Thursday, December 22, 2005

Impeach the Toad!

On February 12th 1999, The U.S. Senate voted on whether or not President Clinton should be impeached. The result of this vote is well known. What great 'crimes' was Clinton accused of? There were two Articles. Article One claimed that Clinton had "...willfully provided perjurious, false and misleading testimony to the grand jury" and that he had made "...corrupt efforts to influence the testimony of witnesses and to impede the discovery of evidence". Article Two alleged that Clinton "...has prevented, obstructed, and impeded the administration of justice".
for details)

All this played out on T.V. and in the papers to the delight of the Republican party. It also produced some classic moments, such as when Clinton remarked that the term 'is' could be subject to different interpretations. Oh how this made the talk radio show hosts howl! However, to a philosopher, Clinton's remark about 'is' actually showed some sophistication (those who are interested in the details should consult U.T. Place's classic paper "Is Consciousness a Brain Process?"). The semantics of 'is' notwithstanding, it is worth remembering what Clinton was accused of, when considering the situation with our current President, George W. Bush.

The recent admission that Bush approved spying upon U.S. citizens clearly '
obstructed, and impeded the administration of justice'. The 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), establishes a special court, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) which oversees all cases of domestic spying on U.S. citizens. By authorizing such spying without applying to the court, the administration is in clear violation of this Act. Claims that this mechanism is not rapid enough to track terrrorists is manifestly bogus. The court can give approval retrospectively for up to 72 hours. By failing to bring these cases to the FISC, the administration manifestly both 'obstructed impeded the administration of justice'. In fact, Bush has admitted as much himself. On April 20th, 2004, in a speach made in Buffalo, New YorkBush himself said, "Any time you hear the United States government talking about wiretap, it requires - a wiretap requires a court order." So, had it been Bush on trial, back in 1999, rather than Clinton, he should have been found guilty under Article Two, apparently by his own admission. There should not be double standards. As such, Bush should be also be subject to impeachment proceedings now. Assuming that partizan politics, bribes and the other usual tricks of politics do not get in the way of justice, then Bush should also be found guilty! This is clear.

However, it turns out that Article One of the Clinton proceedings would also be problematic for Bush. All the pre-war talk about Weapons of Mass Destruction clearly mislead the Senate, Congress and the entire country. This is surely much more serious than merely misleading a grand jury. It does not take too much imagination to see that Bush should be at the very least subject to impeachment hearings for this too. Of course, given the huge numbers of casualties on both the U.S. and Iraqi sides, there may also be grounds for criminal trials for wreckless endangerment of human lives. Indeed, if people were to think seriously and sensibly about International law, the Geneva convention and the likes, it would be justice to see Bush, Cheney and their associated cronies prosecuted for war crimes (remember all that torture) and crimes against humanity. If we added in the criminal negligence shown by the administration in the face of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, they could keep the court systems busy for many years. This is perhaps too much. I would be happy just to see Bush impeached. It would be, at the minimum, a form of justice comparable to that meeted out on Clinton.

Of course, the Republican party believes that there is one law for them (whatever they can get away with) and another law for all others. However, maybe there are a few brave lawyers, judges and legislators who will call these crooks to account for at least part of their legal 'legacy'.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Spies are U.S.

So, the big buzz over the last couple of days is that the President has been authorising the NSA to intercept telephone conversations and e-mails of U.S. citizens. Many commentators believe that such actions are illegal, without court approval. The Bushies though want people to reassured by their claims that such activities are, in fact legal. On the news, Dick Cheney attempted to reassure people by claiming that these intercepts only occurred when people were communicating with 'known' al Quaida members. The word 'know' seems to function in an odd way in Washington these days.

People will probably recall all the times the public and Congress were assured by the administration about what they 'knew' about WMDs (Weapons of Mass Destruction) in Iraq. This 'knowledge' was the putative justification offered for what has clearly become a futile, immoral and probably illegal war. Bush and his cronies also have claimed in the past that they 'knew' that there were connections between the Iraqi regime and al Quaida. In both these latter cases, it seems that knowledge claims have been venues for the propagation of utter fiction. Given these facts, what sort of solace should the U.S. population take from Cheney's claims? I would say very little.

There is another aspect of Cheney's claim that also gives cause for pause. If the spooks allegedly 'know' the phone numbers of these alleged terrorists, how come they cannot catch them? Would it not make more sense from a security perspective to detain the terrorists, rather than monitor who they talk to? I guess not being part of the Washington elite, we shall never 'know' the reason why the administration chooses to behave the way that it does.

A further reason to doubt White House knowledge claims is that in recent months, they did not seem to 'know' what the rest of the country knew, simply by watching the news. It seems that CNN and the Weather Channel did not reach into the White House, whilst Southern Louisiana was drowning. This provides yet more reason to doubt the claims that have been made by Washington.

This though raises a philosophically interesting question. After all, epistemology is a branch of philosophy which exclusively deals with knowledge and knowledge claims. What philosophical position are Bush and his cronies adopting to underwrite their positions? There have been a couple of clues recently in the addresses the President has made to the nation. According to the President's statements, everything is going just swimmingly in Iraq. We are going to win (even though he claimed a couple of years ago that we had already won). We just have to 'stay the course', etc. etc. I guess the news about the over 1,000 US dead soldiers and the tens or hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqis, the suicide bombers, etc. got blocked from the White House, like the Weather Channel. However, this provides big evidence about the White House's view on epistemology. Apparently, if the President says something is the case, then both he and we can 'know' that it is the case. This view, which might be called epistemological nominalism, is an unusual one. Where I come from, in less pretentious language, we call it 'a lie'.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

The State of Louisiana: Other places, local shelters

The year 2005 has been a rough one on the State of Louisiana. Hurricanes Katrina and Rita had alot to do with it, of course. Although there is still various bits of coverage in the National media, many important parts of the stories involved have been overlooked. One of my goals here is to try and fill in some of the missing pieces. Whilst the big media stories have largely focussed on New Orleans, there are many other parishes that have been badly effected by the storms, the evacuees and the resultant fall out. Consider the Parishes of Vermilion and Cameron. In these places, entire communities have been obliterated. The land has been poisoned by the salt water from the storm serge. Only last week did people begin to get trailers to live in from FEMA. This is not big news, like the 9th ward, but these are real people, trying to maintain real lives. They deserve our support too.

On the topic of support, a few words are in order. In the community in which I live a large sports arena was opened up for evacuees from the storms. Appeals were put out by the local media for people to go a volunteer. I called the United Way and signed up. When I showed up for my shift, the United Way were nowhere to be found. No problem. I filled out a Red Cross form and got to work. The next day, things ran the same way. Then things began to change. First off, the place was surrounded by cops and soldiers. This wasn't too inviting. As I went in, I had to go through a metal detector for the first time. Not too bad, I thought. Perhaps a sensible precaution, if a bit officious. Unfortunately, in my pocket, I had a small screw driver. This was there because I had been working with computers on previous occasions and you need a phillips screw driver to change out circuit boards. The cop wouldn't let me take it in, on the grounds that it was a 'shank'. When I went to collect it on the way out, it was missing -- way to go forces of law and order!

The time after this I went to volunteer after the metal detector, I wasn't allowed in until I got an official ID. So, I spent 2 hours in a line to get my photo taken. Wow, what a great use of my time. Thank you Red Cross. Whilst I was waiting in the line, there was a physician ahead of me. They were wearing two different hospital IDs, but the Red Cross still said they had to have another one. During the wait, another medical type spotted the physician and asked her to help with some emergencies. I promised to hold her place in the line. When she went though, she was warned to just run if she saw any National guard troops, as they would check for IDs. I know many people who regularly volunteered at first, but quit due to the huge wait times to get picture IDs that the Red Cross said were mandatory for all. I'm afraid that I am now against the Red Cross. They stopped alot of good work getting done by willing people, due to their officious nature. The United Way just appeared disorganised. The only people who seem to be getting anything useful done was the Salvation Army.

A Blog Begins

So, this is a first attempt at blogging. If you have just found this and are reading for the first time, then here are the kinds of issues and topics that you can expect to find covered here:

- Politics (National)
- Politics (Louisiana)
- Irresponsible actions by large corporations
- Strategies for dealing with bad companies and organisations
- Reasoning (especially public examples of bad reasoning)
- Cognitive Science
- Technology (especially computers/open source stuff)
- Philosophy
- Creationism/Intelligent design (why these are dumb)
- Religion (Why this is worse than Crack-cocaine)
- Anything else that comes to mind.

So, the next obvious question is 'Who the hell is this 'Combat Philosopher'? I don't want to give away too much, at least not to begin with. However, I am employed professionally as a philosopher. I have an extensive post-graduate education. So, I know (or at least should know) what I am talking about! ;)

So now you know this much, come back soon and see whether I live up to my promises...
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