Torture is Spiritual Depravity [QUOTE]

“Just as the persistence of torture is unnerving, so are the costs of torture incalculable. Torture corrupts. It corrupts everything and everyone it touches. It corrupts them profoundly and often irreversibly. There is a political level to this corruption, but the category of the political is not sufficient. Likewise, there is a moral level to it, but neither does the moral suffice to capture what is at stake. At its deepest level the corruption represented by torture is spiritual.

The category of the spiritual is descriptively required because, as many have observed, torture tends toward becoming an end in itself. That is the deepest horror. As if by some invisible yet inexorable force, torture seeks and creates domination for its own sake, even as it also seeks and creates cruelty for its own sake. It seeks and creates cruel dominion and wanton cruelty toward another in disregard of the other’s inherent dignity as a human being. …

When torture is conducted as an end in itself, and has therefore become demonic—when the purpose of power is power, and the purpose of cruelty is cruelty, when torture’s purpose is tyrannical subjugation and sadistic degradation—then the divinely given meaning of life is unspeakably distorted and destroyed. The relation of the torturer to the tortured, and of the tortured to the torturer, makes a travesty of the most basic relations given by heaven to earth. In so degrading the human being and human community, torture blasphemes against God, neighbor and self.”

–George Hunsinger

H/T Kait Dugan [Twitter/Facebook]


My concern with Obama’s NSA surveillance reforms

obama-flagIn case you haven’t heard, President Obama laid out new reforms on surveillance at the NSA today (more helpful coverage HERE and HERE). These were a direct response to the concerns raised by the leaks of Edward Snowden (can we please we start acknowledging that he has helped us more than hurt us now?).

The reforms are already getting mixed responses among privacy advocates, some praising it as a “major milestone” while other still think it to simply be “reconfigured unconstitutional program”. I am inclined to be mostly happy about these reforms (and this issue has been a big issue for me), but I just have a couple of concerns apart from the reforms themselves I wanted to throw out there. If I’m wrong on any of this, please let me know.
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Regarding Obama’s Surveillance Views

Listening to President Obama’s press conference today, as he outlined “reforms” to the intelligence-gathering if the N.S.A., I had this thought:

He’s missing that people aren’t simply worried that abuse might be happening in the N.S.A. programs. Rather, people think the programs themselves are the abuse. People want the programs changed and limited, not simply to be more awareness of them.

What do you all think?

Yes & Amen: NYT on Bradley Manning Sentence & Press Freedoms. [QUOTES]

obama-newspaperEverything about this New York Times editorial is absolutely right. We should praise the NYT Editorial Board for their brave and clear stance on this issue. The money quotes:

A Mixed Verdict on Manning

Lurking just behind a military court’s conviction of Pfc. Bradley Manning, on charges that included multiple violations of the Espionage Act, is a national-security apparatus that has metastasized into a vast and largely unchecked exercise of government secrecy, and the overzealous prosecution of those who breach it….

When he entered his guilty plea, Private Manning said he was trying to shed light on the “day-to-day reality” of American war efforts. He hoped the information “could spark a debate about foreign policy in relation to Iraq and Afghanistan.” These are not the words of a man intent on bringing down the government. To the contrary, Private Manning continues to express his devotion to his country, despite being held without trial for three years, nine months of which amounted to punitive and abusive solitary confinement.

Private Manning still faces the equivalent of several life sentences on the espionage counts regarding disclosure of classified information. The government should satisfy itself with a more moderate sentence and then do something about its addiction to secrecy.

Also be sure to read the NYT’s Public Editor’s piece on the decade-long government persecution of their own reporter, and how an appeals court recently decided that reporters do not have a First Amendment right to protect the sources.

A Blow for the Press, and for Democracy

The chilling ruling by the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit said that even though a journalist has promised confidentiality to a source, “there is no First Amendment testimonial privilege, absolute or qualified, that protects a reporter from being compelled to testify by the prosecution or the defense in criminal proceedings about criminal conduct that the reporter personally witnessed or participated in.” National security necessitates that those who illegally leak classified information be brought to justice, the court said. It added that it saw no clear legal justification for treating a reporter differently than any other citizen, and that “other than Sterling himself, Risen is the only witness who can identify Sterling as a source (or not) of the illegal leak.”….

The case has real-world consequences not only for journalists but for all Americans. It is part of a troubling trend that includes unprecedented numbers of criminal investigationsinvolving leaked information; the obtaining of reporters’ phone records; and even one government claim that a journalist “aided and abetted” a leak.

We’re living in strange times. And until we start speaking out and letting these issues actually affect how we vote, I fear nothing will change.

What do you think? Do you think things need to change? Why or why not? What do you think is the most effective right to producing change?

Fleeting: our Societal Anger; our National Substance

This week’s WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge theme is “Fleeting“. I’ll be posting a more meaningful “photo sermon” based on this theme later in the week, but I saw something last night I wanted to share.

This blog has not shied away from its concern over the civil liberties and privacy issues that have been exposed this week. I hope to post some more in-depth thoughts on these specific revelations later today or tomorrow. For this photo post, though, I ran across a couple of images that show just how fleeting any American societal anger, attention, or protest really is.

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a prayer for President Obama & America for Inauguration Day [Re-post]

[I posted this prayer after election day. I thought it would also be appropriate for today, as we pray for our President’s second term.]

Ruler and King of all, our nation is now entering into such a delicate time. Many emotions are being felt very deeply after this election. It was a hard-fought fight that many had much invested in. Would you be with us as the immediate emotional aftermath of the election occurs?

Lord, hear our prayer.

O God of peace, you do not desire that we would be filled with anxiety, frustration, or gloating after elections, as if our greatest joy or pain would be the result of this one vote. You have taught us that in returning and rest we shall be saved, in quietness and confidence shall be our strength: By the might of your Spirit lift us, we pray, into your presence, where we may be still and know that you are the God who is the sustaining Presence in all nations,

Lord, hear our prayer.

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Hope of the Earth: a political eschatology (we can all breathe) [REPOST]

In light of the election, I wanted to re-post this article from a couple of weeks ago. I hope it’s encouraging.

November 7th, we will wake up to front pages declaring with finality the results of the American Presidential Election. Most of us will see these headlines and have some sort of emotional reaction (especially those of us that stayed up as late as we could to know the results early).

Depression? Fear? Anger? Injustice? Sadness? Joy? Elation? Ecstasy? Worship? Peace?

I remember after the 2004 election when Bush beat Kerry. Going to a large, urban University dominated by idealistic and passionate liberal youth, the campus was in mourning for the rest of that week. People walked in silence, hugged one another, and I saw a good number of people crying as they resigned themselves to what they felt would be the end of every good thing they’d ever thought about this country.

This election cycle, I was certainly active–probably more so than ever before (especially on this blog, at least). I’m almost certain that I have been blocked from my fair share of Facebook feeds and removed from some feed readers in the past six months or so. I’ve been quite passionate on those few issues that have guided so much of my writing and reading.

But I haven’t lost a bit of sleep over any of that stuff. I’ve been able to enjoy good books and beers, and pipes and peers, without any discussion of politics or debates or elections.

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[image credit: Untitled piece by Arielle Passenti. Read my review of this piece.]

a prayer for President Obama & America

Ruler and King of all, our nation is now entering into such a delicate time. Many emotions are being felt very deeply after this election. It was a hard-fought fight that many had much invested in. Would you be with us as the immediate emotional aftermath of the election occurs?

Lord, hear our prayer.

O God of peace, you do not desire that we would be filled with anxiety, frustration, or gloating after elections, as if our greatest joy or pain would be the result of this one vote. You have taught us that in returning and rest we shall be saved, in quietness and confidence shall be our strength: By the might of your Spirit lift us, we pray, into your presence, where we may be still and know that you are the God who is the sustaining Presence in all nations,

Lord, hear our prayer.

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a prayer for election day

O Lord our truest Ruler and King, many words have been said these past months leading to this election day. Far too many of these words have been hurtful, fearful, divisive, angry, and anxious. Being able to see our nation’s policies so tangibly, it is far too easy to equate this nation with your Kingdom, and so act as if this election were of supreme eternal importance.

Lord, forgive us, we pray.

Bless the leaders of our land–those that have been and those that will be, after today–that we may be a people at peace among ourselves and a blessing to other nations of the earth. Let this be the conviction of every leader as they model for us, however imperfectly, political relations amongst both their fellow countrymen and citizens of the world.

Lord, keep this nation under your care.

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Why even being open to attacking Iran is stupid & counter-productive [QUOTE]

Iranian dissident Akbar Ganji, imprisoned for six years for writing articles accusing Iran of ordering political assassinations (from an interview quoted in All The Shah’s Men by Stephen Kinzer):

The Iranian state is certainly guilty of violating manv of its citizens’ basic rights…. But a military attack is not a just or effective response…. An attack would be calamitous for the innocent people of Iran and the region…. It would foster the growth of fundamentalism in the region [and] reignite the conviction that the Judeo-Christian West, led by the United States, is assaulting the world of Islam, from Afghanistan and Palestine to Iraq and Iran…. The current U.S. military threat has given the Iranian government a freer hand in repressing Iran’s budding civil society in the name of national security, and so eclipsed democratic discourse that some Iranian reformists see themselves caught between domestic despotism and foreign invasion. Political change in Iran is necessary, but it cannot be achieved by foreign intervention….

Most Iranians, I believe, share a broad outlook on American foreign policy…. They think that Iran is valued only for its vast energy resources and its role in regional politics, and that Iranian culture and economic development, and the peace, welfare and basic rights of Iranian citizens, are largely irrelevant to American policymakers….

Iranians will never forget the 1953 U.S.-supported coup that toppled the nationalist, moderate, democratic government of Dr. Mohammad Mossadegh and ushered in a closed, dictatorial political system. Iranian society lost one of its most important historical opportunities for the establishment of a democracy [because of these past U.S. interventions].

My 10 Realistic Foreign Policy Suggestions for the President

I said yesterday that I’m growing tired of my political arguing and whining. I realized that, in what I’ve been writing during this campaign, I’ve mostly been laying criticisms (which is easy) and not offering any real solutions (which is much harder). So as I wind down my political talk, in the interest of trying to helpful and productive, I tried to think of some realistic things that could be changed with our foreign policy.

A lot of times, people with my same criticisms and concerns can come across as pretty paranoid, conspiratorial, and anarchistic. I hope I haven’t. I’m still sleeping fine. These issues are the natural ebbs and flows that every powerful nation in history has gone through. We went through it with McCarthy and eventually corrected (mostly), but people pointing this stuff out and complaining about it is part of that corrective. I guess I’m just playing my part. Here’s hoping it does some good.

One more caveat. This list is meant to be as realistic as possible. My ideal list would be much more development-heavy, pacifistic, and non-interventionist. With that being said, here are my top 10 alternative realistic foreign policy solutions that the President could employ to put us on a healthier course:

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Thoughts on the final debate {#4} [GUEST POST]

Last night was the Presidential foreign policy debate. It was completely uneventful. Today, I was going to post my musings on the final debate of this Presidential election (as I have for Debates 1, 2, and 3) . But, I realized last night I’m tired of the politics. Believe it or not, I am. Prepare for my comments on this stuff to become fewer from now through election day.  I’ve pretty much said what I need to say. So, instead, I wanted to post the take-aways of a friend of mine, Nikita Hamilton, a Ph.D. student in Communications at USC’s Annenberg School. But first, I’ll only make three quick observations:

  • Iran does not pose an imminent, existential threat to either America or Israel (and Israel knows it). The sanctions, instead, are killing Iranians and making them more angry with the U.S. rather than spurring on some revolution there. The world’s saber-rattling only spurs on Iran’s nuclear protectionism. Of course they want a bomb! They are more at existential risk from others in the world than anyone is from them. Also, even if they got a nuclear weapon: what would they do with it? They know that the second it’s employed, they would be “wiped off the map”. It’s defensive. And we’ve created the environment where they feel like they need to be that way.
  • Romney’s final statement (which he repeated twice–no accident under pressure here) that “American is the hope of the earth”. Says more about the naiveté, hollowness, and failure of our nation’s foreign policy than anything the two of them have said in this entire campaign.
  • My roommate pointed out (and Wikipedia confirmed) that in high-end ties with diagonal stripes, you can tell where the tie was made based on the direction of the stripes. In the first, domestic policy debate, Romney wore an American-made tie. In this foreign policy debate, he wore a European tie (see picture above). That Romney may have actually put this much thought into this says a lot about him.

Okay, on to Nikita’s comments!
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Foreign Policy Debate: this is what Obama is doing around the world in our name

Here’s an article from Daily Mail about some legal challenges brought against American military officials for their drone activity in Pakistan. One key stat:

American Drone activities just in Pakistan have been confirmed to have killed 881 civilians, but only 41 terrorists.

Some things to notice about that statistic: (1) this is only from Pakistan. We’ve also been doing drone strikes in both Yemen and Afghanistan (and probably Libya here soon), with even more atrocious effects (especially in Yemen); (2) there were a few thousand total deaths, but these were the only absolutely beyond-a-shadow-of-a-doubt confirmed “statuses” of the victims–the number of civilians is probably still higher; and (3) these are only deaths due to drone strikes. In Iraq and elsewhere, many additional civilian deaths have come about through other means.

For all my “I’m going to vote for Obama because of social justice issues”. Take note: if you add these numbers to the other civilian death numbers in other countries, Obama’s policies have killed far more impoverished people around the world than he has helped here (and he got the Nobel Peace prize!).

This story came out two days ago, and I can’t find a single reference to this information in any other major American news outlet (a friend on Facebook said he heard something on NPR a couple of months ago, though I think he was referring to a different special report they had done). This is what makes our reputation in the world, this is what creates new terrorists–not “our freedoms”, and this is what will define our history–not tax law. And so, for all those criticizing me for voting third-party: yes, yes. Let’s try and change things through the existing political parties. We have plenty of time. I’m sure the rest of the world (including these victims’ families) will be fine with us waiting. (More debate-prep here)

In other news, unmanned aerial drones are now surveilling Americans around the country. How long before they’re armed? Yeah, we’ve got plenty of time to try and choose between two guys who both support this.

Can no politician do enough to lose your vote?

Dan Carlin Debate Prep: the only thing you need to listen to

Tonight is the last debate before the November election. The topic is foreign policy. I’ve said so many times before (especially in this series of posts), that foreign policy (and it’s domestic implications) is the most important issue to me in this election.

Now, people disagree with me on this, and I won’t pretend to have the historical perspective and political knowledge to be an authority everyone should listen to.

But, there is someone else I would trust as that authority: Dan Carlin.

Perhaps the biggest influence on my political thinking, Carlin’s political podcast (he also has an amazing history show) is the one I’ve been listening to for the longest time. He’s a total political junkie with so much historical perspective to offer to his commentary, it gives you great comfort to know there’s at least someone out there with his mind applied to these issues.


If you have a half-hour to spare, he has this podcast (also above), which he posted the day after the last debate. It contains some of his reactions to that debate, plus his thoughts on the foreign policy issues surrounding the next one, some imminent issues that would be easy for Romney to exploit (and yet he doesn’t), and the impact of these issues on our society today. It’s one of the best of his podcasts ever, and I want to share it with you all.

Really, honestly, it’s just 30ish minutes long. Please listen to it before watching tomorrow’s debate, and especially listen to it before voting. (If you’re absolutely short on time, the real meat begins at around 9:54. Have fun.)

[image credit: DonkeyHotey/flickr]

A Presidential Debate Debrief {#3}

Last night was the second debate in the 2012 Presidential Election. It was a Town Hall formet where the candidates walk around freely and take questions from audience members. Yesterday, I talked about what question I would ask if I was there, and I invited others to post there’s as well (incidentally, that post got picked to be highlighted on the front page of, and so there’s a lot of lively discussion to join over there, if you’re interested). Anyway, as I’ve done for each debate, here are some of my thoughts (here are my thoughts on the first Presidential Debate and the Vice-Presidential debate): Continue reading