Thursday, September 30, 2004

The energy of "anybody but X"

As previously pointed out elsewhere in my blog I am planning to vote for Kerry, against Bush.

I'll also point out that I work for Sun, in the group that makes Java. I joined Javasoft, as it was known then, because I was (and am) in the anybody-but-Microsoft camp, and Javasoft seemed to be the place to go for anybody-but-microsoft work.

Here's a piece of truth that governs what happens when you choose "anybody but X". There's a lot of anybodies out there who can be not-X, and you haven't done anything to specify what you want to replace X, you'll be satisfied with anything that is not X.

This begs a question: How can you know whether !X is any better than X was?

The !X anybody that shows up could, well, be anybody, right?

It's a lot better to be positive about your preferences. Instead of "not-Microsoft" you might want a reliable system, that doesn't crash, that doesn't have the virus-of-the-week problem, that is designed with security in mind, that is easy to use, that works, that has sufficient software availability, that follows open standards, that does what work you want to accomplish, that you can afford, etc.

Shoot, even though I tried a couple !X's snuck in, do you see them?

Anyway, with a list of positive requirements like that you've got a better chance of being satisfied than if you just say "!X" and pick the closest available !X.

Just a little thought for you on the eve of the first of the Presidential Debates. Happy voting!

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Why Bush must lose, and therefore Kerry must win

We're in the final push for the 2004 U.S. national elections. It's close, as have the last few elections.

Here's my case for the candidacy I prefer. Namely, Kerry/Edwards.

The first part of the artument is Kerry as the anti-Bush. The Bush administration has been so abysmally bad, as reflected by the low approval ratings, that I think another four years of this administration would be dreadful. What was wrong?

  1. The tax cuts: At the time they first proposed the tax cuts, the .COM had been crumbling for over a year. Yet they pointed at record surplus's, said "hey everybody, that's your money", ignoring that the surpluses were evaporated with the crumbled economic situation. The tax cuts then obviously decreased government income. But the "that's your money" argument is way off base because of the huge size of the national debt, the size of which his father had a lot to do with. The huge size of the national debt represents a huge interest cost, over $300 billion per year, that directly diminishes what the government can do with "your money". That yearly interest cost means that a huge chunk of "your money" that's taxed and sent to Washington is siphoned over to paying the interest on the national debt.
  2. The fake-out energy policy that just enriches the already entrenched oil companies: This war in Iraq is about oil, no matter the protestations of the Bush administration. In 2001 they released a National Energy Policy, and as we now know it was put together by Cheney in closed meetings with the Oil Industry. Most of the policy went over, in glowing terms and snazzy graphics, new drilling techniques and whatnot that the Oil Industry can use to improve their processes. It spent scant attention on alternative resources such as solar or wind power. To continue America's dependance on Oil means continuing our reliance on the Middle East, and there are a ton of already proven technologies with which we can make energy today without spending a drop of oil.
  3. Ignoring Terrorism until Terrorism bit us in the butt: We know from Richard Clarke's book that the Bush administration ignored warnings that Al Qaeda was a dangerous foe. The Clinton administration knew this, but in the changover to the Bushies this was lost. And, we know the results.
  4. Fighting a wimpy-ass campaign in Afghanistan: Fighters based in Afghanistan, known as Al Qaeda, were responsible for the September 11, 2001 attack. Iraq was not. Iraq and Al Qaeda hated each other, and we know that the Intelligence community was largely saying there was no connection between Iraq and Al Qaeda. Yet, the invasion of Afghanistan, for which there was broad international support and would have gone against the direct transgressors, was underfunded, undermanned, and did not achieve the obvious objective. Instead the culprits got away and have been performing much other nasty events since.
  5. Instead of doing a good job in Afghanistan, detouring us into the disaster in Iraq Again, the culprits were in Afghanistan. It was clear to me in August 2003 that the proof laid before the world to justify the invasion of Iraq were totally false. The results of invading Iraq have been horrendous, from U.S. soldiers abusing and torturing Iraqi prisoners to widespread slaughter end even more suffering laid at the doorsteps of Iraq.
  6. Lying repeatedly about the reasons to invade Iraq: In the fall of 2002 and spring of 2003 the case for war against Iraq was laid by the Bush administration. The crucial moment was the dramatic U.N. security council meeting with Colin Powell "proving" that Iraq was a present and clear danger. At the same time growing international, and domestic, opposition was raised. Unlike the invasion of Afghanistan where the U.S. had clear provocation, cause, justifiable reason, and broad international support, the "Coalition of the Willing" has been a joke. As I heard a comedian say recently, in 2000 when Bush was running for office he claimed to be a Uniter not a Divider, so did he really mean that he would unite the world in opposition to the U.S.?
  7. Destroying America's credibility abroad: Making such blatant lies to justify war in Iraq did nothing but extinguish the credibility America has in the world. Well, what was left of it anyway. America has stood for reasonable and just action for decades, yet this invasion of Iraq was anything but that.
  8. Putting in more and more tax cuts, while piling expenses higher and higher: Increasing the national debt does nothing but decrease the financial stability of the U.S.
  9. Launching an illegal war of agression: Kofi Annan, the U.N. secretary general, recently claimed that the war in Iraq was illegal.

If I were to vote anti-Bush just because I'm bitter at the Bush administration, it would be sheer folly. If you're against one thing or person (in this case, GW Bush), well, there's a whole lotta people who aren't GW Bush. If you remove Bush from the equation, and not stated what you want to be the replacement, then literally anything can fill the hole.

In the current political system the U.S. has we boil down to two choices. That's because we don't have proportional representation, instead the elections in the U.S. are winner-take-all. Over the 200+ years we've existed as a nation, winner-take-all has translated into there being two national parties.

In effect that means that to toss Bush out of office I have to vote for Kerry. Maybe I don't want to vote for Kerry, and actually Wesley Clarke was more my cup of tea anyway. But, still, I am set on getting Bush out of office. So what do I really want as his replacement, and is Kerry an acceptible substitute?

The first mark against Kerry is that he voted (as a Senator) to support the resolution under which GW Bush was able to launch the attack against Iraq. But let's look at the record and see what he's standing for.

As a source I'm using the Kerry/Edwards book Our Plan for America: Stronger at home, Respected in the World.

  1. War in Iraq: He's standing for international cooperation in such matters, rather than go it alone. He's refused to say whether he would have actually launched the attack. He has said that he stands for a strong military that will be used to protect America's interests.
  2. Energy independance: The Kerry campaign realizes, and boldly says, that energy independance is fundamental to America's security. As things are, OPEC can cause a recession in America anytime they want, which then gives them a lot of control over the U.S. The Kerry campaign is calling for increased investment in energy independance research and deployments at all level. It's a very good program, and I support it wholey except for one thing. Under "biofuels" they only mention ethanol, which has a very strong lobby in corn growing states. From a technical viewpoint biodiesel is a better choice than ethanol.
  3. Standing for people: All through their plan they are standing in support of the American people. They aren't kowtowing to the already rich, and saying to the already rich "I see you as my base". Instead they're talking directly to the people and their support of people in their humanistic needs.
  4. It's the economy, stupid: Their plan reads as if they remember the lessons shown by the Clinton administration. Clinton's popularity is based in his support of economic growth in the U.S.

Re: Kerry's "unfitness" for command

The book Unfit for Command is claiming that Kerry lied and cheated his way through the Vietnam war. I haven't seen fit to support that book by buying a copy and reading it. See, the book is clearly a partisan lie, so why support a lie?

The "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth" campaign is funded and staffed by right wingers who have been funding and supporting Republican causes for a long time. These same people are close associates of GW Bush and other groups close to the Bush campaign. One of their legal advisors was also a legal advisor to the Bush campaign. In other words, they claim to be separate and acting on their own, but are clearly closely aligned and may even be coordinating their actions.

Rather than being unfit, I see Kerry as perfect for the current situation. That is, the continuing and deepening disaster that is Iraq and afflicting the Middle East.

Remember that Kerry served two tours of duty in Vietnam. He volunteered for the second term, and volunteered for the most dangerous duty he could find. Yet, upon returning home from fighting in Vietnam, he became involved with the anti-war movement. He led an investigation and truth-telling commission talking with returned veterans. And he testified before Congress from what the commission found.

He wasn't the only soldier who, on returning from Vietnam, joined the war resistance. A former boss of mine shared some background with me, that he'd grown up in Lexington KY (where I lived during highschool and college years). He'd also spent two tours of duty in Vietnam, and when he came home he said he went a little nuts and began working with the local anti-war movement in Lexington. He ended up helping them in their plans to burn the on-campus ROTC hall at the University of Kentucky (Buell Armory). He and his compatriots did burn the armory, but by 1977 when I became a UK student the armory looked perfect with no sign of having been burned.

I've read the testamony and it really touched my heart, how he spoke eloquently about soldiers feeling as if they'd been "badly used" by being thrown into a war launched under questionable circumstances for which there was little reason for the U.S. to fight. The similarities with the current war in Iraq are astonishing, and it's clear many of the current soldiers fighting in Iraq today feel the same way.

For the "healing" of the U.S. after this disaster of a war, I can think of no better person to elect to the presidency.

I leave the readers with a parting thought. Who would be more fit for command? One who spent years of his youth in war, or one who spent most of his national guard service AWOL? One who knows first hand the horrors of war, and the reason why its best to use caution in unleashing "hell"? Or one who thinks its a game and obviously feels it's an excuse for machostic strutting around with the big toys of war?

Wednesday, September 1, 2004

What is terrorism?

In the days since September 11, 2001 (and, well, before that date as well) the label "Terrorist Organization" has been slapped on many groups. That label is used to justify attacks on those groups, and attempted destruction of them. The label, though, has been used pretty broadly and with little understanding of what it really means. For example some groups are labeled "freedom fighters" and others labeled "terrorists" but they both commit the same kind of actions.

For example there is a Kurdish movement covering parts of Turkey, Iraq and the former Soviet Union that does not have a country of their own, and in Turkey are fighting for their freedom and autonomy. In order to gain Turkey's assistance in the war on Terrorism, Turkey has been allowed to label their Kurds as a terrorist group. At the same time the U.S. has been protecting the Kurds in northern Iraq. Are the Kurds in Turkey fighting for their freedom, and thus the good guys, or are they scummy evil terrorists? And what of the Kurds in northern Iraq, who were instrumental in the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003? Seems the difference is one of a point of view, and the differing treatment serves only to confuse the viewer over what the word means. Similar things could be said of the Palestinian resistance and its many organizations. Are they fighting to free their land from the usurping Israeli's, or are they evil terrorists? And in the former fight by the African National Congress against the apartheid regime formerly ruling South Africa, the ANC committed many gruesome acts but was generally lauded as fighting for freedom against the evil apartheid regime. See? This "terrorism" word cuts both ways, and we don't really know what it means.

The word "terrorism" has an obvious meaning. Namely, it would be a military strategy in which the proponent causes events to happen that invokes terror in a target population. That terror then is expected to cause the target population to do some response out of fear, and the proponent aims to control the response of the target population to achieve some end. In other words there would be a psychological element to the attack in addition to the physical element.

For example, in the second Gulf War currently being fought, the main tactic in the opening of the war was called "Shock and Awe". This was a massive bombing campaign of epic proportions. The massive scale of the bombing was supposed to shock the Iraqi's into surrendering. In other words, that was a terror tactic, to terrify the Iraqi's into surrender. Does that mean the U.S. government is itself a terrorist organization? Certainly not, the government would have us believe, but undeniably the strategy was one of inciting terror and inducing a desired response to that terror. And it depends on what definition you use for "terrorism", as the official definition used by the U.S. State Department identifies terrorist acts as ones that are done against civilian (non-military) targets. Under the definition I gave above, the U.S. government would be a terrorist organization.

To be honest, any military attack or battle incites terror in the soldiers involved in the fighting ("war is hell", after all) and often this terror-incitement is purposely enhanced to try and cause the "enemy" to surrender with less fighting. That's likely why the State Department definition does not include military targets in the definition. Military units are obviously trained to deal with the terror induced by war activities, and are also to be expected to receive those kinds of actions against them. Civilians do not have this training, and do not have the expectation of being attacked by military forces. This distinction made by the State Department is useful. Though there is a further distinction, that military that are off-duty yet are attacked, their attackers can be labeled "terrorists". Well, this seems to be a funny distinction. Should not troops in a war zone be expecting attack at any time? Would not an attacking force, coming across a contingent of their enemy, seeing them in a relaxed and unarmed state, want to attack them when they're at their weakest?

The border between "Freedom Fighter" and "Terrorist" is largely determined on your viewpoint. Al Queda no doubt has fans in the Middle East who see them in a highly positive light as fighting for Muslim Ideals in a world that is increasingly slanted to Corporate and Consumption based ideals. Not that I am attempting to defend the Taliban or Al Queda, but am merely trying to illustrate the point. Another, cleaner, example is the difference of opinion over Tibet, where the Chinese government sees Tibetan Buddhists as a terroist organization, while the rest of the world sees Tibet as an occupied land, the people scattered to the wind or abused by the Chines government, and with their leader in exile.

Here's another example:

[August 22, 2003; San Diego NBC] Arson At Hummer Dealership May Be Ecoterrorism ( WEST COVINA, Calif. -- Fire raged through a Hummer dealership in the Los Angeles area Friday morning, and graffiti spray-painted on many of the damaged vehicles indicated that the fire was set intentionally. Dozens of SUV's were vandalized at three other dealerships, prompting the FBI to investigate the incidents as acts of domestic terrorism. ... "With all the evidence ... its highly likely it's an arson fire," said Rick Genovese, fire marshal for West Covina. ... Video from the helicopter of NBC 7/39's sister station in Los Angeles showed slogans spraypainted on the hoods and sides of several SUVs, including "I (heart) pollution," "Fat Lazy Americans" and "American Wastefulness. One vehicle had the letters "ELF" sprayed on a door.

First, obviously whoever set this fire broke several laws, and should be punished for the illegal vandalism. What's shocking is the escalation of rhetoric. At one level you have a case of arson, and but for the slogans painted on the vehicles that's all it would be. By calling this "Eco Terrorism" the level of hyperbole raises considerably, doesn't it?

How is painting a few slogans of the sort quoted here to be causing "terror" in anybody? Yes, it's a clear political statement tied to an illegal act. Yes there are extremists in the Ecology movement who believe they must act to gum up the works of capitalism through direct action of this sort. But, does that make it "terrorism"? What does this word, "terrorism", mean?

And another example

[May 29, 2004; Counter Punch;] Protest Torture of Animals; Get Arrested as a "Terrorist"

The Bush administration sent a calculated message to grassroots political activists this week: The War on Terrorism has come home.

FBI agents rounded up seven American political activists from across the country Wednesday morning, and the U.S. Attorney's Office in New Jersey held a press conference trumpeting that "terrorists" have been indicted.

That's right: "Terrorists." The activists have been charged with violating the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act of 1992, which at the time garnered little public attention except from the corporations who lobbied for it. Their crime, according to the indictment, is "conspiring" to shut down Huntingdon Life Sciences, a company that tests products on animals and has been exposed multiple times for violating animal welfare laws.

... Bush's War on Terrorism is no longer limited to Al Qaeda or Osama Bin Laden. It's not limited to Afghanistan or Iraq (or Syria, or Iran, or whichever country is next). And it's not limited to the animal rights movement, or even the campaign against Huntington Life Sciences. The rounding up of activists on Wednesday should set off alarms heard by every social movement in the United States: This "war" is about protecting corporate and political interests under the guise of fighting terrorism.

... Some of the wealthiest corporations on the planet, and the U.S. Attorney's Office must protect them from a bunch of protesters. This is what the War on Terrorism has become: The Bush administration can't find real terrorists abroad, yet it spends law enforcement time and resources protecting corporations from political activists.

The horses mouth

Given the confusion over what the word means, how about we turn to the U.S. State Department. We know they have experts on Terrorism, so let's see what we can find there.

Terrorism: A War Without Borders ( is an instructional package produced by the United States Department of State in collaboration with a special committee of social studies educators. The video [Cable/DSL, Dial-Up, Audio], print materials, and other resources in this package are intended for use with middle school and high school courses.

Progress Report on the Global War on Terrorism [Sep 10, 2003;]

Patterns of Global Terrorism 2003 [ and] The previous two items were linked for reference sake, this has an interesting actual definition that is pretty useful. It's interesting to note they too talk about the unclarity over what the word is supposed to represent.


No one definition of terrorism has gained universal acceptance. For the purposes of this report, however, we have chosen the definition of terrorism contained in Title 22 of the United States Code, Section 2656f(d). That statute contains the following definitions:

  • The term terrorism means premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant1 targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience.
  • The term international terrorism means terrorism involving citizens or the territory of more than one country.
  • The term terrorist group means any group practicing, or that has significant subgroups that practice, international terrorism.

The US Government has employed this definition of terrorism for statistical and analytical purposes since 1983.

Domestic terrorism is probably a more widespread phenomenon than international terrorism. Because international terrorism has a direct impact on US interests, it is the primary focus of this report. However, the report also describes, but does not provide statistics on, significant developments in domestic terrorism.

1 For purposes of this definition, the term noncombatant is interpreted to include, in addition to civilians, military personnel who at the time of the incident are unarmed and/or not on duty. For example, in past reports we have listed as terrorist incidents the murders of the following US military personnel: Col. James Rowe, killed in Manila in April 1989; Capt. William Nordeen, US defense attache killed in Athens in June 1988; the two servicemen killed in the Labelle discotheque bombing in West Berlin in April 1986; and the four off-duty US Embassy Marine guards killed in a cafe in El Salvador in June 1985. We also consider as acts of terrorism attacks on military installations or on armed military personnel when a state of military hostilities does not exist at the site, such as bombings against US bases in Europe, the Philippines, or elsewhere.