethical options available? I don’t think so. If we’re going to put our philosophies on computer-generated post-it notes, here’s my contribution:

Post-it note response: I would rather think for myself and neither conform to a crowd nor bow to authority

Don’t bow. Don’t shuffle along. Stand and think.

The Created Creator And The Illusion Of Our Battles

I’m an atheist. I don’t believe in the reality of gods, literally or metaphorically. Nonetheless, I find religions interesting in the way that they play with ideas, and am interested exploring the ideas that the gods proposed by religious groups represent.

My starting point in these explorations is the understanding that not all gods are the same. There are many people, especially in liberal religious groups, who assert that really, all religions are trying to teach the same thing, and all gods are really just manifestations of the same one God that they happen to believe in.

Unitarian Universalists are well known for making this sort of assertion, with sermons about how all human beings are living in one single church, basking in the same warm light from the same beloved God, and that the differences we see come from the fact that we happen to be looking at different stained glass windows. Such an opinion may seem natural to those who have never stepped foot out of a church, but to anyone who has studied late at night under the glow of a library’s lamplight, or stepped out after sunset to look up at the sky, or gaze at fireflies, the notion is absurd. There are countless different sources of light in the universe. Likewise, the human imagination is able to come up with many metaphorical supernatural characters. These metaphorical divinities only can be regarded as representing the same thing if they are reduced to insipid generalities.

Some Hindus like to perform the same maneuver that Unitarian Universalists make, saying that all the different gods are really just incarnations of a single transcendent god, saying, “One Atman is worshipped in many names.” Try telling Christians that Jesus is merely a manifestation of the Hindus’ transcendent cosmic soul, and most won’t be very happy about it. Even the Hindu texts, and their sects, argue about which god is transcendent.

If you want to see the metaphorical distinction between divinities can be, compare the origin tale told in the Satapatha Brahmana to the concepts of Christianity.

prajapati golden eggIn the beginning this universe was water, nothing but a sea of water. The waters desired, ‘How can we be reproduced?’ They toiled and performed fervid devotions. When they became heated, a golden egg was produced. In a year, a man, Prajapati, was produced from the egg…

Prajapati had a life span of a thousand years… Wanting children, he worked and sang, and gave himself the power of reproduction, and made the devas, who entered the sky and made daylight.

Prajapati then made the asuras, who entered the earth, and made darkness.

Prajapati knew that he had created darkness for himself when he made the asuras, by making darkness, and struck the asuras with darkness, and they were overcome…

Therefore, the wise rishis say, “You have never fought for a single day, and you have not one single enemy, and all your battles are illusions.”

In reading this tale, many Westerners have simply placed their familiar religious words in the place of the Hindu terms. So, they say that Prajapati is God, and the devas are gods, and asuras are demons.

However, even in making this simple translation, equivalence turns into incoherence. If Prajapati is simply God, then what does it mean for God to make gods? The Bible doesn’t say anything about that. Furthermore, Prajapati is a mortal, with a long life compared to ours, but with a short life span in comparison to that of the universe. Christians don’t believe that their God can die. In this story, multiple divine beings were created by a mortal man, who hatched out of an egg, which was made by waters. To say that this story is really just the same as the creation myth of the Book of Genesis is only possible if one obliterates the significant elements of both stories.

The moral vision of this tale from the Satapatha Brahmana is also vastly different from the morality that emerges from Christianity. The Satapatha Brahmana suggests that when the creator Prajapati created dark beings, he created darkness within himself, and so by striking out against that darkness, he was fighting against himself, and that all battles we have are likewise against ourselves.

Inspired by these lines from the Shatapata Brahmana, I think of the freshest demonology of our our day: That of the Islamic State army over in Syria and Iraq.

Fighters of the Islamic State undoubtedly do cruel things, and broadcast images of those cruel things to show themselves as cruel.

Have our own fighters, however, not also done cruel things? Have they not tortured Iraqis, and killed them? Have Americans forgotten Abu Ghraib? Have we forgotten that 60 percent of the people who died in the Iraq War started by the American invasion were civilians?

Well, of course we’ve forgotten. Barack Obama has ordered photographs of torture by American soldiers to be hidden from the American people. One difference between our army and the army of the Islamic State is that our army tries to keep its atrocities secret.

I don’t deny the darkness of the Islamic State. However, I am troubled that, as the United States enters into yet another war in Iraq, once again without any specific plan or exit strategy, Americans are avoiding any consideration of their own involvement in the creation of the darkness against which they now seek to strike out.